Wednesday 19 March 2014

Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium - Review

Lady Dinah's cat emporium

Cats and cake are two of my favourite things (though cats are the clear winner, of course) so when I heard that a cat cafe like the ones in Japan and South Korea was planned for London I couldn't wait! Then I discovered that the idea needed money to get off the ground, and the "crazy cat lady" (her words) behind the idea, Lauren Pears, had started a crowdfunding campaign. I loved the idea of a cat cafe, and was also pleased to see there were "perks" on offer to the crowdfunders, ranging from entry to the cafe (which costs £5) to sponsoring one of the cats. I donated a small (ish) sum of money and in return received a voucher for afternoon tea for two, plus the satisfaction of knowing I had helped London's first cat cafe get off the ground.

Another perk was a preferential booking system for crowdfunders. It took over a year for the cat cafe to open - to go from the original idea, to finding premises, getting licences and of course adopting the cats - took a long time, and I imagine Lauren was getting pretty fed up with people asking when it would open. Finally Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium opened its doors on March 1 - and the website immediately crashed under the weight of the demand. Within a matter of days the cat cafe was fully booked for the next three months, but some seats were held back for crowdfunders and I managed to go last Sunday, a mere two weeks after Lady Dinah's opened.

If you don't like cats, look away now....

The cat cafe is on Bethnal Green in an area that has a real hipster east London vibe; on a street with tattoo parlours and independent clothing stores, there is a pretty purple shopfront with cats sitting in the window. Almost everyone who walked past seemed to stop and look. When you go inside, there is a reception area and two more doors to go through, which are both kept shut, so to prevent the cats from going out onto the street. You are also asked to wash your hands and given some ground rules, including being asked not to pick up the cats or disturb them if they are asleep.

Lady Dinah's cat emporium
Lady Dinah's cat emporium

Inside is decorated in calming pale blue and white, with vintage and shabby chic-style furniture. Upstairs there are three round tables with chairs plus a sofa, and a giant hamster wheel for the cats to play on, as well as shelves along the walls that the cats can walk along or sit on.

Downstairs  - don't forget to look up as you go down stairs, as there was a cat in a hammock asleep across the top of the staircase - there are comfortable sofas, and a few dining chairs, with tables ranging from an Ikea Lack to an old tea chest. There are several places for the cats to hide or sleep or play, and lots of toys lying around for guests to engage the cats with.

My visit didn't get off to the best start however. We were advised in advance that tables had a two-hour turnaround time, and we had booked for 1.45. There didn't seem to be anyone else arriving at that time, but when we entered, all the tables were full. There were a couple of seats spare, but we would have had to sit with other people and the afternoon tea ambiance isn't really the one for communal table-sharing. We ended up sitting on a sofa with no table - not even anywhere to put a cup of tea, apart from the floor - and had to delay having our afternoon tea for half an hour until a table became free. I wondered if the booking system took account of how many people there was space for, rather than how many tables of 2, 4 etc they could cater for, which is a shame. I know this is an informal cafe and normally I wouldn't object to sharing space with strangers, but this was the first time I have had a booking for afternoon tea and not actually had a table.

Update: Lady Dinah's has now informed me that while they like to allow people to move around (to follow the cats) and not have allocated seats they now realise that you do need more room (and a table) for afternoon tea, so do now reserve a table for anyone booking for afternoon tea. Hurrah!

 I also wasn't that impressed with the afternoon tea initially, until I got to the cakes -and to be fair, most other people in the cafe were having tea and cake rather than the full afternoon tea. The sandwiches on the bottom layer of the cake stand were pretty bland - there was ham and cheese, cheese and what I think was mango chutney, and cucumber. I'm trying to remember if there was also egg mayonnaise but I don't like egg so if there was, I would have ignored it. When I've had afternoon tea at other places - admittedly more expensive- I've had other selections like salmon (either smoked or tinned), chicken, beef etc, and having predominantly cheese did seem a bit disappointing.

The next layer had two large scones which were good, along with little pots of jam and cream. But it's always the top layer that I'm waiting for.... rather than miniature delicacies or scaled-down versions of desserts, which is what I normally expect when having afternoon tea, we were presented with a huge slab of cake - I think it was Victoria sponge (incidentally, the waitress didn't tell us what anything was in our afternoon tea when she brought it over, which was a shame, and I didn't think to ask at the time). We had to cut the slice of cake in half ourselves to share - the waitress had told us that anything we wanted could be replenished, but there didn't seem much point asking for another huge slice of the same cake. We also had a normal-sized cupcake which I think was banana, which again we cut in half to share. Finally we had two mini macarons, in coffee and lavender. The cake, particularly the cupcake, was very light and moist and the delicious desserts made up for the slight disappointment of the sandwiches and also the lack of a table when we arrived!

In fact the cakes were so good that when our waitress came back, we decided to ask for more... here's a delicious tiramisu cupcake:

Lady Dinah's cat emporium

We also tried the elderflower cheesecake (we didn't eat it all!)

Lady Dinah's cat emporium

And finally two lavender macarons, which were perfect - chewy on the outside and softer in the middle. The lavender flavour wasn't particularly easy to detect though (or were they violet? Either way the flavour was very subtle).

The cafe has a lot of items that are suitable for vegans, which is great, and I briefly saw a light lunch menu. There is also a menu with different types of teas; I stuck with English breakfast but my companion tried something that tasted of marzipan.

Lady Dinah's cat emporium

The main thing of course is that people don't come here for the food! The cats were all pretty friendly - one jumped into a girl's lap the moment she sat down - and they don't shy away from strangers like some people do. A couple of them were also quite keen to play with toys.

Lady Dinah's cat emporium

Several cats were asleep the whole time I was there though, which was a shame (for me anyway, not the cats). These two, perched on a high shelf, were particularly adorable, but barely stirred.

I love this cushion on the windowsill....

... so much so that I decided to mess around with it! This is now my Facebook profile picture :-)

I was watching the people on the street stop and look through the window at the cats. One young boy put his hand up to the glass and the cat put its paw up to meet it, looking like they were doing a high five!

Lady Dinah's cat emporium

The cat kept its paw there for some time - after a while it looked like some sort of communing between cat and boy, which was adorable.

Lady Dinah's cat emporium

I really enjoyed my visit to Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium. It's a very peaceful, calm place, with low level music, people talking in hushed voices or quietly reading while a cat slumbers beside them. It's not the best afternoon tea in London but that was never what I expected. If you love cats then you should go... if you can ever get a booking!


  1. Great review and photos - those 'high five' ones are brilliant. Also love that cushion! Shame about the afternoon tea not being great but the cakes do look and sound good! Plus like you say... the food isn't the main attraction!

  2. sounds like it was worth going,shame you couldn't take tilly!!!


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