Leila's Shop, Shoreditch
17 Calvert Avenue
020 7729 9789
by Dieggo Rivera
I can point out Leila’s on a map and describe the things you’ll find there – baskets of vegetables and shelves stocking books, preserves, dried ceps – but it’s harder to explain exactly what it is. At first glance, it’s like a group of friends gathered in a kitchen, whose door was accidentally left ajar.
Similarly, the tins and jars lined along the wall appear to be food friends who share an affectionate connection, rather than getting bogged down in all the usual food prejudices and cliques which stipulate, for instance, that egg and bacon always appear together at breakfast time, that spaghetti belongs to the Italian food sector and that all organic food must be marked with a squiggly font.
Now, although there are tables and Leila’s serves food, to compare it to a regular café is to miss the point. Leila’s shop is a little alcove, carefully whittled out from the food massif, with a succinct menu offering simply eggs, a cheese sandwich or a polish platter of sausages, pickles, horseradish and rye. That’s it.
My companion, who confuses service with subservience, is to the waitress as the tax collector was to Jesus. But her requests for soya milk and mayonnaise on her comté sandwich are refused. You can find comfort in a place like this, where rebellion is futile: succumb to Leila for she knows best and be grateful for relief from the endlessness of choice.
I sit around a long table and watch as my eggs languish in a hot fist of butter then make their way over to the table, snug in their still-sizzling cast-iron pan. They taste like being in love with your husband or wife.
While my post-prandial companion busies herself with complex mathematical comparisons between our bill and what it would have cost to buy the individual ingredients at Tesco, I look up and glimpse, for an instant, something of the meaning of life in a waitress, a gently-tarnished silver spoon and a jug of milk, as she stops beside the espresso machine, bends down and scoops a thick and goopy layer of cream from its meniscus.