Deptford Project

I’ve been wanting to visit the Deptford Project train carriage cafe for ages, but I’d been a bit worried that Time Out raving about it would mean it was choc-a-bloc and it would be hard to get in. Still, sometimes you just have to join the crowd and eventually I could resist no longer.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Deptford is so trendy these days – but it does surprise me every time. There’s a vibe there that was once of the variety that could only be smelt in Hoxton and Shoreditch, (and, a very long time ago, in Covent Garden and the South Bank) but now – now, it would seem that South East London’s getting its turn. You can read all about it in the splendid Deptford Dame though I confess I deliberately didn’t read her review before I trotted along to the the caff, so I that could get my own impressions.

Often when people like Time Out rave about somewhere, by the time I get to it, it’s gone downhill, but if this is true about Deptford Project it must have been wondrous indeed. I have rarely visited a cafe where the whole experience was as fun as this.

I’m glad I wasn’t behind the convoy that brought the 35 tonne carriage to its final resting place on Deptford High Street – it apparently did 2 miles per hour all the way down from Essex – though if you’d like to enjoy the trip for yourself you can see a video of it on their website.

But with a lick of white paint and some colourful decor, it’s now bright and shiny, with a raised palm-fringed decking area outside (complete with stripy deckchairs if you’re brave) and a simple long-line trestle inside, stools painted with sweet messages and lamps that look like they’re made from neon licorice bootlaces.

The people who run the caff are far too young to remember the 80s in any great detail – but it really does feel inspired by that era to me. They even play 70s and 80s reggae / pop classics – I can’t think of anything more suitable.

The food, too, has an ‘alternative 80s’ feel to me – fresh, chunky salads that remind me of the old Cranks days, and giant cakes which actually taste as good as they look (I’m often disappointed by cakes in cafes – they look great but taste like cardboard. These are fab.) The sandwiches are of the doorstep variety and the hot food simple and filling. Absolutely no complaints there.

But what I liked best was the atmosphere. Somewhere like this could be horribly arch – and exclusive – catering for the Goldsmiths crowd and people in pointy shoes and vintage jackets, making anyone else feel a bit out of place. But there’s nothing hipper-than-thou about the welcome that we – and everyone else who came in while I was there – received. Wide smiles, solicitous service and general cheeriness from people I’m happy to believe actually want to be there.

Don’t miss the Elvis loo. A converted garden shed, wallpapered with black and white shots of The King, fetish shoes and people dressed up as the man himself, studded with unlikely conspiracy-theory newspaper cuttings and highlit with The Elvis Mirror.

Yes, you, too, can be Elvis, just for a second, if you shut one eye, and stare into the mirror. If you’re visiting the loo with a friend and you have a camera (and let’s face it, if you’re in there with a friend, it’s entirely possibly you’ve taken a camera with you…) said pal can take a photo of you and send it to an online gallery. Sadly I was in there alone.

This place lives up to its hype. I thoroughly recommend it and will be back as soon as I can. Oh – and it’s worth taking the wheelchair ramp route to the place, and keeping your eyes open. As with so many places trendifiying at a rate of knots, there’s art everywhere…

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