May 09 2010
Little Venice in London’s Maida Vale, where the Grand Union Canal meets the Regent’s Canal, has always had something of a children’s storybook feel. The weeping willows on an island at the heart of this picturesque pool of water, the flocks of swans and the brightly-coloured narrowboats are worlds away from the high-rise office complexes in the Paddington Basin development, despite being a two-minute walk away.
Few other cafés can be quite as pretty or quaintly small as the Waterside Café. It sits on the water in a converted houseboat, with seating half on the towpath and half inside the boat. The menu covers everything from a great English breakfast through sandwiches and panini to shepherd’s pie. Or you can just sit with a coffee and look at the black and white photos of old narrowboats (inside) or watch swans and ducks drift by (outside).
I’ve been a regular for years – I live a 10-minute walk away – and generally I go there on a sunny afternoon for tea and one of their delicious cakes. Also, as the Waterside Café is five minutes’ walk from Paddington station, it’s the perfect place to take stock before catching a train.
Rob Shackleford, who owns the Waterside Cafe, also operates two narrowboats, The Prince Regent (pictured) and The Lapwing, which can be hired out privately from £140 an hour, for birthdays, corporate lunches and the like. The menus range from simple picnics (from around £14 per person, depending on the number being served) through to whole cooked salmon and exotic salads. A formal sit-down meal costs from around £25 a head. (The boat has an alcohol licence until 11pm.) Most people hire it for the three hours it takes to travel from Little Venice to Camden Town and back, passing London Zoo and Primrose Hill. The boat can stop en route and can pick up or drop off at locations such as the zoo.
On a sunny summer afternoon, it’s hard to find a nicer way of whiling away a couple of hours in London – either at the Waterside Café or sailing down the canal with friends.