Roman Road’s Cosiest Café: Mae + Harvey x Ling Ling’s

Tucked in a corner on bustling Roman Road, when you walk into Mae + Harvey it feels more like you’ve popped over to a friend’s house than into a café. The deep blue exterior leads into an incredibly well lit seating area, adorned with delicate micro-bouquets of dainty flowers on each table. It’s bigger than it used to be, having taken the opportunity to expand over the (first) lockdown, but remains intimate and pleasantly cosy. A brown paper scroll with the hand-written daily menu underscores the simplicity that makes this place so inviting and unpretentious. It is, undoubtably, one of my favourite places in London.

Of course, no one is currently enjoying a meal inside the café, the UK once more thrown into a (third) lockdown, but that hasn’t stopped Mae + Harvey from serving superb food to-go. In fact, on several occasions hours have expanded beyond the usual 8:30am-3pm to allow for a weekend guest chef to bring their dishes to a special evening menu.

To celebrate the end of a particularly dreary January, I treated myself to not one but two different meals from Mae + Harvey. The first on Friday evening curtesy of regular guest Ling Ling’s, offering a gorgeous selection of vibrant Chinese takeaway dishes, the second on Saturday morning to reminisce about brunching with friends. An extravagant treat, maybe, but definitely one that was worth it.

Friday Night — Ling Ling’s X Mae + Harvey Takeaway

We begin on a very wet and cold Friday night outside the doors of the café, where my flatmate and myself stood with a few other hungry customers eager to grab our food and scurry back home to the warm. Thankfully, the system is very efficient. You pre-order earlier in the week via email (as early as you can is best, we managed to squeeze ourselves in on Wednesday night), and then go to collect your food at designated time. It wasn’t too long before we had a brown paper bag in our arms, shielding it from the rain as we half-ran home. 

There were 5 dishes to choose from, 3 of which were vegan. I had the Sesame Udon, Spicy Aubergine, Orange Sambal and Herbs (£11), my flatmate the Ling Ling’s Fried Chicken with Chilli Mayo (£10). In retrospect it’s probably best to order dishes to share so that you can pick and choose a bit more, which we couldn’t really do because of my being veggie. Plus, if every dish is as tasty as the one I had, why wouldn’t you want to try more!

The pillowy udon noodles were the perfect vessel for the creamy sauce, the richness of which was cut through by the bright citrus of the orange sambal. Chunks of aubergine provided bursts of spice in every bite, as well as a pleasant chewiness which added textural dimension. Pockets of basil and a whisper of fennel added a delightful herby aroma that kept the dish fresh and vibrant. The quantity was huge (another good reason to share), but in spite of my limited chopstick capability I polished off the whole portion in one sitting. Again, I only wish I’d known to order more, if for no other reason but to try more of the fantastic flavour combinations on offer. 

Saturday Morning — Mae + Harvey Breakfast

After a long walk in the park appreciating the gentle warmth of the sun and grasping onto the first signs of spring, I made my way back to the café to indulge in one of their delectable breakfasts. Luckily arriving in an uncharacteristic lull of customers, I walked in and ordered my Americano and the Brioche French Toast, Roasted Banana, Candied Nuts, Seeds, House Butter and Maple Syrup (£9.50). The menu at Mae + Harvey changes frequently, often depending on the seasons, and I had never had the opportunity to try this particular dish before. I waited outside for a few minutes for my order while the usual queue began to form outside, then made my way back home, excited to dig in. 

I don’t think a breakfast has ever looked more beautiful. Two thick slabs of brioche dredged in maple syrup and browned butter (no, not vegan, I’m still getting the hang of it okay) topped with two roasted bananas and a scattering of hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. I was slightly thankful I had gone with my regular black coffee instead of anything more fancy like a latte, because I clearly had all the richness I could need. I’m sure you’re already sick of my excessive praise, but I really do just love this place and what they do. Every crispy bite of the bread gave into a syrup-soaked softness, with the occasional crunch of the candied nuts. The toastiness of the sesame added a dimension of flavour I had never considered in such a sweet dish. Plus, there was a banana, so clearly looking out for vitamins and minerals here. Again I did not think I would be able to finish it, considering just how much there was there, and, again, I did. My eyes are exactly as big as my belly, obviously. 

The Daal in question, topped with pickled shallots.

I cannot wait until I can go back to Mae + Harvey properly to sit down with some friends and enjoy some incredible food. As an aside, their daal is extraordinary, especially paired with a toastie. Until all this comes to an end and we can return to our favourite cafés, I suppose we’ll have to make do with the brilliant takeaway options they provide. 

Published by Jess

Aspiring Journalist and Blogger

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