The bright yellow bike, complete with Alma licence plate, is just the first drawcard, forming an Insta-worthy pop of colour against the warm scatter of autumn leaves on the pavement. I haven’t been to Barnes in years; not since I was taking toddlers to the London Wetland Centre – and although the cafe there is quite decent, there are times when you’ve done your “I am a brilliant mother” thing and just want to be free of the very sight and sound of en masse OPC (Other People’s Children). How I wish Alma had been around back then.
This is in no way meant to imply that Alma’s main strength is its kid-friendliness: on our visit, there was such a diverse range of people seated around us, from loved-up couples to intervention-staging women – that its broad appeal, already easy to imagine, was simply indisputable. Still, we did see a handful of sophistimums, happily ensconced in the area of the cafe that’s slightly removed from the main. Throughout, the decor – largely brickwork – is a cool, calming shade of green, complemented by darker-hued ivy and other plants; this whole ‘inside/ outside’ feel is enhanced by the natural light that streams, even on this fairly dingy autumn day, through the large skylights.
The long, glass-fronted serving counter is a riot of colour, with an array of fresh and vibrant salads piled high on attractive ceramic platters and jostling for our attention with the breakfast and brunch menu. Here, blueberry-topped pancakes, granola, avocado toast and freshly squeezed juices blend effortlessly with Alma’s dedicated ‘wellness’ offering, aiming to offer nutritionally balanced, health enhancing meals and snacks. Importantly – and somewhat dismayingly for a cafe that embraces wellness in its philosophy – they don’t offer low-gluten or gluten-free alternatives, so the “On Toast” selection is immediately off-limits for one of us.
We compromise by ordering the Azerbaijani Style Scrambled Eggs and a selection of salads – wild rice with butter beans, kale and pomegranate, avocado with Sicilian cherry tomatoes and spring onions – with tiger prawns. One brunch, one lunch – it’s only midday so we have a foot firmly in each meal camp!
Similarly, although the cafe serves alcohol (always tempting) it feels too early for that, and too late for the hardcore caffeine that got us through the morning, so it’s specialty lattes, made with organic coconut oil, all the way – a Golden Mix for me (organic turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and pepper) and a Matcha Green Tea Latte (containing ceremonial grade matcha green tea and wheatgrass peppermint leaf) for my friend. They’re delicious – warming, milky, guiltless and flavoursome.
The eggs, when they arrive, are more substance that style – they don’t look amazing but taste incredible. The prawns and salads, on the other hand, tick every conceivable box: they’re bursting with colour and alive with flavour. Everything is plump and toothsome, not withered and joyless. Im left looking at the display cabinet’s other offerings and making greedy plans for ‘next time’, when Chicken and Mushroom Pie, or Scottish Salmon Fillet could form the accompaniment to a plate of Fig & Walnut salad, or Roasted Butternut Squash and Beetroot.
A tip: plan your visit for after midday, as parking in many of the surrounding streets is only restricted to residents between the hours of 10am -12pm. Unfortunately, we didn’t find this out until we’d already topped up an unforgiving meter, so ran out of time to have cake at our table. That didn’t stop us taking some for the road though. My only regret? As good as the Golden Mix Latte was, I wish I’d had a coffee. As we left, I heard a takeaway customer telling staff that she’d walked the length of the High Street, just to get one of their coffees. In a neighbourhood peppered with stylish cafes, could there be a better endorsement?
*Alma Cafe can provide catering and is also available for private hire
2-3 Rocks Lane, Barnes, London SW13 0DB, T: 020 8392 9135, E: firstname.lastname@example.org