Zu Café is open and going strong in the bus station – and what a lovely environment they’re creating. We popped down there for lunch one Wednesday, in the light, bright upstairs room. The room’s been redecorated with lovely blue walls, and large vases of fresh flowers standing on every table. The upstairs lunchtime format is that you choose from two mains or soup. There are also always four salads on offer. One main with three salads – a very generous plate – for £9. And the food is delicious. The menu’s always changing – depending on the seasonal local vegetables. It’s a lovely formula, and you get a real sense of being nurtured and looked after.
This is no coincidence. The mantra that runs behind the scenes is food as medicine. Look after your guts, and you will look after yourself. We tried the Lentil Shepherd’s Pie, which was absolutely wonderful – so flavoursome, and interesting, while also being deeply comforting and traditional. All complemented beautifully by accompanying salads, and tahini dressing.
Our other main was Roasted Patty Pan – squash filled with quinoa (in place of couscous: the whole place is gluten free), sage and walnut stuffing. Very spicy and nutty; again, a feast. Pete especially loved the roasted beetroot salad – “spicy, crisp, nicely rounded” – and I enjoyed the crunch of apple with sprouted mung bean. All the salads were excellent: we both liked the Broccoli and Pumpkin Seed; and Pete his Zu Green Leaf Salad dressed in ginger.All the salads – indeed everything on our plates – blended an extraordinary but complementary variety of flavours and textures. Between the different elements there were so many ingredients – and here perhaps was the key. Few choices but each one packed with nutrition. Not food we would make at home – because cooking it we would find so complicated. A joy to be fed.
Zu Café has a lovely, warm atmosphere, with lots of young people visibly helping in the kitchen. Chatting with owner Samira, and chef Nikita, I learnt more about the Zu Café community. That any soup that’s left over from lunch they’ll sell through the downstairs hatch that evening for £1 a go. That they also plan a freezer lunchbox scheme: people will be able to sign up for regular lunch boxes. That they plan to work with local refugees – creating a real community. Oh, and they have a specialist fermenter, who creates many of the special ingredients and health-giving elements: the sauerkraut and kimchi.
It will be fascinating to see how it all develops… and the food is heaven.
Currently, upstairs is open every lunch time, as is the crêperie downstairs. And the evening bar is open on
Thursday to Saturday nights.
Zu Café, bus station,