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Review: Cilantro Cafe Brings Refreshing New Concept

BY Boon Koh
Published 28 February 2010

It is easy to miss this café on Piccadilly road, as it is so easy to spot especially on a weekend trying to jostle through the crowd on the narrow pavement. But go in I did, and immediately you get the feeling that this is not your typical café or coffeehouse.

Quite how the Cilantro Café made it to English shores and no less to one of the most prime locations in London is a bit of a mystery. The first Cilantro café opened in Cairo, Egypt in 2000, when Western coffee culture (a.k.a Starbucks) was just starting to enter the country. Cilantro spotted an opportunity and opened one of Egypt’s first western-style cafes, which was vastly different from the traditional qahwas pavement cafes that are ubiquitous in Cairo. Cilantro quickly gained popularity in Egypt, and opened branches in Alexandria, Sharm El-Sheikh, Jeddah (in Saudi Arabia), and bizarrely now in London.

While the Cilantro Café at Piccadilly Circus was decorated and laid out like a Western-style coffee shop, one can’t help but immediately notice that the place looks very cheerful and inviting. There are multi-coloured bright sofas all around and shelves of interesting things dotting the walls. There is also a massive big communal table in the center of the café, something I have never seen before in a Starbucks or Café Nero.

There is nothing here that hasn’t been done before by other cafes – from the sofas to the wooden tables to the decorations on the walls. But Cilantro seems to do it better – the sofas are actually very comfortable, the tables made of thick hardwood, and the whole colour scheme and design of the place seems very bespoke and unique instead of picked out of an industrial café-fitting catalogue. There’s even free wifi internet, and conveniently located power socket plug points all throughout the café, which shows the level of detail that went into the design.

We were there on a Saturday afternoon, when the café was moderately busy, and unfortunately the table service was a bit slow. Unlike other coffee chains, you can order from the table instead of having to queue up at the counter.

Menu-wise, there is a massive selection of drinks and food available. Particularly good was the raspberry smoothie, which was very rich in flavour and still had some of the grainy texture of the fruit. The ice was crushed very finely but not too fine that it turned into slushy water. There is a good mix of coffee-based drinks and fruit or chocolate-based drinks, something that ensures that everyone finds something they like. From the execution of the ice-based smoothie, I recommend trying the granita or frappe-based drinks, which hopefully are executed just as well. The variety though was not very adventurous, with no crazy special combinations, not like Coffee Republic, my favourite chain in London.

We didn’t order any food, but they do serve full English breakfasts, salads, sandwiches, and paninis. I had a quick flip-through and couldn’t see any small snacks to go with drinks, like cookies or cakes, but it must have been there, as I can’t imagine a café not serving those.

Verdict: I think Cilantro has hit all the right notes, trying to create cafes that is conducive for friends to gather to chat and laugh and have a drink and bite to eat. That’s a good thing, as the bigger coffee chains seem more intent on capturing office workers looking for a quick fix or thirsty takeaway tourists. Pricewise it was standard for central London, with a juice smoothie costing £3ish and a full English breakfast at £5ish. I really do think that the Cilantro concept can catch on, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them expanding all over London over the next few years.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars
Cuisine: Hip modern cafe
Price: £3ish for a drink, £5-8 for food

Address: Cilantro Cafe, 193 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London, W1J 9EU (Google Map)
Nearest Tube Station: Green Park Tube Station (7 minutes walk), Piccadilly Circus Tube Station (5 minutes walk)
Enquiry Tel: 020 7434 4288
Website: www.cilantro-cafe.com

Article written by Boon Koh

  • Sophie Roberts

    I went to Cilantro on Sunday and had an unpleasant experience. I am disappointed to see this review on a Cafe giving 8 out of 10 but the person writing the review didn’t eat anything there! How can you review a cafe properly if you haven’t eaten anything there.

    Just because it looked nice and was comfortable in there and there was a good selection of food available it doesn’t mean that this food was any good. In fact it was distinctly bad. The menu was fairly standard and although it was reasonably priced, the quality was well below par.

    My falafel pitta arrived with virtually no falafel in it, the rocket had been put in the toaster so was all wilted and tasteless. It was dry and i couldn’t finish it.

    The baked potato was also dry, the tuna mayonnaise was made with salad cream rather than mayonnaise, the salad on the side was dry and old – again it couldn’t be eaten.

    The service was ok but most of the staff seemed so unhappy to be there, the whole meal cosy £20 including tip for 4 people and when i left I walked past mcdonalds and thought i would have had a better time there.