Dish List: Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in London

The Internet’s obsession with cats can get a bit out of hand, sometimes bleeding into our everyday lives. I have, in all seriousness, asked if “I can has cheeseburger” while ordering at In-n-Out. There are probably five people around you currently with a cat-shaped or cat-printed article of clothing. Someone in your housing complex probably owns a secret cat. You get the picture.

Courtesy of Rachel Heng

Courtesy of Rachel Heng

The latest wave of the cat craze comes in the form of cat cafes, which feature a variety of cats lounging around cafe patrons as they enjoy their beverages and nibble on an assortment of pastries. The idea is to provide an environment for those who want a feline companion of their own but for one reason or another aren’t able to do so. Cat cafes are not yet as popular as they are in some Asian countries, but they are steadily working their way into the hearts of some cities like London.

A small group of friends and I decided to explore Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, located in the Shoreditch area of London, for its opening day. For a place with “Emporium” in its name, the cat cafe is not very grand upon initial inspection. Tucked inconspicuously between two other shops, the building could easily be mistaken for any other tea shop. Our party of four waited in a warm reception room showcasing the items on the menu, various teacups and cat-themed paraphernalia. After paying five pounds, we were ushered into a room where we were instructed to wash our hands thoroughly with soap and water and briefed on the rules for interacting with the cats. We were then shown into the tea room.

We were seated in a room with pastel blue walls with floating shelves for cats to climb and lounge on. The menu included a fair range of items including vegan and gluten-free options. We ordered a variety of things, but we were underwhelmed by most of the items. The tea, coffee and cakes were not really anything spectacular. The two things that did stand out, however, were the mini earl grey cupcakes and the spinach and tomato savory tart.

Each of the cupcakes was topped with a cute dollop of vanilla icing. I was skeptical of a tea-flavored cupcake, but if earl grey is your cup of tea, then so is this dessert. The floral flavor of the tea translates well into a cupcake that is subtly sweet yet enough to take care of any sweet tooth. My only qualm about them was that they were not kidding when they said “mini.” Each cupcake was two bites at best.

The vegan, savory tart was the most substantial item on the menu. Its warm, flaky crust surrounds a bed of melted cheese, spinach and tomatoes with a side mixed green salad.

The food might not be especially spectacular, but the food isn’t why anyone wants to go there. A set of stairs lead down from the preliminary tea room into a cozy sitting area with heaps of couches for cats and humans to laze around on. It almost looks as if you had wandered into a strangers abnormally spacious living room. A pack of cats in a corner of the room diligently watched a laser pointer dart between their paws while a Himalayan cat slept peacefully in her little box. Two little kittens were playing with each other next to guests sipping their tea. Basically, it is cat heaven. You have the option of bringing your tea and snacks down with you, but beware, one of the many felines crawling about may end up in your lap begging for a nibble in which case, the Emporium has special cat treats for the guests to give. Guests aren’t allowed to pick up cats whenever they please, but they are allowed to pet any cat so long as they do not stress them out. Let it be known that I pet all the cats in the room. All of them.

In the end, I would recommend this cafe but do not visit on an empty stomach expecting to feel satiated in any way with the food. It was clear to us that the atmosphere was the main attraction, so any foodies out there, you’ve been warned. Even with a lackluster menu, Lady Dinah’s should be commended for extending their selections with vegan and gluten-free options, something that is not really seen in a lot of these tea shops. The store’s staff is friendly and knowledgeable about their cats and are very happy to oblige  should you wish to play with any cat. It is a surprisingly really relaxing place to be.

If you love cats, wish you had one or are just looking to blow some stress, head on over if you’re ever in the neighborhood. My only gripe with the place is that after the disappointing food, I really did want to haz cheezburger. Each appointment is two hours of cat-loving bliss, and bookings can be made online.