InSpiral Café perches above Camden Lock, overlooking the dark, sluggish swirl of the canal and the snaking crowds of tourists that turn this corner of north London into a perpetual carnival. Duck inside, away from camera-waving school kids and dour Goths on permanent patrol, and you’ll find a space that embodies “alternative lifestyles”. Think wood fittings, psychedelic trance posters, fliers soliciting volunteer staff and shelves lined with raw granola and herbal elixirs. The clientele is a heterogeneous mix of hemp-clad American university students, deliberately scruffy London media types, Italian teenagers and heavily pierced locals. It is easy to get distracted by the bustle of this human traffic but if you do, you miss the main event: the food.
Laid out in unpretentious, school-dinner fashion, InSpiral offers a selection of hot dishes that includes a scrumptious aubergine parcel, lasagne, and a regularly-changing array of sides like roasted root vegetables, cheesy cauliflower and potato wedges. The adjoining case holds elegant cold salads: arugula, Caesar, and edible flowers. Order any main and you get three hot or cold sides. If you’re a nibbler (as I am) you can order a small, medium or large pick-a-mix plate and try a bit of everything. They serve a robust range of organic beers, wines and cocktails; Fair Trade coffee; herbal teas; and juices, smoothies and coconut water.
Alternatively, you may want to skip the savoury food altogether and feast on the sublime cakes winking from next to the till. Depending on the day your options may include peanut butter cup cake, tiramisu, berry-topped cheesecake, banoffee pie, or a work of art known as the chocolate blackout torte. An extra £1.50 gets you a scoop of InSpiral’s own-recipe homemade ice cream. It will be the best one-pound-fifty you’ve ever spent.
It is unheard of to eat this well, and inexpensively, in central London. There must be a catch, right? In a fashion, yes: InSpiral Café is vegan. Much of the food is raw (including that to-die-for chocolate blackout cake). Most of it is gluten free. It is entirely innocent of refined sugar or saturated fats. The vegetables are local and organic, as is the fruit in the unctuous smoothies. Salads and mains burst with protein-rich seeds and grains. Nibbles such as kale crisps and Crackits are rich in superfoods like maca root, baobob, spirulina, and yacon powder. Here, the more you eat (within reason) the better you feel. Forget calorie counting and label obsessions. InSpiral is mouth-watering proof that lovingly-prepared, plant-based foods are the ultimate antidote to diet anxiety.