Habitat’s SS17 Press Show featured more than our gorgeous new collection, we were lucky enough to have the whole event catered for by the wonderful J+A Cafe, who are based very near to Habitat’s London HQ. We met with the girls to find out how they set up their business and asked them to share the recipes of a couple of J+A favourites. If you’re ever in the area, we can’t recommend their cafe enough for a tasty pick-me-up away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Tell us a little about yourselves.
We are sisters Aoife and Johanna Ledwidge and we are from a big Irish family. We both have come from design backgrounds studying at London’s Chelsea College of Art and Design and Central St Martins.
We launched the J+A Cafe in London’s Clerkenwell 2008. The J+A Cafe Brand is our take on Irish wholesome home cooking and baking and old fashioned hospitality. We believe in nutritious food that makes you feel good, we use our simple home grown values and unpretentious hard earned loyalty to help our customers have good daily rituals for a happy nourished life.
We both share a love for design, simple good food, and share a mutual drive to look after people.
Clerkenwell was an area that we were very familiar with and at the time it was crying out for relaxed place to eat! A beautiful factory building became vacant and it was a building we had always loved. Hidden down a passageway between Clerkenwell Road and Great Sutton Street it had absolutely no footfall but was a haven of peace and a real hidden gem in central London.
It was the beginning of the recession so we worked on our instincts and it just felt right to open a food based business over a design business alone, it was also just before London’s cafe boom. We felt that at this time of uncertainty people needed somewhere they could go and be comforted and rely on getting good food. We stripped back everything to expose the simplicity of the beautiful factory building, bare bricks and mountains of windows. By designing each space and being so involved in every element of the business, it has enabled us to use our business heads, to work creatively and exercise our naturally caring nature.
How did you get started?
We created our menu which was simple and manageable to start with. We did not put any signage up at all. We just started with small chalk board on Clerkenwell Road and an arrow saying ‘ Bacon Sandwiches’, ‘ Warm Roast Chicken Sandwiches’, ‘Freshly Baked Irish Soda Bread’ or ‘Freshly Baked Scones’ at different times of the day and it just grew gradually from there.
We sourced our produce locally where possible. Meat from Smithfield market, seemed apt since our lane way was the cattle passage where animals were taken to market. Traditional London bloomers for our sandwiches from a local baker on King’s Square. We set our routines and rituals for the days ahead. We baked all of our bread and cakes freshly daily. We roasted chickens for our sandwiches and used the bones to make a fresh chicken stock which was then used to make our grandmother’s chicken soup. We sourced excellent smoked salmon, coffee beans and produce we loved.
We wanted to create a beautiful space which could inspire creativity, conversation and comfort whether it be a rainy day, business meeting, family occasion or quiet moment alone. We were confident in what we believed in, we knew how to look after people and we had a clear vision of what we wanted to create. We threw ourselves in at the deep end and the business has grown very organically from there.
Where else can we find J+A?
We didn’t for a second expect it to grow into the success it is today. We opened the J+A Bar in 2012 it sits across the courtyard to the main cafe in another beautiful small factory building. The Bar acted as additional seating during our increasingly busy lunch times which enabled us to open in the evening and facilitated some of our much loved private parties. Our most recent addition is J+A Cafe, Old Street which opened in March 2016 – a fun take on a traditional Victorian kitchen with influences from traditional Irish kitchen. We plan to open more of these over the next couple of years, making J+A’s simple home cooking and baking more accessible to Londoners. Our hidden cafe has been lots of busy Londoners little secret for many years!
Recipe: J+A Soda Bread
This is such an easy bread to make, the key ingredient is buttermilk which can sometimes be tricky to get hold of.
400g wholemeal flour
400g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
500ml good quality buttermilk
- Mix all dry ingredients together
- Make a well in the middle of the mix
- Gradually pour in the buttermilk
- Stir all the ingredients together
- Do not overwork or the mixture will become too tough
- Prepare tin or baking tray – spray/rub the tray with oil so it doesn’t stick
- Traditionally soda bread is shaped into a round loaf with a cross marked on the top with a knife. We tend to do a loaf shape as it makes it easier to serve. Either works well and the main thing is it tastes delicious! Pour mix onto tray or baking tin, sprinkle light dusting of flour on top.
- Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees and bake for 60 minutes.
- A trick to see if the mix is ready is to turn the mixing bowl inside down, if the mix falls out of the bowl easily it is ready
- Knock the bottom of the soda bread when out of the oven – if it sounds hollow if it is ready
- Wrap the freshly baked soda bread in a J+A linen tea towel once ready and allow to stand upright, this will keep the loaf warm and will continue to bake, allowing the bottom not to become too moist.
- Bake in the morning to fill your home with the smell of freshly baked bread, serve to your family or friends with butter and jam or with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.
Recipe: J+A Cocktail
We love sparkling wine or Champagne cocktails. They are fun and super easy to make if you have guests visiting. You can also be creative with your flavours and garnishes! At Christmas it’s great to have a bottle of sloe gin, Chambord or Kings Ginger Liquor in the house and always your favourite bottle of bubbly in the fridge.
- Add 10ml of your favourite liquor to a champagne glass
- Prepare and add your garnish of choice to the glass, for example a maraschino cherry, stem ginger, fresh berries or a rose petal
- Top up with your favourite bottle of bubbly