London's got plenty of quirky and unusual coffee shops (including one in a church crypt). Here, we visit Limehouse's Yurt Café, which opened in November 2015.
Through an industrial gate on Butcher Row, we follow the signs down a tarmac path to the yurt. Its white exterior is grubbier than we imagine it once was, and flanked by colourful picnic benches and carefully planted flower troughs — all overshadowed by the railway arches. From out here, there's little sign of life.
Opening the wooden door releases two things; heat and noise. Once we've adapted, we realise it's not that noisy at all — just a buzz of low-level chatter to a soundtrack of acoustic music, amplified by the domed room. The heat though, that's unwavering. By the time our order has arrived, we've stripped off every layer of clothing that we decently can. It must be unbearable in here in the summer.
Two of the 10 or so tables are free on a Wednesday lunchtime, the others occupied by a mixture of Macbook-wielding freelancers and groups of friends. Surprisingly, there are no parents or carers with young children — we'd expect somewhere like this with plenty of outside space to be right up their street.
Seating is a mixture of farmhouse-style wooden furniture, a jumble of pot plants and flower vases on each table. It is, for all intents and purposes, a yurt, albeit a permanent one with a solid wooden door and properly-installed electric ceiling lights.
When the wind blows though, the rippling of the walls and ceiling reminds us that we're in a yurt. Yet the wooden frame gives us little cause to worry — it's withstood worse than the mild ticklings of a March afternoon.
The reclaimed wooden counter, shiny steel coffee machine and industrial lightbulbs could belong to any Shoreditch coffee bar. Sourdough bread too, has reached Limehouse. Cakes are displayed temptingly under glass bell jars, the drink options scrawled onto a chalkboard.
Despite being around 90% solid canvas, the space isn't dark. Light floods in from a 5ft diameter plastic window in the centre of the dome's roof, reinforced by two plastic windows flanking the door. Handmade silver paper stars hang from the ceiling, lending an air of shabby chic, and the entire room is encircled by a single string of fairy lights, unlit during the day.
The Yurt Café is effectively a halfway house for Londoners who think they like the countryside, but really don't want to venture any further out than Poplar, clinging instead to the reassuring rattle of DLR trains on the tracks almost overhead, and the roar of traffic bound for the Limehouse Link Tunnel.
The food, to be honest, is almost an afterthought to the hipster-esque pleasure derived from eating in a yurt. On the day we visited, the full menu was unavailable, leaving us with just a choice of drinks and cakes. The hot chocolate is rich — almost too much so — with real chocolate flakes sprinkled on top. The accompanying brownie is doorstep thick and palatable, not the best we've had, but we're here for the experience, not the food.
Yurt Café Limehouse, St Katharine's Precinct, 2 Butcher Row, E14 8DS. Open Monday-Sunday, 9am-5pm, and occasionally for evening events.