The first thing that’s remarkable about Fowlds is it’s size. It’s tiny. Tucked into a side street just 100 yards away from the busy Camberwell Road, it’s eleven or so seats feel like a spotlight of calm among the crowded bus stops and hammering building sites of the roiling London hubub.
Rather than being it’s own standalone entity, the cafe is housed in the front portion of a working upholsterer’s shop of the same name. This unusual arrangement feeds into the aesthetic of the decor; vintage shop signs battle with chalk boards for wall space, and when stood at the counter you can see pieces of furniture in various stages of undress through in the workshop.
It’s a credit to the team here that during our visit, every indoor seat is filled, meaning latecomers have to choose between getting their coffee to go or taking a seat in the crisp autumn air outside (thick knitted blankets are provided).
The scarcity of the indoor seats breeds a fun, clan mentality amongst those lucky enough to have snagged one. We take turns pulling the door closed as take-away customers come and go (it’s within arm’s length of nearly all of us) and Morty, one of the regular’s Shih Tzu, is doing circuits, getting a stroke or scratch from everyone like she’s interviewing to see where she’ll settle down later on.
Whether sat inside or out, nearly everyone is tucking into a breakfast of some sort. We opt for the boiled egg and soldiers which is pleasantly homely, but get instant food envy when the american sitting alongside us has his peanut butter and banana toastie placed in-front of him. We can’t help sneaking sideways glances at the oozy filling and start wondering whether we can get away with ordering one. Two course breakfasts are okay, right?
Reluctantly, we decide against it, instead ordering a Portuguese tart and double Red Brick espresso which are perfect bedfellows; the creamy smooth vanilla filling of the tart complimented by the tart fruity hit of the coffee. They both disappear far too quickly.
A further remarkable thing about this small cafe is the variety of customers that have bustled in and out while we’ve been quietly sat here. Burly leather clad motorcyclists rub shoulders with lycra wrapped road cyclists, the latter clumping around in their ungainly SPD shoes; Macbook Air toting students quietly tap away while a boisterous pair of workmen sit outside, high vis jackets dangling from their back pockets.
It all feels very amiable, friendly and inclusive. Miles away from the cliquey snobbery that can occasionally prevail in the London cafe scene. The feeling is reinforced when a number of us share smirks as, on the radio, a deluded scientist outlines his plans to clone Elvis by extracting DNA from a batch of his toenail clippings. Good luck with that…
In the end, it’s a wrench to leave, but at least in doing so we’re freeing up a precious seat. One of the customers queuing to order is already casting hungry glances towards our table space. Better not keep them waiting.