When I came across a TimeOut voucher for a cream tea and scones afternoon at Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, I could not pass up this opportunity to visit one of only two cat cafés in London, and take one of my best friends with me – an easy decision to make really, since we’re both cat-crazy.
If you’re wondering where this quirky café could be, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s on Bethnal Green Road, just around the corner from Brick Lane. In countries such as Korea or Japan, cat cafes, dog cafes, meerkat cafes (and the list goes on), are no rarity, but if you’re looking for a little quirkiness in this part of the world, then East London (think Shoreditch, Dalston, Hackney) is typically the way to go.
The café will already stop you in your tracks if you just happen to pass by. With a large window spanning to the floor, you can see and watch the cats inside, some snuggled into their shared beds, sound asleep, others standing on the tables, with tails perched in excitement, pawing at a dangling toy mouse waved enthusiastically by guests.
When I spent a few months raising a rescued kitten some years ago, there was not a day where I could not have simply sat there and watched him endlessly. Hours would pass, and I’d still be fascinated by this bundle of energy entertaining himself with toys, a piece of tissue found underneath the sofa, even pellets from his own cat toilet. If you’re into watching kittens (who isn’t, really?), then luck is on your side! The team at the Cat Emporium have just begun supervised sessions with the kittens mum Mimi brought into this world, allowing them to explore the cat café and meet their grown-up buddies.
Technically, thanks to the large window, you could just stand outside and watch the cats and kittens for ages, for free. But there’s an even better thing you can do, and that’s to head on in! Booking is recommended, especially if you’re considering going for their high tea at £35 per person, as it’s not available every day.
But there’s also a good amount of food and drink to choose from on the menu on the day, if you’re feeling not just thirsty, but peckish as well. This includes foods such as bagels, croissants, and salads. And of course sweet treats such as brownies, cakes, and scones. For a café where the primary attraction is, well, the cats, the food and drinks were in fact satisfyingly good as well, and affordable. Scones were fresh and tasty, and the teas dainty enough for such a delicate cat-special occasion.
When, on the day of our visit, we entered through a door opening into a room adjacent to and separate from the cat-colonised one, we were first asked to wash our hands. Some guidelines were given, verbally, and in a very relaxed and friendly manner, on how to handle the cats: to let them do their own thing, especially when they’re asleep; not to pick them up; not to feed them; and other common-sense requests. The lady gave us the go-ahead to step inside. We were as eager and ready for the cats as one could be, while to them our entrance must have been simply old news. More excited chatter about us? Fine. A pet on the back? Why not. A tickle at the base of the ears? Yes please!
We approached the cats with much more curiosity than they would give us, but some gentle purring revealed they enjoyed it none the less. There was much to marvel at in terms of the set up of the room as well, in particular the space downstairs where we were seated. We had a treasure trove for a table and a cat’s food and drink bowl right next to us, leading to a feline visit of our couch-treasure-trove-area at some point throughout our stay.
There were little wooden bridges connecting hideaways along the walls, just beneath the ceiling. Cat scratching posts. A stimulating cat puzzle game spread out on the floor, with treats dispersed. Even a giant wheel for their daily exercise.
Best of all, the sizeable tree in the middle of the room – fake, but impressive and incredibly functional. This, because holes in the trunk of the tree provided for nestled sleeping spots for the cats, one of which we discovered innocently sleeping, all cuddled up in such a hole, on our little tour around the tree. You’ll probably be doing more walking around in this café than in any other you’ve ever been to.
Starting out with eleven cats in 2014, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium has since taken on new adopted members, helped raise the funds to save and keep a run-over feline, and has been supportive in creating new life, that is kittens Dorian, Ernest, Sybil, Cecily, and Salome. You can read more about mum Mimi’s hardships and The Emporium’s incredible support here. For a very affordable price you can sip your tea, enjoy a fresh scone (refills of tea and jam are happily served upon request), and be stimulated by cats while they’re kind enough to allow you to stimulate them.
I like people-watching, but I enjoy cat-watching even more. Isn’t it brilliant we can do this over a cup of tea without any of the responsibilities of actually owning one of those furry little fluffs? Ask your friend to tag along, and make an afternoon of it. Especially if you’ve had a tough week, a little cat therapy can go a long way.
Area: Shoreditch, East London
Closest tube: Old Street (Northern line); Bethnal Green (Central line); Whitechapel (District, and Hammersmith & City line)
Address: Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium
152-154 Bethnal Green Road
London E2 6DG