The brainchild of "eco-social design practice" Something & Son, and active from March 2011, FARM: shop describes itself rather grandly as "the world's first urban farming hub". While that might seem a little hyperbolic, it certainly makes a change from your average working man's café. After walking through a corridor at the entrance, you encounter a narrow room on which either side seats rows and rows of plants, joined by a few tables and chairs (pictured) – a 'high tech indoor allotment' as they describe it.
Inside the FARM: shop, with rows and rows of vegetables...
Beyond this narrow room is a café area, manned by volunteers, with a counter and blackboard (pictured below) listing some nice grub, including delicious soup and sandwiches, with fresh salad – not surprisingly originating from the room you've just walked through – a speciality. Even in this café area, things are still being grown, including 'Pineapple Mint'. Meanwhile, nice books on graphic design haphazardly adorn the walls.
There's also a garden section, with chickens in a pen area and a 'Polytunnel' – essentially a big tent – holding all kind of fauna (and with chairs to relax in – handy when it's raining) (pictured below). Like the Dalston East Curve Garden down the road, the whole thing has a pastoral, bucolic feel slightly detached from this strip of Dalston Lane, which is forever mooted by Hackney Council for big development yet continues to look like crumbling and semi-derelict through a combination of ineptness and bureaucracy.
The back garden tent - perfect protection against the current weather
FARM: shop also doubles (as these places always seem to do) as an events space, including talks and farming sessions, including something called Trade School London. They also have plans to set up a network of FARM: shops around the UK and are looking for vacant space - so one of these may be near you sooner than you think!
FARM: shop is just one of a number of independent café spaces that offer more than just appetising food. Something of FARM: shop's vibe can also be found nearby with the Pogo Café, an appealing vegan café (check their menu here) on Clarence Road with a strong emphasis on alternative culture.
The Cafe hosts film nights, exhibitions, and the occasional music events, with some nice grub mixed in (pictured). One of those places that feels closer in spirit to Berlin or London in the mid-90s, the Pogo Café comes across like an anarchist bookshop mixed with a café, with titles by left-wing thinkers such as Chomsky and Slavoj Žižek lining the walls. There's also all kinds of strange artwork, photography and stencils adorning the walls and in the toilets (pictured below).
A few doors down, there's also Pacific Social Club, a ramshackle café bar with the wall nearly entirely covered with vintage 7"s (pictured below), many of which get aired on their authentically old gramophone. They describe themselves as a "coffee shop/social club/analogue recording library/drop-out centre/mixtape factory".
Named after a variety of apple tree planted right near the café, the place is child-friendly (a separate connected room is designed especially for kids, with toys and children's books),with sloping, pear-shaped windows at the back (pictured).
They also serve some pretty nice breakfast and lunch (above). As with the aforementioned places, they also have a ton of events, including talks, film screenings and something called 'Cardboard Cabaret', all watched over by bizarre statues such as the one pictured below.
A decidedly incongruous looking statue at The Russet
There's also more coffee inclined places such as Hunt & Dart Café, To The Jungle, Chase & Sorensen, who sell distinctly Danish snacks and drinks at the back of their design shop; and the Tram Depot (pictured below), a visually impressive space that also includes artist studios.
Finally, Organic & Natural is a nice set of two organic food shops up in Clapton, one of which contains a nice café at the back with a piano that just has to be played (and frequently is by a mysterious man with a hat).
There's also as many such places in nearby Broadway Market and London Fields by itself – but those deserve a separate entry, and won't be covered here.
These staunchly independent alternative café spaces in this neck of the woods offer more than just nice food and coffee, but a whole experience that's a more than a welcome antidote to All Bar One. Embrace them before a combination of rising rents, luxury flats, and homogenisation prices these alternative spaces out forever.