Its 4pm on a Friday afternoon and I have a brownie in one hand and a cat toy in the other. Yes; I am a bit of an eccentric, but today I have an excuse. Today I am at Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, London’s first cat cafe.
There is a very fluffy looking Calico in front of me (or as the English would call her: Tortoiseshell and white) and it’s playtime.
I moved to London a little over a month ago and subsequently don’t have a pet of my own. So many of my friends in Toronto have animals (like the beloved Canela Reyes) and it didn’t take me long to miss having one around. I started pointing out dogs on the street and lingering a little long over pictures of cats I saw on instagram. It was getting to be a bit much.
Thankfully I received an email from the staff at Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in Shoreditch. I and a guest were invited for high tea the following Friday.
For the uninitiated, a Cat Cafe is a relatively new idea, one that originated in Taiwan in the late 90s. Popular in Countries like Japan where apartments are small but animal lovers are plenty, cat cafes are an ideal place to spend time with an animal when you cannot house one yourself.
At Lady Dinah’s you can enjoy coffee and tea, snacks and cakes and wander around petting and playing with the various cats they have available. They even have cat yoga every Wednesday. It’s quite a trip and definitely a fun way to spend an afternoon.
Lady Dinah’s is a little different than a standard cat cafe in that each cat is a rescue and lives at the Emporium full time, and unlike a lot of cafes they have strict set guidelines: You are not allowed to pet cats that are sleeping, eating or grooming. You are not allowed to pick up a cat and put them in your lap or walk around with one in your arms. I was told by one of the staff that Lady Dinah’s is trying to change the way that people look at Cat Cafes and treat animals in general.
I arrived for my 3:30pm appointment and was met by some of the staff. Everyone seemed very happy to work there, some since the opening almost two years ago. The front entranceway was outfitted with all sorts of funny cat things to buy: Cat themed sweaters, toys, mugs and stickers. Even a calendar featuring a monthly bio on one of Lady Dinah’s cats.
When it was time for our booking we were lead into the back room and given a short list of cafe guidelines and instructed to wash our hands before entering. My guest and I were shown through the first floor of the cafe and down to our table in the basement where we were given menus and ordered drinks.
The cafe was adorable. Bookshelves lined with cat themed stories and board games stood alongside cat beds and even a cat-sized wheel for the animals to play on. Guests were seated in various sized tables enjoying hot chocolate, tea and pastries, or seated on the floor petting cats. There was a birthday party in the far corner, what looked like a mother and daughter in another and I believe one couple was on a date.
When our tier of pastries arrived we were given a break-down of each one. Portuguese eggs tarts, banana bread, mini quiche, raisin scones, red velvet cupcakes and jam and clotted cream. We also received a tray of hummus, pita and olives and champagne glasses filled with elderflower cordial and sparkling water. My favourite was the hummus and pepper and tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches served on cat-faced bread. I was informed by a staff member that all of the savoury dishes were made at a local women’s shelter and that we were allowed free refills of anything we wanted. Not that I got seconds of mini quiche or anything…
My guest and I wandered around both floors, petting and taking photographs of all the cats. One cat was very absorbed in playing with a stack of bubble wrap, one was playing inside a box, and I got to pet and play with a few of them. All of the cats at Lady Dinah’s are fed an all natural-diet and I can attest that they have the softest fur. My favourite cat was Wookie, who spent most of my visit sleeping but when awoke turned out to weigh over 7kg!
I spent a portion of my visit speaking to one of the staff members, a fellow Canadian named Gwen. She told me how Lady Dinah’s is designed to be more of a refuge for cats than a place where you go and have a heavy level of interaction. She explained that as this is their full time home it wasn’t fair to let people constantly wake them up or interrupt them while they were eating. People often come to the cafe expecting to cuddle and pick up cats and get frustrated when they find them sleeping. The real concept of Lady Dinah’s is a fun place to enjoy tea and coffee with friends while you have the company of cats around you. It’s soothing to be in the presence of sleeping cats and a gift when one comes and sits in your lap. Some people even come to Lady Dinah’s with anxiety disorders as a form of therapy.
When the cafe closed at 5pm the staff seemed in no rush to ask people to leave. Guests were informed that they were no longer serving food but everyone hung around talking or petting the cats. It was a very relaxing place to be, all due to the devoted staff that worked there.
Overall I would say Lady Dinah’s is a great experience. The space is a little cramped and worn but that’s part of the charm. The staff love working there, the animals are healthy and happy and the customers seemed respectful and content. The fact that Lady Dinah’s rescues animals instead of buying, that they support local businesses and are independently owned are all great for the economy. Prices start at £6 for general entry but I think at £35 a person the High Tea was definitely worth the price as well.
Open 6 days a week 10am to 5pm and closed during the day Wednesdays for “catnap time”
For more information on Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, follow @LadyDinahsCats on Twitter and Instagram. To join in on the social media conversation, follow and use the #LadyDinahs hashtag.
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All the best,