The Bonnington Café is a co-operatively run vegetarian and vegan restaurant in the Bonnington Square Community Centre in the heart of Vauxhall. One of South London’s best-kept secrets tucked amidst the beautiful community gardens of the square, the Café has been open since the early 80’s when it was started as a squat Café to provide a good cheap meal for the community.
Much has changed in the years since we opened, but not the sense of community. No single person runs the restaurant, rather it’s maintained by an active collective of member cooks who also contribute to the overall running of the venue and who are still committed to providing excellent vegetarian home-cooking at great prices in a laid back and friendly bohemian atmosphere.
Initially the café wasn’t open to the public. It was an eating place run by squatters for squatters, because the local houses were in such a bad state and didn’t have gas or electricity or sometimes even water. It was a communal space where food could be made for people from the community, and if they had nothing they paid nothing, or whatever they could afford. At the very beginning people would go to the market at New Covent Garden and pick up the throw-away vegetables. It didn’t really cost anything, but was still perfectly good food that was just thrown away in our wasteful society.
From squat to community centre
By the mid-80s, many of the squatters had moved and so there was less need for a squatters’ kitchen. One of the squatters who had lived upstairs turned the building into a community centre. It was decided to turn the kitchen into a café, but still to keep it as a communal space for both cooking and eating. Because it is a very popular café there is always a lot of pressure to go upmarket, but we don’t want to and we aim to keep prices low – we always keep the room slightly bohemian. That might be off-putting to some people who think ‘Oh God there are holes in the floor’ or something like that. But it is deliberate; we want to keep the café as an affordable place within a thriving community.
A different chef every night
The café is run on a co-operative basis. That means that people are members and every day of the week somebody different cooks. There are blessings in that, but there are problems as well. If someone forgets that it is their night to cook, then the café is shut. That has happened many times (in the past). The nice thing is that there is a huge variety. Each person that cooks has the responsibility to pay rent to the community centre and also to put something in the café kitty to replace things like plates and pots. After that, whatever they make is theirs to keep. The cook is responsible for buying the food, preparing and serving it, and cleaning up at the end of the day.A community-friendly place We have monthly meetings where we talk about the maintenance of the café, how we might want to develop in the future and any other issues, like complaints or requests to put on exhibitions, fundraisers, events and now as a “food hub” with more focus social enterprise.
Cuisine from around the world
The philosophy behind the café is to have a community-friendly place where people can come in, sit down and meet people. It is also a place for people who like to cook vegetarian food to be able to do it without the risk and investment involved in opening a café of their own. We want to have as many different cuisines as possible, so we have people from Japan cooking here, people from Malaysia, China, Greece, Italy, and France. There is a huge variety of food. Many make an effort to use local produce, such as from allotments, farmers markets and UK farms. Everyone though has a different angle so while some focus on seasonal food and organic, others focus on raw foods and for some its all about exotic ingredients from around the globe.
As a different person cooks each night the atmosphere changes from day to day. Sometimes there is live music. Traditionally musicians have gathered here, brought along their instruments, and just jammed and we’ve had cabaret performance, spoken work nights… were always keen on new ideas!
Just to add that although and inevitably there have been ups and downs, the café is more popular now than it ever was. And that’s testament to its history, the community it sits in, the cooks and all our friends who eat there![su_spacer]Address: 11 Vauxhall Grove
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Address: 11 Vauxhall Grove
Hours Open: Mon-Sun 12pm-2pm and 6:30pm-10:30pm
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