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If there’s one thing I love about London, it’s the nice surprises you find right in the centre of all the chaos. A tweet from Benugo led me to the Brown Hart Gardens, a place that can only be described as an oasis of calm.

The gardens are elevated above a Grade II listed electricity substation on Duke Street so you’ll be forgiven for missing it completely. It’s also hard to believe that it is less than 200 yards from the madness which is Oxford Street (or as I like to call it “the Oshodi of London”).

Brown Hart Panorama

Panorama of the square

The space is a paved square with planters containing shrubbery chosen for their colour and from the looks of it, their hardiness. These rectangular planters are laid out in two neat rows providing the perfect set up to play ‘it’ with your little ‘uns, or you could just leave them to it I guess, no point doing yourself unnecessary injury.

Benches form the perimeter of the 10,000 square feet space so you can look into the square rather than outside which makes it feel more tranquil and removed from the hustle and bustle.

East side Brown Hart

The east end of the gardens

The east end of the square (well it’s not really square, more like rectangular) is dominated by a Baroque style pavilion and steps mirrored at the west end but this is dominated by the glass cafe run by Benugo (reason I came here in the first place).

I’ve found my favourite bench facing north with Selfridges famous façade framed by the buildings on Lumley Street, best place to watch the multitude hurry by laden with shopping whilst you smugly sip you coffee.
The gardens have only just reopened after another refurbishment exercise by BDP Architects who have done a great job making the space open, appealing, not using too much glass or placing weird installations that wouldn’t work amongst with the existing 19th century architecture.

west side Brown Hart

Good coffee lives here

I like what Benugo have done with the café too; the counter is low, a trestle table provides the deli cafe feel which makes it feel less ‘chain’ and more independent. White tables and chairs plus the wall to wall glass completes the ‘outdoors inside’ effect. The staff are very friendly (there’s a trend here) in the genuinely friendly and not ‘McFriendly’ way so it looks like the Waterloo branch is not a one off after all.

Best part of my trip was meeting Andrea, a friend and colleague from my Tinderbox days, who manages the café. I was walking out of the square when she recognised me and we had a brief 5 minute catch up. One more reason to return methinks. If she is running the place the coffee has to be good and my instincts about the brand were right all along.

selfridges view

Selfridges, framed

So if you’re looking for somewhere to hide while the missus declares all out war on your plastic in Selfridges (or Primark if your credit limit is significantly lower), pop into the garden cafe and tell ’em Clement sent you.