East London's latest cafe opened last week. It's in the middle of nowhere, inside a building site, up a dead end, with minimal signage and almost zero publicity. I suspect it'll do very well.
This is the View Tube - the latest attempt to try to make the pre-Olympic Olympic Park a tourist draw. It's based inside recycled shipping containers, painted lime green, one of which has been tipped up on end to provide a far-visibletower. It's been constructed on the Greenway close to Pudding Mill Lane DLR. It's two storeys tall, with a cafe and toilets downstairs and a classroom and viewing platform upstairs. It's been designed as a community centre, despite the fact there isn't a community living anywhere nearby. And when I visited over the weekend it was unexpectedly busy. Serve coffee, it seems, and they will come. [photo]
The only publicity visible from the main drag of the Greenway was a single sign at the top of a nearby ramp reading "Cafe Open". There wasn't a single mention anywhere further away - nothing at all to lure in footfall from the surrounding area. And there was only mention of the "cafe" function - nothing about there being a viewing platform or cycle hire facilities or even some highly convenient conveniences. Whoever's in charge of this new facility needs to sort out some promotional presence sharpish, else folk will wander by without realising quite what's on offer inside.
Approach from the Greenway is past what look like 16 lock-up garages, except they're lime green and no vehicles are concealed inside. On the other side of the path there's a fine view of the Olympic Stadium unencumbered by whopping great security fences. The view is clear enough to make me think that a special cappucino-enabled viewing platform wasn't entirely necessary, but does at least mean that coffee-sippers sat outside at patio tables have something decent to gawp at.
There are two entrances, neither of them yet clearly labelled. You want the one through the patio windows (unless you've got a burning desire to go to the toilet, in which case veer right). Welcome to the cafe[photo]. I think it'll also double up as an arts space, but at the moment the emphasis is very much on snacks and drinks. The menu choice is slim but well targeted - nothing too deli-bistro and nothing too greasy-spoon. A bacon baguette with relish or a plate of Eggs Benedict, that sort of thing, plus a fresh selection of Olympic-priced cakes and pastries on the counter. The oven wasn't working properly at the weekend, so maybe the menu will ramp up once it's been fixed. A previous customer had recommended the tea ("good and strong"), but I plumped instead for a two quid hot chocolate. I should have had the tea.
A bloke in a cycle helmet wandered in to have a chat to the person in charge. He was concerned (well, more than concerned) that the extensive expanse of wooden decking around the View Tube was especially dangerous for cyclists in wet weather, and why weren't there warning signs? The three lovelyfolk in the kitchen explained that they weren't in charge, they just ran the cafe, and there was currently nobody about who could answer questions like that. Apparently it's possible to hire a bike here, or hereabouts, although there was absolutely zero information inside the building about how to do that either. But the cycle racks out the back were already being well used, so there's every chance that the VT will prove a popular two-wheeled stop-off [photo].
Upstairs I was expecting to find a viewing platform, but instead I found a classroom. A brilliant idea this, to bring in local schoolchildren to do fieldwork and make the most of this unique location. Secondary pupils get to do proper geography with a dedicated teacher, whereas primary kids are to be lumbered with investigating wildlife. This surprises me, given that the Olympic Park has been systematically stripped of almost all its wildlife over the last two years, and now even the vegetation on the nearby Greenway has been utterly and completely eradicated. Surely few locations in London are less suitable for ecological fieldwork than the middle of Europe's biggest building site. It did seem particularly pointless having posters on the classroom wall identifying several different types of UK ladybird when no UK ladybird with any sense would ever alight here.
Assuming the classroom's not being used (don't visit midweek), you can then walk out onto the viewing platform proper. There are a few window-sized metal holes to stare through [photo], and even a roof in case it's raining. And there is indeed a fine view of the Olympic Stadium from here, unencumbered by any ludicrously high security fence, although there was a whopping big crane in the way when I visited which ruined the symmetry somewhat [photo]. There ought also to be a fine view of the Aquatic Centre with its newly completed waveform roof, except there's a massive pile of earth in the way at the moment (really, it couldn't be in a more intrusive location) so you'll see bugger all of interest there. At least the general sweeping Olympic panorama more than makes up for it - still very much a building site at present, but in 1000 days time home to a grandiose Gamestide finale.
So, one week on from opening, is the View Tube worth a visit? If you're in the area or cycling by, then yes, do pop in for a smoked salmon bagel and/or a good long stare from the upper platform. But there's nothing in the building (yet) that merits a lengthy trek from afar. I'll let you know if that changes.