It’s been little more than one month since I finished college, and yet it feels as if ages had passed. As leisure reads and blog posts replace textbooks and assignments in my evening routine, I find myself wondering how something so close in time can look so remote, indulging to memories every now and then. I miss the people I shared those six months with, but I’m not sorry to have dropped the routine that study had imposed on me: although the simple, uplifting fact that I could leave the office early on Tuesdays was enough to fuel me through evening classes, weekend classes were really hard to cope with. Imagine eight-hour slots that covered four weeks’ worth of lessons, next day assessments, overnight preparation. Top it with quick, on-the-clock lunches, that felt as if we were really working a shift. If you’re thinking “nightmare”, well, you’re pretty close.
As weekends are the only times I can afford sitting down and enjoying a hearty meal, those lunch breaks were particularly challenging. I’d be looking for something suitably tasty, as a well-earned reward for making it through four hours of class. Suitably filling, to avoid further cravings to get in the way of the remaining four. Suitably far from college, for nothing kills a joyous Saturday mood like a measly snack consumed on a classroom desk. A relatively easy task in a city like London; a treasure hunt in the surroundings of the Hammersmith Campus, offering students an unflattering view on Talgarth Road’s traffic congestions – and not even one supermarket in sight.
Uncertain, unprepared (“I will get lost. I haven’t consulted Great Little Place. I should have googled “West Kensington cute cosy tasty cheap cafe” beforehand. I’ll never make it back on time. Oh my, oh goodness, oh me”), I’d end up roaming around a small cafe near Barons Court station. The sign, reading “Cafe Patisserie”, couldn’t be more inviting. The word “quiche”, scribbled on a blackboard inside, got me hungry for more. And my romance with C’est Ici started.
The interiors looked cosy and welcoming, with a bunch of bistro tables on the upper floor, and enough space for a large communal table in the basement. Peeking out, I saw a cute little garden: sadly not an option on that first March Saturday, stormed by a heavy snowfall. I made a mental note of it, filed it under “Reasons to Return”. And then, as I set my eyes on the food, realised that list was only bound to grow.
Among the usual combinations of paninis and bagels – chicken and bacon, salmon and cream cheese, you name it – there was The One: a roasted red pepper, houmous, spinach and falafel sandwich. Served in warm basil bread (never tasted before, forever craved afterwards), this glorious combination felt as far from a tasteless supermarket meal deal as I could possibly ask.
The cake counter teased me on my way out, tempting me to grab a fruit tart for the road. We’re talking four more hours of class on a Saturday, remember. But then the custard tarts looked too cute, the flapjacks too promising, the brownies too decadent. The remainder of my lunch break would have never been enough to decide upon one treat, and not regret missing out on the others. By the time I was back at my desk, I was already scheming to make sure I’d stop by again, with no scolding tutors standing in the way.
Over the months, C’est Ici became much more than a passing affair. It was my go-to lunch spot on all the college weekends to come, and the celebratory mid-morning coffee place after my last Sunday assessment. And then my course ended, together with my reasons to venture to Barons Court again; until, a couple of Saturdays ago, I took an afternoon stroll with my partner as the long-awaited excuse to reignite the flame.
Far from the 12.30 – 1pm rush hour, the cafe was pleasantly uncrowded. It being past two thirty, I wasn’t shocked to see that most sandwiches had sold out: after three years in this country, I’ve finally come to terms with the irreconcilable conflict between my Mediterranean habits and British meal times. Plus, I had no cause to complain, as several specimens of The One were still promisingly laid out on the food counter. The eating area was flooded by sunlight, and felt even more cosy than I remembered. However, nothing beats eating outdoors on a warm end-of-summer day: having our sandwiches out in the balcony, watching the comings and goings of people around us, was a little weekend pleasure worth indulging in.
I had, of course, the usual: I had missed my falafel and basil bread too much. My partner went for a chicken, bacon and lettuce ciabatta, of which he offered me a little bite; the toasted crusty bread and the tender, juicy chicken tasted like a match made in heaven. Our experience overcame all objections on spending five pounds for an eat-in sandwich: a price we’d normally find unreasonable for a quick bite, but not at C’est Ici, where said quick bite has so consistently proven to be both flavoursome and filling.
A light meal that doesn’t leave me craving for more is not something I come across very often; and yet, at the end of my lunch at C’est Ici, I felt thoroughly sated. The desserts on display looked more like a treat than a necessity; their line in the “Reasons to Return” list remains yet to be ticked off. A wrong I should right by coming back for breakfast, having myself a frothy cappuccino, and getting some cake. Anyone care to join?