London Food & Culture

Skip Garden Cafe: from planter to plate

Alternative dining, right in the heart of the King's Cross regeneration site

Tipping point: watering the produce at the Skip Garden, King's Cross. Photo: John Sturrock
Tipping point: watering the produce at the Skip Garden, King’s Cross. Photo: John Sturrock

You’d be forgiven for thinking today’s King’s Cross is all about hi-tech new Google buildings, swish dining on modern plazas, and expansive (and expensive) industrial heritage projects.

Yet nestled in amongst the shiny totems of Europe’s largest urban regeneration zone, an earthy underbelly is also flourishing. Organic orchards and vineyards, thriving networks of beehives and abundant seasonal veg crops can all be discovered in this postcode, if you know where to look.

And in the case of The Skip Garden, the whereabouts of all this inconspicuous agriculture actually shifts with the tides of construction.

Horticultural nomads Global Generation designed the Garden to be an organic, sustainable and above all portable allotment for 21st century central London, growing fresh produce within curbside receptacles more often filled with decidedly unsavoury contents.


Leeks bolting skywards, just like the new buildings. Photo: JS
Leeks bolting skywards, just like the new buildings. Photo: JS
The Garden’s latest home is on Tapper Walk, carved from a swathe of London that for decades remained an incongruous, unused urban desert.

The few green shoots previously in evidence were the weeds that twisted their way around burnt-out Cortinas, while rats, seagulls and the occasional sex worker the only ones managing to eke some value out of the inhospitable terrain.

Now, as the inevitable plush office blocks finally rise, these wastelands are being transformed into a rather more familiar cityscape. Yet not all the skips are full of rubble, and not all the structures are gleaming new cubes of glass and steel.

True to the dynamic spirit now running riot through modern-day King’s Cross, even the area’s verdant urban oases come with a twist. The Skip Garden is a unique smallholding, where bountiful crops sprout forth from rows of repurposed rubbish containers, and the whole plot can up sticks and move on when the land is next in line to be built upon.

As well as the funky planters, students from Bartlett School of Architecture, up on Hampstead Road, have been commissioned to build a collection of innovative structures, befitting the project’s sustainable, moveable ethos.

“It’s been an incredible year, following the move to our new home in April,” says Nicole Van den Eijnde, Director of Global Generation, the collective that have galvanised local businesses and countless volunteers to come get their hands dirty and help realise the project.

The Glass Lantern, eco design at the Skip Garden. Photo: JS
The Glass Lantern, eco design at the Skip Garden. Photo: JS
“The garden is more exciting than ever – with eight bespoke structures – custom made by the Bartlett’s students. We’ve also branched out to create an even wider and diverse programme of year-round activities, whether its bee spotting you’re into, dirt digging, twilight gardening or just enjoying some of the freshly made produce from the café.”

And the new site, perfectly plonked next to the freshwater swimming installation Pond Club on Tapper Walk, is certainly impressive.

A huge structure known as the Glass Lantern – made from recycled scaffolding boards and sash windows – forms a striking patchwork greenhouse by day, while functioning as a novel way to light the garden by night.

Meanwhile the loos are hewn from attractive layers of stacked railway sleepers, with rainwater collected above, waiting to power the flush.

With my two young daughters in tow, we soon worked up an appetite exploring the site, admiring the vertiginous flowering leeks, identifying herbs and watching industrious pensioners build their own home planters under the tutelage of mental health charity Garden Organic, one of the many schemes that make use of the facilities.

And have you ever eaten lunch in a ‘greywater dining scape’ before? Almost certainly not, but here you’ll find tables and chairs set amongst man-made wetlands, which gently filter used water through their reeds. Diners can then jump on a bike and pedal pump the cleaned-up water into storage tanks ready for irrigation use.

But we perched instead upon wobbly benches inside, where the little ones could watch industrious food prep in the open kitchens. Channelling the spirit of London’s original, oft-missed vegetarian joints like Crank’s and Food for Thought, the Skip Garden Café combines rustic, DIY design and culinary principles with a scattering of modern, urbane stylings.

Cauliflower & cumin soup, a hit with the youngsters. Photo: Tom Kihl
Cauliflower & cumin soup, a hit with the youngsters. Photo: Tom Kihl
Service proved as casual as the furniture, but once our food had all been dispatched, I was tickled to see Sara (aged 5) wolfing down a luxuriously smooth cauliflower and cumin soup, and deeply brown hunks of unusual in-house bread. She later devoured courgette too, masked in the attractive guise of a chocolate-heavy muffin.

Mediterranean veg quiche, that perennial wholefood joint fave, was packed with sweet peppers. The zingy flavours really did scream freshness, as they did from the sharp beetroot and apple side salad.

My triple certified coffee suffered from an overdose of hot water, but the slice of hazelnut and orange tart that accompanied it was a complex, full-strength winner.

After a summer that has seen weddings set against the backdrop of cranes and cement mixers, a new season is about to change the daily ebb and flow of life.

“The autumn months will allow us to explore the ecological and biological changes that the garden will encounter,” says Nicole, “and we invite everyone to come and learn with us.”

We wholeheartedly advise that you do.

The Skip Garden, Cafe and Kitchen is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-4pm at Tapper Walk, N1C

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