Mohamed Salah Bendif wanted somewhere to sell dates in the UK: it really was as simple as that. And so it came to be that this new addition to one of the area’s enduringly fascinating thoroughfares opened back in September 2019. Yep, just before the mayhem of 2020.
At this time of year, dates might well be on our minds more than others. So step inside and take a seat within the simple decor – it’s all bare brick, durable tables and vintage leather chairs – and glance over at the chrome shelves piled high with stacks of wooden boxes.
What might they be for? Why, the sticky oval treats, of course. We sampled several wonderful examples – they really are sugar-rush addictive – as well as a couple lightly encased in a semolina-style sponge. And they’re perfect with a Colombian coffee: our double espresso was dark and smooth.
It was time to grab owner Mohamed for a quick chat.
How did you come to Chalton Street? We established our company in the UK two years ago and wanted to open a sort of café where people can try the amazing dates grown in our family farm. So we started looking for some premises in London – first in West London – then we found this little amazing shop. We refurbished the place, and it now looks like this.
Tell us more about the farm. It’s situated in Biskra in the north-east of Algeria, in a small village called Lichana, 600 kilometres south-east from the capital Algiers and considered the gateway of the Sahara. My father’s cousins run the farm, and we go there once a year for harvesting. We used to sell the dates in the local market to an Algiers wholesaler, before my father, mother and I decided to move to the UK and develop what we think is a strong brand.
What do you love about dates? Our love of dates? Why, it’s a better love story than Twilight (smiles). To be serious, we have all eaten dates since we were kids, and in Ramadan, when fasting, we break the fast with dates as it gives energy for the rest of the night.
Where’s the coffee from? We buy it from an Italian man called Carlo, a very nice guy who also helped us a lot establishing the coffee shop.
How is life on Chalton Street? To be honest I’m now used to this street, I feel already like one of the locals. People here are really friendly; we don’t have a footfall of a high street but the location is really amazing. I’m looking to move and live not far from here.
Gazelle Dates, open daily except Monday, 7am to 6pm, 42 Chalton St NW1. Follow @gazelledates for more info.