Pies and Principles: El Piano (York) & LWS Cafe (London)

Want to spend your money at cafes and restaurants that give back to society? For our new food and drink column, our reporters check out venues that have morals on their menu. Up first are El Piano in York and LWS Cafe in London

El Piano, 15-17 Grape Lane, York

It’s 15 years since the family behind El Piano restaurant and cafe landed in York, determined to bring some of their native Spanish cuisine to the city.

Today, their busy, much-loved eatery presents vegan, gluten-free food with a ‘local and sustainable’ philosophy.

The varied menu has strong Spanish and Arabian influences and staff from around the world have also made their mark: one popular dish is ‘tinas’ – fried Bolivian patties of carrot and spring onion.

Tapas-style platters are £12.95, while a £7 daytime menu offers soup and bread with a mini dessert, or veggie burger with salads. Everything is homemade, apart from the corn tortillas. It’s fresh and imaginative – and tastes delicious.

© El Piano


There are also gluten-free wines and beers available.

El Piano is proud of its eco credentials, with menus showing what percentage of ingredients come from a 30-mile radius and cooking oil that’s recycled into biofuel. It is also a refilling station for Tapwater.org.

In addition, El Piano has spent two years trying to get permission to grow herbs and vegetables on site and hopes this will be permitted in the near future. There is also a further social enterprise element to the venue. Paid for by profits, staff are offered 10 months of training in every aspect of the business and then given the opportunity to run a franchise of the restaurant anywhere in the world, should they desire.

Open Monday to Saturday (11am to 11pm) and Sunday (12noon to 5pm).

LWS Cafe, 46-48 Westow Street, London

The Living Water Satisfies Cafe is a community venue in south-east London with profits used to support women affected by domestic violence.

© Lynley Oram

When you eat or drink here you are helping fund an advice service, counselling, debt management and confidence-building workshops for local women who have experienced domestic abuse.

The cafe has huge windows, a cosy interior with lots of comfy leather chairs and sofas, and large dining tables. Works of art on the walls are for sale.

It has grown-up feel, but is also child- and baby-friendly with toys, books and plenty of room for pushchairs alongside the tables and sofas.

The menu includes breakfast, light choices, sandwiches and cooked meals.

We particularly liked the Teapigs tea, which uses whole leaves in its tea bags. I had a perfect cup of Darjeeling Earl Grey and my friend enjoyed a fragrant cup of Lemongrass.

Manager and main cook, Janet Bakar, is responsible for many of the Caribbean meals; her goat curry is a big favourite. I chose the stewed oxtail with rice ’n’ peas and salad (£6.20). The meat was tender and the flavour pleasantly spicy.

My companion was disappointed to find there were no vegan options on the main menu and all vegetarian choices used Quorn. Her small plate of fried plantain (£2.80) came with a dip and six slices of plantain. Perfectly cooked, but not really enough as a snack.

Service was slower than I would normally tolerate, but it didn’t seem to matter as much with it being for a deserving cause. Good food, excellent tea, and a comfortable atmosphere sum up this community cafe.

Open Monday to Saturday (9am to 6pm) and Sunday (9am to 5pm).

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