The Independent London Newspaper
19th April 2014

Letters

'Russian tea rooms' close in Primrose Hill

Morfudd Richards is moving into the premises

Morfudd Richards is moving into the premises vacated by Sophia Szymankiewicz’s ‘Russian tea room’

Published: 11 October, 2012
by PAVAN AMARA

AN acclaimed Primrose Hill “tea room” has been forced to close after a rent rise.

Sophia Szymankiewicz, who founded Trojka in Regent’s Park Road in 1992 – affectionately known as “the Russian tea rooms” – said a 70 per cent rent rise and increasing overheads were “turning Primrose Hill into Camden High Street”.

Ms Szymankiewicz, who lives nearby, said: “Camden High Street is now coffee and food places but it wasn’t always, and Regent’s Park Road is going that way too.

“On commercial leases there is a rent review on market value every few years. The law of the market and the chartered surveyors that look at how leases are constructed do not take into account that we were a family business, that we knew everyone in this community, that we are so sad to have to close.”

Trojka had a mixed clientele, although it was known as a favourite stop for many of Primrose Hill’s famous writers.

“It is naive to think the council would ever do anything to help, because the business rate paid to the council is a percentage of the rent you pay, so the higher the rent the better it is for the council because they get paid more,” said Ms Syzmankiewicz. “It’s a Catch 22.”

Negotiations to sell the lease to Morfudd Richards, sometimes dubbed the “ice cream queen” due to her popular gourmet recipes, were finalised last week. She will open The Greenberry Cafe in place of Trojka.

Ms Richards began her career working with Michelin-starred chef Marco Pierre White, and said her new venture would be “all about seasonality, healthy produce, with a charcuterie and a lot of Jewish-style dishes.”

She was the owner of Islington’s Lola's until 2006.

“The new place will have a strong focus on wine and take-away ice cream, including a gin and tonic sorbet,” said Ms Richards.

The make-up of Primrose Hill’s businesses has been under the spotlight with the closure of Beechey’s hardware store last year in Regent’s Park Road and Sesame wholefood shop deciding it to will close its doors in November.

Gail Levy, who has owned Primrose Hill Pets for 19 years, said she was concerned a lack of business variety was turning the street into a “ghost town”.
She added: “About 30 per cent of this street is cafés or restaurants, in five years will it be 50 per cent?

“In the summer it’s fine, people are sitting outside the cafés, but in the winter during the day it’s a ghost town, there’s no one here because you don’t get the quirky shops that were here.

“In the last year we’ve seen the end of an art gallery, a clothes shop and a health-food shop. It’s going to be a row of food places soon.

“We need a fishmonger’s or a butcher’s, because Primrose Hill is not all celebrity; there are estates round here and generations of families who need that, but the rents are extortionate, and for the first time I’m seeing shops on this road stay empty because it’s unaffordable.

“It’s not new ideas we need, it’s lower rents.”

Amit Jain, who runs Shepherd’s café, said: “I don’t think people realise that soon Primrose Village will be Café Village.

“We don’t want more cafés. In the last few years new cafés have meant we’ve lost 20 per cent of our sales. The Post Office now sells alcohol and groceries, which has meant a 15 per cent loss for us, and you wonder what the council is thinking when it hands out these licences without thinking about the impact on the area.

“The yummy mummies just want somewhere to settle their prams and have a mummies’ meeting, so anywhere with coffee and a table is in demand, and people are supplying it, but it’s not helping the area.”

But Natalie Allen, who has been running Sweet Things Cakery for 10 months, said: “The definition of a café is somewhere that sells coffee, and it’s very hard not to do that when you are selling things to eat. No one will eat somewhere with no hot drinks.

"If people do their research properly, and there’s enough business, let’s rise to it.”

Ms Szymankiewicz’s landlord could not be reached for comment.

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