With its elegant style, you’d be mistaken for thinking La Chi is more Paris than Poplar. But its secret is being all about family and community.
The noise of the dual carriagway greets you when walking out of Westferry DLR station. Across the road, a parade of shops includes a betting place and an off-licence. The metal dragon to the left is all that remains to remind us of London’s original Chinatown. Long gone, Pennyfields is now mainly housing. You wouldn’t normally come here unless you had a reason to, but the newest addition to the parade La Chi is certainly a reason to visit.
Unmistakable with its stylish black and white storefront and cute outdoor seating, La Chi catches the eye.
Inside bold white walls and minimalist black details continue the contemporary design. However, upon entering your eyes are immediately drawn to the open baking area that dominates the space.
If you’re lucky, while sipping your coffee you will be able to watch first-hand the store owner Latifa Achchi and her sister Souad Achchi bake.
Currently, the finishing touches to a colourful multi-levelled children’s birthday cake are being made. At the bottom of the cake, a cute hippopotamus has one hand raised, as if greeting the customers popping in for coffee throughout the day.
With freshly baked cakes different every day, part of the joy of La Chi is finding what new sweet treats are on offer when you visit.
Between helping her regular customers, Latifa explains the secrets to her store over a perfectly crumbly chocolate cookie and a steaming cup of tea.
While she came to baking later in life, it’s impossible to miss her passion for the art of baking cakes. For her, La Chi is a “cake shop with coffee”. The new cafe is an extension of the home bakery business that she has been running for years.
Originally from Morocco, she came to the East End with her parents as a child. The silver Moroccan tea set perched atop the counter show touches of her heritage.
However, for Latifa, the shop is about family and community. As well as her sister Souad, Latifa’s son often helps out in the morning and evenings. Her niece has taken charge of all social media responsibilities.
Latifa has spent 30-odd years in Tower Hamlets and currently lives just around the corner from the shop. With her career having been working for the community at a housing association, Latifa is very proud that this store has allowed her to continue that. She said, “We’ve noticed in the shop… literally people from all backgrounds, all cultures, all countries, use the cafe.”
“It’s something I envisioned it to be, my community hub, when you work in an area for so long, it’s a part of you. The fact that stopped, but to a degree, I’m carrying that on here, is a major achievement for me.”
As if to prove her point, a refuse worker stopping his truck outside the store and giving a friendly thumbs up interrupts our conversation. A regular to the shop, this was his way of ordering a morning coffee.
If you liked this article, read Limehouse Basin: pockets of peace in the heart of Tower Hamlets.
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