Ever tucked into a fry up, and felt like something was missing? Something like the gaze of a recently deceased royal, watching over you from numerous framed pictures that surround your table? No? Never had the desire to nurse a hangover with a greasy breakfast, wiping up beans with a spongy sausage, and catch the eye of a two-metre tall black and white photo of Princess Diana?
Well, you might be in luck, London’s Cafe Diana boasts such a decor theme, as well as a menu that stretches from run-of-the-mill bacon sandwiches to Baghdadi cuisine. It’s also located in the middle of Notting Hill, just a short walk from Kensington Palace. Royalists and slightly unnerved tourists can choose from falafel wraps, baked potatoes, stuffed vine leaves, and kebabs—all while enjoying the company of wall-to-floor framed photos of Princess Di. Because, of course, why not?
Cafe Diana could easily feel like a vacuous Union Jack-swaddled tourist trap, were it not for the huge number of locals, who seem to genuinely enjoy eating here. First opened in 1989 and extended since then due to its popularity, the cafe’s demographic is much like the food it serves: an unlikely amalgamation of the extremely middle-class to police officers to students and Iraqis in search of home-cooked kofta.
With the royal media machine in overdrive this week following the announcement of Prince Harry’s engagement to American actress Meghan Markle, it seemed only natural to pay the most royalist cafe in London a visit. And as comparisons are already being drawn between Meghan and Diana, it felt important—nay, crucial—to gage their opinion on the happy couple.
Quelling my burning republicanism, I make the journey west. It’s a horribly cold winter’s day but a blast of heating hits me as soon I cross the threshold of Cafe Diana. It’s certainly not busy, but the dining area is filled with regulars—friends of the owner crowd around one table and a very posh man has a conversation with the waitress about his daily coffee.
The cafe’s walls glow from the fairy lights draped around the photos, each one depicting the princess in various public appearances: at Harry and William’s sports day, modelling hats in a magazine spread, whitewater rafting with Charles. Although I visited Cafe Diana a lot as a child, revelling in its comforting beige food, I never quite grasped how bizarre the place is. Namely, the stark British royalism crammed into a greasy spoon selling Iraqi food, in between a Zizzi and a gastropub. Something I do remember from my childhood trips here, however, is the friendly service. A waitress soon comes over to greet me.
The concept for Cafe Diana came about after a chance sighting by owner, Abdul Daoud.
“While I'm waiting for a delivery, Diana comes past with the two princes—Harry and William,” Daoud tells me, sitting across from me at one of the formica tables. “After that, I thought, ‘OK, I'll call it ‘Cafe Diana.’’”
After moving from Baghdad and working in his father’s restaurant in the capital, Daoud came to the UK, keen to bring over his version of the lamb kofta to the city, as well as an unnervingly strong appreciation of the British royalty.
“I thought maybe she'd like the idea, or maybe she’ll think I'm a creep,” he says.
“No!” I exclaim, encased in a prison of Diana iconography, 40 pairs of eyes staring down at me as I stir my tea. “Definitely not creepy!”
“Better than ‘Cafe Abdul,’” Daoud laughs.
We order a roast chicken sandwich—the closest thing on the menu to engagement chicken—but the restaurant only has chicken escalope, which will have to do. In between sips of coffee, Daoud is keen to tell me about the royal attention the cafe has received over the years. During her lifetime, Diana and her family lived just a few hundred metres from the establishment.
“When I put the sign up that Christmas, I could see she was looking at the shop,” Daoud remembers. “I was worried she didn’t like it, but then I saw her pointing at the name with her sons and smiling, which is when she came in by herself.”
Sadly, the princess didn’t opt for Daoud’s famous kofta.
“She asked for a cappuccino and an espresso for her security guard,” he says. “She asked my name and where I came from, and made me feel at ease.”
Daoud adds that Harry also visited the cafe during this time “for a Twix and pitta,” which leads us onto the subject of the prince’s recent engagement.
“I am very happy, I think they are both a beautiful couple,” Daoud says. “His mum would be thrilled. We just had the 20th anniversary [of Diana’s death], which brought us a lot of sad memories. We needed the good news, and I was very thrilled when I heard about Harry.”
Although the royals only ever frequented Cafe Diana for coffee and chocolate bars, I wonder whether the cafe could step in as an unofficial wedding reception for those not lucky enough to bag an invite to the main event. Daoud already has some ideas on how to mark the occasion.
“I will send a congratulation to him and his beautiful fiance,” he says. “I will invite them, but they are welcome anytime. In fact, I'm announcing the official invitation here. We had a celebration for Prince William, but we're going to do the same, maybe better. We stayed until 3 AM for Prince William. We'll do the same for Prince Harry and his fiance.”
Meg and Haz, if you’re reading this, it looks like you’ve got the wedding after-party sorted.