Strictly street legal at Haverstock Hill's new coffee mecca

What would your dream café look like? Would there be deep squidgy sofas and your favourite slippers with someone to rub your feet and point out the cappuccino froth that has moustached itself to your lip? Or just an endless supply of crisp, warm croissant

What would your dream café look like? Would there be deep squidgy sofas and your favourite slippers with someone to rub your feet and point out the cappuccino froth that has moustached itself to your lip? Or just an endless supply of crisp, warm croissants that don't carpet you with crumbs as you eat them?

Marshall Levine's dream was

a multi-functional café - somewhere that would offer more than coffee and a biscuit. A practising solicitor, he also wanted to bring his expertise to a wider audience and create somewhere you could drop in and seek legal guidance on questions such as where you stand on that boundary dispute with your neighbours.

Levine and his business partner Neil MacCormick, the resident coffee expert, took over premises on the corner of Steele's Road and Haverstock Hill and the Legal Café was born.

Upstairs is bright and airy with a mixture of wood and metal garden tables and chairs (inside and out), with leather sofas too. The décor shows a man's touch

- a plasma screen (showing sport) sits high on one wall with a huge fish tank of tropical fish lit by blue neon below it - it's boy-toy-tastic.

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Behind the large wood counter is a mural of the Old Bailey on which Levine himself makes an appearance, walking past in a barrister's wig and gown. Behind the counter - at the rear of the café - is a small office where Levine can advise privately and get on with his own work.

Wander downstairs and you feel like you've had a "Mr Ben" moment - through the curtain to another time zone and place, but without the fancy dress - into an open plan area with more leather sofas and random Oriental-styled furniture, sitting on a tiled white floor. It looks like the living room of a Miami grandparent.

Keep going and the scene has changed again. Now you're in a library. Shelves of legal tomes and statutes line the walls together with a small collection of art history books. Several terminals are available to use for internet access (for a small fee) and long wooden tables offer plenty of work/meeting space.

Levine, a specialist in building and planning law, also hopes to offer help in downloading and comprehending planning and other legal forms as well as printing and scanning. The space downstairs - which includes a further (tiny) meeting room - is available to hire for meetings.

Only open for five weeks at

the time of my visit, they were waiting for a professional sign writer so a handwritten menu was scrawled on a large blackboard. My dining companion (one of this paper's sub-editors) and I visited for a quick weekday lunch. The food is limited and much is not actually advertised. The board lists smoothies, sandwiches (fresh or toasted), cakes, breakfast patisserie and random biscuits and muffins as well as hot drinks.

Much of the food is from small suppliers and local artisan bakeries. Bread and patisserie comes from The Bread Factory, Boulangerie Jade and Daniel's (of Temple Fortune) while a number of home bakers supply cakes.

Levine tells me "Romanian Lucy", their secret weapon, supplies them with her home-baked strudels and gateaux.

My companion chose a sandwich from the limited display on the tall glass counter. A fresh, fat ciabatta stuffed with cheese, tomato and prosciutto. Not a sandwich for those challenged in the chops department. He was pleased with his choice, which had olive oil drizzled inside and some fresh basil as a garnish. His double shot Illy Americano was also well received.

Not fancying anything on the menu, I asked what the two (friendly, charming and helpful) waitresses were making on the rear counter. It was an open smoked salmon sandwich on rye bread - again unlisted. Despite being half the size of my companion's lunch, it was extremely good with nice salmon, fresh lettuce, decently chewy rye bread, more of that fresh basil and a lemon wedge. My pot of peppermint tea was... a pot of peppermint tea.

More food (unlisted on the menu) appeared in the refrigerated counter while we ate, and I spied a newly displayed chicken and lentil salad I'd rather have eaten and that hadn't been mentioned when I made my order. We stopped after our sandwiches and the Sub's second double shot Americano. The cakes and biscuits on display weren't enough to grab me and the caramelised, wrapped biscuit that came with my hot drink - the same as served at hairdresser's salons up and down the land - satisfied my sugar craving.

I spend much of my day tapping away in my home-office, my only company a digital radio and the unfortunate cold calling telephone salesman who struggles to get me off the phone. My dream café is somewhere I can work in peace but with human contact. The Legal Café provides that place. It's early days for them, but once they've worked out their menu and how they're going to share it with their customers, it'll be an asset to this lower stretch of Belsize Park.

I returned to Odette's for a set price midweek lunch this week. Cooked and beautifully presented as last time. Chef Brynn Williams even did a lap of honour at the end of service, emerging from the kitchen to chat to his diners.

Word has reached me that Fishworks (nearest branches Primrose Hill and Marylebone High Street) are soon to be serving giant Alaskan crabs.

These beasts of the deep grow up to six feet long and can weigh up to two kilos.

A nightmare if you're a deep sea diver, but a dream for a crab lover.

Legal Cafe, 81 Haverstock Hill, NW3

Telephone: 020-7586 7149.




Coffee: Five stars

Service: Four stars

Food: Four stars

Opening hours: Every day 8am to 6pm.

Cost: Sandwich lunch £6 per head.