To be honest, I didn't have high expectations for my first Elan Cafe visit; let's face it, the quality of your offerings doesn't matter if you're targeting people who will pay above the odds for a one-time latte purely to rake in the likes on Instagram.
Peggy Porschen is the obvious - and original - example of a London cafe that's done well off of social media. I've never been so I can't comment one way or the other about the quality of the food. However, there was that disastrous trip to Palm Vaults in Hackney, another darling venue of London's Insta hoards. Sure it's pretty - although not as much as Instagram would have you believe, because #filters - and yes the food was decent, but as a business, it's a shambles.
So as I Google-Mapped my way to the Park Lane Elan Cafe, my mind was open but my expectations were low. I didn't even know if any tables would be available, or if there'd be queues out of the door, even at mid-morning on a Tuesday.
It's a lot smaller than its online presence suggests. Perched between the behemoth buildings of Park Lane and sunk a little into the ground, it reminded me of this (but obviously not *quite* that small). Good news came in the form of an available table inside.
Not too sure of the system (table service? Order at the counter?) I plonked my coat down to save the table and hovered around the cake counter in what I hoped was a 'help-me-I'm-new-here-and-definitely-not-cool-enough-do-know-what-I'm doing vibe'. Fortunately, I've years of experience in giving off 'not-cool-enough' vibes, and a man who I think was the manager came to my rescue, telling me in a polite and non-patronising way that they'd take my order from my table.
A couple of minutes later he came over with a menu, which turned out to be far more extensive than the repetitive photos of that latte art would have you believe. A quick scour showed that the Lucky Charms latte -my main reason for making this pilgrimage - wasn't on the menu. Perhaps it's only available at the other branch of Elan Cafe, but no harm in asking, right?
And just like that, I became one of *those* people, who order something they've seen on Instagram, even though it's not on the actual menu. A little bit of me died inside as I placed my order, but the knowledge that Lucky Charms were on their way to my table helped me get over it pretty quickly.
While I was waiting, I wandered around the ground level, taking photos and chatting to the staff, who weren't remotely surprised at my incessant snapping. Rather judgmentally, I had thought they might be a bit snooty, and a bit, well... Mayfair, especially given that my geeky rucksack and ill-fitting jeans mark me out as quite different to the Instagrammers and bloggers that feature heavily on the Elan Instagram feed.
No need to worry though, as they were all super-friendly, chatting about the food and offering to take a photo of me against the pink flower wall (something they've clearly done once or twice before). My assumptions of Elan Cafe had been destroyed, and that was no bad thing.
If the friendly staff aren't enough to shoot down the misconstrued notion that Elan is overhyped, the food should do the trick. A generous portion of Lucky Charms topped my latte, with more heaped on the saucer. The coffee itself was decent, if nothing special, but the jam-filled raspberry croissant was really quite unique.
As I ate, I watched life in the cafe continue around me, surprised to see regulars coming by for their morning coffee. The staff knew what they were going to order before they'd even closed the door, and the manager even asked one lady if she'd been on holiday as he hadn't seen her for a while. Clearly Elan does foster and maintain regular customers, as well as pandering to one-time Instagram tourists.
Far from being just another Instagram sensation that's all style, no substance, Elan Cafe is serving up decent (if pricey) food and drink, with friendly and helpful staff. That iconic decor is a constant theme throughout. The Instagram hype? That's just a pink, filtered jewel in Elan's photogenic crown. Instagramability* and quality aren't mutually exclusive, and nowhere is that more evident that this petite pink cafe. For me, it's not a everyday cafe, but somewhere I'll definitely return to with friends on special occasions. You'd do well to visit - don't forget your camera.
*definitely a real word.
I visited the Elan Cafe at 48 Park Lane, W1K 1PR, but there's a second branch in Knightsbridge at 239 Brompton Road, SW3 2EP. Work up an appetite on Instagram before you visit.
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