A post about coffee places I like, mostly in London, and coffee generally.
Declaration of bias: Firstly, I prefer Italian coffee, whether a lukewarm cappucino that is a perfect amalgalm of froth, milk and espresso, in a small traditional cup; or an espresso, both consumed standing up, with lots of perfectly dressed old men & women in furs milling about, elegantly eating cornetti. A barman bashing out coffees, two at a time, with will ignore your request for frappucinos, skinny anything, decaf, low-cal sugar, no GMO, beast-friendly, ethically-sourced, or any other modern idiocies. So slightly different from the Antipodean style of coffee in London (characterised by rhythmic banging of the milk can, fairly slow service, IMHO a more bitter espresso, and lovingly-made “coffee art”); however I admit we owe it to the Kiwi & Oz crowd for bringing carefully-made coffee to London. Secondly, most of my experience is in the West End and East London, so no knowledge or interest in the northern/western suburbs – therefore, this isn’t intended to be exhaustive, rather it’s where I actually go.
Moving swiftly on…
Flat White & Milk Bar (Soho): basically started the “new coffee”, and Eric from the original team still runs it. Great coffee, friendly service, and awesome location next to the last bits of Berwick Street market surviving. Have an espresso, stand outside and get good-humoured abuse from Norm, Jim, Matt at the vegetable stand. Antipodean + media crowd.
Bar Italia (Soho): don’t understand what the fuss is all about, pretty average coffee, doesn’t feel very Italian. I suppose if one is an avid guide-book reader or in thrall to 70s London or Ronnie Scotts, it makes sense, but I shouldn’t go for the coffee. Disclosure: it was great in 2001, when there were few other options in W1 !
Kaffeine (Fitzrovia): good coffee, nice owner, good/modern decor. Check out all the nearby galleries: Alison Jacques, Stuart Shave/Modern Art, Carroll Fletcher, Mummery & Schnelle, Piper, The Photographers Gallery, Art First, Paradise Row, Pilar Corrias, Whisper, Vela, Rosenfeld Porcini, Regina, Josh Lilley
Store Street (Bloomsbury): lovely space that uses the original architecture (old Victorian? skylights). Has a student feel, if only because it’s close to UCL. Really like it.
Cafe Italia Uno (Bloomsbury): one of the most authentically Italian cafes around, and the cheapest (good) espresso in the West End (£1.60). The bondola panino (mortadella, mozzarella, and marinated artichokes) is superb. Have as many as 10 Italian/European football matches on at a time during the season.
Nude Espresso (Soh0): great location on Soho square, they have another location near the City
Fernandez & Wells (Soho): 3 locations in Soho, good food and wine, and very nice spaces. I find them expensive (espresso at £2.20 I think), and of the three, the two wine bars are the more interesting, particularly the one on Lexington Street on a nice summer evening.
Nordic Bakery (Soho): not sure about espresso, but they have good filter coffee and great open-faced Scandi sandwiches (eggs, herring, cooked ham, etc.). Lovely decor inside and good location on Golden Square, pop next door to Frith Street Gallery or Riflemaker Gallery nearby.
Taylor Street Baristas (various locations): coffee is Antipodean style and the food is good, but the real draw is the lovely attitude of the staff, particularly at the City locations. It’s impressive how they manage to charm, without ever becoming brash/bolshy….in the face of a steady stream of increasingly grumpy/despondent/irritable/demanding RBS and Deutsche Bank employees !
Climpsons (E Ldn): coffee joint/parlour room/conference centre/creche for the Broadway Market hipster crowd. British baristas. Good coffee, great birchermuesli. Beware on Saturday – market day, you won’t get a china cup there for love nor money. So unless you like your coffee with a cardboard taste, better go elsewhere. Perfect at all other times (go early to avoid prams).
E5 (E Ldn): simply the best bread in E London, freshly baked under the rail arches. Coffee is pretty good, but it’s more the gesamtkunstwerk of a neighbourhood place, artisanal bakery, dodgy floorboards, dodgy door, psychopathic homeless people outside, smell of baking, and excellent hot lunches. Again, full of prams…but hey…someone has to finance gentrification !
Wilton Way (E Ldn): radio station & cafe, British baristas. Great vibe, love the avocado on toast. Super little BoBo street north of London fields.
Campania (E Ldn): great value weekday lunch, some of the most authentic Italian cooking from area around Naples I’ve had, really simple, really good. Coffee is pretty good. Is pretty rammed on Sunday flower-market day.
Layla’s (E Ldn): bit of an institution on Arnold Circus, somewhat worthy & self-conscious, but the eggs with sage are excellent, and the shop next door has some of the freshest and hardest to find produce from Italy I’ve seen (cima di rapa, puntarella, radicchio di castelfranco, lemons from Amalfi, anchovies preserved in salt, etc.), and, somewhat perversely, a large collection of Polish sausages. Decent value Duralex plates, cups, etc.
Allpress (E Ldn): big, well-done, roaster and cafe, British. Good coffee, but the real draw here are the panini and baked goods. They also seem to have the FT for people to read, which immediately covers the cost of the coffee ! Nice vibe – sort of a media/architect/art world overlay on the standard hipster fare.
Towpath (E Ldn): canalside location in the summer is the draw, to be honest, never had the coffee here, opting instead for wine
The Waiting Room (Deptford): really good coffee from British baristas, good vegan food (hot dogs, falafels, etc.), and nice staff. Bit weird decor, but sweet.
The London Particular (Deptford): excellent hot food (mackerel with vegetables, warm salads, good wine, etc), very good coffee, British baristas. Is quite small, but great location, lots of students from nearby Goldsmiths College, friendly staff, and a respite from the relative hell-on-earth that is Deptford (which however is very much the on-trend art scene at the moment).
Monmouth (various locations): very good coffee, but not really sure one needs the crowds or the intensely touristy feel. If you nevertheless insist, try the Maltby Street roastery (only open Saturdays I think) rather than the rammed other locations.