David Chang on Tokyo

David Chang, one of New York’s most prolific restauranteurs (the Momofuku stable), writing recently on the food blog/magazine Lucky Peach, waxed lyrically on about Tokyo’s food.  Mostly good, and well-known, points, but a couple of comments are in order.  I’ll excuse the gratuitous expletives and the overuse of the superlative ‘best’…maybe that’s intended for the hipster audience.

His overall point, that Japan (specifically Tokyo) borrows magnificently from other food cultures, and lends out its aspiring chefs on secondment to top restaurants from Yountsville to Modena, is spot on.  But I think the point can be driven deeper – the Japanese have a gift for internalising the culture of other countries, presumably more so in the post-WWII era than before, and to a certain extent, combining that with a highly-developed indigenous culture, to create a synthesis that, in style and quality of execution, isn’t matched anywhere else.  The key words here are ‘internalising’ and ‘indigenous’.  I don’t think they’re just copying the food – the chefs, but perhaps even the kids with crazy outfits in Harajuku, are looking at, and living, the culture, the music, the film, the clothing that they’re interested in, whether it be American, Italian or French.  There is a passion (to use a hackneyed word) and depth to the research that shows through in the simulation, a stage set, that is a Tokyo restaurant.

Equally, this painstaking simulation is not being dumped on a blank substrate – Japanese culture, and food, are obviously immensely developed, and years of low immigration have had the perverse effect of maintaining a certain purity in both cultural practice and practitioners.  Your average person really gets their food culture, they’ve grown up with it, haven’t necessarily seen much else, or have only seen it through a Japanese cultural filter.  So the French, Californian, or Italian food in Tokyo has a distinct Japanese imprint, if only in the attention to detail, the arrangement of the room, the handling of light and space, the exceptional quality of the ingredients (as Chang points out).  Thus, the simulation becomes a simulacrum.

Here I would characterise Chang’s comments on Italian food, if not French, as slightly ignorant and perceptive at the same time.  Italian food does not just have to be pasta, as anyone who has spent time in, say, couscous-laden Trapani (Western Sicily) or rice-growing plains of Po Delta, can attest.  But Italy does have a strong resistance to change, as well as an internal food culture that Italians feel, rightly so, is well worth preserving.  But, here’s the difference with Japan: people, from what I can see without having interviewed hundreds, actually don’t want to eat much imported food. Even outside Italy, while one sees plenty of well-heeled Italians at ethnic street-food stalls in East London, but most Italian tourists pile into Soho’s Princi, which they know from Milan.

Here, in my humble opinion, is the difference with New York and London – two other world cities with very good food.  I would argue that neither America nor England have the same quality of indigenous food, that substrate, that Japan has.  America, as a country so young and foundationally built on immigration, can have no ‘native’ food culture.  So everything in New York is a simulation, for better or for worse.  England perhaps had some interesting food before WWI and WWII, and in the last 20 years, chefs such as Fergus Henderson (St John in Clerkenwell is the best one of his) have done a heroic job resurrecting the old recipes, but again, it’s all (re)created: the average youngish Londoner seems, from my own anecdotal experience, to care more about what he/she drinks and smokes, and where, than the food.  So both New York and London seem to produce copies, more or less acceptable, of foreign food.  But their copies, particularly in London, are mass-produced, soul-less affairs, more reminiscent of an accountant’s spreadsheet, redolent of return-on-equity and price-points, than the work of single mad chef.  New York is a bit better, but again, rising rents, the internet, the phenomenon of food as something one watches on a screen, have taken much of the fun out of the restaurant scene.

There are plenty of exceptions, particularly outside of Manhattan – for instance, Sake Bar Zabb, an simulated izakaya , set in a poorly-ventilated basement in Jackson Heights, a neighbourhood in Queens previously only known for really bad Indian (i.e. Pakistani and Bangladeshi) food sitting in pools of fetid grease.  Curiously, Zabb, which shares the name with an excellent Michelin-starred Thai restaurant upstairs, is run by an enthusiastic Thai man who has sourced hundreds of objects from Japan to create his little sarariman‘s drinking hole, complete with foaming pitchers of Sapporo and squishy raw octopus in grated horseradish.

Moving on to a controversial point, in this most politically-correct of cities: the last difference I would point out between the New York restaurant scene and Tokyo’s, is the makeup of the cooking staff.  Look around any good, but perhaps not top-end, restaurant in much of New York – most of the cooks are Hispanic, with a smattering of Bangladeshis, African-Americans, Chinese, etc. I can’t help thinking that the French or Italian food coming out of those kitchens must, in a majority of cases, necessarily be totally disconnected from the culture and experiences of the cooks making it.  Surely, if food isn’t just something you put in your mouth, and is a cultural or communicative experience, the fact that the person cooking the food hasn’t grown up with it, or at least taken a multi-year deep interest in it, surely must detract from the ‘essence’ of what one is served.

Unless Japan has changed in the 5 years since I last was there, most of the cooks are Japanese, and the Japanese chefs have often spent years in Western kitchens learning about food they’re cooking and the context it exists in.

I’m sure some will object to these comments, but the fact that restauranteurs such as Danny Meyer and Andrew Tarlow are moving over to a no-tip policy could lend some support to my view: the extortionate tips in New York only go to front-of-house staff. This means that the cooks, the people who obviously matter more, are being paid much less than the decorative foliage swanning around the dining room, their fawning equal parts strafottenza and passive-aggression.

I would end by pointing out some of the finest, most interesting, most passionate (again that word) food in New York still comes from the kitchens that are family-run, or at least held firmly within a given ethnic group: the sushi bars (Hibino in LIC is a fave), the absolutely stonking Thai joints in East Elmhurst/Woodside (start with Zabb Elee, Kitchen 79, Khao Kang, & Paet Rio), the filthy but delicious regional Chinese stalls of the Golden Mall in Flushing, or that joyous margarita-meat-and-arepa extravaganza that is the Colombian restaurant Delicias in Woodhaven.

 

 

 

Linguini with Vasco and Piero’s fresh tuna sauce

Finally managed to replicate one of the outstanding dishes at the great Soho Italian restaurant, Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion, on Poland Street. Given the prices at that unassuming temple to the food of Umbria, I’m chuffed to be able to make this one on my own (though their fish secondi, huge Negronis, and that all-but-vanished air of 1990s louche Soho, make it well worth the visit).

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The key in this dish, since the tuna provides very little actual flavour – rather it’s all about texture, is to get umami and body in the sauce before the tuna shows up. Start by making a standard soffrito of onions, carrots and celery, and sweat them until all are soft, with a clove of garlic and some parsley going in at the end. Just for grins, I add a pepperoncino and a few Sichuan peppercorns; they (especially the latter) are definitively not part of the recipe at Vasco !

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While the soffrito is softening, blanch a tomato for 10-20 seconds, remove the skin, and chop up, reserving the juices. Toss into the sauce, and simmer until the tomato has broken down. At this point, I add some fish stock – the gelatinous stuff in the photo (from a poached bream I made the day before). I also pour in a little white wine, and raise the heat to high. Reduce the mixture over heat, and add some salted capers, which have been soaked for 15 minutes to desalinate. Check for balance, it should have a slight sour edge, and I needed to add a little vinegar.

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Gelatinous fish stock
Gelatinous fish stock

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Put the chopped tuna in last, so it doesn’t overcook. Once the pasta (I’m using Voiello from Caserta, near Naples – current favourite over De Cecco or Barilla) is ready, place it in the pan, along with a little of the pasta cooking liquid and some olive oil. Agitate violently over a high burner, driving from the shoulders & hips, to get it all to mix, and serve with fresh parsley.

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Vegetable was sprouting kale from Broadway Market, and the wine is an orange wine from Friuli’s Carso zone, Vodopivec. Pretty decent wine, but at the price worse value than La Mole (from Quarticello in Emilia Romagna), nor as exciting as the (more expensive) Ribolla Gialla (from Friuli’s Radikon) nor the austere reverential Breg (from Friuli’s Gravner).

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Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs

Summary: very strong cooking, some of it outstanding, with many locally-sourced (apparently foraged but this wasn’t made very clear) elements. Not conceptual or modernist at all, but also not traditional or fusty. The service was excellent, and the wine good. Would get over there quickly.

Chef Knappett's kitchen
Chef Knappett’s kitchen

A new-ish opening on ever-trendier Charlotte Street, across from the best mortadella panino (Italia Uno), and smack in the middle of the hipster twatville that is London’s advertising and PR district (Saatchi, et al). Bubbledogs’ premise is simple: a) one naturally feels like paying $11 for a hot dog, and b) having paid that much, the natural accompaniment would be a $50 champagne from small growers (no Dom Perignon here for the football set, then). And I thought the food scene in New York had gone a bit weird.

Anyway, in the back of Bubbledogs is something quite new for London: a tasting-menu only chef’s counter with perhaps 20 seats which looks over a well-appointed, and spotless, restaurant kitchen. The chef James Knappett and manager Sandia Chang run the staff of 2-3 assistants and 1 wine waiter efficiently, while remaining utterly charming.

The concept exists in New York: Brooklyn Table or Momofuku Ko, amongst others. But where Ko seems to have this chefs-are-cooler-than-diners vibe, arms all covered in tattoos, waxing lyrical about rare-breed short ribs in Appalachia or something similarly obscure, Knappett and his staff are friendly, informative, and just normal. Tasting counters are sometimes just too intimate: Ko had some class A knobs dining there when I went in 2012, and judging from an online review of Kitchen Table (which was very complimentary of the food), there is the occasional bad customer night here also. However, I was there the day before Valentine’s Day at the 6pm seating, and the customers were perfectly behaved.

Chopping the meat gelatin for dessert !
Chopping the meat gelatin for dessert !

On to the food and drink. The Negroni (at Bubbledogs’ bar) was lovingly prepared with posh gin, and much gentle stirring in a beaker. Unfortunately, it was over-flavoured (artisanal herbs in the gin I suppose), and I would happily prefer the humblest bar in Milan. The dining area was lovely, very industrial, with locked metal-fence cabinets storing wine. There is no evidenced of hot dogs, fries, or virtually any other food being prepared in the kitchen. In a homely touch, the steel counter had a white tablecloth attached to it with blue tape.

Course 1: raw mackerel, shaved apples, and a granita made using Balfour wine from Kent. Super-clean flavour in the mackerel, well salted but not salty. The apple & granita was cooling and cleansing, but otherwise unremarkable.

Course 2: cod roe dip, with scallop roe shavings, served with home-made rye bread. The bread was outstanding, particularly for being griddled in butter, it had that delicious meatiness of a great wheat/rye mix. Reminded me a little of the chewy bread at Moro or Cigala. The dip, simple as it seems, had a very complex and long aftertaste – pure umami.

Fried bread with cod and scallop roe dip
Griddled rye bread with cod and scallop roe dip

Course 3: fried piece of chicken skin topped with rosemary mascarpone & bacon jam. Sounds utterly gross. But was wicked good, tasted a little like India crossed with China via England. Zero nasty taste of chicken fat.

Chicken skin fried with bacon jam and rosemary mascarpone
Chicken skin fried with bacon jam and rosemary mascarpone

Course 4: curly kale in anchovy dressing with shaved parmigiano, and breakfast radishes marinated in 12% alcohol dressing. Basically a reinterpreted Caesar, quite good, but not mind-blowing. Radishes are okay but not sure their taste or the alcohol dressing really add much, perhaps they cut through the rich dressing, but effect was marginal. A nice contrast to the other dishes though.

Curly kale with anchovy dressing and breakfast radishes
Curly kale with anchovy dressing and breakfast radishes

Course 5: salmon, crisped on the skin side, seared but mostly raw everywhere else and was served with a yoghurt, dill, cucumber, and bergamot dressing. The sauce was lovely and floral, the fish was good but had the weird texture that seemed a bit like sous vide, and was just above room temperature. So, perfectly good, but not awesome.

Salmon
Salmon

Course 6: home-made macaroni with Cornish wild garlic, in a brown butter and preserved lemon sauce. Absolutely the star – the pasta, which I understand were extruded using a bigoli machine, were tiny but densely textured and ridged. The garlic were incredibly fragrant without being overpowering, and the sauce with the little bits of preserved lemon was splendid accompaniment redolent of North Africa. Perhaps it’s my own preference for carbohydrates, and the Italian reference, but this was my favourite dish.

Macaroni with wild garlic, brown butter, and preserved lemons
Macaroni with wild garlic, brown butter, and preserved lemons

Course 7: pig cheeks on celeriac puree, elderflower capers the staff picked, and mustard leaves from London. The cheeks had a weird chewy cheeky texture and were somewhat, but by no means excessively, pig-flavoured. The celeriac puree was incidental, but the herbs and the mustard leaves lightened the dish. Again, great umami, and again a sense of cooking that really preserves moisture in the dish.

Pig cheeks with celeriac puree and mustard leaves
Pig cheeks with celeriac puree and mustard leaves

Course 8: meat of a young English roe deer with hay-roasted beets, watercress stems. Delicious, buttery meat with no gaminess, yet recognisably tasting of deer. The beets’ intensity had been toned down, and they were delicate and elegantly cut. The impact, or lack, of the hay-roasting was not evident, and the watercress stem reminded me pleasantly of samphire. Slightly disparate ingredients seem to come together effectively.

Deer with hay-roasted beets, watercress, and linseed cracker (art reference anyone?)
Deer with hay-roasted beets, watercress, and linseed cracker (art reference anyone?)

Cheese: Sharpham cheese from Devon, chopped and mashed into a textured mousee, served with pickled and roasted onions and a green sauce. Very different from a traditional cheese course, and very very good.

Sharpham cheese with pickled and roasted onions
Sharpham cheese with pickled and roasted onions

Dessert 1: mango mousse and granita. I loved it, but I love almost anything with mango.

Mango
Mango

Dessert 2: caramelised pear, caramel ice cream, chopped up meat gelatin ! It sounds grisly, but the gelatin had an excellent texture and mild flavour, and the ice cream was outstanding.

Pear, ice cream, and meat gelatin
Pear, ice cream, and meat gelatin

Wine: the standout was a 2008 Pierre Guillemot Savigny Aux Serpentiers. Perfumed haunting notes, very pale, very little tannin or fruit.

Food in (East) London

Again, as in much else on eatthehipster, these are personal preferences, and we make no claim to being exhaustive, fair, or thorough. Mostly, we cover East London and the West End, and have a bias away from “trendy” places, or especially pricey venues (not having had access to an expense account for some time now!). Very roughly in order of how much we go at the moment (January 2013).

Ombra (E Ldn): probably the favourite affordable Italian at the moment. Venetian menu, 5-10 items long, often they run out, sometimes they’re not open on time, generally hung over on Sunday lunches, etc. But some of the nicest fresh pasta, salumi, and mains (I particularly like the meatloaf), and very affordable wine. Also great to have a spritz on the Regent’s Canal…okay so it ain’t the Fondamenta della Misericordia….

Campania (E Ldn): delicious fare from Campania/Naples, very cheap for weekday lunch.

Andrew Edmunds (Soho): probably our favourite restaurant in London, in part for the food (which varies between above average and very good), but more for the excellent-value wine list and bin ends, as well as the clubby ancient somewhat-worn atmosphere. Some of the longest-serving staff around, making it very comfortable. Better for lunch than dinner, when it gets rather romantic and very dark.

E5 (E Ldn): see coffee post, great bakery, nice food.

Little Georgia (E Ldn): cheap and long-term fixture of Broadway market. Very simple menu, best thing are the starter platters (salads varieties of beetroot, aubergine, Russian, carrot) accompanied by khatchapuri or a similar bean-stuffed bread. The chicken coriander stew is oustanding, and the old Georgian ladies that cook super sweet. BYOB, and there is a bodega down the street selling Georgian wines (not sure about quality).

Gourmet San, My Old Place, Local Friends (E Ldn): somewhat improbably, there are 3 pretty special (and specialised) Sichuan/Hunan places here. Local Friends is the most friendly and sanitary, and has the most entertainingly mistranslated menu. Anything “dride [sic] wok” is delicious; cumin scented lamb skewers; fried green beans with pork; fish in a big vat of chili oil; potato slivers dressed in a vinegary sauce with Sichuan peppercorns.

Bar Shu, Ba Shan, Baozhi Inn (Soho): 3 more specialists in Sichuan/Hunan, the last is best value, and the second is very good but more complex dishes. Much more sophisticated, clean, and generally pleasant than the E Ldn places above, but you pay for it. Next to Baozhi are skewers of fish/meat/veg dipped in a wicked-spicy chili-oil, as well as delicious stuffed buns (baozhi).

Chaconia (Deptford): just one owner/employee, serving wild-spicy, almost zero-fat Trinidadian food. I eat here 3-4 times a week when I’m at the studio, but the prawn roti on Fridays is the thing to go for. Ring ahead to make sure a) they’re open, and b) what they have. Don’t give her no gip either….she’s got a sharp tongue.

Yoisho (Fitzrovia): very authentic izakaya. Most of the menu is pretty good, but the specials are great, as is the grill. Must sit upstairs, preferably at the counter.

Bocca di Lupo (Soho): most fun posh Italian in town. Food is broken down regionally, and available in starter & main sizes. Staff are wonderful, and Negronis perfect. Great gelato across the street at Gelupo. Fried sausage-stuffed olives, and the orechiette with ‘nduja are must-haves.

Vasco & Piero (Soho): my favourite Italian, mainly for the old-school atmosphere (think discreet sophisticated 1980s in muted yellows, not at all check-tablecloth red-sauce Brooklyn pastiche). Delicious starters and pastas, with some innovative touches (eg ginger). Slight hint towards specialties of Umbria. Crowd is fairly grown up, and is a bit of a hiding celebrity spot. My favourites: pasta with seafood or swordfish, chicken-liver crostini, burrata, grilled tuna with ginger dressing.

Koya (Soho): udon place, very exciting menu, and carefully-made food. Great fun to watch the kitchen. Unfortunately I don’t care for udon, so generally opt for the ten-don or gyu-don. Little bit of hyper-specialised Japan, in Soho. Nearby is Tonkotsu, for ramen, but I haven’t been.

Barrafina (Soho): best tapas bar in town. Quite uncomfortable (high bar stools), but great fun for an outstanding quick meal, a real testament to top-quality seafood (and meat), cooked simply. No bookings so go early or prepare to wait.

Cigala (Bloomsbury): traditional Spanish served in a nice undecorated room, at very competitive prices if you get the lunch special menu. Good strong drinks. I think the staff are ex-Moro. Bread is delicious, almost as good as Moro. Moro incidentally is excellent, if you can get over the fact that it’s often full, and the slightly self-conscious Islington feel of the place.

Eyre Brothers (Clerkenwell): wonderful food that is sort of a fusion between Portuguese and African (via Mozambique) with other bits thrown in. Great drinks, good wine list, and pretty decent value. Is much better if you do strange times, as it can get crowded with City folk. They, along with the Eagle, were pioneers of the gastropub and food revolutions in London.

Brixton Village (S Ldn): as of time of writing, some of the most pulse-quickening things going on in cheap, small fooding are under the tracks in Brixton. 20-odd shacks selling everything from hard-core Thai to scones with clotted cream, by way of gourmet burgers and African food. Really wonderful – not sure how long the economics will work, but worth a visit. Stop by Photofusion gallery on Electric Avenue.

40 Maltby Street (S Ldn): more a wine warehouse with food than restaurant. That said, they have strange, often natural, wines, at decent prices, and a tiny menu of well-made food. Maltby Street’s is actually a perfect place for a foodie boozy Saturday afternoon as there are 4-5 places right next to each other. Occasional wine tastings where producers come to London are fun. Mostly not open so check the site.

Vietnamese places on Kingsland Road: somewhat skanky eating on any given night (boozed up hipsters slobbering over soup and BYOB), but early or lunch is fine – Mien Tay is current favourite. Unfortunately IMHO none of these have reached the standards of Paris Vietnamese, pretty unrefined, rather dirty, and relatively little wine. But some really great pho, and bahn cuon.

Rosemary Lane (City): spooky old pub turned into a bit of a gastro-destination. Excellent food prepared by a committed Roumanian-Californian chef, short but fairly-priced wine list. Eerily atmospheric (not least with the elevated train line outside reminding me of old American crime flicks) but well worth it; have an aperitif at Wiltons right around the corner.

Kikuchi (Soho): vies with Sakana-tei for the best sushi in W End. Excellent, and expensive. Not hugely warm service, but civil; the crowd is a bit as one would expect (dates and City folk), but the food is absolutely worth it. Kansai-style sushi is something I haven’t seen elsewhere, and IMHO the best spicy tuna roll in London. Tempura of turbot wrapped in a shiso leaf (I think) and ume.

Hunan (Pimlico): very good nouveau-Hunan food. It’s not done to ask for the menu, simply let them bring a succession of 7-10 things, mostly delicious and spicy. Generally good, if expensive, wine list. Not cheap, but worth the experience.

Town Hall Hotel (E Ldn): food is great, Michelin star I believe, by Nuno Mendez. But we prefer the bar, excellent cocktails. There is also a smaller bar menu served upstairs, that we’re told is both very good and relatively good value.

St John (various): Fergus Henderson is one of the daddies of London’s food renaissance and deserves kudos for it (genuflect repeatedly from the waist) ! Lovely British food, particularly: crab on toast, Welsh rarebit, Eccles cake with Lancashire cheese, awesome fish, and (strangely for such a carnivorous place) great salads/vegetables. I prefer to eat at Commercial St location or else at the bar of St John St. The cook-books are very useful.

Rochelle Canteen (E Ldn): a small restaurant housed in a complex of art studios. Very good food, and BYOB. Need to ring a bell to get through the outer wall (appropriately, given it’s in Arnold Circus, like a fortress).

Pellici (E Ldn): old school Italian caff, food is somewhat better than okay, but you go for the theatre….East End toothless wonders next to hipsters next to art world doyens, all treated with equal love.

Brick Lane (E Ldn): basically avoid like the plague, mostly Bangladeshi, laden with grease and salt. If the food doesn’t scare you away, the staff & the punters should (drunken City boys). If “Indian” is in order, try Kolapata or Tayyabs (Bangladeshi & Pakistani, respectively) nearby. At a higher price point, Amaya is very good, as are the Rasa restaurants. Ambala on Brick Lane has decent samosas.

Jose & Pizarro (S Ldn): Jose Pizarro (of Brindisa fame) just got these off the ground last year. I particularly like Jose, the tapas bar. Very nice food, nowhere as cheap as Madrid, no surprise, but nice atmosphere.

River Cafe (somewhere in the suburbs of Hammersmith): simply the best Italian food in London, with real passion and energy behind the cooking. Unfortunately can go only rarely, what with the location (though it’s lovely in the summer), the high prices (somehow feels wrong to pay 3x what it would cost in situ), and the vaguely nobbish crowd. But worth a go in the summer, and buy the cook-book by all means, it’s my most useful one.

101 Kitchen (ditto, Hammersmith): probably the only good Thai food in London, though Thai Vista in E Ldn is okay. 101 are specialists in Esarn food, so some very different flavours, and nice Thai clientele. Needless to say, can’t often spare half a day and £8 in Tube fares, to have a £40 meal…

Buen Ayre (E Ldn): another stalwart of Broadway Market. Very good Argentine-style steak and parilla.

The Hackney Pearl (E Ldn): a quirky place next to the old Olympic venue. Good food, great Negronis, but best in the summer when one can sit outside. But nice as an outing from London (just across the A12 from Victoria Park).

Pubs: don’t much care for them, but the French House (Soho) is outstanding, more for the history (Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud et al ) than anything; the Nelson (E Ldn) is quirky and friendly; Marksman (E Ldn) is often quiet, nice people, and decent food. Royal Oak, Cat & Mutton, and Dove are popular with E Ldn hipsters. Albion, and Perseverence (E Ldn) are of a more toothless variety, with the occasional BNP groupie thrown in to keep order. The Golden Heart (E Ldn) is fantastic, mostly owing to the formidable Sandra; old YBA hangout.

Wine stores: E Ldn has a disproportionate number of excellent wine stores. 259 Hackney Road specialise in the Jura and other natural wines; Borough Wines in Wilton Way sells wine in refillable bottles; Noble Fine Liquor on Broadway Market is pricey, but one of the few to stock Friuli wines (including the delicious Dario Princic and Radikon lines); City Beverage Company, very knowledgeable and much larger than the others, and with a broader range at all price points.

Coffee in London

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.