Attendant

The entrance to Attendant, in an old men's public lavatory on London's Foley Street.I’ve been to all sorts of coffee spots, in all sorts of places, but I don’t think that I’ve ever been anywhere quite as innovative when it comes the setting as Attendant. As the name hints, Attendant is in a (disused) Victorian (men’s) public lavatory on London’s Foley Street. If that sounds weird, it is, and yet it’s also genius.

The great thing about Attendant is that it’s kept most of the original fittings, incorporating them into the design. The result is a quirky, unique place. For some, that would have been enough, relying on the gimmick alone to draw in the punters. Not, however, Attendant, which has aimed firmly for the top of the speciality coffee market, going with local roasters Caravan, from up the road at Kings Cross. It also offers a wide range of sandwiches and cakes, again with an emphasis on quality and local produce.

Attendant is pretty small and, when I was there, it was very busy. However, a high staff-to-customer ratio, with a minimum three staff on duty during my visit, meant that everything was handled very smoothly. Ironically, for a café in an ex-public lavatory, there’s no toilet!

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Attendant, on Foley Street, outside the Crown & Sceptre. You can see the four fold-down benches on this side.
  • The view from the other side...
  • Nice A-Board
  • The curbside service bell, next to the benches
  • It is a long way down; here's the view looking back up the stairs...
  • The main part of Attendant is actually under the road, not the pavement, and is accessed via this dog-leg corridor.
  • The view the other way from the end of the corridor. The attendant's window looks onto the little kitchen...
  • The main part of Attendant; urinals to the left, stalls (now the counter) to the right and the washbasins (now a table) at the end.
  • I was very taken with the urinals, as you probably can tell. The view from the back.
  • There's another two between the counter and the table at the back...
  • Here they are...
  • I love that most of the old features have been kept: here a cistern doubles as a speaker stand.
  • The big table at the back...
  • Yes, that is a hand-drier on the wall. Probably not a Victorian original though...
  • I loved the decor.
  • View from the back: you can see the door to the old attendant's office, now a kitchen.
  • So, down to business. A nicely-stocked shelf for the takeaway customers.
  • And a well-stocked fridge for those who don't want hot drinks.
  • However, I came for the coffee. Now that's a concise menu!
  • It's worth a closer look. Somehow my first picture cut off the tea part... Can't imagine how that happened!
  • Now, who supplies the coffee...? Ah, that'll be Caravan :-)
  • I set Barista Andy to work at the uber-shiny espresso machine.
  • First up, this delightful espresso, which was delivered with a glass of water. I'm still unsure of the small cup/big handle look, but for picking the cup up, it's a winner!
  • My vanilla pecan brownie concoction which was very fine.
  • I also had a piccolo later in the day. This too was very fine.
  • I hadn't planned on spending all afternoon there, but somehow I did. I got peckish and had this halloumi and roasted pepper sandwich which was excellent.
  • Andy also made me this handsome flat white for photographic purposes :-)
  • Finally it was time to go; the staff were closing up! One final look at Attendant, all locked up for the night.
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Like many Victorian public lavatories in London, the Attendant is underground, accessed via a long staircase, the entrance to which is covered by cast-iron lattice work that stands prominently on Foley Street.  It’s a long, thin space with tiled floors and walls (green at the bottom, white on top). The counter is on the right as you enter, where the stalls once were. Tucked away to your right, where the eponymous attendant had his office, is a small kitchen. At the far end, in place of the washbasins, is a large table, with comfortable, padded benches along three sides.

Opposite the counter, a row of old-fashioned porcelain urinals (sadly now out of fashion) have been converted into a bar with individual seats, one per urinal, with another two between the counter and table. I really, really wanted to sit at one, but I was with the laptop and it proved far too ambitious.  Instead I spread myself out on the table and made use of Attendant’s only power outlet.

Attendant isn’t big, with eight spaces at the urinal-bars and space for six (nine if you all know each other and squeeze in) at the table. On a sunny day you can sit outside on fold-down benches attached to the lattice-work. I, of course, came on a rainy day. I worry that, when full, it could be stuffy, but the air-conditioning was working fine while I was there. The quiet background music was very unobtrusive.

One innovation is kerbside ordering: you can pull up in your car or on your bike (or, I guess, if you are lazy, as you walk by) and press a buzzer near the top of the stairs. Someone will come up, take your order and, when it’s ready, bring it up to you. This makes the otherwise wheelchair-inaccessible Attendant eminently accessible and, after my sniffy remark about lazy people, is really useful for anyone who can’t handle the stairs for whatever reason.

To the coffee: there’s a choice of espresso, Americano, piccolo and macchiato (all at one price) and, for those wanting a longer drink who are prepared to pay 30p more (there’s a joke in there somewhere about spending a penny) a flat white, latte or cappuccino. My espresso was excellent, coming with a glass of water and served, as seems to be increasingly the fashion these days, in a classic cup with a large handle. Personally I’m not convinced by the look, but when it comes to picking up the cup, it’s a clear winner!

I had a long conversation with the Barista, Andy, who very kindly made me a flat white for photographic purposes. I also tried a piccolo, triggering the inevitable discussion (answer: it’s got more milk than a macchiato). It came in a glass and, as is often the case when I really like the espresso, it wasn’t quite sweet enough for my taste. However, the bitterness in the coffee takes the edge off the milk, resulting in a very fine, distinctive drink.

I also had a chat with Peter, the co-owner, who told me a lot about the history of the building. It was unused for at least 50 years before he took it over and it took two years of planning and renovation before Attendant could open.

27A FOLEY STREET • LONDON • W1W 6DY
www.the-attendant.com +44 (0) 207 6373794
Monday 08:00 – 18:00 Seating Table, Stools, Benches Outside
Tuesday 08:00 – 18:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Sandwiches, Cake
Wednesday 08:00 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter, Kerbside Order
Thursday 08:00 – 18:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Friday 08:00 – 18:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Saturday 10:00 – 17:00 Power Limited
Sunday CLOSED Mobile 3G, Voice
Chain No Visits 12th June 2013

You can see what fellow bloggers, the Gladieater, London Kiwi Emma and Jade Derrick, made of Attendant.


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