Tucked away in the Upper Street entrance to the N1 Centre in Islington, you’ll find Tinderbox. From the street, it’s fairly unassuming: a couple of tables outside and what looks like a short corridor with a counter on the left and a bar at the back. Stand outside, though, and look up; you’ll see a balcony which promises more. Walk past the counter, up three flights of stairs at the back and you’ll find yourself in one of London’s most eclectic coffee spaces.
Second only to the Boston Tea Party on Bristol’s Park Street, Tinderbox has a long-standing place in my affections. I’ve been going there for almost 10 years and it’s still one of my favourite spots. It has an uncomplicated attitude, with a straightforward coffee and cake offering, along with a quirky attitude and layout that always makes it fun to visit. It’s also one of a growing number of places where you can get decent coffee after six o’clock in the evening.
The cakes are pretty impressive, with cheesecakes and traditional Italian offerings such as cannoli, plus Portuguese favourites pastel de nata and bolo de arroz. Tinderbox also has savouries such as sandwiches and stuffed flat breads.
January 2015: Sadly Tinderbox closed at the end of last year.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
I first came across Tinderbox almost 10 years ago while attending a trade show at the Business Design Centre. Back then it was on Upper Street itself, where its trademark quirky atmosphere and great coffee meant it stood out from the crowd. I attended the show every year and looked forward to my annual Tinderbox visits. Then, one year, it wasn’t there!
Heart-broken, I wandered abjectly until, completely by accident, I stumbled across Tinderbox, now relocated to the upper level of the N1 Centre. Relief flooded over me and I positively skipped up the stairs to get my fix.
The trade show moved to Manchester a few years ago and, with no reason to visit, my neglect of Tinderbox began. I remembered it when I started the Coffee Spot, but I allowed my head to be turned by the new and exciting places springing up all over London, most of them not even a twinkle in their owners’ eyes when Tinderbox first appeared.
Dear Tinderbox, I apologise. You do not deserve such faithlessness.
Tinderbox started life in Glasgow (four branches), set up by David Williamson, Managing Director of Glasgow’s Matthew Algie. There’s also another London branch in the Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road. Sadly David passed away in 2008 at the age of 42, but the links to Matthew Algie continue, Tinderbox using its Gama espresso blend. This won’t win any third-wave enthusiasts over: it’s fairly unadventurous, smooth, with a hint of bitterness (ie just how I like it). Served in a classic, white tulip cup, it was commendably short without approaching ristretto levels.
What makes Tinderbox for me (and always has) is the atmosphere and eclectic seating. The shop’s long and thin, not the most promising layout. You enter either up the three flights of steps or via the upper level of the N1 Centre. You can sit outside, with a choice of the tables downstairs, a few more on the upper level, or the balcony hanging over the entrance to the N1 Centre.
Inside the choice is just as wide. The counter’s on the right-hand side, with a series of bars opposite, looking out onto the balcony. Between the counter and the N1 Centre there’s a strange set of what can best be described as stairs/shelves where you can also sit (take a look at the gallery).
The main seating is beyond the counter, where a massive floor-to-ceiling window gives a great view out onto Islington High Street. There are two rows of tables, one to the left and one down the centre, while on the right, there’s a row of booths with another bar in its own little balcony above the booths. Finally, a pair of old airliner seats have pride of place by the window.
Personally, I like sitting in the booths (when I can get one and remember not to bang my head), or failing that, at the bar above it, where there are plenty of power outlets for my laptop. One day I’m going to turn up and find the airliner seats unoccupied…
|7 PARKFIELD STREET • ISLINGTON • LONDON • N1 0PS|
|+44 (0) 20 7354 8929|
|Monday||06:30 – 22:30||Seating||Tables, Booths, Bars, Tables Outside|
|Tuesday||06:30 – 22:30||Food||Sandwiches, Cake|
|Wednesday||06:30 – 22:30||Service||Counter|
|Thursday||06:30 – 22:30||Cards||Amex, Visa, Mastercard|
|Friday||06:30 – 22:30||Wifi||Free (with login)|
|Saturday||07:30 – 22:30||Power||Yes|
|Sunday||07:30 – 22:30||Mobile||3G, Voice|
|Chain||London & Glasgow||Visits||13th November 2013|
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