Birdhouse

A fine Climpson & Sons espresso in a glass from Birdhouse.Birdhouse is one of those semi-legendary coffee houses of south London, a part of the capital which is still a bit of a closed book to me, despite my whizzing through it often enough on the train. However, when I knew I was going to be in the area with a few hours to kill, I took the trouble to find out where Birdhouse actually was.

I was surprised to learn how close to Clapham Junction it is; a mere five-minute walk from the southern entrance of the station, heading away from Clapham High Street and up Saint John’s Hill. Then again, I very rarely leave the station, not even changing trains there very often (the last time was to go to Coffee Affair), so perhaps my ignorance shouldn’t be that surprising!

What I’ve been missing is a delightful little place, all decked out in yellow and grey with coffee from Climpson and Sons and tea from Cardiff maestros, Waterloo Tea. There are also bocaditos (no, I didn’t know what one was either; as I discovered, it is Cuban for sandwich) and cake, so ideal for popping out to if you have a long wait for your train.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Birdhouse on St John's Hill, near Clapham Junction.
  • Where are we again?
  • And what do you serve? No, I didn't know what a bocadito was either!
  • The view from just inside the door.
  • Another view, this time from my table.
  • And the view from the back...
  • Stools, like those chained up outside, at one of the window bars.
  • The other one, however, on the other side of the door, has chairs.
  • The tables on the left-hand side of the store as you come in...
  • And those on the right-hand side.
  • The high tables opposite the counter.
  • There's also this table right at the back.
  • I liked the coat-hooks on the wall.
  • And the artwork.
  • The obligatory light-fitting.
  • The counter is a two-part affair: the front is an old work bench...
  • ... complete with vice!
  • Normally staff don't like to get in my pictures. Not so at Birdhouse!
  • 'Hell, yes! Take a picture of me!'
  • Anyway, on to the coffee, or tea if you are that way inclined.
  • It's coffee for me, of course, from this lovely La Marzocco.
  • I really loved the yellow cups.
  • A bocadito is a Cuban sandwich, by the way. Rather like this one, for example.
  • Another nice touch was the bottle of water that appeared as if by magic.
  • Well, maybe not by magic. Perhaps it came from over here.
  • As well as coffee & bocaditos, the writing in the window also promised cake...
  • Nice selection.
  • I went for a Friand.
  • Looks lovely!
  • I washed it down with an espresso.
  • I took this a few seconds later. Look how much the crema has gone down by!
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Two things stood out for me: the bright, yellow cups (which, I’m guessing, are meant to stand out) and the feeling of space in what, if I’m honest, is a fairly small space. As always, this is helped by the high ceilings and generous windows at the front, plus another window in the door at the back (which promises outdoor seating when the weather is good). The yellow of the cups goes well with the grey walls, boarded wooden floor and whitewashed ceiling.

The store is long but not too thin, with tables down the left-hand side, and the counter at the back on the right. A couple of four-person tables with stools sit between the counter and window, where you will find a pair of bars, one either side of the door. Other than the two four-person high tables opposite the counter, the rest are normal height, with seating providing by a mixture of stools and chairs. There are also six yellow, plastic stools chained up outside.

The counter is also worth a mention, since it wouldn’t look out of place in my dad’s shed! In fact, it’s a two-part affair, with the La Marzocco espresso machine at the back and a hand-built workbench (which is the bit I’d expect to see in my dad’s shed) in the front. This holds the grinders and has a vice at the end, which amused me no end. The big advantage with this layout is that the business end of the La Marzocco faces the customers, so you can see your coffee being made.

I was there for lunch, so tried a mushroom, pesto and goat’s cheese bocadito (effectively a toasted sandwich). This came in a tin, somewhat reminiscent of a bread pan, but not quite, which was a nice touch. It was lovely, crisp on the outside, and with generous fillings. Goat’s cheese can be a bit hit and miss, but I really liked this one. It wasn’t too strong and added subtly to the flavour of the chunky field mushroom. The pesto, which I would never have thought to add to such a combination, was a very nice touch that worked very well.

I also had an excellent, smooth flat white made with the house-blend from Climpson and Sons (there’s a second grinder for decaf). I could have had a cortado, but I wanted something with a little bit more volume to go with my lunch. I also had some cake, settling for a friand, a very rich cake/sponge, with raspberries embedded in the top which add a nice contrast.

I washed this down with an espresso, which was commendably short and came with an excellent crema which quickly subsided (even the photograph didn’t catch it at its height). In the past I’ve found the Climpson and Sons to be quite an old-fashioned roast: strong, a little bitter (ie just how I like it) and this was no exception.

A couple of closing observations. Birdhouse commendably serves breakfast all day. It is similar to the lunch menu, in that it is more bread/bocadito-based than full English or Eggs Florentine. The second observation is that while there is power, there is no wifi and if you want 3G coverage, you are much better off sitting near the front!

123 SAINT JOHN’S HILL • BATTERSEA • LONDON • SW11 1SZ
http://birdhou.se +44 (0) 207 228 6663
Monday 07:00 – 16:00 Seating Tables with stools/chairs, stools outside
Tuesday 07:00 – 16:00 Food Breakfast, Sandwiches
Wednesday 07:00 – 16:00 Service Table
Thursday 07:00 – 16:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Friday 07:00 – 16:00 Wifi No
Saturday 09:00 – 17:00 Power Yes
Sunday 09:00 – 17:00 Mobile 3G, Voice
Chain No Visits 24th January 2014

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