My involvement with the Lunch Business Awards goes back three years, to a chance encounter with Maria Bracken, the Awards organiser, in Attendant, the Fitzrovia coffee shop in a disused gents toilet. Since then I’ve worked with Maria every year, nominating Coffee Spots for the Awards, principally in the Best Coffee and Best Tea Experience categories. In particular, I’ve tried to nominate places outside of London.
I was delighted when, two years ago, Boscombe’s Café Boscanova won the Best Coffee Experience Award. I wasn’t so successful with my nominations the following year, but I was even more excited this year when the shortlists came out. Three of the five coffee shops on the Best Coffee Experience shortlist are places I’ve nominated and I nominated the entire shortlist for Best Tea Experience. Tea? I know? The irony of this is not lost on me. Joining them is the wonderful Daisy Green, which is on the shortlist for Group Operator of the Year.
The Awards Ceremony took place on Monday evening (14th September) and I was there, loyalties torn, since I really wanted everybody that I nominated to win. However, you can’t have everything. After a quick rundown of the shortlists you can find out who won each of the Awards I’d nominated people for.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
So, without further ado, let’s see who is on the shortlists, shall we? The Best Coffee Experience shortlist is:
- Strangers Coffee House (Norwich)
- Number 35 Coffee House & Kitchen (Dorchester)
- Avenue G (Glasgow)
- Habitat Café (Aberfeldy)
- Timberyard (London)
Of these, the only ones I haven’t visited are Habitat and Timberyard. Habitat, which sounds exactly the sort of place I should have on the Coffee Spot, has been on my list for a long time: all that’s stopped me is not getting north of Edinburgh/Glasgow since I started the Coffee Spot! At some point, a tour of the Highlands is called for… When it comes to the multi award-winning Timberyard mea culpa. In a crowded London marketplace, I’ve just not managed to call in… (Timberyard, by the way, picked up Best Independent Operator on Monday night; at this rate there will have to be a new store just to house all the awards!)
Moving onto those I have actually visited…
Strangers Coffee House is a real gem. Set in the heart of medieval Norwich, Alex, co-owner & head barista, has produced something really special. It’s a lovely, sunny spot, but what sets it apart for me is the consistent quality of the espresso, a craft which Alex has really nailed. Some of the best espressos I’ve ever tasted have been at Strangers. It’s no coincidence that Strangers won Best Espresso in the 2014 Coffee Spot Awards.
Number 35 Coffee House & Kitchen can beat Strangers in the history stakes, nestled in the heart of Dorchester, originally a Roman city. Another gem, it’s a true multi-roaster coffee shop, with the emphasis firmly on the beans. There are two options on espresso and two more on filter. When the beans are gone in each slot, they’re gone and Toby, owner and head barista, moves on to another roaster.
Avenue G has changed a lot since I visited, just over a year ago. These days, it roasts its own beans at its new location on Glasgow’s Western Avenue. Meanwhile, the original, on Byres Road, is still going strong, serving excellent coffee along with cracking food from an amazing, inventive menu. For me, what makes Avenue G stand out is the service. The coffee is lovingly presented and it offers that rare commodity in a coffee shop, table service.
And the winner is… Strangers Coffee House! Congratulations to Alex & Will who were on hand to pick up the Award.
Moving onto the Best Tea Experience, there are three entries on the shortlist:
Harrogate’s Bean & Bud could just as easily be in for the Best Coffee Experience Award, although having nominated it for that one last year, I thought I should give someone else a turn. The clue is in the name, the “Bean” referring to the coffee beans, the “Bud” referring to the buds of the tea plant. The creation of husband and wife team, Hayden & Ruth, I could rave about the coffee, which is on a par with the likes of Number 35. However, this is the Best Tea experience, so I’ll just say that as much care and attention goes into the tea as it does the coffee.
The same cannot be said of Vauxhall’s Tea House Theatre since it doesn’t do coffee… Despite this (or perhaps partly because of this) I still love the place. I admire the no-compromise attitude of Harry, the owner, who feared that the strong smell of coffee would overpower the delicate flavours of the tea. It also helps that it’s a lovely, bright, sun-drenched spot with excellent food and some superb cakes which come and share the tables with you.
Washington Tea, down in Penarth, is the second branch of Cardiff’s Waterloo Tea, renown both for its excellent tea rooms/cafés and its wholesale tea, which is supplied to many specialty coffee shops around the country. It also has excellent coffee, by the way, taking every bit as much care over it as it takes over the tea. Like the Tea House Theatre, it does excellent food, while in common with Avenue G, Washington Tea has full table service. The tea, however, is the star, with 68 to choose from (15 black, five white, three Puerh, one yellow, nine Chinese green, eight Japanese green, seven oolong, six Rooibos, four fruit and 10 herbal).
And the winner is… Washington Tea! Congratulations to, erm, me, who picked up the Award on Washington Tea’s behalf! Due to a last-minute change of circumstances, the guys from Washington Tea couldn’t attend, so I stood in for them. I know, the irony of it. Me, collecting a tea award… It’s very shiny though. I wonder what I’ll do with it?
Finally, the only other Award I have interest in (in terms of having nominated someone for it) is the Group Operator of the Year Award. The shortlisted operators are:
- Daisy Green/Beany Green coffee shops (London)
- Crussh fit food juice bars (London)
- Tortilla, serving California-style Mexican food (Nationwide)
Of these, I confess, I don’t know much about Crussh or Tortilla (check out their websites for more details). However, regular readers will know that Daisy Green is very close to my heart, with the Beany Green branch in Paddington being my local when I’m in the office.
Daisy Green was set up three years ago by Prue, an escaped investment banker. From the original Daisy Green near Marble Arch, there are now four Beany Greens, which have more of an emphasis on coffee: Paddington (Sheldon Square), Liverpool Street (Broadgate Circle), Euston (Regent’s Place) and South Bank (midway between Waterloo and Charing Cross).
Two things really stand out for me at Daisy/Beany Green. The first is the amazing, off-the-wall (well, technically on the wall) designs and paintings from the very talented Shuby. Probably the most understated décor in all the branches is at my local, Paddington, while the original Daisy Green still sets the tone, particularly in the underground garden. Shuby’s also responsible for the “Your Banana Needs You” themed deckchairs and the giant papier-mâché heads.
The other thing is the innovative food. Betraying her Aussie background and upbringing with cake offeringssuch as Lamingtons and award-winning banana bread, Prue is forever improving the menu. Having grown up on a farm in Australia, I’m convinced that if you gave Prue a bag of random ingredients, she’d come up with something tasty and healthy inside 10 minutes. Lunchtime staples include wraps, with various fillings (beef and chicken for meat-eaters; egg, avocado and spinach for vegetarians; falafel and spinach for vegans), salads (so many salads) and the surprisingly-good broccoli bread, a gluten-free savoury counterpart to the equally surprisingly-good coconut bread.
The coffee’s pretty decent too, all the beans coming from Winchester’s Aussie transplants, The Roasting Party. With Daisy/Beany Green aiming more for the takeaway market, the emphasis is on espresso-based drinks, supplemented at some of the branches with bulk-brew filter. Depending on where you are, there’s also craft beer, wine and cocktails.
For a full list of all the Award Categories and shortlists, please see the Lunch Business Awards website. I’m not sure that a list of the winners has been posted yet, but I’ll put a link up here when it has.
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