Once upon a time, speciality coffee in Glasgow was generally a West End thing, but in the last couple of years, that’s changed, with pioneers such as the Riverhill Coffee Bar, Laboratorio Espresso and today’s Coffee Spot, McCune Smith, moving into the city centre and its immediate surroundings.
A little way east of the centre of Glasgow, you’ll find McCune Smith at the top (west) end of Duke Street, right on the edge of the University of Strathclyde, in an area that feels like it might have the estate agent tag of “up-and-coming”. In the words of its owner, Dan, it’s a sandwich bar which caught the coffee bug, teaming up with Glasgow’s very own Dear Green Coffee to turn itself into a lovely little spot.
In keeping with many places in Glasgow, McCune Smith marries excellent coffee with a very strong food offering (not surprising, given its sandwich-bar origins). However, with a nod to Glasgow’s Enlightenment history, McCune Smith is named after Dr James McCune Smith, the black intellectual and abolitionist who became the first African American in the world to hold a medical degree when he graduated from Glasgow’s Old College in 1837.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
McCune Smith occupies a lovely spot on Duke Street’s northern side. On the ground floor of a handsome, red stone building, it has old-fashioned looks, with its simple black paintwork and gold lettering. However, this façade hides a very modern, uncluttered interior, accessed by a pair of recessed doors, interspersed between three floor-to-ceiling windows. Given the height of the ceilings, this is a lot of window, contributing to McCune Smith’s bright interior.
Once inside, it’s apparent that McCune Smith occupies two adjacent units. Despite its symmetrical façade, they’re two very different spaces. On the left, there’s a small, almost square space, door on the right, seating on the left, where a long, comfortable, padded bench runs along the wall, from the window to the back wall. There are three tables, one two-person one, flanked by two four-person tables.
At the far end, a doorway in the right-hand wall leads into the second space, which you can also enter direct from the street. Coming in this way, there’s a high, round table in each of the large bay windows to either side of you. Each has four stools, which, although not comfortable-looking, are some of the most comfortable I’ve sat on.
There’s another of these high tables to the left, between window and counter, and, in a slightly recessed nook in the right-hand wall, is another padded bench with a six-person table. And that’s it. I’m sure McCune Smith could have squeezed more in, but I’m glad it didn’t. The uncluttered layout, high ceilings, windows and simple, white colour-scheme give it an immense sense of space out of all proportion to its size.
It’s also probably a result of McCune Smith’s sandwich-bar origins. About two-thirds of the large counter at the back is given over to the food, including cakes and sandwiches. The coffee side of things, to the left, by the till, is small in comparison. However, don’t let that fool you. McCune Smith has a Rwandan single-origin from Dear Green as its house-espresso, plus Dear Green and guests on Aeropress or V60. There’s also tea from Edinburgh’s Eteaket.
Having had two Rwanda single-origin espressos at the Glasgow Coffee Festival that weekend and not really got on with them, I decided to try a macchiato (technically a 4oz, McCune preferring sizes to names on its coffee menu). While I enjoyed it, there wasn’t enough milk to complete take the sharpness off the espresso (although it confirmed my suspicion that the espresso on its own would have been too bright for my palette). Perhaps I’d have been better off with a flat white, but I was afraid that the milk might swamp the coffee.
McCune Smith serves breakfast until 11, with sandwiches, soup and salads thereafter, plus a separate brunch menu at weekends. I didn’t get a chance to try the food, but given how good everything else was, I suspect it would have been rather good too.
Over my coffee, I had a long chat with Dan, the owner, who told me of the links with the Scottish Enlightenment, plus Glasgow’s little-known history in the sugar and slave trade. In a nod to this, all the sandwiches are named after famous Scottish Enlightenment philosophers. For more information on this fascinating subject, see McCune Smith’s facebook page.
|3-5 DUKE STREET • GLASGOW • G4 0UL|
|www.mccunesmith.co.uk||+44 (0) 141 548 1114|
|Monday||08:00 – 16:00||Roaster||Dear Green (espresso), Dear Green + Guests (filter)|
|Tuesday||08:00 – 16:00||Seating||Tables, Tables (outside)|
|Wednesday||08:00 – 16:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Sandwiches, Cake|
|Thursday||08:00 – 16:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||08:00 – 16:00||Cards||Mastercard, Visa|
|Saturday||09:00 – 17:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Chain||No||Visits||19th October 2015|
Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to Glasgow for more great Coffee Spots.
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