Flat White Café

A bicycle on the lane leading to Flat White Cafe in Durham, confirming that you're on the right track.In the booming world of speciality coffee, where shops open faster than I can visit/write about them, it’s nice to come across one that’s older than the Coffee Spot itself. Durham’s Flat White Café, which opened in 2010, now boasts two, soon to be three, locations in the city. That I’ve not visited before now is entirely my loss, Durham being somewhere that I’ve often gone through on the train, admiring its steep hills and stunning views from the station, but never actually bothering to get off and explore. Again, entirely my loss.

The original Flat White Café is a pretty small spot, a long, low rectangular space with as much seating outside as in, with the outside seating perched on whatever flat surfaces can be found. Yes, Durham really is that hilly. Given the size, there’s a surprisingly large breakfast/lunch menu, an impressive array of cakes and an espresso-based menu with options from Newcastle’s Ouseburn Coffee Co and London’s Workshop. Perpetually busy, and with tables at a premium, if you need more space, the second branch, Flat White Kitchen, is just around the corner (although up a steep hill), with more space, a bigger menu and even longer queues!

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • On Elvet Bridge, in the heart of Durham, is somewhere I should have visited years ago.
  • But first, since it's such a beautiful city, let's have a look around. This is Elvet Bridge itself.
  • The view from the north side of the bridge...
  • ... and the view looking south. That's the River Wear, by the way.
  • Back to the street, which climbs steeply to the west after crossing the bridge.
  • About half way along on the left, this archway is what we're looking for.
  • The A-board is the giveway, while the sign on the door confirms it.
  • Through a long, yellow-sided passage way, we can see a steep lane curving to the left.
  • The tables at the top belong to Flat White Cafe, while further down...
  • ... we can see Flat White Cafe itself, under Osbournes.
  • The bicycle confirms it.
  • The lane curves steeply down to the left. Impressively, it's flat enough for more tables!
  • There's this corner table on the far (left) side of the door...
  • ... while there's another table to the right, and more alongisde the steps up to Osbournes. By the way, this is the view if you come the other way, up the lane.
  • The tables at the top, by the steps up to Osbournes.
  • Another view of the table in the corner to the left of the door. Very cosy-looking!
  • I also like the latterns hanging above the windows and the door. Let's go in, shall we?
  • The view from just inside the door. Flat White Cafe goes a long way back.
  • There's a four-person table just to the left of the door, while if you look closely...
  • ... you can see another outside table through the door on the other side of the lane.
  • There are more tables to the right of the door.
  • The view looking back towards the door.
  • There are a pair of four-person tables to the left of the door: this one by the window...
  • ... and this one up by the counter.
  • There are more tables to the right, lining a long, wooden bench...
  • ... with three, four-person tables lining the bench...
  • ... after which there's a step up and two more tables by the counter at the back.
  • The last of the tables, at the back on the right.
  • The counter. on the left,  is opposite the seating...
  • ... while this is the view back towards the front of Flat White.
  • Flat White has some interesting touches, such as these postcards by the door.
  • There are also flowers on the tables...
  • ... and on the counter.
  • There's more greenery on this shelf on the right-hand side...
  • ... behind which is a row of angled mirrors...
  • ... which give some interesting views of the coffee shop...
  • ... particularly if you like watching baristas working!
  • There's another mirror in this nook in the left-hand wall, just before the counter.
  • There's not much natural light, so these light-bulbs are most welcome!
  • So, to business. The counter. as seen on approaching from the door.
  • It's long and thin, with the espresso machine at the front, then cakes...
  • ... while the till is right at the back, where you order, menu handily placed on the wall.
  • The cakes are in a display cabinet in the middle of the counter.
  • There's quite a selection.
  • The espresso machine is at the front, which is also where you collect takeaway coffee.
  • If you sit down the side of the counter, you can watch the barista at work.
  • The drinks and brunch/lunch menu in more detail...
  • ... supplemented by paper menus on the tables.
  • I'd come for breakfast and decided to keep it simple with toast...
  • ... and a flat white.
  • My latte art is worth a second look.
  • Back outside and there's an intriguing archway to the left of flat white...
  • ... which leads to a series of terraces overlooking the river and Elvet Bridge...
  • ... beyond which a narrow staircase between buildings leads up to Saddler Street...
  • ... where you'll find the 2nd Flat White, Flat White Kitchen. Yes, that's a queue in the door.
  • I popped in briefly to say hello...
  • ... and to try the house espresso, OCC's Foundry No.2 blend, as an espresso.
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My original plan had been to visit the second Flat White, Flat White Kitchen, for breakfast, but it had a queue out of the door. On a Thursday morning. At 10:30. In June. So I changed tack and went for Plan B, breakfast at Flat White Café, which I’d planned to visit afterwards. Both Flat Whites are on the steep-sided peninsular that’s the heart of Durham, formed by a large, elongated loop in the River Wear, home to both Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral.

The café’s around the corner from the kitchen on Elvet Bridge, but because of the way that the streets curve and steeply drop, the café’s almost under the kitchen. I’m sure that if they really tried, the staff could dig a tunnel between the two…

To get to the café, head down the steeply-sloping Elvet Bridge, where, halfway down on the right, before you get to the bridge, an archway leads through the wall of buildings to an equally steeply-sloping lane that curves to the left, where there’s a delightfully-secluded sloping courtyard-like area which houses Flat White Café, with a  pub, Osbournes, above it.

Ironically, almost nothing about Flat White is flat, other than the name (and, thankfully, the floor of the shop). There’s an abundance of outside seating, occupying every level and approximately-level surface, starting with a pair of two-person wooden tables on the right-hand side of the lane, while directly opposite the door, on the other side of the lane, there’s a small niche in the railings, home to a bench and coffee table.

Flat White Café is in an old stone and brick building. A central door is flanked by two narrow windows, with an L-shaped bench around a square table under the left-hand window. To the right, under the other window, is a four-person table, with two, two-person tables to the right of that against the steps up to Osbournes.

Inside, it’s long and thin, a cosy, bustling spot. Most of the seating’s on the right, while on the left, the counter, which starts one-third of the way back, dominates, leaving room for a long bench against the left-hand wall between it and the window, home to two four-person tables. On the right, another bench has three four-person tables, followed by a pair of two-person tables as the counter takes over.

The last of the four-person tables creates a real pinch-point, with just enough room for a single person to get by. Sadly, the till’s at the back of the counter, so everyone has to squeeze past to order, then make their way back to their seats. It’s also right next to the espresso machine and therefore the natural place to wait for takeaway coffee.

Flat White serves Ouseburn Coffee Co’s Foundry No. 2 blend on espresso, with a guest from Workshop on the second grinder. This changes as-and-when they go through whatever’s currently on, but you have to know to ask if you want the guest, which is also joined by a decaf from Workshop.

I’d come for breakfast, so had the sourdough toast, two slices of rather lovely crunchy toast with a pot of jam. And, of course, I had to have a flat white. This was quite lovely, the coffee going very well with the milk, forming a rich, creamy flat white, the ideal way to start my day. Once I’d finished up at the café, I popped up to Flat White Kitchen, where they were still queuing (but inside the door this time) at 11:30. I stood at the counter (as one should) for a quick espresso of the Foundry No. 2, a rich, complex coffee with a great mouthfeel.

And then it was back to the station and back on my train.

21A ELVET BRIDGE • DURHAM • DH1 3AA
https://flatwhitekitchen.com +44 (0) 7936 449291
Monday 09:00 – 17:00 Roaster OCC + Workshop (espresso only)
Tuesday 09:00 – 17:00 Seating Tables, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 09:00 – 17:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 09:00 – 17:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 09:00 – 17:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 09:00 – 17:00 Wifi No
Sunday 10:00 – 16:00 Power No
Chain Local Visits 21st June 2018

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  1. Pingback: Alchemy Café | Brian's Coffee Spot

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