Once upon a time, good coffee was relatively hard to find near Waterloo Station, but now it’s positively ringed by great options, from Four Corners and Coleman Coffee Roasters on Lower Marsh to For the Good of the People Coffee and Beany Green on the South Bank. However, the latest addition, Urban Baristas, on Waterloo Road itself, has the distinction of being the closest to the station, just across the road from the main Jubilee Line concourse.
Urban Baristas is a small chain which, starting in 2016, now has four locations, the Waterloo branch opening in October last year. It’s a tiny place, reminiscent of Goodge St Espresso, only smaller. Despite the size, there’s espresso from Union Hand-roasted and a rotating cast of guest roasters on batch-brew, plus cake, sandwiches and toast if you’re hungry. There’s also a selection of tea and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate.
Naturally it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own, while Urban Baristas has gone cashless at Waterloo, so you’ll also need a credit or debit card.
The Gentlemen Baristas, which started life at the end of 2014 on Union Street, just south of the Thames, now boasts four branches, of which this, on nearby Park Street, can legitimately be said to be the baby. In terms of look and feel, however, it very much has the air of a miniature version of the original, albeit with a cut-down coffee menu featuring two options on espresso and another on batch-brew, pour-over having been sacrificed to save space.
This lack of space also means that seating is at a premium, with room for four inside and another four outside on two benches. That said, there’s still the space for a well-stocked set of retail shelves, selling retail bags of coffee/coffee kit on one side, and produce at the other, including pickles, preserves and condiments. Meanwhile if you’re hungry, there’s a range of cakes and sandwiches. Another victim of the lack of space is cups, The Gentlemen Baristas only offering takeaway cups, so bring your own, although there are some espresso cups knocking around.
The Watch House, on London’s Bermondsey Street, south of the river, is one of those “new” coffee shops (like Lundenwic and The Black Penny) which I’m embarrassed to say has been open for several years. In the case of The Watch House, it will be four this September (and has also opened two further branches!). In my defence, while I come into London via Waterloo, I rarely spend any time south of the river, which, if it has more gems like this, is entirely my loss.
The Watch House is housed in a small, octagonal building dating from the 19th century, which was built to house the watchmen looking after the neighbouring church (hence the name, The Watch House). It’s a gorgeous physical space, if, like me, you like old buildings, reminding me a little of York’s Perky Peacock, another coffee shop housed in an old tower.
The coffee is as gorgeous as the surroundings, with the Empire blend from Ozone on espresso, where it’s joined by three single-origins on batch-brew, which change on a weekly basis. If you’re hungry, there’s breakfast, lunch and plenty of cake, with bread from two local bakeries, The Watch House supporting various local suppliers.
A long time ago (at least, it feels that way) when I regularly visited London, I’d often wander past the Southbank Centre Food Market. Conveniently on the route from Waterloo Station to Hungerford Bridge (as I stubbornly still call the Golden Jubilee Bridges) it was made even better by the presence, at the foot of the stairs, of the Bean About Town coffee van, a lovely, old Citroen, run by the equally lovely, but not so old, Claire (who shares, by the way, her nationality with the van, both being French). It was one of the first places I wrote about on the Coffee Spot.
However, things change, I ceased to be such a regular visitor, and I didn’t notice when the van disappeared from the bottom of the stairs. Then, last Sunday, with an hour to spare, I decided to wander out of Waterloo and have a nose around the market, whereupon I stumbled upon a big sign saying “Coffee” at the far end of the market.
That’s new, I thought to myself. Only it wasn’t. It was the old Citroen van, with Claire still there, pulling shots. “What’s going on?” you might well ask. What’s going on indeed!
Having finally paid a visit to Flat Cap Victoria in last week’s Saturday Short, I thought it was high-time that the Coffee Spot got around to the other Flat Cap, which is tucked away south of the river in London’s Borough Market. Once part of a small fleet of Notes Barrows, Flat Cap Borough is now a standalone operation and, despite the similarities, Flat Cap Borough is independent of Flat Cap Victoria.
There are, however, still close ties to Notes, with all the coffee coming from the Notes Roastery. There are a range of single-origin beans that you can buy, with one of them in the hopper. During my visit, this was a Brazilian Cachoeirinha, a naturally-processed coffee. All the usual espresso-based drinks are there, but otherwise that’s it. If you’re after something to eat with your coffee, never fear. You’re in Borough Market and spoilt for choice!
London Grind, at the southern end of London Bridge, was the first of London’s growing Grind chain to offer full restaurant service in addition to its tried and tested espresso bar by day/cocktail bar by night model. It’s also undergone a recent expansion which has added a large seating area at the back and more than trebled the size of the kitchen.
There are several seating options, largely depending on why you are at Grind. If you’re dining, then there’s the aforementioned seating area, while if you are here for the espresso bar (day) or cocktail bar (evening) then you can sit at the counter. As a half-way house, a range of tables with padded benches lines the front wall where you can sit sipping your coffee/cocktails or having a more informal dining experience. As well as breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, there are also cakes and, at lunch-time, sandwiches.
This was the first time I’d visited a Grind since the chain started roasting its own coffee in its new Shoreditch HQ. In keeping with the tried and trusted Grind model, there is both a house-blend (for milk-based drinks) and single-origin (espresso, Americano, etc) on espresso, as well as decaf.
The Gentlemen Baristas opened at the end of 2014 and is favoured by such luminaries as Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) and Daniel (Cups of Coffee London). So quite why it’s taken me over two years to visit the original coffee shop on Union Street is a mystery. And, frankly, the loss is all mine. From the street, a modest multi-paned square window next to a solitary door hides an unexpectedly large and glorious interior, consisting of several interlinked spaces spread over two floors, including a sheltered roof-garden and cosy back room. I can see the appeal already.
The Gentlemen Baristas projects a fun image, reminding me of Victoriana and, more specifically, Steampunk, but not in an in-your-face sort of way. If you’re just coming for a cup of coffee, don’t let it put you off. Talking of which, while The Gentlemen Baristas may be about fun, it’s very serious when it comes to the coffee, which is private-label roasted by Wogan Coffee in Bristol under The Gentlemen Baristas brand. There are several blends and single-origins available on espresso, with more single-origins on filter (Aeropress, V60, Kalita Wave and Chemex), where they’re joined by a guest roaster, currently Liverpool’s Neighbourhood Coffee.
August 2018: The Gentlemen Baristas now only serves single-origins, which are roasted under the Gentlemen Baristas brand by either Wogan Coffee or Neighbourhood Coffee.
Not that long ago, London’s Waterloo Station was a bit of a desert for good coffee. There was the Scooter Café on Lower Marsh, plus Bean About Town’s van on the South Bank, but that was about it. However, three short years later, things have changed. Bean About Town’s been joined by Beany Green and, in the summer, the Look Mum No Hands! Pop-up. Meanwhile, on Lower Marsh, first Four Corners popped up across from the Scooter Café and now, a few doors down, there’s Coleman Coffee Roasters.
Run by Jack Coleman, who’s been roasting since 2010, the coffee shop appeared two months ago. Occupying what was, for a long time, a book shop, it’s not a huge spot, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character. Oh, and it has a wonderfully-secluded garden at the back.
Coleman Coffee Roasters blends elements of old-school style with a third-wave lightness of touch. There are two single-origins through the V60 and a single espresso blend. In an interesting twist, this can be pulled one of two ways, either as an espresso or an “old-fashioned” espresso. Jack also dishes up Oaties (think savoury pancakes) with various fillings.
It’s that time of year again: summer’s on the way (although as I write this, I’ve had the heating on and it poured with rain all day) and the Look Mum No Hands! pop-up has once again appeared under Hungerford Bridge on London’s South Bank. A fixture since 2013, the Look Mum No Hand’s pop-up joins the (sort of) all-year-round options of the Beany Green container and Bean About Town at the Real Food Market. When I last visited, in 2014, Look Mum No Hands! had already expanded considerably since its first year. Unexpectedly finding myself in London last Saturday, I naturally made a bee-line for Queen’s Walk to see what had changed this time around.
I’m pleased to say that this year, Look Mum No Hands! is bigger than ever before, with an expanded seating area under the cover of the bridge and even more food/drink options. There’s the ubiquitous Red Brick on espresso from Square Mile, plus an impressive range of craft beers and cider on tap, backed up with Pimms, prosecco, gin & tonic, vodka & tonic and wine by the glass. There’s cake and pastries, plus, if you’re really hungry, hot dogs, including a vegetarian version.
October 2016: Look Mum No Hands! has gone for another year and sadly it looks like that might be it for now…
May 2017: I checked under Hungerford Bridge and there’s no sign of Looks Mum No Hands! this year. There is a bar down there in the spot which Looks Mum No Hands! normally occupies, which suggests, sadly, that it won’t be coming back this year…
CRAFT London is a new project by chef Stevie Parle and designer Tom Dixon. As the name suggests, it’s focused on the craft of making things. Located on the Greenwich Peninsular, a stone’s throw from both the O2 and North Greenwich tube station, it will ultimately be a café, restaurant and bar.
I visited it on Friday, five days after the café, occupying the ground floor, had opened, having been alerted to it by Robbie Calvert, who is café manager, head barista and (ultimately) roaster, all rolled into one. I had previously run into Robbie at Edinburgh’s Artisan Roast, where he’d impressed me with his passion (and his coffee).
I’d heard that he’d come down to London, so I was keen to find out what he was up to. As luck would have it, I was already going to the O2 that evening for a Caro Emerald concert, so snuck in just before closing time to catch up with Robbie and his new venture.
I have to say that I was impressed. Although CRAFT London had only been open for five days, it seemed to me to be a pretty decent operation with lots of exciting things in the pipeline!