Story Coffee

A flat white from Story Coffee, made with Square Mile's Red Brick espresso and served in my Therma Cup.Occupying a bright, sunny corner just a few doors down from Birdhouse, Story Coffee has been part of the furniture in this part of London, which is just west of Clapham Junction station, for close to four years. Give how often I go up to London, this shows just how little I get out of the station rather than zipping through it on the train. The loss, frankly, is all mine.

There’s not much to Story Coffee, just a single, unfussy rectangular space, with plenty for room on the broad pavement for a cluster of tables. Meanwhile, inside is a mix of tables and bars. Since it started, Story Coffee has used London’s Square Mile, but that’s slowly changing, Story having recently started roasting its own coffee. For now it’s Square Mile’s Red Brick on espresso, with a different single-origin on batch-brew and another on pour-over. These change every day or two and represent your best chance of sampling Story’s own coffee, which occasionally makes an appearance.

For somewhere so small, there’s also an impressive brunch menu, prepared in the kitchen downstairs, and served until three o’clock each afternoon (four o’clock at weekends). Naturally, there’s a good selection of cake.

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The lovely latte art in my decaf flat white at Lundenwic, made with Square Mile's seasonal decaf espresso.Lundenwic is one of those places that I’ve been meaning to visit ever since it opened. Back in 2015… In my defence, I’ve been a couple of times, but each time it’s been so busy that it’s been impossible to photograph, so I quietly left, telling myself I’d be back another day. That day eventually came one rainy Saturday evening in May when all the sensible people had gone home…

Located in the heart of the London’s theatre-land, right on Aldwych, at the foot Drury Lane, Lundenwic brings speciality coffee to a very mainstream setting. The shop itself is narrow and weirdly-shaped, with not one, but two (sort of) basements, exactly the sort of place I revel in. I must admonish my previous self for not going back sooner.

When it comes to coffee, Lundenwic keeps things simple but classy. Assembly’s seasonal espresso (currently a washed Colombian) is joined by Square Mile’s seasonal decaf (currently a blend of 80% Colombian and 20% Kenyan), while Assembly and Square Mile take it in turns on the batch-brew filter, the coffee changing roughly every week. A similar approach is taken with the food, a concise all-day brunch menu joined by soup at lunchtime.

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Store Street Espresso, Paddington

A lovely shot of Red Brick espresso in a classic white cup, pulled by Aurelien at Store Street Espresso in 2 Kingdom StreetWhen I started working in Sheldon Square, around the back of Paddington Station, in the summer of 2013, there was no decent coffee to be had. Anywhere. Then came Beany Green in 2014, followed by KuPP and Kioskafé in 2015. Then, in the very week my job came to an end, the works canteen was taken over by Baxter Storey, using coffee from Modern Standard. Talk about bad timing!

Since then Can Do Coffee has moved in, but all of these have been east of Sheldon Square. Until, that is, Store Street Espresso moved into the lobby of the office block on 2 Kingdom Street, literally around the corner from my old office. I made one attempt to visit a few weeks ago, but managed to pick the one day Store Street was closed for the installation of a new concrete counter-top. What was it I was saying about timing?

However, last week I was back, ironically in a new job, but working for four days in the basement of my old office. Fortunately we were occasionally let out for good behaviour, so I made the most of my opportunities to pay daily visits to the new Store Street Espresso…

June 2018: Sadly, Store Street Espresso has had to close its Paddington branch.

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Look Mum No Hands! South Bank Pop-up 2016

"Look mum no hands!", written on the side of the south-bank pop-up.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…

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Kaffeine Eastcastle

The front of Kaffeine, door to the left, windows to the right, with a pair of benches in front of the window acting as tables.Kaffeine, with its original store on Great Tichfield Street, is something of a legend in London coffee circles, part of the first wave of Aussie/Kiwi (in this case, Aussie) influenced coffee shops to appear in the capital. The second Kaffeine, a hop, skip and jump away on Eastcastle Street, took a while in coming, but in 2015 it opened its doors, effectively reproducing the original’s successful model in a similarly-sized, but differently-shaped space. This one’s a simple rectangle, with the short-side facing the street, counter on the right, seating on the left. There’s also a window bar and a long bench outside on the relatively quiet street (although I was there on Sunday).

There’s the ubiquitous Red Brick from Square Mile on espresso, all the usual favourites on the menu (the largest drink is a 7.5oz latte) and the added bonus of a coffee-tasting flight. There’s also cascara, a selection of loose-leaf teas and a small range of soft drinks. If you’re hungry, there’s a limited range of three baguettes/brioche (which can be toasted) and three salads, which you can have individually or in combination. Finally, there’s a selection of cakes, including the Aussie staple of toasted banana bread.

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Forté Espresso Bar

A cortado, made with Square Mile's Sweet Shop Blend at Forté Espresso Bar in Manchester.Once upon-a-time in Manchester, there was a tiny coffee shop called Caffeine & Co which, a few years later, changed its name to Pavé Coffee. Since June of this year, it’s gone by the name Forté Espresso Bar. Throughout all this change, one thing has remained constant: the ever-affable Dan, aka the nicest man in coffee, who, barring a short hiatus at the start of the year, when he and his wife had their first baby, has been a permanent fixture behind the counter, although he’s now been joined by the equally-lovely Jenny.

I’m firmly of the opinion that the majority of the customers come as much to see Dan as they do to drink his excellent coffee. That’s certainly the case for me, and I always make a point of popping in to say hello when I come up during my annual pilgrimage to attend the Manchester Coffee Festival.

Talking of the excellent coffee, Forté serves Square Mile’s Red Brick on espresso, with the (in)famous Sweetshop blend as a second option, plus a regularly-rotating single-origin and decaf, all from Square Mile. There’s also tea, hot chocolate, pastries and a range of cakes/tray bakes from Manchester’s In Truffle We Trust.

November 2018: Extremely sad news! Forte has been sold to become a barber shop. I found out when I popped in to say hello to Dan on my annual visit to the Manchester Coffee Festival. It will close by the end of the month 🙁

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Look Mum No Hands! Mare Street

A flat white, with lovely latte art, in a classic white bowl cup, with the Look Mum No Hands! logo on the frontSlowly but surely, London Fields, beyond trendy Shoreditch on the commuter lines out of Liverpool Street, is becoming a coffee destination. Long-time home to stalwarts Climpson and Sons on Broadway Market, and more recently, with the roastery under the railway arches, it’s been joined in recent years by Terrone, at Netil Market, and the latest arrival, the well-regarded Silhouette. It’s also where London coffee-and-cycling giants, Look Mum No Hands!, chose to open its second permanent branch on Mare Street.

For those familiar with the original Look Mum No Hands! on Old Street or the South Bank Pop-up (back again for another summer), the branch on Mare Street will hold no surprises, serving up the same winning menu of Square Mile coffee, craft beer, substantial food (when the kitchen’s not closed!) and bikes. There are fewer bikes than at Old Street, the emphasis here slightly more on the coffee, beer and food. There’s also less outside seating, the selection limited to a little bench outside the side door and a pair of picnic tables on the broad pavement out front. However, to compensate for these minor shortcomings, the interior’s even bigger than the substantial Old Street and the pace more relaxed.

January 2016: Look Mum No Hands! has had to close as the landlord has redeveloped the building.

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Curators Coffee Gallery

The Curators Coffee sign.I haven’t been to the original Curators in the City. The closest I got was walking past while thinking “wow, that’s small!”. In contrast, the second Curators, Fitzrovia’s Curators Coffee Gallery, is palatial in size. This comparison holds when considering the other Coffee Spots in Fitzrovia, where it vies with the likes of the tiny Mother’s Milk, through the (fairly small) Kaffeine, all the way up to the (not very big) Attendant and Workshop. Curators is so (comparatively) big that there’s a basement, and you all know my opinion of that!

Coffee-wise, Curators more than holds its own, the space giving it the freedom to offer a wide range of coffee. There’s a La Marzocco Strada dispensing the house espresso from Nude, alongside a regularly-rotating guest from various roasters (Nude included). At the other end of the counter, a neat row of Chemex (assuming the plural of Chemex is Chemex) awaits the call, each with its own scales and brass pouring kettle. There’s a choice of two filters, again from various roasters, with Nude and Square Mile predominating, ground by an EK-43, modestly kept in a purpose-built niche amongst the shelves of coffee kit on the wall behind the counter.

February 2016: I’ve now (finally) rectified my oversight and visited Curators Coffee Studio, the original Curators.

March 2019: Sadly Curators Coffee Gallery has closed its doors for good. It will be sadly missed.

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Sharps Coffee Bar

An Ethiopian Duromina from Workshop at Sharps Coffee Bar, beautifully presented in a glass carafe and a white, handless cup on a white china tray.Sharps Coffee Bar, on London’s Windmill Street, is one of a new breed of coffee shops sharing premises with other businesses. Historically it was bookshops, then bike shops, along with the odd record store and laundrette. And now barbers.

I first visited towards the end of last year but, having heard news of change on the grapevine that is twitter, I popped back a couple of weeks ago. However, for the second Wednesday running, I find myself writing a Coffee Spot Update where the answer to the question, “so what’s changed?” is “not much”.

At least, not yet, and not to the casual visitor. The seating is laid out a little differently from my previous visits, and the coffee menu (although not what’s on offer) has changed. Other than that, the sublime lines of the Kees van der Westen Spirit Triplette are still there, as is the Mahlkönig EK43 grinder. The same variety of coffee is on offer: espresso, batch-brew filter and Aeropress, all with regularly-rotating roasters.

The main change is behind the counter, where David Robson, ex-Association Coffee barista and reigning Scottish Aeropress Champion, has taken over. Or, to use the modern jargon, the coffee will be curated by David.

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Look Mum No Hands! Old Street

Look Mum No Hands! sign, proclaiming itself as a Cafe, Bar & (Bike) Workshop.To celebrate the Tour de France, which enters its last week today, I thought it was about time I visited one of London’s most famous cycling cafés, Old Street’s Look Mum No Hands!. Ironically, I wrote about Look Mum No Hands! South Bank pop-up this time last year, with an update last month, so I really was overdue a visit to where it all started.

Towards the western end of Old Street, Look Mum No Hands! occupies a long, low building on the north side of the street. This being Look Mum, it’s one of the most bike-friendly places I’ve been: lots of bike-rack space out in the courtyard, a free pump for anyone wanting to top-up their tyre pressure and, just inside the door, a bike workshop.

That said, let’s not overlook the café side of the equation. With coffee from Square Mile, Look Mum No Hands! holds its own in an area dominated by top-notch coffee shops. There’s no pour-over or fancy options, just straight-forward espresso, loads of cake and a decent selection of other drinks. This backed up by a comprehensive food menu, served throughout the day, from 7.30 in the morning to 10 o’clock at night. Continue reading