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.
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.
When 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.
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…
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.
Slowly 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.
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.
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 →
Today’s Saturday Supplement (yes, I know it’s a Wednesday; shush!) is a two-for-the-price of one deal: a visit to the third Bea’s of Bloomsbury outpost at Farringdon, and an update of sorts on the original Bea’s of Bloomsbury on Theobalds Road.
Having written about the original Bea’s and then the second outpost in St Paul’s within the first four months of the Coffee Spot’s life, I’ve taken my time to get to the third, and latest, of the Bea’s of Bloomsbury Empire of Cake. In fairness to myself, the Farringdon branch (or Mini-Bea’s as I like to call it) wasn’t actually open when I wrote about the first two. Even so…
Tucked away opposite Farringdon station in a curiously-shaped little building that’s almost all windows, there’s not a lot to Bea’s. Certainly it’s not the sort of place you go for a sit-down afternoon tea (unlike the other two). Although a pair of benches graces the pedestrianised street outside (with an excellent view of the Cross-rail excavations), this really is a takeaway coffee-and-cake kind of place, with a major emphasis on the cake (although there are sandwiches as well). Mind you, I expect nothing less when the company’s motto is “life is short, eat more cake”!
You know it’s summer when the Look Mum No Hands! pop-up appears under Hungerford Bridge on London’s South Bank. So, on the second sunny Sunday in June, I took the train up to Waterloo, headed north to the river and then, eschewing my normal route, popped down under the bridge where Look Mum No Hands! is in its second year of operation.
Last year’s set-up was fairly impressive, but this year it’s been expanded, with a larger, more permanent seating area and a bigger caravan. This houses the espresso machine (which was in a separate trailer last time) and an array of craft beers, as well as soft drinks. There’s also cake, crisps, bananas and, new this year, the option of a ploughman’s platter.
Although I’ve termed Look Mum No Hands! a pop-up, that does it something of an injustice. With the expanded seating area and the fact it’s under the bridge, it has a pretty permanent feel to it. On all but the coldest days, treating it as a sit-down café is a viable (and, on a sunny day, a lovely) option. One downside is that the coffee is only served in takeaway cups, but you can’t have everything!