West Central London

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The Coffee Spot Guide to West Central London

Nelson's Column, in the heart of Trafalgar Square, marking the western-most boundary of West Central London.The Coffee Spot Guide to West Central London includes everything with a postcode starting with WC, which encompasses a surprisingly narrow strip running north from the Thames to the Euston Road, including the Strand, Covent Garden and Bloomsbury, extending as far west as Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square. As such, it is surprising what it does not cover, incluidng areas such as Soho, which, in my head, is very definitely in “central London” but which, in postcode terms, is West London.

As with all these guides, this is not, and does not claim to be, a comprehensive guide to the coffee scene in West Central London. While you’re here, why not check out the rest of the Coffee Guides to London?


Header image: The pediment of the British Museum in the heart of Bloomsbury.


Coffee Spots

Bea’s of Bloomsbury

Someone said of Bea’s of Bloomsbury: “as much cake as you can imagine”. Now, that sounds like a challenge to me, and I can imagine a lot of cake. For fans of Radio 4’s excellent Cabin Pressure, this is very reminiscent of the Ottery St Mary episode and the question: “how many otters can you imagine?". So, suitably forearmed with an imagination full of cake, I arrived at Bea’s of Bloomsbury and I wasn’t disappointed.

Bea’s does cake. It seems a shame to gloss over the lunches, sandwiches, tea, coffee and afternoon tea, but seriously, Bea’s does cake. In a big way. The Bloomsbury branch (which is where it all started) is quite small, so as well as functioning as a cosy coffee spot, it also has a stream of takeaway customers who just come for the cake. But if you do take your cake away, you’ll miss out on the best part, that of sitting there and staring longingly at the other cakes. Or maybe that’s just me…

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Coffee Island, St Martin’s Lane

An information card for a micro-lot from the Cerro de Jesus farm in Nicaragua, supplied by Coffee Island in St Martin's Lane.Coffee Island is, unusually for the Coffee Spot, a chain and an international one at that, which started on a Greek island in 1999 and now has over 300 shops throughout Greece, Cyprus and south-east Europe. However, its branch on St Martin’s Lane is (so far) the only UK one. Opening earlier this year with a considerable media push, I was away at the time and so missed all the fuss. I popped in later in the year and I liked what I saw…

A modest exterior hides a surprisingly-large coffee shop with plenty of seating and a mezzanine level at the back. I’d describe Coffee Island as coffee geeks meet the mainstream, so while there’s a house-blend, decaf and five single-origins, there’s also flavoured coffee, which is not something you normally associate with the speciality end of the market. There’s also a large retail section (beans and equipment), tea and food, the latter in the shape of salads, sandwiches and cake.

There’s an excellent range of options for the coffee including espresso, Greek coffee (Ibrik), bulk-brew or pour-over using the V60, Aeropress or Chemex (for one or two). If you want to compare coffee or methods side-by-side, it’s awesome!

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Continental Stores

One of the Continental Stores black light fittings hanging above the name written in white on a darkened window.It feels harsh calling Store Street Espresso a chain, but technically, with the opening of the second branch of the Store Street Espresso empire, it is. The new outlet, Continental Stores, on Tavistock Place, is less than 15 minutes’ walk northeast of Store Street, home of the original Store Street Espresso, but it’s a totally different part of London.

Although it’s half the size of the original, resulting in a more intimate atmosphere, Continental Stores sticks to the same formula that has made Store Street such a success. The house-blend on the espresso machine is Square Mile’s Red Brick seasonal blend, while there’s also a guest espresso (from various roasters; Nude Espresso’s Guatemalan was on while I was there) and a decaf option. Finally, there’s a single-original pour-over filter coffee via the V60 (a washed Bolivian from Square Mile during my visit), with bulk-brew coming soon. Add to that Store Street staples of cake, sandwiches, soup, toast and very friendly staff and you’re onto a winner.

Grinder-geeks, by the way, will be fascinated by the Mahlkonig EK43 grinder which deals with the guest coffees and the decaf. It certainly cuts an interesting figure on the counter!

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Espresso Base

An espresso at London's Expresso Base, in an interesting, ribbed, handleless cupTo mark my return to the UK, Monday’s Coffee Spot is somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for all most as long as I’ve been doing the Coffee Spot. Expresso Base is in the courtyard of St George’s Church, near the British Museum and just across the way from the original site of Wild & Wood. It’s easy enough to miss and is closed over the weekend, which might go some way to explaining how I’ve managed to not go there for almost four years (which, incidentally, is how long Expresso Base has been going, having opened a few months before I started the Coffee Spot).

Essentially an outdoor café, Expresso Base occupies the right-hand side of the churchyard, with plenty of seating and a gazebo at the back which houses the two-group La Marzocco. If it’s raining, additional umbrellas, etc, can be put up to provide shelter, but on a sunny day, there’s nothing better than sitting on one of the wooden benches and enjoying your coffee in the sun. The coffee, from Has Bean, is always a single-origin and changes on a regular basis, while there’s a small selection of cake if you are hungry. There's also a guest roaster which changes every week.

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Fernandez & Wells, Somerset House

A stumpy (a sort of mini flat white), in a glass, sitting in the sun in the courtyard of Somerset House at Fernandez and WellsAlmost a year after featuring Fernandez & Wells for the first time, with the delightful Exhibition Road branch, I thought it about time that I got around to writing up the Somerset House branch, where I’ve been a semi-regular visitor through the year. Set within Somerset House itself, with stunning views of the courtyard and, in the summer, copious outside seating, it’s one of the most physically appealing Coffee Spots that I’ve been to. Inside, high ceilings and large windows give it an immense sense of light and space, while multiple rooms, on a par with Paris’ La Caféothèque, means that there’s something for everyone.

A cross between wine-bar, deli and coffee shop, F&W’s food and coffee are as outstanding as the setting. Somerset House has a similar offering to Exhibition Road, with perhaps a slightly more extensive menu, which never fails to amaze and delight me. The coffee’s from Has Bean, with a bespoke house-blend on espresso. Open late into the evenings, it’s the perfect spot for an after-hours coffee or a bite to eat and while I haven’t tried it, the wine selection looks excellent. In the summer, it’s one of the best outdoor cafés in London.

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FreeState Coffee

The A-board outside FreeState Coffee: Espresso Bar, Brew Bar, Breakfast, Lunch, Cakes & SweetsFreeState Coffee has entered the fray as yet another excellent London Coffee Spot competing for my attention in the vicinity of the British Museum. It doesn’t help that the museum now has a lovely Members’ Room serving some excellent Italian espresso. And I’m a member...

However, FreeState is making a strong claim for my business. Open for just four months, it’s already made its mark. As well as serving excellent coffee, the owner, Tom, has recruited some wonderful staff. Anita and Chris, who were on during my second visit, are as passionate about their coffee, and as dedicated to giving you great customer service, as any I’ve had the good fortune to meet.

Tom has also created a fantastic space for drinking coffee. Although it looks like FreeState has been furnished from a clearance sale, at second glance it’s clear that an awful lot of thought has gone into both the furnishing and the layout. The provision of a separate brew bar, at the back of the main seating area, is a nice touch, while the wooden floorboards, furniture and counters (the latter made from wood reclaimed 1920s boxcars) combine with the plain walls to create a harmonious whole.

February 2016: FreeState is now under new ownership, part of the same group as New Row Coffee and the Espresso Room. As a result, it has switched roaster to Caravan.

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Frequency

Thumbnail - Frequency Ltd (20160826_083227)Frequency is a new addition to the coffee scene around King’s Cross Station. Owned by a lovely couple, Justo and Joey, it’s slightly off the beaten track, it’s down King’s Cross Road in the direction of Exmouth Market, tucked away in a little parade of shops. It’s been open all of two months, serving coffee from Workshop and tea from Joe’s Tea, both local suppliers. This is backed up by an interesting breakfast selection, sandwiches and, of course, plenty of cake.

When it comes to coffee, there’s a commendably concise espresso-based menu, plus a choice of three single-origins on filter (one of which is the same bean in the hopper for the espresso). You can have your filter coffee as either a pour-over through the V60 or an Aeropress, with the beans changing on a seasonal basis. The beans, by the way, are also for sale.

Frequency itself is a cosy space, long and thin, with seating at the front and in a little room at the back if you want to escape the coming and going of the other customers. There’s also a small table outside the front of Frequency, where it sits in a beautifully-tiled entrance.

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Half Cup

Details of the decoration on the walls of Half Cup in Judd Street, London.Half way down Judd Street, just south of King’s Cross and St Pancras stations, Half Cup has been on my radar for a long time now, probably for almost as long as it’s been open, which is three years. I visited on several occasions, but sadly, until now, I’ve never been in a position to write it up, either being in a hurry to move on (like when I had breakfast there before this year’s London Coffee Festival) or else I’ve been meeting someone (the preliminary meetings about The Philosophy of Coffee where held here) and hence not been able to take detailed notes.

Half Cup serves Nude Espresso as its house-blend on espresso which has recently been joined by a guest espresso. This was, during my visit, the Penny Rock seasonal espresso blend from Red Bank Coffee in Cumbria. If you’re dairy-free, there’s an excellent selection of non-dairy milk alternatives, including almond, coconut, soya, oat and hazelnut. If you don’t fancy coffee, then there’s organic loose-leaf tea and a range of alcohol from craft beer to wine. There’s also an excellent brunch menu, which is served until 15.45, plus sandwiches to go and an awesome selection of cake.

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La Gelatiera, New Row

A shot of the eponymous espresso blend from Terrone & Co, served at La Gelatiera on New Row in London.As much as I like ice cream, ice cream parlours normally don’t appear on the Coffee Spot (Philadelphia’s iconic Franklin Fountain being, until now, the only exception). However, while wandering along New Row to check on New Row Coffee (which, following its change of ownership last year, has rebranded as The Espresso Room) something caught my eye in the window of La Gelatiera: a coffee menu offering two espresso blends from none other than Terrone & Co! Well, that was my choice made for me: who doesn’t love coffee and ice cream? Especially on a hot day…

Although ice cream’s the main reason to visit La Gelatiera, it’s great to see non-coffee places (like Crosstown Doughnuts) serving speciality coffee and doing it well. La Gelatiera’s pretty small, with most customers grabbing their ice cream to go, but there are some tables and a small bar if you want to stay.

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Lever & Bloom

My flat white in my Ecoffee Cup on a lovely patterned tile at Lever & Bloom.Lever & Bloom is a coffee cart on the corner of Byng Place in Bloomsbury, London, with the magnificent Church of Christ the King as its backdrop. Come rain or shine, Lever & Bloom is open throughout the year from eight to five, five days a week, serving top-quality espresso, the shots pulled on a lovely lever machine.

Lever & Bloom has been on my radar for a couple of years now, ever since it moved onto its new pitch in fact, but it wasn’t until yesterday, on my way to Euston Station, that I was able to actually stop by and say hello to Mounir, the owner. Serving Climpson and Sons’ Baron on espresso, there’s also decaf, a range of Birchall teas and a small selection of cakes, all made by Mounir’s wife. Needless to say, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Lundenwic

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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The Espresso Room (was New Row Coffee)

The New Row Coffee logo, taken from the sign hanging outside the shopNew Row Coffee has been around for several years, pleasingly occupying a spot on New Row, just off St Martin’s Lane, midway between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. I’ve walked past on several occasions, but never had reason to stop, always being put off by its size (or lack thereof). However, on a recent visit to Freed’s on St Martin’s Lane to buy some new dance shoes, I decided it was time to pay a visit. I was so impressed that I came back the following week with my camera, and exactly one week later, here it is on the Coffee Spot!

New Row’s one of those small coffee shops that thinks it’s actually much bigger. For somewhere with just two tables and a pair of seats at the counter, it serves a range of coffee that would put many larger rivals to shame. Joining the obligatory espresso menu, built around Caravan’s ubiquitous Market Blend, there’s a regularly-rotating filter coffee (also Caravan) through Aeropress, V60 or Syphon. Add to that a decent range of cakes and, a recent addition, a small sandwich and savoury tart selection, and you have a place for all occasions. If you can find a seat!

July 2017: Following the change of ownership (see after the gallery), New Row Coffee has been rebranded The Espresso Room. The Market Blend is still on espresso, but it's been joined by various guests, both on espresso and pour-over. Otherwise, little appears to have changed.

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Notes, Trafalgar Square

Filter Coffee from Notes, served in a silver coffee pot, plus a muffin.Notes is one of those places that I have a love-hate relationship with. In theory, I really ought to love Notes. Unlike many modern coffee shops, Notes is decidedly upmarket. As much wine bar as café, with food to boot, the Trafalgar Square branch (although these comments applied equally to the nearby Covent Garden Notes, which is now closed) exudes quality. It has the setting and a certain elegance that would normally have me gushing with praise.

So, why do I sometimes find myself fidgety and ill-at-ease when I’m in Notes? Well, it’s not the coffee, which is excellent, nor is it the decor, which is wonderful. It is, in fact, the noise. Notes can be downright loud at times and sometimes, for me, loud is fine. And sometimes it’s not. I’m very binary like that, and when something crosses that line, it’s time to leave.

Which is a shame, since if I pick my moments, I find that I really like Notes. I like the coffee, there’s food all through the day, it’s open late into the evenings, the list goes on. The only thing that’s missing is wifi.

So, if you can stand the (sometimes) noisy surroundings, I present Notes, Trafalgar Square.

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Redemption Roasters, Lambs Conduit Street

The Redemption Roasters logo from the front wall of the Lambs Conduit Street coffee shop.Redemption Roasters has been on my radar since I met the founders at London Coffee Festival way back (or so it now feels) in 2017. Roasting from a facility inside Aylesbury Young Offenders institute, Redemption Roasters offers training in both coffee roasting and barista skills, as well as helping finding ex-offenders find work in the coffee industry. Not long after that meeting, in July 2017, the first (of currently three London-based) Redemption Roasters coffee shop opened on Lambs Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, just around the corner from Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The space itself is simple enough, a large, bright, open rectangle with the counter on the right and the bulk of the seating on the left, with some more at the front and outside on the pavement. However, the real draw is the coffee, with the Aylesbury Blend on espresso, pulled through a Slayer Steam espresso machine (one of only a handful in the UK) and four single-origins on pour-over through the V60, one of which is available as batch brew. Naturally all the beans are available for sale in retail bags. There’s also a limited breakfast and lunch offering, with plenty of cakes to tempt you if you’re hungry.

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Store Street Espresso

The counter at Store Street Espresso, looking back towards the front window.Store Street Espresso, unsurprisingly located on Store Street, is a wonderful place. It’s been open for about 2½ years and I’ve been aware of it for some time, having walked past several times and given it admiring glances. However, until recently, I’d never had the opportunity to go in. Fortunately for me, Store Street Espresso more than lived up to its external promise.

I like pretty much everything about Store Street, from the layout of the store, through the friendly and knowledgeable staff, right up to the coffee and cake. It’s a place that’s not afraid to experiment, with regularly-rotating guest coffees (including European and American roasters) supplementing the regular offerings from Square Mile. At the same time, it stays true to its core values of serving good food and excellent coffee. It has a pretty decent filter coffee and a mean slice of toast, both of which are pretty rare. That it’s open until seven o’clock in the evening is a huge bonus.

My only regret is that I didn’t know about Store Street when I was a regular visitor to the British Museum, otherwise I would have spent a lot more time in it back then.

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The Black Penny

The front of The Black Penny on London's Great Queen Street, four small tables sheltering under the black awning.In my head, The Black Penny is one of a new crop of London coffee shops which I am slowly getting around to visiting. The reality is that it has been here for a while, having recently celebrated its third birthday. I guess the emphasis in the first sentence really should be on “slowly”. The Black Penny occupies the site of another London stalwart, Salt, which closed at the end of 2013, which might explain why I still think of it as new, long after it has become an established fixture in London’s coffee scene.

Perhaps as well known for its all-day brunch menu as its coffee, The Black Penny occupies a long, thin space, with a magnificent back room providing additional seating. There’s a bespoke house-blend on espresso, plus a single-origin on V60, both roasted for The Black Penny by The Roastery Department, the coffee-roasting arm of the Department of Coffee & Social Affairs.

During the week, there are salads at lunchtime, while there’s cake available through the day, seven days a week. For those that are so inclined, there’s a small selection of wine and beer, as well as an excellent range of soft drinks, plus tea.

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The Camera Cafe

The Camera Café is the ideal place to come for an hour or two with your laptop, particularly on a rainy day. Located just down the street from the British Museum, it’s one of a number of places I use when I need a break from the cultural overload that is the British Museum. Not that the Camera Café isn’t cultured and, if you haven’t got a laptop, you don’t need to worry, since there are a couple of bookshelves stacked with interesting titles to help pass the time.

The coffee is good without being outstanding, but the clincher for me is the hot chocolate fudge cake. It’s also worth popping in at lunchtime for a plate of noodles or a toasted sandwich (although I’ve not tried the sandwiches). Another factor in its favour is the relatively long opening hours. When everyone else is shutting up shop at about five o’clock, the Camera Café is open until seven.

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Villiers Coffee Co

Thumbnail - Villiers Coffee Co (20141118_142643)Following the likes of Notes and Fernandez & Wells into the food, wine and coffee market, is Villiers Coffee Co, which opened this summer. It’s tucked away, appropriately enough, on Villiers Street, which runs alongside Charing Cross station, linking the Strand with the Embankment. Villiers, or to give it its full name, Villiers All Day Dining & Coffee Co (we’ll stick with Villiers) does what it says on the tin (or more accurately, the awning): all-day dining and (excellent) coffee. Plus wine. And cake. Which aren’t on the awning.

During the day, Villiers looks and feel like an upmarket coffee shop, with a dining room at the back. There’s breakfast (commendably served until five o’clock) with lunch from noon until five. From noon onwards, the all-day dining menu is also served. In the evening Villiers morphs into a wine bar at the front, with an atmospheric, candle-lit dining room at the back.

The coffee is from James Gourmet Coffee and, as far as I know, Villiers is the only place in London where you can get it on a regular basis.

I visited twice: in the summer for lunch, not long after Villiers opened, and again in November for dinner.

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Map

If you don’t like lists or just want to see where everything is, you can use the map to find your way around. Note that this shows the closest 50 Coffee Spots to the centre of the WC postcode region, not just those Coffee Spots in the WC region.

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