I’ve been to all sorts of coffee spots, in all sorts of places, but I don’t think that I’ve ever been anywhere quite as innovative when it comes the setting as Attendant. As the name hints, Attendant is in a (disused) Victorian (men’s) public lavatory on London’s Foley Street. If that sounds weird, it is, and yet it’s also genius.
The great thing about Attendant is that it’s kept most of the original fittings, incorporating them into the design. The result is a quirky, unique place. For some, that would have been enough, relying on the gimmick alone to draw in the punters. Not, however, Attendant, which has aimed firmly for the top of the speciality coffee market, going with local roasters Caravan, from up the road at Kings Cross. It also offers a wide range of sandwiches and cakes, again with an emphasis on quality and local produce.
Attendant is pretty small and, when I was there, it was very busy. However, a high staff-to-customer ratio, with a minimum three staff on duty during my visit, meant that everything was handled very smoothly. Ironically, for a café in an ex-public lavatory, there’s no toilet!
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Like many Victorian public lavatories in London, the Attendant is underground, accessed via a long staircase, the entrance to which is covered by cast-iron lattice work that stands prominently on Foley Street. It’s a long, thin space with tiled floors and walls (green at the bottom, white on top). The counter is on the right as you enter, where the stalls once were. Tucked away to your right, where the eponymous attendant had his office, is a small kitchen. At the far end, in place of the washbasins, is a large table, with comfortable, padded benches along three sides.
Opposite the counter, a row of old-fashioned porcelain urinals (sadly now out of fashion) have been converted into a bar with individual seats, one per urinal, with another two between the counter and table. I really, really wanted to sit at one, but I was with the laptop and it proved far too ambitious. Instead I spread myself out on the table and made use of Attendant’s only power outlet.
Attendant isn’t big, with eight spaces at the urinal-bars and space for six (nine if you all know each other and squeeze in) at the table. On a sunny day you can sit outside on fold-down benches attached to the lattice-work. I, of course, came on a rainy day. I worry that, when full, it could be stuffy, but the air-conditioning was working fine while I was there. The quiet background music was very unobtrusive.
One innovation is kerbside ordering: you can pull up in your car or on your bike (or, I guess, if you are lazy, as you walk by) and press a buzzer near the top of the stairs. Someone will come up, take your order and, when it’s ready, bring it up to you. This makes the otherwise wheelchair-inaccessible Attendant eminently accessible and, after my sniffy remark about lazy people, is really useful for anyone who can’t handle the stairs for whatever reason.
To the coffee: there’s a choice of espresso, Americano, piccolo and macchiato (all at one price) and, for those wanting a longer drink who are prepared to pay 30p more (there’s a joke in there somewhere about spending a penny) a flat white, latte or cappuccino. My espresso was excellent, coming with a glass of water and served, as seems to be increasingly the fashion these days, in a classic cup with a large handle. Personally I’m not convinced by the look, but when it comes to picking up the cup, it’s a clear winner!
I had a long conversation with the Barista, Andy, who very kindly made me a flat white for photographic purposes. I also tried a piccolo, triggering the inevitable discussion (answer: it’s got more milk than a macchiato). It came in a glass and, as is often the case when I really like the espresso, it wasn’t quite sweet enough for my taste. However, the bitterness in the coffee takes the edge off the milk, resulting in a very fine, distinctive drink.
I also had a chat with Peter, the co-owner, who told me a lot about the history of the building. It was unused for at least 50 years before he took it over and it took two years of planning and renovation before Attendant could open.
|27A FOLEY STREET • LONDON • W1W 6DY|
|www.the-attendant.com||+44 (0) 207 6373794|
|Monday||08:00 – 18:00||Seating||Table, Stools, Benches Outside|
|Tuesday||08:00 – 18:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Sandwiches, Cake|
|Wednesday||08:00 – 18:00||Service||Order at Counter, Kerbside Order|
|Thursday||08:00 – 18:00||Cards||Mastercard, Visa|
|Friday||08:00 – 18:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Saturday||10:00 – 17:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||No||Visits||12th June 2013|
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