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 (long since rectified, by the way).
So, if you can stand the (sometimes) noisy surroundings, I present Notes, Trafalgar Square.
July 2020: Notes has reopened, offering sit-in and takeaway services. You can see what I made of it when I visited.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Notes is a legend in London coffee circles, renowned for its quality and attention to detail. There are two Notes cafés and five coffee carts (previously under the name Flat Cap Coffee, not to be confused with Newcastle’s Flat Caps Coffee). Currently serving Square Mile, Notes is opening a café/roasters at King’s Cross this month, so that might change.
As well as the usual espresso-based range, Notes has a brew bar, although while I was there, only the Aeropress was on offer, with a Kenyan Ndimain AA bean. I tried it and was rewarded with a nice, full-bodied cup with a hint of sweetness about it. I also had a piccolo, having proved to myself on multiple occasions that Square Mile’s Red Brick blend is not something I enjoy as a straight espresso. However, it does go very well with milk and my piccolo, while sweet, was excellent, the coffee coming through very strongly, giving it a slightly bitter hint which I like. I’m curious to see what changes, if any, the new Notes roastery brings.
Notes puts a similar effort into its wine and tea, although I’m not qualified to comment on either. Like the coffee, the tea on offer (from Lalani & Co) varies by season. If wine isn’t your thing, Notes also serves craft beer from small breweries around the UK. As far as I can tell, Notes is predominantly a coffee place during the day, with wine replacing it as the majority drink ordered from about five o’clock onwards.
There’s also a fairly upmarket food selection: pastries, toast and granola in the morning; salads, sandwiches, soups and tarts at lunchtime; cheese & meat boards, along with a selection of regional plates, in the evening. There are, of course, cakes throughout the day.
Notes exudes elegance, and is a million miles away from the current trend of mix-and-match furniture, bare light bulbs and exposed air-conditioning conduits. Long and thin, it extends from the window where there’s a small bar, complete with bar stools. About half the depth is taken up with the counter down the left-hand side, opposite a row of two-person tables up against a bench. Notes then opens out into the main seating area, a roughly square space with various large tables, surrounded by smaller ones against the walls.
Large mirrors, coupled with a skylight and innovative chandelier (made up of sixteen angle-poise lamps), make the main area a bright space, while the counter area is similarly well-lit. High ceilings add to a feeling of space, but even on a sunny day, the quality of the light has a distinctly artificial feel.
I’ve left the negative to last. I find Notes consistently loud when busy (and it usually is). In the early afternoon, when I was chatting with a friend, it wasn’t too bad, but coming up to five o’clock, the noise was unpleasant and annoyingly loud: I could hear individual voices from practically every part of the room. It didn’t help that the music was being played in such a manner that I could only hear the bass; the opposite problem of the headphone-wearer on the train. The final discordant note was the large TV at the back showing a film with the sound muted, something I found rather jarring, distracting and utterly pointless.
Update: Notes now roasts all its own coffee (except decaf) and only uses single-origins. The Covent Garden branch has now closed, but new branches have opened across London, including King’s Cross, Canary Wharf and Crossrail Place (also at Canary Wharf). A single cart remains (at Borough Market), although the cart in Victoria is still going as an independent operation, Flat Cap Victoria.
|31 ST MARTIN’S LANE • LONDON • WC2N 4ER|
|https://notescoffee.com||+44 (0) 207 240 0424|
|Monday||07:30 – 21:00||Roaster||Notes (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||07:30 – 21:00||Seating||Tables, Bench Outside|
|Wednesday||07:30 – 21:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Cake|
|Thursday||07:30 – 22:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||07:30 – 22:00||Payment||Cards (no Amex) + Cash|
|Saturday||09:00 – 22:00||Wifi||Yes|
|Sunday||10:00 – 18:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||Local||Visits||16th August 2013|
If you liked this Coffee Spot, then check out the rest of London’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to London.
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