You know how it goes. You go to a coffee shop, you love it; you go to another branch, you don’t like it. It’s always a danger and so it was with the King Street branch of Workhouse Coffee. I think I’d been subconsciously avoiding it, having visited the original Workhouse Coffee on Oxford Road in West Reading at the start of the year. That was a small, intimate and lovely place to drink coffee and I worried that the much bigger King Street, in the centre of Reading, wouldn’t live up to my high expectations.
My fears were, of course, groundless: if anything, King Street is even better. From the moment I stepped inside, I loved the place. Very different from Oxford Road, it’s still small enough to be intimate, while its bustle adds a whole new dimension. How I longed for a place like this when I was a regular visitor to Reading 10 years ago!
As well as running the two coffee shops, Workhouse roasts its own beans, offering (while I was there) a single origin, two blends and a decaf as espresso and all its beans as pour-over fitler or for sale (beans or ground).
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Workhouse Coffee’s second outpost is on King Street, right in the heart of Reading. It’s on the ground floor of the George Hotel and the changes, since I used to come here on and off for lunch 10 years ago, are startling. Back then, Workhouse was no more than a twinkle in owner Greg Costello’s eye, the hotel was looking rather down at heel and the coffee shop occupying the space on the other side of the courtyard (now a branch of Prezzo) was distinctly average.
Fast forward 10 years and you’ll find Starbucks and Costa across the road and Patisserie Valerie around the corner, making Workhouse a slice of coffee heaven in a town centre otherwise dominated by chains. It occupies the left-hand side of the ground floor of the George Hotel, thought to be the oldest original building in Reading, dating to the late Middle Ages. There’s nothing old-fashioned about Workhouse and its offerings though.
It makes clever use of what could be an awkward space, retaining many of the charms of the building, with bare floorboards, exposed brick walls and a simple white ceiling. You enter via a side door in the passage that runs through to an inner courtyard, where the George betrays its past as a coaching inn. When the weather’s nice, the courtyard makes a lovely place to enjoy your coffee.
Stepping inside, to the right, four steps lead down to the main seating area. Heading left, there is a small bar, a couple of booths and big windows looking out onto King’s Street. Stepping through, you are faced with the counter, overloaded with coffee, cake, sandwiches and quiche. It really is quite overwhelming. Beyond that is a small filter-rack for the pour-overs, along with two espresso machines and a window full of coffee beans.
Unlike Oxford Road, with its single barista, King Street is much busier, with anywhere between four and nine baristas and servers in constant action behind the counter. Despite being so busy, they were all extremely cheerful and welcoming, some of the finest staff I’ve had the pleasure to be served by.
I visited twice, both Saturday morning/lunchtime, once on a rainy day in April then again on a glorious late August day. Quite why it took me four months to make it back, I’m not quite sure…
Both times, I had filter coffee. My first visit saw me try Workhouse’s Katana blend, a very fine brew, not too subtle nor too fruity, although I fear its finer points may have been lost on me due to a nasty cold I was suffering from at the time. On my return, the barista recommended the 1576 blend as “the coffee drinker’s coffee” so naturally I was going to try that. At first I was disappointed; it was solid but unspectacular. However, as the coffee cooled, it improved immensely and by the time I’d taken my last mouthful, I was sad to see it gone.
Workhouse bakes/makes all the cake and food on-site. Although I was spoilt for choice, I eventually went for the chocolate brownie, a sumptuous, rich concoction, bursting with chocolatiness, but without being sickly, and packed full of nuts to provide a subtle contrast. I also went for the goat’s cheese, spinach and walnut quiche for lunch, which was excellent.
|10-12 KING STREET • READING • RG1 2HF|
|www.facebook.com/workhousecoffee||+44 (0) 7826 851467|
|Monday||08:00 – 18:00||Seating||Tables, Bar, Tables outside|
|Tuesday||08:00 – 18:00||Food||Lunch, Cake|
|Wednesday||08:00 – 18:00||Service||Order at counter|
|Thursday||08:00 – 18:00||Cards||Cash Only|
|Friday||08:00 – 18:00||Wifi||No|
|Saturday||09:00 – 18:00||Power||Limited|
|Sunday||09:30 – 16:00||Mobile||3G, Voice|
|Chain||Local||Visits||13th April, 31st August 2013|
Note: King Street underwent a refit in late September. The booths are gone and the counter has been re-modelled, with the filter-rack and espresso machines moved out from behind the counter. You can read all about it and more about Workhouse’s wonderful coffee here.
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