Fernandez & Wells, Exhibition Road

The right-hand side of Fernandez & Wells on Exhibition Road, as seen from across the street.Fernandez & Wells is a small London-based chain with six (so far) locations, the original two in Soho, one in Somerset House, this one on South Kensington’s Exhibition Road and, since 2014, two more in London. A cross between wine-bar, deli and coffee shop, F&W offers a similar experience to Notes, albeit in (slightly) less grand surroundings.

The Exhibition Road branch opened in late 2012. On a pleasant, (almost) pedestrianised street, packed with cafes and restaurants, F&W fits right in, serving excellent coffee (roasted by Has Bean), an extensive wine list and an interesting array of dishes, with a strong focus on cured meats and cheeses, both of which you can buy to takeaway. The cakes are also pretty impressive and there was even a Slayer! (Although that’s now long gone.)

F&W has been on my radar for a while, although I’ve never actually managed to track one down until just before Christmas. However, with several hours to kill one Wednesday evening, the appeal of a coffee shop that does food and is open until 10 o’clock in the evening (shades of Notes again) was obvious. I was sufficiently impressed to come back again in the New Year for lunch…

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Fernandez & Wells, as seen from the other side of Exhibition Road
  • Another view of the front of Fernandez & Wells.
  • When it's sunny (like it was when I took these pictures) it's a pleasant place to sit.
  • The remains of a flat white...
  • The many doors of Fernandez & Wells. Although this might look like the way in, it's not.
  • This, in fact, is the way in.
  • Stepping inside, you are greeted by the tiled counter stretching away from you.
  • To your left is the charcuterie...
  • ... while to your right is the fromagerie.
  • Wine, one of Fernandez & Wells' main selling points, is in evidence next to the cheese...
  • ... and in the window behind you.
  • The counter is front-loaded with savoury things rather than cake...
  • ... although the cake isn't far away...
  • ... followed closely by the coffee! What's that on the counter? A Slayer? More of this later.
  • The bar opposite the counter.
  • Stepping through to the other room, this is the main seating area.
  • Another bar is built into the island in the centre of the room....
  • Meanwhile there's a narrow bar to your left as you come in...
  • ... and another to your right.
  • On the far side of the island, there's a bench with tables.
  • I loved the little touches, such as this pan hanging from a door...
  • ... or these coat hooks.
  • The lights were particularly lovely. But then again, I do have this thing about lights...
  • Colourful jugs of water were in both main spaces. This one was in the main seating area...
  • ... and this one opposite the counter.
  • So, to business. The cake selection looks good.
  • ... while I was tempted by the filter coffee.
  • However, I was much more interesetd in, and surprised by, the Slayer.
  • Questioning reveals it's on loan while the regular machine, a Synesso, is being serviced.
  • Barista Natalie puts it through its paces, while admitting she'd like the Synesso back!
  • Milk is steamed while the espresso is made.
  • Extraction in action.
  • And the final output: a lovely piccolo froim my first visit.
  • And a decaf stumpy(TM) (somewhere between a piccolo and flat white in size).
  • And finally an espresso from my second visit.
  • Fried eggs and sourdough toast from my first trip...
  • ... and a bap with mushrooms, red wine and blue cheese from my second.
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The Exhibition Road branch of Fernandez & Wells is a funny space: two separate shops joined by an interior corridor, with a line of tables outside, running along the full frontage. You enter via the right-hand shop, where the large, tiled counter dominates, running away from you on the right. There’s a narrow bar opposite, complete with five stools, with a takeaway area at the front where you can buy cured meats and cheese.

The main seating, an eclectic mix of tables and bars, is in the left-hand shop. This could easily have been the sitting room of an old town house. It has a curved bay window at the front, complete with window bar (I sat there on my first visit). A pair of narrow bars, one at the back and on the left as you come in, provide more seating. Finally, an island counter/bar sits in the middle, a bar on one side and a long, padded bench with a couple of tables on the other (facing the window) where I sat on my second visit. You could probably squeeze 20 people in, impressive given the small size.

My two visits were on a dark evening and a bright lunchtime. Both times it was bright inside: at lunchtime, the generous windows flooded it with daylight; in the evening, generous lighting is aided by the whitewashed walls/ceiling. All-in-all it is a beautiful space, helped by neat, decorative features (see the gallery).

Although F&W’s coffee is excellent (more of which later), F&W made its name as much through its food, excelling at snacks/nibbles, with an impressive array of plates (meat, fish and cheese) along with hummus and olives. On my first visit, I had two fried eggs with sourdough toast, an excellent choice. I’m not always a fan of sourdough toast, but this was done to perfection, nice and crunchy and smothered in butter. The eggs were finely done, whites firm to the touch, but with runny yolks. For my return, I had a mushroom, red wine and blue cheese bap, a very strong combination. There was nothing subtle about this, but as long as you like the individual flavours (which I do), you’ll be fine!

So: the coffee. On my second visit, I was taken aback to see a Slayer on the counter! How had I missed that first time around? As it turned out, I hadn’t: it was on loan while the regular machine was being serviced and it’s now long gone…

That sorted out, I had a piccolo. It had quite a dark flavour to it, but with fruity overtones. I followed this up with a decaf Stumpy™ (yes, F&W claims the trademark on “Stumpy”). This was also very good and slightly more to my tastes: smoother, with less of the dark edge and fewer fruity overtones. On my second visit, I had an espresso, which was a fairly typical Has Bean offering. A year ago I wouldn’t have liked it, but now I find it quite pleasant. Perhaps not as fruity as your typical Has Bean offering, it had the same slightly bitter undertone that I found in the piccolo. It didn’t quite compliment the fruity notes, but neither did it clash.

Finally, if espresso’s not your thing, there is a single-origin filter (bulk-brewed).

June 2021: Fernandez & Wells has undergone something of a contraction in recent years. Exhibition Road is still going strong, but its now down to just three locations (here, Denmark Street and Duke Street)

www.fernandezandwells.com +44 (0) 20 7589 7473
Monday 08:00 – 22:00 Roaster Has Bean (espresso + bulk brew)
Tuesday 08:00 – 22:00 Seating Bars, tables, tables (outside)
Wednesday 08:00 – 22:00 Food Meat, Fish & Cheese Plates, Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 22:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:00 – 22:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 09:00 – 22:00 Wifi No
Sunday 09:00 – 20:00 Power Limited
Chain Local Visits 11th December 2013, 10th January 2014

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