To celebrate the latest issue of Caffeine Magazine, with its feature on the Oxford Coffee scene, I present the Companion Café & Bread Bar, the Natural Bread Company’s retail outlet on Oxford’s Little Clarendon Street. The Natural Bread Company has made its name, naturally enough, through its sourdough bread, which it sells at Oxford Farmers’ Markets and elsewhere. However, luckily for me, it doesn’t stop there, since it also takes its coffee and cake just as seriously.
The coffee, from Has Bean, came highly recommended by various Oxford people. Comments ranged from “the coffee’s very good” to “where I get my coffee on my days off” (this from a barista at Quarter Horse Coffee). With recommendations like that, it’s hard to go wrong! There are a couple of single-origin beans on the espresso machine as well as a bulk-brew filter option. There’s also tea from both Tea Pigs and Cardiff’s Waterloo Tea.
However, it was the cake that really sold it to me (not that it needed much selling if I’m honest). All home-made, the counter was groaning under the weight of the cake. And such a range: pastries, cinnamon buns, brownies, flapjacks, this list goes on… And there’s toast!
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
The Natural Bread Company is a relatively recent addition to Oxford’s coffee scene. Just north of the centre on Little Clarendon Street, it’s set back from the road in an unassuming parade of shops. This does, however, provide some cover for the small table that sits outside behind a wide, brick pillar.
Inside, the layout’s very simple: long and thin, narrow edge facing the street. There’s a row of six two- or three-person tables down the left-hand side, while on the right, a four-person table sits in the window, followed by another large table. Then comes the bread counter, while cake and espresso machine have their own counter beyond that. Finally, there’s another table in the middle, right at the back. The décor is equally simple: wooden floor, whitewashed walls and ceiling.
I popped in for a late lunch, having been up at Ue Coffee Roasters all morning. Fortunately there were still some sandwiches left, along with quiche, pizza slices and soup. Get there earlier and there’s the option of breakfast goodies such as mushrooms or eggs on toast. Amazingly, I managed to order a sandwich and eat it before I could make any notes or even photograph it. I must have been hungry!
Originally I hadn’t planned to stay beyond lunch, but by this point, the Natural Bread Company had won me over. It was a pleasant place to sit for an hour or two and although I hadn’t intended to have more coffee (I was still seriously dosed-up from my Ue Roastery visit), the La Marzocco, which was directly opposite me, exerted its influence.
The Natural Bread Company serves Has Bean, a name that no longer strikes terror in my heart. There were two espresso on offer, a Brazilian and an Ethiopian. I played it safe, opting for the Brazilian, which was perhaps a little sweet for me, despite being described as a more traditional espresso. With hindsight, I probably should have had it with milk or been adventurous and tried the Ethiopian which the barista described as more “off the wall”.
I paired my espresso with an excellent Financier, labelled as an “almond cupcake”, but which doesn’t even start to do it justice. A delightfully light sponge, rich in flavour, topped with a golden crust, and embedded with almonds, it had the sort of body that I just don’t associate with the word “cupcake”.
It was at this point that I noticed that there was toast on the menu. Correction: I noticed another customer having toast; I’m still not convinced I saw it anywhere on the menu. However, little details like that weren’t going to stop me, so I had a plate of toast. Toast, when done well, is a fantastic addition to any coffee shop menu and this was one of the best I’ve had: nice, thick slices, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, served with butter and jam. In the interests of completeness, I had half of it just buttered, with the other half smothered in strawberry jam. Both were equally good.
Finally, there was a cinnamon bun on the counter with my name on it, but since I was, by this time, absolutely stuffed, I faced a dilemma. However, this was easily solved: I took it home with me on the train!
|29 LITTLE CLARENDON STREET • OXFORD • OX1 2HU|
|http://naturalbreadcompany.co.uk||+44 (0) 1865 302996|
|Monday||07:30 – 17:00||Seating||Tables, table outside|
|Tuesday||07:30 – 17:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Cake|
|Wednesday||07:30 – 17:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Thursday||07:30 – 17:00||Cards||Mastercard, Visa (£7.50 minimum)|
|Friday||07:30 – 17:00||Wifi||No|
|Saturday||07:30 – 18:00||Power||No|
|Sunday||09:00 – 16:00||Mobile||3G, Voice|
|Chain||Local||Visits||20th January 2014|
You can see what my fellow blogger Freshly Brewed Cup made of the Natural Bread Company.
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