Prufrock Coffee

Seen outside Prufrock Coffee. I'm not quite sure what it is, but I like it!Prufrock Coffee on Clerkenwell’s Leather Lane, sits at the edge of the City of London, near the border with Camden and Hackney. It’s one of those legendary names in London coffee, with an equally legendary director in Gwilym Davies, along with Jeremy Challender and Klaus Kuhnke. Of course, if you don’t move in London coffee circles (I don’t really; I’m not convinced I’d recognise Gwilym if I fell over him!) then all this means nothing, leaving Prufrock to stand or fall by its success as a coffee shop.

Given how busy it was during my visit, I’d say it was doing fairly well in the success stakes. The clear focus is on the coffee, which comes from London’s Square Mile (no great surprise, given its links with Gwilym). There’s Red Brick and an Ethiopian Debllo single-origin on espresso and a pair of single-origins on filter, one through the AeroPress (Buzira from Burundi) and the other through V60 (a Juan Ticona from Bolivia).

There’s a limited cake range, with breakfast (until 11.30) and lunch (until 15:30), all prepared in the small kitchen behind the counter. While I was there, the smell of toasted banana bread kept wafting over; for once I resisted.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Prufrock Coffee on Leather Lane, late on a winter's afternoon.
  • It looks warm and welcoming through the window...
  • ... although you can, if you like, sit out on this bench. Wait! What's that in the window?
  • It's a pair of Ibriks, mirrored by those of the front of Issue 7 of Caffeine Magazine.
  • Stepping inside, the front of the store is dominated by the counter, seating beyond.
  • However, you can perch at the end of the counter, by the brew bar...
  • ... or in the window at one of two tables either side of the door.
  • Stairs lead enticingly down to the training area...
  • ... while between stairs and counter are these tables and chairs.
  • It's more stools and tables elsewhere...
  • ... or bench and tables at the back.
  • Talking of the back of the store, there are some more tables beyond the counter...
  • ... and what's that I spy by the back staircase? A little roaster & an interesting bicycle!
  • Prufrock is full of interesting little touches, such as this vase of flowers.
  • Between the counter and the window is a large area given over to coffee-making kit.
  • I was, for some reason, very taken by this barrel, being used to display a pouring kettle.
  • The kit is mostly V60s and Chemex, but there's the odd Aeropress to liven things up.
  • Like I said, mostly V60s and Chemex...
  • ... with a syphon thrown in here and there for variety.
  • More V60 & Chemex under the counter, beneath a ridiculously shiny espresso machine.
  • And a shelf celebrating director Gwilym Davies' various awards/trophies.
  • You can also buy the coffee beans.
  • Given the high price of an individual filter coffee, the beans are reassuringly expensive.
  • Although I should point out these are 350g bags (rather than standard 250g).
  • There's also food, prepared in the little kitchen space behind the counter.
  • The menu, although if something's 'all day' saying 'until 15.30' kind of defeats the object!
  • The cake looked tasty, but I was already well over my cake limit for the day.
  • Even the chocolate brownies, tempting though they were, couldn't break me down...
  • I think I might have mentioned the ridiculously shiny espresso machine...
  • However, I eschewed its shinyness and instead turned to the brew bar...
  • ... from whence came this very fine cup of coffee.
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Prufrock Coffee occupies a large space on Leather Lane, with a simple, sparse layout. Generous windows at the front, running the full width of the store, provide plenty of light, while at the back, illumination comes from a row of light bulbs hanging from a strip running down the centre of the store.

There’s a bench outside, while inside, there’s a table either side of the door. The store is effectively split in two by a large counter on the left, opposite stairs leading to a basement where training courses are held (there is another flight of stairs at the back next to a 3 kg roaster, sadly not in use).  There’s another table between the counter and the windows, while you can also perch on one of four chairs at the counter by the brew bar (which faces you as you come in).

The bulk of the counter runs perpendicular to the window, along the centre line of the store, cake first, followed by till, then (ridiculously shiny) espresso machine. There are some small, round tables between counter and stairs, while the rest of the seating is beyond this point, where the store widens out. A bench lines the right-hand and back walls with a row of small, square tables, while another row of tables runs down the centre of the room, with a few tables between the back of the counter and the second staircase.

Prufrock doesn’t cram things in, but even so, you could comfortably sit 50 people upstairs: there were 30 people there during my visit and it felt full but not crowded.

The only negative was the music. There seemed to be two competing soundtracks, one drum-based from speakers under the counter, the other playing over speakers elsewhere in the store. I’m not quite sure what the intention was, but the result was a rather discordant ensemble. Fortunately, it was sufficiently quiet that I could tune it out and often the background hum of conversation drowned it out anyway. Unfortunately, as Prufrock got busier, it seemed that the music was turned up, at which point it became incredibly annoying.

Having been on espresso all day and not being a huge fan of Square Mile’s espresso offerings, I went for the Buzira from Burundi on the AeroPress. This came in a glass carafe and a handleless, broad-brimmed white cup. Now, I don’t often comment on coffee-shop prices, figuring that you get what you pay for; it’s largely up to each individual to determine what represents value-for-money. However, without necessarily passing judgement, I should point out that my 250 ml carafe of Burundi set me back £5.50, while had I had the Bolivia (V60 pour-over) it would have been £6.00. In contrast, the espresso-drinks are a more typical (for London, anyway) £2.20 – £3.00.

I’m the first at admit that my Burundi was a very fine cup of coffee, quite delicate, with subtle highlights. It was not, however, anything I would describe as exceptional. On the other hand, given my notoriously undiscerning palette, would I have noticed if it was? I’ve improved since my days of like/don’t like binary descriptions, but I still don’t get hints of blackcurrant, passion fruit and spicy ginger cake or whatever else is written on the tasting notes.

September 2022: I popped back to Prufrock to try out the Il Grifone, a limited-edition espresso blend made specifically for a restored 1958 Faema President lever espresso machine. You can see how Prufrock has changed in my Coffee Spot Update.

23-25 LEATHER LANE • LONDON • EC1N 7TE +44 (0) 20 7242 0467
Monday 08:00 – 18:00 Roaster Square Mile (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables
Wednesday 08:00 – 18:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:00 – 18:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 10:00 – 17:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 10:00 – 17:00 Power No
Chain No Visits Original: 17th February 2014
Update: 20th September 2022

If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, then take a look at the rest of London’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to London.

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