It’s taken me ages to discover Milk Bar on Bateman Street, perched towards the northern edge of Soho. On the other hand, given that it’s recently come under new management (along with its older sister, Flat White), resulting in a bit of a shake-up, perhaps I timed it perfectly.
However, discover it I did, retreating there on an impossibly busy and bustling (ie perfectly normal) Friday night in London, where Milk Bar provided me with an oasis of calm. It’s not a huge place, just an L-shaped row of tables around a large counter, but it’s exactly what I was looking for.
The coffee’s all from Square Mile (currently espresso-only, but with plans for single-origin filter in the near future). Part of the shake-up has led to a re-vamped menu, featuring all-day brunch and a multitude of cakes, some made by the staff, as well as the introduction of decent, loose-leaf tea from Edinburgh’s Eteaket. You can also buy single-origin beans to take home.
The other thing that made me really warm to Milk Bar was the friendly welcome from assistant manager Kathryn and Liam, the barista, which seemed equally genuine for both regulars and first-time visitors such as myself.
August 2016: Milk Bar now serves coffee from Sweden’s Drop Coffee Roasters, with bulk-brew and hand-poured filters joining the usual espresso offering.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Milk Bar occupies a simple, small, rectangular space on Bateman Street. The entire store-front is given over to the windows, one either side of the glass door, with a row of windows above. These can be opened in the summer to provide (much needed) ventilation.
Stepping inside, you are greeted by the counter (left) and the seating (right). Immediately to your left is a small gap between counter and window, tantalisingly not quite wide enough for a small bar or table. To your right, behind the door, shelves are loaded with coffee and coffee-making equipment, all for sale. The interior is lovely, with dark, wooden floorboards and plain white walls, adorned with interesting artwork.
The counter occupies most of the left-hand side, espresso machine to the fore, followed by the till, cakes and, at the far end, a water fountain. Behind the espresso machine there’s a small station for tea (filter coffee to come), while behind the cakes is a small, open kitchen area. From here, the staff produce an impressive all-day breakfast/brunch menu, mostly variations of eggs and toast. Given the small space, I was surprised at what’s on offer.
Seating is provided by a row of six two-person tables opposite the counter, each with its own chair. A continuous, padded bench runs along the right-hand wall, continuing along the back wall, where there’s just enough room beyond the counter for another row of tables (four this time).
Outside, Soho was heaving, the neighbouring pubs packed, people spilling out on the pavements. In contrast, Milk Bar was an oasis of calm and space. Although the cool kids had occupied the two outside benches (one on either side of the door), I had the interior practically to myself, sharing it with two other people when I entered and a couple of couples when I left.
There was plenty of light from the windows, supplemented by six bare bulbs hanging low over the tables, with individual spots over the counter. Later in the evening, the lights were turned down and candles came out on the tables. A minor annoyance was the jazz sound-track which was slightly louder than I’d have liked.
Looking for dinner, I sampled the brunch menu, selecting the scrambled eggs, fried mushrooms and wilted spinach on sourdough toast. The eggs were amazing, not quite as scrambled as I would make them, instead closer to a Spanish omelette consistency. With a very rich, creamy taste, and deep yellow in colour, I can’t imagine them being done any better. The lovely, chunky mushrooms had an intense flavour, which went well with the spinach, while the sourdough toast was also excellent, toasted just enough to be crispy, but not so much as to be dry.
The eclectic range of cakes, eschewing the coffee-shop standards, are largely made by the staff, along with doughnuts from Glazed & Confused. I had a very fine slice of toasted banana bread, with lavishly-spread and melted-in butter. It was just the right balance between sweet and savoury, neither too dominated by the banana, nor too bland.
My coffee was probably the least exciting part of my visit. I had a decaf flat white on account of the late hour. It was perfectly acceptable, but I felt that the coffee was a little lost in the milk.
|3 BATEMAN STREET • LONDON • W1D 4AG|
|www.milkbarsoho.co.uk||+44 (0) 20 7734 0370|
|Monday||08:00 – 17:30||Roaster||Drop Coffee (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||08:00 – 17:30||Seating||Tables, padded bench; bench outside|
|Wednesday||08:00 – 17:30||Food||All-day breakfast/brunch, cake|
|Thursday||08:00 – 17:30||Service||Order at counter|
|Friday||08:00 – 17:30||Cards||Mastercard, Visa|
|Saturday||09:30 – 18:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||09:30 – 18:00||Power||No|
|Chain||Local||Visits||30th May 2014|
For a different perspective, you can see what fellow coffee-blogger, Bex, made of Milk Bar as part of her retrospective series.
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