Look Mum No Hands! Old Street

Look Mum No Hands! sign, proclaiming itself as a Cafe, Bar & (Bike) Workshop.To celebrate the Tour de France, which enters its last week today, I thought it was about time I visited one of London’s most famous cycling cafés, Old Street’s Look Mum No Hands!. Ironically, I wrote about Look Mum No Hands! South Bank pop-up this time last year, with an update last month, so I really was overdue a visit to where it all started.

Towards the western end of Old Street, Look Mum No Hands! occupies a long, low building on the north side of the street. This being Look Mum, it’s one of the most bike-friendly places I’ve been: lots of bike-rack space out in the courtyard, a free pump for anyone wanting to top-up their tyre pressure and, just inside the door, a bike workshop.

That said, let’s not overlook the café side of the equation. With coffee from Square Mile, Look Mum No Hands! holds its own in an area dominated by top-notch coffee shops. There’s no pour-over or fancy options, just straight-forward espresso, loads of cake and a decent selection of other drinks. This backed up by a comprehensive food menu, served throughout the day, from 7.30 in the morning to 10 o’clock at night. You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Look Mum No Hands! HQ on London's Old Street.
  • There's plenty of outdoor seating in front of the store on the busy street.
  • There's also plenty of outdoor seating in the sheltered garden.
  • Since this is Look Mum No Hands!, there's also plenty of bike-rack space!
  • Some of the outdoor seating in the courtyard. There are also some big picnic tables.
  • The view in through the big double doors.
  • And looking the other way from inside.
  • A panorama of the interior
  • There's also a bicycle repair shop inside!
  • Although arrive too late (after 7.30 in the week) and this is the view...
  • The main seating area.
  • One of the many tables...
  • ... and another of them.
  • There are some two-seaters tucked away at the back...
  • ... and this lovely padded bench at the far end.
  • An alternative view of the main seating area.
  • The window bar in more detail.
  • Bikes in the window...
  • ... and bike wheels above the counter.
  • Obligatory light-bulb shot.
  • It's full of bike-related memorabilia: these cards are hanging in the men's toilets.
  • It's also full of copies of Caffeine Magazine!
  • There's plenty of Look Mum No Hands! branded kit on sale.
  • The KeepCups are branded, but the V60s aren't.
  • Coffee or crisps?
  • So, to business. The counter is on the left, past the bike workshop.
  • There's a decent food offering at Look Mum No Hands!
  • Sandwiches, plus cake, are arrayed next to the till...
  • ... while on the opposite side, a chiller full of pies and salads.
  • My lovely sweet potato, aubergine and lentil pie from my first visit...
  • ... and my soup from my second visit.
  • The drinks menu is pretty decent too.
  • The Kees van der Westen espresso machine, looking beautiful. Go on, give it a stroke...
  • The two grinders, Red Brick house-blend espresso and decaf, I believe.
  • My decaf flat white, from my first visit, casts a glance over towards the counter...
  • ... while my piccolo, from my second visit, takes a look around the rest of the seating.
  • My (lovely) piccolo in more detail.
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From the street, you get a good feel for the size of the original branch of Look Mum No Hands!. To the left, massive gates open onto a large courtyard, while to the right, there’s the café itself, running along Old Street. A row of two-person tables on the pavement in front of the café proved popular during my visits, although the street’s too busy to make them a viable option for me. As an alternative, you can also park yourself outside in the courtyard, where there are some large picnic tables and smaller two-person tables.

To get to the café, go through the courtyard and turn immediately right, where large double doors, thrown open in the summer, give access to the interior. Stepping inside, if you’re in any doubt about the whole bike thing, it should be quickly banished. Bikes adorn the windows, bike wheels hang above the counter, there’s bike memorabilia everywhere, cyclists at the tables and, immediately to your left, a bike workshop.

That’s right, a bike workshop. Unlike, for example, Oxford’s Zappi’s Bike Café (a café inside a bike shop) this is a full-blown café, with a full-blown bike workshop inside. The counter stands next to the workshop, while the seating is directly ahead of you: two rows of tables running the (considerable) length of the store, with a bar along the windows. At the far end is a lovely padded bench. In all, I reckon you could comfortably get 50 people inside. Nevertheless, it feels spacious, helped by the high ceiling and the light which streams through the windows along the full length of the store.

So, what about the coffee? Look Mum No Hands! serves Square Mile’s Red Brick seasonal blend through one of London’s best-looking espresso machines (a two-group Kees van der Westen Mirage), offering the usual range of espresso-based drinks. On my first visit, late on a Sunday evening, I went for a decaf flat white, which, I have to confess, was a little disappointing. It was a smooth, mild drink; nothing wrong with it, but nothing special either. Maybe the barista was having an off day or maybe it was just the decaf.

On my return the following Wednesday, I ordered a piccolo (despite it not being listed on the menu). This was much better, more than making up for the disappointment on my previous visit. The Red Brick punched through the milk, combining to bring sweetness with the coffee offering a hint of darkness. The perfect piccolo.

The other area where Look Mum No Hands! excels is food. There’s a simple, unpretentious menu, offering pies, sandwiches, stews and soups: good, wholesome, filling fare. On my first visit, I had the sweet potato, aubergine and lentil pie and, on my return, the kale and butterbean soup. I was particularly taken with the pie. For some reason, vegetarian pies are hard to find, so I always enjoy them when they’re on the menu (there was also a goats’ cheese pie, so I even had a choice!). This one was excellent, with lovely pastry and a tasty filling, the sweet potato and lentil combining well with the aubergine. It came with salad (options: with salad or without salad) which was also very good, full of rice, pasta, tofu and lots of greens.

You can also see what I made of Look Mum No Hands! second permanent outlet on Mare Street, London Fields, although this has since now closed.

www.lookmumnohands.com +44 (0) 20 7253 1025
Monday 07:30 – 22:00 Roaster Square Mile (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:30 – 22:00 Seating Tables, Bar, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 07:30 – 22:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Cake
Thursday 07:30 – 22:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 07:30 – 22:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 09:00 – 22:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 09:30 – 22:00 Power No
Chain Local Visits 8th, 11th June 2014

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