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.
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.
|49 OLD STREET • LONDON • EC1V 9HX|
|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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