WatchHouse, Bermondsey

A batch-brew of a beautiful Ethiopian Ardi naturally-processed coffee, served at The Watch House on Bermondsey Street, London.WatchHouse, on London’s Bermondsey Street, south of the river, is one of those “new” coffee shops (like Lundenwic and The Black Penny) which I’m embarrassed to say has been open for several years. In the case of WatchHouse, it will be four this September (and has also opened two further locations!). In my defence, while I come into London via Waterloo, I rarely spend any time south of the river, which, if it has more gems like this, is entirely my loss.

WatchHouse is housed in a small, octagonal building dating from the 19th century, which was built to house the watchmen looking after the neighbouring church (hence the name, WatchHouse). It’s a gorgeous physical space, if, like me, you like old buildings, reminding me a little of York’s Perky Peacock, another coffee shop housed in an old tower.

The coffee is as gorgeous as the surroundings, with the Empire blend from Ozone on espresso, where it’s joined by three single-origins on batch-brew, which change on a weekly basis. If you’re hungry, there’s breakfast, lunch and plenty of cake, with bread from two local bakeries, WatchHouse supporting various local suppliers.

August 2020: WatchHouse now roasts all its own coffee from a dedicated roastery and café in a railway arch on Maltby Street, which I visited in June 2021. It’s also opened another three coffee shops, bringing the total to seven (including the original and the roastery/café). I’ve also updated this post from “The Watch House” to “WatchHouse” to reflect the new branding.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • At the southern end of Bermondsey Street stands this compact, octagonal building.
  • There's a little bit of outdoor seating in the shape of a pair of tables to the left...
  • ... but you need to order inside, so let's go in. It's The Watch House, by the way.
  • Inside, and the L-shaped counter occupies the left-hand end of The Watch House.
  • The door is in the middle of the front wall...
  • ... while the seataing starts to the right of the door...
  • ... and continues around the far end...
  • ... until it ends at the chimney breast on the back wall.
  • The seating in more detail: there's a continuous, built-in wooden bench...
  • ... with individual tables in front of the bench.
  • The bench runs around the wall...
  • ... all the way to the door, with wooden boxes for additional seating.
  • The walls at the right-hand end are adorned with various works of art...
  • ... which is part of The Watch Tower's desire to support local artists.
  • While I was there, the art was by Sophie Layton.
  • There are no power sockets, but there are USB charging points along the seat backs.
  • Laptop uses take note.
  • Other neat features include flowers on the tables...
  • ... and a wood-burning stove which is pressed into action during the winter.
  • There are plenty of windows, but there are also plenty of light-fittings...
  • ... as well as a pair of fans to keep things cool in the summer.
  • The space, by the way, is open all the way to the rafters.
  • Most of the lights are housed in these wooden shades...
  • ... which seem to be old wooden vases.
  • Obligatory light-fitting shot.
  • Let's get down to business. The L-shaped counter has food on the left, coffee at the back.
  • The food menu is on the wall to the left of the door...
  • ... while the coffee menu is on the chimney breast to the right of the counter.
  • The counter itself is a busy place...
  • ... with even the front of the counter pressed into action as storage/display space.
  • There are soft drinks and crisps for sale, for example...
  • ... as well as coffee. And oranges.
  • The coffee, in case you were wondering, is from Ozone.
  • There is more coffee, and coffee kit, on the walls behind the counter.
  • There is bread and soup immediately to the left of the door...
  • The bread is from two bakeries (The Snapery & Little Bread Pedlar). It's also for sale.
  • Note that if you are planning to buy anything, The Watch Tower is cash only.
  • The espresso machine dispenses shot of Ozone's Empire Blend...
  • ... while the batch-brew offers a range of single-origins...
  • ... which are displayed on the corner of the counter.
  • After sampling all three, I decided on the Ardi from Ethiopia...
  • ... served in a carafe with a cup on the side, all presented on a wooden tray.
  • I paired this with an awesome hazelnut brownie.
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WatchHouse is towards the southern end of Bermondsey Street, at its junction with Abbey Street, standing on the corner of St Mary Magdalen churchyard, a lovely, green space. The small, single-storey octagonal building can best be described as lozenge-shaped, with long front and back walls and three short walls at either end, making it maybe three times as wide as it is deep. Brick-built, it still retains its original chimney and inside, it’s open to the rafters of the A-frame roof.

The only entrance, a pair of narrow, glass double doors, is in the middle of the front wall, with a single large window high up in each of the end walls at the front. There are also a few smaller windows dotted around, which provided a surprising amount of light on the sunny afternoon when I was there.

There’s an L-shaped counter which occupies the whole of the left-hand end, starting immediately to the left of the door and running along the whole back wall, ending at the chimney breast which is at the right-hand end of the back wall. The only seating is on the right, where a built-in wooden bench seating runs around the three end walls from the door to the chimney. There are two-person tables at each end and, in the middle, effectively three tables in one, following the angles of the wall. Additional seating is provided by boxes at each table, all of which double as storage space, the seat lids hinging open to reveal various goodies inside. Indeed, WatchHouse is adept at making the most of what little space it has, the counter-front being pressed into action, housing rows of retail shelves.

Talking of space, laptops are allowed during the week, but not at weekends and, while there’s no convention power outlets, there are pairs of USB charging points, two for each of the five seats around the right-hand end.

When it comes to coffee, WatchHouse uses local roasters, Ozone, with the Empire Blend on espresso, serving a fairly standard menu. WatchHouse, like many London cafes, has done away with pour-over, serving batch-brew filter instead. However, what’s unusual is that three single-origins are offered rather than the more usual one, with the options changing every week or so.

While I was there, the choices were a Brazilian (pulped natural), a Burundi (washed) and an Ethiopian (natural). The barista let me try all three, giving me little samples in an espresso cup. Of these, the Ethiopian Ardi was by far my favourite, leaping out at me, so I ordered that, which was served in narrow carafe, cup on the side (I reused the espresso cup I’d used for tasting), all presented on a small wooden tray.

I can’t say enough about the Ardi. It’s a wonderful coffee, really bursting with flavour. Rich and fruity, it was everything that I expect a good naturally-processed coffee to be and it was still gorgeous when it was cold. It also serves as a reminder against my ingrained prejudice that batch-brew can’t be as good as hand-pour, which is just not the case. This was as good as anything I could have made for myself.

I paired this with a Hazelnut Brownie, an equally-wonderful cake, gorgeous, rich, and gooey. Perfect.

December 2018: WatchHouse, Bermondsey was a runner-up for the 2018 Best Filter Coffee Award.

199 BERMONDSEY STREET • LONDON • SE1 3UW +44 (0) 20 7407 6431
Monday 07:00 – 18:00 Roaster WatchHouse (espresso + batch-brew filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 18:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 07:00 – 18:00 Payment Cards Only
Saturday 07:00 – 19:00 Wifi Free (with login)
Sunday 07:00 – 19:00 Power USB Only
Chain Local Visits 3rd June 2018

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3 thoughts on “WatchHouse, Bermondsey

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