Not that long after the Coffee Spot began, a speciality coffee shop, The Wren, opened inside an old church in the heart of the City of London. I was (and am) extremely fond of it and therefore am rather annoyed with myself that I’ve overlooked another coffee shop in a church, Host Café, which predates The Wren.
That I discovered it was purely by chance. Looking for the newly-opened Rosslyn Coffee last summer, I stumbled across the church, St Mary Aldermary, home to Host Café and just around the corner from Rosslyn. I vowed to return, but such has been my hectic travel schedule that I wasn’t able to keep my promise until just before Christmas.
Whereas the Wren feels like a church given over to a coffee shop, Host Café feels like a coffee shop in the back of the church. It makes for a magnificent setting, putting the church right in the heart of the community. When it comes to the coffee, there’s a blend plus decaf from Mission Coffee Works (another unsung hero of London’s speciality coffee scene), served from a standard espresso menu, along with an Aeropress option, plus sandwiches, soup and a selection of cakes.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Host Café opened in 2012, the same year that I started the Coffee Spot. It’s inside St Mary Aldermary, rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666 in Gothic style by Sir Christopher Wren (who also designed St Nicholas Cole Abbey, home of The Wren). Although it’s a large church, it’s quite easy to miss (that’s my excuse, anyway), tucked away in a triangle of streets formed by Watling Street, Bow Lane and the main thoroughfare, Queen Victoria Street.
The café itself is at the opposite end of the nave from the altar, where you find a scattering of tables and sofas, although there’s no real separation of church from café, which means you can sit in pews if there are no free tables. It’s only as you approach the magnificent alter at the far end of the aisle that you find a discreet sign reserving the rest of the space for meditation and prayers.
There are three entrances to the church and hence to Host Café, one on either side of the nave at the back and the other right in the centre, next to the soaring tower. At the back of a cramped courtyard off Bow Lane, which houses a small street food market, this is the one you’re least likely to stumble upon, but I’ll call it the front for purposes of orientation.
Entering here, you’ll find a mix of two- and four-person tables with chairs off to your left, plus two longer tables with benches down either side that can seat six. There are also a couple of sofas and armchairs on this side. Meanwhile, off to the right, there are a few more small, square tables. Ahead of you, the aisle leads down to the alter, while to your right, there is a set of retail shelves followed by the counter, tucked away against the front wall of the tower. There’s another door here, under a clock, which leads out to the side of the church and Rosslyn Coffee. Finally, the other door, directly opposite this, leads onto the busing Watling Street, where you’ll also find some benches against the wall of the church if you want to sit outside.
It really is a magnificent setting for a coffee shop, with the soaring ceiling of nave and some glorious stained-glass windows. It can be very noisy and busy inside, but despite that, it felt a relaxing place, a welcome escape from the bustle of the city outside.
When it comes to the coffee, there’s the Up Hill espresso blend from Mission Coffee Works plus decaf (a Swiss Water processed Brazilian during my visit). These are served from a standard espresso menu, including cortados, flat whites and long blacks. If you fancy something different, there’s the option of a single-origin (again from Mission) through the Aeropress. If coffee’s not your thing, you can choose from a range of teas, while if you’re hungry, there’s soup and sandwiches, plus pate on toast and range of cakes and pastries.
I was there lunch and, in a sign of how busy it was during the week before Christmas, the soup was sold out and there was only one sandwich left when I arrived at one o’clock. I had the remaining sandwich (fortunately an avocado, sun-dried tomato and spinach one), toasted of course, and it was excellent. I paired this with a lovely, creamy flat white, the coffee and milk going particularly well together.
|ST MARY ALDERMARY • WATLING STREET • LONDON • EC4M 9BW
|+44 (0) 20 7248 9902
|07:15 – 16:30
|Mission Coffee Works (espresso + filter)
|07:15 – 16:45
|Tables, Sofas, Pews
|07:15 – 16:45
|07:15 – 16:45
|07:15 – 16:30
|Amex, Mastercard, Visa
|Free (with code)
|18th December 2018
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