Host Café

A lovely flat white made with the Up Hill espresso blend from Mission Coffee Works at Host Cafe in St Mary Aldermary Church, LondonNot 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.

  • St Mary Aldermary on Watling Street in London, home of Host Café.
  • There are a number of benches outside on the Watling Street side, plus a phone box.
  • The door itself is tucked away in the corner...
  • ... one of three leading into the church and hence to the cafe.
  • There's another entrance on the other side of the church, in the corner by the tower.
  • Talking of which, you get a much better view of it from this side.
  • Another view of the tower.
  • There's also a handy sign on this side...
  • ... leading you towards the door, which is a much grander affair on this side.
  • Finally, over on the Bow Lane side, there's a small courtyard...
  • ...where you'll find a street food market...
  • ... and, off to the left, the third and final door into the church. Let's go in.
  • The door, as seen from the inside.
  • The actual counter for Host Café is to the right as you enter, underneath the tower.
  • This is the door on that side, with a neat clock above it.
  • And here's the door we started with, on the opposite side.
  • The bulk of the seating is over here, with long, communal tables...
  • ... sofas and armchairs...
  • ... and, off to one side, more conventional four-person tables.
  • Meanwhile, on the other side, there's less seating, a handful of two- and four-person...
  • ... tables like this one...
  • ... this one...
  • ... and this one.
  • Mind you, if you can't get a table, you're welcome to sit in the pews, either in the main...
  • ... body of the church or off to the sides.
  • However, don't forget that this is still a church, with the front reserved for prayer.
  • Talking of which, it is worth pausing to admire the architecture. This is the view...
  • ... down the main aisle to the door at the front of the church, the ceiling...
  • .. soaring high above.
  • This magnificent stained-glass window is above the door. Isn't it glorious?
  • There is some stained-glass on the Watling Street side, but it's not as impressive.
  • Instead, the magnificence of this side of the church lies in the ceiling...
  • ... which isn't as high as the central aisle...
  • ... so you can better see the intricate nature of the plaster work.
  • (I am assuming it's plaster and not carving).
  • However, I've saved the best until last. The altar is at the far end of the aisle...
  • .. and is easily the best part of the whole church...
  • ... with more stained-glass wndows.
  • The pulpit (and the organ behind it) are also pretty neat.
  • Obligatory light-fitting shot.
  • Enough gawking at the architecture. The counter is tucked away under the tower...
  • ... although between it and the doors are these retail shelves.
  • There are some retail bags of coffee for sale...
  • ... but mostly it's shelves and shelves of Ecoffee reusable cups.
  • The counter itself is a simple affair, with four stools in front of it...
  • ... although how practical they are as seating, I'm not sure.
  • The main menu is to the right of the counter...
  • ... with the food options (I had the last sandwich) on this board behind the counter.
  • The espresso options: the Up Hill blend on the left, and a decaf Brazilian on the right.
  • I was there for lunch and here's the aforementioned last sandwich...
  • ... which I paired with a rich, creamy flat white.
  • I'll leave you with my latte art.
Slider Script by v4.6

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.

Monday 07:15 – 16:30 Roaster Mission Coffee Works (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:15 – 16:45 Seating Tables, Sofas, Pews
Wednesday 07:15 – 16:45 Food Lunch, Cakes
Thursday 07:15 – 16:45 Service Counter
Friday 07:15 – 16:30 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday CLOSED Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday CLOSED Power Limited
Chain No Visits 18th December 2018

Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to London for more great Coffee Spots.

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3 thoughts on “Host Café

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