Notes, Trafalgar Square (COVID-19 Update)

A cortado, served in a glass (a rarity during COVID-19) at Notes, Trafalgar Square.On Tuesday, I caught a train to London. I went to visit coffee shops, something I once took or granted, but which, thanks to COVID-19, I hadn’t done for almost exactly four months. Although I didn’t have a firm itinerary (I intended to wander around, see who was open, and take things from there), there was one coffee shop which I planned to visit, heading straight there from Waterloo.

Notes is on St Martin’s Lane, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, which is how it gets its name. Like Attendant, where I ended Tuesday’s short excursion, I first wrote about Notes back in 2013, although, unlike Attendant, which had recently opened, Notes was already well-established by that point. Since then, I’ve visited several other Notes and have always been impressed by the quality and attention to detail.

Notes had reopened just four days before my visit, on Saturday 11th July, but I knew from its social media posts that it was offering a sit-in service, which I was keen to try. More than anything, I wanted to see how the reality of sitting in a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic matched my (perhaps gloomy) musings on the matter.

You can see what I found after the gallery.

  • The southern end of  St Martin’s Lane, at the corner with William IV Street, is very familiar.
  • And this is what I came for: Notes, although I wasn't expecting it to be hidden behind...
  • ... metal barriers. This is a better view.
  • The barriers, by the way, close off the left-hand lane of the street to create an outdoor...
  • ... seating area which Notes shares with Nutshell next door. The right-hand four tables...
  • ... belong to Notes. If you don't fancy sitting outside, you can always sit inisde...
  • ... which looks very familar, with Notes, long and thin, stretching off into the distance.
  • The counter still runs down the left-hand side (although the Perspex screens are new).
  • Meanwhile, tables still line the padded bench along the right-hand wall.
  • The window-bar is still there too, although now it's only a two-person one.
  • There are other changes. The tables on the right, which used to be single, have been...
  • ... pushed together in pairs to improve distancing.
  • The same is true of the tables at the back on the left, although the communal tables...
  • ... look much the same, as does the wine rack along the right-hand wall.
  • The familiar retail shelves are still there at the end of the counter...
  • ... while there's more retail on the counter itself.
  • A view of the recently-installed Perspex screening on the counter.
  • Meanwhile, to greet you as you enter, there are the cakes at the front.
  • Obligatory light-fitting shot.
  • The other changes are in how you order, clearly explained in this sign.
  • The handy QR Code on the instruction leaflet on my table worked by the way...
  • ... and took me to the website where I ordered, gave my details and paid.
  • There is, by the way, a more conventional menu by the door as you enter.
  • I had the scrambled eggs on toast and a cortado.
  • My scrambled eggs arrived on a proper plate...
  • ... while my cortado came in a glass.
  • I'll leave you with a shot of the latte art in my cortado.
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Notes is at the southern end of St Martin’s Lane, near the corner with William IV Street. It has a narrow store front, but inside it goes a long way back. There’s always been a little outside seating, with the bench in front of the window, but these days, in response to COVID-19, the council has sectioned off the left-hand side of the road as you come south down St Martin’s Lane. This has created an outdoor seating area which Notes shares with the restaurant next door (there are other seating areas for restaurants and cafés further up St Martin’s Lane). It looks a little ugly, with chest-high steel mesh barriers in red and white footings, but it creates a safe space for the tables, the barriers protecting them from the traffic while at the same time keeping the pavement clear. All-in-all, an excellent idea.

Notes has four two-person tables out here, along with another two (much smaller) tables by the bench. If you sit outside, you can either order on-line or go inside to order. Talking of which, the interior of Notes, which is long and thin, looks much as I remember it. The counter is still on the left, running maybe halfway to the back, with seating opposite that. There’s also a window-bar to the left of the door and a much larger seating area at the back, centred under the skylight in the high ceiling. It’s also as elegant and well-appointed as I remember it.

However, there are some important changes, no doubt brought about by COVID-19. The counter, for a start, has the usual Perspex screens to protect staff and customers. Meanwhile, the four-person window-bar now only has two stools, while what was a row of closely-spaced two person tables along the bench opposite the counter has now been thinned out. Instead, there are just eight tables, pushed together in twos, forming four sets of four-person tables.

Most of the outside tables were occupied, so I took a seat inside, where two of the four tables opposite the counter were occupied (the back was empty). Although you can order in person, you’re strongly encouraging to use the Ritual App or to order from the website (there is a handy QR code on an instruction leaflet on each table which takes you straight to the order page).

I went the website route, ordering on my phone, which proved to be straightforward. The order page contains the menu, and, when you’re done, you just checkout. You have to provide your details (name, phone number and e-mail) although there’s no requirement to verify them. When your order is ready, the staff bring it to you, so there’s minimal contact between customers/staff.

The menu has changed, with a cut-down all-day brunch offering. Unfortunately, the poached eggs on toast had sold out, so I had scrambled eggs on toast instead, which were excellent, served on a single large slice of toast with a small salad on the side. Notes has a standard espresso-based menu, plus a single-origin filter on batch-brew. I ordered a cortado, made with the Acevedo espresso, a single-origin from Huila in Colombia which went really well in milk, with classic chocolate and caramel notes.

The best part of the whole experience was that my cortado was served in a glass, while my lunch arrived on a plate, with proper cutlery, a welcome change from the near-universal COVID-19 experience of takeaway cups and disposable plates/cutlery.

For my first sit-in coffee shop experience in four months, it was perfect. I felt relaxed and safe, even when several people came in to order takeaway coffee, standing near my table to order and wait for their coffee. It just felt so good to be sitting in a coffee shop again, drinking coffee from a proper cup (or, in this case, glass).

31 ST MARTIN’S LANE • LONDON • WC2N 4ER
https://notescoffee.com +44 (0) 207 240 0424
Monday 09:00 – 18:00 Roaster Notes (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 09:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Window-Bar; Tables Outside
Wednesday 09:00 – 18:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 09:00 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter / Order Online
Friday 09:00 – 18:00 Payment Cards (no Amex) + Cash
Saturday 09:00 – 20:00 Wifi Yes
Sunday 10:00 – 17:00 Power Limited
Chain Local Visits Original: 16th August 2013
Update: 14th July 2020

If you liked this Coffee Spot, then check out the rest of London’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to London.


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7 thoughts on “Notes, Trafalgar Square (COVID-19 Update)

  1. I don’t like the idea of people hovering nearby to order takeaways – otherwise, if you choose to eat/drink inside, it sounds as good as it can get under the circumstances.

    • In terms of physical distance, it was fine. I had a table and then some between me and then, plus they had their backs to me.

      In terms of behaviour, most people were fine, but there was one group of four people who stood right in front of my table, which I thought was rude and inconsiderate. They could have easily stood outside or gone down to the end of the counter, but I suspect that they were too busy chatting amongst themselves to be aware of their surroundings.

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