Gray

An espresso, made with Workshop's Snap single-origin espresso, served in a glass at Gray in Leytonstone.Gray is one of those chance discoveries that I delight in. I was on my way from Stratford to Sarah’s Leytonstone and very nearly took the bus. However, at the last minute I decided to walk, and while strolling along the High Road through Leytonstone, I passed a coffee shop that caused me to do a double-take (the A-board actually caught my eye). So I backed up, took a closer look, and then decided to go in.

Gray describes itself as a family-run coffee shop, selling food, furniture and homewares. It instantly reminded me of Curio Espresso and Vintage Design in Kanazawa, although on a smaller scale. There’s a neat front section, where you share the space with the vintage furniture, while at the back is a cosy room with more conventional seating. You can also sit outside where there’s a pair of tables.

Gray serves a concise espresso-based menu using Workshop’s single-origin Snap espresso, plus tea and hot chocolate. If you’re hungry, there is a range of tempting cakes, along with dedicated breakfast and lunch menus, with slightly expanded options at the weekend, including brunch, all cooked in the kitchen behind the counter.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Gray, as seen while heading south on Leytonstone High Road. I'd actually walked past...
  • ... before I was stopped in my tracks by the A-board.
  • I returned for a closer look at the front, then decided to go in.
  • That said, you can always sit outside at one of these tables (but you need to order inside).
  • Stepping inside, and here's the view of the front half of Gray.
  • There's a single two-person window-bar to the left of the door, but (for now), that's it.
  • The rest of the front part of Gray is given over to the vintage furniture.
  • There's more on the left, where you'll find this dresser and its wonderful crockery.
  • The view towards the back of Gray, wth the counter on the left...
  • ... in front of which is this table. I suspect, in pre-COVID times, this was more seating.
  • The counter is on the left, while on the right, a corridor runs towards the back of Gray...
  • ... where you'll find a cosy sitting room, lit by a skylight in the middle of the ceiling.
  • There are two of these tables along a bench down the left-hand side...
  • ... while two of these tables project from the right-hand wall (a third houses plants).
  • As well as the vintage furniture, there are retail shelves opposite the counter.
  • Along with the expected retail bags of coffee...
  • ... there are plenty of other goodies, including candles.
  • There's also plenty of greenery to liven up the place.
  • And a hat.
  • During my visit, Grey had a display of photographs from 'Drink My Sweat', an ongoing...
  • ... photographic documentary by Jake Green, looking at coffee production in Kenya.
  • The counter is halfway back on the left-hand side, but the perspex screens make it...
  • ... tricky to get good shots of the cakes, which greet you as you approach.
  • Tricky, that is, unless you sneak around the other side (with permission) for a quick photo!
  • The coffee side of the business is at the back of the counter...
  • ... with the drinks menu on the wall off to the right.
  • You order and pay at the counter, where you'll also find a full food menu.
  • Gray has a slightly different weekday/weekend breakfast menu (weekends have brunch).
  • There's less of a different between the weekday/weekend menus for lunch though.
  • Sadly I was only there for a quick espresso, which came with a bottle of water.
  • It's still quite rare to find places that serve espresso in a glass...
  • ... so I'll leave you with this classic shot of my coffee from above.
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I had already had a fairly caffeinated start to my day and wasn’t looking for any more coffee shops to visit. However, when I saw Gray, it looked so tempting that I had to stop and pay a visit. Gray occupies a spot in a row of shops on the western side of the busy High Road. The simple façade, which is (pleasingly) painted grey, has a central glass door flanked by a pair of tall windows, each with a single, round two-person table in front of it one.

Although it’s quite narrow, Gray goes back a long way, so it is a lot bigger than it initially feels. The space is split into three, with the largest part at the front. This ends with the counter, a handsome affair on the left-hand side of Gray with an enclosed kitchen directly behind it. A long corridor runs along the right-hand side, leading past the counter to the third space, the cosy rear seating area.

You can, of course, sit outside, although the High Road can be very busy/noisy. If you want the view with less noise, there’s a two-person window-bar to the left of the door, although that’s it for seating in the front section (although there was more, pre COVID-19). The remaining space, between the windows and the counter, is given over to the vintage furniture and homewares part of Gray’s, with various items displayed around the place (and, in some cases, on the vintage furniture).

The walls, meanwhile, were hung with photographs from Jake Green, part of his “Drink My Sweat” photographic documentary, which looks at the manual nature of coffee production in Kenya. There are more homewares and retail bags of coffee for sale on a set of shelves in the corridor opposite the counter.

There’s more seating at the back, in what was (I suspect) the old back room of the building. It’s a fairly cosy space, lit by a central skylight. A bench (with cushions) lines the left-hand wall, with a pair of four-person tables, while on the right, three two-person tables project from the wall. However, thanks to the current COVID-19 restrictions, the middle table is festooned with flowers and plants to ensure the necessary social distancing.

Gray is a family-owned business, set up three years ago by the current owner along with his mother and sister. Initially, the business was much more focused on the vintage furniture, which comes from the family collection (more similarities with Curio Espresso and Vintage Design). However, it’s slowly evolved into being more of a café, expanding the seating in the front section (that is, until COVID-19 came along).

Gray uses Workshop’s single-origin Snap espresso to fuel its concise espresso-based menu. Having missed out at Lantern Coffee the previous day, I was keen to try it, ordering an espresso which came in a glass, along with a bottle of water, which was appreciated. The espresso was a lovely, fruity shot with a pleasing touch of acidity, which I really enjoyed it.

I’d have loved to have paired it with something, but I’d only recently had breakfast, and was on my way to cake, so I settled for just the espresso. However, both the weekend brunch menu and the cakes on the counter looked so very, very tempting…

297 HIGH ROAD • LEYTONSTONE • LONDON • E11 4HH
www.grayleytonstone.co.uk +44 (0) 203 952 1979
Monday CLOSED Roaster Workshop (espresso only)
Tuesday 08:30 – 17:00 Seating Tables, Window Bar; Tables (outside)
Wednesday 08:30 – 17:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 08:30 – 17:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:30 – 17:00 Payment Card Only
Saturday 10:00 – 17:00 Wifi No
Sunday 10:00 – 15:00 Power No
Chain No Visits 19th June 2021

Liked this? Then take a look at the rest of London’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to London.


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