I first heard of Open Grounds Café, another new addition to Guildford’s speciality coffee scene, in November last year, when Jonathon of Canopy Coffee tipped me off about a new coffee shop opening in the Baptist Church on Millmead, down by the river. I duly popped down in December, during that brief period when sit-in customers were allowed in the run-up to Christmas, but I didn’t have time to write it up. Then came further COVID-19 restrictions and Open Grounds switched to a takeaway operation.
However, at the start of April, the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed, allowing coffee shops to serve customers at outdoor seating. This was something that Open Grounds, with a large patio in front of the church, was ideally placed to take advantage of. I made a brief visit (on my way to a wedding) and then returned last week for a more in-depth look.
Open Grounds is very much a lunchtime coffee shop, opening from 10:00 to 14:00, with a standard espresso-based menu built around a single-origin Brazilian from Ethicaladdictions, plus decaf and batch-brew filter. There’s tea, soft drinks, soup, a small selection of sandwiches and curry puffs, plus a range of cakes, scones and pastries.
The Green Wood Café is in Coalbrookedale, a narrow, steep-sided valley which leads south into the famous Ironbridge Gorge a few hundred metres west of the famous bridge. Located in the Green Wood Centre, it’s nestled between the road and the disused railway line. The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on The Green Wood Café, which has only recently reopened, having been shut over the winter. Like many places, it has had to reinvent itself, but the good news is that it’s done a fantastic job, with excellent, well thought out systems and lots of lovely outdoor seating, including tables in the adjacent orchard.
For now, everything is served in compostable, single use containers, with a full, all-day brunch menu, including street food and toasted sandwiches, backed up by the range of cakes. Everything is vegetarian, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. When it comes to the coffee, which uses the café’s own bespoke blend, oat milk is offered as standard, with dairy and soya milk as options. There’s also a wide range of tea and alternative drinks such as chai, beetroot, matcha and turmeric lattes (all of which have iced versions), backed up with smoothies and soft drinks.
Eighty Six’d was a (semi-) chance discovery in Ironbridge, where I’d gone to visit The Green Wood Café. However, tipped off by Hundred House, who I’d visited the day before, I took a wander along the river front and past the eponymous Ironbridge to the eastern end of town, where I found Eighty Six’d, occupying the first floor of a narrow, wedge-shaped building.
In pre-COVID times, you could go inside Eighty Six’d, which has the intriguing tagline “Art • Coffee • Cake”. Unfortunately, until the next relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions which are due in mid-May, you’re limited to ordering something to go from the door, which you’ll find along the left-hand side of the building. There are various espresso-based drinks, with coffee from nearby Has Bean, loose-leaf tea, a selection of specialty drinks, light lunches, sandwiches and cakes.
Espresso Farm has been on my radar since it opened in February 2019, but Saturday was the first opportunity I had to pay a visit. Located within Umberslade Farm Park, it’s just south of the M42/M40 junction, making it an excellent alternative to the motorway services if you need a break when travelling in either direction. It’s also worth a visit in its own right and, while it’s easiest to get to by car, if you don’t mind a 35-minute walk along the lanes (or 20 minutes across the fields) it’s also served by Danzey Station on the Birmingham to Stratford line.
For now, just the outside seating is open, but the good news is that there’s plenty of it and the Espresso Farm has the most wonderful setting. It helps that the coffee, from the nearby Monsoon Estates Coffee Company, is excellent, and while Espresso Farm is currently using disposable cups, the staff are happy if you bring your own. As well as the usual espresso-based drinks, there’s batch-brew filter, hot chocolate and a range of tea. If you’re hungry, Espresso Farm can offer an all-day breakfast menu, a selection of toasties and a wide range of cakes.
When it comes to my Guildford speciality coffee roundups during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Hideout, on the University of Surrey’s Stag Hill campus, is very much the forgotten party (by me, that is). The fact is, other than a short break during the early months of the pandemic (when the students went home), The Hideout has been open throughout the pandemic. My excuse, for what it’s worth, is that I’m hardly ever on that side of the river unless I’m going to Surrey Scorchers games at the weekend, when The Hideout is closed.
However, following my latest roundup, I thought I should rectify this oversight, so yesterday I popped up to a surprisingly busy campus to catch up with Beau and Charlie, the pair behind The Hideout. There have, inevitably, been some COVID-19 related changes, but the good news is that The Hideout is going strong after a lean time over the winter (when very few students were on campus). Best of all, the coffee, from old friends Union Hand-roasted, is as good as ever!
In many ways, of all Guildford’s speciality coffee shops, Canopy was probably the best-placed to weather the new phase of England-wide COVID-19 restrictions, which came into force at the start of November. While other coffee shops, such as Krema Coffee, re-opened their indoor seating over the summer, Canopy, having effectively pivoted from being a sit-in coffee shop, has remained takeaway only throughout the pandemic. Earlier this week, I went back to where I started my COVID-19 Updates to see how Canopy was coping.
Coffee shop/roaster Catalyst opened in Holborn in late 2016, joining a growing number of speciality coffee shops in the area. I remember the buzz it generated at the time, with the likes of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato singing its praises. I duly put it on my (very long) list of places to visit and when, almost four years later, I found myself around the corner at The Attendant on Leather Lane, I knew that the time had come.
Occupying a bright, airy, corner spot, Catalyst is a lovely space, although its real draw is the coffee, roasting multiple single-origins (and a solitary blend) on the 12 kg Diedrich in the basement, several of which are available on espresso, batch brew and pour-over. There’s a small, innovative brunch menu that’s served until 3 pm, while on Friday evenings, Catalyst reinvents itself as a bar, complete with a separate and equally innovative bar menu. You don’t need to wait until Friday though: alcohol is available throughout the day, with cocktails and a small selection of beer and wine.
Although I came to know Over Under Coffee through its relatively short-lived outpost in Ham Yard in Piccadilly, this is where it all started in 2017. The original Over Under is still going strong, serving coffee and brunch by day, plus cocktails in the evening, from this modest spot opposite Earl’s Court station. These days there are four Over Unders, with West Brompton just around the corner, Wandsworth Town on the other side of the river and the latest addition, Ladbroke Grove, proving to be the largest Over Under yet.
Mind you, that’s not too big an ask, given the size of the original (which itself is bigger than West Brompton and Wandsworth Town combined!). Despite its lack of size, there’s an impressive brunch menu, all cooked in the open kitchen behind the counter, while on Friday and Saturday evenings, Over Under transforms itself into a cosy cocktail bar.
November 2020: with the new COVID-19 restrictions coming into force, evening opening has been temporarily suspended, although you may still be able to order cocktails on-line for delivery.
I have a soft spot for Attendant, which started in 2013 in a converted, underground gentlemen’s toilet in Fitzrovia. It could easily have been a gimmick, but from the outset, Attendant was committed to top-notch speciality coffee, first from Caravan then, more recently, roasting its own. It also expanded, opening shops in Shoreditch and Clerkenwell. The original Attendant featured in the early days of the Coffee Spot, soon after it had opened, plus it was one of the first coffee shops I visited when COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed in England in July.
All of this makes it rather bizarre that, until last week, I’d never been to Attendant Clerkenwell. What can I say? A lovely, quirky, irregularly-shaped spot with gloriously high ceilings, the loss is all mine. There’s outside seating, plus more seating inside, including a neat back room if you want something a little quieter. The offering is substantially the same as at the other Attendants, with its Brazilian single-origin on espresso, plus a single-origin filter option (currently only available as batch brew). This is all backed up by a wide selection of cake and impressive breakfast, brunch and lunch menus, all prepared in the open kitchen behind the counter.
November 2020: with the new Government COVID-19 restrictions in England, Attendant is returning to takeaway service from Thursday, 5th November.
Occupying a sunny corner on the north side of Old Brompton Road, it’s a small, but charming spot, flooded with light from large windows along the front and left-hand sides. If you don’t mind the traffic, you can sit outside at one of two pavement tables, or you can retreat inside, where there’s a similar number of tables, plus a couple of window-bars.
The coffee is from old friends Allpress, with the standard Allpress blend, plus decaf, on espresso, while there’s a regularly-changing guest roaster on batch-brew. Although it’s small, that doesn’t limit Black Rabbit’s ambition, with a decent selection of cake on the counter, plus impressive breakfast, brunch, sandwich, salad and wrap menus. If you’re wondering how the staff manage it, there’s a kitchen tucked away in the basement (but, alas, no seating).