Smalls

The front of Smalls, on the steeply-sloping Brackett Street in Portland, with its door deeply recessed between two windows.Smalls, which opened in January, is the latest addition to Portland’s small but thriving speciality coffee scene, a chance discovery which I made on Google Maps when planning a trip downtown at the end of last week. Located on Brackett Street in Portland’s West End, it’s a stone’s throw from the Casco Bay Bridge and a 15-minute walk from the Old Port and the heart of downtown.

One of the things I really admire about Portland’s speciality coffee scene is its diversity. No two places are the same (even when they’re part of the same group) and Smalls only adds to that. The front of Smalls is part coffee shop, restaurant and bar, while at the back, it’s a lovely little store, selling groceries, gifts, candles and personal care products, with an emphasis on reuse and local produce.

I can only really speak to the coffee shop part of Smalls, which serves Variety Coffee Roasters from Brooklyn in New York City. The Lucky Shot seasonal blend is on espresso, while there’s also decaf and a batch brew filter option. If you want to try more of Variety’s range, Smalls has a selection of retail boxes offering a variety of single-origins.

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Lateral

The Lateral logo, a line drawing of two leaves, with the word "LATERAL" below, burnt into wood.Last year I made a long overdue day-trip across the Dee Estuary to visit The Wirral and explore its speciality coffee scene, which is when I discovered Wylde Coffee in Heswell. Perhaps more importantly, I discovered that Wylde has an offshoot, called Lateral, in West Kirby, which opened in January 2021, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this week, I popped over to check it out (well, I say “popped over”; visible from my bedroom window, it’s 11 km as the crow flies, but to actually get there requires a 100 km round trip, featuring a bus and two trains each way).

While Wylde Coffee is very much a coffee shop, Lateral is more food-orientated. There are brunch and lunch menus every day until three o’clock, while from Wednesday to Saturday, Lateral reinvents itself as a cocktail bar with a full dinner menu from 17:00 onwards. When it comes to coffee, the offering is very similar to Wylde, with a bespoke house blend and decaf on espresso, roasted by old friends, Neighbourhood Coffee, plus regular guests on batch brew. This is all served up in a bright, modern space, just a short walk south from the train station.

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The Eclectic Collection

A classic flat white with some lovely latte art, served in a classic black cup at The Eclectic Collection.Earlsfield is blessed when it comes to speciality coffee shops. Last week I wrote about Bean & Hop and, while some places would be satisfied with that, it’s not enough for Earlsfield which has today’s Coffee Spot, The Eclectic Collection, literally across the road. Opening in March 2018 with the aim of providing something different from the typical speciality coffee shop, The Eclectic Collection was initially just a café. However, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 saw the front part of The Eclectic Collection morph into a high quality delicatessen, something which has proved so popular that it’s here to stay.

These days, The Eclectic Collection is a delicatessen, a coffee shop serving an all-day brunch menu and, for two nights a week (Thursday, Friday), a restaurant with a blind menu. Serving coffee from Berlin’s The Barn certainly helps it stand out from the crowd, but perhaps the most notable thing about The Eclectic Collection are the multiple seating areas at the back, decorated in perhaps the most eclectic fashion that I’ve ever seen in a coffee shop, with colourful wallpaper, various statues, chairs which stubbornly refuse to match each other and a whole lot more besides!

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Wags N Tales, Surbiton

The Wags N Tails logo, a stylised line drawing of a dog's face inside a circle, with the words "Wags N Tales" written at the top of the circle and "Coffee Bar Kitchen" written at the bottom.I conclude my very brief tour of Surbiton’s speciality coffee scene (which started last week with Surbeanton and not forgetting The Press Room) with Wags N Tales. Located on Brighton Road, it’s many things: coffee shop by day, bar by night, vegetarian/vegan restaurant (11:00 – 21:00) and all-day dog-friendly venue. It’s also, by speciality coffee shop standards, huge, with a wide range of seating across multiple interior spaces, along with four large tables on the pavement outside.

Surbeaton uses local roaster Chimney Fire Coffee, with Chimney Fire’s Classic Espresso joined by a decaf option from Hampshire’s Moon Roast. When it comes to food, there’s an all-day brunch menu, plus burgers, hot dogs and various specials, all of which is vegetarian, with plenty of vegan options. This is backed up with sandwiches to go, plenty of cakes and a selection of dog snacks and treats. And, of course, there’s a well-stocked bar, with a large cocktail menu, a range of wine by the glass or bottle, various spirits and draught beer. For now, you order online (there are QR Codes on every table) and pay either at the table when your order is delivered, or at the counter before you leave.

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Liar Liar Update

Artwork from the upstairs wall of one of the new rooms in Liar Liar, the head of woman with long, wavy hair in a black and white line drawing.I always feel guilty when, driving along the A5 to/from North Wales, I bypass Oswestry and, in the process, fail to visit Liar Liar. So, at the end of last month, on my way back from Llangollen, I made a point of calling in for a late lunch (my breakfast, which I’d had at Riverbanc, was still going down!) only to discover that since my previous visit, Liar Liar had expanded, more than doubling in size. I don’t know, you turn your back for a minute…

Liar Liar achieved this remarkable feat by taking over parts of the neighbouring building, which the landlord had been using for storage. Taking advantage of the forced closure of indoor seating due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Liar Liar fitted out the building and connected it to its existing space, working around the clock ahead of the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in mid-May which allowed Liar Liar to restart indoor service. The finishing touches were put in place late on Sunday night and the doors thrown open on Monday morning.

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Sam’s Coffee

A flat white, with some lovely latte art, served in a classic white cup at Sam's Coffee in Llangollen.Llangollen, nestling on the banks of the River Dee in North Wales, is a beautiful town and one which I’ve visited many, many times over the years. However, until last summer, it had never registered on the Coffee Spot radar. Then, I visited Bold Street Coffee in Liverpool, where one of the baristas told me that Bold Street’s founder, the legendary Sam Towil, was now living in Llangollen, where he runs Sam’s Coffee. And, just like that, I started planning my visit.

Sam’s Coffee is inside Gales of Llangollen, a family-run wine bar, restaurant and 15-room hotel, all housed in a Georgian townhouse which feels, to me, like an old coaching inn. Sam’s Coffee is officially open from nine in the morning until two in the afternoon, offering a contemporary brunch menu, plus coffee from Has Bean, after which Gales takes over until late in the evening with a lunch/dinner (dunch? linner?) menu, plus beer, cider, spirits and, of course, wine. However, that doesn’t mean the coffee stops at two: as long as Sam is there, he’ll make you coffee. Although the menu is espresso-based, I spotted a kettle, Chemex and Kalita Wave, so I’m sure if you ask nicely…

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Elephant Lounge

A classic espresso in a classic cup at Elephant Lounge in Parkgate.Last week’s (very short) Coffee Spot Tour of the Wirral started at Wylde Coffee in Heswall and ended not long after in Parkgate with Elephant Lounge. Having previously said that I could see the Wirral from my parents’ house across the River Dee in Holywell, I am fairly sure that (with a large enough telescope) I could see Elephant Lounge itself!

Elephant Lounge has occupied its waterfront spot on the main road through Parkgate since 2016. It’s part of a small chain that includes Elephant Coffee, a coffee shop in nearby Neston, and its latest addition, Elephant Bank, a smokehouse and bar, which recently opened across the road from Elephant Coffee.

Coffee shop by day, and bar by night, Elephant Lounge bases its coffee menu around a bespoke seasonal espresso blend. During the day, porridge and various toast options are available for breakfast, with bagels and soup for lunch, backed up by a range of cakes. Then at four o’clock, Elephant Lounge switches over to pizzas for the evening, along with a range of draught and bottled beer, cocktails, gin, rum and wine. All this can be enjoyed in the spacious interior or in the large, shady garden at the back.

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Notes, King’s Cross (COVID-19 Update)

Notes is back! Details of the online ordering system, displayed on every table at Notes, King's Cross.The very first coffee shop I visited following the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions in England was Notes, Trafalgar Square. I doubt I could have chosen better, to be honest, with Notes’ customary quality shining through. My coffee, a cortado, was served in a glass, while my food came on a proper plate with real cutlery. So, when I was looking for somewhere to have coffee and some food before catching my train on Monday, I immediately thought of Notes at Pancras Square, sandwiched between King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. The fact that my train was leaving from Euston, a 15-minute walk away, was entirely secondary in the decision-making process.

King’s Cross was one of three Notes locations that reopened in July and is probably the best suited of all, with a large outdoor seating area. There are changes, obviously, to account for COVID-19, but these are minimal. Online ordering at your table is encouraged, while the upstairs seating area is understandably closed, but otherwise, this is very much like the Notes of old. And, even better, with the area still really, really quiet, sitting out in Pancras Square meant blissful silence. Make the most of it while it lasts!

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Unlimited Coffee Bar

Detail taken from a bag of coffee from Tokyo's Unlimited Coffee Roasters.Unlimited Coffee Bar is almost directly under Tokyo’s famous 643m tall Skytree, which, since 2012, has been Japan’s tallest structure and the world’s tallest tower. Located just across the canal, opposite the Skytree’s southwest corner, it’s an ideal stopping off point for coffee (or lunch/dinner) either before or after taking in the magnificent views across Tokyo from the Skytree’s two observation decks. I’ve visited twice, once during my around the world trip last year, and again earlier this week on my current trip, both times calling in for coffee after a trip up the tower.

In contrast to the soaring tower, Unlimited Coffee Bar, an offshoot of Unlimited Coffee Roasters, is a much more modest affair, at least in terms of its physical extent, occupying the ground floor of a small, three storey building. The unlimited part refers to the coffee, with a selection of five or six single-origins, all roasted in-house, two of which are available on espresso, three on cold brew and all on pour-over via Aeropress, Silverton dripper or V60. Various tasting flights are offered, along with coffee cocktails, while all the beans are available in retail bags. Finally, for somewhere so small, there’s an impressive food menu.

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Brother Hubbard North

A latte art heart in my cortado, made with the Farmhand house-blend, at Brother Hubbard North in Dublin.I visited Brother Hubbard on my first trip to Dublin in 2014. Back then, it was a relatively small place, with a reputation for excellent food as well as really good coffee. So good, in fact, that after going there for breakfast, I returned for coffee later in the trip. 5½ years on, Brother Hubbard has added a second branch (Brother Hubbard South) while the original, reborn as Brother Hubbard North, has changed beyond (almost) all recognition. It’s now a takeaway joint, coffee shop, retailer and restaurant, with an on-site roastery, Farmhand, thrown in for good measure.

Normally, this would be a Coffee Spot Update, but with all the changes, I’ve gone for a complete re-write, leaving the original as is. These days Brother Hubbard serves a bespoke house-blend from in-house roaster, Farmhand, along with a single-origin on batch brew. There are grab-and-go goodies from the takeaway counter to the left, or you can sit in and enjoy breakfast, brunch or cake with your coffee. Finally, in the evenings, there’s a small but innovative dinner menu five nights a week. The space, by the way, is huge, with a long, thin indoor seating area, outdoor terrace and magnificent dining room.

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