This is a first for the Coffee Spot. Almost four years ago to the day, I was in Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, Los Angeles, following a recommendation from Lee Gaze of Silhouette. It was during my first visit to the city and, while I really liked it, I didn’t have time to finish my write up during my busy trip, so it languished on my hard drive instead. As weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, it seemed increasingly pointless to publish an out-of-date Coffee Spot, so that’s where it stayed, languished on my hard drive.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to limit both my travel and my ability to visit (and hence write about) coffee shops, at the start of the year I decided to return to my backlog of Travel Spots, which led to me to continue writing up The Grand Adventure (as I call my drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, undertaken in January 2017). And that, in turn, has provided the perfect excuse to dust off my notes and old photos of Intelligentsia…
So, let me present Intelligentsia’s Venice coffee bar, exactly as I found it three years and 363 days ago.
I’d originally planned today’s Coffee Spot for Saturday. Then the latest COVID-19 restrictions happened and, for a while, I wondered if I should postpone my write up until December at the earliest. However, since Caravan is still open for collection/delivery, I decided to go ahead, so welcome to Monday’s Coffee Spot, an update on Caravan Exmouth Market. Until the England-wide shutdown on Thursday, Caravan was going strong, serving its filling breakfasts, weekend brunches and innovative small plates and dinners, all backed up with some excellent Caravan coffee on espresso and filter.
Caravan is one of those legendary names in London coffee circles. Now with five restaurants/cafes/bars, plus a coffee bar in Harrods and a dedicated roastery, Exmouth Market was where it all began, back in 2010. As well as being the original Caravan coffee shop, it was also the original roastery (located in the basement), before that moved out to King’s Cross and then to the new facility at the Lamb Works. The smallest of the five, Exmouth Market is still my favourite, so when I found myself staying around the corner, I decided to call in for dinner. And then I came back for breakfast the following morning…
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.
If you ever need evidence that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for operating a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, I present Kaffeine, the London-based chain of precisely two coffee shops. I’ve already looked at how the original Kaffeine, on Great Titchfield Street, has adapted to COVID-19 and today it’s the turn of Kaffeine Eastcastle, which reopened at the start of September. Although less than five minutes’ walk apart, how the two shops are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is quite different.
Of course, there are similarities, with both adhering to the same underlying principles, but in each case, the response has been moulded to/by the needs of the individual shop. Perhaps the biggest difference is that while Great Titchfield Street offers table service, Eastcastle, with its lower footfall, has a more traditional counter service model.
In terms of what’s on offer, little has changed. The espresso-based menu still has Square Mile’s ubiquitous Red Brick at its heart, along with a single-origin option, while there’s also a single-origin filter, which changes monthly. The concise brunch menu is served until 2 pm (3 pm at weekends), supported by an all-day selection of salads, tarts and toasted sandwiches, plus cake, of course.
92 Degrees Coffee, Liverpool’s first combined speciality coffee shop/roaster, has come a long way since I first visited at the end of 2015. Then it was just a single shop at the top of Hardman Street, the roaster tucked away in a small space behind the counter. Now it’s a chain of three, adding a larger shop in the Baltic Triangle, which does food, and a smaller shop five minutes’ walk from the original, catering more to the students (and only recently reopened). The roaster has also moved since my original visit, first to the Baltic Triangle, then to a dedicated roastery/office back in the same building on Hardman Street (which, sadly, isn’t open to the public).
This update is about the original which looks and feels very much how I remember it from my visit almost five years ago. There are a few COVID-19 changes, such as a thinning out of the seating and a move to disposable cups (so don’t forget to bring your own). However, the basic offering is the same, with the house blend on espresso and three options through the Kalita Wave, along with tea, hot chocolate, plus a selection of cakes, bagels and prepared sandwiches/salads.
Bold Street Coffee, a legend of Liverpool’s speciality coffee scene, was opened in 2010 by the equally legendary Sam Towil (who, incidentally, now lives in Llangollen, where he runs Sam’s Coffee). I visited in 2013, returning almost exactly seven years later to see how it was faring during the COVID-19 pandemic. In between, Bold Street Coffee has been through a lot, including having to leave its beloved Bold Street home in January 2018, only to return at the end of the year, bigger and better than ever.
Then came 2020 and COVID-19 which forced Bold Street Coffee to close, along with everyone else, in March. Bold Street Coffee partially reopened in May, offering an extremely popular weekend take-out service, before fully reopening in early July, following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in England.
If you’re familiar with Bold Street Coffee of old, the new layout is very similar, only with a larger, open kitchen and more seating at the back. There are also three tables outside on the temporarily-pedestrianised Bold Street. The menus are slightly limited for the moment: there’s no second option on espresso, while filter is restricted to batch-brew, but hopefully things will be back to normal soon.
I first visited Root Coffee back in 2016, when it was a relative newcomer to Liverpool’s speciality coffee scene, having opened right at the end of 2015. By the time of my return at the start of September, checking out how the city’s speciality coffee shops were coping during the COVID-19 pandemic, Root was an old hand, looking (and feeling) very similar to how it had over four years earlier.
Blessed with a large, bright interior and a generous outdoor seating area on the (already) pedestrianised western end of Seel Street, Root Coffee was ready-made to offer a COVID-safe environment with minimum change. The outdoor seating was reopened as soon as the restrictions were eased on 4th July, with the indoor seating quickly following.
These days, Root is almost back to normal, with slightly reduced opening hours (10:00 -17:00) and with the kitchen closing at three o’clock. The coffee is a good as I remember it, with a cast of three roasters gracing the various hoppers, although batch-brew is off the menu for the moment.
One of the legends of London’s speciality coffee scene, this is the original Kaffeine on Great Titchfield Street, in the heart of Fitzrovia. It reopened in June, initially just serving takeaway, and has been slowly expanding its offering ever since. First, the internal seating reopened, then, in mid-August, following traffic restrictions put in place by the council, the outside seating was expanded.
Wherever you sit, you’ll get the trademark Kaffeine hospitality and some exemplary service. You’re greeted at the door by a staff member who takes your order. If it’s to go, you’ll need to wait there until your coffee is brought to you. Alternatively, if you’re staying, once you’ve ordered, you’ll be shown to a table (or allowed to select one if sitting outside), thus ensuring separation between sit-in and takeaway customers.
As usual, Square Mile’s Red Brick is on espresso, joined by a single-origin guest, which can be had instead of the Red Brick, or there’s a tasting flight where you can try them both. There’s a selection of cold/iced coffee options, plus tea from the Rare Tea Company. Finally, if you’re hungry, Kaffeine has the usual cake and pastry options, plus small breakfast and lunch menus.
Four Corners, tucked away on Lower Marsh behind Waterloo Station, is one of the stalwarts of London’s speciality coffee scene, opening in July 2013, with my first visit coming a month later. Like many others (Canopy Coffee and Party on Pavilion, for example), COVID-19 has forced Four Corners to convert itself from a bustling, lively, sit-in coffee shop to a takeout operation. The area has also seen a significant drop-off in foot traffic, so much so that Four Corners only reopened two weeks ago, although hopefully the part-pedestrianisation of Lower Marsh will help bring people back to the area. It’s certainly changed the character of the street for the better.
For now, Four Corners is only offering a takeaway service, which means disposable cups, although the staff happily accept customers’ reusable cups. The full coffee menu is available, with Ozone’s Empire Blend on espresso, along with pour-over via the V60 and Chemex. There’s also tea from T2, while Four Corners has a limited food menu. Best of all, if you want to sit outside once you’ve got your coffee, Four Corners has taken advantage of the pedestrianisation of Lower Marsh by putting some benches and two tables out front.