Lily London, Shard

A flat white in my HuskeeCup at Lily London, ShardAt the start of 2021, when I was wondering if there would be any coffee shops I could write about, an unexpected bonus arrived in my hometown, Guildford in the shape of Lily London, a coffee shop in a telephone box! Since then, Lily London has opened three more coffee shops in telephone boxes in (appropriately) London, Eastbourne and Edinburgh.

The London telephone box is on St Thomas Street, around the back of London Bridge station and almost directly under the UK’s tallest building, The Shard. Passing through the capital last weekend, I thought it was about time that I paid it a visit. For those who don’t know, Lily London serves its own coffee, imported from Brazil by the owner, then roasted by Plot Roasting. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, along with retail bags of the coffee. Unsurprisingly, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Tilt Update

Details of the new (to me, at least) A-board from outside Tilt in Birmingham, promising craft beer, speciality coffee and pinball.To the best of my knowledge, Tilt is just one of two speciality coffee-and-pinball places in the UK, the other being Chiswick’s Chief Coffee, both of which opened in 2015. Mind you, Tilt’s not just coffee-and-pinball. It’s coffee-pinball-and-craft-beer, serving up to 18 different draught beers, plus there’s cider, wine, spirits, and cocktails, not to mention twelve different loose-leaf teas and five types of hot chocolate.

I first visited Tilt in January 2016, not long after it had opened. Back then, it just occupied the ground floor of an interestingly-shaped spot in Birmingham’s City Arcade, with work underway to open up the basement. Since then, it’s come a long way, not just opening the basement, but, during the enforced COVID-19 shutdown of 2020, adding an upper floor, both offering additional seating and more pinball machines.

These days, Tilt still bases its offer around pinball, beer and coffee, and its in this latter department that it perhaps has taken the greatest strides. Tilt was always serious about its coffee, but recently the owner, Kirk, has taken things to a whole new level with the Frozen Solid Coffee Project, an exciting development which I’ve dedicated an entire Saturday Supplement to.

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Medicine New Street

A classic decaf flat white served in a classic white cup at Medicine New Street in BirminghamToday’s Coffee Spot was a chance discovery at the end of my visit to Birmingham last week. I was on my way along New Street when an A-board caught my eye. It didn’t even say “speciality coffee”, but there was something about it that piqued my interest, so in I went, ascending a flight of stairs to find a real gem (in more ways than one) hidden in the very centre of Birmingham.

Medicine Bakery is an artisan bakery, café and gallery which grew out of Medicine Bar in Digbeth. After that closed in 2011, the team behind Medicine turned to baking, opening a bakery, deli and café in the village of Codsall in Wolverhampton. This is turn led to the opening of a second Medicine in 2018, which is the one I stumbled upon on New Street, along with a more recent addition not far away in the massive Mailbox shopping centre.

Medicine New Street occupies a glorious, open space (a former art gallery), serving classic breakfast, brunch and lunch dishes, plus masses of cakes and pastries. There’s a standard espresso-based menu with coffee from Iron & Fire, plus a small selection of tea, soft drinks, smoothies, cocktails, craft beers and wine.

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WatchHouse Roastery & Café

The WatchHouse Roastery & Cafe, in a railway arch just outside London Bridge station.WatchHouse, the Bermondsey coffee powerhouse, has come a long way since it opened its doors in the eponymous WatchHouse on Bermondsey Street back in 2014. These days there are seven WatchHouses, two in close proximity to Bermondsey original, south of the Thames, and another four over the river, including the one-time Brooklyn Coffee (now WatchHouse Spitalfields) and Somerset House (once occupied by Fernandez & Wells).

For many years, WatchHouse used Ozone, but along with its expansion came the decision to roast its own coffee, WatchHouse opening a dedicated roastery and café (the subject of today’s Coffee Spot) in a railway arch on Maltby Street in August 2020. Now all the coffee is roasted here on a re-built 1959 Probat UG22, which you can admire through the glass wall at the back of the café.

WatchHouse’s offering is fairly simple, with a concise espresso-based menu plus batch-brew and pour-over. The latter offers a choice of a single-origin from WatchHouse or a guest roaster, which, during my visit, was from Monogram in Calgary, the options changing every month. This is backed up with a selection of Good & Proper Tea, hot chocolate and, if you’re hungry, a range of cakes and savoury options.

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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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Surbeanton

A gorgeous flat white in an equally gorgeous, bowl-shaped earthenware cup, served at Surbeanton in Surbiton.Once upon a time, when it came to speciality coffee in Surbiton, The Press Room was pretty much the only game in town. However, that’s changed over the years with the addition of Wags N Tales in 2016 and, in 2019, with today’s Coffee Spot, Surbeanton. Although The Press Room still wins the “closest to the station” prize, Surbeanton is only a five-minute walk away: turn left out of the front of the station and walk down to the end of Victoria Road, where you’ll find Surbeanton occupying a narrow, sunny shopfront on the north side of the street.

A pair of tables sit outside on the pavement, with plenty more seating in the long, thin, high-ceilinged interior. During the current COVID-19 restrictions, Surbeanton is table service only, with coffee from Allpress on espresso, backed up by an innovative all-day brunch menu and plenty of cake. There was a selection of four or five single-origins from a regularly-rotating guest roaster on pour-over through the SP9, but this is on hold at the moment. However, you can still buy retail bags from the current guest, Kiss the Hippo, and, with luck, pour-overs will be reintroduced by the end of the month.

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Electric Coffee Co., Goldhawk Road (COVID-19)

A flat white in my HuskeeCup at Electric Coffee Co. on Goldhawk RoadBack in the day, before I’d started the Coffee Spot, Ealing’s Electric Coffee Co. was one of a handful of speciality coffee shops in London. Fast forward 10+ years, and it’s fair to say that it’s now one of a handful of speciality coffee shops in Ealing, such has been the growth of the London scene. And that’s not the only thing that’s been growing. Since opening in 2008, Electric Coffee Co. has expanded its original coffee shop, started its own roasting operation, opened a second location (in St John’s Wood) and now there’s a third, on Goldhawk Road.

When I visited last week, seating was limited to the four outside tables, but as of this morning, the interior seating should be open, including the multi-roomed basement and the sunny room at the back. There are also plans for a small, outdoor terrace accessed through the basement. The coffee offering is fairly simple, with a concise espresso-based menu featuring the Rocket 88 blend. This is backed up by a range of toasted sandwiches and other savouries, plus cakes. Retail bags of coffee are for sale, where they’re joined, unusually, by a small range of Italian groceries.

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Chief Coffee (COVID-19)

The front window of Chief Coffee celebrating the opening of the Japanese games arcade on the top floor. These days there’s plenty of good coffee to be had in the neighbourhood, but when Chief Coffee opened in Chiswick back in 2015, it was something of a pioneer, joining the nearby Artisan in bringing speciality coffee to this part of West London. As well as the coffee, however, Chief Coffee also made its name with its pinball lounge, something which makes it stand out from the crowd to this day (the only other speciality coffee and pinball place I am aware of is Birmingham’s Tilt).

As I write, Chief Coffee is restricted to just its outdoor seating, which, in the sheltered Turnham Green Terrace Mews, is a delight. However, as of Monday next week (17th May) it will be re-opening both the first-floor seating area and the ground floor pinball lounge. And, even better, there’s a new Japanese arcade games room on the top floor that will be opening for the very first time!

The coffee is unchanged throughout, with Allpress’s signature blend on espresso, plus a regularly changing pair of contrasting single-origins from Workshop on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. This is backed up by a small selection of tea, plus sandwiches, savouries and cakes if you’re hungry.

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Black Rabbit Speciality Coffee

Black Rabbit Speciality Coffee on the corner of the street, the door recessed in a cut-away at 45° to the windows.The speciality coffee scene in and around Earl’s Court and Hammersmith has really taken off in the last few years, led by the likes of Over Under Coffee, with the original opposite Earl’s Court station and its shoebox-sized addition at West Brompton. Pretty much slap bang between the two is Black Rabbit Speciality Coffee, a relatively new addition to the area, which opened last year.

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).

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Over Under Coffee, West Brompton

The front of Over Under Coffee, West Brompton, which is pretty much the extent of the store!Over Under Coffee, which seems to specialise in tiny coffee shops, has done much to bring speciality coffee to Earl’s Court/Hammersmith in West London, starting in 2017 with the original, opposite Earl’s Court Station. After branching out with a slightly larger coffee shop in Ham Yard, just off Piccadilly, which closed almost exactly two years ago at the end of October 2018, Over Under returned to its roots, the subject of today’s Saturday Short opening just outside West Brompton Station in January 2019. Since then, there have been two more Over Unders in London (Ladbroke Grove and Wandsworth Town) and one in Manchester (which, sadly, has not reopened following the COVID-19 pandemic).

Over Under Coffee at West Brompton is even smaller than the ones that came before it, the tiny interior offering standing room only, with just two small stools on the pavement outside. Despite this, there’s a concise espresso-based menu, backed up with batch brew filter, the coffee, as always, coming from Assembly. Even more impressively, given the size, is the brunch menu, cooked in the kitchen downstairs, plus various pastries and filled croissants.

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