Now that London is no longer on my doorstep, I don’t visit as often as I once did, so when I was passing through two weeks ago, I took the opportunity to head to Spitalfields in East London to catch up with a familiar name in a new setting. Potter & Reid occupies two rooms on the west side of Toynbee Street. You’ll find the counter and a limited amount of seating on the right-hand side, while the bulk of the seating is to the left, along with a bench and tables on the pavement outside.
Although the coffee shop is new, having opened at the start of last year, the names Potter & Reid are familiar to the London coffee scene, the pair having met in the Allpress café around the corner on Redchurch Street in 2010. Unsurprisingly, you’ll find the ubiquitous Allpress blend at the heart of the espresso menu, backed up by a guest roaster on batch-brew filter. There’s a strong retail offering, featuring a pair of guest roasters, and, unusually, there’s also wine/beer on the menu. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there are separate breakfast/lunch menus from chef Eleni Thoma, along with a range of cakes and pastries.
For the Good of the People is part of the Real Food Market on Euston Station forecourt, directly opposite the station’s main entrance, an excellent spot for a pre-/post-train coffee (except for Mondays, when it’s closed). The set up is pretty simple, just a stall at the left-hand end of the Real Food Market stalls, serving espresso-based drinks along with a selection of retail bags of coffee. Unsurprisingly, it’s disposable cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.
For the Good of the People uses its bespoke Canopy blend, its standard espresso-based menu having a commendably simple pricing policy (one price for with milk, another for black). There’s also tea, a range of iced coffees (all at one price) and, for a small supplement, alternative milks. Although there’s no seating at the stall, you can take a seat at any of the approximately 20 picnic-style tables on the forecourt.
Today’s Coffee Spot is part Saturday Supplement and part Coffee Spot Update. Earlier this year, James Hoffmann went to Milan where he met Enrico Maltoni, who restores vintage espresso machines. One thing led to another, with James buying a 1958 Faema President lever espresso machine, which Enrico restored. Fast forward a few months and the Faema was delivered, in full working order, to London, where James had decided to install it, on a temporary basis, in the legendary Prufrock Coffee, Square Mile’s coffee shop on Leather Lane in Shoreditch.
However, James being James, there was more to it than that. Rather than use a modern blend, like Square Mile’s ubiquitous Red Brick, James and the team at Square Mile developed a limited-edition blend, Il Grifone, specifically designed for the lever espresso machine, with the option of trying it side-by-side with a shot of Red Brick, pulled on the modern Black Eagle espresso machine. All of this was explained in a video that James posted on his YouTube channel two weeks ago. As luck would have it, I was passing through London the following week, so naturally I made my way to Prufrock, my first visit there in many a year.
A legendary name in London speciality coffee circles, The Espresso Room had already achieved this lofty status when I started the Coffee Spot 10 years ago. 2016 brought a change of ownership and expansion, first by bringing the likes of New Row Coffee under The Espresso Room brand, followed by opening new locations. This, however, is the Great Ormond Street original, opposite the famous Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.
The Espresso Room is well-named, since there’s not much to it, just a room with enough space to make espresso (and batch brew filter). There’s a bespoke espresso blend from old friends The Roasting Party, with a single-origin on filter, while if you’re hungry, The Espresso Room has a selection of cakes and pastries. If you’re staying, there are three benches outside, but be aware, The Espresso Room only serves in disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.
I’m always surprised that there aren’t more speciality coffee shops in barbershops/hairdressers since they seem a natural fit to me. That said, London’s been at the forefront of this particular niche, ever since the first incarnation of Sharps Coffee Bar on Windmill Street. The latest entrant is Dark Woods Coffee x Ruffians on Maiden Lane, just south of Covent Garden.
Ruffians is a small barbershop chain, originating in Edinburgh, with this, it’s first London outpost, opening eight years ago. The coffee, in that respect, is a recent innovation, starting with a small pour-over bar before really taking off last spring with the addition of the Sanremo espresso machine, which coincided with the move to Dark Woods Coffee.
The result is a lovely little coffee bar at the front of the barbershop, with a concise espresso-based menu, pour-over and a small retail selection. Everything is served in disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own, although you’re welcome to one of the four yellow stools at the windows at the front, or the bench outside.
It feels harsh to call The Penny Drop an international chain, but that’s what you get for having two coffee shops, one in Melbourne and the other in London. Melbourne came first, opening as a pop-up in 2015, before finding a permanent home in 2016. A year later, the penny dropped in London, with the opening in June 2017 of a coffee shop on Tottenham Street, just off Tottenham Court Road. Technically this puts The Penny Drop in Fitzrovia, enhancing the area’s already excellent reputation for speciality coffee.
The two Penny Drops are very different, with Melbourne offering a 100-seat restaurant/coffee shop, while The Penny Drop in London occupies a small space which seats 20 at most, and that includes the benches outside. What’s more, it’s a throw-back to the sort of coffee shop that I remember in the capital 10 years ago, but which now seem increasingly rare. With coffee from a rotating cast of roasters, offering two options on espresso, another on batch brew and more on pour-over through the V60, all of which change every week or so, The Penny Drop is a genuine coffee shop, its food offering limited to a small selection of cakes and pastries.
I’ve been meaning to visit Tintico ever since it opened in Finchley in November 2014. Sadly, my trips to London’s northern suburbs are rare, so when Tintico opened a second shop in Soho in May 2019, my chances improved dramatically. However, it wasn’t until last week, when walking to Euston from Waterloo on my way to my Dad’s, that I finally made it.
On Greek Street, in the Soho’s northeastern corner, Tintico’s in an area which used to be a hotbed of London’s speciality coffee scene when I started the Coffee Spot almost 10 years ago. Sadly, many of those pioneers are gone, with Milk Bar the latest casualty. In that respect, Tintico is a fine addition to the neighbourhood, reminding me of those early coffee shops in style and spirit.
A small spot, with a single table outside and a handful more in the compact interior, Tintico offers a seasonal single-origin house espresso from Campbell & Syme (currently the Sonsón Reserve, a washed coffee from Colombia), along with a guest espresso, which doubles as the pour-over option via the Hario Switch. There’s also a tapas-style food menu, plenty of cake, plus beer, wine and a selection of brunch cocktails.
I’m concluding my short series on Tooting Bec/South Balham with a chance discovery that I made enroute to Dee Light Bakery. An iconic sign above a coffee shop on Ritherdon Road caught my eye: Foxcroft & Ginger. Readers with long memories may recall the original Foxcroft & Ginger in Soho (now long since gone), one of my early Coffee Spot favourites. Naturally, I hurried to investigate, only to discover that it wasn’t Foxcroft & Ginger after all, Knead a Little Love having sublet the premises almost exactly one year ago in November 2020. So, in a sense, it was a double chance discovery.
Knead a Little Love is a vegan doughnut bakery, run by two sisters, but vegan doughnuts is only the start of it. As well as six different ring doughnuts and 12 filled doughnuts, Knead a Little Love has cookies, tarts and pastries, plus an all day brunch menu, along with a couple of snacks and two lunch options. And that’s before I get started on the coffee, where Extract Coffee Roasters makes a rare London appearance with its Rocket Espresso blend. There’s also a range of tea, plus a selection of fresh smoothies to round things out.
My tour of Tooting Bec continues with Communion Coffee, on the other side of Tooting Bec station from Green Monkey London. Unlike Green Monkey and Dee Light Bakery, Communion Coffee is a relative newcomer, having opened just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It has a simple offering of quality coffee and baked goods in an equally simple space, with the counter at the back, a window-bar at the front and a large, communal table in the middle.
Turning to the coffee, old friends Assembly are on espresso, while there’s a regularly-changing guest on filter (batch brew or V60/Aeropress/Chemex), plus Good & Proper tea. Communion also stocks a wide range of retail bags. Unusually, the default is for non-dairy milks, although there is a dairy option from Brades Farm (20p extra). If you’re drinking in, Communion uses HuskeeCups, while for takeaway, there’s a 20p discount for bringing your own cup. Finally, if you’re hungry, there’s a small toast and sandwich menu, plus a range of cakes and pastries, with bread for sale.
Last week I visited Tooting Bec to explore its speciality coffee scene, so it’s slightly annoying that today’s Coffee Spot, the delightful Dee Light Bakery, is actually in Balham, even though it’s closer to Tooting Bec station than it is to Balham station. Located in a parade of shops with flats above, it’s on the northern side of Ritherdon Road, just off the A24 which links Balham station (north) with Tooting Bec station (south).
Geography woes aside, Dee Light Bakery is very much a part of the neighbourhood and will be celebrating its 10th birthday in November. First and foremost, it’s a bakery, with everything (except the bread) baked by hand on site. There’s a wide range of goodies on offer, from breakfast through to lunch and afternoon tea, plus lots of cakes and pastries on the side. This is all backed up by an espresso-based menu using the Allpress espresso blend, along with a wide range of teas from Canton Tea Co in Bristol. You can sit inside at a short row of tables opposite the counter, or outside, where you’ll find a spacious, sunny terrace in front of the bakery, which is well set back from the road.