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.
In the Coffee Spot’s early days, central London had a handful of coffee shop/roasters, with the likes of TAP, Caravan and Ozone all roasting, then serving, coffee on the premises. However, rising rents, along with expanding demand, led to roasteries moving to bigger/cheaper premises in outer London: of the three examples mentioned, only Ozone still roasts in its original location. Therefore, when the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, coffee shop/roaster Catalyst, opened in Holborn in late 2016, it was already bucking the trend, something which continues to this day.
I remember the buzz its opening generated, when it was only a coffee shop, the likes of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato singing its praises. Before long, the 12 kg Diedrich in the basement was up and running, and Catalyst hasn’t looked back, although it took me until last month before I managed to visit, when I wrote up Catalyst as a coffee shop.
Today it’s the turn of Catalyst the roaster. It has an impressive output, with a retail espresso blend and multiple single-origins, with various options on espresso and filter. Even COVID-19 can’t slow it down, Catalyst seeing a large boost in its direct-to-consumer sales through its website!
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.
On Tuesday, I caught a train to London. I went to visit coffee shops, something I once took or granted, but which, thanks to COVID-19, I hadn’t done for almost exactly four months. Although I didn’t have a firm itinerary (I intended to wander around, see who was open, and take things from there), there was one coffee shop which I planned to visit, heading straight there from Waterloo.
Notes is on St Martin’s Lane, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, which is how it gets its name. Like Attendant, where I ended Tuesday’s short excursion, I first wrote about Notes back in 2013, although, unlike Attendant, which had recently opened, Notes was already well-established by that point. Since then, I’ve visited several other Notes and have always been impressed by the quality and attention to detail.
Notes had reopened just four days before my visit, on Saturday 11th July, but I knew from its social media posts that it was offering a sit-in service, which I was keen to try. More than anything, I wanted to see how the reality of sitting in a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic matched my (perhaps gloomy) musings on the matter.
Fortitude Bakehouse, tucked away in the heart of Bloomsbury behind Russell Square Tube Station, opened in the summer of last year, an event which largely passed me by, perhaps explaining why I left it until the start of this month to pay it a visit. It is, as the name suggests, a bakery, reminding me, in concept at least, of the original Exploding Bakery in Exeter.
There’s a single counter running the entire width of the shop, behind which the bakery bustles away, turning out sourdough sweets and savouries, all of which you’ll find laden on the counter. Even better, at the far end, a Victoria Arduino White Eagle espresso machine dispenses drinks from a concise espresso menu, using a single-origin from Has Bean. Although aimed mostly at the takeaway trade, there’s a small amount of seating inside, while outside on the quiet street, you’ll find six two-person tables.
Once upon a time, one of my regular coffee haunts when visiting the British Museum was Wild & Wood on New Oxford Street. Sadly, the building was closed for redevelopment in 2015, necessitating a relocation to London Wall, where it’s still going strong. For a long time, the site stood empty, but now the redevelopment is finally complete, and, occupying roughly the same spot as Wild & Wood, is a new coffee shop.
Opening at the start of last month, the new coffee shop is none other than the ninth location for south London coffee juggernauts, The Gentlemen Baristas. The coffee offering is very similar to the other Gentlemen Baristas locations, with the Deerstalker blend and a single-origin on espresso, pulled on a Faema E71 espresso machine, joined by a single-origin on batch-brew, with plans for a pour-over option via the Kalita Wave. All the coffee is roasted in-house and available in retail bags. If you’re hungry, there’s soup, sandwiches and a selection of cakes and pastries, all served in an interesting, idiosyncratic space.
Knockbox Coffee is one of those legends of London’s speciality coffee scene that I’d assumed had been around forever. It was therefore a bit of a surprise when I finally called in one quiet Bank Holiday Monday in May to discover that it had only been around since 2014, although in today’s fast-moving industry, that makes it pretty venerable.
Located at the southern end of Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, there’s not much to Knockbox, a simple, square space offering limited seating around three of the four walls, while two picnic tables and a bench provide outside seating. The coffee is from local roasters, Workshop, with its seasonal single-origin espresso forming the bedrock of the simple coffee menu. This is joined by a wide array of teas and smoothies, plus an equally wide selection of cakes and toasties, which are joined (at weekends only, I believe) by a two-item brunch menu.
Redemption Roasters has been on my radar since I met the founders at London Coffee Festival way back (or so it now feels) in 2017. Roasting from a facility inside Aylesbury Young Offenders institute, Redemption Roasters offers training in both coffee roasting and barista skills, as well as helping finding ex-offenders find work in the coffee industry. Not long after that meeting, in July 2017, the first (of currently three London-based) Redemption Roasters coffee shop opened on Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, just around the corner from Great Ormond Street Hospital and on the opposite side of the road from old hands, Knockbox Coffee.
The space itself is simple enough, a large, bright, open rectangle with the counter on the right and the bulk of the seating on the left, with some more at the front and outside on the pavement. However, the real draw is the coffee, with the Aylesbury Blend on espresso, pulled through a Slayer Steam espresso machine (one of only a handful in the UK) and four single-origins on pour-over through the V60, one of which is available as batch brew. Naturally all the beans are available for sale in retail bags. There’s also a limited breakfast and lunch offering, with plenty of cakes to tempt you if you’re hungry.
In my head, The Black Penny is one of a new crop of London coffee shops which I am slowly getting around to visiting. The reality is that it has been here for a while, having recently celebrated its third birthday. I guess the emphasis in the first sentence really should be on “slowly”. The Black Penny occupies the site of another London stalwart, Salt, which closed at the end of 2013, which might explain why I still think of it as new, long after it has become an established fixture in London’s coffee scene.
Perhaps as well known for its all-day brunch menu as its coffee, The Black Penny occupies a long, thin space, with a magnificent back room providing additional seating. There’s a bespoke house-blend on espresso, plus a single-origin on V60, both roasted for The Black Penny by The Roastery Department, the coffee-roasting arm of the Department of Coffee & Social Affairs.
During the week, there are salads at lunchtime, while there’s cake available through the day, seven days a week. For those that are so inclined, there’s a small selection of wine and beer, as well as an excellent range of soft drinks, plus tea.