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!
Le Cafe Alain Ducasse is part of the new Coal Drops Yard development in King’s Cross, a few minutes’ walk north of the station. Alain Ducasse, a French chef who, over the years, has had 21 Michelin stars to his name, hit the headlines earlier this year with a £15 cup of Yemeni coffee, which had the likes of The Guardian and the Financial Times weighing in on the subject. High time, I thought, that I popped along to see what all the fuss is about.
Le Cafe Alain Ducasse is a rarity in London, a coffee shop which just sells coffee, whether it be by the cup or by the bag (all the coffee is available for sale in retail bags). It is also, by London standards, expensive, although, £15 cups of coffee notwithstanding, not outrageously so. My espresso, for example, cost £2.50. What you get for your money, other than some very fine coffee, is the whole experience. While you can just order a coffee to go, you would, in my opinion, be missing out if you did. Rather, you should linger, enjoying both the coffee and the company, either of your fellow customers or of the staff.
Craving Coffee celebrates its fourth birthday this year, a pioneering outpost of speciality coffee in northeast London, which is not somewhere I venture very often. While Craving Coffee has been on my list for a while, I am indebted (again!) to my friend, Daniel Stevens, who gave me the excuse to visit. A café, bar, community hub and evening social, Craving Coffee is also an art gallery, where different artists exhibit each month. And this month (August), exhibiting for the first time, is Daniel, who held his launch party on Friday, the excuse I finally needed to drag myself out to Tottenham and visit Craving Coffee.
When it comes to coffee, Craving Coffee uses Climpson and Sons, with the Baron blend on espresso, plus decaf and (usually) a single-origin on pour-over through the V60. During the day, there’s an extensive menu, including breakfast, lunch and cake, with all the meals cooked in the open kitchen behind the counter. This closes at 4pm, but on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, it re-opens in the evening as Craving Coffee hosts a different pop-up each week as the Tottenham Social. Finally, Craving Coffee is fully licenced, with a three-page menu feature beer, cider, wine and spirits.
The spot around the back of King’s Cross station has a long and distinguished history when it comes to coffee stands, having housed both Weanie Beans and Bean & Gone (both before the Coffee Spot’s time) and, most recently, Noble Espresso. However, in November 2016, Shaun, the man behind Noble, made the hard decided to give up the coffee stand to concentrate on his booming milk business, Estate Dairies.
What could have been a huge loss to all concerned, not least his band of loyal customers, was averted by some forward-thinking by Shaun who invited Craft Coffee, veterans of the outdoor coffee scene with a long-standing weekend pitch at Maltby Market, to take over. Emily and Jamie, Craft’s owners, said yes, so now you’ll find them here during the week, turning out fine espresso-based drinks using an exclusive single-origin from Notes, plus tea, hot chocolate and a selection of pastries.
On Caledonian Road, around the corner from King’s Cross Station, stands a new name in a familiar spot. In the premises once occupied by Pattern Coffee, House of Morocco has been open for six weeks, offering excellent espresso-based coffee from Terrone & Co, Moroccan-themed lunches and a wide range of Moroccan merchandise, including pottery and textiles.
House of Morocco started life as a homeware store before taking over what was Patten Coffee, although it would be wrong to cast it as Pattern’s successor. The layout is similar, a long, thin bright space with high-ceilings and windows front and back. The counter is still on the right and the seating mostly down the left, but that’s about it as far as similarities with Pattern goes, House of Morocco very much being its own place.
Providing an interesting fusion of western, third-wave coffee shop and Moroccan culture, it’s a relaxing, friendly spot which can get busy, particularly during the lunchtime when I met up with fellow blogger, Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato. The seating, like the décor, can best be described as eclectic, with much of the Moroccan merchandise doubling up as decoration in a manner reminiscent of Oriberry Coffee in Hanoi.
Weanie Beans, the subject of the first Meet the Roaster of 2017, is one of the lesser known names in speciality coffee roasting, although the company, and its founder, Adeline, go back all the way to 2007 and market stall in west London. Along the way, Adeline used to have the patch at King’s Cross now occupied by Craft Coffee, who took it on from Noble Espresso, who took it on from Weanie Beans…
These days you can find Weanie Beans roasting coffee in its new north London home and, while the market stalls are gone, there is a new café, Heirloom, in the Buckinghamshire village of Edlesborough. Although best known for its espresso blends, such as Citizen Kane, and its seasonal espresso blend, Weanie Beans is branching out. It roasts bespoke espresso blends for cafés such as &Feast (Barnes and Sheen) and is increasingly roasting single-origins for filter. Recently it’s launched a new espresso blend, Scout, which is proving a big hit in Heirloom.
As well as finding Weanie Beans at a growing number of London coffee shops, you can buy all the coffee from the Weanie Beans web shop. There is also an increasingly popular monthly subscription service.
Saint Espresso is an offshoot of Leyas in Camden Town, although it doesn’t advertise the link, so it’s easy to visit the two and not realise the connection. This is particularly true since the two are like chalk and cheese in almost all respects, except that they both serve excellent quality coffee from a regularly-rotating cast of roasters.
Saint Espresso is at the eastern end of Pentonville Road, just around the corner from Angel Tube station. The busy Pentonville Road does not, at first sight, seem the ideal location for a coffee shop, but Saint Espresso has perhaps the best spot, on the northern side of the road, well set back from the traffic on a broad expanse of pavement. This means that even the outside tables are well away from both pedestrian and road traffic, making it a comparatively sheltered spot.
South-facing and with a tall frontage that’s entirely glass, Saint Espresso’s a sun-trap. Even on a gloomy day, it’s flooded with light. Much smaller than Leyas, there is commensurately less food; just a decent selection of cakes and sandwiches for lunch. Where it excels, of course, is in the superb coffee (one espresso and one filter option).
Drink, Shop & Dash was the smaller sibling and speciality coffee outlet of next door neighbour, Drink, Shop & Do on the Caledonian Road. It was part of a growing speciality coffee scene in the area, led by the (now venerable) Caravan and including Noble Espresso (now Craft Coffee) and Notes. Just around the corner from King’s Cross station, it was a welcome spot, especially when you needed to take the weight off your feet.
So, I was surprised and more than a little disappointed when Phil Wain reported on twitter that Dash had closed. However, all was not as gloomy as it first appeared. It turned out that the two key people running Dash had, for entirely independent reasons, given their notice within a week of each other. Faced with a sudden recruitment crisis, Drink, Shop & Do had a dilemma. Fortunately, up popped Greg of Haggerston’s Lanark Coffee. Greg knew of the predicament from links with Dash’s roasters Alchemy and a deal was struck.
No sooner had Dash closed, it had reopened, Greg taking over behind the counter at the start of September. Naturally, I had to go along and see what Greg and Lanark had done to the place…
Notes was always more than just a coffee shop, mixing coffee by day with wine and small plates of an evening, in surroundings that spoke of elegance. For a while, there was Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and various coffee barrows. Then, two years ago, along came a roastery and now, within the space of a year, four new stores, with a heavily over-subscribed foray into crowd-funding to fund further expansion (albeit at the expense of Covent Garden and all but one barrow).
King’s Cross/St Pancras, just north of King’s Cross, between Noble Espresso (now Craft Coffee) and Caravan, is the first of the new Notes that I’ve visited (I’ve since between to both the Canary Wharf and Crossrail Place locations). Smaller (and hence more intimate) than the original Notes, you can sit downstairs, opposite the counter, or upstairs in the cosy mezzanine. Alternatively, try the great selection of outdoor seating on the secluded Pancras Square.
With coffee roasted at the nearby Notes Roastery, there’s a single-origin (which changes every couple of months) and decaf on espresso. Another single-origin is on filter, available either as a V60 or bulk-brew. This changes every few days, Notes rotating through its selection of single-origins as each bag runs out.
July 2020: Notes has now reopened, although the upstairs seating is currently closed due to COVID-19. See what I made of it when I visited in August.
Noble Espresso has become a fixture in Battle Bridge Place outside London’s King’s Cross Station, occupying a pitch that was once graced by the likes of Weanie Beans and Bean & Gone. However, for just over a year, Noble Espresso has been in occupation, regardless of the weather, serving excellent espresso-based drinks, plus tasty pastries, to all-comers.
Even more impressive, given that the two baristas, Shaun and Jonny, operate from a simple wooden counter, with little shelter from the elements, is the dedication to quality. Noble Espresso regularly rotates the beans on offer, which can make dialling in the new beans on a cold winter’s morning a particular challenge!
As I watched Shaun and Jonny serve a steady stream of customers, my admiration grew. There were no quick extractions here, no skimping on the steaming of the milk, with each flat white, latte and cappuccino carefully crafted and exquisitely poured.
November 2016: Craft Coffee has taken over the pitch from Noble Espresso as Shaun has decided to concentrate on his milk business, Estate Dairies. I can confirm that the coffee and service are just as good though!