Dinner at Caravan King’s Cross

The Caravan King's Cross Sign: "Caravan King's Cross" in black letters on a white backgroundAs the Coffee Spot approaches its second birthday, I thought I’d present another first. I’ve visited a few Coffee Spots that serve full dinner menus, but I rarely go for (or write about) the food. However, at the start of the summer, I was en-route to Leeds for my most recent Caffeine Magazine feature when I found I had a couple of hours to kill before my evening train. Instead of grabbing something at King’s Cross station, I took a short stroll to the north and today’s Saturday Supplement was born…

A roastery, coffee bar and restaurant, Caravan, in its cavernous space in an old grain warehouse next to Regent’s Canal, is many things to many people. For me, it’s always been a great place to sit inside at the counter at the back, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze with the baristas, or, on a summer’s evening, somewhere to sit outside with a carafe of one of Caravan’s many fine single-origins. It’s also one of my favourite roasters: as well as the single-origin pour-overs, I’ve always liked Caravan’s Market espresso-blend, keeping an eye out for its coffee wherever I go.

Now, however, I also think of it as a restaurant…

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Drink, Shop & Dash

My piccolo at Drink, Shop & Dash. Lovely latte art by Sebastian.Drink, Shop & Dash is the smaller sibling and speciality coffee outlet of next door neighbour, Drink, Shop & Do. Located on the Caledonian Road, just around the corner from King’s Cross Station, it joins a growing band of speciality coffee in the area, led by the (now venerable) Caravan.

There’s not a lot to Drink, Shop & Dash, the “dash” element of the name betraying its small size. However, despite the name, it’s more than just a takeaway joint, with enough space for a couple of two-person window-bars, one each side of the door. Opposite the large windows is a generous counter, with plenty of space for those who have opted for takeaway to wait for their coffee.

The output is also worthy of a much larger establishment, with coffee from south London’s Volcano powering a decent espresso-based menu (Volcano’s seasonal espresso blend or decaf), plus single-origins on bulk-brew filter and pour-over. There’s also loose-leaf tea and, while it’s still summer, iced coffee and tea to go with frozen yoghurt.

If it’s food you’re after, you’re also well catered for, with toast and muesli in the morning, sandwiches and soup at lunchtime. There’s also a small selection of cake.

September 2015: Drink, Shop & Dash closed at the end of August, to be replaced, for an initial three-month period, by Lanark Coffee. There is potential for the arrangement to become permanent next year. See my update on Lanark Coffee/Dash for more details.

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Caravan King’s Cross

The Caravan King's Cross Sign: "Caravan King's Cross" in black letters on a white backgroundSince I’m now officially London’s second best coffee blogger (behind Daniel of Cups of London Coffee), I thought I ought to blog about somewhere in London for a change… So, I present Monday’s Coffee Spot, Caravan’s roastery and second outlet, its wonderful space just north of King’s Cross station.

I popped into Caravan one Friday morning before work to pick up the new Coffee Spot Espresso Cup. However, while I was there I realised that the place was long overdue a write-up for the Coffee Spot, and thus today’s Coffee Spot was born…

A roastery, coffee bar and restaurant, Caravan, in its cavernous space in an old grain warehouse next to Regent’s Canal just north of King’s Cross, is many things to many people. To me, it’s a great place to sit inside at the counter at the back, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze with the baristas, or, on a summer’s evening, sitting outside with a carafe of one of Caravan’s many fine single-origins. As well as the single-origin pour-overs, I have always liked Caravan’s Market espresso-blend and generally keep an eye out for its coffee wherever I go.

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CoffeeWorks Project

The Slayer at Coffee Works Project, complete with bottomless portafiller, in actionLiterally a stone’s throw away from Monday’s Coffee Spot, Islington’s Tinderbox, we find relative newcomer, the CoffeeWorks Project, which recently celebrated its first birthday. In fact, you could see Tinderbox from the CoffeeWorks Project’s front window and vice-versa, were it not for the brick-built arcade, now occupied by a Jack Wills, which separates Islington’s Upper Street (Tinderbox) from the High Street (CoffeeWorks Project).

The CoffeeWorks Project, as the name implies, is all about the coffee, although that shouldn’t detract from the excellent sandwiches and cakes, plus the quirky layout and lovely garden (sadly closed in the winter). However, pride of place goes to the Slayer espresso machine, the only one in London and one of (I believe) just four in the country. Using this beauty, owner Peter and his team get the best out of their Has Bean coffee, throwing some very impressive pour-overs into the mix.

While I was there, the CoffeeWorks Project had two espresso single-origins, plus a decaf single-origin, to go with another three single-origin pour-over options and a bulk-brew filter thrown in for good measure. I did my best to sample them all, but may well have to return for another go!

December 2016: The CoffeeWorks Project is now a mini-chain with three branches (this, Leadenhall Market and Blackfriars Road) and, since the summer, it has been roasting all its own coffee.

September 2018: Good news and bad news. The CoffeeWorks Project is now a mini-chain with five branches, but sadly the Leadenhall Market branch has had to close.

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Tinderbox, Islington

Tinderbox's entrance on the lower level of the N1 Centre, Islington.Tucked away in the Upper Street entrance to the N1 Centre in Islington, you’ll find Tinderbox. From the street, it’s fairly unassuming: a couple of tables outside and what looks like a short corridor with a counter on the left and a bar at the back. Stand outside, though, and look up; you’ll see a balcony which promises more. Walk past the counter, up three flights of stairs at the back and you’ll find yourself in one of London’s most eclectic coffee spaces.

Second only to the Boston Tea Party on Bristol’s Park Street, Tinderbox has a long-standing place in my affections. I’ve been going there for almost 10 years and it’s still one of my favourite spots. It has an uncomplicated attitude, with a straightforward coffee and cake offering, along with a quirky attitude and layout that always makes it fun to visit. It’s also one of a growing number of places where you can get decent coffee after six o’clock in the evening.

The cakes are pretty impressive, with cheesecakes and traditional Italian offerings such as cannoli, plus Portuguese favourites pastel de nata and bolo de arroz. Tinderbox also has savouries such as sandwiches and stuffed flat breads.

January 2015: Sadly Tinderbox closed at the end of last year.

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Vagabond N7

The interior of Vagabond N7, looking from just inside the door to the counter.How did it take me this long to visit the delightful Vagabond N7? For those not in the know, Vagabond N7 is the bigger offshoot of Vagabond N4, sitting on the Holloway Road at the north end of Islington. One of the gems of the London coffee scene, that I even visited it at all is down to The Café Cat who invited me along to talk coffee, café culture and Wales. I can’t even claim ignorance since my fellow coffee-bloggers have been raving about it for a while now…

What I’ve been missing is a lovely place with that just-moved-in-and-haven’t-decorated-yet unfinished look that is all the rage in trendy coffee shops. It’s the sort of look that, if you get it wrong, you just look naff, a wannabe trend-setter who missed the boat. Of course, if you get it right, like Vagabond, it looks the most natural thing in the world.

It helps that the coffee, from Has Bean, is excellent and the barista, Gabriel, is knowledgeable, passionate and committed. Rather disturbingly, it was the third Has Bean I’d had in a week that I liked and the first that I’d positively raved about. I think I’ve gone mad…

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Brewsters N7

A fine piccolo with excellent latte art, made by head Barista, Sonny, at Brewsters N7.There’s not a great deal to Brewsters N7. It’s the sort of place you could accidentally walk past without noticing, save for the large, unsubtle A-board on the pavement outside, promising coffee. However, step inside and you will be richly rewarded by one of London’s newest coffee shops.

On the northern edge of Islington, halfway between Highbury & Islington and Holloway Road tube stations, Brewsters is one of the smaller Coffee Spots I’ve been too. Not quite as small New York’s I Am Coffee, it’s like a longer, thinner version of Manchester’s Caffeine & Co. Or, for another reference point, it’s about half the size of Bristol’s Small St Espresso.

It’s not so small that there’s nowhere to sit, but the lack of space creates an interesting dynamic since you really can’t avoid interacting with the barista. It’s just as well that Sonny, who was on duty while I was there, is a cheerful, engaging soul. For somewhere that’s so small, Brewsters packs a lot in, including a decent espresso menu, based around Allpress’ Redchurch blend. There’s also food, a decent selection of reading material and some interesting music.

[February 2014] Sadly I’ve recently heard that Brewsters N7 has closed. However, some of the guys who were working there have another project in the pipeline, so watch this space!

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