Story Coffee on St John’s Hill in South West London is one of the capital’s speciality coffee stalwarts, having first opened in 2014. I took my time in visiting, only calling in for the first time towards the end of the September last year, when I found, to my surprise, that Story Coffee had a second branch, a little sibling if you like, called Story Works, just down the hill at the back of Clapham Junction.
Much smaller than the original, Story Works has a cut-down offering while retaining many similarities with Story Coffee, including a gorgeous two-group Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine. Like Story Coffee, there’s a single option on espresso, but pour-over has given way to batch-brew. Similarly, while there is food, Story Coffee’s brunch menu has been replaced by avocado on toast, grab-and-go salads and superfood smoothies, although there’s still a good selection of cake.
Occupying a bright, sunny corner just a few doors down from Birdhouse, Story Coffee has been part of the furniture in this part of London, which is just west of Clapham Junction station, for close to four years. Give how often I go up to London, this shows just how little I get out of the station rather than zipping through it on the train. The loss, frankly, is all mine.
There’s not much to Story Coffee, just a single, unfussy rectangular space, with plenty for room on the broad pavement for a cluster of tables. Meanwhile, inside is a mix of tables and bars. Since it started, Story Coffee has used London’s Square Mile, but that’s slowly changing, Story having recently started roasting its own coffee. For now it’s Square Mile’s Red Brick on espresso, with a different single-origin on batch-brew and another on pour-over. These change every day or two and represent your best chance of sampling Story’s own coffee, which occasionally makes an appearance.
For somewhere so small, there’s also an impressive brunch menu, prepared in the kitchen downstairs, and served until three o’clock each afternoon (four o’clock at weekends). Naturally, there’s a good selection of cake.
Balham, in south London, isn’t short of good coffee. There’s the venerable Camden Coffee House by the station, and the equally venerable M1lk. More recently, these have been joined by a branch of Brickwood, a couple of doors down from M1lk on the busy, pedestrianised Hildreth Street, while, just around the corner on the more subdued Bedford Hill, there’s the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Escape the Daily Grind.
Serving the dependable Full Steam espresso from Volcano Coffee Works, offering a simple brunch menu until 3 o’clock and supplementing that with a selection of very tempting cakes, pastries and tarts, Escape the Daily Grind does a few things and does them well.
This is all served in a bright, relaxed space a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of M1lk and Brickwood, which are just a street away. In fact, if you knocked through the back wall of Escape the Daily Grind, there’s every chance you’ll end up in Brickwood… I was there on a Saturday lunch time, and while every table was taken in Brickwood and M1lk, with queues out of the door, Escape the Daily Grind offered a choice of tables and a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.
The Black Chapel occupies a unit on the west side of Chapel Yard, a sheltered, pedestrian space just off Wandsworth High Street. There are a couple of outside tables and three stools inside, but that’s about it. You really come here for the coffee, the vegan snacks/treats, and, of course, to be insulted by hang out with The Black Chapel’s legendary owner, Ant.
There’s a rotating cast of guest roasters, with a single option on espresso and another on pour-over. Ant operates an interesting system: when one coffee runs out, he grabs a bag of whatever takes his fancy from his stock cupboard and on that goes in its place… The coffee is pulled on a vintage 1964 Telechrome lever espresso machine, although while I was there, it was under repair, replaced by an even more venerable lever machine, a 1958 Faema Lambro. There’s also filter through the Clever Dripper.
When it comes to food (although not coffee, where cow’s milk is available along with non-dairy alternatives), The Black Chapel is vegan, with a small selection of sweet and savoury delights, including avocado on toast, all prepared on-site. I arrived just as the cinnamon buns came out of the oven…
November 2018: The Black Chapel is now under new ownership, although I’ve not been back since it changed hands.
From Australia to Sloan Square via Winchester: Party on Pavilion is the first (for now) coffee shop of Winchester-based Aussie imports, The Roasting Party. It opened in August last year and I popped along during its second week with a promise that I would return the following month after a trip to Chicago. Seven months later and slightly shame-faced, I finally made my return on a sunny Friday afternoon after a hectic travel schedule that had seen me return to Chicago and China at the end of last year with two trips to the USA this year.
From the street, Party on Pavilion looks to be a tiny spot, just a counter and a bench, but don’t let that put you off. There’s a staircase off to the right which seems almost an afterthought. This leads to the Party’s best feature, a sunny loft space which runs the full length of the building, where there’s plenty of seating.
When it comes to the coffee, the Roasting Party’s Drake Blend is on espresso, with the Party Blend reserved for milk-based drinks. There’s also a selection of two or three single-origins which change every few weeks, available through either Chemex or Aeropress.
Crosstown Doughnuts has been a staple of several London coffee shops, as well as being available direct from Crosstown at various London markets. Then, Crosstown opened its own coffee shop, in Soho. And then another. And another. And, earlier this year, the fourth opened, in the new Nova development north of Victoria Station.
If you know Crosstown Doughnuts, you know what to expect. If you don’t, you’re in for a treat. However, that’s not all. As well as doughnuts, there’s coffee, and not just any old coffee. Crosstown serves Caravan, the ubiquitous Market Blend in the main grinder with a seasonal guest, always a single-origin, and also from Caravan, in the second.
The Victoria branch is a pod, a rather space-age looking contraption with outdoor seating. Inside, there are two small corner bars, each with two stools. Not really designed for customers who linger, it’s actually a really neat spot.
Timmy Green, the latest addition to the growing Daisy Green/Beany Green collective, opened at the start of the year. It was, from the beginning, a fully-fledged restaurant as well as a rather splendid coffee shop. When I visited and wrote about Timmy Green in March, it was only as a coffee shop. This Saturday Supplement is going to redress the balance and consider Timmy Green as a restaurant.
Layout-wise, Timmy Green is much the same as ever, although there have been a few changes since I was there in the spring, which has made the downstairs feel even more like a restaurant than a coffee shop. The grand piano in the corner has gone to make way for more tables, while the window-bar and high tables to the left of the door have suffered a similar fate.
When it comes to food, Timmy Green serves breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, complete with desserts, wine, beer and cocktails. And, of course, Roasting Party coffee. Not that Daisy/Beany is a stranger to food. The original Daisy Green, plus the Paddington and Liverpool Street Beany Greens, have a reputation for innovative brunch menus, but in Timmy Green this has reached its logical conclusion.
At the northern end of Strutton Ground Market, not far from Victoria Station, is Flat Cap Victoria, a veteran of London’s speciality coffee scene. For the last eight years, from Monday to Friday, it has been turning out top quality espresso-based drinks in all weathers from a lovely barrow, its only protection from the elements, a black, open-sided gazebo.
Flat Cap was set up by co-owners Fabio (of Notes fame), Rob and Charlie, although Fabio and Rob no longer work on the barrow. Despite being co-owned by Fabio, Flat Cap is independent of Notes (for example, there are no links, other than the name, with Flat Cap Borough in Borough Market), although there are close ties, with Flat Caps using Notes Coffee. There’s a single-origin espresso which changes every few weeks, largely depending on what the roastery sends through. If you’re hungry (and there early enough!), there’s a small range of pastries.
The latest addition to the growing Daisy Green/Beany Green collective is a rather different beast from those which have gone before. Spread over two floors on the corner of the prodigious new Nova development near Victoria Station, Timmy Green takes the strengths of Daisy/Beany and builds on them. The original Daisy Green, plus the Paddington and Liverpool Street Beany Greens, gained a reputation for innovative brunch menus, but Timmy Green goes one better, turning this into a fully-fledged restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, complete with desserts, wine, beer and cocktails. And, of course, Roasting Party coffee.
The bulk of Timmy Green is downstairs, a triangular space providing restaurant-style table seating to the right and, in a tapering section to the left, cocktail tables and window-bars, plus a couple more intimate spaces. Upstairs, the mezzanine shares space with the kitchen as well as housing a few more tables.
There’s a large outdoor seating area in front of Timmy Green, with a narrower strip down the right-hand side. If all you want is coffee, a barrow with a bright yellow La Marzocco serves takeaway from half-an-hour before opening until three in the afternoon from its spot just left of door.
August 2017: I went back to Timmy Green for dinner to discover a few minor layout/seating changes. Don’t forget to check out what I made of the experience.
After the venerable Federation Coffee, Balance, on Ferndale Road, is one of the more established names in Brixton’s speciality coffee, recently joined by the likes of Stir Coffee Brixton and Brixton Blend, plus, across the road, the new Volcano/Assembly Roastery. Established in 2014 by the owner, Ali, who I had the pleasure of meeting, Balance is a tightly-focused shop selling espresso-based drinks, with beans from The Roastery Department and Assembly, freshly-blended juices and a small selection of pastries, toasties and sandwiches.
It’s a tiny place too, with just enough space inside for the counter, espresso machine behind, where you can order and wait for your coffee. If you want to sit down, you need to head outside (although you’re welcome to stand at the counter like I did and drink your coffee) where you’ll find a bench and a couple of two-person tables on the pavement.