Fitzrovia, in London’s West End, has, despite recent closures such as the much-loved Curators Coffee Gallery, a booming speciality coffee scene which comes in all shapes and sizes, including such oddities as Attendant (in an old public lavatory). However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot is easily the smallest of them all, a title vacant since 2016 when Goodge St Espresso closed.
Alex Coffee is as small as they come, just a door and a window opening onto a simple interior, counter at the back and enough room for two small stools. Indeed, there’s more seating outside at the four-person table in front of the window. The coffee, from the Lake District’s Red Bank, is similarly simple: a concise espresso-based menu, plus batch brew and a cafetiere for two. If you don’t like it hot, there are almost as many iced options, plus hot chocolate and a selection of tea.
I feel that today’s Coffee Spot should be marked by fireworks or something. The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs has a long, distinguished history, opening its first branch on London’s Leather Lane in 2010. Since then it’s gone on to start roasting its own coffee and now has multiple branches in London (14 and counting), Manchester and Bristol, plus several in Chicago. It’s also acquired other operators such as TAP and Tradewind Espresso.
But here’s the thing. While I’ve always loved the coffee, I’ve never loved any of the actual coffee shops (and, believe me, I’ve tried many of them!). Until last week that is, when I walked into the new branch on Kingdom Street in Paddington Central. Quite why this one clicked with me when so many haven’t, I can’t say, but I knew as soon as I walked in the door. It helped that it was across the road from the office I was working in all last week, making me a daily visitor, but it’s that good, I’d go out of my way to visit.
There’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, with two single-origins on batch brew, plus a wide range of cakes and savouries.
The Pilgrm is a small, boutique hotel almost directly opposite the front of Paddington station which just happens to have a speciality coffee counter in the lobby downstairs, run by Workshop. If that’s all there was to it, it would be pretty awesome, but there’s more. The Pilgrm also has an upstairs lounge and terrace, which, while catering primarily to hotel guests, is also open to the public, serving breakfast, lunch and, in the afternoon/evening, a range of small plates and drinks. And then there’s the coffee…
While the coffee counter works as a standalone operation, you can take your coffee and sit upstairs, or, alternative, sit upstairs, where there’s full table service, and order your coffee there, the barista bringing it up to you. Having spent most of my week in the Paddington area popping into Workshop for either an espresso or a flat white, usually on my way to the office, I decided I had to try the lounge, popping by on Friday afternoon for coffee and returning on Saturday morning for breakfast.
The Pilgrm is a small, boutique hotel in an old townhouse on London Street, almost directly opposite the front of Paddington station. In itself, it makes for quite an attractive hotel, but the icing on the cake is that in August last year, Workshop took over the coffee operation, installing itself behind the counter in the simple, well-appointed lobby, which is effectively a small (and beautiful) coffee shop. The coffee offering is equally simple, well-appointed and beautiful, with a concise espresso menu (with decaf getting equal billing with a single-origin option) backed up with another single-origin on batch-brew, both changing roughly once a week.
If coffee’s not your thing, there’s a small selection of tea and Pump Street hot chocolate, while if you’re hungry, Workshop has a small selection of cake, but nothing else. That said, The Pilgrm has a first-floor public lounge and terrace which serves a full brunch menu until 3pm each day, with snacks served thereafter. You can take your coffee up upstairs if you like, although it’s not very clear if you just wander in off the street. Alternatively, just take a seat upstairs and order your coffee there, which is just what I did at the weekend.
Ziggy Green, in Mayfair, is the latest addition to the ever-expanding Daisy Green Collection, which started life with eponymous Daisy Green and various Beany Green coffee shops. While most recent openings, such as Timmy Green and Scarlett Green, are in the brunch and dinner category (a restaurant serving great coffee as opposed to a coffee shop serving great food), Ziggy, which opened in January, sits between the two ends of the Daisy Green spectrum.
On the one hand, with its table service and characteristic brunch menu, it’s aiming at the restaurant end of the market, but on the other hand, there’s no dinner menu, so it’s not going after the evening diners. However, sitting upstairs with my laptop, surrounded by brunching couples and groups, I definitely felt like I wasn’t in a coffee shop with the character say, of Beany Green at Regent’s Place.
All the Daisy Green staples are there though: excellent espresso-based drinks, with a bespoke house blend from The Roasting Party, plus a single-origin on batch brew, along with cocktails for those seeking something with a little more buzz. The food, meanwhile, is as tasty and innovative as ever, with brunch, lunch and small plates on offer.
Sharps Coffee Bar, on Windmill Street, is something of a fixture in the London speciality coffee scene, having been around almost as long as the Coffee Spot. For those who don’t know, Sharps is a two-for-one, with a barber shop at the back and a lovely coffee bar at the front. It started life with London coffee legends Dunne & Frankowski, but it was taken in-house in 2014, with some equally famous names, such as Michael Cleland (Assembly) and David Robson (ex-Association Coffee) taking over behind the counter.
Fast forward five years and things have, in some ways, come full circle, with Harry and Alfie of Rag & Bone Coffee taking over the coffee operation at the start of February. Superficially, little has changed, with the layout still essentially the same. This includes the iconic Kees van der Western Spirit espresso machine, clearly visible through the window. However, there are subtle changes, including a new menu board, while the coffee has changed, Rag & Bone bringing in its house-blend from Old Spike Roastery on espresso, with various guests on filter, both batch-brew and pour-over through the V60. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of pastries and several toast-based options.
In speciality coffee circles, Omotesando Koffee is something of a legend. Named after its home in Tokyo’s Omotesando district, this pop-up coffee shop was credited by some as helping to transform the Tokyo coffee scene. Sadly, it was a relatively short-lived affair and, while I visited its successor, Koffee Mameya, I missed the original (although you can read what my friend Bex made of it when she was there in 2014).
From those humble beginnings, Omotesando Koffee has gone on to spawn a series of coffee shops around the world, including branches in Hong Kong and Singapore. In the summer of 2018, a ripple, for want of a better word, went through the London speciality coffee scene. Omotesando Koffee was opening on Newman Street in Fitzrovia.! Excitement mounted for the rest of the year, until, in the middle of December, Omotesando finally opened its doors, perhaps the most anticipated event in London specialty coffee that year.
A minimalist coffee shop, offering a bespoke house-blend from Assembly (with components from Brazil, Colombia, Uganda and Ethiopian) on espresso and pour-over, plus single-origins on pour-over and batch-brew, it offers a slice of modern Japanese coffee culture. Naturally, I had to take a look…
Regular readers will know that I’ve been following the rise of London-based/Aussie-inspired mini-chain Daisy Green ever since it opened a branch next to my office in Sheldon Square, Paddington. Since then, Daisy Green has grown rapid, first through its Beany Green coffee shops, and then through restaurants, such as Timmy Green in Victoria and Darcie & May Green, the narrow boats tied up outside Paddington Station.
Scarlett Green is the latest addition to the family, which now numbers nine coffee shops and restaurants. It follows in the footsteps of Timmy Green, offering full table service for food (breakfast, lunch and dinner), plus wine and cocktails, while still remaining true to its coffee roots, serving a house-blend from long-time partners, The Roasting Party.
Scarlett Green is the biggest yet, occupying the ground floor and basement of a tall, narrow building on Noel Street, in the heart of Soho. Open from 07:00 to midnight, it’s there for your morning coffee and a late-night cocktail, plus everything in between. The décor, as ever, is by the talented Shuby Art, another long-time partner and collaborator. As well as the usual bananas, you can also find a large, pink teddy bear enjoying Bondi Beach.
I’m not sure why, but I have a soft spot for coffee shops in railway and/or tube stations, so The Fifth Taste, which is in Ealing Common Tube Station on the District and Piccadilly Lines, has been on my radar since it opened in June last year. The only thing that has stopped me is that I don’t get out to Ealing much, but when I was doing my West London swing last month, I made sure to stop by.
There’s not a lot to The Fifth Taste. It’s in the ticket office, tucked away to the left, much in the mould of Bica Coffee House at Westbourne Park or the sadly missed Piccadilly Grind at Piccadilly Circus. Serving a choice on espresso, plus batch-brew, all from old friends The Roasting Party, there’s also a selection of pastries. Unsurprisingly, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.
A couple of weeks ago, I made a trip to southwest London, taking in the likes of Beanberry Coffee, Woof Coffee and The Press Room in Twickenham. At the end of my trip, I found myself in Ealing and, since I was there, I decided that I would carry on going west. Really west. All the way out to (wait for it…) Hanwell! Well, maybe not that far west, but, as London goes, quite far, and not exactly known as a hot-bed of speciality coffee.
What had dragged me onto the No 427 bus and out along the Uxbridge Road was the prospect of breakfast (and coffee) at the interestingly-named Fade-to-Black, which, since February, has been serving espresso using Ozone’s Empire Blend to the fine folks of Hanwell, with tentative plans to add a single-origin batch-brew. This is backed up with a decent breakfast/lunch menu, complete with sandwiches and a good range of cake.
Fade to Black has a simple, welcoming interior with windows on two sides and a range of seating, including window-bars, should you want to get some people-watching done. There’s also a spacious basement which, while normally off-limits, is used for functions and events such as yoga.