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.
The Pavilion Café, a fixture at the western end of Victoria Park in Bethnal Green, has been going strong for over 10 years, serving excellent coffee and locally sourced all-day breakfasts for over 10 years. These days, the Pavilion Café has been joined by pair of bakery cafes in London (Broadway Market and Colombia Road) and an outpost in Newquay, Cornwall, which opened earlier this year.
The Pavilion Café occupies a circular, glass-domed pavilion (hence the name) on the eastern side of the park’s West Lake. During the winter, there is seating inside, but in the summer, it spreads out the lakeside which provides some of the best views in London. These days the coffee is from Cornwall’s Origin, with a single-origin on espresso. Although the default seems to be to serve all the drinks in takeaway cups, there are proper cups available. You just need to ask when ordering.
Dark Arts Coffee has been roasting since 2014 and I’ve enjoyed its coffee at various places, including The Black Chapel in London, plus in a cluster of places in the northwest, such as Manchester’s Idle Hands and Siop Shop and Chester’s Little Yellow Pig. I Will Kill Again, its interestingly-named coffee shop/roastery, has been on my radar pretty much since it opened in May 2016. My only excuse for not visiting sooner (other than to give Mike Stanbridge something to nag me about) is that Homerton, its East London home, is not somewhere I get to very frequently.
Located in a railway arch, the roaster (off to your right as you enter) is in action from Monday to Friday, while the space is open to the public as a coffee shop from Wednesday to Sunday. There’s a range of (mostly) communal seating, including several picnic-style tables outside.
Dark Arts only roasts single-origins, which it then gives some interesting names. The espresso, available as black or white (with milk) in sizes of 4, 6 and 8oz, rotates between Lost Highway and Dead Brick, while there’s a single filter option on batch brew. If you’re hungry, try the eclectic all-day brunch menu.
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.
Sometimes I plan my accommodation with great care, picking places on their proximity to outstanding coffee. On other occasions, I just get lucky, which was the case when I stayed in Canary Wharf for work. I selected the Novotel (technically on the Isle of Dogs, not Canary Wharf) because it was under 10 minutes’ walk from the office and conveniently placed for the likes of Taylor Street Baristas and Notes, which I already knew about and planned on visiting en route to/from the office.
What I hadn’t realised was that Canary Coffee, a speciality coffee shop serving Climpson and Sons, was an integral part of the hotel. This meant I could start my day with some excellent coffee before leaving for the office (and didn’t have to get up 20 minutes early to make it myself) while also rounding my day off with top-notch coffee, particularly since it’s open until 10pm every evening.
However, Canary Coffee isn’t just for hotel guests. Rather, it’s a fully-fledged coffee shop, accessible from the street. A cosy spot, complete with outside terrace, it morphs into a wine bar in the evening (still serving coffee). There’s a selection of cakes, toasted sandwiches and some excellent pizza.
Visiting Canary Wharf for work at the end of May, I already knew about the likes of Taylor Street Baristas and Notes. I also knew that the speciality coffee scene had evolved considerably since my last visit in 2015. However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, 640 East, caught me by surprise, even though it’s been going since 2017. Located in Montgomery Square, right by the eastern entrance to Canary Wharf tube station, 640East was also directly outside my office, so I became a regular visitor, calling in most days for my morning (and sometimes afternoon) coffee.
Consisting of two reused containers facing each other across a large courtyard, the majority of 640East’s seating is outdoors, although one container has a small, indoor seating area. Serving a blend from Caravan on espresso, 640East does a roaring trade from the local offices, while in the evening wine, cocktails and beer take over (although all are available day and night). This is all backed up by a range of cakes and pastries, with a few savouries in the morning.
Note that 640East is takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own. It’s also cashless, so you’ll need a credit/debit card.