I always feel guilty when, driving along the A5 to/from North Wales, I bypass Oswestry and, in the process, fail to visit Liar Liar. So, at the end of last month, on my way back from Llangollen, I made a point of calling in for a late lunch (my breakfast, which I’d had at Riverbanc, was still going down!) only to discover that since my previous visit, Liar Liar had expanded, more than doubling in size. I don’t know, you turn your back for a minute…
Liar Liar achieved this remarkable feat by taking over parts of the neighbouring building, which the landlord had been using for storage. Taking advantage of the forced closure of indoor seating due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Liar Liar fitted out the building and connected it to its existing space, working around the clock ahead of the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in mid-May which allowed Liar Liar to restart indoor service. The finishing touches were put in place late on Sunday night and the doors thrown open on Monday morning.
I first came across Hundred House Coffee at the Manchester Coffee Festival in 2017 and, ever since, I’ve looked forward to meeting up with Annabelle and Matt, Hundred House’s founders, at festivals around the country. I’ve had a long-standing invitation to visit the roastery, but first my foreign travel and then the COVID-19 pandemic kept me from taking them up on the offer. That, and, of course, getting there: the roastery is an old farm building in rural Shropshire, literally miles from anywhere, including the nearest train station. However, at the end of last week, and with access to a car, I made a point of calling in.
Hundred House made its name by roasting some, quite frankly, amazing coffee, producing a small selection of seasonal blends and single-origins. Unusually for a coffee company, Hundred House’s focus is as much on design as it is on coffee, Matt and Annabelle having collaborated with a range of artists to produce some outstanding packaging. This remains a focus to this day through the Art & Industry project. Looking to the future, next year Hundred House is moving to a purpose-built redevelopment north of Ludlow, which includes plans for an onsite coffee shop.
The Green Wood Café is in Coalbrookedale, a narrow, steep-sided valley which leads south into the famous Ironbridge Gorge a few hundred metres west of the famous bridge. Located in the Green Wood Centre, it’s nestled between the road and the disused railway line. The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on The Green Wood Café, which has only recently reopened, having been shut over the winter. Like many places, it has had to reinvent itself, but the good news is that it’s done a fantastic job, with excellent, well thought out systems and lots of lovely outdoor seating, including tables in the adjacent orchard.
For now, everything is served in compostable, single use containers, with a full, all-day brunch menu, including street food and toasted sandwiches, backed up by the range of cakes. Everything is vegetarian, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. When it comes to the coffee, which uses the café’s own bespoke blend, oat milk is offered as standard, with dairy and soya milk as options. There’s also a wide range of tea and alternative drinks such as chai, beetroot, matcha and turmeric lattes (all of which have iced versions), backed up with smoothies and soft drinks.
Eighty Six’d was a (semi-) chance discovery in Ironbridge, where I’d gone to visit The Green Wood Café. However, tipped off by Hundred House, who I’d visited the day before, I took a wander along the river front and past the eponymous Ironbridge to the eastern end of town, where I found Eighty Six’d, occupying the first floor of a narrow, wedge-shaped building.
In pre-COVID times, you could go inside Eighty Six’d, which has the intriguing tagline “Art • Coffee • Cake”. Unfortunately, until the next relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions which are due in mid-May, you’re limited to ordering something to go from the door, which you’ll find along the left-hand side of the building. There are various espresso-based drinks, with coffee from nearby Has Bean, loose-leaf tea, a selection of specialty drinks, light lunches, sandwiches and cakes.
The Table, which opened at the start of April, can lay claim to the title of Walsall’s first (and, for now, only) speciality coffee shop. The brainchild of Abby and James, it was set up as a community hub with the backing of the Walsall Community Church. Occupying part of a lovely, old building on the corner of Lower Hall Lane and Caldmore Road, it’s a few minutes’ walk from the train station in the centre of town. It’s also a great alternative to the motorway services, being under 10 minutes from both Junctions 9 and 10 on the M6, with plentiful (cheap) parking nearby.
For now, the spacious interior (The Table goes a long way back) is off-limits until the next set of COVID-19 restrictions are lifted (hopefully in May). However, there’s plenty of outside seating, and, with its location on a south-facing corner, it catches the sun. When it comes to coffee, The Table uses Bristol’s Odd Kin Coffee Roasters, with Walsall’s own Coffee by the Casuals on filter, although there are plans to add more guests in due course. There’s also Kokoa Collection hot chocolate, a selection of tea and a range of cakes if you’re hungry.
Espresso Farm has been on my radar since it opened in February 2019, but Saturday was the first opportunity I had to pay a visit. Located within Umberslade Farm Park, it’s just south of the M42/M40 junction, making it an excellent alternative to the motorway services if you need a break when travelling in either direction. It’s also worth a visit in its own right and, while it’s easiest to get to by car, if you don’t mind a 35-minute walk along the lanes (or 20 minutes across the fields) it’s also served by Danzey Station on the Birmingham to Stratford line.
For now, just the outside seating is open, but the good news is that there’s plenty of it and the Espresso Farm has the most wonderful setting. It helps that the coffee, from the nearby Monsoon Estates Coffee Company, is excellent, and while Espresso Farm is currently using disposable cups, the staff are happy if you bring your own. As well as the usual espresso-based drinks, there’s batch-brew filter, hot chocolate and a range of tea. If you’re hungry, Espresso Farm can offer an all-day breakfast menu, a selection of toasties and a wide range of cakes.
Quarter Horse Coffee opened its Birminghamcafé/roastery in 2015, the roastery operating on one side of the space, the coffee shop on the other, the two separated by a waist-high counter. While this arrangement had the obvious advantage of making the roastery very visible to the customers, it had its drawbacks. As the roastery became busier, the inevitable interruptions that come from having such an open and visible roasting operation began to have an impact on productivity.
Nathan, the driving force behind Quarter Horse, decided that he need to make some major modifications to improve the roastery. However, the question was how to accommodate the disruption that the structural work would cause, which would inevitably shut both roastery and café for several weeks. Then along came COVID-19, with its enforced shutdown, giving Nathan his opportunity…
The results of the remodelling were plain for all to see when Quarter Horse reopened on the last day in July. Although it would be more accurate to say that they weren’t plain to see. Although the roastery hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s now enclosed in its own room, leaving Nathan and his team free to get on with the important business of roasting in peace.
This Coffee Spot Update focuses on the roastery, while the café has its own update, where you can find more details of the physical changes.
The last stop on my brief tour of Birmingham is Ngopi, which exclusively serves single-origin Indonesian coffee, all of which is roasted in the little roaster visible through the front window. Ngopi was my find of 2019, after the staff opened my eyes to the variety and sheer quality of Indonesian speciality coffee at that year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival.
Like the rest of the UK’s speciality coffee shops, Ngopi was forced to close by COVID-19, only reopening in July following the relaxation of restrictions in England. The obvious COVID-19 precautions are now in place (Perspex screens on the counter, reduced seating, etc) but otherwise, Ngopi is very much its old self. In particular, the coffee is just as good as I remember it, while there’s a menu of light Indonesian dishes and desserts which, had I not just come from lunch at Wayland’s Yard, would have been very tempting.
I revisited Wayland’s Yard in Birmingham at the end of August, almost exactly two years after my first visit, seeking a late lunch one Tuesday afternoon. Looking reassuringly similar from the street, the only obvious differences were the lack of outside benches (there used to be one on either side of the door, underneath the windows) and the presence of the bold “we are open” sign on the door.
Inside, the changes are similarly subtle, with several of them pre-dating the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the additional seating on the left in front of the counter. Of course, there are the COVID-19 precautions themselves, mostly the clearly-marked one-way system on the floor, but otherwise, Wayland’s Yard is much as I remember it.
The coffee, from Herefordshire’s Method Roastery, is as good as ever, with a bespoke house-blend and single-origin on espresso, although for now, there’s just a solitary single-origin on pour-over through the V60 rather than the customary two. The brunch menu has similarly been cut down, but is just as innovative as before.
Faculty/Sixteen Kitchen has long been my go-to option when changing trains at Birmingham’s New Street Station. Located at the bottom of the Piccadilly Arcade, opposite the station’s New Street entrance, it’s a great breakfast/lunch option, courtesy of Sixteen Kitchen, although I’ve tended to call in the afternoon for coffee and cake at Faculty when changing trains, its proximity to the station making it perfect if you have a few minutes between trains.
Like many in the speciality coffee industry, Faculty has been feeling its way back, initially reopening for takeaway only, when it served from the door. Since then, it’s reopened its seating areas and is slowly expanding its opening hours as people return to the city centre. For now, the coffee offering has been reduced slightly, with just one option on espresso and another on pour-over. Similarly, Sixteen Kitchen is offering a cut-down menu, although you can always get cakes and a small selection of toasted sandwiches from Faculty.
The usual COVID-19 precautions are in place, including reduced seating to ensure social distancing, a queuing system at the door and Perspex screens on the counter. One non-COVID change is the appearance of a Modbar espresso system on the counter!