Notes, King’s Cross (COVID-19 Update)

Notes is back! Details of the online ordering system, displayed on every table at Notes, King's Cross.The very first coffee shop I visited following the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions in England was Notes, Trafalgar Square. I doubt I could have chosen better, to be honest, with Notes’ customary quality shining through. My coffee, a cortado, was served in a glass, while my food came on a proper plate with real cutlery. So, when I was looking for somewhere to have coffee and some food before catching my train on Monday, I immediately thought of Notes at Pancras Square, sandwiched between King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. The fact that my train was leaving from Euston, a 15-minute walk away, was entirely secondary in the decision-making process.

King’s Cross was one of three Notes locations that reopened in July and is probably the best suited of all, with a large outdoor seating area. There are changes, obviously, to account for COVID-19, but these are minimal. Online ordering at your table is encouraged, while the upstairs seating area is understandably closed, but otherwise, this is very much like the Notes of old. And, even better, with the area still really, really quiet, sitting out in Pancras Square meant blissful silence. Make the most of it while it lasts!

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Notes, Trafalgar Square (COVID-19 Update)

A cortado, served in a glass (a rarity during COVID-19) at Notes, Trafalgar Square.On Tuesday, I caught a train to London. I went to visit coffee shops, something I once took or granted, but which, thanks to COVID-19, I hadn’t done for almost exactly four months. Although I didn’t have a firm itinerary (I intended to wander around, see who was open, and take things from there), there was one coffee shop which I planned to visit, heading straight there from Waterloo.

Notes is on St Martin’s Lane, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, which is how it gets its name. Like Attendant, where I ended Tuesday’s short excursion, I first wrote about Notes back in 2013, although, unlike Attendant, which had recently opened, Notes was already well-established by that point. Since then, I’ve visited several other Notes and have always been impressed by the quality and attention to detail.

Notes had reopened just four days before my visit, on Saturday 11th July, but I knew from its social media posts that it was offering a sit-in service, which I was keen to try. More than anything, I wanted to see how the reality of sitting in a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic matched my (perhaps gloomy) musings on the matter.

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Craft Coffee, King’s Cross

Some beautiful latte art by Craft Coffee at King's Cross in my Therma Cup.The spot around the back of King’s Cross station has a long and distinguished history when it comes to coffee stands, having housed both Weanie Beans and Bean & Gone (both before the Coffee Spot’s time) and, most recently, Noble Espresso. However, in November 2016, Shaun, the man behind Noble, made the hard decided to give up the coffee stand to concentrate on his booming milk business, Estate Dairies.

What could have been a huge loss to all concerned, not least his band of loyal customers, was averted by some forward-thinking by Shaun who invited Craft Coffee, veterans of the outdoor coffee scene with a long-standing weekend pitch at Maltby Market, to take over. Emily and Jamie, Craft’s owners, said yes, so now you’ll find them here during the week, turning out fine espresso-based drinks using an exclusive single-origin from Notes, plus tea, hot chocolate and a selection of pastries.

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Flat Cap Borough

A bag of Cachoeirinha Espresso, roasted by Notes and in the hopper at Flat Cap Borough during my visit in January 2017.Having finally paid a visit to Flat Cap Victoria in last week’s Saturday Short, I thought it was high-time that the Coffee Spot got around to the other Flat Cap, which is tucked away south of the river in London’s Borough Market. Once part of a small fleet of Notes Barrows, Flat Cap Borough is now a standalone operation and, despite the similarities, Flat Cap Borough is independent of Flat Cap Victoria.

There are, however, still close ties to Notes, with all the coffee coming from the Notes Roastery. There are a range of single-origin beans that you can buy, with one of them in the hopper. During my visit, this was a Brazilian Cachoeirinha, a naturally-processed coffee. All the usual espresso-based drinks are there, but otherwise that’s it. If you’re after something to eat with your coffee, never fear. You’re in Borough Market and spoilt for choice!

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Flat Cap Victoria

A lovely flat white at Flat Cap Victoria in my Therma Cup, made with a single-origin Brazilian coffee, roasted by Notes.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.

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Silhouette Cheapside

From the sign outside Silhouette on Cheapside.Wander down Cheapside, away from St Paul’s Cathedral, and you’ll find a branch of Hummus Bros. on the left-hand side. This, in itself, is unspectacular since Hummus Bros. is a familiar sight in London. However, this one’s special: look closely and you’ll see that it houses none other than Silhouette, a speciality coffee shop run by one of coffee’s nicest couples, Lee and Syirin (although these days Syirin’s rarely in the shop).

The space itself is nothing special: long and thin with a makeshift counter two-thirds of the way down on the right, housing Silhouette’s trusty La Marzocco espresso machine. From this surprisingly small space, you’ll find Lee dispensing excellent espresso-based drinks from Notes and occasional guests (although rumour has it that if you ask nicely, you can get pour-over, although it’s not on the menu). Even more impressive is the small, but tasty, toast-based menu & some excellent cakes.

July 2017: Sad news. Silhouette has closed. Not sure if Lee and Syirin will be back with another venture, but I certainly hope so!

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Notes, Canary Wharf

Amazing latte art in my JOCO Cup at Notes, Canary Wharf.It took a while, but speciality coffee has reached Canary Wharf, and, having got here, it’s not going away. There are now two branches of both Taylor Street Baristas (Canary Wharf and South Quay) and coffee shop/roaster, Notes. Although I’ve already written about Notes in Crossrail Place, today’s Coffee Spot, on the concourse of Canary Wharf tube station, was the first I came across when, back in September, I innocently wandered through the ticket barriers and thought “ooh, look, a Notes”.

Sadly I only had my phone, which wasn’t up to adequately photographing somewhere which is entirely underground. It was only last week that I was able to return, proper camera in hand, at a time when there weren’t customers queuing out of the door!

Although small (and with no seats), the Canary Wharf Notes thinks it’s just as big and important as its much larger siblings. While there’s no wine or beer, there are impressive breakfast and lunch menus, a good selection of cake and coffee-kit/beans for sale. The coffee’s what it’s all about though: serving only single-origins, all roasted in-house, there’s espresso plus bulk-brew, and, surprisingly, Canary Wharf consistently serves the best coffee that I’ve had at Notes.

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Notes, Crossrail Place, Canary Wharf

A lovely flat white in a classic white cup, complete with impressive latte-art at Notes at Crossrail Place.For the longest time, Canary Wharf, and the area around it, was a desert when it came to quality coffee. Then along came Taylor Street Baristas, with a second branch in nearby South Quay. Also expanding east is Notes, the coffee-and-wine outfit which now roasts its own coffee and boasts five outlets, including King’s Cross, Moorgate and a branch in Canary Wharf tube station.

The latest Notes is also at Canary Wharf, this time in Crossrail Place, the new station for the Crossrail line. It doubles as a shopping centre, which opened in May 2015, despite Crossrail itself being several years from completion. Notes is on the ground floor and, in an area where businesses tend to keep to office hours and shut at the weekends, it refreshingly stays open late into the evening, as well as at weekends, serving Notes’ familiar mix of speciality coffee, wine, craft beer and small plates.

The newer Notes have outstanding designs and Crossrail Place is no exception. Even though it lacks the mezzanine level of King’s Cross, Crossrail Place might well be my favourite, squeezing itself into a weird space with some aplomb. Needless to say, the coffee is very good as well!

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Notes, King’s Cross

Note's slogan on the wall at King's Cross: Coffee for Early Birds, Wine for Night Owls.Notes was always more than just a coffee shop, mixing coffee by day with wine and small plates of an evening, in surroundings that spoke of elegance. For a while, there was Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and various coffee barrows. Then, two years ago, along came a roastery and now, within the space of a year, four new stores, with a heavily over-subscribed foray into crowd-funding to fund further expansion (albeit at the expense of Covent Garden and all but one barrow).

King’s Cross/St Pancras, just north of King’s Cross, between Noble Espresso (now Craft Coffee) and Caravan, is the first of the new Notes that I’ve visited (I’ve since between to both the Canary Wharf and Crossrail Place locations). Smaller (and hence more intimate) than the original Notes, you can sit downstairs, opposite the counter, or upstairs in the cosy mezzanine. Alternatively, try the great selection of outdoor seating on the secluded Pancras Square.

With coffee roasted at the nearby Notes Roastery, there’s a single-origin (which changes every couple of months) and decaf on espresso. Another single-origin is on filter, available either as a V60 or bulk-brew. This changes every few days, Notes rotating through its selection of single-origins as each bag runs out.

July 2020: Notes has now reopened, although the upstairs seating is currently closed due to COVID-19. See what I made of it when I visited in August.

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Notes, Trafalgar Square

Filter Coffee from Notes, served in a silver coffee pot, plus a muffin.Notes is one of those places that I have a love-hate relationship with. In theory, I really ought to love Notes. Unlike many modern coffee shops, Notes is decidedly upmarket. As much wine bar as café, with food to boot, the Trafalgar Square branch (although these comments applied equally to the nearby Covent Garden Notes, which is now closed) exudes quality. It has the setting and a certain elegance that would normally have me gushing with praise.

So, why do I sometimes find myself fidgety and ill-at-ease when I’m in Notes? Well, it’s not the coffee, which is excellent, nor is it the decor, which is wonderful. It is, in fact, the noise. Notes can be downright loud at times and sometimes, for me, loud is fine. And sometimes it’s not. I’m very binary like that, and when something crosses that line, it’s time to leave.

Which is a shame, since if I pick my moments, I find that I really like Notes. I like the coffee, there’s food all through the day, it’s open late into the evenings, the list goes on. The only thing that’s missing is Wifi (long since rectified, by the way).

So, if you can stand the (sometimes) noisy surroundings, I present Notes, Trafalgar Square.

July 2020: Notes has reopened, offering sit-in and takeaway services. You can see what I made of it when I visited.

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