Continuing my exploration of those bits of South West London which historically I’ve sped through/past on the train brings us to Tooting Bec, which I visited last week. And where better to start than around the corner from Tooting Bec tube station, where you’ll find today’s Coffee Spot, Green Monkey London? Green Monkey is something of local institution, having opened in 2015, occupying the last in a row of five single-storey units east of the station on the south side of Tooting Bec Road. There are a couple of tables outside on the pavement, with much more seating inside, although if you’re ordering takeaway, there’s a handy to-go window to the right of the door.
Styling itself “coffee and brunch”, Green Monkey lives up to both these tags, serving Nude Coffee Roasters’ East Blend from a standard espresso-based menu, along with a range of loose-leaf tea (served by the pot), various fresh juices and a selection of smoothies. When it comes to food, there’s an extensive breakfast and brunch menu with various vegetarian and vegan options alongside meat-filled classics such as the bacon, sausage and fried egg brioche bun, all backed up with a selection of cakes and pastries.
For as long as I’ve lived in Guildford, Earlsfield’s been one of those stations that I’ve sped through on my way to London Waterloo (unless on the slow train to Clapham Junction, when it’s been the signal to get ready since Clapham Junction is the next stop). That is, until Tuesday, when I decided to get off at Earlsfield Station and see what the area has to offer, starting with today’s Coffee Spot, Bean and Hop, a three-minute walk south of the station.
Bean and Hop styles itself craft beer, coffee and brunch, although I’d be inclined to reverse that order (and add wine and cocktails to the list). Occupying a sunny spot on Garratt Lane, it’s a bustling, friendly (and dog-friendly) place with plenty of seating, plus more tables outside. There’s an extensive brunch menu, with the kitchen open until three, while the coffee comes from Nude Espresso, which roasts an exclusive single-origin from Santa Ana in El Salvador (the home of Coffeeland) which is used at Bean and Hop and its two siblings, Café Tamra and Café Fleur. This is available via a standard espresso-based menu, backed up with tea, smoothies and a small range of cocktails.
Regular readers know that I have a soft spot for Manchester’s Idle Hands, and its owners, Dave and Lucy. Having started as a pop-up near Piccadilly Station, Idle Hands is now into its fourth incarnation, although this location, in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, is its first permanent home.
In comparison to previous incarnations, the new location is huge, with plenty of seating and, for the first time, a large kitchen at the back. Idle Hands has always been known both for its coffee and its (sweet) pies, both of which are on display here. A true multi-roaster, Idle Hands usually has two single-origins on espresso, another on batch-brew and five or so on pour-over through either the Aeropress or V60, depending on the chosen bean. The options change regularly: whenever a particular bean runs out, it’s replaced.
When it comes to pie, there are usually five or six choices, all made fresh that day by Lucy. When a pie is gone, that’s it for the day, although don’t expect to see it the following day, since Lucy frequently rings the changes. In addition, there are now full breakfast and lunch menus, along with beer, wine, spirits and cocktails.
Half way down Judd Street, just south of King’s Cross and St Pancras stations, Half Cup has been on my radar for a long time now, probably for almost as long as it’s been open, which is three years. I visited on several occasions, but sadly, until now, I’ve never been in a position to write it up, either being in a hurry to move on (like when I had breakfast there before this year’s London Coffee Festival) or else I’ve been meeting someone (the preliminary meetings about The Philosophy of Coffee where held here) and hence not been able to take detailed notes.
Half Cup serves Nude Espresso as its house-blend on espresso which has recently been joined by a guest espresso. This was, during my visit, the Penny Rock seasonal espresso blend from Red Bank Coffee in Cumbria. If you’re dairy-free, there’s an excellent selection of non-dairy milk alternatives, including almond, coconut, soya, oat and hazelnut. If you don’t fancy coffee, then there’s organic loose-leaf tea and a range of alcohol from craft beer to wine. There’s also an excellent brunch menu, which is served until 15.45, plus sandwiches to go and an awesome selection of cake.
Brixton Blend is the slightly-more-minimalist younger sibling of Brockwell Blend, which opened last month just across the road from Brixton Tube Station. Occupying two floors of a narrow building directly across street from the David Bowie mural, it’s a welcome addition to the centre of Brixton, joining stalwarts Federation and Balance. When you consider that roasters Volcano Coffee Works/Assembly have also just moved in around the corner on Ferndale Road, you have the makings of a real speciality coffee hub in south London.
Brixton Blend is aiming for the takeaway market for the moment, even though it has plenty of space. This accounts for the minimalist nature of the seating (just two tables in the spacious downstairs, five upstairs) and the lack of proper cups, although there are tentative plans to give it a more permanent feel. Don’t let that put you off sitting in though, since the interior’s lovely and relaxed.
True to its name, Brixton Blend serves two espresso blends, one from the local Volcano and the other from Nude Espresso. These are joined by a decaf on the third grinder, while there’s a single-origin on bulk-brew. A small selection of excellent cakes is available for the hungry.
In the history of Liverpool’s (relatively) short speciality coffee scene, Filter + Fox, on Duke Street, plays an interesting role. Originally set up as Duke Street Espresso, an off-shoot of the famous Bold Street Coffee, it was reborn as Filter + Fox just over a year ago, when the current owners, Owain and Chris, took over. They had already made a name for themselves with their Bold Street Cold Brew, but they brought with them a background of many years in the bar industry, building on Duke Street Espresso’s reputation for good coffee and adding food through the day and cocktails in the evening.
Filter + Fox employs the coffee and cocktails model pioneered in London by the likes of Shoreditch Grind, but with the sort of elegance more normally associated with the likes of Notes or Fernandez & Wells. The result is unique, very much one of a kind in Liverpool, and in many ways ahead of the game. The coffee is from London’s Nude Espresso, with regularly-rotating guests on filter. There’s food (all-day breakfast, sandwiches, small plates and bar snacks) and a limited cake selection throughout the day, while the well-stocked bar serves right up until midnight.
May 2019: Filter + Fox has been re-imagined as Volpi, serving coffee, aperitifs and pasta.
August 2020: Filter + Fox / Volpi has, sadly, closed for good.
Fitzrovia’s Curators Coffee Gallery has long been a favourite of mine, a convenient stopping off point when going to the BBC Radio Theatre for recordings. However, until the start of this month, in typical Coffee Spot fashion, I’d never been to the original, the Curators Coffee Studio in the heart of the City of London. I’d been past a couple of times, but I’d always been in a hurry and, like last week’s Saturday Short, New Row Coffee, I’d always been put off by the (lack of) size. The loss has been all mine…
Curators, as the name “studio” suggests, is small, no more than a rectangle on a corner, principally catering to the office takeaway trade (it’s shut at the weekends). Despite this, if you’re staying in, the coffee is served in proper cups and there’s a neat window-bar/table, plus some handy seating outside.
The coffee is from Nude Espresso, who provide the house-blend, while there’s also a guest espresso (from Square Mile while I was there), plus decaf and bulk-brew (another Square Mile during my visit). If you’re hungry, Curators has a limited, but decent, range of cakes and sandwiches, plus, as the benches outside proudly proclaim, breakfast.
I haven’t been to the original Curators in the City. The closest I got was walking past while thinking “wow, that’s small!”. In contrast, the second Curators, Fitzrovia’s Curators Coffee Gallery, is palatial in size. This comparison holds when considering the other Coffee Spots in Fitzrovia, where it vies with the likes of the tiny Mother’s Milk, through the (fairly small) Kaffeine, all the way up to the (not very big) Attendant and Workshop. Curators is so (comparatively) big that there’s a basement, and you all know my opinion of that!
Coffee-wise, Curators more than holds its own, the space giving it the freedom to offer a wide range of coffee. There’s a La Marzocco Strada dispensing the house espresso from Nude, alongside a regularly-rotating guest from various roasters (Nude included). At the other end of the counter, a neat row of Chemex (assuming the plural of Chemex is Chemex) awaits the call, each with its own scales and brass pouring kettle. There’s a choice of two filters, again from various roasters, with Nude and Square Mile predominating, ground by an EK43, modestly kept in a purpose-built niche amongst the shelves of coffee kit on the wall behind the counter.
February 2016: I’ve now (finally) rectified my oversight and visited Curators Coffee Studio, the original Curators.
March 2019: Sadly Curators Coffee Gallery has closed its doors for good. It will be sadly missed.
September 2019: Good news! Kiss the Hippo has opened its second branch on the old Curators’ site! You can see what I made of it when I visited a month after it opened.
Tucked away in Westbourne Park tube station on the Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines, two stops west of Paddington, is the delightful Bica Coffee House. Having bemoaned the absence of top quality coffee in tube stations, I’ve now found two in as many months. However, unlike Piccadilly Grind, which I believe is a pop-up, Bica is here to stay.
Serving takeaway only, It’s a small spot, occupying what could have been an old booking office or kiosk. There is, however, a generous serving hatch and shelf, which is large and deep enough for a decent display of pastries and other baked goodies, as well as affording a view of the bright red two-group La Marzocco.
Unlike many coffee stalls/kiosks at stations, Bica’s commitment to excellence is there at the outset. The coffee is from east London roasters Nude Espresso and there are no 12-second extractions here, despite the steady stream of customers, while the milk is properly steamed, resulting in a great texture. There’s a decent range of espresso-based drinks: espresso and Americano, plus macchiato, cortado, flat white, latte and cappuccino. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s mocha and hot chocolate, plus tea of various types.
Machina Espresso might just be the perfect coffee shop. Set a little back on a wide pavement on Brougham Place in Edinburgh’s west end, it’s not a huge place, with just enough room for a few tables, a counter and multiple displays for coffee equipment. However, there’s an atmosphere about the place that just feels right, a certain calm that even an intransigent toddler (who was swiftly taken home by an indignant parent) couldn’t ruin.
Machina Espresso started life in Lock-up Coffee, a city-centre, weekend pop-up run by Ben Wylie, a barista at the late, much lamented Freemans Coffee. Back then, Machina Espresso was just an equipment supplier, but in November last year it moved into its current premises to become a fully-fledged coffee shop. The equipment is still here: (very) shiny espresso machines from Rocket and Expobar; compact grinders, great cups, tampers, pouring kettles… Everything, in fact, that you need to make great coffee at home.
However, if you can’t wait, Machina Espresso will happily serve you coffee (and cake). During my visit, the espresso was from nearby Steampunk Coffee and London’s Nude Espresso, with three single-origins on filter (all made through the Chemex). Spoilt for choice!