South West London

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The Coffee Spot Guide to South West London

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.The Coffee Spot Guide to South West London includes everything with a postcode starting with SW. This is a surprisingly compact area, which, naively, I had assumed would cover points south of the River Thames, but which actually includes a swathe north of the river, featuring the likes of Westminster, Knightsbridge, Chelsea and Fulham. South of the river, its western reaches extend as far as Barnes, Putney and Wimbledon.

Outside of central London, this is probably the area that I’ve travelled most extensively in. Even so, my coverage is not as good as I’d like. As with all these guides, it should not be take as, nor does it claim to be, comprehensive.

While you’re here, why not check out the rest of the Coffee Guides to London?


Header image: Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Millbank and, south of the river, St George Wharf Tower.


Coffee Spots

Artisan, Putney

An eight segment wheel with various rewards such as free coffee, cake or any item from the menu.What’s going on? For the second time in a week I’ve visited a local chain and started with the first branch! This time, instead of going to Bath, I’ve popped up to Putney and the lovely Artisan. And, unlikely rainy Bath, it’s always sunny when I go to Putney. I really should come more often.

My first visit was on a busy Saturday afternoon in March last year, when I didn’t have my camera with me. Back then it was so busy that the queue waiting to order was all the way back to the door! Tables were at a premium and several people were sitting outside in the sun.

I’ve been meaning to return ever since and finally made it back with my camera 11 months later, when I returned on a Tuesday lunchtime, only to find it was almost as popular. Tables being at a premium again, I ended up in exactly the same spot, a little table for two by the door to the toilets!

Artisan serves up Allpress’ Redchurch blend on espresso, and these days has Berlin legends, The Barn, on filter, with regularly-rotating single origins. There’s an impressive range of cake and food too.

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Balance

My flat white, in a glass, at Balance in Brixton.After the venerable Federation Coffee, Balance, on Ferndale Road, is one of the more established names in Brixton’s speciality coffee, recently joined by the likes of Stir Coffee Brixton and Brixton Blend, plus, across the road, the new Volcano/Assembly Roastery. Established in 2014 by the owner, Ali, who I had the pleasure of meeting, Balance is a tightly-focused shop selling espresso-based drinks, with beans from The Roastery Department and Assembly, freshly-blended juices and a small selection of pastries, toasties and sandwiches.

It’s a tiny place too, with just enough space inside for the counter, espresso machine behind, where you can order and wait for your coffee. If you want to sit down, you need to head outside (although you’re welcome to stand at the counter like I did and drink your coffee) where you’ll find a bench and a couple of two-person tables on the pavement.

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Birdhouse

A fine Climpson & Sons espresso in a glass from Birdhouse.Birdhouse is one of those semi-legendary coffee houses of south London, a part of the capital which is still a bit of a closed book to me, despite my whizzing through it often enough on the train. However, when I knew I was going to be in the area with a few hours to kill, I took the trouble to find out where Birdhouse actually was.

I was surprised to learn how close to Clapham Junction it is; a mere five-minute walk from the southern entrance of the station, heading away from Clapham High Street and up Saint John’s Hill. Then again, I very rarely leave the station, not even changing trains there very often (the last time was to go to Coffee Affair), so perhaps my ignorance shouldn’t be that surprising!

What I’ve been missing is a delightful little place, all decked out in yellow and grey with coffee from Climpson and Sons and tea from Cardiff maestros, Waterloo Tea. There are also bocaditos (no, I didn’t know what one was either; as I discovered, it is Cuban for sandwich) and cake, so ideal for popping out to if you have a long wait for your train.

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Brixton Blend

The front of Brixton Blend, with the downstairs clearly visible through the glass door and windows.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.

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Crosstown Doughnuts, Victoria

The Crosstown Doughnut logo from outside the coffee shop in Soho.Crosstown Doughnuts has been a staple of several London coffee shops, as well as being available direct from Crosstown at various London markets. Then, Crosstown opened its own coffee shop, in Soho. And then another. And another. And, earlier this year, the fourth opened, in the new Nova development north of Victoria Station.

If you know Crosstown Doughnuts, you know what to expect. If you don’t, you’re in for a treat. However, that’s not all. As well as doughnuts, there’s coffee, and not just any old coffee. Crosstown serves Caravan, the ubiquitous Market Blend in the main grinder with a seasonal guest, always a single-origin, and also from Caravan, in the second.

The Victoria branch is a pod, a rather space-age looking contraption with outdoor seating. Inside, there are two small corner bars, each with two stools. Not really designed for customers who linger, it’s actually a really neat spot.

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Doctor Espresso – Mama V’s

A beautiful espresso at Doctor Espresso - Mama V's, made with the restored 1957 Gaggia Tipo America lever machineWhat’s going on? For the third Coffee Spot in a row, I’m visiting places in the order in which they opened! Hot on the heels of the original Artisan in Putney and the first Society Café on Bath’s Kingsmead Square, comes Doctor Espresso – Mama V’s in Clapham High Street!

I visited the original Doctor Espresso, Doctor Espresso Caffetteria, opposite Putney Bridge tube station, in the summer of 2013, not long after it had opened. So it seemed fitting that I should pop into Doctor Espresso’s second venture, named Mama V’s (after Vanessa, co-owner of Doctor Espresso) a couple of months after it had opened. Following the precedent set by the Caffetteria, Mama V’s is also right by a station, this time the overground, where it is nestled in an arch under the line by Clapham High Street station.

Mama V’s serves the same basic menu as the Caffetteria: coffee, cake and some lovely Italian food (panini, calzone, pizza, pasta & salad). If ever a place was designed to appeal to me, it’s Doctor Espresso’s. Pride of place, of course, goes to a classic 1957 Gaggia Tipo America lever espresso machine, just one year younger than the one in the Caffetteria!

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Doctor Espresso N3

The beautiful and beautifully restored two group 1950s Gaggia lever espresso machine at Doctor Espresso N3.Regular readers know of my soft spot for Doctor Espresso Caffetteria, which opened in 2013 opposite Fulham’s Putney Bridge station. It boasts London’s oldest working espresso machine, a beautiful 1956 Gaggia Tipo America lever espresso machine, restored by none other than Russell, aka Doctor Espresso. This was joined in 2014 by Doctor Espresso – Mama V’s in Clapham High Street, named after Vanessa, the other half of Doctor Espresso. Now, after a long wait, there’s Doctor Espresso N3, five minutes’ walk from the original on Fulham High Street.

The biggest of the three, it builds on the success of the other two, another gloriously-restored 1950s Gaggia lever espresso machine taking pride-of-place on the hand-built counter, all the work of Doctor Espresso himself. It has the same Italian vibe, helped by the staff largely being Italian, serving the same Italian-roasted espresso with a touch of the old-school about it.

However, N3 is much more, fusing the Italian neighbourhood café with elements of the traditional English café. The greater size means a larger kitchen, which in turn means an expanded range of hot food. So, alongside the panini, calzone and salads (and cake!) of the first two, comes an all-day breakfast/brunch/lunch menu.

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Doctor Espresso Caffetteria

A lovely double-espresso from Dr Espresso's 1956 Gaggia lever machine served in a very musical cupI first met Russell, or Doctor Espresso, as he is better known, at the Caffe Culture Show, where he threatened to come to see me on Christmas Day with a baseball bat (presumably as a present) if I didn’t visit his newly-opened café in Putney. So, one sticky summer’s evening in August, I fulfilled my promise, doing myself out of a Christmas present in the process…

Putney is rapidly becoming a speciality coffee hub for southwest London, with Doctor Espresso starting his own outpost just over the river, on the north bank of the Thames. However, third -wave coffee aficionados need not apply: Doctor Espresso Caffetteria is a lovely Italian-style café/espresso bar, distinctly old-school in outlook. It has London’s oldest working espresso machine, a classic Gaggia Tipo America, which is a joy to behold.

Of course, a venerable machine is of no use at all if the coffee coming out of it isn’t up to scratch, but fortunately Doctor Espresso’s Gaggia delivers a classic Italian espresso, using beans roasted in Italy: a fitting tribute to the great machine. This is backed up by some lovely Italian food: panini, calzone, pizza, pasta & salad, along with some delicious cakes and pastries.

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Escape the Daily Grind

A lovely flat white, made with Brades Farm milk and Volcano Coffee Works Full Steam espresso at Escape the Daily Grind in Balham.Balham, in south London, isn’t short of good coffee. There’s the venerable Camden Coffee House by the station, and the equally venerable M1lk. More recently, these have been joined by a branch of Brickwood, a couple of doors down from M1lk on the busy, pedestrianised Hildreth Street, while, just around the corner on the more subdued Bedford Hill, there’s the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Escape the Daily Grind.

Serving the dependable Full Steam espresso from Volcano Coffee Works, offering a simple brunch menu until 3 o’clock and supplementing that with a selection of very tempting cakes, pastries and tarts, Escape the Daily Grind does a few things and does them well.

This is all served in a bright, relaxed space a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of M1lk and Brickwood, which are just a street away. In fact, if you knocked through the back wall of Escape the Daily Grind, there’s every chance you’ll end up in Brickwood… I was there on a Saturday lunch time, and while every table was taken in Brickwood and M1lk, with queues out of the door, Escape the Daily Grind offered a choice of tables and a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.

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Federation Coffee

My piccolo in a glass at Federation Coffee, Brixton, part of a split shot using the Curve house blend, Stardust Vol 2.When it comes to speciality coffee south of the river (in London), Federation Coffee has been flying the flag longer than most (almost six years in fact), with three years at its current location in the heart of Brixton Village. Although it now has company in the likes of Balance, Stir and Brixton Blend, Federation’s still a standard-bearer when it comes to speciality coffee in Brixton. There’s a house-blend on espresso from Kent-based roasters, Curve, with regularly-rotating single-origins from Curve and various guests on filter through the ever-reliable Moccamaster.

Federation occupies a couple of units in Brixton Village. You can sit inside or out, where the glass-roofed market arcades make for the perfect location, whatever the weather. Inside, you share the space with the counter, the seating in the windows all around the edges, giving you the perfect spot for people-watching, particularly if you get one of the window-bars.

If you’re hungry, there’s a good selection of cake on offer, backed up by an impressive breakfast/lunch menu, particularly when you consider the small space behind the counter in which the kitchen staff have to work. The menu is largely bread-based, with toast and toasted sandwiches, which suited me just fine.

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Fernandez & Wells, Exhibition Road

The right-hand side of Fernandez & Wells on Exhibition Road, as seen from across the street.Fernandez & Wells is a small London-based chain with six (so far) branches, the original two in Soho, one in Somerset House, this one on South Kensington's Exhibition Road and, since 2014, two more in London. A cross between wine-bar, deli and coffee shop, F&W offers a similar experience to Notes, albeit in (slightly) less grand surroundings.

The Exhibition Road branch opened in late 2012. On a pleasant, (almost) pedestrianised street, packed with cafes and restaurants, F&W fits right in, serving excellent coffee (roasted by Has Bean), an extensive wine list and an interesting array of dishes, with a strong focus on cured meats and cheeses, both of which you can buy to takeaway. The cakes are also pretty impressive and there was even a Slayer! (Although that's now long gone.)

F&W has been on my radar for a while, although I’ve never actually managed to track one down until just before Christmas. However, with several hours to kill one Wednesday evening, the appeal of a coffee shop that does food and is open until 10 o’clock in the evening (shades of Notes again) was obvious. I was sufficiently impressed to come back again in the New Year for lunch…

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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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Iris & June

A black circle with the words "Iris&June" written in white inside itI’ve been meaning to get to Iris & June for a long time. It had already been on my list for ages when I ran into the owner, Jodie, at the True Artisan Café at last year’s London Coffee Festival. I was so embarrassed, I rashly promised to pay Iris & June a visit. With this year’s London Coffee Festival rapidly approaching, I thought I’d better pull my finger out! The problem is, the area around Victoria Station, where Iris & June calls home, just isn’t somewhere I go very often. So, when some friends suggested meeting up in Pimlico on Monday evening, I seized my chance with both hands!

Iris & June is one of those coffee shops where the focus is just as much on the food as it is on the coffee. However, whereas a lot of coffee shops would be happy with a decent espresso and maybe some bulk brew, Iris & June puts as much effort into its coffee as many a dedicated speciality coffee shop. Ozone’s Empire Blend is on espresso, but it’s the pour-over where Iris & June really shines, with three single-origins from Ozone & guests, available as V60, Aeropress or bulk-brew.

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M1lk

The (red) neon sign on the back wall of M1lkCrystal Palace’s loss is Balham’s gain. I was supposed to be going Bambino Coffee in Crystal Palace, but when I got there, it was closed (permanently, as it turned out), so I turned around and went back to Balham where I had previously passed the highly-commended M1lk.

Located a few strides away from Balham Train and Tube Stations along Balham High Road, M1lk is a delightful place. Although the address is Bedford Hill, if coming from the station, you’re better off cutting down Hildreth Street on your right. You’ll find M1lk at the end, on your left. In the summer, tables spill out onto the pavement of the pedestrianised street, while in the winter, a large awning gives protection to a row of four tables and benches.

Inside, you are spoilt for choice with some excellent coffee, all-day brunches and lots of cake (unless you arrive at four o’clock, when most of it has been eaten!). The espresso is from London’s Workshop, while the filter coffee (made with an Aeropress) features beans from Koppi, making M1lk the Swedish roasters’ only permanent outlet in London.

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Muni Coffee Co.

The Muni Coffee Co. logo from the wall behind the counter at the Fulham Road coffee shop.I came across Muni Coffee last year on Kickstarter. The brainchild of husband-and-wife team, Julian and Jena, the idea was to bring the Filipino specialty coffee to the British coffee-drinking public by working directly with farmers in the Philippines. The coffee’s imported to the UK, then roasted on behalf of Muni by north London’s, Campbell & Syme.

Intrigued, I backed the project, which was to help Jena and Julian establish a café in London where they could serve Muni’s coffee (you can also buy it on-line). That was in September and, after months of hard work, Muni’s imported its first container of green beans, roasted them and, on Saturday, the café opened on Fulham Road. Naturally, I had to visit…

It’s not a huge place, but has a simple, uncluttered layout with seating for about 15 inside and a few more at a couple of outside tables set back from the busy Fulham Road. Obviously the main draw’s the coffee, with an espresso-based menu offering the usual third-wave favourites. However, it’s not just about coffee, with Jena’s Filipino heritage shining through when it comes to the extensive food offering. There’s breakfast, lunch and cakes, fusing traditional British & Filipino cuisine.

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Party on Pavilion

Some lovely latte art in an equally lovely piccolo made with the Party Blend at Party on Pavilion, London and served in a glass on a black saucer.From Australia to Sloan Square via Winchester: Party on Pavilion is the first (for now) coffee shop of Winchester-based Aussie imports, The Roasting Party. It opened in August last year and I popped along during its second week with a promise that I would return the following month after a trip to Chicago. Seven months later and slightly shame-faced, I finally made my return on a sunny Friday afternoon after a hectic travel schedule that had seen me return to Chicago and China at the end of last year with two trips to the USA this year.

From the street, Party on Pavilion looks to be a tiny spot, just a counter and a bench, but don’t let that put you off. There’s a staircase off to the right which seems almost an afterthought. This leads to the Party’s best feature, a sunny loft space which runs the full length of the building, where there’s plenty of seating.

When it comes to the coffee, the Roasting Party’s Drake Blend is on espresso, with the Party Blend reserved for milk-based drinks. There’s also a selection of two or three single-origins which change every few weeks, available through either Chemex or Aeropress.

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Pitch, Fulham Broadway

A flat white from Pitch in Fulham Broadway in my Therma Cup, a double-walled, thermally-insulated china cup which I take with me on my travels.Not long ago, there wasn’t much speciality coffee around Fulham, just the long-standing Chairs and Coffee (shamefully, I’ve still not been!). However, it’s a rapidly-changing scene, which now includes the latest arrival, Pitch, which opened last week inside Fulham Broadway shopping centre. Pitch made a name for itself when it cut the back off a Cadillac and turned it into an espresso bar in Westfield shopping centre out in Stratford.

Now it’s got a slightly more conventional pitch right in the middle of the main drag at Fulham Broadway, serving Allpress coffee from an espresso-based menu, with decaf on a second grinder. There’s also hot chocolate, tea, sandwiches and an impressive range of cakes. It doesn’t stop there: Pitch has an astonishing seven types of milk-substitute! For what is essentially a takeaway place, there’s also seating at the counter (including power!), which is a nice touch.

Having started life in Westfield, which is about as mainstream as it comes, Pitch isn’t afraid of a little competition from the chains, and so it is at Fulham Broadway. Pitch has set up directly opposite Starbucks and there’s a Pret one door down. Who says speciality coffee can’t compete with the big boys?

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Rag & Bone Coffee

A heart-shaped tulip in my Therma Cup, a white, porcelain reusable mug, with a circular rim and an octagonal interior.Set up in November 2015 by brothers Alfie and Harry, along with business-partner Charlie, Rag & Bone Coffee's a welcome addition to the Victoria Station/Westminster area. The patch, home to the venerable Flat Cap Victoria at Strutton Ground Market (where Alfie worked for five years, learning the trade of making coffee outdoors), is now slowly gaining more decent coffee, Rag & Bone joining Iris & June, which opened in 2014.

Rag & Bone is a coffee cart which has its home in front of St Matthew’s Church on Great Peter Street, serving single-origin espresso from south London social enterprise, Old Spike Roastery. The coffee changes on a monthly basis, Rag & Bone receiving “whatever’s good” from the Roastery, plus there are retail bags of beans for sale. In the summer months, iced coffee joins the usual espresso-based options on the menu, all served with a friendly smile and warm welcome.

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Stir Coffee Brixton

A lovely decaf Brazilian Cortado in a blue espresso cup at Stir Coffee BrixtonStir Coffee Brixton is a relative newcomer to the area, having only opened at the start of the year. I first became aware of it when I ran into one of the owners at Rag & Bone Coffee (he lived across the road at the time) when I was struck by his enthusiasm and dedication. Fast forward six months, and I finally found myself in Brixton for the Volcano Coffee Works/Assembly launch, so I made a point of taking the 15 minute walk south along Brixton Hill (surely the world’s flattest hill) to Stir.

Stir isn’t quite a multi-roaster, but it mixes up its coffee on a regular basis. There’s a house-blend on espresso from Mission Coffee Works, plus a second espresso from Assembly, which is joined by a decaf on the third grinder. There are also two or three choices on filter, through either the Aeropress or V60, while if you ask nicely, there’s also the Chemex, even though it’s not on the menu. All the coffee choices, except the house-blend, change regularly. There’s also loose-leaf tea, beer (bottles or cans) and various soft drinks, plus a small, but excellent range of food, including a decent selection of cake.

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Story Coffee

A flat white from Story Coffee, made with Square Mile's Red Brick espresso and served in my Therma Cup.Occupying a bright, sunny corner just a few doors down from Birdhouse, Story Coffee has been part of the furniture in this part of London, which is just west of Clapham Junction station, for close to four years. Give how often I go up to London, this shows just how little I get out of the station rather than zipping through it on the train. The loss, frankly, is all mine.

There’s not much to Story Coffee, just a single, unfussy rectangular space, with plenty for room on the broad pavement for a cluster of tables. Meanwhile, inside is a mix of tables and bars. Since it started, Story Coffee has used London’s Square Mile, but that’s slowly changing, Story having recently started roasting its own coffee. For now it’s Square Mile’s Red Brick on espresso, with a different single-origin on batch-brew and another on pour-over. These change every day or two and represent your best chance of sampling Story’s own coffee, which occasionally makes an appearance.

For somewhere so small, there’s also an impressive brunch menu, prepared in the kitchen downstairs, and served until three o’clock each afternoon (four o’clock at weekends). Naturally, there’s a good selection of cake.

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The Black Chapel

An espresso at The Black Chapel in Wandsworth, pulled on a 1958 Faema Lambro.The Black Chapel occupies a unit on the west side of Chapel Yard, a sheltered, pedestrian space just off Wandsworth High Street. There are a couple of outside tables and three stools inside, but that’s about it. You really come here for the coffee, the vegan snacks/treats, and, of course, to be insulted by hang out with The Black Chapel’s legendary owner, Ant.

There’s a rotating cast of guest roasters, with a single option on espresso and another on pour-over. Ant operates an interesting system: when one coffee runs out, he grabs a bag of whatever takes his fancy from his stock cupboard and on that goes in its place… The coffee is pulled on a vintage 1964 Telechrome lever espresso machine, although while I was there, it was under repair, replaced by an even more venerable lever machine, a 1958 Faema Lambro. There’s also filter through the Clever Dripper.

When it comes to food (although not coffee, where cow’s milk is available along with non-dairy alternatives), The Black Chapel is vegan, with a small selection of sweet and savoury delights, including avocado on toast, all prepared on-site. I arrived just as the cinnamon buns came out of the oven…

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Timmy Green

The Timmy Green logo from outside Timmy Green on Sir Simon Milton Square near Victoria Station.The latest addition to the growing Daisy Green/Beany Green collective is a rather different beast from those which have gone before. Spread over two floors on the corner of the prodigious new Nova development near Victoria Station, Timmy Green takes the strengths of Daisy/Beany and builds on them. The original Daisy Green, plus the Paddington and Liverpool Street Beany Greens, gained a reputation for innovative brunch menus, but Timmy Green goes one better, turning this into a fully-fledged restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, complete with desserts, wine, beer and cocktails. And, of course, Roasting Party coffee.

The bulk of Timmy Green is downstairs, a triangular space providing restaurant-style table seating to the right and, in a tapering section to the left, cocktail tables and window-bars, plus a couple more intimate spaces. Upstairs, the mezzanine shares space with the kitchen as well as housing a few more tables.

There’s a large outdoor seating area in front of Timmy Green, with a narrower strip down the right-hand side. If all you want is coffee, a barrow with a bright yellow La Marzocco serves takeaway from half-an-hour before opening until three in the afternoon from its spot just left of door.

August 2017: I went back to Timmy Green for dinner to discover a few minor layout/seating changes. Don't forget to check out what I made of the experience.

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Map

If you don’t like lists or just want to see where everything is, you can use the map to find your way around. Note that this shows the closest 50 Coffee Spots to the centre of the SW postcode region, not just those Coffee Spots in the SW region.

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