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The Coffee Spot Guide to West Central London
The Coffee Spot Guide to West Central London includes everything with a postcode starting with WC, which encompasses a surprisingly narrow strip running north from the Thames to the Euston Road, including the Strand, Covent Garden and Bloomsbury, extending as far west as Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square. As such, it is surprising what it does not cover, incluidng areas such as Soho, which, in my head, is very definitely in “central London” but which, in postcode terms, is West London.
As with all these guides, this is not, and does not claim to be, a comprehensive guide to the coffee scene in West Central London. While you’re here, why not check out the rest of the Coffee Guides to London?
Header image: The pediment of the British Museum in the heart of Bloomsbury.
Coffee shop/roaster Catalyst opened in Holborn in late 2016, joining a growing number of speciality coffee shops in the area. I remember the buzz it generated at the time, with the likes of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato singing its praises. I duly put it on my (very long) list of places to visit and when, almost four years later, I found myself around the corner at The Attendant on Leather Lane, I knew that the time had come.
Occupying a bright, airy, corner spot, Catalyst is a lovely space, although its real draw is the coffee, roasting multiple single-origins (and a solitary blend) on the 12 kg Diedrich in the basement, several of which are available on espresso, batch brew and pour-over. There’s a small, innovative brunch menu that’s served until 3 pm, while on Friday evenings, Catalyst reinvents itself as a bar, complete with a separate and equally innovative bar menu. You don’t need to wait until Friday though: alcohol is available throughout the day, with cocktails and a small selection of beer and wine.
This Coffee Spot is about Catalyst as a coffee shop, while you can read about Catalyst the roaster in its own Meet the Roaster feature.Continue reading...
Coffee Island, St Martin’s Lane
Coffee Island is, unusually for the Coffee Spot, a chain and an international one at that, which started on a Greek island in 1999 and now has over 300 shops throughout Greece, Cyprus and south-east Europe. However, its branch on St Martin’s Lane is (so far) the only UK one. Opening earlier this year with a considerable media push, I was away at the time and so missed all the fuss. I popped in later in the year and I liked what I saw…
A modest exterior hides a surprisingly-large coffee shop with plenty of seating and a mezzanine level at the back. I’d describe Coffee Island as coffee geeks meet the mainstream, so while there’s a house-blend, decaf and five single-origins, there’s also flavoured coffee, which is not something you normally associate with the speciality end of the market. There’s also a large retail section (beans and equipment), tea and food, the latter in the shape of salads, sandwiches and cake.
There’s an excellent range of options for the coffee including espresso, Greek coffee (Ibrik), bulk-brew or pour-over using the V60, Aeropress or Chemex (for one or two). If you want to compare coffee or methods side-by-side, it’s awesome!Continue reading...
It feels harsh calling Store Street Espresso a chain, but technically, with the opening of the second branch of the Store Street Espresso empire, it is. The new outlet, Continental Stores, on Tavistock Place, is less than 15 minutes’ walk northeast of Store Street, home of the original Store Street Espresso, but it’s a totally different part of London.
Although it’s half the size of the original, resulting in a more intimate atmosphere, Continental Stores sticks to the same formula that has made Store Street such a success. The house-blend on the espresso machine is Square Mile’s Red Brick seasonal blend, while there’s also a guest espresso (from various roasters; Nude Espresso’s Guatemalan was on while I was there) and a decaf option. Finally, there’s a single-original pour-over filter coffee via the V60 (a washed Bolivian from Square Mile during my visit), with bulk-brew coming soon. Add to that Store Street staples of cake, sandwiches, soup, toast and very friendly staff and you’re onto a winner.
Grinder-geeks, by the way, will be fascinated by the Mahlkonig EK43 grinder which deals with the guest coffees and the decaf. It certainly cuts an interesting figure on the counter!Continue reading...
Dark Woods Coffee x Ruffians
I’m always surprised that there aren’t more speciality coffee shops in barbershops/hairdressers since they seem a natural fit to me. That said, London’s been at the forefront of this particular niche, ever since the first incarnation of Sharps Coffee Bar on Windmill Street. The latest entrant is Dark Woods Coffee x Ruffians on Maiden Lane, just south of Covent Garden.
Ruffians is a small barbershop chain, originating in Edinburgh, with this, it’s first London outpost, opening eight years ago. The coffee, in that respect, is a recent innovation, starting with a small pour-over bar before really taking off last spring with the addition of the Sanremo espresso machine, which coincided with the move to Dark Woods Coffee.
The result is a lovely little coffee bar at the front of the barbershop, with a concise espresso-based menu, pour-over and a small retail selection. Everything is served in disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own, although you’re welcome to one of the four yellow stools at the windows at the front, or the bench outside.Continue reading...
To mark my return to the UK, Monday’s Coffee Spot is somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for all most as long as I’ve been doing the Coffee Spot. Expresso Base is in the courtyard of St George’s Church, near the British Museum and just across the way from the original site of Wild & Wood. It’s easy enough to miss and is closed over the weekend, which might go some way to explaining how I’ve managed to not go there for almost four years (which, incidentally, is how long Expresso Base has been going, having opened a few months before I started the Coffee Spot).
Essentially an outdoor café, Expresso Base occupies the right-hand side of the churchyard, with plenty of seating and a gazebo at the back which houses the two-group La Marzocco. If it’s raining, additional umbrellas, etc, can be put up to provide shelter, but on a sunny day, there’s nothing better than sitting on one of the wooden benches and enjoying your coffee in the sun. The coffee, from Has Bean, is always a single-origin and changes on a regular basis, while there’s a small selection of cake if you are hungry. There's also a guest roaster which changes every week.Continue reading...
Fernandez & Wells, Somerset House
Almost a year after featuring Fernandez & Wells for the first time, with the delightful Exhibition Road branch, I thought it about time that I got around to writing up the Somerset House branch, where I’ve been a semi-regular visitor through the year. Set within Somerset House itself, with stunning views of the courtyard and, in the summer, copious outside seating, it’s one of the most physically appealing Coffee Spots that I’ve been to. Inside, high ceilings and large windows give it an immense sense of light and space, while multiple rooms, on a par with Paris’ La Caféothèque, means that there’s something for everyone.
A cross between wine-bar, deli and coffee shop, F&W’s food and coffee are as outstanding as the setting. Somerset House has a similar offering to Exhibition Road, with perhaps a slightly more extensive menu, which never fails to amaze and delight me. The coffee’s from Has Bean, with a bespoke house-blend on espresso. Open late into the evenings, it’s the perfect spot for an after-hours coffee or a bite to eat and while I haven’t tried it, the wine selection looks excellent. In the summer, it’s one of the best outdoor cafés in London.Continue reading...
Fortitude Bakehouse, tucked away in the heart of Bloomsbury behind Russell Square Tube Station, opened in the summer of last year, an event which largely passed me by, perhaps explaining why I left it until the start of this month to pay it a visit. It is, as the name suggests, a bakery, reminding me, in concept at least, of the original Exploding Bakery in Exeter.
There’s a single counter running the entire width of the shop, behind which the bakery bustles away, turning out sourdough sweets and savouries, all of which you’ll find laden on the counter. Even better, at the far end, a Victoria Arduino White Eagle espresso machine dispenses drinks from a concise espresso menu, using a single-origin from Has Bean. Although aimed mostly at the takeaway trade, there’s a small amount of seating inside, while outside on the quiet street, you’ll find six two-person tables.Continue reading...
Frequency is a new addition to the coffee scene around King’s Cross Station. Owned by a lovely couple, Justo and Joey, it’s slightly off the beaten track, it’s down King’s Cross Road in the direction of Exmouth Market, tucked away in a little parade of shops. It’s been open all of two months, serving coffee from Workshop and tea from Joe’s Tea, both local suppliers. This is backed up by an interesting breakfast selection, sandwiches and, of course, plenty of cake.
When it comes to coffee, there’s a commendably concise espresso-based menu, plus a choice of three single-origins on filter (one of which is the same bean in the hopper for the espresso). You can have your filter coffee as either a pour-over through the V60 or an Aeropress, with the beans changing on a seasonal basis. The beans, by the way, are also for sale.
Frequency itself is a cosy space, long and thin, with seating at the front and in a little room at the back if you want to escape the coming and going of the other customers. There’s also a small table outside the front of Frequency, where it sits in a beautifully-tiled entrance.Continue reading...
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.Continue reading...
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.Continue reading...
La Gelatiera, New Row
As much as I like ice cream, ice cream parlours normally don’t appear on the Coffee Spot (Philadelphia’s iconic Franklin Fountain being, until now, the only exception). However, while wandering along New Row to check on New Row Coffee (which, following its change of ownership last year, has rebranded as The Espresso Room) something caught my eye in the window of La Gelatiera: a coffee menu offering two espresso blends from none other than Terrone & Co! Well, that was my choice made for me: who doesn’t love coffee and ice cream? Especially on a hot day…
Although ice cream’s the main reason to visit La Gelatiera, it’s great to see non-coffee places (like Crosstown Doughnuts) serving speciality coffee and doing it well. La Gelatiera’s pretty small, with most customers grabbing their ice cream to go, but there are some tables and a small bar if you want to stay.Continue reading...
Lever & Bloom
Lever & Bloom is a coffee cart on the corner of Byng Place in Bloomsbury, London, with the magnificent Church of Christ the King as its backdrop. Come rain or shine, Lever & Bloom is open throughout the year from eight to five, five days a week, serving top-quality espresso, the shots pulled on a lovely lever machine.
Lever & Bloom has been on my radar for a couple of years now, ever since it moved onto its new pitch in fact, but it wasn’t until yesterday, on my way to Euston Station, that I was able to actually stop by and say hello to Mounir, the owner. Serving Climpson and Sons’ Baron on espresso, there’s also decaf, a range of Birchall teas and a small selection of cakes, all made by Mounir’s wife. Needless to say, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.Continue reading...
Lundenwic is one of those places that I’ve been meaning to visit ever since it opened. Back in 2015… In my defence, I’ve been a couple of times, but each time it’s been so busy that it’s been impossible to photograph, so I quietly left, telling myself I’d be back another day. That day eventually came one rainy Saturday evening in May when all the sensible people had gone home…
Located in the heart of the London’s theatre-land, right on Aldwych, at the foot Drury Lane, Lundenwic brings speciality coffee to a very mainstream setting. The shop itself is narrow and weirdly-shaped, with not one, but two (sort of) basements, exactly the sort of place I revel in. I must admonish my previous self for not going back sooner.
When it comes to coffee, Lundenwic keeps things simple but classy. Assembly’s seasonal espresso (currently a washed Colombian) is joined by Square Mile’s seasonal decaf (currently a blend of 80% Colombian and 20% Kenyan), while Assembly and Square Mile take it in turns on the batch-brew filter, the coffee changing roughly every week. A similar approach is taken with the food, a concise all-day brunch menu joined by soup at lunchtime.Continue reading...
Meet the Roaster: Catalyst
In the Coffee Spot’s early days, central London had a handful of coffee shop/roasters, with the likes of TAP, Caravan and Ozone all roasting, then serving, coffee on the premises. However, rising rents, along with expanding demand, led to roasteries moving to bigger/cheaper premises in outer London: of the three examples mentioned, only Ozone still roasts in its original location. Therefore, when the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, coffee shop/roaster Catalyst, opened in Holborn in late 2016, it was already bucking the trend, something which continues to this day.
I remember the buzz its opening generated, when it was only a coffee shop, the likes of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato singing its praises. Before long, the 12 kg Diedrich in the basement was up and running, and Catalyst hasn’t looked back, although it took me until last month before I managed to visit, when I wrote up Catalyst as a coffee shop.
Today it’s the turn of Catalyst the roaster. It has an impressive output, with a retail espresso blend and multiple single-origins, with various options on espresso and filter. Even COVID-19 can’t slow it down, Catalyst seeing a large boost in its direct-to-consumer sales through its website!Continue reading...
The Espresso Room (was New Row Coffee)
New Row Coffee has been around for several years, pleasingly occupying a spot on New Row, just off St Martin’s Lane, midway between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. I’ve walked past on several occasions, but never had reason to stop, always being put off by its size (or lack thereof). However, on a recent visit to Freed’s on St Martin’s Lane to buy some new dance shoes, I decided to change all that. I was so impressed that I returned the following week with my camera, and exactly one week later, here it is on the Coffee Spot!
New Row’s one of those small coffee shops that thinks it’s actually much bigger. For somewhere with just two tables and a pair of seats at the counter, it serves a range of coffee that would put many larger rivals to shame. Joining the obligatory espresso menu, built around Caravan’s ubiquitous Market Blend, there’s a regularly-rotating filter coffee (also Caravan) through V60, AeroPress or Syphon. Add to that a decent range of cakes and, a recent addition, a small sandwich and savoury tart selection, and you have a place for all occasions. If you can find a seat!
July 2017: Following the change of ownership (see after the gallery), New Row Coffee has been rebranded The Espresso Room. The Market Blend is still on espresso, but it's been joined by various guests, both on espresso and pour-over. Otherwise, little appears to have changed.Continue reading...
Notes, Trafalgar Square
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.Continue reading...
Redemption Roasters, Lamb's Conduit Street
Redemption Roasters has been on my radar since I met the founders at London Coffee Festival way back (or so it now feels) in 2017. Roasting from a facility inside Aylesbury Young Offenders institute, Redemption Roasters offers training in both coffee roasting and barista skills, as well as helping finding ex-offenders find work in the coffee industry. Not long after that meeting, in July 2017, the first (of currently three London-based) Redemption Roasters coffee shop opened on Lamb's Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, just around the corner from Great Ormond Street Hospital and on the opposite side of the road from old hands, Knockbox Coffee.
The space itself is simple enough, a large, bright, open rectangle with the counter on the right and the bulk of the seating on the left, with some more at the front and outside on the pavement. However, the real draw is the coffee, with the Aylesbury Blend on espresso, pulled through a Slayer Steam espresso machine (one of only a handful in the UK) and four single-origins on pour-over through the V60, one of which is available as batch brew. Naturally all the beans are available for sale in retail bags. There’s also a limited breakfast and lunch offering, with plenty of cakes to tempt you if you’re hungry.Continue reading...
Store Street Espresso
Store Street Espresso, unsurprisingly located on Store Street, is a wonderful place. It’s been open for about 2½ years and I’ve been aware of it for some time, having walked past several times and given it admiring glances. However, until recently, I’d never had the opportunity to go in. Fortunately for me, Store Street Espresso more than lived up to its external promise.
I like pretty much everything about Store Street, from the layout of the store, through the friendly and knowledgeable staff, right up to the coffee and cake. It’s a place that’s not afraid to experiment, with regularly-rotating guest coffees (including European and American roasters) supplementing the regular offerings from Square Mile. At the same time, it stays true to its core values of serving good food and excellent coffee. It has a pretty decent filter coffee and a mean slice of toast, both of which are pretty rare. That it’s open until seven o’clock in the evening is a huge bonus.
My only regret is that I didn’t know about Store Street when I was a regular visitor to the British Museum, otherwise I would have spent a lot more time in it back then.Continue reading...
The Black Penny
In my head, The Black Penny is one of a new crop of London coffee shops which I am slowly getting around to visiting. The reality is that it has been here for a while, having recently celebrated its third birthday. I guess the emphasis in the first sentence really should be on “slowly”. The Black Penny occupies the site of another London stalwart, Salt, which closed at the end of 2013, which might explain why I still think of it as new, long after it has become an established fixture in London’s coffee scene.
Perhaps as well known for its all-day brunch menu as its coffee, The Black Penny occupies a long, thin space, with a magnificent back room providing additional seating. There’s a bespoke house-blend on espresso, plus a single-origin on V60, both roasted for The Black Penny by The Roastery Department, the coffee-roasting arm of the Department of Coffee & Social Affairs.
During the week, there are salads at lunchtime, while there’s cake available through the day, seven days a week. For those that are so inclined, there’s a small selection of wine and beer, as well as an excellent range of soft drinks, plus tea.Continue reading...
The Camera Cafe
The Camera Café is the ideal place to come for an hour or two with your laptop, particularly on a rainy day. Located just down the street from the British Museum, it’s one of a number of places I use when I need a break from the cultural overload that is the British Museum. Not that the Camera Café isn’t cultured and, if you haven’t got a laptop, you don’t need to worry, since there are a couple of bookshelves stacked with interesting titles to help pass the time.
The coffee is good without being outstanding, but the clincher for me is the hot chocolate fudge cake. It’s also worth popping in at lunchtime for a plate of noodles or a toasted sandwich (although I’ve not tried the sandwiches). Another factor in its favour is the relatively long opening hours. When everyone else is shutting up shop at about five o’clock, the Camera Café is open until seven.Continue reading...
The Espresso Room, Great Ormond Street
A legendary name in London speciality coffee circles, The Espresso Room had already achieved this lofty status when I started the Coffee Spot 10 years ago. 2016 brought a change of ownership and expansion, first by bringing the likes of New Row Coffee under The Espresso Room brand, followed by opening new locations. This, however, is the Great Ormond Street original, opposite the famous Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.
The Espresso Room is well-named, since there’s not much to it, just a room with enough space to make espresso (and batch brew filter). There’s a bespoke espresso blend from old friends The Roasting Party, with a single-origin on filter, while if you’re hungry, The Espresso Room has a selection of cakes and pastries. If you’re staying, there are three benches outside, but be aware, The Espresso Room only serves in disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.Continue reading...
The Gentlemen Baristas Holborn
Once upon a time, one of my regular coffee haunts when visiting the British Museum was Wild & Wood on New Oxford Street. Sadly, the building was closed for redevelopment in 2015, necessitating a relocation to London Wall, where it’s still going strong. For a long time, the site stood empty, but now the redevelopment is finally complete, and, occupying roughly the same spot as Wild & Wood, is a new coffee shop.
Opening at the start of last month, the new coffee shop is none other than the ninth location for south London coffee juggernauts, The Gentlemen Baristas. The coffee offering is very similar to the other Gentlemen Baristas locations, with the Deerstalker blend and a single-origin on espresso, pulled on a Faema E71 espresso machine, joined by a single-origin on batch-brew, with plans for a pour-over option via the Kalita Wave. All the coffee is roasted in-house and available in retail bags. If you’re hungry, there’s soup, sandwiches and a selection of cakes and pastries, all served in an interesting, idiosyncratic space.Continue reading...
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 WC postcode region, not just those Coffee Spots in the WC region.