Monday, 30 November 2009

Caffeine fixes in London

One facet of life here in London is that it is hard to get through it on a daily basis without caffeine. Tea refreshes the soul but Coffee is the substance that grabs a pitchfork, pokes you in the back and propells you through the vicissitudes of the daily grind. Unsurprisingly there are a huge number of places waiting to fulfil one's dark liquid desires and also unsurprisingly a lot are peddling vile forms of the liquid. I'm not going to be snobby about the major chains, at least you know what your over-priced cup of heated liquid will contain. I even have to admit to an embarrassing partiality to Starbuck's gingerbread latte and am therefore not a purist. What has come to pass is that increasingly the cafes originally run by Italians, Cypriots and Spaniards are now employing people who don't seem to have any idea of what a coffee should taste like. I blame the Soviet System, I never had a decent cup of coffee in a soviet country and am old enough to have given it a good try. It is galling to see a perfectly good machine with half decent coffee produce, in the hands of an inexpert barrista, a liquid resembling a scalding cup of Thames water.

Having said that there are a quartet of places that I actively seek out for a glass of the dark stuff and I list them below just in case it is of any use to anyone. Of course this reflects a personal taste, I make no claims to a developed palate as anyone aware of my passion for processed cheese and russian salad will attest. These places serve, I think, good tasty coffee. Thats my reason for putting them in my quartet of caffeinous pleasure.

1. The Monmouth Coffee Shop, Borough Market Branch.

Much loved and well known by Notting Hillite foody trendies, the Monmouth cup of white coffee is a lovely creamy confection. Made with organic whole milk using the individual filter and drip style method (shown in the picture above) its coffee is smooth and unctious. Buying it can however be a mare. The staff are lovely but on a busy day a lot of the customers are complete arses. There is an order, pay and wait at the side system which utterly confuses the middle classes. What do they not understand about this system? why do they stand there like idiots and not move aside? Why do they think that their huge baby-carrier is more important than the crowds of other people in the place? Also they pick up other people's drinks, which leads me to believe that despite their braying self confidence they don't know the difference between a white coffee and a capuccino. Despite all of this, it is still worth going to buy the coffee...thats how good it is.

2. Mezzo Cafe, Grand Parade Green Lanes Haringay

Quite a different clientele to the Monmouth (thankfully), the Mezzo is a turkish run cafe that not only purveys good mezze, crepes and sarnies but has, out back, a covered heated Shisha garden. Green Lanes is not well endowed with coffee establishments, perhaps because it is kebab mile (or two or three miles, who knows, that road goes on forever). A dodgy thoroughfare, it has almost as many random nutters as Brixton which means falling into somewhere nice and relaxed is sometimes a relief. Mezzo is situated just after the Sainsburys heading north, it's coffee is good, and very very cheap: £1.20 at the time of writing for a take-out. Turks know how to make beverages, the clue to the decentness of this coffee is grinding it not long before making it. I drink enough of their coffee to get a free cup every week using their loyalty coffee card. It is hot, strong enough and has a rich medium bitter flavour. I cannot help here but digress and suggest that this is the place for breakfast coffee, accompanied by one of their superb meditteranean breakfasts. I'll digress again and point out that their cheesey boregi are really good. They'll even give you a lollipop when you leave if they like you.

3 Sacred Coffee stall in Kingly court, off Carnaby Street.

Sacred is actually a chain of coffee shops but the only one I ever tend to use is the coffee stand in Kingly Court. This is because my hairdresser is based there and her popularity often means a lot of waiting around. This matters not because the salon, which specialises in retro hair increasingly has the feel of a social club because of the intersecting nature of the 'scenes' the clientele inhabit. Additionally I can consume coffee and read back issues of 'Bizarre' which bizarrely always has at least one photograph of a friend within its covers. I'm not sure why the coffee is good, it just is. Probably because it is well made, it is also organic although I have found that although morally reassuring this does not necessarily improve the flavour. Last time I was there the heavens had just opened and the stand was inundated as Kingly Court is under cover and Carnaby Street isn't. The barista was remarkably speedy and the coffee was as good as it always is. When they have time it often has that swirly pattern thing on top, which I like because I am girly.

On a sunny day you can grab a coffee and sit in the court, which although covered is external. There are not as many good places for coffee in that end of Soho as there could be and this place is within easy reach of both Liberty's and that deranged medina that is the Oxford Circus branch of Top Shop. The neighbouring cafe sells cakes, what more could you want?

4 The Wolseley, Green Park

Often this London institution is jammed, but sometimes in the morning, the afternoon or on weekdays the little patisserie section on the left of the main entrance has plenty of space. I'm fond of the Wolseley for it's opulance, hum of life and democratic principles. The coffee at the Wolseley is different from my other choices being more of a traditional filter style jobbie. It does come with room temperature cream and is served, as it should be, in a silver pot. I know they are silver or silver plated because I have seen the pot for sale, and it is expensive. This is coffee to go with cakes (I'd recommend one of their eclairs) and it is therefore appropriate for it to be a somewhat more ascetic brew. The coffee is high quality, my only complaint is that it could be hotter, but I am not sure that it should be. I simply like my coffee hot. This is definitely the place to bring relatives if they are in town and want coffee. I wouldn't recommend the afternoon tea at the Wolseley, the fodder and cha is good but being a glamorous noisy barn it always feels as if you should be hurling your scone at your neigbouring diners. Coffee in the patisserie is better, it is a calming experience. Often you see businessmen on a weekday morning, scanning their papers, sipping their coffee. If the Wolseley is heaving Richeloux also serve an equally tasty pot of coffee, they just cannot compete on looks or atmosphere, although their faux oriental decor has its charm.

A very good guide to coffee haunts nationally can be found here:

Monmouth coffee's website is under construction .

Sacred Coffee's website:

Mezzo restaurant cafe website:

Details on the Wolseley:


Lisa said...

Brilliant! You named two of my favourite cafés in London, Monmouth and Sacred. Taking a gander at the xmas decs in Liberty and a shot of espresso at Sacred is one of my favourite afternoons!

Lainie Petersen said...

Very useful, Miss Minna. Thanks!

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