What do you mean you don’t have filter coffee? A Guide to London Coffee Shops

I wish I had been diligent enough to do a proper coffee shop review of every cafe I visited in London but at this stage in the game that would be simply impossible. I am going to attempt to backtrack through all the coffee shops I have visited giving them quick scores and pointing out the ideal features of each. Coffee is truly blossoming in London so don’t be intimidated by the perceived ‘only tea’ culture.

As the title of this posts hints at, the one thing yet to develop is strong cups of black, filter coffee. Artisanal shops that will be explored in this post do have pour-over, chemex and V60 options but they are simply lacking good ready made coffee–paper filters, large batches, hot mugs you can wrap your hands around simply do not happen in most London shops which is a huge shame. Looking past this, visiting cafe is an awesome way to see London, each neighborhood can be characterized by they handful of coffee shops that reside in it. So I’ll break it down by region, trying to record every coffee shopI can recall. It’s going to look like a daunting list but life is better when drinking good coffee. The Southbank and East London have unfortunately been painfully neglected in my coffee pursuits but I will try to outsource some recommendations for these areas. The greatest London coffee blog for filling in the blank map spaces is Cups of London Coffee. They have an interactive map that has displays the massive density of London’s coffee shops allowing you to zoom and click cafes to display recorded times and information. It’s brilliant!

As a reminder coffee shop reviews go a little something like this: cafes are marked out of 5 on location, barista cuteness, coffee knowledge/expertise, ambiance, and food/pastry selection.

Convent Garden/Aldwych

  1. Lundenwic-4(Lundenwic is a newer shop on Aldwych that is teeny tiny. the place has two tables and a three-seat counter so not ideal for working or hanging out but if you do snag a table you are right in the middle of the action, merging with the queue of people and baristas bustling about from the mysterious kitchen downstairs. From this basement emerges a selection of toasties and salads for lunch. I have had hits and misses with lunch but highly recommend the cranberry sauce, chicken, and squash toastie if they have it. The sandwich tastes like Thanksgiving dinner between two slices of sourdough bread. Be wary of the amount of kale and fennel in the salads, it’s a lot of kale and fennel. The location is ideal if you are a uni student at LSE, which this writer might be. Unfortunately if you our not headed to lecture there is really no reason to be walking along Aldwych as it has no tourist appeal and is crowded with students and professionals. However, Lundenwic is near some theatres so if you are headed to a play and worried you will not stay awake either because it looks to be extremely dull or you are very tired, grab a strong flat white, and chat with the extremely handsome baristas before the show).
  2. Fernandez and Wells-Somerset House-4.5(There are two things keeping F&W from receiving a 5 much to my dismay. First, the coffee is just simply not that good. The espresso is often burnt and flavorless so it is best to get tea because they will top up your pot with hot water, give you honey and even steamed milk if you like. The service is certainly not lacking at Somerset House that is for certain. Second, while the Spanish-style savory options at F&W are divine, their pastry selection is weak and very expensive. Now that we have those critiques out of the way let’s move to the highlights. Somerset House, is one of my favorite places in all of London and you can see my full post here. The setting of the cafe is minimal and airy, the light wood furniture and large tables makes it a fantastic place to spread out and do work. Their music selection is consistently on point, playing an eclectic mix of soul and indie songs. Most of the the baristas are incredibly friendly and the table service for food is quite enjoyable, I highly recommend their soup specials, particularly the chicken tangine. The soups come in a huge steaming bowl with some crucial pieces of sourdough bread for soaking up the last bits).      13102718_10208147040907100_3434636631585142432_n
  3. The Black Penny-4.5(The Black Penny will always hold a special place in my heart for the lunch deal they used to have which included three salads and a protein for under 10 quid, although the lunch deal is no longer the food selection is still expansive and delicious. The coffee is top notch quality as well. The place is nicely situated off the dense crowded Convent Garden area closer to Holborn station. It’s ideal for a longer uni lunch or a break from the tourist scene. The inside is very rustic and warm Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling and the back has a large communal table and several squished two-tops.There are shelves adorned with books and magazines  situated over built in cubbies for single seating. The exposed brick wall adds to the Brooklyn chic vibe. The baristas and servers match the warm interior and are very friendly, and always more than happy to point out their favorites of the day).
  4. New Row Coffee-4(This tiny kiwi-owned coffee shop sits on New Row Street in Convent Garden. New Row rivals Lundenwic in it’s size as it only has two tables and two counter seats. The pastries are all homemade daily by Tom, the owner of the shop. The coffee quality is stellar and the small space is not over designed or sparse. There is a coffee grinder serving as an expensive flower pot. The teal dishes add a little quirk and brightness. I’d recommend getting a cappuccino and specifying without cocoa powder because it tends to overpower things. The tall lanky baristas are the essence of the London aesthetic so no need to worry about that. I recommend the Anzac cookies and almond croissants).img_4253
  5. Fleet River Bakery-3(Fleet River is not in a very idealic location sandwiched between Kingsway and Lincoln Fields Inn, in a non-descript part of Holborn. Again, for an LSE student it is pretty convenient. Known for their pastries, correction expensive pastries It’s best to run through either to get a goof cup of coffee or quick lunch. I have never been too impressed with their offerings but people swear by their toasties and salads so I’ll leave a little hope. The space is very drafty and unadorned, Fleet River is packed at lunch so try to grab a spot quick or check out their downstairs area. If you are in a hurry, Fleet River is also not the most expedient so be aware).
  6. Fleet Street Press
  7. Notes-Convent Garden

Soho

  1. TAP No. 193-5                                                                    12809736_10207890381890785_2470534023979204042_n
  2. Flat White-4
  3. Nordic Bakery-3.5
  4. Foxcroft and Ginger-3

Fitzroviia

  1. Kin-5
  2. Attendant-5                                                                                                                                                   13184660_10208941295280255_1076025989_oimg_4319 img_4321
  3. Kaffeine-4

7 Dials

  1. Monmouth Coffee
  2. Timberyard
  3. Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Shoreditch

  1. Fix 126(Fraser’s Pic)
  2. Attendant
  3. Shoreditch Grind

Clerkenwell

  1. Workshop

Islington 

  1.   Vagabond No. 7 4.5(This coffee shop tucked away in Islington is a hidden gem in the London coffee scene. The narrow space is bigger than it appears with repurposed wooden spools as tables in the front area and  a cozy back room. Studying in the back room, you can work amongst the roaster, espresso machines and sacks filled with coffee–ideal for any person who literally runs on coffee. You are also working on a suspended wood table that has ample room to spread out your books, coffee, and food. On to the food, the almond croissant I had was the best almond croissant I have ever had in London, let me repeat—the best. That is saying something. The prepared sandwiches are also simple and hearty. There is also a kitchen tucked away that manages to pump out full English breakfast among other brunch fare served all day long. On my last trip to Vagabond, I discovered the secret side courtyard that is quaint and peaceful. Filled with mismatched iron furniture, the outdoor space is somehow sandwiched in a small, awkward corner between two buildings, Vagabond is an architecture marvel that seems to expand after you enter. The coffee shop also has a derelict appearance with crumbling walls and vacant fireplace stuffed with a combination of junk and books, it almost resembles the ruin bars of Budapest. A friendly staff serves high-quality coffee to match their impressive food fare and interesting space. I am only docking it for its location, north Liverpool Road is not quite a cultural hub but the hipsters are sure to come).

 

London Free Date Ideas

Recently, my friend was complaining on how expensive it was to take someone out on a date in London. I challenged him that this city was full of wonderful free date ideas that ranged from art to food, parks to museums, and so much more.

*A side note on this is that it is not unreasonable to expect both parties in a date to foot the bill. However, I really do see the value in the desire to treat someone to a good time. I don’t think it is at all unequal or sexist to feel this way. Also it goes without saying that these suggestions are not limited to dates–they can include platonic dates, family visits, solo adventures, whatever your heart tells you!*

  1. Go to a posh open house. Think strolling through Ikea in 500 Days of Summer is cute? Try touring a beautiful flat pretending to be a perspective buyer or my personal favorite-daughter looking on behalf of a rich aunt. You will typically find free food, drink, and entry to a neighborhood you would otherwise be seen as riff raff in. It’s a good laugh.
  2. Museums, duh, this is an easy one as almost all the museums in London are free. Spice if up by going to a free late night event. The Tate often offers free snacks and even artsy activities and/or live shows.
  3. Hampstead Heath and Highgate Cemetery, see some deceased legends and some beautiful scenery. Pack a picnic for bonus points and also listen to this brilliant episode of my favorite podcast, the Moth, about a spooky vampire who scares an unsuspecting Aussie to get you in the mood.
  4. Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park, what is better than jogging up to the top of Primrose Hill and taking in a good view of London? Once you are done stroll down the slope to Regent’s Park for a walkabout or maybe even the Zoo. Catch the park in Autumn when the leaves are golden and it will be extra breathtaking. IMG_3487IMG_3555 IMG_3488
  5. Saatchi Gallery, feeling classy and arty? Head to Chelsey and take your date to the Saatchi Gallery for some cool modern art and additional window shopping. A friend once told me it is great to gauge a date’s reaction to modern art to see if you are compatible. Maybe you both think it’s kooky and out there or maybe it is totally inspiring.
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  7. Bike Ride, this is a good one if you both own bikes, otherwise it becomes less free. Take your wheels out on a ride in Hyde Park where there are good paths and you are free from the treacherous London streets.
  8. Go to a toy store and/or a department store, this one has been recommended to me by a friend who had the most amazing time jumping on a giant piano at Hameleys with her date. The gags are truly limitless and why not exude some of your inner child? Harrods and Selfridges are another fun one. Harrods for samples and the endless knick knacks to explore and Selfridges for the window dressings alone.
  9. Farmer’s Market, another pretty obvious one. London is filled with markets from Borough to Spitalfields, Exmouth to Dover Street. Nosh, sample products and produce, feel hipster, shop for a potential dinner party, the options are limitless. Pro tip, if you go to a market at the end of the day they will literally throw free stuff at you.
  10. Play tourist and see the sites. Don’t discount that people travel from all over the world to see London. You might forget about all the monuments and historic sites in your own backyard. If you have never seen the changing of the guard, why wait? You might be surprised to learn what touristy things you and your date have not done and it always fun to spot the obnoxious tourists in a crowd of attractions. IMG_3499 IMG_3496
  11. Arrange a House of Parliament tour via a MP, this is an above and beyond addition to the idea above. After recently going on a tour of Parliament I was blown away with just how cool it was. There is a plethora of neat facts, architecture, and countless stories that make up the British Government’s rich history. It’s relatively easy to reach out to your local MP and arrange a tour with an aid, you will look very smart and distinguished while also expressing your inner political geek (plus and plus). If you don’t feel like going to the effort of arranging a tour you can always sit in the public galleries during a debate. This will also make you come off as intelligent and politically aware while maintaining the fact that you can heckle from the balcony if you so choose.
  12. Free shows and recitals are abound in London. You can catch shows at the London School of Economics and various cathedrals throughout the city. The Southbank Centre also hosts free lunchtime concerts on Fridays and Saturdays. Additionally, at any odd weekend in the year you are sure to catch some free event hosted by the Mayor of London in Trafalgar square. Such as Diwali, St. Patrick’s Day and Vasisakhi.

I have no doubt missed a ton of some of your favorite free date ideas so feel free to leave a comment so I can update the list.

Who gives a muck about an Oxford Comma?

Spontaneous adventures are almost always a good idea, especially if they are during a rainy reading week. Last Thursday’s trek consisted of a coach ride to lovely Oxford. There was something very refreshing about speeding away from London town and out into countryside. Getting to Oxford is so zippy and cheap via the (protip) Oxford Tube Bus. The bus runs every 15 minutes and costs 14 pounds roundtrip, that’s right folks throw those train timetables out the window and get yourself to Victoria Station for an adventure.

Half an hour into the ride it started to pour which made for a dreamy trip to the college town. I was glad I had by rain boots (see pun in post title) for lots and lots of walking. I am going to guess that my friend Peter and I lapped the little town about four times. It’s really easy to go to Oxford with no plans because a. there are maps with points of interest everywhere and b. every side winding street is interesting in and of itself.

Hopping off the train there was a flea and food market beckoning us forward. So after steamed pork bao, samosas literally folded together and fried in front of us, and bowl of mixed dumplings I could have gone back pleased, but culture I guess. As we wandered we walked around the grounds of the iconic Bodleian Library before heading to Christ Church where the leaves were enormous and, had it not been for rain, perfectly crunchy.

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Before heading into the church we got sidetracked by science and took a detour to The Museum of the History of Science. The name gives a good indication of the mishmash of items presented in no particular design with no particular sense of editing. However, the kitschy effect was actually enjoyable and it felt like walking through a good curio shop where you could admire everything with no salesman pressure. Back to Christ Church we paid our student (protip) entry fee and toured the cathedral and great hall. Seeing the inspiration for Hogwarts was definitely worth the charge.

More wanderings brought us to the Bridge of Sighs and the outside of the botanical gardens. Had it not been Fall and raining the gardens looked worthy of a visit. Our second church stop was University Church which boasted some vibrant stained glass and balcony views. Due to increasing rain we headed back to the bus depot with our final stop being a stroll/brisk walk around Trinity College which was incredibly green and had some extremely interesting architecture.

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Some takeaways from Oxford are first, don’t forget to dress for the weather, second, always look at your bus options, and third, when you get the chance to take a break from the urban scene–run after it.

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A Little Something Something

My poor forgotten blog, I am revisiting you at last. First, let me say that the past month has been absolutely craziness but I am proud to say You are HERE has officially moved international! It’s safe to say I am settled in London by now so ya’ll can look forward to cheeky posts from England’s hustling and bustling capital.

My overall impressions of the city are as follows: traffic, drinking on the sidewalk (yes, it’s cooler to be outside the bar than in), queuing, so much queuing. and green space. The royal parks alone are out of this world. (Look for individual park breakdowns in the future). I’m going to get to coffee shops, ramen, museums, and fashion in a minute but first I have to acknowledge the amazing jewel in my own ‘hood-The Somerset House. 

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The Somerset House is a sprawling complex on The Strand that houses galleries, cafes, a massive courtyard, and so much more. I can’t really do the history of this grand manor justice so I’ll leave it to the comprehensive history page on Somerset’s site.

When you step into any part of the Somerset House it is as if you have stepped out of contemporary London and into Vienna in the early 1900s. The air is rich with bourgeoisie knowledge from the King’s College students criss crossing with arts enthusiasts. The “house” is enormous and the exhibitions are constantly changing so it is impossible to grow bored. There are five eateries and countless galleries to traverse along with terraces and special events.

So far I have found Fernandez and Wells to be an amazing spot to curl up and do work with a coffee and a delicious sandwich or bowl of soup. Full on review to come soon.

I have made my way through Out of Chaos Ben Uri: 100 Years in London an awesome exhibit celebrating London’s rich immigrant communities. The exhibit was nicely curated with works that were thoughtfully put together in each small room. This made for a very intimate look inside the lives of London’s multicultural landscape. The range of works spanning many different time periods is very dynamic and is supported by crisp graphics portraying the climbing number of immigrants in London.

I also walked through Courtauld Gallery which houses a permanent collection of medieval and impressionist works, as well as, revolving exhibits. On display currently is Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat.  In this show, Riley copied Seurat’s famous Bridge at Courbevoie and than created her own works. Riley’s new perspective on pointillism is quite vibrant and striking. It was refreshing to see an artist celebrate a classic painter rather than hide behind murky plaques that say “he/she was inspired by…” and hen produce a grim modern copy.

The permanent collection includes paintings, drawings, and sculptures residing in stately rooms that are artful in their own right. The collection has a surprising amount of classics but doesn’t overwhelm the visitor with volume. Each painting has room to breath on well-lit walls. Some of my favorites included Nevermore by Gauguin and Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder,

I have just scratched the surface of all there is to explore at the magnificent Somerset House but it is right down the road so I am sure to return a couple dozen times this year. However, this quick review of a cafe and two galleries should be enough to entice anyone to take a look. There’s something in Somer for everyone,