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).

 

VOLTA NY Emerging Artists: Julian Lorber and Anna Navasardian

At VOLTA NY there were two artists that caught my eye and drew me back to their temporary gallery spaces. This pair of artists are extremely different and grabbed my attention for specific reasons. It was a pleasure to meet both artists in person at the show and their fiercely loyal curators who were clearly passionate about both young artists.

Julian Lorber

The first artist that made an imprint on my tour of VOLTA NY’s exhibitors was Julian Lorber. Working out of a studio in Brooklyn, Lorber’s most recent works are textured beauties that feature intricate layering and color fusing. Lorber explores the dirtying of the urban landscape by delicately spraying acrylic paint over urethane resin applied to wood panels. A favorite of both the artist and myself, Fracking Lilacs displays the dark side of our manual manipulation of the environment through his own manipulation of textures, shadow, and color. In the painting, periwinkle slowly muddies into soot black while clashing yet melding with the raised rectangles that fall down the panel. Other spectacular pieces capturing similar themes and emotions included: Coverup Bronzer Yellow, Bruised Script and Makeup Dirt. Julian Lorber provides a serious exploration of  our changing landscape through intense work that goes beyond a thoughtful color story through his unique use of automotive spray paint application and structural elements.

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Anna Navasardian 

The final knockout artist featured at VOLTA NY was Anna Navasardian a 26 year old Armenian artist whose energetic portraits capture life and the beauty of human physicality exceptionally. Navasardian’s paintings Black Sea, Rope II, and Nude I feature detailed brushstrokes that capture human movement incredibly accurately. Her painting creates shadows that capture tendons, muscles and even the intensity of different facial expressions. Navasardian’s color palette, achieved by her use of both acrylic and charcoal  is also immaculate. Her scenes are very alive while remaining soft, locking a sense of realism in her portraiture.

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Staying Chic at VOLTA NY

No one can describe the VOLTA NY art show as well as the creators so I will include their own testimony below along with photographs of some of my favorite works. A note on my top two artists represented Anna Navasardian and Julian Lorber next post.

VOLTA NY is an invitational show of emerging solo artists’ projects and the American incarnation of the successful young fair founded in Basel in 2005. VOLTA NY was conceived in 2008 by Artistic Director Amanda Coulson as a tightly-focused, boutique event that is a place for discovery, a showcase for relevant art contemporary positions regardless of the artist’s or gallery’s age.

 By refocusing the fair-going experience to solo-artist projects, VOLTA’s New York edition promotes a deep exploration of the work of its invited participants and offers the opportunity for new discoveries. VOLTA showcases galleries — whether young or mature — that choose to work with the most exciting emerging artists. These galleries must maintain deeply meaningful connections with their artists and follow them throughout their careers. In turn, select galleries exhibit in the airy loft surroundings of VOLTA NY’s SoHo venue, elevating their respective platforms for an experience mutually beneficial to fair visitors and the galleries alike.

VOLTA NY is a platform for challenging, often complimentary – and sometimes competing – ideas about contemporary art. The strict solo format gives the New York fair its unique character, which curators and collectors often compare favorably to experiencing a series of intense studio visits.

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Woke up at noon? New York, No Problem

In New York City you don’t have to be the early bird to get the worm, no really you don’t. Feel free to be lazy when you have the time. The city sleeps in and stays out late, not as late as Rome or Paris but it’s getting there. Here’s a splendid day for the explorer who has a pension for restorative rest and the efficiency to pull it off.

Wake up and grab some coffee and a pastry at your favorite bodega, if you are in SoHo, I recommend Smile To Go. Jump on the subway and head to museum row. As tempting as it is to visit the heavy hitters such as the Met and Guggenheim, take a break from their tired collections and head further up 5th Avenue to The Museum of the City of New York. Yes, the name is not as efficient as you are but this new museum is the perfect size and has a nice mix of revolving exhibits that represent historical and contemporary life in New York. Currently, the museum is featuring two great modern exhibits on graffiti artists, City As Canvas, and a beautifully tragic photo story of Hurricane Sandy, Rising Waters, on the first floor. On the second floor the museum has opened up their newest wing which is hosting Activist New York, exhibiting the story of 14 historic causes taken up by the citizens that like to do anything but keep their opinions to themselves.

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 After you have toured through your museum of choice, hop across the street and into Central Park. A New York day isn’t really complete without a stroll through this iconic oasis and you can find beauty in the landscape at anytime of the year.

You’ve been traveling and walking for awhile so it’s now time to rest your legs. Take the subway to a lovely afternoon movie, I highly recommend an obscure flick at the lovely Angelica. On this lazy day, we headed to Regal Cinemas at Union Square to catch Wes Anderson’s new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Now I don’t tread into the territory of film reviews but The Grand Budapest Hotel is fantastic! I was laughing before the first line of dialogue was uttered and kept highly entertained by the quirky, clever, witty world of Wes Anderson for the duration of the movie.

Back tracking a bit, as odd as the 5:30 movie time is you are certainly going to not last the whole film if you do not properly nourish yourself beforehand. If you are in Union Square grab a bite at The Grey Dog just around the corner on University Place. They serve up delicious foamy cappuccinos, outright slabs of amazing marbled brownies, and on this occasion a robust and extremely flavorful Navy bean and chorizo soup.

After the flick, the day continues on with some late night shopping in SoHo. Boutiques are often open until 9 downtown and the later hours are the quieter, calmer times to visit your favorite stores.

Finally, after the mega successful half day you just accomplished reward yourself with a margarita and tacos at La Esquina. Before your tacos, start with some fresh ceviche and empanadas that are prepared like you have never seen but actually in the most traditional way with corn masa filled with chicken, queso cotija, poblano chile, and mushrooms. Then enjoy the smoky fish taco and spicy pulled pork that both come with great pickled onions and spicy cabbage.

Coffee Shop Review #8 Everyman Espresso

Journey to NYC’s coffee shop scene, categories out of 5.

Location-4(Everyman Espresso’s Soho location is a little removed from Soho proper and you would have to stop in on your way to or from boutique shopping but not during, which would be ideal. The area does have other cute restaurants and is on a very busy street, providing good people watching).

Barista Cuteness-3.5(The baristas, male and female, were both cute but seemed more interested into talking to each other than charming customers).

Coffee Knowledge/Selection-3(While the latte art that adorned my cappucino was very pretty, my coffee was less than impressive. First, the drink as a whole was not hot enough, I am very aware that scalding milk to create an extra hot beverage is extremely upsetting but this drink could have definitely been hotter. Second, the espresso tasted like it was burnt and lacked any real depth in flavor, just a strong, bitter quality. There were a few single origin options, which perhaps may have been the safer option).

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Ambiance-4.5(The closet-sized Everyman is very compact, yet well designed. They have done a lot with the small space, creating cozy window seating and an operable work counter. Brightly colored mosaic tiles behind the espresso bar and bay windows at the entrance provide a very bright, crisp atmosphere).

Pastry/Food Selection-4(For a small coffee shop Everyman boasted an impressive array of croissants, donuts, muffins, and other baked goods. I did not have the chance to sample any but they looked pretty fresh and and good).

Overall Rating: 3.8

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