I feel bad that it’s taken me so long to write about Bambino in Crystal Palace, as a South Londoner I think there’s often seen to be a duty to write about places in your own hood, represent your corner of London, so to speak. What people don’t always understand is that South of the river isn’t quite as well connected as it is on the other side, we don’t have that intense wormery of tubes flying underfoot, combine that with my inability to drive and a sharp aversion to smelly buses, and more often than not it’s just as easy to scoot central as it is to take a detour left or right a couple of towns.
Anywho. Excuses over for now, and with trains behaving unpredictably (no, that’s nonsense; South Eastern will predictably under perform at the merest hint of ‘weather’) I decide to travel laterally this side of the Thames, choosing the scenic route through the prehistoric wonderland of my childhood, Crystal Palace Park, those dinosaurs frozen in time beneath a blanket of snow. When you hit the exit at the top of that monumental hill and approach the junction which branches out into narrow roads furnished with a smattering of shops, there isn’t a huge amount to speak of; predictable food chains and charity shops mingle with health food shops and the quite lovely Good Food Deli that serves Volcano Coffee from the back (also where our Anarchista Barista held fort before moving into his new(ish) location) beautiful hams and a large selection of cheeses at the front. What was near wasteland on Church Road is slowly gentrifying, helped in no small part by Bambino’s cafe and integration within the community, as is often the case, another cafe has sprung up right next door as if given the green light, new businesses clinging to the tailcoats of a glimmer of success.
The cafe occupies the front section of the left hand room a junk shop, I use that term in as loose and affectionate a manner as is possible for it’s a veritable Aladdin’s cave of vintage finds. The faintly musty smell and teetering piles of stacked old and peculiar things I find evocative of my Granny’s old dining room, the only space that was allowed to go to seed, gathering random objects as if drawn to it as a sort of artefact magnet, stacks of debris growing in an almost poltergeist bothering manner. The shop was having a bit of a re-shuffle on my visit as they squeezed in a recently acquired grand and stunning set of apothecary cabinets, these are set to take pride of place and show off an eclectic mix of crockery and curiosities. Rails of clothing have a theatrical slant, with a noteworthy percentage channelling the second world war, there’s more than a little leather and they rub shoulders with stacks of luggage, books and old records.
I ease myself into a window seat to gaze out onto the snowy tableau made for me but find myself drawn into the easy and convivial banter that is carried out amongst some local characters and light hearted heckling between barista Ant and his bunch of local and regular customers. The atmosphere is fun and enveloping, a comfortable fit amongst the quirky and eclectic backdrop of the shop. Second hand tables and chairs merge with the antique furniture for sale, customers making as good props as any in this quirky vintage scene, the compact coffee area including small glass cake case rises out from the end of a long row of drawers stuffed with coffee accessories and rather more curious articles.
The menu is styalised and set out in a manner not purely to confuse but to break down expectations and teach. I try the Hasbean filter to start, a coffee with strong and appealing rasberry notes. When it comes to espresso, I get up to move in for a closer look; the eye catching lever espresso machine is a fully refurbished Itelcrem model complete with blingy chrome work courtesy of the Espresso Doctor, actually you can check it’s fascinating progress here. It’s a fine looking beast but takes skill to handle, everything is manual which makes pulling a good shot something of a challenge. Not for Ant however, who lovingly works with his baby to pull a lovely shot full of dried fruit flavour using Bristol roasted Extract Beans.
Whilst it’s positive that we’re seeing such an increase in independent coffee shop openings, the vast majority are identikit in style, merely ticking off trends in what has become slightly boring and uninspiring. It’s therefore refreshing to find a space that is doing it’s own thing, evolving along with the community, not simply changing the face of it’s home but working with it to improve things for all. Something I think many businesses would do well to learn from.