The London coffee landscape has changed immeasurably over just the last few years, the evolution already in full throttle when I started my own little journey and entered into the acutely caffeine sharpened world I am now becoming increasingly immersed in. Back then, around two years ago, when I was startled by a life changing coffee pulled from Prufrock’s beautiful Victoria Arduino lever machine in it’s Present outpost (I’ve just heard a HORRIBLE rumour this residency, the site of London’s best espresso, is soon to come to an end). The third wave was in full swing, pioneers Milk Bar and Flat White were leaders of the pack and Brown’s of Brockley was a lone ranger south of the river. Prufrock’s Leather Lane branch was just a sparkle in Gwilym Davies’ eye, Notes and Tapped and Packed had only one branch each and were yet to dabble in roasting…
I felt thoroughly out of my depth when embarking on my exploration, timid and unknowledgeable, but so very keen to learn, to absorb like a particularly ready and receptive sponge. With so much history behind me it seemed pointless to even attempt to catch up so I chased my own tail, visiting places on whispers and whims in a more random path, asking questions, listening to recommendations, until eventually I had an ever increasing list of places new and old I had to try.
Last year felt exhausting. London seemed to hit a sort of peak. I certainly did. Too much, constantly, relentless. I went to New York over christmas and came back wanting a break. The last thing I wanted was to chase after the new, I craved comfort, nice food, relaxed surroundings. But I catagorically had no desire to race after the latest junk food hit or trendy, soulless cafe.
God. I must be getting old. That *must* be it.
Maybe I’m just tired. I’ve found I still want to try some new; take Embassy East, Talkhouse Cafe, Yum Bun and Little Social, just not everything. Perhaps I’ve finally learnt to be a bit subjective. Who knows. It’s just as likely a phase and you’ll find me clamouring to write about the latest dude food (stabs self in head for using that phrase) next month.
Anyway, whilst I’m in calm, reflective mode, I’ve been enjoying revisiting a few places I’ve not been to for a while, one of which is the very recently refurbished Browns of Brockley.
For a long time Brown’s has stood alone; an institution. Ask anyone to name a great coffee shop south of the river and I’ll guarantee Browns will be on the tip of their tongue. Not just good for South London of course, but understandably this is the moniker bestowed, and there’s good reason for this. More recently there’s been a number of great coffee shops, along with roasters too, opening, but for that period Browns really was that caffeine mecca of the south, driving standards up with it’s consistantly excellent standards.
I’d not been back since the refurb, so when the Derek of the fabulous London Coffee App suggested lunch, Browns was the first place that came to mind. Although well known amongst it’s fans, locals, and those in the coffee know, you still need to know it’s there, located as it is tucked away behind the main high street and directly opposite Brockley Station. Sitting in the window, feels distinctively as though you could be passing time in a particularly beautiful little waiting room cafe. Obviously far superior to the wind whipped, urine soaked hovels you might associate with South Eastern stations, this would be orient express class. The wide but narrow room holds enough space for a groaning window of delicacies, winking cheekily to passers by, the control area of coffee making equipment, and enough space to refresh a little more than several handfuls of travellers.
I love that my filter coffee is served in an epic sized Intelligentsia mug, proper comforting, I struggle to see the bottom. My indecisiveness hinders my ability to choose lunch, on this occasion going against my friends advise to try the brie and cranberry, my growling belly demanding a pretty full on provolone, ham and tapenade BEAST. A name that’s come up a few times recently is the name of Flourish Bakery who supply their bread and pastries, the first time I noticed it was when I asked Fee and Brown where their marvellous baguettes were from, and again here I’m impressed. I’m equally pleased with the construction of my sandwich, maybe a small thing to many, but this ticks all my boxes; fillings reach to the edges in neat repetition, there’s moisture from tapenade and it’s lightly toasted. It’s the little things. Yes, the coffee as you might expect is good, and I finish with a very good Square Mile espresso, sweet and satisfying.
Regulars and followers of owner Ross Brown on Twitter, will be familiar with the star of the shop, Ludd Brown, the most adorable pug dog EVER. His soulful little mug echoed around the shop as the sweetest motif, there’s a lovely tapestry on the counter that reiterates a homespun feeling that seems to preside; we may not be far out of central London but there’s a definite shift away from that driving speed and ruthless selfishness that makes visiting this cafe a very real pleasure.
If you’ve managed to get this far then here you go, I reward you with some beautiful pictures of Ludd sent to me by Ross, who rather endearingly insists on referring to him as ‘the dog’. Why you look so sad Ludd?!
Of course, I do feel like I’m preaching to the converted here, there’s a LOT of love for Browns already and hence a rather short post, but I feel I’d be doing it a massive disservice by omitting it from my own personal journey.
So if you haven’t been, you probably need to sort that out.