There has been much talk recently about where the London coffee scene is going and how it can evolve and develop. The concern seems to be that newer ventures are merely mimicking popular models rather than innovating and pushing the scene forward, resulting in a slightly stagnant situation. This may or may not be the case, but let’s not forget the coffee shops that’ve been around for a while now, providing a consistent quality of coffee and service whilst quietly and confidently expanding, providing us, the consumer, simply with more chance of getting a decent coffee in central London.
Fernandez and Wells was the very first coffee shop I wrote about, right at the very beginning of my coffee journey and whilst my focus was still more on the ambience and sandwich offerings than the coffee itself. Clearly they win massively on both of these fronts and remain sandwich masters, there aren’t many places that get it consistantly quite as right as these guys. The coffee is really very good too and the Hasbean blend espresso I’m served in their newest location on Saturday is excellent. I should imagine this latest spot brings a massive sigh of relief to anyone in the area of South Kensington, a veritable dessert in terms of decent coffee. As with their beautiful trinity of shops in Soho, and residence within Somerset House, this new cafe takes on properties of the area, a little larger and a smidge grander than their existing shops, this fits the courtyard they’re set exceptionally well.
A greeting of a lavish spread of torturously tempting sandwiches and cakes is almost too much, but I’m able to resist purely on promise of a big lunch later, but it hurts. It feels almost like an amalgamation of their other sites, this larger space drawing together elements from the others; legs of ham hanging on the back wall hint at the charcuterie offerings available, to eat in as well as to take away, that harps back to Lexington St’s wine bar, whilst the clean whitewashed walls, excellent coffee, and cakes bring the best features from Dean St, all set behind a huge glass shop front. I notice as I’m paying a little pile of Naive chocolate that I only recently discovered at Chocolate Unwrapped, an intriguing and delicious bean to bar chocolate that I’ve not seen anywhere else, that confirms their attention to detail and eye for all fine food.
Tapped and Packed has been a favourite of mine for some time and I’ve had many a well made espresso and pourover at both of their shops. Well, they’ve branched out again, adding another number, this one 193, and another bicycle, to their collection, this time spreading their roots to Soho’s Wardour Street. It’s an impressive and calming space, the tree stump feature is back and this time seems to symbolise a serene and magical clearing amongst the chaotic forest of Soho.
Business takes place at an initial bar loaded with cakes and sandwiches, you’re then despatched to take a seat and let them look after you, the real action happens at a second bar where baristas perform their magic using a well thought out selection of beans as at their other locations, I enjoy a Hasbean filter on this occasion. Fans of the bicycle will enjoy more nods to this increasingly popular pastime, and just check out the lovely loyalty card! I’ve heard whispers that there’ll be some coffee roasting at some point too…..
Notes seem to be taking over the capital with speed and professionalism. What started life as a Flatcap coffee cart has expanded to cover a whole fleet of carts, a grand cafe at the pinacle of St Martins Lane, another on Covent Gardens Wellington St, and now a third behind Kings Cross. I admit I haven’t been to their latest yet, as it’s geared up to cater to the lunchtime worker crowd and not open on weekends, I do know that there is some roasting equipment tucked away in there however and this excites me rather a lot.
This third completes a quite grown up trio of shops. The first, on St Martins Lane, focusses firmly on a selection of espresso based and brewed coffee along with music. The second zones in on a vast selection of wine, also available to take away, which is served with wonderful cheese and charcuterie plates, oh and don’t miss the mortadella sandwich, literally bursting with folded bunches of wafer thin ham. The feeling here is almost more of a wine bar than a coffee shop, it’s an interesting development and one that many seem to have adopted in order to cater to customers throughout the whole day.
These three successful businesses may not be dramatically or obviously changing the way we think about coffee, but they are pushing the standards and our expectations higher. With the hub of good coffee moving out of it’s East and Central comfort zone and, infiltrating more of West London and further afield, the chance of finding a good coffee is getting less of a rare treat and more of an assumption, that can only be a good thing and sets a good precedent for any exciting future developments. I for one, can’t wait to see what the future holds!