Vic Frankowski and Rob Dunne have returned to Fitzrovia and where, if I rewind a couple of years, I remember first meeting them, back when they worked at Tapped and Packed, now TAP, and I attended a couple of their Sunday Club coffee classes. This time though, they’ve moved into Sharps, a barbers on Windmill Street, re-located from it’s original plot on Charlotte Street, and just around the corner from that place I first met them. Think the coffee/barber shop combo sounds a funny one? ‘Cause I did, despite it always being a loosely associated pairing, I couldn’t quite get my head around it logistically, but it does work, and it’s not quite the odd, slightly mucky sounding, situation you might imagine; the barber shop is located in a distinctly solitary back area, the coffee bar precedes this in it’s own very separate space; two distinct cuboids of rooms, self contained, and yet combined.
I’d known about the upcoming opening for some time as I had something to do with the set up, don’t make me say it (work stuff). So, it was with a hint of frustration that I saw it slowly coming together (giving me just a glimmer of an insight into what must be the world of anyone opening their own place), and consequently wasn’t sure at what point to add a post, this reinforced by Rob and Vic’s low key attitude and insistence of it’s unfinished nature. In the end, I decided to leave it until it’s near completion, rationale dictating that – as, with anything this pair turn their hand to, I can fairly safely predict that there will be some sort of evolvement and change further along the line.
So, this post is accurate as of right now. I can’t promise it’ll be exactly the same when you visit.
Having spent many afternoons propping up the bar at Protein, always a very simple room with flourishes of design, I’m somewhat taken aback by the slickness of the new space and it’s super stylised features. There’s moulded concrete, an island counter on wheels, linea shelving, neat tiling, smooth tactile surfaces, blackboards and branding. A cafe proper. That’s without mentioning the cutting edge, eye-grabbing equipment; the Kees Van der Westen Spirit may as well be a battle ship from another planet, dashboard replete with buttons and knobs poised for action, an EK43 is positioned second in command, soldiers of beans stacked up, pre-dosed and ready to go, utility pack RO unit waiting in the wings, under the counter as back up. It’s a full artillery of a set up, proper ‘boys toys’ territory that I heartily lust over.
And here’s a departure; there’s food. What do I fancy most often for lunch? As a rule you can keep your over-frosted, tooth jarring sweetness of cupcakes or huge slabs of chocolate/carrot/lemon cake, more often associated with coffee shop fodder. What I really want, more often than not, is a good old fashioned toasted sandwich. Actually sod that. As much as the I love those Breville made toasted pockets of molten nostalgia, oozing with face scalding cheese, if I’m being honest, and horribly middle class and wanky, which I increasingly am these days, want I truly crave is sourdough bread and artisan cheese, homemade pickles and meat, especially as Autumn’s chill sets in preparing us for the barbarity of Winter, always a numb set of fingers more bitter than my protectively kind mind will let me remember.
Deep unbridled joy then when I discover the first of Dunnefrankowski’s series of pop up food residences, is F.A.T., makers of the kind of toasties to make me weep salty tears of intense happiness. The carb heavy menu features the sort of ingredients that combine to a beautiful sweet, savoury marriage and reads like pure heaven to anyone who has THE FEAR when faced with sandwich options lacking in ingredients (yup – I always feel short changed if there’s not some sort of pickle/chutney/sauce with my cheese and meat). Seriously; the short menu is near perfection.
A pork and fennel meatball number with pickled fennel, JLo’s ketchup and walnut and rocket pesto is a thing of true beauty to any sandwich connoisseur, check out that properly toasted sourdough, left bravely in the press long enough for it to do it’s job so that the filling is melding snugly and the outside has developed a pleasing crust. I’m happy to call off my sandwich quest, that is until I taste the kimchi and stilton. WHOAH. It’s an umami flavour thwap on the nose, those ingredients singing in pure clashing harmony. They also make a Montgomery cheddar with pickled dill cucumber & ketchup, and a duck liver parfait toastie with parsley & shallot salad, coffee pickled beets and bourbon pickled chilli – be still my rapidly over-beating heart.
There’s also a couple of sweet options, curious riffs on buttermilk waffles and ice cream, with a difference…, but it’s a sweetcorn cookie I try, a Momofuku recipe that is more crack addictive than their pie of the same christening; sweet but with a savoury edge and perfect crunchy yet soft texture. I’m told, at times, you might find it pimped a la a Lucky Peach issue and transformed into a heart failure inducing ham and cheese toastie – Oh boy….
Most importantly though, for me at least, is that Sharps retains the sociable element of the very best cafes, a place for like-minded souls to converge, which was always the most appealing aspect and magnetic draw of protein. I visit as much for the banter and inspirational chat, explorative coffee tastings and conversations, as I do for the always brilliant coffee. Of course, it’s worth mentioning here that the coffee is better than ever, manager Edita is at the helm with a selection of roasters coffees available, served simply and well in an aesthetically and stimulatingly pleasing way.
This is all I’ve come to expect from cafe’s of this calibre and Dunnefrankowski at Sharps is up there with the best.