Coffee and cycling have long had an affinity, just look at the bicycles so often in Prufrock, the branding at Tapped and Packed, and hoards of cyclists sat outside good cafes on sunny days. Both are fully integrated into so many of our busy urban lives, whilst fuelling a design aesthetic and acceptable level of geekiness. A natural crossover of genres that seem to currently be enjoying a bit of an almighty moment in London, and like Look Mum No Hands before it, Rapha Cafe is a celebration of both. Rapha is a British cycling clothing brand known for it’s stylish garments and full on road racing ethos. With Cafes now in a number of other Countries around the World and a pop-up a couple of years ago in East London, Rapha has finally opened up just this weekend in Soho’s busy Brewer Street.
There was no denying that the cafe would embody the style of the brand, so my fear is that it would be a serious case of style over substance. There was little talk of details via the usual channels, just the little nugget of information that gave me confidence in the potential quality of the coffee; Ben from the Espresso Room was on board behind the scenes, helping to get eveything set up for the opening. I peered in to see the cafe heaving on it’s opening day, Saturday, but walked on by, saving my first visit for the following day; I was meeting my cycling enthusiast Dad, and this seemed the perfect spot.
Unusually for new coffee openings these days, it’s central, just on the Regent Street edge of Soho and prime shopping pitt stop location, my Dad has more of a mission; legs shaved, lycra on, he impressively cycles the 50 odd miles from deepest, darkest Kent to meet me for a morning brew (wonder if he wins the prize for longest journey so far?!). And is it worth it? Certainly the cafe is suitably stylish; a small cafe that opens up into a shop, or conversly a cycling clothing and apparel shop that has a great little cafe attached. The space is split into two but the cafe manages to permeate both areas, with seating spilling out into the shop, large plasma screans pull the rooms together, currently showing the Tour de France. There are some nice touches around; bespoke Rapha bikes are strapped up around the shop held in place by pink straps, racks of hooks are mounted on walls for cyclists to hang their beloved steeds whilst casting a watchful eye, I personally love the stylish crockery and pink theme running throughout. I may have a bicycle, but I’m purely a fair weather cyclist *cough* Only ridden her once *cough* so the designer cycling gear is not really my cup of tea, but I’m all over the cafe.
A chat to Leo, who works at the head office during the week and has helped set up the coffee side of things with Ben, reveals the coffee is provided by relatively unrepresented (in London) James, offered as both espresso based drinks and as batch filter. I like the way filter is offered as an alternative to my Dad’s long black, I accept for him and he subsequently really enjoys his drink. The plan is to introduce more time consuming hand filter brews at a later stage, but until then batch is a brilliant alternative; keeping costs down and offering a tasty and less labour intensive filter option, making it far more accessible to the regular public. Getting more people drinking good coffee which has got to be a good thing!
Anyway, what you really need to know is that the coffee is good; my afternoon espresso is better than the one I have in the morning, but I think any inconsistency will get ironed out fairly quickly, as by the sounds of things these guys do care. The filter is also good, what tastes a little meh at first sweetens beautifully in the cup as it cools. Discussions reveal that despite a small bar, they’re serious about the coffee, choosing James beans to be a little bit different, but also because they love the coffee, without falling into that unnaccesible over geeky territory. We don’t indulge in food here (sorry, but the Pitt Cue trailer was too much of a draw on a sunny day) but it all looks pretty good; morning pastries make way for baguettes in the afternoon and there’s a fairly unique cycling edge to the menu, with the menu devided into pre, post, and during fuel, with items that include energy bars. There is also a short wine and beer list if you fancy that sort of thing and presumably don’t have too far to cycle home.
I can see this addition to a relatively unadorned section of London becoming a huge hit; servicing the cycling, coffee and design community in one satisfying swoop.