Not so long ago Oxford Street and it’s peripheries was somewhere to be avoided, better left to the tourists that bung up the streets with their slow, aimless, zombie shuffle. The shopping, or anything worth shopping for at least, dried up a long time ago and is generally more comfortably dealt with online, on the whole anyway.
But what’s this?
Not one, but two of the most anticipated new cafe openings of the year so far have chosen just North of this very area to open up, historically a patch more accustomed to the depressing bilge of the coffee chain giants than anything decent. For the first time that I can recall, we’re suddenly spoilt for choice in the West End. Well ok, we’re not quite in West London territory yet, and just this little bit of it for now, but spilling down to Soho and beyond. But still! I’m not remotely discounting the marvellous job Kaffeine have done, holding the fort on Great Titchfield Street, setting a strong and steady example for as long as I’ve been remotely interested in coffee. I have a LOT of respect for what they’re doing, but there’s only so far one cafe can service and it’s inevitably busting out of it’s seams with happy customers whenever I visit.
Welcome the new guard….
Curators Coffee Gallery now sits resplendent on Margaret street, this second site feels as different as one can from it’s original, The Coffee Studio, a tiny, almost hole in the wall, city location and one I’m sad to have visited infrequently due to it’s city location and hours. This new site throws out there a starkly contrasting curve ball; a truly magnificent space, that’s so much the antithesis to the current moody fit-outs as to appear completely fresh. There’s no exposed brickwork to be seen here, no unfinished edges or rustic features, simply clean expanses and a beautiful curation of details with flourishes of greenery.
The teal of the studio has been replaced with deep aubergine, an undercurrent that runs throughout the cafe, starting as a muted mosaic tile detail and exploding in dramatic splashes as a pimped EK43 grinder and La Marzocco, then flowing unrestrained down to the basement as a dramatic purple staircase. Everything else has been kept neutral to strike a balance, the lower ground area is calm and stark in contrast, a soothing space with a simple table and chairs set up. Upstairs is more playful; a menagerie of coffee toys, small army of copper Hario kettles and scales, and a stunning dark wooden bar that’s engulfed by a flock of cubist butterfly tiles that flitter up the walls and across the floor freely. Bar design is courtesy of, regular now on the cafe build out scene, Made By Jason and his team, and it’s impressive.
Coffee is by Nude, including a special espresso blend that’s rich and viscous in texture. Actually the menu is one of the most interesting I’ve seen yet in London, a mixture of classics with not so common items like matcha latte and cold brews, with some curious sounding coffee and tea twists on punches and iced drinks. Food is worth a look in too, I had a great toasted sandwich and having seen the not inconsequential facilities downstairs, I reckon there’s scope for much more yet…
I find the space a real breath of fresh air and I believe a welcome and notable addition to the area and the coffee scene in general. There’s something of a fantastical secret garden about the cafe that’s enchanting, captivating, and I look forward to hibernating within it’s walls often.
The latest Workshop coffee bar marks number four for the brand, second this year, and in quick succession from site number three in Holburn. It causes me to raise an eyebrow as to whether this is, perhaps, the beginning of a larger roll out? At any rate, it feels like a step up for the roaster. The bar itself, and it is a bar rather than a cafe in my opinion, is my favourite of theirs so far, a real triumph of embracing the mood of their Victorian era location (something that has become their ‘thing’ along with a lack of wifi) and of function colliding exquisitely with form; it’s a polished little gothic gem.
A narrow, but long, entrance area facilitates fantastic barista customer engagement across the bar and I’m surprised and delighted to find Gareth, ex Prufrock, amongst the super friendly team. The options here are to either takeaway, linger along the bar, spill out onto the miniature forecourt or lean nonchalantly on the Victorian railings outside. Movement is organic and fluid, and the room at the back, though lovely, is for those swimming against the tide, pushing against what is a natural design led reflex, but also a great spot for an efficient meeting. There’s a strong Italian aesthetic here dictated by that style of service, designed for bar propping (though obviously not in coffee style) but also in detailed design flourishes; check the flashy accents of gold; gilt taps and inlaid seams in the counter and gorgeous decorative shelf top tiles.
I find I can’t tear my eyes from the bar itself, like a moth to a flame, I’m sucked into the gleaming granite that shimmers and sparkles with years of history, present as semi precious quartz highlights of teal that mimic the walls behind. Doesn’t appear it’s just me or that it’s that fatal, that bar appearing to act as a magnet, customers drawn to it as they enjoy their chosen beverage, chatting happily and rapt to the baristas on shift. The menu here is simple and well executed; an excellent Cult of Done espresso and aeropress made filter are as good as I’m used to from these guys.
I can see myself coming here often, for a session at that bar or, in more brooding moments, to secrete myself in a secluded nook in that quiet space at the back for a gathering of my thoughts against the tide, perhaps a spot of writing, as I fancy those creatives of the area might have done many years before now.
Mothers Milk are the badass underdogs of the speciality coffee world, in the absolute sweetest possible way, their self depreciating humour and casual attitude a foil for some of the best coffee in the area. Don’t listen to what Will and James might tell you, these guys really do know their stuff and have the funniest coffee twitter account and website to boot. Their tag line ‘serving alright coffee in an already saturated market’ probably tells you all you need to know with my pre cursor.
Hidden within the grid of Fitzrovia, on Little Portland Street, Mother’s Milk is a tiny coffee bar masquerading as Rosalind’s Kitchen; the landlord who remains owner of the property and won’t let go of her twee decor or name. I like it – that is, the juxtaposition of this pair of world weary and angst ridden baristas against confectionary pink, it tickles me. A beautifully succinct menu is produced via Victoria Arduono lever machine, thanks to Prufrock, and filter is made on an aeropress. Beans are from Munich roaster JB Kaffee and visiting is always an absolute joy. For these are not as sullen as they would have you believe and manage to effortlessly charm every customer that enters their threshold.
I love that the simplicity of the set up goes to prove you really don’t need anything more; no gimmicks or fancy fit outs, though all of that’s very nice. Here are just two very nice boys making and serving very delicious coffees in a pink cake shop, that doesn’t sell any cake.
Back to the location and there *is* coffee further out West; the second Workshop site on Wigmore Street, branches of Fernandez and Wells in South Kensington and now Duke Street, Talkhouse on Portobello Road and Taylor Street Baristas in Mayfair but they’re few and far between in comparison to the saturation we have East.
Could this be the start of an infiltration, a marked onslaught against the Starbucks and Costas for the wealth of business in the area? Or is it just coincidence?
Only time will tell, but it seems note worthy at least and I’m happy to have an increasingly rich tapestry of cafes from which to choose from in whichever part of town I happen to be in.
Anyone wanting to shake things up South of the river would be most welcome!