I’ll be honest. It was a base desire that first brought The Fields Beneath to my attention, I knew nothing more about the place, and it was nought more worthy that drew me here initially than the craving for a nice doughnut and a good coffee. Together. I was informed The Fields Beneath served St John doughnuts filled with London Borough of Jam along with great coffee. This had the potential to be legendary.
I’m embarassed to admit that was now some time ago, when I was on a bit of a mission, struggling to find that, surely (?!), classic marriage combined in a cafe. Of course I can set up the pairing myself, as I often have, by popping up to Maltby Street, buying a St John doughnut then nipping round the corner to The Rope Walk and perching my behind somewhere with a brew from Craft Coffee. I have also, on far too often an occasion created the experience from the comfort of my home, but there’s something to be said for getting out of the house rather than simply gorging on my own sofa. I know Nude were offering them for a period and Speakeasy’s baker was toying with the idea, but it baffled and frustrated me that the seemingly obvious combo was to be found so infrequently. I even dabbled with the idea of doing my own pop up, but various life issues converged to thwart me…(I’ve not given up on the idea altogether yet though…)
And then the comments and reviews started to filter through, people I know and respect were reporting nice, really, really nice, things and I developed that overwhelming urge to visit, doughnuts taking a backseat to the force that takes over when I get a certain inkling about a place. Gavin, co-owner with Sibylle, came to say hi to me over on my stand at The London Coffee Festival and won me over with his laid-back, friendly nature and obvious intense care, and so I kind of loved the idea of his shop way before I ever had the chance to see it for myself. Is it wrong that I still had in my head that vision of doughnuts to aim for? Sadly, as they only take delivery of the sugary orbs of a Saturday and understandably they fly out the door, the chances of me ever getting that far North that early on a Saturday morning being slim to non existant and so, with a heavy heart I had to bury the notion or I’d never have made it.
Having now actually made the journey, my inclination, I’m afraid, is to gush about the place and how much in love with it I am. The cafe is actually far larger and more open than I’m expecting, I’d built up such a clear picture in my mind that I’m surprised it’s not the tiny, twee and cramped space I’d been imagining. I had pictured a miniature, old fashioned and dark, dimly lit through dusty windows room, the kind you step down into, that has many surfaces crammed and spilling over with goods and no seating, maybe a wooden bench outside, definitely quaint, and very Victorian in feel. Probably something to do with that name, taken from local historian Gillian Tindall’s 1977 book of the same name.
Yes, the Fields Beneath is small, little more really than a long bar that stretches left to right almost all the way across the back of the shop with next to no depth to step into, but with a large table to the left for seating as well as a space out of the front with more tables and chairs. Yet, the effect is breezy and bright, light tumbles in from all angles and ceilings are high enough to create an illusion that there’s far more room than there really is. The cafe inhabits an arch beneath Kentish Town West station so it’s essentially no more than an incredibly high end coffee kiosk. I jest; it’s clearly much more than that, but that’s the function The Fields Beneath provides – therefore not really aimed at lingerers, malingerers, yummy mummys or somewhere to abuse with your laptop for hours over a single flat white.
Yes, it really *is* so much more, and incomparable except in location, to one of those ‘coffee’ booths churning out paper cup after cup of insipid, dirty, burnt, brown water to those stupid enough to part with good money for it. There is clear method amongst the madness, or if not madness, then at least a still cripplingly reduced space to play with. Every element is well concieved and it appears that everything has it’s own story too, from the Moroccan style tiles sourced from South East London to the wayward and slightly unreliable baker, Fynch, who delivers his inspired baked goods when the urge takes him rather than to precise instruction, from the disco glitter ball that he has designs on spinning magically to rat pack tunes from inside his shop when deserted, to the Linea that he dreams of dressing in beautiful Liberty print wraps.
Gavin is utterly loveable, with the sort of quirky but focussed visions I find myself identifying with often during our conversation. On my visit there’s friendly bickering between him and his young cousin over her questionable music choices played throughout the cafe, a steady stream of Rapha staff who work in the office behind and are clearly addicted to his coffee and the London rep from Extract Coffee who pops in for a chat. It seems every one of his other customers appear to be regulars of whom he greets with a familiarity that suggests he knows each personally. It is in a word; delightful.
Before I forget to tell you about the coffee, it is, of course or I wouldn’t be telling you about it, excellent. Gavin runs an impressive rotation of beans, no slave to just one account. I’d been hoping to try the Tate beans I know he’s had possession of recently but sadly these are not available when I visit, I settle instead for always reliable Square Mile, served as a shot of perfectly extracted espresso; sweet, bright and yet still mellow.
Knowing there’s no chance of a sweet doughnut on this Friday afternoon, there’s no stopping me ordering a beef one I have my eye on, served with salad leaves and mustard. Unlike the Duck and Waffle version that is a wonderful confusion of sweet and savoury, richness and spice, this is a more traditionally British take, if that’s at all possible – a dense brioche bun is filled to bursting with a tender stew-like filling of meat and veg. Very different but very nice all the same. I note some great looking and rather more unusual cakes and pastries too but save those for another occasion – in fact the food spread is, over all, very appealing indeed.
I’ve managed to make a pest of myself and distract Gavin for far too long but I love that he makes time for a chat, and I do eventually manage to prise myself from the counter. There’s something romantic about the ephemeral setting of a train station, that of eternally passing through, and I can’t help thinking it feels like the beginning of a story, many stories perhaps…
It’s the sort of place that, perhaps dangerously, really makes me want to open my very own beautiful, quirky, original and affectionately lovely cafe…