Saturday, 25 July 2015

The alternative guide to London's coffee scene

Whoever invented coffee surely studied at Hogwarts, as one cup of this magical brew in the morning has the ability to work this miraculous transformation.......

One of my favourite things to do when the craziness of the city becomes too much is to slip into a cafe, order a steaming cup of coffee and spend the next hour or so watching the world go by and inventing stories about my fellow drinkers and passers-by, catching up with good friends or just getting lost in a really great book. 

I should warn you upfront that I am no coffee connoisseur so if you are looking for a post about where to source the finest roasts in the capital you have a couple of options - 
1) Believing the hype and trying every place that claims to have the best coffee in London Elf-style (see video below) - fun but ill-advised
2) Using one of the many fabulous lists which have been designed by coffee experts who have done all the hard work for you such as the London Coffee Guide.

This blog is instead more about sharing with you some places that I have stumbled across in my time in London which I have loved and I think offer something a little different. I hope you enjoy them too.

Not another crappy cup of coffee - The Attendant

The vote for most quirky location for a cuppa surely has to go that The Attendant, near Oxford Circus. This cafe is housed in a deserted underground Victorian toilet (yes you read that right!) The original porcelain urinals are still in place but fear not, they have been scrubbed spotless so you can enjoy all the kitsch of sitting in your own personal urinal booth without the added ick factor. However with many excellent coffee places a stone's throw away, a quirky location isn't enough to ensure a roaring trade. That's why The Attendant has invested in sourcing great coffee and pastries from top suppliers across the city. I visited on a particularly hot day so had an iced coffee and chocolate s'more brownie which tasted like heaven right up until the point that I hit the marshmallow wall and simply couldn't eat any s'more. Truly terrible puns aside this will definitely be my go-to coffee spot when I am on a shopping trip in the city.

Coffee with a conscience - Kahaila Cafe

I came across Kahaila Cafe when searching for Brick Lane 's famous 24hr bagel shop (Brick Lane Beigel Bakery). The sign outside read "we've got more cake than east London has hipsters" and the window was fully of enticing cakes so I warmed to it instantly and decided to pop in. The first thing I noticed on tentatively pushing open the door was the incredible aroma of roasted beans which drew me further inside. The second was the earthy feel - I loved the mismatched furniture which included a leather couch, a handful of church pews and reclaimed school chairs.

I ordered a cappuccino and the last slice of pistachio and rose cake, both of which were delicious and that I practically inhaled. As the slice of cake that was left was a little smaller than the rest the staff gave it to me for half price - if there is one thing I love more than cake it is a bargain so I was naturally delighted.

A quick google search told me that the cafe is a community-run charity so the produce is of course ethically sourced and any profits are invested back into local community projects. This approach, together with the staff and decor has created a warm, inviting space. The cafe regularly hosts temporary exhibitions for local artists and photographers, as well as community events such as a Caribbean Carnival themed supper club, a black tie charity auction and an open jam night were anyone is welcome to bring an instrument and make some music. I visited on a Saturday afernoon so the cafe was naturally full to the brim but what makes this place feel more like an extension of your living room is that no-one is rushing you out. There were people with laptops and friends huddled round in circles that had clearly finished their coffees a long time ago but were just enjoying hanging out. I left with a smile on my face, happy to have found such a lovely wee place in the city and determined to make a return trip.

Feeding your inner child - Draughts Board Game Cafe

This place is definitely a hipster hangout but all is forgiven on account of it being such a brilliant concept. Draughts is London's first board game cafe, launched after a Kickstarter campaign raised £20,000 in 3 days from the general public. Housed in a brick-lined railway arch in Haggerston you pay a flat £5 cover charge, grab a table and are welcome to stay as long as you want. If all this is giving you images of being forced to play Monopoly and Chess as a child, don't worry - Draughts has over 500 games which include everything from old school favourites like Hungry, Hungry Hippo and Buckaroo, to much more obscure titles.

My tip is to take the advice of one of the Draughts very knowledgeable staff / Board Game Gurus who can help you pick from the collection. We ended up playing Snake Oil, a hilarious game where you role is to try to get your fellow team-mates to buy a series of dubious products. What resulted were the most random sales pitches - trying to convince a sports fan to buy a giant foam drinks finger, or convincing a vampire that what is missing in his life is a bone chamber to enjoy while running away from baddies. While you play you can enjoy coffee, snacks and drinks from the bar. The refreshments are good but nothing to write home about so it may seem strange to include Draughts in this list, but the fact is that this place is just such a fun place to hang out and spend an entire afternoon in, and if a cafe can achieve that then it has my vote.

Cafe for night owls - Bar Italia

A friend introduced me to this tiny all night cafe in the heart of Soho, an iconic local venue which first opened in 1949 and has been passed down through three generations of the same Italian family ever since. I wasn't sure initially, as at first sight it seemed to be just another greasy spoon, with its cramped seating, dated decor and with Italian football jerseys and a bicycle randomly hanging from the ceiling. However its charms soon grew on me. First of all the coffee and cannoli’s are amongst the best I have tasted.

Also the service is super friendly, the clientele are like a little microcosm of London life and as a result it is probably the best place you can find in the city for people watching. I read the following review which I think sums the place up perfectly "London’s version of the Godfathers and Goodfellas, well-dressed Italian tourists in search of good coffee, and a mishmash of pretty much everyone who is still standing in Soho at dawn, mid-20s to 60s+."
I couldn't have put it any better myself.

So that's my favourite cafes so far. But with new places popping up all the time and much of the city still to explore I will keep you posted on any new discoveries in my ongoing search for the perfect cuppa.



  1. you improved a lot your pictures ! great post as usual :)

  2. I love your blog! Have nice weekend:)

    1. Thanks do much Ira. What a nice comment and a lovely start to the weekend. Thanks again :)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Wonderful pics! Have a great start tot he week:)


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