London's best cafés and coffee shops
On the hunt for a classier caffeine kick? Here's Time Out's guide to the latest wave of London coffee shops creating a buzz
There’s more to London’s coffee shops than just great brews. The last few years have seen an explosion of coffee culture in the capital, and these are the places to check out this creative community. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
It’s been a labour of lav turning this former public convenience into a charming little coffee bar. The aromas wafting up from the subterranean cavern are now of roast arabica and scented candles, even though many of the original fixtures remain in place, from the Victorian urinals to a veteran hand drier. The loo has been locked up and unused for the last 50 years; now the transformation from piss-stop to pitstop is impressive. The beans are supplied by Caravan Roastery; our flat whites had rich flavour and a thick crema. On another visit the barista, obsessively committed to his craft, apologised because the blend might have a little too much citrus flavour from sitting for just three days after roasting (he likes six). It was citrusy, but it was wonderful. He offered to brew a free cup of something else, so we could compare and contrast. There’s a small selection of made-to-order sandwiches and hot snacks, and the cakes (supplied by Bittersweet Bakers) are more than decent. This central café is definitely worth spending a penny in.
The bottom line: Coffee that wakes you up before you go-go, served in a former men’s pissoir.
- Basement, 27A Foley St, W1W 6DY. Oxford Circus.
This former Prêt was transformed in spring 2013 into an independent coffee shop. The uniform fittings have been replaced by second-hand tables and an eclectic selection of pews to perch on. Their back wall is decked out with a line of drip filters for sampling single origin coffees such as fruity, Ethiopian Konga Natural Yirgacheffe. Sourced from Union Coffee Roasters, all the beans here are Fairtrade. From their La Marzocco machine, you can opt for their house espresso – the dark-roasted Foundation Blend (a mix of Guatamalan, Indonesian and Indian beans) or their ‘guest espresso’. On our visit it was a soft-bodied, citrusy Brazilian number with a decent crema (head). To fill your belly, there’s the usual selection of pastries, sarnies and quiches. They’re a little on the pricy side though, with a grilled pork and cheese baguette setting you back a substantial £5.90.
Espresso: £2 (double shot)
The bottom line: An indy café that’s thrown off the chains.
- 23 Southampton Row, WC1B 5HA. Holborn.
Newcomers may be puzzled by the name until they learn that there’s a bicycle repair shop attached: this is a hangout popular with two-wheels-good folk. But on a grisly Saturday lunchtime, it wasn’t just cyclists here; half of the residents of EC1 had turned up. Singles, couples, families with young children. It’s easy to see why they all love the place, even with so much competition in the area. LMNH is a joy, with an ample food offering (proper cooked dishes, plus salads, baked spuds and the like) and baristas who know their business. The staple beans come from Square Mile but there are guest coffees too. This is wheely good, with or without oil-marked trousers.
The bottom line: On two wheels, four wheels, or even on foot, a hugely popular and friendly local hangout.
- 49 Old Street, EC1V 9HX. Old St.
Hardly anything has changed at this big, bright, comfortable room, renowned for its devotion to artisan coffee. Monday to Friday, everyone here’s in a bit of a hurry. (More so after a couple of shots.) At the weekend it becomes a place for exulting in the what’s-the-rush pace. The coffee is always produced to the very highest levels. For those who don’t want espresso or espresso with milk, top-notch brewed coffees are made using several different methods, including the Aeropress (a hand-operated steam-free method). Food is displayed on the counter, and a small selection of daily dishes chalked up on a blackboard. Leather Lane may be nearly empty on Saturdays, but Prufrock makes it worth a visit.
The bottom line: One of London's very best, and equally distinguished with filter-type brews and espresso.
- 23-25 Leather Lane, EC1N 7TE. Chancery Lane or Farringdon.
Rapha Cycle Club’s Soho store shows that there is much more to the cycling-coffee pairing than Lance Armstrong-style performance enhancement. The café area occupies a little less than half the floor space of this very smart cycle clothing shop, and it provides ample seating for those wanting to rest their feet after picking up a pair of merino knee-warmers. At the table next to ours, two young Japanese people relaxed with shopping bags nestling at their feet. And it is a remarkably relaxing place, largely because of the chatty but efficient staff. And man, do they love coffee! Their main suppliers are Germany and Sweden, but we ordered a guest espresso from a single estate in Uganda; they talked us meticulously through the technical details and later, unasked, brought a freebie of the same beans brewed in a different way. Food is standard coffee-bar fare, mostly supplied by the same outfit that sells to The Fields Beneath. A haven near Piccadilly Circus.
The bottom line: A chilled-out place in unlikely surroundings, and some of the nicest staff around.
- 85 Brewer St, W1F 9ZN. Piccadilly Circus.
This is not meant as an insult, but Salt is a place that’s perhaps best enjoyed on your own. It isn’t just that there aren’t many seats in the two small, narrow rooms (one on the street frontage and the other hidden at the back of the townhouse). It’s more that it feels like an island of calm between Holborn and Covent Garden, and is perfect for a bit of solitude away from the tourist traps. It maintains its calm even at busy weekday lunchtimes; on Saturdays it’s blissfully relaxed. Food has always played a starring role, with a short list of cooked dishes (the chickpea and chorizo stew is great) alongside quiches, salads and baked goods made on site. If you like your brownies sweet and dense, set your sat-nav now. Bread and pastry come from their own bakery in Hertfordshire. Coffee and tea are given near-equal billing. Salt is sweet. A firm favourite.
The bottom line: A haven away from Covent Garden’s tourist hoardes, with good food to boot.
- 34 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AA. Covent Garden or Holborn.
This is the third branch of what was formerly known as Tapped & Packed (the other two are on Rathbone Place and Tottenham Court Road), and don’t be surprised if it’s not the last. The formula is simple and very effective. Buy good beans and treat them with respect. Create a space that’s unintimidating and relaxing – a very long space in this case, with skylights running almost its full length. Employ waiting staff who know that a smile and a friendly word are just as important as efficiency. It pays off. Even though this branch is the largest of the three, it wasn’t easy to bag a table at 2.30pm on a weekday. There were a couple of informal office meetings taking place, but also a lot of people sitting on their own. Average age: low 30s. Food: majoring on sandwiches and salad of reasonable prices (by Soho standards), plus the usual baked goods. A completely satisfying experience. Leaving was a wrench.
The bottom line: You’ll have to force yourself to get up and leave. Expect TLC from Tap.
- 193 Wardour Street, W1F 8ZF. Oxford Circus or Tottenham Court Rd
This place describes itself as a ‘versatile lifestyle space’, which goes some way to explain the eclectic furnishings and counters equipped with iPads. It would make a decent spot for a business meeting, as much as a catch up with friends, but more importantly, they know how to brew a decent cup of Joe. Made with Has Bean’s Jabberwocky blend, their espresso (made with their La Marzocco machine) has none of the aggressive bite of Lewis Carroll’s beast. A flat white arrived with the desired velvety froth. Single-origin filter brews like the characteristically sweet and mellow Costa Rican Finca de Licho are also available. If you’re brewing for two the coffee comes in a slow-filtering Chemex maker. Teas are accompanied by their own personal timer to ensure the perfect infusion. There’s always a good range of baked goods and sandwiches along the counter. Own-made pop-tarts are popular.
The bottom line: For self-facilating media nodes and other passers-by who want to get wired, as well as wireless.
- 61-67 Old St, EC1V 9HW
The original Workshop in Clerkenwell couldn’t be more different from this Marylebone branch if it tried. Clerkenwell caters for crowds of locals looking for food, a long drinks list and a buzz; at weekends, it’s heaving. This branch, right at the back of Selfridges and St Christopher’s Place, is a tiny space (seating 14) with an equally tiny food offering (a few sandwiches and pastries) and complete calm in which to lunch quietly. There is little in the way of decor and little to distract from the quality of what they sell. Sandwiches are tasty and ample, and the coffee (roasted at the Clerkenwell site) is several cuts above the London norm. Sit at the counter if you like watching baristas (skilled and friendly in this case) at work. An unassuming gem.
The bottom line: A perfect place for a simple lunch in a crowded area – and for a seriously good cup of coffee.
- 75 Wigmore Street, W1U 1QD
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