Our last feature was an in-depth review of London’s three big coffee chains. Continuing the cafe theme, we now explore the other more interesting side of the coin: London’s independent cafes.
If a visitor to London accused the locals of not being able to brew a decent pot of tea at home, they’d be laughed out of town. However, if they said the same about coffee they would probably have a fair point.
So it’s not surprising that many of the independent cafés that have historically opened in the city are foreign-run or influenced.
A well-established favourite is Bar Italia. Mentioned already in our review of Soho, this London institution is open all hours. It has a real Italian café atmosphere and wonderful authentic cakes – though its location and reputation dictate that you pay a premium for just about everything.
I’ve taken Italian friends there who confirm that Bar Italia probably serves the best Italian coffee in London, along with sweet treats you would usually only find in the land of Dante. It’s well worth a visit!
There are a plethora of other Italian-run independent cafes across London and very good many of them are too. But they face increasing competition from immigrants who have made an even longer journey.
The ‘flat white’ (from New Zealand and Australia) is now almost as common a sight on drinks boards as the cappuccino. And it’s no bad thing that our antipodean friends are bringing their own caffeine twists to London.
Minutes away from the mayhem on Oxford Street is Aussie-owned Kaffeine, a new, narrow oasis which is taking Fitzrovia by storm.
Square Mile roasts pass through their Synesso Cyncra espresso machine, which hails from the US coffee capital – Seattle. The baristas work their magic to produce rich, aromatic glasses of coffee with whisked milky foam thick enough to scoop up and enjoy by the teaspoon.
Indoor seating is by way of long pale wooden benches, evocative of a giant Scandinavian sauna. Tabletops are decorated with centrepieces of brown sugar and homemade jams, tempting customers to indulge in a bowl of morning porridge or a round of French butter croissants.
Out of the centre but equally worth a visit is Ginger & White in Hampstead. Also a newcomer to London’s café culture, seats are coveted at this family-friendly coffee shop located on peaceful, pedestrianised Perrin’s Court.
Ginger & White also orders its beans from Square Mile Coffee Roasters in East London. They use seasonal blends to create smooth concoctions behind a counter piled high with cookies and cupcakes.
The British-Australian proprietors also impress with their food.
Weekend brunch items include soft-boiled eggs with soldiers and sumptuous sandwiches of slow roasted pork with aioli and sweet relish.
The big coffee chains featured previously could certainly learn a thing or two from the independents when it comes to imaginative food.
Climpson & Sons in Hackney is another Australian enclave. Flat whites are a staple here but mochas, espressos and lattes are no stranger either.
These guys are experts in their field as they also roast their own beans and provide detailed descriptions about the latest blends on their website.
Situated in the midst of Broadway Market (one of London’s top 3 food markets), Climpson & Sons is to coffee what the market is to fresh produce.
They work closely with local vendors to develop and serve up some tasty breakfast and lunch creations which are entirely of their own making.
Eating and drinking can be challenging and chaotic as seating is very limited, but on a sunny Saturday it is pleasant to grab a to-go cup before heading out into the food-frenzied action of Broadway market.
So next time you have a caffeine craving, resist the lure of the nearest chain and try one of these excellent independent cafes instead.
The above article was contributed by guest writer Sara Revell.
Photo credits: Subspace’s photostream and Ewan-M’s photostream, Larryhalff’s photostream.