Madam Chi, Upper Street

May 22, 2012

Upper Street. You shouldn’t walk along it, you should sashay. Or preferably, sit the whole time while moving along, without looking like you’re moving. Upper Street is less ‘cool’ than Hoxton, or Dalston (and thank god, right?), but it’s wealthier and a punch’s worth more conceited. But, and it is a large one, there are some lovely little spots on and around what is one of the three old arterials which allowed medieval Islingtonians to potter about. I’m not sure what they would make of pop-up shops selling cardboard lampshades for just under three hundred pounds, but I’m fairly sure they would be a bit let down by Madame Chi.

Madame Chi just fails to deliver.

Madame Chi

And nothing is more annoying than just failing. The venue is in a great location, nicely laid-out (though I’d rather have actual books on the walls than pictures of books, but that is a personal choice), and has that sought-after buzz which gives the visitor a certain confidence: if this many people like it, it must be pretty good. We are herd animals, after all. So, with a spring in my step, and the accomplice full of day-off verve, I entered Madam Chi with a good feeling. I ordered a double espresso and there was some scurrying around and shortly afterwards it came. And here was disappoint number 1. The espresso was really well made: there was a great, slicky crema which clung to the sides of the cup like survivors to a life-raft, and a spidery colouration which tends to indicate good extraction and temperature. But, but, but. The roast, which was some off-the-shelf Union, was tame and insipid. It was like looking at a beautiful Eames chair which collapses as soon as you sit on it because the wood is secretly balsa. The sadness of this shot, and it is sad, is that if it had been made with even a half-decent roast, it would be super. It just seems like no real effort was made to source a good coffee, which is silly given how many good ones are out there, screaming for attention in a frankly over-saturated market. So often, as well, it is the making of coffee which lets the side down, not the blend chosen, and so I have to say I was surprised to find myself disappointed in this way.

I then went off with the accomplice and we had some lunch and that was lovely, but I hadn’t tried Madame Chi’s macchiato, so I returned. And this is where I encountered my second disappoint. I ordered the coffee from a woman who was eating while serving customers. Call me old-fashioned, but if I’m paying for something, even if it’s only a coffee (though at £2.10, it’s that N1 premium again…), then I don’t expect slack-jawed chewing while I’m making my order. There was also then quite a lot of chatting between the three women behind the counter while I waited to hand over my money and get my little card thing stamped. I felt like I was imposing, and that irritated me. Now, if all that waiting was in order that the greatest macchiato ever was bestowed upon me like a shining beacon of coffee wonder, than this would ameliorate the situation. But, obviously, the roast had not improved in the one and a half hours it took me and the accomplice to chow down, and while the shot was probably just as good as before, the milk was too hot and foamy. Perhaps, if a little more care were taken in all aspects of delivery, then I might forgive a little nattering. But it wasn’t, so….

Madam Chi

And thus Madam Chi is a disappointment in a few crucial aspects. I guess the most annoying thing is that the ducks are almost in a row, but like that video where they suddenly get blown away…you see the point I’m making. I must also raise my customary grouch about advertising yourself as ‘the best coffee in Islington’. I have checked the (slightly village) website and I have seen that there is a link to a survey on Islington People where Madam Chi polled 66%, but second and third polled a combined 22%, which does make me fear for the sample size of the survey and the number of respondents. Maybe Madam Chi doesn’t fall into my theory about small, independent places not needing to blow their own trumpet, because I don’t know if it’s that sort of place. It just rankles when a mere ten minutes walk up the road is Maison d’Être which, despite a few faults (to be enumerated another time), is palpably better. While Madam Chi serves coconut cake, which is apparently a really good thing, as a straight coffee location, it teases and leaves unsatisfied, while ever so slightly fancying itself. In this way, it reflects some of the less appealing parts of its environs, where, with a few minor adjustments, it could be pretty good. And that, right there, is the biggest shame.

Madam Chi, 187 Upper Street, N1 1RQ

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @MadamChiCoffee

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4 Responses to “Madam Chi, Upper Street”

  1. Ojay Says:

    Heard good things about this place, will check it out!

  2. Ronald Says:

    OMG, go to Starbucks if YOU don’t like it you pussy and get served by those industrial slave workers that don’t – or aren’t allowed to – chat or chew gum, and concentrate on you only…

  3. coffeejess Says:

    Tried them twice…won’t be a third time.


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