Maison d’Être, Canonbury Rd

May 29, 2012

Highbury Corner, a liminal space which conjoins the showy elegance of Upper Street, the leafy nonchalence of Canonbury and Highbury, and the down-at-heal rough of the Holloway Rd, is in some ways the perfect spot for a coffee house. As a convergence point it is pretty unavoidable and it is the nexus for some of the major routes winding their way through this part of north London. As a spot, though, it feels like it is somehow unowned, not quite one thing and not quite the other. The sense of overspill from one area into the other is at its most palpable at the Corner, which perhaps explains why it feels like somewhere to pass through on the way to somewhere else. However, I would urge a pause to experience Maison d’Être, a lovely little staging post before you head wherever it is you actually need to be.

Maison d’Être is worth a delay in your journey. Very much so, in fact.

Maison d'Être

I wrote in a previous piece alluding to difficulties I had had at Maison d’Être previously (I think it was the review of Madam Chi). I have been to MdE a few times before and previously found it a little bit sniffy. I am sensitive to the attitude of people who work in the service industry, whether it is at some sprawling, nationally-recognised concern, or a small, independent vendor. I remember coming away from MdE before feeling a little miffed by their hauteur, and this is what I was hinting at in my previous post. Well, I recant. I recant! When I went in today, I found a cheerful, charming woman who seemed genuinely pleased to see me and the customers before and after me. I don’t know whether there’s been a change in emphasis, a settling into the work, or whether I just went on a bad day before (or possibly just imagined the whole thing), but none of this was in evidence today. It was welcoming from the get-go, which pleased me immensely. The coffee, too, was pretty damn good. The espresso shot, which is made with Nude’s East blend, is fruity and biting, which works well as a shot. The accomplice had made a superb citrus cake the night before, and while I had already eaten my slice on the way to the café, it would have made a perfect accompaniment to this espresso, with its high notes faintly lemony, but with an underlying sweetness. It was made very well, not too hot and with a snug and swimmy crema. MdE actually calls its espresso a ristretto, which might also go some way to explain the bite, if that’s the thinking. I liked it, whatever the nomenclature.

I then moved on the macchiato. It was a swirly, milky mess, which I love, but it just fell short of being perfect. I can’t fault the process because everything was done brilliantly. I think the Nude East is a little light in the body, and so while the macchiato was creamy and soft, it lacked a touch of boldness which would have swollen the taste on the palate after the first sweet notes had settled on the tongue. It is a minor quibble, but I like to feel the taste of a macchiato, and indeed an espresso, developing and unfolding, and the slight weediness of the bottom end of the roast made this cup a little one-dimensional. It is, however, a pretty good one-dimension (if that’s even a term I can use in this sense), and I certainly wouldn’t want to detract from the barista’s skill in conjuring the drink into being, which was strong.

Maison d'ÊtreSo, Maison d’Être is very good. And as a setting for a quick chat, a break from all that wandering about which seems a requisite for living in the Big Smoke, I can recommend it highly. There is a small seating area out front, which I took advantage of, and while the view is not brilliant, unless you love bus stands, it is bright and well-appointed. The inside is charming and there are little bottles of mint-flavoured water and a selection of the day’s papers. Food is available too, though I can’t say anything about it as I didn’t have any, having gorged myself on the accomplice’s Madeira cake instead. There is also a very good website, which shows a flair for design and an overall attention to detail which is really impressive. MdE is a small, relaxed, friendly place to drop in and enjoy really good coffee. It doesn’t appear to be shouting about it, but it clearly takes what it does very seriously and should be applauded for caring and for succeeding. So don’t make Highbury Corner somewhere you just pass through. Stop off at Maison d’Être; you may find continuing your journey a whole lot less important on reflection.

Maison d’Être, 154 Canonbury Road, N1 2UP

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @maisondetrecafe

3 Responses to “Maison d’Être, Canonbury Rd”

  1. espressojoe Says:

    NIce review. I’ve yet to try the North London cafes but you’re making a compelling argument to head that way.

  2. coffeejess Says:

    Great little place with very good coffee. Your blog rocks!

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