Quarters Café, Archway Road

June 14, 2012

So I obviously have something about long roads. I’ve recently been on the Caledonian Road and the Kings Road, and today I found myself on the Archway Road, or the A1 as some might have it. A London arterial, it beings at the sprawling Archway junction and climbs sharply to the Elysian Highgate. The road seems to shoulder the burden of its originary locale, a down-at-heel spot which doesn’t seem owned by anywhere. But flowing upwards towards Highgate and better things, it seems to lose its slightly muddy quality before breaking gently at the top of the hill, fresh and clean and N6. I used a river metaphor in my last review and liked it, which explains the last sentence, just so you know. Anyway, it was towards the tributary (there I go again) that I happened upon the distinctly quirky Quarters Café.

The Quarters Café’s coffee is the weakest part of an otherwise interesting place.

Quarters Café

The café sits just down in a row of shops towards the corner of one of those leafy, domestic roads that seem de rigeur for that part of the world. It is a kind of Aladdin’s Cave (I say kind of because it’s actually very light and airy, unlike the majority of caves) of wonderfully interesting pieces of furniture and home-ware. The majority is Art Deco and the variety is fantastic. The stuff is all around you too, so that when you sit and drink your cup, you can browse in splendidly sedentary fashion. Which after scaling the hill, is no bad thing.

The coffee itself is Monmouth’s generic espresso blend, which is usually hearty and strong. Sadly, at the Quarters, it’s let down by a slightly disinterested approach from the barista. There was no evidence of tamping other than a slightly desultory nudge up onto the round attachment to the grinder, and the resulting shot was weak and filmy. I could taste that the blend had something about it, but when espresso is made without being tamped properly, just as when it’s made with water which is too hot or cold, there’s not a lot you can do about the resulting lack of quality. The macchiato was better, as it was poured with a smidgen of foam left to float on top, and the milk was, though too hot, pleasantly sweet. There was a smoothness to the cup which I enjoyed, but the shot’s oompf was lost and gave out under the milk’s syrupy texture. It was, however, served in a great little cup which sat, asymmetric, on its saucer.

Quarters Café

And that right there is the issue for the Quarters Café. It is a question of style over substance. It all looks great, but it tastes a bit half-arsed. There is a food menu, which I didn’t try, so I don’t know if the problem extends to that as well. But the coffee just wasn’t well-made enough to stack up alongside the better places I have visited. At £1.50 for an espresso and £1.70 for a macchiato, it’s not exorbitantly priced, but the lack of cost shouldn’t allow for simple errors which could easily be corrected. But, is that the point of the Quarters? It does call itself a café, but it strikes me that the real strength of the place is its great variety of furniture and other pieces to buy. In my previous review, of Drink, Shop & Do, there is an interesting congruence, but the very name of DSD implies an equality among the three aspects of the services provided by the venue. Calling the Quarters Café the Quarters Shop instead, but serving coffee and food, might make more sense given where its quality centres. There does seem to be a fashion for mixing up the things available in some venues, perhaps because prohibitive rents and other overheads mean that only having one string in your bow might make it snap. Even distinctly ‘coffee’ places such as the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, or Coffee Circus (see reviews passim), display artworks from artists which are available to buy, or host events to draw people in. It may even be unfair for me to review places who are so overtly not just a coffee house on the same playing field as ones which are that. But I have and will continue to do so. My issue with Quarters is that it would not take much for the coffee to improve. The building blocks are there; it just takes a little more care to make a proper house from them. But for a place to go and browse some interesting furniture and fittings, and have a reasonable drink while you lazily do so, it’s not a bad place to start.

The Quarters Café, 265-267 Archway Road, N6 5BS

Website will be http://www.quarterscafe.com but it is being developed so don’t bother

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