Towpath, Regent’s Canal

June 19, 2012

The Regent’s Canal: it’s not a road, but it is long and reasonably straight. So at home straightaway, then. The canal is a powerful vestige of the Regency era and a reminder of the importance of waterways in the history of our urban sprawl as it winds from Paddington towards Limehouse and out into the Thames. The forbidding wharf houses around Kings Cross still cast a shadow near the York Way bridge, despite the manic redevelopment of the area, and the red-brick congruence continues along the side of the canal to Kingsland Road, where I found myself today on the hunt for some coffee. The canal’s gentle journey from the eclectic tomfoolery of Camden, via the studied urban cool of some of the N1 canal-side developments, and on to the slightly cultivated ramshackle hipness of the Kingsland Road junction is actually quite a good indicator of the sorts of coffee places one finds in those areas. At it was between Kingsland Road and Whitmore Road that I found Towpath, thanks to Paul at Kokoa Collection.

Towpath, happily, isn’t trying too hard.

Towpath, Regent's Canal

And, nor does it need to. It meets the hipness criteria perfectly well, given that it is off the Kingsland Road and, as you walk down the canal, there are enough of those people with hairstyles you could cut yourself on hanging out with their rockabilly tattoos on show. The spot occupied by Towpath overlooks some solidly redbrick wharf-type buildings which doubtless house some art collectives or bespoke bicycle manufacturers. Incidentally, there is something of a danger in heading to Towpath, which is the plethora of hurtling two-wheelers vying for space with pedestrians and lunch-loungers, so keep your wits about you and your spatial awareness on full. Once you get there, though, there is a gentleness to the spot which is really delightful. I, for one, having grown up in the country, can never get enough of those rare bits of London which are quieter than the rest. I would highly recommend the Camley Street natural park for that, by the way, which is about two miles down the canal towards St Pancras. But Towpath is in just such a spot, and it’s a lovely, warm, sun-splashed spot at that.

The coffee is from an Italian roastery called Caffe Piansa which, according to the barista, was found by the owner of the venue when she lived in Florence some time ago. It is a shouty little blend, dark and short and very Italian. Its bitterness suits the short shot, and there is almost a slight smokiness to the aftertaste which I liked a great deal. The shot comes out almost like a ristretto, but with a thick, gloopy crema, which is testament to the making. All in all, I found it a pleasingly spiky cup. The macchiato didn’t disappoint either. It was a warming symphony of caffeine oompf with I could feel flooding the veins as it washed through me. You know that uplifting, almost heady feeling you get from the first cup of the day? Well, this was not my first cup, but I felt it anyway. I would argue that the shot works better with milk unless you like a bitter shot, because you get the swimmy-ness of the caffeine/milk combination beautifully, with the bitterness masked. The barista was very good, as I suspected he would be from his tousled, skinny look and intense expression when he poured the milk. You know the type, and I mean that affectionately.

Towpath, Regent's Canal

So, Towpath serves good coffee, well-made. If you fancy trying a coffee which is a bit different from the very good, but prolifically available usual suspects (ie Square Mile, Climpson et al.), then you can find it here. Both the shot and the macchiato come in at a very reasonable £1.80. They don’t do takeaway which, while a touch controversial, is also quite nice, because it forces you to rest up and enjoy the gentleness of the waterside. It’s near enough to Haggerston overground to be easily found, though I would also strongly encourage anyone who’s not done so to find the time to have a canal-side wander. You can’t get lost, because you can’t get diverted, and you’ll see an architecture which has been lost to much of the rest of London. There are plenty of little grassy spots to recline upon, and you can also hide under a bridge if it all gets a bit much. Towpath is relaxed, friendly, well-situated, does what it needs to do, and doesn’t try to do or be anything else. What more could you want? Seriously?

Towpath, Regent’s Canal, N15SB (between Kingsland Rd and Whitmore Rd)

I can’t find either a website or a Twitter feed. In this day and age, that almost makes you doubt the place exists. It does, I promise.

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