Bread and Bean, Junction Road

July 24, 2012

As previous readers will have noticed, I enjoy the spaces in London which are somewhat off the beaten track, the liminal areas which are connects or thoroughfares, yet which exist as little communities with their own character. These spaces are often neglected or observed, with only passing interest, from the top deck of a bus or through the window of a car. Junction Road, for me, is one such place. Linking the Archway with the leafy domesticity of Tufnell Park, a form of nominative determinism seems to have influenced the development of Junction Road as a place along which one journeys, rather than where one sits.

Bread and Bean might be about to change that.

Bread and Bean, Junction RdThis calm, relaxed little independent has been in existence since December 2011, and is the first concern opened by its owner. Tucked on a corner, opposite a chain café of inferior quality, BandB exudes an unhurried contentedness which seems to rub off on its staff and customers alike. The coffee served is Union’s Revelations blend, a well-worked roast of no little complexity. I detected a certain woodiness to the bottom end, with sparkling citrus and cherry high notes. This blend is very popular among independents, having been Coffee Circus’s blend of choice before it moved across to a Climpson’s bespoke (though they still serve it often as a guest blend), and it is easy to see why. The blend stands up well as a throaty, pushy espresso shot, but has enough about it to augment a milkier coffee, the spikiness of the high notes singing through the sweetness of the milk. I started with an espresso and was delighted with the quality. The extraction was exactly as it should be, and the crema sank down the sides of the cup right to the bottom, retaining its unguent quality and the integrity of the texture perfectly. It was the right temperature too, and whoever has worked out that complex equation of weight, grind, and water has done a marvellous job. The macchiato was made with foamed milk, rather than poured or stretched as I prefer, but it was very good. The milk was creamy and of ambient temperature, and were I a cappuccino drinker, I know I would be well satisfied. I confess I even used my teaspoon to dredge out some of the foam and lick it up, guiltily following some sort of feline impulse, and I liked it. Both drinks came in at £1.80.

Bread and Bean, Junction Rd And what of the place itself? Well, when I went in this morning it was pretty empty. The feel is very low-key, very unpretentious, and very friendly. There is a shady little back-room where the cool brick walls make for a great workspace in this weather, and the front area is airy and light, with comfy seats and a wonderful wooden bench (photo on my Facebook page). The aesthetic is sparse but eclectic, exemplified by the strigine, postcard-sized flyers, beautifully designed by Joane at design agency April. The same design is used on the loyalty card (buy nine; get the tenth free), and it’s a pleasantly playful reminder to carry round in your waller. The staff were chatty and friendly and seemed genuinely enthused by the opportunity to talk about the business and the coffee. There was none of the sniffiness which can sometimes accompany a new independent, particularly one in an area where it is head-and-shoulders above the nearest competitor.

Interestingly, I met a chap in there who I have also seen frequently Coffee Circus, my local, as it were. I asked him what he thought and his opinion was very similar to my own: the coffee is certainly on a par with the Circus, but the atmosphere is just that little bit more relaxed and friendly. “Less Crouch End-y”, as he jovially put it. I know what he means. When I first started going to the Circus, it was so quiet I feared for the continued success of the business. But word of mouth and quality will have their day, and now, especially at the weekend, a café which used to feel like an extension of my front room is standing-room only, heaving with push-chairs and people studiously reading the Guardian. For the business, I am delighted. As a consumer, I am secretly saddened. As a reviewer, I am conflicted.

Bread and Bean, Junction RdThe paradox of reviewing is that you bring to a (slightly, in my case) wider audience somewhere you like and want to share. But in the sharing, you run the risk that some of the qualities which appealed to you can be lost. The busier a place gets, the more likely it is that coffees will be rushed, and the more likely it is that your enjoyment of them deleteriously affected by a screaming toddler or, as I once had in the Circus, a persistently barking hound. But, the purpose of reviewing, for the most part, is adding to the stigmergic system by which the reputation of such places rise and fall. I wouldn’t for one second think that my opinion has a great deal of influence, but one voice added to another and to another can create a choir. I found this place following a recommendation from Giles Coren on Twitter. Thousands of people will have seen his recommendation to me, and some will read this review. Of that sample group, some might heed my endorsement of BandB (just in case you didn’t notice, I am wholeheartedly endorsing it), or, more likely, follow Mr Coren’s advice as I did. For BandB, this would mean more business. For me, it might mean a slightly selfish diminishing of my enjoyment of the place. But I suppose if I wanted to keep places to myself, I shouldn’t have started this blog. I loved Bread and Bean, and I’ll be going back. I just hope it retains its friendly quietude as well as the quality of its coffee. If not, blame Giles.

Bread and Bean, 37 Junction Road, N19 5QU

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @breadandbean37

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