Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

You might think that Stoke Newington and its environs suffer a surfeit of cafés and perhaps, towards the Church Street end, you might have a point. There is, however, always room for somewhere new and interesting, especially if they are doing something a bit different, new, and tasty.

Yellow Warbler is doing just that.

Sited on Northwold Road, part of the Dantean one-way system that throws a confusing loop around part of the N16 area and heads off towards Clapton, Yellow Warbler is a café that also serves Venezuelan street food. The coffee is Climpson and Sons, always likely to earn an approving nod from my palate. I had a piccolo in an oversize glass (no criticism: the café actually only opened properly today and there are one or two things still absent from the roster), which was smooth and chocolate, a suitably tasty rendering of Climpson’s tried and tested Estate blend. I also tried a single origin Kenyan Kiangoi, again by Climpson, as a filter. I enjoyed this greatly and the rich summer fruits I picked up certainly complimented the weather.

For food, I had an arepas, which is a corn-flour patty cooked in some sort of mysterious machine and native to Venezuela, from where I gather one of the owners hails. They are crisp on the outside and fluffy and moist on the inside, and very filling. I had mine replete which crispy chorizo and indulgently gungey Manchego cheese, served with a punchy Venezuelan form of guacamole called guasacaca and a crunchy salsa called pico de gallo. All in all, tasty and interesting. This was served for a very reasonable £3.50, with the piccolo at £2.20 and the filter at £2.40. These prices pleased me too, not suffering from the north London chic tax that some cafés seem intent on making us pay.

The filter

The filter

The café itself is fairly typical in its design, airy and light and not exactly shy of its drop lighting, but I did enjoy the Henretian wooden throne I parked myself in to enjoy my food and drink. The atmosphere was gentle but lively: stuff gets done but it doesn’t disturb, which if you’re reading or writing is ideal. I was reading, a fine book about baseball as it happens, and passed a very pleasant hour in a state of genuine relaxation. And this returns me to a parenthetical point I made earlier: this is/was the first day that Yellow Warbler was open. And that is seriously impressive. The service was sharp and friendly, chattily congenial but also efficient. The coffee is already very good and the sort of teething problems cafés often, understandably encounter just didn’t seem to be present. These guys are on point and power to them for it. So, while those of you who visit N16 might already have your favourites, I would commend Yellow Warbler to you for a visit. And eat the food. The food is yummy.

Yellow Warbler, 9 Northwold Road, N16

Website with details

Also on Twitter

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

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Coffee Stop Awards 2014

March 24, 2014

IMG_4502Chris Ward has launched the Coffee Stop Awards to celebrate and publicise all that is good about the London coffee scene, a welcome addition to the discussion that swirls around the panoply of good places where we lucky Londoners can get the black stuff. Obviously, the section I find most interesting is the bloggers bit, where I am privileged to have been nominated along with some truly great people. Other categories include Best Coffee Shop, Best New Coffee Shop, and Best Use of Social Media.

Two places I have reviewed, Look Mum No Hands! and Four Corners, are in the running for several awards, and Harris and Hoole, whose founders the Tolleys I interviewed recently, get a nod for best chain.

These are the categories, and who I voted for:

Best Coffee Shop: Tapped and Packed, various

Coolest baristas: Notes Barrows, all over (used to be Flat Cap)

Best for cyclists: Look Mum No Hands!, Old Street

Best coffee roasted in London: Climpson and Sons

Best chain: Harris and Hoole

Tastiest cakes and bakes: The Fields Beneath, Kentish Town

Best use of social: Four Corners, Lower Marsh

Best for working out of office: Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, Leather Lane

Best new coffee shop: Sharps in Windmill Street. I reviewed them for Caffeine, so no link. Sorry.

Best London coffee blog: seriously?

I would urge you to check out all the other blogs on the shortlist. One of the things that has most struck me about the ‘coffee blogging thing’ is how kind and welcoming everyone is; I am lucky enough to count Brian, Chloe, and Kate as friends as well as fellow bloggers.

Here are links to all the other bloggers listed ranked in no particular order:

Coffee Hunter with Peter

London Cafe Review with Jonathan

Cups of London Coffee with Daniel

The Faerietale Foodie with Chloe

Brian’s Coffee Spot with (obviously) Brian

A Southern Belle in London with Kate

Mondomulia with Guilia

So get behind this: it is always a good thing to recognise excellence, and the Best New Coffee Shop list is an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to try new places.

Love,

Alex

Like a forest. Of bottles.

Like a forest. Of bottles.

A short walk north of the neon nexus that is Piccadilly Circus, so thin it seems strapped to the wall of its housing, lies Tonic Coffee Bar. Tonic is the most recent instantiation of the Coffeesmiths Collective, a by-word, to this coffee drinker at least, for quality. Coffeesmiths run five cafés in London at the moment, including the superlative Department of Coffee and Social Affairs and Chancery Coffee, both previously visited and reviewed, as well as The Liberty of Norton Folgate and Speakeasy. Tonic, open since July 2013, sits on the southwest corner of Soho’s caffeine-soaked environs and, arguably, now provides one of the finest brews available in the area.

Tonic is just that.

Of all London’s qualities, the one I find least charming is its love of bustle and busyness, strongly accented by the tourist economy and its faux glitz and relentless consumerism. The area of Soho and where it seeps into the even busier shopping districts of Piccadilly and Regents Street are a kind of personal hell. Thank goodness, then, for Tonic, which provides a poor, befuddled soul such as mine a quick respite from the chaos and a bloody good cup of coffee.

The machine and the coffee.

The machine and the coffee.

The layout is simple, with a coffee machine at one end of the narrow room, and food and cold drinks at the other. There is only a limited seating spot at the bar, three stools, and some room to stand. But Tonic is envisaged as a takeaway spot, in contrast to the delightfully relaxed ambience of Department of Coffee. That is not to say that thought hasn’t been given to the design. In some respects, Tonic is actually my favourite of the Coffeesmiths houses. The walls are a beautifully deep, verdant green, redolent of the depths of an Amazonian forest and thus wonderfully removed from the trashy colours of the Circus. The tiled walls are interrupted by shelving, upon which sit bottle after bottle with printed Tonic labels, which looks interesting and also catches the light and dances it around, creating a welcoming visual warmth. While the bar is busy, it doesn’t feel rushed, either. All in all, though this is a takeaway spot, it is still one where spending twenty minutes drinking a cup feels restful.

Food and prices.

Food and prices, if you squint.

The coffee is excellent. In keeping with house rules, there are a variety of filters and espressos, as well as a decaffeinated option. The filters are both from HasBean, and very good brews too: the Columbian Finca El Vergel and the Sumatran Wahana Lingtong are two of the best filters out there at the moment. I had an espresso using Climpson and Sons’ seasonal roast, which was pleasingly citrusy and cleverly balanced; I can see it working well with milk too. I also had a flat white, unusually for me, in order to try HasBean’s Nicaraguan Finca La Escondida. It was superb, sweet and smooth with a spike of berry and lime rising out of the caramel taste. Espressos are £2.20 or £2.30 and flat whites are £2.50. For £2.80 you can also have a ‘both ways’, whereby you get a single shot and a cortado/piccolo of the guest espresso so you can see how it plays, as you guessed already, both ways. For tea drinkers, they serve teas by Canton Tea Company that, I’ve little doubt, are also good.

They even have their own trucker hats.

They even have their own trucker hats.

In conclusion, Tonic is exactly what I would want from a takeaway café. The quality of coffee is excellent, with genuine thought put into the range of choices; I am a big fan of the ‘both ways’ option too, a clever way of learning about different roasts and different types of coffee. The atmosphere is a lot more laid back than I might expect from somewhere that clearly services a transient customer base. Tonic is a very welcome addition to the Soho coffee scene and, in my opinion anyway, has already pegged back and overtaken a lot of the more established names in the area.

Tonic, 16 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @TonicCoffee

Ordinarily I start a review with some thoughts on where the place I am reviewing is situated. Climpson & Sons, though ostensibly based in the People’s Republic of Hackney on Broadway Market, have, in fact, spread their influence well beyond a locale. They are arguably one of the top roasters and suppliers of coffee to the good independents of London, and probably the most well known outside the community of coffee lovers and café haunters of the city. And so rather than write about Hackney, which is far beyond my scope and knowledge anyway, I’d like quickly to highlight a person instead.

Tom Haigh makes coffee sing.

Climpson & Sons

I first met Tom when I moved to London and shortly afterwards started frequenting Coffee Circus in Crouch End, which was the subject of my first review on this blog. The place had (and retains) a vibrancy and enthusiasm for the simple pleasures of drinking a decent cup which grabbed my attention and got me thinking about coffee in a different way. Tom was crucial to this. I had previously worked in a brilliant tea shop in Oxford, where I had made coffees, but nothing prepared me for the detail and precision with which Tom worked. His passion for serving excellent coffees, for understanding why they were excellent and how they could be improved, for actually inhabiting the process and not just churning out a ‘product’, was invigorating. I found myself staying late at the shop and discussing coffee, learning about it as Tom himself took formative steps along the route he is currently travelling. And so it is no surprise to me that he now finds himself at the prestigious C & S, honing his skill and feeding his interest.  It was down to Tom that I found myself in Hackney, trying the C & S single origin…

The single origin is what you think it is, one roast made from one bean, preferably from one farm. Tom’s enthusiasm for this one had me snared, and I was not disappointed. This shot picks you up by the collar, shoves you into a wall, and screams beautifully-balanced coffee yumminess in your face from about an inch away. The base is strong and heavy and sets up sweet, fruity shards which continue to dapple the palate well after you’ve swallowed the mouthful. You can’t argue with this sort of carefully precise roasting. The sweetness lingers so that by the time you sip the next mouthful, the bottom notes meet the previous flavour on the up and start the whole cycle again. You want to try it, honestly. The bean is, apparently, Nicaragua Finca el Paraiso Maracatu Varietal. The price, £1.60, is a lot less imposing than the name, and is made very well, as you’d expect. I was well pleased to have made the journey.

Climpson & Sons

I then, being a creature of habit, had a macchiato. Again with the dolloping! I should start a campaign, or at least get some t-shirts printed. This was good, though not amazing. I think I got the order in in the middle of a post-school rush, and I’m not sure that it was quite loved into being, but it was still a damn sight better than what one would normally receive. The milk was airy and segued into the the shot rather than melting into it, but as I’ve said before, it’s a personal thing, and I couldn’t really fault the art or the craft. One minor whinge: I don’t like having to give a name to put on my cup. Still reeling from Starbucks’ awful personalisation campaign – no, I don’t need to introduce myself to feel part of something, and it’s not really something I want to feel part of anyway – when the C & S barista asked me for a handle I spluttered a little bit. But as you can see from the picture above, I gave in, and without mendacity. All in all, I left Hackney feeling very pleased about the great state of coffee in London, and, more importantly, about the fact that people who love it and care about it are driving standards and beating an enthusiastic drum. So, get thee to Climpson & Sons. Just get your false name ready.

Climpson & Sons, 67 Broadway Market, E8 4 PH

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @climpsonscafe or @climpsonandsons (the former for the coffee house, the latter for the roasters)