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

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

Step inside...

Step inside…

I had never been to Ealing before I made my visit to check out both Paperback and another café that I’ll talk about in my next post. I had driven through, stop-starting my way along the snakelike A406, which winds through parts of the borough before throwing drivers up onto the various roads that leave London. It seemed rather grey, rather dull, lots of houses and not much else to be seen from the road. But then, having heard about a couple of cafés doing great things there, I decided to take the plunge. It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that there is more to Ealing than the bits next to the road.

Paperback Coffee is warm, welcoming, and friendly.

It is a pretty new concern, open for less than a month when I went down with Jennifer, but there was already a pleasing fluidity to ordering and getting your stuff. The aesthetic is more local café than artisan poseur, photos and little bon mots dotting the walls rather than exposed brickwork and the like. There is a bring-and-swap bookshelf at the back, I assume a nod to the name, but also quite fun. It is light and open and a bank of seats face the counter and bar, from which the owner was happy to talk and answer questions, something I am always a fan of and especially helpful when somewhere is new. There was a cleat enthusiasm from him and is staff about what they were doing, and a sense of fun too.

The espresso. Note the pretty saucer.

The espresso. Note the pretty saucer.

The coffee was interesting, from an independent roastery called Coffeeplant who have outposts in Portobello and Wembley (I think the sales in the former, the roastery in the latter, but I may be wrong). It was quite a dark roast, which Coffeeplant are producing for Paperback as a bespoke roast, and perhaps because it was only four days old it was still a bit bright. It’s not ideal to serve coffee in that period, though in fairness Paperback were happy to discuss that and explain that, because it was such early days, they were still tinkering with the blend in consultation with the roaster. I like this kind of honesty and also the process of discussion and development of a roast, and so, while the coffee was maybe a touch bitter for me as an espresso, I appreciate what they are trying and the fact they were open to talking about it. As a piccolo, the coffee worked much more successfully anyway, rich and nutty, the darkness softened by a well-stretched blanket of milk. The espresso was £1.70 and the piccolo £2.10. Jennifer was impressed by their use of Canton Teas, a very good producer, up with Postcard Teas in my opinion (maybe just shy of them, but still…). She had a beautiful Jasmine pearl tea that was clear and light and very lovely and priced at £2.50 for a pot. It is always fantastic to see a coffee shop bothering with proper teas and knowing how to brew them; too often, I see artisan cafés skimping on this to the detriment of their overall appeal.

The bar. Chats can be had from here.

The bar. Chats can be had from here.

We also had some food, which I don’t always do, but it looked appetising. Jennifer had a very moist coconut cake, which was delightful, and I got stuck into a pesto, salami, cheddar, and sundried tomato sandwich on ciabatta. It may seem like a small point, but not only was the sandwich tasty, but it was of a decent size and priced much more reasonably than some of the miniscule, ‘artisan’ things you get more centrally, which are an insult to the sensible sandwich eater. There were a couple of other eats available too, including more sandwiches and cakes.

All in all, Paperback was a lovely spot. Unfussy, unpretentious, friendly, and serving a good range of food and drink, it’s the sort of place we felt happy to spend a few unhurried hours reading and writing. It was busy enough to have a gentle hum of things happening, but not so rammed that it was hard to concentrate. Everyone working at Paperback clearly enjoys being there, proud of what they are doing and happy to engage and talk about it. There are one or two edges to knock off where the roast is concerned, in my opinion, but the idea of a new café working directly with an independent roasters to craft something just for their café is something I am a big fan of, and a few bumps along the way are to be expected, especially when the café is new and quantities and so on are still being worked out. It is only a very minor quibble though, set against a very pleasant experience. Given the seeming lack of decent cafés west of Portobello, it is brilliant to see somewhere like Paperback appearing. Long may the further caffeination of Ealing continue!

Paperback Coffee, 153 South Ealing Road, W5 4QP

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ChrisKitch, Muswell Hill

February 25, 2014

The outside.

The outside.

For an area that, ostensibly at least, ticks so many of the ‘artisan’ coffee boxes, Muswell Hill is oddly bereft of the sort of establishment to which one would want to travel up that steep hill. The high street concerns dominate, cluttering up the two main drags that run out of the roundabout. There are no cafés that make me go wow. However, tucked away down a leafy, otherwise residential street is a gem of another sort: ChrisKitch.

We went to try the coffee, but we stayed for everything else.

Those salads.

Those salads.

Set up fairly recently by a husband and wife team, ChrisKitch is an intimate, quiet venue beautifully appointed with sturdy, thick wooden tables and the reassuring clutter of a busy, family-run business. The kitchen is visible from the back of the shop, always a healthy and welcome sign of owner confidence. The counter brims like a harvest altar with freshly baked goods, mountainous salads, and an assortment of other goodies. When the accomplice and I visited the first time, we went to get a late, late Sunday lunch, and we were not disappointed. We both chose the three salads option, though there are also rotating main courses to go alongside. Between us, we had a green salad of beans, peas, mange touts, freshened with olive oil, mint, and given some fatty chunkiness with various nuts. There was a red salad of tomatoes, both sun-dried and roasted, pulses, and raisins. We also had an earthy chickpea and mushroom salad, made more sprightly by capers, onions, and dill. All were beautifully balanced, with varying tastes and textures through the mouthful, which was testament to the care and interest taken in sprucing up what could have been a pretty ordinary set of dishes. There was also a bread selection, all baked on site, comprising a cheese cornbread, crumbly and light, a thick, rich Guinness and blue cheese bread, and a beautiful garlic and onion bread. It was all delightful, robust home-cooking but with a degree of invention and care that elevated it above the ordinary.

Breads.

Breads.

The coffee was decent enough, but not amazing. I had to explain what a piccolo was but Chris made it gamely enough, and was also happy to accept that coffee was not the main thing they did and so he was not too clued up on it. They source their roast from a local shop in Muswell Hill who I think roast their own stuff. It comes up very dark and a bit too bitter for my tastes, but it is part of ChrisKitch’s ethos of local sourcing and so it is hard to be too critical. They get their tea from the same place and it is much better. Jen had a very pleasant, light Earl Grey. It wasn’t of the quality of a Canton or Postcard brew, but it was loose leaf and eminently drinkable.

Coffee.

Coffee.

The great joy with ChrisKitch is, aside from the food, the pleasure and the pride that Chris and his crew clearly take in their product. It reminds me of where I used to work in Oxford, the Rose, which was run by the woman who first taught me about cafés, coffee, tea, and cooking. Marianne, an inimitable Danish woman who had moved from being a very successful architect and interior designer into running a tea house and bistro to follow her passion for food and drink, ruled every aspect of her place with care and dedication. She loved talking to customers about what she was doing and why, and would have forthright discussions about ingredients or brewing methods, sometimes resulting in an amusing difference of opinions. I suspect that Chris is not quite as combative as Marianne could be, but I saw the same love of what he was doing, the same interest in what his customers thought of his product. He dallied at our table to talk about seasoning salads and thoughtfully went through all the breads, explaining why he had chosen them and what he liked about them. This is a chef who is fiercely committed to what he does, but also manages to be friendly, helpful, and engaged with his customers, an attitude that pervades through his staff as well. It is an attitude, an ethos even, that to me is a must for people running smaller scale enterprises like this, and indeed most artisan cafés. The attention to detail, the care for even the little things, is what elevates a place and drives it to be more successful. Responsiveness to and engagement with customers is probably the best way to make yourself stand out. Find what you believe in, food-wise or coffee-wise, and then advocate it in everything you do. That is what the team at ChrisKitch are doing, and I would urge you to go and find it for yourselves.

ChrisKitch, 7A Tetherdown, Muswell Hill, N10 1ND

Website with details

Also on Twitter

56 St James, Walthamstow

February 13, 2014

The espresso.

The espresso.

Things appear to be stirring in Walthamstow. There’s no doubt that the area can appear, ostensibly at least, to be a bit grimy and down-at-heel, the area is also a vibrant community, centring around a strong market and high street. Walthamstow benefits from that rarest of qualities, a blend of long-standing residents who give a place character and feel, and a sense of excitement brought about by newcomers, including plenty of artists encouraged by the available studio space and now ten years old E17 Art Trail. Despite this, Walthamstow also has escaped the mass influx and corresponding ‘gentrification’ (dirty word) that often robs an area of its established character.

As I have remarked often, though, new artisan cafés often herald this change. Should we look at the opening of 56 St James as a harbinger of things to come?

The straightforward answer to that is god alone knows. If it does, though, it is fair to say that the newcomers will find an excellent coffee shop when they arrive.

56 St James is, despite being only a month old, already well on its way to being an excellent coffee shop. They serve Nude Espresso, and the double shot I kicked off with was all dark chocolate and warmth, sweet to the dregs. It was well made with a thick crema and not too oily, a smooth mouthfeel to the finish. I then had a piccolo, which I discussed with the barista; he was keen to make it how I wanted it rather than just serving up what he figured it was, an approach I really like. He then came over to check that it was good, which it was, the dark chocolate of the Nude roast mingling well with the milk to create an almost mocha-y taste with none of the over-the-top sweetness that drives me away from that sort of drink. If I had one criticism, it would be that the milk was a fraction hot, but this is a minor quibble and it didn’t detract from the quality of the drink; a minor adjustment would merely make it sweeter. Both drinks came in at £2, which is also very reasonable, with flat whites and such like at a standard £2.50.

The National Geographic, excellently present.

The National Geographic, excellently present.

Creating great coffee is tough; creating a great atmosphere is arguably even more of a challenge. 56 St James is pleasingly low-key, from its retro office interior to its long, shared table which dominates one side of the café. The music is relaxed and low enough not to impede conversation. A young woman knitted quietly to one side and there were already clearly a few regulars who engaged the barista in chatty conversation, another good sign for a new place. 56 also already has an active social media presence, which further demonstrates both their outgoing nature and the strong potential of the area: the café is clearly already a bit of beacon to the Twitterati of Walthamstow and indicates a potential for strong growth in a location which has clearly been missing a genuine artisan coffee shop. None of this, of course, would work if the venue fell short on quality, but it does not.

Who doesn't love an owl?

Who doesn’t love an owl?

56 is also clearly popular with young parents, but a smaller downstairs area allowed them to mingle without it detracting from the experience of quieter coffee drinkers looking to read or, as mentioned above, knit. There is a blackboard wall for drawing on, a small but pleasant touch, and although the venue isn’t enormous, it didn’t feel cramped despite being busy in a way that many cafés can when swamped by prams and children.

All in all, Walthamstow may or may not be ripe for a property surge and there’s no doubt that with train or tube lines into Victoria, Liverpool Street, and out towards Gospel Oak, the area is very well connected without feeling like it’s right on top of the city. I can never quite be sure if there is a corollary between cafés and gentrification: my instinct says yes but whether they are a sign or a symptom (if that’s not too emotive a term), I don’t know. I suspect that a quality coffee shop will flourish whether it happens or not. For this reason, I reckon the future of 56 St James looks very bright.

56 St James, St James Street, E17

Also on Twitter

I recently learned in conversation with a noted coffee person that while in the UK, we consume yearly on average 3 kilos of coffee per capita, the Danes manage a whopping 11 kilos. On my recent trip to Copenhagen, I sought out and found some amazing places to have coffee, some doing the artisan coffee thing brilliantly, some pushing the boundaries of roasting.

The planning phase.

The planning phase.

Scandanvia obviously has a rich recent history of coffee. With Tim Wendelboe in Norway and Koppi in Sweden, innovative roasters have been working out of the area for a while now, bringing superb coffee to the rest of Europe. The Danish scene has expanded rapidly in the last few years, with Jens Nøgaard from Café Europa 1989 and fellow pioneers Trœls Parken and Martin Hildebrand spreading the word of artisan coffee. Estate Coffee also opened in 2000 and five years later opened a micro-roastery run by founder Søren Sylvest. At around this time, Jens helped set up the Copenhagen Coffee Academy which improved the quality of Danish roasting and serving techniques, as well as locating a coffee think-tank in Copenhagen, removing the necessity to go further afield to learn about the various skills involved in roasting and running a café. The Nordic Barista Cup, which revolves around various venues in the cold north, has also brought a new focal point to the coffee community of which Denmark is now a large part. I learned much of this in conversation with John Laird, who used to work for Verve Coffee in Santa Cruz, but has now relocated, in part at least, to Europe and is working on new projects. It is indicative of the vitality and excitement of the Danish scene that I found John in Democratic Coffee, evangelising about the quality of Danish roasters and cafés. I found the same and can heartily recommend a visit to Copenhagen to experience it all. I would also recommend this post from Giulia over at Mondomulia which has lovely pictures and good suggestions, some of which I followed.

Here is a brief survey of what I discovered.

Democratic Coffee

Krystalgade 15, 1172 Copenhagen 

Democratic Coffee.

Democratic Coffee.

Democratic Coffee is the first and, surely, the best of the places I found. DC was set up by the lovely Oliver Oxfeldt in a long, bay-windowed adjunct to the atrium of the main city library, which automatically makes it a wonderful thing. The coffee is locally sourced from roasters Great Coffee and it’s safe to say they are not labouring under any misapprehensions. The filter, a Negele Gurbitu Yirgacheffe, was reminiscent of mulled wine, all plums and sweetness. The espresso blend, roasted by Søren Stiller Markussen from a Honduran Santa Marta, had woody shades with an aftertaste of chocolate and apricot. It worked beautifully alone or in a cortado. The venue itself is airy, light, and welcoming, and you can see Oliver fussing behind the counter over buttery, freshly baked croissants or hearty-looking sandwiches. Oliver also played cricket and football with local team Akademisk Boldklub before making the leap into coffee, which is simply further evidence of his all-round greatness. The café is long and thin, with high benches on one side and seating at the bar on the other. There isn’t a huge amount of room, but when we were there, which was several times, it was common to see people standing and chatting among themselves, or to Oliver. It’s exactly the kind of quality product married to a strong ethos of community and conversation that I really admire in coffee shops, and DC is better than most of the places I find regularly lauded in the UK. Superb.
Website with details.

Coffee Lab

Boldhusgade 6, 1062 Copenhagen

Coffee Lab.

Coffee Lab.

Down a steep set of stairs off the street, tucked away in a side street, is Coffee Lab. Set up by some of the original characters from the Aarhus coffee scene, Sally, Peter, and Claus, they roast their own buying it in from Nordic Approach and doing some very interesting things. I had a ferocious espresso, with smacks of grapefruit zinging across the palate. The café is lovely as well, a kind of basement area stuffed with coffee gadgetry in the main room, but with a quiet, more typically ‘cool’ back room with muted tones and a record player. This place serves excellent coffee but is also pushing the micro-roastery agenda and pushing it hard and with good results. It would have to be my second shout after DC for a must visit place.

Coffee Collective

Jægersborggade 10, 2200 Copenhagen (though I went to a smaller one; this is the main one and better, by all accounts)

Coffee Collective.

Coffee Collective.

The third of the more specialist coffee places we visited, CC is well-established in Copenhagen, with three venues across the city, the largest being the one whose address I have furnished you with. The great lure of CC is the huge array of roasts they sell for home-brewing, and the range is excellent. One of the first roastery-cum-cafés to set out their stall, they have a spot in the foodie Mecca of Torvehallerne, a kind of Borough market but with, to me at least, a more relaxed atmosphere. The staff were really friendly and even invited me to a party later on in the day. The Ethiopian Yukro, which I had as a filter, was beautifully complex, with hints of cardamom and lemon. If you want to bring any coffee back with you, this is the place to stock up.
Website with details.

Kaffebarren

Istedgade 40, 1650 Copenhagen

Kaffeebarren.

Kaffeebarren.

This place is a drop-in spot among the slightly odd environs of Istegade, which is kind of a Kings Cross-meets-Soho in terms of a general patina of seediness with a few gems sprinkled in among the sex shops and itinerants. It’s near the train station, or near enough, and stays open late. The coffee is perfectly decent, a strong, ballsy espresso roast which is dark and warming up until the slightly bitter after-taste: a decent metaphor for the area, perhaps. The café also does a strong line in teas and, while small, is snug and perfect for a quick, evening coffee before heading out or heading home.

Bang & Jensen

Istegade 130, 1650 Copenhagen

Bang & Jensen

Bang & Jensen

Bang & Jensen reminded me of the kind of café-cum-bar that I found in Poland. The décor was fantastic, large vintage sofas and chairs, random antique lampshades, and a higgledy-piggledy interior with little anterooms and hidden sections up small flights of stairs. The café is clearly vey popular with all kinds of punters, not just the normal coffee crowd, but hipsters, old couples, and young professionals having a beer after work. I wouldn’t particularly go here for the coffee, but the atmosphere is fun and busy and I assume that most of my readers are as partial to a beer or glass of wine as they are a coffee, so for that, I would heartily recommend it.

Little Gem, Highbury Fields

September 9, 2013

A cant name is a name that gives a clue, sometimes wholly obvious, other times tangential at best, to the character of the owner of that name. Little Gem is a cant name of the most obvious sort. A café with a strong Japanese flavour and influence, Little Gem is to be found nestled in the quieter back streets to the east of Highbury Fields, on the junction of Corsica Street and Calabria Street. These few streets make a small part of town that is calm and residential, rows of little red-bricks that are off the beaten track but very close to it. We discovered it not by chance, but following a heads-up from the Highbury Fields twitter feed; I fear that without it, this little gem (see?) would have passed the accomplice and me by.

I went arty for this one.

I went arty for this one.

We popped in on a Saturday afternoon, when many places would be heaving. This was, beneficially for us, not the case, and it was clear that the café owners, who were working the bar too, were happy to use the lulls to chat to customers about what they were up to, what they were serving, and even, in one instance, how to alter bags bought in charity shops to make them look more fun. I personally love to see this though: interaction between café owners or staff and customers is the lifeblood of any good place and LG seemed to thrive on it. Any questions I had were thoroughly answered as well, and I reckon I would have been welcome to stand there all afternoon fire off queries without becoming annoying; for a reviewer, there are few better feelings. There was a very friendly atmosphere aided by a comfy but intimate layout; size is yet another reason why this is literally a little gem.

Lovely cup, lovely piccolo

Lovely cup, lovely piccolo.

The coffee is Monmouth’s organic roast, which is in keeping with the general thrust of the venue towards organic items. The roast is quite dark and it’s not what I would call an explosively exciting blend, but the quality of the espresso and piccolo were high: the milk was especially creamy and well-stretched and the espresso was well-extracted. I don’t think I would choose this roast as a matter of course, but it is good enough and the barista had more than sufficient skill to make it, if not sing, at least dance a little. The coffee was beautifully served in little pottery cups from the Maze Hill potters from Greenwich. I don’t know enough about the subject to know what this style of pottery is called, but suffice it to say, I thought they were beautiful. The wooden spoons are classy too. The accomplice also made a very bold claim: she stated that her green tea, which is called Kabusecha and is from Gion Tsujiri in Kyoto, was the best green tea she had ever had. And trust me, she knows her tea.

The best green tea ever.

The best green tea ever.

I also had a very tasty little chicken teriyaki sandwich and a fine, soft and squidgy lemon cake; snack-wise, LG did well too. Add to that some fine illustrations of rioters and tree-loving cyclists by Eliza Southwood, which really caught my eye, and Little Gem is a superlative collection of details, beautifully assembled into a small, but beautifully formed café. A short walk from Highbury & Islington tube station, but far enough from the hubbub to be calming, this place is certainly worth a visit. Little Gem is no wet lettuce. Sorry to end on such an awful pun, but I couldn’t help myself.

Little Gem, 15 Corsica Street, N5 1JT

Facebook page with details

Also on Twitter: @LittleGemCoffee

Cake and forks.

Cake and forks.