As my knee was injured this week I have managed to sneak away from Rugby for the weekend and see my girlfriend in London. A great opportunity to take in a few coffee sights and tastes I thought to myself. It is not often I manage to get down to the ‘Big Smoke’ so I thought I’d make as much of it as I could. A quick MSN message to Mr Hoffman and I had organized a meet up at Flat White on Sunday. The journey down on the train was fairly painless and I bought some internet credit on the train. Having managed to get most of Mr Hoffmann’s new blog posts read, of which there seemed to be about 10, I wrote one of my own and spent a bit of time on Facebook. I can honestly say one of the best journeys to London I’ve had. The train is where it’s at!After being greeted by the ‘Mrs’ at about 10pm there was just time to go to bed, ready for a relaxed stroll around London on Saturday.
Cardigans and ‘The Heff’
We got into town at about 12 and went for a little shop around Oxford Street, apparently when I’m not in my work clothes I can look like a bit of a bum. There are quite a large range of shops in ‘that, there, London’ and Lorna and I were soon rummaging through all sorts of clothes that she deemed me able to wear! As we walked a little further down past the novelty T-Shirt shops and Multinational Flagship stores I noticed what I thought was a person dressed in a polar bear outfit.
It turned out to be a Playboy bunny, not like any I’ve ever seen and I might add not one of my preferred playmates. From what I could see there was some kind of demonstration outside the newly opened Playboy Boutique. There were lots of fancy dressed people holding banners saying things like ‘EFF OFF HEFF’ and ‘Playboy exploits women’. Quite a commotion! One thing sticks in my head when it comes to demonstrations outside places like this, why are there never any attractive women holing banners saying ‘I’ve been exploited’? Whoops did I just say that out loud? I know what you are thinking: ‘It’s ‘Sid the Sexist’ writing this post’ but I’m not too bothered what you think to be honest……cue the abuse!
After my first flat white, beautifully decorated with a rosetta, and Lorna’s Mocha, I ordered another shot. To my surprise Lorna asked if she could have a sip. Now this is where I nearly fall of the edge of the seat on which I’m perched onto a couple of ‘women of a certain age’ sitting nearby. Lorna has a never ever shown any interest in any type of coffee and only likes tea when its brewed with the tea bag in the room next door. So I said ok with a little snigger.
Flat white from what I’ve seen of their brewing updose quite a lot and pull really small shots, double ristrettos I think, correct me if I’m wrong. Anyway the point I’m getting at is it was a particularly strong shot, not one for the faint hearted or the ‘beginner’. As I’d predicted the result wasn’t pretty. Lorna’s face went from interested and exited to sucking a lemon! I haven’t laughed quite so much in a long time! The shot was good, a little acidic for my taste but coupled with their excellently textured milk it makes for a great flat white.
Great café. Great guys. All the best to them. There have been a few little changes there since the last time I was there with a kitchen being added and a new décor with the intention of serving breakfasts and light snacks. Still in pride of place are their two 2 group La Marzocco Linea machines and their bank of Mazzer grinders which were taking a hammering as usual! I’ve always had to wait for coffee when I’ve been there and always had a good chat to Cam while I’ve been waiting. Good café …. Go there if you’re in Soho. After another flat white and a packet of filter ground Finca La Fany from El Salvador I stumble down the road and back to the flat for a ‘veg’ in front of the Rugby highlights!
The Hoff and a Tour of Soho’s Coffee Shops!
After another lazy start we made our way to meet Jim at ‘Flat White‘ at 2pm. We arrived at exactly on 2 and spotted him tucking in to a Flat white by the bar chatting to Cam and the guys. As always he was sporting some ‘Coffee Stash’ this time a bag from the ‘Nordic Barista Cup‘. Quite funnily it was emblazoned (under the flap I might add) with Nespresso, the home coffee making system from Nescafe. They apparently paid a fortune to sponsor the event and make a world record attempt! From what I’ve read no one who was there from the industry took it at all seriously and just enjoyed the money the big boy put in. The attempt was on the open day so I’m sure they sold a few brewers from it. Not my cup of tea, excuse the pun!
After the usual pleasantries Jim started to inquire as to where I’d been, café wise, when I’d been down to London. I’m embarrassed to say that none of the café’s he mentioned I had been to apart from ‘Monmouth‘ and ‘Flat White‘ which we were in. Incidentally, ‘Flat White‘ use ‘Monmouth Espresso Blend‘. There were 2 café’s in the immediate vicinity which he mentioned so we decided to nip off for a little tour of Soho!
On the way to the second café of the day we passed ‘Algerian Coffee Stores Ltd‘ on which was shut but the window was rammed full of old brewers, obscure coffees, and strangely some honey from Berwick, which is quite near where I live in Northumberland. I would have quite liked to have had a good root around in there as I love the old stuff.
Just around the corner we reach Bar Italia. As you can see from the pictures here Bar Italia is the hubb of the Italian community in London’s Soho. Bar Italia has been in Soho from 1949 and they still have a 4 group 1950′s Gaggia lever machine which is in constant use! I’m not sure how much of the original machine is actually there though as it looks like most of it has been fixed and replaced over the years. The bar and the baristi don’t look as if they have changed for 20 years and they have a wonderful old cash register straight out of ‘Open All Hours’.
Jim had given me a little word of warning before I went in and having just read his review of it I can understand why! The café oozes Italian arrogance and you don’t feel very welcome there. Maybe it was because I wasn’t Italian, I don’t know, but I quote Jim here ‘I felt in the way’. He’d also said he would have liked to have had a camera to see my reaction to the espresso. I tried not to purse when tasting it. Lots and lots of robusta were my first thought which were backed up by the nasty aftertaste. In fairness to the barista it wasn’t badly pulled. I would hate to work with a blend with that much robusta in. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable serving it to anyone, but then again I don’t really think that customers feelings are even on the agenda in Bar Italia. We were robbed blind for our espresso at £2 each (It had to be my shout didn’t it) and went on our way. Still, as a café it’s one to experience and I certainly don’t regret visiting at all. I recommend a visit if only for a few minutes to experience the ‘experience’. Ooh forgot to mention, its open 24 hours a day!
Next Café and a little walk to Charing Cross Road for Café Vergnano 1882.
My first impression of the place was that it seemed to publicize itself very well with an A board out side saying ‘Best coffee in London 2005′. Their brand is everywhere in this café. If you didn’t know where you were before you ordered your drinks you soon would after seeing the 1882 logo on your cup, napkin, chocolate covered bean, your glass of water and even your drink if you’re a ‘mocha’ fan. When you get inside the first thing that grabs your attention is the beautiful Elektra Bell Epoque Q1-C espresso machine.
I don’t think I’d ever seen one in the flesh before, in fact I hadn’t, so you can imagine the warm fussy glow which developed. We took our espressos as quick as we could leaving Lorna to pay, she still manages to get herself in between me and a freshly poured espresso with an alarming success rate I’m sure she does it just to wind me up. Again a strong robusta twang, it actually slightly soothed the palette after the harshness of the Bar Italia espresso. Nothing to write home about though! I have to stress I am picking fault here and outside of my training room I’m normally lucky if I get a shot pulled half as good that. It’s the sad state of affairs that I’m trying to correct as much as I can at the moment.
So we find a seat and start to have a ‘right good chinwag’. Mr Hoffmann is always a pleasure to chat with, as I’m sure anyone else who has crossed paths with him will agree. He has a wealth of knowledge and is always very liberal with his advice and ideas. We had to keep checking Lorna’s pulse every now and again as we were obsessing out on industry stuff and what James is up to at the moment. I can’t imagine how boring it must have been for her. It must have been hell! Still, it was a great couple of hours for me anyway!
Thank again Jim. Keep in touch mate and I hope you’re not judging me in Scotland. Best of luck with all your ventures!
And now for a little fun:
Double entandre street name award goes to………….