There were a few places I wanted to visit flung among areas I am not often found in so I decided on a special cross London trip. Fortunately both the canal towpath and newly improved overground rail connections made the journey a lot easier than it would once have been. The plan was to cycle from central London out to Ladbroke Grove to visit the newly opened Talkhouse Coffee, then back along the same towpath to Kentish Town West and The Fields Beneath before jumping onto the train (with bike folded if necessary) to Brockley to the much heralded Browns of Brockley.
The Regents Canal towpath is such a great way to cycle to West London (excepting the busy sections at Camden which I’ve never found a good detour to avoid). On a weekday, stretches of the towpath were quite idyllic.
It wasn’t long before I arrived in Portobello Road to enjoy the delightful new Talkhouse cafe. I knew Elyse from Prufrock so it was neat to catch up in her new place of work, and get recommendations from her though the whole staff were friendly indeed. It’s spacious, quite an unusual shape really, with a beautiful light design and open kitchen. Bags of beans and coffee and tea equipment adorned the walls, there were a selection of filtered brews on offer (aeropress) and great looking food. The place had quite a refined air but I felt comfortable in my scruffy cycle gear despite finding the stools a little difficult to perch on.
I had a delicious aeropress of a Rwandan Koakaka roasted by James Gourmet – really quite a remarkable coffee. The initial pervading flavour is that of milk chocolate but it also has a juicy stone fruit flavour with a slight hint of lime. After demolishing a chicken sandwich that contained rocket mayo and bacon among other things and its luxury hinted at the fact that the owner is American.
I couldn’t resist trying an Workshop Cult of Done espresso (single shot as standard) before hitting the road. Lovely shot, very sweet. Decent coffee has finally arrived in West London and it’s not just decent, it’s excellent. I can imagine the place being rammed on the weekends so glad to have visited in the weekday calm.
Cycling back East I headed past Little Venice and spotted D1 Coffee just off the Edgware Road, which had been recently recommended to me. I made an unplanned entry for a taste of a takeaway Monmouth flat white. It was over hot and the milk was a little thin which was a shame as it seemed a friendly, unpretentious place. If you are in that area (Edgware Road, Warwick Avenue, Lords, Maida Vale) there’s little else in terms of decent coffee around so I’d recommend it but I wouldn’t go out of my way.
The second unplanned detour was when I tried to avoid Camden Lock and headed up towards Regents Park Road. Near Chalk Farm tube I discovered The Little One. It’s a tiny, friendly place which makes efficient use of space and crams in a couple of indoor seats as well as a few outside. It serves espresso from Monmouth beans and makes it’s own baked goods and crepes (both with and without gluten). Having experienced so many mediocre and sub-par places using Monmouth beans recently I was surprised and delighted by a creamy, well made flat white. On this evidence The Little One pull better shots than Monmouth. It went down very well with a gluten-free berry brownie.
Back on track, I soon arrived in Kentish Town West. Right next to the overground station and surrounded by construction work lay the small but perfectly formed The Fields Beneath. First impressions, apart from the excellent service were of a slightly surreal place: workers in construction hats, a girl sitting singing and playing a folk guitar, a stream of commuters… Like Browns of Brockley, The Little One and Vagabond, it’s a cafe that seems firmly rooted in its community and a great sign that progressive coffee can engage rather than alienate communities perhaps unused to it.
The groceries for sale were a nice touch, the lack of alternative brew methods were made up for by a delightful espresso. Recently The Fields Beneath has served up espresso roasted by Federation, Square Mile, Butterworth and Sons and Extract Coffee Roasters. The day I arrived they were using a Hasbean Burundi Ngozi Mugomera. It was a very sweet, sticky shot with pronounced raspberry and vanilla notes; excellent with the amaretto flavour of a plum pastry.
It was conveient to use the London Overground Station next door to travel direct to Brockley. In all these years I’d never made it to Browns of Brockley, the absolute model of how to integrate a great cafe with high coffee standards into a suburban London community. I’ve met Ross (the owner) and chatted with him quite a few times across London and I knew it was high time I made the trek South East.
The cafe is right opposite the station and manages a subtle elegance in less than inspired surroundings. There are a fair few tables and it’s clear many loyal locals. I must come back to sample the food which I have heard is well crafted and with a good attention to provenance. The coffee was certainly very good and the service is first rate. I ignored the siren call of the espresso machine and settled for a mug of Square Mile La Buitrera Huila (aeropress). I certainly felt at home with the mug. This Colombian coffee had tastes of lychee and red fruit. I felt even more at home when Ben Drury (Notes) walked in and we had the opportunity to chat at length. It’s no accident that people within the coffee industry are often found here.
Following Browns, it was time to head home on the train, just resisting the opportunity to pop in to Vagabond N7 on the way. I’d had enough caffeine for one day. It was a good day, visiting so many places…drinking coffee from five different UK roasters and enjoying a high standard of service at all the coffeeshops I visited.