It’s a tale as old as time: an Australian arrives in London after a long fight, dark rings around the eyes, sluggish and finding it hard even to stay awake past the evening edition of Come Dine With Me. The problem? Jetlag? Hangover? No, not even close. They just haven’t found where in the heck they can buy a proper coffee (you know, one that doesn’t taste like bathwater) and the caffeine withdrawals are setting in.
It’s hard to find proper coffee in London as the word Espresso is still foreign to an Englishman. Until about five years ago, they’d never even heard of a flat white. There are also an abundance of chain restaurants and cafes in Blighty, sometimes cleverly disguised as local businesses, and you don’t even realise you’re in one until you’ve ordered and it’s too late.
The Australian coffee snob (as any self-respecting Australian should be) may wither in this environment, however there are some saving graces dotted around the place, you just have to know where to look. So with a quick spin and a click of the heels in the right direction, you will find yourself at an emporium of espresso, a conditorium of crema or an auditorium of Arabica![listicle]
Brickwood Coffee & Bread
Where: 21-23 Tooting High Street, Tooting Market, London SW17 0SN
If you’re in the southwest, chances are you’re on the way to either catch some tennis or catch a new pet Womble (they live at Wimbledon Common for those of you not old enough). If you hop off at Tooting on the way, there’s a funny little indoor market that’s home to Brickwood Coffee & Bread. They have a couple of locations around the southwest, but there’s something nice about the Tooting branch. It really is squashed into a very London-ish corner of the world, with spruikers, cheap clothing and colourful characters a plenty.
The coffee here is as it should be, and there are a few little hints of the antipodes dotted around, including a little shelf of Australian and NZ groceries. You can order a bowl of Nutri-Grain, or even indulge in a Tim-Tam muffin. The savoury muffins will transport you straight back to Brunswick.
Where: 26 Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR
Within a bean’s throw of Brick Lane is Nude Espresso Café. Brick Lane is the reason you came to London – it’s got everything, it looks the part and it is endlessly cool. There’s the best record shop in the world there called Rough Trade East, which is full of CDs, vinyl, books and anything that the alternative music lover could hope for, including a stage that often has people playing on it in the middle of the day. Rough Trade do serve coffee, but why get it there when some of the best coffee in London is waiting just around the corner at Nude Espresso?
Not only is the coffee excellent (plus they roast it themselves in a shopfront across the road), but it’s also a great place to meet people (perhaps even to introduce some of your British friends to how a real coffee should taste). It’s great way to start your day exploring Brick Lane (perhaps go when the market is on) and you’ll be in for a full day of street art, bagels, second hand clothing, curries, glamour, guts and photo opportunities galore. This is a home for hipsters.
New Row Coffee
Where: 24 New Row, London WC2N 4LA
Let’s face it, you’re going to be in the West End of London at some point on your trip. You’re likely to go to Leicester Square and realise it’s just a pedestrian mall with some cinemas. You’ll head to Soho for some some drinks, and you should see at least one West End Show, be it theatre, comedy or a musical.
This area is a trap for the uninitiated; there is an abundance of chain coffee houses around here who couldn’t cap a chino to save themselves. There is hope in the form of this tiny outlet down a sneaky little alley. With barely enough room to close the door to keep the warmth in, New Row knows its coffee. Sit in if you can squeeze in, or grab one to go before checking out the high-end retail spoils of Covent Garden and Seven Dials.
Where: 3 Bateman Street, London W1D 4AG
Although Milkbar has changed hands in the last few years since it was founded by a troupe of New Zealanders (who themselves were upset by the quality of coffee in London), the drinks themselves seem to have stayed consistent. If you’re keen on hitting up Oxford Street to see the shops, then this is your closest and best coffee. You’ll need it too if you want to tackle Oxford Street, where elbows rule over manners and it’s often easier to walk in the traffic than on the footpath.
You might be better off sticking to the backstreets if you’re in a shopping mood. Find Carnaby Street or Liberty London for an authentic British retail experience without the frustration of the crowds and the worry of spilling your stirring coffee all down your new winter coat.
Where: 2 Park Street, The Borough, London SE1 9AB
Borough Market is a must for foodies of all walks of life. It’s great to go on an empty stomach with your camera at the ready. There’s food from all corners of Europe here, with an emphasis on the freshest British produce, including game and pies typical of the region.
Borough isn’t necessarily a full day’s trip, if you’re in a hurry you can see everything in 20 minutes. It is a must while you’re in London, and you’ll definitely need a coffee to keep your hands warm as you walk around.
The closest tube is London Bridge, right underneath the blight on the London skyline known as The Shard. It’s a well-connected tube if you’re plan is to keep exploring after, but even better if you just want to do your groceries. Why not do it in style at Borough Market? This is a place of function as well as intrigue.
Monmouth at Borough is one of their three locations around London. The coffee has a very strong palate, and I think even the pickiest of Australians will be pleased. While the coffee may be ethical, be warned if you’re after gluten-free snacks or soy milk, they’re purists here and you might get a sideways glance. Other than that, you’ll satisfy your London coffee sorrows at Monmouth, and be ready to face the day like a true Aussie traveller: high on caffeine, hungry for snacks, confused by accents and heading soon to the warmest pub.[/listicle]
(All images: Alex Dick)
(Facebook image: shelbyeastman/Instagram)[qantas_widget code=LHR]Check out Qantas flights to London.[/qantas_widget]
Alex Dick does a bit of everything, he’s had a book published, a short film he’s directed in a festival, and he is probably hiding behind the scenes of your favourite musicals and operas. You can see his bits at www.headstockpublishing.com.au or you can bother him on twitter @AlexanderDick. He is a perfectionist, while being simultaneously lazy, so lives in constant frustration of the imperfect world around him.