Whim! Bam! Boom!
That’s about the rate of shops opening up in Bristol. Every other day it seems that I find a new cafe, or a new artsy pop up. Most of them I quickly pass by, barely acknowledging. When I spotted Spicer & Cole on my way to a Saturday morning croissant, however, I stopped and took notice. I quickly decided to abandon my pastry plans to test out this promising cafe. It had the looks. The bare interior, the sans serif logo and the wood furnishings merged together to create a space that looked like a London cafe dressing up as a Stockholm one. Surely a sign of quality, I thought.
I walked in behind two men who proceeded to order bacon sandwiches and americani, though that’s not what they called them, to-go. I waited and waited with ample time to consult the menu board and decide between a cappuccino or macchiato. After a generous handful of time, the barista was ready to take my order. Just a macchiato and a croissant, please. She’ll bring it over.
I took a seat in the sun and opened my kindle to get started reading The Engagements. There was some more waiting time, but I didn’t mind. After a crazy week full of presentations, deadlines and rescheduled meetings, I need the time to unwind and relax. Then other barista brought me the demitasse with my macchiato.
Or that’s what she should have done.
The best way I have to describe the drink lapses into Italian, which I feel bad about as this was the kind of drink which an Italian cafe would never tolerate. Let’s say I ordered a caffè macchiato at Sant’Ambroeus, you understand the size and how much coffee that would be. Well, that’s roughly what I was expecting, just the English interpretation of it. Instead, they served me a caffè ristretto macchiato, no doubt made ‘restricted’ through confusion surrounding the finer points of espresso machines. I tried to stir the head of froth into the 2cm of coffee, but even then the espresso was so mouth-puckeringly sour and dense that I could barely sip it.
My croissant still hadn’t appeared. I returned to my book, but when I noticed the two bariste absorbed in cleaning the chalk board menus and arranging the cakes, I realized that I wouldn’t be getting my croissant any time soon. Fortunately, I managed to flag one of them down and ask for my pastry. With an expression that could only be described as routine, the waitress/barista asked me whether or not I would like preserves or butter with that. No, thank you, I replied, just the croissant I ordered a quarter of an hour ago. But I didn’t say the last part.
I wish I could say that the croissant was as appalling as the service and the coffee, but it was among the better croissants I’d had in Bristol. The outside was crisp, the layers stayed apart and it was softly buttery. You didn’t want to add jam, you didn’t crave butter and you didn’t wish there was a piece of chocolate tucked in the middle. A solid croissant, I just wish it was served somewhere else.
Spicer & Cole is the perfect example of a beautiful space that markets others’ successes. It looks the part and manages to do some things right, but for the points that make the difference between a good experience and bad one, they miss the mark. While the croissant might be worth a return trip with their mediocre coffee or bad service, the combination of the two is a deal breaker. Take note: quality is important, but the experience is everything.
What’s the most important factor for you in determining whether or not you’ll return to a restaurant/cafe?