When my friends asked me what my plans were for London, I replied, with confidence and conviction: having coffee. Sure, there would be the requisite visit to the National Gallery and a misguided walk through the dinosaur hall at the Natural History Museum (on a Sunday morning, no less), but those were merely stops on the path to coffee. Along with a few good croissants, it made an utterly refreshing mini-break.
I started with the café that I was most eager to visit: the Monocle café. The entire brand is beautifully designed and the café follows suit. From the blonde wood to the big windows and gorgeous baristi, the Monocle café perfectly manifests the Monocle brand. When I arrived midday on Saturday, there were a smattering of people inside and plenty of people streaming in and out as I sat and drank my cappuccino. including, may I note, the company’s owner.
While the café leaves a something to be desired in terms of quality, the design is spot on. Unlike the many that exude a crafted hipster aura, the Monocle café blends together Swedish and Japanese aesthetics. The cups are neatly stackable — they looked like these from Lagerhaus — and are served on Japanese style serving trays. You can get a cardamom bun from Fabrique or some Japanese candy to have with your drink. If you’re in the mood for a meal, there’s taco rice and other appropriately cool dishes.
I went with the cappuccino and resisted the lure of the cardamom bun. It was a fine coffee, but nothing great. A proper cappuccino with a thick head of silky foam, the drink had the soft, sweet milk chocolate coffee flavor that I always think of when I think of drinks from train stations and airports. You go here for the experience, not necessarily for a great coffee.
Next up was Bulldog Edition at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch. This delightfully hip hotel seamlessly fits into the aura of the Ace Hotel brand. The atmosphere is laid back work. There isn’t much seating in the café itself, but you can spill over into the lobby (complete with a photobooth) without raising an eyebrow from the concierge.
I ordered an off-menu cortado. They only had macchiato and cappuccino mugs, so I opted for a single shot macchiato, an approximation of a noisette. The resulting drink was delicate, sweet but still pleasantly rich with a velvety punch punctuating each sip. There was a tea-like flavor behind it, with notes for sweet berries. It was the kind of drink you’d keep going back for.
Then it was Sunday and cafes operated much reduced hours. I walked through a desolate city to Department of Coffee and Social Affairs on Leather Lane to drink a macchiato. While I was initially a bit bummed to find a proper macchiato as opposed to a noisette, my spirits rallied as I saw the adorable so-called latte art. My spirits soared at the first sip. The espresso was winey with blackcurrant notes. Sweet, juicy, it was fantastic.
On Monday morning, I went to TAP Coffee on Wardour Street in Soho and ordered a flat white. If a flat white is to London as the cortado is to New York, it can be directly attributed not to the ethnic differences between the two cities, but rather to the climates of each place. My flat white was like a big cortado, rich and silky with a good coffee flavor behind it. There was a berry sweetness, yes, but the drink didn’t beg you to stop and think in the same way that my macchiato from Department asked to be analyzed. I sipped and enjoyed the drink, wondering if all flat whites are so good.
I guess I’ll need another trip to London in order to find out.