Monthly Archives: October 2012

Milk Bar

I like Mondays. They’re great.

Thankfully, since finishing education, I have not had a good reason to hate the first day of the working week – quite the opposite: I can finally expect my emails being answered, public transport runs in more socially-friendly hours, and the shops reopen after the weekend. Also, in my case, I often have that day off – ha! – and so it happened I had this Monday off in London.

I knew very well that with a planned trip into the centre I would have to visit at least one or two cafes – needs must! I checked the Time Out list I had saved in my browser against my destination, which was: the British Museum and the National Gallery (making it a thoroughly cultural experience). Right between them there were two venues that I decided I’d like to visit: the Milk Bar and Monmouth Coffee. I started with the first one.

And when I say “I started” I mean exactly that; despite departing from Kings Cross station (I wanted to take a look at the St. Pancras’ stunning indoors) I walked past the museum towards Soho to get my coffee and brunch to then return to the museum to see the mummies. After all those days in the office I really needed a good solid walk.

Milk Bar

The Milk Bar was not hard to find (especially with a GPS phone), although it could have been easily missed if one wasn’t looking. It’s a tiny spot without any signage apart from the name on the window. I actually thought that it was shut, because I didn’t see anyone in as I approached the door; but suddenly there were three people behind the counter, and then I spotted two customers sitting by a table in the corner, right behind the bar (rather hard to miss considering the volume of their conversation, putting the size of the place aside). There was the bar, about six tables round the walls – and that’s it. No back room, no toilets (is that even legal?). All the food was prepared front-of-house, as was the coffee of course.

After a short chat about Scottish Pounds with the Australian-sounding barista  I ordered a soy mocha and a smoked salmon toasty. The food-barista (if you will) asked how much ricotta I’d like on it, which was a nice touch (you might know from previous posts that I tend not to think of fat-cutting off my food until my order actually arrives). When it was served it smelled and tasted delicious, despite its simplicity: toasted polenta bread (I’m not a fan of GF bakery, yet…!), smoked salmon and some fresh cucumber on top made for a great snack, which half of I took with me for later (I was tempted to finish it there and then, but didn’t want to roll down the museum aisles afterwards), having got it packed to take-away without a problem.

Soy Mocha at Milk Bar

The coffee arrived first, however. Small number, served in a glass, just like their hot chocolate, as I spotted on the table next to me where the girl who had ordered before me was seated. It had lovely latte art on top, and looked rich and tempting. I didn’t mean to wait for the food, so I tucked in… and my eyes must have glistened, as my mouth watered. It was simply stunning. Smooth, velvety texture, wholesome but not overwhelming, very sweet – but in a dark chocolate, luxurious way. Every sip left me wanting more, and if not for my sandwich, it would have been gone in a minute. So, if I had doubts, whether a soy mocha can ever equal a perfect, whole milk one, here was my confirmation.

Generally, this wouldn’t have been my spot: tiny, little private space, can’t really sit down for too long with your laptop (although the hot chocolate girl did); yet, the staff are friendly, chatty and genuine, and serve the best coffee I have tasted in a long time. The only minus would be the price – charging extra 50p for soy milk is a bit harsh. But if you were to treat yourself, you might as well pay a little bit extra – and the Milk Bar certainly is a top-shelf treat.

It was a perfect prelude to my visit to the museum, which is amazing by the way. The times when museums were boring are long gone – and so is my childhood, and somehow I can make a connection there.

As for Monmouth… I’ll tell you another time.

Mocha: £2.50 (+50p for soy)

Verdict justification: Warm, inviting atmosphere, lovely service and absolutely stunning coffee. Nothing else needed.

Categories: Cafes, Local, London | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

William Curley

Yet again I find myself in the City, the English capital, the metropolis that’s inhabited by more people than the whole of Scotland – London. For all these people – and their different tastes – thousands of cafes and patisseries, chocolatiers and sandwitcheries (I kid you not) have been created; how do I chose the ones to visit in the scarce free time I will be given within the three weeks of my residence here? Not an easy task, I assure you.

I have therefore turned to my dear-old friend: the Internet, for a word of advice. A quick search provided a list of the best cafe’s in London assembled by Time Out, and although it might be considered cheating (especially towards those many other niche venues that will be left unnoticed and unknown to a wider public) I decided to work off the back of it and compare our judgement.

I didn’t start, however, with the boldest and the brashest one on the list; or at least I didn’t think so. I picked the one that seemed the closest to where I was staying, as I felt like walking, especially that it was my first day off and out of the office since my arrival. It was drizzling outside, but I didn’t find that an issue this time, and I ventured out following the GPS map on my phone.

Those who’ve been to or live in London probably realise – better than I did – that the distances on a map look much smaller than in reality. It took me about an hour to get to my chosen spot; and, as expected, I passed a dozen of charming coffee shops along the way. I felt guilty leaving them behind but I bravely carried on to my destination. Finally I found it – a tiny spot in a narrow alleyway.

The pastry display at William Curley’s Greater London shop
Photo courtesy of William Curley

I entered cautiously, and asked in a frightened voice whether they served coffee, as there was no espresso machine in sight – just chocolate. Lots and lots of it. Hardly any other pastries or cakes, and those only wrapped up as for take-away; there were chocolate bars, chocolate tarts, chocolate truffles but most of all – little chocolate squares in dozens of flavours…

Thankfully, I was reassured that they did serve coffee. I asked for a mocha, but I had to rename it to “coffee with chocolate” to be understood. Then I had to choose which type of chocolate I was after as they had four main types: chili, cinnamon, hazelnut and house blend. I opted for cinnamon, not yet ready for another chili sensation following my visit to Eteaket. The assistant (I don’t think the terms barista or waitress are appropriate) disappeared in another room for a good while; I waited, thinking that I’d love a pastry, but there was none to be seen – and to be frank, a thought of nibbling on chocolate whilst drinking chocolate was not very appealing. But as I waited, the other assistant asked if I had visited before, and upon discovering that I hadn’t, she offered a chocolate square for me to “sample” – banishing the established definition of a sampling size, as I was virtually offered a full-sized chocolate; better still, it was coconut – my favourite! Although that tempted me a bit to try a wider selection, I then remembered I was living on a budget, and should not be spending a fortune on chocolates, over £1 a piece.

Cinnamon Chocolate Mocha at William Curley

I sat by one of the two tables outside to get some privacy (ironically) and was served my coffee in the same instant. It looked nothing spectacular: you’d maybe expect a porcelain teacup of some fantasy latte art on top, but it was a plain-looking cup of chocolate. I took a sip and through the super-thin top layer of foam I got a hint of the spicy flavouring, but then it was gone. It was slightly on the hotter side, but this time that was welcomed in the October chill and it slowed me down before having to make the same long trip back home. It was pleasant and very delicate, I could hardly taste the coffee – or the cinnamon. The sensation when I finished reminded me of The Chocolate Tree when I doubted whether there was any espresso in my mocha but was then hit by a caffeine rush… and again, I can’t explain whether it was the cocoa or the coffee that worked its powers. On the bottom of the cup I spotted a wee chunk of chocolate, which I took for a sign of authenticity, which I never doubted anyway.

William Curley has the appearance a chocolatier should have: mesmerising, luxurious and  tempting. It is a heaven for a refined sweet tooth, and they certainly deliver. As for the coffee, it hinted the grandour of their confectionery and was a pleasant concoction that I’d happily try again; but in my books it was missing that something that makes a great mocha stand out from very good ones.

Cinnamon Mocha: £3.00

Verdict justification: The place, although small, is definitely glamorous, and the coffee generally stands up to the image – the right spot for a sweet treat

Categories: London, UK | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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