Continuing from where I finished – that is: the British Museum in London – I made my way towards this next highly ranked and recommended cafe. The setting (Covent Garden), suggested it would be a high-quality experience and I was eager to try it out.
Unfortunately, so were dozens of other people who were either enjoying a Monday afternoon off or were already heading back home from work: it hit 4pm when I go there. The place was packed, not to mention that it was tiny – how tiny I was yet to learn.
Small door led via a narrow passage-way, where people were queuing, to a raised seating area, obstructed, however, by a coffee machine and some busy baristas serving drinks from the upper level. On the left there was a counter with a selection of simple yet scrumptious looking cakes, two tills, three to four sales assistants and a wide selection of coffee beans at the back. The decor was nice and warm, and despite its simplicity, it had a sophisticated feel to it.
Despite a hefty line of people, the nearest assistant was ready to attend me just as I walked through the door. Upon finding out there were no free seats, the woman asked if I wanted to wait and suggested I’d place myself in front of the queue to be the first to be seated, as the line of people was made up mostly of “take aways”.
Standing there (in everyone’s way) I realised that what I took for an espresso machine was actually a fresh coffee brewer: there were several ceramic coffee filters on a specially designed shelf; whenever a coffee was ordered, the barista put a cup underneath one of those, which already had a paper filter with ground coffee inside it, and poured hot water over it; when the brew stopped dripping into the cup, the coffee was served. So simple, and still quite impressive. I could tell they were taking their craft seriously.
After some ten minutes of waiting I was invited “upstairs” to sit down. Two steps to the platform revealed how small the place really was: a table each to the left, in the corner and in front of me, then a dishwasher in the right corner and the previously invisible espresso machine by the wall to the right. That was it. Above that, all tables were taken, and the free seats were actually shared seats with strangers. When I sat down next to a girl, conversing with a friend opposite, I wasn’t given a look of surprise or dislike; both were so deep in their conversation that they seemed very comfortable in this setting. As for me, I was far from comfortable. There was little space to move, let alone to take my coat off, or to relax with a book if it was to come to that, although the place was too noisy even to hear one’s thoughts (with a slight contribution from my table-mates).
The next problem was the drink: they didn’t serve mochas. What?! I walked all the way there, I waited in the queue and then wasn’t able to order my favourite drink?! I didn’t show any of my disappointment and politely asked for the second best option: a flat white.
In the short time it took one of the three baristas (can you see what I’m suggesting with these numbers?) to make my drink, I observed. All the staff seemed very genuine and nice, also to each other. The workflow was steady and without errors. And every flat white or latte was decorated with latte art on top – mine including. This would have been a lovely place at a quieter time, I figured.
Unfortunately, the coffee did not rise to the expectations set by the staff, decor or ambiance. It had this odd bitter-milky taste, that overwhelmed the sweet and roasty espresso. The texture was divine, and the temperature ideal, but it left me with a weird aftertaste, that forced me to dive into the sugar bowl.
In five minutes I was finished, thanked in a heartwarming way for handing my cup to the girl washing the dishes, paid and squeezed myself out of there. Conclusion? Another place that sets the bar high and then fails to reach it, by a near miss – but an interesting experience anyway.
Flat white: £2.35
Verdict justification: Lovely place and service; but not the tastiest coffee – and simply too little breathing space!