London

St Katherine Docks Cafe

 

 

Appearances can be so misleading…

That’s common knowledge, I know, but I still get surprised – positively or negatively – by some venues that seem to be one thing, but prove to be another.

This cafe in London’s St Katherine Docks is but one example. That sunny morning I had been wandering around the Tower Bridge area and stumbled upon this hidden spot, filled with water, boats and cafes – which reminded me I hadn’t had breakfast! Although the choice was ample, none of it seemed to appeal to my tastebuds at the time: I didn’t want to end up in a Starbucks, nor did a Turkish restaurant sound like a good idea at that time of day.

Eventually, I decided to settle for an unassuming venue, bearing the name of this charming part of the city, and promising “Healthy Food” on its signage.

I went inside to order, to be greeted by a deli counter and a rather grumpy owner, and his helper, quietly busying around the coffee machine; instantly I regretted my decision, but it was too late to turn back, and my stomach was growling at this point, so I ordered my scrambled eggs with salmon and – after sparing a second thought on the barista’s coffee-making capabilities – a mocha.

Mocha at St Katherine Docks Cafe

Mocha at St Katherine Docks Cafe

The outside area, albeit chilly, presented itself as a nicer place to sit, so I took one of the tables (tightly placed next to one another allowing little privacy) overlooking the docks, and the rather depressing looking Tower Hotel.

The coffee arrived very quickly afterwards, and although the barista didn’t offer to wipe the spill on the saucer, my idea of the venue took an instant turnaround. Just by looking at the cup, with effortless latte art on top, it was clear this would be a special brew. I took a sip… and was not disappointed. The texture was smooth and creamy, the flavour packed a punch in caffeine and sweet chocolate.

Because the food took longer to arrive, I actually ended up ordering a second mocha, and managed to drink most of it before I had to loosen the belt a bit and be off on my way.

I would certainly return to the Docks, and – if it was a non-fuss service and great coffee I wanted – I’d put St Katherine’s cafe on my priority list.

Mocha: £2.40

Verdict justification: Lovely coffee and nice views of the boats, but the impersonal service spoils the magic a little bit.

St Katherine Docks Cafe C2 Ivory House St Katharine Docks, E Smithfield, London E1W 1AT

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

Look Mum No Hands!

Not often do I make impromptu weekend trips to London, but whenever I do, I always experience something new and intriguing in this grand city – whether planned or not. What took my fancy last time was a visit to the London Eye – and somehow I managed to secure tickets on the day – a Saturday! – just hours before my planned “ride with a view”.

Booking online allowed me to skip the horrendous queues on the South Bank and even get on the Eye half an hour before the time on my ticket – both of which facts I only learnt upon arrival. Hence – not knowing how long would it take me to walk from Kings Cross to the Jubilee Gardens – I set off early and arrived at my destination with about 90 minutes to spare. And – to my delight – there was a coffee van on standby to help the time pass.

Look mum no hands!

The Look mum no hands! campervan

It took me a tiny-wee while to realise what I was seeing when I approached the wheel-less campervan, as I was walking along the Themes. “Look mum no hands“? I was sure I had heard the name before… and then I clicked: it was on my big list of cafes to visit in London during my three-week stay in late 2012. I didn’t remember it being advertised as an open-air venue though; only some research after I returned home revealed the van was just a pop-up, and there were two actual coffee shops in town: in Hackney and Islington. I was excited nevertheless to be able to squeeze in a coffee review into that trip.

So I stood myself in the queue which took longer than it should have to get sorted by the two baristas inside the van: one was working by the espresso machine, keeping professionally focused and quiet; while his unmistakably Australian colleague was in charge of chatty customer service.

Coffee is best enjoyed in company and – even though a visit to a cafe hadn’t been actually on the cards – I was at the time joined by a friend with a particular taste in macchiatos. However, the Aussie was baffled when I ordered one so I had to reword my request to: espresso with hot milk on top. I did not see a mocha on their menu, but having high expectations of the mysteriously named chain I decided a flat white would be just as good to make my judgement.

Then I stood by the van,looking like I was waiting for a burger, as a group of three men ordered their builders’ teas. My flat white was served first – in a take-away cup, of course – after which the espresso-barista asked: “Espresso with hot milk? Like a macchiato, yeah?”. I sighed with relief that at least the guy who was making the coffees was on the ball – especially when I watched the Aussie prep the teas with rather shaky, inexperienced hands.

Look mum no hands!

Flat white at Look mum no hands!

Coffees in hand, I joined my companion at one of the creatively designed tables, which had beer crates converted into stools – strategically positioned under the Hungerford Bridge to protect us from the rain that threatened to ruin the stroll. The train tracks just above our heads, and frames of bicycles with no wheels centrally in the view, added to this outre experience; and to top it off, we soon learnt it was the Queen’s birthday, as a massive Voyager flew over, followed by some Red Arrows, trooping the colours on the sky.

Unfortunately, the coffee itself did not fit this queer picture: it was sharp and bitter and left an unpleasant, lingering aftertaste in the mouth. To be honest, at first it seemed alright – but I made it worse by trying the macchiato, which was bound to be stronger than my flat white – and only intensified these sensations when I returned to sipping my brew. I was glad I had also equipped myself in a bottle of water and chewing gum to ease off the heaviness in the mouth, which quickly began to hit my rather tired weekend head. You can’t deny this baby strength!

It is a real shame that such an engaging place would be let down by its core product – the coffee. But maybe I’m wrong saying that, as the van also offered a tempting selection of jam-packed sandwiches and cheese platters. I guess the working conditions pose a number of additional challenges to the already difficult task of making a worthwhile cuppa – but a reputation is something every outlet of its famous parent cafe should live up to, and personally I felt rather let down by this one.

But taking all into account – it was still quite fun!

Flat white: £3.00

Verdict justification: Really cool place for a pop-up coffee shop – but the hot drink offering does not live up to the expectations!

 Look mum no hands! website

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