When Bar Termini opened its doors in late 2014, its concept was very appealing: an all-day venue serving coffee and cocktails in a tiny, classy, Italian-style bar. And with cocktails from Tony '69 Colebrooke Row' Conigliaro and coffee from Illy's head of quality Marco Arrigo, what wasn't to like? But its location — at the eastern end of Old Compton Street, near the junction with Charing Cross Road — wasn't somewhere I walked past very often and I kept forgetting to stop by.
Fortunately, I was in Soho with time to kill on Sunday and I made a beeline for Bar Termini. The storefront is painted a chic navy and there is a bench on the pavement in case you are in the mood for some Soho people-watching. Inside, there are only a handful of small tables and a few stools at the bar. The seats are all pistachio leather and dark wood; colourful, vintage-style artwork livens up the walls and if you look carefully enough, you can even spot a few vintage suitcases (the bar's name is a nod to Rome's central train station). The result is a cool, calm and beautiful haven amid the hustle and bustle of Old Compton Street.
The cocktail menu and the cocktails I saw the cheerful, white-apron-clad bar tenders making for other customers looked great but it was too early for an aperitif and I was in need of coffee. Most of the coffee shops I frequent these days are coasting on the third wave, but you won't find any Aeropresses, V60s or flat whites at Bar Termini. The coffee menu is simple and focuses on espresso based drinks. I had a couple of espressi (£2.50 each — Romans might baulk at the price, although at least the current exchange rate is in their favour), but there is also, among other drinks, a bicerin on the menu — a sort of small, strong mocha. I used to drink a lot of bicerin in my days as an Italian student, but I'm not sure I would be so keen these days.
Both espressi were exquisitely prepared and came in beautiful espresso cups with Termini's signature 'T' logo. I don't drink espresso very often these days, tending to favour macchiatos, piccolos and filter coffee, and when I do it's usually with a much lighter roast. I still have a soft spot for a good dark Italian roast, though, when I'm in the right frame of mind and Bar Termini's coffees were very good; they use Illy coffee, of course.
Bar Termini also serve a few snacks, sandwiches and some pastries and sweet treats. I was too late for the cornetti but I did have a rather delicious slice of almond and raspberry cake (£3.50). There was a chocolate chip cake too, but the waiter talked me into the almond cake and I think it was the right call.
My next holiday is a one-week trip to Naples and Sorrento and I'm looking forward to returning to Italy. I spent a lot of time there as a child and a student but my visits have tailed off more recently, unless you count brief road trips across the border from Cannes. Although the quality of the coffee can vary, there is something terribly appealing about the Italian espresso bar culture and it will be fun to rediscover it. And if you're looking for Italian-style coffee in London, Bar Termini is an excellent place to start.
Bar Termini. 7 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 5JE (Tube: Leicester Square or Tottenham Court Road). Website. Twitter. Instagram.