First up is Flat White, located in Soho's Berwick Street, whose website proudly announces that it is London's original flat white. I'm not sure whether it was the first Antipodean-style coffee shop I visited in London — I know that I also discovered Fernandez & Wells in early 2008, a few months after my 2007 discovery of Joe in New York prompted me to hunt out good coffee in London. I used to go to Flat White all the time — the coffee was great and so was the vibe — but it was often difficult to get a table at the weekend and gradually, over the years, other speciality coffee options began to open up, in Soho and Shoreditch, and then elsewhere in London.
When I stopped by for an early brunch on Saturday, though, I soon wondered why Flat White had fallen off my list of regular haunts. Don't get me wrong: it still isn't London's most spacious specaility coffee spot. The café is long and thin with fewer than ten small tables, and a bench out on the pavement. Arriving before noon and on a hot, sunny Saturday when many people would prefer to be outside enjoying the pleasant weather turned out to be a good strategy.
The coffee bar itself is very minimalist: a shiny white Synesso espresso machine sits on a stark black bar; the wall and the menu boards behind the bar are similarly monochrome. Large pendant light bulbs and the turquoise back wall add some pops of light and colour.
My order wasn't quite the full cliché but I came pretty close. I still find that even an Antipodean 6-ounce flat white is too much milk for me but more recently, I've been favouring the piccolo as my espresso-based drink over the macchiato. And so it was a piccolo that I ordered (£2.50), along with a smashed avocado on toast (£6.50). When in Rome... If you are feeling more original than me, there is also a broad selection of bagels, sandwiches and toasties, as well as plenty of cakes and pastries.
The piccolo was really rather good. Flat White currently uses coffee from Stockholm-based Drop Coffee Roasters and there was a gorgeous citrusy Gakombe coffee from Rwanda in the hopper that day. Naturally, the latte art was impeccable and the coffee looked as good as it tasted.
As for the avocado toast, I might even be so bold as to say that Flat White's avocado toast is the best I've had in London. The avocado was fresh, flavoursome and well seasoned, and it came with my top choices of garnishes: lime and coriander. I'm also keen on avo toast with chilli but I'm a sucker for coriander and that's what I use when I make it at home. The sourdough toast was great too and the dish came with an appropriately sharp and serrated knife to cut through the crust without making a hash of it. You can add a poached egg or feta and chilli to the dish, but why improve on perfection?
By the time I left, Flat White was starting to fill up with the post-lunch crowd. If you would like a table and don't want to wait, it's best to go earlier — especially at the weekend. There is a great ambiance at Flat White, with fab music and friendly staff. It's always nice to see when a café has moved on over the course of eight years, but is still somehow comfortingly familiar — and still serves top-notch coffee.
Flat White. 17 Berwick Street, London, W1F 0PT (Tube: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square; it's pretty much equidistant from all four). Website. Twitter. Instagram.