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21 March 2017

My Favourite NYC Speciality Coffee Shops

For the past two decades, I've visited New York about twice per year and, over the past ten years, I've been exploring the city's now-booming speciality coffee scene and writing about it on this blog and posting accompanying photos on Flickr. Although I've produced coffee guides for various New York neighbourhoods, my last overall NYC coffee guide was published in 2013, when I rounded up ten of my favourite coffee bars. I've been thinking about an update for a while, but as both the scene and my own tastes have evolved considerably, I knew that another top ten would no longer cut it.

Instead, I've created a speciality coffee map, which includes more than 60 coffee shops and cafés throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, from Abraço to Zibetto. I've visited them all, although I've also been to many more New York coffee shops over the years that aren't included here — some have now closed and others, while good, are no longer all-time favourites. Many of my favourite coffee spots are now part of micro-chains and for the purposes of this guide, I haven't listed every branch (or even every branch I've been to); instead, I've selected my favourite branches and/or those in locations where good-quality speciality coffee can be hard to come by (some parts of Midtown, for instance).

I've linked my reviews or mini-reviews below — alas, some of the coffee shops that have been on my list for the longest are also some of the most sparsely documented, a fact I am slowly putting right. I intend to update this map and guide over time, but those with an asterisk below (and purple in the map) are my current favourites. For more details, including addresses, my photos and details of other branches, please check out my Google Map or this printable version with a handy checklist.

Abraço 86 E. 7th Street nr First Ave. (East Village) Review

Birch Coffee 5 E. 27th Street nr Madison Ave. (Flatiron) Review

Black Fox Coffee 70 Pine Street bet. Pearl & William St. (Financial District) Review

Blue Bottle Coffee 450 W. 15th Street nr Tenth Ave. (Chelsea) Review
1 Rockefeller Plaza, bet. 48th & 49th St. and bet. Fifth & Sixth Ave. (Midtown) Review

Bluestone Lane 90 Water Street nr Gouveneur Ln (Financial District) Review
30 Carmine Street nr Bleecker St. (West Village) Review

Box Kite Coffee 128 W. 72nd Street bet. Columbus & Amsterdam Ave. (Upper West Side) Review

Búðin 114 Greenpoint Avenue bet Franklin & Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn (Greenpoint) Review

* Cafe Grumpy 224 W. 20th Street nr Seventh Ave. (Chelsea) Review
13 Essex Street nr Hester St. (Financial District) Review
135 Grand Street nr Crosby St. (Lower East Side) Review

* Cafe Integral 149 Elizabeth Street bet. Kenmare & Broome St. (Nolita) Review
135 Grand Street nr Crosby St. (SoHo)

Champion Coffee 1107 Manhattan Avenue nr Clay St., Brooklyn (Greenpoint) Review

City of Saints 79 E. 10th Street nr Fourth Ave. (East Village) Review

Coffee Project 239 E. 5th Street nr Second Ave. (East Village) Review

Culture Espresso 72 W. 38th Street nr Sixth Ave. (Midtown South)

Devoción 69 Grand Street nr Wyithe Ave., Brooklyn (Williamsburg) Review

El Rey 100 Stanton Street nr Ludlow St. (Lower East Side) Review

The Elk 128 Charles Street nr Greenwich St. (West Village) Review

Everyman Espresso 136 E. 13th Street nr Third Ave. (East Village) Review
* 301 W. Broadway nr Canal St. (SoHo) Review

Fair Folks and a Goat 96 W. Houston Street bet. Thompson & La Guardia (Greenwich Village)

Fika 66 Pearl Street nr Coenties Slip (Financial District) Review
41 W. 58th Street nr Sixth Ave. (Midtown)

Gasoline Alley Coffee 331 Lafayette Street bet. Bleecker & E. Houston St. (East Village) Review

Gimme! Coffee 228 Mott Street bet. Prince & Spring St. (Nolita) 

Gotan 130 Franklin Street nr W. Broadway (Tribeca) Review

Gregorys Coffee 551 Madison Avenue nr E. 55th St. (Midtown) Review
874 Sixth Avenue nr W. 31st St. (Midtown South) Review

Ground Support 399 W. Broadway nr Spring St. (SoHo) Review

Happy Bones 394 Broome Street nr Mulberry St. (SoHo) Review

Hi-Collar 214 East 10th Street bet. First & Second Ave. (East Village) Review

Homecoming 107 Franklin Street nr Greenpoint Ave., Brooklyn (Greeenpoint) Review

* Irving Farm Coffee Roasters 88 Orchard Street nr Broome St. (Lower East Side) Review
Lower Dining Concourse, Grand Central Station, 89 E. 42nd Street (Midtown) Review

Jack's Stir Brew 138 W. 10th Street bet. Greenwich Ave. & Waverly Pl. (West Village) Review

Joe 141 Waverly Place nr Gay St. (West Village) Review

La Colombe 97 Wall Street nr Pearl St. (Financial District Review
* 270 Lafayette Street nr Prince St. (SoHo) Review

The Lazy Llama 72 E. 1st Street nr First Ave. (East Village) [mini-review of its predecessor, Bluebird]

Little Collins 667 Lexington Avenue bet. E. 55th & 56th St. (Midtown) Review

Lucid Cafe 311 Lexington Avenue nr E. 38th St. (Midtown South) Review

Ludlow Coffee Supply 176 Ludlow Street bet. Stanton & E. Houston St. (Lower East Side) Review

Milk Bar 15 W. 56th Street bet. Fifth & Sixth Ave. (Midtown) Review

Ninth Street Espresso 341 E. 10th Street nr Ave. B (East Village)
* 109 E. 56th Street nr Park Ave. (Midtown) Review

Ost Cafe 441 E. 12th Street nr Ave. A (East Village)

Roasting Plant 81 Orchard Street bet. Broome & Grand St. (Lower East Side) Review

Saturdays Surf 31 Crosby Street bet. Grand & Broome St. (SoHo) Review

Stumptown Coffee Roasters 30 W. 8th Street nr Macdougal St. (Greenwich Village) Review

Supercrown Coffee Roasters 8 Wilson Avenue nr Noll St., Brooklyn (Bushwick) Review

Sweatshop 232 Metropolitan Avenue nr Driggs Ave., Brooklyn (Williamsburg) Review

Terremoto Coffee 328 W. 15th Street bet. Eighth & Ninth Ave. (Chelsea) Review

Think Coffee 248 Mercer Street nr 3rd St. (SoHo) Review

* Third Rail Coffee 240 Sullivan Street nr W. 3rd St. (Greenwich Village)

* Toby's Estate 160 Fifth Avenue nr 21st St. (Flatiron) Review
125 North 6th Street nr Berry St., Brooklyn (Williamsburg) Review

Two Hands 251 Church Street nr Leonard St. (Tribeca) Review

Underline Coffee 511 W. 20th Street nr Tenth Ave. (Chelsea) Review

Upright Coffee 860 Manhattan Avenue #2 nr Milton St., Brooklyn (Greenpoint) Review

Voyager Espresso 110 William Street nr John St. (Financial District) Review

Walter's Coffee Roastery 65 Irving Avenue nr Starr St., Brooklyn (Bushwick) Review

Zibetto Espresso Bar 1385 Sixth Avenue nr W. 56th St. (Midtown) Review

16 March 2017

Book Review: Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser

After years of missed connections, Violet and Finn — the couple at the centre of Jessica Strawser's début novel, Almost Missed You finally find themselves in the right place at the right time, and they soon marry and have a son together. Violet feels that she is truly happy at last and she loves to tell new acquaintances the 'unbelievable' story of how she and Finn met. But after deciding to spend a few extra minutes reading on the beach on a rare family holiday, Violet returns to her hotel room to find no sign of either Finn or their son — and, indeed, no sign that they were ever there at all.

As Violet's worst nightmare becomes an even worse reality, she turns to her best friend Caitlin for comfort, but Caitlin was Finn's best friend first and may know more than she is letting on — about both the disappearance of Finn and Bear and the terrible secrets that lie in Finn's past. With alternating chapters told from the perspective of Violet, Caitlin and Finn, Strawser skilfully guides the reader towards the novel's dramatic climax, asking the question of how well we can ever really know another person — even someone we love deeply.

Strawser's narrative is very gripping, with the back-story being fleshed out with flashbacks to Violet and Finn's first meeting — also on a beach, as a result of a big coincidence, before fate intervened, tearing them apart before they could exchange details — and their various encounters, near misses and attempts to find each other over the following years. I've always been a sucker for tales of missed connections and coincidences (see also Serendipity) and Strawser does a great job of making the reader root for past-tense Violet and Finn.

The characterisation was a little spottier — although we come to comprehend the pain and loneliness in their pasts as the story progresses, Violet often seems rather wet (if sympathetic), while Finn is incredibly unlikable for much of the novel, his actions hard to accept even when we begin to understand the motivation for his actions. Caitlin is, in many ways, a more interesting and complex character, whose friendship with both Violet and Finn puts her in an impossible position, particularly when her own past actions may come back to haunt not just her but her friends and family too.

The ending didn't fully satisfy me, but I enjoyed the journey and read the book in a single sitting. There are plenty of twists too — some of which I guessed, although others still surprised me — and I think Almost Missed You would make a great holiday read.

Disclaimer: Almost Missed You will be published by St Martin's Press on 28 March. I received a pre-release copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

13 March 2017

The Caffeine Chronicles: Louie Louie

After all of my recent travels, I thought it was high time for a review of a café that is a little closer to home — just over a mile from home, to be more precise. I visited Louie Louie, an all-day eatery on the Walworth Road in London's SE17, back in January but hadn't had the chance to write up my visit. Louie Louie is a new venture from the team behind Fowlds, the café/upholsterers that has long been one of my Camberwell favourites. Serving food and drink with chef Oded Oren's Tel Aviv twist, including coffee from Square Mile and brunch at the weekends, Louie Louie is a great addition to a bustling, unpretentious stretch of the Walworth Road.

I arrived just after 10 am on a rainy Saturday morning and, as I had heard reports of long-ish wait times, I was pleased to find that there were still several tables available; by the time I left, the place had filled up — and happily, they do take bookings. From the outside, it's a little hard to believe you are still in Walworth and not somewhere like Nolita in New York. The café is beautiful with a contemporary, minimalist design and a space that is bright and airy, even on a grey day, thanks to the large front windows and white and light-wood décor. There are several smaller tables at the front and some larger spaces along the side, as well stools at the central bar.

The brunch menu includes a few smaller items — pastries, banana bread and granola — and, on the day I visited, three tempting brunch specials, one sweet (french toast with bacon, maple syrup and blueberries) and two savoury. There were also two baked egg dishes available to share, which I hope to sample when I return with my brunch club later this month. In the end, I ordered the cornbread with fried eggs and tomato salsa (£8), adding chorizo for an extra £2. The food was really tasty: the eggs were perfectly runny and the salsa was piquant enough to add some spice to the dish. The chorizo was great too, although the portion felt a little stingy.

Coffee-wise, I started with a piccolo (£2.40) made with Square Mile's smooth, nutty Red Brick blend, which was well brewed and tasted very good. There weren't any hand-brewed filter coffees on offer when I visited, but I did try the guest filter (£3) on batch brew, which was a Guatemalan coffee from London-based small-batch roaster Molecular Coffee, which was fruity and flavoursome. If the sun is already over the yardarm, you can also try one of the special brunch cocktails, both of which sounded interesting and delicious; later in the day, there is a longer list of beer, wine and cocktails.

All told, I had an excellent brunch at Louie Louie and I'm looking forward to returning again to sample more of the menu in a few weeks' time. I also plan to come back at night, when I imagine the ambience is quite different. Just be prepared to have Louie Louie's namesake song (whether it's The Kingsmen's version, The Troggs' or any of the many other covers of Richard Berry's song) in your head for the rest of the day!

Louie Louie. 347 Walworth Road, London, SE17 2AL (Tube: Kennington or Elephant & Castle). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

9 March 2017

Paris Speciality Coffee Guide — March 2017 Update

After being pleasantly surprised by Paris's booming speciality coffee scene during my weekend trip last June, I had quite the to-do list to work from when I returned last weekend to stay with my friends. As our agenda for the weekend consisted mainly of eat–shop–caffeinate, I squeezed in visits to seven new-to-me cafés. I have added these to my Paris coffee map, which I created as part of my 2016 Paris coffee guide, where you will find more detailed reviews of Coutume, Télescope, Café Craft and Fragments.

Blackburn Coffee
Blackburn Coffee is a cosy coffee shop in an area of Paris variously defined as Saint Martin, and as Château d'Eau. The name refers to Bobby Blackburn, rather than the northern English city, but the café was so busy when we stopped by for Sunday brunch that I didn't get the chance to ask the friendly baristas for more information about its (possibly fictional) namesake.

Blackburn is currently using coffee from Curve, a roaster based in Margate in the UK, and my cortado was very good indeed. Aeropress- and Chemex-brewed filter coffees are also on the menu, although the staff would probably appreciate it if you didn't order them during the brunch rush. Speaking of brunch, the menu changes regularly and offers French twists on brunch classics. I had a divine œuf cocotte, served with bread for dipping and salad. There was also an avocado toast served with cheese and tuna rillettes.

Blackburn Coffee is located at 52 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin in the 10th arrondissement (Métro: Strasbourg–Saint Denis or Jacques Bonsergent). Website. Instagram.

The Broken Arm
We tried to go for brunch at The Broken Arm, a Marais-based fashion boutique with an adjoining café, but it was late, rainy and Paris Fashion Week, which meant that tables for three were as rare as a seat in the front row of a catwalk show. Instead, we got a coffee to go and my piccolo, brewed with a Brazilian–Ethiopian Broken Arm blend, was exceptional — the best I've had in Paris and one of the best I've had in the past year.

We returned later on and managed to score a table and, as we had more time, I decided to try the filter coffee. The Ethiopian single-origin, brewed through the Aeropress, was prepared very well too, and paired nicely with a slice of the chocolate, hazelnut and orange cake, which was also delicious. The food menu changes daily and offers interesting small and large dishes. The décor at The Broken Arm is minimalist, with white walls, wooden tables and attractive, if slightly uncomfortable, chunky wooden chairs. The café is also so close to my friends' new apartment that I will definitely be back before long.

The Broken Arm is located at 12 Rue Perrée in the 3rd arrondissement (Métro: Temple). WebsiteInstagram.

Fondation Café
Just around the corner from The Broken Arm is the even-tinier Fondation Café, whose paucity of perching posts inside is supplemented by the tables underneath the awning outside. Luckily, we arrived in between rainstorms and could sit at one of the pavement tables. Cheery green coffee cups add pops of colour to the otherwise understated interiors.

The coffee is from Cuillier, a local roaster whose three coffee shops remain on my to-do list. Our couplet of cortados were made with Blend 21, a blend of coffee from Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala, which was smooth and chocolatey and worked nicely with a little milk. There weren't any hand-brewed filter coffees on the menu and only limited food options, but the coffee was very good and in the summer, I'm sure those pavement tables become a hot commodity in this vibrant Marais neighbourhood.

Fondation Café is located at 16 Rue Dupetit-Thouars in the 3rd arrondissement (Métro: Temple). Facebook. Instagram.

KB CaféShop
Less than 15 minutes' walk from Gare du Nord (at my pace, anyway), is KB CaféShop, a wonderful coffee shop and roastery that I hadn't heard of before starting to research this trip. KB (formerly Kooka Boora) has been roasting since 2010, however, and during my visit they were selling retail bags of seven different single-origin coffees — two espresso and five filter — and a retail bag of Cascara. I ended up buying some Kenyan Gaturiri AA beans, which I've been enjoying at home this week brewed through my Aeropress — the juicy blueberry notes come through very clearly.

The décor is very Scandinavian-chic — there is a large, communal table; several smaller, more comfortable seats; and, for more clement days, plenty of benches outside. Although the café was busy when I visited at lunchtime on Friday, I was still able to nab a seat in the corner where I waited for the barista to prepare my piccolo. My coffee, made with a chocolatey Brazilian variety, was excellent and beautifully presented. Unfortunately, I didn't have time for a filter coffee, but they were serving five single-origin coffees at the brew bar, with Aeropress, and V60 and Kalita Wave pourover brew methods available. There are also various pastries, sandwiches and salads on offer.

If you are near Gare du Nord or in the area of Paris that is becoming known as SoPi (south Pigalle), I highly recommend that you head to KB CaféShop for great coffee served by friendly, knowledgeable baristas.

KB CaféShop is located at 53 Avenue Trudaine in the 9th arrondissement (Métro: Anvers). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Colourful Loustic, located on a quiet Marais side street, is the very definition of a cosy café. With its comfortable bench seating along the wall opposite the coffee bar, hexagon-heavy décor and a big selection of coffee and food magazines, Loustic almost feels as though you are having coffee in a coffee-loving friend's living room. We sat at the front, next to the window, not that the rainy Sunday afternoon provided much in the way of natural light.

Its coffee — roasted by Caffenation, based in Antwerp, Belgium — packs a serious punch too. As well as espresso-based drinks, they also serve V60-, Aeropress- and Chemex-brewed filter coffee. We decided to share a Chemex brew, with a clean and fruity Kenyan Kiriaini AA variety (there were three other single-origins available at the brew bar, all from Burundi, but the barista recommended the Kenyan). There were various sweet and savoury treats on offer too.

Loustic is located at 40 Rue Chapon in the 3rd arrondissement (Métro: Rambuteau or Arts et Métiers). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

I know that I overuse the phrase 'petite but perfectly formed' on this blog but it really does apply in the case of Radiodays, a small café a block east of the Canal Saint-Martin. The design is beautiful too and the owner — whom I think was also the lovely, friendly barista with whom I chatted — has clearly put a lot of thought into every detail, from the design (I loved the contrast of the sleek, monochrome Kees van der Westen espresso machine and the colourful tiling) to the food and especially the coffee. The name Radiodays is, of course, a reference to the Woody Allen film of the same name and its eclectic soundtrack.

I had already eaten and didn't sample the delicious-sounding breakfast/brunch menu. Instead, I ordered a cortado, which was very good. Currently, they are using Tim Wendelboe coffee, but they like to mix things up. You can buy retail bags of coffee beans too. Radiodays is a real hidden gem and I was very grateful to baristas at Ten Belles (see below) who told me about it.

Radiodays is located at 15 Rue Alibert in the 10th arrondissement (Métro: Goncourt). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Ten Belles
Last, but certainly not least, on this list is Ten Belles, just around the corner from Radiodays on Rue de la Grange aux Belles. You know you've arrived when you spot the colourful stools and pavement garden outside the storefront. I arrived late on a Friday afternoon and it was fairly quiet, although the tables must fill up very quickly during busy times. As well as the tables opposite the coffee bar, there is a mezzanine level with more seating and, of course, if the weather is nice, you can sit outside and enjoy the Canal Saint-Martin people-watching possibilities.

I got talking to the two lovely baristas — Quentin and Jules — after enquiring whether they served V60- or Aeropress-brewed coffee as well as French press. They didn't and when I explained that French press isn't my favourite brew method because I prefer cleaner tastes, they suggested I try the Yirgacheffe batch brew they had just whipped up. I'm normally something of a batch-brew skeptic, but the guys persuaded me to give it a go, but I also ordered a cortado just in case (at which point Jules asked whether I worked in coffee). The cortado, a single-origin San Jacinto coffee from Guatemala, was very good but — oh ye of little faith — the filter coffee was even better; a clean but flavoursome brew. The coffee is from Belleville, a roastery based just down the road, which is still on my to-do list.

Ten Belles was a lovely place to sit and plan the rest of my afternoon's activities and Quentin and Jules were both incredibly friendly, offering up various other coffee and food recommendations for me. The café is well worth the trip over the canal.

Ten Belles is located at 10 Rue de la Grange aux Belles in the 10th arrondissement (Métro: Jacques Bonsergent). Website. TwitterInstagram.

7 March 2017

Paris in the the Spring

When I booked Eurostar tickets to stay with my friends in Paris last weekend, I didn't know that it would be the sixth city and fifth country I would be visiting in just over five weeks (see also: Cologne, Barcelona, New York, Boston and Padua, or just my travel section). Although my 8:31 am train from St Pancras on Friday wasn't prohibitively early, I was rather sleepy on the journey, especially given that the lengthy queues at security at St Pancras meant that I couldn't get a much-needed second coffee (not that there is anything decent on offer after security). All of this tiredness was soon forgotten when I arrived at Gare du Nord just before noon and stepped out into the Paris sunshine.

I should have made the most of the sun because the torrential rain set in on Friday evening and didn't stop until I began to head back to Gare du Nord on Sunday evening (c'est la vie). My first priority was more coffee and luckily, there is an excellent coffee shop and roastery called KB Cafeshop just ten minutes' walk from the station. As usual, I will be doing a separate blog post about my latest efforts to find good coffee in Paris. After dropping off my tote bag at my friend's office, I went for lunch at Professore, one of my favourite Paris restaurants. The set lunch is just €15 for two courses, and I started with a plate of mortadella, followed by tortellini in what was essentially cream. I've been for dinner at Professore and it is often busy and quite loud, although still fun, but at lunchtime, it's quieter and easier to get a table. Don't miss the loos hidden behind a fake bookcase...

Although the sun had gone, it wasn't yet raining so I decided to walk up to Sacré Cœur, via rue des Martyrs, a lovely street that has dozens of great speciality food shops. I picked up a pistachio éclair from a pâtisserie called Pain Pain, and continued to climb up through the streets of Montmartre until I got to the steps that lead to Sacré Cœur. I definitely earned the view at the top — and the éclair!

I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting a couple of speciality coffee shops near Canal Saint-Martin and then did a bit of window shopping. Pop Market on rue Bichat is great for gifts and homewares, while back on the west side of the canal, rue Oberkampf has plenty of small boutiques and food shops — the stretch between boulevard Voltaire and boulevard des Filles du Calvaire is particularly nice. Just around the corner, on boulevard des Filles du Calvaire itself, Sœur sells chic clothing basics, and one block south is the wonderful concept store that is Merci. I spent about 45 minutes browsing the stationery, homewares and clothing at the latter, before wandering further into the Marais. Enograph, on rue de Turenne, has great posters and travel-themed gifts.

After meeting my friends at their new apartment in the Marais, we all went for an aperitif at Candelaria, a taqueria with a prohibition-style cocktail bar hidden downstairs, on rue de Saintonge. We stayed for a couple of drinks — I had the tart and almost healthy (lime? Coriander? Cucumber? Well, and tequila...) guêpe verte, which was great. We then went for an epic meat feast of a dinner at Floyd's on rue d'Enghien in the 10th arrondissement. One of my friends and I shared an amazing (and huge) prime rib, served bleu (when in France...) and served with barbecue sauce, cheesy croquettes and other things I probably didn't get to. I also managed to find room for one of my other friend's ribs. Yum. Oh, and the double-barrelled Old Fashioneds were very on-point too.

Saturday (and indeed Sunday) followed the same pattern: coffee–shopping–food and repeat. We left my friends' current apartment in Saint-Germain quite late and by the time we'd dropped a few things off at their new place, it was already well into the brunching hour, and finding a table for three was tough. We decided to go to Paris New York, a fun burger joint on rue Perrée. The décor, with its pink-and-turquoise accents and faux booths, was a modern (and Instagrammable) take on the classic diner, and the burgers (and the chocolate and peanut butter milkshake I had) were excellent.

We spent some time shopping in Le BHV's newly revamped Marais store; I picked up some gorgeous espresso cup from the extensive and tempting kitchen department, but there are great selections of clothing, accessories, stationery and gifts too. Better still was Fleux', a series of three homeware shops on rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie. As well as home accessories, kitchenwares and gifts, they have some gorgeous, modern furniture, which made me begin to question my Eurostar baggage allowance.

We planned to walk back to Saint-Germain, but just as we left the final coffee shop of the afternoon, the heavens opened again, so we Ubered over to Le Bon Marché. There was a cool art exhibit ('Where Are We Going?' by Chiharu Shiota) in the lobby and central atrium, including the ultimate cats' cradle. Exercising extreme restraint, I managed not to buy anything from the home section of Le Bon Marché or from Conran, which is just next door.

For dinner, we went to Café Trama, a sleek, modern bistro quite close to Le Bon Marché on rue du Cherche-Midi. With its simple but elegant décor and lively ambiance, it was a great spot for a fun dinner with friends. The food was great too, particularly my scallops, which were beautifully cooked, and the salted caramel rice pudding I had for dessert.

Although the rain stopped overnight, it came back with a vengeance and so after nipping out to get some pastries and bread for a quick breakfast at home, we ended up taking an Uber back to the Marais for more coffee and shopping fun. I popped into the Uniqlo store on rue des Francs Bourgeois which is in a particularly beautiful building, but, much as I normally like to wander around on foot when I'm in Paris, the inclement weather drove us to seek shelter in a series of coffee shops.

As I mentioned, the sun came out just as I started to walk back to Gare du Nord. Eurostar had already warned me by text and email that my train was going to be busy and that I should get to the station at least an hour early. When I arrived, just before 3 pm, the station was insanely busy and I soon found out that overhead power failures meant that there were severe Eurostar delays. To add insult to injury, the torrential rain soon returned and began to leak into the area of the station where we were queuing (thankfully, I had travelled light, as usual, and only had my Longchamp tote with me).

In the end, we got back to London just over an hour late, which wasn't too bad in the circumstances (and meant I could get a partial refund); as always, the Eurostar staff were professional and courteous, in the face of hundreds of grumpy travellers. The journey itself was fine (exhausted from all the walking and eating, I dozed for most of it), although it was strange to be able to arrive home and put away my passport, knowing that I won't be using it again for six whole weeks. I'm sure my feet will be itchy before too long.

3 March 2017

A Weekend in Padua

You wait a lifetime for an Italian wedding two crop up in the space of six months: my cousin’s wedding in Sorrento in August and last weekend, a good friend from university was married in the northern Italian city of Padua (AKA Padova). I’ve been to Venice, 25 miles to the east, a few times, but never to Padua and I was looking forward to visiting a new city as well as celebrating with my friend and his friends and family. 

Padua is a pretty, historic university city, that reminded me a lot of my hometown, Oxford. There are certainly as many bookshops and bicycles! Two to three full days would give you enough time to explore most of the city’s attractions — and sample plenty of its food and drink.

General Tips
Arriving. Regular (1–2 per hour) direct buses run from Venice’s Marco Polo airport to Padua. You can buy a ticket in the arrivals hall for €8.50 one-way and the journey takes about an hour; the bus stops are just outside arrivals (turn right and head to the end for the Padua stop). The Padua bus station (autostazione) is a 15-minute walk from the city centre and a 30-minute walk from Prato della Valle. There are plenty of local buses and trams in Padua.

You can also take the train but you will first need to take a bus to Mestre train station; the journey also takes about an hour in total. Buses from Treviso airport to Padua take a bit longer. 

Money. Many restaurants and shops, particularly the larger ones, take credit cards but you will  probably want to have some Euros in cash for purchasing quick coffees and to pay the city tax at your hotel. There are multiple banks in the city centre with ATMs, although it took me a little while to find one when I arrived.

Accommodation. I booked my hotel, Hotel Al Prato, a few months in advance as the wedding took place during the Venice Carnevale, and we had been warned that hotels might get booked up. I paid about £45 per night for a large single room at Al Prato, and it worked very well: quiet, clean and comfortable with a European queen bed and understated modern décor. The wifi was a bit spotty but there was a free buffet breakfast. Most importantly, it was located just steps from Prato della Valle, the beautiful, ovoid piazza at the south of the city centre. It takes five or ten minutes to walk into the city centre proper but Padua is small, so finding a very central hotel isn't too important.

Things To Do
I was only in Padua for a three-day weekend, with most of Saturday being taken up with the wedding. As such, I spent most of my time strolling through the city and admiring the sights from the outside. I arrived on Friday afternoon in a cold, grey fog and the historic city centre still looked lovely, but it looked even nicer in the sunshine and blue skies of Saturday and Sunday. The sights include the following (the Padova Card might save you money if you plan to do a fair few of these):

Duomo di Padova (Padua's cathedral; €3 to enter the baptistry)

Palazzo della Ragione (grand, 13th century court of justice — stunning ceiling frescoes)

Torre dell'Orologio (visits are by guided tour only) 

Basilica di Sant'Antonio di Padova (a grand, multi-domed church near the Prato; free to enter)

Prato della Valle (a gorgeous, verdant piazza, encircled by a moat with statues and bridges. Great for people-watching, especially on sunny evenings and weekends). 

Orto Botanico (botanical garden; entry is €10)

The wedding ceremony was held in the town hall, followed by a reception at Palazzo San Bonifacio, a beautiful venue that, from the street, you would never know was there.

It is easy to find serviceable ~€1 espresso in any Italian town or city (Caffè Pedrocchi is Padua’s most famous caffè-bar) but third-wave coffee is harder to come by. I thought I might be out of luck in Padua, but I found three places that served third-wave-style coffee, although the quality isn't quite up to London/Melbourne standards.

I found this café, just along the Prato from my hotel, online, and the single-origin beans displayed prominently in the window made it easy to spot. On my first visit, I had a nice V60-brewed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee, although I was amused to find the barista corrected my Italian pronunciation (voo sessanta) to the English (vee sixty). I returned twice more and had a single-origin espresso from Honduras and a ‘regular’ espresso; the former, recommended by the barista, was a subtler, more citrusy drink.

Interestingly, the menu provided an explanation in Italian not just of V60, syphon and cold brew, but of filter coffee itself: “a brewing technique popular in America and northern Europe.” It will be interesting to see whether and how quickly the third wave spreads in Italy.

As my fellow coffee-aficionada chum put it, Caffeine, on Via Roma, looks the part but doesn’t quite talk the talk yet. The menu lists Aeropress, siphon and French press filter coffee options but they aren’t serving them until next month; instead, I had a good (€1) macchiato at the zinc bar. Aesthetically, Caffeine looks great (I particularly liked the cups with their caffeine-structure design) and they even have avocado toast!

Aeropress coffees are also on the menu at The Coffee Box, a bustling café opposite the Coin department store. I didn’t have time for a filter coffee, though, so instead ordered a macchiatone (‘large macchiato’), which seems to be the equivalent of a cortado or piccolo. It’s a shame I couldn't try the Aeropress because the macchiatone was fine but slightly overheated. However, it only cost a very reasonable €1.20.

Food & Drink
There are stacks of trattorie, pizzerie, caffè and bars throughout Padua's  city centre. Note: most restaurants close in the afternoon (usually between 2:30 pm and 7 pm, although this varies). As such, if, like me, you arrive in the city at around 3 pm, finding somewhere for a decent late lunch may be tricky. I ended up going to Bigoi, a sort of fast-food pasta bar serving the titular bigoi pasta (chunky spaghettti), served with a variety of toppings (€5). I had a tasty duck ragù, which kept the hangriness at bay. Another ‘fast food’ option in the evening is La Folperia, a popular street-food stall in Piazza della Frutta.

On Friday evening, my friends and I met for an aperitif at Antonio Ferrari on Via Umberto I. Prosecco and Aperol spritzes were €3.50 and €4 and my negroni was €8. We also shared a large platter of cicchetti (charcuterie) for €20. The food was good and it was a casual, fun place to hang out.

I wanted at least one pizza while in Italy, and as both Pago Pago and Al Duomo, which had been recommended, were closed at lunchtime, I couldn’t partake (Osteria Pizzeria La Vigna, to the west of the centre, was also recommended). But on Friday night, we went to Box Caffè, on the Prato, which was suggested by both the internet and my hotel’s receptionist. The restaurant was quiet at 7 pm, but had filled up by the time we left. Box serves wood-fired pizzas in a sleek, modern setting. My pizza bufala was very good.

Naturally, we were very well fed at the wedding (I was particularly impressed by the giant hunk of parmesan and the cured ham available with our aperitif, ahead of our four-course meal).

A few friends and I wanted a traditional Venetian lunch on Sunday, and my research identified two spots, both just east of the town hall. The more modern of the two and my first choice, Osteria Ai Scarponi, was fully booked so we headed to the second, the more traditional Trattoria Nane della Giulia, which had a hand-written menu in Venetian dialect with an Italian translation (no English, so it was a lucky my friends brought their translator!). It was a very authentic experience and the colourful, rustic décor complemented the lively ambience. The food was great too: I had a local speciality, bigoi pasta (see above) with an anchovy and orange sauce. We also had a lovely bottle of Prosecco for only €15 — perché no?

Padua is a smart town and there are plenty of nice shops, including some great leather handbag and shoe shops. Il Borsaro (Via del Santo 163), had some lovely leather handbags but is closed on Sundays (surprisingly, quite a few shops in the city centre were open on Sunday, some opening after 3 pm). Decor had some pretty homewares and Merci is a chic clothing boutique, and there are branches of the usual chains (Sisley, Zara, Mango et al.) as well as two small department stores (Coin and Rinascente), as well as a fair few designer shops. Bottega Bonin provides chic provisions for the city’s many cyclists.

There are lots of great delis around town, various food markets (including one in the arcades of Palazzo della Ragione), and a great general store called Drogheria Preti, near the Prato, which has been selling gourmet food and drink and home goods for over 80 years.