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4 September 2018

The Caffeine Chronicles: Lomond Coffee

Living in Bermondsey, I'm no stranger to railway arches that house bars, eateries and independent stores. Located just off Deptford High Street, next to the station, Deptford Market Yard consists of a dozen or so small businesses from sneakers to street food, each occupying a railway arch along a broad, pedestrianised boulevard.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, there is a chilled-out atmosphere — enough people to give it a nice buzz, but not so many that you can't nab a coveted outdoor seat in the sunshine. I first stop for brunch at Dirty Apron, where my bubble and squeak with crispy bacon is well worth the wait (the tiny kitchen means orders can take a few minutes to arrive, even if there isn't a queue). They serve coffee from Alchemy but I have other caffeinated plans for the afternoon.

Two arches down from Dirty Apron is Lomond Coffee, a tiny coffee roastery and café run by Linzi and Hayley. The sisters have made good use of the diminutive space, with pendant lights and a soft grey concrete coffee bar accentuating the fully exposed brickwork of the arch. It feels cosy, even on an unexpectedly sunny day and in winter, it must take some willpower to abandon a seat at one of the high tables and to venture back outside. There are only seats for about ten people inside, but the seating in the yard more than doubles this when the weather behaves.

I have seen the baristas taking several great-looking espresso-based drinks out to customers, but I am pleased to find a V60 filter coffee on the menu too. I order one, as well as one of the chocolate peanut butter bars that are tempting me from the counter. It is at least 15 minutes since I finished my brunch, after all. The peanut butter proves the perfect foil for the rich, gooey dark chocolate and the sweet treat has disappeared by the time my coffee arrives.

As for the coffee, it is roasted daily in small batches in the roaster that sits behind the counter. The coffee du jour is a single-origin Costa Rican honey processed coffee, with orange, raspberry and caramel notes. It tasted very good indeed and I enjoyed drinking it while watching the friendly female baristas serve up coffee, brunch and genuine, friendly service in equal measures. I will have to return to sample the brunch — in particular, the kimchi pancakes with fried eggs, which sell out during my visit.

Caffeinated and happy, I stroll back down the Yard, popping into lifestyle store Win and Ruby and lovely plant store Forest on my way back to the high street. On Saturdays, Deptford Market Yard is even busier, with the Deptford Bites market bringing even more street food and crafts. Is it as good as my local Maltby Street Market? Well, it's much newer, of course, but perhaps one day they will become arch rivals.

Lomond Coffee. Arch 7, 4 Deptford Market Yard, Deptford, London, SE8 4BX (Deptford rail). Website. Twitter. Instagram. Deptford Market Yard website.

For 100+ more of my favourite coffee shops in London, please check out my speciality coffee guide.

31 August 2018

Cliff Notes: A Perfect Day in Margate

As I walk along the Viking Coastal Trail from central Margate to Botany Bay, I can almost believe I am back in Sydney, following the Bondi to Coogee clifftop walk, rather than day-tripping on the north Kent coast. Both walks offer stark cliffs, sandy beaches and ocean pools, and sweeping sea views. It's about ten degrees cooler in Margate, of course, although still pleasant.

It is the speciality coffee that has brought me to Margate for the day, but the town has been on my London-day-trip to-do list for some time. I catch the first off-peak train from St Pancras, which arrives dead on time at 11:39. The first part of the journey zips by, but it takes longer to wind through eastern Kent. The train is busy — it's the Friday before the August bank holiday weekend — but most of the families decamp into Dreamland, the vintage amusement park located a few minutes' walk from the station.

I spend the next couple of hours visiting coffee shops. If you only have time for one, you should hit Curve Roasters' Storeroom, although if you're in the mood for brunch — and perhaps an LP or a haircut — Cliffs is well worth the walk to Cliftonville, a neighbourhood a mile or so east of the town centre. After my Cliffs brunch (a delicious poached egg and avocado on toast), I return to the centre, passing by Margate's 1525 Tudor House.

Then it's time for a spot of retail therapy. Margate has a disproportionate number of antiques shops and independent boutiques and lifestyle stores for a town of its size. I particularly enjoyed browsing in Haeckels (skincare),  Lydia's (jewellery and homewares), Milkwood (botanical candles and skincare), Môr (homewares), Paraphernalia (antiques) and Werkhaus (clothing). OK, yes, it also has the shell of a former Woolworths!

It's an intermittently sunny day but not quite warm enough for sunbathing or a dip in the sea, but I stroll down to the Harbour Arm on the seafront. The tide is out but I spend some time photographing the 'skyline' and those beautiful Thanet skies that Turner proclaimed the loveliest in Europe.

Speaking of J.M.W. Turner, the contemporary art gallery named in his honour is my next stop. At this point, I must confess that although I like some of Turner's landscapes, I still haven't quite recovered from the tediousness of Mike Leigh's titular biopic. The Turner Contemporary, which opened in 2011, is housed in a bold and angular modern building on the seafront. During my visit, Jyll Bradley's Dutch/Light (for Agneta) was displayed outside — the neon Plexiglas structures really come into their own when the sun comes out. Inside, there's currently a well-curated exhibition on the relationship between art, animals and humans, but the architecture itself is worth a look — and a photograph or two. I also picked up a few design-oriented gifts in the gallery shop.

I pop into the nearby visitor information centre to find out where I should go for a coastal walk. The helpful staff hand me a leaflet for the Viking Coastal Trail, which spans 30 miles around the Isle of Thanet. The information officer suggests I go as far as Botany Bay, which is a 50-minute walk over the clifftops, and hands me details for the return bus journey. The walk is quiet and peaceful late on a Friday afternoon in late summer. There are a few brave swimmers in one of the ocean pools, and plenty more picnickers and dog-walkers on the beaches down below.

At Botany Bay, I descend onto the sandy beach. This is supposed to be a good spot for fossils, but I just find one lonely oyster. I walk through the gap between the stark white chalk cliffs and explore the quieter beach on the other side, admiring those dramatic skies. I decide to walk back into town rather than waiting for a bus, and before long, I am back in civilisation.

Margate has diverse dinner options from fish and chips on the beach to fancier fare. I consider dining at Hantverk & Found, but book a table at Buoy and Oyster, which won the 'best Kent restaurant' award at the 2018 Taste of Kent awards. It's located on the seafront and the views are lovely. I order a burrata to start, which comes with heritage tomatoes and watermelon, and is perfectly indulgent. The lobsters of the day are a little large for me, so I go for the beer-battered fish and chips. The food is delicious and with generous portion sizes. Unfortunately, some ordering confusion means my Bloody Buoy Mary doesn't come with the requisite bacon garnish or accompanying oyster. This small mishap aside, the service is good and the setting relaxed and cosy — perfect for an early supper.

The rain stops in time for my walk back to the station and I take one last stroll on the now-empty beach before boarding my train back to the Big Smoke. Margate is a candidate for the perfect day trip from London, with its beaches and coastal walks, culture, independent shops, good food and, of course, coffee. Even better, my return ticket was only £20 — a rare occasion when it was cheaper to make a UK-based day trip than to fly to mainland Europe for the weekend.

28 August 2018

Curve Roasters and Other Adventures in Margate Speciality Coffee

On an off-peak day return from London, you can reach Curve Roasters' Margate Storeroom a few minutes before noon if all goes to plan. Even on the high-speed line, it takes about an hour and a half to reach the seaside town from St Pancras, but it's then just a ten-minute walk along the sea front to reach Curve's flagship coffee shop.

I first came across Curve in Paris last year, and was then very happy to meet Jon and Teresa at their pop up a little closer to home at Nape in Camberwell. I had been wanting to visit the mothership, on the north coast of Kent, ever since and a rare Friday off work in the UK represented the perfect opportunity.

The Storeroom is located in the Printworks, a Victorian building on Union Row — once home to the Thanet Gazette, and now a creative hub. I climb up the stairs and walk into the café — there are also a few seats on the patio, which are perfect for sunny days. The café is bright and airy with bright pops of colourful art and plenty of foliage. It's a welcoming place too — unfortunately, I manage to miss Jon and Teresa but the baristas I meet in the Storeroom are friendly, knowledgeable and efficient.

The coffee menu is so extensive that I miss the tasting flight option (split shot espresso and cortado, and a batch-brew filter coffee) until it is too late. Instead, I weigh up the filter coffee options, opting in the end for the Ethiopian Biftu Gudino, brewed through the Clever Dripper. There is another Ethiopian, the Mormora, also available as a hand-brewed filter coffee and a Guatemalan on batch-brew.

The coffee arrives promptly and is very well brewed, with subtle honeysuckle and pineapple notes coming through nicely. I contemplate the brunch menu and the sweet treats (some banana bread has just come out of the oven) but it's still a little too early and I decide to have a 'barista's lunch' and order another coffee instead. There are two espressos on the menu and this time, I try the Mormora as a piccolo, which tastes wonderful and which is pleasingly proportioned. I can't leave empty-handed, so I buy a bag of filter-roasted Mormora beans, which have been tasting fantastic brewed through my Kalita Wave dripper at home. All in all, the Curve Storeroom is one of my favourite UK coffee shops of the year so far.

I have other stops on my Margate speciality coffee itinerary and so after settling up, I walk ten minutes to the east to the Cliftonville neighbourhood, where I visit Cliffs, a coffee shop where you can also buy LPs, have a haircut or take a yoga class. By this point, I am in the market for brunch and order the poached eggs and avocado on toast (the kimchi grilled cheese sarnie also sounds fab).

The coffee here is from Curve too — in fact, it's roasted at the back of Cliffs — and I order a flat white with a Colombian Palmitas espresso. While I wait for my coffee and food to arrive, I browse some of the records — but let's face it, I barely have a way to play even CDs at home... My flat white tastes great and comes with some fine latte art. It pairs nicely with the harissa- and seed-topped avocado toast. After I've finished, I sit for a while soaking up the laid-back, family-friendly Friday afternoon atmosphere. The spacious café is a lovely place to hang out.

A few blocks along the Northdown Road, back in the direction of the city centre, Mar Mar may well be the most verdant indoor coffee shop I've ever visited. Mar Mar is also a plant shop and sipping a coffee here is almost like being in the middle of a jungle — a coastal one, with excellent décor. The mirrored Victoria Arduino picks up even more of the foliage. I order a macchiato and a chocolate coconut flapjack, which I enjoy sitting in the window seat. I resist the temptation to buy all of the plants — not least because I'm going on holiday soon, and I don't have much success with plants even in the best of circumstances.

Curve Storeroom. Unit 1D, The Printworks, Union Row, Margate CT9 1PP. Website. Twitter. Instagram.
Cliffs. 172 Northdown Road Margate, CT9 2QN. Website. Twitter. Instagram.
Mar Mar. 80 Northdown Rd, Margate CT9 2RE. Website. Instagram.

15 August 2018

The Caffeine Chronicles: Abuelo

Ahead of my upcoming trip to Peru, I've been stocking up on hiking kit and it turns out that Southampton Street in Covent Garden is a great place to do this. After I've finished shopping, I happen upon a café called Abuelo and because I've been brushing up on my Spanish, I know its name means 'grandfather'. Indeed, despite the café's Aussie stylings, it also has a strong South American influence.

Late in the lunch period on a rainy Sunday and the diminutive eatery is busy with brunchers, but they manage to squeeze me into a space at the large communal table that occupies most of the space between the counter and the front window. There are a couple of smaller tables over to one side, and an even smaller one by the door. The decor is comfortingly rustic, with wooden chairs adorned with kangaroo motifs and walls adorned with large, photographic landscapes. The 'grandfatherly' name of Abuelo is supposed to invoke thoughts of family and home, and in that they have definitely succeeded.

There's a small but steady stream of takeout coffee orders. "Do you do proper Aussie coffee?" asks one guy, an Aussie. He has obviously missed the sign outside. Aussie coffee, it reads. The barista answers in the affirmative and a few minutes later, the customer is leaving happily with his beverage.

As for the coffee, Abuelo features various Central and South American single origins. The Peruvian Café Fememino available as a pourover sounds great — and would be apt given my reason for being in Southampton Street in the first place — but my space at the table is needed back in 30 minutes. Instead, I go for a flat white, brewed with the house coffee, the Colombian La Laguna. When in Melbourne...or Medellín, for that matter. It's a good choice and the coffee is well made and slips down very easily.

The Australian twists are present in the brunch menu too. It isn't fully vegetarian — there are several meaty toasties, for instance — but most of the dishes are, or can be made, meat free. I order the beetroot and rosemary hummus on toast, which comes with garlic broad beans, amaranth, greens, and a poached egg. It is as delicious as it is vibrant and colourful. I don't even get food envy when my neighbour's BBQ Croque Monsieur arrives. If you have room for dessert, the cakes on the counter make for a tempting offering.

The queue hasn't died down by the time I leave, but they do take bookings, or you can leave your name and come back a little later if they can't quite accommodate you. Despite the busy-ness, the staff were friendly and welcoming — just like if you were at your abuelo's house.

Abuelo. 26 Southampton Street, London, WC2E 7RS (Tube: Covent Garden). Website. Instagram.

For 100+ more of my favourite coffee shops in London, please check out my speciality coffee guide.