29 July 2016

The Caffeine Chronicles: Prufrock Revisited

Update: In September 2022, Prufrock offered an experience where customers could try a shot of specially prepared Il Grifone espresso brewed on a vintage Faema espresso machine, lovingly restored by James Hoffmann, alongside Square Mile's Red Brick blend. I had to go along and try it for myself, and I shared a few photos on Instagram,

I've featured my search for good speciality coffee in London, New York and beyond on this blog since 2008, but I didn't start posting detailed reviews until 2012 when I launched my Caffeine Chronicles series. My second ever Caffeine Chronicles post was about perennial Clerkenwell favourite Prufrock, and it remains one of my most read blog posts. I can just about get to Prufrock and back from my King's Cross office in a lunch hour and I used to go regularly, but as my lunch breaks have shrunk and often vanished, my visits to the Leather Lane café have become less frequent.

Although I love to try out new coffee places, the hunt for the next great thing can mean that I neglect old favourites — and Prufrock has remained in my top ten London coffee shops since 2012 (I hadn't discovered it in time for my first list in 2011). This is a rather long-winded way of introducing my return to Prufrock for weekend brunch a couple of weeks ago, but the take-home message is that favourite places are usually favourites for a reason and that the pleasure of re-discovery is as great as the joy of discovery.

Prufrock itself needs little introduction: founded in 2009 by former World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies and Jeremy Challender, it started life as a (now-defunct) concession in a men's boutique in Shoreditch High Street, before expanding to the large, airy café and barista training school on Leather Lane. The name is, of course, a reference to the eponymous narrator of T.S. Eliot's poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, who talks of measuring out his life with coffee spoons. Whimsy is one of the café's best features: I love that the eight-ounce takeaway cups feature an illustration of an eight-legged creature (currently a crab), the six-ounce cups a six-legged creature (currently a cricket) and the four-ounce cups the signature Prufrock bunny.

Leather Lane itself is very hectic during the week when market stalls take up the road and much of the pavement, but it's usually calmer at the weekend. I arrived at Prufrock just before noon on a Sunday and it wasn't yet too busy — by the time I left, some 90 minutes later, there were barely any free tables and a queue had formed at the coffee bar. There's another motto: the early bird gets the avocado toast.

The coffee menu is, as you might expect, extensive with various single-origins from Square Mile, Tim Wendelboe and Colonna. I ordered a piccolo (£2.60) and then asked the barista for advice on my filter choice: there was a Colombian coffee roasted by Tim Wendelboe brewed through the Chemex, and two V60s, a Colombian from Colonna and a Kenyan from Square Mile (all £5). The barista recommended the latter and so I went for it. It had been at least a week since my last avocado toast so I ordered that too (£6.50). Twist ending, I know.

I took a seat opposite the coffee bar — coincidentally, I ended up sitting at the same table as on my first visit — and just next to the wall display of spoons; Eliot (and Private Eye) would be proud. My piccolo arrived first and it was both beautifully presented and impeccably prepared: rich, strong and smooth, and with the perfect amount of milk to bring out rather than mask the flavours of the coffee.

The V60 was also excellent. I sometimes struggle to pick out the flavour profiles even when I know what they are but as soon as I brought the cup to my lips, my nose picked up the blackcurrant notes right away. I looked up the coffee (a Gichathaini PB) when I got home and was pleased to see that I had got it right for once.

Prufrock does a mean avocado toast: thin slices of avocado on a hunk of sourdough toast, with olive oil and a liberal sprinkling of chilli. £6.50 is a little pricey given that it wasn't the hugest portion, but it's hard to mind when it tasted so great. If you aren't in the mood for brunch, there are a few lunch dishes too and a selection of cakes — the 50p brownie bites are hard to resist.

Prufrock is also a great place to come for a little coffee-themed retail therapy. They sell various bags of coffee beans and a bewildering assortment of coffee-making equipment and coffee-related books. And if you'd like to sign up for some barista training, they run SCAE courses at various levels.

Absence certainly did make my heart grow fonder in the case of Prufrock. It's still one of my favourite coffee shops in London and I'm going to try to go back more often — on lunch breaks or otherwise. In the words of J. Alfred Prufrock himself, "Let us go and make our visit."

Prufrock Coffee. 23–25 Leather Lane, London, EC1N 7TE (Tube: Farringdon or Chancery Lane). Website. Twitter. Instagram. My original 2012 review.


  1. The perennial problem of the coffee blogger, the pressure to find new places over visiting old favourites...

    Good to see Prufrock going strong though. I've not been in for ages either!


    1. Thanks, Brian. Definitely try the Square Mile Gichathaini PB if it's still on when you next make it there; one of the nicest coffees I've had this year!