20 September 2016

The Caffeine Chronicles: WatchHouse, Tower Bridge

NB: Since I wrote this post, WatchHouse's Tower Bridge location has moved a few doors down to 37 Shad Thames, while its original location is now occupied by Italian restaurant Legare.

WatchHouse on Bermondsey Street, which celebrates its second birthday this month, is a contender for one of the prettiest coffee shops in London. Located in the octagon-shaped former watch house building of St Mary Magdalen churchyard, it combines rustic walls and 'bread pegs' with chic monochrome floor tiles and lovely posies on each table. The coffee is good but the café's tiny size means that tables can be hard to come by.

The team have now opened a second location on Shad Thames, a historic street just to the east of Tower Bridge. Continuing the theme of interesting historical buildings, WatchHouse II is based in the Cardamom Building, which, funnily enough, was used to store cardamom in days of yore. These days Shad Thames is home to an assortment of cafés, shops and restaurants and it's a great place to go for a wander, although gets busy at weekends.

The new WatchHouse is, thankfully, bigger than the original location and although it shares some design features with the original — the bread pegs and flowers, in particular — the design is more minimalist, with white walls and dove-grey wooden booths that form the majority of the seating. Only the espresso machine stands out on the counter, a bold black bespoke La Marzocco machine with golden text.

I've been to the new café twice since it opened earlier this month and have had two cortados, both of which were prepared well, with good latte art, and tasted great too. The coffee itself, as at the original WatchHouse, is a Brazilian espresso blend from Ozone. There aren't any hand-brewed filter coffees on offer, but there was a single-origin (I think) batch brew filter coffee, as well as various drinks, including Sandows cold brew — perfect if you show up after your Sunday morning run and are in need of cooling down!

And then there's the food. Although the Bermondsey Street WatchHouse serves breakfast, light meals and sweet treats, the menu is greatly extended over at Shad Thames. When you enter the café, you are greeted with a long counter displaying all manner of pastries and cakes. As I was in the Cardamom Building, I decided to go for a cardamom bun, which was delicious. I did have a bit of brunch regret, though, as I saw various egg/avocado/sourdough dishes being carried out of the kitchen. The poached egg and avo on toast looked particularly good, but the pancakes and French toast also sounded delicious. The bread comes from two Bermondsey suppliers: The Snapery and The Little Bread Pedlar. And yes, brunch runs until 3 pm at weekends and there are a few cocktails on offer too. Fear not if you've missed brunch, though, because WatchHouse stays open late — the full evening menu will launch in the near future.

The first time I visited the Cardamom Building, it was extremely busy given that it was only the day after launch, but the staff were friendly and welcoming. The Tower Bridge location means that there is a nice mix of tourists and local workers and residents. It also means that you may have to wait a few minutes for your coffee or for a table, but it's well worth the wait.

WatchHouse. The Cardamom Building, 37 Shad Thames, London, SE1 2YR (Tube: London Bridge or Bermondsey). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

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