28 March 2018

The Caffeine Chronicles: Lantana London Bridge

A couple of years ago, I set about revisiting some of my 'old favourite' London speciality coffee spots, like Flat White, which I've loved for a decade but which I had never written up properly for my blog. One such favourite — and one of the first Aussie brunch cafés I discovered in London — was Lantana on Fitzrovia's pleasant passageway Charlotte Place. I used to be a regular when I still lived in Marylebone and it featured in my first London coffee shop guide in 2011 (and its less-coffee-centric 2009 predecessor).

Somehow, though, I never ended up writing up a full review but when the café opened another branch — its third — nearer to my current Bermondsey home in London Bridge in late 2017, it was the perfect opportunity to return to Lantana. Conveniently close to Borough Market and the South Bank but far enough away to ensure that it's still possible to get a table (especially if you book), the newest Lantana is located on Southwark Street. There is scaffolding on the outside of the building so the large, glass front windows let in a little less light than usual, but the airy, bright interiors make up for that.

Compared to the Fitzrovia branch, which is better described as 'cosy' and which is usually packed, there's much more space here and the relaxing atmosphere really did transport me back to Melbourne. As I hadn't booked, I was lucky to squeeze into an empty spot a the long, L-shaped bar. I loved funky teal bar stools too. In the main dining area, there are plenty of tables to suit all group sizes.

I was in the market for a breakfasty brunch rather than a lunchy brunch, so I didn't look too closely at the cocktail and wine lists, instead skipping right to the coffee. I started with a piccolo made with Lantana's house blend, currently a Brazil/Colombia/Peru combination that tasted smooth and chocolatey with a little milk.

There weren't any hand-brewed filter coffee options on the menu so I ordered the single origin batch brew filter coffee of the day. This was an Ethiopian Banko Jirimititi from Rotterdam-based Manhattan Coffee Roasters. The tasting notes I read afterwards indicated blueberries and jasmine, but I got more orange and whiskey notes — not dissimilar to the Ethiopian Marmora I tried at Java in Kraków, in fact. So often batch brew ends up disappointing me, making me wish I hadn't ordered it instead of a pourover in a busy coffee shop in a misguided effort to be a more considerate customer. But Lantana's batch brew was very well brewed and the coffee was flavoursome and fragrant. There are currently six filter coffees in their rotation, three from Manhattan and three from Alchemy.

As for the food, it took me a while to digest the extensive weekend brunch menu. I was tempted by the coconut French toast, but I'm really more of a savoury bruncher these days. In the end, in the interests of nostalgia, I ordered my old favourite dish: corn fritters with streaky bacon, spinach, roasted tomatoes, avocado, a poached egg and lemon creme fraiche (at some point in the past nine years, they switched from lime aioli). I've always preferred juicy, flavoursome cherry and plum tomatoes to their larger conspecifics, but the roasted tomatoes here were delicious — very nearly as tasty as those in the very first brunch I had in Melbourne at Code Black, straight off the plane. The fritters were as good as I remembered, the bacon crispy, and the egg perfectly poached.

The service was both friendly and efficient, and although the cafe was full, the atmosphere remained low-key and chilled out. Several tables were engaging in the Lantana Blowout with unlimited Prosecco (£30); there's also a cheaper version with unlimited coffee and juices, which sounds like a challenge to me!

Lantana London Bridge. 44-46 Southwark St, London, SE1 1UN (Tube: Borough or London Bridge). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

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