20 July 2018

The Caffeine Chronicles: Jacob the Angel

UPDATE (April 2022). Sadly, Jacob the Angel has now closed permanently, although they hope to return in another location in the not-too-distant future.

Even as it expands and evolves, the speciality coffee world is sometimes smaller than you might think. Just last month, I walked past The Grand Café on the High Street in my hometown, Oxford, noting the text in the window that claimed the site as that of England's first coffee house, dating back to 1651. It turns out that this coffee house, once named the Angel Inn, was opened by a Jewish man called Jacob, who also gives his name to a rather more modern coffee shop, which I visited last weekend.

Jacob the Angel is located, appropriately enough, at 16 1/2 Neal's Yard — 16.5, if you will (16.51 might be pushing it) — in Covent Garden. I have wanted to visit both Jacob the Angel and its larger sibling and neighbour, The Barbary, for some time but the wonderful little foodie hub that is Neal's Yard is often very busy, particularly at the weekends. It turns out that early afternoon just before England's last game of the 2018 World Cup is the ideal time to visit if you would like to find a table — even if the coveted window seats, which afford perfect people-watching opportunities, remained occupied.

Inside, the café is small and beautifully decorated. A wooden bench runs along each wall, hosting brushed-brass tables and bar stools. Vintage photos bedeck one wall, while on the other, a tribute to the titular Jacob is displayed. I claimed a table and went up to the L-shaped counter at the back of the shop to place my order.

The coffee is from Square Mile, and although there were filter coffee options on the menu, I'd been brewing up an iced filter coffee storm at home earlier in the day and decided to go for a piccolo, with the Red Brick espresso blend. My coffee was beautifully made by the charming and friendly Daniele. I was also rather fond of the smart, racing green crockery, although my piccolo came in a glass.

I had hoped to indulge in a spot of brunch, despite my late arrival, but they were all out of the sourdough bread that was one of the key ingredients in the avocado toast I'd hoped to order. Instead, there were various pre-made sandwiches on the counter. I went for a posh egg mayo roll on challah bread, which was tasty and filling enough for me on such a hot day. I almost picked up a dessert on the way out — the chocolate and coconut slices looked particularly good — but I couldn't quite find room; a treat I will have to indulge in on my return visit.

Jacob the Angel. 16 1/2 Neal's Yard, London, WC2H 9DP (Tube: Covent Garden). Website. Instagram.

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

Oxford's Grand Cafe, the site of the original Jacob's Angel Inn

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