09 August 2021

The Caffeine Chronicles: WatchHouse, St Mary Axe

The expansion of WatchHouse Coffee is such that at this point, there's a veritable Watch Village — or, at least, at Watch Hamlet — in and around Bermondsey. I visited their newest location in 70 St Mary Axe last week, and it was highly impressive: both in terms of the cafe build-out and the coffee itself.

WatchHouse was re-established in Bermondsey in 2012 — the same year I established myself in Bermondsey, and I'm a regular at WatchHouse's three coffee shops in the neighbourhood, especially the Maltby Street roastery and the Bermondsey original, on the site of a former watch house next to St Mary Magdalen churchyard. My fellow coffee blogger Brian and I met at the former for lunch earlier this summer and you can find out what he made of the roastery here. One of the nicest things about the WatchHouse coffee shops is that they all have very different characters while occupying very different kinds of building. 70 St Mary Axe is no exception — designed by Foggo Architects, it also goes by the name of the 'Can of Ham' building, for reasons that will become obvious when you visit.

WatchHouse itself is spread over three floors; if you're interested in coffee shop design, or interior design more generally, I'd suggest you allow extra time for your visit so you can explore fully. Despite the address, the WatchHouse entrance is actually on the corner of Goring Street and Houndsditch. As you enter, there's a large display of WatchHouse coffee and branded coffee-making kit on the left, and then a long glass and metal counter. On the right, set against the striking geometric lines of the building, there's a series of long wooden and leather benches, with small end-of-sofa-style side tables set at regular intervals.

The counter itself houses a large selection of sandwiches, cakes and pastries, the selection of coffees available as hand-brewed filter coffee and finally the ModBar set-up for espresso. There are a few larger tables underneath the splendid spiral staircase at the back and more seating options still upstairs. Oh, and if it's a nice day you can sit outside, amid the greenery. In short, this WatchHouse is huge, and it feels very spacious and airy.

As for the coffee, I opted for one half of WatchHouse's 'companion coffee' program, where they feature a guest coffee from a roaster from around the world and pair it with one of their own coffees. This month's 'guest', a washed Peruvian coffee from José Vasquez roasted by Cupping Room Coffee Roasters in Hong Kong, sounded delicious. But I was persuaded by the barista to try WatchHouse's partner coffee, a washed coffee from Adado, Ethiopia. Brewed through the V60, the delicate peach and floral flavours came through beautifully. It was served on a small wooden tray in a glass server, accompanied by a small, WatchHouse ceramic cup and a card with more details about the coffee. Of course, I'll now have to try the Cupping Room coffee too, for comparison.

As it was my mission to take up as much space as possible (I'd already slotted my folded Brompton into a handy gap in the benches where I was sitting), I also ordered a piccolo and a sandwich. Like the filter coffee, the piccolo was immaculately brewed and presented, with excellent latte art. It was made with a honey-processed coffee from Raimutin Village in Timor-Leste — a country whose coffee I've tried only rarely. In milk, there was a sweet smoothness, with orange blossom and milk chocolate notes.

WatchHouse has an interesting selection of sandwiches — the only trouble is that a lot of them have quite strong flavours to them, which means trying to drink your coffee first to avoid altering your palate. I had a toasted baguette with smoky tempeh, avocado and sundried tomatoes, which was delicious, although I was glad I drank my coffee first, especially the more delicate filter coffee. If you've already eaten, they can probably still tempt you with one of the cakes and other tasty treats available. 

After I'd finished, I took a peek upstairs, climbing up the spiral staircase and enjoying the aerial views of the ground floor of the cafe (scroll down for an extended photo tour). A lot of thought and care has gone into every aspect of this newest Watch House, from the coffee and its presentation to the layout, design and ambience of the cafe. Even if you've visited other WatchHouses, the newest addition to the family is well worth the trip.

Watch House, St Mary Axe. 70 St Mary Axe, London, EC3A 8BE (Tube: Aldgate or Liverpool Street). Website. Twitter.

For 140+ more of my favourite coffee shops in London, check out my London speciality coffee guide.

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