Guest review of Baltzersens in Harrogate written by Paul Holland:
When I heard Lord Howell’s pronouncement that there were “large, uninhabited and desolate areas” in the North East of England I dared to hope that the House of Lords had finally begun to address the issue that it’s pretty grim up north for coffee drinkers.
Hurrah I thought, no more sour under-extracted shots, no more no-look tamping while they watch a customer eating a bap, yes I said bap, no more spotty teenagers leaving the milk jug under the wand, only to wander off to talk about some celebrity with their workmates. I thought the time for well-crafted coffee had arrived and the honourable Lords were going to bloody well do something about it.
We went to Copenhagen especially to go to Noma but discovered a surprisingly evolved coffee culture. Denmark has lots of coffee shops because it’s so cold and dark in Winter. Going out for coffee with friends seems to be a national pastime because it gives you an excuse to get out of the house. When the weather improves, it’s still nice to have coffee in Copenhagen and the city really comes to life.
Noma was voted as the best restaurant in the world for a few years running. They recently had a food safety issue, but it’s still an amazing restaurant. A real culinary adventure. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the creativity was truly inspiring. While in Copenhagen we went exploring to find the best Flat White in Denmark.
TimberYard cafe just opened in Old Street between Shoreditch and Clerkenwell. I’ve been waiting for a casual, friendly cafe with plenty of seating in EC1 for a long time. Look Mum No Hands (next door on Old Street) is great but the coffee isn’t perfect and it often gets far too crowded to be able to relax and think.
I’ve been wondering why none of the cafes in Shoreditch have opened up their basements or their un-used first floors. Some days I traipse around Dose at Google Campus, Salvation Jane, Shoreditch Grind, Goswell Rd, Fix and Look Mum No Hands just looking for a place to hang my Macbook.
Dose Espresso was the first cafe that we visited in Clerkenwell. We were exploring the Barbican while apartment hunting and needed a coffee to help brace us for the steep local property prices. It was early days in London for us so I was pretty impressed when we bumped into two Sloan Rangers in mock riding gear. I thought to myself, this is a haven of modern classiness in a sea of grungy hipsters. In the year or so since then, Dose has continued to impress as a clean, efficient and modern cafe. City bankers mix easily with Farringdon web designers and Clerkenwell architects.
The seating, architecture and vibe are welcoming, but not too welcoming. The staff aren’t quite “too cool for school” but somehow the whole layout does make you accutely aware that you are somewhere that knows that it’s “cool”.
Flat White in Soho started in 2005 before the flat white was widely available in the UK. It was the original antipodean cafe in London and therefore the first place that I went when we landed in London after living in Colorado for a ski season.
I vividly remember the feeling of sitting in Flat White in Soho on a grey London day. Homesick for the fist time and hearing the first New Zealand accents that I’d heard in months. Suddenly I understood China Town in San Francisco, the Jewish Quarter in Paris or the British expat bars in Asia. When we are a long way from home, we take some comfort in familiar accents, customs and foods.
Once you get more into coffee, you might start to ask yourself why you can’t choose the coffee beans that go into your flat white. It’s almost always a generic blend chosen by the cafe and there is no chance for you to learn by tasting different beans.
The same thought occured to architect Hoi Chi Ng and the itch eventually turned into The Coming Soon Pop-up Cafe in Exhibit Gallery at the Barbican. Hoi Chi is using as many different beans as he can get his hands on. This is a definite journey of discovery for him, but he’s inviting all of us to come on the journey with him.
Nude Espresso in Soho and Shoreditch are probably the best cafes in London. Prufrock and others may have great coffee, but Nude seem to always have the right mix of staff, music, interiors, clientele and vibe. Nude Shoreditch is my idea of the perfect cafe. Big enough to find a seat at any hour, but small enough to feel local. Consistently good coffee and a great ambiance. But this review focusses on my most frequented cafe in London, Nude Soho.
When I was working in Soho at a PR firm, the Soho branch of Nude Espresso was my daily regular. I was mostly drinking takeaways but we used to go there as a team for a sit down whenever we got the chance. Now that I’ve finished up that gig, I still make the pilgrimage to the Soho branch for a quiet coffee on the weekend or drop by for an occasional city hangout.