Where’s the good coffee? Look Mum No Hands!

The latest edition of coffee shops to spring up, Look Mum No Hands, is a welcome addition to the east end of London. Based on the combination of a bike store and a coffee shop, they have the space to offer a great experience for both your bike and also for you. Unlike many other places around London, this cafe-bike store combination isn’t really hindered by space. They’ve even expanded to a small outdoor area where you can nibble on your pastries, muffins or sandwiches outside.

Inside there are also just as many tables to sit at, and a counter top where you can enjoy the coffee or other foods they make on the premises perusing through the many cycling magazines scattered around. They apparently have plenty of events as well all, of course, centred around a cycling theme.

Better yet, they also do a mean coffee although the latte art isn’t anything to be proud of (below). For a measly £2.10, you can get a nice flat white to have in. They use Square Mile so you’re generally assured a pretty good cuppa assuming a decent barista is around.

Name: Look mum no hands!
Found at: 49 Old Street, EC1V 9HX
Website: http://www.lookmumnohands.com/

Bold Street Coffee

One of the greatest downsides to travelling around England is the small chance of finding boutique coffee stores that know what they’re doing instead of overpacking, burning or simply using instant (ugh!) coffee. Sure, you have the chains but I’m always happy to give these more local stores a go. Doing a bit of research before heading to Liverpool, I had a small list of places that I wanted to try, and Bold Street Coffee seemed to be getting some good reviews. I figured if their coffee was as good as some of the photos on their site, then I was going to have a decent chance for a good cuppa.

It’s easy to walk past their store front because Bold Street seems to be one of those busy streets around Liverpool with lots of pedestrian traffic and with lots of glass frontage, easy to miss their signage when looking past it. Late (3pm) on a Saturday, the place wasn’t as full as it was when I returned during the week so I could enjoy a macchiato whilst seated.

I can’t remember how much the macchiato was, but I returned later (a good indicator) to have their flat white (a very reasonable £2.10) served in, I think, those lovely veg-biodegradable cups. Being a local cafe, it was nice to see them promote lots of the local events as well with stacks of flyers conveniently stacked on the bench used for patrons waiting for their take out coffees.

And, of course, most importantly the coffee was top notch – the best I had in Liverpool and would highly recommend people go here. Definitely adding to my list for when I return.

Name: Bold Street Coffee
Found at: 89 Bold Street, Liverpool, L1 4HF, United Kingdom
Website: http://www.boldstreetcoffee.co.uk/

Where’s the good coffee? LJ’s Coffee House

This one has been on my list for a while, and so the last time I was hanging around Covent Garden on a Sunday, decided to head out this way. As tempted as I was to drop into a number of other coffee stores, I thought it was about time I tried a different one. As you can tell from the picture below, the sun was shining strong the day I went in, and it surprised me that no one was sitting on the small table outside although most of the lounge and tables were pretty busy.

I’m guessing they offer free wi-fi based on the number of laptops out as well.

The important part? I was slightly worried when I saw the mammoth sized cups along the wall. Fortunately they only offer the flat white in the smaller cup. I want my coffee with a dash of milk, not coffee-flavoured milk, thank you very much. Next to the coffee counter sat a fridge, reminding me of the coffee chains offering grab and go sandwiches or a smaller handful of heat them up on the spot. I guess it’s nice to have options for a hot lunch although I think it’s better to make them fresh.

The verdict? Pretty good. They use Union roasted beans so that’s a pretty good start. There wasn’t too much milk and it was heated to the right sort of temperature. I think I paid £2.30 for this. A decent option although it has some very strong competition in its neighbourhood.

Name: L.J. Coffee House
Found at: 3 Winnett Street, W1D 6JY, London, UK
Website: http://www.ljcoffeehouse.org.uk/

Where’s the good coffee? The Table Cafe

Although I didn’t come here specifically for the coffee, I do have to rate it fairly highly for using Monmouth beans and for well trained baristas who know how to make a mean flat white. I first tried this place out for breakfast one morning, noting that it was open from 7:30am for breakfast during the week (convenient since my client is almost opposite the building). A wonderful place to keep in mind is that it’s also open on weekends from 8:30am for brunch!

Timeout listed this as a great cheap eat and I’d definitely have to second that motion for providing fantastic food in a buzzing atmosphere. Their interior is designed for a number of communal benches and an order-at-the-front style although the modern dining and large glass walls help keep the place feeling modern and comfortable. I liked the fact that it seemed like a trust based system – a customer buys a bowl of porridge and they go over to a separate place to help themselves to the porridge and appropriate toppings. Very inviting indeed.

Thinking I was taking my team out for breakfast one morning, I thought I’d test it out that day. Considering that, at the time of this writing, their eggs benedict (for 2!) was only £6.85, I really started asking myself what was wrong with that.

As you can see above, not very much, although this variant was done with bacon more so than ham (something I definitely prefer anyway). The toasted muffin was light and crisp and eggs perfectly poached with plenty of runny yolk. Fantastic value and something that, I’m happy to report, several of my team members also enjoyed when we returned here the following week. They also do a mean lunch for pretty decent value but it’s bustling all the time so I’d recommend going early.

Name: The Table Cafe
Found at: 83 Southwark Street, London, SE1 0HX
Website: http://www.thetablecafe.com/
Twitter: @thetablecafe

This first visit was the 8 April, 2010

Commercial Bakery

Located just in front of Gil’s Diner (or maybe even a part of it) is Melbourne’s Commercial Bakery. Wonderful European pastries line the small window front, enticing you to enter. Other breads and loaves surround the walls and you’re confronted by the baristas operating the impressive two, three-lever espresso machines. You don’t see commercial places operating these machines very often although I can attest to the wonderful brew they extract out of the coffee machines.

This was also one of the few places that seemed to sell almond croissants and this one was definitely decadent, not only filled with the typical almond filling, but also with its interiors seemingly glazed with an almond syrup of sorts. There’s a small counter bar overlooking the window where you might enjoy your coffee, or a smaller set of tables out back where you can enjoy a much richer breakfast.

An awesome place to have breakfast on the run, or a more leisurely paced one inside in the warmth of the baking ovens.

Name: Commercial Bakery
Found at: 360 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 3000, Australia
Website: None found

South Melbourne’s St Ali

St Ali is an exciting place located in a side street popular with many people. Even at 10 in the morning, it was heaving with both of their buildings (on opposite side of the streets) full of people. They recently had a street art festival in the street they’re located in, and the spectacular results decorate both sides of the street. Finding St Ali is really easy, since you’ll notice all the people hanging around the only thing that seems to be busy on that street during the weekend. Otherwise, look for the little picture hanging over their doorway (below)

Their breakfast menu on the weekend is nice and varied with lots of healthy options and even the “Big Hangover Cure” (what I had) didn’t feel as bad for you as it could have.

Coffees were perfect and they really should be since they roast their own coffee. It seemed like plenty of people stopped in for takeaway coffees and if I wasn’t so stuffed from the breakfast, the pastry selection looked mighty tempting as well.

Service was brisk but not rushed. I had my order taken and I got to read my newspaper at a communal table of many other diners. It seemed like a great place even if you dine by yourself as many people seemed to be doing that – in addition to a number of couples. The larger groups needed to wait for bigger tables.

Everything about this place is definitely wonderful. The atmosphere is buzzing but not too busy. The coffee is great and I could have kept ordering more and more. The food was pretty good although I have to deduct points because the chorizo wasn’t as good as it could have been.

Name: St Ali
Location: 12-18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne 3205, Australia
Website: http://www.stali.com.au/

Barista Express

I heartily subscribe to the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, although I think it’s more of an excuse to explore new breakfast places. Fortunately Melbourne didn’t disappoint from the first day and I’m glad that I turned down the hotel’s offer to extend a special breakfast rate.

The frist place I tried was down a little alley way off Collins Street (parallel to Queen/King Street) called Barista Express. I’m sure this is one of those little micro-chains but given the number of people and the wonderful interior, complete with Italian deli hangings and a decent looking breakfast, I was more than happy to try it out.

As you can see, they got the coffee pretty spot on and I even surprised myself by how quickly I got rid of it.

Next up was the breakfast items, one of my favourites being the Eggs Hollandaise. Instead of an english muffin, they used an oversized toasted brioche, something I was a little sceptical until I cut in and reaslied they’d toasted it perfectly – enough to keep the crunch but without turning it bitter or drying it out. The eggs and ham were perfect as well – super fresh and my only complaint was really the lightness of the sauce, something I’m guessing has more to do with the yellowness of the yolks rather than the recipe itself.

It’s a breakfast place you order your coffee, breakfast, taking your number and setting to a table although they have a communal table full of newspapers for those people waiting for their takeaway coffee or something else.

A flat white and the eggs benedict rings in a cheap AU$12.10

Brother Baba Budan

This tiny cafe on Little Bourke Street turned out to be one of my regular places to go for my afternoon macchiato. My work colleague, Charlotte put me onto them and I can’t thank her enough. Plenty of trendily dressed Melbournians frequent this join and even the baristas up the game – one of the females definitely dressed to impress.

When I mean this place is tiny, I really meant it with a small square table, shared by the communal coffee drinks and a small bar at the back for the lucky few to get a seat. On the ceiling they’ve got an impressive number of chairs hanging from the ceiling and while it doesn’t really help make the place look any bigger, they’re an eye-catching attraction.

This is a coffee shop that focuses pretty much solely on the coffee. The only sorts of foods you can pick up here are the pastry, cake and muffin varieties. The coffee here isn’t the cheapest in the city at AU$3.50 for any coffee (including a macchiato). Then again, you’re placing yourselves in the welcoming hands of some great baristas. I believe their last sentence on their website information page, “We love coffee.” They do and you will too after having one here.

Name: Brother Baba Budan
Found at:
Website: http://brotherbababudan.com.au/

Degraves Espresso

Degraves Espresso, just like its namesake can be found on Degraves Street, a bustling side alley way that seems to be a main thoroughfare for those going through Flinders Street Station. The mornings I walked through this street, it always seemed one of the busier ones.

Degraves Espresso

Order at the counter for a takeaway coffee, or if you’re lucky to nab one of the tables inside the store, where someone comes along to take your order from their daily chalkboard menu. For those inclined to dine or drink coffee al fresco, they’ve also got plenty of outdoor seating to enjoy at your leisure. Both areas seemed to be constantly busy all the time.

Bench View

I’m often made conscious, sitting at tables with larger capacity than needed when dining on my own but they surprised me by not even blinking when I took a four seater rather than the rather cramped-looking solo bench (pictured above). I ordered the fruit toast that came along with Marscapone Cream and some honey (although I’m not quite sure it really needed the honey with the fruit adding plenty of sweetness). Perhaps the idea was to cut through the tartness of the cream but then I though the toast was fine.

I have to admit I think this fruit toast was most disappointing. It seemed to be very good quality – the denseness of the toast and the plumpness of the fruit. It reminded me of the fruit loaf I’ve bought from St Johns before. Unfortunately type of toast takes a long time to toast properly, not really suited for their fast burning grill where the outside sugars caramelise too quickly without the heat getting inside. The result? Toast charred on the edges and barely warmed throughout without any of the crispness one would expect from toast.

Flat White at Degraves Espresso

Fortunately the coffee helped save the breakfast from going wrong. Look at this latte art for instance. Nice crema and the perfectly formed milk leaf in the top. Care and pride. All up though I think it was a pretty expensive combination for a coffee and fruit toast (AU$10). Given all the other places in Melbourne, I wasn’t tempted to try it again.

Name: Degraves Coffee
Found at: 23 Degraves Street, Melbourne, Australia
Website: (none that I could find)

Where’s the good coffee: Bullet Cafe

This cafe is literally hidden above all of Covent Garden, located on the fourth floor of the Snow & Rock outdoor store down a side street off the 7 dials. It’s run by Kiwi people so by default they serve the classic flat white – and a great serve at that. The interior is spacious with a number of tables and a set of benches at the front looking out at the skyline. You’re so high up that you can’t really see down on to street although you can see the sky surrounding the top of the other building.

Being a little bit more than just a coffee store, this cafe also serves lunch foods like simple sandwiches, paninis and many cakes and pastries to accompany the coffee you have. They even have a jug of tap water they keep full so you never find yourself thirsty for anything.

The good thing about this cafe, unlike a number of other coffee stores around London is that its opening hours are that of the store it sits in, so it’s open on Sundays as well as Saturdays. Many good coffee places seem to shut down on this day of rest.

It’s got a quiet atmosphere and is a great cafe if you need to get any work done. Highly recommended.