This is the second review from Matt and Cat’s visit to London. See earlier review of Elliot’s here.
Being a tourist in London can be exhausting; the endless slack-jawed pointing and over-stimulation can quickly deplete one’s energy reserves. Some visitors burden themselves with supplies of squashed sarnies and emergency bananas but when travelling light – as Matt and Cat did – help is at hand with the resurgence of the coffee house. First hitting these shores in the seventeenth century, and reaching a peak of popularity in the 1950s, such venues continue to provide cheap, warm places for people to congregate and refresh themselves.
In the self-aware twenty-first century, Cliff Richard’s moody teen of Expresso Bongo is a distant memory (although remarkably Cliff is as sprightly as he was back in the day). In today’s coffee bar, instead of a space-hungry jukebox, music insinuates its way out of a matchbook-size iPod Shuffle. In place of a well-thumbed copy of Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, hipsters flick through virtual pages on their Kindles. Of course, some things prevail; people still engage in conversation, albeit with someone they’ve never met, on the other side of the world, through the medium of their wifi-enabled MacBook Air.
Matt and Cat had earlier enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Elliot’s which was followed by a fascinating look around London’s most renowned food market. The historic Borough Market is wondrous nexus of British and international food vendors. Think Newport’s Tuesday market then strike those mental images of ‘Wonders of the Isle of Wight’ tea towels and ‘three wolf moon’ fleecy blankets from your mind’s eye. In fact strike the entire thing. Newport Tuesday market is to Borough Market what old law court Newport Guildhall is to the Royal Courts of Justice.
Matt and Cat’s local guide led them to truffle stalls where they inhaled the musty earthy aroma of fungi more expensive per pound than gold. They saw a towering mountain of home-made chocolate, giggled at the beefy curtains stall and were led to Artisan Foods where they goggled at the range of breads and pastries. As their host also happened to be the proprietor of the stall they were given a sample of delicious vanilla custard tart. With its light and creamy centre sandwiched between soft sponge topped with caramel and flaked almonds, it was a welcome treat. Having enjoyed every bite, Cat adopted the patter of a cakemonger and managed to persuade some easily-swayed Japanese tourists to buy a slice.
Being so far from the Island inspired a feeling of adventure in Matt and Cat. They were soon ready to move on the the next venue on their carefully choreographed itinerary: after the tour around the market it was time for coffee. M&C were within spitting distance of any number of Starbucks, Caffe Nero and other coffee retailers, but chose to ignore them. In fact, it seems fair to say that the absence of such generic coffee-vendors from the Island has never been a particular source of regret. Whenever they’ve tried franchise brand-name coffee in the past Matt and Cat have found it sorely wanting. However, they were about to see just how much better coffee could get: guided into a passing taxi – having dodged the market’s resident shouty tramp – they were whisked away to Hatton Garden.
Their destination was Prufrock Coffee, another of their host’s business interests. Tucked behind Leather Lane’s market stalls, the brightly-lit coffee bar was the epitome of today’s on-trend retro look in London. Giving a respectful nod to its 1950s forebears, the venue featured Ernest Race-style chairs and primary-coloured accents. Matt and Cat were happy to take the weight off their barking dogs and gratefully took their seats.
Prufrock, as Matt and Cat had already been briefed, is no ordinary coffee bar; it is the home to a barista school. This is serious coffee-making – none of your squirt of Camp coffee and hot water out of the tap here. Students at the barista classes can spend three hours learning the science of the espresso or perfecting their latte art. The Prufrock staff, with their boss unexpectedly in their midst, rose to the occasion. Four beautifully-presented coffees arrived; the foamy cups decorated by signature feathery swirls. And this beauty wasn’t just skin deep. As promised, the coffee really was the smoothest, richest brew that Matt and Cat had ever drunk. Served with a slice of Artisan Foods tangy lemon tart, it was the perfect pick-me-up venue. Matt and Cat were so re-energised they took to London’s Boris Bikes and cycled round Smithfields Market and the Barbican in the rush-hour, embracing London life.
(More London reviews from Matt and Cat’s day out are to follow)
Prufrock Coffee, London