Café Life London by Jennie Milsom is a refreshing addition to the already crowded market of London coffee house guides…
The great problem with guides to coffee in London is that the same places tend to crop up time and time again – many of them simply cannot be left out. The same style of maps are used with the same kind of pictures – latte art, espresso dripping meaningfully from the spout, and tattooed baristas. There is the same language – ‘caffeine hit’, ‘caffeine fix’, and the familiar focus on Australians and New Zealanders.
What is enjoyable about this guide is that of the 34 cafés reviewed, a decent amount of space is given to them all. This is very unlike other guides which just give a run-down of opening hours, a note of which roaster supplies the coffee, detail the espresso machine brand, and that’s it. In this book, the featured cafés get three or four pages each. The owners get generously identified, and given the chance to actually say something about their business.
There are many delights within the book including James Phillips of Dose, arguing for ‘direct trading’. He sticks his head above the parapet and dares to point out that Fairtrade ‘is being hi-jacked and exploited… and says nothing about quality’. There are two quite contradictory references to flat whites: at the Flat White coffee-house itself, there is a reference to a flat white involving ‘bringing the milk down and dedicating it to the espresso’ – and in the feature about its near neighbour, Sacred, the flat white is described as ‘a bastardised cappuccino’. We also discover the Sacred Lolly Cake, at 150,000 calories a slice.
The section on tea cafés is even better than that on coffee houses. There is also a good section on neighbourhood ‘caffs’ (a subject that has excellent coverage in Adrian Maddox’s great book ‘Classic Cafes’), which includes E.Pellicci of Bethnal Green, and the Regency of Pimlico, whose owner contributes the wise management observation: “you get stressed, and the customers get stressed too.”
A useful addition to anyone’s collection of London café guides.
Café Life London, by Jennie Milsom, published by Armchair Traveller/BookHaus, £12.99