Sunday, 15 January 2012

A review of St Ali (now renamed Workshop Coffee)

27 Clerkenwell Road, Clerkenwell, EC1M 5RN

Having read several rave reviews, I finally made it to St Ali this weekend. I’d had a busy morning learning about latte art at Prufrock Coffee (more on this later) and was starving hungry – what better opportunity to try it out?

Arriving to find it packed but without a queue, we were met at the door by a very friendly Aussie waitress who whisked us upstairs and found us a table. Although this was great service and meant we weren’t left standing around worrying about what to do, I did find it a little formal for what I wanted to be a laid back luncheon.

Our table was quite close to the one next to us and the vivaciousness of the two American girls sat there made our own conversation rather difficult. Still, we managed to look over the menu and decide what to order mostly through a series of finger pointing and gesticulation. The menu was a little ‘over styled’ and lacking the simple, wholesome food I so cherished when living in Melbourne (where their original cafe is located), but there was still plenty to tempt my tastebuds.

I ordered a China breakfast tea and my fella ordered a black coffee. Both arrived on tiny trays, mine complete with tea pot and mini milk bottle. The presentation was fun and the fact that ‘tea for one’ meant a pot rather than just one mug meant I was hydrated throughout my meal.  Table water was also provided as standard. The coffee tasted delicious black, with just the right amount of bitterness on the back of the tongue.

Food-wise, we both chose from the breakfast menu which was packed with tasty treats from simple museli and porridge to extravagant french toast. I had poached eggs on sourdough with some halloumi on the side. It came with some spicy tomato chutney/salsa which livened it up a bit and the eggs were cooked to perfection. I did find it quite hard to cut the sourdough though and ended up throwing half of one of my eggs on the floor after some misplaced knifework...

My other half had the corn fritters with tomato, spinach, poached eggs, and halloumi, inspired by his food envy when the neighbouring table’s order arrived. Again, very tasty and perfectly cooked.

Overall, the food, drink and service was great, although the atmosphere did bemuse me a little. It was busy and very loud, which made our own conversation stilted, and I wasn’t expecting the formal restaurant atmosphere, though welcomed the great table service. Would I go back? Yes, I think so. I’d like to try it again on a weekday when it might be quieter and have a go at sitting downstairs.

St Ali have a website, and you can follow them on Twitter.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A review of Grind Coffee Bar

Westfield, Stratford City

Have you been brave enough to hit the January sales yet? If not, and you live in/near London, why not try out the new(ish) Westfield shopping centre at Stratford? There’s free parking for up to two hours, more shops than you can shake your handbag at and... an outpost of Grind Coffee Bar in the basement.

Soon you won’t be able to get near the place without getting stampeded by tourists as its right next to the Olympic site. However, for the meantime, if you find time to pop along off peak (weekdays or evenings it’s generally not too busy) then make sure you head to the ground floor and have a coffee break at Grind Coffee Bar.

Originally a coffee cart outside a music shop in Putney, SW London, they soon became overrun with ‘cueing’ customers (so what if they can’t spell ‘queuing’?) and moved into permanent premises. Spotting an opportunity with the opening of Westfield Stratford less than two years after setting up shop, they set up their second coffee bar late last year.

In a shopping mall overrun with chains of clothing and coffee stores, Grind Coffee Bar offers a welcome hit of independent retailing and I’d urge anyone shopping at Westfield to look beyond their usual ‘safe’ option and try them out. I found the staff friendly and attentive and was pleased to see their antipodean influence spill over into the generously sized blueberry muffin and expertly poured cappuccino.

One of my favourite things about Grind Coffee Bar Westfield however, is their use of space. I know that sounds preposterously pompous, but it’s something I find really interesting about cafes. With only two walls, the majority of the space is open plan, with furniture spilling out into the main shopping arcade. However, they’ve somehow managed to give the space a real cosy feel and you don’t feel exposed to the shoppers passing by.

I only took photos on my phone as I wasn’t expecting to find such a little gem on my shopping trip, so for some much better photos check out this blog post by London Tastin.

Grind coffee bar have a website, and are on Twitter.