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The most interesting places to get your caffeine fix in London

From one housed in a former men’s restroom to another occupying an erstwhile 19th century police watch house, here's a list of the city's most unique cafés

(Left) The facade of Attendant Coffee Roasters; and people walking into WatchHouse at Bermondsey Street.
(Left) The facade of Attendant Coffee Roasters; and people walking into WatchHouse at Bermondsey Street.

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The incongruity of mentioning the words London and coffee in one sentence isn’t lost on me. For a culture that literally pays obeisance at the high altar of a good cuppa tea, the very idea of the city slowing emerging as a global stronghold of coffee might take a while to wrap one’s head around.

And yet, we see ample evidence to suggest this paradigm shift in the city’s beverage preference and consumption patterns. The annual London Coffee Festival has celebrated the capital’s coffee scene since 2010 and has greatly contributed to the industry’s evolution.

Theres are areas, like the West End’s Fitzrovia, emerging as the city’s de facto coffee hub with a high concentration of speciality coffee shops. A few of which feature prominently in the following curated list of the city’s most interesting places to get your caffeine fix.

Prufrock Coffee, Farringdon
Named after American-born British poet T. S. Eliot’s first professionally published poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, commonly known as Prufrock, this place in one of the OGs on London’s artisanal coffee scene. Sit at their brew bar, and order up a fruity natural Ethiopian or a sweet-washed Colombian blend. With a weekly changing coffee menu for both espresso-based and filter coffees, it’s always a surprise what one will find here. They claim that their philosophy is to “serve coffee and food that makes you happy, with a service that makes you smile”. Well, they do. On all counts.

Must Try: The iced filter coffee and the Prufrock Benny that’s made up of Cackleberry Farm poached eggs and Red Brick espresso hollandaise on toast.

Le Deli Robuchon, Mayfair
If you’ve been an avid follower of social media trends, then there’s no way you haven’t encountered the crube. Yes, that very same stuffed cuboid-shaped croissant hybrid debuted earlier this year in January at Le Deli Robuchon in the city’s swanky Mayfair neighbourhood. And the long lines to get into this deli-cum-café are reflective of its prowess as a viennoiserie stronghold. But besides being the birthplace of this viral social media sensation, this cafe fronted by the legendary chef Joël Robuchon is a great place for a spot of afternoon tea or coffee. The menu also has a host of savoury Parisian treats, including the famous Jambon-Beurre Le Prince de Paris, and the Le Croque à la truffe.

Must Try: The matcha tea custard filled crube and probably the frothiest cappuccino in all of London.

Attendant Coffee Roasters, Fitzrovia (and five other locations across London)
Located a stone’s thrown away from Oxford Street in the heart of Fitzrovia, is the incongruous sight of a former 1890s-built, subterranean, Art Nouveau-style toilet, now painstakingly transformed into one of the city’s most popular café chain's flagship outlet; one that serves barista-style coffee and a lot more. Almost directly proportional to the surprise of entering into a Victorian era former gent’s toilet-turned-coffee shop, is the buzz-worthy atmosphere and scrumptious fare on offer here. Think delicious bacon rolls, sarnies and endless rounds of cortado coffees. Subway style tiles, graffiti art and a few old urinals (thankfully, spick-and-span) still serve as reminders of the space’s earlier purpose. All this, giving Attendant a character like no other place.

Must Try: The salt beef bagel and the seasonal iced pistachio latte.

WatchHouse, Bermondsey Street (and eleven other locations across London)
What makes this particular coffee shop perhaps the most interesting on this list is its unique concept. Each of the twelve outposts of this chain are housed in some sort of historical site or location scattered across London. While one of them is in the stately Somerset House, the flagship store is housed in a former 19th century police watch house (ergo, the name) on London’s famous Bermondsey Street. The coffee is one of the best in the city and each cup comes with a little card to tell you its provenance and tasting notes. Expect to fuel up on endless piccolos and espressos, while noshing on typically British fare like blackberry pancakes and sausage rolls.

Must Try: The hand-brewed filter coffee made from the fruity-tasting Brazilian beans and the loaded croissant with egg, lettuce and smoked, pulled ham.

Kiss the Hippo, Fitzrovia (and three other locations across London)
A vociferous champion for the ethical sourcing of coffee beans, while adopting a whole plethora of eco-friendly practices, here your organic coffee is served alongside a heavy dose of conscientiousness. This means that said beans are sourced directly from farmers, take-away coffee cups are biodegradable and eatables like the fiendishly good white-chocolate-iced cinnamon roll are all locavorious. To top it all, its in-house roastery produces its own blends and single-origin coffees that claim to use 80% less fuel than traditional methods, and are certified organic by the UK’s Soil Association.

Must Try: For flat white coffee fans, the Colombian/Honduran George Street Blend and the banana apple bircher muesli for an all day breakfast treat.

Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.

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