George Street Canteen

To say I was pretty damn pleased when I first discovered the George Street Canteen would not be an exaggeration. As a long-time St Albanser, I was happy to see that a fashionable yet unpretentious and accessible socialising joint had opened in the centre’s midst. I’ve long been worried about this historic city losing its character, and the almost simultaneous openings of a Pret and a Costa – side by side on the main shopping street – a few years ago had only served to cement my negative feelings.

The George Street Canteen is everything Pret and Costa are not. It is family-run, characterful and hidden. A homely secret you’ll only know about if you look for it.

In summer, the courtyard is bustling with people and their dogs munching at the picnic tables. In the colder months, the courtyard is still sometimes bustling, thanks to a marquee with patio heaters. Inside, the Canteen is divided to a kitchen and room with a serving counter to the right, and a cosy dining room to the left. These multiple rooms give the place its homely and retro feel; the latter effect is multiplied by the peg walls and diner-style tables.

Food wise, you’re in for a treat whether you’re a meat eater, vegetarian, or gluten-free. Thanks to a previous visit before my vegetarian days, I can report that the ham-hock and wholegrain mustard sandwich, served on fluffy brown bread with crisps and coleslaw, is divine. My most recent visit involved a Mediterranean breakfast, but with the chorizo swapped for halloumi. The perfectly-cooked salty cheese and soft sweet potatoes provided a varied backdrop for bursting twin bubbles of poached eggs and juicy, roasted cherry tomatoes. These were served with a pot of avocado mash for good measure. This came in at £7.95 on its own, or £9.95 with fruit juice and a hot drink.

More importantly than anything, though, the home-made dog biscuits were absolutely delicious. Well, so my pooch’s face suggested.

Overall, the George Street Canteen does a great job at bringing a cosmopolitan but individual feel to a small city whose chain stores can sometimes make it feel like a smaller copycat of the ginormous capital city that is its neighbour. Considering how so many of its residents are commuters to the metropolis, the more places like this that St Albans can sprout, the more it will feel like a quirky and fashionable destination in its own right.


georgestreetcanteen.co.uk

9a George Street,
St. Albans
AL3 4ER
+44 1727 831540


Fresssco

Italy’s culinary achievements are for the most part undisputed, however café culture is not something to which it usually subscribes. A quick espresso knocked back with a countertop pastry has an efficient charm, but sometimes a more languorous, healthy experience is desired. Scatter cushions, laptop plug points, background music and fresh fruit smoothies continue to pull those of us trying to find a more aesthetic alternative to the office or library. With two locations across the city, Fresssco offers just that.

Juices are made and bottled each morning, smoothies blitzed to order from the fresh whole fruit piled beneath the counter and the classic health food selection of chia pots and granola tubs line the fridge display. In Bristol or London this would be nothing new, but in central Italy it smacks of sweet relief. An oat milk cappuccino satiates those millennial dairy-free cravings, while a (pleasingly banana-free) fresh peach and summer berry smoothie reinvigorates the work-weary brain and makes the most of the seasonal glut of stone-fruit.

Service is for the most part friendly and accommodating, offering helpful recommendations when called for and showing equal welcome to those grabbing a quick take out as to the sit-in laptop slaves among us. There appears to be the occasional change of staff ‘off-day’, but this sinks no lower than a slightly wearying lack of enthusiasm in comparison with the usually animated rapport.

Upstairs, (Via del Sole outpost) a floor-level arched window offers a sneaky viewing platform onto the city’s main square. Low, bench-like seating lines the walls, complete with a suitably ridiculous selection of cushions. Shoes can be kicked off, free WIFI switched on and hours passed in a relaxed atmosphere of calm productivity. In the land of ‘down it and run’ caffeine consumption, Fresssco provides a welcome alternative.


https://fresssco.com/

Via del Sole, 2
Perugia, Umbria

+39 075 573 4180


Photos by Pippa Cole


Copenhagen Coffee Lab

Tucked away in the hilly streets of the up-and-coming area of Praça das Flores, you can find a little piece of Denmark. Opened in 2014 by twins Helle and Susan Jacobsen, Copenhagen Coffee Lab is the Lisbon-based offshoot of the Danish artisan coffee roaster of the same name. Furnished in a classically clean and tidy Scandinavian style, step inside for a great place to relax or do some work.

Lisbon can often be a tricky place to be find a good coffee, as they generally opt for a dark-roasted, Robusta-based blend. But these aren’t your everyday beans. The Copenhagen roastery comes with the recommendation of the head chef of Noma, the world’s best restaurant. The Lisbon café is a coffee lover’s heaven – various contraptions for getting your caffeine fix line the shelves and windowsills, alongside packets of the House Blend (€12). After all, the place is a lab – each cup of coffee, whether filter, aeropress, cold brew or espresso is meticulously prepared by the team. And it’s worth the wait – the Brazilian blend that I tried (flat white, €3.20) is one of the best cups of coffee the city has to offer.

But there’s more to this spot than just the coffee. On a warm Lisbon afternoon, head in for one of their iced teas (€2.50) which they brew throughout the day and filter into your glass. There’s a good range of food too. As well as a variety of salads, there’s also a well-priced breakfast menu (€6.50) including yoghurt and granola, rye bread with jam and Danish butter, and any hot drink. The perfect pairing for your coffee has to be a slice of their dangerously delicious homemade chocolate mousse cake (€2.50, see above), though an honourable mention must be made to the white chocolate pastry.

Even if it’s on the more expensive end of the Lisbon price range, Copenhagen Coffee Lab is definitely worth a visit next time you’re in the area.


http://cphcoffeelab.pt/?lang=en_gb

R. Nova da Piedade 10,

1200-298

Lisboa,

Portugal

+351 916 604 054


Tradewind Espresso

Whitewashed walls, hotchpotch furnishings and a counter teaming with dainty almond friands and hefty carrot cakes, Tradewind Espresso is an instagrammer’s dream. Occupying just a small footprint at the upper end of Whiteladies Road, with a little nifty design, owners Patrick and Tahi host seating for around 20 sippers and slurpers inside and another dozen or so in their wood-clad hidden garden.

Set up in September 2015 and business relation to Roasted Rituals, the Hengrove-based roastery, coffee is at the centre of this independent venture. With V60 filter methods and no paper French Press, you would be forgiven for feeling this is all a little too ‘on-trend’. Fear not, high chairs and local businessmen sit alongside the monochrome ‘straight out of Shoreditch’. Both beautiful and welcoming, this is style with substance.

Behind the perfectly scattered cushions and chunky wooden tables lies an unadulterated dedication to quality, the perfectly balanced coffee clearly benefits from their direct connection to source. Custom blends and single origin roasts vary on rotation, but you can be sure to rely on Highground, the house espresso blend offered year-round for its weight and complexity, versatile enough be supped alone or as part of a milkier creation.

Though their caffeinated offerings sit centre stage, the imaginative all-day brunch menu (available until 3pm) threatens to steal the show. Almost compulsory in Bristol these days, produce is sourced with attention to locality and seasonality, and everything that can be is made in house – nut milks, chutneys and cakes included. Sweet caramelised onions sit atop a pillowy soft rosemary focaccia, generously dolloped with peppery rocket pesto, spicy chorizo and oozy poached eggs (£9); an accomplished French toast (using house made brioche) provides the perfect sticky vehicle for cinnamon roast pears, a not overly sweet blackberry compote, creamy mascarpone and crunchy toasted buckwheat (£8); meanwhile the traditional Full English is lifted with smoky baked beans, wilted spring greens and slow roasted tomato.

With a well-priced menu of this calibre, Tradewind Espresso has firmly asserted its place on the teeming Bristol café scene.


www.tradewindespresso.com
118 Whiteladies Road
Bristol
BS8 2RP
0117 974 3477


Photos by Tradewind Espresso


Pasticceria Breda

One of my favourites, this little cafe has all the charm of old Italy decorated in warm hues. If it’s patisserie selection is not enough to tempt you then the plush red velvet sofas and warm golden colour scheme should lure you in. I would personally suggest going there at Christmas time. Take a seat and relax with a coffee or better yet one of their melt in the mouth almond croissants; it will give you that warm and wholesome feeling that we all long for during the festive season.

This quaint little joint is located on Via Umberto I, the street conjoining the main shopping street, Via Roma, so is great when you need a break at the end of a day of laborious high street shopping. They do a particularly good aperitivo, however not one for those of you watching your waistlines. Your drink of choice will be served not only with the typical bowl of chips (making one all the more thirsty for yet another drink) but with a plate of mini cheese and tomato puffs (dangerously more-ish.)

If however you were hoping to find a cafe for doing some work on your laptop, then this is not the place to go, due to a complete lack of sockets, adding, in my humble opinion, to its timeless charm and vintage escapist atmosphere. For those of you who need luring back to a simpler time, there is no better place….


http://www.pasticceriabreda.it/

Via Umberto I, 26,

35122

Padova PD,

Italy

+39 049 875 8394


Toma Café

This intimate little café is tucked away in one of Madrid’s small and winding backstreets in the trendy and pretty Malasaña district. Serving up excellent iced coffees in cool aluminium cups, the cafe provides a relaxing retreat from the intense heat of the day in the Spanish capital.

Toma Café is one of plenty of small, new independent businesses springing up in the city as it continues to forge its identity one of Europe’s coolest capitals. My recent visit to the city made me wonder why it remains so underrated as a holiday spot- particularly in relation to it’s beachside competitor, Barcelona. The city is fun and lively and full of young people (and not too many tourists!) and Toma Café is reflective of this.

With fast and friendly staff and a selection of delicious cakes, including chocolate and Guinness cake which I didn’t manage to try, but heard it is amazing, Toma Café is a great spot to grab brunch or relax with a coffee and watch hip young locals wander in and out (sometimes with their adorable dogs, see gallery below).


http://www.tomacafe.es/

Calle de la Palma, 49,
28004 Madrid
+34 917 02 56 20


Save the Parliament Hill Café!

SIFT was horrified to learn yesterday that the family-run, community tea room, Parliament Hill Café, has been told it has to close imminently. The City of London Corporation has awarded contract for the building to swanky coffee chain, Benugo, instead.

For 33 years, the much-loved Parliament Hill Café on Hampstead Heath has been run by the same family. It offers hearty and simple food at affordable prices to the millions of visitors who frequent the park every year.

Two weeks ago, though, the D’Auria family were told they have until 8th May to get out.The City of London Corporation, which runs the Heath, have now decided on a whim – without consultation – to award the contract to high-end coffee chain, Benugo.

In response, Alberto D’Auria has offered to pay more rent. But £90,000 plus commission, up from £80,000, clearly isn’t enough for the Corporation. Benugo, surprise surprise, has outbid the community café.

Just to paint the prospective picture, Benugo already runs cafés in Regents Park, the V&A and the Barbican to name a few. Also, a company called Searcy’s, which runs another Heath café atKenwood House, is owned by none other than the same parent company as Benugo’s.

What’s worse, Benugo is soon to open cafés right round the corner from Hampstead Heath too, in Golders Hill Park and Highgate Wood.

That’s just what we want, isn’t it? For every place in North London to look exactly the same? For every place in North London to look exactly the same! For every… you get my drift.

It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom though. Thankfully, we can trust the locals to get angry and start apetition. Hampstead resident Zoe James has already got 11,000 signatures – and if every SIFT reader signs it too, that will add, well,a lot of signatures…

But we need to act quickly! James’ resistance committee is planning to present the petition on Monday 4th April to the City of London Corporation, and a public meeting is planned for Wednesday 6th at Highgate Civic Centre.

As one resident put it on Twitter, he’s upset because the café “represents an authentic unpretentious shabbiness and character that big business thoughtlessly extinguishes with abandon.” He’s saddened that Hampstead Heath, “supposedly a sanctuary from harsh urban realities, will now be an outpost for a corporate enterprise… The City of London makes a fast buck; the people lose the real value.”

Even celebrities are urging people to show their support. As food criticGiles Corenrightly pointed out, if Benugo takes over, “you may as well have a McDonalds”. Right on, Giles.

Sign the petition here.


The café is located at:
Parliament Hill,
London NW5 1QR,
United Kingdom
+44 20 7485 6606

Photos:
1) Alberto d’Auria, taken from change.org
2) Parliament Hill, Wikipedia Commons
3) Copyright Julian Osley