Mid-2014 London Coffee Update

It’s an undeniably exciting time for London coffee. New shops are popping up like daisies as enterprising coffee lovers take the leap into business ownership; already established cafes are taking their first steps towards expansion, or adding another location to a quickly growing roster.

It’s a Sisyphean task, trying to keep on top of London coffee news. Just as soon as you think you’ve heard all the latest, something else happens. What’s that? You managed to visit 2 of the new places on your list this weekend? That’s cool. Here are 4 more that opened.

As I write this post, I feel a bit of a thrill that we’re so spoiled for choice; I also feel a bit of despair to know that by the time I return to London in October, I’ll be so completely out of the loop and behind on things that it’ll be pointless to try and catch up. So while I’m gone, you’ll all have to keep up for me and let me know what the “must visit” places are when I get back.

But enough waffling. On to the interesting stuff.

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Breakfast in the Sky

The only time I’ve been to Duck and Waffle was last November. My friend Robin from Gothenburg was passing through London on his way to ATP’s End of an Era festival. I promised him I would take him to one of the best brunch places in London; having not actually been to Duck and Waffle yet, this was a bit of a gamble. I was trusting the rave reviews of many friends and foodies on Twitter, as well as the fact that it has some pretty stunning views of London. Despite it being a typical gray November day, and despite us being stuck at a table in the middle of the room, we loved it. In the interest of not totally pigging out (and also because we were trying to be frugal at a very unfrugal restaurant) we ordered three dishes – one each to ourselves, with one to share. I scanned the menu again and again, wondering which mouthwatering dish to pick. It was clear that I would have to come back, possibly multiple times, to experience all the delights.

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Design Museum

London is one of the best cities in the world for free museums. The British Museum, the Science Museum, the V&A, the Natural History Museum, the National Maritime Museum, the Horniman Museum, the Geffrye Museum… I could go on. While some of the big names have paid exhibitions that come through, like the British Museum’s Vikings exhibit or the V & A’s highly anticipated Alexander McQueen exhibit, they also have permanent collections that are free to browse.

This autumn, the Design Museum will be taking its rightful place amongst its museum peers in South Kensington in a beautiful, newly refurbished building. Like the other museums in the area, it will have a fantastic, extensive permanent collection, as well as the series of rotating exhibitions it has become renowed for, and designers-in-residence. Until the Design Museum moves to its new home, though, you can get a great deal at the one in Shad Thames. Unlike other museums, which require you to pay for each showcase exhibition, when you buy a Design Museum ticket, you get to view all the exhibitions on offer. It’s a great deal, especially when you consider the shows that are on right now. Rob and I went this past weekend, so let me give you a little preview.

Following our visit to White Mulberries, Rob and I strolled back across Tower Bridge to the south bank just in time to see a ship pass through. People lined up along the bank, iPhones and DSLRs at the ready, as the leaves of this famous bascule bridge  swung ponderously upward. In my three and a half years in London, I have not yet seen any ships passing through Tower Bridge. I imagined majestic tall ships breezing through, pennants waving in the wind. Imagine my disappointment when a passenger clipper was all that went by. Oh well – there will be other days and other boats (and I won’t wait another three and a half years to come see it again).

Disappointments aside, the weather was decent, with blue skies peeking through the heavy gray clouds and just enough sunshine to take a bit of chill out of the spring air, given that the wind wasn’t blowing. We approached the Design Museum, a building that stands out amongst all the others on this stretch of the south bank, with its sleek, white profile jumping out of the line-up of dark brick buildings.

The reason Rob was so eager to visit the Design Museum last weekend is because he knew that the In the Making exhibition was ending soon. Having received a Masters in Product Design, and generally being a geek for all things relating to all branches of design, he was especially intrigued by this exhibit which showed products at various stages in their manufacturing. What I didn’t realize until we bought our tickets is that, unlike the other major museums in London, buying a ticket doesn’t just get you access to one exhibition. At the Design Museum, the price of your ticket has always given you access to every exhibition showing at the time.

Currently on are three interesting and varied exhibitions with enough between them to pique the interest of both passers-by, casual design fans, and hardcore design aficionados and professionals: HELLO, MY NAME IS PAUL SMITH; In the Making; and Designs of the Year 2014.

Up the stairs, past the model of the new Design Museum building, we came first to the HELLO, MY NAME IS PAUL SMITH exhibition. At the front of it is a cubicle, 3m x 3m with barely enough room to fit two people in simultaneously, that represents the space of Paul Smith’s first shop in Nottingham. He opened it in 1970, and at first it operated only on Fridays and Saturdays – the rest of the week he was “doing anything to earn some money.” Another quote written on the wall really resonated with me: “It is important to have a dream but also to be able to support that dream.”

Past the tiny mock shop room, you were drawn deeper into the world of Paul Smith. Anything and everything having to do with his life was on display, from mock-ups of his current Covent Garden office and old sewing rooms; to a selection of collaborations he’s done with other designers, brands, artists, musicians, and more; to an impressive collection of art, photographs, letters, and other paraphernalia he’s accumulated over the years, which turns out to only be a small fraction of what he has. I enjoyed finding out that he is an avid photographer in addition to being a designer, and has even shot some of his own campaigns. I drooled for a few minutes over the Rolleiflex on display before Rob quietly herded me into the next room so he could drool over the Paul Smith x Talking Heads collaboration.

The last two rooms in the exhibition focused the most on his finished products as a fashion designer. First, we ran a gauntlet of some of his most iconic designs from throughout the decades. Finally, we entered a dark room to watch a video that Sony created specially for the exhibition. I was ready to move on to the other parts of the museum, but I’m glad we stayed. The video, shot in vibrant 4K HD at 60 fps (think the same technology that The Hobbit films used, but without that cheap, “uncanny valley” look), takes a look at all the preparation that went into his S/S 2014 Menswear show.

Overall, the exhibition is an in-depth look into the mind of one of the 20th century’s most recognizable fashion designers, which feels more personal than other exhibitions because of the first-person explanations written by him for each section of the exhibit. It genuinely felt like Paul Smith is inviting you into his world and giving you a friendly tour around it, which I’m sure is exactly what they were going for.

Next, we went upstairs for the two exhibitions Rob was most excited about. At the entrance to In the Making, curated by influential designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, was an imposing metal frame, vaguely reminiscent (to me at least) of those giant shark jaws that tourists pose underneath in towns along the gulf coast. It was, in fact, the front of a Tube carriage frame, “paused” 50% of the way through manufacture. The aluminium frame was unpainted, but still recognizable as the iconic front of the Tube. The exhibition itself was in a single, dark room with each of the 24 objects spotlit on pedestals.

 

Some of the objects on display answered questions: the marble ball, paused near the end of its manufacture, answered a lifelong question of how marbles are made; the elegant flute shape of an unfinished French horn brought to me a new awareness and appreciation of the instrument that I played for 6 years of my life in middle and high school. Some of the objects on display raised questions: the nearly finished 50 bills made me wonder at what specific point the bills acquire their value; the wine corks, cut directly from blocks of cork bark, raised concerns over the sustainability of such a practice.

Whether it inspires or answers questions for you, the In the Making exhibition opens the door on product design and manufacturing, something that the majority of people don’t think about. Much like many people go through life not understanding how food goes from animal/farm to store to table, the way products are manufactured – even the most common day-to-day ones – remains shrouded in mystery. Thanks to Barber and Osgerby, you can at least come away knowing a bit more about the production of 24 objects such as Macbooks, optic lenses, tennis balls, Thonet chairs (a design classic), injection-moulded sofas, football shoes, £2 coins, and the 2012 Olympic Torch (designed by Barber and Osgerby themselves).

Last but certainly not least, we browsed the Designs of the Year exhibition. This prestigious award, now in its seventh year, shows off the best the world has to offer in all branches of design. Industry experts nominate designs that have caught their eye throughout the year, from which a panel approves a shortlist for the exhibition (76 for this year). During the exhibition, finalists for the seven categories (Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphic, Product, and Transport) are chosen by a judging panel; from these 7 finalists the overall Design of the Year winner will be chosen.

In addition to showcasing some brilliantly simple solutions to some of today’s problems and breathtaking visions of what the future could hold, the scope of the exhibition reminds us that design touches every part of our lives. It is present in every moment of every day. The computer or mobile device you’re viewing this site on? Design. The platform I’m publishing on, the code that runs the website, the fonts you are reading? Design. The water bottle/soda can you’re drinking from? Design. The apps you use. The transport you use. The chair you sit on, the bed you sleep in, the table you eat at, the desk you work at. The magazines you read. The buildings you walk past or into every single day. The clothes you wear. All down to design. The problem with design is that it is so prevalent that we forget that everything, everywhere is only here because a designer or team of designers thought of it.

In a cheeky dig at this non-recognition of the importance of design, a poster for the exhibition says: “Someday the other museums will be showing this stuff.” It’s true, that when every single thing we use in our lives is considered design, that only the truly revolutionary things will stand out and be seen as noteworthy to future generations. So here is your chance to see the noteworthy objects of the future right this very instant! Lucky us, right?

One of my favourite moments in perusing the many stands was to find a piece of design very much relevant to my everyday life featured. Citymapper, one of my indispensable London apps, was apparently created quite recently. It was the sort of app that just seems to darn simple, amazing, and necessary that I assumed it had existed for a long time, and I was just a late adopter.

Basically, Citymapper is the only app you’ll ever need for getting around London. It pinpoints where you are with your GPS, and when you input where you want to go, it gives you a variety of options to get there. If you want to walk, it tells you how long it will take at a certain speed, and also how many calories you’ll burn; if you want to cycle it will give you quick/safe routes, the nearest Barclay’s cycle hire points, and the number of calories you’ll burn; if you want to take a taxi, it will give you an estimate of how much it will cost; if you want to take a bus, it’ll give you a variety of bus routes and combinations of bus routes, as well as a count down to when the next bus is arriving at the nearest stop, and how much it will costs on Oyster; if you want to take the Tube, it will show you all the combinations of routes and how much it will cost on your Oyster card. It even knows when lines are shut for engineering works. Basically, this is the app that does what the TfL Journey Planner does, but way better than the TfL Journey Planner has ever done it (especially in TfL’s new, buggy iteration). Bottom line? If you’re a Londoner, or tourist, there’s no excuse to not have Citymapper. It’s free. Go get it. Now.

This watch was also very intriguing. The Bradley watch is meant, first and foremost, to be a watch for the blind – however, the designer wanted to make something not only functional, but beautiful, something that sighted people would want to wear as well. The ball bearing in the groove (magnetically held in place) is meant to travel around the watch face like the hour hand on a normal watch. That way, a blind person can feel the ball in relation to the hour marks on the watch and know what time it is, while sighted users can glance down and see the time presented in a simple way. The titanium timepiece is elegant, and presents a simple solution to a problem (as all good design does).

Cyclists who bemoan a lack of chic but functional kit would be happy to see this collaboration between footwear designer Tracy Neuls and Tokyobike. The beautiful, rubber-soled shoes all have reflective strips built into them so that cyclists can wear them off the bike, knowing they look fashionable, and on the bike, knowing they provide extra protection on the road.

Fashion design is also highlighted in the exhibition. My favourite pieces were these metallic, futuristic gowns created by Sadie Williams for her MA course at Central St Martin’s. She essentially created a new textile by heat-pressing neoprene to create a stiffer fabric, adorning it with metallic yarns. Her “Totemic” collection was inspired by motorcycle culture in America and Japan.

Besides Citymapper, my favourite piece of design on display was the brilliant Chineasy. This appealed to me as a future teacher of English as a foreign language – while the entire world seems focused on learning English as a language for global communication, Chinese is a strong contender as well. The sheer amount of people that speak Mandarin (not factoring in Cantonese) already outnumbers both native and second language English speakers by a few hundred million. Yet it remains a daunting challenge to learn Chinese, because of how different it is from almost any other language – instead of each pictogram representing a letter, they represent whole words or abstract notions. Literate Chinese speakers have memorized and can easily recall around 4,000 characters.

The purposes of Chineasy are many. First, the creators wanted to make learning Chinese less imposing and more fun to those who are put off by the thought of memorizing thousands of complex characters. The cute pictures make it more likely that the pictogram and the concept associated with it will stick in the learner’s mind. Secondly, the creators wanted to bridge the gap between China and Western cultures. They wanted to present Chinese culture through the lens of the language (and each section of the book is chock full of cultural and linguistic tidbits) in a way that was uncomplicated by manipulation and bad translation. In the words of the creator, ShaoLan: “I am demonstrating the beauty of this deep and broad culture with a modern interpretation by creating sleek modern design.”

In that room were many more thought-provoking designs that I could begin to cover in one blog post: a floating school designed for Lagos, Nigeria; a wheelchair designed to adapt to its users and put them at face height no matter if their peers were sitting or standing; a sustainable phone designed with replaceable parts to combat our throwaway gadget culture; an art book with instructions to draw drone shadows on the ground, which the artist has done in major cities, designed to make people think critically about what is happening in countries thousands of miles away; a mobile game app that is impossible to finish in one lifetime and must be passed down to your children as a digital inheritance; and an optometry app created for doctors helping patients in rural areas. You’ll just have to visit to see all the amazing designs and read about them in person.

Rob and I left the exhibitions with our curiosities both sated and piqued, which I feel is the mark of a great museum experience. You want it to answer questions you have (which is why you go in the first place) but also open up new avenues of exploration for you to undertake in your own time afterwards.

I’d urge anyone who is in London to visit the Design Museum this weekend while all three of these exhibitions are still on. In the Making ends on May 5th, while HELLO, MY NAME IS PAUL SMITH runs til June 22nd and Designs of the Year runs til August 25th. It’s a great cross section of the world of design in all its forms, presented at a price that is hard to beat at any other museum.

Design Museum
28 Shad Thames
SE1 2YD

Open daily 10 am – 5:45 pm

Ticket prices here.

White Mulberries

I’m going to tell you about one of London’s best kept secrets. Well… okay, that may have been the case last week, but I guess I can’t really claim that anymore. White Mulberries recently won London’s Best Coffee Shop in the (seemingly out of the blue) Coffee Stop Awards and has been featured on the Evening Standard and London Live. Awards aside, though, White Mulberries is the kind of coffee shop that was quietly puttering away in their own corner of London, not making much fuss, but doing things very well. It was a hidden gem of a shop, and though those of us that knew about it before may grumble at the potential rush and lack of seats, I won’t begrudge them their newfound fame and increased revenue. It’s still very much a gem, just not so much a hidden one anymore.

One obstacle you have to face when visiting White Mulberries is navigating the potentially confusing maze that it St Katharine’s Docks. It’s ok, I got your back. Let me show you:

Being a Southerner (both in the US and in London), I approached St Katharine’s Docks by walking across Tower Bridge, admiring its beauty in the spring sunshine.

Just over Tower Bridge, you’ll see a set of stairs going down to the riverside, right next to the Guoman Hotel. You’ll be faced with a choice, dear coffee drinking friend – there is a Starbucks right there, staring you in the face. Walk past it to the left, into the dock area, and continue on towards the forest of boat masts.

Follow the path as it curves left, sticking to the water’s edge. Soon enough you’ll be faced with another choice – behold! Another Starbucks. But your iron will shall soon be rewarded, if you continue on but a little further. Cross the bridge just beyond the turret-like cafe and you’ll come to a twee little row of shops and restaurants looking out over the assembly of yachts. Congratulations – you’ve made it past the gatekeepers and passed the test. You’ve found White Mulberries. You have chosen…. wisely.

White Mulberries is the kind of cafe that feels homey the instant you walk into it. From outside, where a smattering of tables and chairs offer waterside coffee-drinking opportunities, you can see that most of the small shop is mostly taken up by their counter with its array of cakes, pastries, cronuts (oh yes), and small savoury offerings. There are a few seats in the window at the front and a few along the lefthand wall, which is currently home to a few pieces from the Coffee Art Project.

Owners Peyman and Rana and their friendly baristas pull their shots on a gorgeous enamel white, 2-group La Marzocco FB80. Their V60 and Aeropress array sits behind them on the counter, quietly waiting and ready in case you decide to try one of their filter coffees. Their grinders, three for the two different espressos and one for decaf, are not labelled with coffee varieties or roaster names that may be unintelligible for non-coffee nerds. Instead, they are helpfully labelled with tasting notes to help you decide which you might want in your coffee.

Noticing all the big, beautifully labelled Koppi bags lining the shelves, I went with that choice for mine and Rob’s lattes. This is a new espresso blend from Koppi called Red Clay, comprising 20% Costa Rica Santa Rosa and 80% Brazil Don Nenem. The resulting drink was a latte where the bold, full-bodied, smooth espresso shone through despite the amount of milk. It had natural sweetness, notes of toffee and almond, and a cheeky boozy, bourbon-like aftertaste. It reminded me of the bourbon caramel latte I had back home in Auburn at Mama Mocha’s, except this was simply the milk and coffee tangoing together in tasty harmony.

The milk is steamed to perfection – not too hot or too cold – and even though we let our lattes sit as we chatted, they never became bubbly. Our lovely latte art stuck around right until the very last sip.

Though this is a shop dedicated to that lovely stuff we call “coffee”, staunch British tea drinks need not fear. They’ve got that down pat as well. “So very English”, indeed.

Whether you’re a coffee or tea drinker, I highly recommend making the pilgrimage to White Mulberries, especially on a sunny spring day like we’ll (hopefully) be seeing a lot more of now.

White Mulberries
D3 Ivory House
St Katharine’s Docks
E1W 1AT

Mon – Fri 7 am  – 6 pm
Sat 8 am – 6 pm
Sun 9 am – 6 pm

M1lk, Balham

Food on social media is a double-edged sword. It can tantalize and inspire, like when Clerkenwell Boy posts endless montages of picture-perfect brunches or THOSE donuts; or it can be a sad, washed out train wreck of ill-lit food, which may or may not have looked appetizing before it was attacked with an iPhone – we may never know. In both cases it can be equally as torturous to take in such images. Personally, I had been waking every weekend to such torture in the form of M1lk’s Instagram feed, filled with mouthwatering descriptions and carefully styled photos of their pancakes. Never the same from week to week, I watched a parade of these beauties pass before my eyes:  “buckwheat pancakes with bananas, caramel, toasted almonds, Nesquick mascarpone”; “buckwheat pancakes with blood orange jam, hazelnut popcorn brittle, vanilla bean mascarpone”; “buckwheat pancakes with banana, Oreo mascarpone, almond macadamia brittle, Nutella caramel”; “buckwheat pancakes with burnt apple, milk marshmallow, lemon verbena, lavender”. Clearly, there’s a mad genius locked away down there in Balham, churning out these pancake combos like no one else in London. My will power failed me last weekend and I decided it was high time to go check out what was going on all the way out in Zone 3.

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The Mince Pie Project

The Mince Pie Project is returning for its third year with an exciting new line-up of chefs, a delicious array of one-off mince pies, and two wonderful new charities (Foodcycle and Kids Company) that will be benefiting from their efforts. Foodcycle seeks to use some of the 400,000 tonnes of edible food that is wasted in the UK each year. Using volunteers, spare kitchens, and surplus food that is donated, Foodcycle brings nutritious, fresh meals to people at risk of food poverty and social isolation. Since their inception in 2009, they’ve served over 80,000 meals to people in need. Kids Company provides practical, emotional, and educational support to 36,000 vulnerable kids in London. With their four centres, outreach work, and services in 46 schools, they seek to support kids who face challenges in their family homes and neighbourhoods.

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The Ape and Bird

If I told you that a new pub was being opened by a highly successful restauranteur, one of the last places you would think of it being is Cambridge Circus. Straddling the border between touristy Covent Garden/Leicester Square and the dining goldmine of Soho, it sits unused and unloved except by Pizza Hut and Leon de Bruxelles. For months and months the former site of the Marquis of Granby, the pub that once graced the circus, sat empty; I’m sure people wondered which brightly lit chain with tourist-friendly express menus might take over the site next.

Most people I follow on Twitter, who have a better pulse on the restaurant openings than I do, probably knew a while ago about the impending opening of Russell Norman’s new venture. His other restaurants, Polpo (“a Venetian bacaro in Soho“), Spuntino (“London’s best Brooklyn diner“), and Mishkin’s (“a kind of Jewish deli with cocktails“), all probably have a pile of press clippings a few feet high, showering them with praise. Despite this, I’ve never been to any of them yet. I know! Horrible. Please don’t close this tab in disgust. Luckily for me, Wilkes secured a spot for lunch on the first of their two soft launch days and invited me along.

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Music Monday: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

This week’s Music Monday is a throwback to the long days of summer (remember those?) when Somerset House was putting on their Summer Series concerts. I was excited over almost every name on the list: Alex Clare, Goldfrapp, Band of Horses, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Of Monsters and Men, Jessie Ware, and more. Though I tried to get on the press list for as many as I could, I only got a pass to shoot Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes for The 405.

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A Very Civilized Breakfast

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, then you might have noticed that Dishoom is fast becoming one of my favourite haunts in London. I’m not sure why it took me so long to make it to the restaurant for breakfast. I’ve heard tales of their legendary breakfast rolls for a long time, seen many a filtered photo of them and drooled over the lightly toasted, soft bread embracing a few rashers of tantalizingly crisped bacon. Once I had a taste of it for myself, there was no going back. And by that I mean no going back to a life before the bacon naan cravings – because once you taste it, you will most certainly be going back to Dishoom.

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TNP and EIY

Back in July, I went to Heaven to photograph These New Puritans, supported by East India Youth. It was my first time photographing at Heaven, and unfortunately for us photographers, there was no pit present. We were cast into the mercy of the crowd, made to stake our claim to spots early in the gig and endure nasty looks throughout the first three songs as we clicked away. In addition to this, the stage was quite high, which meant shooting up into the sensor-busting LED lights. For every photo that turned out well, there were entirely too many with unsalvageable histograms. But, this also made for the opportunity to get some great, “moody” shots, given that you were in the right spot at the right time. View Post