10 Awesome Coffee Spots Around Covent Garden

Give the Starbucks a miss and head to these fantastic places for a caffeine hit in central London.

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1: For books and brunch: Drury 188-189

A newbie on the Covent Garden scene, Drury 188-189 offers coffee, cake, lunch and brunch with a side of vintage books. Drop in for a freshly pressed juice and a selection of their salads for lunch or check them out at the weekend where they serve a cracking brunch menu until 2:30pm.

Tip: Get your omegas with their avocado toast 

 

2: For insane cake: Peyton and Byrne

Just around from Matilda is a vintage style, small but perfectly formed café which makes the perfect pit-stop for tea and cake. From carrot cake to muffins, cookies to giant Jaffa cakes, there is a sweet treat for every palate – head downstairs for more seats.

Tip: Their salted caramel tart is out of this world

 

3: For a colourful lunch: The Black Penny

With a selection of indie magazines to flick through, and a daily changing menu of warming soups, wholesome salads and inventive bakes to tempt your taste-buds, The Black Penny on Great Queen Street is not to be missed. Their brunch is also something special – choose from options such as ‘The Gatherer’ – eggs, halloumi, toast, mushrooms, spinach and baked beans- for a veggie feast, or Crispy Confit Duck Hash for a serious morning-after cure.

Tip: A top spot for fussy friends with almond and soy milk options and gluten free toast

 

4: For travel inspiration: Stanfords Coffee House

For those of you that don’t know, Stanfords is pretty much a London institution when it comes to book shops. Dedicated to travel writing since 1853, this Covent Garden beauty has maps and guide books galore for your upcoming trips as well as tons of ideas of where to venture next. Tucked at the back is a café; a rare oasis of calm amid Covent Garden’s bustle where you can refuel and peruse your purchases.

Tip: Try their Venetian Rose loose-leaf tea with a slice of carrot cake for the ultimate book-reading accompaniment

 

5: For remote working: Hubbard and Bell at The Hoxton Holborn

It’s true that this hip all day café/eatery/bar and restaurant seems to sometimes have more Macs than people staring back at you, but that is partly why it makes a good spot to settle down with your laptop and get working. Super-fast wifi, plenty of plugs and attentive staff that won’t shift you even after hours of furious typing, you can stay here from morning coffee, through scrummy lunch to much-needed cocktail.

Tip: Balance out a crazily chocolatey brownie with a rejuvenating juice to aid your work

 

6: For a quiet haven: Fleet River Bakery

Tucked just behind Holborn Station and a mere five minute walk from Covent Garden, Fleet River Bakery could easily pass you by: this would be a huge mistake. Fleet River’s lunch options change every day, but if you think along the lines of roasted carrot salad with tahini, chorizo, cream cheese and potato frittata, and cake combos such as chocolate and Guiness or almond and polenta, you’ll have a good idea of what a treat you’re in for. Make a beeline for downstairs, where a quiet atmosphere reminiscent of your auntie’s living room awaits.

Tip: Their hearty daily soups are always a winner

 

7: For hipster vibes: Covent Garden Grind

The popular GRIND chain has moved west, so you can get the Shoreditch experience right here in central (beards optional). Their cafes have a reputation for awesome coffee, and I can attest that it is indeed pretty impressive – what also stands out is their cracking music choice and various lunches and brunches on offer. Smoothie bowls and avocado toast most definitely feature for full-on East London feels.

Tip: Espresso Martinis here are magic

 

8: For award winning blends: Monmouth Coffee

Don’t be put off by the limited seating in this Seven Dials’ café – the coffee is more than worth squashing up to a stranger for. Over 35 years old, Monmouth Coffee has branches dotted around the city that are answering our calls for incredible coffee amidst the avalanche of Starbucks’. The baristas at the Covent Garden original are award-winning coffee experts and worth talking too- they really know their beans.

Tip: A classic flat white here is unbeatable

 

9: For catch ups and meet ups: Timberyard

Timberyard Seven Dials is the perfect place to network and host meetings if you are living the freelancer life. There are rooms to hire, decent wifi, and also a fabulous selection of cakes and bakes. Their Covent Garden café is also a relaxing place to settle down with a book and a sarnie – roast salmon, romesco and watercress toastie anyone?

Tip: Head here for breakfast and try the coconut, orange, date and chocolate overnight oats

 

10: For rawsomely healthy treats: Wild Food Café

Neal’s Yard, the most colourful corner of London, is hope to the famous Wild Food Café for when you want a perhaps more wholesome treat to accompany your coffee. This plant-based eatery creates culinary magic so you won’t even be able to guess that your dessert is a nutrient bomb. From vegan banana bread to completely cheese-free Smoked Apple Cheezcake and even Salted Caramel Mylkshake made with coconut, cacoa and almonds, these creations have to be tasted to be believed.

Tip: Chocolate-lovers will love the Forgotton Ecstasy smoothie (literally indescribable)

Drury 188-189: The New Covent Garden Coffee Gem

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To say that Covent Garden is chocca-block with cafes and places to stop for coffee is an understatement. As well as the usual Starbucks and Prets, there are the slightly fancier, usually tourist-filled, ones in the Piazza and a plethora of pubs and restaurants where you can also get your caffeine fix.

When a new café opens, therefore, I always greet it with trepidation, wondering if it will manage to compete with the 10 other establishments within the surrounding five square metres. A little out of the manic hubbub of the actual market, a new opening on Drury Lane, aptly named Drury 188-189 (just to make locating it that bit easier), may indeed survive the competition.

With a stunning spread of cakes, bakes and salads on offer, and a rather rustic-styled interior, Drury 188-189 is immediately welcoming. Another bonus is the fact that their coffee is actually pretty darn good – smooth and not too strong, and unlike a lot of the chi chi hip cafes, a decent size.

The lack of wifi is remedied by the selection of vintage books on each table, crying out to be read – maybe the bubble of disconnection may encourage Londoners to interact and take their eyes of their screens? Perhaps that is too much to ask…

If you want somewhere to switch off in Covent Garden, this beautiful value for money coffee haven is a gem.

Behind the Scenes: A Look Inside London Artist Vanessa Jackson’s Studio

 

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Royal AcademyVanessa Jackson Credit: Vanessa Jackson

 

It’s a funny thing, stepping into an artist’s studio. Perhaps it’s like tiptoeing around someone’s bedroom, or opening up a private diary – there’s a feeling that you are entering a sacred space, one in which ideas are formed, decisions are made, creativity is initiated and yet one which also feels strangely out of bounds.

When, therefore, I was lucky enough to attend a studio tour of artist Vanessa Jackson’s creative space in Bermondsey, I felt a strange sense of intrusion. That, however, was quickly dissolved: over a glass of wine, a handful of people and the artist herself began to talk art and inspiration, teaching and techniques, and were all made to feel thoroughly welcome in this paint-splattered room.

Despite Jackson’s formal art education at the Royal College of Art, her pieces are anything but traditional. Geometric ideas crossed with modernist lines, all in vibrant hues and clashing colours, line the walls of her studio (you can also see them on display at the Royal Academy). Although intended to be independent pieces, a lot of Vanessa Jackson’s art works incredibly well in sequence and alongside each other.

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Credit: Royal Academy

 

Her personal sketchbook was not for our eyes, but bar that, Vanessa was open with how she created certain pieces, the fact that a lot of what she did she threw away, and her annoyance when critics brand her work as ‘cubist’.

To glimpse the ‘behind the scenes’ activity and space was enlightening, not least to get the artist’s perspective on her own work, but also to talk frankly about the art world in general. I don’t quite know if I expected a beret-wearing, overalled individual painting at an easel, but my insight into the world of an artist was one which inspired, fascinated and excited me.

What the experience confirmed is that everyone works in a completely different way, whatever they are doing, and that however we decide to be creative, none of it is wrong.

 

Post-Christmas Calculations: Very Accurate Statistics I’ve Deduced This Year

DISCLAIMER: Hari will not be liable for any inaccuracies in the below calculations.

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  1. Love Actually must be shown at least 6 times over the festive period across various channels, otherwise the law states that it is not officially Christmas. I probably watch, on average, 2.5x Love Actually each year.
  2. Despite most things being the same every year, we still manage to mess up quantities: our 2016 festive stash saw 4 Christmas puddings, 9 bottles of mulled wine, 3 jars of cranberry sauce, but just one lonely bottle of prosecco. It had to fizz alone.
  3. I still highlight 80% of the Radio Times, only to watch about two things I’d wanted to. In fact, the highlighting probably takes up more time than the programmes I watch.
  4. Time moves faster over Christmas – it’s a blur of days where you wake up at 10 and before you know it, it’s time to get into pyjamas again.  Then suddenly BAM! January comes along and we are forced to return to normality, despite it only being Christmas Eve yesterday.
  5. There will always be a debate about just how long the turkey should be in the oven for. I think next year, I may roll a dice to come up with a cooking time.
  6. BRAINTEASER: If the average ratio of wrapping time to opening time is about 10:1 – 5 minutes spent wrapping (aka locating sellotape, choosing ribbons, writing gift tag), to 30 seconds of ‘opening’, (aka tearing, ripping and then binning aforementioned laboriously embellished gift-wrap), decide whether it is all a total waste of time and effort. (Please show your workings)
  7. There must only be 8 cracker jokes in circulation, as we get the same ones each year, and even the same ones across the same table. (Cracker people, please get some more inventive staff writers)
  8. Each year, without fail, we will all have a spectacular time, despite variables including arguments, illness, dry turkey, TV debate. The equation usually sorts itself out, and by January 3rd, we shall all be mourning the lack of infinite turkey sandwiches, alcohol with units that didn’t count, and hours of TV it is acceptable to watch. Go figure.

 

London’s Woodland-Themed Christmas Lights: Fab or Fail?

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Hands up if anyone has ever seen a rabbit hopping about in Covent Garden. Or how about a fox making its way from Trafalgar Square? Perhaps you may have come across a squirrel in Seven Dials? No I have not gone completely mad – but Covent Garden may have. This year, Seven Dials have gone with a woodland theme for their festive displays. Original, yes. But does it work?

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Last night signalled a step nearer to the big day, as the Christmas lights in Seven Dials were officially switched on. It was a whole evening of festivities, with mulled wine and Christmas cocktails, money off and music – myself, along with a fair few other savvy Londoners, took this opportunity to get 20% off most shops and collect our complimentary drinks: we have to make the most of these things after all.

With free grilled cheese, more mince pies than is possible to eat, and the chance to toast your own marshmallows at the fire-pit S’more station, this was more than just shopping. Wreath-making workshops were even on the agenda, for the people that were feeling particularly productive on a Thursday night.

At 6pm was the big switch on. Crowds gathered around the centre of Seven Dials, where all seven streets converge to a central point, where what looks like the Monument’s rather puny cousin, stands proudly. This was not just a case of pressing a button – there was a build-up to a) get people very excited and b) to try and explain the reason why Seven Dials was full of cardboard cut-outs of various woodland animals.

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This build-up consisted of a Lumiere-like light projection on the surrounding buildings, while a voice read out a rhyming story to narrate the projections. I listened avidly, but still didn’t manage to make head nor tail of why the woodland creatures ended up in the middle of London. Admittedly, the light display of foxes and rabbits on Covent Garden’s buildings were pretty cute, but when the poem tried to find multiple rhymes for ‘Seven Dials’, you just knew it wasn’t going to end well.

Finally, a countdown ensued, and on 1, the streets of Seven Dials suddenly lit up. It cannot be denied that this was a thoroughly festive affair, especially when acclaimed band Dirty Old Brasstards began to play ‘So here it is, Merry Christmas’.

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Looking around I did indeed feel very Christmassy. The lights, even if they are in the shape of a badger, or surrounding a bemused bunny, may be slightly odd, but they are fairly cute, and very twinkly.

I may not be following in Seven Dials’ footsteps, and decorating my tree with deer decorations and bunny baubles: but the Covent Garden area is definitely branching out with their forest theme, daring to be different, and making London even more full of lights, which, let’s face it, can’t be a bad thing.

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Breakfast in a Bag: The Initiative Providing Breakfasts for London’s Homeless

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It is impossible to walk down any street in London without coming across a homeless person. You may notice their curled up figure, hidden in a sleeping bag, or glimpse them sitting on a salvaged piece of cardboard, trying to keep their dog fed and watered. But precisely because homelessness is so commonplace nowadays in the city, perhaps it has lost its ability to shock. The sheer volume of people living on the streets has almost become part of the scenery, making it easier for the masses to walk by and ignore the issue.

There is no shortage of charities and organisations attempting to address the problem. Soup kitchens and food banks are popping up left right and centre, offering a place to sit and refuel with some nutritious food – a brief moment of solace and comfort before those with nowhere to go spend yet another night on a pavement.

These food banks and soup kitchens, however, often only serve up food in the evenings. We are constantly told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why is there such a lack of attention paid to the morning meal when it comes to the homeless? After a whole night in the cold, breakfast is very much needed by the hundreds of individuals living on London’s streets.

Introducing ‘Breakfast in a Bag’ (BIAB), the brainchild of Michelle Clark, who has been working with the homeless since starting her Off the Streets London outreach project. BIAB is pretty much what it says on the tin – breakfast in a bag – yet so much more.  These bags, often containing juices, breakfast bars and fruit,  are delivered to the city’s homeless to provide them with a healthy start to yet another day without a place to call home.

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Michelle explains that while she was aware of the many resources available for homeless people, she realised that no-one was giving any attention to breakfast. ‘I gave it some thought and realised that a healthy breakfast would really kick start their day.  Illnesses such as diabetes are quite common among the homeless, maybe due to a bad diet. It can be quite dangerous for diabetics not to eat in the mornings so the breakfast bags are very important for them.’

Initially, the contents of the bags were completely self-funded, but now Michelle has been lucky enough to receive donations from brands such as Weetabix and eateries including Pret, who want to help the campaigner on her breakfast mission. ‘To start with, I was buying pretty much everything locally, I’m sure my local supermarket thought I had some sort of cereal addiction!  Since then I’ve been lucky to have had support from the likes of Greggs, Pret, Morrisons and Weetabix with donations of food.  Only yesterday we received 3 boxes of Energy Bars from HIGH5 Sports Nutrition who supply them to world class athletes.  These will have huge benefits for our homeless friends as many of the carbohydrates that benefit a world class runner will be just as welcomed by a homeless person.  I think it’s unrealistic to ever expect to be fully funded by food manufacturers and supermarkets but we are hoping to partner with as many as we can as we move forward. Every time we get a bulk donation through from a food supplier it means our donations from the public go a lot further so we can make and deliver more bags.’

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BIAB is gaining in popularity on Twitter

Currently, Michelle does ‘bag-drops’ three times a week, and has recently opened a static Brekkie Station at Victoria on a Friday night, where people can come and collect a breakfast bag for the next day. ‘The numbers for this are increasing each week as word spreads among the homeless community’, explains Michelle. ‘It’s quickly become a safe place where the homeless gather to socialise over some hot food and a cuppa and is already about so much more than just providing them with a meal and a breakfast bag for when they wake up on Saturday mornings.’

As BIAB becomes bigger, more and more people are donating to the cause. Just £3 can fill a bag, and it is amazing just how many are prepared to part with that bit of change to fund a breakfast. Michelle is clearly overwhelmed with the reception her concept has received. ‘I’ve learnt that plenty of people are prepared to hand over the price of a decent cup of coffee to buy a breakfast for someone less fortunate than themselves through the response to our “Sponsor A Bag For £3” campaign.  Some people have said they’ll be making a regular donation each week or month which is fantastic.  I’ve learnt that there are many angels out there who have stepped in to help me – one example is the lady that’s just taken time out from her paying clients to design and build us a new website (breakfastinabag.co.uk) for free.’ And what else has BIAB taught her? ‘One of the more interesting things I’ve learnt is from when I went to collect a donation that came in via one of our Twitter followers:  you can fit 192 boxes of Kelloggs cornflakes into a standard sized car.  But only just!’homeless-pic

We may not give a second thought to our breakfast in the morning. We may grab a piece of toast or bowl of cereal before heading out the door, or pick up a coffee and croissant en route to the office. But for London’s many homeless, who don’t know where their next meal may be coming from, the promise of a healthy and substantial breakfast after a whole night exposed on the streets is invaluable. Instead of a pastry and coffee on your usual morning café run, if just one day you gave that £3 to BIAB, think of the difference it could make. If everyone in your office did that too, imagine the bags BIAB could provide.

Michelle is doing a fantastic job, but times are hard. ‘The number of rough sleepers in London has doubled in the last five years to an incredible 7.500 last year so it’s not surprising that all of the resources for the homeless are stretched.  I think we’re all just doing what we can to help some of the most vulnerable people in the community and to try and show them that they haven’t been completely abandoned by society.’

Come on London, let’s all chip in.

With thanks to BIAB and Michelle for the opportunity to talk with them about this amazing project.

Wilton’s Music Hall: Head East for Entertainment

Looking for an evening’s entertainment or a quirky cocktail? Look no further.Tucked away between Tower Hill and Aldgate Stations is a hidden gem of an establishment: introducing Wilton’s Music Hall.

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If you think that all of the city’s best theatres and show venues are in the West End, think again. Despite the majority of musicals centring around Soho and Covent Garden, and perhaps the more ‘serious’ plays taking place at the National or the Globe, there are plenty more hidden away, off-West End performances that are equally, if not more, mind-blowing. If you look hard enough, a short walk from the Tower of London will show you one such place: Wilton’s.

For a spectacular venue that, yes, may lack the light up signs and the overpriced merchandise that is synonymous with London shows these days, the unique Wilton’s Music Hall is definitely worth a visit. Having started out in 1839, this Grade 2 Star listed building is still going strong today after some recent renovation, and as one of the oldest grand music halls in the world, hosts a variety of top-class acts and entertainment.

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On first glance (when you have finally located the place having walked down several side streets), Wilton’s may not strike you as a fabulous night out. But step inside, and you could be mistaken to think you have been transported back to the era of music halls and gin dens. Low lighting, subdued hues and cosy décor meets a thoroughly relaxed vibes to create one of London’s best-kept secrets.

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The Mahogany Bar and upstairs Cocktail Bar serve up some exceptional and inventive cocktails amongst the usual beers, wines and softies for the drivers. Hearty pre-show food, courtesy of The Gatherer’s, is available, with local Brick Lane Beigels and the likes of chicken scratchings on the menu.

Recently, I was lucky enough to see one of the stunning performances that Wilton’s hosts – this one was a play cum cabaret cum musical and was gripping from start to finish. Titled ‘City Stories’, the show told four individual love stories set at different points in time, but all based in our beloved London. Exceptional music accompanied the drama thanks to one (very talented) woman and her piano, who also happened to have written the score.

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This, alas was only a two-night affair, but the constantly changing  programme of events is just why Wilton’s is so fantastic. From jazz bands to plays, cabarets to comedy, the variety in entertainment coupled with its one-of-a-kind atmosphere makes Wilton’s Music Hall the ultimate fusion of venue, entertainment, drinks and history.