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.

black-penny

 

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)

This is London: Change Gonna Come

climate change 1

I’m going to say it plain and simple: I don’t like change. They say change is good, and maybe for certain people, at certain times, it is. But when something comes along and disrupts you just when you are feeling settled and comfortable, when things are safe and familiar, I just want change to buzz off.

Imagine my horror, my utter dread when I found out that change was going to happen – a change I had utterly no control over. This was a change governed by the Gods, the ever-powerful TFL.

When I discovered that ‘essential maintenance works’ were going to be carried out on Holborn station from August 2016 until late 2017 I applauded Transport for London’s recognition of the much-needed improvements. They were making an effort, I thought; they are trying to make our lives easier. Bravo. And then I read the signs properly, as in stopping, taking my headphones off, and absorbing the words.

Picture my well and truly gasted flabber when I realised that between 7:30 and 10 am, Monday to Friday, Holborn station would be exit only, with no Central and Piccadilly line interchange. ‘But how’, I asked the big red sign, as if it was the fountain of all knowledge, or at least half as clever as Siri, ‘how will I get to work?’

I did it people, I had to accept that there had to be change. Hard as it was, I properly changed my route: I had to venture into unknown territory and take different tubes, with different people, and different journey times. However, I have to say, not attempting to squeeze onto a Central Line train in rush hour was somewhat of a relief. Whereas my usual journey was choc-a-bloc with suited city workers, abounding with laptop bags and Costa coffees, my new changed one seems slightly calmer.

Taking the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines feels less ‘commuter scramble’ than my original Central and Northern combination. Getting a seat is almost guaranteed, and not once was I knocked by a wayward backpack, or did I find myself with a take-out latte spilling on my arm.

This change in route may actually be a good thing.

Sometimes, it seems, a change comes and hits you like a wet sponge, and you just have to take it: you never know, you may end up feeling suitably refreshed afterwards…

So maybe I am not completely opposed to change. But in future, I’d like my change to have an advance warning and a guaranteed refund policy should I wish to return it. Opportunity to exchange my change for a less changed change would be much appreciated.

The Ship Tavern: a Gin Den in Central

An old-school pub with a fabulous gin selection? This place has got it covered….

ship tavern

 

Step outside Holborn Station, and head towards the Wetherspoons, that reliable, cheap, generic chain where you can pretty much guarantee to get a drink that won’t break the bank. Aim for this vaguely satisfactory but not hugely awe-inspiring establishment, and then just before you get there, step off the beaten track. Take a left down an admittedly dodgy looking alley and you will find a beacon of Real Pubbiness staring at you in the face: The Ship Tavern.

On a weekday past 5pm, there are crowds of savvy city workers who know of this hidden gem hanging around outside The Ship, but don’t let that put you off from venturing inside. In fact, see it as a sign of The Ship’s success as a Proper Pub. This is a cosy place to have a decent pint or a civilised glass of wine; an unpretentious inn which has not submitted to the Gourmet Gastro-Pub overhaul that many seem to go for these days (although, admittedly, the food on the next table looked pretty decent). What is particularly special about this place, though, is their crazy selection of gins. This is not the sort of place where you can simply ask for a G+T. If you do, be prepared to answer to a barrage of interrogations – which gin, which tonic, and which additions to your beverage – you’d like, and make you wish you’d gone to the bar with more of a rounded gin-based knowledge. Of course, you could just go for the gin of the day, which so far has not disappointed.

It is much more exciting, however, if you peruse the gin list and choose from the large selection of different gins with various additions, to see what takes your fancy (from experience, though, this may take a while). I opted for the ‘Brockmans’ which was served with sliced strawberries, blueberries and blackberries – a wise choice if I do say so myself .(I would have taken a picture of the impressive drink, but it is a testament to how good it was that I was distracted in the drinking of said drink rather than joining in on the ‘fashionable’ trend these days of instagramming/snapchatting anything that passes ones lips).

Whether best served with orange peel, grapefruit wedges, fresh berries or various herbs, these people know what goes best with each gin, and advise this on the list (and then go ahead and adorn your drink). Served in gorgeous wide glasses, these are, I reckon, some of the best gin and tonics on offer in the city. If you want to bag a table in the office rush, however, I’d keep this gem a secret.

http://www.theshiptavern.co.uk/

 

 

 

Mamma Mia: Dancing Queens and Super Troupers

mamma mia

Somewhere in the crowd, there’s you me. Aka the night I went to the ultimate Abba musical.

 

When it’s a cold, drizzly Tuesday evening in the city, a bit of entertainment is much needed. With the current steep cinema prices (enough to buy multiple DVDs from Amazon), seeing a film, albeit on a big screen, seems like bad value for money. For little more than a cinema ticket, however, you can see a real live show. Yes – one with actual people in – singing, dancing, making you feel good about the world. So, this Tuesday, I spent a reasonable £22 on going to the Novello Theatre and witnessed two and a half hours of Abba fabulousness: I saw Mamma Mia.

I remember the film Mamma Mia coming out a few years back (funnily enough, I did actually see it at the cinema – but this was back in the day when you got change from a tenner), and the stellar cast alone was enough to make the movie decent, even if the storyline left something to be desired. The London show uses the same narrative, songs and characters as the movie, and is reassuringly familiar, yet utterly different. Having seen the film, I couldn’t help comparing the stars of the stage show to Meryl Streep, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski. Despite their on-screen counterparts, these performers did a cracking job.

The music, costumes, comedy and (let’s face it) fairly very good looking cast made for a fantastic experience. Watching Mamma Mia made me realise a) just how many songs Abba wrote, and b) that I somehow knew nearly all the words to them all. That either makes Abba ridiclouly memorable, or me kind of embarrassing. Or both.

The best thing about seeing a live show is the reality that at any moment, something could go wrong. Admit it – when sitting in a theatre, there is a tiny part of you wondering what would happen if someone forgets their lines/trips over/gets drunk in the interval and changes the entire second half. That, thankfully, didn’t occur on this occasion, which was lucky as the final numbers of the show are incredible. A lot of shiny trousers, a fair few pairs of platforms, a tonne of energy and music, and you have the ultimate feel-good finale. The audience were up on their feet singing to Waterloo, and I realised that as much as my brain could have been broadened that evening by watching a BBC documentary, seeing a Shakespeare play or visiting a museum, Mamma Mia made me pretty much as happy as I could be on a weekday evening. Ultimately, the show reaffirms life’s positivity – a happy ending, a lot of singing, and a seat with a pretty good view that didn’t break the bank. This, my friend, is what London is about.

Brunch at The Black Penny, Covent Garden

Black Penny

Brunch is one of those fabulous concepts that makes you feel somewhat sophisticated without the need for dressing up, parting with huge amounts of cash, or forfeiting an early night. Perhaps that is why the popularity of the breakfast-lunch convergence has increased significantly over the past couple of years: Instagram is now awash with Prosecco selfies and pancake snaps destined to make anyone munching on a solitary bowl of cornflakes green with envy.

A visit from friends, not so au fait with the ways of the big city, seemed like the perfect opportunity to get on the brunch bandwagon. Having had a lovely coffee date in The Black Penny a few weeks back, I decided to revisit this gem of a spot to see what mid-morning offerings they provided. So on Sunday morning, we trekked the onerous 5 minutes to Great Queen Street, where the fairly covert café is situated.

Only 5 minutes from Holborn station, past the gaudy fronts of various chains, The Black Penny revels in its subtlety. In fact, many people, as I did at first, walk past it without batting an eyelid; the few tables outside, black frontage, and small sign reading ‘The Black Penny’ could easily go unnoticed by a passer-by headed for the lights of Covent Garden. But the hidden vibe, the feeling that you’ve come across a city secret, is part of this café’s charm.

Rustic décor, and an immediately inviting counter of freshly baked goods means that on entry, the café feels homely yet cool, quirky but comfortable. Those wise ones who have realised this are already sitting down enjoying a fry up and a latte or a croissant and a cappuccino. What also has drawn a good few punters in is the ridiculously good offer of Prosecco: have brunch at this café and a glass of bubbly is only 1p. Yes, you read that right – ONE WHOLE PENNY. Clearly playing on the namesake, and that is no bad thing.

The coffee, I have to say is second to none. Smooth and almost chocolatey, this is a million miles from a bitter filter or your more usual Sunday morning Nescafe. It really is noticeable when you have a Proper Coffee like this; you start to doubt the authenticity of a Starbucks latte and realise this is what the real stuff is meant to be like.

Sweet-toothed Friend opted for French toast with caramelised apples and ricotta, whilst Savoury Friend chose the chorizo baked beans with goat’s cheese and an egg. One for a classic, poached eggs on sourdough was my brunch of choice, and a fabulous one at that – simple, yet so easy to get wrong. Here, however, it was so right. We agreed that The Black Penny was perfection on all three fronts. Price-wise, this is as good as you’ll get for a stunning brunch, fabulous coffee and a quirky independent café in central. Expect to pay £10-12 for a delicious mid-morning fuelling that will last you till late afternoon.

Despite not making the most of the Prosecco offer, brunch here is available until 4pm at the weekends, and a post-midday glass of bubbles may indeed feature in the coming months. Service is fantastic – utterly efficient, ridiculously friendly and that manner which makes you feel not only like a customer, but a valued friend. The Black Penny is made all the more appealing by the fact it is on my doorstep: it’s basically my local, and I will indeed be frequenting this coffee haven a lot more for my caffeine hit. Whether you make a special trip of a weekend for brunch here (definitely worth it) or are in need of a sit down and a cuppa when negotiating the streets of Covent Garden, (step away from the Pret), The Black Penny should be firmly penned in your Black Book.

http://theblackpenny.co.uk/

The Cross Keys, Covent Garden – A Proper Pub

cross keys

This man, this white-shirted individual making his way into The Cross Keys, has the right idea. He’s after a pint in a Proper Pub, and that’s what he is bloomin’ well going to get… Follow his lead, people.

When I stumbled across it on one of my walks through the awesomeness that is Covent Garden, its clear to see why ‘The Secret Garden’ came to mind when I saw  The Cross Keys. The flowers and plants on the pub front immediately caught my eye – in the city centre, a bit of greenery is always welcome – and the fact that it is slightly withdrawn from the crazy tourist part of Covent Garden, made me want to try out this boozer.

If you’re after a pub that’s a little off the beaten track, and usually a fair bit quieter than the ones on the main drag or right by the market, The Cross Keys is indeed a winner. The inside feels a little like a fairy glen: eclectic objects hang from the ceiling and fairy lights are draped throughout. The drinks on offer are pretty varied and at a reasonable price, especially for this part of London (expect two drinks to set you back around £8). This is a real find (not to blow my own trumpet) and I would put this little gem on your ‘To Do Booze’ list asap.

The Cross Keys, 31 Endell Street, London WC2H 9BA, http://www.crosskeyscoventgarden.com/