WHAT’S at the other end of going out with a bang? Exploding out of the starting gates? Kicking off with a corker? Starting with style?
Well, whatever the right phrase is, it may well be an apt description for Coffee Cult’s inaugural visit to Clerkenwell’s Workshop. From the minute I enter to join the snaking queue to the two hours later when I waddle out clutching my newly conceived food baby, it is an exercise in nostalgia inducing indulgence.
Nostalgia, because its laid back vibe invokes memories of long brunches had with friends back in Australia, and indulgence, because, well, that’s self-explanatory from the menu.
English owned, but Australian managed, says a helpful barista. In its previous incarnation as “St Ali”, after the Melbourne equivalent, it was (and is) under the overall directorship of Australian Tim Williams. After cutting his teeth in St Ali back home, there was amongst other things, a stint at Flat White in Soho, before ending up as Director of Coffee at what is now Workshop.
Watching the Australian baristas’ at work (yes they really are — I asked), you can tell you’re in for a good cup. It’s in the practiced way they press the grounds into the filter, wipe off the edge of the cup, and gently tap the heated milk jug on the counter top before pouring. In fact, I am probably told all I need to know when my flat white arrives complete with decorative milk leaf. Somehow, it seems, coffee art = coffee greatness.
The brunch menu too has an experienced air about it. All the usual suspects are there – Bircher muesli, French toast, eggs in all its forms; but it is included extras which step this up from standard fare to café culture. The muesli comes with apples, strawberries, labna & pumpkin seeds, the French toast — poached rhubarb & mascarpone. Eggs — choose your weapon; poached, scrambled or fried and add your ammunition; including halloumi, sautéed spinach, chorizo, smoked salmon.
Given that should I ever be exiled to a desert island, the three foods I’ll be taking with me are corn, poached eggs and halloumi, the menu offering of corn fritters, poached eggs, halloumi and baby spinach gave me the desert island experience without the crippling loneliness and uncomfortable seating arrangements. I don’t mean to wax lyrical, but the eggs alone were perfection — perfectly cooked runny yolk white globules of goodness. Combined with the crispy softness of the cakes, salty tint of the cheese and a bonus — slightly spiced tomato chutney — it was literally a party in my mouth and many flavors were invited.
Workshop works hard to create that particular relaxed yet efficient café vibe. It’s all red brick, walls of ferns, exposed steel ducting and wood. There’s a communal table in the front, tables around the side, and a high square bench circles the central workspace where the magic (the coffee) is made.
Patrons lining up at the door don’t wait long, as the waves of customers ebb and flow around me. Yet, after two hours of sitting on my coffee, and reading the papers, I don’t feel any particular pressure to leave.
The serious coffee shop’s item du jour — one’s own roasting machine — lurks in the back. Reminding the clientele that yes, that’s right, we roast our own beans, and on site no less. Since Workshop is seemingly populated by the type that would indeed have their own home espresso machine, propped up next to their Kitchen Aid, it is likely the buy your own beans concept is one that appeals to this well-heeled casual chic crowd.
Well, it can’t all be perfectly cooked perfection and cream, right? The only bugbear — it is slightly more expensive than other café offerings, although I imagine what you’re paying for is the attention to detail. That, and the tomato ‘kasundi’ (that’s chutney to the rest of us). The corn fritters come in at £11.50, and whilst eggs and toast start at £5.50, a couple of sides at £3.50 will push it up a bit.
Throw in a couple of flat-whites at £2.80 and service charge, and the desert island suddenly isn’t looking half bad. Nevertheless, it’s worth it.
Indulgence isn’t cheap, but that’s why they call it an indulgence.
27 Clerkenwell Road, London
By Alex Ivett
To find out where to get your local caffeine hit see: Best Australian coffee shops in London