Notes serves up top-notch cuppas just a stone’s throw from the unpromising tourist hub of Trafalgar Square.
The spacious café serves up great coffee and food against a backdrop of jazz and opera. Our latest visit yielded a particularly lovely flat white, smooth and silky, with hints of caramel and chocolate. “It’s the milk,” the barista explains proudly to another customer. “Other places skimp on the milk, but not us.” The La Marzocco Strada coffee machine certainly doesn’t hurt either.
The sandwiches, toasted to order, are delicious: we liked the chicken, pesto and rocket, and the bacon, avocado and tomato. Take a seat under the glass skylight — below which hangs a spidery cluster of lamps — and watch the spinning globe of the Coliseum, or browse the DVDs lining the walls. Downstairs, you'll find even more jazz, classical, opera and blues CDs.
This would have been enough. The real action, however, takes place at the Brew Bar. Perch yourself on a stool and let the experts dazzle you with filter coffee. Casual drinkers and coffee geeks alike will delight at the syphons and aeropress being whisked out; everything — water, beans, temperature — is measured with precision rarely seen in cafés.
“It’s a laboratory here,” a customer comments, obviously agog. Even tea is given the same exacting treatment, with digital scales and timers. But ah, the coffee itself: this visit, we sampled the Suke Quto and Agoga blends. For coffee virgins (read: Starbucks, Costa…) these would be epiphanies — the former clean, bright and lemony; the latter, deep, fruity and full-bodied, sweetening slightly as it cooled down. Coffee at its finest.
The baristas aren’t just deft and skilful, but friendly and enthusiastic, too. Notes sells a range of tea and coffee-making equipment, and the baristas are happy to show you exactly how to use them. Have a seat at the bar and you could wind up having a long conversation about coffee. Little wonder, then, that we spotted other London baristas in attendance.
Prices are steeper than the average, but an excellent flat white for £2.60 and filter coffee for about £4.50 per brew is worth it.
By Yin Leow