These London Chain Coffee Shops Are Worth Visiting

By M@ Last edited 80 months ago
These London Chain Coffee Shops Are Worth Visiting

London has no shortage of superb independent coffee shops, which any right-thinking person will favour ahead of the chains. But that's not to say that the big corporate beverage-mongers don't have something to offer the discerning Londoner.

We've all got our favourites, for staff friendliness, cosy corners or simple convenience, but here are a few chain coffee shops worth seeking out for their striking architecture/interiors.

Note: we're not including museum cafés (often run by chains), which are covered elsewhere.

Starbucks, Camden Lock

Is this the only Starbucks with turrets? Who knows, but the Camden Town Starbucks sits rather prettily on the canal side, an old lock-keeper's lodge, no doubt. This branch is doubly exciting — if that's the right word. The front of house is given over to a Regent's Canal information centre, with a history of the great aquatic cutting on the walls. The back room, meanwhile, is neatly painted with scenes from said canal, including some obscure local features such as the upside-down house (not as interesting as it sounds) and Crocker's Folly (more interesting than it sounds). We miss the Amy Winehouse stencil that once adorned the outside walls, though.

Pret, Victoria Street

It's hard to find a standout Pret — they all work on that same formula of polished metal and faux-tatty brickwork. The branch at 75b Victoria Street can at least claim one difference from its identikit brethren. This was the first branch of the mega-chain, opened in 1986 (the brand goes back slightly further, to a shop in Hampstead that died out and sold on its name). A blue plaque — not an official English Heritage one, but something designed in-house — marks the hallowed ground. Bonus fact: we once overheard two half-cut MoD types discussing submarine movements in here... which was a little bit worrying.

Starbucks, St Katharine Docks

Well this is a comely little number, isn't it? The 'Bucks at St Kath's inhabits a mock-Doric rotunda building in the centre of the docks known as the Coronarium. It used to be an all-faiths chapel and is surely the only Starbucks whose building was originally opened by the Queen, as part of her Silver Jubilee. It's a pleasant place to sit with a coffee, especially the upper deck, which looks out over the former docks.

Caffe Nero, Broadcasting House

There's nothing special about the decor in this central branch of Nero, but it does have its lures. It's built into the inner thigh of Old Broadcasting House, so is typically peppered with TV and radio types — a good spot for nonchalantly listening in on conversations. This branch of Nero is (perhaps) the only one to eschew branding on the outside. Why? The BBC is very touchy about product placement and doesn't want to risk the chain appearing in shot — particularly as the studio of The One Show is directly opposite.  

Starbucks, Vigo Street

It's a bit posh around here, and the local Starbucks is no exception. Described as 'the jewel in our London estate', the coffee house inhabits a building that was formerly used to sell oriental carpets. Some of the fixtures have been retained. Check out the hand-carved mahogany ceiling from Damascus while you're trying to work out which end of the bar to order your beverage (it's oddly back-to-front). Elsewhere, the branch is a riot of marble, designer wallpaper and too much information about coffee beans. Head upstairs for the comfy, cosy seats.

Crussh, Millbank

Via Google Streetview.

The nutritionally superior café chain has a particularly imposing branch at number 4 Millbank. It's housed in one of those muscular Edwardian buildings, decorated with masonic lamps and squatting statues. The café is actually rather friendly on the inside, though, and offers a good option for beating the crowds near Westminster or Tate Britain. The building is used by broadcasters covering the comings and goings at the Houses of Parliament, so you'll often see a familiar face tucking into a quinoa and supernonsense salad.

Starbucks, Liverpool Street Station

Like all the mainlines, Liverpool Street contains a caffeinated cluster of chain cafés. It boasts three Starbucks, with more just beyond in Broadgate and Bishopsgate. This is the largest, on the concourse level beneath the Hamilton Hall pub. Like that grand old boozer, the coffee shop is decked out like it's part of a Georgian mansion, with wood panelling and carved mantels. Definitely a notch up from grabbing a coffee at the Upper Crust kiosk.

And the rest

The branch of Pret at 217 Strand is housed in an old banking hall, though the interior lacks the grandeur you might expect. Then there's the black-tiled Pret on Brick Lane, which caused such anguish among opponents of gentrification. Finally, the Caffe Nero in St James's church on Piccadilly is pleasant enough, unless you happen to sit next to the moss-backed figure of a weeping giant.

Please share your own unusual chains cafes in the comments. Alternatively, fume and rage at our positive coverage of corporate giants, when we should be singing the praise of hard working independents. That's what everyone in the corresponding Facebook thread is likely to be doing.

Last Updated 11 August 2017