What is happening to the High Streets in England? A metamorphosis is afoot. The advent and popularity of internet shopping and the digital age have certainly changed its personality. The book, record, video and pretty much anything you can buy from eBay shops are fast disappearing, some to the point of extinction. The hairdressers and similar where a digital replacement is not available will survive for the time being but some High Streets will not survive these changes and are becoming the home of wall to wall Poundstretchers and pawn shops. However, in areas with more available and disposable income (or that’s the way I see it) restaurants and coffee shops are taking over and whilst in one sense it’s sad to see the demise of an institution I see evolution rather than destruction.
Crouch End fortunately has embraced the changes and with the loss of Propero’s the Bookshop, Woolworths and Blockbuster to name a few, has seen lots of new individual coffee shops cropping up. I quite like the addition of multiple choices of atmospheric inspiring places to enjoy some writing over a coffee or to ponder the next moves for the Boulevardier!
Not all are inspiring and I have taken the time, all in the name of journalism you understand to have a look, a coffee and slice of Battenberg in to present you with a guide to coffee in Crouch End…
There are the usual Starbucks, Costa and Harris and Hoole (controversially owned by Tesco) which are worth no more than a mention.
The Honeycomb was in situ before the recent resurgence and is the place to pick up a free copy of TimeOut each week but I fear is not moving and responding to the change in competition and other unique artistic coffee shops and culture abundant elsewhere.
The Rocking Chair Cafe has a great name and nice but nothing makes it stand out. I could not even see the rocking chair from whence the name came. Surely there should be at least one chair to rock in whilst dreaming in the Rocking Chair Cafe.
Coffee Cake is an eclectic chic fail! It is billed as an Artisan Boulonger, which it might be pastry wise, but the furniture is multiple big heavy wooden tables which would not look out of place in my Grandmothers vast farmhouse dining room, but not in such quantity. It was overpoweringly depressing.
My Kind of Coffee deserves a mention for the rather odd Union Jack chairs! Perhaps bought in a cheap lot post Jubilee celebrations?
Hot Pepper Jelly is my third favourite and only a small place with a rustic orange facade and been established for a long time but feels right in Crouch End and advertises lots of local artistic events. The coffee and cake are divine.
Second favourite is Coffee Circus. It has a 19th century Parisian feel with a contemporary twist. The coffee is fantastic. There is a long slim salon with the coffee bar adjacent to the front door and a rich red crushed velvet bench with small tables, perfect for one with a vista to watch the patrons come and go. There is a larger area towards the back with walls covered in sheet music. Its inspiring and relatively child free which can be a blessing in Crouch End! They also have a jug of tap water readily available with glass tumblers for self pouring which is a nice touch. Only downfall is that some coffees (and not just the correct warm rather than hot lattes) are served in glasses and not heatproof ones at that. They may look good but are impractical.
Some of you who follow my writings will already by acquainted with The Haberdashery which is not only my number 1 coffee shop (and so much more) in Crouch End but conveniently close to my residence, i.e. maximum 2 minutes walk!
Its situated in a Victorian parade on Middle Lane en route to the Broadway. The large front windows are always filled with advertisements for upcoming artist, music and reading events in Crouch End and many in The Haberdashery along with tempting freshly made cakes. In fact I was just there this morning for breakfast before heading to the gym and being good and having porridge with blueberries and an Americano with skimmed milk and Massimo (one of the owners) almost paraded through with an enormous fresh cream sponge cake FULL of fresh strawberries. He delicately placed his prize on the top tier of the display plates in the window. It was very difficult to not gorge the entire cake on the spot despite it not yet being 11am!
Inside in the main cafe the tables and chairs are a mish mash carefully put together to present a stage not out of place in Rome, Florence or Paris. The walls are adorned with more art, and the shelves full of vintage tea and coffee sets which are for purchase. At the front adjacent to the serving area are displays of muffins and other treats, elderberry, blackberry, orange, raspberry and chocolate brownies to name but a few available. It’s a vintage and gastronomic treasure chest.
There is a wonderful hidden garden at the back and a new conservatory area with enormous concertina doors to flex with the changeable English weather. The back room has a New England feel with lots of wood and skylights flooding in additional light.
The staff and owners are lovely and really embrace the Crouch End spirit of community and they are absolute patrons of the arts.
The only thing I would change, and this rests more with my snobbish and boulevardier tendencies is some of the patrons (not good business sense I know)! I would quite like to see a Steve Strange at the Blitz approach at the door with entry only to correctly styled individuals and have an upper limit of children allowed in at any one time! Crouch End is (unfortunately) a pushchair friendly environment, and it’s quite the assault course to navigate the number of perambulators and high chairs stationed at each table. But in true Crouch End style there are a few Dads in there too on a Friday morning, youngsters in tow, which they tend to dressed in black skinny jeans, v neck sweaters and thick rimmed glasses whilst reading the Guardian.
Also there are those that ‘try’ to be Crouch End and fail miserably! Enter couple with gent attired in a tight winter neck scarf (its 15 degrees – he obviously thought it was a substitute for a silk neck cravat) and a pair of beige and cream spats! I would have stopped him at the door and sent him to Coffee Cake where bad taste flourishes!
Once over all these eye horrors I took another spoonful of my creamy porridge and my ears are massaged by the sound of the Andrews Sisters jazzing up Roll Out The Barrel. The Haberdashery rules! Come early to get a good table.