Saturday, 21 May 2011

Prufrock Coffee

Billy at Prufrock Coffee (Woodhouse)
My first taste of a Prufrock espresso was on a cold, grey, wintery day in London.  Cutting through Whitecross Street (EC1), picking my way through the City office workers out to grab a quick street lunch, I was stopped in my tracks.  The foodstalls here are pretty good but it was the guy with the coffee machine who caught my attention.  The chalkboard showed simply four options: an espresso shot £1.50, and three measures with milk - 4oz/£2.00, 6oz/£2.20, 8oz/£2.40 - no gimmicks. This, I learnt, was Prufrock.  The name meant something to me; snippets of a poem;  "Let us go then, you and I when the evening is spread out against the sky ....."  I was in a hurry.  My espresso was pulled with great care and tasted fantastic.  I knew I'd be back.

A couple of days later I stumbled upon another 'man with a machine', this time at the front of a mens' clothing shop on Shoreditch High Street.  At the risk of offending the barista, it was the machine that caught my eye.  A beautiful, gleaming, hammered-finished La Victoria Arduino, which I still covet.  It was paired with a Mazzer grinder and the result was delicious.  That name again, Prufrock, and that same attention to detail.  Who was this Prufrock?  As so often, the best things come to you when you aren't looking for them.  I'd encountered Gwilym Davies (none other than the World Barista Champion 2009) and his business partner Jeremy Chandler.  Together they are Prufrock, though they are quick to credit their whole team for how their business is now taking off. 

These days barista, Matthias, is most often to be found at Shoreditch.  It really is a one man set-up.  If there's a queue and you're in a hurry, go elsewhere.  Coffee this good can't be rushed, and it's well worth any wait.  Prufrock have recently opened a two floor cafe in Leather Lane EC1 - between Farringdon Road and Gray's Inn Road.  It has plenty of space to stretch out, a Nuova Simonelli machine along with another La Victoria Arduino, some comfortable Ron Arad chairs and well-trained, engaging staff with mostly arts backgrounds.  It's the kind of place you pop into for five minutes and are still there half an hour, and a couple of espressos, later.  You can also perch on a stool at the brew bar to watch the performance art involving siphons and burners, if that sort of thing presses your buttons.  They've still got work to do to get the food right but this is being addressed as I write.  Barista training is also on the menu at this their flagship cafe.

As for the beans and roasting, Prufrock are currently happy to buy in.  The coffee they use is roasted by one of London's best, 'Square Mile'.  This week they were trying out a double blend espresso roast but the single estate delivers a smoother, satisfying shot for me.  Given the choice, I prefer my coffee in a glass - an espresso with just the right amount of milk for me.  That's definitely not a Macchiato, as most Baristas seem to think.  So, whenever I can, I get a double shot of espresso and a jug of hot milk on the side rather than try to explain just how much milk.  If the place is good and the barista's know their stuff, I can ask for a Spanish 'Cortado' and get pretty much what I want from an espresso.  At Prufrock their 4oz cup or glass delivers a single estate creamy, caramel dose of perfection. 

Their latest opening is a one-man machine in Woodhouse menswear shop smack in the middle of Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill.  It's also where they've installed their first Kees van der Westen machine.  Barista, Billy, delivers a first class espresso from a fabulous looking 'Mirage'.  UPDATE - no longer at Westbourne Grove but you'll usually find Billy pulling shots at Leather Lane.

Prufrock haven't weaned me off Monmouth coffee but out of all the new coffee businesses popping up, this really is 'the business'. *"I measured out my life in coffee spoons ...".   Poetry in motion? (I'm so sorry).

* The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock - TS Eliot

23-25 Leather Lane, London EC1
Mon-Fri 8-6pm; Sat 10-4pm
Tube: Chancery Lane or Farringdon
Prufrock @ Present, 140 Shoreditch High Street, London, EC2
Tube: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street
Prufrock coffee carts at Whitecross Street Market EC1 and Colombia Road Market E2