Monocle Cafe – London (UK)
My favourite magazine goes highstreet coffee shop but does it convince?
Since Monocle magazine entered this world in February of 2007, I’ve been a subscriber and dedicated reader. I’ve always loved the concept and they how often put places, people and brands into focus that you’d normally only hear about or know if you’re in a particular industry or if you have a very special interest. For someone like me who’s always curious about what’s happening in the world and who loves to travel to abstract places (amongst other destinations, I’ve already been to Georgia, Moldova, the Faroe Island, Burma and Kosovo) Monocle magazine is the perfect companion for a lazy Sunday on my couch, drinking a cup of perfectly brewed coffee, of course.
When they announced they would be opening their first store it seemed like the natural next step for a brand that for a while had been engaging in co-branding efforts with some of the world’s leading design brands. Now, they count several shops around the world in locations such as Tokyo, London and Toronto. Personally, I think a lot of their products are overpriced but at least you know you’ll be getting some pretty decent quality for your buck.
Their latest venture into the retail world is the addition of the Monocle Cafe. The London branch only opened in April of 2013, thus my trip recent trip to London offered a great opportunity to check out what Tyler Brûlé and co had come up with.
The cafe is located in the very posh neighbourhood of Marylebone, which was very calm on the day I visited. Chiltern Street itself is home to many little design shops and galleries that all feature the typical and cute English store front look and feel. Monocle Cafe seems to just fit in perfectly with its black and white sun roof and minimalist designer furniture. I was actually rather surprised at how small the inside was until I realized that there were two floors. Indeed it seems no costs were spared. The La Marzocco Linea, where all the coffee action happens is the first thing you see when you walk in. All staff wear custom uniforms, Monocle co-branded items are on display on every shelf space and the menu is simple yet slightly exotic. If you read Monocle you know about their obsession with Japan. This is also clearly reflected in their choice of food with pastries delivered by Lanka, a Japanese run patisserie that fueses traditional French recipes with Japanese influences, to name one example.
In the back they have a slightly strange room that resembles a small living room with a massive TV, which in my view adds little more than noise. Downstairs there is the kitchen where the food magic happens and as far as I could tell a Japanese chef was busy prepping the dishes.
I managed to grab a little table outside to catch a few rays and wait for my Flat White, which was being prepared using Allpress beans. Having been to Allpress the day before I knew what kind of taste to expect. Of course, when the coffee came the presentation was immaculate. The coffee is served in a Hasami cup and comes on a little tray. Very nice touch. The coffee itself, not as good as I would have hoped, especially considering the prices they charge.
It’s a shame in fact that this place only does Espresso based drinks since the Japanese are very big on slow coffee and including a few options such as V60 or aeropress on the menu would have given it more third wave credentials than is currently the case. After seeing the images of Monocle’s Tokyo Cafe I was also surprised they chose such a small venue in London. Especially if you’re not just serving coffee but also presenting your brand’s products and serving food you need a bit more breathing space.
For what it’s worth however, the Monocle Cafe is a very promising first sign of what might still be to come for this world class magazine. Let’s just hope they manage to increase the quality to better match the expectations they have created amongst their readers and fans.