2015 café/coffee update by Sarah
It may only be early January, barely moments since all mankind remembered to love each other and then promptly forgot as they rampaged like warmongers in the Next sale, but a coffee round-up can never come too soon, and because you never meet anyone who gives up coffee as their new year’s resolution (or at least no one worth spending the rest of the year with; coffee quitters are social napalm). I find this a helpful thought whilst coming to terms with my obligation to complete the Dryathlon for Cancer Research and come upon my annual bafflement at realising how going out for a drink is such a staple feature in my life that, if I compiled all the hours it uses up in a month, I could easily learn a new skill, like basket weaving or juggling or playing the recorder. And then I remember why I don’t do these things and I do go to the pub, and then things get gnarly. And then, coffee house come to the rescue.
So where has already hit the radar in 2015? Well, let’s start with the coffee that came with such a degree of over-zealous waitering and attentiveness that I might have been mistaken for Jay Rayner. Biondi is an unusual place, seeming determined to ruin its riverside location in Gunthorpe by trussing itself in late 90s decor and a preponderance of ornamental tat. It has the sense of a place trying to compete with its neighbours (Tom Brown’s, The Bridge and Bayleaf) whilst occupying a site that naturally lends itself to a more casual cafe for walkers and barge dwellers; the upshot is a mish mash of overpriced, Italianised brunchy fare and quasi-formal evening dining. There’s no doubting the genuine Italian family nature of the business, but since the Italians lay claim to the best coffee processing and service, the proof for me of success had to be in the beverage, and sadly my milky, tepid cappuccino forlorn than Florentine.
The flipside of expectations not being met is the far more pleasing discovery of excellent coffee in an unassuming venue. Step forward the Robin Hood Inn at Baslow, a lovely homely pub on the A619; not exactly the place you would anticipate finding a honkingly strong espresso resting beneath a meringue of foam. Bizarrely, and sadly, the coffee was the highlight of my visit from a degustation point of view, although I would happily sit and sup a beverage or two here for the eleven months of the year when life will be fun again. The food here is appropriately priced if you go in for burgers or sausages, which were kind of OK as long as you are happy with mass produced fries and fresh out the plastic pre-sliced blandsville burger buns. However, I paid £5.95 for a ham sandwich on granary and what I got was a one of those piddly rolls you get in a four pack from Sainsbury’s for 65p, where the ‘crusty’ top is like a layer of paper you can peel off the bun and is so devoid of flavour and texture you wish it was paper instead, and several miserable shavings of a flabby pig who, in marvellously meta fashion, had evidently had a diet of meals as bland as the one it went on to feature in. The side salad seemed embarrassed, curling up at its own existence and squirreling into the corner of the massive square plate that only served to highlight the insubstantial nature of this monumental rip off. Cue lots of Robin Hood related jokes.
Finally, Wired: excellent coffee, happy staff with musical credentials, lovely cakes. It’s enough to pose a Homemade / Wired dilemma to any arty Cobden Chambers botherers. I say it’s honours even, with both well worth visiting. Wired probably edges it on the coffee front, only letting properly trained up barista types get their pressure gauges flicking in anticipation of pressing the water through the toasty range of Allpress grounds. Like Lee Rosy’s, the basement seating area seems like an afterthought, a pit you end up in rather than a snug hideaway from the shopping melee outside. It wouldn’t take much to get this second space into a better state, or perhaps designate it as a dining space or a cake room (a coffee shop with a designated cake room, how magic would that be? Just putting it out there…). It’s hard to believe that Wired has been there for over a year, and it will be interesting to see how much or little of its trade disappears to the Ugly Bread Bakery at the crest of Hockley; hopefully this new addition will simply increase the numbers of coffee lovers stepping the independent way.