It is intoxicating to step into a restaurant or bar knowing that what you are about to experience is precisely what you expect – you feel the anticipation, and welcome, it’s reassuring.
Although it’s usually a quest to find the perfect coffee or meal that motivates me, once that is satisfied it is always the feeling and the people in a place that determines if it is the ‘regular’ spot for the duration of my stay in any city.
I can form serious and overstated sweeping opinions about any city in which I cannot locate a palatable coffee… During my recent trip to the UK after a few days in Essex, I find myself desperate for a decent coffee and arrive in London with an intensely acute need to ferret out a ‘good coffee.’
So, upon arriving in a destination how do you find the place that makes you feel at ease, offers easy-going pricing and loads of atmosphere?
When it comes to coffee, I think Antipodeans lead the way – strong espresso with textured milk served in a variety of styles: damn fine. You can be reasonably confident that in most major cities of the world there will be Australians forging ahead and opening independent cafes serving artesian style coffee to much acclaim – so first and foremost I seek out the expats.
London first stop (literally) – Flat White in Soho. Small and bustling inside and out, Flat White supplies the strong espresso hit that we love, with a sharp food menu to accompany. With the tunes cranking and the crowd familiar, it took us about ten minutes to bump into a former colleague working around the corner at Nike HQ. In case you haven’t heard – the world is small and the coffee good at Flat White.
Soho was our home for about two weeks, long enough to develop an affection for more than one coffee joint. Our next came without recommendation, but while walking the small streets we noticed the morning and afternoon bustle inside a small ‘standing room’ café – Grind.
Their coffee game was strong and the folk behind the machine enthusiastic and vibrant – second visit they had our banter and order down. A wave as we entered ensured our coffee was ready when we got to the front of the queue.
After a long day wandering the galleries and covering some kilometres on foot, there is nothing better than a glass of wine and a delicious meal. When it is a few years between visits, what was once a firm fav might be totally …not. So again, I sought the advice of people I met and resonated with… On a rainy Friday night in London, I found myself ducking into doorways and dashing across the road to the Italian pizza joint that “makes you want to eat pizza every night” and drinking potent cocktails in the window, while the rain just kept coming down. Dining solo, as I was this night, invites people to talk to you and friendly banter between the guys throwing the dough and the woman serving me cocktails ensured a late and raucous night was had and that I visited more than once and kept bringing others with me.
My final ‘London local’ for this trip and quite possibly the firm favourite – Barrafina. It came on the recommendation of the concierge at our London home, Soho House, and just across the road on Dean Street. The establishment has an open kitchen and a fabulous marble-topped bar where guests sit and watch the chefs at work. The food, oh my lordy, the food. Expect authentic regional Spanish dishes served in a small bustling restaurant. You watch your meal crafted before you while chatting to the team behind the pass – it is an experience I could happily endure on high rotation.
The hard thing with finding your local is the farewells. Responding to those happy “see you tomorrows,” with an explanation that it’s time to move on. But no matter how fleeting, there is nothing better than the wonderfully familiar feeling of being a regular.
WAYS TO DISCOVER HIDDEN GEMS
Chat to the locals
Ask everyone you meet and resonate with where to drink and where to eat. I owe a fabulous rainy night in Soho to the suggestion of a girl from Fremantle working in Liberty at Maria Tash – we discovered many connections through piercing selections and all her recommendations were spot on.
Ask your Concierge
Some hotels are better than others at dishing our genuine advice – so do your own research. Barrafina was a Soho House recommendation which we cannot thank them enough for.
Social media & review blogs
Check out social media accounts and blogs in the area – remembering that these days not all endorsements are heartfelt so again … research.
It doesn’t work in every location, however, the Beanhunter has helped me track down more than one great coffee – last year in Spain it was a godsend.
Ask before you go…
Seems obvious but ask friends, colleagues and random recent travellers if they have any fav culinary destinations.
Keep your eyes open
Look for the bustling and crowded spots as you wander the streets.
Word: Claire McGowan
Imagery: Claire McGowan & supplied
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