Tag Archives: café

The Crafty Egg, Stokes Croft, Bristol

It’s a common phenomenon on many city streets that one building – usually somewhere near the middle – seems to have a new business in it every other week. Whether through bad luck, bad neighbours or plain geography, the signage changes as regularly as the seasons, the next owners either gamely carrying on in the same vein as the previous, or making a bold new reach for something entirely different. At home one such shop front peddled wedding lingerie, computers and antique furs (though sadly never all at the same time); in Bristol it’s not uncommon for one cafe to form into another in the space of a weekend.

The Crafty Egg was once Hooper’s House, and before that, perhaps, something similarly caffeine-themed. It sits in a thoroughfare of Stokes Croft, the buy bus route of Cheltenham Road grinding past the windows and the clash of locals, students and those of no fixed abode converging on the pavements outside. New businesses crop up a lot here, fitting in amongst the street art and various pop ups, and like the murals on the walls opposite it can be hard to know how long they’ll stay. Yet the Crafty Egg seems comfortable in its new home, offering just the right balance of Montpelier-pleasing artisan coffee with a no-nonsense approach to food (an accolade surely confirmed by the preponderance of workies that can be found tucking in to breakfast rolls of a Saturday).

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Despite the occasional chaos of its surroundings, the Egg itself is a beacon of calm: soft music plays, diners are usually in quiet concentration immersed in laptops or the morning papers, and the waiters-cum-baristas move with a well-paced elan. Our orders took a reassuring amount of time to arrive, and were truly excellent when they did. Good sized portions of poached eggs, perfectly seasoned cheesy bubble and squeak and a selection of breakfast meats complimented with excellent flat whites were the right way to start the day; we were eyeing up the homemade cakes (holy jam-filled Viennese Whirl, Batman) for a pit-stop on our return home later that afternoon.

Safe to say we hope The Crafty Egg is here to stay – and with a bustling weekend atmosphere and the promise of more enticements to come, there’s a good chance it just might.

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Galleti, Quito, Ecuador

I´ve written before about how a well-made cup of coffee can feel like the biggest treat for a weary traveller. But it´s becoming increasingly clear that the cafes we choose signify something more; as we find ourselves once again in the most middle class coffee shop we can find, it appears that we´re also pressing pause on the trip itself.

That´s not to suggest that we´re not having a wonderful time. But with each new country there are new challenges to face, be it different words or local phrases not found in any dictionary, vast cities that stretch as far as the eye can see (and the fast and ever-flowing river of traffic that come with them) or just a different sense of how safe the neighbourhood you´re in really is. Each morning we prepare ourselves for these adventures with the requisite caffiene, and often seek somewhere that most resembles home to ease ourselves into the day. As a result, we find ourselves in cafes and restaurants full of tourists, not locals, and there´s an inevitable tug on our conscience that we´re not doing things the ´right´ way.

We´ve learnt to seek out our morning pit-stops by recognising tell-tales signs: parasols or wrought-iron balconies, old and important looking buildings nearby, preferably a courtyard or plaza with young and trendy business folk bustling across it. Galleti ticked all the boxes: a coffee museum and shop based in the old bowels of an ancient church, its cafe and tea emporium upstairs with window seats that allowed us to look over Plaza Grande below. Once discovered, it became our regular for the five days we were to spend in Quito, offering as it did beautiful coffees made with Ecuadorian beans, kind staff, great music and a host of decadent cakes served in door-stop proportions.

As expected, we sat among more travellers than Ecuadorians, but, while it was decidely upmarket, it did in fact reflect the cosmopolitan feel of the historic centre of the city. For this is something else we´ve discovered: in our pursuit of an ´authentic´ Latin American experience, it´s easy to forget that many cities have a very middle class and modern element to them. Certainly people of Mexico City, Bogota, Quito and others would challenge the dirt-road-and-a-donkey stereotype of Latin America (though, sprawling as the cities are, there is always a stark contrast between the rich and poor, as with anywhere you go). And, should we need to, we can assuage our guilt thus: once we´re fully caffienated and duly prepared, we can set off to explore our surroundings in much finer detail.

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Coffee, the traveller’s treat: Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica & Colombia

Having made it from one end of Central America to the other, we are, by now, fairly used to travelling by bus.  In Mexico we started slowly, opting for plush coaches to tackle day-long journeys. In Guatemala and Nicaragua we favoured the chicken bus, where more people than you can possibly imagine are pushed on, usually to the soundtrack of loud reggaeton and the competing yells of people selling food, drinks or disposable razors while miraculously squeezing between hot and grumpy human sardines. Costa Rica and Panama opt more for the wide-bottomed single decker, where most get a seat and fewer people share the aisle. Generally, the speed is somewhat reduced here too, though bus drivers in almost every country seem to take an indifferent approach to traffic lanes, other vehicles or slow-moving pedestrians.

Despite the occasional sharp intake of breath when a chicken bus plays chicken with another chicken bus, there’s lots to be said for this mode of transport: you’re in amongst the locals, and will often be engaged in conversation or a friendly staring contest with a tiny child; hilarity levels rise as the number of passengers reaches ridiculous proportions, and it is almost always unbelievably cheap. We’ve travelled hundreds of miles for tiny amounts, even with the occasional ‘tourist tax’ added on. It’s so cheap, in fact, that we can find ourselves spending far more on the coffee we reward ourselves with on arriving than the entire journey itself. (Bus station coffee is scalding hot, readily available and cheap, but, coffee snobs that we are, generally ear-marked for emergencies only.)

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Cafe Loco, Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Having hiked our way to Lago Atitlan and settled ourselves in hilly Santa Cruz, it would be a short and soggy boat ride to the villages dotted around the lake. Panajachel is best known for its thoroughfare of stalls, selling all manner of tourist tat and offering fried chicken every hundred metres. We didn’t hold much hope for breakfast, but, in coffee at least, we would be very pleasantly surprised. Hidden amongst the hammocks and ‘authentic’ Guatemalan outifts, Cafe Loco is easy to miss – but this would be a terrible shame. Framed barista awards from around the world nod to the skill within these walls; the giant, gleaming coffee machine and its industrial-sized water filter are the well-tended tools of the trade. The menu is a coffee lovers dream, with every combination conceivable. We opted for a simple latte – blended to perfection – and something more akin to a fine cognac than a cortado: a deep, dark shot of espresso, topped with an exact measurement of foam, served in a glass tumbler and pronounced the Egg Poacher’s Best Coffee, ever. The owners left Korea and learnt their skills in New York, Barcelona and London. Luckily for Guatemalans, they seem set to stay.

Serious beans need serious machines #coffeeporn

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Espressonista, Granada, Nicaragua

Having woken at dawn and taken three buses that screamed through countryside and crawled through busy towns, we arrived, hot and dusty, in Granada. Our hostel was close to the ubiquitous Parque Central, and we were soon following our noses in search of caffiene. Espressonista came up with the goods. Inside the high ceilings, potted plants and interior courtyard gave an airy, tropical feel, while calming electro, striking modern art and beautiful staff added a trace of hipster. As well as complicated salads and an expensive wine list, there were freshly whipped cakes and a host of European coffees on offer. Soon the early start and strains from a bumpy ride had dissolved. Despite the price – more than three times what we’d paid to travel for four hours, though still only amounting to about $12 – we didn’t begrude the expense, chalking this one up as a well-earned (and very well-made) treat.

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Como en mi Casa, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

We didn’t plan on being in Puerto Viejo for long, using it as an overnight stop before crossing the border into Panama. Having stayed – and quickly left – our first hostel (home to giant cockroaches and run by highly-strung travellers who forgot to leave) we looked forward to moving on; but not, of course, without breakfast first. Como en mi Casa fits with the town’s hippy theme nicely, run by friendly vegetarians with a penchant for tattoos and comfortable sandals. There are all manner of soya, raw and vegan options, as well as real milk for those less averse to all things bovine. The coffee here is strong and flavourful, and our cakes so well-intentioned (raw strawberry muffin and gluten- and dairy-free pancakes) we might have even lost weight eating them. Or there’s the hope.

All you need is love. And pancakes. #puertoviejo

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Museo de Antiquoia, Medellin, Colombia

We set down in Colombia late at night, so only had the sea of lights to guide our impression of the very sizeable Medellin. By morning the unique landscape was revealed – great swathes of high rises that cover the hills all around, with an equally built up and bustling centre. Despite the fact that everything is industrial-sized, the city is not without its charms: a shiny, new Metro whisks people across the city, allowing us to sample the noisy centre dotted with old churches and galleries, or the far lusher and calmer Botanical Gardens in the university district. On our first morning we opted to head straight into the city’s heart to take in the wonderfully rotund sculptures of Fernando Botero, a man with great fondness for boobs and bums (and not necessarily only on the ladies). There’s a gallery dedicated to him, too, and though the attached cafe might not have had the best coffee in the world, the setting – overlooking the square, aforementioned bums in view – is hard to beat.

Not sure which bit of the view I'm enjoying more. #botero #bottom

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EYE, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

IMG_5209A thick fog sat heavily on the water, surrounding the ferry and our fellow, silent passengers, all of whom seemed wrapped for stormy seas in woolen jumpers and oilskins.  Nary a word was spoken, and I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d stumbled into the Dutch version of The Killing, with something dark and hurty just around the next corner.

Mercifully, the short and free commuter journey merely deposited us onto the bank opposite,  and, once the haar had cleared, we could find our way to one of Amsterdam’s most striking modern architectural achievements, the EYE Film Institute.

Looking a bit like something Captain Kirk might have double parked while he nipped in for some milk, it’s a stunning home to all things film, with a dedicated film library and a rolling series of exhibitions. It’s worth the journey purely for the stunning design – inside Labyrinth-style corridors empty you out on to levels above (or below) the one you started on, the sleek wood-and-stone surrounds are lit up by the giant windows that look out to to the water.

Its restaurant is at its centre, with tables placed as if on one giant staircase so all can make the most of the view. The menu is both modern and traditional (perhaps a nod to the variety of films they show here); croquettes or herring with onion and gherkins or homemade cakes made by ‘Kuyt’ or ‘Lanksroon’ – the traditional apple cake was delicious, served with fresh mint tea and honey. For those with bigger appetites to sate, there were extravagant Breton white bean soups or smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, all ready to be matched by a large selection of wines or dark, Dutch beers.

As with many places in Amsterdam, the service was efficient but somewhat cool, though they seemed more used to faltering tourists here than elsewhere. The location, interiors and 180 degree views across the water make this a trip worth making – and the food’s not too bad, either.

Price: €3.25 (tosti)  – €7.50 (smoked salmon sandwich).

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The Galley, Harbourside, Bristol

The Galley sits between a rock and a wet place – on one side you have Hotwells Road, home to sinister looking pubs and fast food joints; on the other, you have the river and it’s swans, boat folk and masochistic rowers on a mission to reach the end of the course before their extremities fall off.

Inside, double glazed windows shut out the road noise and seats at the back show a better view than Hotwells Fried Chicken. The walls are adorned with nautical nick-nacks, vintage signs and globe lanterns and a soulful soundtrack plays – though by the third round, Al Green had started to grate a little. It’s not a huge space, so choose a table away from the coffee machine – and caffeine seekers should be prepared to order more than one vintage tea cups’ worth if they want to wake up properly.

Brunch comes from a short menu, and traditionalists will be happy – the full English comes with beans and fried bread, decent bacon and herby sausage; those looking for something a little different might opt for duck eggs on sourdough with spinach, and there are veggie options and lighter bites (granola, crumpets and homemade jam) too.

The ingredients are local and good quality, but breakfast feels like an afterthought here: I’ve heard great things about relaxed, raucous dinners, their Sunday roasts look fabulous and the cream heavy cakes testify to a fine afternoon tea, but there was something a little lacking from the morning menu. A chilly interior, hard wooden pews and a slightly distracted service meant we didn’t stay for long – those looking for a place to linger over their brunch would be better served elsewhere.

Price: from £2.50 (crumpets) to £6.50 (full English). Cash only.

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Zielona Weranda, Poznan, Poland

The Polish love their food – thankfully, so do the Scots so this was a friendship likely to go far. Once we’d extracted ourselves from our generous hosts long enough for them to stop feeding us full of fragrant stews, rye bread and homemade compotes, we discovered Poznan’s incredible Roman Catholic churches, its historic square and this gorgeous café near the old town.

The rules were stretched as we opted for cake rather than croissants, but as this was the first ‘meal’ of the day it just about counts. A mouthwatering menu of home-baked meringues, cheesecakes and gateaux lay before us, and at Zeilona Weranda they’re not sliced, but quartered. Opting for the nut cake and traditional ‘kruszan’ (a vanilla-chocolate delight covered with fruit syrup), we set about our task with gusto, nobly defeating layers of chocolate icing, hazelnuts, thick sponge and cream all the while overlooked by paper chickens lit with fairylights. Not quite satisfied with our sugar-enduced headaches, we finished it all off with strong, milky lattés laced with syrups from an extensive list. The Poles and the Scots share something else, too: terrible weather. Thankfully, we were invited to stay and wait out the storm, and in the company of such fine cakes and coffee that was just fine.

Price: from 14.00 pln (nut cake); coffees from 8.00 pln.

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The Primrose Café, Clifton, Bristol

Cliftonites bring people watching to the next level. Part ‘The Good Life’, part ‘Made in Chelsea’ it is not uncommon to see Crocs mix with Chanel, canvas bags with iPads. There are an awful lot of people called Barnaby. Having said that, the café culture is well established here and the passion for provenance and homemade food is strong. The Primrose is tucked away but well-known, and you may need to wait (fight?) for a table. The brunch menu is chalked up and there’s a line of wicked cakes in front of the bar. Sweet tooths could opt for the waffles with berries and crème fraiche, or there’s a mean-looking sausage-cheese ensemble for those of a hearty disposition. It’s not your standard bacon, eggs and beans affair, though there are lots of extras to add to your bagels, grilled tomatoes and bubble and squeak. It’s not bad value and there are boutique shops full of stuff-wot-goes-on-mantlepieces next door should you feel so inclined.

Price: From £2.75 (sausage roll) to £4.95 (regular breakfast); extras £0.95-£1.75.

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