Sunday, 29 March 2009


Yesterday Lantana turned 6 months old.

In our opening week, someone who had run a couple of restaurants told me that the next 6 months would be the weirdest time of my life.

Although I don’t have first hand knowledge of having a baby, I sense that starting a new business is a bit like being a first time mother. All the books you read and the advice you receive can’t prepare you for the actual experience of the birth and the first few months of their life; the emotional highs and lows, the physical exhaustion, the heightened sensitivity to any criticism or suggestion that you are doing things wrong or are a bad mother, the reluctance to leave your baby in anyone else’s care and the remnants of food and milk that you constantly find on your clothes.

Looking at Lantana on Saturday morning, I felt incredibly pleased and relieved that we have reached a milestone and survived the first six months.

The cafe is a living, breathing reality which no longer has the fragility and vulnerability of a new born, and I have much more confidence in what I am doing.

Now I need to find that man again to ask him, what happens after 6 months?

According to this parenting guide, "separation and stranger anxiety may begin". Begin?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Loyalty has its rewards

For six months I have resisted doing a ‘loyalty card’ because it felt too gimmicky. My argument has been that people will keep returning to Lantana if we do what we do well. I am loyal to cafes that I like and won’t keep going to a place that serves crap coffee just because they stamp a little card and promise to give me some of their crap coffee for free on my tenth visit.

But I realise that loyalty cards are also a way to say thankyou to the customers who walk past all the other places serving takeaway coffee and return to Lantana because they like what we do.

So here it is, the Lantana stamp book: a collectors item.

Every time you buy a hot drink to takeaway, you can collect a stamp. The more stamps you collect, the better the reward.

Collect 8 stamps for a takeaway coffee

Collect 12 stamps for a glass of prosecco

Collect 16 stamps for an eat-in breakfast of your choice.

Corn fritters with crispy bacon, slow roast tomatoes, rocket and aioli
Our first loyalty card recipient is already halfway to a free coffee- doing the office coffee run also has its rewards.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Familiarity breeds contentment

In my previous workplace I sat in an open plan office with the same people day in and day out for many years. We could spend hours deconstructing a film we had seen or discussing the significance of being a middle child as opposed to a youngest or eldest child (policy advisors like to practise their analytical thinking). I came to know those people almost better than I knew my siblings. Now, I see loads of different faces every day and the conversations we have are fleeting and rarely more meaningful than ‘do you take sugar’ or ‘would you like a bag for that’? I share my workspace with customers who don’t have names or personalities to me.

Over the weeks and months I’ve started to see the same faces returning again and again. I now remember what they have each day – middle aged American man has poached eggs on toast and a single espresso, the Australian girl with the quirky brooches has a small decaf flat white to takeaway, the English man with the leather jacket has porridge and a long black and the tall woman with the fur coat and straight fringe has a large skinny latte.

Most of the time that’s all I learn about them, but sometimes we start to engage and I discover that the large flat white is called Tom and is expecting his first baby and the double chocolate brownie is Ann who has a just been made redundant. The customer becomes a name with a personality.

One of my favourite regulars is a Spanish man with a large collection of scarves who has a latte with two sugars and a small orange juice.

Over the course of his daily visits the ‘latte and orange juice’ has become Alberto, co-founder of Webjam, digital artist, musician, surfer and admirer of brutalist architecture.

Alberto with his business partner, and another Lantana regular, Marcus
Alberto told me he was first drawn to Lantana because he heard we were using Monmouth coffee which he used to drink all the time when he lived near the Monmouth coffee store at Borough Market. He says that once he finds somewhere he likes he goes there again and again because it makes the city feel smaller; ‘to feel the warmth of people who recognise you, know your name and know what coffee you drink’.

Touche. It’s the small gestures of friendliness and familiarity from regulars (like Alberto letting me know that my blog had been named by Timeout as one of London's best food blogs) that make me feel that I also have a personality and am not just a nameless face behind a counter serving coffee. Maybe this is important to me because I’m a youngest child…

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Coffee out

After spending Mondays to Saturdays serving people in the café, on Sundays I get immense pleasure from sitting in someone else’s café, reading the paper and drinking coffee. It really doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Unfortunately, it also doesn’t take much to send me into a blind rage. Bad coffee will do it.

I have discovered through bitter, and watery, experience that there can be no accidental good coffee finds in London. You need to know where you are going as the odds of walking into a random café and finding decent coffee are about 16 (listed below) in 1000.

The other weekend I was heading to the Tate Britain in Pimlico and wanted to stop somewhere en-cycle for my Sunday ritual. I sat at the computer googling ‘good coffee’ and the names of the areas I would pass through but after about half an hour decided to chance the coffee at the Tate Britain rather than waste the entire morning at home.

The café at the top of the Tate Modern actually does decent coffee – in a pretty amazing setting.
At the Tate Britain on the other side of the Thames, the café and the espresso bar are in the bowels of the building with no views to distract you. Straight away I knew my coffee was going to be a huge disappointment as I saw the disinterested, grumpy man behind the coffee machine ignoring the most basic coffee making rules - not wiping the basket clean of the old grinds, not tamping properly, not flushing between shots, scalding the milk…

My anger (why hadn’t someone taught this guy how to make coffee) and frustration (I was now dying for a coffee with no alternatives nearby) grew as I waited in the queue, desperately wanting to give him some tips before he made my coffee but knowing that I couldn’t as it would make me the most annoying person on the planet.

So instead I stood there quietly and seethed on the inside, hoping that by some miracle he would fluke a good coffee. Unfortunately this book could be judged by the cover: frothy over heated milk covering watery coffee. The final insult is that they charge £2.5 for the disappointment.

What I need, what London needs, is a map of all the places where you can get good coffee – something along the lines of Breakfastout, a website which lists only the best places for breakfast/brunch in Melbourne and Sydney.

I have developed a mental map of where to go for coffee but London is a big city and this list leaves a lot of soil unchartered, for instance, the Pimlico area.

My coffee out list so far:

Barbican: Dose Espresso
Bloomsbury: Bea’s of Bloomsbury, London Review of Books
Borough Market: Monmouth
Broadway Market: Climpson and Sons
Covent Garden: Monmouth
Fitzrovia: LANTANA
Marylebone: The Providores
Nottinghill: Coffee Plant, The Electric (both are a bit hit and miss these days)
Soho: flat white, Milkbar, Fernandez and Wells
Spitalfields: Taylor St Baristas, Nude Espresso, Market Coffee House

Does anyone know of other places doing good coffee in London?

Thanks Charmaine for letting me know that such a list already exists. Nice work.