As a nation of tea drinkers we've never really had much of a coffee culture here in the UK, which means unlike major cities like New York, Paris and Milan you'd be hard pressed to find local and independent cafes in London that serve a decent cup of coffee. Which I've always found odd, considering the multitude and variety of eateries and bars in the city. Of course, that's not to say they do not exist. You just have to look a bit harder.
If you want to avoid the coffee flavoured water and froth you get from the ubiquitious coffee chains or crapppuccino as I've read one journalist describe the coffee in London, you should check out Monmouth Coffee Company in Covent Garden and Borough Market and Coffee Plant on Portobello Road. Here you will find good coffee. The kind that instantly curbs a caffine fix and tastes like a cup of heaven.
Since I've known the AB I have heard much about the coffee culture in Melbourne, but the facts speak for themselves. There are over 3,000 cafes, bars and restaurants in the city alone, so the Melbournites know a thing or two about the bean. According to the critics, some of the city's best coffee can be found in Antipodean owned cafes.
Over the last few years the continual influx of Antipodeans to the country, all desperate for a good 'flat white' as good as back home, has resulted in a resurgence of the coffee and indcafe scene in London.
One of the recent indcafes on the scene is Lantana. The Fitzrovian cafe is the recent winner of the 2009 Time Out Eating and Drinking Awards for Best New Cafe and is owned by Melborne-born Shelgah Ryan. I headed there last month for Saturday brunch with the Aussie contingent of AB, DTREED, Monibonsoir, the Cleaner and his wife Uri Geller, Joehead, Magneto and his girlfriend NB (I don't have a nick name for her yet!) and Mr Chen aka Turtle and his wife AC.
Lantana has a light and bright interior. Enter the cafe and the first thing you're notice is the stylish nature inspired black ink graphic mural at the back of the room. The same pattern adorns the stickers and coffee cups. If you've been or spied the inside of an Ottolenghi at the weekend, imagine a younger, hipper version minus the yummy mummies and prams and you have Lantana.
Suprisingly for a cafe located in an enclave of London which is deserted at the weekends it was packed. There was no room upstairs for the hungry herd, so we headed downstairs to the basement. Here we were greeted with a large wooden bench positioned just infront of the kitchen and surrounded by produce and cookery books. There weren't enough chairs, so some of the guys had to make do with wooden crates. The makeshift nature of the setting reminded me of a Franco-Brit owned cafe in Paris called the Rose Bakery, which has a similar laid back vibe.
The Saturday Brunch menu is served from 9 - 3pm and includes a variety of sweet and savoury, and big and small options and caters for all tastes. It included a selection of dishes including brunch classics such as French toast and scrambled eggs and salmon to breakfast staples including bacon or sausage and egg sourdough bread sandwich.
Avocado & Vegemite = a taste revelation
The AB and I started with sourdough toast with vegemite and avocado (£3), one of his favourite toast combos. The bread is served with a pot of butter, a jar of Vegemite and half a sliced avocado. The trick to assembling the toast and it's toppings so it is edible is down to getting the exact combination of the three constituents right. Start with a generous spread of butter. Next add a thin layer of Vegemite, then a topping of avocado slices. Crush the slices with a knife so it spreads evenly across the bread (It should look like green peanut butter). Finish by adding a light sprinkling of cracked pepper et voilà it's ready to eat. And before you turn your nose in disgust, try it. The combo shouldn't work, but it does. The creamy slithers of avocado perfectly complements the Vegemite. It is a must eat and a taste revelation that I will definitely be repeating.
Like most of my group, I followed my appetiser with the baked eggs with chorizo, mushoorm, spinach and spicy tomato sauce served with grilled flat bread and creme fraiche (£9.50) which took 15 minutes of slow cooking. The last time I'd had baked eggs was in Paris at Les Cocottes de Christian Constant and to this day those are still the best baked eggs I've ever eaten. The eggs at Lantana were well presented, however I felt the spicy tomato sauce lacked flavour and needed more seasoning and spice to give it depth and heat.
The waitress forgot the AB's order (he's a big fan of baked eggs too), so to save time he went with the steak sandwich with thinly sliced beetroot, carmelised onions, crumbled stilton and rocket. The sandwich was beautifully cooked and the AB enjoyed eating it. Maybe it was just me but I felt it needed a side of some sort to complement it, like a side of hand cooked crisps. Monibonsoir and AC had the corn fritters stacked with crispy bacon, avocado and roast tomato salsa, rocket and lime ailoli (£9). A hearty dish which is a menu favourite, which I'll definitely be ordering the next time I return.
Verdict: So, what about the coffee? It's great. Whether you order a flat white or latte, there's no foam which means more coffee. Starbucks take note. Lantana uses quality beans from Monmouth, so it's no suprise why it gets the thumbs up. In a city where coffee chains rule the roost, Lantana is a welcome addition to the cafe scene. I just hope we can learn something from our neighbours down under, and add a British stamp to the new emerging coffee scene.