So is “London’s oldest coffee lounge” a regular for you when you’re in NW3’s bucolic heights? Strangely, we had never actually been through the doors until recently, despite noting how busy it is in all weathers, and admiring its ye olde worlde facade. Come to think of it, if we’re up that way, we still struggle to find a decent cup: Ginger & White simply isn’t as good as it thinks it is; and Melrose & Morgan is a shop of beauty, but a horribly weak flat white (my first and last attempt at the drink) was left half-finished just before Xmas.
So the other Saturday, as temperatures plummeted, we popped to the Cup after a brisk walk on the Heath. Jack Russell in tow, we were required to sit in the sheltered outside area, which was also heated. A perfect spot to gawp at the mixed bag of Hampsteadites going about their business. Inside was packed with an older crowd and their grandchildren tucking into those retro tall glasses of latte, or mugs of hot chocolate with all the trimmings. It’s cute, for sure, but could it, in fact, be cuter?
The Cup’s selling point is that it dates back to 1954 and is unchanged. This can either be a good thing or not, of course. And on their website they remind us that all Hampstead’s celebrities at some time or other “end up at The Coffee Cup”, from “Peter Cook and Dudley Moore to Paul McCartney and Sting.”
But alas its dotage shows in the coffee, the kind you might get in one of the charming older Italian caffs in Soho. Nothing horrific, but entirely unmemorable, our double macchiato (a seasonal preference right now) offering up a bitterness only slightly rounded by the addition of foam. Little depth or complexity of flavour. And furthermore, when we asked for the bill, a whopping £5.40 for two. Yes, just a dribble of coins back from a tenner for two teeny coffees.
It’s a wonderful little place, of course – full of atmosphere, and a real survivor against the quite aggressive wash of chains along Hampstead high street – so yes, we genuinely hope it continues to thrive. But all that’s needed is a rethink with those beans. Or perhaps just a new coffee machine. Or – perhaps – we were just unlucky.
Words & Snaps: Stephen Emms