We at Monocle like simple things done well. That’s why this month we focus on the essentials – a perfectly brewed coffee, sharply curated retail, and two blissful hotels – one whose build adheres to a traditional local love of limestone.
While residents of Sydney, Tokyo and Portland have created their own well-loved and supported premium coffee shops, it’s surprising how many in other cities have not. One glaring hole in the froth has always sat over London, where finding a good coffee shop can take the cunning of Miss Marple. Even then, at some point, the relationship always turns bitter – one morning the coffee just tastes bad and you realise the shots no longer hit the mark.
Ben Townsend is one of a new wave of bean connoisseurs who in the past few years – and especially past 12 months – have been infiltrating interesting pockets of the city and adding some craft. There’s Dose Espresso near the Barbican, Climpson & Sons on Broadway Market and Flat White and Fernandez & Wells in Soho – and now, The Espresso Room in Bloomsbury. Townsend’s site is compact, just 9.3 sq m, and is in a 1920s shop that, until recently, was a second-hand bookstore. The makeover, with the help of furniture designer Tim Hitchens, uses three simple materials: poured white concrete for the floor, larch multi-ply for the counter and black Valchromat for the shelves. Then there are the benches for perching on indoors or outside according to the weather.
But no matter how immaculate the design concept, it’s the coffee that matters. Townsend explains that his coffee epiphany came while working in Melbourne in educational multimedia. Townsend quit to train as a barista and soon became a trainer and coffee consultant himself in Australia and Blighty. But he wanted his own space.
“There’s something exciting happening in London at the moment, it’s a small revolution that is mostly being led by Australians and New Zealanders. What I wanted to do was match some of that Australian style with a high-quality design sensibility,” he says.
Townsend sees himself as part of what in the US is known as the Third Wave. “First you had the Italian coffee shops, then the chains, now we are going back to being artisans. For any of the coffees I sell, I can tell you who the farmer is and who roasted it.” The Espresso Room, and the whole London coffee renaissance, has been helped by the economy – not just because Townsend was store hunting as the chains slashed expansion plans. He’s also benefiting from people wanting simple things done well. Up the revolution!
Good business model: An affordable space not on a main drag. “If the coffee’s good, people come.”
Quality control: “What we haven’t seen here until now is that Australian barista mindset where a person can make 500 coffees in a day and they are all perfect.” Tight vision: There are three coffees available – a blend, single origin and decaf.
Earlier this year, Mia Zeltner and Sebastiaan Vadasz, two Zürich residents bored with their careers in product management and strategic consultancy, decided to change tack and trade in more noble business winds by launching something that Monocle enthusiastically supports – an independent and sharply curated retail outlet in our favourite Swiss city, Zürich. Townhouse is a collection of the best, brightest and most interesting international objects carefully assembled by the couple in a simple and smartly appointed space.
Zeltner and Vadasz have also built their workspace at the back of the shop in order to field personal stock suggestions from well-travelled customers and inform all others with helpful advice and care assistance.“We wanted Townhouse to be more than a retail space, we see it as a platform where products are being created, tested, adapted and then newly applied,” says Zeltner. ilovetownhouse.com
“In the past hotels here have been for foreigners but we want to attract and merge our guests with the local community, which is something new for Israel,” says Massimo Ianni, CFO of Jerusalem’s newly opened Mamilla Hotel.
Following a soft opening in June this year, so far the response to its heritage exterior look (under Jerusalem law any new buildings must be built using traditional limestone) from Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie and Piero Lissoni interiors have been positive. Ianni continues, “The aim is to use Mamilla to get people to talk about Israel where tourism hasn’t fully developed due to a number of unfortunate reasons we all know about.”
A rooftop terrace that opened last month sports a woody Scandinavian aesthetic for visitors to enjoy brasserie food cooked by Israeli chef Roi Antebi while enjoying spectacular views of the old city. Next in the pipeline for early 2010 is a 1,000 sq m spa that has also undergone the Lissoni treatment. It comes complete with Watsu pool (an aquatic shiatsu and body massage therapy), hydro-treatments,traditional hammams and an organic juice and raw food snack bar.
The Principe di Savoia is undertaking a €35m refurbishment, including a Thierry W Despont bar and 10 Francesca Basu-designed suites, that opened during Milan Fashion Week. The Imperial suite’s highlights include a handcrafted mini bar console and a Turkish bath.