The changing face of coffee and cake in London’s Soho
It’s not that long ago, that when you wanted to meet up with friends in London’s Soho, pretty much the only go-to option for coffee and cake was Patisserie Valerie.
What is now a UK-wide chain of coffee shops, began life with a single cafe that was opened in 1926 on Frith Street in Soho. When that location was bombed during World War II, Patisserie Valerie moved to a nearby location in Old Compton Street.
For many years, Old Compton Street was the beating heart of queer life in London, and Patisserie Valerie was right in the thick of the action.
Adam Pemberton, writing for LGBT History Month, says that “Valerie’s will always be the place where I first tried to flirt and be cool – no discernible success at either – and where, after a lot of searching, I caught my first glimpses of a different way of being.”
Patisserie Valerie was a family-owned business until 1987. It’s subsequent expansion hasn’t been particularly successful, and – at the time of writing – the chain of cafes seems perilously close to disappearing completely.
While the loss of Patisserie Valerie from its landmark Old Compton Street location would be a little sad, the reality is that Soho now has a lot more options in terms of places to meet up with friends, and cafes selling coffee and cake.
Here’s some options you might want to consider.
Having begun life with an outlet on Leather Lane, this is a quality coffee operation that’s now slowly beginning to expand its presence.
They take their coffee seriously, but the Carnaby Street branch still retains a relaxed, informal feeling - despite being in the heart of one of London’s busiest retail precincts.
Drawing on its Antipodean roots, Flat White has long been one of the shining lights of the coffee scene in Soho.
It’s a small space, but worth squeezing in to find a table and soak up the atmosphere.
Soho used to have a bit of a seedy reputation - all sex clubs and adult book stores. It’s gentrified cafes such as Jackson & Rye that are ensuring that any seediness or sexual edge is well in Soho’s past.
There’s nothing wrong with Jackson & Rye - they serve up a decent brunch, and the coffee is solid, but it’s the kind of place you could comfortably take an elderly relative who doesn’t like surprises.
Having begun life in Copenhagen, there are now multiple Joe & The Juice outlets across London and elsewhere in the world.
It’s the Soho outlets that I tend to find myself in.
The juices are good, I like their sandwiches, they play good music, have free wifi, and seem to have a policy of only employing good-looking young guys who are probably straight but possibly a little bi-curious. That’s a killer combination.
L’Eto Cafe is up the Oxford Street end of Soho’s Wardour Street.
L’Eto’s feature is a fantastic display of cakes in the window, but they also have a really extensive breakfast menu. Great coffee too.
Good coffee, a relaxed vibe, staff that seem like they don’t give a fuck but they’re deceptively on the ball.
Possibly my favourite place to grab a coffee in Soho.
There’s something effortlessly cool about most things emanating from the Nordic and Scandinavian region of the world. One thing I’m particularly fond of is their obsession with coffee and cinnamon.
Nowhere is this done better in London than the Nordic Bakery. Their Golden Square location is a little oasis of calm amidst the otherwise frenetic activity of surrounding Soho.
This is a ridiculously popular counter-service Italian cafe and restaurant.
I have an irrational dislike of it. For me, it’s always too busy, too noisy, and serving up sub-standard food and coffee. But I’m obviously in the minority, as everyone else I’ve ever met seems to love it.
This is more of a chocolate shop than a traditional cafe.
I don’t want to over-state this, but the mocha that they serve here is spectacular - the cup draped in melted chocolate and filled to the brim with a milky chocolate and coffee combination. A great option if you love chocolate.