Sampa, Leather Lane (Clerkenwell Rd)

Sampa is a great alternative to the better-known coffee shops in the middle of Leather Lane. It is not cheap, but seems a bit more friendly and less…over-cool.

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Attractive and deceptively spacey coffee shop on the corner of Portpool Lane. Good selection of seats and benches, with views of the market outside. Lots of snacks and baked goods for sale to go along with your coffee, and a good selection of coffees and teas (the coffee is roasted in Shoreditch by Ozone, apparently).

Sampa

Good espresso, albeit at Leather Lane prices. I prefer here to Dept of Coffee and Social Affairs and Prufrock, just 100m up the road. Not stepped over the hipster line – just enough hipster, let’s say (is that a thing?).

I’ll be back, although I suspect it gets busy at lunchtime.

Coffee ****
£2.30
Environment ****

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Fix, Whitecross St

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I’ve been here over the years and seen improvements. It’s family friendly, close to the local playpark, so often has parents and buggies squeezed between the sofas. Laid-back atmosphere contrasts with the City of London and Barbican just a hundred metres south, and the bustling Whitecross market just outside.

It is good for a lazy Sunday – even if it is Wednesday afternoon. The coffee is fine – good, strong taste. Perhaps a little too treacly, but not unpleasant. You could easily pass an hour or two.

Coffee ***
£1.50
Environment ****

Grand Union bar (Farringdon), EC1

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More of a cocktail bar, it’s a destination for friends or office colleagues more than a plain old coffee shop. However, during the day it is quiet and a great (if somewhat unusually styled) hiding place. You may even have the whole thing to yourself. Free wifi and bar food might keep you there too.

The coffee is alright, but overpriced. You pay for the location and facilities. Probably worth it, too.

Coffee ***
£2.50
Environment ****

Caravan, 11 Exmouth Market EC1R 4QD

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On the corner of Exmouth Market, opposite the Cafe Nero, is this spacious licensed café full of well dressed architect-types – relaxed open shirts, jeans, expensive tweedy blazer and thick-rimmed glasses (for the men). Good, very short coffee. Complimentary glass of water (nice touch that you get in upmarket places). 14 tables and some stools. Windows all round and some benches outside. It’s also a bar, with food and a wide range of drinks. Nice, efficient staff.

So I don’t know why I felt it was a bit soulless?

(I’d come back again, though).

Coffee ****
£2.00
Environment ****

Alchemy, Ludgate Broadway / Carter Lane (City Thameslink / St Paul’s)

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A new cafe near the end of Carter Lane – close to the City Thameslink exit – this is a coffee purist’s spot. The energetic guys behind the coffee machine know their coffee, and offer advice and cheerful suggestions as well as lessons every Thursday evening.

I tried the ‘Elixir’ espresso blend from El Salvador, Ethiopia and Bolivia – which was lovely. There’s also single estate – from Guatemala.

There are 12 stools around the windows and the modern interior is uncluttered and simple. There are a few items to eat – croissants and the like.

Coffee *****
£2
Environment ****

Gray’s Inn Cafe, 188 Gray’s Inn Road (north of Theobald’s Rd)

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Not sure if it’s a sandwich bar, a ‘greasy spoon’ cafe, or an upmarket Starbucks alternative, this has a small sandwich and hot food bar upstairs and (surprisingly) about 9 tables in a modern basement seating area.

The espresso is pretty good too, although again that was unexpected, and the service is so business-like that it is difficult to know what to make of it. A coffee, wrapped in an enigma, surrounded by mystery.

Coffee ***
£1.50
Environment *** (tho faint smell of damp in the basement is unfortunate)

Bivio Cafe, Chichester Rents WC2 (nr Chancery Lane)

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The largest single espresso I have possibly ever seen – perhaps a communications error between the very smiley deli staff – resulted in a watery and not especially good espresso coffee. However, I have to admit I quite liked the taste!

The deli is small and clean, with small touches like fresh flowers and magazines making it a pleasant enough place to pass 10 minutes. The buzz of the drinks fridge tended to detract from the overall charm, however.

Lots of seats inside (though it looks like you could hardly use them all at the same time) and 4 tables outside in the pedestrian passageway mean it offers options if you’re looking to hide away.

Coffee **
£1.40
Environment ***