Saturday, April 30, 2005

monmouth, the market, and bramah

so i was standing around the local up here with the wombles of wimbledon, and the regulars here were chatting up a storm about whatever -- for example a couple had flown to france for lunch in their private plane -- when i happened to mention to one tim b., your average microsoft exchange administrator in a "computers are fun and useful" t-shirt, that i was looking for a place called 7 dials. no one in pub had heard of the place.

but tim b. said, oh, i know it well, i go there all the time, every week. really? i said. yes, he replied, for coffee. i happen to be looking for thefamed monmouth roasters, i ventured and his little ears perked up.

oh yes he said, i drink their costa rica shb. do you also own a rancilio silvia? i wondered aloud. in fact i do, he said. whereupon i realized that here in the wilds of wimbledon, i had met an altie completely by accident.

needless to say, the next morning, we purchased our all day london travel passes and went straight to monmouth. this shop is run by chicks, which is truly cool: anita, a.j., and i believe the roastmistress is named angela!

the shop is just my kinda place -- right next to a kiehl's! we sat down in one of the little cozy wooden booths next to the la marzocco 2-group and the mazzer robur.

the cappuccini are excellent. we ordered ours with their regular espresso, based in a super-premium brazil from stephen of mercanta. it was basically like meeting long-time bccy pal andrew barnett's ecco espresso all over again -- remember, his coffees are likewise based in stephen's famous brazils.

in other respects, the blend reminded me of stumptown's hairbender. imagine a kind of marriage of ecco and hairbender and you'll come close to the monmouth. . .it's an amazing, amazing coffee!

while the main store at 7 dials doesn't pour latte art, we did get a tour downstairs of the antique whitemee direct-heat drum roaster. it's quite a sight; like all serious roasters, they've modified it a lot and it's pretty much held together with baling wire and fresh paint.

the old milk can they use as a coffee hopper for it is pretty hilarious too! i highly recommend a jaunt down to see the roaster if you happen to drop by.

i could have stayed and talked to anita for a long-time but she was preparing to leave on a trip to rwanda to buy green coffee. further, a.j. was heading over to their other store at the borough market, which is where i was planning to go to lunch anyway.

as we left monmouth -- did i forget to mention that they have the most delicate and tastiest fresh rhubarb tart with a delicate, shattering butter crust? -- tim and i wandered into neal's yard, where we sampled various unique artisanal raw milk english and irish cheeses.

among those we sampled were the famed flower marie, the wigmore with its bright yellow rind, the montgomery cheddar, and a semi-soft round from county cork. tim and i agreed we desperately needed the brie-like wigmore and the semi-soft cork, which reminded us of a morbier but without the line of ash.

with our cheeses packed, we jumped on the underground and caught a train that
had cushy upholstered seats. hopping off at borough station, we wandered down
the street, following the people who had food.

and there it was: the incredible, incredible covered borough and green market, with its gorgeous delicate green wrought-iron posts. they sell everything there!

we sampled 5 kinds of organic olive oils, 2 kinds of hand-made truffles, fresh first-of-the-crop real english strawberries (actually, not quite ripe, a little early), artisanal spanish serrano ham, an organic kefir or sparkling yogurt made with said strawberries (this was delicious), and natural english venison.

all about were displayed the finest imaginable foods, of a quality that couldn't be surpassed even by the famed santa monica greenmarket. oh, the food in london has truly changed for the better. . .

as we roamed we happened upon the second monmouth shop, where we again bumped into a.j. this time we bought some of their 2-day-old ethiopian sidamo, and i extolled the blueberry quality of the stumptown harrar until the entire staff probably thought me mad.

a.j. offered us lattes on the house, and the barista jamie poured us a beautiful tulip and a rosetta. it was competition-level latte art, but being english, jamie said that competition wasn't his thing: he cared only for coffee quality.

no one could quarrel with that. suddenly it had become lunch time, and tim announced his peckish state.

we wandered by some of those dark chocolate truffles, picking up a couple of cardamom and walnut ones. then we spotted the famed neal's yard grilled sandwich cart at the market.

this cart is reputed to serve the best sandwich -- not just the best grilled cheese sandwich -- in the world. it's the above montgomery cheddar on real poilane bread with organic leeks, red onions, and garlic. it being spring, a few garlic blossoms seemed to have tossed in as well.

for only GBP3 (US$6) it was a complete bargain. and yes, the hype is real. it is the best sandwich ever.

tim and i hung out on the curb by the well-known vinopolis and discussed slow food. that's when i suggested we walk the 4 blocks to the eccentric bramah coffee museum.

half of this dusty, kitschy place is devoted to dead leaves, so tim and i wandered quickly through to the coffee section. this is where you can see all of the machines in bramah's famous book live and in the brass.

naturally tim and i were astounded to see a whitemee roaster, exactly like the one used by monmouth (sans milk can). as we exclaimed over the beauty of an early tall pavoni espresso machine done up all in white and blue enamel(!) in an art-deco greek-key design with delicate pierced decorations on the drip tray and gorgeous full-color peacocks draped across the front, an rather tired and avuncular white-haired man appeared out of nowhere in a rumpled, fuzzy sweater vest.

i'm glad you like the espresso machines, he said. would you like to sign my guestbook? sure, i said, who are you? i'm edward he answered.

yuppers, it was edward bramah himself! he insisted we sit down for an apple tart and a cup of very light kenya aa.

naturally, i was full of questions, which edward managed always in a soft voice to evade. he showed us a sample coffee-walking tour of downtown london, politely listened to my suggestion that submit a proposal to speak at the 2006 scaa conference in charlotte, and then bid us farewell.

our last stop was nearly an afterthought: rococo chocolates, where we sampled dark with arabian spices (we bought 2 bars); dark with hot chili (we skipped that one, the chili overpowered the chocolate); dark with rosemary (a beautiful surprise!); white with cardamom (eh, ok); white with dried cranberries and nutmeg (fantastic! we took a bar even tho' neither tim nor i thought we liked white chocolate); milk with french sea salt (another surprise, but we had so much chocolate already!); dark with coconut (again, merely ok); dark with orange and geranium (don't knock it, it's one of the best we ever had!, another 2 bars!); and seriously considered whether we had room enough for some of the exquisitely modeled baby-corn bon-bons filled with rich praline. . . .

if you ever do anything in london, dear readers, i beg you to imitate this most excellent itinerary!

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