Welcome to Dissonant Notes and Mixed Opinions: a serial in four parts, starring me and three branches of London’s independent coffee chain Notes.
I order coffee at the Covent Garden cafe, and learn a whole new routine of grimaces.
At the beginning, I’m thrilled I’m being served something I recognise as a macchiato: a small cup of espresso with frothy milk on top, rather than a tall plastic glass of syrupy swill with my wrongly spelt name on the side. Brownie points for Notes, I think – only to take back all those points, and then some, when I realise the coffee is the kind of impossibly bitter mess I’ve had before and seeked to avoid since.
My parents, who ordered the same, agree. As we leave, my Dad (fourteen-coffees-a-day Dad) says he understands why I claim finding decent coffee in London is harder than coming across a pink sparkly unicorn that whispers the next Euromillions winning numbers in your ear (the reason being, I’m ready to bet the unicorn appears in no time if you smoke the right stuff).
It’s Covent Garden again, and this time, a matcha latte. It’s foul. Nothing to do with the velvety texture and delicate flavour I remembered from Sticks ‘n’ Sushi: this one tastes overpoweringly earthy, and has far too many lumps of bitter grains floating around.
I sip it all the same, because I spent £2.80 on a small glass, and hold some hope finishing it will turn me into the Incredible Hulk (green, angry, and ready to wipe out all overrated, overpriced drinks from the city). Not even a minute later, I wish I was wolfing down a sugary slice of cake, like the smoker wishes for just one more fucking cigarette to erase the taste of the nicotine gum. And I’m still not Hulk.
I’m in Canary Wharf, killing time before a cinema screening. I reckon ordering tea can do me no harm – it worked for my friends, that time I was battling with the Green Monster in a glass – and am proved wrong in the space of 10 minutes. That’s how long it takes to get my order, even though the place is nearly empty.
I start pouring my tea as soon as it lands on my table, thinking it must be ready; it isn’t, and I find myself filling a cup with hot water. I pour it back in the teapot as soon as I realise my mistake, causing a flood on my table. Five minutes later, I’m finally drinking proper tea, and casting nervous glances around, sure I’ll catch a stranger looking at the pile of wet tissues I’m resting on and wondering where I’m hiding the child that wreaked such havoc.
By the time you tune in, you’ll have realised I’m not the biggest fan of Notes’s hot drinks. Here’s the twist of plot: my visits to the Moorgate branch improved my ratings enough to make me head straight there every time I’m in the area. Their cappuccino is decent (further proof that, when you can’t trust a place to deliver a proper espresso, drowning coffee in milk is the caffeine junkie’s safe bet), and their chai latte, despite being a bit on the watery side, left a much better impression than the high street chains’ overly sweetened versions.
What keeps me coming back, however, are the cakes. I had a feeling they’d be worth it since I first saw them at the counter at Covent Garden (a script idea for Episode 1 that didn’t make the final cut), and craved them ever since. When I sat down for breakfast at Moorgate, and realised the cake on my plate was as glorious as I’d fantasised all along, I felt my heart burst with joy.
If you’re recoiling in horror at the thought of cake for breakfast, rest assured there are more conventional options you can go for. I, however, think that if heaven exists, it must be the type of place where you can start your day with marble loaf. The one I had at Notes comes in tall, thick slices – no scrimping on portions here – and has a batter so dense and crumbly, it reminded me of the cakes my grandmother baked when I was a kid.
Nah, just kidding, my grandmother never baked once in her lifetime. My friends’ mothers did though, and I lost count of the times I’ve sat in their kitchens on play date afternoons, nibbling on cakes just like this one, wondering what kind of evil dessert had done to my family to deserve the cold shoulder. Notes’s marble loaf is as good as homemade; I, for one, wish I could make it at home. Knowing me, the amount of butter involved would put me off the idea forever, but when it comes to buying cake, my approach is “ignorance is bliss”. This cake is bliss. You’ll want to sweep up every last crumb from your plate.
So this is the season finale: a happy ending, with no ambiguous cliffhanger, and no need to wait months to tie up all loose ends. The next time I’m in Moorgate, I’ll step right into Notes and head straight for the cake counter. I urge you to do the same.
1 Ropemaker Street
London, EC2Y 9AW
Open 7am – 9pm Monday to Wednesday, 7am – 10pm Thursday and Friday