London Life Coffee Shops

attendant espresso & food café

April 4, 2013

Oh, you know i like a good story. Boy have i got a good one for you today!

Sometimes this morning, just as i was about to publish my latest blog post I saw a tweet my friend mr walnutgrey put out. He was also going to alert me personally of a post he read on this new discovery of an underground 1890 victorian gentleman’s toilet converted into an espresso and food café, called attendant! They opened their doors on 18th February 2013.

I took one look and was hooked. I simply had to go down there and see for myself. A quick change of arrangements, a phone call to see if the owner was present, 30 minutes later, wet and cold from being on the vespa in snowy conditions i had arrived! (the things i do for my readers:-) I don’t know why but something drew me there….

Look at this beauty (peter, the owner calls it his shop front). This was 9 months in the making. Apparently it took numerous coats of paint to get the ironwork looking like this! It is literally stunning, do you agree?

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Oh, i already started fantasising about the spicy carrot soup. Yum!

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Yep, you see correctly. You can pull up in your ride, ring the bell and they’ll serve you curbside. Genius!

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Look at that entrance…mysterious, full of anticipation and excitement. What awaits me downstairs?

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In i went and was greeted by a warm and welcoming space, full of little details and wonderful smells (NO, not the smells you’re thinking of:-) Funnily enough, 2 people today told me that they weren’t sure they could eat in a place that once used to be a victorian gentleman’s toilet. Really? What about living in a house that used to be a petrol forecourt? I could go on. I tend to see these matters as historic anecdotes, nothing more and nothing less. I was so taken by the design and finish of the place that it never even crossed my mind once!

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The door is the anchor to it all. It stems back to 1890 That’s where the attendant’s office used to be back when it was a gent’s loo. I LOVE that although it’s been converted  into a kitchen it’s been left as it is and although the staff go in and out of the door into the kitchen and serving area, the fact that it stops mid height brings with it an air of openness and transparency and a little humour.

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Meet peter tomlinson, the brainchild of this most unusual venture. Although extremely busy and not stopping even once while i was there, he kindly answered all my probing questions and satisfied my curiosity. A fellow scooter rider, i think he appreciated i zoomed right down with the purpose to blog about ‘attendant’.

So, the story goes that peter and his mate ben, who used to live in new york, were sitting in the pub above attendant and discussing how cool it would be to open a coffee shop. Originally from sheffield, peter worked in PR and marketing. After a few beers and a couple of meetings they saw a ‘to let’ sign just outside the pub. Yes, it was a former public toilet but in 1989 had been bought by a Mr. S to turn into a design studio. Unfortunately, it didn’t take off and the site was boarded up till recently when Mr. S died.

On the market for 12 months, albeit with a lot of interest from people, the licence was only meant to allow for a sandwich and coffee shop. Bingo! Peter and ben were the lucky applicants!

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The results are staggering. Being down there i completely forgot about the spaces’ history. Tiled throughout, they’ve placed a lot of importance on lighting. From ceramic lights on the ceiling, to vintage lights and mercury lights from a beachfront shop in LA. They have tolix chairs and the café still features the 1890s doulton & co. urinals. Don’t fret, now they’re being used as dividers for seats with the victorian hand dryer still being placed above. Trust me, you soon forget about them as urinals but rather will look upon them as a design statement. I think it’s genius and beautiful! Feast your eyes….

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Now to the food and drink. As i was chatting to peter it daunt on me that their philosophy is one of caring for the environment and for our wellbeing. They carefully source all their produce and peter is very proud of their choices. Coffee, after much research comes from caravan, the organic milk is sourced from ivy house farm milk. They have 120 jersey cows on their farm. You can have an almond milk porridge. The brown bag crisps are hand cooked in olive oil (the only ones in the uk to do so). They use bread from the bread factory and what impressed me most was that they had reverse osmosis water filters build in to maximise on the taste and health properties of any drink made with water. I wish more places would do that!

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I believe that attendant are the first café to use these ‘perfect cup’ in the UK, if not europe!

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These posters hang in pride as you walk in the door!

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Everything is considered and thought through. Here’s my lunch. Delicious and beautifully presented!

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I knew something made me drop everything and rush there today.  To me this is a winning formula of kick-ass concept, great design with some gorgeous details and an admirable philosophy in how to serve food and drinks. I truly loved it and will be back often.

I asked peter what kind of marketing and PR they did.  He said they had agreed on a ‘people discovery strategy’. Well, rest assured, the whole world will soon know about this and i wouldn’t be surprised if it won’t be used as a case study in business and marketing courses.

Thank you peter for your time and thank you to your utterly charming staff. Sorry if i was in your way! See you soon!

I know i’m late with my blog today but i hope you’ll agree that it was worth the wait. I urge you to go and visit! Have a great weekend. Let’s not talk about the weather. See you monday!

Attendant
Downstairs, 27a Foley Street,
London W1W 6DY

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29 Comments

  • Reply Igor April 4, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    This is such a unique and cool place! I read about it a few days ago on another design blog and fell instantly in love with it. Now having your personal experience confirming my excitement, I know where I’ll be off to when I’m in London!!

    • Reply tina April 8, 2013 at 11:28 pm

      Yes, totally. It’s not often I drop everything to go and take a look:-)

      I met James from We Heart tonight. Such great people. Told him that their post inspired me.
      You know it’s going to happen, right. You, me on the Vespa off to Attendant!

  • Reply James Balston April 5, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Have always loved that extraordinary wrought iron structure at street level. So glad someone with great imagination has done something creative with the site. Must check it out.

    • Reply tina April 8, 2013 at 11:29 pm

      James it’s really great. Let me know when you’re next that way and I’ll gladly join you. Meetup LONG OVERDUE!

  • Reply Caroline @trend-daily April 5, 2013 at 8:30 am

    What a fantastic place-worth scootering out for Tina-great review too! X

    • Reply tina April 8, 2013 at 11:29 pm

      Thanks lovely. x

  • Reply Gerard @WalnutGrey April 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Well Ms Colourliving, I am with you every step of the way. This place is a treat. The fact that it was once a Victorian toilet makes it all the more special. Imagine the people who came and went and the things they got up to besides going to the toilet 😉 Attendant must have a fascinating history.

    The ironwork entrance is a real masterpiece. There is something I find compelling about stepping below ground, into the abyss. What is down there? And then to have the space open up into this brightly lit and beautifully thought through design cafe is wonderful. You know that life continues frantically above ground, but Attendant appears to be a cocooning, welcoming habitat. I can just imagine the aromas of great coffee and food filling the expanse.

    The tiles and old urinals are a highlight for me. I’m pee-shy, so always have to use a cubicle. It’d be fun using the ‘urinals’ to sit and sip over great coffee.

    You know I’m a coffee fan and an independent coffee shop enthusiast. Attendant is a great example of a coffee business investing wholeheartedly in its craft and its environment. One more great enterprise fighting off the chains!

    Thanks for scootering over there. Hope that soup warmed you up. And thanks for the mention 🙂 xx

    • Reply tina April 8, 2013 at 11:49 pm

      OMG, you agree with me on everything in this post!!! Must be a first?? Only kidding:-)

      Now now, this is a serious blog and no hanky panky talk here, BUT given the subject matter I think you are absolutely right and I’m sure those things went on then as much as they do now!

      The ironwork is really imposing. They cleaned it up so beautifully, well it took them a few months! Such dedication..
      I also really relished in going down the stairs… originally I thought it might be tight and claustrohobic but far from it. The space is generous and well thought through. It’s cosy, warm, cocooning and welcoming. I can’t wait to go back!

      You know the pee-shy announcement cracked me up. I suppose it’s fitting to talk about this here but…:-)

      Here’s to all the independent coffee shops. Hurray for people like Peter and his team.

      Thanks again for alerting me to this. Told James (We heart) tonight that you alerted me to this. xx

      • Reply annie April 12, 2013 at 3:50 pm

        TMI Gerard! You’re so funny.

  • Reply Catherine Bedson April 5, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Wowsers Tina, incredible project.. So unique. I’d love to visit this cafe! We have the same kind of toilets outside the GPO in Melbourne city (no longer operating), must have a look to see if anythings been done with them. Well done to the clever people who have preserved this bit of history, thanks for scooting over there to share it with us, love it!

    • Reply tina April 8, 2013 at 11:50 pm

      Yes, you would love this… it’s clever, beautiful fun and has great food. What more do you need, right?

  • Reply Anya Jensen April 5, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Loving this place and I totally get why you braved the weather and came there. fantastic, loads of ambience, and i love the way they conduct their business. Look forward to visiting there on my next London visit this Summer. happy weekend sweet friend, hope it warms up 🙂
    Axx

    • Reply tina April 8, 2013 at 11:51 pm

      Bit warmer, thanks. Yes, this needs to go on your list of visits when you’re next in town. A must, really! x

  • Reply Nicola April 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    My goodness Tina, what passion and hard work you do for your blog and beloved readers!

    And it sure is worth it.

    Thank you so much for telling us about this, can’t wait to visit!! xx

    • Reply tina April 8, 2013 at 11:52 pm

      Thanks Nicola… I sometimes wonder about myself. Is my blogging taking over my life??
      I think you and Nigel would absolutely love this. Now, don’t bring the whole brood at once. It’s not that big:-) xx

  • Reply leah of sang the bird April 6, 2013 at 6:54 am

    So worth the wait! T, this place is amazing! I love everything about attendant. The tiles… oh I love the tiles. And the curb side service; wonderful! T, thanks for sharing this xx

    • Reply tina April 8, 2013 at 11:54 pm

      Ha. Knew you would. It’s great right? Gosh, the opposite to where you live in Australia.. isn’t the grass always greener etc etc?

      Yes, the little touches. As I always say about my own flat, it’s small but perfectly formed. the same applies to Attendant!
      Thanks honey, glad you enjoyed xx

  • Reply Holly April 6, 2013 at 10:54 am

    “To me this is a winning formula of kick-ass concept, great design with some gorgeous details and an admirable philosophy in how to serve food and drinks.” – I couldn’t say it better myself 🙂

    Tina, this is a most unusual place, and the fact that you scooted over there at the drop of a tweet (thanks G!) makes you the most passionate and dedicated blogger I know!

    Thank you for sharing this! Attendant is now way high on the top of my London to-do list. I am a crazy coffee freak, so to go somewhere where they put so much thought, effort, importance on their product would be magnificent. And the place! Geez. I’d love to sit in one of those porcelain thrones 🙂

    Fab!

    Happy weekend! xoxo

    • Reply tina April 8, 2013 at 11:57 pm

      Wouser, thank you. Much appreciate all the dedicated readers I’ve got.. that’s probably why I like to bring you interesting stuff:-)

      Haha. Your list is so long but I agree, this has to go right to the top… I promise as soon as you step down in London I’ll take you there.
      Coming from Berlin, you guys are spoilt in great independent coffee shops but this is just a notch higher. Everything about it is great, so fasten your seatbelt xx

  • Reply Judith April 6, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    So unusual and cool! What an amazing place! Those puff pastries look so delicious too… I know where I’ll go to on my next trip to London!!! Thanks for taking us along on your first Attendant visit 🙂

    • Reply tina April 8, 2013 at 11:59 pm

      Yes, you’re right, this was my first Attendent visit and I’m plotting some more. Everyday this week when I have set meetings with clients or colleagues, I have gently tried to see whether we can meet nearby. So far, no luck but I have some meetings coming up and I know those people want to go and check it out. Result!

      When are you coming to London?

  • Reply Chi @ 106 April 6, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Okay, I was a little apprehensive about the fact that the urinals are still in use as design features but I can’t deny that the concept and execution are truly splendid.

    I LOVE their decision to go for a “people discovery strategy” – so much more effective than bombarding people with interruption marketing! And curbside service too?! Genius!

    I think this just might be one for my virtual little black book. Thank you so much for heading out in atrocious weather to give us the scoop! Great find, Gerard!! 😀

    • Reply tina April 9, 2013 at 12:02 am

      Of course, I forgot about you:-) something like the old urinals can set you off…

      Chi, honestly, you won’t even notice it. I promise. Once I was inside, I completely forgot about it all because it’s taken a life of it’s own down there and it’s buzzing with energy, coffee and food smell and interesting people.

      Go and visit xx

  • Reply Lena April 7, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    What a fantastic place and concept! I love your passionate and enthusiastic way of writing – makes me wanna see the place with my own eyes right away. Thank you!

    • Reply tina April 9, 2013 at 12:03 am

      Hi Lena, glad you like it. When you come to London, try and visit. Promise you won’t be disappointed! Thank you:-)

  • Reply Michaela April 8, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Thanks for sharing Tina – it really is a remarkable space, and it sounds like the food is every bit as good as the decor (quite a rare thing I find).

    I have to agree with Gerard that the ironwork entrance is absolutely wonderful!

    Thank you for sharing all these amazing places on your blog – I’m stacking up quite a list of places to go when I’m next in town.

    On a final note aare you going to the Hive thing in Berlin in May? I’ve just randomly gone and bought a ticket as it looks sooo good (I missed it last year and promised myself I’d go this year, and then clean forgot!) 🙂 xx

    • Reply tina April 9, 2013 at 12:07 am

      I agree, we all write about great decor and great coffee but what about the milk, what about ingredients and sourcing food produce? Most establishments forget about this as long as it’s perceived good food. BUT I want healthy and nutritious food that tastes good. Most people don’t realise that organic milk tastes 100 times better than non-organic milk.

      Love the fact you guys are making notes for your next London trip.

      Very excited you’re now booked to go to The Hive. There’s an amazing atmosphere and it’s a great 2-day conference full of inspirational talks and workshops. Well done you xx

  • Reply Holly {Avenue} April 11, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Oh this place looks amazing! Love all of the original detailing. Thanks for sharing! Holly x

  • Reply annie April 12, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    I think they must have been really busy these last couple of weeks as it’s been on a few blogs/instagrams. Spread like wildfire! I think it looks interesting. I’m with Chi, the urinals are making me gag a little but I’m sure in person it’s better. Definitely one to check out and what a great use of space and wonderfully quirky. Love that their address is just ‘downstairs’!
    Have a good weekend Tina x

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