Despite my love of Italy, it has to be said that when it comes to coffee, it’s an Antopidean coffee that does it for me: that strong punch of deeply rich coffee. My loyalties transferred to Australia-New Zealand about 4 years ago when I read in Time Out that the best coffee in West London was to be found at Taylor St Baristas in Richmond. One Flat White there and I was converted. That first Taylor St has recently become fully independent (under the same manager, now owner) and changed its name to Butter Beans, but Taylor St Baristas lives on in other branches serving its great artisan coffee. And the concept also lives on in a slightly changed form in Harris+Hoole, started up by the same three siblings who set up Taylor St, Laura, Nick and Andrew Tolley.
There are other differences. The Taylor St branches are small, independent coffee houses while the Harris+Hoole cafes are larger affairs, more akin to an upmarket Starbucks. The other big difference is that Harris+Hoole, while in one sense a ‘family company’ is actually 49% owned by Tesco, thus not exactly ‘independent’, and this connection has brought them lots of flak from people feeling they’ve been somehow cheated. But the connection is mentioned on the website and in reality Harris+Hoole are far removed from the main corporate coffee chains because they do sell good ‘artisan’ coffee. The name Harris+Hoole comes from two coffee-loving characters in The Diary of Samuel Pepys.
I have to say that when the Twickenham branch opened – a couple of years ago? – I was at first excited to find good Flat Whites made with Union coffee beans just down the road from me but it took a while for them to get their act together. The service could be appalling; the coffee too hot or too cold; and I hated the handheld pagers that would noisily vibrate when your coffee was ready and you had to go back to the counter to collect it with the offending item in your hand. In the end, I rarely went in. But of late, with Jonathan and Lyndsey’s little Yorkshire Terrier, Zeph, sometimes in tow, I’ve been going to my local Harris+Hoole because Zeph is not only welcomed but given a dog biscuit. They are dog friendly!
They can afford to be in these large premises; it wouldn’t work in a small cafe, I know. But it is handy when you happen to have a dog and don’t always want to sit outside. I’m rather glad that Zeph has led me back for there have been lots of changes. The horrid pagers have gone and your coffee is brought to you in quiet times; your name called when busy. I tend to go in at quiet times so am not sure how things are when it’s really busy, but the coffee comes quickly now and is of the right temperature. Everyone is friendly and there is a community feel to the place that the Tolleys hoped to create. For instance, there is a large blackboard full of notices of local events and cards advertising local services of various kinds and there’s often live music, which is fun. I’ve passed by when there’s a jazz group playing and just missed them the other day, arriving as they were packing up.
You can also buy coffee and tea to take home and a variety of coffee and tea items including coffee presses and filters.
I went in quite early this morning and the counter was full of food, from sandwiches to cakes and both sweet and savoury muffins.
Their croissants aren’t great but I had a gorgeous spinach and feta muffin there last week for a light lunch, and an excellent blueberry muffin one afternoon with a Flat White.
It’s a place to meet people or pop into on your own. There are communal benches at the back, armchairs and sofas, and more traditional tables and chairs. Across the window at the front is a long counter with stools where I like to sit on warm summer days when it’s opened right out and you can catch a breeze – even if slightly polluted in the middle of Twickenham! You can see their ‘book swap’ in the photo below, too. Bring along an old book and swap it for another!
And of course – and most importantly! – there is the coffee. Served in nice ‘earthy’ cups, it’s a good brew and good taste made from Union Hand Roasted beans.
I’m pleased to have rediscovered my local Harris+Hoole, in finer shaper than my early visits. It’s only a 10-minute walk from my house and ideal when I’ve less time available (i.e. rather than going into Richmond) or I want to do some local shopping. And, of course, it’s ideal when I have Zeph!
Postscript, 8.9.2014: I’ve had less happy experiences going back to Harris + Hoole at busy times since writing this post. It’s all been a bit chaotic, running out of cups and having to wait while they found some to wash … and then being given a bad, weak coffee. They obviously still need to work on coping when a rush is on and not letting standards slip.