It’s well known amongst my family and friends that my favourite coffee house/cafe is Butter Beans (formerly Taylor St Baristas) in Richmond. Why else would I travel two and a half miles at least once a day, and often twice, for a cup of coffee unless it wasn’t just good, but wonderful! Butter Beans has been my favourite cafe for about four years, since Time Out voted it Best Coffee in West London, not long after it opened as the first Taylor St Baristas (a small, independent chain). Now it’s fully independent, owned 100% by Kiwi, Alese Butter (hence Butter Beans), who has been running it since its opening. It remains much the same, although over the four years since I – with Time Out‘s help – discovered it, there are have been big changes and improvements. Not least was moving from the back of a deli one side of Richmond station to its own proper cafe-type site the other side of the station, three years ago. Once in its new site, it really came into itself and the cafe’s own character was able to develop.
This is a comfort stop: the decor is simple and rustic; brightened with bold red walls on one side and a changing display of artists’ works. It’s a bit funky; this is a place to chill out (although, like every other cafe in London, also a meeting place for people having work meetings – this is what comes of people not having their own offices any more). The most important thing, of course, is the coffee.
When I first tasted their coffee, it was a revelation. I hadn’t tasted coffee like that since being in Rome. Now, four years on, there are artisan coffee houses everywhere and the coffee world has undergone a revolution and grown into a new kind of ‘wine’ world: people go to coffee tastings; they discuss the best means of preparing a particular bean; fashion has changed from cappuccinos to flat whites, to cortados and now everyone talks about ‘drips’. Being a loyal kind of person – even if that makes me unadventurous in the coffee stakes – I tend to stick to my usual flat white. Though occasionally I go off piste and want a cappuccino or piccolo (Butter Beans’ version of cortado). This often causes momentary confusion as they know me so well, they’re almost making my usual as I walk through the door. In fact, in the evening after a meal (thanks to training by Italians who would never drink cappuccino after 11am or food!), I never drink white coffee, always black; sometimes an Americano, if I know it will be well made (like at Joe Allens), and often an espresso.
The opportunity to drink great coffee may be more widely available now but that doesn’t mean Butter Beans is any less wonderful than that first taste I had four years ago. I have other favourites in central London (most especially New Row Coffee in Covent Garden) but locally, Butter Beans really is the best still. Using Union Coffee, their flat white, cappuccino or whatever you choose is simply fantastic. The flavour is deep, strong, rounded and at the same time mellow (bad coffee can be too bitter). But another way that the cafe has moved on is in its offerings of food. Food arrived with their move three years’ ago when Alese found a baker and they started making their own cakes in a tiny little kitchen at the back. From the most amazing muffins:
And even carrot cake muffins, which just have to be one of my favourite muffins or, indeed, cakes, anywhere:
Embracing Alese’s antipodean heritage, there are Anzac cookies and Lamingtons:
If I eat anything with my morning coffee, it’s usually a croissant (which they buy in):
And I’m rather fond of occasionally ordering banana bread in the afternoon. The first time I ordered it and they offered to toast it, I was unsure. I used to make banana bread a lot when my kids were small but never toasted it. However, toasted banana bread – smothered in butter of course! – is a revelation: the toasting really brings out the flavour of the banana and it’s delicious.
As time has gone on, the food menu has grown and now there’s a full menu from breakfast (they open 7.30am weekdays) to 3.00pm (the cafe stays open until 5.00), freshly prepared by the cook in the small kitchen. You can have a full English breakfast or porridge or bircher muesli.
Come lunchtime, you can indulge in gorgeous freshly made sandwiches with exciting fillings, salads, avocado on toast, piles of corn fritters with a poached egg on top, homemade soup, savoury scones or, as I did today, a fabulous frittata with sweet potato, spinach and feta.
The cafe is fairly small and such is its popularity now that at times it’s hard to get a seat if you want to eat and drink in, but fortunately, working from home, I can usually time my arrival for a slightly quieter time. However, it’s not unusual to find a small queue of people waiting for them to open at 9.00 on a Sunday morning. The staff are always friendly and tend to stay a while (always a good sign) so you get to know them and they you. Come special times – like Halloween a few days ago – the cafe will be decorated in the spirit of the event: mock cobwebs hanging about and the baristas in full Halloween make-up and clothes. It’s a fun place to go; a comfortable place to go; and above all, it serves great coffee and great food.