With a dedication to the bean that borders on the bizarre, this rebranded café-cum-restaurant will certainly keep coffee fans happy. And the food isn’t half bad either.
No longer affiliated with the popular chain in Australia, the venue's previous incarnation (St Ali) gets a brand new moniker. It still takes its coffee very seriously indeed, though, and that enthusiasm is something that’s evident here thanks to some eager and wide-eyed staff and an ominous looking roaster chugging away at the back. As you might expect, it’s all very communal, with a large square bar area the prime spot for those wanting to slide up, grab a pew and watch the very talented baristas do their work. It certainly looks the part too, with plenty of exposed brickwork, brushed woods and bits of industrial chic offering an attractive wink and a nudge to the nightclub this place used to be - it’s got ‘effortless cool’ down to a tee. Stairs lead up to a second floor that’s better suited to dining, but you get the feeling the ground floor is where it’s at – there’s an infectious hubbub that’s definitely not just down to caffeine coursing through veins.
Those that like coffee really like coffee, so you can expect the Workshop Coffee Co to be so full of fans there’ll be more waiting outside; even on Saturdays and Sundays, it appears – a feat not so mean in the quiet that is a Clerkenwell weekend. Weekdays are especially busy though, with local workers, foodies and, of course, coffee people making up the considerable numbers. Special mention must go to the staff, who not only really know their stuff but employ their lethargic Antipodean swagger astutely – something that probably comes in very handy with so much caffeine flying about.
You could probably forgive them for concentrating on the coffee but it certainly looks like similar effort has been put into Workshop Coffee Co’s food. There’s a solid selection of breakfasts, all with seemingly unconnected monikers that don’t really explain much, but once you’ve taken a closer look they are pretty darn enticing – think porridge with poached rhubarb and bourbon vanilla yoghurt (£5.50), French toast with Capreolus West Dorset smoked bacon, organic maple syrup and caramelised walnuts (£7.50), or house braised beans with sourdough toast, salted ricotta and lemon and mint (£6).
There’s clearly an impressive emphasis on the sourcing of ingredients, something that extends to the excellent lunches and brand new evening options. The roasted ocean trout (£11.50) is a huge plate of exquisitely cooked fish on a bed of quinoa, cranberries, redcurrants, fresh mint, pistachios and a tahini yoghurt dressing. It’s well-balanced and surprisingly hearty. Similarly, the ‘My Mexican Cousin’ (no idea - £8.50), combines big and sweet corn fritters with baby spinach, halloumi, kassundi and a couple of poached eggs beautifully.
The evening options are very welcome indeed, with the upstairs dining room playing host to some really rather impressive bits and bobs that showcase the skill in the kitchen. The confit British duck leg (£11.50) is a surprisingly tender, well sourced bit of meat given the kind of sweetness duck needs from roasted wedges of sweet potato and a very decent apple chutney. Smoked pigeon (£14) also impresses, set on a bed of puy lentils, roast onion, confit tomato and crumbled bacon.
That big and ominous roaster is a ‘Probat’, which is an expensive bit of kit, and apparently very good at extracting the individual flavours from coffee beans. Debating such bumph is probably best left to the hardcore contingent but what it most certainly does do is create pretty impressive coffee – certainly the match of the Monmouths. All the usual suspects are available, and manage to combine a really noticeable caffeine kick with a velvety smoothness. Thankfully, the coffee’s every bit as good as they say.
If you do fancy something a little more intoxicating then there's now scope to do so, with some excellent beers (Kernel Pale Pale and IPA, Asahi and Cooper's Pale Ale - £3.50-£4) and a very decent (if short) wine list that includes an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon from Alto Bajo in Chile at £17 for the bottle.
The Last Word
Undoubtedly coffee is king at the Workshop Coffee Co but to ignore the food would be missing out on half the fun. It's a great little spot regardless of whether you're bewitched by the bean.