The London Coffee Festival is always an overload of the senses. The raucous four-day extravaganza for you and 29,999 of your closest friends is replete with coffee, alcohol, and no less than six DJs pumping a mega mix at any given moment. It’s a lot to take in. But as with previous LCFs, this year there existed one bastion of chill—a quiet-ish enclave where one was invited to take a more relaxed, elegant look at coffee and all its commingling possibilities. I am of course talking about the coffee dinner.
Last year, the coffee dinner was handled by Scandinavian Embassy, Amsterdam’s masters of coffee and food pairings (and arguably the best cafe in the world). And while their absence this year left some sizable shoes to fill, the rather large feet of Grind, a London-based cafe and cocktail bar with multiple locations around the city, stepped up to the plate. Even with high expectations, Grind’s three-course coffee pairing dinner found a variety of unique utilizations for coffee as a component—both light and subtle, heavy and rich.
Each “dinner”—they happened throughout the day—lasted about an hour to an hour and a half and was limited to a seating of at most 12 guests. The progressive menu began with a heritage beetroot salad with toasted pistachios served over whipped labneh—infused with Rwandan Buliza espresso—and a washed Ethiopia Dumerso cold-brew pairing. The espresso lent the course a subtle, earthy counter-note to the acidity in the beets and the labneh, while the Dumerso was a sweet, light, and floral aperitif.
As an intermezzo, a sort of pre-second course, there were fresh sourdough rolls and butter infused with the same Rwanda Buliza espresso. Though still understated, the espresso flavor was far more pronounced in this mid-course than it was in the previous dish.
The second and main course was next—a sous vide sirloin served at a perfect, lightly pan-fried medium rare. A Peruvian coffee-based butter reduction/gravy-type sauce complimented the cut, and was also the dish’s pairing, served simply as a shot. The coffee was rich and chocolaty on the side but came off as sweet in the dish.
The final course was a chocolate parfait constructed with Grind’s house espresso streusel—constituted of two different Brazilian coffees and one Colombian—and candied hazelnuts. On the side was a cup of Grind’s Burundi Gakanke, which was made via V60. Admittedly, I’m not much of a fan of chocolate dishes, but the parfait’s over-the-top sweetness and richness pulled the lightness and crisp acidity of the pour-over into focus. I found myself going back to the parfait just so I could immediately follow it with a sip of the Burundi to experience them pop.
The meal concluded with a delightful cold-pressed green juice. Because after three actual coffees and four coffee-infused courses, consuming something green felt like not simply a digestive imperative, but a moral one.
Grind’s meal was a delightful look at how coffee can be used as a versatile ingredient for the thoughtful chef. It need no longer be relegated to heavy-handed rubs or as a bitter component but can provide sweetness, earthiness, and floridity. It can also be, as it turns out, the perfect fuel with which to jump back headlong into the fray at a bustling coffee festival.