Monocle Magazine launched in 2007 as a self-proclaimed “global briefing on international affairs, business, culture and design.” The years since have seen them become something of an intellectual empire, including their own 24/7 web radio station, several short documentaries, small print publications, multiple Monocle retail shops (in London, Hong Kong, New York City, and Toronto), a Tokyo cafe, and now, a Monocle cafe in London. It’s located just around the corner from their headquarters at Midori House, in the eminently stylish Marylebone neighborhood.
The cafe leaves little room for brand confusion. Not only is there a very particular ‘Monocle’ aesthetic in the space – it evokes the sense of sitting in a stylish library – but the distinct Monocle logo can be seen everywhere, from the walls lined with past issues of the magazine to monogrammed chocolates and tote bags. On most days they have the Monocle radio station playing in the cafe. It wasn’t the afternoon I visited, for some unexplained reason, and so instead my soundtrack was the *whirrrrrrr* of refrigeration and the hum of those talking around me.
It’s a space that feels very London and yet absolutely global too, with a pronounced Japanese influence designed by Edo Design & Construction and modeled after their first cafe in Tokyo. Monocle London is split into three ‘rooms’: a small and simple cafe with pale wood details and Monocole issues lining the walls; a ‘living room’ at the back with low couches, ambient lighting, and a television in the corner (showing “the news”); and cafe seating downstairs with a gallery wall and a kitchen at one end. This place is quite obviously made for those who live and breathe the Monocle lifestyle, including a discount and other special privileges for current subscribers.
The drinks menu is extremely simple. There are no sizes, and just two prices for hot drinks: £2.50 for espresso, americano, and tea, and £3.00 for macchiato, latte, cappuccino, and hot chocolate. The cafe’s manager, Stuart Ritson, explained to me that the menu was meant to reflect the fact that the same amount of espresso is used in each drink, and thus “the cost doesn’t really change.” I’m not sure I agree, and regardless, I doubt we’ll be seeing the sizeless menu model adopted widely anytime soon.
I went for the “Magazine + Hot Drink” combo, priced at £6, and sat down beside a table lamp in the corner. My flat white was presented to me on a Fog Linen tray, with a (rather confusing) sugar packet and in a Hasami mug, which I’m told by Mr. Ritson are handmade by Hasami himself. Still more details are equally well thought out, from the traditional Japanese catering uniforms and aprons shipped from Japan, to the gorgeous Tasmanian furniture One / Third furniture and stools (from their “Solid” line by Alexander Lotersztain)
All of which – the presentation, the circumstance, the setting – might explain why I had hoped for more from my coffee. Although presented beautifully, my flat white fell, well, a bit flat. The drink itself was overly milky and the espresso in it, roasted in Shoreditch by a roaster called AllPress, was standardly dark roasted. I was able to pull out just the thinnest veil of bittersweet chocolate and nuts from that flat white, but overall my drink had very little character.
I can, however, wholeheartedly recommend the Swedish cardamom rolls by Fabrique – a Stockholm-based bakery with a London outpost – and I definitely want to go back to try their Okinawan “Taco Rice”, a Japanese comfort dish that is almost exactly what the name implies. The one here is made fresh to order by chef Masayuki Hara, formerly of Le Gavroche.
If what you’re after is an amazing, life-altering, world class coffee experience in London, I would gladly suggest a number of other, more focused cafes. But say you’re in search of a place in London with a pronounced Tokyo vibe? The sort of cafe where, say, one can ponder global affairs…maybe while thumbing through a tasteful bit of small press, with an order of “takoraisu” on the way? Monocle might just be what you’re looking for.