It’s an unusually sunny spring Sunday morning on King’s Road in Chelsea, London. Tucked away on the second floor of the Habitat interior design store, looking out over the chichi boutiques and mums with strollers, is a pop-up… but not a pop-up as you know it. There is no charmingly mismatched seating, no drinks in Mason jars, no hint of exposed lightbulbs or loveably last-minute decór. In fact, if you were to wander into this pop-up, you’d probably think it had always been a part of Habitat’s Chelsea store: an elegant, well put together, professionally-designed cafe. However, in the case of the Noble Espresso crew, they were there for one weekend only, yet this was no reason to do things by halves.
In the beautiful, brightly-lit space—all clean white walls and minimal-inspired blonde wood furniture—delicious things were happening. The Scandinavian-inspired menu, dreamed up by the Noble team and their collaborator, Michelin-starred chef Christoffer Hruskova, is quite different from any other brunches on offer at the moment in London. For one, you probably won’t find the dense, booze-based Danish porridge øllebrød anywhere else in the capital.
“We wanted brunch ideas that are fresh, fresh-tasting, interesting, seasonal… something a bit different to the classic baked eggs and spicy sausage and all that jazz,” says Nico Halliday, an occasional Sprudge contributor who joined the Noble team earlier this year.
Hruskova foraged many of the ingredients for other dishes, including nettles, New Forest mushrooms, and wild garlic. With menu items like the aforementioned øllebrød and pan-fried cod liver with sourdough and mushrooms, it's clear this was no ordinary Aussie-style brunch menu (avocado toast and such), the kind of which has proliferated throughout London over the years. I'll go as far as to call it an achievement for Noble Espresso, one of the London coffee scene's quiet successes over the past few years.
Noble’s success came from a combination of hard work and the luck of being in the right place at the right time. Founder Shaun Young, a keen barista who began his coffee journey in restaurants rather than cafes, has always had the goal of starting his own company. From watching latte art videos on YouTube in Chester to moving to London with the goal of working at Kaffeine, he climbed the ladder swiftly and with style. After being hired by Taylor Street Baristas and going through their training program, Shaun entered the UK AeroPress Championship in 2012 on a whim… and won. “It was absolutely crazy,” he remembers. “I’d been in coffee like four months and it was just like… wow. Off the back of that, I thought, ‘I love this, I’m really into it and I want to stick at it and stay in coffee.’”
A job at Kaffeine followed after a few months at TSB Canary Wharf. It’s not surprising to see echoes of Peter Dore-Smith in Shaun Young, whose fervency for weighting hospitality equally with coffee and food very much reflects the modus operandi for Kaffeine’s founder. It’s something that’s driven Young from the day he stepped away from Kaffeine to begin his coffee cart in August 2013.
“When we started, the plan was never to do events. We were going to have the cart for about six months, then open a space. But it panned into something we never planned it to be. It became so good and enjoyable,” he explains.
Starting out by taking the Noble Espresso cart to festivals was rough, and there were more than a few horrible gigs for Young and his fellow baristas. But with one particularly difficult festival job came a silver lining—there he met people from the street food collective KERB, who later offered him a pitch at their King’s Cross space. After a bit of deliberation, Young decided to take the pitch, and shortly thereafter, business grew exponentially.
If you encounter him on the Noble cart, Young can often give off the air of cockiness or youthful insouciance with his behind-the-machine banter. But beyond that initial impression is a core of genuine enthusiasm and a keen eye for what makes the industry tick. After all, you don’t just fall into a niche of serving high-end, high-profile clients such as Instagram, Nike, Topshop, the BBC, YouTube, Google, and the like by accident.
With all these big names to back them up, and a reputation for excellent coffee trailing in their wake, Young began organizing the next step forward a few months ago: a brunch pop-up, which would move his business indoors and allow him to put into practice his much-loved hospitality experience. In his mind, it would be an integral step on the road to his ultimate goal, which is to open a brunch-focused cafe in the next year or so.
“I missed restaurants. I missed it so much. The coffee cart and events… they are hospitality, but you’re not looking after people. You’re not really giving them that full experience, and I missed that,” he says in earnest.
Halliday echoes his sentiments that hospitality and putting the customer experience first was hugely important to the whole team. “If you don’t have any pride in what you’re doing, if you don’t want the customer to enjoy it, then there’s no point in being in customer service.”
These heartfelt attitudes extend to crafting an experience for the customers, built on a foundation of exciting coffee and fresh, seasonal food. The little details at Noble's brunch dazzled, everything from the floral arrangements to the seating scheme to the weight of the paper the menus were printed on. It was a smooth, well-run weekend brunch pop-up that outshone more than a few established restaurants on many levels.
“When it was bustling, it felt like a real restaurant—which I guess it was. It felt real to us!” Halliday added.
As with all good brunch places, I showed up armed with at least two friends so we could divide and conquer the menu. From the moment we were seated, as Halliday greeted us and explained the menu offerings with her recommendations, it was an exemplary meal. The Heart Stereo espresso (from Portland, Oregon) was served as a slightly longer shot with a refreshing glass of lemony sparkling water on the side, vying for attention with a perfectly-poured, glassy flat white using Workshop’s Cult of Done espresso and rich Ivy House milk.
My ricotta hotcakes, piled high with thick whipped double cream and bananas, and drizzled with green, aromatic, terpenesque Douglas fir syrup, offered a unique take on a popular dish. My friends’ dishes—courgette and nettle fritters with spinach and dry-cured Tamworth bacon, and toasted rye bread, avocado, wild garlic, and Neal’s Yard ricotta—brought forth happy hums of gustatory bliss throughout the meal.
We washed it down with Noble’s coffee cola (created by Noble team member Tom Burrows), a blend of warming spices, coriander, lavender, espresso, sugar, and sparkling water that was reminiscent of the medicinal goodness of root beer.
This brunch was a success, to be sure, but Noble Espresso is not ready to rest on their laurels just yet. Halliday confides that they’re hoping to diversify with the brunch going forward, perhaps collaborating with other chefs and changing the menu seasonally as different foods become available. Young wants to make sure that they are pushing themselves with each brunch service, adding more covers each time to test them and get them ready for opening a real cafe. The purpose of the brunch, beyond rewetting Young’s appetite for hospitality, was to prove that his concept could work before investing the time and money involved in opening a full-fledged business. “I’ve worked in restaurants and cafes before, but combining the two and understanding how to run one, or do it well, is a different ball game.”
To find out when Noble Espresso is hosting their next brunch pop-up at Habitat, keep an eye on their website in the months to come, and expect great things.