I remember a time in London not so long ago when a request for a cup of coffee resulted in a solitary option of filtered, sometimes stewed, bitter coffee, or with any luck a milky capuccino. Then we had the advent of chain coffee houses like Costa and Starbucks. While quality was improved, what these places did was to give us endless choices. No longer was asking for a cup of coffee a simple task - words like "grande", "double macchiato", or "decaf-latte" had to be mastered, as well as high prices, and those dreadful large paper cups.
We have come a long way since then, and the latest development in this story is a wave of new, independent coffee houses in London that want to take things a step further. Foxcroft & Ginger is one such cafe, which I had meant to visit since it opened in January 2010.
It occupies a new residential development in Berwick Street, taking in the ground floor and basement, in the heart of the fruit and vegetable market. Owned by husband and wife Georgina and Quintin, this is the first cafe they have run themselves, having been employed in the restaurant business for a number of years.
I loved the trendy but laid back feel of the place, with exposed brickwork, white tiles, polished cement counter, old Unions Jack flags and large antiques scattered around. The basement sitting area is spacious, containing comfortable sofas and chairs, and looks like a place designed to allow people time and space to enjoy their coffee and food, and as a great meeting place.
The coffee is prepared from the excellent beans of Monmouth Coffee House and is served in quirkily mismatched vintage crockery. The food, which is predominantly British, is beautifully and invitingly laid out on the ground floor counter.
Georgina bakes cakes and pastries on the premises, including nowadays hard to find English varieties like Bath and Chelsea buns and Eccles cakes. They also serve a variety of delicious cold or toasted sandwiches and other brunch items like English Muffin with Black Pudding, Scramble Egg and Chives @ £3.50 or Chunky Bread with Mushrooms, Roasted Tomatoes, Pesto and Parmesan @ £3.50.
On very few occasions do I find myself struggling to make a choice from a menu - this was one such occasion. After much deliberation we opted for the "Ham & Cheese French Toast" - this was three layers of eggy bread, with a filling of hand-cut honey roasted ham, Béchamel and melted cheese, topped with a drizzle of the most heavenly mustard-flavoured honey. Superb!
Next we had a sandwich of crusty bread, filled with slowly braised chuck steak, cheddar cheese, Béchamel, tomato chutney, radicchio and rocket leaves. This was also excellent - Quintin told us he makes them in batches of just three at a time, so that the bread has no time to be made soggy by the contents.
To accompany our food, we had a couple of cups of coffee - black/filtered coffee and a capuccino (old habits die hard!). Both coffees were excellent - rich, with a great depth of flavour but also smooth.
We were interested to hear Georgina and Quintin's plans for the place. Currently, it is open 8am to 7pm seven days a week, but they have just been granted their alcohol licence, so they plan to stay open until 10 or 11pm, and perhaps until midnight at the weekends.