Words: Chris Zacharia
On the face of it, London doesn’t need more coffee shops. But it does. It needs more coffee shops like Boki.
Coffee shops are a vital part of the high street. It’s hard to believe, now, but back in the late 90s and early 00s a shop devoted to selling coffee – Britain’s sixth or seventh favourite drink, ahead of Irn Bru but behind gravy – was a rarity on the high-street. Often it was just a cafe with a knackered Nespresso machine.
Nowadays we’re surrounded by coffee shops, all of which claim to be ‘artisanal’. But many of them are of the same dubious quality – faux-leather armchairs, giant chiaroscuros boasting of beans or Italianisms, and shrink-wrapped ‘paninis’.
And most of these identical coffee shops face the same problems. They tend to close too early. Lots of them fail to serve anything more nutritional than carrot cake. Alcohol is absent. The staff are demoralised.
Boki isn’t your typical coffee shop, but then it’s on Coven Garden’s uber-exclusive Seven Dials, so that’s no surprise. As you’d expect from the postcode, Boki serves excellent AllPress coffee (a hot air roasting method favoured Down Under).
But it also serves excellent food and intriguing cocktails, all in a bright, airy space. You could legitimately stay here all day and have need after need satisfyingly fulfilled. It is one of the best coffee shops you’ll find in London.
Much of Boki feels familiar. You step in, till-and-cake-display on your right, the hum of a coffee machine working at full blast, the exhausted-but-happy smiles of the waiting staff. But it’s the details that make it stand out. Walk further and you’ll find an impressive horseshoe bar beneath a yawning skylight, sunbeams drifting through rows of plants hanging from the ceiling.
Hop onto a padded leather stall, lean on the gold-coloured brass and flip open a menu. Beyond the excellent coffee, there’s a food menu of real pedigree.
Take the sandwiches. I order the Boki classic sandwich (£6.50): toasted brioche, strips of crimson pastrami, Swiss cheese just beginning to ooze, viscous mustard mayo, pickled red chilis and homemade pickle. From the first bite, with the golden lattice of the brioche bringing a buttery crunch to the savoury pastrami and the creamy cheese, you know that this is a sandwich far above what coffee shops usually offer.
My partner’s McBoki (£6) is even better. Named after the Big Mac, it looks like a burger. A charcoal brioche bun stuffed with salt beef, avocado and a fried egg, oiled with sriracha mayo: and it looks the bomb. The bread is pleasingly squashy, the egg yolk oozes convincingly, and each mouthful is balanced between coolness and heat.
But the humble sandwich is in decline, possibly because millennials think carbs are overrated. So Boki also serve bowls: experimental combinations of fibre and grains. We try the Boki bowl (£7), a delicious melange of quinoa, Dorstone goat’s cheese, beetroot and avocado, crowned with a perfectly poached egg. Push the knife into the yolk, scoop the sprouting quinoa and avocado onto the fork, and enjoy a truly satisfying mouthful.
So what about those coffees? Founders Boris (Bo) and Kim (Ki) travelled around the world and decided that the AllPress system, favoured in Australia, was the best they’d tasted. It makes for a damn good cup of coffee. Do yourself a favour and drink it black.
Or, better yet, have it in a cocktail. Since we’re seated on the horseshoe bar, we find ourselves increasingly curious about the cocktails. Boki offer a coffee-flavoured negroni (£8.90) – how on earth can this work? A cheerful mixologists whips one up for us, and I’m glad he does, because coffee negroni is brilliant. The richness of the coffee picks up just where the bitterness of the negroni leaves off. Whoever discovered this unlikely combination deserves recognition. The negroni disguises its secret flawlessly – it’s still bright orange, the colour of a fresh tangerine. Turns out that they infuse the coffee beans with Campari. A dangerous game, but they’ve pulled it off.
Meanwhile my partner’s Boki Espresso Martini (£9.90) is similarly excellent. The twist here is that they’ve added a touch – a tiny touch, a smidgen – of mint, giving the martini an uplifting freshness. It’s the kind of small detail which Boki revels in. Every supplier is carefully chosen, locally if possible (the cheeses come from Neal’s Yard just down the road, the ice cream from neighbouring Udderlicious).
It’s how I would want to run my coffee shop: excellent food, interesting drinks, unbeatable coffee, cool horseshoe bar w/skylight. And that’s why London needs more coffee shops like Boki.
20 Earlham Street