Dubai v London – how hipster coffee and warehouses don’t equate to a hipster ‘hood


I gave up being a coffee-snob-in-denial after, “Turkish coffee, please”, resulted in a one-sachet-cappuccino followed swiftly, still nursing a burnt tongue and offended tastebuds, by a Google search for “hipster coffee Dubai”.

Other than good Turkish and Arabic black unfiltered coffee, every single cappuccino or called-a-flat-white-but-not-remotely-like-a-flat-white I’d had in Dubai had been overpriced and resolutely positioned in the “foul to undrinkable” category of supposed coffee.

My Google search led me to the industrial area of Al Quoz, around Noor Bank Metro Station, which I expected to be full of moustachiod, tatooed, bike-riding hipsters, warehouses, lofts and little to no industry remaining, thus a parallel with the super hip Shoreditch, east London.

To confirm (or perhaps quash) my expectations, I noted the following as similarities between Shoreditch, London and Al Quoz, Dubai:

Al Quoz and Shoreditch are both located close to a business centre.


Across the industrial estate sandy car parks towards Burj Khalifa and the business/financial districts of Dubai

Travelling by bicycle (where the London Overground/Hipsterline is absent).


Cycling through the industrial hipster wasteland (sort of)

Of course there must be graffiti.


Surely this counts as graffiti?!

Some random bits of Tracy-Emin-unmade-bed/is-that-art type installations around the area.


Is it some cool pattern or sign on the ground or is it a work glove that’s been flattened in the sand by vehicles driving over and parking on it?

Likewise, some cool, photogenic, quirky vehicles and good signage for Instagram purposes.


Vintage cars and a metal arrow; the stuff of hipster Instagram accounts

The area must be industrial with an abundance of cool warehouses.


Some of the more photogenic warehouses, in full industrial use

The cafes should embrace their industrial roots and the love of coffee.


Photoshopped Raw Coffee interior with coffee sack upholstery (though how fabulous is the zebra print?!) and artwork and full-on warehouse metal

Everyday objects should be transformed into cool, usable things that you make a mental note (that is never realised) to replicate at home.


Flat white in Tom&Serg with oat tin for cutlery

The coffee should be good, expensive and have fancy latte art where milk/foam is involved.


a really rather lovely flower atop a flat white from a RAW outlet, Friends Avenue Cafe

Lifestyles should be being played out and creativity on laptops should be taking place.


From the mezzanine at Tom&Serg, Al Quoz

See what I mean: great, expensive flat whites; warehouses; abundant Instagram opportunities; industrial; graffiti.  Yet the hipster elements are not Shoreditch.  I’m not complaining or saying it should be any different, it just made me think about all things hipster and how stereotypes don’t always work out.  The joyous discovery of these cafes* in Dubai has, thankfully, saved me from freeze dried coffee or enormous bowls of milky coffee from the chains I can now freely admit to disliking since my outing myself as a coffee snob.

I should add, there was also kale, sourdough bread and avocado on the Tom&Serg menu!


Note the kale, sourdough bread and avocado on the Tom&Serg, Al Quoz menu

  • RAW Coffee Company, Al Quoz, Dubai.  (the free RAW Refuel app shows on a Dubai map where RAW-serving outlets are, including Friends Avenue Cafe, Jumeirah Lake Towers)
  • Tom&Serg, Al Quoz, Dubai.  (don’t be deceived looking at a map, it is a long walk from a Metro station)




Chinwag – Telephone box front door, 10 Downing Street loo, books as menus and taps as lights

Chinwag coffeeChinwag, 21 Lewisham Way, London.  SE14 6PP (opposite Goldsmith’s)

Saturday, 10.20 am

Flat white:  £1.95.  The cheapest flat white I’ve had in quite a long time.  However, it was more of a coffee with milk than a flat white.  It was ok and better than it looked but it won’t be the coffee that I return for.  6.5/10 for “a decent coffee” but 5.5 for “a flat white”.

Food:  The menu looks great, particularly where breakfasts and burgers are concerned.  It is also cheaper than I expected.

Clientele:  Largely studenty.  The day I went  was a Goldsmith’s open dayChinwag lighting and it was full of parents with their nervous-looking teenagers.

Lighting:  The first time I have even contemplated a section on the lighting.  But the creative lighting is a joy to behold and there’s more of it than is in my photo.  Go there, if only to admire the lighting.  For example, taps and wheels.

Decor:  As with the lighting, this alone is reason to visit Chinwag.  There is a lot of detail, from old newspapers under the glass table top of at least one table to a door covered with locks and handles.  And the 10 Downing Street toilet door.  It’s quirky, novel and makes for a really interesting and laid back environment.

Furniture:  Heavy on the mismatched, drawers that can be opened and rummaged through, all kinds of seats and tables and a telephone box front door.  Dreadful if you’re of the all-matching ilk but a joy if you like quirky vintage charm.

Staff:  The staff seem to be friendly and very pleasant.  Without sounding too shallow or gawpy though, I have never been somewhere that so many good looking people work.  It all adds to the general aesthetics and all-round loveliness of the café and is something of a treat.  In my defence, I have seen some similar comments on TripAdvisor!

Laptops, MacBooks, pushchairs:  0.  Odds of laptops and MacBooks being present is fairly high though, but I also like to think this is notebook and pen territory too, which I will look out for next time when I’m not as wrong footed by the unexpected amount of things/people to admire!

Beards:  I forgot to look, caught up in other more appealing distractions, but  I suspect quite a few, it being Goldsmith’s catchment.

Loo:  Behind 10 Downing Street.  Clean, large and pleasant.  Plenty to look at while waiting for anyone already in the loo, referring mainly to the lock and handle studded door.

WiFi:  I’m not sure, but as I’ll be returning soon I’ll update accordingly.

Summary:  The menus are stuck inside old books, taps are lights, everything feels interactive; the kind of place you wouldn’t mind waiting in for a delayed friend without the need to idly play with your mobile phone trying not to look pitiful and stood up.  Going by the menu, I have high hopes for the food, most of which is prepared in the open kitchen area.  It’s a lovely place to spend time, though I hope the barista skills improve.  Bonus that it’s also not over-priced.  This is the kind of place I would choose to go to for a comfort coffee and cake or meal.  8.5/10 but would be a bit more if the coffee were better.


Four Corners Café – model aeroplanes, potential for free coffee and a knackered backpacker

FourCorners coffeeFour Corners Café, 12 Lower Marsh, near Waterloo station, London.  SE1 7RJ

Tuesday, 8.50 am

Flat White:  £2.50.  They won an award for best coffee shop in the UK so I had high hopes.  It looked good … but tasted merely ok.  None of the baristas in the award ceremony photos were serving the morning I was there, so I’d hope that they’d up the standard, but this was disappointing and not quite a destination coffee at 7.5/10.

Food:  Almond croissant £2.  A “quite good” croissant, lacking the amount of almondy marzipanny stodge I like in an almond croissant (‘cos I’m such a croissant connoisseur?!) – good if you like your almond croissants a bit lighter though.  The usual pastries and cakes were available.  If you want more info on food, look at their website – a slick website with info on food, etc.

China:  Seems to all be white, though it bothered me that both my plate and cup and saucer didn’t have the properly clean gleam I would expect from a café’s china.

FourCorners booksInterior:  Travel themed and the more your eyes wander, the more details and features you see.  Why have I never been to a travel café before; I like the concept a lot.  There was even a silver model aeroplane and a globe that opened out into a display cabinet.  Furniture mismatched but somehow a bit too contrived and excessively shabby chic.  I’ve been to a café in New Cross with an airline theme and they had old plane seats, which were ridiculously exciting and appropriate, though the less said about the coffee the better.  I would have added at least an extra point for plane or train seats in this café.

Books:  If you bring in an old Rough Guide, Lonely Planet (or a few others, as they specify), you can add it to their collection and get a free coffee.  Mr G, who I live with, has some very old Rough Guides and Lonely Planets, which he is adamant he can’t be parted from.  I am seeing this as a fortnight of free coffees …

Beards, pushchairs, laptops:  0 but potential for all.

MacBook:  1, with potential for more.

Toilet:  More clean than the crockery.  Functional and pleasant.

WiFi:  I didn’t notice any but if there had been, I like to think the password would have been an exciting destination or the flight number of somewhere exotic.

How to fit in:  Be a cool traveller type, ideally a solo traveller, though more four star than backpacker hostel.  I’d been out and about since 5am the morning I was there (not normal) and I definitely felt of the knackered backpacker ilk; I don’t carry my tiredness well.

Music:  Pleasant, kind of trendy world music.  Sort of.

NOPUF:  Agggghhhh.  So wrong, so unnecessary and so unbelievably offensive.

Summary:  I will go again, optimistic the coffee will be at least an 8 next time, and I would also hope the staff would be more welcoming.  As a concept, it’s great.  Somehow, it wasn’t quite right though, but I’m prepared to give everything the benefit of doubt as I really was struggling with the earliness of my departure from bed and into the autumnal dampness of a dark morning.  I also found it disappointing that they appear to have won awards for the coffee yet I couldn’t bring myself to rate it a destination 8 or more.  It has so much potential, I just hope it gets there in the end.  The decor is interesting, a 9, the coffee not up to expectations, the staff that morning not particularly friendly, the atmosphere not right, so only 7/10.


Store Street Espresso – Bit officious, lacking a proper beard and a bit too stooly*

Store St Espresso

54 Tavistock Place, near Russell Square, London.  WC1H 9RG

10.45am, Sunday

Flat white: £2.60.  Coffee a good temperature, a definite flat white, suitably creamy and good coffee beans.  I’m reluctant to give more than 8 because the staff were a little lacking in friendliness.  8/10

Beards:  2, though, sadly, none were exciting (as a slight tangent, I saw a rather spectacular moustache aboard the top lip of a man in a lift the other day – it was a very impressive handlebar with double curl on each side.  None of that in Store Street and it didn’t feel quite hipster or eccentric enough for such above-lip mastery)

Laptop:  1, though I’m fairly sure there would be more later in the day and at studenty times, whenever that might be.

MacBook:  0, but with potential for a fair few.

How to blend in:  Either sling a camera round your neck and clutch a London map or go for student slouch wear, ideally with preppy hoodie.

Interior:  It looks just like the Store Street/original Store Street Espresso café.  Stripped back with emphasis on white paint, inside an old building.  The furniture is matching with square wood/metal stools.  It’s not a café you’re encouraged to linger in, particularly where the seating is concerned (but maybe not everyone feels as rickety as I do perched atop wooden stools – I will (not) be impressed if anyone else sniggers at the more medical definition of stools; I even deleted “hard stools” as it was far too sniggersome, but I do rather like *stooly.  Pathetic, I know)

WiFi:  This is a bit of an issue.  Along with the uncomfy seating, WiFi appears to only be available at certain times of day due to people spending too long sitting around on laptops surfing the internet.  It’s not a welcoming concept, though I do understand it must be infuriating to have one person at a table for an hour or so, having spent £2.60 or similar on one drink and then topping up their water to look like they’re still a paying customer.

Food:  I have a bit of an issue with this too.  It all adds to the slightly officious nature of this cafe.  There is a nice-looking, small menu but it says that no alterations can be made to dishes as listed on the menu as the kitchen is small.  I understand all this but it all feels a bit defensive and unwelcoming.

Toilet:  Yes.  Small but does the job.  A bit like the seating really.

Summary:  A good coffee, as coffee at the original Store Street Espresso always has been, but I didn’t feel particularly welcome or comfortable.  It’s a nice interior, wood, white, windows and a nod to industrial.  It’s reassuring to have a decent coffee in the midst of central London, near Russell Square, but I won’t go out of my way to go again.  6.5/10  may seem harsh but I really don’t like the “rules” and concept of pre-empting requests for slight deviations from the menu, that you might over-use the WiFi and you might get too comfy.


Scooter Café – Fab café, cute cat, unforgivably awful coffee

Scooter Cafe flat whiteScooter Cafe, 132 Lower Marsh, near Waterloo station, London.  SE1 7AE

Tuesday, 9.15am

Flat White:  £2.60.  I tried everything possible to rate this at least a 6 because I love the café itself, but I had to cross the 6 out by the third foul sip and downgrade to a 5.  It now stands at 4 but should probably be lower than that.  One of the most disappointing coffee experiences of late.  Bitter, burnt, rubbery, scowl-inducing and truly horrible.  I was with Mr G, who also wanted to love the place, and he was able to rate it a bit higher, though fully recognising he had a cold and his tastebuds were shot.  I did catch him grimacing though and his “Oh, it’s not that bad” protestations waned as he neared the end of his coffee.   4/10

Beards, laptops, MacBooks:  0, but potential for beards and laptops in particular.

Pushchairs:  1, the owner’s, but plenty of room for more.

Scooter helmets:  More than I could count (purely decorative helmets on display) and one handbag-style ready to go.

Water:  Help yourself bottle of chilled water with orange slices (a flavoured water revelation; just as well in light of the swilling required to dissipate the all-consuming rubbery/burnt/dirty coffee aftertaste)Scooter Cafe cat

Cat:  1.  Delightfully strokeable and very much at home – well, the cafe area is clearly what he considers his lounge as his cat flap goes from home to cafe within the same building.

Interior:  Very haphazard, mismatched, vintage, scooter themed and with small collections of things, eg helmets and coffee pots.  I love it, it’s very relaxed and informal.  There are also lots of different kinds of seats.  We opted for two comfy chairs that had seen better days and weren’t as robust as they would once have been (ie a no-no on the bounce front) but which added to the overall experience of the place.

How to fit in:  Carry a motorcycle helmet, be a bit scruffy, love cats and wear casual verging on alternative attire.

China:  Appears to be simple, matching and white, though I expected mismatched vintage.

Toilets:  Down an unconventional staircase.

Outdoor area:  Pleasant decked area looking across to Waterloo train station.

Summary:  I will never try a coffee there again (I have before, almost two years ago, and that was also awful too), but it’s open in the evenings and there are jazz nights.  I would enjoy being in that kind of environment for alcohol and live music, or just the alcohol.  Don’t be fooled by the quirkiness of the decor and all the signs that good coffee will be served.  As a non-coffee review, I’d give it 8.5/10.  As a coffee and café review, 5/10, but not having just tried to consume all the coffee, ie with the passing of time and refreshing of tastebuds, the cat and the environment could boost it a few points.  But, no, no, no, not the coffee.


Black Box Coffee – Upcycling and jam jars in a Brutalist masterpiece

BlackBox Trellick Tower PopUpBlack Box Coffee/Bain Marie/Goldfinger Factory, 13-15 Golborne Road, London.  W10  (part of the Trellick Tower)

(A three-month pop-up that will probably be a different pop-up in early to mid December 2015)

(Bagpuss) Sunday, 3.40 pm

Flat white:  £2.40.  Coffee was a proper flat white, just within the destination coffee realms.  8/10.

Wi-fi: There is wi-fi with a code but not sure if you can get onto it as it’s the furniture/upcycling shop’s wi-fi.

Loo:  A pleasant toilet inside a kind of plywood box/shed; makeshift at its best.

Furniture:  Everything is for sale and it’s old, interesting, upcycled and/or reclaimed.

China:  Appears to be matching, chunky white.

Food:  Has a lot of potential, Bain Marie do healthy-but-tasty looking dishes.  Small menu though from what I could see.

Beards, laptops, MacBooks, tattoos, piercings, pushchairs:  0.  But potential for 5 MacBooks, 2 laptops, 17 beards, 3 tattooed people, 1 pierced person and a lot of pushchairs as it’s a big space and on the edge of Portobello Road/Notting Hill/the Regent’s Canal/West London.

Water facilities:  Self-service water bottle and jam jar “glasses”.  High on the hip scale.

Atmosphere:  Friendly, interesting, fun to choose what kind of table and chairs to sit down on/at, lots to look at.

Summary:  It’s a welcoming space and the Goldfinger Factory is a great concept, an inspiring workshop that encourages creativity with old furniture and “stuff”, particularly  for local children and young adults.  They even sell a rather lovely made-to-order Trellick Tower clock made from wood offcuts.  It’s an ideal place for pop-up food/drink concessions like Black Box and Bain Marie.  It’s also great to be within the Brutalist wonder of Ernö Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower complex.  Good coffee, inspiring location, but sadly a short-lived pop-up.  9/10

Pelicano, Brighton – bamboo, cool magazines and a sculpted moustache


Pelicano FWPelicano, 28 Sydney Street, Brighton, East Sussex.

11.15 am, Sunday

Flat white:  £2.40 to drink in.  Served in a glass on a bamboo board, accompanied by a napkin and a spoon.  Both flat whites I drank were of consistent, good, creamy loveliness, with no sense of “is it a cappuccino, a latte or actually a flat white”.  A destination coffee, at least 8.5/10.

Pushchair:  1, though as it’s a fairly small and higgeldy café, this isn’t necessarily a fair reflection, particularly as the pusher was of hipster beard ilk and had gone to quite a bit of trouble to manoeuvre the pushchair to the higher part of the café.  The pavement area would be a more obvious pushchair area.

MacBooks/Laptops:  0 (a bit of a surprise, particularly as there were plug sockets around, though a week day afternoon could see a festival of Maccers and lappers).

Beards:  4, though possibility of more as the café kind of has four sections, starting with pavement seating, ordering area, slightly raised upper area and downstairs back yard area so I couldn’t easily monitor beard comings and goings.

Piercings and tattoos:  Quite a few.  Bonus point for one man having piercings, tattoos AND twirly sculpted moustache.

Furniture:  tables and chairs of similar style, largely wooden, shabby (nice shabby not “eek, will this snap at any moment”) and with Pelicano mark kind of burnt into table.

Pelicano magsDecor: Emphasis on wood flooring, black/dark grey paint and white paint with predictable exposed lightbulbs as well as industrial “chic” shades around other bulbs.  Wooden clipboards with bulldog clips and coffee info attached.  V hip.  Lots of very stylised, “cool” magazines around.

Ambience:  Not as too-hip as it might sound, comfortable, music of the Portishead ilk with a nod to slightly feral jazzy riffs.

Environment:  Very hipster in terms of decor/publications/music but a surprising variety of customers, ranging in age from a few months to 60s, which probably helped make it a welcoming and comfortable place to be.

Loo:  The kind of outdoor loo you dread until you open the door and are greeted by a spacious and pleasantly decorated room.  Though note the complete absence of sound proofing if there are people sitting in the back courtyard area or a queue forms.

WiFi:  Didn’t appear to be.

Food:  Very enticinging, both visually and to smell.  Pretty sandwiches, appetising cakes and the usual pastries.  It was a struggle not to succumb, but I remained victorious.

Summary:  I liked it a lot, though have a slight niggle I wouldn’t like it as much later on in the day or during the week.  There are a lot of good cafés in Brighton but this is definitely one of my new favourites.  8.5/10 with possibility of an upgrade if a subsequent visit at a different time of day proves my niggles unfounded.