Finding good coffee in London is a difficult affair. There are several good places around Borough Market (notably Monmouth) and I have read guides which suggest a smattering of other places, but I do not want to have to go out of my way for a good coffee; there should be one on every corner. Growing up in Sydney, I was spoilt for choice. In London, I choose not to bother.
I assumed this was UK wide phenomenon; London is, after all, the UKs largest and most multicultural city and, arguably, the most cosmopolitan. So imagine my surprise when on my first morning in Edinburgh I was presented with this:
Urban Angel was recommended as a top lunch spot in the Lonely Planet; they didn’t say anything about the coffee. Not only did they do a flat white, they did it properly. In London this has become something of a buzzword, but no one here really knows what it means. The flat white originated in Australia and is similar to a latte but – London baristas take note – it is not the same thing in a smaller cup. The milk is less aerated, resulting in a creamy, velvety ‘microfoam’. Indeed, most people think a flat white has less milk than a latte since a latte usually comes in a tall glass, but a good flat white should actually have more milk since there ought to be much less froth.
I was at Urban Angel for breakfast and what a nice treat – it felt just like being back in Sydney again. Another thing I miss in London is Sydney’s breakfast culture. Of course, there are places you can go for breakfast – Crouch End, near me, is one good spot – but it is not something people just do and as a result, the quality and range are limited.
A Sydney breakfast menu has to be new, innovative and constantly changing to attract clientele and keep them interested. In Sydney pancakes are old news, think ricotta cakes with poached rhubarb and vanilla cream or homemade crumpets with passionfruit, lime curd and strawberries. In my local suburb you can go for a Middle Eastern breakfast feast – 4 courses including a breakfast tagine for $25. In Sydney eggs benedict is a staple not a special.
Urban Angel’s breakfast is not quite on par with the most imaginative of Sydney’s cafes, but I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up if I stumbled past it there. On my first visit I went for the Arboath smokie with poached egg, spinach and hollandaise – the perfect start to my first day in Scotland.
Some might have found the Arboath smokie too salty, but one expects that of smoked fish, and the spinach, which was unseasoned, softened the intensity. The lack of toast, which I had been disappointed by at first, turned out to be a blessing; it would have been far too hearty a meal with carbs as well and the fish worked wonderfully dipped in the runny egg yolks and smothered with hollandaise.
I enjoyed it so much I went back on the Sunday and took two Kiwi friends who agreed that the quality of the coffee was just like back home. Becs went for poached eggs and toast with a side of mushrooms and Elle and I went for the eggs benedict – mine with bacon, hers with smoked salmon.
Our Scottish friend, Graeme, had recommended tattie scones, so we asked if we could have them instead of English muffins. Sadly, they did not make a good substitute, as they were not as thick and bread-like as we expected*, so we ate them separately with some tommy k and ordered a side of toast to finish our eggs.
My only complaint is that if you want to construct your own breakfast it becomes rather expensive. While the Arboath smokie (£8.90) and Eggs benedict (£7.90) were very reasonably priced, most additions were priced around £2 each. You can order poached eggs and toast for £4.80 but if you want to order a couple of sides it adds up and there isn’t a Full Scottish option for people who like the lot.
We were quite miffed that the waitress didn’t tell us she would charge us for the tattie scones when we had clearly asked if we could swap them for the muffins. “I think that will be ok” she said – well, of course it is ok if you are planning to charge £4 for the privilege. And we had to pay another £3 for the toast as well. Still, £15 each for breakfast and coffee doesn’t break the bank and we were full for hours – I didn’t eat again till 4pm and then only a snack.
The service was casual and personable. On my first visit they were quite efficient, less so on the Sunday, but they were busy and we were hungry and hungover. The menu has a range of lunch options as well from 12pm, typical cafe fare such as salads, sandwiches and mezze plates.
Overall, the breakfasts were a winner, if a little overpriced, but they don’t need the breakfasts to lure me back. I’d go back for the coffee alone.
Urban Angel: 12 Hanover St, Edinburgh, EH2 1DJ (and another branch at 1 Forth St, EH1 3JX); 0131 225 6215
Mon-Sat: 9am-6pm; Sun: 10am-5pm; Breakfast all day, Lunch 12pm-5pm
* Graeme’s favourite way to eat tattie scones is in a breakfast roll with a fried egg and tomato sauce. This is what he had recommended and I think they would have worked much better like this, rather than as a substitute for English muffins.