M1LK, Bedford Hill, Balham

2 Aug

I lived in Balham a couple of years ago and I must admit, I found the café culture a bit disappointing. Many places seemed to be trying, but nowhere really had the goods to match the atmosphere; Bertie and Boo was the only place which served decent coffee and which was a great place to hang out. Recently however, it seems that Balham has truly become a hub of coffee activity, with such places like Camden Coffee House and Lavish Habit becoming increasingly popular amongst coffee lovers.

I visited Le Petit Bistro on Bedford Hill last year and I was really disappointed, so I was quite intruiged when I cycled past a couple of months ago and saw that it had become M1LK. After a recommendation from a friend, I decided that today might be a good day to pop in for a coffee and see what it was about. From the outside it looks like my kind of place – it’s QUIRKY! I know, I use that word too often, but it is. On a sunny day there are plenty of tables outside as well as inside; I had wanted to go around 11am as I was worried that it might get really busy at lunch time, but my friend could only make it at 12:15. Even at prime lunch hour we had no trouble finding a table – although I can imagine that when the weather is poor it may be a bit more of a struggle at peak times. The décor is wonderfully eccentric but cosy and welcoming at the same time. Even the sandwich board outside was beautifully decorated with little colourful buttons!

I went in to have a look at the coffee options and settled on a flat white. Despite the fact that it was busy, the guys behind the counter were really friendly and were quite happy to have a little chat. I didn’t have any food this time round as I wanted to focus my entry on the coffee, but the sandwiches and cakes which were out on the counter looked wonderful (and after a sneaky peak at some of the people eating, I’m pleased to report that the cooked food looked delicious too…I’ll be going back for brunch one weekend and will update you!). Everything is paid for at the counter, and then you are free to go and perch yourself wherever you please.

The coffee beans are all from St Ali – now known as ‘Workshop’ (which incidentally is one of my favourite coffee and breakfast haunts in Clerkenwell) – and on the menu today was some ridiculously long complicated name which looked a bit like ‘Kiawamaururu’ (I’m sure I’ve spelt that wrong, but it’s along the right lines), all the way from the wonderful Kenya. I had a lovely chat with the manager this morning and he has given me a bit more background info. Kiawamaururu is (in general terms) the farming region in Kenya which produces these lovely little nuggets of beauty. [Note: The online menu refers to Workshop’s Cult of Done Espresso blend which is 50% Guatemalan/50% Costa Rican. This is out of date.] It’s a fully washed, speciality coffee, and it was fabulously tasty. The flavour was fantastic through the flat white; deep, intense and rich with a sweet and fudgey aftertaste. I seem to recall the packet on the counter saying something about blackcurrants as well, but I must admit my coffee tasting is not yet as good as my wine tasting. As google is churning up a big fat zero on the results front for ‘Kiawamaururu coffee’ I can’t give you further tasting notes. There was no hint of bitterness or burn which is so common in some of the coffee places which just don’t know what they are doing, and the temperature was perfect. It was a smooth, delicious coffee.

As my friend had arrived and we were having a good old natter about her wedding, I thought I may as well use the opportunity to be a little indulgent and try something else too. The skinny latte was next up. Again, beautifully prepared and executed, and a smooth flavour. Slightly less intense than the flat white, the milky taste came through a lot more and it was slightly sweeter than the flat white. I preferred the flat white as it packed a bit more of a flavour punch, but the latte might be a better alternative for those who prefer weaker, milkier coffee but still with the great flavour.

I want to take the opportunity here to disagree with and criticise some of the reviews which I’ve seen online. Although not my experience at all, I’ve seen many complaints that the ‘queues have been too long’ and it is ‘over-priced’. First off, if the queue is too long it probably gives you an indication of just how in demand and popular this place is. As for the price, my flat white was £2.20 and the latte £2.30. For a sit-in coffee in the heart of Balham, and for the quality of speciality coffee that M1LK serve up, I think that was a competitive and reasonable price. A glance at the menu and it does seem that the food may be a little more pricey than your average café, but as far as coffee goes, this place rocks. There is a weekly rotating filter coffee, and the espresso choices change seasonally, in line with Workshop’s beans. I have it on good authority that M1LK is constantly striving to find the most interesting beans to produce the best coffee experiences for it’s customers, so I’m excited to see what next month brings!

Score: 9/10 – the coffee was great; my only criticism would be a lack of choice of coffee beans / flavours which I’ve found at some of the bigger places, but even then by changing up the menu regularly you still get the opportunity to try new things. Can’t fault anything else.

Price range: £2.00 – 3.40 per drink

Would I go back? Definitely!

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