How does a new restaurant make its mark on a London foodie scene already reaching saturation point? There’s the old fashioned way: serving great food at a reasonable prices. And there’s the 21st century way: coming up with a gimmick, a weird pairing, some novelty way of serving or ordering food, something to make people like me write about it in columns like this.
It worked for Meat Liquor, which had the ingenious idea of serving burgers in pitch darkness with a side-helping of tinnitus. The Cereal Cafe received write ups in all the major papers on the back of serving only cereal. The concepts behind Duck and Waffle and Bad Egg got chins wagging long before anyone tried the food.
Here’s another gimmick: coffee and cheese. Together. In a tasting menu. According to Fabio Ferreira, co-owner of artisan coffee shop and wine bar Notes, in Brazil (where he’s from) it’s perfectly normal to nibble away at crumbly, tangy bits of cheese while sipping coffee with friends. It’s a combination he’s sure Londoners will fall in love with, too, if they cast doubts aside and try it.
“At home we have cheese called fresh cheese. It’s like feta, but less salty,” says Ferrera. “It goes very well with coffee. In the UK, being so close to France and Spain and Italy, it’s challenging to find a cheese you can actually pair with coffee. French cheeses are really difficult because the flavour is so strong. Softer cheeses tend not to work either.”
Sitting in the Moorgate branch of Notes, Fabio guided me through some of his favourite coffee and cheese combos. First up, Honduran Finca Pantanal coffee with Cotherstone cheese from Durham “The cheese is very lemony and lactic. That’s exactly what I’m looking for – lactic, milky cheeses.”
All the cheeses on the tasting menu have this sweet, tangy, milkiness in common. And all the coffees are rich and full-bodied. The stand out paring was the last one, which matched a Parmigiano Reggiano with an espresso and added sticky, stringy chestnut honey into the mix to compliment the savoury hit of the cheese.
It’s hard not to enjoy eating luxury coffee with crumbly boulders of mellow, creamy cheese, though I’m not wholly convinced one is adding much to the other. Still, even if it’s just to try Notes’ legendary coffee, the tasting menu makes a satisfying, sober alternative to wine.
Notes Trafalgar Square can be found at 31 St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ER, Notes Moorgate, CityPoint, 1 Ropemaker Street, EC2Y 9AW. Notes King Cross, Unit 2, 1 St Pancras, N1C 4AG.