A fine old coffee house with waiters in turbans

WHEN I FIRST VISITED Bangalore in 1994, there was a coffee house on MG Road close to the now derelict Srungar Shopping Complex. This venerable ‘hole in the wall’ was a branch of the Indian Coffee House (‘ICH’) chain. In both appearance and atmosphere it reminded me of some of the older coffee houses I had seen in Yugoslavia when it was still a country.

Customers sat at old wooden tables on wooden benches with upright hard backrests. Old Coffee Board posters hung on the walls. The waiters were dresses in grubby white jackets and trousers held up by an extremely wide red and gold belt with huge buckles that bore the logo of the ICB. These gentlemen wore white turbans with red and gold ribbons on their heads. On addition to rather average quality South Indian filter coffee, a variety of snacks and cold drinks were also available.

During the British occupation of India, admission to most coffee houses was restricted to European clients. In the late 1890s, the idea of establishing an ICH chain of coffee houses for Indian customers began to be considered. In 1936, the India Coffee Board opened the first ICH in Bombay’s Churchgate area By the 1940s, there were at least 50 branches all over what was then British India.

In the mid 1950s, the ICHs were closed by the Coffee Board. The Communist leader AK Gopalan (1904-1977) and the Coffee Board workers managed to get the Coffee Board to hand over the ICH outlets to them, and they formed a series of Indian Coffee Workers’ Co-operatives. The cooperative on Bangalore was formed in August 1957. There are now several branches in the city.

The MG Road branch, which opened in 1959, closed in 2009, at about the sane time as the nearby Srungar Complex began becoming closed for redevelopment, which has not yet happened.

The branch reopened in the Brigade Gardens complex on Church Street. Apart from being accommodated in a room which is rather nondescript compared to its former home, not much has changed as a result of the move to a new location. The furniture is that which was in the older site. Likewise, the old posters have been transferred. And the waiters are still attired in their stained white uniforms with belt, buckle, and turbans. The ‘atmosphere’ of the old ICH on MG Road has been recreated or maybe continued in the coffee house’s new premises. The quality of the coffee served has neither improved nor deteriorated. The ICH remains as popular as ever, and for me it is always a pleasure to enter this old-fashioned place in a city that is addicted to change.

If it ain’t broke …

THE KAMAT GROUP has been operating hotels and restaurants for about forty years, if not longer. One of the branches is opposite the Jumma Masjid in the busy Commercial Street district of Bangalore (Bengaluru) in South India. I have visited this eatery many times during the 28 years that I have been making visits to Bangalore.

We usually drop in, or rather ascend the steps to, the seating area of Kamat’s to have a cup of coffee after doing errands in the crowded lanes that form the bustling area through which Commercial Street runs.

The interior of Kamat never changes. It has probably looked as it does today ever since it opened sometime before my fist visit to Bangalore. Its walls are simply decorated with mirrors and polished woodwork. A wooden barrier runs along the midline of the rectangular seating area, which comprises basic tables and chairs.

Despite not having the latest, trendy internal decor, Kamat in Commercial Street attracts many customers. The owners have done nothing noticeable to modernise the place; to make it compete with the many much more glitzy places in the city. Clearly, they understand the maxim ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’

Beverages beneath the banyans

ONCE A CITY FILLED with lovely gardens and other verdant open spaces, Bangalore (Bengaluru) is growing alarmingly rapidly. So, public spaces that have been as yet saved from being built on are valuable amenities. One of these areas of greenery is the so-called Tivoli Garden, which is in the grounds of Airlines Hotel in the heart of the city.

Known popularly as ‘Airlines’, the Tivoli Garden, a name by which it is hardly known, has tables and chairs set out in an open space, a clearing, surrounded by trees, several of them being elderly banyans.

Opened in 1969, the open air café and eatery is still supervised by a man who helped set it up two weeks before it opened all those years ago. Despite its rather untrendy appearance, Airlines is popular with Bangaloreans of all ages. Quite a few of them are students, but many are office workers. Very good South Indian filter coffee is served at Airlines. A wide range of South Indian vegetarian dishes is also served.

The coffee, other drinks, and food are prepared in the kitchen of the hotel. Waiters in white uniforms carry drinks and food across the car park from the kitchen, which is located at the far end of a dingy dining hall, to the garden seating area. Some customers prefer to have their orders served to them whilst sitting in their parked cars.

For my wife and me, Airlines has several attractions. One is the coffee. Another is the pleasant ambience under the trees. And yet another is nostalgia. My wife used to visit Airlines with her family in her late teens. And together with our daughter, my wife and I have been regular visitors to Airlines since when we married in 1994.

For several years, Airlines has been under threat of closure by the people who own the land. Over a decade ago, these people reclaimed half of the area occupied by the café. They built an ugly grey wall (rather like a Berlin Wall) to separate what is left of Airlines from what has now been built on. The supervisor, whom we have known for ages, assured us that as far as he knows the remaining part of the establishment will remain safe from redevelopment.

It would be tragic if Airlines were to disappear, not only because we love it but also it would be yet another example of how what was once a lovely garden city is becoming more and more of an urban jungle

Welcomed to India with coffee

BECAUSE OF THE COVID19 pandemic, we had not stepped onto Indian soil for two years and nine months. This was unusual for us because after we married in early 1984, we have been visiting India on average twice a year. For family related reasons, we have almost always landed in Bangalore.

When a new international airport was opened near Devanahalli village (at the northern edge of Bangalore) a few years ago, a line of eateries and cafés opened alongside the main landside of the terminal building. Being outside the terminal, which can only be entered by holders of air tickets, these outlets can be used by passengers and those who are not travelling by air.

One of these stalls is a grand affair partly decorated with copper sheeting. It is called Hatti Kaapi. The ‘kaapi’ in the name refers to the way local Bangaloreans pronounce ‘coffee’. This particular coffee stand provides excellent quality South Indian filter coffee. It is so wonderful that whenever we visit the airport, either arriving (from the UK or from places elsewhere in India) or departing, we always make time to drink a coffee served by this superb stall.

So, after what was for us an abnormally long absence from India and what has been a disastrous period for everyone, it was wonderful to discover that it was ‘business as usual’ at Hatti Kaapi. And since our last trip 2 ¾ years ago, a new sign has appeared at Hatti Kaapi. It reads:
“HATTI KAAPI The great Indian welcome drink.”


Seeing that sign after 2 ¾ years made us feel much more welcome than its designers could have ever imagined.

Crypto … coffee

ST MARTINS IN THE FIELDS church is a prominent landmark located on the east side of London’s Trafalgar Square. This 18th century church, which first opened in 1724 and was designed by James Gibbs (1682-1754), hosts many concerts, mostly of classical music.

There is a large crypt beneath the church. Its vaulted brickwork ceilings are supported by sturdy masonry pillars. There are many gravestones flush with the floor. The floor is covered with tables and chairs, which are used by the many customers of the café which uses the crypt as its home. It is a pleasant place to while away the time of day.

The café serves food and drink. The coffee served there is slightly below average in quality and is priced a just little bit higher than average for London. Regardless of price or quality, the crypt provides a pleasant ambience to meet friends or simply to relax peacefully.

Buried behind Berry Brothers

LONDON’S NOOKS AND crannies are often worth exploring. One, which I must have passed often but of whose existence I only became aware in April 2022, is Pickering Place, a narrow, covered passageway between numbers 5 and 3 St James Street, close to St James Palace.  Immediately on entering this timber lined alleyway, I noticed a metal plaque, which commemorates the short-lived Legation of the Republic of Texas to The Court of St James. The legation existed from 1842 to 1845, whilst the Republic existed from 1836 to 1846. It rented the premises from the property’s owner, Berry Brothers.

Pickering Place was in existence by 1690, when it was then known as ‘Stroud’s Court’.  Prior to that date, the site was:

“… once home to the medieval maidens’ leper colony of St James, before playing host to King Henry VIII’s royal tennis court.” (https://blog.bbr.com/2015/04/10/the-other-no-3/)

 The alleyway leads into a small open space, a courtyard that is believed to be Britain’s smallest square. The name Pickering relates to the company of Berry Brothers and Rudd (‘Berry’s’) that occupy most, if not all of the buildings around the courtyard and on the south side of the alleyway. In 1698, a widow with the surname Bourne began the business, at first a grocery shop, now known as Berry Brothers & Rudd. Her daughter, Elizabeth, married William Pickering (died 1734). They continued the business, supplying the coffee houses of St James with coffee. The company adopted the coffee mill as their symbol. The shop at number 3 St James Street and Stroud’s Court were then rebuilt by the family. William and Elizabeth’s sons, John and William Junior, continued the running of the firm. After John died in 1754, William Junior brought a relative, John Clarke, to be a partner in the business.

George Berry, John Clarke’s grandson, joined the business in 1803 and by 1810, his name became the firm’s name. George moved the firm’s activities into focussing on wine and spirits. In 1845, his sons, George Junior and Henry, took over the firm, hence the ‘Brothers’ in the company’s name. Hugh Rudd, a wine merchant with a keen interest in the wines of Bordeaux, joined the firm as a partner in 1920. His arrival in the company greatly increased its expertise in the wine trade. In 1923, the company created a new whisky which they called Cutty Sark Scotch. Its label was designed by the artist James McBey, whose studio was at the top end of Holland Park Avenue. The firm is still run by the Berry and Rudd families and flourishes.

Immediately after leaving the covered alleyway, you will see an orrery and beyond it, a carved stone portrait of a man with his head facing towards his left. Nobody we asked seemed to know whom it portrays. Various websites suggest it depicts the politician and former Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (1784-1865), who lived in Pickering Place for some time. The author Graham Greene also lived in Pickering Place for a while.

Doorways in the courtyard lead to various underground rooms including the Pickering and Suffolk Cellars. Once used to store wine and other products sold by Berry’s, parts of them are now also used as a wine school, as well as for banquets and similar gatherings. One of the cellars is named The Napoleon Cellar, after the exiled Napoleon III (1808-1873), a friend of George Berry Junior. In 1846, fearing assassination, the exiled Frenchman hid in the Berry Brother’s cellar, now named in his memory. Number 3 Pickering Place, built in the 1690s, is a well-preserved example of a William and Mary era townhouse.

Part of the tiny courtyard has outdoor tables and chairs. These can be used by patrons of the St Jacques restaurant, which occupies number 5 St James Street whose southern wall forms the northern wall of the alleyway. The southern wall of the passage is part of the wall of number 3, which houses the original Berry’s shop. This well-preserved historical shop is lined with wood-panelling and contains much of the old shop fittings.  These include old desks, shelving with old bottles, and a large hand-operated coffee grinder. Suspended from the ceiling, there is a large grocer’s weighing scales. According to Berry’s detailed company history (www.bbr.com/about/history):

“It was in the time of William Jr. and John Clarke that the famous grocer’s weighing scales began to be used to weigh the shop’s many notable customers, a fashionable pastime that continues to this day.”

Had it not been for noticing the alleyway which I have passed often without noticing it, and then spotting the portrait in the courtyard, I doubt we would have ever entered the old shop at number 3. Incidentally, if you wish to purchase wines or spirits from Berry’s, you will need to walk around the corner into Pall Mall, where the company has a newer shop … or, less interestingly, you can make purchases online.

On the wagon – no longer!

IN THE CENTRE of Warwick, there is a building with superb examples of Victorian decorative terracotta work. High on its façade, in terracotta lettering are the words “coffee” and “tavern” because this edifice began its life as a coffee house back in 1880.

Designed by a Warwick architect Frederick Holyoake Moore (1848-1924), it was constructed for a local manufacturer and philanthropist Thomas Bellamy Dale (1808-1890). He was mayor of Warwick three times and:

“…was a philanthropist in every sense of the word, for his name was connected with the principal benevolent institutions of England, of which he was a generous supporter; as a public man he took a very active part in the sanitary improvements of the borough of Warwick, and in the adoption of the Free Library Act. He was a generous supporter of every useful institution in the town, and, though exceedingly charitable, was most unostentatious in all his benefactions.” (www.mirrormist.com/t_b_dale.htm)

In the 19th century, alcohol consumption was considered to be responsible for the ill-health of poor people and detrimental to their general well-being. Dale built his coffee tavern and hotel to offer an alternative to alcohol and pubs. His establishment had:

“…a bar and coffee room on the ground floor with service rooms at the rear; a bagatelle room, smoke room and committee and club room on the first floor, and rooms for hotel guests on the second floor.” (www.ourwarwickshire.org.uk/content/article/coffee-tavern-warwick).

The place was designed to keep people away from alcohol, “on the wagon”.

Now, all has changed. Today, the building still offers refreshments and hotel rooms, but does something that the late Mr Dale, who encouraged people to become teetotal, would not approve. Customers at what is now named “The Old Coffee Tavern” can now enjoy not only coffee but also a full range of alcoholic drinks. He might be pleased if he knew that when we visited its pleasant lounge decorated with colourful tiled panels, we chose to sip coffee rather than drinks containing an ingredient that did not meet with his approval.

Costly coffee, Handel, and Hendrix in London’s Mayfair

THERE ARE TWO entrances to Lancashire Court from Mayfair’s Brook Street. One of them, the closest to New Bond Street, is a cobbled lane leading down to a courtyard occupied by the back entrance of the Victoria’s Secret store and the outdoor tables of a restaurant called Hush Mayfair. The tables under delightfully decorated canopies looked enticing, and as we felt the need for some coffee, we sat down to enjoy small macchiatos (maybe more correctly, ‘macchiati’). The coffees were enjoyable but not exceptional. However, the bill that arrived after we had drunk our tiny coffees was far from unexceptional. We were charged just under £13 (US $17.46, INR 1300, or EUROS 15.25) for our two hot drinks. Just in case you are not familiar with the London café scene, today, November 2021, two macchiatos usually cost between £4 and £6.

Lancashire Court is a network of lanes and courtyards located behind the buildings on the southwest corner of the intersection of New Bond Street and Brook Street. It was once a part of London, the Conduit Mead Estate (www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2021/07/05/londons-alleys-lancashire-court-w1/, an informative web page), that followed the course of an old water conduit that ran through the area in a north/south direction (for a map of the district, see: www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/crace/t/largeimage88092.html). From the 1730s until the 1970s, the buildings in Lancashire Court included many workshops, warehouses, and builder’s yards. In 1987, there was a plan to demolish the network of alleys and replace it with a new shopping complex, but this never materialised. Now, the old businesses have been replaced by ‘chic’ establishments including the place where we enjoyed our exorbitantly priced coffees.

Returning to Brook Street, the short section lying between the two entrances to Lancashire Court has two neighbouring houses, numbers 23 and 25, which have importance in the history of music in London. The composer of well-known works such as “The Messiah” and “The Water Music”, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), moved into what is now number 23 in the summer of 1723, and lived there until his death (https://handelhendrix.org/plan-your-visit/whats-here/handel-house/). In Handel’s time, Brook Street was known as ‘Lower Brook Street’. Handel’s home included a Music Room in which as many as 40 people would be accommodated to perform and listen to Handel’s latest creations.

In 1968, 209 years after Handel died, another musician moved into number 25, the house next door to number 23 Brook Street. Like Handel, the occupant of number 25 was a musical innovator. His name was Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970). According to a useful website (https://handelhendrix.org/plan-your-visit/whats-here/hendrix-flat/):

“The flat on the upper floors of 23 Brook Street was found by Jimi’s girlfriend Kathy Etchingham from an advert in one of the London evening newspapers in June 1968 while he was in New York. He moved in briefly in July before returning to the United States for an extensive tour. He spent some time decorating the flat to his own taste, including purchasing curtains and cushions from the nearby John Lewis department store, as well as ornaments and knickknacks from Portobello Road market and elsewhere. He told Kathy that this was ‘my first real home of my own’.

He returned to Brook Street in January 1969 and almost immediately launched into an exhaustive series of press and media interviews and photo shoots in the flat. On 4 January he made his infamous appearance on the BBC Happening for Lulu TV show, and gave his two Royal Albert Hall concerts in February. In March he was back in New York again and although Kathy remained at Brook Street for a while longer Jimi did not live there again.”

After Hendrix’s girlfriend left the flat, it was used as office space. In 2000, it was taken over by the Handel House Trust. By 2016, both Handel’s House and Hendrix’s flat became open to the public as a museum, which I have yet to visit. Sadly, since the onset of the covid19, the museum, now known as ‘Handel and Hendrix in London’ is only open occasionally and will open fully in March 2023.

The westernmost of the two Brook Street entrances to Lancashire Court is lined with an attractive mural made from ceramic tiles. Created in 2001 by Michael Czerwiǹski (with Ray Howell), it celebrates Handel’s residence in Brook Street. Amongst the many works he composed whilst living there, here is a very small selection of them: the opera “Rodelinda”; “The Messiah” and “Semele”; and “Music for the Royal Fireworks”.

Each of the two musicians of Brook Street did much to change the course of musical history. I wonder what each would have thought of the other, and which of them has the most listeners today. Whatever the answers, their names will live on in people’s minds far longer than that of both the place where we had costly coffee and the currently trendy Victoria Secret high-end but low-cut lingerie store.

An invisible abbey and Vietnamese food

THERE IS A SUPERB Vietnamese eatery on London’s Bermondsey Street, called Caphe House. After eating a tasty banh mi, a baguette filled with meat and fresh vegetable, a dish no doubt inspired by the French occupation of Vietnam, and a pho, a clear broth with meat, vegetables, and noodles, we crossed the road to examine a sculpture. This eye-catching artwork had not been present when last visited Caphe House, sometime before the pandemic and well before October 2019. It consists of a row of seven piles of stone carvings of differing heights, resembling short totem poles. Made of Portland stone, Bath stone, marble and other materials found in the River Thames, this was created in 2020 by Austin Emery and members of the local community.  Over 100 members of the community made carvings in a workshop, and these have been assembled by Emery to create what we saw, an artwork named “Cornerstone”. Cornerstone also incorporates fragments from Southwark Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, London Bridge Station, and bones from the Thames.

Cornerstone, a sculpture in London’s Bermondsey

After admiring this unusual and intriguing sculpture, I spotted a notice nearby. It relates to the history of Tanner Park, where the sculpture stands, and includes the following:

“… Originally part of the grounds of Bermondsey Abbey the site of the Park was later in use as a Tannery …”

Reading this notice, I realised that this was the first time I had seen mention of an abbey at Bermondsey.

There had been an abbey in Bermondsey since the early 9th century (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bermondsey_Abbey). This was centred on the site of the present-day Bermondsey Square, about 390 yards south of the Cornerstone sculpture. The abbey to which the notice at Tanner Park refers was a Benedictine abbey, which was dedicated to St Saviour and was founded in the early 11th century. A wealthy religious establishment, it was, like so many other similar institutions,  dissolved by King Henry VIII in the 16th century, in 1537. But where was it?

By 1822, only tiny fragments of the abbey were still standing. Today, nothing remains, although occasional archaeological digs have exposed parts of it, albeit temporarily.  Fathome’s map of Southwark compiled in 1643-48 shows that then the abbey was still standing intact in its grounds (https://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol6/pp117-133). According to one writer (https://knowyourlondon.wordpress.com/2018/07/06/bermondsey-abbey/), who does not give the source(s) of his information, the site of the abbey was:

“The abbey lands extended from the present church of St Mary Magdalene, across today’s Tower Bridge Road.”

A map included by this writer marks the abbey church as lying along Abbey Street with the nave to the west of Tower Bridge Road and the chancel east of it. A wall plaque (www.londonremembers.com/memorials/bermondsey-abbey) which I have not yet seen informs that the abbey:

“… occupied ground between Bermondsey Street, Abbey Street, and Grange Walk…”

The church of St Mary Magdalen stands on Bermondsey Street just before its crossing with Abbey Street. This stands on the site of a church that existed in 1290 and which served lay workers of the abbey. This was demolished in 1680, but the late mediaeval tower was kept. It was rebuilt ten years later. During the 19th century, the exterior was covered with rendering and various other architectural modifications were made both internally and externally (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mary_Magdalen_Bermondsey). Apparently, the church’s mediaeval arches are visible inside the tower behind the organ and the church also contains some mediaeval stone capitals that might well have been parts of Bermondsey Abbey. St Mary Magdalen is the oldest surviving building in the area. It is open occasionally. I have entered it once, but that was long before I knew about the mediaeval remnants it contains.

Despite the fact that Bermondsey Abbey is now merely a historical memory, Bermondsey Street is an interesting place to visit. Amongst its attractions are Peter Layton’s glass studio, where you can watch glassblowers creating fantastic artworks in glass; Rachel Eames Gallery, which often has good exhibitions of contemporary artists’ works; The Fashion and Textile Museum; The White Cube (Bermondsey), which hosts spectacular shows of contemporary art; and the Cornerstone sculpture, described already. I suggest starting your visit with an early lunch at Caphe House, rounding it off with Vietnamese filter coffee, and ending it with another good coffee at the cheekily named, quirkily decorated Fuckoffee café.

Mediaeval in a modern metropolis

A SHORT REMNANT OF the old Roman city wall, which used to surround London, runs just south of the church of St Giles Cripplegate, which itself is on the southern edge of the Barbican complex. The garden of Salter’s Hall lies where once a moat ran along the outer side of the wall. And on the other side of the wall, between it and the wide road called London Wall (the A1211), there are the remains of a mediaeval structure, which look as if they might have been the lower part of a gothic tower. These ruins can be examined close-up or a few feet away, seated at a table under the awnings of Barbie Green, an Australian-style, contemporary eatery, which serves good coffee. The restaurant is relatively new, but the ruins have been there far, far longer. Oddly, although we have passed this area often, it was only yesterday, 16th of August 2021, that we first noticed them.

A notice next to the ruins explains that they are all that remains of the tower of St Elsyng Spital, which was also known as ‘The Hospital of St Mary within Cripplegate’ (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/london/vol1/pp535-537). This hospital was founded in 1330 by the merchant, a mercer, William Elsyng as a college for priests and to provide shelter and other assistance to London’s homeless blind people (https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.538317). A victim of the Black Death, he died in 1349.  Following his instructions, after his death it became an Augustinian priory, which survived until it was dissolved in 1536 during the reign of King Henry VIII. After its dissolution, the parishioners of the nearby St Alphage Church, which had become derelict, purchased the church of Elsyng’s establishment. According to the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, the 14th century tower, whose remains we saw, was incorporated into the structure of St Alphage. St Alphage was demolished at the end of the 16th century and its parishioners used what was left of Elsyng’s priory church, which was eventually replaced by a newly built church on a different site in 1777 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Alphege_London_Wall).

The well-maintained ruins consist of several tall gothic arches connected to each other by walls made of roughly hewn stones and mortar. Most of the arches are arranged around what was once the base of a tower. This mediaeval site is surrounded by modern buildings, lies beneath a sinuous elevated oxidised metal walkway. It is sandwiched between the fragment of London’s Roman Wall and the busy London Wall dual carriageway. Part of the joy of stumbling across this relic of pre-Reformation architecture is that unlike so many others we have seen on our travels, it is in the heart of a modern metropolis rather than a rustic environment.  

Small though it is in comparison with its modern surroundings, finding this reminder of London’s distant past, founded long ago by a philanthropic merchant, was a delightful surprise. Even today, so many centuries later, philanthropy thrives in the heart of the old City of London in the form of the descendants of the guilds, of which The Salters, whose hall I mentioned above, is just one example of many.

PS: The nearest Underground station is Moorgate