“It was just, make good coffee and be nice to people, and it’s kicked off. We were topping out at 1300 coffees a day.” That’s how co-founder James Hennebry relays the rise of Rosslyn Coffee, one of the best coffee shops in London, which will soon open a second cafe at 118 London Wall, in Moorgate.
Hennebry’s summary is humbly accurate, but also betrays the swanlike way that a busy morning on Queen Victoria Street — slowly returning to the turnover it saw soon after opening in 2018 and before the onset of COVID-19 — proceeds at Rosslyn. Beneath an effortlessly calm, kind exterior, which greets most customers by name and puts out as many lattes and americanos as elegant pour overs, is a whirringly ferocious attention to detail and quality. It’s this that sets it apart from the vast majority of its London peers: the speed and efficiency of the City blended with the warmth that one might more associate with a neighbourhood coffee shop.
Or, in Hennebry’s words, “the standards of the Australian cafe combined with the hospitality of an Irish pub.” These derive from both owners’ heritage — Hennebry Irish, Mat Russell Australian — and time both spent in and around the coffee scene on Melbourne’s Rosslyn Street, from which the cafe takes its name.
The new opening will maintain those standards while departing from many of the design features that mark the first cafe. Some key anchors are coming along for the ride, though: a second four-group La Marzocco KB90 espresso machine, which is only the second of its kind in the world (the other? At the original Rosslyn, obviously.) The hanging rail of Financial Times pull-outs that marks the service end of the bar in Queen Victoria Street; the clock emblazoned with the cafe’s name; and benches that Hennebry and Russell envisioned alongside Rosslyn’s design team, with little cup rests built in.
“We’re retaining some of the recognisable parts like the clock and the newspaper rail, Hennebry says. “They at least haven’t been ripped off yet — a well-known coffee shop copied the benches (!) but they will be coming along out the front too.
“While some of the aesthetics are completely new, I think about it like a car — there are some features that are instantly identifiable as a certain manufacturer, even if the aesthetics are completely different. What really is identifiably Rosslyn is the service and the coffee, and we’d like to think that’s the common thread that runs through each of the sites.”
They’re also bringing over a little-known feature: An off-menu programme of coffees that are typically hard to find in London, brought over as guests and then frozen in individual doses, creating a sort of coffee library accessible via QR code — or just leaning over the bar and asking a barista. While this isn’t a new practice in the speciality coffee world around the globe, it has little competition in the city. And although some of these coffees might run in the £6, to £10, to possibly £15 range per serve, Hennebry’s response to any price qualms is simple: “This £13 coffee might be one of the best coffees you ever have in your life. When you compare that to what you get in London for a £13 cocktail or brunch, it’s unlikely they will be world-class. And these coffees don’t change the fact that our business is built on lattes and Americanos.”
He says that while the price is a curve for some customers, savvy marketing — and building up trust with regular, regular coffee drinkers — means it’s easier than many hyperbolic column inches might suggest to convey why a coffee might cost that much.
Where some neighbourhood cafes found renewed takeaway custom during lockdowns, Rosslyn found itself in an area that was, by Hennebry’s own admission, a ghost town. And while the cafe has reopened and stayed open since July 2020 — after closing on 20 March when the government officially mandated hospitality closures — the weeks leading up to that first shutdown were particularly fraught. “When we opened Rosslyn — when every cafe operator in London opened their cafes — I don’t think anyone expected to be in a position where they would be facing up to questions like, ‘Am I endangering people’s lives by opening my shop today?’ And different people had drastically different opinions. We were very mindful not to knee-jerk react to everything, and we were always very conscious that whatever this is, it will go at some point. So the priority was to take care of our team and take care of our guests.”
That public responsibility is also on their mind as they look to the future. They hope to open two or three cafes in 2022 — a third is already in the early stages of development. “There’s a rich history of coffee in the City of London since the 1600s and we want to contribute to that, while remaining mindful that it’s a very public display of what you’re good at, and it can all go tits up very easily. We’ve had a lot of people say, ‘yeah, you’ve opened one, but try two, three, everything changes,’ in this quite patronising way. And that’s a real fear. But ultimately we just want to create coffee shops that contribute to London’s speciality coffee world.”
More soon on what to expect from Rosslyn 2.0.