I love a good coffee, and it seems that I no longer have to resort to one of the bland, standard chains which populate Plymouth’s city centre. You might have spotted the new, more unique coffee shops which have sprung open in the past year, with unusual décor, cheerful staff and healthy food.
We’ve always had our fair share of independent coffee shops, mostly on the Barbican or tucked away at the quiet end of town, and these new, larger cafes are a reminder that these exist. Suddenly I don’t want to put my money into big chains anymore. I want to support more local businesses and I go searching for them at the weekend.
I very happily took the time to visit some of these new coffee shops, so that I can let you know where they are, how they are, and help you to pick one for your next morning latte or lunch date…
ROCKETS AND RASCALS
On the Barbican, Rockets and Rascals is a bicycle shop-come-café, and at the Royal William Yard it’s in a smaller building serving as a pit stop for cyclists. It’s been in Plymouth for a while but I still speak to people who have only seen the shop front on the main road, clueless about the café which sits around the back. It’s just by the Blues Bar and Grill, with seating outside which is lovely, although a little noisy, in the summer.
On my first visit with a friend I looked around at the tables and whispered, “This is where they keep the cool people”. A very trendy couple were drinking flat whites with a pug at their feet, a beautiful woman with dreadlocks hammered away on her laptop, men in cycling gear sat chatting at the window and a girl with a bold, 60s-inspired haircut was in the corner flicking through her phone.
I usually drink a latte and, having spent my uni days working as a barista, I know when one is made well. The friendly girls at the counter poured me a good one and I ordered chilli beans on toast which were simple but satisfying.
You can see down through to the cycle shop as you sit in the café which is bright and airy, with worn wooden floors and retro cycling posters hung on brick walls. It’s bike (of course) and dog friendly, and has a more energetic atmosphere than you might expect in a cafe. It’s a great place to stop by for a quick catch-up with a friend.
If you often find yourself strolling down the unusual and vibrant Ebrington street, you’ll no doubt have walked past Prime Café. The clothing store and café were previously as one, but after some renovation the coffee shop stands on its own attracting its own customers. It’s simple and doesn’t offer some of the quirks other places do, but if an uninterrupted coffee is what you’re after then you’ll get it here.
There’s plenty of old, chunky tables and chairs for eating, with Chesterfield sofas and coffee tables around the corner for those who want to relax and hang around for a while. Soft lighting around the counter makes this café feel cosy and slower-paced than the more lively Rockets and Rascals.
I went for a flat white and struggled to choose a sandwich with so many good fillings on offer. They also pride themselves on good, homemade hot food and breakfast is served all day. I have a friend who stops by Prime several times a week – he loves their coffee (this is a guy who isn’t usually a fan of hot drinks) and is always tempted by their menu.
Hopefully you’ve taken the time to stop at Rumpus Cosy, which sits quietly on Derry’s Cross roundabout. If not, make a date with this not-for-profit café which seems to have been inspired by Alice in Wonderland, serves every type of tea imaginable and has staff who kindly offer out blankets to those sitting by the door.
I often nab the sofa and coffee table before I’m bought menus and can place my order without even going to the counter. On my most recent visit I went for the Caramel Rooibos tea (as recommended by a member of staff) which was unusual and delicious, and a walnut and blue cheese toastie which I can still taste and often crave.
As you might expect when you see the fancy china your drinks are served in, the food is fancy too. Unfortunately the toastie wasn’t a common ‘toasted sandwich’ with two slices of bread as you’d probably get anywhere else. Instead I was given one slice of (admittedly very chunky) bread with the filling on top. The taste absolutely made up for my initial disappointment, but don’t expect anything “normal” in here.
Full, three-course meals are served in the evenings which make a special treat, and an art space next door means you’ll often bump into artistic-types taking a break in here, making it a buzzing but chilled creative hub.
THE ROYAL WILLIAM BAKERY
The Bakery is hidden at the Royal William Yard – just after the main entrance gate, walk down the first path on the right until you reach this quiet and clever bakery-meets-café on the right-hand side.
Quiet because it’s tucked away, clever because of the way the place works. Allow me to explain. To order coffee, head over to the clipboard where you’ll find a pencil to write down your name and drinks order. This is checked regularly by one of the incredibly lovely people working there who then make your drink using their freshly ground coffee of the day. Ask them about it and they’ll happily explain its origins and flavours.
If you fancy an egg in the morning, you can head over to pick one out and make it yourself. Full instructions on blackboards tell you timings to cook it exactly as you like. If you’re ordering anything bread-based, you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s made fresh on site just the other side of the huge wooden doors.
I usually go for a slice of the biggest cakes you’ll have ever seen. The menu changes regularly. Just go up, pick whichever tempts you the most and plonk a slice onto a wooden board. Staff will head over to help those with weak arms to heave a chunk of the sponge off. When you’re finished, tell them what you ordered and pay, and I’ve always been impressed enough to leave a tip. This place is certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste – it’s not for the lazy! But if you like things natural and basic, this could be your new favourite spot.
BOSTON TEA PARTY
It’s the newest of the pack to the area, but you may have heard of Boston Tea Party in one of the other towns and cities they’re located in. Our Plymouth, Barbican café in particular recently won a Café Life Award for Best Café Design 2015, for the way they renovated the grade II listed Jamaica House so effectively. For that reason alone, it’s worth a visit.
The place has been decked out using old gymnasium flooring, recycled tiles and furniture and colourful lighting. I made the mistake of visiting on a Saturday lunchtime, when a queue snaked towards to door and strangers were asking to share tables. A 40-minute wait on food wasn’t surprising, but thankfully a huge selection of chunky cake portions were ready to plate up.
Despite the hectic time of day, every member of staff was relaxed and efficient and couldn’t apologise more when I opted not to wait around for a Croque Monsieur. Of course, the queue vanished as soon as I’d placed my order and by the time I was finishing up my latte (which tasted incredibly good) the place started to quiet down.
For a café, the menu is huge. Breakfast is served all day, the burger list competes with restaurants, and beer, wine and cocktails are also available. It seems that there’s potential for Boston Tea Party to become much more than a coffee shop in the evenings.