Sydney has made me a coffee snob…
Since my last post, I have travelled through Hawaii, San Francisco, Toronto, New York and Reykjavik (and had an incredible time, although I wish for my tales to remain sacred for now, apologies readers!) before returning home to the UK, and struggled to find a café (or even a flat white) even half as good as the ones I’d fallen in love with Down Under. Independent ones with hand-written chalkboards, mismatched crockery, quirky tablewares and odd furniture have been impossible to come across during my travels, let alone at home in sunny old Blighty. The closest I’d come to these little wonders was the other night, when a lazy Netflix marathon led me to Not Suitable For Children – a hilarious Aussie flick starring man-god Ryan Kwanten – which almost had me in tears. Except it wasn’t Kwanten’s hipster character Jonah’s battle with cancer-induced infertility that had me close to waterworks. Nor was it because the film’s jokes (of which there were plenty) had me in stitches, or because his co-star Sarah Snook is insanely, mouth-droppingly beautiful. Nope, it was the film’s setting – in my favourite suburb of my former home, Newtown, Sydney – and it’s plethora of hipster cafés that nearly had me blubbing, with the realisation that perhaps we just can’t “do” great, atmospheric coffee shops in the Northern Hemisphere.
That was, until I came across The Glorious Art House. Set in the alternative hub of Fore Street (number 120, in case you look for it) in the older end of Exeter, Devon, The Glorious is a marvel of Mexican-themed magic, spanning three floors and containing not only a “Secret Garden”, but also a gallery to showcase local artists. Decor colourfully pays homage to the owners’ (who also happen to be incredibly friendly and down-to-earth) art roots, with many of the textile pieces being created themselves along with huge, original Penny MacBeth works adorning the walls of the ground floor (she also designed the beautiful printed wallpaper used upstairs). The opening exhibition – by Cornwall-based artist Susie Chaikin – is a collection of intricate mosaics and sculptures that nod to the art house’s predecessors Opus, and is well worth the visit while it’s there (and be sure to look closely to find the surprise miniature Frida Kahlo portraits that make up some of the mosaics), along with the simple but wonderful choice menu of delectable platters and sandwiches. And, of course, the most important bit: in a country where tea dominates (and you’ll find plenty of variety here – the Earl Grey is lovely and a teapot will easily make three cups!), they certainly don’t do a bad cup of coffee. While enjoying a perfect Americano (or “upside-down Long Black” to you Southern Hemispherians), served in a satisfyingly contrasting cup-and-saucer set, it occurred to me that this may be one of the first coffee shops of its kind in England. And I hope that hand-written chalkboards, mismatched crockery, quirky tablewares and odd furniture (with a gallery upstairs) are here to stay.
It’s difficult to believe that the first cup of coffee that has even remotely compared in quality to those I was spoilt with in the land of koalas and kangaroos was served in an establishment that only opened its doors two days ago, however barista and co-owner Derry Tydeman clearly knows coffee, and I very much doubt The Glorious Art House will be going anywhere other than up any time soon.