Every now and then, you come across a bar so brilliant that you can’t wait to spread the word, telling anyone who’ll listen that they should pay it a visit in the hopes of sharing its delights. Soho’s Bar Termini is not one of those bars. You won’t recommend it to anyone, or encourage friends to pay it a visit. You’ll want it all to yourself.
Squeezed into a miniscule plot on Old Compton Street, Bar Termini can manage 25 customers at a push. “No-one wanted this room,” confesses co-owner Marco Arrigo on their find, which has been vacant for the last five years. The small-scale setting is matched by an equally stripped-back menu: a handful of cocktails complemented by five coffees and a small selection of pastries and cured meats to nibble on.
The simple cocktails-and-coffee focus is a by-product of Bar Termini’s dual owners and founders: 69 Colebrooke Row maestro, Tony Conigliaro (read our interview with him in Issue 10), to handle the cocktails and Arrigo, the Head of Quality at Illy, to take care of the coffee. While the former’s cocktail credentials need no defending, its Arrigo’s involvement that makes Bar Termini stand out from the crowd, thanks to a coffee menu unlike any other in London.
“Our coffee consumption is minuscule compared to Italy,” Arrigo claims as he bemoans the “non-existent” coffee scene in the UK. “We drink more milk than coffee,” he continues, with British coffee shop staples like the latte and flat white in his sights.
Here, instead, the espresso is at the heart of the coffee line-up, available in two distinct options. For a mere £1, the ‘espresso al bar’ offers a single, quick shot of espresso served at the bar. This on-the-go serving is also the closest you’ll get to a takeaway coffee here: “I wouldn’t put my coffee in a paper cup – it’s a killer for the coffee,” Arrigo told us emphatically on the decision to refuse takeaway service.
The next level up is the real star of the show: a 21 gram ‘espresso al tavolo,’ thicker and creamier than your garden variety shot of coffee and rich with coffee oils that cling to your palate long after your final sip. It’s a drink of Arrigo’s own invention and, while inspired by his Italian heritage, is unique to Bar Termini: “I get annoyed when Italians come in and they go, ‘Ah, it’s just like in Italy!’,” he complains. “I go, ‘Where? Where in Italy?’”
Rounding out the coffee selection are Bar Termini’s takes on the latte, cappuccino and mocha. The latte is served as an espresso together with a jug of heated milk, giving you the chance to make it as strong or weak as you like – and do your own latte art – Arrigo’s sole concession to the modern taste for flexible coffee menus. The bianco sees the cappuccino taken to its logical extreme, the coffee accompanied by nothing but a layer of luxurious froth. Finally, the bicerin sees layers of coffee, viscous hot chocolate and creamy milk, delicately balanced to keep the flavours separate on the tongue for a complex take on the mocha.
Arrigo can’t help but betray the fussiness about coffee that has defined the Bar Termini menu. Equally offended by large-scale American chains and London’s more recent speciality coffee scene (which he decries as under-roasted and “sour”), he’s at odds with most of the UK’s coffee trends – though he’s no traditionalist either. Whatever the motivation, if the result is coffee like this, then London is all the better for it.
Want to find out more? Bar Termini is holding Coffee Masterclasses with Marco Arrigo on Saturday 25th April, 10.30am – 12noon and Sunday 3rd May, 10.30am – 12noon (as part of The London Coffee Festival). Spaces are free but must be reserved by emailing [email protected]