One my recent visit to Samuel Johnson’s House, I bought a booklet of essays entitled ‘Tea and coffee in the age of Dr Johnson’; a fascinating insight into the coffee houses of 18th century London.
I learned that one of the early coffee shops was called Tom’s. Established by Thomas Twining in 1706 nearby the shop on Strand that sells tea to this day. Tom’s had a library and was ‘…a place renowned for its polite and scholarly interests’*. Further up Fleet Street was Nando’s coffee shop (perhaps shortened from Fernando’s).
I am reminded of this 300 odd years later, and a couple of hundred yards to the west, at Somerset House where Tom’s namesake, Mr Dixon, and Messrs Fernandez and Wells are reputed to make a fine cup of coffee.
Tom’s has three outlets at Somerset House – a Diner, a Terrace and a Kitchen. I order tea at Tom’s Diner, two beautiful rooms with high ceilings and arched windows overlooking the stunning courtyard. The interior is tastefully fitted in bare wood and white tiles. Being in the mood for a proper cuppa and a sit down, I was a bit disappointed when my tea was served in a cardboard cup. I took a rather sad-looking picture of said cup, which did Tom no favours, so I relocated to his Kitchen via the (very splendid) corridor.
This is a lovely space; three adjoining light-filled rooms on the Thames side of Somerset House overlooking the terrace. I sit in the bar area which has simple, elegant feel; white walls, scrubbed oak tables, parquet floor and framed engravings of London, including the wonderful ‘Mogg’s Strangers Guide to London’ – a wonderful online facsimile of which you can see here.
I just asked for ‘tea’, so was probably English breakfast. It was a delicious blend, and, served in a lovely white china pot and cup, it was well worth the extra £1.10.
A perfect spot for refreshment.
|Price of a Cuppa :||Kitchen: £3.00/Diner: £1.90|
|Leaf or Bag :||Kitchen: Leaf/Diner: Bag|
|Crockery :||Kitchen: chunky white china pot and elegant white cup/Diner: corrugated cardboard|
|Music :||pop music|
|Service :||Kitchen: friendly/Diner: efficient|
|Kitty says:||The restaurants at Somerset House are lucky to have such stunning surroundings. Tip: Go to end of corridor, to see magnificent ‘Nelsons Staircase’; and If you have time, do the free tour|
South Wing, Somerset House, Strand WC2R 1LA
|Nearby:||Fernandez & Wells|
*You may enjoy another S.Johnson’s (Steve, not Samuel) TED lecture ‘Where good ideas come from’ looking at the assimilation of ideas via networks and mentioning the role of coffee houses in the Enlightenment.
‘Mogg’s Strangers Guide to London’ can still be purchased from Sir John Soane’s Museum.
Nearby Tom’s Kitchen, Somerset House