Alacosta Coffee

Trafalgar Road, SE10

As a coffee shop in a location already saturated with cafes, you have to make an effort just to keep up. In just a couple of blocks there must be half a dozen cafes – Point Zero, Channers and The Trafalgar to name just a few – and even with the demise of Shamrock, there are still enough takeaways and pubs in those few metres of Trafalgar Road to dizzy the would-be coffee drinker…

Alacosta isn’t instantly visible – it’s one of those places I don’t always notice. It’s the same height as all the other shops, of course, but there’s somehow something ‘low-lying’ about it which slips under the radar. Now I sit here to write I can’t remember whether I stepped down into it or not (probably not) but it felt like I did.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like a cafe that’s warm and dark and womb-like and there is definitely something cosy about the interior here. The walls are orange-painted panelling and there are, if I remember, smoky, deco-shaped mirrors on the walls. The reason I can’t recall too well is because I was instantly drawn by the fact that there was a garden out the back. I ordered by the counter (which was pleasingly piled with cakes, biscuit brands I had never heard of and, in the chiller, interesting sandwich fillings) and toddled straight out back.

What do you do with a back yard the size of a box-room surrounded by other, equally tiny gardens, overlooked by buildings and facing North? Alacosta have done their best. They’ve clearly recently enclosed the place with new fence panels and (perhaps somewhat hastily) erected decking – probably the best option for this awkward space. There are signs apologising for the uneven steps and the lack of railings around it, which makes me think they’re intending to put these things right – and one or two of the chairs do look a little close to the edge.

There are a couple of parasols and some tubs of flowers, and the sight of a few nodding pansies goes some way to softening the hard landscaping which is still that very orange colour of newly-treated fencing. It’s spoilt a bit by the plastic flowers also tucked in there, and I don’t think that Christmas tree by the back gate will ever manage another season (it has the unfortunate effect of one that was just shoved in the back after the festive season – and would do better planted out somewhere) – what would really make a big difference here would be some tall, graceful bamboo – it would suit this space very well.

But, oh damn, I’ve done my usual thing of going off on one about the decor without discussing the food. The sandwiches are fine – nothing special, but still with plenty of filling and served with a smile. My tea was also served with a smile, but was a rather weak until I got to the bottom where I found the teabag lurking, so squashed that it hadn’t had a chance to brew. Of course they’re not alone in doing that. Have none of these places heard of a teapot?

Apart from the teabag thing, Alacosta is really quite a good little caff. The service is very sweet indeed, they’ve made an effort with the decking out back and the food’s not bad at all. Its real problem is that it is virtually opposite The Trafalgar Cafe, whose dishes are much more substantial (real ‘meals’ as opposed to a quick bite) and whose reputation is justly deserved.

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