Restaurant reviews

Central Leeds Independent Coffee Cafes: The battle of the beans!

With Charlotte getting her hair cut in town yesterday, I decided to pop into a few independent central Leeds coffee shops to do a review. To make things fair, I ordered a single macchiato in each of the four shops visited. Whilst this made it fair for the review, I will confess that I was more than slightly ‘wired’ after four macchiatos! This did mean that I had the focus during the afternoon to set up The Leeds Foodie Instagram and Google+ sites and even create a new banner for the Facebook page!

Laynes Espresso

Charlotte had a few minutes spare before heading to the hairdresser, so we decided to go to a coffee house that I have heard really good things about. Laynes is not exactly spacious but the staff certainly make you feel welcome when you enter the cafe and the calm ambiance is a nice contrast to the hustle and bustle of people going to and from the train station.

Laynes Espresso

After a quick joke about making sure I got a salted caramel brownie as far away as possible from the peanut butter ones (after an unfortunate incident a few weeks ago at a different cafe), Charlotte and I sat down to see if the hype was to be believed.

The first thing to say is that while we ordered the brownie only because we hadn’t had breakfast and it wasn’t intended to be part of my review, it was really delicious!

Laynes Espresso

Brownie delight!

My macchiato itself was smooth, had a strong rich flavour and was not too pricey considering it was clear that high quality beans had been used. The barista showed off his skill with a nice design on top of the ‘foam’ and I fully enjoyed gulping down my drink.

Laynes Espresso

As an added bonus, Charlotte had a hot chocolate that she reluctantly let me try and it was smooth and silky and one of the better hot chocolates I have tasted recently.

Laynes Espresso

All in all, Laynes may be a small cafe but it certainly punches above its weight with the value and taste of its coffees and snacks and I will be back again in the future. It was also nice that the staff were so friendly and didn’t behave in the pretentious manner of some coffee snobs in Leeds!

La Bottega Milanese

For my first review on my own, I headed to La Bottega Milanese in the Light shopping centre. Hidden away below the Vue cinema and not exactly in the heart of the shopping district since Trinity opened, this cafe has no doubt had to fight to keep a loyal customer base.

La Bottega Milanese

I was impressed that La Bottega Milanese has a loyalty card but I wasn’t offered one when I purchased my macchiato, which suggested a slight complacency in customer service. That said, the Italian brand was backed up by the fact that the majority of the staff hail from an Italian heritage and they clearly understand the connotations that link Milan and coffee.

Moving on to the drink itself, I was pleasantly surprised by how good value the coffee was but was slightly less pleased when I was advised that paying by card for a total under £5 incurred a surcharge of 25p. Despite this, it was still better than Laynes, who won’t accept card payments under £5. The macchiato was not as strong in flavour as the Laynes one but it offered a nice rich, smooth taste and certainly went down nicely.

La Bottega Milanese

For this reason I cannot fault La Bottega Milanese and I was also impressed with the quality of some of its own branded products for sale for coffee enthusiasts!

Heaven

Naming a shop Heaven is a brave move! You open yourself up to all kinds of jokes and accusations if the quality you offer is not heavenly and considering the fact that Heaven does not go out of its way to appear trendy or appeal to snobbish coffee drinkers, I was intrigued to find out whether the quality of my next macchiato would match the previous two.

My first pleasant surprise came in the form of second breakfast! Anyone purchasing a tea or coffee before 10:30am gets a free danish! I was taken aback by this and it took me a while to choose a custard and apple danish that went down a treat (especially given the fact that normally it would have cost more than the macchiato I ordered). Despite this and the warm greeting I was offered, I was still unsure if the macchiato would hit the spot. I placed my order, took a seat and studied the readily offered loyalty card while I waited for my drink to be brought over.

Heaven Independent Cafe Leeds

Free danish!

I will admit that I was surprised to see chocolate powder placed on the foam and my macchiato certainly had more of a look of a mini latte than an espresso macchiato.

Heaven Independent Cafe Leeds

Despite this, the coffee itself wasn’t bad at all. I can’t say it hit the heights of the previous two cafes but given the focus on good service and the excellent location of Heaven I was prepared to overlook the slightly bitter aftertaste as the coffee still had a nice strong flavour. All in all, Heaven was a pleasant suprise.

Mrs Atha’s

Of all the places I was reviewing, Mrs Atha’s coffee shop was the one I was most familiar with. As I headed in to get my last (and quite frankly completely unnecessary) macchiato of the morning, I could see the usual crowd of trendy foodies already sitting down enjoying their coffees and breakfasts. It cannot be disputed that Mrs Atha’s is the hippest coffee house in Leeds but does it offer the best coffee?

Mrs Atha's

With the clientele almost demanding rude service, I was not left disappointed. My order for a single macchiato was taken without any pleasantries and the waitress seemed completely unaware that I had ordered, and therefore was disdainful of my attempt to find a seat in the busy cafe until I informed her that I had ordered and was hoping to find a place to sit down! There didn’t appear to be any loyalty scheme on offer and the macchiato wasn’t cheap, so all in all the review was going to have to come down to one thing only: does the coffee taste good?

When my drink arrived it came with a beautiful design on top in an arty cup which seemed befitting of the cafe. My first sip was tentative as I felt rather mean destroying the design but this feeling of being mean was obliterated instantly by the excellent rich, smooth and nutty taste of the coffee. It pained me to think it but this was a fine macchiato. Was it as good as Laynes or La Bottega Milanese? Possibly, but it certainly wasn’t much better.

Mrs Atha's

For this reason, I have to say that I wouldn’t rate Mrs Atha’s as better than the first two cafes visited, and the service at Heaven certainly meant that I would go back there in the future.

Conclusion

The best coffee: By the skin of its teeth I am going to go with La Bottega Milanese.

The best ambiance and place to enjoy sipping a coffee: Without doubt this has to be Laynes, where the coffee was only just pipped into second place by La Bottega Milanese.

The best customer service: Heaven. Who can argue with a free danish!

The place to be seen: Mrs Atha’s. If you can get a seat!

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