London, like every other developed city in the world, is infested. Spreading its caffeinated tentacles around the world is Starbucks, its branches identical the world over, stifling independent cafes in a bid to supply every global citizen with mediocre coffee in a branded paper cup. I say all the branches are the same, with their small, round tables and comfy chairs and easy-listening playlists, but this is not strictly true. They do vary slightly. Behind the lust-worthy Christian Louboutin shop in Belgravia there is a very superior branch, full of gorgeous, Euro-cash lovelies (whom one would imagine could afford far more superior coffee, or even to fly off to Rome to drink it somewhere more fabulous), with a spiral staircase and gallery from which to people-spot. Bloomsbury hosts the most understaffed branch I have found, where a lone barrista scuttles to and fro, between grinder and till, making beverages for students who have nothing better to do with their time than wait for him to serve them very, very slowly. From the window of the Wimbledon Village Starbucks you can watch Kelly Brook go out for breakfast, and there's usually a tethered dog outside doing similar, dreaming about dropped blueberry muffin crumbs. But I digress...
My new neighbourhood is uncontaminated, Starbucks-free. I believe the nearest branch is down by Highbury & Islington tube station, which I am fortunately far too lazy to go anywhere near. Instead the Holloway Road is littered with bright and busy greasy-spoon cafes, with names like "The Croissant d'Or". They are cheap and unpretentious, and seem to do a roaring trade, but for me, with my journal articles and 3000 word assignments on the theoretical evidence for "new wars", they are not conducive to writing. I don't know what it is - maybe the pervading smell of frying, or the blare of an advert-punctuated tinny radio next to the toaster? I just need a little more quiet, and preferably a small well-lit table upon which to balance my laptop and a large bucket of coffee.
So imagine my delight when I chanced upon Tufnell Park's premier (and I believe sole) literary cafe - Rustique. Inside is an eclectic mixture of tables, chairs, lamps and local readers and writers. While the kind cafe staff fuel their creativity with coffee, cake and huge plates of salads, writers tap away on laptops and scribble in notebooks. No useless tiny round tables which discourage work and long chats, as favoured by Starbucks. Each writer or reader has plenty of space for their papers and writing technology, as well as an enormous mug of hot coffee. No one furiously tidies around you or glowers at you as soon as you've drained the last dregs from your drink and fail to vacate your chair in the same breath. A high table turnover rate is not a priority here - contented customers and good service seem far more important. The place is busy from breakfast at 8am until the end of poetry reading evenings at 8pm.
In cafes and restaurants today, it is refreshing to examine a menu and not know what to expect; in fact, it is refreshing to even need a menu, and not merely order from a large board above the cash register. The small independent cafes of our city are holding down the fort in the fight against the giants of Starbucks, Nero and Costa - the coffee-purveying Davids to their bean-roasting Goliaths. And they need our support. Choose decent coffee and smiling staff. Choose time to sit and freshly-baked cakes which originated in a kitchen rather than a warehouse. Choose independent cafes!