If anyone is fretting that Alain Ducasse’s plan to sell a £15 cup of coffeein his London King’s Cross shop might have limited appeal, let me give some context. To reach this precious Yemeni coffee, I had to pass through an earnest 300-person queue for Hawker Chan, a Michelin-starred noodle seller who had set up, for three days only, close to Ducasse’s cafe.
As I drank my coffee, at approximately £1.50 a sip, observing foodies in their element, it struck me that London is not short of suggestible idiots. Myself included.
“Can you taste the bergamot orange? The cocoa nibs?” asked the barista in evangelical tones. “Yes, I can,” I said, thinking that from now on I will only imbibe coffee beans which have been exported in limited quantities from smallholder farmers in war-torn Yemen through military checkpoints. I’ve been mugging myself off until now.
Suddenly drinking my Gold Blend when on deadline felt like self-sabotage. “And then can you taste grape,” the barista said. “Some red berries and notes of honey.” “All of this,” I said, because in that moment, I truly could. The complimentary freshly baked madeleine helped things along, plus the tiny square of Ducasse Madagascan dark chocolate, both offered to accentuate the beverage’s flavours.
Don’t expect this coffee to be slung at you in a paper cup with your name misspelled. No, set aside half an hour, pull up a chair: this is a delicate ceremony involving several men in slate-blue, cassock-style uniforms noodling over electronic scales and state-of-the-art grinding equipment. It will involve invitations to smell the Yemeni beans and compare and contrast with those from Ethiopia and Panama, then the hallowed liquid will be decanted into a conical flask and poured delicately into a glass cup. It’s all very convivial.
Whether this nose-bleedingly expensive coffee is delicious, rich, pungent and captivating isn’t the question. This is a damn fine brew. Whether it’s worth £15 to spend 20-30 minutes at a small elegant bar surrounded by coffee musos is the question.
By London standards, to my mind at least, less than £20 for an “experience” feels almost reasonable. Just up the road at King’s Cross platform 9 and three quarters, it costs £15 for a child to queue-jump and be photographed by Harry Potter’s trolley. As I left Ducasse, high as a kite on caffeine, having made a load of new chums at the counter, I realised you couldn’t put a price tag on this level of smugness.