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Coffee Republic, Oldham Street

Sarah Tierney wonders whether we'll miss the coffee chains when they're gone

Published on March 23rd 2009.


Coffee Republic, Oldham Street

In a post-recession world, what will fill the spaces left by the deceased coffee chains? They're not doing so well since the UK entered what the head of Starbucks helpfully described as an 'economic spiral'. But even when we recover, are we really going to re-embrace the cult of the latte with as much fervour as we did in recent years?

I doubt it. Even before poverty struck, we were waking up and smelling the coffee – or not smelling it, in the case of most chains. Air-filled milk and poor-quality beans that give you all the caffeine anxiety and none of the taste, for about £2.50 a go.

No, in their place I'd like to see something resembling a coffee shop I went to recently in Berlin. You were served your coffee on a doily-covered tray with a shot glass of water, a chocolate covered coffee bean, and your own little bowl of brown sugar cubes topped with an almond biscotti. In other words, something with a bit more style, individuality and attention to detail.

Anyway, I digress. At Coffee Republic on Oldham Street, the fare is very much what you'd expect from a franchise. The coffee quality is similar to the chains, as are the prices (a small latte was £2.01), as is the décor: just close your eyes and imagine Costa to save me describing it.

Although I've not noticed the other chains putting big round airline ads all over their tables. This particular Lufthansa campaign is so ubiquitous, I may have to fly to Europe for £49 just to escape it. It's a bit obtrusive to shove advertisements in your face like this when you're trying to relax, and not something we would ever do at Confidential (of course, not Sarah. Ed).

The food was ok. I had a thickly layered salmon and cream cheese bagel (£3.50) which like all of their sandwiches, was prepared on the premises. The next day I went back again (in the name of thoroughness) and had a decent toasted panini of pesto, mozzarella and tomato (£3.75). You can have it with a side salad for no extra cost – and a very generous side it is with coleslaw, peppers, tomato, cucumber and lettuce. This time round I had a 'classic hot chocolate' (£2.10) and a muffin (£1.70) with juicy cranberries and little dots of orange marmalade amongst the cake mixture.

My only real complaint was that they were playing Galaxy FM on both visits. More ads, a gobby DJ, and tunes with a drum beat that kept good time with my caffeine-quickened heartbeat.

But the real issue here is, why would people choose to go into a franchise (locally owned or not) when there are plenty of other more interesting cafés in the Northern Quarter? Koffee Pot does decent coffee for a quid and the sausage sandwich I had there a few weeks ago was very good. Likewise, you can take-out a huge portion of home-made chilli from Rustica for less than the paninis here. Or there's the bargain curries at Yadgars, or the new independent – An Outlet – on Dale Street.

It's not that there's anything wrong with Coffee Republic – the food is fine and the staff are down-to-earth and friendly – it's more that there's nothing particularly right about it. Just like there's nothing particularly right about any of the chains.

Still, they had a steady flow of customers when we were there, which is good to see in any newly opened business. Let's just hope that the independents scattered throughout this area are faring as well. After all, if one of those goes, there aren't hundreds of other cafés around that offer exactly the same experience.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DescartesMarch 23rd 2009.

And there ends the world Martin, there ends the world.

markthefotographerMarch 23rd 2009.

"But the real issue here is, why would people choose to go into a franchise (locally owned or not) when there are plenty of other more interesting cafés in the Northern Quarter?"The same reason why many people go to Pret or McDonalds or Greggs; they like brands and they like knowing exactly what they're gonna get. Having had coffees/food of varying quality in indepdent places, you can hardly blame them.

AndyMarch 23rd 2009.

Anyone remember Suburb on Deansgate? That had good coffee but had an even better atmosphere and live music on Sunday afternoons - something the chains could never acheive.

MartinMarch 23rd 2009.

Andy... is that the same suburb that went bust because not enough people went there prefering Caffe Nero next door. We should support the independents but in the end we go for convenience and the safe bet of a chain :(

burt CodeineMarch 23rd 2009.

I'd love to see some more 'real', independent coffee shops in Manchester. I haven't had chance to visit the new coffee shop in Piccadilly Basin (forget the name but it was mentioned on this site a couple of weeks back) so can't vouch the coffee there. Beans need to be freshly roasted and ground just before your brew is served, most of the chains (and supermarkets selling 'fresh beans') serve up old, stale coffee...which kind of misses the point. We are fed a lot of 'kak' in the UK, but lap it up nonetheless. There's plenty of such places on the continent and indeed, I had my best coffee ever in Einsteins in Berlin (in a fantastic Viennese style coffee house). There used to be a fantastic one in Manchester in the Royal Exchange - Roberts & Co I think...you have to travel to Mawdsley in Lancashire to find them now though (nice trip mind).

ZoeMarch 23rd 2009.

Drip in the Northern Quarter is a fab independent .. good home made cakes plus tasty cheese & tomato toasties!

Paul MMarch 23rd 2009.

I went in this one a couple of months back. The staff were really jovial and the coffee was better than expected but tongue-scorchingly hot.

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Anonymous

The staff should wear clothes made out of corn flakes.

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Dress the staff as Tony the Tiger and the honey monster, otherwise i'm just not interested. ;)

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