Unlike in London where artisan cafés and coffee houses are a dozen a dime, Swindon’s coffee scene is limited to greasy spoons and those three well-known chains. And then there is Dark Room Espresso. Blink and you’ll miss it; the café doesn’t even have a sign, just a black painted store front and the obligatory chalk A-board on the pavement boasting the brilliant coffee and tasty treats inside.
Dark Room Espresso brings together local masters of coffee, patisserie and baking to enjoy in one place. Their beans come from Round Hill Roastery in Bath, which sources the best seasonal harvests from a selection of independent growers. The current blend is smooth and fruity without a hint of bitterness – ideal for summer drinking.
Alongside all the usual suspects – cappucino, latte, americano, flat white – there are a couple of names on the board that you won’t have heard of before. The ‘Gibraltar’ is great for those who like their coffee strong and not too milky, but want something more exciting than a straight-up black filter. The barista described it as “like a latte but must strong and with less foam – a latte for the seasoned coffee drinker”. The ‘Gibraltar’ was new to me, but still what I would consider to be a fairly normal coffee beverage. The coffee tonic, on the other hand, was a very strange creation… but I’ll always try something once, and I actually liked it! A shot of espresso + low-sugar tangy tonic; it’s a match made in hipster heaven.
Cakesmiths from Bristol provides the cakes; a line-up on tempting traybakes, from a fruity yoghurt-topped berry flapjack to a dark and decadent chocolate brownie, while the pastries are courtesy of Breton baker and acclaimed BBC “food champion”, Richard Bertinet. You’ll find traditional pain au raisin and sweet and nutty almond croissants, as well as more modern takes on Viennoiserie, such as the pistachio swirl. Berinet’s bread is show-stoppingly brilliant.
There are two or three toasties on offer at Dark Room Espresso daily – one meat, plus vegan and veggie options – made using the most incredible sourdough loaf, which has a chewy, waxy texture and open texture, and almost “melts” into a softer dough when toasted. You must try this. On the menu when I visited was a New York-style pastrami sandwich, featuring spiced pastrami with a bold juniper flavour, tangy sauerkraut, stringy Swiss cheese and a piquant mustard. The vegan option also seemed popular; a chunky falafel, hummus and salad creation. Another meat option I’ve had here before is a classic ham and Cheddar, generously filled and pimped up with peppery rocket and sweet and tangy onion chutney, it’s the ultimate melter!
It’s not just about the coffee at Dark Room Espresso. The team hosts regular events, including coffee tasting, art exhibitions, music and poetry, and also runs Darkroom Espresso Cycling Club, which now has over 50 members (and very cool branded cycle gear!)
The Dark Room team now also runs Baila in Old Town.
Dark Room Espresso
11 Faringdon Rd,
T: 01793 976266
Open 7:45-17:00 Mon-Fri; 9:00-17:30 Sat; 10:00-16:00 Sun