I often think that a coffee shop can be defined by the posture of its patrons. It can be placed on a spectrum that runs from spines slumped into sofas or coiled over tottering chairs at one end to those that are more stiffened and straightened at the other. Coffee shops with sticky and collapsing furniture, however, totter off my spectrum in embarrassment because in them, spines are artificially shaped by the circumstances – they must contort to avoid the previous patron’s frappe puddle. Flat White Durham falls, accompanied by Jack Johnson’s guitar, very definitely at the slumped-spine end of my spectrum. In fact, they have even made this literal by securing a property with a low doorway.
Their Facebook page describes the place as quirky. I have a slight issue with this word – in my opinion, if you’re quirky, proclaiming yourself to be so instantly disqualifies you from the genre – but it is probably the most accurate adjective for their décor, which is a compilation of the following: bunting, mismatched chairs, chintz, dymo tape, bird cages, cut flowers, milk bottles, candles, jugs, mirrors, distressed stone, exposed brick. I assume there’s a kitchen sink, I just didn’t see it.
But à table: I must first declare my admiration for the chocolate and cinnamon cake. It was an inspired piece of baking. As someone who normally avoids chocolate cake for fear that it will be all cocoa and no solids, Flat White Durham can revel in their triumph of converting me to the cause. If I were them, I may have removed the jam from the filling because it didn’t really add anything to the slice but this is a small quibble. The cherry and almond cake had a beautiful texture but that’s all the ground almonds really did for it – I could only taste the cherries. I was asked an impressive number of questions about my choice of scone (cheese/fruit, butter/plain, strawberry/blackcurrant jam) and it lived up to my requirements: plump sultanas, moist and crumbly inside and with that hint of a tooth squeak.
The coffees we ordered were all met with nods and mmms of approval – even if my espresso wasn’t that smack around the face that you get from the best. I am assured that the chocolate part of mocha was good and deep and from this we assumed the hot chocolate would be similarly respectable. They were all served with amaretti biscuits, a lovely touch, but they had suffered from sitting out on the counter all day and lost their distinctive crunch as a result. I should also mention the impressive range of breakfast and lunch offerings chalked up on boards behind the counter with a good mix of classic and innovative sandwich fillings. We didn’t try one but I saw a sandwich being served, and it looked just as substantial and self-confident as it should. I was assured by the manager – and have no reason to disbelieve him – that their soup is changed daily and their cakes every few weeks.
Flat White Durham is an outfit that you would expect to succeed: locally sourced food, home-baked cakes, good coffee, passionate management, excellent location, atmosphere and competitive prices. I only hope that this newest arrival on the Durham coffee shop scene manages to survive past its infancy.