At London’s first pay-per-minute café, everything’s free, but just being there costs three pence for 60 seconds. Alexi Duggins went to spend a penny (or three)
‘Help yourself to coffee and biscuits!’ says Ziferblat’s impossibly smiley hostess, as she opens a kitchen cupboard. ‘Or I think we’ve got peanut butter and toast. Oh, and onions…’.
On heading to the UK’s first branch of this Russian chain of pay-per- minute hangouts, I had a simple plan: take the cost of a medium Americano in the nearest coffee chain (£2.25), spend enough time in Shoreditch’s Ziferblat to run up the same bill (an hour and 15 minutes at 3p per minute) and look at the value for money of both. But it soon becomes obvious that you just can’t compare this to a normal café. I’m led to a kitchen, told to consider the place a ‘social space you treat like your home’, shown how to use the espresso machine and urged to bring in a meal or make one using the food in the cupboards (hence the onions).
People wander about, helping themselves to drinks, two students pore over books and on one table there’s evidence of flower arranging. As a record player softly pumps out Motown and fairy lights twinkle from the walls, it feels like a relaxed common room. But you don’t get many common rooms decked out in such an impeccable selection of cool retro furniture: it’s part living room, part vintage homeware store, a lovely place to hang out without pressure to buy stuff. We may only be a week into 2014, but this has to be a contender for best opening of the year. If not, I’ll eat those onions. Raw.
Find Ziferblat at 388 Old St, EC1V 9LT. Check out london.ziferblat.net now.