Guest writer Charley Nash on art found in CaffÃ¨ Nero.Â
There is very much a theme in CaffÃ¨ Nero on Kingsway. It feels intellectual, the type of place where youâ€™d take a Teams meeting or write a book. It screams “trendy shared workspace”. I should note here that I have just learnt that CaffÃ¨ Nero is named after the literal translation of â€œblack coffeeâ€ from Italian and not after the tyrannical Roman emperor. The more you know. Anyways, let us survey the scene.
Thereâ€™s a big metal frame used as a bookcase in the centre of the shop, breaking up the seating areas and creating a sense of â€œFeng Shuiâ€. Â Upon it are many books, hardbacks, dustcovers removed. The arrangement of books on the shelf is not pretentious. We have, magnificently, Kerry Katonaâ€™s autobiography two down from â€œThe Concise Columbia Encyclopaediaâ€. Thereâ€™s a French tourist guide fraternising near John Grisham, an intriguing book entitled â€œHOPEâ€ by Mary Ryan in embossed, gold letters, and, best of all, among a handful of paperbacks, â€œBreaking Dawnâ€ of the Twilight series (aptly on top of an upside-down copy of a book called â€œFoolish Motionsâ€).
This Nero has few pieces of artwork, disappointingly; rather, its ambience comes from its exposed faux-marked wood tables, singer-songwriter soundtrack (Ã¡ la Taylor Swift in her â€œFolkloreâ€ era), the aforementioned books, and dark blue walls. I donâ€™t think weâ€™re even supposed to notice the artworkâ€”but then, are we ever?
There is one huge photo on one of the walls, surrounded by a wooden frame. It is of an Italian vegetable stand in a market. This photo looks becoming against the exposed brick. It has nothing to do with the coffee-making process, as per Costa art. I donâ€™t know if this is good or bad. Next to this photo is a smaller photo, also framed, of a balcony of what I assume is an Italian terrace. Placing this photo here is like placing a Chihuahua next to a Great Dane.
The other photos are also comically small against the cumbersome walls. On one wall, there are exposed, but painted the same colour as the wall, pipes in the industrial style (I am clearly an interior design expert now). There is a small 7×5 (perhaps) photo, framed, of a car on a street with a shadowed man in the shot. I find its composition annoying.
Behind meâ€”not that I can get a good look; I donâ€™t want people to think Iâ€™m that weirdâ€”are three small framed nondescript photos (just behind a man so deep in thought that he may be having some sort of reckoning or crisis). These frames are brightly coloured: one is yellow, one is blue, and the other is black. Another triptych. They get swallowed by the far more interesting man lost in thought (he is staring directly out the door, unflinching, I wonder if I should ask if he needs help?). Thus, we have entered firmly into the realm of non-specific Italian imagery. I had, for a moment, felt anxious that we wouldnâ€™t see any here. Similar small photos like these pepper further walls; I wonâ€™t bore you with the minutiae, Iâ€™ve found something far more exciting. Quotes.
I am a sucker for quotes. I find them delightfully awful. Quotes feel aspirational, a declaration of how one wants to be seen in the world. How much “live, laugh, loving” can one middle-aged woman working a full-time job really do? Is your t-shirt proclaiming that “sweat is weakness leaving the body”Â really true if youâ€™re wearing it to lie on the sofa? (As someone who is revising this with a plaque that says “get it girl” opposite me, I am my own worst nightmare and greatest influence.) As one enters the cafÃ©, we are faced with a quote (painted on yet another exposed brick wall) from Gaetano, head of roasting. The typography of said quote has been contorted, exceptionally, into heart-shaped steam rising from a Caffe Nero cup. It reads, in marvellous cursive, â€œCoffee isnâ€™t loved because it is great, it is great because it is lovedâ€. This quote is nonsense, but nonetheless a quote that appeals to the 15-year-old GCSE Graphics student in me, who had just pyrographed “Paris is always a good idea” onto a homemade box. I am sure a similar sympathy would come from the “Home is where the heart (and wine) is!” tribe.
There is another quote, tragically obscured, behind the metal frame (I will crane my neck). It reads like a mission statement. â€œCoffee it is our craft, our ritual and our passion. It drives us and inspires usâ€. Gaetano, head of roasting, has been busy dreaming up these pearls of wisdom.
Let me draw your attention to the CaffÃ¨ Nero website. Gaetano sounds magnificent. According to the website, Gaetano, master of quotes, is â€œnot just a Master Roaster, he also has a way with words that brings the simplest stories to lifeâ€. I donâ€™t need convincing. In case you needed more convincing on Gaetano, though, he makes sure he has an espresso with his wife every morning before work, and â€œevery time [he] drinks coffee itâ€™s a fond memoryâ€. I rest my case.
Despite my cynicism, if it has come across that way, I have enjoyed the ambience of the Kingsway Nero, although I would not fight the swaths of people who flock here every day, specifically when I try to visit, for a seatâ€”not when thereâ€™s a “hidden” one around the corner that plays classical music, the greatest soundtrack for scrolling through Instagram, but thatâ€™s another story.