Marco Arrigo has opinions. On all sorts of things, I imagine, but the ones he holds on coffee are intractable, unyielding and often controversial.
I like an opinion. Prefer a super-sized one to none at all. Marco and I got on.
In ‘Bar Termini’, his wee 1950s-esque Italian-styled café at the sleepy end of Soho’s Old Compton Street, Marco’s shiny silver Faema pumps out perfect shots of caffeine from 7.30am weekdays and 10.30am on Sundays. I visit with some old and new foodie friends at 10.30am one Sunday morning and enjoy watching a man who ‘knows his stuff’. He waxes and wane about coffee consumption, hipsters, and the You-Tube caffeine-heads who never clean their machines. On the issue of latte-art, Mario bellows that it’s an abomination. And the dozen of us who had only the day before Instagrammed the work of the latest self-styled caffeine Michaelangelo, nod in embarrassed agreement. This was a coffee Masterclass after all and we were all a little seduced by His Master’s Voice.
Marco Arrigo is something of an icon in the coffee industry, having worked as the Head of Quality at Illy since 1994. He and long-term pal, Tony Conigliaro, set up Bar Termini at the end of 2014, deliberately choosing a small site where they planned to create the sort of place reminiscent of an Italian bar-cum-cafe. ‘Why do coffee shops close at 5pm?’ Marco quizzes us rhetorically. ‘And why don’t cocktail bars open until 6 or 7pm?’. We were intrigued. Yet no-one was brave enough to profer a response.
The concept he and Conigliaro have created optimises the usage of the small site by operating as a café during the day and seamlessly slipping into a shimmering cocktail frock come early evening. They offer a limited coffee menu, a limited cocktail menu and a limited food menu. Everything limited; but perfectly executed.¬¬¬
And it works. It’s all very ‘continental dahhhling’. Professional-looking coffee scientists don crisp white jackets and elegant ties to pour your coffee or cocktail in clean clipped motions. There is nothing superfluous or redundant here.
Marco is passionate about his coffee menu, which is made up of just five options. But they’re not your usual cappuccino or flat white options. ‘Why should every menu in a coffee shop read the same?’ he asks. Again, we are smart enough to know this is a rhetorical question and button our lips. ‘You don’t see the same food menu in every restaurant, do you?’ He’s quite right of course, though I’m not entirely sure I agree that this doesn’t just confound coffee lovers who are simply looking for some pleasure in drinking the bean the way they know they like it. At the same time as challenging the status quo about menu items, he is remarkably prescriptive in how he believes coffee should be made, and in many ways he’s fabulously traditional.
I like Marco. It’s thrilling to see someone so passionate about their life drug of choice and Bar Termini is a beautiful and sophisticated space in which to celebrate this. In this age where everything is somehow diluted or contrived, genuine passion and a clear, principled ethos is intoxicating indeed. Worth checking out, if you feel like a good caffeine hit or a robust coffee-related verbal wrangle.
This was a coffee tasting masterclass arranged by the lovely Chris Tiki and Yelp so I didn’t pay any pennies for my initial tasting. I’ve been back several times since then though and swapped a pound for an espresso at the bar. Fair exchange I say.