The Urban Guide to the Countryside
Edition

Talk of the town: Black Goo

9 Feb 2017


What’s this? Another cafe in Berkhamsted? Well yes, and no. Black Goo opened just under a week ago. This cafe is actually Black Goo 2 and can be found on the top floor of the Home and Colonial, the interiors and antiques emporium, bang in the middle of the high street. The first Black Goo opened last Easter, just up the road in Tring. The Tring Goo has been hugely popular since it opened, and when an opportunity arose at Home and Colonial, the Black Goo team moved in.  It has been packed ever since although someone in the know told me that in Berkhamsted it’s often this way. The crowds come, and then they make a decision about whether they like it. I think they like it. I did. And I have a hunch that the good folk of Berkhamsted will continue to like it.

Black Goo at Home and Colonial

And here are Chris and Sacha, the founders of Black Goo.

Chris and Sacha

Sacha used to work in Home and Colonial‘s previous Cafe in the Attic, so it’s a funny old world, because now she’s running the new place. I met both of them earlier this week and they are full of beans and enthusiasm. Sacha in particular has a lot of energy and laughs a lot, although could this be the hysteria that comes with opening a new business?  On the day I was there, customers were arriving thick and fast, and long may this continue.  The whole place is fun, upbeat and buzzy. As people came up the stairs, their faces literally lit up. Yes, it was a sunny day in February, but I think the design and atmosphere filled them with glee.

As so often happens with cafes, it’s not long before the laptop gang move in. All those freelance people, with nothing better to do than drink coffee and decide which font to use. The new, Black Goo 2, has installed seating against the windows, complete with power points, (for plugging in, not to knock up a quick presentation), and Chris the owner had installed himself there, complete with laptop. He’s got a background in IT, so he’s probably good at both PowerPoint and Excel.

Laptops are welcome

I asked Chris about the inspiration for the cafe design. It turns out that he and Sacha have travelled the world and they love looking for and finding good places. This cafe has been particularly influenced by places they found in Antwerp, Buenos Aires, Stockholm and Amsterdam. And London Town. And the name? Well, they both love music (although not always the same music).  They read an interview with Johnny Cash where he talks about being in prison, and where they used to call the prison coffee Black Goo. So that’s the story.

Joining me to review the cafe was Cathie George, Berkhamsted graphic designer who has her own business, Cathie Designs, which just happens to be in the Muddy Herts Little Black Book.

Cathie George, Cathie Designs

A table had been reserved a table for us, which was thoughtful.

We kicked off with strong coffee, supplied by Lulu in Ware. Cathie ordered eggs in the woods, and I went for eggs royale. Chris, the owner, says that avocado on toast is their best seller. And you can have this in many different ways. We declared both dishes excellent. Abundant, piping hot and delicious.

Eggs in the woods

Eggs royale

The atmosphere is laid back and hangy-outy. I don’t know whether it was the wine o’clock blackboard, but if it hadn’t been mid morning, I could easily have gone for a drink drink. It was something about being high up (you get a good view of Berko rooftops) and the squodgy sofas, and the general relaxed feeling. It’s easy to imagine an after-hours event there. But let’s give them a chance, they’ve barely had time to settle in.  Nonetheless, Chris did tell me that evening events could be on the cards.

It’s a rare thing these days to go to a new place that isn’t adorned with industrial lighting, but Black Goo has mixed it all up really well. An illuminated dog, a dollar sign that lights up and a kind of bare bulbs mobile. The lighting, together with a host of quirky things about the place, all add up to say: ‘Linger a little longer.’  So we did.

Then it was time for pudding. We had a pot of fresh mint tea and Cathie had a Portuguese custard tart. This gave me an opportunity to go on and on about how much I love Lisbon. I had the last slice of Victoria sandwich. I loved it, but what would Mary Berry have said? Mary likes a no-nonsense, sponge and jam job. Mine was oozing buttercream and decorated with – the decadence! – fresh strawberries. The cakes are big and fat at Black Goo. Sacha is the baker, although she tells me that she’s now trained others because now they’ve got two cafes – and how will she manage?

Sacha, baker of Gooey cakes

Cathie and I talked about ballet (her daughter), being self-employed, and how you can get cabin fever sometimes. (Cathie had already clocked the power points for the laptop crowd). We moved on to discuss access and buggies in the cafe and how there are plenty of other places for people with young children to go to. Now then, if this seems harsh, but Chris told me that the largely adult crowd at Black Goo haven’t actually complained at all. He gestured to the laptop brigade and said that while music plays a big part in the cafe (Aretha was giving it her all at the time), people quite like the grown-upness of the place. Having said that, the high chairs are there, it’s just that if your child is of a carrying age, you might not want to do the stairs.

Home and Colonial is full of of things you’ll want to take home

 

Will I go back to Black Goo at Home and Colonial? Like a shot. I really enjoyed it and felt comfy cosy but obviously in a cool and Muddy way, not in a slippers and shawl way. Everything is good value, all the avocado on toast variations (chorizo, bacon, poached or scrambled eggs) are £7.95. Pancakes (which I may go for next time) are £7.00 with anything from bacon and maple syrup to berries and cream on top. The weekend cooked breakfast Full Goo is £10.

Good for: people who want to feel a bit grown up, anyone who likes to have an on-top-of-the-world feeling, with excellent food and coffee on tap. Anyone who wants proper, well cooked and hearty brunch or lunch. And anyone who loves big fat gooey cake. Babies in arms and children who can walk.

Not for: people who just want to eat and get out quickly. As you walk up through Home and Colonial and walk down again,  it’s very hard to resist all the delights on offer. The top floor location means that if you are with buggy, you’re probably better off going somewhere else in Berkhamsted where you can just wheel in and park next to your table.

Black Goo 134 High Street, Berkhamsted, HP4 3AT 10 9.30am – 4pm

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside -
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