I scream

Black Vanilla, morris minor, library protest,
Black Vanilla is the new coffee and ice-cream shop in Blackheath village. It bills itself as a boutique bakery and gelateria. The decor is modern, stark, bright, and shiny. The coffee was good. In a previous life I spent many hours taming steaming espresso machines. It’s harder than it looks. Theirs had just the right amount of foam. Having said that, so does Hand Made Food’s, whose milk tastes better, and they have much more space to sit down. But no ice cream.

The seating area feels really cramped. A huge amount of space is taken up by a pastry table that could just as easily be a shelf against a wall. The entire serving area feels as though it is intruding on the seating space by about half a metre.

The ice creams (no, I’m refusing to call them gelato) look amazing, but I haven’t tried them yet.

Sitting inside, the cost of a latte and a cappuccino came to £5.95. This seemed pretty steep, but I’m sure the rental in that location on the high street is horrendous, so they should be given the benefit of the doubt. The staff are a mixed bag – one woman – possibly the manager/owner seemed friendly and efficient. The Italian(?) man making the coffee did an excellent job. The other girl seemed a little confused as though this was her first part-time work, and she hadn’t had to deal with customers before.. Not rude at all, just a little forgetful.

On a Saturday afternoon the place was heaving with customers. It’s a great location, and right now it seems to be pitched at exactly the right level for the high street crowds. As I was leaving the library protests, there was a brilliant juxtaposition: some wealthy looking girls walking down the high street with their conspicuously-consumed tubs of ice cream in their hands, slack-jawed and gawping at the Morris Minor blaring dub reggae about the library cuts. Welcome to South London.


Filed under blackheath, shops

34 responses to “I scream

  1. Rob

    Having lived for a year in Blackheath, I can say that having a shop that sells ice cream of this standard is great. When the summer comes (hopefully it lasts more than a month this time) it will be lovely to be able to sit on the Heath with a good book and ice cream.

    I went to Black Vanilla and while it was busy, I can honestly say the service was good. The staff were polite and coped well seeing they just opened. The coffe is good and sometimes you pay a little more to get that quality. Is the milk not as good? I couldn’t tell any difference. The seating isn’t vast but I think Starbuck had some trouble with the council too from what I understand. Plus I’d rather sit on the Heath rather than in the Village when possible (weather permitting).

    As for not calling it gelato, well its like saying I won’t call Boulangerie Jade a patisserie, i’ll call it a pastry shop. It is branding but do try it next time you go by, I recommend the strawberry that I had which was excellent.

    I’m glad to see Black Vanilla as part of Blackheath and it will be interesting to see what else they do.

    Also, anyone using twitter, I hope you have tweeted #savelibraries

  2. Michele O'Brien

    Two cups of coffee £6? No thanks.

    People who’ve lived here for a while (in my case 30 years) have seen dozens of new business open up in Blackheath only to fold a year or so later.

    They all seemed (still seem) convinced Blackheath is a gold mine and that they’re going to make a fortune here because the locals are daft and happy to pay silly prices for things just because they can get them down the street.

    No way! That only works round here in the case of fish and chips (when is that man going to get sensible with his prices? People are already voting with their feet.)

    • Rob

      Doesn’t Starbuck charge a similar amount for their coffee? And I don’t think they are going to fold anytime soon. I had an Americana at Black Vanilla and it tastes better than the Starbucks offering for the same money. I always believe in supporting local businesses which this one is.

      Also, Blackheath is a more affluent area where people are prepared to pay for better quality. Why live in Blackheath where rent is higher than in Lewisham? It’s a nicer place and I’m happy to pay extra to live here.

      There could be lower price alternatives but I don’t see them being allowed as it wouldn’t be ‘in keeping’ with the local aesthetic. Can you see a ‘greasy-spoon cafe’ being allowed in Blackheath? Look at the fuss over the Tea Hut!

      Looking at the alternatives the prices aren’t that high. Maybe you want to have your cake and eat it… actually you can do that at Black Vanilla as well :)

  3. Dan

    Yes it’s the principle of not paying over the odds that many shops do not get

  4. Mary

    @Dan – agree, take the Nevada Street deli in a prime location by Greenwich Park gates. £2.20 for a ‘sit-down’ latte/mocha/whatever….

    result = go back all the time.

  5. Jac

    I was excited at the idea of a boutique bakery. I’m a little upset that it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I do agree that a good ice cream place in Blackheath will be amazing in the Summer.

  6. Isabella

    As an Italian the gelato that we have in Italy is very different from the so called ice creams that are purchased in UK supermarkets. It’s like comparing a cheap sparkling wine and premium champagne, so the fact the author of this article is so uneducated irritates me as Italians like myself are very proud of our gelato. I visited Black Vanilla last week with my children and I have to say that the gelato is excellent as good as in Italy. The article is called i screem so it seems ironic that the author chose not to try some gelato at the gelateria that they are reviewing (not sure therefore how worthwhile this article is?)

    Place is a little pushed for space but the interior is beautiful, clean and refreshing. The staff are all incredibly friendly and helpful and unlike other shops in the village like Hand Made Food’s the babychinos at Black Vanilla are free. I am happy to pay more for good quality coffee as the offering at all other establishments in the village is poor to say the least. Have tried the Monmouth coffee at HMF’s and was not impressed never noticed any difference in the milk.

    For coffee lovers who are looking for a real coffee and authentic Italian gelato I would certainly recommend Black Vanilla delighted to have such a great new shop in the village.

    • Don’t worry, I’ll go back and try some soon! And update the article. But Babychinos…. Seriously?!

      • Isabella

        You obviously are not a parent, when my children are treated well in an outlet like Black Vanilla that always makes my day and I though the complimentary babychino was a nice touch. Italian gelato is the best so looking forward to reading an update on the gelato!

    • Anonymous

      Ice cream is made with cream, Gelato with milk. They are different things. Perhaps it is you who is uneducated. Indeed, your utterly piss poor spelling and punctuation suggests as much.

  7. Dan

    Got to agree with Isabella. Gelato is made with an entirely different recipe to normal ice cream and contains less fat, so it’s a bit churlish to refuse call it by it’s real name. Would you refer to chorizo as ‘sausages’?

  8. Sarah

    I think we should all be a little bit more supportive of the independents!!! Our villages should be full of them and these sort of posts only dampen spirits and passions.

  9. Mr M A Lee

    Sarah I am the proprietor of Black Vanilla and it is essential that when people make statements on sites such as this that they are fully informed and accurate. We are an independent and are not part of an American chain, I am not sure where you have got your factually incorrect information from. The article from our designer Graham nowhere states that we are an American chain, (you have misread the article). It simply states that we are an American style bakery and gelateria. We welcome all constructive criticism and feedback if it can help make Black Vanilla a better establishment for Blackheath residents, but we do become frustrated when people publish information that is wholly inaccurate.

    On a lighter note I would just like to thank the good people of Blackheath for supporting the independents like Black Vanilla we have had a fabulous three weeks and have received lots of really positive feedback from customers. We were also very proud to be featured in this weeks addition of Time Out after just two and a half weeks of opening who stated Black Vanilla was a “good stop for takeaway sweet treats and decent coffee.”

    • Olly Knight

      Welcome to the village Black Vanilla. I especially enjoyed the tiny ice creams (Babygelato I think they’re called) we had. They made us feel like giants. We mainly bought them so we could reenact this which makes my girlfriend fall apart laughing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMnpWYaCKB0

    • Michele O'Brien

      I stand corrected. Black Vanilla is an independent. It is not – as I
      incorrectly asserted yesterday Sunday – part of an American chain.

      I apologize to Mr. Lee for the error, which was entirely down to me and in
      no way the responsibility of Mr. Bugle or his excellent and informative Blackheath Bugle blog or anyone else.

      Having been assured that Black Vanilla is an independent I personally welcome its arrival on the Blackheath scene and I think a lot of other people living here will, too.

  10. Stuart Reed

    We have just come back from Black Vanilla with our 2 young children. We found the interior bright and clean, the staff polite and attentive and, above all, some great Gelato. We tried the dark Chocolate, Strawberry and the Tiramisu – all fresh and full of flavour. We ate everything and will be back soon for more – and I can just see the queues now outside the door in the summer!
    Good luck with the new venture.

  11. Zoe

    I’ve just been and had the best hot chocolate of my life, and I’ve had a lot! Bit chilly so went for a cupcake rather than gelato and also very delicious. Totally agree that it will be great in the Summer to get gelato and sit on the heath…can’t wait!
    Also the service was great!

  12. maria

    I visited black vanilla today enticed by the look of the shop as well as the ice cream (or gelato whichever is correct). My opinion of the ‘gelato’ is that it looks great but tastes like a mixture of perfume and protein bars. It was a disappointment, reminded me of weight watchers ice cream. Anyway each to their own and I’m sure the coffee is great.

    • I think the ice cream is really good- maybe you had a dodgy one. Every time I’ve been in since, the place has been packed. It might not be value for money, but it’s a luxury that people seem willing to pay for.

  13. Pingback: Black Vanilla Easter Egg Hunt tomorrow | The Blackheath Bugle

  14. Alfred

    I have researched this establishment with my children a few weekends ago – their website is no ‘down’ so I am searching wider. My wife and I visited with our three children and ordered drinks and the gelatos which we all shared. Within a few hours we were all very, very ill. We will not be back! I have already written to Greenwich council’s environmental health dept. At the prices they charge – I expect better than this. Perhaps the web site being down is a sign of the rip off businesses people set up in the village – realise their folly, and take what they can, leaving the high street a ruin. The domain holder (1 and 1) has listed the website as ‘prohibited from transfer’. Usually a website with that message is likely to be in default on its fees. But any business charging sky high prices thinking their customers are all ‘Hooray Henrys’ and will pay anything, is, in my opinion, likely to fail. Definitely one to avoid!

    • Their website works for me, and I’ve never had any stomach problems with anything from their shop. Maybe it was something else.

    • Anonymous

      Blackheath Vanilla is in Lewisham, not Greenwich

      The web site is easily accessible.

      Chances of getting a bug from what is essentially flavoured ice is vanishingly unlikely. It would also mean dozens – maybe hundreds – of customers having problems, which would lead to as-yet-unseen uproar.

      Finally, much of this comment is libelous, so I would recommend the Bugle gets out its electronic blue pencil.

      • I figured writing an immediate rebuttal would be as good. I don’t think it’s an unfair description of what happened to this person, but I don’t think it represents the experience of the (vast) number of people I see in there every day!

  15. EnglishRose

    I pop into the shop most mornings for a takeaway cappuccino and haven’t had any problems – quite the reverse. The flavour is fantastic (much better than Starbucks, imho) and the staff are always really friendly. I haven’t yet tried the gelato but only because I’m on a very strict diet! Friends who’ve tried the food have raved about it and no-one’s reported being ill afterwards.

    My only complaint is that the seating area is very small: there’s often nowhere to sit at weekends and, if I do manage to get a seat, I’m often squashed by the many families coming in. However, I suspect that the council may well have limited the number of seats/tables allowed (as they’ve done with other establishments in the village) so it seems a bit mean to complain about something which is probably beyond BV’s control. Besides, if sitting in the shop were more relaxing, I suspect that my cupcake/gelato resistance willpower might very well crumble completely……

  16. Alfred

    ~ Annon

    Well at least that explains why Greenwich has yet to reply. I will contact Lewisham council. Thank you! Though your reply leads me to believe that you are not anonymous, rather the owner/manager/friend/relative?

    I have no intention to turn this into a debate, so this will be my last post on the matter. I will not be returning to this establishment, neither will my family. Other readers might find differently, and that is their prerogative. But being a legal professional, (as is my wife my father-in-law), I have to take issue with you comments. Replies with menacing legal overtones are no way to treat an unhappy customer. Where is the apology? (see above for comments about staff attitudes as that rather illuminates this discussion). Perhaps my family and I were unlucky, likewise the web site was down when I posted, and previously.

    However, this web page appears to exist to post ‘fair comment’ reviews. Attempted suppression of fair comment is treated with great care by the courts. Perhaps that is why you, posted under ‘Anonymous’? I have posted no malicious falsehoods here, only the truth as experienced by my family and I. You might find this article interesting and informative as to the law, before bandying semi-legal jargon about on web pages, especially reference to ‘Singh v BCA’ at the end of the article; http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/may/03/1

    I am truly sorry for any hurt that my posting my have caused but I can’t see how posting the truth can cause any hurt or resulting damage, but the hurt to my family was real and remains, and no apology from ‘anonymous’ means that my complaint will shortly be with Lewisham council. My youngest daughter is but 3 years old.

    Thank you!

  17. Anonymous

    Actually I have had the same experience as Alfred!

  18. Catherine

    My husband, sons and I frequently visit Black Vanilla without any complaints.  Coming from a family of medics food poisoning rarely shows up in the first few hours and generally take 8-48 hours for symptoms to occur.  Different constitutions act in different ways, and for the whole family to have been very, very ill within “a few hours” is not plausible that it resulted from gelato a few hours previously.
    More than likely something eaten the previous day.  It’s a real shame when people try to destroy great new additions to the Village.  Having lived in Blackheath for over 20 years I am very pleased to have such a lovely independent shop in the Village much nicer than all the high street chains.
    As we are all aware certain posts have an air of sour grapes and of trying to rid local competitors which I feel is a real shame.

  19. Rachel Beresford

    Agree with Catherine have eaten many times at Black Vanilla with my little ones and never had any problems. Again think it could be malice from a local establishment who see that the place is doing well. On a more positive note must recommend the red velvet cupcake absolutely perfect.

  20. Joseph

    Actually, I rather agree with Alfred’s thread and the additional supporting. I have had very poor service there, went their twice, never returned. But the conditions cramped as they are lead one to believe that the pep area is equally cramped, leading to possible conditions of cross-contamination, so Alfred has a point. As a ‘forensic lab technician’ analysing many food outbreaks (I am involved in the now and current newsworthy e.coli outbreak), Alfred’s post is entirely accurate, all things being equal.

    Indeed, I have only replied as Catherine’s reply is at odds with current medical research. Is she qualified as she says, I have no reason to doubt what she says, other than the sheer iunaccuraacy of her post, which can not stand given the public hysteria over e-coli and other types of food poisioning. I regret that I can not give my e-mail as I have only a work account, and this is a private post.

    But Catherine’s post is worrying, and at a time of public hysteria, is very misleading. Anyone feeing ill, through what they suspet they have eaten, should seek immediate medical advice. For a medical professional to post otherwise is, frankly, beyond belief.

    Do not, for goodness sake, wait 18 hours as advised in the previous post. The ‘reaction time’ is but one possible indication of level of contaminant, nothing else. So Catherine’s response is at odds with the current (the last thirty years) research base for the transmission of bacteria. Likewise, and for instance, an allergic reaction can be instant or take a several/many hours to show. As a medical ‘professional’ her knowledge base is perhaps, in need of refreshment (can I recommend the lancet?). Or perhaps she is connected to the business, not to have mentioned these clear facts as a medical professional, but instead leap to the defence of this business is also questionable? A very contaminated sample might only take a few hours or even less to display a reaction.

    Re-reading Alfred’s original post, there might be some mileage in noting the IP address’s from which these numerous ‘supporting’ posts emanate, are they connected? The web is now (sadly) filled with self-serving reviews from owners of establishments seeking to undermine legitimate criticisms. Perhaps, and just perhaps, this might be the case here, but please please, ignore Catherine’s advice about poisoning, it is entirely inaccurate, and seek immediate medical advice.

  21. Hi there,

    Sorry for not commenting on this matter earlier. I work at Black Vanilla providing community support and try to actively monitor any references to the company so that we can promote them on our Twitter and Facebook feeds. After our director’s reply back in February, I’d assumed that any further comments would be posted on newer recent blog entries and only today came across the updates to this entry.

    On the subject of anonymous posts, I can only assert my own confidence that nobody employed by Black Vanilla would employ such a tactic. We’re very comfortable with the quality of our produce, and I’m proud to say that amongst the many accolades we’ve received so far (many thanks to the Bugle for all their coverage!) we have yet to receive a single complaint.

    I’m confident that anyone reasonably familiar with blogs will know to take any and all advice posted with a liberal dash of salt. I would personally agree with Joseph’s comment that anyone with health concerns after eating or drinking anywhere should seek immediate medical attention, after which they should notify the establishment concerned as soon as possible. We’re currently serving over two hundred customers each day, and stand by our record of zero complaints to date.

    I’ll continue to monitor this page and respond to any further replies as necessary, but would strongly recommend that any issues be reported through the proper channels so that your concerns are treated with appropriate severity.

    You can email us at info@black-vanilla.com, and the Lewisham Environmental Health department at environmentalhealth@lewisham.gov.uk.

    Have a great weekend and take care,

    • I’m inclined to agree. I’ve never had anything other than nice things from Black Vanilla, so unless anyone has incontrovertible proof, I think I’ll won’t publish any more speculation. It’s not censorship, it’s just not preserving gossip for posterity.

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