Level 11 Coffee Hub, Glasgow

We step into the concrete dojo that is the West End's newest speciality coffee spot

Feature by Peter Simpson | 05 Dec 2023
  • Level 11 Coffee Hub

Blocky fonts. Clean lines. Lots of plain wood, and lots and lots of grey. For better or worse, there’s an iconography and visual language to the world of speciality coffee. On the one hand, it can be seen as an extension of the ritualistic nature of espresso-making; the slight gestures, the deliberate shuffling, the extreme application of techniques and norms. What could give you more confidence in a barista’s handiwork than some very, very subtle signwriting? On the other, the hit motion picture Parasite was a social satire, not an interior design manual for your coffee shop.

But how far could you push this language? What if everything was blocky, and grey? Everything. We’re stomping up Byres Road, past leafy West End sidestreets, by the University Cafe with its gold fringe in the windows and its lovely leather seats, when we hit Level 11. It’s an imposing concrete dojo, a very big and very grey ice cube, that one Minecraft default texture blown up to 4K and plastered all over the walls. Of course, it isn’t ‘one texture’ – this place has every kind of concrete you could ask for. A perfectly smooth countertop, a shiny and lightly worn floor, scratchy and mottled walls – in terms of visual metaphors for the inscrutability of coffee, it’s a good one.

Level 11 Coffee Hub. Credit: Level 11

Inside, the space seems to be designed not so much for conversation as for passing information. It’s a tight but well-proportioned space, so there are no secluded booths, no tables obscured by big plants. What you will find is bar seating facing the wall at the back, and at the front, a low, concrete bench opposite the coffee machine. That bench is topped with cushions and divided by small pine tables that, confusingly, look a bit like stadium seats at first glance. Once you’ve solved the seating riddle, you’re left in the perfect position for a natter with the lovely staff behind the counter, finding out about each other’s days, getting tips for the weekend. Pop in, have a coffee, a bit of a chat, leave to be replaced by the next person who does the same. If everyone uses the space as intended, these baristas are going to be able to piece together a full social map of the West End this side of Christmas.

Having added our two cents to the info bucket, it’s time to talk about the coffee – it’s very good. Our flat white (£3.30), made with Level 11’s house roaster Ozone, is fruity but mellow, with some nice caramel hints in there. We’ve certainly had stranger or more experimental coffees, but it is excellently made and comes in an absolutely beautiful marbled cup. Holding this cup is a bit like grasping a precious, rare egg – there is the slight worry we might smash it to bits, but the cargo within gives us plenty of cause to be careful. Our chocolate-topped granola bar (£2.70) is a smooshy, earthy hit that’s best approached by hand, leaving us to fiddle with a basically superfluous but incredibly satisfying wooden spoon.

Level 11 serves a good coffee, the staff are great, but the place itself is a sight to behold. That wall of grey drew us in, and we suspect it’ll do the same for plenty more folk meandering through the West End. We eat and drink with our eyes as much as our mouths – that's why this visual language around your standard 'fancy coffee place' exists. It's bizarre, exciting, and a genuine treat to see someone screaming that language at the top of their voice.