Out of my way, out of my way. Trying to get through here, please. C’mon guys, can you not see I’m racing? It’s 9 a.m. and I haven’t had my morning fix. Not drugs, but coffee—my socially acceptable cocaine. Two black Americanos every day, religiously. Three cups if I’m lucky, but that’s as a sort of treat, just for me. Though four, and I’m on thin ice. Five, I’m dancing.
I have my regular spot for coffee, but I try to go to a couple of different places every week, just to keep my palate on its toes. Café Humble Lion isn’t a new one, but it’s too convenient not to pop in now and again. Convenient with a capital C, as it’s just opposite McGill’s Roddick Gates on Sherbrooke.
Outside, there are a few featured items scrawled on the glass in an English major’s handwriting; a bunch of flowers underneath, drooping like my mood when I’m walking up to McMed for an Arts class; and a bench at the front for coffee lovers who don’t care if their partners see them cheating. The name is at the top in a large, fading white—and there’s no signpost.
Now, I know reading can be a slog sometimes, so let’s make this next part more interactive. Put a tick by the pros and a cross by the cons. Ready?
Here we go: Opening the door, you’re welcomed by a warm and cozy feel—tick. There’s a serving counter featuring a wide selection of pastries, with scones, cookies, and even mini jelly doughnuts—tick. There’s a drinks menu written in chalk to the left of the counter, clearly visible and legible as that, too, is written in an English major’s handwriting—tick. There’s plenty of light—tick. But the lights above the counter look more suited for a lighthouse—cross. Very good, well done for paying attention.
There’s Wi-Fi, with an easily accessible password at the counter—tick, tick. There are bar stools looking out the window, perfect for coffee dates, and, along the walls, perfect for solo study. And there’s a seating area at the back, with chairs and tables instead of bar stools—tick, tick, tick. The tables, however, are thick, circular, and metal, which looked more suited to a visitor room in a detention centre than a café—it’s a cross from me.
It’s filled with a mixed bag of clientele. Of course, there’s an awful lot of MacBook warrior, hippie McGillians. But, as we’re downtown, you also find a few metropolitan, keep-their-vests-on-in-the-shower, finance-types as well. They come for the caffeine, the pastries, and the casual meet-and-greet with colleagues, but seeing the students takes them back to their college days, like a passing whiff of reefer.
I ordered a black Americano (obviously) for $3.25 before tax and tip. To eat, I got a blueberry and chocolate scone and a mini raspberry doughnut, which were $4.90 and $1 each.
I’m very nostalgic about mini doughnuts. We used to have them in the cafeteria at my secondary school. This one lived up to its rep: Simple, fresh, buttery, sweet, not too doughy, pumped with just the right amount of raspberry jelly, and poof! Just like that, it was gone. Marvellous.
The scone was less enjoyable. It was far too crisp on the outside, like trying to bite into a glazed pinecone, and I’m convinced the blueberry was a placebo.
The headliner, the Americano, was better than par, but no birdie. They used a blend of Brazilian, Colombian, and Guatemalan beans, which they freshly ground—thank God. It had a subtle, pleasant aroma and, once cooled, the taste was pleasant too—a hint of dark berry and balanced tanginess. I enjoyed it, but it lacked a degree of richness that roasting the beans for longer would give and, as an unemployed student, I come just for a sliver.
The clue’s in the name after all: It’s a humble lion. It holds its own, ticks most of the boxes, and, most importantly, you know you can come here and be taken care of. But what it lacks is a bit of flair, a bit of panache, to distinguish itself from other cafés. It’s certainly no king of the jungle, but it’s a decent spot to swing by after school.
Score: 3.5/5 stars
Read more of Harry North’s restaurant reviews on Instagram: @roasting_reviews