Sunday, 20 December 2009

Fernandez and Wells - W1

With three fantastic venues in Soho, Fernandez and Wells is an absolute gem in my book.  I love all three spaces but the food and wine bar in Lexington Street is my favourite.  There is something about sitting there having a charcuterie plate and a glass of sherry that makes you feel like you're in the Barri Gotic in Barcelona.  In Summer you can lounge outside, which does avoid the one pitfall of spending too much time in Ferenandez and Wells - you can end up smelling like chorizo and manchego (which is not a bad thing as far as I'm concerned!).  I love the legs of jamon propped on the counter and the piles of bocadillos and I really like the stripped back decor, fitting in perfectly with the Dickensian Lexington Street vibe (that block of Lexington is just perfect - as well as F and W you have the wonderful Andrew Edmunds restaurant, Mildreds for great veggie food and the good old John Snow pub).  Just round the corner in Beak Street is the cafe (I think there is a sneaky way to get from one to the other through the back doors but I've never actually done it).  The fact that the cafe is always so crowded is a good sign that there is something pretty special going on and that is indeed the case - top notch coffee and delicious cakes.  One thing that I love about their coffee selection is that they make one called a "stumpy" which is a short, strong latte - kind of like a posh version of a cafe cortado (which is my coffee of choice when I am in Spain).   The latest addition to the Fernandez and Wells family is a dinky espresso bar in St Anne's Court (the alley way that runs between Dean St and Wardour St).  Coffee and a donut here is an essential pit stop when you're roaming the streets of Soho.  I'm loving the fact there are so many great places for coffee and lunch and cakes in Soho but I am at the stage now where I need a roster - Monday morning at Milk Bar, Monday afternoon at Lantana, Tuesday lunchtime at Fernandez and Wells Lexington, coffee at Fernandez and Wells Beak St in the afternoon, Wednesday a walk to the London Review Bookshop get the idea.  Not a bad problem to have though.

Fernandez & Wells on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Medcalf - Exmouth Market EC1

I had wanted to go to Medcalf for ages. Firstly it is on wonderful Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell (which I will blog about at a later date) which is one of my favourite streets in London, secondly it looks cool and thirdly I'd heard good things about it. So I was super excited to go there for lunch - it didn't disappoint.  It is a cool space, in an old butcher's shop (with the signage remaining) and one of those funky, yet relaxed interiors - old wooden tables & chairs, pendant lights and original artwork on the walls. Given the weather outside was freezing we demanded mulled wine as soon as we walked in - which came from a steaming pot on the counter. Nicely warmed up, I proceeded to turkey and ham hock terrine which was meaty and tasty and really good. I followed with grilled lamb cutlets on some sort of mash with "brussel tops" (which tasted a bit like kale and gave me the sense I was eating something healthy) which was also great. As good as the desserts looked, we had to pass as the main courses had taken a while to get to us - but that was a small niggle in an otherwise really great lunch experience. Next time I go I want to try the haddock, colcannon and crispy poached egg - it looked like the perfect Winter warmer. Colcannon is something I have come to love - the mix of mashed potato and cabbage is so comforting and goes perfectly with meaty fish or corned beef or even on its own as a quick supper (with lots of butter and pepper). Oh man - I want some now! Anyway check out Medcalf, it's great and if you want some of London's best cocktails - after dinner head to Dollar Bar just round the corner and order a rockstar martini, dangerous AND delicious.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Traditional Dim Sum - Imperial China WC2

I've blogged about the fact that I love modern "posh" dim sum, in particular Yauatcha, but on a cold blustery London Sunday sometimes all you want is old school Chinatown dim sum.  The trouble is there are some pretty average places and unless you know where to go you end up with a disappointing experience and a future preference for Ping Pong as a safe bet.  Which is not a good thing as we should not let dim sum go the chain route.  Nothing against Ping Pong, I like it - but it should not replace the real thing.  So save yourself the grief and head to Imperial China on Lisle Street, it's GREAT.  Their dumplings are sublime - I particularly like the steamed prawn dumplings "in goldfish shape" (their inverted commas not mine!) which I ordered just to see if they did look like goldfish (they did, sort of) and they were so delicious.  The most important thing to me with any dim sum place is the char sui (steamed pork) buns and the versions here are really good - not as good as those at Yauatcha I have to say but still delicious.  The service, as I always find in Chinatown, is....somewhat brusque.  In fact one waitress cast such withering looks our way every time she came to the table it was a tad disconcerting - but in a weird way that adds to the Chinatown dim sum experience.  I love this place - just walking over the fake bridge into the restaurant makes me happy as I know I am about to have a top notch, super tasty dumpling feast and that to me is a perfect Sunday.

Imperial China on Urbanspoon

Friday, 11 December 2009

Viet W1

UPDATE - THIS PARTICULAR INCARNATION OF VIET BAGUETTE IN CHARLOTTE PLACE HAS CLOSED...I must admit I was not aware of banh-mi - otherwise known as Vietnamese baguettes.  I have been to Indochina, specifically Laos and one of the many things I loved about that country was the French influences side by side with the local ones.  When I first arrived in Vientiane, the last thing I expected to see was a French bakery - but there it was!  This colonial influence lies at the heart of the bahn-mi where traditional Vietnamese fillings are stacked into a baguette - nice combo.  Normally pork based - the banh-mi on offer at Viet in Charlotte Place (also home to the wonderful Lantana) include caramel chicken (chicken cooked in caramel sauce with black pepper and ginger) and lemongrass beef meatballs.  They all come with pickled carrots, coriander, spring onion and chilli sauce and they are all freakin' delicious.  There has been some comments on various food blogs that these are not absolutely authentic, too expensive etc - blah, blah I say.  These are great and at £3.70 are a bargain as they are huge sandwiches. 
I love the look of the place and the presentation - the menus are printed on old paper in typewriter font and the banh-mi themselves are wrapped in butchers paper secured with a rubber band - when you open them up you find one of those funky, milky White Rabbit sweets wrapped up in the paper.  Nice touch!  The staff are super friendly and I can't wait to go back and try everything on the menu.  You could have such a nice day on Charlotte Place - a banh-mi at Viet, followed by a flat white and brownie at Lantana, then a massage at the Walk-In Back Rub place, picking up some shopping at the health food shop and the Italian deli on your way home.  Viet is a great place that does great sandwiches - just what I want round the corner from the office.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Bocca di Lupo W1

Bocca di Lupo is great - relatively new (at least to me) and certainly "hot" at the moment (but don't let that put you off). I have had one lunch there and I can't wait to go back - preferably for a long, lazy dinner with loads of food and wine. At lunch I had divine pumpkin gnocchi with foie gras ragu (I think) which was rich, sticky and incredibly delicious. We also shared some fried prawns and buffalo mozzarella bocconcini fritti romani - both good. A nice glass of valpolicella topped it off. We sat in the back - which is a great space and feels like a cosy New York Italian - but I would also like to sit at the bar, Barafina style.  Some people may have an issue with the location - personally I like Archer St's slightly grim industrial charm and I love the look of Bocca. So a must visit - if you can get a table.

Bocca di Lupo on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Northcote Road SW11

Yes the shops on Northcote Road are dominated by maternity/baby shops and estate agents, yes you regularly get your heels clipped by bugaboo pushing banker wives with Barbour-wearing hooray husbands in tow and yes some of the more interesting independent shops have shut down in the last decade (replaced by afore-mentioned baby/property focussed businesses) but despite all of that - I am very fond of this stretch of road in Battersea, or "tween the Commons" in real estate parlance.  The street market is great and is there every day except Sunday and the market vendors bring a nice bit of socio-economic diversity to what can be a relentlessly upper middle class area (apologies if this is beginning to sound like a sociology textbook...).
Northcote Road is also home to (in my humble opinion) London's finest wine shop - Philglas & Swiggot.  Not just a clever pun but a mighty fine selection of wines including some of my favourite Aussie plonk - Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle, Port Phillip...lovely stuff.  There are still some quirky independent shops - I particularly like The Hive honey shop.  I have to admit the place we frequent the most is a dreaded chain, but one that I would happily support in my non-chain utopia - the Gourmet Burger Kitchen.  So good on a Friday night with a bottle of Cape Mentelle and a DVD.  I could happily ditch all the drinking venues except for the Holy Drinker which is a Northcote Road institution and a mighty fine venue to get nicely squiffy in, in fact it's exactly what a local bar should be.  I think the reason it's remained pretty much the same is that it is far enough away from Battersea Rise and Clapham Junction to keep away the riff raff!  In terms of food - there are some absolute winners on this road - Osteria Antica Bologna for Italian, Lola Rojo for tapas and Indian Moment for a curry to name but three.  When Brew opened it was a breath of fresh air and good coffee (that didn't really make sense I know) - finally somewhere that served great food in a cool atmosphere with no push-chairs.  The antique shops, in particular the market, on the southern end of the street are wonderful and so far have held firm against the tide of posh baby shops - let's hope it stays that way.

Friday, 4 December 2009

London love

When I'm walking over one of London's bridges (in this case the Hungerford Bridge) and I catch sight of views like this, I fall in love all over again with this city.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Foyles - Charing Cross Road WC2

As much as I love small, quirky, independent bookshops, I have never been as vehemently anti the big chains as some. Admittedly I did hate it when my local Ottakars (a chain itself but smaller and much classier than most) in Clapham Junction became a Waterstone's - it lost everything that made it a good bookshop and depresses me every time I walk in it. But I did quite like the big Borders at Oxford Circus (now in administration - whoops). Having said all that though - I hate the impact that these big retailers have had on the smaller fella and if it was a choice between the two then I would always go with small and boutique over big and impersonal. The exception to the size/quality inverse ratio is Foyles on Charing Cross Road - this is a great bookshop, in fact one of the best.  Not only does
it have an amazing selection of books, it has knowledgeable staff and a fantastic cafe that also incorporates Ray's Jazz - with a selection of jazz records and books.  I always mean to come to a gig in the cafe but never have. Foyles is usually my first stop if I want to buy books - because it's close to my work but also because I always find what I want and I love spending time in here. Whilst the Charing Cross Road store is the flagship, they are now opening other smaller stores - like the one on the Southbank. I hope they prosper - because they totally get what makes a top notch bookstore.

Warsaw - a surprise

I know this is meant to be a blog about London but I am in Warsaw this week and I had a coffee experience that made me think about London so I felt it was appropriate for this forum (I am so good at post justification).  So - a chain coffee shop (called iCoffee - love it) in a shopping mall in Warsaw is not the place you would expect to get good coffee right?  Well I did - and not just good, really good.  This place had all the elements of a typical chain store so I expected the usual milky, burnt coffee crap - then I caught sight of the La Marzocco machine and a coffee sitting on the counter that the barista had just finished making - a perfect leaf in the frothed milk that would have done my favourite London coffee shops proud.  My hopes were raised but it's not about the milk, it's about the coffee underneath so it was with some trepidation that I took the first sip of my latte - creamy, strong, full flavoured, just the right temperature - a winner!  So my next thought is - if this branch of this local coffee chain in a mall in Warsaw could get it so right, why do all the thousands of branches of global coffee chains in a major city like London get it so wrong?  This place still did the syruppy, whipped cream on top confections that some people seem to love - so there was something for everyone, but they still managed to do their core product, the cafe latte, really well and in that they are streets ahead of the majority of London "coffee" shops.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Cecil Court - WC2

Cecil Court runs between Charing Cross Road and St Martin's Lane, near Trafalgar Square. It is one of those streets that seem timeless and it feels "very London" - in some ways it feels like the last remaining vestiges of what Charing Cross Road used to be. That was a dreadful sentence I know - what I mean is, whilst CCR's association with books and literature is now pretty much a distant memory, Cecil Court remains firmly bookish, if mainly antiquarian.  I often go and drool at the first editions and wonder if I could justify spending £500 on a first of "On the Road" - one day I promise myself, one day.  Actually even though the focus is books here, one of my favourite shops on Cecil Court is not a bookshop - Mark Sullivan sells busts, figurines and lots of other weird and wonderful "stuff". When I have a house big enough to have my own study (in the traditional sense rather than the "room where the laptop and printer are, really a spare bedroom room") I want to buy some key pieces from this shop - I will have the whole Edwardian explorer vibe going on I think, possibly with things preserved in jars.  I love this street and I love this locale - just across St Martin's Lane is New Row, another charming little street where we bought our Rancilio coffee machine and if you turn the other way on St Martin's Lane and head down to Trafalgar Square you pass the wonderful Coliseum Theatre, one of my favourite west end theatres with its iconic spinning globe on top.   Cecil Court takes on an extra charm around this time of year  - if you have a Dickensian fantasy, this is the place for you Tiny Tim!

Monday, 30 November 2009

Lantana - Charlotte Place W1

I have had many great take away coffees from Lantana (love that name) but had never "eaten in" - I think mainly because every time I'd been in there the lunchtime rush was on and there were no seats. I had read really good things on other blogs and I kinda felt like I was missing something - the place was funky, the take away coffee was good and the cakes looked nice but I didn't get the vibe I get from say Milk Bar. That has now all changed - I'm a fully paid up member of the Lantana fan club. The secret to loving this place is to eat here and spend some time here - I loved everything about it. The atmosphere here is great - particularly if you grab an early lunch and beat the crowds; the service was really good and the women working here reminded me of friends in Melbourne who I miss; the coffee was top notch (I had a flat white and a macchiato); and the food - SO good. I would go so far as to say that at Lantana, I had one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten - big call I know but their "Bert" sandwich with bacon, rocket, fried egg, tomato and aioli on delicious toasted bread is everything a sandwich should be. The crunch of the bread, the salty bacon, a perfectly just runny-enough egg, the freshness of the rocket and tomato and the creamy aioli (man I love aioli) were a perfect combo. Next time I am hung-over I am definitely turning to Bert. The cake selection is good too - the brownies looked great (I abstained) and they have a selection of "friands" - which will raise a chuckle from certain quarters, as I have been known to rant on about these innocuous yet delicious cakes. I had never heard of them before I moved to the UK 10 years ago and then suddenly about 3 or 4 years ago it seemed like everyone back in Australia was talking about them and it drove me nuts - "what the f*ck is a friand?" I moaned and why is everyone so obsessed with them. The answer is they are very like financiers or madeleines ("and what the f*ck are they?" I hear you ask).  Friands are made with ground almonds and come in a variety of flavours. They seem to go perfectly with strong, well made coffee. So there you have it - Lantana has won me over so much I am even discoursing on bloody friands. Anyway make sure you check this place out - it is on Charlotte Place, which I think has to be one of these most charming laneways/streets in central London.

Lantana on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Queen Square WC1 (Bloomsbury Pt. 4)

Queen Square is a lesser known Bloomsbury square that I really like (and nowhere is the square competition more fierce than in Bloomsbury - anywhere else in London, Queen Square would get much more of a look in).  When I'm in Queen Square I feel like I could be in Paris or Brussels - it dates from the early 18th century so maybe that's what's giving me the European vibe.  A lot of the buildings around the square are medical institutes or research centres - one side is some sort of homeopathic hospital (what do we think about homeopathy - a valid science or quackery...jury is still out for me) although on one side is the rather fine church of St George the Martyr which as well as looking good is where Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes got married in 1956.  Its full name is actually
St George the Martyr Holborn - but I say it's Bloomsbury and I reckon I'm right.  So Queen Square is not really a destination itself but it's a lovely place to wander through and perhaps sit and eat your lunch and of course it is en route to some great places and subjects of former posts like The Espresso Room or Lambs Conduit Street.  It is another reason that I love this area (I know - yada yada, Bloomsbury, blah, blah) and perhaps why my nephew Ben suggested I rename this enterprise the Bloomsbury blog - which actually is not a bad idea...

The Espresso Room WC1 (Bloomsbury Pt. 3)

This place is already on my Central London Coffee Survival Guide Map but it definitely deserves its own blog post.  A hole in the wall in Great Ormond Street, The Espresso Room has a really simple proposition - it makes kick ass coffee.  Given its dinky size, I propose that these guys open branches all around London - in fact they should take over all the existing chain coffee store sites and have an Espresso Room franchise instead, in a 10th of the space.  Londoners would start realising what good coffee tastes like and we could use all that left over shop space to make central London's retail proposition a bit more exciting.  In fact (and I'm really getting carried away now) let's turn all of Zone 1 into an extended version of Lambs Conduit Street, filled with interesting, independent shops - OK, you can keep some of the big department stores like Selfridges and John Lewis (I love John Lewis - particularly the cookware department) but other than Boots the chains have to go (*dream*).  Anyway I digress - this place is great.  Refuel after your lovely retail experience on Lambs Conduit Street - have a flat white for me.

Bea's of Bloomsbury WC1 (Bloomsbury Pt.2)

I had walked past Bea's of Bloomsbury several times and lusted after the cakes in the window but until recently had never been inside.  To a greedy fella like me, being confronted by a towering display of cup cakes, brownies and biscuits as soon as you walk in to a shop is an instant winner.  I ordered a strong latte which was actually really good (I had not expected too much from the coffee in my Aussie coffee-snob way) and made with obvious expertise (the fern leaf in the milk is always a good sign).  To go with it I had my first ever "blondie" - oh man, it was good.  It was super sweet and if you're not into white chocolate (which is what distinguishes them from brownies) then you'll hate these.  I on the other hand have always had white chocolate as a guilty pleasure, stuffing my face with Milky Bars when no-one was looking (the good thing is that now that Green & Blacks do a vanilla pod-flecked white chocolate bar I can come out of the white chocolate closet).  So I have no idea why I hadn't had a blondie before, but the important thing is now I have and I'm hooked.  The lunchtime food looked really good too - but I was in a hurry so didn't sample.  Rest assured worried readers, I will be back to test the savoury treats that Bea's has on offer - followed up by another blondie of course...

Bea's of Bloomsbury on Urbanspoon

Lambs Conduit St WC1 (Bloomsbury Pt.1)

Hooray for Lambs Conduit Street - an enclave of independent, quirky shops on a truly charming street in lovely Bloomsbury.  If ever I feel a bit jaded with London (which is rare for me but does happen - particularly in Winter, usually late Feb) a trip to Lambs Conduit Street will re-kindle the love.  As I get older (*cough*) I find that I struggle to find clothes that (i) suit me (ii) look cool and (iii) are age appropriate (the last one is so important).  I can tick all three boxes in Lambs Conduit Street.  I could happily buy all my clothes from this street - my favourite shops are Oliver Spencer, Folk and the cool pop up shop that stocks different brands depending on when you visit - really great labels like Universal Works.  There is a really good grocer/food shop on LCS (as it shall now be known to save on typing) called Kennards which is the sort of shop I wish I had round the corner from my house...or maybe we should just move to Bloomsbury.  One of my favourite places on LCS is
Persephone Books.  It publishes 20th century, mainly female, writers in beautifully presented editions (think Monica Dickens or Noel Streatfeild and you'll get the vibe) and is staffed by lovely, brisk, rather posh women.  The variety of shops on LCS is the best bit - from Len Fowler's trophy shop (in case you're in the market for a trophy) to a truly great bike shop BikeFix, a print shop Matchless Prints to a bespoke suit maker Sims & MacDonald.  Bloomsbury and Holborn have some of the best pubs in London (in this drinker's opinion at least) and there is a great one on LCS -The Lamb.   I haven't actually done much eating on LCS but there looks to be some good options - I really want to try out Cigala, although the reviews always seem to mention issues with the service - eek.  I could rabbit on for hours about LCS - you just need to get down there and check it out, it is one of London's lesser known gems.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Algerian Coffee Stores - Old Compton St W1

I have always loved the Algerian Coffee Stores - it is old fashioned in a good way, there is plenty to look at and it smells so good!  From the outside it looks like a shop from a story book and the window display alone is worth the visit.  Inside, they sell all sorts of coffee (beans and ground), teas and the equipment with which to imbibe said beverages.  Also (and crucially for me) they sell an amazing range of chocolate and exotic sweets - it is a great place to come if you want a quirky present for someone or a stocking filler.  Sometimes I am in the mood for posh chocolate, sometimes I am in the mood for pistachio flavoured Turkish Delight, sometimes I want to stuff my face with that delicious hazelnut stuff that tastes a bit like Nutella.  This is one of the places I come to stock up.  In the spirit of honesty and as reluctant as I am to be negative about a place I really do love dearly, I don't buy my coffee beans here.  I have been disappointed with the ones I have bought in the past and now that we are home espresso making afficionados with  our snazzy Rancilio Silvia machine, I really care about the flavour of my beans (so to speak).  So I usually buy at Monmouth - always a winner.  Also - if you are after a take away coffee, I would not buy it here (although I love the fact they have a machine) - I would walk round the corner to Bar Italia or a little further to Milk Bar (*cheering*).  OK enough of the downer - this place is brilliant, just go and you'll see what I mean - and don't blame me if you end up with £20 worth of weird chocolate fig salami and obscure French pastilles.  I was in there today and I ran into a lovely Kiwi tourist and her family, who heard me asking for a flat white and asked me where to get good coffee, Kiwi style, in London - of course I directed them to Milk Bar (*applause*) and also advised her to check out this blog and The Central London Coffee Survival Guide Map.  So if you are reading this, nice Kiwi woman, I hope you have many happy coffee experiences during your time here.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Hatton Garden EC1

Most people only visit Hatton Garden if they are shopping for a diamond ring - I reckon it's worth a wander even if you haven't just "popped the question" (and you never know, it may inspire you to do the right thing...). As I keep banging on about, I have a bit of a love affair with Fitzrovia and everything east of it, being Bloomsbury, Holborn, Clerkenwell etc - and Hatton Garden is in that geography. The area has been associated with the jewellery trade for hundreds of years and the street itself is now lined with jewellers, some of whom have been in residence here for generations. One of the things I love about this area is that you get these streets, sometimes only a few hundred metres long, that have really distinct personalities - Leather Lane, Lambs Conduit Street, Exmouth Market, Cowcross Street, St John Street and Hatton Garden. I could happily wander around here - obviously re-fuelling regularly at Dose near Smithfields Meat Market (another favourite). Actually to digress for a moment - for those who don't know, Smithfields is not really a "consumer" market (although there are great butchers shops open to the public) - it is a working meat market and if you go early enough in the morning they'll be washing the blood down into the gutters. The appeal for me is the architecture of the market building, the history of the place - along with Tyburn the area was used for public executions in the middle ages, it just missed being burnt by the great fire of London in the 17th century (you should check out the "Golden Boy of Pye Corner") and then became a notorious slum with all sorts of dodgy characters making it their home. I only mention all this because I once recommended to someone they go there and I think they thought they were going to Spitalfields Market and expected clothes and organic vegetables and quirky knick-knacks - whoops! Anyway - to finish up with Hatton Garden (which this entry was actually meant to be about) - one of the other reasons I like it is the retro 60s shop signs - like this one. If I had a diamond ring to buy, I'd definitely check out Carlo's - wouldn't you?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

32 Great Queen Street - WC2

This logically named restaurant is one of my "Winter places" because the food is really hearty and the place is all gastro-pub cosy (although having said that they need to work on their heating as it was freezing in there today!). If you don't like the stripped back British, almost-St John like eating you won't go for this place - I can imagine some people reading "Lambs Hearts with Mint & Barley" and going a bit green around the gills. I look at it and think "no thanks, but this place looks interesting". Anyway - I had lunch there today for the first time since last Winter and I did pass on the hearts - instead I had Cuttlefish, Pork & Fennel sausages - which I thought meant all of that was IN the sausage, but in fact there were chunks of pork & fennel sausage and bits of cuttlefish in a kind of rustic stew. It was super tasty and didn't feel too heavy. With some new potatoes and greens on the side I actually felt like this was a relatively healthy lunch. My lunch companion had Plaice & Creamed Spinach, which looked great. Given my no cakes/sugar heavy food kick I resisted the puddings but that's what usually does for me here - I love puddings in places like this because you always get poshed up nursery food or olde English puds (like trifle or syllabub) and today's selection looked great - a couple I refrained from ordering were Chocolate Fritters & Chestnuts and Prune & Almond Tart. There is a really cool little bar downstairs that you can hire out - I need to come up with a reason to have a party. This place is a winner - go there with good mates in the evening and settle in for a hearty meal, lots of wine and definitely pudding - oh yeah!

Great Queen Street on Urbanspoon

Hopton Street - SE1

One of the (many) things I love about London is the contrast you encounter on a daily basis and I was reminded of this wandering down Hopton Street in SE1 on the weekend. Hopton St is a really small street that runs from the Tate Modern to Southwark Street - not somewhere you would normally walk unless, like me, you were diverted from the Thames Path (they were doing work on Blackfriars Bridge I think). I love finding new streets and Hopton St took my fancy for some reason - I think it was mainly because of the weird mix of utilitarian modern architecture, imposing Victorian warehouses and this little house which I just loved. Not sure how old this is and if it is now part of the Purdy Hicks Gallery in the warehouse next door, but the way it was dwarfed by the buildings around it made me imagine it was the last remaining cottage in the street, holding out against development. A bit like the old guy's house in the new Pixar movie "Up". Maybe it was the manager's house for the warehouse, but it kinda looks older. I hesitate to even go there because my architectural knowledge is super sketchy, but it looks a little bit "Queen Anne" in style to me? I can just hear the howls of protest from those who know better but thought I'd put that one out there. Anyway, whatever - next time you're at the Tate Modern, take a stroll down Hopton Street and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Kaffeine W1 - Welcome!

I am always delighted to report on a new venue for great coffee in central London and of course that means a new "pin" on my Central London Coffee Survival Guide. These guys have only been going for around 3 months - I had heard about them but only visited them in Great Titchfield St in Fitzrovia (another one of my favourite London areas) today. I liked the look of the place from the outside and inside was cool too - lots of wood, some yummy looking food on display and a kick-arse espresso machine manned by a super-friendly Aussie lass who I chatted to about milk steaming technique. The coffee looked and tasted good - not sure where they source their beans, but the flavour was really good and it was nice for me to mix it up a bit as I tend to buy 90% of my coffees from Milk Bar (not that that's a bad thing!) The food looked great - if I wasn't trying to cut down on pastries, sugar-laden food and bad stuff in general (the last few weeks have been a bit of a binge - sigh) I would have sampled some of the tasty looking treats. They also had some great looking salads - anything with pumpkin, walnut and goats cheese is fine with me - I am definitely going back there for lunch. So check it out - this place is cool.

Kaffeine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Russell Square WC1

As the days close in and the weather gets chillier, I wanted to remember a really pleasant lunch I had in Russell Square. I think I have already written about my fondness for Bloomsbury and the squares are a big part of why. Russell Square has the advantage of being open to the public and on this particular day in September, it was a lovely spot for an early Autumn impromptu picnic for one. I bought a sandwich from the London Review Bookshop Cafe and sat in the sun watching people and squirrels, feeling very at peace with the world.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Chez Bruce SW17

Chez Bruce on Wandsworth Common is hands down my favourite London restaurant and as such I find myself there on important occasions, like last night, for my 40th....gulp. Moving on - this place is seriously good. It is in a lovely position - staring out over lovely Wandsworth Common, the interior (or at least the downstairs - upstairs is still good, but not as great a vibe as the main room) strikes the right mix between cosy & local and sophisticated, the food is SENSATIONAL! Last night I started with possibly the most perfect fishcake I have ever had (quiet down you Ivy freaks - I know, I know) - it was made with smoked haddock and had a perfectly poached egg sitting on top and lovely creamed leeks dotted around it. It was tasty, warming and incredibly comforting and accompanied perfectly by a glass of Pouilly Fuse. I followed up with Duck magret with a crisp potato terrine - the crunchy texture of the terrine went perfectly with the rich duck and the whole thing was surrounded by lentils cooked in red wine. Sitting on the plate also was a perfect miniature stuffed cabbage - cute AND tasty. Washed down with some Austrian (yes Austrian) Pinot it was a lovely dish and I was starting to get a little delirious. We really didn't need dessert but the £40 for 3 courses deal sort of forces your hand so we had it anyway - as I often do when I know it will be done right, I had creme brulee. Oh man - it was perfect. I can actually take or leave the caramelised sugar on top, it's the custard below that I love and this was textbook - flecked with vanilla, creamy and rich. I managed to stuff in a few complimentary chocolate truffles and even had some of the dulche de leche stracciatella ice cream they had brought to the table with a candle in it to recognise my encroaching age (sob). We staggered out of there and into a taxi - full once again of amazing food from London's best restaurant - hands down!

Chez Bruce on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 15 October 2009

CentrePoint W1

The great debate - is CentrePoint a triumphant celebration of mid 60s phallic architecture or is it an eye-sore dominating the intersection of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street? Personally (and unsurprisingly given I am writing about it) I love it. Even before its recent renaissance I loved it - when it was mostly unoccupied and had a bleak, grey aura around it. I do admit that the combination of the urine-scented tunnels leading from Tottenham Court Road tube (now closed due to the Crossrail development), the "past its best" shabbiness and the ever-present druggies around its base made CentrePoint hard to love at one time. I still did though and I always really liked the fountain out the front, which seems to have also fallen victim to the CrossRail juggernaut. Then suddenly CentrePoint became cool again - a swanky new members' club Paramount opened up top (if you can get up there the views across London are really spectacular), companies like EA Games moved in and there seemed to be a shift in people's opinions. Suddenly CentrePoint was cool. Which is great - but I just want to be on record saying that I loved it even when no-one else did!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Roupell St SE1

I really like the area surrounding Waterloo Station. The Cut, just behind the station has the Old Vic theatre and the Anchor & Hope pub and it's a short walk to the South Bank (which I have already blogged about). A lesser known area is just east of the station - in particular Roupell Street which is an almost perfectly preserved slice of Victorian London. If you take the exit from Waterloo that leads you to Tenison Way you can walk through the grounds of St John the Evangelist church, come out on Exton St and wend your way through to Roupell Street that way. The best bit is, once you get there you can buy a cake from Konditor & Cook on the corner to munch on while you
contemplate the terraced Victorian houses. These guys make a mean chocolate brownie and also a delicious jam and coconut slice (I'm sure it has a proper name) - in fact I love most of their cakes. The coffee is not bad - OK to be honest, by say Milk Bar standards it is not so good, but if I had written this blog 5 years ago I would probably have been raving as it is still miles ahead of chain store crap. I plan to do a Winter pub crawl around this area - there are some really cosy looking ones within walking distance. I would happily live around here, do the weekend shop at Borough, start seeing all that theatre I keep planning to do...

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Forks (& Corks) - Highgate N6

We ventured north of the river on Sunday to visit friends in Kentish Town and wandered up the road to the Heath and to have lunch at Forks in Highgate. Firstly, I love this area - it was a beautiful day so the Heath looked so inviting and I love the architecture around there, the red brick houses remind me of the London I read about in books when I was a kid. Secondly - Forks is a GREAT place - they make all sorts of crepes and galettes (which I think is like a crepe but made of buckwheat and with a savoury filling not sweet - feel free to correct me) and I had one with spinach, cheese, ham and an egg - it was SO good. I actually had to take a bite before I took the photo so apologies that this photo is not a pristine, un-gnawed example of their food. Looking at it again now I can feel my stomach rumbling - seriously, I would eat this dish every weekend if I could. We sat outside and watched the people walking their dogs and heading for the Heath, often stopping off for an ice cream at the stand that Forks has outside next to where they make their crepes (and galettes!). Next to Forks is Corks - a great wine shop where of course we were forced to buy three bottles of wine and a block of Green & Blacks Mint. Talk about a bag full of joy. Anyway - I loved the whole vibe of Forks & Corks, the area, the Heath, the galettes. As much as I am a south Londoner through and through, it's times like that when I wish my postcode began with NW instead of SW.

Monday, 28 September 2009

The Barbican EC1 - Discuss!

So - do you love or hate the Barbican? I am firmly in the love camp (hence why I am blogging about it) but I know plenty of people who think it is a blight on the London landscape. I love the concrete, slightly bleak modernism, I love the mix of commerical, residential and public spaces, I love the way that greenery has become entwined with the building so that the whole place appears as if it is slowly being overcome by nature. I have eaten here, drunk here, seen movies here, sat in the sun and contemplated life here, seen exhibitions and bought some cool presents here. Most of all though - I have just enjoyed being in this unique complex. I have to admit, I have pretended I am in Blakes Seven or the Tomorrow People (that's just the vibe I get here!) whilst walking alone through the communal spaces. I have never been inside any of the apartments here but having seen pictures and read a lot about them I know that I want one. I imagine it as my city pad where I could mix cocktails and pass around squares of cheese with toothpicks in them. Anyway - enough of my modernist fantasy life, I know this place divides opinion but isn't that kinda cool?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Arbutus - Frith St W1

Last night I had an amazing meal at Arbutus in Frith Street in Soho. I'm talking seriously good, knock-out amazing. This restaurant's reputation has been consistently high and it is SO well deserved. I started with one of their signature dishes - squid & mackerel "burger" with parsley & razor clams. Man oh man was it tasty - if I'm honest I was a bit nervous before it came as to what a squid burger might look like but it turned out to be a delicious, slightly sticky pattie of delicious seafood with a scattering of razor clams and parsley dotted around it. I'm getting misty-eyed just thinking about how yummy it was! My main course was breast of Welsh lamb with young carrots, celery and white beans - I don't think I have ever had a breast of lamb, in fact I thought you only had breasts of birds, but hey what I don't know could fill the O2 Arena. The meat was so tender and the flavourings were amazing. If I had to criticise anything (and I am so reluctant to utter a single negative word about this place) it would be that they could ditch the celery. Cooked celery is never as nice as raw celery in my book (or if you're my friend Penny, all celery is evil). We finished with a tarte tatin for two with creme fraiche. It was so beautiful to behold and a perfect example of its kind but it was enough for 4 people so unfortunately we had to leave some. If I hadn't been going out afterwards I would have got the remainder to go (they did offer) but instead we had to leave the red golden slice of deliciousness behind. The service was impeccable - our waiter was a skinny white guy who sounded like Bob Marley (he was from Trinidad & Tobago) which always throws me - he was great too, his dessert wine recommendation was spot on. As you may have noticed I can't rave on enough about this place - just go, as soon as possible!

Arbutus on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Seven Dials WC2

Seven Dials is one of my favourite areas in London and the fact it has survived various attempts to demolish key parts of it over the years make me even fonder of it. Monmouth Coffee is there in Monmouth St (unsurprisingly) and should be a mandatory pit-stop for caffeine lovers in the area. Canela in Earlham St is great for lunch and if (like me) you are a fan of Portugese tarts then they do a good version here. Sitting on the steps of the sundial drinking a beer in the sun is one of my favourite Summer things to do, although I always forget the traffic and have come close to being skittled many times. I also like the weird quirky shops you find around 7 Dials - I'm not sure what this says about me but I really love the Dover Bookshop in Earlham Street which sells copyright free images. I have bought so many books of images from here and have never actually used them for anything vaguely creative, but hey I may one day. One of the few (if not sole) remaining Fopp stores is on the corner of Earlham St and Shaftsbury Avenue - even though it sells music and DVDs really cheap I always end up spending heaps of money here. Yesterday I bought 2 Beatles CDs (Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt Pepper), a Season 2 boxset of "Damages" (LOVE that show!) and my only budget item which was a 3 DVD pack containing "Top Gun", "Ferris Bueller" and "Beverly Hills Cop" for £3 - BARGAIN! Sticking on Earlham Street, Magma is also cool, particularly if you are buying presents for your stylish designer friends (I'm sure you have many of these). I love Neals Yard and often treat myself to a back-rub at the Walk in Backrub store - in all honesty the last time I went there the guy was so good I felt like I was on drugs. It all depends on who you get though - I stopped going for a while because I kept getting average rubs (for some reason this sounds vaguely obscene) but it seems to have picked up. Of course for you turophiles out there (look it up) the Neal's Yard Dairy on Shorts Gardens is cheese-nirvana and the waft you get as you walk past will stay with you for some time - delicious! My friend Steve took me to the World Food Cafe on Neals Yard a few weeks ago and I loved it - the sun streaming in the window, the healthy but tasty food (I recommend ducking into Canela afterwards for a Portugese tart to even the balance). I have developed a bit of a sock fetish lately and Tabio on Neal St has some great ones - the shop is 80% womens tights and socks but up the back they have a small but quality men's collection. One of the things I have noticed about getting older is that you start to appreciate things like good socks - as well as quality sheets and pillows, farmers markets and bars where the music is not too loud. I could continue listing all the cool stuff around 7 Dials but you know what - you should just head down there and wander around. If you are a visitor to London and you want to splash the cash a bit you should definitely consider the Covent Garden Hotel - comfy, discreetly luxurious and an amazing buffet breakfast. OK - done.