Thursday, 30 December 2010

Cabmen's Shelters

It's hard not to be intrigued by these cool little green houses that you see dotted around London - unfortunately there are a lot less of them than there used to be, 13 to be exact.  They are maintained by the Cabmen's Shelter Fund - which was established in 1875 to run shelters for drivers of what were then known as hansom cabs and hackney carriages.  Equipped with small kitchens and able to squeeze in at least a dozen cabbies, these shelters must be a welcome respite when you're on an all night shift.  Unfortunately this one in Russell Square is looking a bit run-down so I hope that's not a sign that the funds are running out to maintain them - these little beauties should be preserved and treasured.  If you want to check out the remaining ones - have a look here or here to find out where they are.

Department of Coffee & Social Affairs - EC1

Leather Lane in EC1 is a funny one - I have always liked it but have never really had either a food or coffee reason to go there, traditionally the cafes have been more of the greasy spoon variety.  Years ago I also used to like going to a bar called Clerkenwell House on Hatton Wall, just off Leather Lane.  Anyway I digress - the good news is that there is now a top notch coffee destination on Leather Lane, specifically the wonderfully named Department of Coffee and Social Affairs at No. 14-16 (which is the High Holborn end).  It has only been open for 2 weeks and was pretty empty when I went there today (mainly because we are in the "in between" week when most people are still on hols) but I predict this place will be heaving in the new year once the coffee-starved locals catch on.  Up until now you would have had to walk 10 to 15 mins to either The Espresso Room or Dose to get your quality coffee fix but now those lucky EC1 workers and residents have their own local gem.  I was served by a friendly bearded Kiwi (I feel like David Attenborough, investigating the barista species in their natural habitat) and was presented with a really great flat white and a pain au chocolat.  These guys will have a broader selection of sandwiches and breakfast stuff in the new year so make sure to go and check them out - a welcome addition to my Central London Coffee Survival Guide Map.

Department of Coffee and Social Affairs on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

49 Bankside - SE1

I love the house at 49 Bankside for a number of reasons.  I love it because it's a beautiful 300 year old house; I love it because it is stuck there on Bankside next to the Globe theatre, with tourists streaming by, the last remnant of a row of houses in an area that is no longer residential; I love the crooked front door; but the thing that really seals it for me is the plaque on the front of the house which claims all sorts of glories for this rather unassuming residence - all of which are apparently untrue.  The plaque says that Sir Christopher Wren lived here whilst re-building St Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire, but as the house dates from around 1710 when work on the cathedral was over, this is unlikely.  Even more unlikely is the claim that Catherine of Aragon rested here when she first arrived in London.  Who knows what the true history of the house, know as Cardinal's Wharf, is - it certainly represents the gentrification of an area that was formerly occupied by brothels and disreputable taverns (which were frequented by players from Shakespeare's Globe) and it's certainly a survivor - both from demolition and from the blitz - and that makes it pretty special in my book, whoever lived there.

Leadenhall Market - EC3

I stumbled across Leadenhall Market early on in my time in London and loved it so try and get back whenever I can - which is actually not that often as I am not a City worker and it's not really on the way anywhere. I went today when it was closed because I wanted to have a good look around and not be jostled by hungry bankers on their lunch break - it was quite cool to wander around alone in this beautiful Victorian structure (which has been used in films, TV shows and music videos - most recently as Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films). The site of Leadenhall Market is significant in the history of London as it is located pretty much in the centre of what was Roman Londonium (I am obsessed with the history of London but will refrain from boring you with the Briton, Roman, Saxon, Dane timeline...whoops almost did). Anyway there has been some form of market here for hundreds of years but the current incarnation is Victorian and built in the late 1800s by the same guy that built Smithfields, so the look is somewhat similar. Like everything retail-driven it is now chain store central, albeit the better end but for me it's all about just walking around, appreciating this beautiful market, built on top of its medieval forbears and deeper down the remains of a long gone Roman town.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Maltby St - SE1

Maltby Street in SE1 and the surrounding streets (in particular the wonderfully named Druid Street) is a hidden gem for food and coffee lovers.  I tubed it to Bermondsey today for their pre Christmas Thursday opening - but usually it's a Saturday destination.  Coming out from the station and walking up Jamaica Road I pondered on the "gentrification" of Bermondsey - the place seems to be one big construction site with new apartment blocks named things like "Bermondsey Spa" and "the jewel of SE1" and other such crap.  Overlooking all this are the original estates and old warehouses and as such Bermondsey will always seem slightly grim and urban (and so it should - there is a place for this in a city like London, I hate it when there is a relentless push to make everywhere twee) and as I walked to Maltby Street there was one point where I thought the Krays were going to step out of the shadows and take a pot-shot at me (I really need to stop drinking so much coffee).  Anyway back to Maltby Street - the first thing I came to was the Monmouth Coffee HQ (pictured) where I fortified myself with a flat white (top notch as always) and then wandered round to the new St John bakery on Druid Street and bought a custard donut and then wandered further up to the space shared by Kase Swiss (cheese), Topolski (Polish smoked meats) and Jacob's Ladder Farms where I bought some lovely smoked trout with dill.  My food shop finished at Neal's Yard with goats cheese, quince paste and blossom honey.  If I sound pleased with myself it's because I was and when I wandered down to Borough Market later in the day and found myself in a total scrum I realised why the Maltby St enclave is so special - lots of space, unhurried and no tourists.  I love this part of London (even the grim bits) so I will be a regular visitor on Saturdays - check it out, but don't tell too many people!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Koya - Frith St W1

Koya has been the bloggers' and food critics' darling for the last 6 months or so and I finally got there today (that pretty much sums up my life, I used to be so organised, so cutting edge..sigh).  As you push your way through the blue curtain and open the door, Koya does feel like an oasis of calm in busy Soho [Quick diversion, when I first typed this I mistakingly wrote "an oasis of clam" which gives a whole different slant.  Just thought I'd share] despite being pretty much always packed to the rafters.  The pared back decor and chilled out (but really friendly) staff add to the vibe.  I liked the fact that I got a bottle of water as soon as I sat down and I loved my cute little silver teapot full of nutty Japanese tea, but like all the other reviewers the thing I loved the most was my udon noodles.  This is the focus here - handmade udon, either hot or cold, in broth and with various additions.  I had Atsu Atsu (hot udon in hot broth) with tempura, which was basically one giant prawn.  It was delicious - although tempura in broth is always kind of a weird one as the batter naturally comes off, but in a way that made the broth even more comforting, adding bulk to the savoury goodness.  The noodles were slippery, warming and perfect and the whole slurpy experience was pretty much spot on for both the weather and my mood.  Compared to the usual noodle crap you get around Soho this is not just another league, it's another universe so if you are a noodle fan you have to check out Koya - just be sure to get there early.

Koya on Urbanspoon

Exchange Coffee

Residents of Lewisham in south-east London have had the benefit of Exchange Coffee's superior product as part of the Saturday street market for some time.  For those that don't live in SE13 however it's a bit of a trek, even for the beautifully crafted specimens that these guys turn out.  So you can imagine my delight when I was greedily shuffling around the stalls at the Southbank Chocolate festival (which was on over the weekend, just behind Festival Hall) and noticed that Exchange Coffee had set up a stall.  The friendly Neil Le Bihan was manning the stall and I have to say that the flat white I had there on Friday evening was absolutely sensational.  I paired it with a chocolate tiffin slice from the stall next door (you can just see their stacks of biscuits in the photo) and I was a happy man.  Neil mentioned he was off to Australia for the cricket (boo) so I'm not sure what that means for the Saturday coffee lovers in Lewisham but I'm sure he'll be back there soon - I for one will be making the trek over there.
The Exchange on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

My Top Fives

Well the year is almost done and the overwhelming need to create "best of "lists has got too much for me.  So here you go...

Top 5 Coffee Places (in no particular order):
  • Milk Bar - I just love this place and the coffee is great and it makes me happy going there.  My only issue now is it's too bloody popular
  • Tapped & Packed - I had my best flat white of the week there this week and it's close to where I work and the food is great
  • Caravan - top notch caffeine, great place, in the wonderful Exmouth Market, say no more.
  • Brewed Boy - because Rob is a legend
  • Kaffeine - others have questioned the consistency here but I have always had a great experience and the Aussie barista who sounds a bit like Kylie Minogue is one of the friendliest in London
Top 5 Restaurants (not all of which I have blogged about):
  • Chez Bruce - consistency, great service, amazing food, lovely location (although I am biased on this point) and just all round superb
  • Andrew Edmunds - prior to Chez Bruce stealing my heart this was my favourite London restaurant.  So why haven't I blogged about it I hear you ask?  I don't know is the answer.
  • Arbutus - not everyone's favourite but they had me at the squid and mackerel burger (and kept me faithful with the tarte tartin)
  • Bob Bob Ricard - I did not expect to even like this place and I ended up loving it.  Fun, crazy and the best chicken kiev I have ever eaten.
  • Dean Street Townhouse - I think this place gets it spot on in terms of food, atmosphere, service - like the perfect New York bistro with high-end comfort food.  Love it.
Top 5 London Things (that aren't coffee or restaurant related);

Monday, 6 December 2010

Wimbledon Village - SW19

I am a big fan of London's "villages" - Hampstead, Richmond, Barnes, even Primrose Hill has a villagey feel (although that's pushing it).  My closest and the one I am growing increasingly fond of (as I turn middle-aged before your eyes/monitors) is Wimbledon Village.  Wimbledon proper, near the station is functional, has some good things (like the HMV Curzon cinema) but is ultimately a pretty typical suburban town-centre.  However trundle up the steep slope of Wimbledon Hill Road (great for the glutes) and you enter another world - certainly posher and definitely more picturesque and charming.  Some find that a negative, I suppose it's horses for courses - if you prefer more of an exclusively London Fields, Bethnal Green type vibe then you may despise Wimbledon Village, but I love the fact that there are places like this in London and I think they are equally valid.  Firstly it is really pretty - the picture above of St Mary's church is a case in point.  The village shops are fairly high-end and you soon realise you are not in the average High St (Dianne von Furstenberg anyone?) but there are some great places to eat and buy food - my two favourites are (i) The Grocer on Wimbledon which won my heart by selling Aussie confectionery and snacks (Twisties, Violet Crumbles, Cherry Ripes etc - nice one!) alongside amazing cakes, super-snazzy pre-packages food (the berry and vanilla panna cotta is awesome) and pretty decent coffee and (ii) Bayley & Sage - which is one of those high-end food shops where you think "Ooh I really need that jar of Argentinian chocolate sauce at £8.99" and for which I am a total sucker.  If you are exhausted by all this snazzy food shopping and feel the need of a restorative pint, I can highly recommend walking along Southside Common (which as it's name suggests skirts a small southern spur of Wimbledon Common), past the King's College School to the Hand in Hand pub on the wonderfully named Crooked Billet.  This is like a Richard Curtis vision of what an English pub should be but it also manages to be totally un-pretentious and welcoming.  So apologies to all you leafy South-London haters but I think Wimbledon Village is a lovely little gem, perched high up in the SW (the view across the city from Wimbledon Park is amazing) and well worth a visit.

Mooli's - Frith St W1

I had been to Mooli's several times but hadn't gotten around to writing about it.  As today marked my first sampling of the goat mooli (on the advice of trusty Greedy Diva) I felt like it was time to give a shout out to these guys.  Mooli's (they should remove the apostrophe...) unsurprisingly specialises in moolis - which I discovered on my first visit are basically hot Indian wraps made with roti bread.  The fillings vary - chicken, beef, pork, chickpeas but the top tip from me is go goat.  I have always had an ambiguous relationship with goat meat - some bad travel experiences, some misguided impressions that it is always tough as old boots, general Anglo-Saxon fear of the unknown (as much as I fight against it) but one bite of the goat mooli and I am an evangelist for the stuff.  The meat was tender and slow-cooked and full of flvaour, the soft spicy potato gave it an extra zing, balanced perfectly by the tangy, fresh salsa.  Man this was GOOD - and perfect for the frozen London day.  The nice man at Mooli's informed me of the "bonus side dish" week that I had unwittingly become part of so I got a free super-food salad which was crunchy and sprouty and delicious and went perfectly with the sublime goat mooli.  You seriously need to get down to this place - and fast.

Mooli's on Urbanspoon

Friday, 26 November 2010

Wild Honey - St George St W1

I am a big fan of Arbutus (the best tarte tatin ever) and had been curious to try it's posh sister, Wild Honey in Mayfair.  I finally got to go this week for a very pleasant lunch.  First impressions were that the room was a bit hushed and restrained, but as it filled up that improved.  It is a great looking space - there is some lovely wood panelling (love a good panel I do) and we sat in a nice private booth (also fond of a booth).  It was very "Mayfair" and there was a disproportionate number of suity hedge-fundy looking dudes, but that shouldn't put you off.  The food was really good - I started with a personal favourite of mine, a beetroot salad - I just love seeing the different types of beets and this one was really beautiful to look at.  Luckily it was also beautiful to eat - combined with creamy goat's curd and a yummy sweet, lemony dressing, this was delicate, tasty and just enough to get the tastebuds going.  My main on the other hand, whilst also being delicious, filled me up to that "I'm a bit uncomfortable" stage, mainly because it had risotto as a side dish, which I always find odd (albeit tasty).  I had misread the menu item and thought it was going to be chicken risotto, however it was a plate of perfectly cooked, crispy skinned roast chicken pieces with the aforementioned side pot of risotto.  Of course me being the glutton I am, I polished off the whole pot which I really shouldn't have.  Anyway it was great.  The only let down was a pretty uninspiring carafe of Russian River chardonnay - I just can't seem to get Californian wine right.  So overall I was impressed with Wild Honey - I'll be back when I'm in a Mayfair state of mind.

Wild Honey on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Cheapside Plane Tree - EC2

Standing on the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street in the City (actually just down from the corner) is a beautiful plane tree.  It used to stand in the churchyard of St Peter Cheap, a church that was destroyed in the great fire of 1666 but what I can never quite work out is whether the tree existed prior to this or was planted post fire.  At the very least the tree is around 250 years old and is said to have survived a direct hit by a WWII bomb.  Apparently the tree also inspired Wordsworth to pen a poem (to a thrush) which is kinda cool.  Anyway I love this tree - I feel a bit like it's an ent, ancient and wise but rapidly being overtaken by the modern world.  I find it peaceful just to be near it, which is always a bonus in a big city.  So next time you are wandering down Cheapside, perhaps heading for a tasty bahn-mi at City Caphe (yum) take a moment to pay your respects to the plane tree.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Kati Roll Company - Poland St W1

Sauntering (actually it was probably more like "walking briskly to keep warm") down Poland Street last week I noticed a new (at least to me) addition to the eateries thereon - "The Kati Roll Company" which intrigued me with it's old-fashioned, faux-serious Indian vibe.  This is continued inside (just check out the Matrix poster in the photo - love it) and on their website and all adds to what is a really cool place.  They have branches in both London and New York - and they claim that the kati roll craze has taken over the latter city.  I can see why - these things are super tasty and a perfect lunch-time option.  Basically the kati rolls are wraps made of warm paratha bread around various combos of meat, egg, vegetables and cheese.  I had the Shami Kabab roll which contained spicy, herby, wonderful minced lamb.  You can order one for £3.75 or two for £7 and after I had got back to my desk and scoffed my single I really wished I'd gone the double option (not that I wasn't full - it was just SO good).  I can't wait to go back and try the other varieties - especially the Unda (egg) rolls - the Unda Shami (egg and lamb) sounds amazing.

Kati Roll company on Urbanspoon

Monday, 22 November 2010

Coffee@33 - Brighton

OK OK I know - this blog is meant to be about London but hey, some would say Brighton is "London by sea" (oh how true Brighton-ites will hate that!).  Anyway in the interests of making sure you always have access to premium coffee and tasty treats I thought I would alert you to a fantastic cafe we stumbled upon (literally, those pavements in Brighton need some work...) a few weekends ago.  Coffee@33 has that pared down Fernandez and Wells-ish look that works so well for this sort of place and on a chilly Brighton Saturday it was really warm and welcoming.  They use Square Mile beans and made tip-top flat whites and cortados (I sampled both, several times over the weekend) plus their snacks were amazing including a sort of coconuty jammy thing that had that wonderful childhood-familiarity that makes eating cakes such a primal experience (well for me at least).  So if ever you are in the vicinity of the train station, about 5 minutes walk down Trafalgar Street to be exact then definitely make sure you visit these guys - this place rocks.

RIBA - Portland Place W1

If it wasn't for this really dull two day work pow-wow I wouldn't have ever seen inside the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) building on Portland Place, so as annoying as those two days were I am really glad I attended.  I had seen the building from the outside and thought the classic imposing art-deco facade was cool.  Inside is even better and the good news is that you don't have to be a RIBA member to go inside, in fact they encourage it.  There is a cool cafe and restaurant and a bookshop for those of you that like architecture-porn.  This is going to sound kinda dodgy but I also really like the toilets - they are downstairs and are like a time-warp from the 30s, I'm sure they must have been used in lots of movies or TV shows, particularly if a cottaging scene was involved... I should clarify that whenever I have used them they were empty so I actually took loads of pictures of the taps and fittings, which may also be kinda weird so I'll just stop now...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Store Street Espresso - WC1

I have always like Store Street in Bloomsbury (and as readers of this blog will know I love Bloomsbury in general) - when I first arrived in London in 1999 a good friend Beth worked at this groovy place called Imagination (which is still there I think) who had offices on the semi-circular part of Store St near TCR.  I used to visit her there and hang out in their cool staff caf/bar and it all felt very millennium/dot com/cool Britannia, or at least I thought it did.  Anyway...I was excited to hear about a new coffee place that had opened on Store St, at the Gower St end.  I have been trying to stick to this crazy diet plan - where for 3 days you eat nothing but protein.  3 days I thought - how hard can it be?  Well, friggin' hard actually - by 11am today (less than 36 hours in) I was going loopy, had a splitting headache and felt like I was on speed - so I decided I needed to ditch the diet and have something completely unhealthy and cake-ish.  So off I trundled to Store St Espresso - which I am happy to report is lovely.  I had 2 immaculate flat whites (in fact the best I've had in a while) and carbo-loaded on a flapjack AND a muffin (so screw you protein-only diet) which were both great.  There are lots of places to sit, nicely spread out and so the vibe is not as frenetic as some central London coffee places (yes Flat White I mean you).  The staff were lovely and kind of Arts-studenty (in a good way) so all in all I walked out a much happier and carb-rich person.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Maison Bertaux - Greek St W1

There are a number of places that define Soho - pubs like the French House and the Coach and Horses, restaurants like Vasco and Piero's Pavilion, streets like Old Compton Street and of course the wonderful Maison Bertaux cake shop.  I can never walk down Greek St without drooling at the cakes in the window and there is something about the jaunty blue and white stripes that make you feel like a kid again.  Of course the delights in the window are chock full of whipped cream, custard, pastry and all that other stuff that we're meant to stay away from these days but screw it, sometimes the only thing that will do is a strong cup of tea and a whopping great piece of cream-cake at Maison Bertaux.  What sets MB apart from somewhere like Patisserie Valerie round the corner is that it has a louche edge to it - the art gallery upstairs helps (currently show-casing really cool stuff from wonderfully nutty Noel Fielding...which sort of makes him sound like a cake, most appropriate) plus the clientele often looks like they are either lining their stomachs for, or recovering from, a binge session at the Coach next door.  This place is an institution and rightly so.

Maison Bertaux on Urbanspoon

Notes Music & Coffee - WC2

My friend Gen alerted me to the opening of Notes in St Martins Lane - a new cafe from the Flat Cap coffee team.  So when my stupid Northern Line train was held at Charing Cross this morning I decided to abandon ship and wander up St Martins Lane and see what this Notes Music & Coffee place was all about.  It turned out to be Day Two so they were still working out the till and how much things cost etc but it was all kind of endearing and you could tell there was a real passion for what they were doing.  The place looks amazing - a huge room with a vaulted glass ceiling up the back through which you catch a glimpse of the cool spinning globe on top of the neighbouring Coliseum Theatre.  As well as coffee and food (and more on that later) these guys have a really cool selection of CDs and DVDs for sale - classical, jazz and world music as well as the more art-house end of the DVD spectrum, plus some DVDs of opera, ballet etc.  Obviously as this place is new there was lots of space so it felt incredibly peaceful - there's no doubt that's going to change but as well as small tables along the side there is a massive communal table up the back so I'm sure this place will handle the inevitable crowds.  I actually went back to Notes for lunch and that probably tells you something.  The two flat whites I had were really great - they use Square Mile beans for their milky coffees and combined with impeccably steamed milk the results were spot on.  This morning I had a super tasty warm pesto scroll thing and for lunch the other half and I shared a delicious salami sandwich.  The staff are really lovely and the whole vibe here is really great - so if you are wandering in theatre land or want to escape the crowds of Trafalgar Square then head to Notes, it is a brilliant new addition to the coffee scene in central London.

Notes Music & Coffee on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 November 2010

Hawksmoor Part 2 - Seven Dials WC2

Had a lovely dinner at the new Hawksmoor branch in Langley St in Seven Dials last night.  It's a big space - just down the road from Pineapple Dance Studios so you can dance off your meat-fest after dinner.  There is a cool bar as you come down the stairs with a decent cocktail list and the main room is cavernous.  Last night (as I'm sure is the case on most nights) the crowd was very guy-heavy with some tables whooping it up a storm - I suppose guys and steak will always be a winning combo.  For you lassies out there, please don't be put off by this, this place is way too good to leave to the fellas.  Man - the chateaubriand was sensational, in fact as I am writing this I am struggling not to drool on the keyboard.  It was the best steak I have had in a long long time.  The other half and I shared an 850g version, which was the smallest on offer by the time we ate at 9.30pm.  It was just slightly too much meat but we still ate it all natch.  It was meltingly tender and perfectly seasoned - super super tasty.  Apparently some greedy patrons polish off the 900g and 1kg version all by themselves - which is kinda gross.  There is a full range of steak options - the aforementioned chateau plus fillet, porterhouse, rib-eye, rump, sirloin etc etc.  We accompanied our steak with a perfect bearnaise sauce (friggin' YUM), triple-cooked chips (friigin' double YUM) and some spinach to be healthy (boo).  Washed down with a rather pleasant South African shiraz this was a great, great meal (have I said that already?) - as you can tell I love this place, in fact each time I visit Hawksmoor I love it more - next trip will involve sampling their legendary burger.  Can't wait.

Hawksmoor (Seven Dials) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Hawksmoor - Spitalfields E1

I seem to have been ticking off a few places from my "need to go" list lately and Hawksmoor has been on there for ages.  Not that I am endorsing heavy drinking, but we were a little hungover on Sunday and as such were in desperate need of a tasty brunch and some strong coffee.  Hawksmoor delivered on both counts - I had what can only be described as a posh sausage and egg mcmuffin and it was delicious.  Obviously these guys only use the best ingredients and the sausage part of the "HkMuffin" comes from the wonderful Ginger Pig farm so was bound to be good.  The coffee (strong latte) was top notch also and the whole vibe of the place suited our slightly worse-for-wear mood.  I want to come back really soon and have a burger and try their steak - as they have opened a new outpost in Seven Dials, that will now be a whole lot easier to do.

Hawksmoor on Urbanspoon

Monday, 25 October 2010

Taste of Bitter Love - E2

Finally!  This was my third attempt to sample the coffee at Taste of Bitter Love and I finally succeeded.  Tucked away on an unlovely stretch of Hackney Road, just round the corner from Columbia Road, it is a good alternative to the scrum around Gwilym's coffee cart on market day.  The flat whites we had were impeccable and the place itself is cool, although really dinky so take away is the more likely option.  They had some tasty looking sandwiches but as we had just pigged out at Hawksmoor (more on that later) we couldn't cram in any more food just then.  I am jealous of East London - they have so many good coffee places, I feel a little caffeine-starved down south.  So any aspiring baristas out there - go SW, preferably Wandsworth!

Taste of Bitter Love on Urbanspoon

Arnold Circus - E2

Whenever I am walking from Spitalfields to Columbia Road I try and cut through the back-streets and it was on one such journey a few years ago that I stumbled upon the lovely Arnold Circus.  Arnold Circus is a circular road in Shoreditch on which stands the Boundary Estate - which must be one of London's handsomest social housing schemes, built around 1900.  If only they kept building them like that...  In the middle of Arnold Circus is a wonderful park, with a mound (created from the rubble of the slum that the Boundary Estate replaced - how cool is that?) and a bandstand.  What is extra cool about this is that the locals have a really strong community spirit and formed The Friends of Arnold Circus in 2004 to make sure the park lived up to its potential as a public space and not just a junkie-hangout.  Boy did they succeed - take note Boris, take note Dave C, this is community and the "big society" working as it should.  All power to them and long live Arnold Circus.

Polpo - Beak St W1

So I finally got to Polpo after having wanted to go for months - I had a lovely birthday lunch with some work buds, who also paid so it was doubly good!  Polpo did not disappoint - I loved the look of the place (as supposedly did Cannaletto), the staff were super friendly and the food was a perfect comfort-foil to the growing chill in the air outside.  Every dish was delicious - I won't bother detailing them (mainly because I've forgotten) but just go, take an appetite and order big here.  The only thing I was mildly disappointed in was the dessert but I think that's because the waitress said it was "just like homemade Toblerone" and it really wasn't.  So next time I go I will eschew the sweetness and concentrate on stuffing my face with "cicheti" and "small plates", scoffing some fine Italian red and day-dreaming about being in Venice.

Polpo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

St Mary-le-Bow dragon - Cheapside EC2

OK so I have to admit about having a thing about dragons (**cue remaining 10 readers of blog closing browser and deleting bookmark...**) - stay with me here, not in a Dungeons and Dragons way (not that there is anything wrong with that) although I did read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy books when I was a youngster (stop judging!).  If you take the time to look around, particularly in the City there are dragons everywhere (check out this guy's site - he knows what I'm talkin' about).  Obviously crazy conspiracy theorists believe there is some sort of symbolism in all these dragons and that people in power around the world are actually reptilian overlords in human disguise - I wouldn't go that far, but try dragon spotting in the City sometime, you'll be amazed.  In fact I am going to do a series of my favourite London dragons - so I thought I would start with my absolute favourite, the nine-foot long golden dragon weather-vane on top of the Wren church of St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside.  Dating from the late 1600s this weather- vane looks enormous, even from street level and I love seeing it from a distance and from different angles - you can actually see the fiery jet coming out of its mouth from a long way away.  Just to show you how obsessed I am about this dragon, I actually wrote a short story which featured it - before you ask, I will not be posting the story on this blog.  Anyway - next time you are stomping down Cheapside, perhaps heading for City Caphe and a super-tasty bahn-mi take a moment, look up and admire London's coolest dragon.

City Caphe - Part 2

Following my late arrival last time, I made it back to City Caphe nice and early so I didn't miss out on the bahn mi. I had the classic pork sandwich with an iced Viet Coffee and both were brilliant. The bitter coffee, sweet condensed milk and ice combo took me back to younger, more carefree days back-packing in Laos, I could have doubled up but thought that was greedy. The bahn-mi was perfect, sticky pork, chilli bite, chewy slightly toasted baguette. The people that work at City Caphe are really lovely also and the place is really cool - but for some reason it's plonked right in the middle of the City.  Oh man - why is there not a City Caphe in Soho? They need to open one - I may start a petition.

City Càphê on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

City Caphe - EC2V

So I made the trek to the City to check out the appropriately named City Caphe on Ironmonger Lane. I had heard and read good things and I love me a banh mi (whatever the hell happened to Viet Baguette??). Anyway, with my head full of the deliciousness of a Vietnamese pork baguette I had lost track of time and it was after 3pm by the time I got there and they had completely sold out of banh mi. Cursing the hungry and discerning city types under my breath I settled for some classic spring rolls (cuon) and took them plus the tasty nuoc cham dipping sauce to the quiet courtyard of St Olaves, also on Ironmonger Lane. Man.  Oh man - they were so tasty, this bodes well for my return visit for the main event. Plus I will be having some Vietnamese coffee - so stay tuned.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Indie Coffee Cart - Church St NW8


I love a coffee cart and so was keen to check out Indie Coffee, on the recommendation of my friend Rob who works around Edgware Road.  He had raved about how good this cart was and how it kept him sane during his full-on working week.  So on our trip to Alfies on the weekend, the other half and I sampled Indie's wares.  First impressions were that this must be the coolest looking coffee cart ever - part organ grinder, part Diagon Alley (did I just out myself as a Harry Potter fan...eek), this is a thing of a beauty, particularly wedged in the middle of the Church St market.  And the coffee?  Sensational (so much so that the other half had two in quick succession, on top of the two we had made ourselves that morning at home - caffeine overload).  Brewed with Square Mile beans and poured by an expert, this is top notch stuff.  So hooray for another entry on my Central London Coffee Survival Guide map and long live Indie Coffee.

Indie Coffee (Coffee Cart) on Urbanspoon

Monday, 4 October 2010

Alfies Antique Market - Church St NW8

Ah Alfies - what a wonderful place.  I hadn't been there for years - in fact since I lived just round the corner near Sea Shells (London's "best fish & chips restaurant" - yeah right...*cough*...).  The first thing I noticed on the walk from Marylebone tube was that Lisson Grove had snazzed up a bit since I lived there.  The Church Street market was pretty unchanged (except for a great coffee cart...more to come on that) but there seemed to be more swish furniture/antiques stores than I remembered.  Alfie's was pretty unchanged - three floors of amazing vintage/antique/retro (take your pick) furniture, glassware, jewellery, paintings, homewares and general stuff.  I could seriously spend hours there - it's a treasure trove.  We bought a cool 60s stainless steel set with toast rack, teapot, milk jog, sugar bowl etc. all for £20 from a lovely fella on the 3rd floor who specialises in 50s and some 60s stuff, he also looks the part, quiff included.  I also bought an old 60s school book on ancient Britain (don't judge me - it is really interesting).  The only bum note and the one thing that did not live up to my memories of Alfies was the cafe - still has the very cool roof terrace but gone was the trippy piano player and the food and service was pretty dire.  I just love this place though - if you have never been, make it a priority this weekend, I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Alfies Antique Market

London Restaurant Festival 4/10 to 18/10

I never get organised enough to particpate in these sorts of things but this looks quite cool - especially as the LRF food market at Spitalfields has coffee from the wonderful Caravan.  So check it out:

Friday, 24 September 2010

Crossrail and the end of a Soho block (or two)

I have ranted about Crossrail before - I mourn the passing of the Centrepoint fountain, don't even get me started on the Astoria and now I am faced daily with the destruction and complete removal of a whole block of Soho, specifically the block bordered by Oxford St, Dean St, Great Chapel St and Carlisle St.  Gone forever is the Bath House pub that used to be on the corner of Fareham St, the cool old building that housed the Black Gardenia bar just opposite and the amazing red brick warehouse on Fareham St with the arched windows (if you look closely at the photo above you can see the arches coming down).  You know what's kinda cool about Google Street View is that it's all still there - obviously their cameras went around Soho some time ago so you can actually see what it used to look like, which is sad...but cool.  And what will we get in return for losing this chunk of W1?  From the looks of the drawing a Canary-Wharf style station entrance for the new Tottenham Court Road tube and Crossrail station.  Is that worth the loss of a piece of "real" Soho?  I dunno - for me it's a definite no, but perhaps I am just being resistant to change/evolution.  What do you think?

Hooray - Brewed Boy is back

My favourite mobile coffee dude Rob, aka Brewed Boy is back on Rupert St in Soho after a short absence.  Gone is the dinky grey cart and in its place is a bigger, more permanent looking structure (even though it's not permanent so prob a bad description...) that gives Rob more room to stretch out and work his caffeine magic.  Apparently there is now also food, in particular some super-tasty sounding brownies but unfortunately they are so good that when I went by this morning they had sold out (twice no less).  Rob is also sourcing croissants so soon Brewed Boy will be your one stop breakfast destination.  Rob is also now part of which sounds intrigiung, check it out.  As readers of this blog will know, I love my Milk Bar, I am also fond of Lantana, Kaffeine, Tapped & Packed and others but without doubt the nicest overall coffee experience in London is Brewed Boy - great coffee, well made, served by one of the nicest fellas you'll ever have the pleasure to meet.  So get down and re-acquaint yourself if you are an old customer and if you are a newbie, do yourself a huge favour and become a Brewed Boy regular, it will get your day off to a great start.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Hatchards - Piccadilly W1

It was a tough call as to what was my favourite bookshop in London - I love Daunt Books in Marylebone High St and I am very fond of Foyles (and have blogged about it before) but I think the winner has to be Hatchards in Piccadilly.  It is the oldest surviving bookshop in London, operating since 1797, but it has no sense of stuffiness that usually goes with that "oldest surviving" tag.  In fact the staff are so lovely that you feel like you could hang out there all day (I would so love to do that, maybe popping down the road to the Wolseley for some sustenance now and again).  I feel sorry for Waterstones a few shops down - because who in their right mind would go there when Hatchards is nearby?  Having said that, Waterstones always seems busy (I don't buy books there but I do use their toilets sometimes!) - maybe I'll stand outside and make sure people are aware that if they just keep walking for another 50 metres they could be in one of the world's best bookshops.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Ginger & White - Hampstead NW3

I don't often get up to Hampstead and whenever I do I am struck down with a severe case of suburb-envy.  Oh it is lovely up there.  I had to go and pick up my friend Neil and I was a bit early so decided to park (only possible because it was a Sunday) and seek out Ginger & White, as I had read such good things about it.  Located in cute Perrins Court, which runs off the High St, just near the tube, my first impressions of Ginger & White were "looks cute" then "oh crap, it looks really busy" and it was, heavingly so.  I always think it is the test of a cafe how they deal with too many customers and these guys seemed to be doing...OK.  I hate the feeling of ordering something and then standing around feeling more and more awkward waiting for your coffee/salad/long island ice tea and at G&W I was just beginning to think "for f*ck's sake get a move on" when the coffee came.  And it was delicious, really good in fact - they use Square Mile beans and the over-worked barista poured an exemplary flat white.  I also (and those that know me will be surprised by this) enjoyed a lovely friand - although I had well and truly devoured it by the time my coffee arrived.  Sometimes I think there are just way too many people in London, at least at the places that are good - anyway at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, if you are wandering round the leafy streets of NW3 make sure you take time to pop in to Ginger & White, they make great coffee.  Just try and pick a quiet time.

Ginger and White on Urbanspoon

Friday, 3 September 2010

Lots Road Power Station - SW10

I have an obsession with derelict power stations (what does that say about me I wonder?)  Battersea Power Station is my favourite building in London and Lots Road Power Station in Chelsea also floats my boat.  There are developments planned and that always makes me nervous - but I suppose it is better than demolition.  I just love that you can really get a sense of what this precinct was like when the power station was up and running - obviously with the planned shopping/residential development, including I believe two high rise towers, this will all change.  So get down there while it still has its derelict charm!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Byron at The Intrepid Fox - W1

I always used to be a bit intimidated by The Intrepid Fox in Wardour St when it was a goth/metal pub - scary gargoyle hanging over the door, moody goths jostling you out of the way as they shuffled in, I was never ballsy enough to go in and see what it was actually like - which now I regret because it was a Soho institution that is no more (although they did move the crowd, the vibe and I think the gargoyle to that weird bar underneath Centrepoint - not quite the same).  Anyway - I thought it was going to be turned into flats (and maybe it is upstairs - I haven't noticed) but what actually transpired was that Byron, famed hamburger joint, opened a Soho outpost there.  Everyone raves about Byron's burgers and I had never been - given this location is a 5 minute walk from my work I'm not sure what has stopped me, perhaps because it is always so busy.  Anyway - today I went and man did I enjoy.  I had a blue cheese burger and it was SO good - it was lighter than most burgers and the meat was cooked to medium perfection.  The bun was great (often a let down) and I love a place where you get a pickle on the side.  The courgette fries were a nice touch and made me feel like I was edging towards that 5 a day.  The other half and I have been regular customers of the Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Battersea for over 6 years now and unfortunately we have experienced the quality go steadily downhill - particularly since it got bought and became a rapidly expanding brand.  It wasn't until I took my first mouthful of my cheese-burger at Byron today that I realised just how shite the GBK burgers are now in comparison to Byron's little beauties.  Whatever faceless conglomerate owns GBK now should be forced to dine at Byron so they can realise the many ways they are screwing up.  Anyway - go to Byron, it rocks (and you can drink a cream soda float with your burger, bonus!)

Byron on Urbanspoon