Monday, 28 November 2011

Birdhouse - St John's Hill SW11

I can't tell you how much I am loving the fact that the coffee revolution is spreading through SW London.  Despite being a loyal and long time resident of the leafier boroughs, I have had to admit (reluctantly) that on the coffee front we were lacking.  Then Brew in Northcote Rd upped its game coffee wise, then The Roastery in Wandsworth Road opened, followed by Grind in Putney, recently Ben's Canteen and now, joining Ben on St John's Hill is the wonderful Birdhouse.  I liked this place as soon as I saw the cheery, bright yellow stools sitting outside - one of the many really cool, quirky design features of Birdhouse.  I really liked the look of the interior - I loved the art work on the walls (lots of birds obviously - see the snap below for one wall's display), I loved the old wooden and steel cabinets and lamps (almost surgical - in a good way), the tap water in old fashioned giant brown glass lab bottles (surgical vibe again?) was also really cool, as were the old fashioned paper straws....basically I loved it all.  But most importantly I loved the coffee - brewing Climpson's Estate blend (originating from Brazil and Kenya apparently) the flat whites were top notch and we just had to sample the "chipster brownie" - an inspired creation with brownie on the bottom half and chewy biscuit on the top half.  Bliss.  This place is really great and I plan to come back again and again - so happy that St John's Hill is becoming such a cool strip and loving the addition of another coffee destination in my beloved SW London.

Birdhouse. on Urbanspoon

Friday, 25 November 2011

Sacred Cafe & University of London, Bloomsbury WC1

 I had an unexpected walk this morning (don't ask, forgotten passport, Eurostar debacle) through the environs of the University of London in Bloomsbury.  Readers of this blog (you 5 know who you are) will know I harbour a deep love for Bloomsbury but I am not as familiar with what I suppose you would call "north Bloomsbury", bordering on Euston.  As with other parts of the area, lovely Georgian squares abound, but there are some real architectural gems from other eras - the lovely, honey coloured Church of Christ the King on Gordon Square being one and the imposing art-deco grandeur of the Senate House, built in the early 30s as part of the more permanent incarnation of the University.  I always find
 it a bit odd walking around a university campus, suddenly I am transported back 23 years (eek) to being a fresher, which is nice on some levels and not on others!  Being the cynical old roue I am now, I realise how totally un-prepared I was for adult life when I arrived at Melbourne University, with more than a touch of the wide-eyed country boy about me.  But that's a whole other story...  Anyway the walk around these calm, lovely streets really improved my morning and what made it even better was finding this dinky little booth at the corner of Gordon Square (which interestingly was designed by Thomas Cubitt in the 1820s, as one of a pair with Tavistock Square, which is a block away and has the same dimensions.)  I like the Sacred Cafe in Ganton St (off Carnaby St) - they make good coffee and have a really laid-back un-pretentious vibe.  This tiny outpost, staffed by a friendly Antipodean lass, carries through that vibe and my flat white was pretty good.  I'm sure the students love this place - we could do with a few more of these booths around London, kinda like a coffee lovers' equivalent to Cabbie Shelters.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal SW1

I actually went to Dinner, Heston Blumenthal's restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in Knighstbridge, over a month ago and haven't had a chance to write about it so my memory is a little blurry.  Plus we could only get a 9.30pm sitting and the Other Half and I had both been working hard and sleeping little, so by the end of the meal we were in a total daze - but importantly in a happy, full-of-good-food daze so it was actually kinda nice.  In fact if they had said we could curl up under the table and sleep I would have felt quite comfortable doing just that.  Anyway I digress - basically Dinner is ace.  The service was really fantastic and the food was even better - of course I had to have the Meat Fruit (pictured) to start.  I love chicken liver pate and this creamy parfait version was cleverly disguised as a mandarin.  I don't need to write too much - others much more qualified than me have done so but let me just say that everything they say is true, this is a joy of a starter and had me smiling from the first bite.  All the dishes are a homage to recipes from the past and the Meat Fruit supposedly originates from 1500 - I had always thought the 16th century sounded interesting - the Reformation, Copernicus, Shakespeare but now I know they had Meat Fruit to eat, I am searching for a time machine.  My main course was a little more up to date, from 1860 to be exact - a Black Foot Pork Chop with Spelt & Robert Sauce (which appealed because I am Robert...anyway).  I'm not sure what exactly came from 1860, I'm sure they were eating pork chops long before that, but it was super tasty.  Interestingly they warned me that it was cooked a little pink - immediately I flashed back to my mum teaching me that the two meats you should always make sure are cooked through were chicken and pork but I had faith in Heston that he wouldn't knowingly expose me to salmonella, so I chomped away at my slightly undercooked, very delicious pork chop.  Of course we had to share the Tipsy Cake - having heard so much about it and seeing the wonderful spit roasting pineapples doing their thing in the kitchen.  It was booze soaked briochey wonderfulness with the aforementioned pineapple on the side.  Lovely, all lovely in fact.   Pricey, but oh so lovely.  Treat yourself - and order the Meat Fruit.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Ducksoup - Dean St W1

Dean Street is fast becoming one of my favourite Soho food streets - I have written before about Dean St Townhouse and the wonderful Cay Tre and now I can add Ducksoup to the list.  Stripped back, pared down almost to the point of shabbiness, Ducksoup reminds me of places I liked in Melbourne in the 90s, maybe along Brunswick Street or in St Kilda (as they were then).  A turn-table and a stack of records greet you as you enter and they are more than happy for you to bring something from your own vinyl collection to play.  A simple hand-written menu has limited but delicious sounding options - I went for the lamb chops, which were cooked to perfection, salty and with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over.  Accompanying the incredibly delicious chops we shared pumpkin, spinach and goats curd, as well as courgettes cooked with mint & chilli - all top notch also.  I loved the fact that there were no standard soft drinks available (Coke etc) but only ginger beer and Sicilian lemonade.  Also loved the fact that booze was front and centre - and on any other day I would have partaken.  I loved this place and definitely plan to come and prop up the bar one evening - plus I need to get me some more of those spectacular lamb chops!

Ducksoup on Urbanspoon

Monday, 21 November 2011

Postcard from New York - Blue Bottle Coffee, Brooklyn

If your travels take you to New York (as mine did recently) and you are hangin' with the hipsters in Williamsburg, make sure to check out Blue Bottle Coffee.  I actually sampled their wares at their mobile/coffee-cart location on the funky High Line Park (which you also should check out) on the lower west side and the flat white I was served was top notch.

Ritzy Cinema - Brixton SW2

I have been feeling a lot of Brixton love recently and realised that I had not written about one of the things I love most in Brixton, the Ritzy Cinema.  The Ritzy has been there on the corner of Coldharbour Lane and Brixton High Street since 1911 (at which time it was called The Electric Pavilion and showed silent films), but was reinvented as an art house cinema, after a brief closure, back in the late 1970's.  I love the fact that the Ritzy has watched the evolution of Brixton - when it was built Brixton was still a relatively prosperous middle-class suburb, probably still proud of the fact that Electric Avenue (close to the Ritzy) was the first street in London to be lit by electricity 30 years before.  The Ritzy managed to survive both the heavy bombing during the blitz and the all-engulfing riots of 1981.  It has witnessed the transformation of Brixton, due to the post WW2 immigration from the West Indies, into one of the most vibrant and interesting areas of London (to see what I mean, take a walk down the afore-mentioned Electric Avenue and through Brixton Market and into Brixton Village Market one weekend - then finish up with a burger at Honest Burgers and maybe a movie at the Ritzy).  The Ritzy was cool before Brixton became cool, it pre-dates the clubs, the bars, the restaurants, the funky market stalls and it remains as always, one of the centrepieces of Brixton.  Since they scrubbed up Windrush Square, this little precinct looks great - in particular the vista from the Ritzy, past the square, St Matthew's church looming in the background, finishing up at the imposing Town Hall.  My introduction to the Ritzy came as a result of living in Streatham Hill when I first arrived in London in 1999.  I have always loved art house cinemas and during that crazy 6 months, when I was often feeling a little fragile after dancing the night away at Escape from Samsara at The Fridge club across the road (some of you will be nodding and saying "oh yeah" right now), a movie at the Ritzy was a real treat.  I have tried to get back there at least a couple of times a year and each time I do, I am struck by how great it is and encouraged that something as cool as this survives and (hopefully) thrives.  There is so much to see and do in Brixton - if you are a dyed-in-the-wool North Londoner I can recommend a trip and when you do, make sure the Ritzy is on your itinerary.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

New Row Coffee - WC2N

Apologies for my general crapness as a blogger lately - my day job (which has turned into a day and evening job) has prevented me from spending the time I want on London Stuff, which is kinda annoying.  I have been to lots of places in the last 2 months that I wanted to write about but it's almost at the stage now where it's been so long I will need to re-visit to make sure my reviews are accurate (which is actually a really good excuse to go back to places like Dinner and Da Polpo - hooray).  Anyway in the interests of actually getting something done in November, I wanted to give a shout out to a really cool new cafe in New Row, just off St Martin's Lane.  Usually when I am in this locale, my coffee-needs take me straight to Notes (which I love with a deep passion) however there is now a rival - New Row Coffee is only weeks old and is super cute.  Lovely staff (who were really keen to get my views on the flat white they made me - which BTW was great), some really yummy looking food - with a heavy focus of mini sandwiches, meaning you can try lots of different ones - and a really lovely space.  New Row is a funky little street - we actually bought our Rancilio Silvia espresso machine at Drury Lane Coffee over the road from New Row and they are a good source of coffee making paraphernalia.  These guys are using Union beans and the coffee was super tasty.  So make sure you go and check out New Row - I really liked everything about this place and I'm sure you will too.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Notes - Wellington St WC2

So the Twitter buzz was true and the wonderful Notes Music & Coffee has cloned itself - hooray!  Diving deeper into theatre-land from their original St Martins Lane location they have opened a lovely dual level shop on Wellington St, just near the Strand.  As well as the mighty fine coffee they are known for, this is a great place to have an evening glass of wine and plate of charcuterie (you can see some delicious meat being sliced in the snap).   The DVDs and CDs are downstairs and the whole place has a really chilled out vibe (does that make me sound like a hippy?).  Anyway - love these guys, love the fact they have opened a new gaff - all power to the mighty Notes.

Honest Burgers - Brixton Village Mkt SW9

I have written before about the wonderful Brixton Village Market but had not yet sampled the fare from Honest Burgers - which, given what burger junkies the other half and I are, is kinda surprising.  I had actually wanted to go there on my birthday London fiesta but after Broadway Market, Shoreditch, Knightsbridge and Soho we ran out of steam - so we rectified that on the weekend and popped in before going to the Ritzy.  Oh man, this was a goooooood burger - the reviews have been positive and the provenance of their meat is top notch (Ginger Pig) but it was even better than expected.  We went for the plain beef version and the coarse, perfectly seasoned patty sandwiched between exactly the right type of burger bun (so often this lets a burger down - but not here) was delicious (to give you an idea of how good this was, as I write this I am drooling like Homer Simpson - why oh why aren't Honest Burger open on Monday nights).  Triple cooked rustic fries are the perfect accompaniment - just get down there and try for yourself.  Oh yeah - I should add, great location, cool shopfront, great service, great vibe in the market itself - it's all good folks, what are you waiting for?!

Honest Burgers on Urbanspoon

Friday, 21 October 2011

StArt Coffee - Columbia Rd E2

An appendage to StArt Space, a gallery in Columbia Road, StArt Coffee is probably the smallest coffee bar I have encountered.  We visited at the end of a heavily caffeinated day - Hurwundeki, CapheVn, Prufrock - but still managed to sample the wares and they were pretty good.  As you can see our friend Rob was pretty happy with the whole experience.  Columbia Road is lovely on a Saturday - no crowds, quite peaceful - obviously no flowers but still lots of the shops are open and you can browse without the rubber-neck crowds.  I love the walk from Broadway Market through Columbia Road, over Shoreditch High St, through Arnold Circus to Redchurch Street and it's a caffeine wonderland.  I would happily do it every weekend.

Hurwundeki - Cambridge Heath Rd E2

I wish it wasn't so far to go for me to hang out in Broadway Market but it is, so I seem to only get here every couple of months.  Anyway, this post wasn't meant to be a whinge, it is to tell you about a really quirky and cool cafe that makes a fun pit-stop if you get weary in between Bethnal Green tube and Broadway market (or just can't wait another second for caffeine and food - which was the case with me and the other half on the weekend).  As you wander up Cambridge Heath Road/Mare Street (which is it at that point I wonder?)  you come across Hurwundeki.  At first glance this place looks like a tyre shop but on closer inspection, the mismatched tables and chairs and garden ornaments out the front indicate that there is something else going on.  We had a lovely flat white and a delicious egg muffin - perfect fare to fortify us for the remainder of the hipster trail.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Speakeasy - Lowndes Court W1

Alerted by Twitter (the word "free coffee" always get my attention) and by a friend on Facebook (I am so new media) I trundled along at lunch time to check out Speakeasy, a very cool new "Espresso and Brew Bar" just off Carnaby St.  A sister cafe to the wonderful Department of Coffee & Social Affairs  (with the same friendly Kiwi in attendance), this place not only has a cool name but makes great coffee and serves a damn fine plum cake (amongst other delicious looking food).  The coffee, for some reason, was free today, maybe because it was Day 3.  Whatever the reason I was happy to drink a top notch flattie that also happened to be free - I did feel slightly guilty though so I forced myself to buy the aforementioned plum cake.  There were several other people snapping photos when I went in - making me wonder if  they were fellow coffee bloggers (I felt like the poor relation taking photos on my crappy Blackberry).  Anyway, this place is really great and is in close proximity to the cool enclave of Newburgh and Marshall Streets so check it out (even if you have to pay for your coffee).

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Staple Inn - WC1

Anyone who has been to the Chancery Lane/Holborn area will have seen these amazing Tudor relics - stuck in the middle of busy High Holborn, Staple Inn dates from 1585 and escaped the great fire of 1666, but got badly damaged in a WWII air raid.  Over the centuries there have been various additions and repairs but what you see is still a largely intact Tudor building, which is so cool.  Behind it, as behind so many of the busy streets in this area, are some of the wonderful Inns of Court (more blogging on that to come). So take a moment in your busy day to stand on the traffic island in the middle of the road and admire this truly amazing structure.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Bea's - One New Change EC4

I was in the vicinity of St Paul's today so decided to check out the new(ish) One New Change shopping centre and my main reaction...meh.  I am not a fan of these mall-type shopping centres and particularly next to the magnificence of St Paul's Cathedral.  Anyway - I'm sure it's lovely for the people who work there to have some concentrated retail therapy to occupy their lunch breaks.  Anyway, the best thing by far about this development is that there is a Bea's there (is it still Bea's of Bloomsbury if it's not in Bloomsbury?)  I am a HUGE fan of the original Bea's in Theobolds Road WC1 and so as far as I'm concerned the more Bea's (and also bees) there are in the world the better.  In fact Bea - how about SW18?  Hmmm?  As much as all the food at Bea's looks delicious I can never go past their version of the red velvet cupcake - not as sickly sweet as Hummingbird and the like, these babies are cup cake perfection and the Square Mile flat white I had with it was spot on.  I sat staring out at a corner of St Paul's and decided that whilst One New Change was pretty naff, the fact it's provided a new home for Bea's makes it a winner in my book.

Bea's of Bloomsbury on Urbanspoon

If you miss Brewed Boy...

..then head to Battersea

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

NEWSFLASH! New Notes Music & Coffee - Wellington St WC2

Exciting news - Notes Music & Coffee announced on Twitter today that they are opening a new venue in late September in Wellington St.  Hurrah!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Maltby St SE1 - Part 2

I have written about the foodie enclave that is Maltby St and its surrounds in Bermondsey before but that was almost 9 months ago, just before Christmas and things have got even better.  Due to the growing visitor numbers and some weird goings on at Borough Market the number of producers selling their wares has increased.
This Saturday, on what felt like the last day of Summer, we had a very chilled and delicious wander around Maltby St, Druid St, Stanworth St and a little further afield to Voyager Railway Arches to visit the wonderful Kappacasein.  Any of you who have been to Borough in the past will have seen their amazing cheese sandwiches being made and for now this new location is the only place where you can find them, as well as their ever popular raclettes (although they tell me they should be back at Borough very soon - while still keeping the Voyager Arches location).  The plan is to also use this new space to make cheese and there was some construction going on out the back to do just that.  It was so nice to eat one of their toasted cheese sandwiches (which are totally up there in my sandwich hall of fame) in such chilled surroundings - it was always a little hectic around their Borough stall.  Of course once you've done savoury you need sweet (we alternated several times during the day...) so we headed a couple of arches up to chat to the friendly fella at the Ice Cream Union  - who was super generous with samples (gotta love that) and up for a chat.  The ice cream is fantastic too.  Back on Stanworth St at
 No.55 there are several great producers in one space - Fern Verrow's organic veg looked amazing (I was eyeing up some golden beets that were particularly beautiful) and the Borough Cheese Company was very tempting (there is certainly no shortage of cheese in the Maltby St area - Neal's Yard Dairy is also there plus Mons and others.  At No.55 it was Coleman Coffee Roasters that caught my attention though - these guys are a small batch coffee roastery in south-east London and as well as selling beans (which we used this morning at home and were delicious) they were serving top notch piccolos.  So all in all it was a lovely day - if you haven't checked out the Maltby St area make sure you do and soon - we started the day with a flat white at Monmouth, got a sugar rush from one of St John's custard donuts and then powered around the arches.  The day finished in the wonderful Tower Bridge Antiques, which is right there also.  I love this area - with Borough Market itself and the wonderful Bermondsey St a short walk away, this is fast becoming one of my favourite parts of London.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Capel Bedyddwyr Cymreig - Eastcastle St W1

I really hope I got the Welsh name of this building correct in the post title - I have a sneaking suspicion I may have slipped an extra "d" or "y" in there somewhere.  Anyway I wanted to give this really unusual and cool building in Fitzrovia its proper name.  Otherwise I would have called it the Welsh Chapel, which is what it is.  Built in 1889 this ornate fronted building has always intrigued me although I have never managed to see inside.  Stuck in the middle of media and fashion land it seems a little out of place, like an architectural wedding cake.  I think that's part of the reason I love it and of course it's in Fitzrovia which is also a bonus.  Check it out - a little gem just behind Oxford Street.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

CaPhe VN - Clerkenwell Rd EC1

I have written before about how much I love CaPhe VN's Saigon street cafe in Broadway Market in Hackney and I was super excited to hear about their latest opening in Clerkenwell.  I am still holding out hope that these guys will open an outlet in Soho or Fitzrovia but at least Clerkenwell is closer to my workplace then E8.  This area of Clerkenwell is so cool - the Zetter, the Zetter Townhouse, The Modern Pantry, St Ali, St John St around the corner - foodies are spoilt for choice and CaPhe VN is a welcome addition.  I love the fact that CaPhe VN have kept the street cafe vibe by having beach chairs out the front of their Clerkenwell store - there is such a friendly vibe with these guys and that combined with delicious bahn-mi is a winning combination.  Predictable as I am , I once again opted for the classic pork bahn-mi and it was as excellent as always.  Given the slight Autumn chill in the air I did opt to have my Vietnamese coffee hot rather than cold today - I prefer it chilled but the hot, strong, sweet coffee and condensed milk combo was a winner also.  If you haven't yet sampled the delights of bahn-mi then there is no better place to start than Caphe VN - although I warn you, one visit and you'll be hooked like me!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Everyman Cinema - Hampstead NW3

I do love me an art-house cinema - whether it's The Electric, The Ritzy, the Curzon Soho or Mayfair, the Renoir or the Barbican, I am always happy with a sub-titled film, some organic chocolate coated raisins and a glass of wine in an in-house bar afterwards.  One I had not been to and had been wanting to for ages was the Everyman in Hampstead.  I finally got there on the weekend - to see a rather charming Italian film about an older guy who feels like he has lost his mojo (I also like to see films I can relate to).  As well as loving the film I loved the Everyman - the location is tops of course (I get such suburb envy in Hampstead) but everything from the friendly staff, the cool little bar, to the velvet sofas in the cinema were just spot on.  I plan to visit again soon and if you haven't so should you - this place is a total gem.

Mayfair Ramblings - W1

I had a really annoying meeting at work last week and I needed to get out of the office and walk off my frustration - I didn't have any particular destination in mind but soon I found myself crossing Regent Street and heading for Berkeley Square.  As soon as I walked into this most graceful of West End squares I felt immediately better and decided to work out where I was actually heading.  As it was lunch time and food is important to me (as you may have gathered) I decided to venture deeper into Mayfair and check out the Mount St Deli, which I had read about on Beanhunter as somewhere that did good coffee.  I got slightly lost but ended up on Mount Street near The Audley pub (know to the post Ivor Novello Award revellers as the "DisAudley" - if you've been on that particular day you'll know what I'm talking about).  Mount Street is Mayfair at it's most pristine and perfect - as well as the aforementioned pub there are some very high end antique shops, the wonderful Scott's restaurant and up a little on the right, the Mount St Deli.  I do love a cafe with a grocery section and the Mount Street deli had all manner of deliciousness on display.  I ordered a flat white and a quesadilla with taleggio and grilled peppers - the coffee was good (not outstanding but pretty decent) but the quesadilla was amazing.  I admit I was ravenous but seriously this thing was all melted-cheesy deliciousness.  I will be back just for that (and maybe save the coffee fix for Taylor St nearby).  After lunch I strolled into the lovely and serene Mount Street Gardens - if you have never visited
this little oasis you must.  Whenever I'm here I always feel like I should be meeting with someone from M15 and slipping them a brown folder with photos of the Russian embassy inside, but maybe that's just me.  I suppose it's because it feels quite old fashioned and "old London" (which lots of Mayfair still does - at least those bits not over-run with silly banker/oligarch money).  To cap off my stress-busting sojourn I went and had a look inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Farm Street - which is just lovely.  I had first come across a reference to this church in one of my favourite books, "Brideshead Revisited".  The
conflicted Julia Flyte, struggling with a Catholic upbringing and an American lover (divorced no less) "took her problem to Farm St" which I eventually worked out must be referring to a church, which it was and it's this one.  If all this church-going is too much for you you could instead visit the Punch Bowl also on Farm St - a cute little pub made famous by having Madonna's ex as one of its co-owners.  All in all I had a very pleasant hour or so and I got back to my desk refreshed and ready for the afternoon.  Mayfair therapy I call it.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

T J Boulting Building - Riding House St W1W

I may have mentioned before how much I love Fitzrovia... but just in case you missed it, I LOVE Fitzrovia, in fact I love a whole swathe of London that stretches from Fitzrovia east through Bloomsbury and Holborn to Clerkenwell and Farringdon.  I have lots of love for lots of bits of London but it is these parts that have really captured my heart.  I long for a big Georgian house near Fitzroy Square, or perhaps within walking distance of Lambs Conduit Street.  I just love the tranquility you get walking around the streets of Fitzrovia, compared to what you would experience a few hundred metres away in Oxford Street or Tottenham Court Road.  As well as some great pubs, excellent cafes (think Kaffeine, Tapped & Packed, Lantana...) there are some lovely buildings and one of my favourites is the old T J Boulting building on the corner of Riding House Street and Nassau Street. Whilst the plaque dates the company (who were gas & electrical engineers and in later years made stoves and range cookers) to 1808 the building is actually from around 100 years later and has fantastic mosaic lettering on the corners and sides.  When I walked past the other day there was construction going on inside - I really hope whoever is moving in here and refurbishing it is sensitive to what a gem this is.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Flat Cap Fleet St - EC4

The wonderfully located caffeine experts Coffee by the Clock have had a name change - they are now called Flat Cap Fleet St to link them more closely with their progenitor (who knew I would ever use the word "progenitor" in my blog...) Flat Cap Coffee in Strutton Ground SW1.  These guys know what they're about when it comes to coffee and whether it's at one of these cool coffee carts or the lovely lovely Notes Music & Coffee you will get great service along with your primo flat white.  Keep breeding Flat Cap, we need more of your coffee carts.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Lina Stores - Brewer St W1

There are some great Italian delis scattered around London but the best, in my humble opinion, is Lina Stores on Brewer St in Soho.  Looking mighty fine after a 2010 refurb - the green tiling and old fashioned typography are spot on.  I love just staring at the produce on display in the window but it's hard to resist going inside and I always end up coming out with something that I didn't realise I needed.  Yesterday it was some top quality tuna in olive oil and a can of chopped tomatoes (I'm a sucker for Italian canned tomatoes - I usually go by how cool the can is, kinda silly I know...)  There is so much deliciousness on offer in this wonderful shop - fresh (daily) pasta, amazing meats and cheeses, olives, canned goods, fresh herbs, basically every Italian staple you could ever want.  This place has been in business for over 50 years (with a location change at one point I believe) and really has the feel of a family run store, with owners and staff who have lots of passion and commitment for what they do.  I absolutely love this deli - long may it thrive.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Berwick Street Market - Soho W1

Over the 12 years I have lived in London I have watched the gradual gentrification of the southern end of Berwick Street.  [As a contrast, the northern end of Berwick Street, which used to be heaving with record shops makes me sad - the decline of the music industry can be seen right here in these few Soho blocks.  Anyway, we will leave that part of the street (immortalised by Oasis on the cover of "What's the Story Morning Glory") and focus on the narrower, market-end.]  Given its proximity to "Porn Alley" (otherwise known as Walker's Court) this part of Berwick Street always had that same whiff (literally sometimes) of seediness, with several dodgy looking doorways with hand-written signs or neon lights in upper windows promising a "Model".  There was the herbal-high/smoke shop and the vegetarian food shop (Beatroot) which I would patronise on my health-kick days, plus there were fabric shops and a pretty dodgy pub.  All in all Berwick Street felt a bit sketchy and I looked on it more as a shortcut through to further Soho adventures (back in those days it was probably too many vodka tonics and the rest at the Alphabet Bar...).  Then things started changing - the dodgy pub, The Endurance, got a face-lift, the pioneering and incredibly welcome Flat White opened in 2005 plus the street market, which although it had great heritage (a market having been in situ since the 18th century) had always been a bit rag-tag, started to get a bit more interesting.  Over the last couple of years the dodgy, porny-bit of the street has seen the construction of new retail space (ousting the "models") with these new shops housing Foxcroft & Ginger (whose ham and cheese French toast with maple syrup is one of my favourite heart-threatening breakfasts) and (I noticed yesterday) the super cool graphic-novel shop Gosh. On top of the improvement in the retail/food/drinking establishments lining the street, I love the fact that there is an outdoor street market bang in the middle of Soho that operates daily and has some really great stalls on top of the fruit and veg staples.  My personal favourite (pictured) is the bread/cake stall (surprise, surprise) - usually situated just near Flat White, these guys sell amazing bread, including a fruit loaf that has whole dried apricots studded through it and is basically the perfect weekend breakfast fare.  They also do great filled bagels and most importantly amazing cakes - this is not the place to visit if you on the Atkins diet.  I heard a rumour that the wonderful Gelupo has set up a stall in the Berwick St market - how cool is that?  Of course if you are in the mood for posh (and delicious) dim sum you can visit perennial favourite Yauatcha, another sign of the improving fortunes of Berwick Street when it opened in 2004.  So if you haven't visited Berwick Street or perhaps you haven't been there for a while, make sure you check it out - in my book this is one of the coolest streets in Soho.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Farewell Brewed Boy Coffee Cart

Sad news started filtering around the coffee loving folk of Soho over the last couple of weeks.  Brewed Boy was packing up his cart and moving on - no more would we see his smiling face framed by the giant muscle-men on the side of the Prowler store, there would be no more witty banter as we waited for our delicious and expertly poured flat whites, no more would we be entertained by his stories of battling Soho drunks, junkies and local cafe-owners.  The Brewed Boy cart basically brought lots of pleasure to lots of people and it's absence leaves Rupert St feeling a little depleted....but it's not all gloomy for these two important reasons:

  1. There are still other fantastic coffee carts out there - Indie Coffee, Coffee by the Clock, Weanie Beans and Flat Cap to name four outstanding examples to satisfy your al fresco caffeine habit.
  2. Brewed Boy is still around - he is part of the team at Ben's Canteen (see below) - which is super exciting in itself but even more exciting for people like me who live in SW London. 

Bubbleology - Rupert St W1

 I am a big fan of bubble tea.  In fact I have written before about Jen Cafe in Chinatown - there is something so cool about wandering around in Summer sipping a sweet iced tea, with rubbery tapioca balls floating in it, through a giant straw (stay with me people).  So it's no surprise really that bubble tea has gone mainstream and there is now a branded chain store specialising in bubble tea - Bubbleology.  There is a concession in Harvey Niks and also a cute store in Rupert St in Soho (just near where Brewed Boy used to be...sniff).  I visited the Rupert St shop today and had a delicious passion fruit tea with tapioca balls and extra flavoured lemon jelly slivers.  Sounds weird right?  It was - but in a good way.  I love bubble tea - I still have a fondness for the old-school Jen Cafe version but I must admit the glitzy, colourful Bubbleology store is pretty cool and the version I had there today was delicious.  My tip - try them both out.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Ben's Canteen - St John's Hill SW11

I was very excited to hear that a new cafe, Ben's Canteen was opening in my 'hood that was about good food and importantly good coffee (the fact that Brewed Boy was involved augured well).  We finally got there today and it was good - to be honest I would say there is great potential with some kinks to iron out (more on that below).  St John's Hill is a funny strip - really well placed and attractive but there has never been any (in my humble opinion) knock out food and drink places.  There's a cute French deli, a posh fish 'n chips place and others - there actually used to be a place called Louvaines that I liked but that went under.  The cafe that was in the Ben's Canteen location before was OK but kinda bland.  Ben's looks good - I like the blue and white and the casual, stripped back wooden vibe inside.  This has all the makings of a great brunch place and this corner of SW London really needs that.  The other half and I had two pretty decent flat whites (important to note that BB was not in situ when we went so they weren't to his usual standard), I had a tasty full English and the other half had a sausage and egg sanga.  The quality of the produce in my fry-up seemed really good - yummy bacon, great mushrooms, nice dark-yellow yolked eggs.  The only short-coming was the bread - I saw some great sourdough going out on a sandwich but my breakfast had nice but generic white sliced - good bread can change a good full English to a great one.  OK - so these guys are only in week two and I know they are finding their feet but I am going to play the know-it-all customer and give them some tips because I really want this place to succeed and thrive and I want to have lots more breakfasts there.  So here we go - London Rob's tips for making your pretty cool cafe truly great:

  • when people walk in, particularly when it's super quiet, make sure they have glasses of water delivered to them ASAP
  • make sure your waiting staff are on the ball - the waitress who brought us our menus took our coffee order and then promptly forgot it and never came back to apologise.  Having said that the other waitress was super nice and really efficient.
  • make sure the vibe is up beat (although not intrusive) - enthusiasm is infectious
  • as above, good bread with the fry-up is a must
  • make sure you check if people want more coffee when you pick up their cups - on the weekend most people will take you up on it
Anyway enough preaching - if you live in the St John's Hill area, this is a great addition to your neighbourhood.  Make sure you support these guys - we need more places like this in London.

Ben's Canteen on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 August 2011

Taylor St Baristas - Mayfair W1

Tucked away behind Claridges, in Brooks Mews (also home to the amazing French restaurant - La Petite Maison which make the best creme brulee in London, but that's a story for another day....) is another outpost of the top quality Taylor St Baristas  gang.  Using Union beans, these guys brew a mighty fine flat white and the one I had today was the best coffee I've had in a while.  In addition I had the most delicious chicken (actually it could have been turkey, which would be more logical...), cranberry & brie toasted sandwich - perfection.  The cafe itself is really cool - for those of you used to Taylor St's hole in the wall incarnation near Liverpool St this is a totally different story - lots of space to sit, a stripped back, almost rustic kinda vibe and all in all very chilled.  Funny that within walking distance is all the glitz and glamour of Bond St, totally in contrast to the lo-fi brilliance of TSB.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Leeds - Laynes Espresso

For coffee lovers living in or visiting Leeds...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

NEW Tapped & Packed - TCR W1

Tapped & Packed in Rathbone Place has been like my mistress.  Let me explain - I was married to Milk Bar and I was very much in love, sure I cheated now and again but I always came back to my main love and I never wanted to stray far or for long.  Then a sexy newcomer entered my life, just that little bit closer to where I worked and I found myself spending more time with them and then one week I realised I hadn't been to Milk Bar at all that week.  After the flood of guilt, the recriminations, the soul searching I decided that that's life - sometimes you meet someone and it is for ever, other times you have an intense, wonderful year or two and then you realise that actually you are better off as friends - catching up with them now and again, always pleased to see them, a touch of poignancy about those heady days when you were lovers...  OK now I've got that off my chest, back to Tapped & Packed, that saucy minx who won my heart.  The combination of excellent coffee, great staff, cool premises and delicious food makes the original Tapped & Packed a winner so hooray that they have decided to replicate this formula at the unlovely end of Tottenham Court Road.  With a great corner location and a more spacious feel than the original, this Tapped & Packed is sure to be a winner - my coffee was totally up to Rathbone Place standards and the same excellent food selection is avaiable.  There was even a face from the mother-ship there to make it all feel very familiar.  So lucky you if you  work around Warren St - you just got a new hang-out.

Smithfield Market - EC1

Hearing visitors to London say that they want to visit all the markets - Spitalfields, Columbia Road, Portobello, Smithfield.  I always wonder if they realise that Smithfield Market is not full of chi-chi clothing stalls or organic chocolate brownies - but is rather a working wholesale meat market.  Hopefully when they get there though, they end up loving this area as much as I do.  Whilst the current market building is a magnificent Victorian structure, its stands on a site that has seen the meat trade being plied for over 800 years.  In the days when London was a walled city, Smithfield lay just outside the city wall on the banks of the River Fleet and as such was perfect grazing land for livestock gathered for sale.  Also used as site for public gatherings and more gruesomely executions (Smithfield saw the demise of William Wallace - and the less you think about how he died the better...ouch) the area around the market is so dense with London history it's almost palpable.  As well as the heritage of this place and the wonderful architecture (market buildings and associated structures included) it is also home to one of my favourite caffeine-refuelling stations, Dose Espresso (now in larger premises), plus great restaurants and of course a short walk to the wonderful Barbican Centre.  I had a brief and fairly uninspiring stint at a new media agency nearby and I used to tube it to Farringdon and walk through Smithfield every morning when the traders were sluicing out the blood from their stalls - quite a way to start a working day (and to be honest probably the high point).  I have always loved Farringdon and Clerkenwell and the area is getting better by the day - particularly around the junction of St John St and Clerkenwell Road (I give you the Modern Pantry, St Ali and the Zetter Townhouse to name but three must-visit spots).  For those of you of the clubby persuasion in the early 2000's (and beyond) you will have seen this area at all hours whilst stumbling in or out of Fabric (I may have thrown a shape or two there myself...).  I always loved the proximity of this establishment to the meat market - maybe it was because it gave it a 1980's New York vibe.  As always in a big city, some of the wonderful market buildings have been threatened with demolition by *gnashes teeth* property developers, especially given the proximity to the ever encroaching City, but fingers crossed it looks like the threat has been averted - except for the demolition of some buildings in the cause of f*cking Crossrail (go here for further rants).  Anyway - if you haven't been to Smithfield or Farringdon, do yourself a favour and head there this weekend, take the time to wander around the beautiful main market building, make sure you check out the church of St Batholomew the Great (which has existed here in some form since the 12th century) and just take a moment to think of all that has gone on in this particular pocket of this amazing city.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Pitt Cue Co - Southbank SE1

Have I mentioned before how much I love Southbank?  I did?  Well I'll say it again - I  LOVE Southbank and last Sunday was one of those prefect Southbank days.  I had been wanting to try out the Pitt Cue Co. BBQ truck under Hungerford Bridge for ages and in fact I had gone down there last week but was too early so this was my second mission (the first time the ever generous Pitt Cue crew gave me a couple of pieces of tasty brisket and some confit onions from their "crew lunch" to keep me happy - how cool is that?).  I couldn't believe it when the other half and I got there at 1pm a couple of  Sunday's ago and the guys at Pitt Cue told me they had been caught in a traffic jam on the way to set up so were running late - I felt like the fates were trying to stop me sampling that BBQ loveliness.  Luckily the guys from Milk & Honey had set up a cocktail stall next door (the cocktails were actually raising money for Pitt Cue to buy a new smoker) so we sampled some mighty fine gin based beverages while we waited for Pitt Cue to get going.  We got a little squiffy on the delicious cocktails and just in time Pitt Cue began serving their amazing BBQ goodness - the pulled pork is their signature dish and it comes with black beans, homemade crunchy coleslaw and the aforementioned confit onions.  This is seriously good food - in fact it's groan out loud good (although that could have been the cocktails talking).  Trust me on this - if you are in the vicinity of Waterloo, just GO!

Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

Monday, 11 July 2011

CaPheVn - Broadway Market E8

Ah bahn-mi, how I love thee.  Something about the crispy baguette, the crunchy herbs, the savoury pate and meat just makes the perfect sandwich.  My favourite place to get them to date had been City Caphe near Bank tube (if you haven't been there - go, it rocks) but now I have an equal favourite, the lovely CaPheVn stall at Broadway Market.  I love Broadway Market - any food and/or coffee lover has to love Broadway Market - but I had never tried the bahn-mi from CaPheVn.  The first thing you notice is what a cool stall this is - with outdoor deck chairs and umbrellas galore, this is a place that feels so welcoming and the people on duty at the stall back this up.  I felt good just being there but boy did I feel better once I took the first bite of my classic signature bahn-mi (take a look at the little beauty below).  The secret is definitely the baguette (which is one of the reasons why, despite visiting I have not blogged about either Keu in Old St or Bahn Mi Bay in Theobold's Road - although I plan to give them both a second chance) but I think part of the reason that City Caphe and CaPheVn's bahn-mi are so good is that they are lovingly put together.  Nothing compliments a bahn-mi better than a sweet Vietnamese coffee, made with strong black coffee and sweet condensed milk - this time I had it poured over ice and it was sen-fucking-sational!  I still hold out hope that someone will open a bahn-mi shop in Soho - for a while we had Viet Baguette but then that closed and never re-opened.  C'mon City Caphe and CaPheVn - pool your resources and open a bahn-mi shop in W1 - I promise I'll visit at least 3 times a week.

Mouse & De Lotz - E8

I had been wanting to check out Mouse & de Lotz for a while but as it's in the wilds of Hackney, I always felt it required planning, which lately I can't seem to manage.  Luckily it turns out that it's actually right across the road from my good friend Doug's place so I could combine a visit to him with a caffeinated beverage from M & DL.  And as for the "wilds of Hackney" bit - well I also discovered that the under-rated London Overground trains go directly from Clapham Junction (in my neck of the woods) to Dalston Kingsland.  Admittedly on a Saturday these trains only go every 45 minutes so you need to plan a bit - which obviously meant that I missed the train I needed but even so, it was super easy to get there via SW Trains, the Victoria Line and the last bit of the London Overground from Highbury & Islington to Dalston Kingsland.  Anyway - at the risk of becoming a London transport bore, back to Mouse & De Lotz.  Super cute, this place would be a winner for any neighbourhood, but of course it's the hipster East Londoners who get it (don't you have enough people - we need more of this stuff in SW London...).  The flat white was spot on, the fruit loaf was super tasty and sitting outside with Doug (you can spot him in the picture) I was very content.  So if you live around here or indeed if, like me, you have discovered speedy routes from your part of London to Hipster Central then make sure you check out this great little cafe serving really good coffee.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Dose - the new digs, Long Lane EC1

I have written about Dose before, in fact it was one of my early blog posts and I have not managed to get back there nearly as much as I would have liked.  The fact they have upgraded to larger premises next door to their old site was a good excuse to visit again, so I Boris-biked there with my friend Andy to check out the new look Dose.  One of the things I really love about them is that they serve a "Gibraltar" which is like a pint sized latte - even though the picture to the right looks like a full size glass, this is actually a cute mini-version and was about 6cm high.  Not sure I get the difference between a Gibraltar, a Piccolo, a Cortado and a Stumpy, but I like them all and given the amount of coffee I drink it's nice to cut down on the milk.  We also partook of Dose's delicious food selection - a toasted haloumi, avocado and bacon ciabatta-thing was super tasty.  We also shared a "fully loaded Blondie" which was nice enough but to be honest it tasted a bit too healthy for my liking - I prefer the chewy, dense, definitely not-healthy Lantana blondie (SO good).  Anyway - nice to see that Dose is thriving and expanding - it is a really great cafe serving top notch coffee (using Square Mile beans) and decent nosh.  I love the Smithfields area (and will be blogging more about some of my favourite bits over the coming weeks) and having Dose there makes me love it even more.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Cay Tre - Dean St W1

I finally got to Cay Tre last week for lunch and came out of there a very happy man.  I also stank of garlic for the next 3 days, but it was worth it I tell you (the other half may not agree...)  Although I have not been to the original restaurant in Kingsland Road, I had read glowing reports from Greedy Diva so I knew I was in a for a treat.  I can't remember what was on this site before but the fit out is lovely and my colleagues and I were greeted with lots of smiles when we came in.  We shared starters and they were an indication of the deliciousness to come.  Fresh, herby, wonderful summer rolls were stuffed with juicy prawns and were a delight.  The Cha La Lot was probably my favourite dish of the day - spicy ground pork wrapped in wild betel leaves with roasted peanuts and nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce).  These little parcels of joy were so moreish, I could have finished off the whole plate myself (and definitely took more than my share).  Choosing a main was tricky but I think I hit on a winner - I went the Bun Sa vermicelli bowl - wonderful noodles with herbs and Vietnamese salad, flavoured with nuoc cham and chock full of juicy wild red sea prawns.  This was a bowl of pure happiness and I slurped, munched and generally chowed my way through it in record time.  I can't wait to go back to Cay Tre and work my way through the menu - I just wish they did a bahn-mi take away service, then my happiness would know no bounds!

Cay Tre Soho on Urbanspoon