Monday, 31 August 2009

Canteen - Southbank

I think the first Canteen opened at the re-vamped Spitalfields market (more about that in another post). This branch is behind Royal Festival Hall and is slap bang in the middle of some of the most fantastic modernist architecture in London. Opinions are divided, but I think all the concrete and clean lines are brilliant and with all the great stuff that is now going on at the Southbank complex, including great places to eat and drink, I defy anyone to say this precint doesn't rock. I have lots of places I like to go around here - Concrete at the Hayward Gallery, the bar at the NFI, the funky Southbank Centre shop on Festival Terrace, Foyles bookshop...but one place I seem to be returning to regularly is Canteen. In the last few weeks I have been there for breakfast, lunch, dinner and post drinking snack and I have to say it is at the first and last of these that Canteen excels. The look of the place (sort of wood veneer Danish meets public library reading room) suits breakfast, the coffee is pretty good and the bacon, fried eggs and bubble & squeak hits the spot. For the post booze carb fest they are spot on - sandwiches with fish fingers and tartar sauce or sausage and onion marmalade are the stand outs. Lunch and dinner are OK but not brilliant - fish and chips, gammon and coleslaw, roast chicken, steak and chips, you get the picture - simple comfort food dishes done well but feeling a bit production line. However I am prepared to forgive Canteen a lot because I just like the place and I would love there to be more places like this. So if you happen to be on an early morning sight-see on the Southbank or you have been to the NFI or the National Theatre or boozing at the popular Brazilian bar and you fancy something to soak up the beers then I can highly recommend the sausage sandwich.

Canteen on Urbanspoon

Friday, 28 August 2009

Denmark Street W1

Known as London's tin-pan alley, Denmark St in Soho is probably not as buzzy as it was in it's heyday in the 50s and 60s but it still has a certain charm. Some of the music shops have been unchanged for decades and if you are musically inclined or you dream of getting your hands on a top of the range Fender or Gibson then the street's attractions are obvious. Not being so inclined, it is the more subtle charms that have wooed me. I like the way the pace changes when you turn into Denmark St, it's a more relaxed vibe although at the same time it carries with it the possibility of early afternoon beers with whisky chasers and smoking too many cigarettes. Recently it has also become home to one of my favourite London restauarants - the Giaconda Dining Room - a hole in the wall place that serves amazing food with a killer wine list to boot.

Being in Denmark St makes me wish I'd been in a band and makes me think of the 50s and how cool it would have been to listen to skiffle in a Soho coffee bar. With the huge Crossrail project dominating the TCR/Oxford Street intersection round the corner and the looming Central St Giles development at the other end of the street, Denmark Street is beginning to feel a bit hemmed in, but hopefully not much will change on the street itself. I'm sure in 10 years time there will still be kids in skinny jeans staring through the shop windows at guitars they can't afford and grizzled rockers sitting outside drinking pints. I really hope Giaconda is still there too.

Wild & Wood - New Oxford St W1

 There is this small stretch of New Oxford Street, where it veers off from the main (and not very attarctive) part, that I am really fond of. There is a great wine shop called Planet of the Grapes and there is some cool art deco architecture. But it is a bit out of the way - so I'm not sure how long Wild & Wood had been open before I found it, but given how close it is to where I work I was delighted to discover it. Bucking the trend, there does not appear to be any Antipodean connection - no Kiwi barista giving you your "flet white", no Aussie fresh off the boat from Melbourne determined to bring a little slice of Fitzroy to London. What there is however is friendly, efficient staff, great coffee, a really good vibe and some really yummy food. I had a sort of bacon and cheese pie thing for breakfast the other day and whilst it didn't feel like the healthiest breakfast in the world it was majorly tasty and went well with the strong flat white I got with it. Their coffee preparation and in particular their milk pouring has improved so that now they can produce artforms like this little beauty...

They have the whole church pew, wooden panelling thing going on and it works - although some of the seats are a bit uncomfortable so I am more of a take out guy with this place. I really hope these guys are doing well and that they stick around because W&W is a welcome addition to the London coffee scene. They only charge £1.90 for their flat whites and I always feel kinda guilty because I worry that they are not making enough money so I usually just give them two quid! Last of the big tippers...

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Bedford Square WC1

I have always liked Bedford Square - I think it may even be my favourite London square (as sad as it sounds I do have a constantly evolving Top 3 favourite London squares ranking in my head at all times...) I love the Georgian uniformity of the buildings, I love the lush green garden (that I have never been in and I think is locked to the general public - boo) and I love the fact that there have been some crazy art installations there. Currently there is something that looks like a giant wooden peanut (or something more scatalogical for those with dirty minds). I also like Bloomsbury in general and so I think I like Bedford Square even more because of where it is. If I had lots of cash I would buy a house here. So there you go - a post about a square, I thought it was worth mentioning... check it out, you might come to like it as much as I do.

Milk Bar - Soho W1

I had a good feeling about this place when it opened - from the same stable as Flat White, the name reminded me of my Aussie childhood (trips to the milk bar to buy Crunchie bars and underage ciggies) and it looked cool from the outside. I was not disappointed. In fact I love this place - I love the fact you can always get a seat, I love the vibe, I love the staff (but like I've said before - not in a creepy way) and most importantly the coffee ROCKS. My vote for London's primo flat white experience - looks great, tastes great, is great. They also do great food. I had a brief love affair with their bircher muesli, which was amazing - I didn't fall out of love with it, I stopped having it because I liked the way one of the guys prepared it and when he left whoever else made it did it differently, even though I'm sure it tasted the same - proves to me that presentation is half the battle with food. The dish I have consistently loved, no matter who prepares it, is the tuna and green bean salad. I have been trying to get healthy this year and avoid eating so much bread so I chose this first as a "healthy option" but since then I keep going back for more because it's so darn tasty. The main thing I go here for of course is the coffee - the flat whites in particular. Look at this baby...

I always take a moment before diving in to one of their flat whites to appreciate the beauty of the fern leaf and then I destroy it with my spoon, swirling the creamy milk around and separating it from the edges of the cup, mixing it in to the coffee. I know this is beginning to sound like coffee porn, but with this place drinking a flat white is right up there on a par with good sex (well, almost). I think maybe it's also because I often come here when I am a bit stressed, needing to get away from the desk for a bit, so it always feels like a relief when I take that first sip. I suppose what I'm saying is that going to Milk Bar is an all round good experience for me - I just hope it stays exactly how it is, because it's perfect.

Milk Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The First Real Post

So after having thought about it for a while I finally got around to starting my London blog, that is initially coffee focussed (a subject dear to my heart) but may veer into other areas as it progresses. The map below is an evolving beast but does give those in central London some key locations to sample good coffee. I'm a flat white man mainly so cannot vouch for the quality of the cappucinos or the americanos but I'm sure they're good too. I plan to do an individual review of each of these places and go into a bit more depth. Plus it gives me an excuse to try out their cakes, sandwiches and generally just hang out in these great cafes. Life's tough.

The Central London Coffee Survival Guide Map

View Central London Coffee Survival Guide in a larger map