Monday, 30 November 2009

Lantana - Charlotte Place W1

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

Lantana on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Queen Square WC1 (Bloomsbury Pt. 4)

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

The Espresso Room WC1 (Bloomsbury Pt. 3)

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

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

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

Bea's of Bloomsbury on Urbanspoon

Lambs Conduit St WC1 (Bloomsbury Pt.1)

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

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Algerian Coffee Stores - Old Compton St W1

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

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Hatton Garden EC1

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

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

32 Great Queen Street - WC2

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

Great Queen Street on Urbanspoon

Hopton Street - SE1

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

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Kaffeine W1 - Welcome!

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

Kaffeine on Urbanspoon