Sunday, 20 December 2009

Fernandez and Wells - W1

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

Fernandez & Wells on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Medcalf - Exmouth Market EC1

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

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Traditional Dim Sum - Imperial China WC2

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

Imperial China on Urbanspoon

Friday, 11 December 2009

Viet W1

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

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Bocca di Lupo W1

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

Bocca di Lupo on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Northcote Road SW11

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

Friday, 4 December 2009

London love

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

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Foyles - Charing Cross Road WC2

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

Warsaw - a surprise

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

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Cecil Court - WC2

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