Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Forks (& Corks) - Highgate N6

We ventured north of the river on Sunday to visit friends in Kentish Town and wandered up the road to the Heath and to have lunch at Forks in Highgate. Firstly, I love this area - it was a beautiful day so the Heath looked so inviting and I love the architecture around there, the red brick houses remind me of the London I read about in books when I was a kid. Secondly - Forks is a GREAT place - they make all sorts of crepes and galettes (which I think is like a crepe but made of buckwheat and with a savoury filling not sweet - feel free to correct me) and I had one with spinach, cheese, ham and an egg - it was SO good. I actually had to take a bite before I took the photo so apologies that this photo is not a pristine, un-gnawed example of their food. Looking at it again now I can feel my stomach rumbling - seriously, I would eat this dish every weekend if I could. We sat outside and watched the people walking their dogs and heading for the Heath, often stopping off for an ice cream at the stand that Forks has outside next to where they make their crepes (and galettes!). Next to Forks is Corks - a great wine shop where of course we were forced to buy three bottles of wine and a block of Green & Blacks Mint. Talk about a bag full of joy. Anyway - I loved the whole vibe of Forks & Corks, the area, the Heath, the galettes. As much as I am a south Londoner through and through, it's times like that when I wish my postcode began with NW instead of SW.

Monday, 28 September 2009

The Barbican EC1 - Discuss!

So - do you love or hate the Barbican? I am firmly in the love camp (hence why I am blogging about it) but I know plenty of people who think it is a blight on the London landscape. I love the concrete, slightly bleak modernism, I love the mix of commerical, residential and public spaces, I love the way that greenery has become entwined with the building so that the whole place appears as if it is slowly being overcome by nature. I have eaten here, drunk here, seen movies here, sat in the sun and contemplated life here, seen exhibitions and bought some cool presents here. Most of all though - I have just enjoyed being in this unique complex. I have to admit, I have pretended I am in Blakes Seven or the Tomorrow People (that's just the vibe I get here!) whilst walking alone through the communal spaces. I have never been inside any of the apartments here but having seen pictures and read a lot about them I know that I want one. I imagine it as my city pad where I could mix cocktails and pass around squares of cheese with toothpicks in them. Anyway - enough of my modernist fantasy life, I know this place divides opinion but isn't that kinda cool?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Arbutus - Frith St W1

Last night I had an amazing meal at Arbutus in Frith Street in Soho. I'm talking seriously good, knock-out amazing. This restaurant's reputation has been consistently high and it is SO well deserved. I started with one of their signature dishes - squid & mackerel "burger" with parsley & razor clams. Man oh man was it tasty - if I'm honest I was a bit nervous before it came as to what a squid burger might look like but it turned out to be a delicious, slightly sticky pattie of delicious seafood with a scattering of razor clams and parsley dotted around it. I'm getting misty-eyed just thinking about how yummy it was! My main course was breast of Welsh lamb with young carrots, celery and white beans - I don't think I have ever had a breast of lamb, in fact I thought you only had breasts of birds, but hey what I don't know could fill the O2 Arena. The meat was so tender and the flavourings were amazing. If I had to criticise anything (and I am so reluctant to utter a single negative word about this place) it would be that they could ditch the celery. Cooked celery is never as nice as raw celery in my book (or if you're my friend Penny, all celery is evil). We finished with a tarte tatin for two with creme fraiche. It was so beautiful to behold and a perfect example of its kind but it was enough for 4 people so unfortunately we had to leave some. If I hadn't been going out afterwards I would have got the remainder to go (they did offer) but instead we had to leave the red golden slice of deliciousness behind. The service was impeccable - our waiter was a skinny white guy who sounded like Bob Marley (he was from Trinidad & Tobago) which always throws me - he was great too, his dessert wine recommendation was spot on. As you may have noticed I can't rave on enough about this place - just go, as soon as possible!

Arbutus on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Seven Dials WC2

Seven Dials is one of my favourite areas in London and the fact it has survived various attempts to demolish key parts of it over the years make me even fonder of it. Monmouth Coffee is there in Monmouth St (unsurprisingly) and should be a mandatory pit-stop for caffeine lovers in the area. Canela in Earlham St is great for lunch and if (like me) you are a fan of Portugese tarts then they do a good version here. Sitting on the steps of the sundial drinking a beer in the sun is one of my favourite Summer things to do, although I always forget the traffic and have come close to being skittled many times. I also like the weird quirky shops you find around 7 Dials - I'm not sure what this says about me but I really love the Dover Bookshop in Earlham Street which sells copyright free images. I have bought so many books of images from here and have never actually used them for anything vaguely creative, but hey I may one day. One of the few (if not sole) remaining Fopp stores is on the corner of Earlham St and Shaftsbury Avenue - even though it sells music and DVDs really cheap I always end up spending heaps of money here. Yesterday I bought 2 Beatles CDs (Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt Pepper), a Season 2 boxset of "Damages" (LOVE that show!) and my only budget item which was a 3 DVD pack containing "Top Gun", "Ferris Bueller" and "Beverly Hills Cop" for £3 - BARGAIN! Sticking on Earlham Street, Magma is also cool, particularly if you are buying presents for your stylish designer friends (I'm sure you have many of these). I love Neals Yard and often treat myself to a back-rub at the Walk in Backrub store - in all honesty the last time I went there the guy was so good I felt like I was on drugs. It all depends on who you get though - I stopped going for a while because I kept getting average rubs (for some reason this sounds vaguely obscene) but it seems to have picked up. Of course for you turophiles out there (look it up) the Neal's Yard Dairy on Shorts Gardens is cheese-nirvana and the waft you get as you walk past will stay with you for some time - delicious! My friend Steve took me to the World Food Cafe on Neals Yard a few weeks ago and I loved it - the sun streaming in the window, the healthy but tasty food (I recommend ducking into Canela afterwards for a Portugese tart to even the balance). I have developed a bit of a sock fetish lately and Tabio on Neal St has some great ones - the shop is 80% womens tights and socks but up the back they have a small but quality men's collection. One of the things I have noticed about getting older is that you start to appreciate things like good socks - as well as quality sheets and pillows, farmers markets and bars where the music is not too loud. I could continue listing all the cool stuff around 7 Dials but you know what - you should just head down there and wander around. If you are a visitor to London and you want to splash the cash a bit you should definitely consider the Covent Garden Hotel - comfy, discreetly luxurious and an amazing buffet breakfast. OK - done.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Edwards & Todd - Bloomsbury

Given I seem to be in a Bloomsbury mood, thought Iwould mention one of my other favourite places in the area. If ever I need to buy someone a present I always go straight to this shop - Edwards & Todd on Museum Street in Bloomsbury. The 2 guys that run it (sorry guys I have a terrible memory for names!) are great and they have a keen eye for quirky, interesting, beautiful things. But the best bit is, they sell them at reasonable prices - a place like this in Notting Hill or even Shoreditch would probabaly hike the prices up and make the whole experience much more contrived. These guys are true masters of the retailing game - they have created a really great environment with good stock at reasonable prices. The thing I love the most from here are their cards - I always buy in bulk and then don't want to send them because they look so good! I have bought really funky jewellery here for female friends, presents for colleagues and a really great travelling rug that I kept for myself. If I had my way, shops like Edwards & Todd would be on every high street, with the London Revew Bookshop and Cafe next to them and Milk Bar a few doors down. Add a good pub, an art house cinema and a small neighbourhood restaurant in the style of the Giaconda Dining Room and I would never leave my postcode. A man can dream...

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

London Review Bookshop & Cafe

This is a really great book shop in Bury Place in WC1 near the British Museum. It's independent as well so I encourage you all to go and buy lots of books so it can stay open and stay doing what it's doing which is being a really cool, slightly high-brow bookshop with the best fiction section you will find anywhere in London. I always feel like everyone there is much smarter than I am (no comments please) and I kind of like that in a bookshop. At the same time it's not up its own arse and they encourage you to browse and read stuff in there and this is further enhanced by the cafe that's attached. I really love the cafe - it is my hidden refuge from the office (so not sure why I am revealing it on a blog - go figure) and it just works on so many levels. The food is great, with a really interesting menu - today I had rye and walnut toast with goats cheese on top and a rocket, betroot and cranberry salad on the side.
It was delicious and really hit the spot, the bread was chewy and dense and almost sweet and the goats cheese was creamy and not as cloying as it can sometimes be. The sweetness of the cranberry and betroot and the peppery rocket went really well with the cheese on toast and I could have quite happily polished off another plateful. I have also had excellent fish cakes here and some great sandwiches - they always seem to use interesting bread. My only criticism would be that the menu hasn't changed in a while - I would like to see some more variation. Someone there (possibly the cool Aussie woman who seems to be the boss) obviously has great imagination with food - so let's see some more of it. The coffee is good but can depend on who is making it - the flat white I had today was way too millky and weak, although stil drinkable and still a million times better than Starbucks crud. The best bit of having a coffee at the LRB Cafe though is the little sweet biscuit you get with it - I LOVE them:

They are the perfect coffee biscuit. One day they were selling them and I regret I didn't buy a packet - I suppose I should just ask them where they get them. So this place - the bookshop and the cafe - is one of my favourite London hangouts, in one of my favourite parts of town (Bloomsbury - near the British Museum). Long may it survive and prosper.

Monday, 7 September 2009

James Smith & Sons - Umbrellas!

This shop is such a gem - whilst there have probably been some changes since 1830 when it was founded, walking in there you could be forgiven for thinking not much has changed since at least the 1940s. You can read up on the history of the place here but I would recommend just going in for a browse. I have actually purchased an umbrella here - I was sick of crappy £5 umbrellas that blew inside out or came off their spokes so I invested in a £40 one from here and I love it. It feels sturdy and reliable and I like the weight of it in my hand. I am paranoid about leaving it on the tube but so far it has lasted 2 winters so I figure it has already paid its way.

What I really want to buy is an old fashioned wooden handled umbrella, maybe with a duck head as a handle but so far I haven't done so - the closest I came was buying a stick for my dad for his 80th birthday. It was so beautiful and they packaged it up and posted it to Australia for me. The guy who served me seemed like he had been there all his life - he may indeed have been a descendant of James Smith, I was a little scared of him so I didn't ask! In an ever changing city, places like this should always stay the same - I hope this particular shop does at least

Dose - Smithfields

It's always good to stumble across another good coffee place - I had read about this on a couple of other blogs but had no idea where it was. I spotted it while I was in a cab this morning so went back afterwards for a full investigation. That old formula was spot on again - friendly Aussie staff CHECK, quality coffee expertly poured CHECK, good looking cakes CHECK (with a nice touch - Anzac biscuits which for any Aussie or Kiwi out there will instantly bring back childhood memories), another pin on my Central London Coffee Survival Guide map - CHECK.

Dose Espresso on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 3 September 2009


Oh how I love dim sum and oh how I love dim sum at Yauatcha. I do like going "authentic" to Chinatown or Royal China in Bayswater but I do prefer the trendy, Soho version of dim sum you find at this wonderful place. It opened to a fanfare and was the hottest place to go some years ago, another gem from the stable of Alan Yau (of Hakkasan and Busaba fame). The good news is, unlike other "hot" places, it hasn't fizzled, in fact I like it better now it's easier to get in (getting a reservation when it first opened was tricky). My dim sum favourite dish is char sui buns and the ones at Yauatcha are sublime. The venison puffs are also yummy. For the slightly healthier option, the steamed dumplings are amazing. Their sesame prawn toast, with a mountain of sweet prawn, makes the local Chinese takeaway version look extremely shabby. I am running out of adjectives - but I have to also mention the salt and pepper squid, which is...great. I like their huge tea selection and they also do snazzy non-alocholic cocktails and iced teas (for the modern boring business lunch). What sets this apart from a normal Chinese restaurant is the amazing slection of cakes and macaroons they have on display upstairs (you can also eat dim sum up here).
They do a great afternoon tea and their cakes are almost too beautiful to eat - not that that has ever stopped me. The brightly coloured macaroons are tasty - although there are some weird flavours here. If I'm honest, I actually prefer to look at macaroons rather than eat them and these ones are mighty purty. They can box them up as gifts - many a brownie (macaroon?) point have I won after presenting someone with a box of these beauties. Of course you can wander down to Great Marlborough Street and get a cheaper version at Ping Pong, which is fine but nothing beats the beautiful, classy, super tasty experience you'll have at Yauatcha.

Yauatcha on Urbanspoon