Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Southwark - SE1

I love Southwark and Borough.  Of course the market is amazing - I do plan on doing a "best of Borough Market" post at some stage (which will definitely include the chorizo burgers - oh yeah) - but I really like wandering around the quiet streets between Southwark, Borough and London Bridge stations.  I only discovered Copperfield St (pictured) recently and it is so cute - tiny little houses, almost hobbit-like, opposite an atmospherically spooky church yard.  I spotted the run-down wooden-shuttered building in the other photo just round the corner in Great Guildford St - isn't it a beauty?  There are spots like this all over Southwark, you can really immerse yourself in "old London" here.  Southwark was a place of illicit delights in the 17th century - where Londoners would come to escape the moral confines of the city and a frisson of that vibe remains.  Any of you who have been clubbing under the arches of London Bridge station will agree I'm sure...  The cathedral is magnificent and has the most amazing statues.  I could easily live in Southwark and have often thought how nice it would be do wander to the market early on a Saturday morning to do your weekly grocery shop.  So if you haven't already, take some time to wander around Southwark and Borough - it's a hidden gem.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Nude Espresso at Rapha pop-up store EC1

I love a pop-up store and so I was intrigued to come across the Rapha Cycle Club pop-up on Clerkenwell Road.  Cyclists amongst you will already know of Rapha, the British cycle-wear brand.  I did not - but was impressed with what was on offer.  The best bit though was that Nude Espresso (from Hanbury St E1, near Spitalfields) has a temporary coffee station at the back of the store.  I was gagging for a flat white (had just tried to get one at Dose to find they were shut at 4pm - what gives?) so there was a touch of the thirsty man crawling out of the desert.  Anyway, a lovely chap served me the most magnificent flat white - as you can see from the photo, he is also a latte-artist extraordinaire but the best bit was how it tasted - sublime.  I can't wait to go and check out
 Nude - I still haven't made it there but now it is top of my list.  If you want to sample the pop-up variety of Nude or indeed buy some groovy cycle duds, you better be quick as I think the store is only in place until the Tour de France finishes on 25 July.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Brew - SW11

I have written about Northcote Road in Battersea before but wanted to mention a really great cafe there called Brew. We were early customers of Brew - in fact we were so delighted that a cool cafe had opened on a street that at the time seemed to only contain "baby friendly" cafes. It was owned by a lovely chap called Mike and served amazing salads, great cakes and half decent coffee. The vibe was cool and Mike made you feel like a valued customer. When he stepped back from the business and then ultimately sold it, we stopped going so regularly - mainly because by that time it had also got so popular that it was difficult to get a table (it's really dinky). A few weekends ago I met some friends (avec baby - very Northcote Rd) for coffee there and was so impressed with what I saw on the menu and then went back the following Saturday for breakfast. Man it was good - they have a sensational breakfast menu. Try some of these out for size - blueberry pancakes with caramelised bananas, creme fraiche and maple syrup, chorizo scrambled eggs on sourdough toast or my choice - spring time eggs, which were scrambled eggs with Persian feta, parsley and lemon. Oh yeah - makes your mouth water right? The eggs were great, the freshly squeezed juice of the day was amazing (watermelon, strawberry and pink grapefruit) and the coffee has really stepped up several notches - it was as good as you would get anywhere and quite a bit stronger than a lot of places, which I liked. This place is a winner - it does get crowded on weekends but tables seem to turn fairly quickly. My suggestion would be to go early or ideally visit during the week.

Sicilian Avenue WC1

A slightly surreal little slice of Italy in Holborn, Sicilian Avenue has always been a favourite of mine.  Designed and built early in the 20th century, it is a charming, but small, pedestrianised row of shops and cafes with a distinctly Italian flavour.  I haven't actually eaten at any of the cafes along here - they look cute, in a stereotypical Italian pasta joint kinda way.  One of these days I will check them out - the tricky thing for me is, if I am in that area and I feel hungry my natural instinct is to head straight for Bea's of Bloomsbury, which does amazing food and sensational coffee.  So for me, Sicilian Avenue is more about the visual and on that front it's a winner.

Friday, 9 July 2010

J. Sheekey WC2

I had wanted to go to J. Sheekey for ages. Whilst the press focusses on their celeb clientele, I had always heard that the food was amazing.  Well today, I realised my long-held ambition to go there and I can confirm the food is amazing. There was a slight wobble at the beginning as the waiter misheard my order for "beets" as "bisque" - however they were very apologetic and offered to swap. I chose to stay with the soup and it was lovely. For main course I had fillets of red mullet with a fried courgette flower and broad bean and plum tomato salsa. Oh man - it was goooooood. The red mullet was divine and the salsa was a perfect accompaniment.  The courgette flower, whilst tasty (in a fried food sort of way), was kinda redundant compared to the rest of the loveliness on the plate.  I could eat this dish every day, it was perfect.  I washed it down with a chilled glass of Stellenbosch Chardonnay (my other half is South African so I have learnt to love the Western Cape wines).  Given J. Sheekey is a sister restaurant of The Ivy, that restaurant's famous dessert of iced berries with hot white chocolate sauce was on the menu, so it seemed rude not to have it.  For those of you that have had this dish will agree with me I'm sure that it is dessert perfection.  J. Sheekey is a really lovely restaurant - both the food and the setting (I am a sucker for wood panelling) so all I can say is, save your pennies and just go.

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L. Cornelissen & Son WC1

I am a sucker for art supply shops (and stationery shops in general actually) and one of my favourites is L. Cornelissen & Son on Great Russell St in Bloomsbury.  It is a wonderful shop - when you walk through the door you feel like you are on the set of a Harry Potter film.  Powdered paint colours are in tall glass jars, with weird names like Caput Mortuum (which adds to the magician vibe) and old fashioned wooden paintbrushes are hung in bunches on the wall.  There is an amazing selection of sketchbooks and other art supplies also.  I really love this shop - and of course it is my favourite 'hood, Bloomsbury.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Bubble Tea at Jen Cafe, Chinatown WC2

One of the things I love about Summer in central London is going to Jen Cafe in Newport Place in Chinatown and having a bubble tea.  Sometimes called pearl tea or boba (apparently in LA), this stuff is so weird but so cool.  You can have all sorts of different flavours - tea flavours, fruit flavours, sweet flavours like chocolate, but they all contain rubbery, sticky tapioca balls, which you suck up along with the tea, through extra thick straws.  Trippy huh?  There is so much to see and experience in Chinatown, even if it is relatively small.  I love browsing through the supermarkets like Loon Fung on Gerard Street and what better way to do it than with a bubble tea in your hand?  Once you're done, head to Imperial China on Lisle Street for dim sum.  I have yet to find my favourite bubble tea flavour but the one pictured is pineapple, which was really nice, although be prepared - these babies are really sweet!  My friend Rachel had mint tea, which tasted a bit too much like mouthwash so stay clear of that one...

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Serpentine Gallery - Kensington Gardens W2

How cool is the Serpentine Gallery?  Such a great building, hidden away in beautiful Kensington Gardens, so in some ways ultra trad but then exhibiting the cutting edge in modern art and with an annual temporary pavilion built by a leading architect or designer (this year's is designed by Jean Nouvel).  The perfect mix really.  I recently saw the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition, which was fantastic (I am a fan though - I know his work divides opinion).  Years ago I went to one of their swanky Summer parties (as a plus one mind you) and whenever I go back I remember my friend Sam and I getting drunk and leering at YBAs.  So make sure you go and visit - admission is free (I love that about London's galleries and museums) and they are open late on Friday nights during Summer.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Coffee Plant - Portobello Rd W11

I really debated whether to write about Coffee Plant - on the "for" side it did serve great coffee so seemed to fit (one of) the raison d'etre of this blog, plus it was in Notting Hill, an area I rarely visit these days so gave some variety to my Soho/Bloomsbury fixated travels.  However I made a decision when I started this blog that I would only write about places that I liked, that this blog was meant to be about stuff I loved about this great city, so putting in snarky, negative reviews could be left to the majority of food/travel/coffee bloggers out there (and I'm glad these exist - it's just as important to know where to avoid).  So back to why I was conflicted on whether to write about Coffee Plant - the service was shite, really, truly shite.  The woman serving was the most unfriendly, angry person I have encountered in a retail environment in a long time - it does beg the question, if you hate customers so much why the f*ck are you working in a shop?  After barking at us that we were not queued correctly to order coffee (we had to move all of about 2 feet to the left) she flounced off, leaving us to a nicer but slightly sheepish (and who can blame him) fella.  Then she was back and some poor sap in front of us asked her for some more milk in his coffee - she almost threw the milk in his cup, slopping it over the sides in the process and then flounced off again.  Anyway, on to the positive side the flat whites we had were really good - these guys roast a variety of Fairtrade and organic coffee beans and whatever was being used that day was delicious.  As you can see from the photo, it is right in the middle of the food market on Portobello so on the Saturday we were there it was really buzzy and crowded - I imagine it's more pleasant and easier to get a seat during the week.  So if you live in the area or are browsing the market, here is somewhere to get great take-away coffee and stock up on some beans or ground coffee - just don't expect service with a smile!

Wandsworth Roundabout - SW18

I am a proud south London resident and more specifically a citizen of Wandsworth.  Those who reside north or east may sneer at leafy SW London but I love it.  Perhaps because I came to it after living in various bits of Zone 1 - NW1, W2, E1 (all of which I also loved).  I think you know you are a true Wandsworthian when you look on the Wandsworth roundabout with fondness.  A confluence of roads just south of Wandsworth bridge, the roundabout is a classic late 60s concrete wasteland that has been softened over the intervening decades by the growth of trees and scrub in the centre space.  There are underpasses on all sides - which are famous for being the location of the scene in Clockwork Orange where Alex and his droogs beat up a rough-sleeper.  If you're walking through it on a dark Winter's night, it can still feel pretty bleak and depressing, but on a Summer's day in the blazing sunshine it is a haven for bird-life.  The thing I really love though is the massive atom-like sculpture on top.  It's a pity that they had to put advertising billboards on it, but it must be a really lucrative site as you get all the eyeballs from Trinity Road coming south, York Road coming west and the traffic coming over Wandsworth Bridge from Fulham.  I think it's a really cool sculpture and much more handsome than the Old Street roundabout version.  So - let's hear it for the weird modernist, dystopian Wandsworth roundabout!