Thursday, 30 December 2010

Cabmen's Shelters

It's hard not to be intrigued by these cool little green houses that you see dotted around London - unfortunately there are a lot less of them than there used to be, 13 to be exact.  They are maintained by the Cabmen's Shelter Fund - which was established in 1875 to run shelters for drivers of what were then known as hansom cabs and hackney carriages.  Equipped with small kitchens and able to squeeze in at least a dozen cabbies, these shelters must be a welcome respite when you're on an all night shift.  Unfortunately this one in Russell Square is looking a bit run-down so I hope that's not a sign that the funds are running out to maintain them - these little beauties should be preserved and treasured.  If you want to check out the remaining ones - have a look here or here to find out where they are.

Department of Coffee & Social Affairs - EC1

Leather Lane in EC1 is a funny one - I have always liked it but have never really had either a food or coffee reason to go there, traditionally the cafes have been more of the greasy spoon variety.  Years ago I also used to like going to a bar called Clerkenwell House on Hatton Wall, just off Leather Lane.  Anyway I digress - the good news is that there is now a top notch coffee destination on Leather Lane, specifically the wonderfully named Department of Coffee and Social Affairs at No. 14-16 (which is the High Holborn end).  It has only been open for 2 weeks and was pretty empty when I went there today (mainly because we are in the "in between" week when most people are still on hols) but I predict this place will be heaving in the new year once the coffee-starved locals catch on.  Up until now you would have had to walk 10 to 15 mins to either The Espresso Room or Dose to get your quality coffee fix but now those lucky EC1 workers and residents have their own local gem.  I was served by a friendly bearded Kiwi (I feel like David Attenborough, investigating the barista species in their natural habitat) and was presented with a really great flat white and a pain au chocolat.  These guys will have a broader selection of sandwiches and breakfast stuff in the new year so make sure to go and check them out - a welcome addition to my Central London Coffee Survival Guide Map.

Department of Coffee and Social Affairs on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

49 Bankside - SE1

I love the house at 49 Bankside for a number of reasons.  I love it because it's a beautiful 300 year old house; I love it because it is stuck there on Bankside next to the Globe theatre, with tourists streaming by, the last remnant of a row of houses in an area that is no longer residential; I love the crooked front door; but the thing that really seals it for me is the plaque on the front of the house which claims all sorts of glories for this rather unassuming residence - all of which are apparently untrue.  The plaque says that Sir Christopher Wren lived here whilst re-building St Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire, but as the house dates from around 1710 when work on the cathedral was over, this is unlikely.  Even more unlikely is the claim that Catherine of Aragon rested here when she first arrived in London.  Who knows what the true history of the house, know as Cardinal's Wharf, is - it certainly represents the gentrification of an area that was formerly occupied by brothels and disreputable taverns (which were frequented by players from Shakespeare's Globe) and it's certainly a survivor - both from demolition and from the blitz - and that makes it pretty special in my book, whoever lived there.

Leadenhall Market - EC3

I stumbled across Leadenhall Market early on in my time in London and loved it so try and get back whenever I can - which is actually not that often as I am not a City worker and it's not really on the way anywhere. I went today when it was closed because I wanted to have a good look around and not be jostled by hungry bankers on their lunch break - it was quite cool to wander around alone in this beautiful Victorian structure (which has been used in films, TV shows and music videos - most recently as Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films). The site of Leadenhall Market is significant in the history of London as it is located pretty much in the centre of what was Roman Londonium (I am obsessed with the history of London but will refrain from boring you with the Briton, Roman, Saxon, Dane timeline...whoops almost did). Anyway there has been some form of market here for hundreds of years but the current incarnation is Victorian and built in the late 1800s by the same guy that built Smithfields, so the look is somewhat similar. Like everything retail-driven it is now chain store central, albeit the better end but for me it's all about just walking around, appreciating this beautiful market, built on top of its medieval forbears and deeper down the remains of a long gone Roman town.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Maltby St - SE1

Maltby Street in SE1 and the surrounding streets (in particular the wonderfully named Druid Street) is a hidden gem for food and coffee lovers.  I tubed it to Bermondsey today for their pre Christmas Thursday opening - but usually it's a Saturday destination.  Coming out from the station and walking up Jamaica Road I pondered on the "gentrification" of Bermondsey - the place seems to be one big construction site with new apartment blocks named things like "Bermondsey Spa" and "the jewel of SE1" and other such crap.  Overlooking all this are the original estates and old warehouses and as such Bermondsey will always seem slightly grim and urban (and so it should - there is a place for this in a city like London, I hate it when there is a relentless push to make everywhere twee) and as I walked to Maltby Street there was one point where I thought the Krays were going to step out of the shadows and take a pot-shot at me (I really need to stop drinking so much coffee).  Anyway back to Maltby Street - the first thing I came to was the Monmouth Coffee HQ (pictured) where I fortified myself with a flat white (top notch as always) and then wandered round to the new St John bakery on Druid Street and bought a custard donut and then wandered further up to the space shared by Kase Swiss (cheese), Topolski (Polish smoked meats) and Jacob's Ladder Farms where I bought some lovely smoked trout with dill.  My food shop finished at Neal's Yard with goats cheese, quince paste and blossom honey.  If I sound pleased with myself it's because I was and when I wandered down to Borough Market later in the day and found myself in a total scrum I realised why the Maltby St enclave is so special - lots of space, unhurried and no tourists.  I love this part of London (even the grim bits) so I will be a regular visitor on Saturdays - check it out, but don't tell too many people!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Koya - Frith St W1

Koya has been the bloggers' and food critics' darling for the last 6 months or so and I finally got there today (that pretty much sums up my life, I used to be so organised, so cutting edge..sigh).  As you push your way through the blue curtain and open the door, Koya does feel like an oasis of calm in busy Soho [Quick diversion, when I first typed this I mistakingly wrote "an oasis of clam" which gives a whole different slant.  Just thought I'd share] despite being pretty much always packed to the rafters.  The pared back decor and chilled out (but really friendly) staff add to the vibe.  I liked the fact that I got a bottle of water as soon as I sat down and I loved my cute little silver teapot full of nutty Japanese tea, but like all the other reviewers the thing I loved the most was my udon noodles.  This is the focus here - handmade udon, either hot or cold, in broth and with various additions.  I had Atsu Atsu (hot udon in hot broth) with tempura, which was basically one giant prawn.  It was delicious - although tempura in broth is always kind of a weird one as the batter naturally comes off, but in a way that made the broth even more comforting, adding bulk to the savoury goodness.  The noodles were slippery, warming and perfect and the whole slurpy experience was pretty much spot on for both the weather and my mood.  Compared to the usual noodle crap you get around Soho this is not just another league, it's another universe so if you are a noodle fan you have to check out Koya - just be sure to get there early.

Koya on Urbanspoon

Exchange Coffee

Residents of Lewisham in south-east London have had the benefit of Exchange Coffee's superior product as part of the Saturday street market for some time.  For those that don't live in SE13 however it's a bit of a trek, even for the beautifully crafted specimens that these guys turn out.  So you can imagine my delight when I was greedily shuffling around the stalls at the Southbank Chocolate festival (which was on over the weekend, just behind Festival Hall) and noticed that Exchange Coffee had set up a stall.  The friendly Neil Le Bihan was manning the stall and I have to say that the flat white I had there on Friday evening was absolutely sensational.  I paired it with a chocolate tiffin slice from the stall next door (you can just see their stacks of biscuits in the photo) and I was a happy man.  Neil mentioned he was off to Australia for the cricket (boo) so I'm not sure what that means for the Saturday coffee lovers in Lewisham but I'm sure he'll be back there soon - I for one will be making the trek over there.
The Exchange on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

My Top Fives

Well the year is almost done and the overwhelming need to create "best of "lists has got too much for me.  So here you go...

Top 5 Coffee Places (in no particular order):
  • Milk Bar - I just love this place and the coffee is great and it makes me happy going there.  My only issue now is it's too bloody popular
  • Tapped & Packed - I had my best flat white of the week there this week and it's close to where I work and the food is great
  • Caravan - top notch caffeine, great place, in the wonderful Exmouth Market, say no more.
  • Brewed Boy - because Rob is a legend
  • Kaffeine - others have questioned the consistency here but I have always had a great experience and the Aussie barista who sounds a bit like Kylie Minogue is one of the friendliest in London
Top 5 Restaurants (not all of which I have blogged about):
  • Chez Bruce - consistency, great service, amazing food, lovely location (although I am biased on this point) and just all round superb
  • Andrew Edmunds - prior to Chez Bruce stealing my heart this was my favourite London restaurant.  So why haven't I blogged about it I hear you ask?  I don't know is the answer.
  • Arbutus - not everyone's favourite but they had me at the squid and mackerel burger (and kept me faithful with the tarte tartin)
  • Bob Bob Ricard - I did not expect to even like this place and I ended up loving it.  Fun, crazy and the best chicken kiev I have ever eaten.
  • Dean Street Townhouse - I think this place gets it spot on in terms of food, atmosphere, service - like the perfect New York bistro with high-end comfort food.  Love it.
Top 5 London Things (that aren't coffee or restaurant related);

Monday, 6 December 2010

Wimbledon Village - SW19

I am a big fan of London's "villages" - Hampstead, Richmond, Barnes, even Primrose Hill has a villagey feel (although that's pushing it).  My closest and the one I am growing increasingly fond of (as I turn middle-aged before your eyes/monitors) is Wimbledon Village.  Wimbledon proper, near the station is functional, has some good things (like the HMV Curzon cinema) but is ultimately a pretty typical suburban town-centre.  However trundle up the steep slope of Wimbledon Hill Road (great for the glutes) and you enter another world - certainly posher and definitely more picturesque and charming.  Some find that a negative, I suppose it's horses for courses - if you prefer more of an exclusively London Fields, Bethnal Green type vibe then you may despise Wimbledon Village, but I love the fact that there are places like this in London and I think they are equally valid.  Firstly it is really pretty - the picture above of St Mary's church is a case in point.  The village shops are fairly high-end and you soon realise you are not in the average High St (Dianne von Furstenberg anyone?) but there are some great places to eat and buy food - my two favourites are (i) The Grocer on Wimbledon which won my heart by selling Aussie confectionery and snacks (Twisties, Violet Crumbles, Cherry Ripes etc - nice one!) alongside amazing cakes, super-snazzy pre-packages food (the berry and vanilla panna cotta is awesome) and pretty decent coffee and (ii) Bayley & Sage - which is one of those high-end food shops where you think "Ooh I really need that jar of Argentinian chocolate sauce at £8.99" and for which I am a total sucker.  If you are exhausted by all this snazzy food shopping and feel the need of a restorative pint, I can highly recommend walking along Southside Common (which as it's name suggests skirts a small southern spur of Wimbledon Common), past the King's College School to the Hand in Hand pub on the wonderfully named Crooked Billet.  This is like a Richard Curtis vision of what an English pub should be but it also manages to be totally un-pretentious and welcoming.  So apologies to all you leafy South-London haters but I think Wimbledon Village is a lovely little gem, perched high up in the SW (the view across the city from Wimbledon Park is amazing) and well worth a visit.

Mooli's - Frith St W1

I had been to Mooli's several times but hadn't gotten around to writing about it.  As today marked my first sampling of the goat mooli (on the advice of trusty Greedy Diva) I felt like it was time to give a shout out to these guys.  Mooli's (they should remove the apostrophe...) unsurprisingly specialises in moolis - which I discovered on my first visit are basically hot Indian wraps made with roti bread.  The fillings vary - chicken, beef, pork, chickpeas but the top tip from me is go goat.  I have always had an ambiguous relationship with goat meat - some bad travel experiences, some misguided impressions that it is always tough as old boots, general Anglo-Saxon fear of the unknown (as much as I fight against it) but one bite of the goat mooli and I am an evangelist for the stuff.  The meat was tender and slow-cooked and full of flvaour, the soft spicy potato gave it an extra zing, balanced perfectly by the tangy, fresh salsa.  Man this was GOOD - and perfect for the frozen London day.  The nice man at Mooli's informed me of the "bonus side dish" week that I had unwittingly become part of so I got a free super-food salad which was crunchy and sprouty and delicious and went perfectly with the sublime goat mooli.  You seriously need to get down to this place - and fast.

Mooli's on Urbanspoon