Thanks to the recommendation of my savvy friend Rob I had lunch today at Comptoir Libanais, a Lebanese inspired restaurant in Wigmore St. This is one of (I think) four branches and I am going to lobby for them to open a 5th in Soho because this place rocks! We shared a plate of chicken sambousseks - tasty little pastries filled with shredded chicken, walnuts and sumac (a spice made from dried and ground berries as I learnt today) which were divine. Seriously I could eat these every day, they were that good. Then on to pumpkin kibbehs - roasted pumpkin parcels with a mix of walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Are you salivating yet? Because I am as I remember it. The best was next though - a lamb kofta wrap. Oh the joy of this simple looking wrap - tender spiced minced lamb mixed with hummus (or hommos?), pickled cucumber and tomato, in a warm, slightly crispy wholemeal flatbread. I have run out of superlatives - but these were amazing. Rob had told me that the coffee here was pretty good and you know what, just to seal my new found love for this place the coffee WAS pretty good. OK not Aussie/Kiwi barista, Milk Bar standard but not far off. It was a little too hot but the milk was nicely steamed and it was strong and tasty. Accompanied by some traditional middle eastern sweets, this was a great way to finish the meal - if (or should I say when) you visit Comptoir, have the hadath - layered filo pastry with walnuts. Sugary, nutty deliciousness. I am so stoked that I have discovered Comptoir - I will be making the trek from Soho to Wigmore Street pretty regularly from now on - I need to eat a lamb kofta wrap at least once a week.
Thursday, 28 January 2010
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Am I the only one who really likes the 80's tiled murals in Tottenham Court Road tube? I can imagine at the time they were installed there were howls of protest as these replaced the original turn of the century tiling (which I also like by the way). Two decades later and this stuff now stands as a classic piece of 80's optimism - designed by Eduardo Paolozzi these murals are supposedly meant to reflect the busy atmosphere of Tottenham Court Road. I'm not sure that's the vibe I get - I just see something that looks like a bit Tomorrow People, a bit Grange Hill and a bit Human League. I'm worried that all this Crossrail bullshit will mean the end of some or all of these murals - maybe I should start a petition?
Monday, 25 January 2010
Battersea Power Station is officially my favourite building in London - in fact if I had to list my Top 5 overall things in London it would also make it on that list. I don't know why I have such strong feelings for an abandoned power station - is it the art deco styling, or the imposing "brick cathedral" attitude or even the charm that certain derelict buildings have? I don't know - all of the above I think. All I know is I love it so much that every day on the train to and from work I crane my neck to see out the window and catch a glimpse of this behemoth and when I see it come into view I feel happy. Does that make me weird? I don't want it to be re-developed, I want it to remain just how it is - I am reassured by the fact that re-development has been planned since the 80s (when Alton Towers were going to turn it into a theme park - sheesh!) and yet it remains the same. It's been in so many TV shows, movies and of course on the cover of Pink Floyd's "Animals" and its image graces walls over south London (including ours). I just love it.
I had a posh lunch today - a very posh lunch in fact, at Scott's in Mayfair and it was lovely. Also, perhaps because it was lunch rather than dinner and we weren't being booze-hounds, it wasn't crazy expensive. It ended up being around £60 a head for 2 courses plus coffee with truffles and mini-macaroons (oh yes!) and a pretty pricey bottle of Kiwi Chardonnay (which was delicious - Dog Point from Marlborough). Without the vino it would have been around £45 per head. So not somewhere I'll be lunching every day at this stage in my life (one day baby, one day...) but a lovely place to go for a special occassion. I had griddled tiger prawns provencale for my starter which were delicious, smoky, juicy prawns in a tangy tomato sauce - there were around 6 in the dish and I could have eaten twice that and happily come back for more. For main course I had smoked haddock (which always feels vaguely healthy to me but also delicious) on a bed of colcannon (I love colcannon as I have mentioned before...) with a perfectly poached egg sitting on top. In fancy restaurant style, the waiter came over with a small copper sauce-pan (living up to it's name for once) and poured a delicious grain mustard sauce over the top to finish it off. This was a great dish, warming, tasty - smoky, silky fish, comforting buttery colcannon, runny egg and creamy mustard sauce. Perfection on a plate. I accompanied it with some steamed spinach which was an inspired choice - spinach and smoked fish go so well together I think and it cut through some of the richness of the sauce. If you are a fan of chocolate truffles (and it won't surprise you to know that I am) I can report that Scott's version are lovely - it's funny that even when you are full to the brim (which I was) you can always fit in a truffle or three. We also got mini macaroons which were also tasty - in fact a full size macaroon is sometimes a bit much for me so bite size is just about right. Two of my luncheon companions had a "plateau fruits de mer" (seafood platter where I come from mate) which was an OTT double layer of shellfish that looked like someone had raped and pillaged a coral reef and dumped it on a plate, which came with a selection of sinister looking implements to dissect and extract the various creatures from their shells. They said it was delicious. Next time I go to Scott's I want to leave room for pudding because my friend Rachel says their creme brulee is the best ever and it is my favourite dessert (so far the best I have had is La Petite Maison - another Mayfair establishment...get me, coming on all fancy).
Friday, 22 January 2010
Hooray - a new venue for great coffee in Soho within walking distance of my office. I only noticed Foxcroft & Ginger today but apparently these guys have been open for a couple of weeks (check out their website). First impressions were good - the place looks funky but welcoming, there is a great display of cupcakes, scones, brownies and sandwiches to greet you and a friendly Aussie behind the behemoth of a coffee machine. What more can you ask for? They are still waiting on their cups so I got my flat white in a glass, but taste wise it was great - strong coffee, nicely steamed milk, familiar Monmouth taste (although less familiar these days - as cafes defect to Square Mile beans). Because I am weak and I have a legendary sweet tooth, I also had a carrot-cake cupcake - which was sensational. With carrot cake it's all about the cream cheese icing and this example was textbook. I realy like this place and I will definitely be back - you should go and check it out. I love making a new addition to my Central London Coffee Survival Guide Map.
Thursday, 21 January 2010
I went to Alan Yau's noodle bar Cha Cha Moon on Ganton St in Soho last night. I love Alan Yau - Yauatcha is still one of my favourite London places to eat (char sui bun - mmmmmm) and Wagamama was such a breath of fresh air on the London restaurant scene in the 90s - but I have to say that Cha Cha Moon didn't grab me on the first visit. First impressions were good - a funky space, very Waga-like, communal dining. The menu looked amazing and the Holy Vaasna juice (apple, carrot & orange) was delicious. I made the mistake of taking the waiter's recommendation for my main dish - unless I really trust waiters I never do this because it is usually a tactic to shift slow moving items (or am I just being cynical?). I ordered Crispy Duck with Lao mian (boiled) noodles. As you'll see from the photo, what arrived was basically a big lump of carbs next to a big lump of protein, with 2 tiny pickled cucumber slices providing a welcome bit of green. There was also a small bowl of duck flavoured broth which the waiter said I could drink by itself or pour over the duck as it was sometimes "a bit dry" (they really need to work on that sales pitch!). The duck was not dry and in fact was the best bit of the dish - crispy, succulent and with some sort of plum sauce underneath, it was delicious. If I'd had some pancakes and chopped spring onion I would have been a happy man. The problem was the noodles - they were a glutinous lump that refused to separate. They tasted OK but were really tricky to eat and just didn't seem to fit with the duck. All in all it was kind of an odd dish - it needed some chopped herbs or something to lighten it up and Iwould have preferred the noodles and duck combined - maybe in the broth? I am not writing this place off though - out of loyalty to Alan I will be back to try out a few more things - but I will be staying away from the lao mian noodles. One thing it definitely has in its favour is that it's really cheap - our 3 bowls of noodles and 3 juices came to £27 which is good value in anyone's book.
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Don't you love it when you finally get to see inside somewhere that has always intrigued you? (Okay - that sounded vaguely obscene - or is it just my dirty mind??) Anyway - I used to often walk down Manette Street to get from my office in New Oxford St to Soho (avoiding the crush at the Oxford St/TCR intersection) and I always noticed this cute little church on my right, just before you walk throug the passage under the Pillars of Hercules pub and out on to Greek St. Every time I would wonder if it was a "working" church, who went there, how you got inside (any entrance on Manette St seemed to be blocked up). Of course with my over-active imagination I pictured some secret sect associated with the Knights Templar holding candelit meetings, plotting world domination. OK I didn't really imagine that but there was definitely a Da Vinci Code-like vibe going on. Finally, before Christmas I got to see inside - I was at the swanky temporary club at the House of St Barnabus and went out to the back garden with some smokers to find that the chapel (as it turned out to be) was connected and you could just walk in, which I did. I found myself all alone in a perfect little 19th century chapel - definitely a moment. I always think it's cool when you can find tranquility in the middle of a busy city and you certainly don't often find it in Soho but that was exactly what I felt in the chapel at the House of St Barnabus. Very cool.
Tuesday, 19 January 2010
I certainly would never have gone looking for good coffee 3 flights up in the Snow & Rock ski & outdoor shop in Mercer Street in Covent Garden but thanks to The Cafe Hunter (cool site - you should check it out) I found it there. I dragged my fellow blogger Ryan along and after dragging our sorry arses up 3 flights of stairs we found a laid back space, pretty much empty and the smell of freshly roasted beans - which it turns out are provided by a company called Bullet Coffee, who I had never heard of (today was a learning day). Friendly staff, pretty fine coffee (as you will see from the photo) and a delicious Anzac biscuit, which - for you non-antiopodeans out there - is a chewy biscuit made from golden syrup, rolled oats...look, just check it out here. Eating them always makes me homesick (in a good way) and they go perfectly with a strong flat white. The one I had at Bullet was large and chewy and pretty much spot on. Not sure I will be making special trips to Bullet just for coffee (although it is good) particularly as Monmouth is just round the corner but if ever I was walking by I would definitely go up and every now and again when I'm craving a chewy, syrupy taste of home I know where to go.
Saturday, 16 January 2010
Soho Square - if not the geographical centre of Soho, definitely the social hub. All the tribes of Soho can be found here on a sunny summer's day (remember those - they seem a distant memory in chilly January) - the drunks, the junkies, the preening shirtless muscle marys, the scruffy oh-so-cool media types, the working girls, the gorgeous and the bizarre. Sit on a bench in Soho Square for an hour and you can see so many mini dramas and comedies being played out - I love it. Good to see that the mock tudor gardener's hut in the centre has been spruced up (see left). As well as the people watching, I feel like Soho Square is integral to so many of my London experiences - it's one of those squares that you walk through on the way to or from somewhere or someone significant. Big nights out, assignations, job interviews, break-ups, first days, last days, in all sorts of states - I had this great idea once that you could take a photo of someone over a period of time every time they walked through the square and track how their lives had changed. Anyway I'm rambling - but I do have a real fondness for Soho Square and I particularly like the Eglise Protestante Francaise de Londres on the north east corner of the square - it's such a beautiful building and I have this fantasy about turning it into my house, which is unlikely to happen, but hey a boy can dream. These days I most often walk through Soho Square on my way to Milk Bar - I love the fact that you can stand at the southern end of the square and look down the slightly urine-scented laneway (weirdly called Bateman's Buildings) and at the end, like a beacon of coffee goodness, is Milk Bar. I also used to like the walk down Sutton Row to get to the Astoria (a minute's silence please for that sadly departed institution) and I liked the scruffy, dodgy, dog-leg of Falconberg Mews (home of legendary nightclub The Ghetto), but that has all gone to make way for Crossrail - boo hiss. I tend to mourn the passing of the dodgier, seedier part of inner city living - not that I want to live in a crime-ridden, unsafe city, but I do feel that every city needs it's shabbiness, it's seediness, just as it needs its glitz and glamour - it's all about the contrast in my opinion. Anyway - here endeth the lesson once again (note to self - do not use blog to preach...) - this was meant to be a paean to one of my favourite places in London - good old Soho Square. Roll on summer-time.
Monday, 4 January 2010
Happy new year! In 2010 I am looking forward to expanding my Central London Coffee Survival Guide Map (thanks to all those who have suggested suitable additions) and crossing off a few more names on my "places I want to eat at" list (including Pulpo, Wild Honey, Hawksmoor and Boundary). Another place I had wanted to check out, mainly to see what their coffee was like was the Fleet River Bakery in Lincoln's Inn Fields. I went there for a late lunch and as well as a flat white (more on that later) I had a carrot and hummus wrap thing - yes I know, healthy and boring but I am determined to start the year eating well...OK in all honesty I had had a mid morning sausage and egg sourdough sandwich at Lantana (which was sublime) and I was not really very hungry. Anyway the wrap was actually delicious - not sausage sandwich delicious, but healthy, crunchy, fresh, good quality hummus delicious. The flat white was also good - not amazing but pretty good, a tad bitter (which I don't mind) but with nicely steamed milk. I liked the decor of the place and the staff were friendly. Their cakes and sandwiches looked delicious and they had a cous cous salad that looked super tasty. If I was in the area I would definitely go back.