Monday, 29 March 2010

Lantana - expanding?

Looks like one of my favourite cafes, Lantana in Charlotte Place is expanding next door into the shop that used to be occupied by the much-missed Viet Baguette (when is that re-opening by the way - and where??)  So good news for all those Lantana fans!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Caravan - Exmouth Market EC1

The Kiwi machine charges on - Caravan has recently opened on Exmouth Market (one of my favourite London streets) with Miles Kirby from Marylebone gem The Providores at the helm.  It's a really lovely space - a big airy room, buzzy but cosy.  I went there with my friend Rob for breakfast and I felt like I was back in Melbourne - it had that great breakfast vibe that is rare in London.  I was always frustrated here that for all the amazing restaurants, cool bars and clubs, there were very few places you could have a relaxed weekend breakfast - it was either greasy spoon or high-end.  I admit that has changed for the better in the last few years but a lot of the places are tiny so unless you are there bright and early it's tricky to get a table.  Caravan is big enough so that getting seated seems easier - having said that it is relatively new and it is really great so I'm sure word will spread and it will get trickier. Coffee is a focus here and the guys roast their own beans and create special blends for different times of the year.  The results are absolutely top notch - I had two of the best coffees I have had in a long time - a flat white and a cortado (which is increasingly becoming my coffee of choice) with a really fruity flavour to the beans and perfectly steamed milk.  Check out these little beauties (how cute is the cortado?!):

I had such a tasty breakfast - grilled ham with bubble and squeak, two poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.  How good does that sound?  Well let me tell you it tasted even better.  There was a slight mix up with our order and it took a little longer to come but they were so charming about it that it really didn't matter and it got us talking to the friendly Kiwi couple sitting next to us so it all got very chummy and chatty and added to the whole experience.  I really loved this place and I can't wait to go back.

Caravan on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 25 March 2010

BiBimBap - Greek St Soho W1

I had the tastiest lunch today - a dol sot bibimbap.  I know that sounds like something a teletubbie would say but it is actually a delicious traditional Korean dish.  I walked past the cafe of the same name on Greek St in Soho earlier today and thought "that looks new - what's going' on 'ere then"...or something like that.  Reading the menu on the window I remembered having bibimbap at a Korean restauarant last year but had no recollection if I liked it or not.  So back I trotted at lunchtime to try.  The place is obviously super-new.  The chairs and tables are spotless, the waiting stuff are really eager to please and my poor waiter kept getting whispered admonishments from the woman behind the counter about how to serve my drink and when to take my order.  This was all actually really endearing and as I was one of only a few people in there I felt like I was one of their first customers.  They also took a polaroid of me to put on the wall with others that looked like friends and family so if you go in soon you will see a grinning egg head amongst all the groovy Koreans.  The bibimbap came in a stone bowl, which you are warned not to touch as it's really hot (and it was, as I was shovelling the food into my mouth I accidentally touched it - ouch).  It was a thing of beauty - cucumber, daikon (a mild Asian radish), bean sprouts, spinach, carrots and mooli (like a daikon) with a perfectly fried egg on top.  Also provided were two brand new squeeze bottles of gochujang (fermented Korean chilli sauce) and some sort of bean sauce.  It comes on a bed of rice - for 70p extra you could substitute nutty brown rice for the standard white (which I did).  The waiter mixed everything together and I tucked in.  Oh man - this was warm, glutinous, tasty, just hot enough, spicy goodness.  It was comfort in a bowl, I absolutely adored it and I literally ate every grain of rice in my bowl!  You can add other things to your bibimbap - beef, pork, tofu etc but I am going to stick to this plain, healthy version because why would you mess with perfection?  Seriously - go there, you will love it.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Old Cafe Sign - Soho W1

The only good thing about the havoc Crossrail is causing around the TCR/Oxford Street intersection is that cool stuff like this is being revealed...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Flat Cap Coffee - Strutton Ground SW1

Let me start off this post by talking about Strutton Ground - I discovered this cute little street market around 10 years ago.  I was doing a brief stint at the most boring internet company you could think of, with offices above Victoria Station and at lunchtimes I would pound the pavement, trying to find something to brighten up my working day.  Obviously this particular lunchtime I was in dire need because I walked almost the whole length of Victoria Street when suddenly to my right I noticed a cute street market.  I liked the fact that you went from being in central London to being in what felt like the East End - or perhaps more accurately you went from 21st century central London (typified by Victoria Street) to 1950's central London.  If you walk the length of Strutton Ground to Great Peter Street (snigger) you find yourself surrounded by lovely Peabody Trust housing estates.  Keep wandering down here and turn left into Little College Street (basically the last street before Millbank and the river) and you get the most beautiful view of the Houses of Parliament.  I love it around here - particularly early in the morning before the tourist hordes.  Anyway I digress, this post was meant to be about the Flat Cap Coffee cart at the start of the market - this was certainly not here when I stumbled on Strutton Ground in 2000 but it is here now and it serves really decent flat whites.  Grinding Square Mile beans (those guys are everywhere!) and served with a smile (as you can see from the photo) this is a little gem and brings some much needed coffee quality to SW1.  I just wish they would add another cart to their collection and put it outside Victoria - something like this is much needed there amongst the "coffee" chain overload in the station building.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Brewed Boy coffee cart - Rupert St W1

Hooray - more great coffee in Soho and our very own coffee cart (given we W1 folk are sadly far away from Gwilym's carts).  I was alerted to Brewed Boy by the discerning Greedy Diva and so off I trotted to Rupert St for my post lunch coffee.  Manning this dinky coffee cart is the super friendly Rob (great name by the way...), recently back from 8 years in Brisbane, Australia (or as we Aussies call it BrisVegas).  He has certainly brought back Aussie coffee skills with him - my flat white was excellent, the familiar taste of Square Mile beans plus expertly steamed milk.  If you were walking from Shaftesbury Avenue to Oxford Street you can now get 3 great coffees in pretty much a straight line - Brewed Boy, followed by Foxcroft & Ginger and Flat White on Rupert St.  I only noticed when I uploaded my photo that his sign also says "book exchange" - what a great idea!  Apparently Rob has had some issues with a local caf that doesn't like him being on their turf - given the quality of brew this guys is serving I don't doubt they feel threatened.  So show your support by heading down there and sampling some Brewed Boy coffee, have a chat with Rob and perhaps swap yourself some new reading matter.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Rotherhithe - SE16

It is only recently that I could say with certainty that Rotherhithe was south of the river and that is because I started driving there - I think it's because the Thames does one of its many kinks at Rotherhithe so the east west thing is tricky.  Anyway - I've always liked Rotherhithe (even if I did think it was in East rather than South East London).  The river seems wider and moodier this far east and the area's past as commercial docklands is still evident.  We went there a couple of weekends ago to walk the Brunel tunnel to Wapping, but then it turned out that half of London had the same idea so we wandered around instead and it reminded me of just what a quirky and interesting area this is.  Last time I was there I had a beer at The Angel (pictured) and it did feel that at any moment smugglers were going to come into the bar demanding rum.  Just opposite this pub is a park with the ruins of a 14th century manor house - which kinda gives you the Rotherhithe vibe...history, lots of it!  There are lots of new flats - the nicest in converted warehouses and I think this would be a really cool place to live.  Pity about the tunnel - I really wanted to walk through it, but I should know by now that you need to get up early in this town to beat the crowds.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Hix - Brewer St W1

I had not been to any of Mark Hix's restaurants but my visit to Hix on Brewer St (as opposed to his Oyster & Chop House in Farringdon) makes me want to go to them all.  It was a quick lunch with people who didn't want starters or dessert (boo) so I had a main course only - but it was delicious.  I had hogget chops and they were pefect - also guilt free as a hogget is older than a lamb, so more than ready to be on my plate.  The space is really cool too - it's a little tricky to work out how to get in (see picture above) but once you do the main restaurant is a big airy space with simple tables and chairs and weird and wonderful pieces of art and sculpture dotted around.  There is also a bar downstairs, Mark's which looks great and is definitely somewhere I want to go for drinks soon (if only I wasn't so much of an old stay-at-home these days - I do love my couch and my Sky+).  So a pretty sketchy review really - but I did like what I saw and what I ate and I will definitely go back.

Hix on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Prufrock Coffee - Shoreditch High St E1

For many years (although it has been about 18 months since I've been there) one of my favourite ways to start a Sunday was to get an egg and bacon roll from the courtyard stall in Ezra Street, behind the Columbia Road flower market.   I could wax lyrical as to how reviving these were to my often hideously hungover state - but I'm sure you get the idea.  Eating one of these messy, greasy, delicious breakfasts while contemplating the morning's wanderings and seeing the crazy all-nighters staggering in and out of the Royal Oak was a small, simple joy that was part of one of my London top 5 things to do - Columbia Road.  Then I noticed the coffee cart next door and smelled the roasted beans and hoped beyond  hope that the coffee was decent - and Deo Gratias, it was.  After having thought I had created the perfect Sunday morning, it had just got even better with the addition of a top notch flat white.  What I didn't know was that the coffee cart was run by Gwilym Davies, as it's only over the last 6 months or so that this guy's name has been on my radar - fellow blogger Tom is a big fan and I trust his recommendations, then Robert (the nicest comment-writer ever) also name-checked Gwilym and recently Time Out (often late to the party) told us where to find good coffee in London and awarded Gwilym No. 1 status.  As I have since discovered he was also UK and World Barista Champion in 2009 so obviously this fella knows what he's doing.  This weekend, as part of an (only partially successful - see below) East End coffee mission, we headed to Gwilym's latest venture, Prufrock Coffee (loving the T.S. Eliot reference) at uber-cool clothes shop, Present in Shoreditch High St. The first thing you notice is the beautiful machine (detail in the photo above) with the traditional pull down handle to make espresso. Watching Gwilym pour milk feels slightly voyeuristic, as if you are watching something private and passionate and boy can he pour.  We started with a flat white and the combo of Square Mile beans, the top quality machine and the expertly steamed and poured milk was sensational.
Gulping that down like the true caffeine-junkie that I am I quickly ordered a cortado as a follow-up.  Great to see cortado on the menu - Fernandez & Wells call it a stumpy, at Dose they call it a Gibraltar but after discovering this "shorter than a latte, longer than a macchiato" coffee in Spain it will always be a cortado to me.  It comes in a tiny take away cup and was poured like a mini flat white, with equal love put into the latte-art on top.  All in all this was coffee at its very best - lovingly made, on the best equipment, with the best ingredients, by people who are top of their game.  Even though E1 is a bit of a trek for me I will definitely be back and I will be checking out Gwilym's Whitecross St cart as well - particularly as I hear that the queues at Columbia Rd are crazy these days.  The only downer to my day was that I made my second attempt to visit Taste of Bitter Love in Hackney Road to find it once again closed.  A very nice Aussie chap was there and was really apologetic and did say they would be opening on Saturdays in a couple of weeks so perhaps I'll give them one more chance...

Friday, 12 March 2010

Great Video - Norwegian Coffee Hunters

This is great - Gwilym Davies (World Barista Champion and coffee cart legend) has created a "disloyalty card" with the aim of sending punters to 8 of his favourite London coffee places.  And here are some caffeined-up Scandis doing it all in one day...

Java goes to London from Tomas Jensen on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Sacred - Ganton St W1

I feel a bit guilty about Sacred.  I had heard good things and I had a pretty good coffee there last year but I think I must have been in a bad mood when I went there because I remember not liking the interior and mentally crossing it off in my mind as a place I needed to visit (given there is no shortage of primo caffeine in Soho).  Today I was walking down Carnaby St and I felt the urge for a flat white just as I was walking past Ganton St so I decided to check it out again and I'm not sure why I was so dismissive before.  Sure, it does remind me a bit of a back-packer cafe and the whole "sacred" motif is a bit over-done but this is a cosy, welcoming place with lovely staff, great coffee and really delicious looking food on offer.  Feeling a bit like the grinch, I ordered a flat white to go - as soon as I got outside I took the lid off and had a look.  All signs were good and the taste test confirmed it - creamy milk and a good strong espresso hit.  Not sure of where their beans come from but they tasted like Monmouth to me.  I like their whole ethos (which you can read on their website) and I feel like I need to make amends for my attitude so I'll be back to put money in the till at Sacred!

Sacred on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 March 2010

Newman Passage W1

With a name that never fails to raise a snigger (as does Percy Passage nearby), Newman Passage is one of those cute hidden shortcuts that you only know if you either live or work locally.  For those in the know, it is a really handy way to cut through to Charlotte Street if you are coming from the western end of Oxford Street.  I also take it by choice, just because I get a kick out of walking down cobbled alleys, passages if you will...snigger.  Anyway - double entendres aside Newman Passage reminds me of Dickensian London plus a touch of Jack the Ripper when you find yourself alone there after dark (snigger).  It also has the benefit of having the Newman Arms upstairs Pie Room at one end of it - which is the perfect place to chase away the winter blues with a hearty pie and a pint of something.  This also used to be the site of the London College of Massage where you could get a cheap massage (snigger) but one day they just weren't there anymore - in fact if anyone knows where they moved to please let me know because I can't find them online and I miss those cheap massages (snigger...snort...).  Newman Passage also reminds me of my friend Matt who had to get a photo done for an article that someone was writing about him so asked me to be photographer for the day.  We chose Newman Passage for the shots and used his Lomo camera.  I totally got into the David Hemmings Blow Up vibe and the photos actually turned out OK.   Sniggers aside, I imagine all sorts of mischief has gone on here - particularly when Fitzrovia was populated by anarchists and drunks.  So next time you're wandering aimlessly around this area take a stroll down Newman Passage and when you emerge into Newman Street take a sharp left and proceed directly to Lantana for brilliant coffee, fantastic cakes and London's best breakfast.