Monday, 31 January 2011

Liberty - Great Marlborough Street W1

Ah Liberty - once best known (at least in my lifetime) for posh floral blouses and scarves worn by county, Mitford-esque women of a certain age but over the last couple of decades reinvented as a bastion of cool.  I love this shop - in fact if I could design a department store, it would be a lot like Liberty.  Firstly I love the building itself - an over the top Tudor tribute built in the 1920s from the timbers of two ships (the HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan) with an amazing exterior (complete with a huge golden ship weathervane) and an even better interior, with the beautiful central light wells and wooden staircases.  For the fellas, the menswear section in the basement is probably the best in London and the addition of Murdock Grooming, a contemporary twist on the traditional mens' barber shop is really cool (my dream is to ditch the morning Gillette routine and come here for a proper wet shave three times a week).  Also in the basement is the champagne and oyster bar - what better way to celebrate a close shave than a few glasses of bubbly?  I am a bit of a (wannabe) furniture aficionado so I love their home furnishings department - the prices are at the high end so I am more of a looker than a buyer (sorry poor misguided sales assistant who thought I was a sure thing to buy the £6,000 sofa...).  I know this is beginning to sound like a Liberty PR release but I think this place is a gem - I always feel good coming to Liberty and even if you are firmly anti-consumerism, if nothing else the building itself warrants a look.  So long live Liberty of London - a beacon of cool sophistication in Great Marlborough Street.

Crossrail - a small positive...

Those of you who read this blog will know I am not a fan of the Crossrail development - particularly as I have watched from my office window whilst a whole Soho block (including some really cool old warehouse buildings and a proper old Soho boozer) was demolished.  Don't even get me started on the Astoria.... Anyway, trying to look on the bright side - the demolition of the block bordered by Dean and Great Chapel Streets has revealed a better view of the old St Patrick's Schools Soho building - now one of those slightly shady English language colleges but originally I assume (I can't find any info on it) a school for local Soho RC children, perhaps associated with St Patrick's church in Soho Square?  I have always liked the building, in particular the writing on the front, but I had never realised there was a covered basketball court on the roof - I thought they only existed in New York.  Whilst I really like the building, it does have a certain grim quality so (perhaps unfairly) I imagine it was not exactly fun and games for the 19th century pupils.  At some stage though (most likely in the 20th century) they got a covered sports area (I imagine it must have been for football originally?) so at least that's something.  So one fringe benefit of the relentless Crossrail destruction/construction is these little glimpses into parts of Soho that have been hidden up until now.

Coffee by the Clock - Fleet St EC4

Alerted by my friend Gen that those lovely people behind Flat Cap and Notes Music & Coffee had started a coffee cart in Fleet St, I mounted a Boris bike and cycled eastward on my lunch hour to suss it out.  Situated in the picturesque courtyard of St Dunstan-in-the-West, just near the corner of Fleet St and Fetter Lane, Coffee by the Clock (so named because of the giant clock attached to the church) is run from a cute little red van.  Not sure if it was because of the chilly ride but my flat white tasted really amazing - it's not as if I am a stranger to expertly poured Square Mile coffee and steamed milk, but this one just really hit the spot.  As I sipped happily away I gazed on what is apparently the only known statue of Queen Elizabeth 1st - which originally adorned the old "Lud" gate on Ludgate Hill, then languished in storage in a pub basement and was finally mounted on the wall of St Dunstan's in 1839.  Quite a story - and a very
impressive statue of Good Queen Bess.  I did feel sorry for the friendly barista, shivering away but as she pointed out, when the weather improves, her job will be the envy of all her friends.  I love everything these guys do - Notes in particular - so I am delighted that they are bringing good coffee to the needy workers of Fleet Street.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Monday, 24 January 2011

Broadwick Street - Soho W1

I have several Soho streets that I love and Broadwick Street is right up there.  I love the cobbles (although it's a killer in flip flops), I love the row of perfectly preserved early 1700's terrace at Nos 48 to 58 (pictured), one of my favourite pubs is there, the John Snow - site of many a boozy evening over the last decade, buzzing on the cheap Sam Smith's Ayingerbrau lager (oh the hangover from that stuff).  The pub is named (ironically given he was a teetotaller) after the man who fought against the cholera epidemic and chained the water pump on Broadwick St to stop its spread - I also love the memorial water pump in the middle of the street, put there as a tribute to the great man.  Yauatcha is also on Broadwick St (love some posh dim sum) plus two of my other favourite streets run off Broadwick Street - Berwick Street (Flat White, Foxcroft & Ginger, the market and more) and Lexington Street (Andrew Edmunds, Mildreds, Fernandez & Wells to name a few). I've been meaning to do a blog post on the few remaining great independent record shops in London and one of the coolest ones is right here on Broadwick Street, up the Wardour St end - Sounds of the Universe, the place for all your reggae, disco, funk, soul and world beat needs and linked to the Soul Jazz label.  There's also a really cool art supply shop from which, over the years, I have bought many a handsome sketchbook, most of which are still in their pristine, un-sketched in state...sigh.  At the western end of Broadwick Street you can sashay right into Marshall Street (I love the enclave of Newburgh and Marshall Streets) or you can continue on and check out Carnaby St and Kingly Court.  So really, when you think about it, Broadwick Street rocks - in fact I may even venture to say Broadwick Street is the centre of Soho, at least in my book.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Kopapa - Monmouth St WC2

There are two reference points for Kopapa - one or both of which you may relate to dear reader, depending on how you roll.  The first is that it is the latest venture from the mighty Peter Gordon (along with his partners Michael McGrath, Adam Wills and Brandon Allen) of Providores fame.  The second is that it occupies the site of what was one of central London's most well known "A-Gay" bars The Box - site of many a gym-honed pec and skin-tight t-shirt.  My friend Ryan and I had a hilarious time sitting in the window at Kopapa and spotting those passing who obviously were expecting Box to still be there.  Anyway, on to Kopapa.  I loved this place - anyone who has been to The Providores will know how innovative Peter is and the menu at Kopapa reflects this.  We shared some small plates/tapas - I can't lie and say I absolutely loved all of them but they were all super interesting and one of them was really amazing.  The one slight let down for me was the cassava chips, which I found a bit bland, but I think that's probably more to do with the cassava itself as the chips were presented beautifully, with avocado, sriracha chilli sauce and crème frâiche on the side.  The coconut sticky pork ribs and the pork, chilli, coconut & gapi salad on endive with crispy shallots were really both good but the stand out winner for me was the parmesan and bone marrow sauce on toast with chrain (beetroot relish).  This was a truly delicious dish and the contrast of the rich bone marrow and parmesan mix and the vinegary beetroot was just perfect.  We finished off with a top notch flat white(they do take away coffee in the morning - I had one today and it was great) and left contented.  The new owners have completely re-done the interior (which is probably a good thing) and it looks really good - I particularly like the inverted tulip shaped lights.  I can't wait to go back here for weekend brunch and also work my way through the rest of the tapas menu.

Kopapa on Urbanspoon

Bermondsey Street Coffee - SE1

OK so Bermondsey St is my new obsession (don't worry Bloomsbury - I still love you) so only days after eating at Zucca I dragged four willing coffee drinkers on a chilly walk from Borough Market to Bermondsey Street Coffee (made easier by the fact that Monmouth at Borough is closed for renovation, at least the coffee making part - you can still buy beans).  I had spotted this place and had wanted to go back and it didn't disappoint - it has that sort of laid back studenty vibe with mis-matched sofas and lots of retro posters on the wall (including Sam Fox in the loo!) which I have always liked - we nabbed a corner leather sofa combo and it was super cosy.  The coffee was great and the food looked good too - another reason to love Bermondsey St and another pin in my Central London Coffee Survival Guide map!

Harvest at Jimmy's Festival

I don't go to many events as a blogger - mainly because my humble little blog is probably not going to make or break a new restaurant or cafe (particularly as my policy is only to write about places I like) but last night I made an exception and went along to The Eagle in Farringdon Rd (which I have still never eaten at - what is wrong with me?) at the invitation of Emily from Taste PR to talk about Harvest at Jimmy's - a festival of food and music at Jimmy's farm in Suffolk.  For those of you who don't know who Jimmy Doherty is - he's the likable dude who first hit our screens with his pig farm and most recently on the very entertaining show where he recreates convenience food (like soft serve ice cream or prawn crackers).  There is something really likeable about this whole enterprise and there is nothing like a late Summer festival as a last hurrah before Autumn sets in - so if you fancy an escape from London keep it in mind.  The other great thing about last night was meeting another blogger - albeit one who has considerably more success, longevity and credibility than me.  Nice to meet you Gourmet Chick - great blog and a thoroughly nice person to boot.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Zucca - Bermondsey St SE1

I seem to have been getting area envy lately - on the weekend it was Broadway Market, this week it's Bermondsey Street.  The other half and I went to visit "the Steves" who were house-sitting a cool, warehousey style pad just off Bermondsey St and had suggested dinner at Zucca.  I had been wanting to go to Zucca for ages and was ravenous by the time we sat down for our 8.30 sitting so was in just the right frame of mind to enjoy this rather special Italian restaurant in a rather special street.  I wrote before Christmas about the changing nature of Bermondsey and nowhere sums it up more than the eponymous street at its heart.  Cool cafes, bars and restaurants jostle for space and the fact that Zucca was packed and buzzing on a chilly Tuesday night in January says it all.  I started with home-cured bresaola, rocket and parmesan (actually if I'm honest I started as always by hoovering most of the bread basket) which was a perfect salty, savoury plate with the almost startlingly brightly coloured air cured salted beef at its heart.  I was in a pasta mood (it was carbs-a-go-go last night I tell ya) so had the rigatoni with roasted pumpkin and ricotta as a main, which was hearty and comforting.  We really didn't need dessert but we all ordered it - the table was divided, two went for affogato which came with three large scoops of dark yellow vanilla ice-cream (which was too much but hey it all got eaten) and the other two (including me) went for pana cotta with rhubarb.  The panna cotta was amazing - flecked with vanilla it was incredibly rich but the soft, sour rhubarb was the perfect accompaniment to take the edge off the almost overpowering creaminess.  Again it was a huge serve and I probably shouldn't have scoffed it all but my "finish what's on your plate" upbringing, combined with my greed, took over so I polished the whole thing off.  It was sublime.  A pretty decent esperesso capped off what was a fantastic meal.  I have lots more spots ear-marked to come back and try on Bermondsey St so stay tuned.

Zucca on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Climpson & Sons/Broadway Market E8

So I finally got back to Broadway Market in Hackney after about 8 years...and guess what, things had changed!  I always remember thinking it was a cool area, with the canal at one end and London Fields at the other and I remember really liking The Dove but now you are spoilt for choice with all the cool stuff around this little corner of E8.  I actually had two missions - one was to check out the Saturday market and the other was to have a coffee at Climpson & Sons.  I have really struggled with being able to call myself a London coffee blogger without having sampled a flat white from this afficionados' favourite.  Anyway the good news is the coffee lived up to the hype - it was lovely.  As I had been told the place was packed but my local resident buddy Rosie and I managed to get seats so we could enjoy our flatties, chat and watch the hipsters troop in and out.  The food stalls on Broadway Market were top notch - I did the Aussie thing and had a meat pie and tomato sauce from one guy and it was great (not as good as a Four 'n Twenty though...).  I also bought some great bread from one of the many bread and cake stalls.  The shops on Broadway Market were also great - I particularly liked Broadway Books (thanks for the tip Ben).  I will be returning to F. Cooke to have authentic East End pie and mash (no jellied eels) and blog about it - it's important to remember the heritage of this area as well as it's groovy current incarnation.  I must say as I wandered off, full of meat pie and top quality caffeine from Climpsons, swinging my bag of bread and books, I was really jealous of Rosie living round here - I would love to have Broadway Market in my neighbourhood.

Climpson & Sons on Urbanspoon

Friday, 7 January 2011

Flat Planet - Great Marlborough St W1

I had walked past this place a few times and thought it was called "Fat Planet" and thought it was a weird name for a cafe, although perhaps quite honest...  Anyway silly me - it's Flat Planet and I think it could be a winner.  I finally went in today and wasn't really super hungry but luckily the lovely woman behind the counter offered me bite size samples of two of their flat breads.  Maybe I should take a step back before I start describing them - this place specialises in wheat free spelt flatbreads with a variety of toppings (so very much not Fat Planet actually).  Got it?  Good.  So the two I tried were both friggin' delicious - I can't wait to go back and try the full size versions.  One was called El Diablo and was amazing - spicy chorizo, rocket and parmesan among other things.  Yum.  The other was called a Moroccan and was also super tasty - with sour cream, hummus and tabouleh.  The one I am hanging out to try is their all day breakfast - pancetta & egg - sounds like hangover cure potential.  I ordered a coffee and whilst they didn't have flat white size cups the very friendly barista made me one in a latte cup and just poured less milk.  My coffee expectations were low but you know what, it was pretty good - too hot (as most places are) but really well steamed milk and pretty decent beans.  If all "non-coffee expert" cafes/sandwich joints in London could make coffee like this it would be a wondrous thing.  Even though I wasn't hungry I couldn't resist the chocolate brownies sitting on the counter (I mean I'm only human - stop judging me) so I had one - pretty darn fine.  Also they were just so nice in there - I really want them to succeed, so get on down there and get chomping on a delicious flat bread, you know you want to.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Grind Coffee Bar - SW15

Ah Putney - home of rowers, rugger fans, Nick Clegg and now a really decent coffee place called Grind.  Actually this particular part of Putney reminds me of an old job - which was across the bridge in a really dull bit of Fulham.  I used to walk over the bridge and along the Lower Richmond Road sometimes for lunch - how I wish Grind had been there back then.  A perfectly formed fern leaf on the top of my flat white was a good first sign and the coffee itself lived up to the decoration - lovely.  What made it even better was that I accompanied it with a perfect, chewy giant Anzac biscuit - a surefire winner for any homesick Antipodean.  So if you are an SW resident (like me) the good news is we can add one more location on the good coffee map - keep 'em coming I say.