Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Cox Cookies & Cake - Brewer St W1

If you are a fashionista or maybe fancied yourself as a 90s trend-setter in your "wannabe" loafers then you are well aware of who Patrick Cox is.  For those of you who have nfi, he is a designer (mainly of shoes), is Canadian, is often pictured in the society pages with David Furnish (Elton John's hubby) and is gracing the esteemed pages of this blog because late last year he opened a cake shop in Brewer St in Soho.  Brewer St has always been a little seedy and to me that adds to the allure, however it is also has some great places to eat and drink - Randall & Aubin and Hix Soho to name but two.  Cox, Cookies & Cake is at the Rupert St end of Brewer St and so the inevitable double entendre is apt.  To be honest, the cakes are just OK but they look amazing.  Plus the place itself and the cupcake decoration are so OTT (yes, there are cakes with cocks on them) that it is worth visiting just to check them out.  The lemon cupcake I had was nice but unremarkable and the reviews have been a bit harsh, but something about this whole experience made me smile so I have no issue with recommending that you check it out.  Just make sure that if you are in the area you pop round the corner into Rupert St and say g'day to Brewed Boy.

Cox Cookies & Cake on Urbanspoon

Postcard from LA - Intelligentsia Coffee, Venice Beach

America has always seemed to me like the land that coffee forgot, even though the yanks are big coffee drinkers.  I was always intrigued by the coffee percolators on US TV shows when I was growing up and the concept of the "bottomless cup" you got at roadside diners.  When I finally got State-side in 1991 most of the stuff I got served, in particular the "bottomless" variety, tasted like arse.  In the years since I have drunk better coffee in the US but have never managed to get a decent milky coffee - it seems that whilst America embraced the Starbucks culture whole-heartedly and actually became OK at making decent brewed coffee (those last two things were not related by the way) I still struggled to find the sort of cafes that I had come to love back in Melbourne and then more recently in London.  That was until my friend Lisa introduced me last year to Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice Beach, CA (one of several US locations).  Firsly, if you ever get to LA, make sure you get to Abbot Kinney - it is a really cool area and there are some great places to eat (in fact I had one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten at a restaurant on Abbot Kinney called Gjelina - fried egg, harissa aoili, confit tomatoes, rocket and speck...oh yeah), drink and generally feel like a hipster.  Most importantly though fellow coffee-junkies, it is where you will find LA's best coffee at Intelligentsia.  The place itself is really cool - there is often a queue but the system seems to work well and before you know it you are presented with a pretty damn fine beverage.  I went there afgain a couple of weeks ago and when I asked the guy if he could make me a flat white (it wasn't on the menu) he not only knew exacly how to make a textbook variety (see photo above) but also name-checked Gwilym Davies (is there any coffee-corner of the world that GD has not infiltrated?) and was super chuffed when I said his latte-art was "Gwilym-worthy".  Anyway, this blog is meant to be about London so I will stop wittering on about Intelligentsia, but I do feel like it is part of my duty to ensure that wherever you guys are in the world, you can satsify your need for a primo flattie.

Intelligentsia Coffee on Urbanspoon

Monday, 9 May 2011

Southbank - SE1

I have waxed lyrical about the Southbank precinct before, when I reviewed Canteen some time ago but I decided that this wonderful area of London needed its own post.  As the weather gets warmer I tend to walk from Waterloo in to Soho rather than take the tube (particularly as recently the Crossrail ....grrrrr.... project means the Northern Line doesn't stop at TCR for another thousand years).  Often there is a temporary market in the space behind the Royal Festival Hall, right outside Canteen and the other day it was a Tea & Coffee Festival (pictured).  Maybe I was in a good mood that day but I suddenly got all misty-eyed and sentimental about the Southbank and the fact that hidden behind it was this cute little mini-festival celebrating tea & coffee, with passionate producers and distributors touting their wares.  Combine that with all the great cultural venues on offer within a short stroll - the National Theatre, the BFI Southbank, the Hayward Gallery, great places to eat and drink plus the joy of the south bank itself - the second hand bookstalls under Waterloo Bridge, the promenade, the people watching - what a place!  Here I go getting misty-eyed again, but please, please, if you have never been to the Southbank Centre or any of the surrounding areas or you haven't been there in a long time or you just don't know it that well, spend some time there.  Summer is a wonderful time to visit - there is always something going on.  Case in point, the other day as I wandered across the footbridge from Embankment I came across Billy Bragg playing outside Festival Hall - that pretty much sums it up for me.

Royal Victoria Patriotic Building - SW18

Whilst I'm in gothic revival mode (I feel like I should be wearing eyeliner and listening to Sisters of Mercy) it seems appropriate to blog about another architectural gem - the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building.  Built in the mid 1800s as an orphanage for children of Crimean War veterans, the building was subsequently used as a 1st World War soldiers' hospital, an interrogation centre for German spies in the 2nd World War, a teachers' training college and a school, before lying derelict for years.  Finally offered for sale for £1 but requiring the purchaser to undertake millions of pounds worth of repairs and restoration, the building was transformed into a unique combination of apartments, studios and workspaces and a restaurant and bar.  The other half and I were lucky enough to live here around 5 years ago and it was amazing to move into a building like this one.  Slightly spooky I must say - there are all sorts of ghost stories associated with the place (not surprising given its history) and there were times, walking around the corridors of the main building at night that the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  The building contains two lovely courtyards; the nicest has two fish ponds with fat, colourful goldfish in them.  Our apartment, which had an amazing vaulted living area and the original church-like windows, overlooked the other courtyard which led off the restaurant and bar (called Le Gothique).  This wasn't necessarily ideal as anyone who lives above or next to a restaurant or bar will tell you - but it was kind of handy to be able to be able to buy ready made jugs of Pimms in the summer.  When the building was first renovated some of the early residents were 80s pop-tastic, supposedly a Duran Duranite and also the male half of the Thompson Twins (who still lives there) and there is still a bit of a decadent vibe going on, or at least there was in our part of the building.  Again that was not necessarily a plus for us - as we both had jobs that required us to be up and at it early during the week and there were regular Tuesday night 4am benders going on at our neighbour's place.  Sleepless nights aside, we really liked living at the RVPB - if you ever get the chance, have a look inside at the main hall with its heraldic painted ceiling, it's amazing.  Perched on the edge of Wandsworth Common, this building is a landmark to SW residents but largely unknown to the rest of London - it's definitely worth a visit and you can get a Pimms buzz up afterwards at le Gothique and then go and wander round lovely Wandsworth Common.  Go on - get your gothic on.

The Gilbert Scott at St Pancras NW1

So firstly, let's have some love for the wonderful, amazing St Pancras and old Midland Grand Hotel building - one of my favourite buildings in London (I do love a bit of Gothic revival architecture).  It defies belief that it almost got demolished in the 60s - but then again that was the decade of "out with the old and in with the new" so perhaps not so surprising.  Anyway thanks to, amongst others, John Betjeman demolition was avoided and this wonderful building lived on and is now the Eurostar hub, a snazzy new hotel plus the site of super-chef Marcus Wareing's new venture The Gilbert Scott - named after the architect responsible for all this splendour.  The other half and I were lucky enough to get a sneak peak at the restaurant before it officially opened, thanks to some friends who know the main man himself.  I have to admit, getting to shake Marcus' hand on the way in did make me slightly star-struck - in this age of instant celebrity, meeting a true master of their craft is actually something worth getting excited about.  (On that note - I include in that category novelists, musicians and actors who can actually act).  Anyway, enough name-dropping - on to the place itself.  The bar as you walk in is really cool - great seating, fantastic lighting (including enormous bells hanging from the ceiling) and most importantly brilliant cocktails, including one that was delivered out of a soda siphon (very carefully!)  We could have happily spent the evening downing cocktails but were shepherded into the main room - which is grand in all the right ways and harks back to the days when dining at a railway station was a real event.  It reminded me of a pared back version of Le Train Bleu at Gare de Lyon in Paris (if you haven't been - go).  Unfortunately I was in the middle of a 5 week battle with a super-cold virus and I could barely smell or taste anything, which was hugely frustrating so it's hard to report on the food.  What I can say is that I loved the menu - very traditional British dishes, local produce and fully in keeping with the overall vibe.  I can't wait to go back and actually taste the food properly - my 3 dining companions loved everyting they ate.  I know it's a little weird to blog about a restaurant and not describe the food but come on, it's Marcus Wareing, the food is going to be good.  Plus the location is amazing and you can jump on a train to Paris after dinner -what's not to like?  And if you can't get a booking at the Gilbert Scott (important to note that the bar is open to non diners also), buy yourself a sandwich and stand and admire the magnificence of this building - even more beautiful given how close we came to losing it forever. 

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Federation Coffee - Brixton SW9

My trip to check out Federation Coffee today reminded me of my early days living in London in 1999 when I shared a house in Streatham Hill with three really good friends, Beth, Steph and Paul.  I had forgotten how fast the Victoria Line tube trains go between Vauxhall and Stockwell (seriously folks, it's like a roller coaster), then as the escalator took me up towards the rowdy reality of Brixton, I was suddenly a wide-eyed 29 year old Aussie again (please don't calculate how old that makes me now - it's just cruel).  Turning left on to Brixton Road and then left again on to Coldharbour Lane, I gave a friendly nod to the good old Ritzy Cinema  and as I walked I remembered late night adventures on this very thoroughfare, trying to look cool and "street" and then ending up with a cling film wrapped piece of tree bark, or a baggie of chamomile tea.  It has really changed very little in 12 years (although no-one offered me spliff today) and my old haunts, Club 414 and the Dogstar are still there.  What wasn't familiar was Brixton Village Market - or at least it's current incarnation as a home for various funky eateries.  I seem to remember this as a pretty uninspiring and slightly dodgy shopping arcade but it is really cool now.  Inside is Federation Coffee - dispenser of fine caffeinated beverages to SW9 locals (and coffee tourists like me).
Friendly Kiwis behind the counter, cool little shop, delicious looking brownies and a really great flat white (made with Nude beans) - this is a cracker of a place.  After my coffee I had some scrambled eggs on toast at a really cute little cafe just down from Federation called the Relay Tea Room and felt very content with the world.  I am keen to come back and check out more of the food on offer in the rejuvenated Brixton Village Market - sounds like there are lots of cool activities going on as well, apparently Felix from Basement Jaxx was DJing in the market the other night.  I'm sure if you live anywhere near SW9 you already know about Federation Coffee and Brixton Village Market but for you others I would definitely recommend a trip down south to check it out.

Federation Coffee on Urbanspoon