Wednesday, 31 August 2011

CaPhe VN - Clerkenwell Rd EC1

I have written before about how much I love CaPhe VN's Saigon street cafe in Broadway Market in Hackney and I was super excited to hear about their latest opening in Clerkenwell.  I am still holding out hope that these guys will open an outlet in Soho or Fitzrovia but at least Clerkenwell is closer to my workplace then E8.  This area of Clerkenwell is so cool - the Zetter, the Zetter Townhouse, The Modern Pantry, St Ali, St John St around the corner - foodies are spoilt for choice and CaPhe VN is a welcome addition.  I love the fact that CaPhe VN have kept the street cafe vibe by having beach chairs out the front of their Clerkenwell store - there is such a friendly vibe with these guys and that combined with delicious bahn-mi is a winning combination.  Predictable as I am , I once again opted for the classic pork bahn-mi and it was as excellent as always.  Given the slight Autumn chill in the air I did opt to have my Vietnamese coffee hot rather than cold today - I prefer it chilled but the hot, strong, sweet coffee and condensed milk combo was a winner also.  If you haven't yet sampled the delights of bahn-mi then there is no better place to start than Caphe VN - although I warn you, one visit and you'll be hooked like me!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Everyman Cinema - Hampstead NW3

I do love me an art-house cinema - whether it's The Electric, The Ritzy, the Curzon Soho or Mayfair, the Renoir or the Barbican, I am always happy with a sub-titled film, some organic chocolate coated raisins and a glass of wine in an in-house bar afterwards.  One I had not been to and had been wanting to for ages was the Everyman in Hampstead.  I finally got there on the weekend - to see a rather charming Italian film about an older guy who feels like he has lost his mojo (I also like to see films I can relate to).  As well as loving the film I loved the Everyman - the location is tops of course (I get such suburb envy in Hampstead) but everything from the friendly staff, the cool little bar, to the velvet sofas in the cinema were just spot on.  I plan to visit again soon and if you haven't so should you - this place is a total gem.

Mayfair Ramblings - W1

I had a really annoying meeting at work last week and I needed to get out of the office and walk off my frustration - I didn't have any particular destination in mind but soon I found myself crossing Regent Street and heading for Berkeley Square.  As soon as I walked into this most graceful of West End squares I felt immediately better and decided to work out where I was actually heading.  As it was lunch time and food is important to me (as you may have gathered) I decided to venture deeper into Mayfair and check out the Mount St Deli, which I had read about on Beanhunter as somewhere that did good coffee.  I got slightly lost but ended up on Mount Street near The Audley pub (know to the post Ivor Novello Award revellers as the "DisAudley" - if you've been on that particular day you'll know what I'm talking about).  Mount Street is Mayfair at it's most pristine and perfect - as well as the aforementioned pub there are some very high end antique shops, the wonderful Scott's restaurant and up a little on the right, the Mount St Deli.  I do love a cafe with a grocery section and the Mount Street deli had all manner of deliciousness on display.  I ordered a flat white and a quesadilla with taleggio and grilled peppers - the coffee was good (not outstanding but pretty decent) but the quesadilla was amazing.  I admit I was ravenous but seriously this thing was all melted-cheesy deliciousness.  I will be back just for that (and maybe save the coffee fix for Taylor St nearby).  After lunch I strolled into the lovely and serene Mount Street Gardens - if you have never visited
this little oasis you must.  Whenever I'm here I always feel like I should be meeting with someone from M15 and slipping them a brown folder with photos of the Russian embassy inside, but maybe that's just me.  I suppose it's because it feels quite old fashioned and "old London" (which lots of Mayfair still does - at least those bits not over-run with silly banker/oligarch money).  To cap off my stress-busting sojourn I went and had a look inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Farm Street - which is just lovely.  I had first come across a reference to this church in one of my favourite books, "Brideshead Revisited".  The
conflicted Julia Flyte, struggling with a Catholic upbringing and an American lover (divorced no less) "took her problem to Farm St" which I eventually worked out must be referring to a church, which it was and it's this one.  If all this church-going is too much for you you could instead visit the Punch Bowl also on Farm St - a cute little pub made famous by having Madonna's ex as one of its co-owners.  All in all I had a very pleasant hour or so and I got back to my desk refreshed and ready for the afternoon.  Mayfair therapy I call it.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

T J Boulting Building - Riding House St W1W

I may have mentioned before how much I love Fitzrovia... but just in case you missed it, I LOVE Fitzrovia, in fact I love a whole swathe of London that stretches from Fitzrovia east through Bloomsbury and Holborn to Clerkenwell and Farringdon.  I have lots of love for lots of bits of London but it is these parts that have really captured my heart.  I long for a big Georgian house near Fitzroy Square, or perhaps within walking distance of Lambs Conduit Street.  I just love the tranquility you get walking around the streets of Fitzrovia, compared to what you would experience a few hundred metres away in Oxford Street or Tottenham Court Road.  As well as some great pubs, excellent cafes (think Kaffeine, Tapped & Packed, Lantana...) there are some lovely buildings and one of my favourites is the old T J Boulting building on the corner of Riding House Street and Nassau Street. Whilst the plaque dates the company (who were gas & electrical engineers and in later years made stoves and range cookers) to 1808 the building is actually from around 100 years later and has fantastic mosaic lettering on the corners and sides.  When I walked past the other day there was construction going on inside - I really hope whoever is moving in here and refurbishing it is sensitive to what a gem this is.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Flat Cap Fleet St - EC4

The wonderfully located caffeine experts Coffee by the Clock have had a name change - they are now called Flat Cap Fleet St to link them more closely with their progenitor (who knew I would ever use the word "progenitor" in my blog...) Flat Cap Coffee in Strutton Ground SW1.  These guys know what they're about when it comes to coffee and whether it's at one of these cool coffee carts or the lovely lovely Notes Music & Coffee you will get great service along with your primo flat white.  Keep breeding Flat Cap, we need more of your coffee carts.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Lina Stores - Brewer St W1

There are some great Italian delis scattered around London but the best, in my humble opinion, is Lina Stores on Brewer St in Soho.  Looking mighty fine after a 2010 refurb - the green tiling and old fashioned typography are spot on.  I love just staring at the produce on display in the window but it's hard to resist going inside and I always end up coming out with something that I didn't realise I needed.  Yesterday it was some top quality tuna in olive oil and a can of chopped tomatoes (I'm a sucker for Italian canned tomatoes - I usually go by how cool the can is, kinda silly I know...)  There is so much deliciousness on offer in this wonderful shop - fresh (daily) pasta, amazing meats and cheeses, olives, canned goods, fresh herbs, basically every Italian staple you could ever want.  This place has been in business for over 50 years (with a location change at one point I believe) and really has the feel of a family run store, with owners and staff who have lots of passion and commitment for what they do.  I absolutely love this deli - long may it thrive.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Berwick Street Market - Soho W1

Over the 12 years I have lived in London I have watched the gradual gentrification of the southern end of Berwick Street.  [As a contrast, the northern end of Berwick Street, which used to be heaving with record shops makes me sad - the decline of the music industry can be seen right here in these few Soho blocks.  Anyway, we will leave that part of the street (immortalised by Oasis on the cover of "What's the Story Morning Glory") and focus on the narrower, market-end.]  Given its proximity to "Porn Alley" (otherwise known as Walker's Court) this part of Berwick Street always had that same whiff (literally sometimes) of seediness, with several dodgy looking doorways with hand-written signs or neon lights in upper windows promising a "Model".  There was the herbal-high/smoke shop and the vegetarian food shop (Beatroot) which I would patronise on my health-kick days, plus there were fabric shops and a pretty dodgy pub.  All in all Berwick Street felt a bit sketchy and I looked on it more as a shortcut through to further Soho adventures (back in those days it was probably too many vodka tonics and the rest at the Alphabet Bar...).  Then things started changing - the dodgy pub, The Endurance, got a face-lift, the pioneering and incredibly welcome Flat White opened in 2005 plus the street market, which although it had great heritage (a market having been in situ since the 18th century) had always been a bit rag-tag, started to get a bit more interesting.  Over the last couple of years the dodgy, porny-bit of the street has seen the construction of new retail space (ousting the "models") with these new shops housing Foxcroft & Ginger (whose ham and cheese French toast with maple syrup is one of my favourite heart-threatening breakfasts) and (I noticed yesterday) the super cool graphic-novel shop Gosh. On top of the improvement in the retail/food/drinking establishments lining the street, I love the fact that there is an outdoor street market bang in the middle of Soho that operates daily and has some really great stalls on top of the fruit and veg staples.  My personal favourite (pictured) is the bread/cake stall (surprise, surprise) - usually situated just near Flat White, these guys sell amazing bread, including a fruit loaf that has whole dried apricots studded through it and is basically the perfect weekend breakfast fare.  They also do great filled bagels and most importantly amazing cakes - this is not the place to visit if you on the Atkins diet.  I heard a rumour that the wonderful Gelupo has set up a stall in the Berwick St market - how cool is that?  Of course if you are in the mood for posh (and delicious) dim sum you can visit perennial favourite Yauatcha, another sign of the improving fortunes of Berwick Street when it opened in 2004.  So if you haven't visited Berwick Street or perhaps you haven't been there for a while, make sure you check it out - in my book this is one of the coolest streets in Soho.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Farewell Brewed Boy Coffee Cart

Sad news started filtering around the coffee loving folk of Soho over the last couple of weeks.  Brewed Boy was packing up his cart and moving on - no more would we see his smiling face framed by the giant muscle-men on the side of the Prowler store, there would be no more witty banter as we waited for our delicious and expertly poured flat whites, no more would we be entertained by his stories of battling Soho drunks, junkies and local cafe-owners.  The Brewed Boy cart basically brought lots of pleasure to lots of people and it's absence leaves Rupert St feeling a little depleted....but it's not all gloomy for these two important reasons:

  1. There are still other fantastic coffee carts out there - Indie Coffee, Coffee by the Clock, Weanie Beans and Flat Cap to name four outstanding examples to satisfy your al fresco caffeine habit.
  2. Brewed Boy is still around - he is part of the team at Ben's Canteen (see below) - which is super exciting in itself but even more exciting for people like me who live in SW London. 

Bubbleology - Rupert St W1

 I am a big fan of bubble tea.  In fact I have written before about Jen Cafe in Chinatown - there is something so cool about wandering around in Summer sipping a sweet iced tea, with rubbery tapioca balls floating in it, through a giant straw (stay with me people).  So it's no surprise really that bubble tea has gone mainstream and there is now a branded chain store specialising in bubble tea - Bubbleology.  There is a concession in Harvey Niks and also a cute store in Rupert St in Soho (just near where Brewed Boy used to be...sniff).  I visited the Rupert St shop today and had a delicious passion fruit tea with tapioca balls and extra flavoured lemon jelly slivers.  Sounds weird right?  It was - but in a good way.  I love bubble tea - I still have a fondness for the old-school Jen Cafe version but I must admit the glitzy, colourful Bubbleology store is pretty cool and the version I had there today was delicious.  My tip - try them both out.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Ben's Canteen - St John's Hill SW11

I was very excited to hear that a new cafe, Ben's Canteen was opening in my 'hood that was about good food and importantly good coffee (the fact that Brewed Boy was involved augured well).  We finally got there today and it was good - to be honest I would say there is great potential with some kinks to iron out (more on that below).  St John's Hill is a funny strip - really well placed and attractive but there has never been any (in my humble opinion) knock out food and drink places.  There's a cute French deli, a posh fish 'n chips place and others - there actually used to be a place called Louvaines that I liked but that went under.  The cafe that was in the Ben's Canteen location before was OK but kinda bland.  Ben's looks good - I like the blue and white and the casual, stripped back wooden vibe inside.  This has all the makings of a great brunch place and this corner of SW London really needs that.  The other half and I had two pretty decent flat whites (important to note that BB was not in situ when we went so they weren't to his usual standard), I had a tasty full English and the other half had a sausage and egg sanga.  The quality of the produce in my fry-up seemed really good - yummy bacon, great mushrooms, nice dark-yellow yolked eggs.  The only short-coming was the bread - I saw some great sourdough going out on a sandwich but my breakfast had nice but generic white sliced - good bread can change a good full English to a great one.  OK - so these guys are only in week two and I know they are finding their feet but I am going to play the know-it-all customer and give them some tips because I really want this place to succeed and thrive and I want to have lots more breakfasts there.  So here we go - London Rob's tips for making your pretty cool cafe truly great:

  • when people walk in, particularly when it's super quiet, make sure they have glasses of water delivered to them ASAP
  • make sure your waiting staff are on the ball - the waitress who brought us our menus took our coffee order and then promptly forgot it and never came back to apologise.  Having said that the other waitress was super nice and really efficient.
  • make sure the vibe is up beat (although not intrusive) - enthusiasm is infectious
  • as above, good bread with the fry-up is a must
  • make sure you check if people want more coffee when you pick up their cups - on the weekend most people will take you up on it
Anyway enough preaching - if you live in the St John's Hill area, this is a great addition to your neighbourhood.  Make sure you support these guys - we need more places like this in London.

Ben's Canteen on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 August 2011

Taylor St Baristas - Mayfair W1

Tucked away behind Claridges, in Brooks Mews (also home to the amazing French restaurant - La Petite Maison which make the best creme brulee in London, but that's a story for another day....) is another outpost of the top quality Taylor St Baristas  gang.  Using Union beans, these guys brew a mighty fine flat white and the one I had today was the best coffee I've had in a while.  In addition I had the most delicious chicken (actually it could have been turkey, which would be more logical...), cranberry & brie toasted sandwich - perfection.  The cafe itself is really cool - for those of you used to Taylor St's hole in the wall incarnation near Liverpool St this is a totally different story - lots of space to sit, a stripped back, almost rustic kinda vibe and all in all very chilled.  Funny that within walking distance is all the glitz and glamour of Bond St, totally in contrast to the lo-fi brilliance of TSB.