Monday, 28 November 2011

Birdhouse - St John's Hill SW11

I can't tell you how much I am loving the fact that the coffee revolution is spreading through SW London.  Despite being a loyal and long time resident of the leafier boroughs, I have had to admit (reluctantly) that on the coffee front we were lacking.  Then Brew in Northcote Rd upped its game coffee wise, then The Roastery in Wandsworth Road opened, followed by Grind in Putney, recently Ben's Canteen and now, joining Ben on St John's Hill is the wonderful Birdhouse.  I liked this place as soon as I saw the cheery, bright yellow stools sitting outside - one of the many really cool, quirky design features of Birdhouse.  I really liked the look of the interior - I loved the art work on the walls (lots of birds obviously - see the snap below for one wall's display), I loved the old wooden and steel cabinets and lamps (almost surgical - in a good way), the tap water in old fashioned giant brown glass lab bottles (surgical vibe again?) was also really cool, as were the old fashioned paper straws....basically I loved it all.  But most importantly I loved the coffee - brewing Climpson's Estate blend (originating from Brazil and Kenya apparently) the flat whites were top notch and we just had to sample the "chipster brownie" - an inspired creation with brownie on the bottom half and chewy biscuit on the top half.  Bliss.  This place is really great and I plan to come back again and again - so happy that St John's Hill is becoming such a cool strip and loving the addition of another coffee destination in my beloved SW London.

Birdhouse. on Urbanspoon

Friday, 25 November 2011

Sacred Cafe & University of London, Bloomsbury WC1

 I had an unexpected walk this morning (don't ask, forgotten passport, Eurostar debacle) through the environs of the University of London in Bloomsbury.  Readers of this blog (you 5 know who you are) will know I harbour a deep love for Bloomsbury but I am not as familiar with what I suppose you would call "north Bloomsbury", bordering on Euston.  As with other parts of the area, lovely Georgian squares abound, but there are some real architectural gems from other eras - the lovely, honey coloured Church of Christ the King on Gordon Square being one and the imposing art-deco grandeur of the Senate House, built in the early 30s as part of the more permanent incarnation of the University.  I always find
 it a bit odd walking around a university campus, suddenly I am transported back 23 years (eek) to being a fresher, which is nice on some levels and not on others!  Being the cynical old roue I am now, I realise how totally un-prepared I was for adult life when I arrived at Melbourne University, with more than a touch of the wide-eyed country boy about me.  But that's a whole other story...  Anyway the walk around these calm, lovely streets really improved my morning and what made it even better was finding this dinky little booth at the corner of Gordon Square (which interestingly was designed by Thomas Cubitt in the 1820s, as one of a pair with Tavistock Square, which is a block away and has the same dimensions.)  I like the Sacred Cafe in Ganton St (off Carnaby St) - they make good coffee and have a really laid-back un-pretentious vibe.  This tiny outpost, staffed by a friendly Antipodean lass, carries through that vibe and my flat white was pretty good.  I'm sure the students love this place - we could do with a few more of these booths around London, kinda like a coffee lovers' equivalent to Cabbie Shelters.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal SW1

I actually went to Dinner, Heston Blumenthal's restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in Knighstbridge, over a month ago and haven't had a chance to write about it so my memory is a little blurry.  Plus we could only get a 9.30pm sitting and the Other Half and I had both been working hard and sleeping little, so by the end of the meal we were in a total daze - but importantly in a happy, full-of-good-food daze so it was actually kinda nice.  In fact if they had said we could curl up under the table and sleep I would have felt quite comfortable doing just that.  Anyway I digress - basically Dinner is ace.  The service was really fantastic and the food was even better - of course I had to have the Meat Fruit (pictured) to start.  I love chicken liver pate and this creamy parfait version was cleverly disguised as a mandarin.  I don't need to write too much - others much more qualified than me have done so but let me just say that everything they say is true, this is a joy of a starter and had me smiling from the first bite.  All the dishes are a homage to recipes from the past and the Meat Fruit supposedly originates from 1500 - I had always thought the 16th century sounded interesting - the Reformation, Copernicus, Shakespeare but now I know they had Meat Fruit to eat, I am searching for a time machine.  My main course was a little more up to date, from 1860 to be exact - a Black Foot Pork Chop with Spelt & Robert Sauce (which appealed because I am Robert...anyway).  I'm not sure what exactly came from 1860, I'm sure they were eating pork chops long before that, but it was super tasty.  Interestingly they warned me that it was cooked a little pink - immediately I flashed back to my mum teaching me that the two meats you should always make sure are cooked through were chicken and pork but I had faith in Heston that he wouldn't knowingly expose me to salmonella, so I chomped away at my slightly undercooked, very delicious pork chop.  Of course we had to share the Tipsy Cake - having heard so much about it and seeing the wonderful spit roasting pineapples doing their thing in the kitchen.  It was booze soaked briochey wonderfulness with the aforementioned pineapple on the side.  Lovely, all lovely in fact.   Pricey, but oh so lovely.  Treat yourself - and order the Meat Fruit.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Ducksoup - Dean St W1

Dean Street is fast becoming one of my favourite Soho food streets - I have written before about Dean St Townhouse and the wonderful Cay Tre and now I can add Ducksoup to the list.  Stripped back, pared down almost to the point of shabbiness, Ducksoup reminds me of places I liked in Melbourne in the 90s, maybe along Brunswick Street or in St Kilda (as they were then).  A turn-table and a stack of records greet you as you enter and they are more than happy for you to bring something from your own vinyl collection to play.  A simple hand-written menu has limited but delicious sounding options - I went for the lamb chops, which were cooked to perfection, salty and with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over.  Accompanying the incredibly delicious chops we shared pumpkin, spinach and goats curd, as well as courgettes cooked with mint & chilli - all top notch also.  I loved the fact that there were no standard soft drinks available (Coke etc) but only ginger beer and Sicilian lemonade.  Also loved the fact that booze was front and centre - and on any other day I would have partaken.  I loved this place and definitely plan to come and prop up the bar one evening - plus I need to get me some more of those spectacular lamb chops!

Ducksoup on Urbanspoon

Monday, 21 November 2011

Postcard from New York - Blue Bottle Coffee, Brooklyn

If your travels take you to New York (as mine did recently) and you are hangin' with the hipsters in Williamsburg, make sure to check out Blue Bottle Coffee.  I actually sampled their wares at their mobile/coffee-cart location on the funky High Line Park (which you also should check out) on the lower west side and the flat white I was served was top notch.

Ritzy Cinema - Brixton SW2

I have been feeling a lot of Brixton love recently and realised that I had not written about one of the things I love most in Brixton, the Ritzy Cinema.  The Ritzy has been there on the corner of Coldharbour Lane and Brixton High Street since 1911 (at which time it was called The Electric Pavilion and showed silent films), but was reinvented as an art house cinema, after a brief closure, back in the late 1970's.  I love the fact that the Ritzy has watched the evolution of Brixton - when it was built Brixton was still a relatively prosperous middle-class suburb, probably still proud of the fact that Electric Avenue (close to the Ritzy) was the first street in London to be lit by electricity 30 years before.  The Ritzy managed to survive both the heavy bombing during the blitz and the all-engulfing riots of 1981.  It has witnessed the transformation of Brixton, due to the post WW2 immigration from the West Indies, into one of the most vibrant and interesting areas of London (to see what I mean, take a walk down the afore-mentioned Electric Avenue and through Brixton Market and into Brixton Village Market one weekend - then finish up with a burger at Honest Burgers and maybe a movie at the Ritzy).  The Ritzy was cool before Brixton became cool, it pre-dates the clubs, the bars, the restaurants, the funky market stalls and it remains as always, one of the centrepieces of Brixton.  Since they scrubbed up Windrush Square, this little precinct looks great - in particular the vista from the Ritzy, past the square, St Matthew's church looming in the background, finishing up at the imposing Town Hall.  My introduction to the Ritzy came as a result of living in Streatham Hill when I first arrived in London in 1999.  I have always loved art house cinemas and during that crazy 6 months, when I was often feeling a little fragile after dancing the night away at Escape from Samsara at The Fridge club across the road (some of you will be nodding and saying "oh yeah" right now), a movie at the Ritzy was a real treat.  I have tried to get back there at least a couple of times a year and each time I do, I am struck by how great it is and encouraged that something as cool as this survives and (hopefully) thrives.  There is so much to see and do in Brixton - if you are a dyed-in-the-wool North Londoner I can recommend a trip and when you do, make sure the Ritzy is on your itinerary.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

New Row Coffee - WC2N

Apologies for my general crapness as a blogger lately - my day job (which has turned into a day and evening job) has prevented me from spending the time I want on London Stuff, which is kinda annoying.  I have been to lots of places in the last 2 months that I wanted to write about but it's almost at the stage now where it's been so long I will need to re-visit to make sure my reviews are accurate (which is actually a really good excuse to go back to places like Dinner and Da Polpo - hooray).  Anyway in the interests of actually getting something done in November, I wanted to give a shout out to a really cool new cafe in New Row, just off St Martin's Lane.  Usually when I am in this locale, my coffee-needs take me straight to Notes (which I love with a deep passion) however there is now a rival - New Row Coffee is only weeks old and is super cute.  Lovely staff (who were really keen to get my views on the flat white they made me - which BTW was great), some really yummy looking food - with a heavy focus of mini sandwiches, meaning you can try lots of different ones - and a really lovely space.  New Row is a funky little street - we actually bought our Rancilio Silvia espresso machine at Drury Lane Coffee over the road from New Row and they are a good source of coffee making paraphernalia.  These guys are using Union beans and the coffee was super tasty.  So make sure you go and check out New Row - I really liked everything about this place and I'm sure you will too.