Wednesday, 26 September 2012

91-101 Worship St - EC2

The area around Liverpool St station, heading north-east towards Shoreditch/Bethnal Green, whilst somewhat encroached on by steel and glass towers and the City, still has some gems to remind us of the "old" East End.  And you know what - I quite like the juxtaposition (it's a morning for long words) of old and new - so long as there is enough of the old left that is and so long as the old is not tarted up too much and turned into a bland imitation of itself (I am not a fan of the "improvement" of Spitalfields market for example).  Illustrating perfectly the concept of the old nestling against the new is this row of Victorian buildings that we stumbled upon last weekend.  Within spitting distance of Liverpool St station on Worship St, Nos 90-101 were built in 1862 as combination workshop/houses by architect Philip Webb, a major figure in the Arts & Crafts movement.  It is the little details on these buldings that I love - the brickwork above the windows, the steep pitched rooves - so much of Victorian architecture is homogeneous (I told you it was long word morning...) and these for me stand out.  I hope these biuldings are cherished - some of them are lookoing a tad shabby.  I would love to buy one and turn it into my East End pad.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Protein by DunneFrankowski - EC2

I first encountered Rob Dune & Vic Frankowski and their mastery of all things caffeine-related at Tapped & Packed in Rathbone Place.  I used to work just round the corner from T&P and when it opened I was so excited (although it also came tinged with guilt as I abandoned Milk Bar at that point, although I then abandoned T&P for Nude in Soho Square and now I've moved offices I have moved on to fickle I am).  Vic & Rob created a really great cafe there before they moved on.  Given their expertise, it is no surprise that the boys have set up a coffee consultancy.  Luckily they are still making quality beverages for the masses (or at least that portion of the masses that know the lesser travelled streets of EC2A) and last year opened Protein by Dunne Frankowski, in a lovely space at 18 Hewett St, which is "endorsed" by creative agency Protein.  It's a lovely space and it encourages chatting with the barista whilst your coffee is being brewed, dripped, pressed and poured - and boy, do these guys like to talk about coffee, their passion is admirable and I think of them as the purists, the "caffeine monks" if you will.  I finally got there on the weekend - the other half and I went and checked out the Hewett St Block Party, 'cause that's the way we roll yeah - weekends are all about Shoreditch block parties and pop-up fun (OK, I admit it, mixed in with a little, OK a lot, of Deliverance take-away and Gardener's World re-runs...).  As well as an absolutely top notch flat white prepared by Vic, we also had a truly sublime burger at the Elliot's stand - still drooling thinking about that one...  Anyway this is a post about Protein by Dunne Frankowski so back to the coffee - my advice is, take a detour into the back streets of Shoreditch, have some primo quality coffee and loiter a while talking to the friendly caffeine monks in their snazzy monastery-cafe.  Happy days.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Duck & Waffle - Heron Tower EC2

Before I get on to the food at Duck & Waffle, let me start with the journey to get there - the lift up to the 40th floor of Heron Tower in the City was amazing.  Speeding up the outside of the glass tower - gazing over London, feeling like I was going to pop through the ceiling like Charlie & the Great Glass Elevator meant that I arrived at Duck & Waffle pretty buzzed.  Anyone who has a fear of heights should face inwards on that lift journey - just a tip.  I loved it!  There has been a lot of blogger buzz and some positive reviews from the critics about D&W and I was really keen to check it out.  Not so keen to check out Sushisamba, also in the Heron Tower - Jay Rayner and I are aligned on our view of that place and like him, I am put off without actually having been there (hey, who said life was fair?).  Anyway back to Duck & Waffle, which is fab.  I love the space, I love the view (the photo below is the view you get as you enter the restaurant - how cool is it to be gazing down at the Gherkin?!)
The main room is surrounded on three sides by floor to ceiling windows and the views are spectacular - I was early to meet my friend Ian for breakfast so I had plenty of time to take it all in - it is really amazing to be able to see pretty much all the main landmarks of London - the Olympic stadium and the Orbit Tower, Ally Pally, the BT Tower, the Shard, Tower Bridge, St Paul's - I could have spent the whole day just staring out the windows.  When the time came to order, there was only one dish I was ever going to order, the eponymous duck & waffle - crispy duck leg on a waffle with a fried duck egg on top and a pot of "mustard maple syrup" (inspired) on the side.  As much as some people have expressed some squeamishness at eating crispy duck for breakfast, this was seriously one of the best breakfast dishes I have ever eaten.  Chef Daniel Doherty is a genius.  I could eat this every day - the salty, crispy duck (perfectly cooked) on the soft waffle, runny egg yolk and mustardy, sweet maple syrup combo was sublime.  If I had one criticism it was the coffee - not terrible but not great.  A top notch flat white would have made an amazing breakfast experience perfect - but you can't have everything right?  Anyway - as well as serving a great breakfast, this place is super fun and with 24/7 opening hours I am planning many more visits - I need to sample some of the all-day menu and sip a few whisky sours as the sun goes down over my beloved London.

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon

Monday, 17 September 2012

Dirty Burger - NW5

Burgers - what a year it's been for burgers in London eh?  Seems like every corner you walk around there is either a food truck selling a burger (a la Mother Flipper), a cool diner style eatery selling burgers (a la Honest Burger) or just some dude wolfing down a burger (a la me).  It is the time of the burger, the era of the beef patty, indeed the golden age of the bun.  Anyway, before I whip myself into a frenzy, let's re-focus on Dirty Burger, one of the more recent burger joints in town and certainly one that has been getting a lot of attention, not least because it is located behind Nick Jones' new Kentish Town foodie destinations, Pizza East & Chicken Shop.  And when I say it's located behind, it would be more accurate to say "in a lean-to in the car-park" which I suppose adds to the rough 'n ready burger ethos these guys are trying to establish.  I liked it - the corrugated iron shack vibe made me a bit homesick for Australia, where corrugated iron abounds (not sure where I am going with this, back to the burgers....)  Dirty Burger is a pretty simple proposition - after 11 am the choice is limited to one burger, a cheeseburger and a choice of either crinkle-cir or onion fries (before 11am they do a "dirty breakfast" which I am really keen to sample).  There are the usual soft drinks and shakes but given we were in NW5 we were forced (willingly) by Ben to imbibe the local Camden Pale Ale, which is a mighty fine brew.
 The burgers were on the small side (which I think is actually a good thing - they were just right) and friggin' delicious.  The onion fries were a bit of a revelation - I could have happily chowed through several bags of those.  The shack is so small that the seating area was full (it was 7.30 on a Saturday night so no surprises) so the four of us sat outside on the metal steps, happily munching away at our burgers and slurping down our pale ale.  It was pretty fine actually - happy days. Dirty Burger on Urbanspoon

Friday, 14 September 2012

NESWFLASH - Hewett St Block Party 22/09 EC2

If you are a fan of East London, if you are a fan of Banh Mi 11, Big Apple Hot Dogs, Elliot's burgers or Dunne Frankowski's coffee then head down to the Hewett St Block Party on Saturday 22 September 2012 for all this and more, delicious and hip!  Organised by brand-gurus Protein and supporting childrens' charity Hackney Pirates.  Details here:

Blewcoat School - Brewers Green/Caxton St SW1

One of the (many) things I love about London is when you stumble across a "survivor" building - a relic of times past.  Of course I love it when whole streets or neighbourhoods are preserved but there is something about a lone building, centuries old, looking pretty much as it always has but surrounded by the modern world.  The tower of St Alban in Wood St in the City is a good example and the former Blewcoat School in St James is another.  The other half and I were having a lovely wander from the Tate Modern to the West End and cutting north off Victoria Street, up Buckingham Gate, we came upon this gem.  Built in 1709 by William Green, a brewer, the school was established to teach pupils "to read, write, cast accounts and the catechism" - basically the key skills to get by in early 18th century London (maybe they could have added "avoid syphilis, the plague and cheap gin").  It operated as a school right up until the Second World War and was then used as an army store and also by the Girl Guides.  The National Trust owns the building and it is now their London Information Centre & Shop.  A little early to be Georgian, the architecture is, I believe (and I cannot claim to be an expert on British architecture), English Baroque - the local version of the baroque styles being built on the continent in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  I think it's quite lovely and I particularly like the blue coated youngster above the door.  The building is completely surrounded and over-shadowed by some of the modern monstrosities of Victoria St and St James but this sturdy little survivor of a building stands proud - as it should, after seeing off the trials and tribulations of over three centuries.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Artisan - Upper Richmond Rd SW15

You know the London coffee revolution is spreading when leafy SW15 has not one but two places to go for a decent flat white.  If you are Putney river side (perhaps having just downed your oar and needing a restorative coffee with the other member of your eight) then Grind is your place - a lovely cafe that was a breath of fresh air to the rather tired Lower Richmond Road when it opened.  However, for coffee addicts from the southern reaches of Putney, the pickings were slim and chainy until the arrival last year of Artisan on the Upper Richmond Rd.  Except for the fact that Artisan is on one of SW London's worst traffic roads (oh how many traffic jams I have been stuck in on this road - if only I could have those hours back...) the cafe is really chilled.  The requisite friendly Antipodean staff, some cool seating and lighting, tasty food and a pretty decent flat white (a little weak for me but perfect for the other half) made with Allpress beans all adds up to a top spot for residents of SW15 - every neighbourhood should have at least one place like this.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Hampstead Ponds - N6

Oh what a lovely weekend it was in London - as often seems to be the case these days, September is shaping up to be the best month of all weather wise and I am putting my money on the weekend of the 8th and 9th being the loveliest weekend of the year.  We managed to get the balance right this past weekend between lounging around in our own back garden and getting out and about - always a tricky decision when the sun comes out (mostly we err on the side of lounging in the garden all weekend - which is not necessarily a bad thing).  Addressing the getting out and about part, we met various friends on Hampstead Heath on Sunday and what better part of the Heath to appreciate a late summer Sunday than the Ponds?  I have a recent obsession (and a latent blog post that will get written one day) about the lost rivers of London and chief amongst them is the River Fleet, a major river flowing into the Thames in Roman times but pretty much an open sewer by the 18th century (also a dead dog dumping ground amongst other things).  By the 19th century most of the Fleet was covered over and unsurprisingly (given the name) a large part of it runs under the environs of Fleet St.  The Hampstead/Highgate bathing ponds came about as a result of the two headwater streams of the Fleet being dammed in the 18th century.  What has resulted are three freshwater swimming ponds - a mens' pond a womens' pond and a mixed bathing pond.  I have only swum in the mens' pond and I love it - there is something really liberating about swimming in open water (as opposed to a pool) but also slightly disconcerting, that feeling of not knowing exactly what is below you.  I also like the old school back to basics nature of the Ponds - concrete changing rooms, hooks to hang your towel, a single jetty sticking out into the pond and old guys who look like they come here every day of their lives, regardless of the weather.  In 2004 the City of London Corporation tried to close the Ponds but supporters challenged the decision in the High Court and won, which makes me incredibly happy (although there is some further issues around plans to rebuild the dams themselves - read about it here).  The Ponds are a gem and an integral part of not only Hampstead Heath but London, so if you are not squeamish about swimming as nature intended (I don't mean naked by the way - although if you do like getting your kit off there is a nude sunbathing area in the mens' changing rooms) and you want to spend a lovely, quintessentially London morning or afternoon, pay the Ponds a visit.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Caravan - Kings Cross N1

I love love love Caravan in Exmouth Market - amazing coffee (with beans roasted on site), great food, lovely staff, cool space, great street - what's not to like?  So I was super excited to learn that the Caravan crew were opening a new gaff in King's Cross.  I was meeting my friend Neil for lunch on Sunday so thought it would be a good chance to check it out.  Once again, I was struck by the transformation of the area behind King's Cross station - and even though I am nostalgic for my old clubbing days in the area, so far I like everything that is happening back there - Eat St rocks, Shrimpy's is ace and the new Granary Square development (where Caravan is) is a really cool redevelopment of an old Victorian warehouse and manages to keep the character of the old rail yards/Regent's Canal area whilst feeling very "now".  My only worry is that Eat St and Shrimpy's are both temporary happenings and I wonder what this area will be like when the entire redevelopment is done - however if Granary Square is anything to go by, it may be spectacular.  If I was pushed, I'd probably still opt for

 the somewhat bleak, abandoned warehousy vibe that used to characterise this locale, but that's just me, I'm a sucker for urban dereliction.  In front of the huge Granary Square building is a large open space, with water fountains shooting jets of water into the air and on Sunday there were hordes of little kids running round in their undies (and in one kinda gross case, what looked like a very full nappy...ewwww).  It was super cute and was topped off by the fact there was an Ice Cream festival going on so there was a real fairground vibe.  It took us some time to work out where Caravan was - if you are looking front on at Granary Square, look for the green hedgey thing on the left, the entrance is behind there.  Before we worked this out, we had an interesting wander through the Central St Martins campus that is also in the building (I tried to adopt my best Brit-art face and not look like I was lost).  The first things that strikes
 you about Caravan is that it is vast, a massive barn of a place but as with Exmouth Market, the fit-out is done really well and it feels welcoming and buzzy rather than cavernous.  The place was chock-a block, so we were given a bag off coffee beans with a number on it and advised to wait at the bar, which we did, having a magnificent flat white while we were at it.  The wait to be seated was quick (maybe fifteen minutes) and then we were seated on a communal table (I couldn't help but think of Wagamamas!) to peruse one of the best brunch menus in London (IMHO).  Neil was up for us both ordering different things and sharing,

 which is always an excellent way to try out more of the menu - so I went for the Jalapeno corn bread, fried egg, black beans & green tomato and Neil chose the Smoked haddock & keek rarebit with poached eggs & rocket.  And yes people, they were both friggin' delicious - not sure which one I would rate more highly, we did the plate swap thing a couple of times and each time I thought "oh yes".  Seriously good brunch food and a world away from the standard greasy fry up (which obviously has its place but not here, oh no, not here).  Being a couple of booze-hounds we decided that Bloody Marys were in order - well to be accurate, I ordered a Bloody Mary and Neil got a "Sunshine Mary", made with Kamm & Sons (a botanical spirit made with ginseng, grapefruit and manuka honey!), yellow tomato and capsicum.  The bloody Mary was fierce - great but almost
 too much for me.  The Sunshine Mary was delicious - we did the swapsies on drinks also.  We couldn't manage a pudding each so shared a super sweet and super delicious Ginger Treacle Tart with Clotted Cream, which was a perfect end to a perfect meal. Caravan Kings Cross on Urbanspoon

Monday, 3 September 2012

Lamb & Flag - Rose St WC2

Today's post continues my recent alleway theme (I used to write mainly about coffee and Bloomsbury, now it seems to be alleyways...).  If you are sashaying down Floral St (one of Covent Garden's better shopping streets) then take a tuen into the rather cramped Lazenby Court.  If you are over 5'8" then get ready to duck to avoid a dong to the head - as you emerge on to Rose Street you will find yourself out the front of one of central London's most charming and dinky pubs, the Lamb & Flag.  Whilst the facade was rebuilt in the 20th century, there are relics of an 18th
 century house frame inside and there has certainly been records of a pub on this site since 1772.  But it's not really about the history here - it's more about finding what feels like a secret pub, sinking a few pints of London Pride with good friends outside (weather permitting) and hopefully avoiding the bare-knuckle fighting that was de rigeur at this establishment in the 19th century - earning it the sobriquet "The Bucket of Blood". Lamb & Flag on Urbanspoon