Friday, 2 August 2013

The Coffee Jar - Parkway NW1

I had not been to Camden in like, forever (said in my best Valley girl accent) so last weekend I decided to combine a coffee mission with the chance to catch up with Ben, Gen and (the other) Rob (all pictured looking happy and flat white expectant) and Camden was the destination.  One of the two coffee establishments we tried was The Coffee Jar, a really neat little cafe on Parkway - which is the main road that tales you from Camden to Regent's Park and is sufficiently distant from the market madness on a Saturday to make it feel oasis-like, or at least it did to me after I was reminded why I haven't been
hanging out in Camden on weekends for the last decade...  Anyway, using Monmouth beans to serve up top notch flatties and with a rather delicious looking selection of edible goodies this is well worth a pit stop when you are staggering on your platform-heeled doc martens from Camden to the park.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Tina We Salute You - Dalston N1

I can't quite believe it is almost 3 months since I wrote on this blog - my New Year's resolution, to dedicate some time every week to London Stuff, has been well and truly derailed by the pressure of 9 to 5 (or more like 8 to 8 these days) and along with not getting to the blog, I have also felt myself not appreciating my surroundings as much as I usually do.  Distracted by work pressures, I find myself hurrying through the streets, tapping away at my phone and basically, I could be anywhere.  So I decided that it was time I started taking a moment and reminding myself that I lived in London - the best city in the world!  It's amazing, how once you actually start forcing yourself to take note of your surroundings you regain that sense of wonder - I suddenly fell in love with London all over again and have had moments where I feel like I am the newly arrived, much younger (sob) version of myself that woke up every day (when I wasn't recovering from the night before) so excited just to be here.  Anyway enough blathering and happy clappy London love - the whole point of that ramble was leading up to the fact that I went to Dalston a couple of weeks ago.  Big deal I hear you say - well the
 point is, walking round the streets of Dalston, seeing the crazy hustle and bustle around the train station, the shops along Kingsland High St, the smattering of hipster joints amongst the traditional and functional shops serving a hugely diverse populace, felt like the heart of what London is about, or at least part of the heart....yeah, you know what I mean.  It is a really interesting part of London - I had been before, to see my friend Dougy who lives right opposite Mouse & De Lotz and just to really up my hipster credentials, I have also been to the Dalston Superstore (well tickle my beard and hop on my fixie I hear you say) but to be honest I am still
 a bit of a Dalston virgin (and there ain't many of those around...boom boom!).  Another side-note - many many years ago, an aspiring film-maker friend shot a short film about a relationship meltdown, with me and my friend Gen as the two stars.  We shot around King's Cross station and I was (in the script) a guy coming down from up north and meeting my girlfriend who lived in London - most of the film was shot in a cafe near the station and we were quite wired while we were doing it, so it wasn't exactly BAFTA winning stuff but the point of this story is - I remember Gen had a line when I asked her how living in London was and she said, kind of plaintively "I like Dalston" (with the emphasis on the "like" - we shot that about 4 times) and I remember wondering where the f*ck Dalston was.  So yeah, that was the story...moving on.  The purpose of my visit and my long (but interesting) trundle on the London Overground from Clapham Junction to Dalston Kingsland was to finally visit Tina We Salute You (after first wanting to years ago) - possibly the coolest named cafe EVER and I can confirm, a really lovely place to drink quality
 caffeinated beverages.  In a charming street behind Kingsland High St, heading in the Canonbury direction, TWSY is laid back, friendly and the perfect place to while away some time.  Brewing with Square Mile beans I had a perfect flattie (as you can see) and a delicious, chewy flapjack.  I read a magazine, wrote an outline for a short story I will probably never finish and felt pretty darn content.  If you are heading to Dalston, you should also check out the Rio Cinema (pictured) - I
 haven't but plan to soon as I love a shabby art-house cinema I do.  Locals tell me the pizza from Voodoo Ray (opened by my besties at the Dalston Superstore) just down the road is the perfect place for some pre or post movie nosh. Tina, We Salute You on Urbanspoon

Monday, 22 April 2013

FreeState Coffee - Southampton Row WC1

I am a big fan of Sicilian Avenue in Holborn - a rather whimsical pedestrianised strip with an ornate Italianate vibe.  Whilst I have always loved the way it looked, there was never anywhere I would necessarily seek out to eat or drink in - but that has now changed with the arrival of FreeState Coffee.  I understand that it is the New Row crew who have launched FreeState - which is good news as the former is a lovely, friendly little gem of a cafe so that augers well for FreeState.  I trundled along (a lovely walk BTW from my office in St Giles to Holborn) last week and had a rather pleasant lunch.  The space itself still feels a bit unformed  - I know they are going for the rustic vibe but there was minimal signage outside and inside also felt like it was still a work in progress.  Having said that it was all pretty
 chilled - a nice big space with plenty of seating including some stools at the "brew bar".  I sat in the big window, enjoying the (long awaited) spring sunshine and staring at this rather lovely building across the road. I ordered a flat white - made with Union beans and actually pretty good.  I like my coffee strong and this one had a punch.  I wouldn't say Union beans are my favourite (that would be Caravan) but I do like them and I really like their company ethos so I am always happy to drink a Union coffee and this one was no exception.  I also had a Cuban sandwich which is basically pork, ham, cheese, pickles and mustard.  It was also pretty good - and I happily munched away, alternately staring at the building across the road (imagining turning it into my house) and staring at the slightly awkward body language of the man and woman sharing a communal table nearby.  Ah fun times when you are dining solo.  I will definitely be back to FreeState - I do want to try the brew bar as I drink WAY too much milk due to my flat white addiction.  Plus I am always happy to sashay (and I DO sashay people) down Sicilian Avenue.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Fountain WC2

My friend Johnny and I share a fascination for London and in particular its hidden, forgotten or abandoned spaces.  At one of our infrequent but always entertaining lunches, he posed the question of what the small enclosed area at the junctions of High Holborn, Shaftsbury Ave and St Giles High St (which happens to be right next to where we both work) was called and also wanted to know what the deal was with the decorative but rather forlorn and forgotten (and dry) fountain at its centre.  Being a more intrepid detective than me, he managed to work out over the next few days that the odd little triangle of land was called Princes Circus and the monument was to celebrate 60 years of Queen Victoria's reign.  Unfortunately the area around the fountain is fenced off and never seems to be open so it's only the rather radioactive looking lichen that gets to enjoy this little oasis of tranquillity in the middle of three busy roads.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Attendant - Foley St Fitzrovia W1

When I first started this blog back in 2009 one of the main reasons was to highlight the growing London coffee scene - I would faithfully visit every new cafe and write it up.  Then as the cafes started opening thick and fast, I realised that I was falling behind - my Central London Coffee Survival Guide Map was actually looking a bit out of date.  Eek!  Anyway - I am determined to set that right, fill in the gaps over the coming months but also make sure to alert all my fellow caffeine-addicts to new openings.  Attendant in Foley St is a great example of the latter.  Cleverly taking an abandoned old Victorian public lav (I am a big fan
 of old fashioned public loos - not in a cottaging/Joe Orton sort of way but because they are often really beautiful, with amazing tiling and huge old porcelain fittings.  For fellow toilet enthusiasts, check out this blog and pay a visit to the loos at RIBA.) the Attendant crew have turned this space into a really lovely cafe.  There is a dinky little take away hatch as soon as you enter, a communal table at the back and round the edges some rather wonderful seats in the old porcelain urinals!  I can only imagine how much disinfecting and bleaching must have gone on to clear a century of pong but the result is unique and super cool.  The
 doorway with the "Attendant" sign still on it is a nod to the naming inspiration and importantly the coffees are top notch.  Brewing Caravan beans and using wonderful creamy Somerset milk, I really loved my flat white.  Gail's hot cross buns were on offer as well as other tasty looking treats.  This is a really fantastic cafe, in a quirky and well designed space, serving excellent caffeinated beverages and yummy food - what's not to love?  I for one will be back - readers of this blog will know how much I love Fitzrovia and Attendant is just another great reason to visit this corner of London. The Attendant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Kaosarn - St John's Hill SW11

I have been so frustrated at my inability to fit updating this blog into the rest of my (wage slavery) life - in an ideal world of course I wouldn't need to work and I could spend my days sipping flat whites, eating great food, travelling, reading books, watching movies and being a blogger-extraordinaire.  That day may come (he says hopefully) but right now this l'il ol' blog of mine has been taking a poor second place and I am determined to redress the balance a little.  I have about 20 "almost posts" that may need to be revisited but for now I thought a close to home post about a fab new eatery in Battersea would be a good start.  I am a big fan of Brixton Village Market but have never been to one of its most popular eateries,  Kaosarn - although ever since reading Jay Rayner's glowing review it has been on my "must visit" list.  Luckily for me the Kaosarn crew decided to open a second outpost on St John's Hill - a street which (to the delights of those of us who live nearby) is getting better and better by the day (Kaosarn joins nearby Birdhouse, Ben's Canteen and Powder Keg Diplomacy for great food/coffee/boozing destinations).  The other half and I called in for lunch today and it

was really great.  The space itself is simple, unfussy and welcoming - we were immediately won over by the fact that the back wall has the same wallpaper that we once used in our living room (that sounded way too middle class - sorry).  Anyway, I ended up ordering the most bog standard Thai selections ever and felt a bit embarrassed but my theory was, let's test how these guys do the basics, so chicken satay followed by prawn Pad Thai for me!  I can happily report that both were delicious, fresh and perfectly made.  In fact I am fairly confident in saying it is one of the best Pad Thais I have ever had.  The other half was more adventurous - a sea bream dish with aubergines was spicy and super tasty.  The good news for those up
 for some alcohol with their meal (we'd been constantly boozing for the last 2 days so were going dry today) is that it is BYO - this concept used to be really common in Australia (although not any more I am told) but is a novelty here.  So you could go to Kaosarn, get fantastic freshly made Thai food for under a tenner a dish and get to bring your own wine.  How good is that?  To top it all off - the lovely Giselle is a wonderful, welcoming front of house and makes you feel like you are her favourite customers.  We loved Kaosarn and can't wait to go back and be a bit more adventurous with the menu. Kaosarn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Black Cabs - farewell to a classic

Anyone who lives in London will have an affection for black cabs - I know I do and in fact some would say I am too fond of them.  Even when there is a perfectly good tube available I will often jump in a handy black cab, I love them and in a weird way every time I get in one I feel like a Beatle escaping a horde of teenage girls (I know, that's a little weird but I think I will always associate black cabs with fleeing rock stars).  I hate to think how much money I have spent in my 14 years in London on black cabs but I don't regret a single journey - nowhere else in the world are there taxi drivers who know their city so well and can whisk you from Turnham Green to Brixton or Walthamstow to Shepherd's Bush and know all the shortcuts.  On a journey last week where the other half and I had a particularly chatty (and endearingly glum) cabbie, we found out that the "classic" cab - being the Austin FX4 (like the one above that I snapped yesterday above) - is in the process of being phased out as their 15 year life span is up - the last FX4's were made in late 1997.  Even though the subsequent models - the LTI TXI, TXII and TX4 - are similar in shape, they do not have the sturdy familiarity of the TX4.  One of the things I noticed in our journey last week was that the TX4s still have the ashtrays inbuilt and it brought back so many memories of smoking in cabs.  I know, I know it's a filthy killer habit but there was something so louche, so rock 'n roll about smoking ciggies in a black cab.  Countless trips to and from crazy nights out, journeys with friends to dinners and parties, solo journeys staring out at London whizzing by.  But it's not just the ashtrays that make the TX4s more appealling (in my eyes at least) to the new models that make them less romantic - it's a few things, the red leather straps, the chrome headlamps, the lack of that annoying Cabvision TV.  Anyway - apparently the last of the Austin TX4's will be gone by May so take some time to appreciate them as they drive past you and maybe treat yourself to a final journey in what is a classic and iconic symbol of this city.