My head is buzzing with wedding stuff at the moment. We’re three weeks away from the big day and I honestly feel like it’s taken over my life. But this weekend Andrew and I decided to take a break from wedding chores, and went out and about in London, have a stroll and do the things we used to enjoy before Weddinggedon took hold of our lives.
Despite basically being a bitter old hag, I think it’s important to remember that life is great, and there’s often joy in the most unexpected of places.
The most recent unexpected place for me was on a roof top in London Fields last Thursday. I was celebrating one of my clients’ 10th Birthday. As a surprise, the directors had given everyone the following day off. The office was closed, people could party with wild abandon without having to go into the office on Friday morning. It was such a brilliant gift to their hard-working employees.
But I didn’t party. Not because I didn’t want to, but I had something other than a hangover planned for my Friday. I was going to a very close friend’s baby shower on the Saturday and I decided I was going to make my super duper Salted Caramel Brownies to take as an offering.
There is a lot of rubbish surrounding weddings, and as soon as you mention the word “wedding” people turn into utter maniacs (me included).
The person who was probably the most keen for me to get married was my five-year-old niece, Immy. In fact, a week before I got engaged she told me like a wise owl (with glittery face paint on), “When you and Furry Face get married, I am going to be your bridesmaid.” Continue reading
I judge people who eat their steaks well done. Even medium actually. For me a steak should be served medium rare at the most, and nice and pink in the middle. Let’s not be squeamish sissies about this, a cow has given its life so you can eat it, so get the job done properly.
Sometimes – OK, all of the time – it’s good to test your preconceptions to see if they’re true. What I’ve discovered over the years that basically all of my preconceptions are unfounded: honey on baked beans is delicious (don’t mock ’til you try it); wedding dress shopping can be fun; and not all whiskey tastes like soil mixed with petrol.
I had another preconception tested this week in the shape of dinner at Southern Joe’s Kitchen in Kentish Town.
A lot of dining out is about theatre and spectacle. Cloches, dry ice, immersive sensory experiences and beautiful dining rooms are all there to heighten the diner’s experience.
And you’d be hard pressed to find a more dramatic venue for a meal than where I ate on Saturday night: in the aisle of a Grade II* listed church, with Christ on a cross hoisted above the aisle-long table, overseeing matters as he’s eternally crucified.
And after a massive hiatus, I am back. My feet have barely touched the floor recently and all my friends have developed a nasty eye roll every time I mention how busy I am. I’ll say to you lot what I say to them: I am sorry and I’ll try to be better.
What has been taking up my time? Well, weddings. Specifically ours (mine and Andrew’s, not yours and mine – weird). It’s about 130 days until we say “I do” and we have been in the midst of invitation sending and finalising vendors recently.
I love London, but man it can grind you down. The dirt, the people, the noise. It’s unrelenting. Sometimes I crave lush pine forests, clean air and only the sound of birds tweeting in the trees. It sounds like a fictional place, but a few summers ago I found out this Disney-eque utopia exists, and it’s called Finland.
I’ve always longed to belong somewhere, but it’s never happened. I don’t mean having friends and family – I have those, I’m not a freak. But I’ve never really had that feeling that you can walk in somewhere – a bar or restaurant – and the staff will wave to you and know what you want. In my fictionalised version of my own Central Perk, friends (I have friends, remember? I protest too much, right?) will come along and stay. We’ll laugh, we’ll chat. We’ll stay all day and drink cocktails.
One of the perks of food blogging in London is meeting lots of lovely new people. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some wonderful bloggers and PRs since I started The Z Factor. And the other night a few of us got together to sample the delights of 64 Degrees in Pimlico.
I’ve spoken a little bit on my blog about my experiences of flatsharing in London. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I met some of the best people ever and well, not some of the worst per se but definitely some of the messiest. Now I live with just Andrew I often think back to flatsharing and wonder how I did it for so long (four years in a house of eight people!). All the passive-aggressive (or sometimes just plain aggressive) emails and notes, the sticky floors after parties, people smoking in the house, every single god-damn piece of crockery being chipped. Argh! But it was fun a lot of the time too.
This week heralds a very important time in the British foodie diary: National Chip Week. Us Brits love chips, right? Fish and chips is a national dish, chip butties invoke memories of childhoods, order a sharing bowl of chips in the pub and it’ll wolfed down by your friends before you can say, “Greedy rats!” To celebrate, Andrew & I decided to head to a lovely fish and chip shop in Stoke Newington.
I’m going to start doing a few travel posts here and there. This is because a) I can do whatever I damn well like with my blog and a) I like to travel. Jeez, who are you, my Mum? (Hi Mum! I’ll phone you tonight, OK?) Mainly it’ll still be a blog about London, but with some travel stuff thrown in for free (it’s all actually for free). Just accept it and move on.
So a lot of you got on the Nutribullet bus over Christmas. Father Christmas really wanted to make sure you guys are getting your five a day. Good for him (and good for you!).
Since then I’ve been receiving a steady trickle of messages asking how to make smoothies so they don’t taste “green”, “gross” or “make me actually almost vomit”. Fear not fitness pups, I am here to help. I’ve whacked together my top five tips on how to make a smoothie that doesn’t seem so bad.
I am finding it hard to believe that I am getting married this year. People keep saying time is going to fly this year with the planning, and I totally believe them. But also the idea that I will be walking down that aisle, saying those vows, becoming someone’s wife this year – it feels bonkers and amazing at the same time.
This week has marked not just the advent of Christmas, but also winter. Remember a few weeks ago when we were smugly talking about how we haven’t even had to turn the heating on yet because it’s just so warm?
Those days are gone, my friends. Winter has come.
So I’ve been doing what ever self-respecting Brit does when it gets cold: hide and hope spring hurrys the fuck up. Part of the ritual British hibernation (there are probably other countries that need to hide too – huge swathes of Scandinavia for example) is to eat shed loads of comfort food in an almost compulsive fashion so come the end of February you’re depressed not just cos you’ve spent four months indoors (hiding) but also you’re now fat because you’ve carb loaded like a marathon runner.
This summer my family and I went to Italy. Tuscany to be exact. One of my brothers lives in LA with his wife and two sons, so seeing him and his family is an extremely rare treat. This year to celebrate various things the whole family decided to sack off the UK in favour of Tuscany. My family now numbers 12 members, which is astounding to me when I think we started out as just five Hedgeses.
Gin is ruddy marvellous, isn’t it? Unless you’re one of those people where it transforms you into a sobbing wreck, I guess. It’s my favourite spirit – a nice cool gin on a sunny afternoon is unsurpassable.
Here are some gin facts for you (I like gin, suck it up):
– Gin is made with juniper berries
– London gin doesn’t have to be made in London – it’s a way to make gin
– Gin joints in 18th-century England allowed women to drink alongside men for the first time. It’s thought this led many of them to child neglect and prostitution. So gin became known as ‘Mother’s ruin”
– Gin and tonics were invented in colonial India when they found the quinine in tonic water was effective in preventing malaria. Soldiers added gin to tonic water to make it more palatable
Are we having fun yet or what?!
I hate keeping secrets of my own. I can keep other people’s secrets fine – the amount of pregnancies I’ve kept secret in 2014 is testament to that. Oh, that sounds wrong. I mean I’ve known friends are pregnant before they’ve ‘announced’ it and have been sworn to secrecy. I digress.
What I mean is I have trouble keeping secrets of my own, as I just want to blurt things out. I always want to tell people about the presents I’ve bought for them right away, because I am so excited to see their reactions. The month of December is torture for me, guys.
So now I have the ultimate secret: my wedding dress. I’ve ordered it. Eek! And my mum (who patiently accompanied me to the shops in my hunt for The Dress) and bridesmaids are the only people I am going to show. And I now have to keep the secret from nine months – and to have to keep it from Andrew is torture, because I normally tell him everything.
One of the things I’ve come to realise as a ~food blogger~ (bleurgh!) is that people start thinking you know things about food. You silly fools! I get texts on a semi-regular basis from friends asking where they should take their girlfriend for dinner/granny for afternoon tea/friend for excellent cocktails. It’s nice that people think to ask me, but very sadly I haven’t been to all the best places in London. So what I do more often than not is I recommend places I want to go – places I’ve heard good things about and are on my list. I imagine the people asking don’t actually think I’ve been everywhere anyway, so are just asking if I’ve heard what’s good lately.
As part of my maintaining blood sugar recipe series (sounds so glamorous when written like that, right?!) I decided to find something suitable for lunch.
When I am meal planning I find planning mid-week lunches the hardest – it has to be portable to take to work, satisfying and not a massive faff to eat. But I think this recipe is perfect. You can make a batch of hummus ahead of time (Sunday arvo, say) and then just chop up some veg (and pitta bread if you’re being naughty) in the morning, whack it all in tupperware and you’re good to go.
So I’ve been working out. I go to this amazing bootcamp class (I am not on commission, I swear). However, if I am doing burpees at 7am in the pouring rain, I want to be getting the maximum out of my work out. Together with Sybille, my bootcamp instructor, I’ve been looking at modifications to my diet to make sure I am getting all the nutrients necessary to maximise the results from my workouts.
Basically, planning a wedding at a venue that doesn’t normally host events is a mammoth task. I know a lot about the following things: marquee linings, generators, luxury mobile toilets and catering kitchens. I didn’t want to know anything about any of these.
There have been fun parts too. Afternoon tea with my bridesmaids and my mum and mum-in-law-to-be, wedding dress shopping and Pinteresting the hell out of everything to name but a few.
I’ve been craving sushi and seared tuna recently. It got to the point where I was a bit worried, and Andrew told me to stop eating so much sushi because of ~Mercury poisoning~.
My favourite way to eat seared tuna is on a Nicoise salad. I am deeply perturbed by tinned tuna (aka cat food), and won’t touch the stuff, so it always has to be a proper loin steak (I know, get me!). But I’ve found it surprisingly hard to find a decent recipe for it. There’s either whole anchovy fillets in it, which I cannot stomach, or the recipe called for frying the potatoes, which is just plain bad for you.
You know your neighbourhood is “up and coming” when the railway arches stop looking like a Mitchell brother might be fixing a car/killing someone in one, and starts looking like a hipster eatery. Sadly, the railway arches near my flat are part-Mitchell, part-hipster. The unrelenting wave of gentrification is yet to hit my endz (dodgy match-day car parks jostle for space next to organic cafes), but it
has hit Haggerston – natch.
I’ve been feeling ill recently. Nothing serious, don’t worry (I can sense you were worried) – just a cold. But it’s pretty crap when you have a cold, isn’t it? You feel shocking and you can’t breathe properly and apparently you snore at night (according to Andrew, anyway).
As soon as I feel myself getting a cold I start craving this chicken noodle soup. The recipe is from BBC Good Food, and is really simple and packed full of cold-combating ingredients. It’s also such a comfort food, and has long be believed to cure what ails you by various cultures from European Jewish communities to Korea.
Fresh garlic in this recipe has immune-boosting properties, as well as being an antibacterial and antiviral agent. Fresh ginger helps stimulate perspiration (sexy) which helps cleanse the system and bring down a temperature. The raw spring onion contains organic sulphur compounds and can help combat coughs and phlegm (again, sexy). The red chilli garnish is packed with vitamin C, too. Red chillis actually have more vitamin C than citrus fruits. YEAH! They also unblocked stuffy noses and trigger endorphins to be released into your system, which are the body’s natural pain killer. What’re you waiting for, Fluey Al? Get making this soup now.
Chicken Noodle Soup
- 900ml good-quality chicken stock
– 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
– a thumb-sized amount of ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
– 2 garlic cloves, crushed
– 50g rice noodles
– a small tin of sweetcorn, drained
– 4 mushrooms, thinly sliced
– 2 spring onions, shredded (sliced very thinly lengthways)
– 2 tsp soy sauce (go low-sodium, folks)
– handful of basil leaves
– 1 red chilli, thinly sliced
1. Put the chicken stock in a pan and add in the chicken breast, ginger and garlic. Heat up ’til it boils and then turn the heat down, partly cover and leave to simmer for 20 mins.
2. Remove the chicken from the pan and put on a chopping board. Using two forks, pull the chicken apart so it’s all shredded and nice.
3. Return the chicken to the pan, and add in the noodles, sweetcorn, mushrooms, half the spring onions and soy sauce. Simmer until the noodles are soft and slippy – normally takes about 4 minutes.
4. Divide the soup between two bowls and then scatter with the remaining spring onion, basil and chilli. Eat and feel instantly revitalised.
Sometimes when you push yourself to go out of your comfort zone you’re rewarded with new discoveries, a broader horizon and, if you’re lucky, even a boosted confidence. My comfort zone is most definitely North London. I’m talking a comfort zone within London here. Obviously I am happy to travel out of North London to leave London, but when I’m in London my heart is always north. It is my home and I love pretty much everything about it, with the exception of Morrisons on Holloway Road, which is the third circle of Hell.
But last night I ventured to South London. I was on a promise. A promise of burgers and hardshakes at Honky Tonk. Honky Tonk is one of those seemingly ubiquitous places that are attempting to be a slice of Americana in London. Burgers, wings, pulled pork. And bourbon. Always with the bourbon. Honky Tonk have one branch in Chelsea and another in Clapham. Due to all of this, my hackles were raised from the offset.
I went with Andrew and our friends, Martin and Laura. Martin is big fan of burgers. BIG (ironic really, because he’s a really tiny person). He complained that my blog hadn’t featured burgers in a while. Seemed only fair he came along for this one.
We arrived and were seated quickly. It was pretty quiet, but the joint started to fill quickly after 8pm. Weird really, because Honky Tonk’s happy hour ends at 8pm. Whatevs.
The restaurant is kind of a hybrid of anything the interior designer thought was “trendy”. Exposed brickwork, mirrors with quotes written on them lining the stairway (to the grim loos), a wardrobe in the corner that claims to lead to Narnia. I didn’t get involved in that hijinx. Overall the decor was at best tedious and at worst anger inducing (in my opinion, because I hate that stuff).
The boys and I decided to have hardshakes, while Laura sensibly went for an OJ. Then we waited 20 minutes for them to arrive. Did I mention the restaurant was pretty empty? Yeah, I did, didn’t I? The shakes came served in large milk bottles, with the shot of liquor on the side in one of those jam jars your get marmalade in at hotel breakfasts. All highly whimsical. What absolute larks.
The milkshakes were actually pretty good. I started to relax. I even said to the others that, “I thought I was going to hate this place, but I actually quite like it”. See, I open-minded and willing to cast my net wide (to Clapham, burgers are obviously in my proverbial net).
Martin and I ordered starters because we’re massive pig-rats. I had buffalo wings with peri peri marinade and blue cheese sauce, Martin had crab cakes. My buffalo wings were fine, but they weren’t the best I’ve ever had (MEATLiquor, people). The portion wasn’t exactly generous. How very un-American of them. Martin said his crab cakes were good. I didn’t try them because they were tiny and there were only two.
Then we waited for another 30 mins or so for our main course to come. Oh but don’t worry, they left those empty, finished plates in front of us for about 15 of those minutes. In for a penny in for a pound with the lacklustre service.
The food did come. Andrew had gone for some greedy heart attack in a metal tray, which was meant for two people (two pieces of their famous ‘Not’ fried chicken, half a rack of pork ribs smothered with either our BBQ or bourbon sauce, a generous helping of pulled pork and buffalo chicken wings coated in a choice of sauce – buffalo, BBQ or peri peri, served with rosemary fries). This is a blurry shot taken by my fiancé:
I had a Honky Tonk burger (cheese, bacon, caramelised onion, guacamole, salsa, gem lettuce, tomato and their “very own and very delicious” burger sauce), Martin had a Fire in the Hole burger (topped with red jalapenos, baby gem lettuce, tomato, chilli cheese & honky hot sauce) and Laura had a Halloumi burger.
My burger was OK. The brioche bun was good, but the burger sauce was, I think, wholegrain mustard mixed with mayonaise (this is distinctly not burger sauce as I know it), and the patty was overcooked and very dry). The chips were magnificent.
Martin’s burger was also overcooked and apparently not that hot. Blah. Andrew’s tray was actually just two of each item and a pretty small bowl of pulled pork, but SHEDLOADS of chips. As he pointed out, if he was sharing he’d be pretty annoyed. Laura said her burger was good.
Now we waited about 30 minutes for our plates to be cleared. The wait staff did clear them in their own sweet time, but they left mine and walked off to talk to someone behind the bar. Eventually I had to go over and ask them to take my plate and to bring us the bill.
The bill came. It was significantly incorrect to make us irritated. In the end, our meal cost £120. This is pretty bloody steep, I think. Especially when everything about the meal was pretty lazily done.
Sadly this adventure did nothing that made me change my mind about North London being distinctly better than South. I wouldn’t even go to Honky again if it was next door to my house, though.
Honky Tonk, 16a Clapham Common South Side, London SW4 7AB
Nearest tube: Clapham Common (1 min walk)
I was invited to review Honky Tonk. Yes, you read that right.
Ruddy hell, the weather is grim at the moment isn’t it? I will make no secret of the fact that I hate Winter, with the exception of the two weeks before Christmas. I hate the cold, I hate the dark, I hate wearing thick coats and then almost passing out on the tube because my stupid coat has made me too hot. I hate itchy scarves. Just ugh.
And the tendency now is to reach for comfort foods, isn’t it? Mine is at least. Pies, stews, soups, mash. Overcooked, fatty food to coax us into hibernation. And going out in the rain to train? That’s a massive challenge. But luckily I have Sybille sending me emails reminding me to keep active and not let the cold beat me.
But these challenges are sent to try us, and I am determined this winter to combat the blues with action rather than inaction. I won’t shy away.
This salad is perfect for combating winter blues. The nectarines aren’t seasonal, I know – but they taste like pure, unadulterated sunshine. They also contain anti-oxidants and B-complex vitamins, which help to turn food into fuel and keep bodies energised all day long. The warm, poached chicken is an excellent source of high-quality lean protein. Eating the mangetout raw means you get the maximum benefit from them, and they’re packed with Mange Vitamin A and Vitamin C and are a good source of fibre and thiamin (the latter of which aids the body in all its functions).
OK, so it’s basically amazing for you, tastes like sunshine and goodness and will have you karate-chopping the heck out of winter.
Warm oriental chicken & nectarine salad
– 2 skinless chicken breasts
– 2-3 ripe nectarines
– 100g mange tout, finely sliced
– 3 spring onions, finely sliced
– 2 tbsp chopped coriander (if you hate coriander like I do, leave this out – it’s fine)
– zest and juice of 1 lime
– 1 tbsp runny honey
– Thumb-sized portion of ginger, peeled and grated
– 1 tbsp soy sauce
– 3 tbsp raw oil (I used coconut oil)
– 1 dessert spoon toasted sesame oil
– 200g couscous
– 1 tsp vegetable boullion
1. Heat the oven to 200ºC. Put the chicken breast in the centre of a large square of foil. Sprinkle with good-quality salt and freshly cracked black pepper, plus a tiny drizzle of olive oil). Seal the foil into a loose parcel around the chicken, making sure there are no gaps. Pop the parcel on a baking sheet and put the oven for 25 minutes.
2. Remove the chicken from the oven and take out of the parcel. On a chopping board, cut the chicken into thick strips or chunks. Put in a bowl and put aside, covering with foil to keep warm.
3. Slice the nectarine into juicy wedges. Add to the chicken with the mange tout, spring onions and coriander (if you’re using that disgusting stuff).
4. Whisk the lime juice and zest with the honey, ginger, soy sauce and oils.
5. In a separate bowl, add the couscous and the vegetable boullion. Pour over enough boiling water so the couscous is covered by about 5mm of water. Cover with clingflim and leave for about 5 minutes before fluffing up with the fork.
5. Divide the couscous, chicken and salad between two large bowls (or plates, you can use plates). Drizzle over the dressing and serve.
Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food.
After vowing to try to eat more food raw, I was kind of struggling to think what to eat apart from smoothies (which technically you drink anyway). So I did what any self-respecting independent person does and turned to Google to find out what everyone else is doing. Turns out they’re not eating raw chicken, which is Good News.
One of the first recipes I found that sounded vaguely un-mental was raw courgette noodles. Hey, wait, don’t click away! There’s cheese in this and loads of garlic. It tastes good.
Sybille told me to stay away from processed foods. “If it doesn’t grow or need to be killed to eat it, don’t eat it,” she told me as I sweated my way through one of her unbelievably tough (but good) yoga sessions. “Err, so does that mean no pasta?!” I asked, faintly hysterical at the thought of not eating platefuls of spag bol. Everyone at the yoga class looked at me and then firmly said no. Seems Sybille had got to them too.
I love pasta, but have found these courgette noodles are a perfect substitute. They’re just like al dente spaghetti. I make my noodles using this sprial-maker thing. It’s great fun. When I make them it’s one of the rare opportunities to see Andrew offer to help in the kitchen. It’s basically like those Play-doh machines but it makes something tastier.
Why’re these good for you? Well courgettes are a good source of fibre and they’re low calorie too. They won’t leave you feeling bloated like pasta often does, and they’re really filling and satisfying. Plus the pesto sauce has raw garlic in it, which contains lots of good stuff to help prevent colds and keep your heart healthy. The lemon juice contains pectin, which is proven to aid weight loss. And you know about vitamin C, which is also in those cherry tomatoes. Right, let’s hit the recipe shall we?
Raw courgette noodles with homemade pesto
Serves 2 generously
For the noodles:
– 4 medium-sized courgettes, washed
For the pesto:
– A large handful of basil (I use a whole bag of those ones you get from the supermarket)
– 1 garlic clove, peeled
– Juice of 1 lemon
– A handful of pine nuts
– A large handful of freshly grated parmesan
– 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the topping:
– Ball of burrata cheese
– Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1. Make your noodles by spinning the courgettes round in a spiral-thinger. There’s instructions on the box of the thing, ok? Set them aside in a bowl.
2. Toast the pine nuts by putting them in a frying pan (with no oil). Put them on a high heat and keep an eye on them. Keep shuffling them around until they start looking golden. Don’t let them go black.
3. Put all the pesto ingredients in a blender (or NutriBullet!) and blend until it’s a paste-sauce consistency.
4. Pour the pesto over the noodles and toss until the noodles are all coated in sauce. Then divide the noodles between two plates.
5. Rip apart your burrata and scatter over the noodles along with the cherry tomatoes. Eat and enjoy.
P.S. Thanks so much for the AWESOME support in response to my last post. It has blown me away. I’m excited a few of you are joining me on this journey. Let’s kick health in the head. Or something. Kicking it in the head sounds bad.
Recipe adapted from Skinny Taste.
A lot of people recently have been saying I’ve gone crazy. For I am normally the girl who tempts people out after work with promises of wine and putting the world to rights, I am the go-to resource among my friends when they’re looking for the best burgers in town and I am also a lazy slug.
3. Pour into a glass, Instagram the hell out of it and then drink.
I love a cocktail, you love a cocktail – why not have some cocktails on me (well, sort of). It’s London Cocktail Week after all.
I’ve teamed up with the good people at Zomato to give away four wristbands to four of my lucky followers on Twitter. Zomato is a fabulous online and mobile directory with reviews by some of the best writers in the business (and also yours truly – distinctly not one of the best writers in the business).
The wristbands will get you the following:
- Access to £4 cocktails at all participating venues
- Stores in the Seven Dials area will be partnering with bars to offer free tasters, masterclasses and tours. Check the schedule here
- A free London Bar Guide
- Offers and discounts
- The Belvedere Luxe List (cocktail tour)
- Pop Up Events
- A Circus voucher (worth £50): Valid Tuesday-Thursday for the bar only.
All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning a wristband is RT a tweet I’m going to be posting on my account today. You must also be following me (the link is above).
I’m kind of jealous of whoever wins these, to be honest. If I won I’ve put a little list of the top five places I’d go:
1. Hoxley & Porter on Upper Street, Islington – this place is basically my local, so it’d be rude not to. Also, I love their decor and I’ve been meaning to go for ages.
2. The Riding House Cafe in Fitzrovia – I walked past this place recently and it looked amazing. I’ve also heard good things. It seems like a classy joint I don’t belong in, so I’d be all up for trying it.
3. Worship Street Whistling Stop in Shoreditch – this is right by where I work, but I’ve only been once. It’s a great speakeasy with some very impressive cocktails. I need to go back.
4. Kettner’s in Soho – a Soho institution. I have spent a number of nights getting slowly tipsy in their Champagne bar (weirdly, mostly with my brother and his wife). I love it in there, so would head back for a dose on nostalgia.
5. Village East in Bermondsey – I love everything on Bermondsey Street. Big fan. Any excuse to go here.
Best of luck to you all with the giveaway. I’ll be announcing the winner on Sunday.
When I first heard about Mission, a new restaurant in Bethnal Green, I knew it was going to be a good ‘un. Owned by the husband and wife team behind Sager & Wilde and the head chef, James De Jong, joined from one of my favourite Islington pubs, The Drapers Arms (where Andrew and I had our engagement party, factfans) it had all the trappings of a first-class establishment.
So I was pretty happy to score a soft opening reservation, and last week we popped along with our newly married friends, Simon and George.
The restaurant is a stone’s throw from Bethnal Green tube station, under the railway arches on Paradise Row. The restaurant occupies one of these arches, but it’s like the Tardis inside and feels nothing like a railway arch, overhead train rumblings aside.
There’s a lovely wooden bar in the middle of the restaurant, with bistro-style wooden chairs and tables surrounding it. The brickworks is exposed overhead, but wood panelling on the walls makes it more romantic (and less echo-y). The whole of the arch is glass fronted and although we went on an autumnal evening, I am sure in summer with the glass wall retracted it’d be spectacular (there is an al fresco dining area out front for such occasions, too).
Right, on to the food.
I kickstarted my meal with ‘Nduja arancini (that’s deep-fried risotto rice balls, incase you’ve never heard of them. I had because I am cultured and I also like deep-fried carbs. Mmm.)
My phone wigged out at this point and put lines all over my photos, so I will spare you my photography, bar this one of the fried carbs:
Don’t get shit like this on The Londoner, do you?
Anyway, the arancini were good – nice and crisp on the outside and gooey inside. The ‘nduja added a spicy kick.
Andrew went for the crispy pig’s head, which I don’t have a photo of. However, it was insanely good. They were little squares of pork confit, deep fried. They were so meaty and good. Vegetarian Simon and George didn’t even judge us for eating a pig’s head.
The veggies went for…
Datterini tomatoes, mozzarella and samphire. It looked insanely good. The cheese was all gooey and fresh. Simon and George said it was great.
They also had courgettes, ricotta and mint.
I am a bit confused by this, as there are definitely artichokes in this dish. Anyway, they said this wasn’t as good. Probably because artichokes are RANK.
For main course Andrew and I decided to share the lamb chops. We’re both MASSIVE lamb fans (I originally typed friends there, which, yes, we are also friends of lambs). Looking at this photo makes me weep with lust. BEHOLD:
So much lamb. Phwoar. Here’s another photo too. Andrew took this one:
It’s a less good image, isn’t it? Sorry, Pea.
Anyway, they were perfectly cooked and came with this yummy herby, garlicky garnish. I dream about these lamb chops in my darker moments.
Simon and George went for Aubergine Parmigina. Here’s a photo:
I think it was nice, but to be honest I was too busy crying with happiness over my lamb to really take in how much Simon and George liked their main course. I am a bad friend, sorry guys.
I was so full by this point. So much meat. So good. Zoe happy. But then Andrew went and ordered a dulce de leche cheesecake and I had a bit (or three).
Look at all that delicious honeycomb. YUM! It was such an amazing cheesecake. On par with the best I’ve ever had. Sweet yet sour, and very very rich. WELL DONE, Mission.
The service at Mission was great. I basically can’t fault this place. The menu I guess is on the pricer side, so I feel quite lucky we got to try it during the soft launch offer. I can’t rave about this place highly enough.
Mission, 250 Paradise Row, Bethnal Green E2 9LE
Nearest tube: Bethnal Green (2 min walk)
I sometimes get cravings for waffles. Not the Bird’s Eye potato ones (although they are waffle-y versatile), but the sweet, terribly unhealthy kind. But do you know what? Not a lot of places in London serve waffles. There are more places serving American pancakes than you can shake a stick at, but there’s a waffle drought in our city.
So, when I saw Q Grill‘s revamped brunch menu had waffles on it, I knew I had to pay them a little visit. I’d been meaning to go to Q for ages anyway. So this weekend Andrew and I trotted off to Camden, weaving our way against the flow of Gooners and Man City fans that were flocking towards N5 – seemingly to our flat!
We arrived at Q and it was empty, save for another couple. The venue is pretty huge, with one side flanked by an impressive bar and the back wall is home to an open kitchen. We took one of their comfy, massive circular booths, which was probably too large for just two of us (it could’ve easily sat six) but we enjoyed it.
There was a small table laid out with fresh pastries, muffins, breads, cured meats and yoghurt, fruits and granola so you can help yourself to a Continental-style breakfast if you want. Our waitress explained we should just go up and dig in. I was on the hangry* side of my mood spectrum, so I helped myself to a slice of focaccia and some cured meats (and, err, a pain au chocolate. Don’t judge me, you massive judger).
The focaccia was great. I love me some herby, salty bread. The cured meats was actually just Parma ham, but I was onboard with that – Parma ham is my number one favourite in the world of cured meats. My pain au chocolate was HUGE. But it was also cold, which seems so sad. I feel pastries are best enjoyed warm, but maybe that’s just me? (Deep down I think it can’t just be me.)
It was around this point that the waitress came over and asked what I was doing. “Err, I’m having some of the Continental stuff?” I answered. “But are you having something from the menu too? Are you having two Continentals or one?” I was massively unhelpful here I think and said I wasn’t sure, but could we just see how we got on with what we were eating. She kind of seemed annoyed/confused but let it go. Andrew was actually too scared to go up and help himself after this, but I think this is more a reflection on how easily Andrew is intimidated that anything else.
Guess what? We did end up ordering from the menu. Our waitress was pretty pissed off. But I came for waffles, remember? And I’m a nightmare customer, right? Right!
We got a smoothie each (me: banana, strawberry and pineapple; him: kale, avocado and apple). They were both nice but really really sweet. They came in those jam jar with handles thingies, so big hipster points there.
I ordered waffles and Andrew ordered Q baked beans on toast with a fried hen’s egg on top.
My waffles arrived with a generous serving of bacon and maple syrup. They were good, but also slightly lacklustre. I mean it was what it said it was, but it was missing something to elevate it from standard to interesting. It could’ve done with some caramelised bananas or something. A dusting of cinnamon and icing sugar? I realise this makes me sound greedy, but that’s really not it. I’m just trying to be constructive here.
Andrew said his beans were, “OK. They’re baked beans and eggs, aren’t they?” I didn’t have any of his because I loathe fried eggs. Sorry. (Also, as an aside – obvz, we’re in brackets here – aren’t most eggs “hen’s eggs”? Is that worth stating on the menu?)
I did enjoy Q. The restaurant is really nice. The staff (except the one who acted like a spurned lover) were all delightful. The decor is interesting and comfy. But I think the fact it was empty made me feel sad. But at least I sated my waffle lust for a bit. And hopefully as word spreads people will fill the place up. They also have a mix your own Bloody Mary bar. I mean that sounds fun, right?
I will however be going back to Q to try their barbecue food. Their regular non-brunch food sounded delicious!
Q-Grill, 29-33 Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AJ
Nearest tube: Chalk Farm (5 min walk)
* hangry, adj.
The state of being so hungry you feel irritated by everything and become completely unreasonable.
Example of a sentence using ‘hangry’
By lunchtime I was so hangry I almost screamed at my colleague for humming the theme tune to Black Beauty over and over.
I was invited to review Q-Grill and as such received a complimentary meal. However, this by no means guarantees a favourable review.
Some images © Andrew Phillimore. Do not reproduce without explicit permission.
Lunchtime is like running the gauntlet at the moment. I work just off Thayer Street in Marylebone, and the street is lined with interesting places to eat. They make having a sad Covent Garden Soup feel like a personal failure. So err, sometimes I fall off the wagon and have a burger.
Having exhausted the menu at Patty & Bun down the road, I went for Tommi’s. They’re pretty no-frills, which is standard in London’s now ubiquitous line of burger restaurants. I was getting take out so I went up to the desk to order.
I went for a cheeseburger and fries. I also got some cocktail sauce, which turned out to be a regrettable decision. I waited for a bit – 10 mins? – and then my burger arrived in a bag. You then have to go up to the counter and help yourself to pickles. This annoyed me because I am a massively petty person. Pickles shouldn’t have to be added to a burger – they’re either in there (good) or not (bad). I don’t want to have to add them myself. Christ. This is 2014.
I took my brown bag back to work and probably stank the office out with fast food smell. Sorry guys. You’re nice and you deserve better.
Here’s what the burger looked like:
Here’s the bite through shot:
It’s blurred. GO ME!
Anyway, as you can see I added load of pickles. There was also lettuce, tomato and raw red onion in there. The patty was cooked medium (good) but was pretty gosh darn dry (bad). And also a bit chewy (oh so bad). The bun was sweet and basically guys it tasted like a McDonalds burger. Which is great if you like McDonalds. I’m not fundamentally opposed to them myself, especially not while drunk and roaming the Holloway Road at 1am, but meh – the best part of £10 for a knock-off McDonalds? That I am opposed to.
P.S. The cocktail sauce tasted of nothing. It was like eating warm, clammy nothing. I love me my condiments, but this one was in desperate need of some flavour.
Tommi’s Burger Joint, 30 Thayer St, Marylebone, London W1U 2QP
Nearest tube: Bond Street (6 min walk)
Well, following up from my excited post about National Burger Day, I thought I better update about how it all went down. As a quick overview, it was burger-y and tequila-y.
I got to Battersea Power Station, where it was being held, by way of Kensington and Chelsea. I really really hate west London – especially Chelsea/Kensington and Fulham (sorry Dugs). The slow-moving bus didn’t help my rage towards the area.
Anyway, got there I did and the smell of burgers was wafting through the air. As soon as we arrived I saw Jamie, who had had a massive hand in organising the event – and it was her birthday. Amazing party or what? She gave me a quick overview of what was what and I went on my merry way.
Andrew was keen to try out Club Gascon‘s foie gras and summer truffle burger. Service was quick, as was the eating as the burger was pretty tiny. I found it almost headache inducingly rich – the foie gras melted in the mouth though and I loved the salad dressed with truffle. One tiny fella was enough though!
Then it was off to my favourite: Bleecker St Burger. It’s well recognised that Bleecker does the best burger in London. It’s very exciting that they’re now opening a shop in Old Spitalfields Market to complement their food truck. Bleecker staff are always fab too – so friendly and passionate. Bleecker were doing a pizza/burger hybrid. This was 50-day dry-aged beef patty, melted mozzarella, marinana sauce, grated parmesan, chilli flakes and basil mayo. HIYA!
Then it was on to get our pints of Meantime Lager, which came with the tickets.
Next up we went to find Duggers, where we sat on the world’s tiniest table and caught up over our beers. Duggers had the thing sussed and we soon got our respective “other halves” (ugh) getting us burgers while we sat and drank.
Andrew went to get a slider from Slider Bar.
It was really good, although all the burgers were tiny across the board at the event. As Andrew and I were splitting them there just wasn’t enough of any of them to get really into them. However, this guy was spicy and meaty and good. It was aged beef patty, 10-hour roast chipotle beef short rib, bone marrow, habanero salsa, American cheese and chipotle ketchup.
Next up was Andrew’s favourite burger from last year: Disco Burger. Andrew loves a bit of fruit in savoury food, so this was his dream burger: dry-aged Dexter beef, bun sauce, mature cheese, pickled onions, pineapple bacon jam. FIT.
This was the burger of the night. It was so beautifully balanced. Meaty, sweet, juicy. I don’t know what that “bun sauce” is, but I want to bathe in it.
We then queued for an hour for Dip & Flip burgers. However, five people from the front a lady appeared and said, “We’ve run out of roast beef so we’re putting bacon on instead”. Discontent spread like wildfire. The man behind me lost the plot, but summarised most people’s feelings: “Roast beef is YOUR THING. I COULD GO ANYWHERE FOR A BACON BURGER”. The lady from Dip & Flip laughed at him and walked off. We also left the queue.
Suffering from extreme queue rage, we then hit up the chilliback shots. This is a shot of tequila with a shot of brine from pickled chillies as a chaser. Firey.
Eat your heart out, The Londoner.
I now felt full and a bit sick, but Andrew was determined for one last burger. I was unable to face another queue, so we went to where the shortest queue was: Byron.
He didn’t get an adequate shot of the burger, but he wasn’t impressive. I think it was a bit lack lustre compared to the others, and he said it had a bad after taste. I took one bite and conceded that it wasn’t very exciting. Sorry Byron – normally I love you!
The night was drawing in, so after a quick tour and a few slushie cocktails we bid a retreat.
All images © Andrew Phillimore. Please seek permission before reproducing.
So National Burger Day is upon us once more, and I for one am very excited indeed.
National Burger Day was set up last year by the lovely people (and huge burger fans) at the lifestyle newsletter Mr Hyde. It was a rip roaring success. You can read all about it here.
This year looks sure to be bigger and better than last, with loads more participants and events going on around the country.
The key event for me will be the evening event in Battersea. Mr Hyde has teamed up with the good folk at Tweat Up to create an event that is surely every burger lover’s dream. All the best London burger creators (and fans!) will be at the event, with loads of them serving up new twists on their already insanely good patty delights.
Here’s the menu if you don’t believe me:
In the words of Proudlock: YEAH BOI!
Some of the burger purveyors have been giving sneaky peeks at their burgers. Here’s a little selection:
OK, I’ll stop. But I am exciting to see the grand unveiling of Byron’s latest special at the event.
Sadly for some of you suckers, the tickets for the event have now sold out. However, loads of restaurants nationwide are participating, offering customers 20% off their bills.
To find somewhere local to you, just visit www.nationalburgerday.co.uk and get your voucher.
I am in desperate need of a holiday – today I almost cried when my alarm went off at 6.30am heralding the allotted hour for my fitness bootcamp class. I am so tired I fear that if I blink for too long I might slip into a deep sleep. I feel like words have dried up on my keyboard and my brain is flatlining – I am spent.
So my mind has turned to dreaming of our honeymoon. Andrew and I have incurable wanderlust. It’s what first bonded us – our first conversation in the pub was all the places we want to travel to (turns out they were all the same countries). We travelled non-stop for eight months when we first got together, but that was eight years ago now. Since then we’ve idly discussed our honeymoon, but now we can start the dreaming in earnest.
And at the moment it is just dreaming. We don’t need to book it just yet – our wedding is almost exactly a year away, so we don’t need to look at prices yet. We can just look at pictures and pretend six-star hotels are part of our every day lives.
So, join me why don’t you? Here’s a list of my top five honeymoon destinations:
I’ve never been to Indonesia, but would absolutely love to go with Bali on the top of my list. Beautiful beaches, temples to explore and excellent surfing are just a few of the reasons I’d love to go. We want an active yet relaxing honeymoon, so this seems perfect.
This hotel in particular just looks amazing. Each of the pool villas has it’s own, err, pool plus a view of the Indian Ocean. They are constructed from natural materials including wood and lava stone (oooh!) and the interiors are sleek and contemporary while also looking cosy.
I know it’s ecologically dubious to go to these overwater bungalows, but man do they scream honeymoon or what? Maldives is a bit of a honeymoon cliché , but for good reason: crystal clear waters, white-sand beaches and blazing hot sunshine.
The diving is also meant to be great in the Maldives, which would tick off our “active” spec. The rest of the time I think I’d be quite happy to laze around the private pool or in the overwater hammock.
Costa Rica is at the very top of my list of places I want to go. Everyone I know who has been there has raved about it with such fervour it’s like they’re paid commission by the tourist board. It has everything: rainforests, beaches, surfing, culture. It’s basically my ideal honeymoon destination. Andrew’s brother is in fact there right now on his honeymoon, so we’re worried about ~copying~, but hey ho!
This resort is apparently the nicest in Costa Rica. It seems a shame to go somewhere like Costa Rica and stay in an American-style resort – it’s not “us” at all, but this place does seem to tick a lot of boxes with the luxury. They also have loads of activities including paddle boarding, zip lining, volcano hiking plus an amazing stargazing experience – we are total stargazers. Maybe we could stay here for a while (a month?!) and then get some more local flavour by going elsewhere as well…?
Slightly closer to home (which is good, as it means shorter travel time and no jet lag) is Positano in Italy. I’ve always loved the sound of the Almafi Coast anyway, but watching The Trip has really brought my desire to go to the fore. It looks incredible – the food, the weather, the scenery! Perfection!
This is meant to be the best hotel in Positano, according to Condé Nast Traveller (and who am I to argue with them?). This soaking tub looks pretty honeymoon perfect to me.
OK, so this is totally over budget. If you’re into this kind of thing (I’m not at all), William and Kate spent their honeymoon here. To say it’s isolated is an understatement. You have to get a private helicopter here. But once you’re there…? WOW. Just, well, just look at these photos. I feel a bit like crying.
The thing that really sung to me though was that this resort is based on a Robinson and Crusoe type scenario. The villas are made from naturally-fallen woods of the takamaka, rosewood and ylang ylang tree. Andrew has always dreamed of living on a deserted island – this would be his dream with plenty of luxury for me. The mile-long island is easy to get around – you’re given mountain bikes and an electric buggy. And the food is meant to be insane! There is a menu, but you can also go off piste. The chef will make whatever you want. And it’s only €1,690 per night to stay. BARGAIN!
I’m on a wedding diet at the moment, but last night I went out to see my amazingly talented friend, Lucy Garrioch, do a one-woman show. Apart from being incredible to watch my friend up on stage, I also saw a lot of very old and dear friends and got a bit too carried away on the wine. The result? A horrific hangover today – I have also lots my voice from whooping so much.
So I fell spectacularly off the wagon when I remembered Dirty Burger have got a kind of secret food truck nestled within the building I work (but anyone can visit). I headed down there this lunch time to find a salve for my sorry state.
It’s located in a sort of archway/alley/back entrance to our building. It sounds glamorous, right?! But actually they’ve made it lovely with some festoon lighting and tables and chairs.
I went for a cheeseburger and crinckle fries [sic] (back on the diet now though – whoops!).
I took my guilty parcel back to my desk…
The burger contains pickles, cheese, bacon, patty (natch), iceberg lettuce and tomato in a brioche bun. It was pretty sloppy, as the picture tells, but also the burger was well-done. I prefer medium/medium rare. And it suffered for it – it wasn’t as juicy or satisfying. It was fine, sure, but in what is the competitive market of gourmet junk food it was disappointing.
The fries were crinkle-cut, perhaps in homage to Shake Shack (bleurgh). They were a unseasoned though and a bit “mum’s gone to Iceland”.
So perhaps not amazing but it has cured my hangover. Although I feel very guilty.
Dirty Burger food truck, Zetland House, 32 Paul Street, London EC2A 4HJ
Nearest tube: Old Street (5 min walk)
I got engaged a month ago today to my amazing best friend-boyfriend hybrid, Andrew. Here’s his tiny little face:
A quick overview: We’ve known each other for 10 years, and have been together for just over nine years now. We met in our home town when we graduated from our respective universities and were left thinking “Now what?” A mutual friend, Jess, introduced us and we quickly became really good friends. Andrew, Jess and I hung out together all summer, almost every day. I have never laughed so much in my life. Then in November Jess moved away with her family and Andrew and I started going out a few months later. About a month after going out we made the mental decision to go travelling together for eight months together. It was a make or break situation for us, and sometimes it was both. Ha! I guess the rest is kind of obvious. Andrew liked it so took eight or so years to put a ring on it. He is not a decisive character.
So now we’re planning a wedding… I have no intentions of turning The Z Factor into a wedding blog, but I will pop up updates as and when I think something is interesting (note: most of wedding planning is really dull).
A month down the line and what have we got locked down? Well, I picked my bridesmaids right away as I’ve known for a good while who I wanted to hold my hand through this process. Here they are:
Amy lived with Andrew when we first moved to London, and we quickly all became excellent friends. We went on an amazing trip to visit friends in Berlin once, which must be one of my favourite trips ever. Amy is very organised and she also helped Andrew organise his proposal.
Jo (here on the left) is Andrew’s little sister. Although it is customary to ask your future sister-in-laws to be bridesmaids, my decision to have Jo wasn’t governed by this. Over the years we’ve spent a lot of time together at family get-togethers, Christmases and even Glastonbury. She’s already been my pseudo sister for years.
Josie and I met when I joined her school in sixth form. We got the train together to and from school every day and had all of our free periods together. Since then we have had many adventures together – and even more nights out. She now lives in Florida with her husband, so will be rocking an amazing tan at the wedding. Pass me the fake tan…
I actually went to secondary school with Phoebe, but she was a couple of years below her so although I knew her we weren’t really friends. However, when I got together with Andrew he was friends with her and I quickly stole her as my own pal too. As with all the bridesmaids, she’s really important to both Andrew and I, and it felt totally like she should be a key part of our day together.
My endlessly entertaining niece, Immy. She’s five at the moment, will be six when we get married. She was one on the most tricky of negotiators who campaigned to Andrew for him to propose, such was her eagerness to be a bridesmaid. Perhaps more excited than me about the wedding, she already has big plans for her dress (big and white, apparently) and is putting in requests for shoes. She’s such a massive character and I know she’ll keep all our guests entertained more than I will on the day!
We’re also having three page boys, my three nephews.
Archie – Head page boy
He’ll be eight when we get married, and is a really lovely, funny and sensible little guy. We’re going to give him some little responsibilities so he feels really involved in the day. Maybe like giving a speech… Haha. Just kidding A Bear!
Henry & Theo
My Californian nephews! Henry will be almost two when we get married, and Theo will be four. They might not have any big responsibilities as they’re still very young but wow will they be cute. I can’t wait for them to spend the day with their cousins as part of our bridal team. I hope they have lots of fun. (Theo at the moment thinks he’s going to be an actual page – a knight in training – as he’s obsessed with knights. He’s going to be disappointed)
Quite often when people who don’t live in London talk to me about how I live in London they often say, “I could never live in London,” in such a horrified tone it’s as if I have told them my pastime is eating babies or licking tramps toes.
More often than not I shrug my shoulders. Horses for courses, isn’t it. Some people want to live in the middle of nowhere, some people want to live in the town they grew up in, some people don’t want to live in any one place. Me? I want to live in London because I love it here. I don’t feel the need to justify my lifestyle choices to people just as I don’t expect them to justify theirs to me. Having said that, here’s five of the many reasons why I love London.
1. The people
Yes, that’s right, the people. Londoners get a bad wrap; people say they’re mean, moody and impatient. And yeah, we can be, but that’s only because we have to traverse hoards of kids of school trips, provide travel advise to tourists and sweat on the tube during our daily commutes. We aren’t bad peoples deep down, and there is no better place in the world for people watching than London. All of human life is here: there’s so many different people doing different things and for the most part we’re living harmoniously together (just move down the carriage and we’ll all be friends, yeah?). I love how London embraces people from all walks of life and rarely questions what people are up to – want to walk down the street singing at the top of your voice? Go for it. Want to do the waltz to the busker in Leicester Square tube – knock yourself out.
2. The restaurants
No massive news to most, but London’s restaurant scene is a constantly evolving, innovative place these days. Gone are the days of bad British food – people who say this haven’t been to London in time. Fancy an amazing Turkish meal cooked authentically? Pop over to Green Lanes and you have more options than you could wish for. Want some wicked-good curry in the most lively restaurant you can imagine? Tayyabs is for you. Sushi, veggie, raw, falafel-only, dim sum, Vietnamese, French-style burgers, food trucks, market stalls – there’s everything and anything you want here. I love that whatever I want, there’ll be somewhere I can go within about 30 minutes travel and fill my boots. And sure, a lot of cities have lots of restaurants (next person to show off about getting a Bill’s in their town gets a punch in the face, though), but the thriving nature of London’s dining scene means anything sub-par doesn’t survive and every restaurant is kept on their toes. It breeds creativity and innovation and I love it.
3. I became an adult here
My first real job was in London, and after two years of commuting to Kent where I lived, I moved up here. I moved into a flatshare, which was a nightmare of horrific proportions (every time a bus went past – and we were on the main bus route in north London – it knocked out the TV reception. Also there were no windows in the house and the outside was painted gloss brown) and quickly moved out and into another one. Since then I have progressed in my career, moved in with my boyfriend, bought a flat and got engaged. I’ve made friends for life, including one who will be my bridesmaid next summer, and had lots of ups and downs. This is where my whole adult life has been. When I was at uni in Liverpool, sure I was 18 but I was a pseudo-adult (real adults are able to get out of bed before 10am); before that I was at school and lived at home, aka very much not an adult. London will always have that place in my heart that no other city will have.
4. It’s iconic
London has led the way in so many direction, not least of all style and fashion. It’s also got some incredible designs – the architecture is truly breath-taking and the skyline is instantly recognisable with the sharp spire of the Shard next to the beautiful dome of St Paul’s cathedral. Even the transport is unique; black cabs, Routemasters and underground roundels are all synonymous with the city. Glance at a tube map and you instantly think ‘London’ – nothing else looks like it. And what a beautiful piece of design work the tube map is. It’s so inspiring to be constantly faced with all the beauty and creativity you see every day in London.
5. It’s where I got engaged
I’m sure you’re all bored of hearing about my engagement now, but London will forever be in my heart because it’s here I got engaged. It was a very London-based affair, with the final down-on-one-knee bit happening right by a London street sign. As I only plan on getting engaged the once, it’s incredibly special to me and something I’ll always remember.
So the morning after we got engaged (yeah, yeah, still going on about it) Andrew and I woke up and had champagne on our epic balcony!
Then he had bought some smart clothes for me to wear the next day and said we’re going somewhere nice for brunch. We strolled through the sunny Sunday Soho streets and jumped on a tube to Baker Street.
Andrew led the way (quelling rumours he has no sense of direction in the process) until we ended up on Chiltern Street (he took me a winding way to throw me off). I looked at him in surprise. Had he booked Chiltern Firehouse? How would he even know about the Chiltern Firehouse (although he is addicted to the Mail’s sidebar of shame).
As we were whisked into the courtyard of the restaurant by a man in an excellent hat it seemed, yes, Andrew had been doing his research. We had a table for brunch.
We were seated on some lovely 1920s-style banquettes and the windows of the dining room were wide open as it was a lovely sunny day. The service was really, really slow, but we were happy to take our time and chat about being engaged…
We ordered champagne cocktails to start. I got a strawberry and hibiscus number while Andrew went for an apricot and peach one. Mine was definitely better.
We also ordered some freshly made cornbread with smoked salmon crème fraîche, which took its sweet time arrive, but was incredibly good. Such a savoury, fishy and sharp flavour. I could eat those bad boys all day.
I then went for potato and herb hotcakes with smoked salmon and poached eggs. This was really good. The waitress tried her best to convince me to have toast with it, but I’m glad I didn’t as we totally didn’t need it.
Andrew went for lobster scrambled eggs, which were ridiculously good. So rich and full of shellfish flavour.
Ahem. Then we got some buttermilk pancakes to share. That came with fresh blueberries and blueberry compote, which were great (I love pancakes) but I’m glad I got something a bit different as my main choice as pancakes are pancakes are pancakes.
I have no idea how much the food cost (thanks Pea!) but I imagine it was pretty spendy. But the atmosphere was so lovely and it was such a special meal. Great people watching, slow service but a lot of fun.
Chiltern Firehouse, 1 Chiltern St, Marylebone, London W1U 7PA
Nearest tube: Baker Street (10-min walk)
Straight after getting engaged, Andrew whisked me off to eat at Beast. Beast is the new-ish venture by the team behind Burger & Lobster. The restaurant has a set menu with two main dishes: crab and steak. But boy what crab and steak they are…
We arrived and were zipped down to the subterranean banqueting hall and were met with a huge wall of cow carcasses and live crab tanks housing huge Norwegian king crabs.
At the bar we were served a complimentary glass of champagne (wish I could get engaged every day!) and there were HUGE wheels of parmesan to help ourselves to. Love a salty snack with my pre-dinner fizz!
We were seated on huge banqueting tables, which were romantically lit with soft candle light and were brought our starters. As I said, there’s a set menu at Beast with no options. We were presented with a quarter-wheel of parmesan, some pickled onions, marinated olives and artichokes – all absolutely delicious and fun to share! The emphasis is definitely on sharing your meal at Beast, which is fun as long as you know your fellow diners well and you’re not Joey from Friends.
We then ordered more champagne and one glass of red and one white from the very helpful sommelier. They arrived together along with the steak…
This was prime Nebraskan ribeye on the bone, and it was absolutely delicious: meaty, perfectly seasoned, full of flavour and tender. It came with sides of heritage tomatoes, green salad, baked apples, candied beetroot. It was all to share and was more than enough for two…
Just as we were about a third of our way through the steak our crab arrived:
I absolutely love crab, and this was the best crab I’d ever had. It was soft, sweet and plentiful. The crab had been properly dismantled so it didn’t cause too many problems, and we were provided with all the normal medieval tools to get in. This was served with a delicious lemon butter sauce and further sides of asparagus and um, some other bits and bobs. I’ve forgotten! Whoops!
Luckily we were decked out in cotton bibs (not the plastic fellas from B&L) and had finger bowls in abundance. There are also sinks along the sides of the room incase you need to properly hose yourself down after battling a crab the size of your head (no exaggeration). Look, we’re not here to judge.
The final course was a light and refreshing lemon mousse, which was the perfect palate cleanser after some extremely rich food.
Beast is very spendy – I am lucky in that the bill was taken care of as part of project proposal – the set menu is £75 per person and wine on top isn’t cheap I believe from other diners. However, it was such a special night: the service was incredible, the atmosphere was the perfect mix of fun and romantic and the food was perfect.
Beast, 3 Chapel Pl, Marylebone, London W1G 0BG
Nearest tube: Bond Street (5 min walk), Oxford Street (5 min walk)
So I thought I’d tell you guys a bit of news from my life that doesn’t entail eating burgers the size of my head; I got engaged on Saturday. Yeah, that’s right – someone asked me to be his wife. Shall I tell you the story? Oh alright then.
I thought I was meeting Andrew and our close friend Amy for lunch on Saturday. Andrew was going to the gym so I said I’d meet him there. “How late with you be?” I asked, knowing that he is permanently late. “Not late at all,” he told me.
So I met Amy (pictured below) for lunch. Thirty minutes later Andrew hadn’t appeared. I moaned to Amy.
As soon as I finished my food Amy said, “So Andrew isn’t coming for lunch but he asked me to give you this” and she produced an envelope with his writing on. “Um, what’s going on?” I said to her, feeling panicked and a bit sick. Amy shrugged as she watched me open the envelope. Inside it said…
I looked at Amy who was armed with my first clue: find a dog, preferably a sausage dog and text him a photo of it. I flew out onto Upper Street in the search for a dog. The first dog I saw was this guy:
His baffled owners let me take a photo of him, which I sent to Andrew. The next clue arrived:
This took me to a beauty salon next to the Breakfast Club in Camden Passage. When I got there (Amy dropped me off and waved goodbye) they told me I was there for a manicure. And some bubbles… Andrew had booked it all for me.
The ladies who worked in the salon were VERY excited. “He’s going to propose!” they screamed when I told them the story. “I don’t think so,” I said.
I had my nails done – unfortunately one of my nails broke last week (Andrew was so cross and now I know why!) so it looks crap but the rest are lovely.
I sent this picture to Andrew and then I got another clue:
He was panicking a bit as my nails took longer than he thought (even if they are stubby guys!). I got to Covent Garden and got this message:
I got to the blowdry bar and they were ready for me, and gave me a beautiful blowdry. They also were convinced Andrew was getting me ready for a proposal after I told them the story. “I’m not sure,” I said.
I send Andrew a pic of my blowdry:
And got another clue:
I got home and a dress was laid out for me with this note on it:
When I lifted the dress up there was a present under there. It was this book:
We’ve been listening to the audio book of Wind in the Willows as we fall asleep recently.
I sent him a photo of the book and then the final clue arrived:
This took some working out. Kenneth Brannagh is who reads the book on our audio book, where as the author is called Kenneth Grahame. I googled where he lived between 1901 and 1908 and it was Phillimore Place in Kensington. Andrew’s surname is Phillimore. I hopped on a tube across London…
And trotted through the streets. As I got to the corner of Phillimore Place I saw Andrew, and we smiled at each other but then he ducked down. I rounded the corner and he was down on one knee with a ring in his hand. I immediately started to cry!
He explained he had brought me to Phillimore Place to ask me if I would be a Phillimore and marry him. I said yes, of course!
The ring fit perfectly and was my absolute dream engagement ring – I couldn’t believe he knew me so well. It turned out Amy had gone ring shopping with him back in Easter when I was at a friend’s hen do. Sneaky sneaky!
Andrew had then booked us a meal at Beast in Marylebone, so we jumped in a black cab there. We called our parents and siblings and drank champagne and ate LOADS of food.
Then he had booked us a hotel room, so we got in another cab to Dean Street in Soho where he’d got us the penthouse suite at Soho Hotel.
We had cocktails in the bar and then fell asleep in a massive amazing bed. I want that bed!
In the morning I woke up to this:
We had champagne on the balcony and then he’d booked for us to go to a surprise brunch, which turned out to be at Chiltern Firehouse! The brunch was amazing, but I’ll post that another time.
We then travelled home where Andrew had arranged for some of our friends to come over a celebrate. It was absolutely amazing! I kept telling people “Things like this don’t happen to me!” And I still can’t believe it did – it feels like a wonderful dream.
I can’t wait to marry this amazing man and be Mrs Zoë Phillimore!
This is a terrible photo of us just after he’d proposed! He looks a bit stunned and I look crazed. Haha.
And now for something completely different…
My good friend and ex-colleague Ned Hartley was talking to me the other day about politics. I studied politics at university, but rarely get drawn into arguments over politics. Maybe that’s because I spent one too many Wednesday mornings at uni hungover and arguing about governance or whether the BNP should be allowed the oxygen of publicity (yes they should, btw), or maybe I just don’t talk about politics much because I much prefer to listen to other people’s views. I think a lot can be learned from listening instead of shouting over one another.
Anyway, Ned and I were talking about voting behaviour, and I told Ned it’s my secret geeky interest – I wrote my dissertation about it. So Ned and I reckoned what with the European and local elections happening TOMORROW in the UK, it’d be good time for him to do a guest post about why the top of your to-do list tomorrow should be going a voting. Otherwise: SHAME ON YOU. Over to Ned.
“Democracy is the worst form of government”, said Winston Churchill, “apart from all the others”. Look, no one knows better than I do that the next General Election seems like it’s going to be a choice between grotesque villainy and horrifying incompetence. Which is why I can understand the rise of movements advocating spoiling your vote, voting none of the above or not voting at all. Russell Brand summed it up pretty well when he said, “The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does.” And maybe he’s right.
It’s hard not to see the rise of UKIP (the UK Independence Party) as an extension of this same sentiment. Nigel Farage is the flip side of Russell Brand: he claims that he’s not a politician (even though he is) and he pretends to offer something other than Westminster’s “Politics as normal” (even though he doesn’t). It’s easy to knock Farage and UKIP, but it’s harder to address the source of the problem. This is about the frustration with politics that Farage cynically manipulates, it’s about voter disenfranchisement that allows UKIP to get a hold.
Farage and UKIP’s policies are only really coherent when they are presented in opposition to something, and that’s because it’s easier than coming up than an idea on your own, and it would be easy to write them off if they weren’t polling so well. In the last London opinion poll they were only 1% behind the Lib Dems, clearly taking support not just from disillusioned Conservative voters, but also Labour and Lib Dems voters as well. This is a problem that’s bigger than just the right wing throwing a strop at David Cameron, it’s indicative of a much larger trend in British politics.
It isn’t fair to call UKIP the British version of the US Tea Party, but they harness the same vague anti-establishment sentiment to mask their cruel agendas. This problem is massively compounded when the solution offered by people like Russell Brand is “don’t vote”, a simple refusal to participate. This can be a tempting option, to see yourself as standing nobly above the crowd in your refusal to part of a broken system. If enough people do this then surely someone must notice that something is wrong – right?
But this is a basic misreading of what democracy is all about. Democracy doesn’t owe you a perfect candidate; it doesn’t owe you a 2008 Obama complete with “Hope and Change” and “Yes We Can”. Democracy doesn’t even owe you a candidate that you or anyone you know can vaguely stand. Democracy owes you a part in the process, it owes you a chance to get involved, it owes you the ability to have your voice heard. Not voting means not having a voice, and I’m certain that there’s absolutely no power and change in that.
But hey, I could be wrong. You can find me on twitter at @nedhartley if you think so.
Shu lives in London and always has the best tips of where to go for a fun time. Also, her tweets are always bloody hilarious. So I was very pleased when she said she’d take part in the My London… series.
Name – Shula Cara
Job – PA & Office Manager
Neighbourhood – Pinner. The deepest, darkest NW London. Hopefully not for much longer!
I love London because… There’s something around every corner if only you take the time to notice it. My office used to be the Pink Floyd recording studio! Also, last week I sat on the tube and sat opposite a couple reading. She was engrossed in Fifty Shades of Grey and he was perusing the Bible. I can’t imagine that happening anywhere else.
London is at its best when… You’ll laugh but I’d have to say during the tube strike a few weeks ago! Nobody knew where they were going and were forced to actually talk to each in order to find out how to get to work. How often do you talk to people during your daily commute? The weather was great, so nobody minded walking AND I discovered a bunch of hidden gems around Angel that I’d never noticed before, despite travelling there every day – albeit underground.
My ideal day off in London would be… Waking up early, managing to snag a fresh doughnut at 1235 Doughnuts (sadly no more behind the yellow door on a Sunday). Obviously it would be sunny, so I’d sit outside somewhere like the Towpath Cafe with a good book and a great cup of coffee, watching the world go by. I’d visit somewhere like the Geffrye Museum or Hackney City Farm then head to the nearest Street Feast with friends. After that, it would be time to stop for a spritz on Broadway Market. Cocktails at the Cat and Mutton, and I’d end the night at Hip Hop Karaoke with my oh-so-special rendition of Nasty Girl, some wild dancing. Then sleep.
I absolutely love this little-known place… well, technically not little known, but I love 69 Colebrooke Row, The Blind Pig and the bar at the Zetter Townhouse. Perfect for dates and a drink or two. Also, the Conservatory at the Barbican, I think it’s only open on Sundays
The best night I’ve ever had in London was… A boy once took me to Bourne and Hollingsworth for cocktails and then onto Hip Hop Karaoke at Little Social. An unusual mix but the best fun I’d had in a long time!
My favourite restaurant is… Again, I can’t choose just one. I eat out a lot because I work in hospitality and have had some incredible meals at Morito, Locanda Locatelli, 10 Greek Street and Clove Club. Sharing a pizza at Homeslice is always fun and if I could ever get a table at Sushi Tetsu, I’m sure I’d love that too.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… restaurants and bars with my friends. I’d probably buy a pair of shoes at Liberty too, then fall over in them.
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… the Hunterian, the contents of which are partly grotesque, but totally amazing. It’s the kind of place that will either fascinate you or make you a little sick. Technically not theatre, but Secret Cinema events are always fun. Anything at the Southbank Centre. I was taken to a Pippilotti Rist exhibition a while ago and that was awesome.
One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is... I’ve lived here all my life (apart from a brief hiatus in Nottingham that we don’t mention). A thing that other people don’t know is how close all the tube stations are to each other. Walking is infinitely more enjoyable than sitting on a cramped train during rush hour.
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… Can I have more than one? People that swing their golf umbrellas and tourists that take photos with iPads, for some reason that really bugs me. Oh, and the obvious one – slow walkers!
I’ll leave London when… I die. I love my city. I’ve lived here 25 years and haven’t discovered even half of it yet.
I’m at the stage where most of my friends are either getting married or already are married. This means I have a comprehensive knowledge of what to expect from hen dos, favours and songs all wedding bands play (My Sharona is a key stage in all nuptial celebrations).
It also means I have watched my friends fall in love and become husbands and wives, and that has doubled my number of friends immediately. Wonderful. And in one particular case it means my best friend from uni, Vinay, has had to start watching his wife’s TV shows, including Made in Chelsea. Every time I see Vin he complains to me about Made in Chelsea, which he should know is idiotic as I am obviously a massive fan.
He’s also taken to texting me about it…
On receiving this I had two startling realisations:
1. Vinay should give up his career as an accountant and become a reviewer for the Radio Times
2. Maybe Made in Chelsea needs to be made more fun for long-suffering people who have to watch it but don’t have a clue what’s going on
Enter Hedges (that’s me). I’ve devised a little Made in Chelsea drinking game, because if you’re not getting wasted on a Monday night what’s the point of life, really? This is a really novel idea. I’m sure no one has thought of it. You’re welcome, internet.
Every time these events happen, take a classy slurp of your champagne/gin/White Lightning:
- Someone says, “I’ve got to get out of London.” (They’ve got it like, soo tough)
– Mark Francis hands out some lifestyle tips:
- Jamie Biscuits tells a girl he loves them.
- Louise cries:
- Spencer looks smug (you’re gonna be wasted):
- Lucy Watson shows her disgust with a facial expression:
– Someone doesn’t get invited to something:
For me, if I like someone I mock them. It’s perhaps not a great trait, but growing up with two older brothers has meant that it’s the way I communicate my friendship. If I feel comfortable around someone and like them, I will tease them and joke around with them.
When I first met Rupert he was wearing heavy-framed glasses, which were without lenses. Like a red rag to a bull (I’m the bull in this scenario), right away I started mocking him, and there started our friendship of me cruelly taunting him and him being generous enough to laugh along (and maybe cry himself to sleep at night). As a firm part of my north London circle, no pub visit is complete without Rupert blustering in an hour late, shouting “Darling! How are you?” while wearing some chunky knitwear.
Here Rupert, ever-tolerant and entertaining, talks football pubs, his karaoke track of choice and trying to illegally board a train bound for Paris…
Name: Rupert Cross
My ideal day off in London would be… a Saturday. I dream of this perfect day of waking up not too hungover, opening the windows to sunshine before writing music throughout the morning. Content with a hard day’s work by midday, I head to lunch at the Swimmer at The Grafton Arms pub in Holloway, where Laila and Jon [the staff] greet me and my friends like the opening from Cheers. Sitting outside drinking pints of Brugse Zot, my friends and I discuss where to watch the afternoon’s football – a debate utterly irrelevant as The Tollington Arms on Hornsey Road is excellent and we’ll be going here. As this is a fantasy day, we watch Manchester United not lose horribly and all my Arsenal supporting friends break down in tears, admitting they have been closet Reds all along.
I absolutely love this little-known place… called Shoreditch. I think it’ll catch on.
The best night I’ve ever had in London was… one that ended at 8am at St Pancras International pleading with the ticket office to let us on a train to Paris without our passports. At the time I imagined it looking more Withnail and I than Fear and Loathing. Now I’m not too sure.
One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is… the best espresso martini is made at The Hoxley & Porter in Upper Street.
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… when bus drivers don’t wave to each other when they pass one another. There is no excuse for this.