Category Archives: London

Pub review – The Candlemaker, Battersea High Street, SW11

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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.

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Restaurant review – Maze Grill, Park Walk, SW10

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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.

And Maze Grill is doing the job properly. Continue reading

Restaurant review – Joe’s Southern Kitchen, Kentish Town Road, NW5

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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.

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Knife & Pork supper club review

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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.

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Brunch at B & H Buildings, Northampton Road, EC1R

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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.

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64 Degrees, Cambridge Street SW1V

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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 ventured there with Angie from Silverspoon London, Rosie from A Little Lusciousness and Emily from Curious London. A bevvy of brilliant bloggers.
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The Little Yellow Door, Notting Hill Gate W11

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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.
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Restaurant review – Four to Eight, Catherine Street, WC2B



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.
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Bar review – The Warwick, Warwick Street, W1B

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?!
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Restaurant review – Little Social, Pollen Street, W1S

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.
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Restaurant review – Jones & Sons at Trip Kitchen & Bar, Acton Mews, E8

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.
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Restaurant review – Honky Tonk, Clapham Common South Side, SW4

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.

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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).

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Service: 0.5
Venue: 2
Value: 0.5
Overall: 2/10

Honky Tonk, 16a Clapham Common South Side, London SW4 7AB

Nearest tube: Clapham Common (1 min walk)

Honky Tonk on Urbanspoon

 

I was invited to review Honky Tonk. Yes, you read that right.

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Giveaway – London cocktail week

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:

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.

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Restaurant review – Mission, Paradise Row, E2

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.

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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:

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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…

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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.

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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:

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So much lamb. Phwoar. Here’s another photo too. Andrew took this one:

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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:

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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).

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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.

Service: 5
Venue: 5
Value: 4.5
Overall: 10/10

Mission, 250 Paradise Row, Bethnal Green E2 9LE

Nearest tube: Bethnal Green (2 min walk)

Mission on Urbanspoon

View my food journey on Zomato!

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Brunch review – Q Grill, Chalk Farm Road, NW1

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.

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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.

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I ordered waffles and Andrew ordered Q baked beans on toast with a fried hen’s egg on top.

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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.

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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?)

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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?

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I will however be going back to Q to try their barbecue food. Their regular non-brunch food sounded delicious!

Service: 3
Venue: 4.5
Value: 4.5
Overall: 7.5/10

Q-Grill, 29-33 Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AJ

Nearest tube: Chalk Farm (5 min walk)

Q Grill on Urbanspoon

View my food journey on Zomato!

* 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.

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Restaurant review – Tommi’s Burger Joint, Thayer Street, W1

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.

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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:

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Here’s the bite through shot:

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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.

Service: 4
Venue: 3
Value: 2
Overall: 6/10

Tommi’s Burger Joint, 30 Thayer St, Marylebone, London W1U 2QP

Nearest tube: Bond Street (6 min walk)

Tommi's Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

View my food journey on Zomato!

Foodie event: #NationalBurgerDay 2014 review

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Then it was on to get our pints of Meantime Lager, which came with the tickets.

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Drink responsibly.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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All images © Andrew Phillimore. Please seek permission before reproducing.

#NationalBurgerDay 2014

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.

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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:

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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:

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Bleecker Street’s pizza burger. Image © Bleecker Street
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Slider Bar’s spicy little number. Image © Slider Bar

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.

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Food Review – Dirty Burger food truck, Paul Street, EC2A

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.

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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.

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I went for a cheeseburger and crinckle fries [sic] (back on the diet now though – whoops!).

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I took my guilty parcel back to my desk…

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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.

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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.

Service: 4
Venue: 3
Value: 2
Overall: 4/10

Dirty Burger food truck, Zetland House, 32 Paul Street, London EC2A 4HJ

Nearest tube: Old Street (5 min walk)

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Top 5… Reasons why I love London

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

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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

Chiltern Firehouse
Chiltern Firehouse

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

A handful of people I lived with in the crazy houseshare...
A handful of people I lived with in the crazy houseshare…

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

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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

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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.

This blog was inspired by the good people at Redrow London.

Chiltern Firehouse

Restaurant review – Chiltern Firehouse, Chiltern Street, W1U


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).

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Andrew went for lobster scrambled eggs, which were ridiculously good. So rich and full of shellfish flavour.

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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.

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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.

Service: 3
Venue: 5
Value: 4
Overall: 8/10

Chiltern Firehouse, 1 Chiltern St, Marylebone, London W1U 7PA

Nearest tube: Baker Street (10-min walk)

Chiltern Firehouse on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

 

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Restaurant review – Beast, Chapel Pl, W1G

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.

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Ahem.

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…

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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:

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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.

Service: 5
Venue: 5
Value: 5
Overall: 10/10

Beast, 3 Chapel Pl, Marylebone, London W1G 0BG

Nearest tube: Bond Street (5 min walk), Oxford Street (5 min walk)

Beast Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

The Towpath Cafe

My London… with Shula Cara

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!

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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.

The Towpath Cafe
The Towpath Cafe

 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 Conservatory at the Barbican
The Conservatory at the Barbican

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.

Royal College of Surgeons museum, the Hunterian
Royal College of Surgeons museum, the Hunterian

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.

A Secret Cinema event
A Secret Cinema event

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.

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My London… with Rupert Cross

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
Job: Composer
Neighbourhood: Holloway

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I love London because… it’s a  giant smörgåsbord of everything from architecture to the arts.
London is at its best when… nippy springtime gives way to full blown barbecue summer. The mood of London is epitomised by the 10 people opposite you on the tube, and in summer they look like they may just make eye contact and smile. You can almost forgive the guy wearing his shiny new Ray-Ban sunglasses underground – although seriously: never be that guy.
The Swimmer on Eburne Road
The Swimmer on Eburne Road

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.

The evening will end with karaoke, probably in the Birdcage in Columbia Road, so the post football journey is all about the most exotic and exciting route to take. Along that route is The Lamb on Holloway Road which has an excellent selection of local beers and the staff are impeccably friendly. By 9pm I’m panicking that it’s getting late and I need to submit my karaoke song choice so we all cab it to Shoreditch. I’m in luck – they always have space for R Kelly’s “Ignition” (Remix).
In this perfect day I probably have a dog, and his name is Marco Fu.

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.

L'atelier de Joel Robuchon
L’atelier de Joel Robuchon
My favourite restaurant is… L’atelier de Joel Robuchon in town. I had never eaten in a Michelin-starred restaurant before and a deal had arisen on Toptable for this restaurant. Although it was clear to everyone there that our wine-less, shared starter, shared desert, 2-for-1 mains order was designed to absolutely minimise the overall cost of eating at the restaurant, the staff were kind and courteous throughout which left me with a strong desire to return.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… Borough Market, and if I’m honest, two thirds of that will be on cheese. Anything left over will be spent in Bang Bang, a vintage clothes shop in Soho where I can safely say that pretty much all of my clothes are purchased from. Not underwear, that would be weird.
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… Oval House theatre in Oval. They very kindly gave me one of my first breaks in theatre, and the team that run it work incredibly hard providing opportunities for youth in South London.
The Hoxley & Porter on Upper Street
The Hoxley & Porter on Upper Street

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.

I’ll leave London when… I’ve had the perfect day mentioned above, but luckily my non-Manchester United-supporting friends are so entrenched in denial that this could take years.

You can follow Rupert on Twitter at @Rupertx
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Restaurant Review – Patty & Bun, Liverpool Street, EC2M

One of mine and my brother’s favourite stories about our dad is the time he complained about the service in the Tunbridge Wells branch of McDonalds. Patience isn’t the Hedges’ strong suit, and my dad took issue with the fact that he had to queue for “fast” food. I have inherited this trait. Andrew’s most worn-out phrase to me is, “Zos, just chill out” because I am so impatient in that awful muttery under breath kind of way. And you know who else I’ve discovered isn’t patient? City bankers.

More often than not I work in Shoreditch, and sometimes I have cause to go into the City – the Square Mile where apparently all bankers congregate to get bonuses and screw over Iceland (hazy on the details). The cause this week was to pay in a cheque like it was 1995. I don’t like going into the City much because I hate sharing space with bankers or whoever they are (lawyers? other people who still wear suits to work – who are they?!). City-dwellers are, on the whole, consistently incredibly rude and arrogant – constantly ploughing into people on the pavement with a kind of “I’m more important than you” attitude and sighing when shop assistants don’t give them special treatment and bump them up the queue just because they’re wearing a suit from T. M. Lewin. Basically The City is like Berkmageddon and I hate it.

When I was down there yesterday on my lunch break I decided to cheer myself up with a trip to Patty & Bun’s new branch on Liverpool Street. It’s more of a takeaway feel than their site in Fitzrovia, but the menu is the same – burgers and chips. The place pulled me in like it had a tractor beam.

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It’s set up sort of like a rustic version of McDonalds. You go to a counter, order your food and then you’re given a receipt (novel!). If you’re eating in then you can sit at one of the little tables around the sides of the restaurant but if you’re taking out you’re told to go outside and wait by a window for your food to be passed to you. I am not sure what they will do when it’s raining, or have really considered that people might want to wait in the “10-15 minute” wait for their food – I’m sure it’s a stumbling block they’ll overcome.

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As I waited for my food (which took 5 minutes max), a steady stream of suits strode up to the window and demanded to know where their food was. One suit turned to me and I gave him a sympathetic smile and he said “Don’t think they’ve figured this thing out yet, huh!” to me. I just raised my eyebrows (I don’t like talking to strangers – I am not friendly). He had come directly out of the restaurant to the window and complained. What a… banker.

My food arrived in double-quick time. I picked it up from a girl who looked so deeply sad and panicked at the same time – like someone facing the firing line. Who can blame her when dealing with tosspots all day? Anyway, I took my food – in a massive MASSIVE bag – and dashed back to the safety of Shoreditch.

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I went for an Ari Gold, which is a hamburger basically. It was delicious. Medium-rare tasty patty, lots of lovely pickles and a sturdy brioche bun to keep it all together. My desk buddy, Kat, was very annoyed that I had such a delicious lunch. She had Covent Garden soup. Haha.

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The chips were, well, they were chips – neither outstanding nor terrible. They didn’t have enough rosemary on them to really constitute being called “rosemary fries”, but this is a minor quibble.

And as for those impatient bankers? Well, I didn’t have a problem waiting five minutes for my lunch so I don’t see the problem. I can imagine even my dad would wait that long… and he’s a retired banker.

Service: 5
Venue: 3
Value: 3
Overall: 7/10

Patty & Bun, 22/23 Liverpool Street, London EC2M 7PD

Nearest tube: Liverpool Street (30-second walk)
Patty & Bun Liverpool Str. on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Pub Review – The Truscott Arms, Shirland Rd, W9

I don’t really trust west London – I never have. I once worked for the BBC, who at the time were based in White City (aka Shepherd’s Bush – or “SheBu” if you’re a twit/Cressida Bonas). That’s a grim little corner of London best forgot. For me, all of west London is this same uninterrupted sea of grey dual carriageways and enclaves of Aussies talking about TimTams like crack addicts talk about, well, crack. They have the same look in their eyes. I imagine, anyway – I don’t know any crack addicts personally.

I digress. Oh yeah, I hate west London. Sorry – I mean I “don’t trust it”. Anyway, I had cause to go there recently on a fact-finding mission. Specifically I went to St John’s Wood (shh, it IS west London) and Maida Vale. As I clearly don’t know west London from Manley Beach, I asked some Twitter buds about where was good to go – and I was inundated with recommendations, as if all of west London had just been waiting to be asked and I had opened the flood gates.

Most people recommended The Truscott Arms, and one person in particular – Sam – told me about a thing they sold called beef shin chips. Beef – good, chips – good, shin… um, good…? So I went to The Truscott to see what the heck all the hype was about.

I got there alone and had to wait for my companion (because he is always. running. late.) so ordered a nice, healthy (massive) glass of red. I instantly regretted this after Andrew arrived (late) and ordered some kind of macho cocktail called a Lady Truscott. It was bloody yummy and I was jealous.

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We ordered from the bar menu – I went for a wagyu beef burger and the tardy one went for a pulled pork sandwich with a side of beef shin chips. I forwent the extra foie gras topping on the burger because, well, it was lunch and I am not Rockefeller.

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The burger was OK, but the patty was slightly dry and uninspiring. It was meant to be wagyu beef, and while I have no doubt it was, I’m not sure the burger did the beef proud. A cow drank beer and had it’s tummy massaged and all it turned into was a dry burger.

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The best part of it was the onion relish, which was sweet and sour and really sung out among the rest of the slightly insipid burger.

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The beef shin chips on the other hand were sublime. They’re made by slow-cooking beef shin (win), pulling the beef apart and then making it into a terrine (I’m on board), which is then sliced into chunks, coated in polenta (ohhh yeah) and deep-fried (POW!). FEEL THE HEALTH. They were served with a hot, meaty gravy. They pulled apart deliciously and were crunchy on the outside and beautifully succulent on the inside. A marvel. (Sorry for the crappy photo that follows…)

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The pulled pork looked like this. When I asked Andrew how it was, he said “yeah, good”. High praise, indeed.

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When pressed further he gave the startling admission that there was an apple relish inside, which was really good. I had a bite and can confirm it was pretty good – meaty yet light somehow.

The Truscott Arms was a really nice venue – the staff were so friendly and helpful, and the bar was bright and airy. The cocktail list is something that I am still mulling over even now, plotting a time I can sneak back to west London and sample the whole list. It seems The Truscott has changed my philosophy on west London entirely…

Service: 5
Venue: 5
Value: 3
Overall: 8/10

The Truscott Arms, 55 Shirland Rd, London W9 2JD

Nearest tube: Warwick Avenue (10 min walk)

The Truscott Arms on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Restaurant Review – On the Bab, Old Street, EC1V

I have acquired a Korean food expert in my family. She is an expert because she’s Korean. Well, she’s American but her parents are from Korea. I have acquired her because my brother had the good fortune of her agreeing to marry him. The first time I ever had Korean food, my sister-in-law (let’s call her Irene, as that’s her name), Irene’s mum ordered it for about 20 people at a Korean restaurant in LA. It looked like this:

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Korean food in LA is good, but I had no point of comparison apart from Irene’s Mom’s cooking, which is excellent. If, like me pre-2005, you don’t know what Korean food is like it’s a lot of barbecued marinated meats, pickled vegetables, noodles, spicy sauces – that kind of thing.

In recent times, I’ve tried Bibimbap in Soho, which is alright for a quick meal. And then last week I went to On the Bab, a Korean place in Shoreditch that had been recommended to me by the great and good of Twitter. I don’t really feel that optimistic about Korean food in London as it’s not like there’s a booming Korean community here. Not that you need a massive community but it does seem to help, like the amazing Chinese food in San Fran or the Jewish food in New York. ANYWAY, on to On the Bab…

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I went for a takeaway option, ‘cos I gotta work yeah? On the smaller-than-eat-in take out menu they do a range of dishes including bibimbap with bulgogi (a barbecued marinated beef), which I got. It took a pretty long time to arrive, but that means it’s fresh right? As I waited I was asked to go outside with all the other takeout gang. There’s no waiting area and the restaurant is pretty small, so kind of understandable and I was amiable about this because it was sunny. UNLIKE the huddle of ladies at the counter who muttered “Go outside? Us? He can’t mean us! Let’s just stay here,” because apparently they were too good for the pavement unlike me – pavement troll extraordinaire.

I eventually got my plastic bowl and scuttled back to the office. Here’s what it looked like:

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My work buddy Kat looked over in disgust. “What IS that?” she said. “Um, barbecued meat, pickled vegetables, rice and a fried egg,” I replied trying to sound casual and like it was a nice lunch she should be jealous of. “Sounds RANK!” she said, turning back to her screen.

It wasn’t rank, but it wasn’t amazing either. The egg was ok – the runny yolk leaked pleasingly into the disk, the beef wasn’t without flavour but also I can’t really remember it being standout which says something. The rest was just vegetables so really, what skill is there? They were… nicely chopped?

Maybe I went for the wrong thing, maybe I am being a dullard snob, but I should be able to pick the national dish and expect it to be done with some flair. Especially as it cost me £10. It was just lacking… lustre. I think what London needs is a decent Korean restaurant, but I am yet to find it…

Service: 1
Venue: 4
Value: 1
Overall: 4/10

On the Bab, 305 Old Street, EC1V 9LA

Nearest tube: Old Street (5min walk)

On The Bab on Urbanspoon

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CamProf

My London… with Camilla Brown

You know you’ve found a friend for life when you’re running through Vauxhall Station at midnight, both dressed as brides (neither of us were getting married, it might surprise you to learn) shouting “ALAN!” at the tops of your voices. This person to me is Camilla (along with a few other blushing brides). There is NEVER a dull moment with her around, and she has a unique perspective on life (she once tried to compliment one of my friends by telling him, “You’re the exact opposite of Will Smith”). So it’s no surprise to see her go from strength to strength in her career too and become the PR guru she is today. Now running her own agency, I thought she’d know some great London places and she agreed to share some insights into her London. Take it away, Millington…

Name: Camilla Brown
Job: Co-founder of Campbell Brown
Neighbourhood: Technically Oxford but Clerkenwell 4-5 days a week.
CamProf
 
I love London because…
 The underground. I find it fascinating and love how you can be somewhere completely different in minutes. Coming from a small village, this just blows my mind. Oh, and the boozers are ace.

London is at its best when…
It’s summertime and everyone is smiling. You get that buzz around 4pm on a Thursday and you just KNOW that your colleagues are thinking the same thing: pub garden. People are tanned, toned and generally more attractive, which makes the commute SO much better. Also, a bit of al fresco never goes a miss…

My ideal day off in London would be…
Waking up with your man, sun streaming through the curtains, no doubt hungover. We both need bacon and a bloody mary, so we head to our local cafe/bar to do just that.  Once fuelled, we’d head to Borough Market to utilise the free samples and mainline some fizz, before heading back home to get our glad rags on and meet a bunch of friends somewhere East for dinner and more beverages. We’d dance into the night and due to my imagination running wild, we’d end up in a posh hotel and mainline the mini bar until the early hours. As long as it wasn’t a random mid-week day off?

 

Borough Market near London Bridge
Borough Market near London Bridge

I absolutely love this little-known place…
OK it’s not exactly ‘little-known’ but my good friend JJ Goodman owns the London Cocktail Club bars and I absolutely adore them. Best cocktails in London, fact. (You HAVE to try the Bacon & Egg Martini).

The best night I’ve ever had in London was…
My birthday with an ex. My parents very generously got me dinner at The Ritz so we decided to spend the day living like Kings. We dressed up in our finest, ate amazing food, sipped gorgeous champagne and ended the night in the Hoxton Hotel. I like to pretend I’m rich, so it was right up my street.

The Ritz near Green Park
The Ritz near Green Park
My favourite restaurant is…
The Ledbury in Notting Hill. Once a year, my parents and I go for a very special Christmas dinner. I’m working my way through Chris Pople’s list from his blog, and this one was stand out epic.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in…
American Apparel
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is…
I loved Liechtenstein at The Tate. I’m not hugely into art however this really stood out, especially as my client at the time had brewed a beer just for the launch. Not a huge theatre goer, I prefer kooky cinemas like The Prince Charles.

One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is…
How many people think it’s such a big deal to visit. I like that, though. It feels special to live here. I was on the train this morning and a load of middle age women were taking selfies because they were visiting for the day, it made me smile.

London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is…
 Slow walkers. I walk stupidly fast and hate it when people dawdle, or worse, stop abruptly in the middle of the street. I sometimes pretend I’m Yoshi in Mario Kart and slipstreaming by all the tourists just to make things a little more interesting.

I’ll leave London when…
 Well, technically I have actually left. I moved back to Oxford to set up my new PR agency, Campbell Brown. It was only meant to be for a few months however I’ve found the commute absolutely fine, and I feel more in love with London now than I did when I was living here as I get to be a visitor for the day, four days a week. I might come back one day, but I think a 5 year stint has eased the curiosity for now ;)

 

Herman ze German bratwurst (with mayo)

Food Review – Herman Ze German, Villiers Street,

It was Friday lunchtime. I didn’t want to leave the warmth of my lofty publishing office to go out for lunch, but I had to. 1. I needed to buy a birthday card for my friend (spec: must have a cat on, must say “happy birthday”. Paperchasiér came up trumps, FYI) and 2. I needed food.

My plight saw me stride down the Strand and I found myself on the ever-claustrophobic Villiers Street. This was my first mistake. No good lunch could come out of a street that always makes me feel a bit ill – it’s a combination of the smell, the damp and the fact sunlight hasn’t touched its pavements in over 200 years.

I went for Herman Ze German – this was my second and most costly mistake. There was a queue to order. “This must be a good sign,” I reassured myself, stepping inside among a horde of German teenager tourists queuing eagerly – hey, when in Rome!

For those not in the know – as I wasn’t, and information is power, guys – Herman Ze German was set up by a photographer and a hairdresser. What could go wrong? This carries all the hallmarks of excellent food. Guys, the hairdresser and photographer-combo toured their German wurst around festivals such as Oxygen Festival Kildare. Such heady heights could only be reached by someone who sold amazing food, right?

When I stepped inside it smelt a bit like a kennel, made worse by the man in front of me having a flatulence problem so bad he should probably seek medical help. Either that or the smell was emanating from the kitchen. I did not solve this mystery. I don’t know which option I would prefer.

The decor was pretty makeshift. Rustic is perhaps what they were going for. Everything had “quirky” signs, where to German-ify them they had put “ze” in front of them. The, sorry, ze drinks cabinet was stocked with what I assume was their own soda. I didn’t select any of them. Tap water felt safer.

Eventually I was served at a McDonalds-style till by a man so softly spoken I had to ask him to repeat everything twice. I annoyed him. But perhaps it was a two-way problem as when I asked for my Bratwurst to be topped with mustard and ketchup he replied “mayo and ketchup, OK”. What? Who has mayo on a hot dog, German or otherwise?! I said, “No, not mayo – MUSTARD!” He waved in my face, so I assume this meant, “I know, I am sorry, I said the wrong thing.” In hindsight what it meant was, “Whatever”.

I waited for my hot dog and with every passing second my feeling of regret and sense of foreboding increased. Everyone in the place was miserable – staff and patrons alike. Only the German teenagers seemed happy, and I imagine that’s because they had managed to throw off their boring English teacher who had been droning on about Christopher Wren for the last 24 hours.

My hot dog arrived already packaged up, but I’d been watching them like a suspicious hawk, and knew that the sausage in my cardboard box had mayo and not mustard on it. I said this to the lady who handed it to me. She offered to cook me another one, but I just wanted to get out of the place so I just asked her to add mustard. I took my hotdog and chips – £7 lighter! – and scuttled back to the office feeling truly ashamed of what I was carrying.

Herman ze German bratwurst (with mayo)
Herman ze German bratwurst (with mayo)

I ate my hot dog at my desk like a mongrel guiltily eating something it had stolen off the kitchen work surface. It was disgusting and I hated myself, but I wasn’t sodding buying another lunch having paid £7 for this hot dog.

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The inside, which I didn’t get a picture of due to my wurst shame, was the colour of cardboard – grey and dry. It tasted like cardboard too. It was the worst lunch of my life. THE WURST LUNCH OF MY LIFE. At least I can laugh, right?

It’s a testament to the stupidity of tourists and myself that in London with all it’s amazing food – from fast food to fine dining – that a place like Herman Ze German continues to exist. At least the tourists have the excuse of not knowing the area. Me? I’ve got no excuse.

Service: 1

Venue: 0

Value: 0

Overall: 0.5/10

19 Villiers Street, WC2N  6NE

Nearest Tube: Charing Cross (1min walk)

Herman ze German on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Classic Car Boot Sale

Andrew and I when we were young and had dubious taste in eyewear.
Andrew and I when we were young and had dubious taste in eyewear.

Andrew and I started “going out” (for want of a better phrase) nine years ago last Sunday. It seems bonkers that I was 21 and he was 22 when we got together. Although I feel like I can barely remember a life before him, those nine years have gone fast. Probably because we’ve crammed a lot in.

After dating for five months we decided to go travelling together for eight months. We booked our tickets, packed our backpacks and boarded a plane to Singapore without a second thought. In hindsight, this was a rash decision as we essentially barely knew each other. But in a make/break situation, it made us.

Travelling wasn't all sunsets and hammocks. I almost killed Andrew on a night dive, once. Lesson: don't let me be your dive buddy.
Travelling wasn’t all sunsets and hammocks. I almost killed Andrew on a night dive, once. Lesson: don’t let me be your dive buddy.

Since then we’ve returned home (obviously) and been through various rites of passage such as starting careers, having quarter-life crisises, watched all of our siblings get married (apart from his brother, who is getting married this summer – big up Willophie) seen the births (not literally) of our niece and nephews (who totally consider me “Uncle Furry Face’s” less-entertaining sidekick), moved to London, watched lots of our friends get married, bought a flat together.

Willophie and Zandrew Unite
Willophie and Zandrew Unite

To celebrate the passing of nine years of being together we decided to stuff our chubby little faces, and headed to the Classic Car Boot Sale, which had set up shop on Southbank. It was graced by a beautiful Spring day and I had several food trucks I wanted to visit…

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Yeah, yeah. Cars and loads of vintage tatt. You get the picture. Now for the food…

First stop was to these guys

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Spit and Roast specialise is finger lickin’ chicken that sends KFC right back to where it came from (hell?). They serve rotisserie chicken and buttermilk fried chicken. I went for the latter, with hot sauce and slaw in a bun. CUE PICTURE:

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The chicken was succulent and juicy and fell apart (rather embarrassingly) when I bit into it. The sauce was piquant without dominating the chicken too much and the batter was absolutely to die for. It was a total mess to eat, but I loved every minute and Andrew was extremely jealous.

So he paid a visit to Engine Hotdogs.

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He went for a Beef Richard because, hey, when in New York a carpark in Southwark you need to stay true.

There he is!
There he is!

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The small bite he allowed me was delicious. Those pickles! Ooof. Definitely on-par with Big Apple hotdogs.

We also paid a visit to Zan at Bleecker Burger... I told you we stuff our faces
We also paid a visit to Zan at Bleecker Burger… I told you we stuff our faces

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We got a Bleecker single cheeseburger, which was bloody amazing. Bleecker is totally my favourite food truck in London. And they’re on Southbank every day of the week at the moment by the skate park. GO!

There were loads of food trucks that looked amazing, which we didn’t get to try. But it was a brilliant day out and a lovely way to round off a relaxing and sunny anniversary weekend.

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Foodie Event – Hawker House

On Valentine’s Day we decided to spurn the cheesy restaurants, champagne and roses and go to Hawker House with our pals.

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Hawker House is run by the Street Feast folks, who run night markets in London that bring together food trucks, booze vendors and the hungry hordes throughout the year.

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As it’s cold right now, they’ve retreated indoors to a warehouse in Bethnal Green. Hawker House was inspired by Singaporean-style night (hawker) markets where people grab what they want from different vendors and then sit on communal, canteen-style benches and eat together.

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I don’t know why our faces are so red… Valentine’s Day-themed selfie?!

It would be hard to ignore the food truck scene that’s exploded in London over the last few years, and the beauty of Hawker House is that it allows you to sample lots of different trucks all in one place. This is ideal for someone like me who wants to try everything. Right. Now.

The vendors at Hawker House change slightly every week, but when we went there was Bleecker St Burger, the Grilling Greek, Roti Chai, Yum Bun, Breddos Tacos, Street Vin, You Doughnut and a few more.

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Having tried Bleecker St Burgers before at #NationalBurgerDay and deciding them to make the best burgers in London, I made a bee-line right away. Zan, who started up Bleecker and was serving at Hawker House when I was there, is totally focused on creating NYC-style burgers. Look, I haven’t been to New York (I know, right?!) so I can’t speak to how they compare to New York burgers… But I have eaten a burger before and mine was amazing. They’re SO meaty and rare and juicy and just, ugh, totally perfect. Zan whipped me up a triple cheeseburger off-menu, which I shared with Andrew. We also had sweet potato fries, which were so crunchy, fluffy, sweet and moorish that it was pretty hare to share them.

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It's McNulty Pup!
It’s McNulty Pup!

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I then went for a Grilling Greek chicken souvlaki. While I was there I caught up with some long-time Twitter friends I’d bumped into. Everyone was so friendly at the event. It was so great to put some faces to some Twitter avatars! Anyway, the souvlaki was OK but I think I’ve been rather spoilt by living in North London close to some of the best Greek and Turkish restaurants in the UK – and my Grilling Greek didn’t totally match up. Noa and Petek, you still have my heart.

After this I took a massive breather, and focused on drinking wine from plastic glasses and chatting to my friends. The rest of the crew indulged in Roti Chai (not amazing, apaz), Breddos Tacos (really good – I was sad I couldn’t fit these in) and Yum Bun (the all-round favourite of the night).

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One last push saw me heading for a sweet treat, and to the You Doughnut stand!

 

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I went for cinnamon sugar doughnuts with warm salted caramel sauce and marshmallows. Ooof, they were ruddy amazing. Fried to order, they were little nuggets of sweet cinnamonny clouds with a delicious warm caramel sauce. I feel a bit jealous of myself right now for having eaten them.

Hawker House was a really fun night. It was a bit cold inside there, so wrap up warm and get there early-ish as the tables fill up.

Hawker House is running every Friday and Saturday evening until the 22nd March. For more information visit Hawker House’s website.

rikke & Elvis

INTERVIEW – Rikke Rosenlund @ BorrowMyDoggy

It doesn’t take long browsing this blog to realise I absolutely love dogs. I am totally obsessed with them. I grew up with dogs as pets, and really think they add an incredible amount of love to owners’ lives.

As you know, I take pictures of dogs when I’m out and about. I also talk to them and stroke them whenever I get a chance (Andrew gets kind of mad when I stroke them!), and often buy homeless people’s dogs treats when I can. I also have quite a lot of dog accessories.

So often people ask me why I don’t have a dog of my own. Trust me, I would love a dog of my own. But my lifestyle would make it completely unfair on the pup. I work long hours and like to go out socialising too, and a dog needs plenty of love, affection, routine and care. So at the moment, I just can’t have one.

But recently a few friends – normally fellow dog lovers – put me on to BorrowMyDoggy. This is where dog owners are matched with dogless people who want to spend time with a dog, so they can take the pup for walkies or even dog-sit when the owner needs an extra pair of hangs.

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I loved the concept and signed up straight away to be a borrower. I’m yet to be matched with my perfect pooch, but live in hope. In the meantime, I’ve been chatting to the lovely Rikke at Borrow My Doggy and she agreed to do an interview for The Z Factor. And here we are.

rikke & ElvisRikke and Elvis

Can you briefly explain the concept of BorrowMyDoggy?
Of course! BorrowMyDoggy is a trusted community of dog lovers, where borrowers help take care of dogs when the owners are busy either for walks, playdays, weekends or happy holidays. Our aim is to leave ‘Pawprints of Happiness’ on the lives of dogs and people.
Why did you set up BorrowMyDoggy?
I came up with the concept for BorrowMyDoggy last year when I was looking after my neighbour’s dog for the day. It worked out great for all of us. I spent the day taking care of Aston (a very cute brown labrador), and my neighbour’s mind was at ease knowing that his dog was being watched by someone who really cared for her instead of being stuck at home alone. Aston spent the day in the park having fun, and looking after her made me so happy.
During the day I thought, “There should be a site where dog owners can have their dogs taken care off by people who absolutely adore dogs and miss having a doggy in their life.”
All owners need to be away from their puppies from time to time. There is no need for a doggy to be home alone or for owners to have pay for a dog walker or kennels when there are lots of people who adore dogs but unfortunately can’t have them (due to work, travel etc), who would love to take care of doggy for free. As an added bonus, BorrowMyDoggy allows owners and doggies to get to know more people locally and spread lots of happiness.
IMG_1844LRikke and BorrowMyDoggy co-founder, Les
Who have you found has signed up to BorrowMyDoggy?
We have a huge variety of members in the BorrowMyDoggy community. Our lovely members are everything from families, to students, older/unwell people, singles and everyone in between. I don’t there’s a demographic unaccounted for!
Is the service used for one-off dog walks or are people building long-lasting relationships by repeatedly seeing the same dog?
The way our members use the site is as varied as the type of people we have signed up. Some dog owners require a stable ongoing arrangement, some need help from time to time and some people have signed up their pooch just to make other people happy.
We’ve found that members are building local relationships with both new people and dogs, and they’re making new friends in the process, which is lovely. We have some wonderful examples of neighbours meeting for the first time, despite living beside each other for years, through BorrowMyDoggy.
Is there anything people can do to increase their chances of getting matched?
Owners generally contact borrowers who are close by and available when their pooch needs looking after. This means that how long it takes to hear from an owner depends on whether there are any pups in your area who need walkies and looking after at the times you’re available. We are also finding that owners prefer to get in touch with fully verified borrowers.
We encourage people to stay at the front of the pack by keeping an eye out for new pooches in their area and favouriting any they think they’d be able to help, as this sends their owner a notification of your interest. We also advise borrowers to make sure that they keep their profile up to date with as much info and availability as possible. We have some handy tips on our blog about how best to do this.
If borrowers only have a few hours a week are their chances slim of finding a dog they can build a relationship with?
There are so many different doggies out there with so many different doggy sitting needs so it is completely dependent on the doggies that are signed up in your local area. We have thousands of new members signing up to BorrowMyDoggy every week and hundreds of messages are being sent all over the country every day.
What kind of feedback are you getting?
Since we started, we have received the most wonderful feedback from our community. Our members are making a difference to each others’ lives every day and we love hearing about the happiness that both people and dogs are spreading.
We also receive lots of pawsome feedback and suggestions from our members about what they would like to see on BorrowMyDoggy. We are so appreciative of all the support that we get from our amazing community and we are working as hard as we can to make BorrowMyDoggy as wonderful an experience as it can be.
What’s the future for BorrowMyDoggy?
We are still a young pup of a company and we are keeping our paws busy doing everything we can to continuously launch new and exciting features based on our lovely community’s feedback.
Everything we do is centred around our aim to leave ‘Pawprints of Happiness’ on the lives of people and dogs as we exist to make a positive difference.
If you’re interested in signing up to BorrowMyDoggy, you can find out more information here.
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Restaurant Review – Banh mi 11, Great Eastern Street, EC2A

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A market in Vietnam

When I was 22 I went travelling around the world and was lucky enough to spend four months in Asia. What I wasn’t ready for when I got to Asia was the culture shock. I got incredibly homesick at times for people but also things. I was a typical western brat who missed the familiarity of things I knew. Everything in Asia seemed so alien.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a great time, but by the time we reached Vietnam, three months into our tour, we were craving a taste of home. And boy were we excited when we discovered banh mi. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich – a sandwich! I hadn’t had one in three months! – and it came in a French baguette-style loaf – again, bread! Amazing! Banh Mi is sold from lots of little stalls and carts on the road in Vietnam, along with the other Vietnamese favourite, pho.

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Pho being made and eaten on the curbside in Hanoi.

So anyway, banh mi is more to me than a sandwich – it brings back to me all these lovely feelings of comfort while away from home, when I was feeling a bit scared and afraid (I know, I was a wimp!).

So recently I went to sample on of Great Eastern Street’s many banh mai offerings at Banh Mi 11. Accompanying me was the lovely Abby (Wanderlust & Bake). image (7)

There was a queue out of the door – both a good and bad sign – but it was moving steadily. Amazingly this place is just around the corner from one of my clients’ office, but I’d never heard of it before. And I was missing a gem!

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There was a lot to tempt me, not least the yummy looking summer rolls. But I kept focused and went for a pork belly banh mi, which came with crackling and lots of yummy Vietnamese-style pickles and herbs.

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The bread was lovely and fresh – the outside crust was crunchy but yielded under a bit, just like the ones from my memories of lunches in Vietnam. Inside the pork belly was soft and sweet with a generous portion of headily savoury crackling. The pickles and herbs gave it that lovely fresh and sweet kick that is so much part of Vietnamese food.

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And all for under a £5. It was brilliant and I will certainly be going back. Wonderfully, Banhmi11 do take out for those who need lunch in a hurry.

Service: 4

Venue: 3

Value: 5

Overall: 8/10

Banh Mi 11, 101 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3JD

Nearest tube: Old Street (5min walk)
Banhmi11 on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review – Honest Burger, Camden Lock Place, NW1

I met one of my closest friends, Josie, nearly 15 years ago – gulp! – when first started Sixth Form. We had our “frees” together, and spent most of them in the sixth form common room talking about boys and whether we should go to the local shop on a snack run or not.

Jos and I, circa 2005
Jos and I, circa 2005

Fifteen years, countless nights out and a few “boys” later and here we are. Josie is married to the lovely Ash and they’re off to live in America. Although excited for them, I am sad to be saying goodbye to Jos – even if we both know we’ll always be close. So I’m trying to cram in as many meet-ups with her as I can at the moment! When Ash suggested Andrew and I go and see Scroobius Pip with them I was all over it.

So this Monday we headed to Camden, stopping off for a meal first… We decided on Honest Burgers, as going to burger joints has become our go-to choice recently.

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Honest Burger is pretty no-frills, with burgers and fries served in large enamel bowls and the venue having bar-style seating around the edge of the open kitchen. Oh, and the wine is served in tumblers (see above).

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However, what you get for this no-frills venue is reasonably priced and very decent food. I went for the special, which came with red onion rings and pickled green chillies. At £11, it also came with a generous portion of the house signature salt and rosemary fries, which were perfect – crispy, fat and fluffy. The burger itself was delicious, too.

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The patty was hella juicy and perfectly pink, and the other fillings gave the burger a lovely sweet, salty and then spicy undertone. The bun was also perfect – mopping up the massive amount of juice and staying light and fluffy, holding together the burger to the last bite.

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This is the “Honest”, which is red onion relish, beef patty, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce. I was allowed a small bite and can confirm it was spanking good, too.

As for the gig – it was brilliant, with an added surprise of seeing Andrew’s brother and his best mate there. A good night was had and added to the 15 years of brilliant memories I have of Josie and mine’s friendship – here’s to many more.

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Service: 4

Venue: 3

Value: 5

Overall: 8/10

Honest Burger, Unit 34A, 54-56 Camden Lock Pl, NW1 8AF (There are branches throughout London – see the website for more details)

Nearest Tube: Camden Town (13min walk)
Honest Burgers on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Restaurant Review – Otto’s Restaurant, Gray’s Inn Road, WC1X

My parents have been a great lesson in how to maintain a relationship. They’ve been happily married for over 41 years, and with the advent of SatNav now barely ever have a cross word. I find it incredible that they still can make each other laugh, can genuinely surprise one another and that they get such pleasure out of being in each other’s company. I know it’s rare to have a love like they do, and it’s made me determined in my relationships to not settle while also realising relationships need a certain amount of effort, compromise and patience. And if you’re very, very lucky – then relationships just might last like my parents’ has.

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My Dad and Mum, living it up in the 80s.

And they are still kind to each other, still want to go out of their way for each other. So when my Mum’s birthday came around my Dad booked to take her to one of their favourite restaurants – Otto’s. For some reason, apparently because they like our company, my parents also invited Andrew and I. We snatched their hands off…

Otto’s is a traditional and classic French restaurant in the midst of Bloomsbury, Holborn and Russell Square. Modest in its facade, with curtained windows, you’d easily miss it on the often grey and bleak Gray’s Inn Road. However, step inside and it’s like being whisked to an upmarket bistro in Paris.

Rich, ox blood red banquettes line the walls as French waiters and waitresses bustle, providing much theatre by carving huge sides of smoked salmon and mixing steak tartare at the table side. You’re welcomed in and sat with a drink in front of you before you really have time to consider much.

The restaurant’s speciality is canard a la presse, which is whole rare roast duck prepared and served at the table in quite an elaborate way. We didn’t go for this, as you need to order in advance. However, the rest of the menu has many exciting options.

For starter, I went for a light option of saumon fumé coupé à la minute with traditional garnishes. A whole side of smoked salmon was brought to our table and lovingly sliced into wafer thin cuts, then whisked away again. I was brought various garnishes to complement my salmon, and I went for soured cream, shallots and capers. The salmon was absolutely delicious – soft, fresh and beautifully smokey.

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We also went for terrine de Foie Gras marbrée aux figues, gelée au verjus with crème de dattes. This is basically fois gras terrine with figs, grape jus and dates.

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Brique de brochet aux ecrevisses, etuvée de fenouil aux algues (shelled fresh crayfish on pike mousse with crayfish bisque, steamed fennel and seaweed).

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And a scallop carpaccio with a rocket salad, grilled hazelnuts, beetroot petals and a parmesan marshmallow.

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For main course, I indulged in Tournedos Rossini, which is beef fillet topped with foie gras. It also came with a rich truffle sauce and potato mousseline. It was probably the best steak I’ve ever had, and I make somewhat a study of eating steak. It was also incredibly rich thanks to the pate and truffles – but so, so delicious.

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We also had…

Pan-roasted hen pheasant breast, onion and Port wine simmered leg with girolle mushrooms:

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And roast fillet of wild boar, a gingerbread crust, baked pear and celery mousseline with a grand veneur sauce:

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After all this we were absolutely stuffed, and couldn’t really manage space for pudding. We left full and content, with memories of a lovely evening. With starters north of £10 and mains averaging about £25, this isn’t really a place I’d normally visit. The regulars seemed to be solicitor/law types who have finished work and need to wine and dine clients – not my normal scene AT ALL, but great people watching for a change.

Service: 5

Venue: 3

Value: 4

Overall: 8.5/10

182 Gray’s Inn Road, WC1X 8EW

Nearest Tube: Russell Square (15min walk), Holborn (15min walk)

 

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Dog Spot – FCC train from Finsbury Park to Moorgate

Oh hiya pup lovers! It’s been bloody ages since I’ve posted a dog spot, hasn’t it? This is mainly because I am REALLY slow to get my phone out and take pictures of dogs, and by the time I have they’ve walked off. Bums.

But today I saw a really love chap on the train and had ample time to photograph him (still a crappy photo though…) as I was lucky enough to stand next to him.

He was very obedient, and was happily giving everyone a subtle and gentle sniff as they boarded and disembarked the train at various stops.

I’m not sure what bred he was, but suspect he is probably a mix. He looked like a collie, but had the dimensions of a sausage dog – intriguing and very cute!

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Restaurant Review – Salvation Jane, Oliver’s Yard, EC1Y

My lovely friend, Lucy, is returning to her homeland of New Zealand. I am Very Sad about this, for selfish reasons revolving around the fact that I like her and don’t want to not be able to see her on a bi-weekly basis.

The upside of her getting ready to leave is that she’s finished work and is footloose and fancy free, so she has been meeting me for lunch. We have made Salvation Jane our lunchtime hangout. It’s very close to my work and serves lovely food. That’s pretty much our criteria met!

SJ, as none of the cool kids are calling it, is the little sister of the brilliant Aussie cafe, Lantana. It was set up by an Aussie and very much celebrates the Aussie love of decent brunches and amazing coffee, as well as a friendly, informal atmosphere.

The lunch menu at Salvation Jane is quite brunchy, with antipodean-style corn fritters stacked with streaky bacon, fresh spinach and slow roast tomatoes served with a avocado chilli lime salsa and crème fraiche a sure-fire favourite.

Luce and I always go for their tart of the day with two side salads. They’re ever-changing and always bright, innovative and full of healthy flavour.

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This was some kind of pesto and tomato tart, I think. It came with a potato salad with lots of fresh greens mixed in, and a giant-cous cous salad with roasted root veg. It was as delicious as it looks.

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This tart is some foxy courgette number, served with a red cabbage salad and a butternut squash salad.

I’ve also had those pancakes, and they were a winner.

So not only now will I desperately miss Lucy when she goes home, but I will miss an excuse to pop to Salvation Jane for lunch every week. Luce: DON’T GO! Me ‘n’ the tarts need you!

Service: 2 (they always bring us something we didn’t order and then always add it to the bill!)

Venue: 4

Value: 4

Overall: 7.5/10

Unit 2, 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Rd  EC1Y 1HQ

Nearest Tube: Old Street (30 second walk)

 

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Food Review – Glazed & Confused doughnuts

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Clockwise from pink doughnut: raspberry and chocolate, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate, lemon drizzle, lemon curd, rhubarb

We’re on deadline at work at the moment. It’s a pretty stressful time in the office when the quarterly magazine I co-edit starts going through the final stages. There’s a lot of diplomacy, patience and accuracy needed. What’s also needed is a heady sugar hit, and yesterday my office was treated to doughnuts from Glazed & Confused.

They absolutely hit the spot. I went for a cheeky raspberry and chocolate number. I was assured by the nice G&C people that there are no artificial colourings in the glazes – just lots of fruit to give it it’s gem-like pink hue.

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It was delicious, and not too sweet. The doughnut was quite cake like, but the glazed complimented it perfectly. It was a ring doughnut though, and I prefer filled doughnuts, so um, I shared another doughnut with a sub-editor here. Ooops.

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We shared a lemon curd doughnut, which was bloody marvellous. Really nice sharp, citrusy tang from the generous curd filling. image (1)

All the doughnuts received good reviews from our office and were gobbled up with enthusiasm.

Glazed & Confused supply doughnuts for events, and various cafes and restaurants around the capital. You can tweet them at @GlazedLondon for more info.

Glazed & Confused sent me complimentary doughnuts, but free baked goods by no means guarantees a favourable review! 

 

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Restaurant Review – Pizza East, Shoreditch High Street, E1

Pizza East has been kicking around for a while, so I am not really sure why it’s only now I’ve paid it a visit. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I got myself down there eventually as I really enjoyed my food there.

Pizza East is mostly a pizza place that does a few other dishes. They are focused around rustic simplicity and sourcing good ingredients… but who isn’t these days? I know that’s my life’s manifesto. So far I am very simple and fairly rustic…

Corporate doublespeak aside, Pizza East is a decent, reasonably priced restaurant chain with branches in Shoreditch, Kentish Town and Portobello. I visited the Shoreditch High Street one.

We were greeted – and I use that word lightly – but hipster hosts who kind of ignored us/served us/chatted among themselves while they allocated tables. Most of the tables in the place were empty, but they still insisted on sitting everyone at the huge communal tables. Fascinating policy. Whatever though, I don’t care very much apart from the fact Andrew’s elbow was lodged in my rib for much of the night as we were so tightly packed.

I’ll move on from the service in just a sec, but first let me tell you a thing that happened…

Waitress: Do you want to order some drinks?

Andrew: Oh, we’re actually just waiting for our friend who… [he was going to say, “is just hanging up his coat”]

Waitress: I CAN SEE THAT! What do you want to drink?

[We all order our drinks, feeling told off but also trying not to giggle at being told off]

Anyway, on with the food…

We got some starter bits to share, which were San Daniele and puzzone croquettes; burrata, fig and honeycomb bruschetta; fritto misto and a platter of speck ham.

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The bruschetta was totally delicious – sweet and light and creamy. I totally love a fig and cheese combo anyway, but this was simply dreamy.

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“There’s no way to make those look good, Zoe, I don’t know why you’re bothering!” said one of my dining companions. He was right. Anyway, these were really tasty too – full of rich béchamel sauce that oozed out studded with ham. Definitely could only manage a few at best.

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Who doesn’t love cured ham? Crazy folk. This was wafer thin and salty-ly good.

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That looks like a massive slice of lemon, doesn’t it? Anyway, the fritto misto was probably my favourite starter. It was light and delicious, with a good range of seafood from prawns to squid and whitebait. The tartare was a let down as it was really mayonnaise – totally not enough capers it in.

For main course, feeling stuffed, I plumped for the most rich dish I could find: veal meatballs, prosciutto and cream pizza. Andrew went for a prosciutto cotto, tomato, mozzarella and artichoke pizza, so we went halvies on each and created this beast:

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God, it’s like Frankenstein’s monster. Anyway, it was delicious. The veal meatball pizza was INCREDIBLY rich but absolutely delicious – really meaty. However, it had truck loads of oil oozing from the meatballs which made it slightly too… well, oily.

Andrew’s side was much lighter – and between you and I, a much more sensible option given that we’d eaten starters – and had truck loads of delicious ham on it.

The service left a lot to be desired at Pizza East, but the food was good. I would go back, if not in a tearing hurry.

Service: 0

Venue: 3

Value: 4

Overall: 6/10

56 Shoreditch High St, London, E1 6JJ

Nearest Tube: Old Street (10 min walk) – Shoreditch High St overground is right next door, though.

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Late 2013 Round-Up

I owe you an apology. Yeah, you. I know you’ve been anxiously refreshing The Z Factor, hoping for a new post. And I’ve let you down. I’ve also let myself down. The run up to Christmas and then Christmas itself was really busy, and I neglected write blog posts in favour of alcohol, cheese and friends. But now I am back to share the spoils of my fun and also to wish you a very happy new year.

Here’s what I got up to while AWOL…

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I was Christmas shopping and then wrapping presents. I had to do it mega early this year as I wasn’t seeing my family. They were off to LA and I was off to Andrew’s folks’, so we exchanged presents in early December. These are some of my gifts to my lovely family…

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Then my family came to visit. This is my niece trying to get Andrew to concede a game of “Sleeping Lions”. Little does she know that Andrew is very competitive, even against five-year-old little girls.

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Mid-December marked the nuptials of some of Andrew and mine’s nearest and dearest friends. It was a brilliant wedding and the perfect way to kick off the festive season.

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This is Andrew and a couple of his besties at  said wedding.

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These are some of life’s good guys, right here.

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Then is was Christmas, which meant it was high time…

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To make our flat cosy.

We…

image (7)Bought cheese (brie with truffle in it – phwoar!)

image (8)Were cheesy…

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image (10)Hand terrible hang overs…

image (11)Then did it all again…

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Eventually we retreated home.

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And saw Andrew’s family. We played board games and ate aforementioned cheese (did I mention the truffle?).

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We saw our home friends and ate a huge burger at The Flying Pig.

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Went to the soft launch of House of Ho. (OK food, terrible service)

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We kicked off the new year with another hangover.

image (16)But now it’s time to rest, relax and embrace 2014.

Looking forward to the year ahead very much – hope you guys are too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fire at The Swimmer

Top 5… Cosy Pubs in London

As I have said before, rather recently, I love cosy pubs at this time of year. I love nothing more than heading to a warm pub, settling into a nook and drinking wine, chatting with good friends and watching people come and go.

I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 pubs to do this in, incase you want to do similar.

1. The Swimmer at the Grafton Arms

The fire at The Swimmer
The fire at The Swimmer

This pub is pretty close to where I live, and very much makes up part of my regular pub list. It’s tucked away behind the grim Seven Sister’s road, and is an absolute gem. It has board games, generous and yummy food, a good wine list, an open fire and even a sort-of adopted pub cat called Tallulah.

A pic of me and one of my besties (he'll love being called THAT!) last Christmas
A pic of me and one of my besties (he’ll love being called THAT!) last Christmas at The Swimmer

 

It lacks any pretension and is just a good, honest boozer without being stinky or too local. I absolutely love it here and will no-doubt be having Christmas sessions in here before long.

13 Eburne Road, N7 6AR

2. The Flask, Hampstead

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A few of us have a traditional walk on Hampstead Heath on New Year’s Day. Nothing blows the cobwebs away like climbing Parliament Hill to enjoy the view!

After a chilly walk, we normally head to The Flask in Hampstead for a mulled wine and a chat about our resolutions. It’s a small pub, but always has a lovely warm welcome. Again, it’s nothing fancy but I love that about it.

14 Flask Walk, NW3 1HE

3. Smokehouse

A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room
Smokehouse, Islington

You can read a more extensive review here, but this pub is the epitome of cosy. A friendly welcome, lots of people have a good time, and again, an open fire. It helps that the beer and wine list could have you busy for several days of non-stop drinking and the food is amazing – all conspiring to make you say, “I’ll just have one more, then I really must go…”

63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG

4. The Hunter S Bar

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Low lighting, fun decor and a warm, bustling atmosphere help this pub feel super-cosy. The taxidermy animals dotted about and the various different seating layouts make it quirky without staying into tedious hipster territory. The food is also great, with everything made fresh in-house every day and a wide and interesting menu.

194 Southgate Rd,  N1 3HT

5. The Dove

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I’ve spent many an evening here, growing foggy while enjoying the wine list. However, The Dove’s forte is Belgium beers, and their list is probably one of the most impressive in London. The pub itself is cosy and constantly busy, with the tables set close together and the unisex loos – everything is very intimate.

24/28 Broadway Market, E8 4QJ

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Top 5… Christmassy Things to do in London

I am a bit of a grumpy lady about people celebrating Christmas too early. Christmas adverts in September, the festive music in the shops in October and special offers on mince pies in the supermarkets in November. NO! December is the month of Christmas. Even then, putting up a tree in the first week of advent seems a bit premature to me. I fear suffering from Christmas burn-out, so by the time Christmas Eve (REAL Christmas) rolls around nothing feels special any more.

Having said that, I love Christmas a lot. And now we’re past my Christmas embargo date, I am feeling well excited about all the Christmas things I have planned. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of my favourite things to do over Christmas in London.

1. Ice Skating

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Every year Andrew and I go ice skating just before Christmas. It seems so romantic. But in actual fact, ice skates seem to have been designed by a sadistic cobbler, and I feel queazy at the thought of putting my foot in a cold, damp boot that’s been on loads of other people. That’s before you get on the ice, and realise you’re more Bambi than Torvill. “We hate ice skating,” Andrew and I say to each other, “why have we come? We suck at it and it’s beyond painful!”

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However, we always go out of duty. It’s now a horrible Christmas tradition, but I kind of love it.

There are lots of places to go ice skating in London, and I have sampled a lot. My favourite would be Somerset House, followed by the Tower of London.

Afterwards I prescribe a strong mulled wine to rid yourself of the aches, pains and cold that you will have acquired.

2. Choosing a Christmas Decoration

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My Mum and I have a festive tradition where we go out together with the sole purpose of choosing one new decoration for our – well, my parents’ now I suppose – tree. We’ve done this together ever since I can remember. We spend a long time oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over all the pretty (and hideous) sparkly thing, before selecting one and scampering off for a cup of tea.

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Last year we went to Heal’s, which has the most amazing array of festive decorations (and homewares – man, I love Heal’s). It feels and smells so festive in there, and Paul A. Young has also just opened a cafe next door – ideal for our victory afternoon tea.

3. Christmas Markets

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Winter Wonderland and Southbank Christmas Markets are my favourites, but there are all kinds of festive outdoor adventures to be had in London. I love wrapping up warm, linking arms with a buddy and carefully choosing where to buy a festive feast from. And it’s all the better when it’s washed down with a heady mulled wine before getting on a fairground ride of dubious safety standards.

4. Getting Cosy in Pubs

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I love pubs anyway. They’re such a uniquely British thing, I think. Sure, everywhere has bars, but the British pub is something that just can’t be replicated anywhere else.

And in December they really come into their own. Walk in out of the cold into a blast of buzz, warmth and the scent of mulled wine. Huddle into a booth with friends and watch the sky grow dark by 4pm while knocking back festive drinks, all while you’re being warmed by an open fire. Extra great points if there’s a pub dog in the mix.

This year I’m going to the Draper’s Arms for a Christmas carol sing-a-long with friends. I cannot think of anything more festive.

5. The Nutcracker

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Every year my Mum and I go to the Nutcracker, either by the English National Ballet at the Coliseum or at the Royal Opera House. I love getting swept away in the Christmassy story and gasping at the amazing costumes.

I also love seeing all the other families who have come to watch for a Christmas treat. It feels so magical and special. I cannot wait to go this year.

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Restaurant Review – Jackson & Rye, Wardour Street, W1D

Last night I headed off to the soft launch, or even pre-soft launch, at Jackson & Rye, a new bar/restaurant in the middle of Soho. With the influence of the owner of Grillshack, Jackson & Rye is a New York-style venue with a 1920s flavour.

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It was very much still in its training stages last night. However, if last night was anything to go by (and I hope it was) and they manage to maintain the excellent standards on display when they open fully, Jackson & Rye will be a contender for my favourite Soho haunt.

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The menu is very reasonable for the quality of the food, and is obviously focused around modern American cuisine. Think fried chicken, whipped potatoes, steak, chowder. All that good stuff. They also have an extensive selection of rye to drink, with bourbon cocktails being their forte. One of my dining companions claimed they mixed the best Old Fashioned they’d ever had (and between me and you, they’ve had their fair share).

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I went for a prime fillet steak, which was served with fries and a béarnaise sauce. I asked for the steak medium rare, which was cooked perfectly for me – pink juices a go-go. The steak was however a little chewy, which I found a bit of a shame. The sauce on the other hand was perfect – rich with a sharp tang, perfectly wobbly. And praise where praise is due: the fries were as good as any I have tasted.

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Also on our table was a fillet of seabass, which was soft and perfectly cooked, with a gentle fishy flavour and was served with a caper sauce. A much lighter choice!

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The HUGE rosemary and lemon chicken was sublime, and was juicy and incredibly flavoursome. However, it came with shoestring fries that were ever-so slightly undercooked and chewy.

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Lastly, the buttermilk fried chicken had our table in raptures. The batter was light, fluffy and crispy and the chicken wonderfully juicy. The portion was generous too, with two large pieces of breast served up.

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Although feeling stuffed, we moved on to dessert. I chose a melting chocolate sundae. I think it was probably the best pudding I’ve had in my life. Served solid, when warm caramel is poured over a decadent dark chocolate dome, the chocolate melts revealing fluffy, rich ice cream underneath. The caramel then half-sets, creating kind of delicious dime bar-style nuggets in the ice cream. Oh my God, I want to eat it all over again.

We also ordered a frozen souffle, which was fruity and light but didn’t really going anywhere and wasn’t varied in texture or flavour. If it had some fruit or sauce with it, it would have made the dish much more well-rounded.

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The blueberry and apple cobbler was great – the apples had been perfectly cooked so they held together and gave a lovely munchable texture, while the blueberry flavour came through strongly. I normally find blueberries a bit insipid, so I was pleasantly surprised. However, the pudding was brought down slightly by the custard that was the consistency of whole milk, meaning it all sort of disappeared as soon as it was poured over.

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Rounding off the puddings was a pecan pie – which was just as it should be. I don’t know if it was anything spectacular, but it was fine.

The selection of Ryes at Jackson & Rye
The selection of Ryes at Jackson & Rye

As I said, Jackson & Rye was in the training stage, so it will hopefully work on these very minor issues and bring everything up to match the spectacular level of the buttermilk chicken, Old Fashioneds and chocolate sundae. I will definitely be back again. The atmosphere was delightful and buzzy, the staff friendly and eager to help and the food varied and fun.

Service: 5

Venue: 5

Value: 4

Overall: 9/10

Jackson & Rye, 56 Wardour Street,  W1D 4JD

Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Square (5 min walk)

Jackson & Rye opens fully on December 11th.

Jackson & Rye on Urbanspoon

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Gordon's Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice's best nights out in London.

My London… with Alice Judge-Talbot

I’ve known Alice for quite a number of years through the wonderful world of blogging. She’s an all-round superwoman and lady of excellent taste. Here she shares with me a few of her London things…

Name: Alice
Job: Blogger and Marketing Consultant
Neighbourhood: I moved out of London when I had kids and now live in Buckinghamshire (boohooh). But in my time in the fair city I lived in Kentish Town, Shoreditch, De Beauvoir and Muswell Hill.

Alice with her ridiculously cute son, Hux
Alice with her ridiculously cute son, Hux

I love London because… of the diversity! There aren’t many places where you can experience such a rich mix of cultures and languages. You always meet someone with a story to tell.

London is at its best when… Frosty and twinkly or sunshiney and happy. Both as lovely as each other.

Borough Market would kick of Alice's perfect day.
Borough Market would kick of Alice’s perfect day.

My ideal day off in London would be… starting at Borough Market I’d walk along the Thames to Embankment, stopping off at The Savoy for a cup of tea. I’d get the tube up to Camden to visit some of my old haunts before powerwalking up Parliament Hill to marvel at the amazing view. I’d finish the day with prosecco at The Dean Street Townhouse or maybe Shoreditch House, followed by espresso martinis. And karaoke.

 I absolutely love this little-known place… the sushi cafe above the Japanese shop at Centrepoint. In my opinion it’s the most authentic (and tastiest!) sushi in London.

Gordon's Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice's best nights out in London.
Gordon’s Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice’s best nights out in London.

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… too many to count! I was recently introduced to Gordon’s Wine Bar – the oldest in London – and had a very raucous night in there with a very fun friend.

My favourite restaurant is... what a difficult question! I seem to eat at The Dean Street Townhouse a lot these days (love their chips and salad) but you really can’t beat the shortrib nuggets at Hawksmoor. Also, the Street Feast/Mr Hyde burger festival in Dalston earlier this year was bloody brilliant

 If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in...Cos, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie. Harrod’s Beauty Hall. I can’t decide!

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

 My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is absolutely breathtaking. I saw To Kill A Mockingbird there in May and despite the freezing rain it was a wonderful experience.

 One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived there is… How accessible everything is on foot! I try not to use the tube or buses if I can walk, it’s a much better way of travelling.

 London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… SLOW WALKERS!

I’ll leave London when… I will never move further than 30 minutes outside of London. It always leaves me feeling energized and happy.

Your can head to Alice’s blog, morethantoast.org, and find her on Twitter.

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Pub Review – Ape & Bird, Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H

Ape & Bird opened last week to much fan fare. In a huge old Victorian pub in Covent Garden, the team behind Polpo, Mishkins and Spuntino have brought something to the area that was desperately needed: a decent, large pub. Soho and Covent Garden aren’t exactly famous for their decent pubs with great customer service. It’s more of a “drink on the pavement, try not to get run over and fight your way to the bar” type vibe in the rest of the area. Ape & Bird is an oasis of calm in comparison.

Last night I went along with two of my favourite people to see whether the place lived up to the hype. On entering the pub, it was totally empty. “Err, hello?” I said to the three front of house staff who were eagerly waiting to greet people. The place was dead, but it was 5.45pm on a Monday evening. I was swiftly taken through the main pub/more formal dining room to a back “public bar”.

The lighting was soft, the decor was tasteful and the wine was expensive. They only had three red and three whites on in the bar out of a longer list, which was a slight shame. Later in the night the beers also dwindled as we were told our choice beer was “off” now. Teething problems, I am sure, as the pub is only just out of its soft launch phase.

We decided to have food, so were ushered into the main pub bit, which was adorned by fairy lights, candle lights and gentle music. We decided it was a perfect date venue, and, being terribly boring, the music wasn’t too loud so we were able to hear each other. There’s nothing worse than having to nod along to someone’s story but not really getting a word of it.

An extremely under-lit menu
An extremely under-lit menu

The menu is modern British cuisine: chestnut and mushroom shepherd’s pie, steak and chips, trout with shrimp and tarragon butter. I went for a cheeseburger with a side of cheese and truffle fries. Andrew also got a burger but with rosemary and salt potato skins, and Amy got the veggie shepherd’s pie.

The portions were modest, but on reflection I think this is because I have become used to places overloading the plates. I admit these photos aren’t great but this is 65% because of the “date lighting” there and only 35% because I am terrible at taking photos.

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The burger was really decent – plenty of sauce, nice and meaty and a good ratio of sharp pickles. The fries were really rich, but provided an excellent salt and fat hit. Andrew’s potato skins were crunchy and deliciously herby, but I think the fries were best.

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The service at Ape & Bird was a bit hit and miss, and slightly on the cold side from some staff members, but for this you have to be forgiving in the opening days of the place. Despite this, Ape & Bird is a warm and relaxed venue, and with many other bars within the venue (including an amazing-looking subterranean cocktail bar), I am already planning my next visit.

The bill came to about £60 for three, with service and drinks.

Service: 3

Venue: 4.5

Value: 3

Overall: 7.5/10

Ape & Bird Public House, 142 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8HJ

Nearest Tube: Leicester Square (5 min walk)

The Ape & Bird Pub on Urbanspoon

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A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room

Restaurant Review – Smokehouse, Canonbury Road, N1

Before we moved, Andrew and I promised ourselves we’d go out for a really lovely celebration meal together once we completed on the sale. However, as ever with us, we were optimistic about how much free time we’d have after completing.

Since we became homeowners our lives have been a heady whirlwind of filling walls, buying sanders (I am now the co-owner of multiple sanders! Try not to feel too jealous, guyssss), painting and shouting, “Have you seen my red jumper anywhere?” across the house as we live in a semi-unpacked dystopian nightmare. So we haven’t had time to go for dinner, and we hadn’t unpacked any nice clothes to go out for dinner in. I’m pretty sure any maître d’ would turn his nose up at my paint-covered hoodie. I mean, I turn my nose up at it and I’m a slob.

But the clouds lifted on Saturday. We finished our decorating, I found my nice shoes (one pair, natch) – it was time for our celebration meal. We wanted to go somewhere local, that wasn’t stuffy but served good quality and interesting food. There’s quite a lot of that on offer in Islington, but eventually we plumped for the Smokehouse.

Our 'excited to be out and not painting' faces. Andrew's playing it cool, as ever.
Our ‘excited to be out and not painting’ faces. Andrew’s playing it cool, as ever.

Smokehouse is owned by the guys behind The Pig & Butcher and has Neil Rankin, of John Salt and Pitt Cue fame, as the chef. Smokehouse specialises in all things smokey and firey and has a smoker on site. As well as this, the emphasis is on the quality and provenance of their ingredients. As well as the best possible produce, Smokehouse also has a startling array of ales and beers and a stellar wine list, for it is a cosy pub as well and not at all ‘just a restaurant’.

A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room
A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room

We got a great table in the restaurant (needed to book ahead), and had an amazing waitress who was just the right level of attentive. She was battling on even though she’d sliced open her hand on a bread knife too. That’s the commitment I like! She was also really knowledgable about the menu and seemed to be passionate about the food she was delivering to us. Full marks to her!

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I opted for a starter of foie gras, apple pie and duck egg. It was so delicious I stopped on my first mouthful and sighed! The foie gras was lovely and rich, with the duck egg perfectly cooked (so much so I asked Andrew in a frustrated tone, “but how do they get it this perfect?” – side note, I am rubbish at cooking eggs). The apple pie was perfect for cutting through the richness and adding a lovely tang to the plate.

Foie gras (two generous pieces!), apple cake and duck egg starter
Foie gras (two generous pieces!), apple cake and duck egg starter

Andrew went for a chopped brisket roll & gochujang. Gochujang is a Korean condiment that’s essentially like a chilli mayo. The chopped brisket was perfect: smokey and headily meaty, while the gochujang added a beautiful chilli kick.

The chopped brisket
The chopped brisket

We followed these up with a shortrib bourguignon (me) and peppered ox cheek (him). We also got a side of roast potatoes, but the stew came with mash anyway.

Short rib bourguignon with creamy mash
Short rib bourguignon with creamy mash

The bourguignon had a real depth of flavour and a melt in mouth texture. It had some chillies on the plate, which added a lovely firey hum in the undertones. It was incredibly rich and decadent, and absolutely superb.

The ox cheek came with cauliflower cheese, which was just insane. The cauliflower, which is an easy vegetable to overcook and ruin, was so sweet and nutty, and the cheese sauce covered the cauliflower but didn’t overpower it.

Peppered ox cheek with cauliflower cheese and gravy
Peppered ox cheek with cauliflower cheese and gravy

Feeling rather full of rich meaty food, we weren’t to be beaten by pudding. I went for a Double D pie, which is inspired by a Double Decker chocolate bar. A layer of coco pops, a layer of nougat, a layer of peanut butter, a layer of the richest chocolate known to man. Kapow! It was amazingly nutty and chocolatey. The pistachio ice cream it came with wasn’t quite powerful enough to beat those flavours. Bums, as I love pistachio ice cream – it’s a firm family favourite in my crew.

The Double D
The Double D

Andrew asked for an affagato, which wasn’t actually on the menu, but they knocked it up for him.

And breathe!
And breathe!

Smokehouse was everything I hoped it’d be: cosy, without pretension and serving excellent, exciting food. It’s the ideal place to snuggle down in, eat until you’re full to bursting and then relax in front of the open fire. A new favourite for me!

Sorry this photography is a bit Martha Stewart!

Service: 5

Venue: 5

Value: 5

Overall: 10/10

The Smokehouse, 63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG

Nearest Tube: Highbury & Islington (10 min walk). The 271 goes right past it though!

Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review – Joe Allen, Exeter Street, WC2E

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This week was Thanksgiving in America. In the UK, this tends to mean that everyone turns to each other and says, “What is Thanksgiving anyway? Is it just a dinner?” I don’t think any conversations I had drew any conclusions further than: dinner, watch football (not the UK version, obvz), don’t work. Apart from the football aspect, I’m on board.

Now, more about that dinner… On Thursday I headed to Joe Allen in Covent Garden to have a Thanksgiving feast with some other delightful food bloggers.

Joe Allen is an American bistro deep in the heart of London’s theatreland. Having opened in 1977, Joe Allen has recently come under new management and has benefitted from some subtle and sensitive tweaks that breathe new life into the London institution.

Delightfully tucked away down a side street, not much marks out Joe Allen from the road. It’s like a private members club for Americans. And the Americans in London had made a pilgrimage to the place to enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner away from home.

The place was bustling, to put it lightly, but had a wonderful buzz about it. It certainly felt like the place had history and soul to it, and I thought it’d be the ideal location for a big, hearty and jovial group dinner.

Speaking of dinner, I went for a starter of roasted vegetables with creamed goats cheese and truffle. It was my ideal starter for a large meal – fresh, light but still packed with lots of different and complementary flavours. The earthy beetroot was delicious with the sharp, salty goats cheese.

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I then went crazy and didn’t order turkey for my main course. Why? Cos I hate turkey. Judge me all you want, but we all know turkey is a paltry (GEDDIT?!) version of chicken. Anyway, I went for honey roast ham, which came with plenty of fresh veggies. It was perfectly cooked, lovely and rich with a salty and sweet flavour. I love me some roasted ham.

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I finished up with a traditional Thanksgiving dish that I’d never tried: pumpkin pie. As my first pumpkin pie, I obviously have no reference point from which to compare it, but it was tasty – full of warming winter spices but yet sweet.

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Joe Allen’s regular a la carte features ribs, wings and all that good American stuff. However, it’s classier and more refined – and dare I say it, slightly more traditional and old school – than Bodeans, The Big Easy etc. This place is more white table cloths and strong Old Fashioneds than plastic bibs and wet wipes.

I would definitely go back again, if nothing else than to try their famous off-menu burger. There has been much hype about it! And also their cocktails are wonderfully sophisticated and pack quite the punch. It’d be a great place for dates too – sipping cocktails, listening to the pianist do his stuff (I’m a sucker for live piano music)…

Service: 5

Venue: 4

Value: 3

Overall: 8/10

Joe Allen, 13 Exeter Street, WC2E 7DT

Nearest Tube: Covent Garden (7 min walk), Charing Cross (7 min walk)

Joe Allen on Urbanspoon

I was invited to review Joe Allen, and given a complimentary meal. However, this in no way means I offered them a favourable review in return.

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Restaurant Review – Flesh & Buns, Earlham Street, WC2H


I often find myself searching for places to eat in Covent Garden. This is because it is the most convenient place for me and my closest group of friends from school to meet up. We essentially have a semi-regular non-booking at Wahaca, but even I, life-long crazed Mexican food fan, can grow tired of their “healthy pork scratchings” (that’s a lie, and it hurts me even to type it; I will never stop loving you, my porky pals).

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Erm, anyway, for a change we decided to head to Flesh & Buns, which is a subterranean restaurant a hop, skip and jump away from Seven Dials. Set up by the Bone Daddies crew, Flesh & Buns is a Izakaya -style joint (that, between you and I, is a Japanese eating and drinking establishment – a pub, I like to call them but this is probably quite far from what a Izakaya is, but I don’t know – never been to Japan, innit).

Inside, there are loooong high tables, and more exclusive-looking booths. I was on the high table with the rabble, obvz. It’s worth noting that I walked in at about 7pm and got a table no problem. It was probably mid-week, so hardly crazy-town busy time but still, not to be glossed over.

F&B, as no one is calling it, serves “raw” food – mainly sushi and sashmi – which we skipped over because I was dining with my pregnant pal, Is, or MEAT. We went straight for the meat and ordered some flesh and buns.

Basically, it’s like you construct your own sandwich – they bring the meat and veg, along with some steamed buns and you whack it all in a steamed bun and enjoy. I got Flat Iron Steak with BBQ sauce, and Is got crispy duck leg with sour plum sauce. I asked for my steak medium-rare, and it came on the edge of medium. I prefer to err on the rare side, but Is said she thought it was slightly too rare. Prone to agree.

Flat iron steak - super juicy!
Flat iron steak – super juicy!

Annoyingly, the steak was suuuper chewy and therefore not conducive to being put in a sandwich to take bites out of. One bite and the whole steak slice came out and you were left with an empty bun (and a full, unattractive gob – Isabel felt realllly happy to be seen out with me, I am sure).

Crispy duck leg at Flesh & Buns
Crispy duck leg at Flesh & Buns

The duck, however, was a dream. It brought back lots of fond memories of duck pancakes at Chinese restaurants, as the taste was pretty much exactly that.

We had to order more buns because there was way more meat than there were buns – sneaky sneaky. But out of the two I suppose better to have more meat than bread. Rules to live by, right there.

After our bun feast, we went for a Bone Daddies Sundae, and I felt in love with green tea ice cream. I HATE green tea as a drink (reminds me of being ill in Vietnam, weirdly), so have avoided all its incarnations so far. Until that night, when I realised in ice cream form, me and green tea were actually alright.

Bone Daddies Sundae
Bone Daddies Sundae

The atmosphere was nice and buzzy, without being loud or irritating, and the service was allllright. Wouldn’t go higher than that though, as I had to ask about a billion times for the bill.

Service: 3

Venue: 3

Value: 3

Overall: 7/10

Flesh & Buns, 41 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LX

Nearest tube: Covent Garden (5 min walk), Leicester Square (8 min walk)

Flesh and Buns on Urbanspoon

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Top 5… Tips for People Moving

I have a HUGE backlog of posts I need to write up, but you see the problem is that I’ve just moved and my life is chaotic to say the least.

I know there’s the old trite thing about moving/buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do. But I can only take from it that the people who say these things have never edited a magazine that has a ridiculous deadline, or organised a school sports day, or backpacked around a county where you can’t speak the language and you’ve just had $800 stolen. Buying a house is stressful, but it’s hardly the most stressful thing.

Anyway, because I’ve been engrossed in the tedium of packing, unpacking et al, I haven’t caught up on my posts. And I am still not going to. In lieu of a decent post I am going to tell you the top five things that I have learnt from moving home (to make it less stressful).

1. Ask for help – bribery is OK

These are some of our amazing friends who helped us move once. The guy on the left's face says it all...
These are some of our amazing friends who helped us move once. The guy on the left’s face says it all… One of these people is now recovering from a hernia operation. Whoops.

One thing guaranteed in life is that you’re probably going to have to move house at some point. Therefore, let’s get together and help one another. I couldn’t have moved if it wasn’t for the help of my parents, Andrew’s brother and future sis-in-law and our friends. Many hands make light work, guys. Sure, it might mean that in future you have to get up early one Saturday morning to return the favour, but that’s part of being friends, yeah? (Going forward, maybe start selecting friends based on how much “Stuff” they have, going forward. Friends with little clutter = BFFs, Friends with loads of crap = Time to be “phased out”) We obviously bribed our nearest and dearest with offers of breakfasts and roasts on us in return for their help. And don’t worry Toby and Rob, we’re aware we still owe you both a full English…

2. Find a Good Man ‘n’ Van

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I think being a man and van would be my worst job ever. You drive a van (stressful) and then have to help slightly hysterical home movers (me) move all their worldly possessions and then unload it all (tiring). Anyway, the service offered by mans and their vans is varying to say the least. What you don’t want is some dude in a clapped out van who turns up, lets you loads your stuff in, slams the door and drives off to the next place, then lets you unload for £100. No thank you. We managed to find a lovely guy who helped carry stuff, load, unload and all the while he never complained about how much stuff we had or that our bed is bloody massive (OK, he did slightly complain about that). If you’re London-based, I thoroughly recommend this company. If you’re not London-based, ask friends/family for recommendations.

3. Get a Nectar Card

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This is mostly for homeowners, I guess, as I hope those who move into rental properties don’t have to do much DIY, but anyway… We’ve spent shed loads of money in Homebase recently. I basically could work there now, I know the shop floor lay out so well. Paint? Dulux? Aisle 1. Step ladder? At the back in Aisle 9. Yeah! (God, that is so pathetic). Anyway, the only bonus – and it is a crap one at that – is that we have a Nectar card and have been collecting Nectar points. I have then spent all of these Nectar points on champagne and ice cream.

4. Drink

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Perhaps the only thing that got me through this move was alcohol. It kept me motivated while packing, and having a rewarding glass of champagne after moving day was brilliant. I realise this makes me sound like an alcoholic, but this is my reality. (P.S. I’m not an alcoholic)

5. Don’t EVER move

Seriously. It’s rubbish. Don’t do it.

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Theatre Review – 1984

A few weeks ago Andrew and I bundled our way to Richmond to see Headlong Theatre‘s production of the George Orwell dystopian classic, 1984.

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I love the theatre – hate musicals though. But I quite rarely go, or at least not as much as I feel I should for someone living in London. Something I always espouse about living in London is there’s so much going on. Yes, so I really should actually take advantage of it.

I’d never seen a Headlong production before, but had followed this tour fairly closely – they went to Liverpool, Cardiff, Nottingham… some other places… This is because my amazingly talented friend was on the production team. As the five star reviews from virtually every paper rolled in, we booked our tickets.

I wasn’t exactly sure how they’d make a show of 1984 – it is quite a tough book to replicate on stage, I think. I must admit I didn’t fully remember the entire story, as I read it in my early twenties (YEARS AGO!) and straight after read A Brave New World, so the stories have become slightly muddled together in my mind. But this production was so clever, and the story came flooding back to me like remembering a horrifying nightmare I once had.

There was a huge amount of media used to tell Winston Smith’s story of falling in love while questioning the leadership in a futuristic totalitarian state. I won’t spoil all the amazingness and surprises if you do go, but the set was ingenius and the performances were first class. It was both intellectually stimulating and quite traumatising in parts. There are quite a lot of flashing lights and high-pitched noises!

After so many amazing reviews and such highly heaped praise, 1984 is transferring to The Almeida Theatre in Islington, so you still have a chance to view it. It’s running for the most part of February and March.

If you prefer going to the theatre for a sing-song and aren’t interested in long monologues, this won’t be for you (get thee to ‘We Will Rock You’), but otherwise I highly recommend you go. Especially, if like me, you really feel you should take advantage more of all London has to offer…

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