So with all the eating I do, it’s time to get serious about burning off some of those calories (boo!).
I started doing Free Form Fitness‘ bootcamps about three years ago, when I lived in Highbury. Over the past year I haven’t been living there, so have fallen off the bandwagon somewhat. But that’s all about to change as we’ve just bought a flat back in Highbs, so there’s no more getting out of it… It’s time to hit the deck and pump some, err, iron?
When I started at bootcamps I was kind of nervous. I admit I feel a little intimidated by fitness classes (I won’t know anyone, everyone else will be better than me, I’ll be wearing the wrong thing…), but as soon as I got in touch with Free Form’s owner, Sybille, she immediately put me at my ease. She was knowledgable and encouraging, telling me more about an injury I had than even I knew, and started me off gently. As everyone in the classes are at different fitness levels – some are marathon runners, some are new mums trying to lose some baby weight, some are flabby food bloggers (OK, just me in that group) – Sybille has different levels of exercises to suit everyone.
The first session I went to was just the right level of hard. Then I woke up the next morning and couldn’t actually move. I have never experienced anything like that – my muscles were in shock. BUT in a good way – I was just using muscles I’d not used since I was a kid.
Classes weren’t something I looked forward to, but once I got there they were enjoyable and everyone in the class was really friendly. I’ve made friends at bootcamp that I still see now and count as very good friends indeed (hi Simon and George!). It’s a really nice community event, as everyone lives around Highbury Fields who comes to my class. A happy result was I toned up, lost weight and improved my posture without really – I wouldn’t say trying, because a lot of sweat went into it, but perhaps without really much thought. Sybille does the thinking, I just do what she very gently instructs!
As I say, I’ve now moved away but am coming back! And just in time for a new class Sybille has devised called “Cardio and Core Blitz”. This is a 30 minutes high intensity workout, focusing on fat burning and core work.
Sybille says of the class, “By using a class format comprised of HIIT (high intensity interval training) and functional core work we have created a workout that will help increase the body’s ability to burn body fat without putting it through the strains and risk of overuse injuries associated with traditional boot camps or high impact cardio workouts. You will be working hard for 30 minutes but you will leave feeling super energised and de-stressed!”
Sessions are £5/class or you can buy 11 for £50. The classes run in Highbury Fields at the moment, but will soon be running in Liverpool street, Green Park, London Fields and Tower Bridge in the mornings, at lunch times and in the evenings.
Free Form Fitness have teamed up with me and are offering Z Factor readers a free first session. All you need to do is email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “The Z Factor”.
Andrew was getting stressed about his birthday (he doesn’t like his birthday), so I asked him what he really wanted to do. His response? He just wanted to go to brunch with me (n’awww). So I decided to go to a nice (but not fancy – we’re not fancy types) brunch. I did some research and whittled it down between Duck & Waffle and The Modern Pantry. After glancing at both menus, I picked The Modern Pantry (still want to go to D&W though) as it had more things on the menu I knew Andrew would like. He loves fusion food that are packed full of lots of flavours, and head chef, Anna’s menu certainly seemed to cover a lot of those bases.
So we trotted off with our hangovers (we’d completed on our flat the day before, so celebrated hard the night before!) to Clerkenwell. We ordered our drinks, which came with speed, and started analysing the menu.
There was loads to choose from, and Andrew started looking a bit panicky that he wanted everything.
In the end we went for, ahem, three dishes to share.
This is grilled cornbread, chorizo, a fried egg, charred sweetcorn, avocado and red pepper salsa. It was pretty dry, but the egg broke open to reveal a soft and silky yolk which helped the whole dish massively. There was a gentle hum to the dish, but it was really surprisingly light.
We also ordered the sweetcorn, feta,green chilli & curry leaf waffles, smoked streaky bacon with maple syrup, which sounds INSANE, and it was – but in an amazing way! It was so packed full of different flavours and everything was balanced perfectly, so in a bit you’d get fluffy waffle, sharp cheese and then sweet maple syrup, plus a faint after taste of curry – it was extraordinary but an absolute triumph. Anna is obviously a master at flavour combinations.
The last thing we ordered takes 20 mins to cook, so it was perfect timing for us to take a break and compare hungover notes (results: we were both hungover).
Then it arrived: raspberry and ricotta pancakes with berry and liquorice compote, crème fraiche. Oh sweet lord. The pancakes were fluffy and light and the compote cut beautiful through the creme fraiche and rich pancakes. They were extremely filling, so I started to feel quite sick by this point, but boy was it worth it.
The Modern Pantry is something a little bit special. There were lots of people in there celebrating stuff (a groom’s party who were suited and booted, drinking champagne pre-ceremony, a couple who had just got engaged and were celebrating with their excited friends), so it created this lovely atmosphere, yet it was relaxed and informal, with perfect service.
Andrew claimed it to be the best brunch he’d ever had, so it was a birthday winner!
The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St Johns Square, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 4JJ
I absolutely love this little-known place…the Elk in the Woods in Islington. It does amazing food and is very inexpensive (a fiver for dippy duck egg and toast. Yum.). Or – though everyone in publishing goes here – Honey & Co on Warren Street, which does Middle Eastern food. It’s tiny and a bit of a squeeze but the food is incredible – the lamb makes me come over all Rachel Zoe (‘I dieeee!’). Also, the Gilbert Scott bar at the St Pancras Renaissance is glorious. Cocktails are ever-changing and range from old-fashioned staples to new favourites, priced at between £7 and £10. It has high ceilings, bells, and very friendly staff.
The best night I’ve ever had in London was… the night I went to the Game of Thrones DVD launch. It was in the Old Vic tunnels, which had been styled as Westeros. There were actors re-enacting key moments from the show, the staff weren’t allowed to break character all night, I stood in the WINTERFELL CRYPT and got my photo taken on the Iron Throne. The attention to detail was incredible, and the cast were all there. When I left and walked out into Waterloo it literally felt like I’d left another world. This, to be honest, says more about my love of George RR Martin than it does about London… But I’ve also had brilliant nights swingdancing in London Bridge, listening to music at Ronnie Scott’s, eating at Searcys at St Pancras/pretending I’m in Brief Encounter, and doing impossible pub quizzes in North London.
My favourite restaurant is…Great Queen Street. The menu changes every day, is always intensely carnivorous, and the waiting staff are so knowledgeable. The cocktails downstairs are really good too, and the barman plays a great mix of swing and 80s pop.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… Fortnum & Mason. £2,000 would probably get me one teacup, mind. I always marvel at the people walking around with trolleys, casually buying their food shop.
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… I’m not particularly cultured, but the Old Operating Theatre Museum is grisly and morbid. Just how I like it. You can see where people used to be operated on without anaesthetic, and other horrible things like that. Plus, it’s quite tucked away so never overly touristy.
One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is… that you can always find something to do, no matter what day of the week it is.
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… people who don’t walk down inside the tube carriage. It makes me want to perform a citizen’s arrest/invest in a taser.
I’ll leave London when… I want to actually be able to afford to buy a property!
This week has been especially grim as Andrew and I raced to exchange on the flat we’re buying. Wednesday night saw me particularly stressed, so I took myself off to the pub with some close friends to have some salving wine.
On my way home I happened across this scrappy lil’ lady. She was brilliant – just sitting contentedly on her owner’s lap. She looked so soft and snuggly I just wanted to bury my head in her fur (the dog that is, not the nice owner lady). Obviously due to social norms, I didn’t do this – I took this picture instead. Thanks for brightening my day, lovely pup!
Sam (or Blainsing Squad as I prefer to call him) is a very good friend of mine. Sam and I live very close together in Islington, and neither of us really like venturing too far out of North London. Therefore, Sam and I spend a fair amount of time together, normally in the pub mocking each other and our lives.
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who loves London quite as much as Sam does. Therefore, it was a no-brainer for me that he should tell us about his favourite spots in London…
Neighbourhood Holloway (most of the below is quite North London centric)
I love London because... all human life is here. And pubs, lots of pubs. Also, The Arsenal play here.
London is at its best when… it’s 5pm on an unusually warm Thursday before the long Easter weekend and roughly 78 per cent of London’s population is standing outside a pub.
My ideal day off in London would be… a long run on the Parkland Walk between Finsbury Park and Highgate to make me feel smug (also to look at dogs). Then lunch at Piebury Corner on the Holloway Road, before going on a long walk somewhere – it doesn’t matter too much where but I like the walk along Regent’s Canal from Islington to Mile End. Plenty of places to stop and drink. Impractically I’d then have to double back to meet friends at the Earl of Essex in Islington and get really drunk at one of the best pubs in North London.
I absolutely love this little-known place… I doubt you can call the Swimmer in Holloway little known, as it’s always busy, but it’s a lovely pub off the fairly horrible (and I live there) Seven Sisters Road. I also recommend the Scooter Caffe on Lower Marsh behind Waterloo, which is a nice bar tucked away in an uninspiring bit of town.
The best night I’ve ever had in London was… difficult to know, since I end up not remembering them. The night after a win over Sp*rs a few years ago when I met Ray Parlour in a pub on the Holloway Road is difficult to top.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in…La Fromagerie in Highbury. ALL THE CHEESE.
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… I’ve not seen it since they’ve completed the refurbishment but the Imperial War Museum in Kennington is brilliant (the permanent exhibition on the Holocaust is very good indeed). Also, the relatively new Jewish Museum in Camden is worth a visit.
One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived there is… This is difficult to answer since I grew up in Essex and was in London lots before I actually lived here. Perhaps the surprise is how much you see when you just wander around with your eyes open – as alluded to above, I love just walking about town, even if it’s without a plan or any real idea where I’m going.
The other thing about London is how quickly it can change. If you’d have told someone ten years ago that the area around King’s Cross would become one of the finest sights (and sites) in London, they’d have pointed to the sex shops and laughed in your face. You can see the changes (avoiding the loaded word gentrification) in my own area, Holloway, too.
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is... have you ever been on a nightbus sober? Christ.
This is hardly a new joint to hit the trendy East London restaurant scene. Brick Lane Beigel Shop opened in 1977, and has had customers flocking to it for its authentic bagels ever since. Open 24 hours a day, BLBS is most famous for its salt beef beigel. Last week I made it my mission to track it down. Having lived in London for five years it seems crazy I hadn’t been before.
The place is nothing to look at, and is certainly not going to win any customer service awards, but it’s doing well anyway so why change what’s not broken?
I got my beigel and scurried back to my nearby office to marvel at it. The salt beef comes in massive hunks, and I got English mustard which gave it an amazing kick. Note: if you are slightly afraid of hot mustard, do NOT get it. I had loads in mine, but I am hard so managed to tough it out.
The beigel itself was wonderfully chewy and light, and the beef was a heady meaty-salty flavour. I really enjoyed it, but at the same time I wouldn’t go there every lunch time. But then I don’t go anywhere every lunch time.
Simon, my aforementioned curmudgeonly friend, came with me. He said he didn’t understand what put the beigel above any other decent beigel, and also claimed he could eat another one straight away afterwards. He is quite a greedy fellow, but I also think the beigel wasn’t exactly filling. More of a hearty snack than a full meal.
So essentially what I am saying is: good sandwich, like the authenticity, would go if in the area.
Brick Lane Beigel Bake, 159 Brick Lane, E1 6SB
Nearest tube: Bethnal Green (12 min walk), Shoreditch High Street Overground (6 min walk)
Here Lucy gives an “outsider’s” perspective on London. Lucy moved here from New Zealand a few years ago. I had the good fortune to live with Lucy for several years when she first arrived. She uses her time in the UK effectively, and has seen so many things and acquired so many funny stories. She’s the kind of person who talks to strangers and ends up becoming BFFs with them…
Job Senior Account Exec, salt PR
Neighbourhood North London up until my recent migration to live with the rest of Antipodeans in South West London.
I live in London because… it’s so alive, there’s always something going on – whether it be the crazy guy blessing me on the tube, the pug with the extra long tongue in Soho Square trying to lick my shoes, or an amazing show where I get to see Helen Mirren up close. I love that this place never sleeps.
London is at its best when… it’s the summertime and you’re at one of the many green parks it has to offer. I love how Londoners make the most of parks; out comes the coal BBQ, the picnic rug, the football, the many different cider varieties and you get to lounge in the sun with your mates, who are likely to be from anywhere but London originally.
My ideal day off in London would be… breakfast at The Birdcage on St John’s Hill, the morning absorbing one of the new exhibitions at one of the many museums, afternoon in the sun at Battersea Park then dinner at some novelty restaurant where you eat your steak blindfolded or something.I absolutely love this little-known place…Molly Moggs in Soho: it’s a tiny corner bar featuring a sharp-tongued, self-deprecating and hilarious drag queen host every night of the week who pokes fun at the crowd and introduces various karaoke acts, which include a few quirky regulars (I’ve had the privilege of being serenaded by the elderly Elvis – hand holding included). It is the ultimate pick me up place – you’re always guaranteed a laugh and it’s always a supportive crowd… no matter how screechy the singing.
The best night I ever had in London was… hard to pick – but one from most recent memory was going to the special effects-packed Muse gig at Emirates where an acrobat did ribbon work from a giant hot air balloon in the shape of a lightbulb. Afterwards we spent the evening exploring some great little bars along Upper Street in Angel, topping off the night singing my lungs out with friends at Lucky Voice karaoke – all within walking distance, which made it that much better.
My favourite restaurant is…Trullo in Highbury, Islington – this place has amazing atmosphere, service and even better food. The chefs travel to Italy each season to handpick which ingredients they are going to source for the menu. It’s even been voted best Italian restaurant outside of Italy!
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in... probably a cheaty answer, but Selfridges. I love going there (once I get past the incredible window displays) and looking at all the amazing designer stuff or handcrafted potions and lotions.
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… the National Portrait Gallery. I go to the BP Portrait Awards Exhibition every year and it never ceases to astonish me how talented people are – many of them younger than me (which I find depressing; I’ve well and truly passed the prodigal talent age). They capture people so beautifully and differently. The other exhibitions at the Portrait Gallery change around regularly, too, and are generally free. If you’re lucky you might spot the sleeping video of David Beckham by Sam Taylor-Wood (apparently celebs do sleep?!) or the artist who drains a few pints of his blood every few years to make a floating sculpture of his head…
One thing I didn’t know about London until I moved here is… how safe it is. I honestly feel pretty safe walking around at night by myself and I swear that’s not naivety, as I used to get scared when I first moved here, but learnt through experience it was actually fine. There are so many well-lit areas, and because there are always so many people around you do feel safer than I ever expected.
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… how dirty the air is. Black snot is gross.
I’ll leave London when... I want more peace and quiet and the tug of friends and family back home gets too much.
Sometimes life calls for a little date. Not a big date, which would demand for heels, a blowdry and ~booking~ something (P.S. I’ve never got a blowdry for a date. Soz, Andrew). I’m talking a spontaneous, “Hey, shall we go out tonight? Just you and me?” date. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be with someone you feel a bit woozy with love or lust about, it could just as easily be a pal.
These evenings, in my experience, are normally best when they’re local, often in a little place that you discover – a gem that’s budget-friendly. In these places, the staff leave you alone to chat, the wine is decent and the food delicious. You leave the place arm in arm and step out into a cold, dark evening thinking how life is a little bit better for your date being in your life.
I’ve compiled a list of my top five date venues, where I’ve had evenings like this and think you might be able to enjoy them too.
1. Le Mercury, Upper Street, Islington
I’ve had more than one lovely evening here, with a range of different people from friends to family to my boyfriend. Each evening has been great. At Le Mercury they serve simple French food, and offer little tables close to one another and soft candlelight. There’s a huge capacity, and due to their massive popularity in North London they’ve actually expanded from their original restaurant to a second venue just down the road. The great thing about Le Mercury is that for those on a budget or splitting the meal, each offering on the menu is the same price per course. So starters are all £4.45, mains £9.95. And you know what? The food is really bloody good for that price. It holds a little special place in my heart, and is definitely one of Andrew and mine’s favourites.
I’ve written a more extensive review of Petek before, which you can read by clicking on the link above, so I won’t go on too much. But this is one of my fave date venues. It helps we currently live very close to Petek, but it is like a beacon of joy on the somewhat grey Stroud Green Road. Inside the lighting is glowy and soft and the service is friendly without being all up in your grill. It’s pretty darn perfect. And it kind of feels like you’re on a Mediterranean holiday in there. All that is missing is the stray dogs.
3. Kettners, Soho
OK, so Kettners might not fall into the “little-known place” bracket, as it is a London institution, but I like it as a date place so it’s going in, alright? Good.
I’m not talking about the restaurant here, cos that’s all sparkly and new and, well, just a fairly standard Soho restaurant. I’m talking about the champagne and cocktail bar. That might sound a little intimidating, but don’t be put off! Really it’s a cosy and relaxed bar, and is great for people watching. Dangerously, you can buy champagne in glasses, half bottles or bottles. And they stock a lot of champagne. So what might start out as a cheeky flute of bubbles can gloriously descend into an evening of being drunk on champagne and feeling all cosy and great. They do great cocktails too.
4. Albertine, Wood Lane, Shepherd’s Bush
If you ever had the misfortune to be in Shepherd’s Bush, as I did for a good while when I worked at the BBC, then Albertine is like a beautiful oasis in the drab wasteland of Shepherd’s Bush. I’m not suggesting you go there for a meal, because I’ve only had one proper meal there and it was slightly odd and slapdash. No, I mean you go there for drinks and snacks. Albertine’s is a wine bar, and owned by a guy who is obviously passionate about wine. Consequently, the wine list is bloody massive and has wines from all over the world. They also do a good line in bar snacks, with my faves being mini chorizo sausages. It’s all a bit rustic at Albertine’s. You can sit in the window, hunker down for the night and have really great chats.
5. The Prop Store, Southbank
One of my closest and most charming friends introduced me to The Prop Store, for it is attached to the National Theatre, where she works. Had it not been for her, I don’t think I would have found it as it’s quite easy to miss a lot of stuff on Southbank, especially in the Summer when the Prop Store operates.
Yes, indeed, this is a seasonal bar. As I said, it’s run by the National and exhibits inside an interesting array of props from the theatre company. The bar itself is kind of tiny and it does take a while to get served, but the drinks are reasonable for Southbank, and you can spill out onto the river bank on a hot, sticky summer evening and have one of those nights when you’re like, “Yeah, London is so pretty and awesome and I get to live here!” And although I generally find Southbank a bit too frantic in the summer months, it’s nice to rest up at the Prop Store and watch the world go by.
So that’s my list. Do you have any cute little places you like to go on for dates? Think I’ve missed somewhere? Rant at me in the comments.
I firmly believe there’s nothing more cheering in life than seeing a dog with his head hanging out of the car window. They look so happy, just by the simple fact they’ve got the wind in their fur and are able to see where they’re going. If only human happiness was arrived at so easily… (although there might be many more beheadings on the motorway…)
I saw this German Shepherd while my friend and I were driving out of London on our way to a hen do in Kent. We were tired and our spirits had been broken by the Blackwall Tunnel. This guy made it all better. Look at him go!
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… pursuit of an unsuitable woman.
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… It depends what’s on. I liked Lowry at the Tate Britain, and the James Bond exhibition at the Barbican.
One thing I didn’t know about London until I moved here is… How close everything is. No need to get the tube or bus anywhere. Walk it and get some air. Mind out for cyclists though. [Ed: Jonathan is famously fundamentally opposed to public transport]
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… Cyclists. So punchable. Parasites of the roads.
I’ll leave London when… The cyclists complete their infestation and take over the city.
Jonathan can be found not tweeting here. To fill the vacuum of information about Jono, I’ve included some of his best bits here:
This Sunday I had a hot date with one of my closest friends, Ames, and Andrew. Without any deliberation we selected Caravan for the venue of said hot date.
Caravan is located just north of Kings Cross station, underneath Central St Martin’s. It faces out onto Granary Square, which had loads of weird events going on – something about the industrial revolution. This seemed to involve dressing pre-pubescent children up as chimney sweeps and someone screeching along to “Who Will Buy” from Oliver. It was a no from me.
We arrived at 1pm at Caravan and was told there was a 45 min wait. No worries, I thought, it means I get to spend more time catching up with Amy. However, an hour came and went… We were sat after 90 mins, but I am not really sure it’s worth a 90 min wait. You can go away and they’ll text you when your table is ready, but we were stuck in some pseudo-Victorian nightmare and just wanted to eat.
So anyway, yeah, cut to the chase – we got a table…
I ordered a salted caramel hot chocolate, which sounds incredibly sickly. I don’t really like sickly things, so I have no idea what came over me – I think I was discombobulated from the Industrial Revolution outside. In fact, it was absolutely delicious. It tasted like a creme brûlée in a drink. I pretty much drank it like a shot.
Food-wise, I ordered baked eggs, tomato pepper ragout, Greek yoghurt, chorizo sausage with sourdough toast.
It looked kind of on the small side when it arrived, but was actually incredibly rich. I’m glad I got the chorizo though, mostly because it’s my fave. The egg yolks were cooked all the way through though, which was a massive shame. The ragout was nice and punchy, and the bread soaked it all up nicely.
For some unknown reason (again, I blame the child slave labour homage outside), I ordered toast too. It came with tiny pots of homemade jam. The jam wasn’t actually that good – pretty flavourless – but the jars were cute. I shared the toast with Amy, as I felt totally sick by this point.
Amy and Andrew ordered jalapeno corn bread, fried eggs, black beans and guindilla pepper. I had a bite of Andrew’s, as I badly love corn bread. Again, the yolks were cooked through, which seems like a pretty easy thing they were getting wrong. There also wasn’t much of the dish, and not enough sauce, so it was kind of dry.
Andrew also ordered some kind of amazing museli thing, which was honey roasted. It was incredibly rich, but very yum. Not very healthy I don’t think though.
The service was good at Caravan though, after we got past the hostesses (who seemed to have mastered the art of flouncing past mass hoards of people vying for their attention). The atmosphere was really buzzy and it was great people watching. I would go again, but perhaps if I had the day off and could go when it’s less busy. Having said that, there are lots of amazing brunch places in London that means cafes and restaurants really need to work hard to gain my loyalty and I’m not sure Caravan was really on its game on Sunday.
Oh, the bill came to just under £50 for three, with three hot drinks.
I rarely look for things to do in London, because more often than not the best recommendations and the “Have you seen this amazing show/been to this great bars” come freely and often in general conversations with friends. Because I could never dare to even cover half of London, I have gathered a few friends in the field to give their spin on London.
Here one of my longest-serving and dearest friends, Jenny, gives us the low down on her London. I met Jenny in sixth form, when we were both studying Politics together. She always is going to new places and has great recommendations. I would say it is par for the course with her job, but she’s always been this way – a truly inspiring lady.
Job: Deputy Travel Editor at the Daily Mail
My Neighbourhood: Battersea
I live in London because… it is ever-changing, inspiring, full of creativity
London is at its best when… the sun shines
My ideal day off in London would be… running along the river from Battersea to Chiswick Bridge, nosing around Colombia Road Flower Market, lunch on my friend’s Bloomsbury roof terrace, cocktails in the Connaught and a long black cab ride home.
I absolutely love this little-known place called… Nancy Lam’s Thai restaurant, Enak Enak, on Lavender Hill
The best night I ever had in London was… my 30th birthday at Kensington Roof Gardens. It was November so the flamingos were in hibernation.
My favourite restaurant is…Poulet au Pot in Pimlico for a cosy atmosphere and the Caprice for a sparkly lunch at the bar.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… Liberty
August 27th was National Burger Day in the UK. This event was dreamt up by lifestyle newsletter Mr Hyde, Tweat Up and a range of premium burger vendors across the country. In London there was to be an event where all the best names in burgers would be flipping and selling their patty delights. It could have been just a cynical marketing ploy, but the evening was so brilliant that I don’t mind – I’m just glad they did it.
Tickets were a little over £11, and for that you got entrance, one pint of Meantime beer and two shots – a pickleback and a chilliback.
We decided on a shortlist before, based in part on the menu and part on good things I had heard about particular burgers.
My hit list: Bleecker Street, Disco Bistro, Honest Burgers and Mother Flipper. This seemed to be the same hit list as everyone else, so the queues were pretty lengthy.
First we hit up Bleecker Street for their cheeseburger triple. That’s three quarter pounders with cheese. It was enormous.
Luckily, everywhere was slicing their burgers in half so you could share with co-Burger Adventurers. Andrew and I split our Bleecker and then Andrew was asked to pose as a model…
When we eventually got to bite down on our Bleecker it was INCREDIBLE. So, so juicy and perfectly cooked with a pink middle. The cheese was unctuous and melted perfectly, but the absence of toppings really allowed the meat to be the star of the show. Who needs lots of gimmicks when you’re cooking amazing quality beef to such a high standard? It was the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. I cannot praise it highly enough.
We then went and got a Disco Burger from Disco Bistro. A Disco Burger is a rare breed beef patty, cheese, Carl’s special bun sauce and pineapple & bacon jam. Here it is in all its splendour…
Christ, this was so good too. Much smaller than the Bleecker, it was a different beast entirely. The patty was decent and juicy – a little more well done than my preference, but hey ho this isn’t a major gripe. The thing that really made you sit up and notice with this burger were the toppings. The cheese was all melted into the pineapple and bacon jam, which was sweet and sour in equal measure and insanely moorish. This was Andrew’s favourite burger, and came a close second for me after the Bleecker. I definitely want to go to Disco Bistro now and sample their fare further.
We then visited Pickleback Alley for our Pickleback shot. For the uninitiated this is a shot of whiskey with a pickle juice chaser. They were rank. I hate whiskey anyway, much to my brother’s chagrin. I felt like my throat had been striped afterwards. The only thing that would help was a burger.
Mother Flipper had a giant queue, so we got in line like the good little Brits we are. We placed our order and then waited for our burger. Mother Flipper were doing lots of exciting things, including a smaller burger with a maple and bacon cronut for a bun. We went for a Dirty Barbie, which is a double patty, American cheese, candy bacon, candy fried onions with tomato relish and barbecue sauce. It sounded incredible, and I’d heard such great things about Mother Flipper. I was sure this burger was going to be The One. When it arrived, it was slightly overcooked but the grill chef was under A LOT of pressure with a huge amount of people waiting for their burgers so I can forgive that. However, the toppings made the burger incredibly sloppy and they all sort of slid off! Burger nightmare. Once in my gob, I couldn’t taste the patty but the toppings were nice if a little too overpowering and unbalanced. The BBQ sauce was too strong for my taste. And I found the texture of very crisp, chewy bacon and slippery fried onions not totally a pleasant one and it didn’t really work. I am sure Mother Flippers are better than this and I am excited to try them again when it’s a less frenetic atmosphere.
Last burger of the night. We waddled over to Honest burgers and ordered an Honest +. This is a special creation for the night and contained a Ginger Pig beef & bone marrow patty topped with Red Leicester cheese, crispy pigs cheek, shallot & parsley salad, red onion relish & homemade pickles. Another big queue for this guy! However, there were comfy sofas to snuggle up on while we waited – and the people watching potential at the event was brilliant. Everyone was SO friendly and we got talking to a lot of people about what we had, what they were having next etc. Everyone seemed so passionate and excited about burgers. THESE ARE MY PEOPLE.
Anyway, Honest burger. This was a good burger. Really nice and meaty and the parsley salad actually made a lovely little refreshing break from the tidal wave of fried food. I was so full by this point I wasn’t able to give it my full admiration. Honest Burger were also serving crispy pig cheek scratchings, which had all sold out – they sounded so good though. Next time.
The evening was so brilliant and made me so happy that I live in London. It was great to see so many people so passionate about what they were doing. There’s nothing more soul destroying than eating generic food that’s made without care and love. Everyone at National Burger Day was on their A Game, and the customers were loving it. It was a beautiful evening, which helped too. I’m so happy that I went.
Oh yeah, the Chilliback? I ducked out. I sipped my chilli tequila before giving to Andrew and it was actually really lovely, but I am weak and couldn’t handle it. Andrew said that was delicious though. Maybe next time…
I’ve been looking for a flat to purchase recently. I’m not an absolute moron; I realise this makes me very lucky to be in a position to potentially own a property of my own, especially in London. So I guess this post is a little “my diamond shoes are too tight”, but whatever! I need to vent.
“It’s so exciting!” people beamed at me when I told them my boyfriend and I were looking to buy a place together. I have since found the exact opposite. It’s been a tedious, arduous journey, which has wasted a good year’s worth of Saturdays looking at depressing hovels in suspect areas of North London.
Without further ado, here are my top five (or should that be bottom five?) annoyances. Estate agents look away now!
1. Kirstie and Phil
For those not in the UK, Kirstie and Phil present a long-running British TV show called Location, Location, Location, where they find house hunters their dream home for under their budget over the course of three days. Not only do they find this gem for the house hunters, they also normally get an offer accepted under the asking price without a hitch. I now laugh a hollow laugh in the face of this.
Phil and Kirstie (aka Kirstie and Phil) have given me – and I can’t think I am alone in this, guys – unrealistic expectations of what house hunting was going to be like. They don’t deal with pushy, sleazy estate agents on the the TV show. They don’t show them rushing about between appointments on a Saturday on London’s public transport. They don’t show the awkwardness of staring down other potential buyers at open days. THAT is house hunting in London, not skipping about tree lined streets in Crouch End weighing up options in a gastro pub over a chilled glass of Sauv Blanc. There is no time to weigh up options – someone else is going to steal your dream flat, so you have to go, go, go!
That’s before I’ve even got to the prices. London house prices are high, but as we’ve only been looking in London we kind of have grudgingly become accustomed to the fact you wouldn’t get a garage for quarter of a mill. When I watch L, L, L, lovely couples are scoring three-bed properties with gardens for £150K. OK, it’s not in London but it’s still a bit gut wrenching and makes me want to break something. But I still watch the show, of course – who doesn’t love P & K? They’re just so delightful.
2. Open Houses
In our area of London there’s probably one reasonably-priced flat that comes on the market per week. Or so it seems. Estate agents are inherently lazy – I learned this early on – and so they pack in as many viewings in on a Saturday morning as possible. “You must be there at 11.15,” they say, claiming they have another viewing at 11.25. You arrive and there’s 10 other couples awkwardly shimmying past one another in a flat the size of a postage stamp, while the more pushy viewers (me!) vie for the agent’s attention to ask about ground rent and other tedious money-wasters.
They will then tell you as you leave “Offer in on Monday”. Meaning most people who have viewed the flat will put in an offer and it’ll turn into a bidding war. All this while the agent kicks back, having only had to stand in a tiny flat for a few hours one Saturday mentally counting his commission*.
3. Estate Agents – especially a well-known agent rhyming with Moxtons.
Estate Agents have been the bane of my life since we’ve been looking. They send me properties that are £100K over our budget, they call and leave 20 voicemails during office hours then go for lunch for two hours when I’m actually free, they tell me my dreams are futile and I should settle for living in a bog.
The absolutely worst agent, who have consistently come up trumps in the “I’m the world’s biggest twonk” competition all estate agents seem to be competing in, is Foxtons. Here are some classic conversations I’ve had with them:
Me: I’m looking for a one bed for £[budget]
Foxtons Twonk: Yeah, can you increase that by £100K?
Me: Um, not really?
Foxtons Twonk: Just that that amount tends to be what most people get for a bonus and so they’re just spending their bonuses on properties buying in cash.
Me: [Hangs up]
Foxtons Twonk: I’ve got this GREAT property to show you! Can you come see it RIGHT NOW?
Me: Great, can you send over the details?
Foxtons Twonk: Well why don’t you just come see it without the details?
Me: Because I don’t want to waste my time if it’s not suitable. Can you send them over, please?
Foxtons Twonk: Well we have a policy of never sending out details. We find it tends to confuse people. We’d really rather just show properties without them seeing the details first. So shall I meet you there at 1pm?
Me: No. I’m not going without seeing the details.
[Cue circular conversation until we’re both worn out and give up]
Having said that, our current agent is a brilliant gem.
4. Getting to Viewings
I live in London and don’t own a car. I also work, so can only really see properties on a Saturday. This tends to mean that over the past eight months, Andrew and I have spent our Saturdays careering around London, looking at depressing holes and battling public transport in between each viewing.
I now know North London’s bus routes surprisingly well and can tell you the fastest route on foot between the Emirates Stadium and Stokey. The late buses, the suspended overground services, the buses on divert (who knows where you might end up, but chances are it’ll be 3 miles from where you wanted to be). It’s horrendous.
I envy those people who chuck money away owning a car in London, as it’s been the one time it would’ve actually been useful.
5. Everyone Else
House hunting has turned me into an intolerant ball of anger, which I hate – so perhaps it’d be more accurate to say number five is myself, but that seems a little emo. Anyway…
– There are the other a eleventy billion people who are househunting. Hate them. They keep buying the flats I want.
– There are home owners. Hate them. How do they own a flat and not me? How did they do it, those evil house buying wizards?
– People from out of town. Hate them. Don’t need to know how much my budget would get me in Scarborough. I don’t want to live in Scarborough.
– People who say “oh it’s so exciting”. See top of article, read to end for reasons why.
At the end of it all, there’s a delightful house-buying process to go through, which I am currently enduring. More on that another time…
*There might be more to estate agency than this. I’m not convinced, but there might be.