I judge people who eat their steaks well done. Even medium actually. For me a steak should be served medium rare at the most, and nice and pink in the middle. Let’s not be squeamish sissies about this, a cow has given its life so you can eat it, so get the job done properly.
Sometimes – OK, all of the time – it’s good to test your preconceptions to see if they’re true. What I’ve discovered over the years that basically all of my preconceptions are unfounded: honey on baked beans is delicious (don’t mock ’til you try it); wedding dress shopping can be fun; and not all whiskey tastes like soil mixed with petrol.
I had another preconception tested this week in the shape of dinner at Southern Joe’s Kitchen in Kentish Town.
I’ve always longed to belong somewhere, but it’s never happened. I don’t mean having friends and family – I have those, I’m not a freak. But I’ve never really had that feeling that you can walk in somewhere – a bar or restaurant – and the staff will wave to you and know what you want. In my fictionalised version of my own Central Perk, friends (I have friends, remember? I protest too much, right?) will come along and stay. We’ll laugh, we’ll chat. We’ll stay all day and drink cocktails.
One of the perks of food blogging in London is meeting lots of lovely new people. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some wonderful bloggers and PRs since I started The Z Factor. And the other night a few of us got together to sample the delights of 64 Degrees in Pimlico.
I’ve spoken a little bit on my blog about my experiences of flatsharing in London. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I met some of the best people ever and well, not some of the worst per se but definitely some of the messiest. Now I live with just Andrew I often think back to flatsharing and wonder how I did it for so long (four years in a house of eight people!). All the passive-aggressive (or sometimes just plain aggressive) emails and notes, the sticky floors after parties, people smoking in the house, every single god-damn piece of crockery being chipped. Argh! But it was fun a lot of the time too.
This week heralds a very important time in the British foodie diary: National Chip Week. Us Brits love chips, right? Fish and chips is a national dish, chip butties invoke memories of childhoods, order a sharing bowl of chips in the pub and it’ll wolfed down by your friends before you can say, “Greedy rats!” To celebrate, Andrew & I decided to head to a lovely fish and chip shop in Stoke Newington.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes when you push yourself to go out of your comfort zone you’re rewarded with new discoveries, a broader horizon and, if you’re lucky, even a boosted confidence. My comfort zone is most definitely North London. I’m talking a comfort zone within London here. Obviously I am happy to travel out of North London to leave London, but when I’m in London my heart is always north. It is my home and I love pretty much everything about it, with the exception of Morrisons on Holloway Road, which is the third circle of Hell.
But last night I ventured to South London. I was on a promise. A promise of burgers and hardshakes at Honky Tonk. Honky Tonk is one of those seemingly ubiquitous places that are attempting to be a slice of Americana in London. Burgers, wings, pulled pork. And bourbon. Always with the bourbon. Honky Tonk have one branch in Chelsea and another in Clapham. Due to all of this, my hackles were raised from the offset.
I went with Andrew and our friends, Martin and Laura. Martin is big fan of burgers. BIG (ironic really, because he’s a really tiny person). He complained that my blog hadn’t featured burgers in a while. Seemed only fair he came along for this one.
We arrived and were seated quickly. It was pretty quiet, but the joint started to fill quickly after 8pm. Weird really, because Honky Tonk’s happy hour ends at 8pm. Whatevs.
The restaurant is kind of a hybrid of anything the interior designer thought was “trendy”. Exposed brickwork, mirrors with quotes written on them lining the stairway (to the grim loos), a wardrobe in the corner that claims to lead to Narnia. I didn’t get involved in that hijinx. Overall the decor was at best tedious and at worst anger inducing (in my opinion, because I hate that stuff).
The boys and I decided to have hardshakes, while Laura sensibly went for an OJ. Then we waited 20 minutes for them to arrive. Did I mention the restaurant was pretty empty? Yeah, I did, didn’t I? The shakes came served in large milk bottles, with the shot of liquor on the side in one of those jam jars your get marmalade in at hotel breakfasts. All highly whimsical. What absolute larks.
The milkshakes were actually pretty good. I started to relax. I even said to the others that, “I thought I was going to hate this place, but I actually quite like it”. See, I open-minded and willing to cast my net wide (to Clapham, burgers are obviously in my proverbial net).
Martin and I ordered starters because we’re massive pig-rats. I had buffalo wings with peri peri marinade and blue cheese sauce, Martin had crab cakes. My buffalo wings were fine, but they weren’t the best I’ve ever had (MEATLiquor, people). The portion wasn’t exactly generous. How very un-American of them. Martin said his crab cakes were good. I didn’t try them because they were tiny and there were only two.
Then we waited for another 30 mins or so for our main course to come. Oh but don’t worry, they left those empty, finished plates in front of us for about 15 of those minutes. In for a penny in for a pound with the lacklustre service.
The food did come. Andrew had gone for some greedy heart attack in a metal tray, which was meant for two people (two pieces of their famous ‘Not’ fried chicken, half a rack of pork ribs smothered with either our BBQ or bourbon sauce, a generous helping of pulled pork and buffalo chicken wings coated in a choice of sauce – buffalo, BBQ or peri peri, served with rosemary fries). This is a blurry shot taken by my fiancé:
I had a Honky Tonk burger (cheese, bacon, caramelised onion, guacamole, salsa, gem lettuce, tomato and their “very own and very delicious” burger sauce), Martin had a Fire in the Hole burger (topped with red jalapenos, baby gem lettuce, tomato, chilli cheese & honky hot sauce) and Laura had a Halloumi burger.
My burger was OK. The brioche bun was good, but the burger sauce was, I think, wholegrain mustard mixed with mayonaise (this is distinctly not burger sauce as I know it), and the patty was overcooked and very dry). The chips were magnificent.
Martin’s burger was also overcooked and apparently not that hot. Blah. Andrew’s tray was actually just two of each item and a pretty small bowl of pulled pork, but SHEDLOADS of chips. As he pointed out, if he was sharing he’d be pretty annoyed. Laura said her burger was good.
Now we waited about 30 minutes for our plates to be cleared. The wait staff did clear them in their own sweet time, but they left mine and walked off to talk to someone behind the bar. Eventually I had to go over and ask them to take my plate and to bring us the bill.
The bill came. It was significantly incorrect to make us irritated. In the end, our meal cost £120. This is pretty bloody steep, I think. Especially when everything about the meal was pretty lazily done.
Sadly this adventure did nothing that made me change my mind about North London being distinctly better than South. I wouldn’t even go to Honky again if it was next door to my house, though.
Honky Tonk, 16a Clapham Common South Side, London SW4 7AB
Nearest tube: Clapham Common (1 min walk)
I was invited to review Honky Tonk. Yes, you read that right.
When I first heard about Mission, a new restaurant in Bethnal Green, I knew it was going to be a good ‘un. Owned by the husband and wife team behind Sager & Wilde and the head chef, James De Jong, joined from one of my favourite Islington pubs, The Drapers Arms (where Andrew and I had our engagement party, factfans) it had all the trappings of a first-class establishment.
So I was pretty happy to score a soft opening reservation, and last week we popped along with our newly married friends, Simon and George.
The restaurant is a stone’s throw from Bethnal Green tube station, under the railway arches on Paradise Row. The restaurant occupies one of these arches, but it’s like the Tardis inside and feels nothing like a railway arch, overhead train rumblings aside.
There’s a lovely wooden bar in the middle of the restaurant, with bistro-style wooden chairs and tables surrounding it. The brickworks is exposed overhead, but wood panelling on the walls makes it more romantic (and less echo-y). The whole of the arch is glass fronted and although we went on an autumnal evening, I am sure in summer with the glass wall retracted it’d be spectacular (there is an al fresco dining area out front for such occasions, too).
Right, on to the food.
I kickstarted my meal with ‘Nduja arancini (that’s deep-fried risotto rice balls, incase you’ve never heard of them. I had because I am cultured and I also like deep-fried carbs. Mmm.)
My phone wigged out at this point and put lines all over my photos, so I will spare you my photography, bar this one of the fried carbs:
Don’t get shit like this on The Londoner, do you?
Anyway, the arancini were good – nice and crisp on the outside and gooey inside. The ‘nduja added a spicy kick.
Andrew went for the crispy pig’s head, which I don’t have a photo of. However, it was insanely good. They were little squares of pork confit, deep fried. They were so meaty and good. Vegetarian Simon and George didn’t even judge us for eating a pig’s head.
The veggies went for…
Datterini tomatoes, mozzarella and samphire. It looked insanely good. The cheese was all gooey and fresh. Simon and George said it was great.
They also had courgettes, ricotta and mint.
I am a bit confused by this, as there are definitely artichokes in this dish. Anyway, they said this wasn’t as good. Probably because artichokes are RANK.
For main course Andrew and I decided to share the lamb chops. We’re both MASSIVE lamb fans (I originally typed friends there, which, yes, we are also friends of lambs). Looking at this photo makes me weep with lust. BEHOLD:
So much lamb. Phwoar. Here’s another photo too. Andrew took this one:
It’s a less good image, isn’t it? Sorry, Pea.
Anyway, they were perfectly cooked and came with this yummy herby, garlicky garnish. I dream about these lamb chops in my darker moments.
Simon and George went for Aubergine Parmigina. Here’s a photo:
I think it was nice, but to be honest I was too busy crying with happiness over my lamb to really take in how much Simon and George liked their main course. I am a bad friend, sorry guys.
I was so full by this point. So much meat. So good. Zoe happy. But then Andrew went and ordered a dulce de leche cheesecake and I had a bit (or three).
Look at all that delicious honeycomb. YUM! It was such an amazing cheesecake. On par with the best I’ve ever had. Sweet yet sour, and very very rich. WELL DONE, Mission.
The service at Mission was great. I basically can’t fault this place. The menu I guess is on the pricer side, so I feel quite lucky we got to try it during the soft launch offer. I can’t rave about this place highly enough.
Mission, 250 Paradise Row, Bethnal Green E2 9LE
Nearest tube: Bethnal Green (2 min walk)
I sometimes get cravings for waffles. Not the Bird’s Eye potato ones (although they are waffle-y versatile), but the sweet, terribly unhealthy kind. But do you know what? Not a lot of places in London serve waffles. There are more places serving American pancakes than you can shake a stick at, but there’s a waffle drought in our city.
So, when I saw Q Grill‘s revamped brunch menu had waffles on it, I knew I had to pay them a little visit. I’d been meaning to go to Q for ages anyway. So this weekend Andrew and I trotted off to Camden, weaving our way against the flow of Gooners and Man City fans that were flocking towards N5 – seemingly to our flat!
We arrived at Q and it was empty, save for another couple. The venue is pretty huge, with one side flanked by an impressive bar and the back wall is home to an open kitchen. We took one of their comfy, massive circular booths, which was probably too large for just two of us (it could’ve easily sat six) but we enjoyed it.
There was a small table laid out with fresh pastries, muffins, breads, cured meats and yoghurt, fruits and granola so you can help yourself to a Continental-style breakfast if you want. Our waitress explained we should just go up and dig in. I was on the hangry* side of my mood spectrum, so I helped myself to a slice of focaccia and some cured meats (and, err, a pain au chocolate. Don’t judge me, you massive judger).
The focaccia was great. I love me some herby, salty bread. The cured meats was actually just Parma ham, but I was onboard with that – Parma ham is my number one favourite in the world of cured meats. My pain au chocolate was HUGE. But it was also cold, which seems so sad. I feel pastries are best enjoyed warm, but maybe that’s just me? (Deep down I think it can’t just be me.)
It was around this point that the waitress came over and asked what I was doing. “Err, I’m having some of the Continental stuff?” I answered. “But are you having something from the menu too? Are you having two Continentals or one?” I was massively unhelpful here I think and said I wasn’t sure, but could we just see how we got on with what we were eating. She kind of seemed annoyed/confused but let it go. Andrew was actually too scared to go up and help himself after this, but I think this is more a reflection on how easily Andrew is intimidated that anything else.
Guess what? We did end up ordering from the menu. Our waitress was pretty pissed off. But I came for waffles, remember? And I’m a nightmare customer, right? Right!
We got a smoothie each (me: banana, strawberry and pineapple; him: kale, avocado and apple). They were both nice but really really sweet. They came in those jam jar with handles thingies, so big hipster points there.
I ordered waffles and Andrew ordered Q baked beans on toast with a fried hen’s egg on top.
My waffles arrived with a generous serving of bacon and maple syrup. They were good, but also slightly lacklustre. I mean it was what it said it was, but it was missing something to elevate it from standard to interesting. It could’ve done with some caramelised bananas or something. A dusting of cinnamon and icing sugar? I realise this makes me sound greedy, but that’s really not it. I’m just trying to be constructive here.
Andrew said his beans were, “OK. They’re baked beans and eggs, aren’t they?” I didn’t have any of his because I loathe fried eggs. Sorry. (Also, as an aside – obvz, we’re in brackets here – aren’t most eggs “hen’s eggs”? Is that worth stating on the menu?)
I did enjoy Q. The restaurant is really nice. The staff (except the one who acted like a spurned lover) were all delightful. The decor is interesting and comfy. But I think the fact it was empty made me feel sad. But at least I sated my waffle lust for a bit. And hopefully as word spreads people will fill the place up. They also have a mix your own Bloody Mary bar. I mean that sounds fun, right?
I will however be going back to Q to try their barbecue food. Their regular non-brunch food sounded delicious!
Q-Grill, 29-33 Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AJ
Nearest tube: Chalk Farm (5 min walk)
* hangry, adj.
The state of being so hungry you feel irritated by everything and become completely unreasonable.
Example of a sentence using ‘hangry’
By lunchtime I was so hangry I almost screamed at my colleague for humming the theme tune to Black Beauty over and over.
I was invited to review Q-Grill and as such received a complimentary meal. However, this by no means guarantees a favourable review.
Some images © Andrew Phillimore. Do not reproduce without explicit permission.
Lunchtime is like running the gauntlet at the moment. I work just off Thayer Street in Marylebone, and the street is lined with interesting places to eat. They make having a sad Covent Garden Soup feel like a personal failure. So err, sometimes I fall off the wagon and have a burger.
Having exhausted the menu at Patty & Bun down the road, I went for Tommi’s. They’re pretty no-frills, which is standard in London’s now ubiquitous line of burger restaurants. I was getting take out so I went up to the desk to order.
I went for a cheeseburger and fries. I also got some cocktail sauce, which turned out to be a regrettable decision. I waited for a bit – 10 mins? – and then my burger arrived in a bag. You then have to go up to the counter and help yourself to pickles. This annoyed me because I am a massively petty person. Pickles shouldn’t have to be added to a burger – they’re either in there (good) or not (bad). I don’t want to have to add them myself. Christ. This is 2014.
I took my brown bag back to work and probably stank the office out with fast food smell. Sorry guys. You’re nice and you deserve better.
Here’s what the burger looked like:
Here’s the bite through shot:
It’s blurred. GO ME!
Anyway, as you can see I added load of pickles. There was also lettuce, tomato and raw red onion in there. The patty was cooked medium (good) but was pretty gosh darn dry (bad). And also a bit chewy (oh so bad). The bun was sweet and basically guys it tasted like a McDonalds burger. Which is great if you like McDonalds. I’m not fundamentally opposed to them myself, especially not while drunk and roaming the Holloway Road at 1am, but meh – the best part of £10 for a knock-off McDonalds? That I am opposed to.
P.S. The cocktail sauce tasted of nothing. It was like eating warm, clammy nothing. I love me my condiments, but this one was in desperate need of some flavour.
Tommi’s Burger Joint, 30 Thayer St, Marylebone, London W1U 2QP
Nearest tube: Bond Street (6 min walk)
So the morning after we got engaged (yeah, yeah, still going on about it) Andrew and I woke up and had champagne on our epic balcony!
Then he had bought some smart clothes for me to wear the next day and said we’re going somewhere nice for brunch. We strolled through the sunny Sunday Soho streets and jumped on a tube to Baker Street.
Andrew led the way (quelling rumours he has no sense of direction in the process) until we ended up on Chiltern Street (he took me a winding way to throw me off). I looked at him in surprise. Had he booked Chiltern Firehouse? How would he even know about the Chiltern Firehouse (although he is addicted to the Mail’s sidebar of shame).
As we were whisked into the courtyard of the restaurant by a man in an excellent hat it seemed, yes, Andrew had been doing his research. We had a table for brunch.
We were seated on some lovely 1920s-style banquettes and the windows of the dining room were wide open as it was a lovely sunny day. The service was really, really slow, but we were happy to take our time and chat about being engaged…
We ordered champagne cocktails to start. I got a strawberry and hibiscus number while Andrew went for an apricot and peach one. Mine was definitely better.
We also ordered some freshly made cornbread with smoked salmon crème fraîche, which took its sweet time arrive, but was incredibly good. Such a savoury, fishy and sharp flavour. I could eat those bad boys all day.
I then went for potato and herb hotcakes with smoked salmon and poached eggs. This was really good. The waitress tried her best to convince me to have toast with it, but I’m glad I didn’t as we totally didn’t need it.
Andrew went for lobster scrambled eggs, which were ridiculously good. So rich and full of shellfish flavour.
Ahem. Then we got some buttermilk pancakes to share. That came with fresh blueberries and blueberry compote, which were great (I love pancakes) but I’m glad I got something a bit different as my main choice as pancakes are pancakes are pancakes.
I have no idea how much the food cost (thanks Pea!) but I imagine it was pretty spendy. But the atmosphere was so lovely and it was such a special meal. Great people watching, slow service but a lot of fun.
Chiltern Firehouse, 1 Chiltern St, Marylebone, London W1U 7PA
Nearest tube: Baker Street (10-min walk)
Straight after getting engaged, Andrew whisked me off to eat at Beast. Beast is the new-ish venture by the team behind Burger & Lobster. The restaurant has a set menu with two main dishes: crab and steak. But boy what crab and steak they are…
We arrived and were zipped down to the subterranean banqueting hall and were met with a huge wall of cow carcasses and live crab tanks housing huge Norwegian king crabs.
At the bar we were served a complimentary glass of champagne (wish I could get engaged every day!) and there were HUGE wheels of parmesan to help ourselves to. Love a salty snack with my pre-dinner fizz!
We were seated on huge banqueting tables, which were romantically lit with soft candle light and were brought our starters. As I said, there’s a set menu at Beast with no options. We were presented with a quarter-wheel of parmesan, some pickled onions, marinated olives and artichokes – all absolutely delicious and fun to share! The emphasis is definitely on sharing your meal at Beast, which is fun as long as you know your fellow diners well and you’re not Joey from Friends.
We then ordered more champagne and one glass of red and one white from the very helpful sommelier. They arrived together along with the steak…
This was prime Nebraskan ribeye on the bone, and it was absolutely delicious: meaty, perfectly seasoned, full of flavour and tender. It came with sides of heritage tomatoes, green salad, baked apples, candied beetroot. It was all to share and was more than enough for two…
Just as we were about a third of our way through the steak our crab arrived:
I absolutely love crab, and this was the best crab I’d ever had. It was soft, sweet and plentiful. The crab had been properly dismantled so it didn’t cause too many problems, and we were provided with all the normal medieval tools to get in. This was served with a delicious lemon butter sauce and further sides of asparagus and um, some other bits and bobs. I’ve forgotten! Whoops!
Luckily we were decked out in cotton bibs (not the plastic fellas from B&L) and had finger bowls in abundance. There are also sinks along the sides of the room incase you need to properly hose yourself down after battling a crab the size of your head (no exaggeration). Look, we’re not here to judge.
The final course was a light and refreshing lemon mousse, which was the perfect palate cleanser after some extremely rich food.
Beast is very spendy – I am lucky in that the bill was taken care of as part of project proposal – the set menu is £75 per person and wine on top isn’t cheap I believe from other diners. However, it was such a special night: the service was incredible, the atmosphere was the perfect mix of fun and romantic and the food was perfect.
Beast, 3 Chapel Pl, Marylebone, London W1G 0BG
Nearest tube: Bond Street (5 min walk), Oxford Street (5 min walk)
For me, if I like someone I mock them. It’s perhaps not a great trait, but growing up with two older brothers has meant that it’s the way I communicate my friendship. If I feel comfortable around someone and like them, I will tease them and joke around with them.
When I first met Rupert he was wearing heavy-framed glasses, which were without lenses. Like a red rag to a bull (I’m the bull in this scenario), right away I started mocking him, and there started our friendship of me cruelly taunting him and him being generous enough to laugh along (and maybe cry himself to sleep at night). As a firm part of my north London circle, no pub visit is complete without Rupert blustering in an hour late, shouting “Darling! How are you?” while wearing some chunky knitwear.
Here Rupert, ever-tolerant and entertaining, talks football pubs, his karaoke track of choice and trying to illegally board a train bound for Paris…
Name: Rupert Cross
My ideal day off in London would be… a Saturday. I dream of this perfect day of waking up not too hungover, opening the windows to sunshine before writing music throughout the morning. Content with a hard day’s work by midday, I head to lunch at the Swimmer at The Grafton Arms pub in Holloway, where Laila and Jon [the staff] greet me and my friends like the opening from Cheers. Sitting outside drinking pints of Brugse Zot, my friends and I discuss where to watch the afternoon’s football – a debate utterly irrelevant as The Tollington Arms on Hornsey Road is excellent and we’ll be going here. As this is a fantasy day, we watch Manchester United not lose horribly and all my Arsenal supporting friends break down in tears, admitting they have been closet Reds all along.
I absolutely love this little-known place… called Shoreditch. I think it’ll catch on.
The best night I’ve ever had in London was… one that ended at 8am at St Pancras International pleading with the ticket office to let us on a train to Paris without our passports. At the time I imagined it looking more Withnail and I than Fear and Loathing. Now I’m not too sure.
One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is… the best espresso martini is made at The Hoxley & Porter in Upper Street.
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… when bus drivers don’t wave to each other when they pass one another. There is no excuse for this.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Patty & Bun, 22/23 Liverpool Street, London EC2M 7PD
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:
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…
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:
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…
On the Bab, 305 Old Street, EC1V 9LA
Nearest tube: Old Street (5min walk)
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…
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…
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
19 Villiers Street, WC2N 6NE
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross (1min walk)
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
Banh Mi 11, 101 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3JD
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Honest Burger, Unit 34A, 54-56 Camden Lock Pl, NW1 8AF (There are branches throughout London – see the website for more details)
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.
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.
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.
Brique de brochet aux ecrevisses, etuvée de fenouil aux algues (shelled fresh crayfish on pike mousse with crayfish bisque, steamed fennel and seaweed).
And a scallop carpaccio with a rocket salad, grilled hazelnuts, beetroot petals and a parmesan marshmallow.
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.
We also had…
Pan-roasted hen pheasant breast, onion and Port wine simmered leg with girolle mushrooms:
And roast fillet of wild boar, a gingerbread crust, baked pear and celery mousseline with a grand veneur sauce:
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.
182 Gray’s Inn Road, WC1X 8EW
Nearest Tube: Russell Square (15min walk), Holborn (15min walk)
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.
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.
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!)
Unit 2, 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Rd EC1Y 1HQ
Nearest Tube: Old Street (30 second walk)
So 2014 has got off to a great start (ignoring the fact our roof has a leak and my train has been late every day this week). I’m not drinking in January, and people are actually sponsoring me to do this. And there’s lots to look forward to in 2014, including lots of lovely, new restaurants opening in London for me, you and the rest of London to try out.
I thought I’d compile a list of the five places I am most looking forward to visiting (in no particular order of preference) in early 2014…
Q Grill will be offering a London slant on the now-ubiquitous-in-the-London-scene American barbecue restaurant. From the team behind Islington’s Fish and Chip Shop, Q Grill will see chef Phil Eagle from Hix fame serving up a range of “raw, charred and smoked favourites” including moonshine-battered shrimp, queen scallop ceviche and pecan wood-roasted chicken. There will also be a strong line in cocktails, with American spirits playing front and centre roles. With a 150-cover capacity, Q Grill is going to be a big player in 2014. Opens January 25th, 33 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AJ
The Big Easy “Bar.B.Q and Crabshack” already has an outpost on the King’s Road, but February 2014 will see them opening a second branch in the heart of Covent Garden. Similarly to the aforementioned Q Grill, The Big Easy will be serving up a range of American-style barbecue dishes. Their signature dishes in Chelsea include canadian lobster; fresh crab and shrimp; a classic chophouse burger; and surf and turf. With a huge following out west, The Big Easy is sure to be a huge hit in central London too. If you sign up on their website (link above) then you can receive more info and get an invite to their 50 per cent off soft launch. Opens February 2014, 12 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, WC2E 7NA
Slightly more than “just” a restaurant, Brooklyn Bowl, the acclaimed NYC nightlife destination hailed by Rolling Stone as “one of the most incredible places on earth,” is opening its first branch this side of the pond. The venue will be in The O2 (stay with me on this, guys!) and will be a medium-sized concert venue with 12 lanes of bowling (some of which you can hire in a private area, if you hunger for more clandestine bowling…). Food will come from the Bromberg Bros. team and will include oyster po’ bos, cajun catfish, egg shooters and fried chicken. Beerheads will be kept happy with beers from the local Meantime Brewing Company. Opens January 16th, O2 Arena, Peninsula Square, SE10 0DX.
Enough American-style cuisine! All things Nordic are set to be a big blimmin’ deal for 2014, so this opening in the old Hackney Central train station is coming just at the right time. Oslo will be an all-day eatery that turns into a live music venue in the evening, with a late license ’til 3am. Alright then! Food-wise, head chef Dave Ahern will be fronting a menu that takes on strong Nordic influences. Expect pickling, smoking, curing… and I hope some kind of mushroom sauces, lingonberry… meatballs? Come on Dave, be a pal. As a massive fan of Scandinavian culture, I am very excited about this opening. Oslo opens on January 17th, 1a Amhurst Road, Hackney, E8 1LL.
Fresh off the back of various successful 2013 openings, including Ape & Bird, the Polpo team are opening – or should that be re-opening – Polpetto on Berwick Street, Soho. Having been hugely over-subscribed for when it was first open, the new venue will seat many more people craving it’s Italian food. The same head chef, Florence Knight, from its previous incarnation, is on board at new Polpetto so expect much more of the same: delicious Italian sharing-y food, but with the added bonus of actually being able to score a reservation. Opens January 2014, 11 Berwick Street, W1F 0PL.
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.
The bruschetta was totally delicious – sweet and light and creamy. I totally love a fig and cheese combo anyway, but this was simply dreamy.
“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.
Who doesn’t love cured ham? Crazy folk. This was wafer thin and salty-ly good.
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:
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.
56 Shoreditch High St, London, E1 6JJ
Nearest Tube: Old Street (10 min walk) – Shoreditch High St overground is right next door, though.
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
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!”
However, we always go out of duty. It’s now a horrible Christmas tradition, but I kind of love it.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jackson & Rye, 56 Wardour Street, W1D 4JD
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Square (5 min walk)
Jackson & Rye opens fully on December 11th.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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’.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Andrew asked for an affagato, which wasn’t actually on the menu, but they knocked it up for him.
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!
The Smokehouse, 63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG
Nearest Tube: Highbury & Islington (10 min walk). The 271 goes right past it though!
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.
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.
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.
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)…
Joe Allen, 13 Exeter Street, WC2E 7DT
Nearest Tube: Covent Garden (7 min walk), Charing Cross (7 min walk)
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
Flesh & Buns, 41 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LX
Nearest tube: Covent Garden (5 min walk), Leicester Square (8 min walk)
On our trip to LA we visited Umami Burger at The Grove (a shopping centre in LA). So far, so uninspiring, right?
But Umami are the best burgers I’ve maybe had in America. Ever. OK, tied with In-N-Out. But they’re amazing.
Umami Burger is a gastro burger chain in California, although they have a branch in New York and Florida too. Anyway, it’s basically about packing a burger full of as much rich, savoury flavour as possible. And they take it very seriously. Consequently Umami is always super-busy. The word has spread and the people, they have arrived.
Here’s what the menu looks like (the menu various slightly from venue to venue):
We went for truffle fries, fried pickles and sweet potato fries to share. We also got some aoli dipping sauce.
Burgers-wise, I went for a Royale, which is a beef patty topped with braised short rib, roasted garlic aioli and Umami’s truffle cheese. Here it is:
Andrew went for a Grove Truffle Burger, which sounded insane: beef patty, parmesan fondue topped off with The Grove special truffle sauce. Cray. Here is it:
Everything was incredibly fresh, savoury and addictive. I’d say moorish, but addictive is more accurate.
A side note: they also service Mexican coke(-a-cola) there, which is apparently coke without all the fake stuff in. SUPER sugary.
You can find Umami Burger venues by clicking here.
Nearest tube: hahahaha.
Images © Andrew Phillimore
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.
2. Petek, Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park
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.
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.
Caravan, 1 Granary Square (off Goods Way), London, N1C 4AA
Nearest tube: Kings Cross/St Pancras (5 min walk)
Burger & Lobster is the Ronseal of restaurants: it does exactly what it says on the tin. They serve burgers or they serve lobster. Those are your two choices. In theory, anyway. Both items are priced the same, £20 (again, in theory). It does raise the question of who would order a £20 burger when you can get a £20 lobster, but let’s proceed with this review, shall we?
We – and by “we” I mean Andrew and I – went with two awesome pals we met at a fitness bootcamp in Highbury Fields. Having falling off the bootcamp wagon and into our bootcamp instructor’s bad graces, we decided to go the whole hog and eat loads of food together. In for a penny, in for a pound. We went one rainy Saturday night, and put our names down – there was an hour wait I seem to remember, so we went for a swift drink in the Crown and Two Chairmen up the road (a Soho fave of mine, I know not why), but were called much more quickly than an hour to say our table was ready.
We sat down and ordered cocktails and beer, and got down to the serious business of choosing a crustacean to eat. The menu goes that you can get a lobster roll with chips and salad for £20, a burger with chips and salad for £20 or a lobster with chips and salad for £20. I know I already covered this, but there are further options. You can get a larger lobster to share for more money, which comes with unlimited fries (greedy!) and salad (meh, who cares?!). We went for a massive lobster to share between the four of us, with unlimited fries. On the advice of our waiter, we got it grilled instead of boiled and we all opted for the lemon and garlic butter sauce.
Our monster lobster arrived. Yikes! We donned our complimentary and very flattering plastic bibs and went to work. It was DELICIOUS. The lobster was sweet and soft, tasting ever so slightly of the sea. The butter sauce made the dish stand up to attention, and the fries were, well, they’re fries but they were good.
The tasty cocktails kept coming, and the atmosphere was lovely – relaxed yet buzzing. The waiters were pretty busy, as the place was packed to the rafters, and it is a large restaurant, but they were attentive.
The meal was slightly on the pricey side – I think about £140 for four with drinks maybe. Could be wrong, it was a while ago. BUT we did all eat A LOT of lobster, and it was such a fun night out. It was a really sociable, laid-back evening, and those are some of my favourite evenings.
Burger & Lobster, 36 Dean Street, London, W1D 4PS
Burger & Lobster also have branches in Mayfair, Faringdon and the City (near Bank)
Nearest tube: Leicester Square (7 min walk), Tottenham Court Road (9 min walk)
First up, apologies for my absence. I know you’ve all been lamenting about it. But it was birthday. I turned 30, guys. I also went on holiday and had weddings to go to. So there we go. Now for the main point of business…
I have read really, really good things about Patty & Bun, so decided to check it out with a few of my wonderful friends. We gamely queued up, put our names down and continued to queue. We did queue for an hour, which is a bit galling, but I was with great friends and the time passed quickly as we caught up. Other ingenious people in the queue were going to offies and buying beers. It was also a warm summer’s evening. If it was pouring with rain I probably would have been less full of humour about it. Actually, I wouldn’t have queued.
Anyway, once we were in, we were seated by a lovely waitress who was sweet and attentive throughout our meal. We ordered beers, burgers, chips and coleslaw all round. Actually, I had a wine, which was served in a tumbler. Details, details!
Here’s a glimpse at the menu…
I went for an Ari Gold (a cheeseburger by any other name would taste as sweet…), as did most people. A few cheeky chappies in our group went for Smokey Robinsons.
The food arrived…
My burger was brilliantly juicy and very meaty. The pickled onions cut through the grease and added a really interesting flavour. The cheese I couldn’t taste so much, but it was a wonderful burger none-the-less. A world away from the terrible grey, unseasoned thing I had at Shake Shack.
The fries were nicely seasoned, and the colesaw fresh and zingy. Our super-waitress brought us a huge array of condiments, which is always a good sign I feel in a burger joint.
My friend couldn’t finish her burger, so her loving, doting husband merrily hoovered up her Smokey Robinson after eating his Ari Gold. He proclaimed that the Smokey was better. And he’s a doctor, so don’t argue with him.
I was pleasantly impressed by Patty & Bun. It’s a great alternative to MEATLiquor, and I much preferred the laid-back vibe there to the slightly manic atmosphere in MEATLiquor. The only bummer was no chilli cheese fries.
Patty & Bun, 54 James St, London W1U 1E
Nearest tube: Bond Street (7 min walk)
I have to make a confession – I have turned into everything I thought I was not. I, Zoe, went and queued on the opening day for something. I have never done it before (and don’t plan on doing it again). I have always judged people who have queued for Harry Potter books, Apple Stores or Kate Moss at Topshop; “Those idiots,” I bleated to myself. “They’ve been sucked in by consumerism. They are the advertisers’ dream, giving press to these events!” Then I became one of them. Grim. So what made me become a massive hypocrite? Burgers. Yes, a hot, greasy sandwich. Forgive me.
In case you don’t live in London/live under a rock (same thing? I JEST!), Shake Shack opened in London last Friday to great fan fare. The hype was huge. They’re from New York! They make burgers! I had one at Dubai airport! Wow, the stakes were high – and so were the queue levels. YET STILL I went along.
Here’s the Shake Shack menu:
Yes, you’re right, that is £7.50 for a burger. No, it does not come with fries. No, there is not table service. What there IS is a massive, hour-long queue manned by harmless yet slightly annoying Shake Shack workers who try to enforce the British queuers to do “mexican waves”. We’re British – we love queuing and we hate enforced fun. Know your audience, Shake Shack. Eesh.
So you queue for an hour to go into a little, noisy hut to place your order. It’s like the world’s smallest McDonalds with Kiss FM playing so loudly you have to shout your order (and they get it wrong anyway). I have photo evidence:
Aside from burgers, SS do “custards” (read: milkshakes) and “concretes” (read: McFlurries). They have interesting flavours (chocolate, vanilla… haha, I kid. They do have those flavours but they have other things like, um, sea salt and brownies and jam etc). They also do crinkle fries and crinkle fries with plastic nacho cheese on top (bleurgh). I will never cheat on MEATLiquor’s chilli cheese fries with those nacho-carby things.
So then you order and go and find a table. Someone might help you find a table – there were loads of employees there (that might die down though after the first wave of enthusiasm). You get a buzzer thing and they buzz you when your food is ready. Then you go to a window, get your order, realise your order is wrong, ask a man to get you the right order, wait 10 minutes and he brings you the right burger after everyone else has finished their burgers.
Here’s what my burger looked like (clue: it looked like a BURGER):
Inside the burger:
The burger was nice, yeah. Moist, meaty, but overall slightly bland. It had nothing that made it stand out as being worth queuing for an hour. I like burgers too. I love MEATLiquor et al. I just found this burger REALLY underwhelming. I do not understand the hype. The concrete was fine. But just that: fine.
So I feel like Shake Shack are going to clean up because everyone is like me, and gets excited by hype and has to see it for themselves, but ultimately I feel like there are a lot of home-grown places in London doing far more interesting and better burgers. It all just felt slightly soulless and deflating.
Shake Shack, 24, Market Building, The Piazza Covent Garden, London, Greater London WC2E 8RD
Nearest tube: Covent Garden (3 min walk – maybe more depending on how many annoying tourists are in the way)
Bubbledogs has been on my “to visit” list for some time, having heard good things about it from everyone has visited. Combine that with what Bubbledogs does: hot dogs and small-vineyard champagnes, and I was itching to go.
I’d heard rumours the queues were massive, but when we turned up we walked in and got a seat right away. We did have to share a table with some people, but that’s par for the course these days in busy restaurants. The staff we attentive and friendly, and we ordered a lovely glass of champagne each.
My friend ordered a veggie José, which is a Mexican-style dog smothered in avocado, sour cream, salsa and jalapeños. She kindly let me take a photo of her food and had the good grace to not look too embarrassed to be out with me.
She said it was excellent, and tasted like meat. Hopefully it was the veggie one, as she is a veggie. I’m sure it was…
I went for a Buffalo dog, which came with Buffalo sauce, celery and cubes of blue cheese. I plumped for the beef versions (Bubbledogs give you the option of pork, beef or veggie dogs – this is the future and we are living in right here and right now). The waiter said that beef was best. He said that.
It was pretty delicious… The bun was really fluffy and the dog itself was very meaty, and even though it came with quite strong toppings the flavour of the meat came through. It was slightly too salty for me, and I love me some blue cheese so… Also, could’ve lived without the celery, but then I find celery surplus to requirements in almost every situation.
We also ordered CARBS
Weird angle. Apols. These are tater tots, which in British terms means a croquette but with more of a hash brown flavour than your standard croquette potato. The truffle mayo was fine, but kind of pointless. I ordered it extra and everything.
Annnnd some sweet potato fries. These were as fine a sweet potato fries as any you’ll find. Crispy, soft, sweet and chewy. In that order.
Bubbledogs is a great place – it has a lovely, relaxed atmosphere. The decor is nice and modern, but calm (take note MEATLiquor), the service is unhurried, but in a good way. There are lots of lovely touches, such as the bathrooms which are adorned with all the menus the owner, James, has collected over the years. It was just a really feel good place. It isn’t fancy – the food is served in plastic baskets or cardboard boxes, but I don’t think it really needed knives, forks and linens.
I’d highly recommend going to Bubbledogs, although you might find yourself not satisfied after one dog.
Bubbledogs, 70 Charlotte Street, W1T 4QG
Nearest tube: Goodge Street (3min walk)
* I’ve changed my score system to out of 10. What do you mean you hadn’t noticed? This is because scoring an entire restaurant out of five is not that easy.
I needed cheering up last night, so Andrew suggested going out. I thought about where I wanted us to go. Somewhere warm, friendly, with good, reasonably priced food. It was no contest – Petek won out.
Since moving to Finsbury Park, Petek has fast become my favourite restaurant. It’s a lovely, large-ish Turkish restaurant on Stroud Green Road. Outside, when it’s sunny, people sit on the chairs and tables and sip their delicious cocktails. Inside, there’s a busy atmosphere and decor, which never fails to bring a smile to my face – the twinkling lights dangling from the ceiling, the happy but bustling waiters. It’s just brilliant OK. And the food is also absolutely delicious.
As soon as you’re seated, you’re brought a huge basket of freshly baked, warm flatbreads with a chilli-tomato salsa and some beautiful gleaming gems of olives.
The portions at Petek are more than generous, but I never learn and always dive into the bread basket with wild abandon.
We can never resist ordering their fresh, homemade baba ghanoush, which is fresh and creamy with a wonderful olive oil zesty zip. It comes in a huge bowl and is a pretty big feast in itself.
Petek does a large menu of grilled meats and hot and cold meze. The grilled meats come in all varieties and I’m yet to find a disappointing option. Last night I went for their mixed shish.
This comes with a huge salad, both chicken and lamb grilled shish, yoghurt sauce, rice and pita bread. It was delicious. I’ve never had better grilled meats, and the rice is always perfectly cooked and steaming.
I cannot remember the name of Andrew’s dish, but essentially it’s grilled chicken in a tomato sauce, with rice and yoghurt and grilled veggies. He said it was excellent too.
This massive meal, with two drinks, came to £40. More than worth it. I’m just planning on when I can go back next.
Petek, 96 Stroud Green Road, N4.
Nearest tube: Finsbury Park (5 min walk)
Recently I’ve been having lots of yummy snacks here and there. Although not worthy of a full review, I thought I’d share with you my recent foodie adventures around London.
I had it with a side of fried plantain, which I normally love. Could no way make even a dent in this after the Huge Pole.
I’ve always wanted to go to Brindisa for tapas. Sadly, it didn’t live up to expectations. Also, they brought the wrong thing to our table and then tried to charge us for it. Little niggles, but annoying all the same.
We stopped off at Lily Vanilli over the bank holiday.
My re-visit to Dishoom was much better than my slightly let down meal in Covent Garden.
This chap was filled with well-cooked bacon, cream cheese and chilli ketchup. Not a combo I would have considered before, but now I am a convert.
I’m working in Covent Garden at the moment, and was very happy to hear about a new pizza joint opening up called Homeslice. The self-confessed nomadic tribe Homeslice have now secured a permanent spot in Covent Garden’s most famous courtyard, and are serving up wood fired pizza by the slice or 20-inch whole pizza. I went on a mission to find out more.
Homeslice is a small venue, and I imagine gets packed out in the evenings. However, I was there for lunch and got a table pretty easily – but every table was filled and the place was bustling with people stuffing their faces (in the nicest way possible). The menu is pretty simple – pizza or nothing. If you don’t like pizza, don’t go here – a nugget of wisdom from me there. There will be more, stay tuned.
As I was in my lunch hour, I was pretty rushed and also didn’t fancy sitting at my desk tinkering with words having stuffed myself with a huge pizza. Carb comas are never fun in the work place (nugget 2). So my lunch buddy and I plumped for three slices to share.
Unfortunately you don’t have the choice of the whole menu if you order by the slice. Upsetting, as I wanted to try the duck guy. I love me some of that canard. Anyway, we ordered three slices as I said from a very friendly waiter who was so nice he almost tempted me to get a carafe of wine. I go back to the carb coma thing and add it’s not advisable to drink at lunchtime when you’re freelance. No one likes you turning up smelling of wine (nugget 3).
The slices came thin and fast (do you see what I did there). Here follows some gratuitous photos (and ever so slightly crap) of pizza:
Doesn’t look like much, does it? But it was delicious. The base was thin and crisp and in no way soggy. The toppings pleasingly slipped off in big chunks and landed in my gob. I was ready for my next slice…
I’m going to tell you now that I don’t like artichoke. Every time I’ve eaten it, it has been bitter and slimy: two of my food worsts. The fellas on this pizza were neither, but they were also nothing – this pizza was a little bland and would have benefitted from a sharper cheese than mozzarella to add some interest. That’s my answer to everything: more cheese (nugget 4 – guys, I am spoiling you all here with these nuggets!).
This little chap was a dream. The salami was delicious and crispy, the rocket lovely and peppery, adding something nice and fresh to what could have been a bit of an overly rich slice o’ pizza. Instead I found myself sad that I hadn’t ordered a massive 20-inch pizza all of this fella.
The bill came to £14. I took a picture of it with you in mind:
Will I be going back to Homeslice? Oh sure. They do takeout too, so I can snaffle some on my lunchbreak no problem. It’s great pizza. Is it the best in London, as it has been lauded by some? I don’t honestly know as I have not even begun to eat all the pizza in London, but it is different and interesting in a world that seems to be dominated by crappy, ubiquitous pizza chains serving up unimaginative and tasteless pizzas. That can be no bad thing. Also, they serve prosecco on draught! The dream!
Homeslice, 13 Neal’s Yard, WC25 9DP
I met up with a few friends this week and headed to Dishoom. Incase you can’t be bothered to click that link, it’s a “Bombay cafe in London”. Yep. I’d heard relatively good things about Dishoom, so went along cautiously optimistic…
The welcome on the door was good, and as we’d booked a table there was no wait time. The service was speedy and we were soon engrossed in conversation and drinking cocktails, beer and wine. One of my friends claimed his chilli martini was amazing. I sipped it and thought it was “meh” – certainly not much kick to it. A bit style over substance. Which set the tone for the rest of the experience…
As a group of copywriters and editors, we started reading the menu and promptly felt ill due to the language used. It was so try-hard, pretentious and frankly nauseating. Here are some gems… “Delicate minty yoghurt, cool as the cucumber“, “Paneer is vegetarian first-class fare and a subtle cheese to make. Marinated then gently charred with red and green capsicums” “The skewer’s antecedent was the warrior’s sword.” Double-yew tee eff?
Anyway, we went for a starter each – sorry, I mean “A Small Plate to be Taken Lightly” – and I got Vada Pau, which was described on the menu as some kind of chip butty. The food arrived pretty quickly and was dumped down by a waiter who couldn’t care less who ordered what, even when it became quickly obvious we hadn’t ordered them as sharing dishes. He seemed to be annoyed to have to say what anything was more than once too.
The Vada Pau was good. The potato was deep-fried and soft and fluffy on the inside. It came with a green dressing, which was deliciously zesty, plus some chillis for sprinkling. I added a modest amount of chilli, where my friend Matt gamely added the whole lot without much thought. I asked him how he found it and he reported it was too hot. Oh Matt.
But before we’d really got through our starters, our main course arrived. Again, dumped down with no real interest in who was having what and even when we told them it was met with a shrug and the pots were put down all in the same place so we had to hurriedly move them around the table.
I ordered Spicy Lamb Chops, which in the menu said they come pink. I like lamb pink. It should be pink. These chops – at over £11 – were not pink (see photo above), they were overdone and dry. They had some spice mix on them, which added nothing to them really. The only nice thing on the plate was the pomegranate seeds. I also had rice – mistakenly I took too much (again, see photo above). We also ordered waaaay too much naan, which was good – but it’s naan, so how hard can it be?
The meal came to £33 each including drinks, and I think we all left feeling rather underwhelmed. There was a huge queue outside, as, annoyingly you can’t book for groups numbering below six (when will restaurants stop this ridiculous no-booking policy?! It’s frankly deeply uncharming of them), and I felt genuinely sorry for them that they were queuing in the rain for unsatisfactory food and service.
Would I recommend Dishoom? No. I mean go along, see what you think if you want, but don’t come crying to me when you have to eat dry meat and undercooked rice, served by someone who feels they’re totally above having to talk to you.
But there are far better places to get a decent and different curry/Indian-style meal – namely Tayyabs. Go there instead – you won’t regret that.
Dishoom, 12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, WC2H 9FB (There’s also one in Shoreditch)
Nearest tube: Leicester Square 2mins, Covent Garden 5mins
I move around with my job fairly frequently, being that I am freelance these days. I really enjoy the variety of moving to different offices, working with different people and also working in different areas of London. Having spent the last two and a bit years in West London, I am relieved to not have to schlep over there anymore. At the moment I am working for a content agency in Shoreditch, and am very much enjoying the range of lunch time options open to me. I’m a big fan of Whitecross Street Market on Thursdays and Fridays, especially Luardo’s van. YUM!
But one hot, sunny lunchtime this week I decided it was time to try Yum Bun. Yum Bun make gua bao (Taiwanese steamed, filled buns to the uninitiated) from a short menu with options for pork, chicken, salmon or veggie. You can also get a bento box, which comes with 2 buns, a handful of veggie goyza, miso soup and a salad.
I sidled up to the small shop front and joined a queue of Shoreditch hipsters. My lunch buddy, Simon, stood at my side and busily moaned about how trying new places always means queuing (he was NOT a fan of Meat Liquor). I had to say, after being the first in the queue for 15 mins with no acknowledgement from the staff, I was begrudgingly coming around to his way of thinking. Then I was called forward and placed my order and parted with the best part of £8 for a Bento box. Simon’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline and he muttered something about Tesco’s sandwiches. Simon is not a fan of trends. Well, modern trends. I don’t know why Simon is getting such a starring role in this blog post, it’ll only encourage him and he really does not need that.
Anyway, then I waited. There were probs about 4 people in front of me. I waited and waited. Simon left to go to Tescos. I waited. While I was there the staff behind the counter had tetchy exchanges, which always annoys me: dudes, if you have a problem with each other don’t show it in front of customers, yeah? Thirty minutes of pass agg staff and sighing later I was called forward. My buns were dressed and I was given a bag and off I trotted back to the office just in time for the end of my lunch break. Wicked.
I was now grimly determined to HATE those stupid, pretentious Taiwanese buns that stole £8 of my hard-earned money and an hour of my time. The service was crap too, I grumbled to myself in my head. “This is definitely going to be terrible and I’ll write a review saying it’s all crap and that’ll make me feel better,” I thought as I got to grips with my first bun, a chicken number with tartare sauce.
However, as soon as I bit into my chicken bun, I was filled with horror and disappointment: this bun was good. It was beautifully seasoned, with a delicately-balanced and nicely sharp tartare dressing. The buns were soft and chewy, like savoury marshmallows. “Great, now I can’t write an arsey review,” I thought, my resolve quickly fading. I’m nothing if not a negative person, guys.
I then was ready for my pork belly bun, with plum sauce. I knew it was going to be great, and this time I wasn’t wrong.
I get slightly unnerved by how much fat is on pork belly and what it might do to my arteries, but this was good. The pork was soft and pulled apart easily. The plum sauce was lightly smokey and pretty sweet. There was some salad in there too to give a bit of a crunch texture, and to bring it together so it was like those ubiquitous duck pancakes you get in all Chinese gaffs.
The veggie goyzas were lovely and crisp. The inside was a little insipid, but I often find that to be the way with veggie rolls. The salad was nicely dressed and acted as a nice palate cleanser after the pork. The miso soup? Could have done without it. I mean, it was fine and yeah, I did eat/drink most of it but it didn’t add a whole lot.
Would I go back? Probably not. There’s far too many other gems in Shoreditch to discover to worry about going back to the same place twice. I believe Yum Bun is a pop-up, which is perhaps for the best as they don’t really have a lengthy enough menu to keep people coming back, especially if they have to spend a good portion of their lunchtime queuing. Would I recommend it to you? Sure, go for it. Maybe avoid rush hours, but it’s a good, filling lunch-esque snack. Maybe on pay day, as it’s a bit steep for a regular lunch.
Yum Bun, 31 Featherstone Street, EC1Y 2BJ
Nearest tube: Old Street
So having moved slightly further north in North London, to Finsbury Park, I’m enjoying exploring places that before seemed a schlep (I am the first to admit I am lazy and Zone 3 seems like a foreign country). This weekend, with time and inclination on our sides, we decided to explore Crouch End. By “explore” I mean eat so much brunch we felt sick and then get the W7 back to Finny P.
Having read quite a few favourable things on Twitter, I was happy to stumble across Gail’s Bakery and so I convinced Andrew we needed to try this place (he rarely takes much convincing!). The front of the shop is a counter full of delicious-looking food. Out the back there are tables, big and small. It was nice and bright, with plenty of bright April sunshine filtering in through the large windows. The place was busy but we found a table easily enough, and then we got down to the serious business of ordering.
We both went for Brioche French Toast with rhubarb compete and greek yoghurt. Andrew also got us a ham and cheese croissant to share. I also got a hot chocolate and Andrew got a flat white. The hot chocolate was delicious – very, very creamy. It gently coated my tongue in unsophisticated, milky hot chocolate – definitely child friendly! Andrew, a man of few words, claimed his flat white was too milky and large.
Yeah, OK, not much to look at. But crikey, it was bloody good. The croissant itself was buttery and light, the outside flaking into delicious melt-in-your-mouth crumbs with every bite. Inside, the cheese was piquant – a good, strong, mature cheddar – and the ham was, well, ok, the ham was nothing to write about so I shan’t. BUT it was the best (ham and) cheese croissant I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a fair few. I’m not like, the expert on them, but I’ve had a few OK. Let’s not make a big deal out of my lack of credentials here.
These came quickly, and were served by pleasant staff who were efficient but nondescript (the way I like my wait staff to be in eateries of all levels. I’m not there to make friends with them). There was a short-ish wait for our French Toast – 15 mins – no big drama. I’d had that croissant (well, half, I shared with Andrew), I was OK to wait 15 minutes. Sheesh.
So, the French Toast arrived. It looked great, but I was a little sad that there wasn’t much compote. I mean, it’s in season now – gimme a bit more. The brioche was in hearty slices though and beautifully crisp on the outside and nice and fluffy and sweet on the inside.
The compote itself, apart from being sparse, was a bit flat. I’m a bit besotted with rhubarb – I grew up on the stuff. Seriously, it was the go-to Hedges pudding in our house. My Dad grew it (still does! Hi Dad!). We pick it fresh, my mum stews it up (hi Mum! I’ll get in trouble if I don’t say hi to her now) in a big pan with a bit of sugar and then we eat it up. The smell of stewing rhubarb is the smell of my childhood (that irks me in how middle-class that sounds, but hey ho). So I like my rhubarb nice and tart (so tart my American sister-in-law grimaces and has to add extra sugar to hers – hi Irene!). This was too sweet. It was Irene-suitable sweet. So I felt it lacked a little of the rhubarb flavour. Wow, that was a diatribe about Gail’s Bakery rhubarb. Sorry. I’m passionate about those red sticks ok?
Other than that lack of flavour, the dish was good. We certainly felt sated afterwards.
So would I recommend Gail’s Bakery? Sure, go for it. But there are A LOT of kids in there. They’re nice kids – there wasn’t a tantrum or snotty nose in sight – but they’re everywhere. I guess it goes with the territory of being in Crouch End. But the food was good, the drinks were OK and it was great people watching. I’d definitely go back, but maybe on a week day before playgroup kicks out, or for take out.
Service – 4/5
Venue – 4/5
Value – 3/5
Overall – 3.5/5
Gail’s Bakery, 48 The Broadway, N8 9TP
** Gail’s Bakery can also be found in the salubrious endroits of Battersea, Bloomsbury, Chelsea, Chiswick, Dulwich Village, Exmouth Market, Hampstead, King’s Road, Notting Hill, Queen’s Park, Soho, South Ken and St John’s Wood. Anywhere middle-class, essentially.**
Nearest Tube: No idea. Most people seem to have 4x4s and no need for the tube. You can get the W7 from Finsbury Park tube station (Wells Terrace side) up there though.
Since moving to Finsbury Park a lot of locals have said “Oh, have you checked out The Front Room yet?”, so I knew it would have to be one of my first stops (after Petek and Dotori – more on those another time!). The Front Room is a cafe situated on the “up and coming” (but still rather grey) Tollington Park in Finsbury Park.
We popped in one rainy Saturday morning for brunch, and it was just the right, reassuring level of busy. We were seated right away and then took a look at their reasonably priced and decent-length menu. Cue shoddy picture:
My dining companion and co-brunch fan, Andrew, went for The Front Room Breakfast. He explained that he had to get the full English out of the way so he could then focus on other items on the menu on return visits. I went for the Pancake Special with a side of bacon. I also got a standard English Breakfast and a freshly squeezed orange juice (both good and strong) and Andrew got a white Americano, which he deemed “good”.
The food arrived really quickly and looked great. Andrew’s full English wasn’t swimming in grease and had generous portions of all components. My pancakes were nicely presented… See photo…
The bacon was tipped on by me in a haphazard fashion, so that makes it look a bit rank. Anyway, the pancakes were ok – a bit pappy and dry. The fruit and yoghurt was nice and fresh though. The bacon I could have taken or left. It was generally OK. The eggs benny on the other table was giving me food envy, to be honest.
The staff were lovely though, the service was quick and the atmosphere nice, laid back with a bit of buzz.
Service – 4/5
Venue – 3/5
Value – 5/5
OVERALL – 3/5
The Front Room Cafe, 158 Tollington Park, N4 3AD
Nearest Tube: Finsbury Park (5 min walk)
The Front Room is open 7.30am-6pm Monday – Thursday, 7.30am-11.30pm Friday, 8am-11pm on weekends.
Over the last 12 months London has seen a surge in junk food makeovers. That is food previously dismissed as junk (burgers, fried chicken et al), which has been done badly by cynical corporate Mcchains, being restored to its former glory. Burgers with glossy buns and plenty o’ pickles, smokey and meaty hot dogs, fried chicken that’s juicy and crunchy.
I’m on this UnJunk Food badwagon heart, spirit and soul. And I plan to blog about all my UnJunk food endeavours here. I’m feeling really excited about London’s dining scene at the moment. Here are some of the places I’m itching to get to…
1. Slider Bar, Soho
Mini burgers from the folks at Lucky Chip. What’s not to like? I’ve only heard excellent things about this place. They even have an ice cream burger! Gimmicky joy! Reading Cherry Healey’s tweets about her meal there made me green with envy.
Slider Bar @ The Player, Broadwick Street, Soho
2. Burger & Lobster
Twenty quid for a burger? WELCOME TO LONDON! But £20 for a lobster? Hell-o! The concept of Burger & Lobster is simple. There are two options on the menu: burger, lobster. Both come with sides too. Both are £20. You pays your money, you takes your choice. This place has been such a hit they’ve opened at another location, in Soho. Get me there, STAT.
Burger & Lobster, Dean Street, Soho.
3. Lucky Chip
The big sister of the Slider Bar, Lucky Chip is located at the Sebright Arms in Bethnal Green. Lizzie’s review of the place has made me desperate to go. I love the creative fillings for the burgers, and that they all have film star’s names. The Darryl Hannah fish burger anyone? I can’t wait to get my chops around one.
Lucky Chip @ Sebright Arms, Coate Street, Bethnal Green.
4. Spit & Roast
Ahh, a food truck. Many of London’s UnJunk food establishments have enjoyed a stint as a food truck. There was Meat Wagon, Pitt Cue Co under Hungerford Bridge and Engine Hot Dogs.
Spit & Roast are paying tribute to that old southern American favourite, fried chicken. Served with potatoes and a little pot of gravy, this place has made me, a loyal burger fan, excited about fried chicken.
Spit & Roast, Hackney Homemade Market (St John’s Churchyard Carpark).
5. Big Apple Hotdogs
These guys supply my local, The Lamb, with their meaty treats. I can’t wait to go to the pig’s mouth, so to speak, to sample their smokey porky all-American hot dogs from their cart.
Big Apple Hot Dogs, Outside 239 Old Street EC1V 9EY.