Oh hiya pup lovers! It’s been bloody ages since I’ve posted a dog spot, hasn’t it? This is mainly because I am REALLY slow to get my phone out and take pictures of dogs, and by the time I have they’ve walked off. Bums.
But today I saw a really love chap on the train and had ample time to photograph him (still a crappy photo though…) as I was lucky enough to stand next to him.
He was very obedient, and was happily giving everyone a subtle and gentle sniff as they boarded and disembarked the train at various stops.
I’m not sure what bred he was, but suspect he is probably a mix. He looked like a collie, but had the dimensions of a sausage dog – intriguing and very cute!
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!
A few weeks ago Andrew and I bundled our way to Richmond to see Headlong Theatre‘s production of the George Orwell dystopian classic, 1984.
I love the theatre – hate musicals though. But I quite rarely go, or at least not as much as I feel I should for someone living in London. Something I always espouse about living in London is there’s so much going on. Yes, so I really should actually take advantage of it.
I’d never seen a Headlong production before, but had followed this tour fairly closely – they went to Liverpool, Cardiff, Nottingham… some other places… This is because my amazingly talented friend was on the production team. As the five star reviews from virtually every paper rolled in, we booked our tickets.
I wasn’t exactly sure how they’d make a show of 1984 – it is quite a tough book to replicate on stage, I think. I must admit I didn’t fully remember the entire story, as I read it in my early twenties (YEARS AGO!) and straight after read A Brave New World, so the stories have become slightly muddled together in my mind. But this production was so clever, and the story came flooding back to me like remembering a horrifying nightmare I once had.
There was a huge amount of media used to tell Winston Smith’s story of falling in love while questioning the leadership in a futuristic totalitarian state. I won’t spoil all the amazingness and surprises if you do go, but the set was ingenius and the performances were first class. It was both intellectually stimulating and quite traumatising in parts. There are quite a lot of flashing lights and high-pitched noises!
After so many amazing reviews and such highly heaped praise, 1984 is transferring to The Almeida Theatre in Islington, so you still have a chance to view it. It’s running for the most part of February and March.
If you prefer going to the theatre for a sing-song and aren’t interested in long monologues, this won’t be for you (get thee to ‘We Will Rock You’), but otherwise I highly recommend you go. Especially, if like me, you really feel you should take advantage more of all London has to offer…
So with all the eating I do, it’s time to get serious about burning off some of those calories (boo!).
I started doing Free Form Fitness‘ bootcamps about three years ago, when I lived in Highbury. Over the past year I haven’t been living there, so have fallen off the bandwagon somewhat. But that’s all about to change as we’ve just bought a flat back in Highbs, so there’s no more getting out of it… It’s time to hit the deck and pump some, err, iron?
When I started at bootcamps I was kind of nervous. I admit I feel a little intimidated by fitness classes (I won’t know anyone, everyone else will be better than me, I’ll be wearing the wrong thing…), but as soon as I got in touch with Free Form’s owner, Sybille, she immediately put me at my ease. She was knowledgable and encouraging, telling me more about an injury I had than even I knew, and started me off gently. As everyone in the classes are at different fitness levels – some are marathon runners, some are new mums trying to lose some baby weight, some are flabby food bloggers (OK, just me in that group) – Sybille has different levels of exercises to suit everyone.
The first session I went to was just the right level of hard. Then I woke up the next morning and couldn’t actually move. I have never experienced anything like that – my muscles were in shock. BUT in a good way – I was just using muscles I’d not used since I was a kid.
Classes weren’t something I looked forward to, but once I got there they were enjoyable and everyone in the class was really friendly. I’ve made friends at bootcamp that I still see now and count as very good friends indeed (hi Simon and George!). It’s a really nice community event, as everyone lives around Highbury Fields who comes to my class. A happy result was I toned up, lost weight and improved my posture without really – I wouldn’t say trying, because a lot of sweat went into it, but perhaps without really much thought. Sybille does the thinking, I just do what she very gently instructs!
As I say, I’ve now moved away but am coming back! And just in time for a new class Sybille has devised called “Cardio and Core Blitz”. This is a 30 minutes high intensity workout, focusing on fat burning and core work.
Sybille says of the class, “By using a class format comprised of HIIT (high intensity interval training) and functional core work we have created a workout that will help increase the body’s ability to burn body fat without putting it through the strains and risk of overuse injuries associated with traditional boot camps or high impact cardio workouts. You will be working hard for 30 minutes but you will leave feeling super energised and de-stressed!”
Sessions are £5/class or you can buy 11 for £50. The classes run in Highbury Fields at the moment, but will soon be running in Liverpool street, Green Park, London Fields and Tower Bridge in the mornings, at lunch times and in the evenings.
Free Form Fitness have teamed up with me and are offering Z Factor readers a free first session. All you need to do is email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “The Z Factor”.
Sometimes life calls for a little date. Not a big date, which would demand for heels, a blowdry and ~booking~ something (P.S. I’ve never got a blowdry for a date. Soz, Andrew). I’m talking a spontaneous, “Hey, shall we go out tonight? Just you and me?” date. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be with someone you feel a bit woozy with love or lust about, it could just as easily be a pal.
These evenings, in my experience, are normally best when they’re local, often in a little place that you discover – a gem that’s budget-friendly. In these places, the staff leave you alone to chat, the wine is decent and the food delicious. You leave the place arm in arm and step out into a cold, dark evening thinking how life is a little bit better for your date being in your life.
I’ve compiled a list of my top five date venues, where I’ve had evenings like this and think you might be able to enjoy them too.
1. Le Mercury, Upper Street, Islington
I’ve had more than one lovely evening here, with a range of different people from friends to family to my boyfriend. Each evening has been great. At Le Mercury they serve simple French food, and offer little tables close to one another and soft candlelight. There’s a huge capacity, and due to their massive popularity in North London they’ve actually expanded from their original restaurant to a second venue just down the road. The great thing about Le Mercury is that for those on a budget or splitting the meal, each offering on the menu is the same price per course. So starters are all £4.45, mains £9.95. And you know what? The food is really bloody good for that price. It holds a little special place in my heart, and is definitely one of Andrew and mine’s favourites.
I’ve written a more extensive review of Petek before, which you can read by clicking on the link above, so I won’t go on too much. But this is one of my fave date venues. It helps we currently live very close to Petek, but it is like a beacon of joy on the somewhat grey Stroud Green Road. Inside the lighting is glowy and soft and the service is friendly without being all up in your grill. It’s pretty darn perfect. And it kind of feels like you’re on a Mediterranean holiday in there. All that is missing is the stray dogs.
3. Kettners, Soho
OK, so Kettners might not fall into the “little-known place” bracket, as it is a London institution, but I like it as a date place so it’s going in, alright? Good.
I’m not talking about the restaurant here, cos that’s all sparkly and new and, well, just a fairly standard Soho restaurant. I’m talking about the champagne and cocktail bar. That might sound a little intimidating, but don’t be put off! Really it’s a cosy and relaxed bar, and is great for people watching. Dangerously, you can buy champagne in glasses, half bottles or bottles. And they stock a lot of champagne. So what might start out as a cheeky flute of bubbles can gloriously descend into an evening of being drunk on champagne and feeling all cosy and great. They do great cocktails too.
4. Albertine, Wood Lane, Shepherd’s Bush
If you ever had the misfortune to be in Shepherd’s Bush, as I did for a good while when I worked at the BBC, then Albertine is like a beautiful oasis in the drab wasteland of Shepherd’s Bush. I’m not suggesting you go there for a meal, because I’ve only had one proper meal there and it was slightly odd and slapdash. No, I mean you go there for drinks and snacks. Albertine’s is a wine bar, and owned by a guy who is obviously passionate about wine. Consequently, the wine list is bloody massive and has wines from all over the world. They also do a good line in bar snacks, with my faves being mini chorizo sausages. It’s all a bit rustic at Albertine’s. You can sit in the window, hunker down for the night and have really great chats.
5. The Prop Store, Southbank
One of my closest and most charming friends introduced me to The Prop Store, for it is attached to the National Theatre, where she works. Had it not been for her, I don’t think I would have found it as it’s quite easy to miss a lot of stuff on Southbank, especially in the Summer when the Prop Store operates.
Yes, indeed, this is a seasonal bar. As I said, it’s run by the National and exhibits inside an interesting array of props from the theatre company. The bar itself is kind of tiny and it does take a while to get served, but the drinks are reasonable for Southbank, and you can spill out onto the river bank on a hot, sticky summer evening and have one of those nights when you’re like, “Yeah, London is so pretty and awesome and I get to live here!” And although I generally find Southbank a bit too frantic in the summer months, it’s nice to rest up at the Prop Store and watch the world go by.
So that’s my list. Do you have any cute little places you like to go on for dates? Think I’ve missed somewhere? Rant at me in the comments.
After a short hiatus, I am back – and what better way to celebrate my Phoenix-like return than with an ultimate dog spot. A bassett (one of my all-time faves), a black pug and some kind of Irish terrier – a great selection! I think they were off to Highbury Fields to let loose. I wish I could have gone with them.
Situated conveniently close to where I live, The Lamb has become a firm local for me and my friends. An independent pub on an unattractive stretch of Holloway Road (is there an attractive stretch of Holloway Road?!), this place is best described as a typical ‘boozer’.
Stripped floors, mismatched furniture, informal service and an eclectic playlist combine to provide clientele with an easy-going, no frills evening.
The Lamb serves craft ales and has some decent wine too. The Lamb serves only crisps and meaty snacks, but they actively encourage you to order from a delicious pizza takeaway service, Sorrento, who deliver to your table. As I said, it’s very non-frills. However, Sorrento’s pizzas are actually incredibly good and authentic – there’s nothing Domino’s about this place.
Having said they’re no frills, The Lamb have excellent live music events from incredible talent such as Rupert Cross, and host film nights showing indie films on a projector screen. There’s also occasionally live sport when there’s a big event on, but it’s in no way a football pub (having said that I haven’t been there when an Arsenal game is on – it’s probably packed, as are most pubs on Holloway Road).
The Lamb offers you a warm welcome and an unpretentious night out. I’d recommend a visit before everyone finds out about it. Everyone I’ve taken there has been back, some even organising their birthday parties there – surely that’s a stamp of approval if there ever was one.
Yep, I started my meal before I remembered to take a photo – what of it?
The Pig & Butcher has opened up on Liverpool Road where the slightly ropey Islington Tap used to stand. They have an in-house butcher slicing up prime cuts that the seemingly skilled chef cooks up for customer’s delight. They also do a healthy (and expensive) line in craft ales (beers? Who knows the difference? Not me!). It’s all very… Islington.
I’ve popped in there twice so far, and have been fairly pleased with the pub on both occasions. The first was a Sunday roast. Just as a precursor to what I’m about to say, I just want to make it clear that I don’t rate pub roasts. They are never as good as home-cooked roasts. There’s something about mass-made roast potatoes that doesn’t work. You can’t taste the love that you can in a home-made roast. Anyway…
The roast was pretty decent. I went for a 32-day aged Hereford beef rib. It was incredibly rare (fine by me, but might not be to the taste of those who don’t like their plate swimming in red juices), and delicious. It came served with a silky cauliflower cheese, greens and roast potatoes (which were not great). Some of my companions got the whole roast chicken, which was absolutely ginourmous even for two. The beef was £15.50 and the chicken was £14.50 per person, which is slightly on the pricey side for the area.
The second time I went in, it was for a light lunch with friends. I ordered the scampi, as pictured above, with a side of fries. The scampi was great – light, sweet with a lovely yet naughty batter. The chips were so thick that they were still quite solid in the middle. Andrew went for a steak sandwich. Here’s the pics to prove it happened…
It was actually an open sandwich, which was fine, although Andrew claimed, “It wasn’t what I was expecting… but yeah, it was nice.” He actually praised the meat really highly. He also had the undercooked humungous chips.
The Pig & Butcher is a lovely gastro pub, really close to Upper Street, so I am sure it will do well. However, it has a slightly more expensive than average menu – but in Barnsbury that’s probably not going to hinder them. The meat there is to die for – they do it excellently and in spades. However, with meat being the star of the show, some other factors do suffer a little. I’m sure these will get ironed out. Oh, and the staff are extremely friendly – I love their staff!
Service – 4/5
Venue – 4/5 (although it’s so hot in there – they need a/c or something)
Value – 3/5
OVERALL – 3/5
The Pig & Butcher, 80 Liverpool Road, Islington, N1 0QD
I love a dog in a bandana! This little guy was out for a sunny stroll in Highbury Fields on Sunday. He was sporting a bandana with an Arsenal badge sewn on. You wouldn’t expect any less from a Highbury resident!