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 shoppingcan be fun; and not all whiskey tastes like soil mixed with petrol.
I had another preconception tested this week in the shape of dinner at Southern Joe’s Kitchen in Kentish Town.
A lot of dining out is about theatre and spectacle. Cloches, dry ice, immersive sensory experiences and beautiful dining rooms are all there to heighten the diner’s experience.
And you’d be hard pressed to find a more dramatic venue for a meal than where I ate on Saturday night: in the aisle of a Grade II* listed church, with Christ on a cross hoisted above the aisle-long table, overseeing matters as he’s eternally crucified.
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.
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
Gin is ruddy marvellous, isn’t it? Unless you’re one of those people where it transforms you into a sobbing wreck, I guess. It’s my favourite spirit – a nice cool gin on a sunny afternoon is unsurpassable.
Here are some gin facts for you (I like gin, suck it up):
– Gin is made with juniper berries
– London gin doesn’t have to be made in London – it’s a way to make gin
– Gin joints in 18th-century England allowed women to drink alongside men for the first time. It’s thought this led many of them to child neglect and prostitution. So gin became known as ‘Mother’s ruin”
– Gin and tonics were invented in colonial India when they found the quinine in tonic water was effective in preventing malaria. Soldiers added gin to tonic water to make it more palatable
Quite often when people who don’t live in London talk to me about how I live in London they often say, “I could never live in London,” in such a horrified tone it’s as if I have told them my pastime is eating babies or licking tramps toes.
More often than not I shrug my shoulders. Horses for courses, isn’t it. Some people want to live in the middle of nowhere, some people want to live in the town they grew up in, some people don’t want to live in any one place. Me? I want to live in London because I love it here. I don’t feel the need to justify my lifestyle choices to people just as I don’t expect them to justify theirs to me. Having said that, here’s five of the many reasons why I love London.
1. The people
Yes, that’s right, the people. Londoners get a bad wrap; people say they’re mean, moody and impatient. And yeah, we can be, but that’s only because we have to traverse hoards of kids of school trips, provide travel advise to tourists and sweat on the tube during our daily commutes. We aren’t bad peoples deep down, and there is no better place in the world for people watching than London. All of human life is here: there’s so many different people doing different things and for the most part we’re living harmoniously together (just move down the carriage and we’ll all be friends, yeah?). I love how London embraces people from all walks of life and rarely questions what people are up to – want to walk down the street singing at the top of your voice? Go for it. Want to do the waltz to the busker in Leicester Square tube – knock yourself out.
2. The restaurants
No massive news to most, but London’s restaurant scene is a constantly evolving, innovative place these days. Gone are the days of bad British food – people who say this haven’t been to London in time. Fancy an amazing Turkish meal cooked authentically? Pop over to Green Lanes and you have more options than you could wish for. Want some wicked-good curry in the most lively restaurant you can imagine? Tayyabs is for you. Sushi, veggie, raw, falafel-only, dim sum, Vietnamese, French-style burgers, food trucks, market stalls – there’s everything and anything you want here. I love that whatever I want, there’ll be somewhere I can go within about 30 minutes travel and fill my boots. And sure, a lot of cities have lots of restaurants (next person to show off about getting a Bill’s in their town gets a punch in the face, though), but the thriving nature of London’s dining scene means anything sub-par doesn’t survive and every restaurant is kept on their toes. It breeds creativity and innovation and I love it.
3. I became an adult here
My first real job was in London, and after two years of commuting to Kent where I lived, I moved up here. I moved into a flatshare, which was a nightmare of horrific proportions (every time a bus went past – and we were on the main bus route in north London – it knocked out the TV reception. Also there were no windows in the house and the outside was painted gloss brown) and quickly moved out and into another one. Since then I have progressed in my career, moved in with my boyfriend, bought a flat and got engaged. I’ve made friends for life, including one who will be my bridesmaid next summer, and had lots of ups and downs. This is where my whole adult life has been. When I was at uni in Liverpool, sure I was 18 but I was a pseudo-adult (real adults are able to get out of bed before 10am); before that I was at school and lived at home, aka very much not an adult. London will always have that place in my heart that no other city will have.
4. It’s iconic
London has led the way in so many direction, not least of all style and fashion. It’s also got some incredible designs – the architecture is truly breath-taking and the skyline is instantly recognisable with the sharp spire of the Shard next to the beautiful dome of St Paul’s cathedral. Even the transport is unique; black cabs, Routemasters and underground roundels are all synonymous with the city. Glance at a tube map and you instantly think ‘London’ – nothing else looks like it. And what a beautiful piece of design work the tube map is. It’s so inspiring to be constantly faced with all the beauty and creativity you see every day in London.
5. It’s where I got engaged
I’m sure you’re all bored of hearing about my engagement now, but London will forever be in my heart because it’s here I got engaged. It was a very London-based affair, with the final down-on-one-knee bit happening right by a London street sign. As I only plan on getting engaged the once, it’s incredibly special to me and something I’ll always remember.
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)
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
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.
Andrew and I started “going out” (for want of a better phrase) nine years ago last Sunday. It seems bonkers that I was 21 and he was 22 when we got together. Although I feel like I can barely remember a life before him, those nine years have gone fast. Probably because we’ve crammed a lot in.
After dating for five months we decided to go travelling together for eight months. We booked our tickets, packed our backpacks and boarded a plane to Singapore without a second thought. In hindsight, this was a rash decision as we essentially barely knew each other. But in a make/break situation, it made us.
Since then we’ve returned home (obviously) and been through various rites of passage such as starting careers, having quarter-life crisises, watched all of our siblings get married (apart from his brother, who is getting married this summer – big up Willophie) seen the births (not literally) of our niece and nephews (who totally consider me “Uncle Furry Face’s” less-entertaining sidekick), moved to London, watched lots of our friends get married, bought a flat together.
To celebrate the passing of nine years of being together we decided to stuff our chubby little faces, and headed to the Classic Car Boot Sale, which had set up shop on Southbank. It was graced by a beautiful Spring day and I had several food trucks I wanted to visit…
Yeah, yeah. Cars and loads of vintage tatt. You get the picture. Now for the food…
Spit and Roast specialise is finger lickin’ chicken that sends KFC right back to where it came from (hell?). They serve rotisserie chicken and buttermilk fried chicken. I went for the latter, with hot sauce and slaw in a bun. CUE PICTURE:
The chicken was succulent and juicy and fell apart (rather embarrassingly) when I bit into it. The sauce was piquant without dominating the chicken too much and the batter was absolutely to die for. It was a total mess to eat, but I loved every minute and Andrew was extremely jealous.
He went for a Beef Richard because, hey, when in New York a carpark in Southwark you need to stay true.
The small bite he allowed me was delicious. Those pickles! Ooof. Definitely on-par with Big Apple hotdogs.
We got a Bleecker single cheeseburger, which was bloody amazing. Bleecker is totally my favourite food truck in London. And they’re on Southbank every day of the week at the moment by the skate park. GO!
There were loads of food trucks that looked amazing, which we didn’t get to try. But it was a brilliant day out and a lovely way to round off a relaxing and sunny anniversary weekend.
On Valentine’s Day we decided to spurn the cheesy restaurants, champagne and roses and go to Hawker House with our pals.
Hawker House is run by the Street Feast folks, who run night markets in London that bring together food trucks, booze vendors and the hungry hordes throughout the year.
As it’s cold right now, they’ve retreated indoors to a warehouse in Bethnal Green. Hawker House was inspired by Singaporean-style night (hawker) markets where people grab what they want from different vendors and then sit on communal, canteen-style benches and eat together.
It would be hard to ignore the food truck scene that’s exploded in London over the last few years, and the beauty of Hawker House is that it allows you to sample lots of different trucks all in one place. This is ideal for someone like me who wants to try everything. Right. Now.
Having tried Bleecker St Burgers before at #NationalBurgerDay and deciding them to make the best burgers in London, I made a bee-line right away. Zan, who started up Bleecker and was serving at Hawker House when I was there, is totally focused on creating NYC-style burgers. Look, I haven’t been to New York (I know, right?!) so I can’t speak to how they compare to New York burgers… But I have eaten a burger before and mine was amazing. They’re SO meaty and rare and juicy and just, ugh, totally perfect. Zan whipped me up a triple cheeseburger off-menu, which I shared with Andrew. We also had sweet potato fries, which were so crunchy, fluffy, sweet and moorish that it was pretty hare to share them.
I then went for a Grilling Greek chicken souvlaki. While I was there I caught up with some long-time Twitter friends I’d bumped into. Everyone was so friendly at the event. It was so great to put some faces to some Twitter avatars! Anyway, the souvlaki was OK but I think I’ve been rather spoilt by living in North London close to some of the best Greek and Turkish restaurants in the UK – and my Grilling Greek didn’t totally match up. Noa and Petek, you still have my heart.
After this I took a massive breather, and focused on drinking wine from plastic glasses and chatting to my friends. The rest of the crew indulged in Roti Chai (not amazing, apaz), Breddos Tacos (really good – I was sad I couldn’t fit these in) and Yum Bun (the all-round favourite of the night).
One last push saw me heading for a sweet treat, and to the You Doughnut stand!
I went for cinnamon sugar doughnuts with warm salted caramel sauce and marshmallows. Ooof, they were ruddy amazing. Fried to order, they were little nuggets of sweet cinnamonny clouds with a delicious warm caramel sauce. I feel a bit jealous of myself right now for having eaten them.
Hawker House was a really fun night. It was a bit cold inside there, so wrap up warm and get there early-ish as the tables fill up.
Hawker House is running every Friday and Saturday evening until the 22nd March. For more information visit Hawker House’s website.
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!
Clockwise from pink doughnut: raspberry and chocolate, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate, lemon drizzle, lemon curd, rhubarb
We’re on deadline at work at the moment. It’s a pretty stressful time in the office when the quarterly magazine I co-edit starts going through the final stages. There’s a lot of diplomacy, patience and accuracy needed. What’s also needed is a heady sugar hit, and yesterday my office was treated to doughnuts from Glazed & Confused.
They absolutely hit the spot. I went for a cheeky raspberry and chocolate number. I was assured by the nice G&C people that there are no artificial colourings in the glazes – just lots of fruit to give it it’s gem-like pink hue.
It was delicious, and not too sweet. The doughnut was quite cake like, but the glazed complimented it perfectly. It was a ring doughnut though, and I prefer filled doughnuts, so um, I shared another doughnut with a sub-editor here. Ooops.
We shared a lemon curd doughnut, which was bloody marvellous. Really nice sharp, citrusy tang from the generous curd filling.
All the doughnuts received good reviews from our office and were gobbled up with enthusiasm.
Glazed & Confused supply doughnuts for events, and various cafes and restaurants around the capital. You can tweet them at @GlazedLondon for more info.
Glazed & Confused sent me complimentary doughnuts, but free baked goods by no means guarantees a favourable review!
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 owe you an apology. Yeah, you. I know you’ve been anxiously refreshing The Z Factor, hoping for a new post. And I’ve let you down. I’ve also let myself down. The run up to Christmas and then Christmas itself was really busy, and I neglected write blog posts in favour of alcohol, cheese and friends. But now I am back to share the spoils of my fun and also to wish you a very happy new year.
Here’s what I got up to while AWOL…
I was Christmas shopping and then wrapping presents. I had to do it mega early this year as I wasn’t seeing my family. They were off to LA and I was off to Andrew’s folks’, so we exchanged presents in early December. These are some of my gifts to my lovely family…
Then my family came to visit. This is my niece trying to get Andrew to concede a game of “Sleeping Lions”. Little does she know that Andrew is very competitive, even against five-year-old little girls.
Mid-December marked the nuptials of some of Andrew and mine’s nearest and dearest friends. It was a brilliant wedding and the perfect way to kick off the festive season.
This is Andrew and a couple of his besties at said wedding.
These are some of life’s good guys, right here.
Then is was Christmas, which meant it was high time…
To make our flat cosy.
Bought cheese (brie with truffle in it – phwoar!)
Hand terrible hang overs…
Then did it all again…
Eventually we retreated home.
And saw Andrew’s family. We played board games and ate aforementioned cheese (did I mention the truffle?).
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.
There are lots of places to go ice skating in London, and I have sampled a lot. My favourite would be Somerset House, followed by the Tower of London.
Afterwards I prescribe a strong mulled wine to rid yourself of the aches, pains and cold that you will have acquired.
2. Choosing a Christmas Decoration
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.
I’ve known Alice for quite a number of years through the wonderful world of blogging. She’s an all-round superwoman and lady of excellent taste. Here she shares with me a few of her London things…
Name: Alice Job: Blogger and Marketing Consultant Neighbourhood: I moved out of London when I had kids and now live in Buckinghamshire (boohooh). But in my time in the fair city I lived in Kentish Town, Shoreditch, De Beauvoir and Muswell Hill.
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.
Andrew was getting stressed about his birthday (he doesn’t like his birthday), so I asked him what he really wanted to do. His response? He just wanted to go to brunch with me (n’awww). So I decided to go to a nice (but not fancy – we’re not fancy types) brunch. I did some research and whittled it down between Duck & Waffle and The Modern Pantry. After glancing at both menus, I picked The Modern Pantry (still want to go to D&W though) as it had more things on the menu I knew Andrew would like. He loves fusion food that are packed full of lots of flavours, and head chef, Anna’s menu certainly seemed to cover a lot of those bases.
So we trotted off with our hangovers (we’d completed on our flat the day before, so celebrated hard the night before!) to Clerkenwell. We ordered our drinks, which came with speed, and started analysing the menu.
There was loads to choose from, and Andrew started looking a bit panicky that he wanted everything.
In the end we went for, ahem, three dishes to share.
This is grilled cornbread, chorizo, a fried egg, charred sweetcorn, avocado and red pepper salsa. It was pretty dry, but the egg broke open to reveal a soft and silky yolk which helped the whole dish massively. There was a gentle hum to the dish, but it was really surprisingly light.
We also ordered the sweetcorn, feta,green chilli & curry leaf waffles, smoked streaky bacon with maple syrup, which sounds INSANE, and it was – but in an amazing way! It was so packed full of different flavours and everything was balanced perfectly, so in a bit you’d get fluffy waffle, sharp cheese and then sweet maple syrup, plus a faint after taste of curry – it was extraordinary but an absolute triumph. Anna is obviously a master at flavour combinations.
The last thing we ordered takes 20 mins to cook, so it was perfect timing for us to take a break and compare hungover notes (results: we were both hungover).
Then it arrived: raspberry and ricotta pancakes with berry and liquorice compote, crème fraiche. Oh sweet lord. The pancakes were fluffy and light and the compote cut beautiful through the creme fraiche and rich pancakes. They were extremely filling, so I started to feel quite sick by this point, but boy was it worth it.
The Modern Pantry is something a little bit special. There were lots of people in there celebrating stuff (a groom’s party who were suited and booted, drinking champagne pre-ceremony, a couple who had just got engaged and were celebrating with their excited friends), so it created this lovely atmosphere, yet it was relaxed and informal, with perfect service.
Andrew claimed it to be the best brunch he’d ever had, so it was a birthday winner!
The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St Johns Square, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 4JJ
This week has been especially grim as Andrew and I raced to exchange on the flat we’re buying. Wednesday night saw me particularly stressed, so I took myself off to the pub with some close friends to have some salving wine.
On my way home I happened across this scrappy lil’ lady. She was brilliant – just sitting contentedly on her owner’s lap. She looked so soft and snuggly I just wanted to bury my head in her fur (the dog that is, not the nice owner lady). Obviously due to social norms, I didn’t do this – I took this picture instead. Thanks for brightening my day, lovely pup!
Here Lucy gives an “outsider’s” perspective on London. Lucy moved here from New Zealand a few years ago. I had the good fortune to live with Lucy for several years when she first arrived. She uses her time in the UK effectively, and has seen so many things and acquired so many funny stories. She’s the kind of person who talks to strangers and ends up becoming BFFs with them…
Job Senior Account Exec, salt PR
Neighbourhood North London up until my recent migration to live with the rest of Antipodeans in South West London.
I live in London because… it’s so alive, there’s always something going on – whether it be the crazy guy blessing me on the tube, the pug with the extra long tongue in Soho Square trying to lick my shoes, or an amazing show where I get to see Helen Mirren up close. I love that this place never sleeps.
London is at its best when… it’s the summertime and you’re at one of the many green parks it has to offer. I love how Londoners make the most of parks; out comes the coal BBQ, the picnic rug, the football, the many different cider varieties and you get to lounge in the sun with your mates, who are likely to be from anywhere but London originally.
My ideal day off in London would be… breakfast at The Birdcage on St John’s Hill, the morning absorbing one of the new exhibitions at one of the many museums, afternoon in the sun at Battersea Park then dinner at some novelty restaurant where you eat your steak blindfolded or something.I absolutely love this little-known place…Molly Moggs in Soho: it’s a tiny corner bar featuring a sharp-tongued, self-deprecating and hilarious drag queen host every night of the week who pokes fun at the crowd and introduces various karaoke acts, which include a few quirky regulars (I’ve had the privilege of being serenaded by the elderly Elvis – hand holding included). It is the ultimate pick me up place – you’re always guaranteed a laugh and it’s always a supportive crowd… no matter how screechy the singing.
The best night I ever had in London was… hard to pick – but one from most recent memory was going to the special effects-packed Muse gig at Emirates where an acrobat did ribbon work from a giant hot air balloon in the shape of a lightbulb. Afterwards we spent the evening exploring some great little bars along Upper Street in Angel, topping off the night singing my lungs out with friends at Lucky Voice karaoke – all within walking distance, which made it that much better.
My favourite restaurant is…Trullo in Highbury, Islington – this place has amazing atmosphere, service and even better food. The chefs travel to Italy each season to handpick which ingredients they are going to source for the menu. It’s even been voted best Italian restaurant outside of Italy!
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in... probably a cheaty answer, but Selfridges. I love going there (once I get past the incredible window displays) and looking at all the amazing designer stuff or handcrafted potions and lotions.
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… the National Portrait Gallery. I go to the BP Portrait Awards Exhibition every year and it never ceases to astonish me how talented people are – many of them younger than me (which I find depressing; I’ve well and truly passed the prodigal talent age). They capture people so beautifully and differently. The other exhibitions at the Portrait Gallery change around regularly, too, and are generally free. If you’re lucky you might spot the sleeping video of David Beckham by Sam Taylor-Wood (apparently celebs do sleep?!) or the artist who drains a few pints of his blood every few years to make a floating sculpture of his head…
One thing I didn’t know about London until I moved here is… how safe it is. I honestly feel pretty safe walking around at night by myself and I swear that’s not naivety, as I used to get scared when I first moved here, but learnt through experience it was actually fine. There are so many well-lit areas, and because there are always so many people around you do feel safer than I ever expected.
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… how dirty the air is. Black snot is gross.
I’ll leave London when... I want more peace and quiet and the tug of friends and family back home gets too much.
Sometimes life calls for a little date. Not a big date, which would demand for heels, a blowdry and ~booking~ something (P.S. I’ve never got a blowdry for a date. Soz, Andrew). I’m talking a spontaneous, “Hey, shall we go out tonight? Just you and me?” date. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be with someone you feel a bit woozy with love or lust about, it could just as easily be a pal.
These evenings, in my experience, are normally best when they’re local, often in a little place that you discover – a gem that’s budget-friendly. In these places, the staff leave you alone to chat, the wine is decent and the food delicious. You leave the place arm in arm and step out into a cold, dark evening thinking how life is a little bit better for your date being in your life.
I’ve compiled a list of my top five date venues, where I’ve had evenings like this and think you might be able to enjoy them too.
1. Le Mercury, Upper Street, Islington
I’ve had more than one lovely evening here, with a range of different people from friends to family to my boyfriend. Each evening has been great. At Le Mercury they serve simple French food, and offer little tables close to one another and soft candlelight. There’s a huge capacity, and due to their massive popularity in North London they’ve actually expanded from their original restaurant to a second venue just down the road. The great thing about Le Mercury is that for those on a budget or splitting the meal, each offering on the menu is the same price per course. So starters are all £4.45, mains £9.95. And you know what? The food is really bloody good for that price. It holds a little special place in my heart, and is definitely one of Andrew and mine’s favourites.
I’ve written a more extensive review of Petek before, which you can read by clicking on the link above, so I won’t go on too much. But this is one of my fave date venues. It helps we currently live very close to Petek, but it is like a beacon of joy on the somewhat grey Stroud Green Road. Inside the lighting is glowy and soft and the service is friendly without being all up in your grill. It’s pretty darn perfect. And it kind of feels like you’re on a Mediterranean holiday in there. All that is missing is the stray dogs.
3. Kettners, Soho
OK, so Kettners might not fall into the “little-known place” bracket, as it is a London institution, but I like it as a date place so it’s going in, alright? Good.
I’m not talking about the restaurant here, cos that’s all sparkly and new and, well, just a fairly standard Soho restaurant. I’m talking about the champagne and cocktail bar. That might sound a little intimidating, but don’t be put off! Really it’s a cosy and relaxed bar, and is great for people watching. Dangerously, you can buy champagne in glasses, half bottles or bottles. And they stock a lot of champagne. So what might start out as a cheeky flute of bubbles can gloriously descend into an evening of being drunk on champagne and feeling all cosy and great. They do great cocktails too.
4. Albertine, Wood Lane, Shepherd’s Bush
If you ever had the misfortune to be in Shepherd’s Bush, as I did for a good while when I worked at the BBC, then Albertine is like a beautiful oasis in the drab wasteland of Shepherd’s Bush. I’m not suggesting you go there for a meal, because I’ve only had one proper meal there and it was slightly odd and slapdash. No, I mean you go there for drinks and snacks. Albertine’s is a wine bar, and owned by a guy who is obviously passionate about wine. Consequently, the wine list is bloody massive and has wines from all over the world. They also do a good line in bar snacks, with my faves being mini chorizo sausages. It’s all a bit rustic at Albertine’s. You can sit in the window, hunker down for the night and have really great chats.
5. The Prop Store, Southbank
One of my closest and most charming friends introduced me to The Prop Store, for it is attached to the National Theatre, where she works. Had it not been for her, I don’t think I would have found it as it’s quite easy to miss a lot of stuff on Southbank, especially in the Summer when the Prop Store operates.
Yes, indeed, this is a seasonal bar. As I said, it’s run by the National and exhibits inside an interesting array of props from the theatre company. The bar itself is kind of tiny and it does take a while to get served, but the drinks are reasonable for Southbank, and you can spill out onto the river bank on a hot, sticky summer evening and have one of those nights when you’re like, “Yeah, London is so pretty and awesome and I get to live here!” And although I generally find Southbank a bit too frantic in the summer months, it’s nice to rest up at the Prop Store and watch the world go by.
So that’s my list. Do you have any cute little places you like to go on for dates? Think I’ve missed somewhere? Rant at me in the comments.
I firmly believe there’s nothing more cheering in life than seeing a dog with his head hanging out of the car window. They look so happy, just by the simple fact they’ve got the wind in their fur and are able to see where they’re going. If only human happiness was arrived at so easily… (although there might be many more beheadings on the motorway…)
I saw this German Shepherd while my friend and I were driving out of London on our way to a hen do in Kent. We were tired and our spirits had been broken by the Blackwall Tunnel. This guy made it all better. Look at him go!
This Sunday I had a hot date with one of my closest friends, Ames, and Andrew. Without any deliberation we selected Caravan for the venue of said hot date.
Caravan is located just north of Kings Cross station, underneath Central St Martin’s. It faces out onto Granary Square, which had loads of weird events going on – something about the industrial revolution. This seemed to involve dressing pre-pubescent children up as chimney sweeps and someone screeching along to “Who Will Buy” from Oliver. It was a no from me.
We arrived at 1pm at Caravan and was told there was a 45 min wait. No worries, I thought, it means I get to spend more time catching up with Amy. However, an hour came and went… We were sat after 90 mins, but I am not really sure it’s worth a 90 min wait. You can go away and they’ll text you when your table is ready, but we were stuck in some pseudo-Victorian nightmare and just wanted to eat.
So anyway, yeah, cut to the chase – we got a table…
I ordered a salted caramel hot chocolate, which sounds incredibly sickly. I don’t really like sickly things, so I have no idea what came over me – I think I was discombobulated from the Industrial Revolution outside. In fact, it was absolutely delicious. It tasted like a creme brûlée in a drink. I pretty much drank it like a shot.
Food-wise, I ordered baked eggs, tomato pepper ragout, Greek yoghurt, chorizo sausage with sourdough toast.
It looked kind of on the small side when it arrived, but was actually incredibly rich. I’m glad I got the chorizo though, mostly because it’s my fave. The egg yolks were cooked all the way through though, which was a massive shame. The ragout was nice and punchy, and the bread soaked it all up nicely.
For some unknown reason (again, I blame the child slave labour homage outside), I ordered toast too. It came with tiny pots of homemade jam. The jam wasn’t actually that good – pretty flavourless – but the jars were cute. I shared the toast with Amy, as I felt totally sick by this point.
Amy and Andrew ordered jalapeno corn bread, fried eggs, black beans and guindilla pepper. I had a bite of Andrew’s, as I badly love corn bread. Again, the yolks were cooked through, which seems like a pretty easy thing they were getting wrong. There also wasn’t much of the dish, and not enough sauce, so it was kind of dry.
Andrew also ordered some kind of amazing museli thing, which was honey roasted. It was incredibly rich, but very yum. Not very healthy I don’t think though.
The service was good at Caravan though, after we got past the hostesses (who seemed to have mastered the art of flouncing past mass hoards of people vying for their attention). The atmosphere was really buzzy and it was great people watching. I would go again, but perhaps if I had the day off and could go when it’s less busy. Having said that, there are lots of amazing brunch places in London that means cafes and restaurants really need to work hard to gain my loyalty and I’m not sure Caravan was really on its game on Sunday.
Oh, the bill came to just under £50 for three, with three hot drinks.
I rarely look for things to do in London, because more often than not the best recommendations and the “Have you seen this amazing show/been to this great bars” come freely and often in general conversations with friends. Because I could never dare to even cover half of London, I have gathered a few friends in the field to give their spin on London.
Here one of my longest-serving and dearest friends, Jenny, gives us the low down on her London. I met Jenny in sixth form, when we were both studying Politics together. She always is going to new places and has great recommendations. I would say it is par for the course with her job, but she’s always been this way – a truly inspiring lady.
Job: Deputy Travel Editor at the Daily Mail
My Neighbourhood: Battersea
I live in London because… it is ever-changing, inspiring, full of creativity
London is at its best when… the sun shines
My ideal day off in London would be… running along the river from Battersea to Chiswick Bridge, nosing around Colombia Road Flower Market, lunch on my friend’s Bloomsbury roof terrace, cocktails in the Connaught and a long black cab ride home.
I absolutely love this little-known place called… Nancy Lam’s Thai restaurant, Enak Enak, on Lavender Hill
The best night I ever had in London was… my 30th birthday at Kensington Roof Gardens. It was November so the flamingos were in hibernation.
My favourite restaurant is…Poulet au Pot in Pimlico for a cosy atmosphere and the Caprice for a sparkly lunch at the bar.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… Liberty
August 27th was National Burger Day in the UK. This event was dreamt up by lifestyle newsletter Mr Hyde, Tweat Up and a range of premium burger vendors across the country. In London there was to be an event where all the best names in burgers would be flipping and selling their patty delights. It could have been just a cynical marketing ploy, but the evening was so brilliant that I don’t mind – I’m just glad they did it.
Tickets were a little over £11, and for that you got entrance, one pint of Meantime beer and two shots – a pickleback and a chilliback.
We decided on a shortlist before, based in part on the menu and part on good things I had heard about particular burgers.
My hit list: Bleecker Street, Disco Bistro, Honest Burgers and Mother Flipper. This seemed to be the same hit list as everyone else, so the queues were pretty lengthy.
First we hit up Bleecker Street for their cheeseburger triple. That’s three quarter pounders with cheese. It was enormous.
Luckily, everywhere was slicing their burgers in half so you could share with co-Burger Adventurers. Andrew and I split our Bleecker and then Andrew was asked to pose as a model…
When we eventually got to bite down on our Bleecker it was INCREDIBLE. So, so juicy and perfectly cooked with a pink middle. The cheese was unctuous and melted perfectly, but the absence of toppings really allowed the meat to be the star of the show. Who needs lots of gimmicks when you’re cooking amazing quality beef to such a high standard? It was the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. I cannot praise it highly enough.
We then went and got a Disco Burger from Disco Bistro. A Disco Burger is a rare breed beef patty, cheese, Carl’s special bun sauce and pineapple & bacon jam. Here it is in all its splendour…
Christ, this was so good too. Much smaller than the Bleecker, it was a different beast entirely. The patty was decent and juicy – a little more well done than my preference, but hey ho this isn’t a major gripe. The thing that really made you sit up and notice with this burger were the toppings. The cheese was all melted into the pineapple and bacon jam, which was sweet and sour in equal measure and insanely moorish. This was Andrew’s favourite burger, and came a close second for me after the Bleecker. I definitely want to go to Disco Bistro now and sample their fare further.
We then visited Pickleback Alley for our Pickleback shot. For the uninitiated this is a shot of whiskey with a pickle juice chaser. They were rank. I hate whiskey anyway, much to my brother’s chagrin. I felt like my throat had been striped afterwards. The only thing that would help was a burger.
Mother Flipper had a giant queue, so we got in line like the good little Brits we are. We placed our order and then waited for our burger. Mother Flipper were doing lots of exciting things, including a smaller burger with a maple and bacon cronut for a bun. We went for a Dirty Barbie, which is a double patty, American cheese, candy bacon, candy fried onions with tomato relish and barbecue sauce. It sounded incredible, and I’d heard such great things about Mother Flipper. I was sure this burger was going to be The One. When it arrived, it was slightly overcooked but the grill chef was under A LOT of pressure with a huge amount of people waiting for their burgers so I can forgive that. However, the toppings made the burger incredibly sloppy and they all sort of slid off! Burger nightmare. Once in my gob, I couldn’t taste the patty but the toppings were nice if a little too overpowering and unbalanced. The BBQ sauce was too strong for my taste. And I found the texture of very crisp, chewy bacon and slippery fried onions not totally a pleasant one and it didn’t really work. I am sure Mother Flippers are better than this and I am excited to try them again when it’s a less frenetic atmosphere.
Last burger of the night. We waddled over to Honest burgers and ordered an Honest +. This is a special creation for the night and contained a Ginger Pig beef & bone marrow patty topped with Red Leicester cheese, crispy pigs cheek, shallot & parsley salad, red onion relish & homemade pickles. Another big queue for this guy! However, there were comfy sofas to snuggle up on while we waited – and the people watching potential at the event was brilliant. Everyone was SO friendly and we got talking to a lot of people about what we had, what they were having next etc. Everyone seemed so passionate and excited about burgers. THESE ARE MY PEOPLE.
Anyway, Honest burger. This was a good burger. Really nice and meaty and the parsley salad actually made a lovely little refreshing break from the tidal wave of fried food. I was so full by this point I wasn’t able to give it my full admiration. Honest Burger were also serving crispy pig cheek scratchings, which had all sold out – they sounded so good though. Next time.
The evening was so brilliant and made me so happy that I live in London. It was great to see so many people so passionate about what they were doing. There’s nothing more soul destroying than eating generic food that’s made without care and love. Everyone at National Burger Day was on their A Game, and the customers were loving it. It was a beautiful evening, which helped too. I’m so happy that I went.
Oh yeah, the Chilliback? I ducked out. I sipped my chilli tequila before giving to Andrew and it was actually really lovely, but I am weak and couldn’t handle it. Andrew said that was delicious though. Maybe next time…
I’ve been looking for a flat to purchase recently. I’m not an absolute moron; I realise this makes me very lucky to be in a position to potentially own a property of my own, especially in London. So I guess this post is a little “my diamond shoes are too tight”, but whatever! I need to vent.
“It’s so exciting!” people beamed at me when I told them my boyfriend and I were looking to buy a place together. I have since found the exact opposite. It’s been a tedious, arduous journey, which has wasted a good year’s worth of Saturdays looking at depressing hovels in suspect areas of North London.
Without further ado, here are my top five (or should that be bottom five?) annoyances. Estate agents look away now!
1. Kirstie and Phil
For those not in the UK, Kirstie and Phil present a long-running British TV show called Location, Location, Location, where they find house hunters their dream home for under their budget over the course of three days. Not only do they find this gem for the house hunters, they also normally get an offer accepted under the asking price without a hitch. I now laugh a hollow laugh in the face of this.
Phil and Kirstie (aka Kirstie and Phil) have given me – and I can’t think I am alone in this, guys – unrealistic expectations of what house hunting was going to be like. They don’t deal with pushy, sleazy estate agents on the the TV show. They don’t show them rushing about between appointments on a Saturday on London’s public transport. They don’t show the awkwardness of staring down other potential buyers at open days. THAT is house hunting in London, not skipping about tree lined streets in Crouch End weighing up options in a gastro pub over a chilled glass of Sauv Blanc. There is no time to weigh up options – someone else is going to steal your dream flat, so you have to go, go, go!
That’s before I’ve even got to the prices. London house prices are high, but as we’ve only been looking in London we kind of have grudgingly become accustomed to the fact you wouldn’t get a garage for quarter of a mill. When I watch L, L, L, lovely couples are scoring three-bed properties with gardens for £150K. OK, it’s not in London but it’s still a bit gut wrenching and makes me want to break something. But I still watch the show, of course – who doesn’t love P & K? They’re just so delightful.
2. Open Houses
In our area of London there’s probably one reasonably-priced flat that comes on the market per week. Or so it seems. Estate agents are inherently lazy – I learned this early on – and so they pack in as many viewings in on a Saturday morning as possible. “You must be there at 11.15,” they say, claiming they have another viewing at 11.25. You arrive and there’s 10 other couples awkwardly shimmying past one another in a flat the size of a postage stamp, while the more pushy viewers (me!) vie for the agent’s attention to ask about ground rent and other tedious money-wasters.
They will then tell you as you leave “Offer in on Monday”. Meaning most people who have viewed the flat will put in an offer and it’ll turn into a bidding war. All this while the agent kicks back, having only had to stand in a tiny flat for a few hours one Saturday mentally counting his commission*.
3. Estate Agents – especially a well-known agent rhyming with Moxtons.
Estate Agents have been the bane of my life since we’ve been looking. They send me properties that are £100K over our budget, they call and leave 20 voicemails during office hours then go for lunch for two hours when I’m actually free, they tell me my dreams are futile and I should settle for living in a bog.
The absolutely worst agent, who have consistently come up trumps in the “I’m the world’s biggest twonk” competition all estate agents seem to be competing in, is Foxtons. Here are some classic conversations I’ve had with them:
Me: I’m looking for a one bed for £[budget]
Foxtons Twonk: Yeah, can you increase that by £100K?
Me: Um, not really?
Foxtons Twonk: Just that that amount tends to be what most people get for a bonus and so they’re just spending their bonuses on properties buying in cash.
Me: [Hangs up]
Foxtons Twonk: I’ve got this GREAT property to show you! Can you come see it RIGHT NOW?
Me: Great, can you send over the details?
Foxtons Twonk: Well why don’t you just come see it without the details?
Me: Because I don’t want to waste my time if it’s not suitable. Can you send them over, please?
Foxtons Twonk: Well we have a policy of never sending out details. We find it tends to confuse people. We’d really rather just show properties without them seeing the details first. So shall I meet you there at 1pm?
Me: No. I’m not going without seeing the details.
[Cue circular conversation until we’re both worn out and give up]
Having said that, our current agent is a brilliant gem.
4. Getting to Viewings
I live in London and don’t own a car. I also work, so can only really see properties on a Saturday. This tends to mean that over the past eight months, Andrew and I have spent our Saturdays careering around London, looking at depressing holes and battling public transport in between each viewing.
I now know North London’s bus routes surprisingly well and can tell you the fastest route on foot between the Emirates Stadium and Stokey. The late buses, the suspended overground services, the buses on divert (who knows where you might end up, but chances are it’ll be 3 miles from where you wanted to be). It’s horrendous.
I envy those people who chuck money away owning a car in London, as it’s been the one time it would’ve actually been useful.
5. Everyone Else
House hunting has turned me into an intolerant ball of anger, which I hate – so perhaps it’d be more accurate to say number five is myself, but that seems a little emo. Anyway…
– There are the other a eleventy billion people who are househunting. Hate them. They keep buying the flats I want.
– There are home owners. Hate them. How do they own a flat and not me? How did they do it, those evil house buying wizards?
– People from out of town. Hate them. Don’t need to know how much my budget would get me in Scarborough. I don’t want to live in Scarborough.
– People who say “oh it’s so exciting”. See top of article, read to end for reasons why.
At the end of it all, there’s a delightful house-buying process to go through, which I am currently enduring. More on that another time…
*There might be more to estate agency than this. I’m not convinced, but there might be.
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.
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)
This weekend I ventured out West, to Wembley to buy clothes for a very good friend of mine’s wedding. I am pleased to report that the journeys there and back were prime dog-spotting territory.
We saw this guy striding down the platform at Willesden Junction. Andrew actually exclaimed loudly to me, “Look at him! He’s so happy!” and indeed, he had a massive smile on his face. He looked like he’d been for a dip somewhere, which we all know labs are fond of. He made my wait for our onward train a lot happier.
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!
Andrew and I are currently looking to buy a shoebox flat in London. I am finding dealing with estate agents beyond frustrating, so to calm my irritation at people’s ineptitude, I look at pretty things online to go in my fantasy flat that we almost certainly can’t afford.
My main love is looking at prints. In our current flat we have so many prints it looks a bit cramped! I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I’ve got a spare wall and I don’t know what to hang on it. I know less is more, so I really need to reign it in. But I thought I’d take a break from food blogging and show you the top five prints I am currently lusting after…
The first one is above. I love otters, love vintage prints, love the graphics. I’d love to have the full collection of all the British wildlife, but think that may be a little bit OTT, so I’d make do with just the otter guy.
I love collective nouns. I like quirky language anyway, but I especially love the humour in collective nouns. A romp of otters? A kaleidoscope of butterflies? Brilliant. Woop Studios have made gorgeous prints out of these collective nouns. I think they’d be brilliant in a child’s room. But I don’t have a child, so I’ll just have to get them for myself. I like this Zebra one especially, as I like the word “dazzle” and love the way the letters standout against the monochrome zebras. I wish that massive D wasn’t at the end though, as it looks a bit out of place.
I have a favourite art shop, it’s called The Only Place for Pictures and is at the top of Upper Street in Islington. I basically can’t walk past without going in. This print hangs above the till and tempts me every time I go in. Although we don’t live in London Fields, we have a lot of friends who do and I love the tag line “No Underground. Get over it.” I can imagine some of our friends actually saying that.
I love maps. I could look at maps for hours. I really love this hand-drawn map of London by Jenni Sparks. It’s definitely I could look at again and again and always find something new. I also love seeing where the tube lines actually run and the pops of colour it adds to the print.
Not sure why there’s a splodge on this one! Anyway, The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr was my favourite book as a child, and has since been my niece and nephew’s favourite book too. I love the story and and wonderful, soft illustrations. It brings back really lovely childhood memories for me looking at them. I would rather the end illustration, of Mum, Dad and Sophie eating sausages in the cafe, but I couldn’t find that anywhere. Anyway, you could probably only get away with this if you did have a kid sadly.
And that is my “embarrassingly-middle class” taste in prints.
It’s been a while for a dog spot – and so I’ve got an extra special one. Having tweeted this picture, it ended up on a great Tumblr Dogs on Trains. It does what it says on the link.
Anyway, I saw this little fellow sitting nicely with no fuss on the East London Line, speeding his way across the top of London. I love his scruffy fur and little black nose. I think we really could’ve been best buds.
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.
I spotted this lil’ chap while on the Victoria Line one blustery winter’s day. Luckily for him, his owner had decked him out in a snug looking coat. He was really lovely – a bit nervy, as a lot of whippets seem to be. But he LOVED his owner, and soon climbed up on her lap and fell asleep.
I met this lovely chap while queuing for the cash point on Highbury Corner. This has turned out to be an excellent dog spotting area. This guy was barking a little – I think he was pretty upset to be leaving the nearby Highbury Fields, thus heralding the end of his walk.
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.
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!
Countless times I’ve listened to people moan about wanting a takeaway that delivers roasts on a Sunday, or a lovely juicy steak on a Friday night. Well, I’ve discovered the answer: Housebites.
Housebites claims to be “the new way to order gourmet takeaway from great chefs in your local area for the price of a pizza.” Let’s see.
When you visit Housebite’s website, you’ll be asked to input your postcode so they can show you the menus of the chefs cooking in your area In my area (Islington, yo) there’s a selection of chefs, but Wesley catches my eye – he does a mix of Caribbean-style food and some more standard dishes. I placed an order through their website for two lots of what you see above – steak, sauce, mash and side of plantains. Some chefs don’t deliver, but luckily Wesley does, so all I had to do was get the plates ready and wait.
The food arrived still hot. We unloaded it all, and it was packaged well (leaking takeaway is the worst) and my God, there was plenty of it! I couldn’t eat all of it. Although the size of the steak was on the small side, it was a decent quality. The fried plantain were the stars of the meal though – A and I wolfed those right now.
I’d definitely use Housebites again. It’s not the cheapest option when it comes to takeaway – our order was about £25 (inc delivery), but it made a lovely change from MSG-esque chinese or oily curry takeouts. And today’s a Friday, it’s payday – so why not?! Go on, treat yourself.
Housebites isn’t available country-wide yet, but it is spreading.
I’ve got a confession. I love making friends with strangers dogs when they’re not looking (and I really hope that isn’t some unintentional double entendre). I also try to take photos of them. Yeah, the more you read of this blog the more you’ll realise I am a totally creepy person.
Now I am going to share all my sightings with you. Here is my favourite London underground dog spot – four of the little guys! This man has my dream job – hanging out with dogs. Well I assume that it’s his job. I like the grumpy border terrier at the back best.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love a portmanteau and I love an excuse to eat, so brunch is my heaven. Also, who can actually be bothered to get up for breakfast on a Saturday? Crazy people, that’s who. I think everyone should do away with weekend breakfasts and just admit that brunch is the way forward.
I’m going to be doing reviews of brunch as I eat my way around London. Here is my first one – and it’s going to be a hard one to beat.
The Table on Southwark Street is one of my all-time favourite restaurants in London. It’s close enough to the attractions of Southbank and Borough Market to be easy to get to, but far enough away that not everyone knows about it. Their canteen-style lunches are incredible during the week, their evening meals are some of the best food I’ve had in London and their brunch… well, read on.
For weekend brunch, it’s table service, and you sit on long canteen-style tables. It’s a really upbeat, happy vibe in there, with an open kitchen so you can nosy at what other people are having!
I like a varied brunch menu. Sometimes I’m in the mood for the traditional Eggs Benedict, but I don’t always want egg all up in my grill. Sometimes I want an American treat of pancakes, and sometimes I might just want an English breakfast (I know it’s brunch, but whatevs, I’m a maverick). It’s HARD to find a brunch menu that covers all bases and is still exciting and well-executed. But The Table delivers on this. There are delicious smoothies (I recommend About Last Night – a refreshing and fruit blend of apple, banana, green grapes and spinach), there’s cocktails if you’re feeling fancy, there’s a Borough Full English (two fried eggs, bacon, pork & leek sausage, ham hock baked beans, grilled tomato, Portobello mushroom and sourdough toast) and there’s the ol’ Eggs Benny. BUT there’s other stuff too. The Table are pushing the boat out, so get right on board. The sweetcorn fritters excite me (sweetcorn fritters with char-grilled tomato compote, baby leaf spinach and hollandaise) as does the chorizo stack (I love me some chorizo!). There are also varieties of pancakes and waffles. After some torturous decision-making, I went for the pancakes.
I’ve had pancakes in my time guys, but these were the kind you dream of when you’re hungover and don’t want to leave your bed. They had crispy, salty, deliciously-savoury bacon, there were pools of thirst-inducing maple syrup and the bananas cut through it all with a kind-of-not-at-all nod to fruit. The pancakes were deliciously fluffy. I did not want this brunch to end. I want to go back there right now, at 7pm on a Sunday night to eat it all over again.
My dining partners seemed to enjoy their brunches too, with everyone agreeing it was a hard act to beat. My pancakes cost £8, which I reckon is pretty standard for brunch-y type places in London, and it was better than any other brunches I’ve had so well worth the money.
In general, I cannot recommend The Table enough – but definitely make the effort to go for their brunches. You’ll be dreaming of it all week after.
Service: 3/5 (we had to wait a little while and were starving!)