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Monday, 28 July 2014

Pub grub, south of the river!

South of the river you say?! Contemplating my journey down the Northern Line on a hot day would have been so much more bearable had the lingering hangover from the night before not have been quite so uncomfortable. I braved the shakes and sweats though, surfacing in Clapham South for a friends birthday celebrations at The Grove. Now, this is apparently the posh part of Clapham and I could easily be persuaded to think so too, having endured Clapham High Street on a Friday night a couple years ago (still etched on my poor brain I'm afraid!). I soon discover though, that this particular boozer is more Balham than it is Clapham South, but who cares about post code when the spot is so utterly lovely?! Let them both claim it I'd say!

Located on Oldridge Road, tucked quietly away off Balham High Road (equidistant between Clapham South and Balham, just incase you're still contemplating who infact the righteous flag bearer might be!), this is a Victorian drinking hole at it's near best I'd say, ideal for a lazy lunch! I'm not sure what it's like on a regular evening, but I must say, I was somewhat disappointed to see it so uninhabited between the hours of 13:00 - 18:00 on a Saturday afternoon. Where was everyone and why did all the hoards appear to be gravitating toward local rival, The Avalon? Had more of my faculties been present, I would have ventured for a drink into the latter to get to the bottom of it...instead though, I could think of nothing more appealing than a box set, a vat of Diet Coke and my bed.

Two pints of the aforementioned Diet Coke later, I found myself admiring the fabulous duo of copper tanks, housing what I can only assume was an impressive amount of ale! Young's and Meantime Brewery have paired up to spread the word about craft beers and how delightfully novel it was to see these pristine dispensaries in all their shiny glory! The sofas were comfortable, the skylight in the dining room made it all so bright and inviting; the décor throughout was thoughtful and immensely pleasing, the outdoor terrace was lovely (I saw a BBQ too, which always indicates promise!), and the menu consisted of good, solid, staple pub grub, presented and priced well enough to be labelled "gastropub-grub" maybe!

Food was good (but not earth-shattering, owing to my over-charred burger and mussels-in-white-wine-cream envy mainly), the pub looked awesome (tick!), and service was attentive, but slow (shame). Another mixed bag, but would love to go when busier to see how the vibe changes...

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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Tea & Cake!

Now, I'm not generally an avid fan of the humble deli unless I'm desperately hungover and need to gorge on carbs (in which case I'm afraid though, only a greasy spoon will do), or unless I can mull over an all day brunch comprising mostly of eggs benedict, black pudding, tea and cake (in precisely this order!). I shall however, make an exception for Mount Street Deli, which is such a quaint little treat among the ocean of others in it's category. Location bias might possibly be clouding my judgement on this one though....

In Zone 1, Mount Street is without a doubt one of my favourites to amble down and admire, with it's the pristine red-brick buildings, each one oozing old-world charm enough to make it feel oh so salaciously Mayfair! Anyway, this deli is tiny and very informal, with not necessarily the quickest service in the world, but none of this matters as you wile the minutes away perusing the clientèle and pondering over their independent fortunes (maybe that's just me though, as a working class gal-done-OK!). I cannot drink coffee despite love of the smell, but I can tell you that they looked fabulous (everyone enjoys a fanciful foam design!) and I'm told they tasted divine - for me, the juices, courtesy of new supplier Imbibery, were fabulous.

Don't be fooled though...this is not just another deli! As part of the Caprice Holdings restaurant group, Mount Street Deli offers a whole lot more that it says on the tin. For a refreshingly affordable fee, you can attend a myriad of food and drink themed events, usually based on seasonal produce, so definitely keep an eye on what's coming up (you may even spot the odd celeb host). You can get afternoon tea in a box or indulge in a hamper for that perfect picnic, you can even cater a dinner party with a selection of dishes lovingly prepared by J Sheeey Oyster Bar, The Ivy, Daphne's, Bam Bou and many more! If you fancy, why not hire it out for the night and have your very own chefs table experience?!

Mount Street Deli is the culinary equivalent to Mary Poppins' handbag...whatever will I be able to pull out next (I wouldn't say no to a pair of Louboutin's from across the street, but I'll settle for a good carrot cake!).

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

More buns...

I am finding myself ever more determined to make my London lunchtimes a little more exhilarating than the oh too frequent practice of scoffing infront of my inbox, clumsily typing nonsense with one finger, while neglecting the food cascading down my almost-smart-but-quite-acceptable office attire. So, off we trot for the second time this month (whatever will we do with ourselves!), Flesh & Buns, which from the outset could've been a bad decision because it's a basement eatery with no windows (not necessarily great in summer, but perfectly ambient in the autumn/winter nights no doubt though)...oops!

Located on Earlham Street, just off Seven Dials in Covent Garden, this Japanese dining room is a little less Izakaya than it claims, and perhaps a bit more Wagamama, albeit a far more sexier and ultimately more satisfying version! We take a seat in one of the booths that surround a very long, central table (ideal for tucking in with the masses), and we quickly realise that it takes a rare breed of idiot to sit in a windowless basement when the temperatures are soaring outside - we've committed now though, so must see it through, for the hirata buns if nothing else (a new-found love of mine since visiting Shoryu recently).

I should first and foremost mention that the food in this place is great - hats off to the chefs, who calmly work in an open kitchen and made us a delectable feast of prawn tempura sushi rolls, Korean fried wings and miso soup to start, followed by crispy piglet belly, 1/2 young chicken and crispy duck leg, all perfectly prepared for us to portion off with some very thoughtful accompaniments, into some mouthwateringly good steamed buns, courtesy of Bone Daddies ramen bar in Soho (the hot older brother!).

Everything I put in my mouth today was brilliant, but (and I'm afraid this is a rather disappointingly large BUT), the metal beakers made the water taste of, well...metal, the service was disengaging and uninformative, our waitress was far too quick to swipe everything off our table while people were still eating (inexplicably hasty in a very slow lunch service), and without wanting to sound like Wagamama's less intelligent, ugly sister, the menu was impossible to interpret! I think we've collectively gotten to the bottom of it now, but if I was part of a larger group, I might have given up and cried myself into a hungry stupor in the toilets, comforted by the fabulous naked manga wallpaper! Great food, with promising ambience but the rest let it down unfortunately.

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Flesh & Buns

Prawn tempura roll

1/2 young chicken

Dessert menu looked great!
Manga-clad toilets
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Sunday, 20 July 2014

SPECIAL: Prague (Part I)

Prague has been on my go-to list for too long now, but with the ascension of long-haul adventure clouding my Euro vision for the past 7 years and the louts of the yesteryear branding it the pre-nuptial destination of choice, it has until now, sadly evaded me (long gone are the onsie-clad drunkard revellers though, in favour of, I suspect, alternative hotspots where the beer to ££ ratio is somewhat more forgiving!). Quite bizarrely, I will find myself in this fair city not just once, but thrice over the coming 3 months, so here’s hoping that the combination of jaunts can adequately equip you for a splendid visit of your own soon…

A city of a thousand spires, the cobbled heart of Prague is a delightful mix of trams, riverboats and pedestrians, with tourists bringing it to life every which way you turn. Now, one would love to complain about the average tourist (hopeless ambling, random stopping in the midst of flowing foot traffic, maps larger than your arm span can cope with and backpacks even larger…need I go on?!), but when you set about on foot with your very own giant map and all-weather permitting outfit, who cares?! Actually I had a tiny pocket map, but I certainly did give a hoot! Being a tourist rocks when you’re not on the receiving end of hundreds of them battling the escalators at Leicester Square (sometimes I just want to get home people!).

Henceforth I should move then, to the more pertinent practical points of food and shelter (the very core of any self-respecting holiday-maker or business traveler, as highlighted by a very wise German friend of mine not so long ago!). I should warn you though, that if you want to read about Pilsner-guzzling dive bars and the best duck/dumpling combo vs. street-based sausage carts, you’ll have to wait until my next trip in August with the girls!

Prague is brimming with restaurants, bars and special venues, so everyone can find something to suit them I suspect. 
  • Cotto Crudo at the Four Seasons literally translates as cooked or raw, which is represented in their very Italian menu; there is a small but delightful terrace overlooking the river outside or a very classic open plan and spacious dining room inside, the latter of which is home to a marvellous fridge stocked with hanging cheese and cured meats (otherwise known as my happy place!). If I didn't have to worry about my ever-expanding waistline, the aged and supremely sweet balsamic vinegar should be served to me with bread every morning while the Amedie chocolate Lingotto & Bronte pistachio dessert could easily slip into my every afternoon, served with a cuppa or a gin!
  • Hergetova Cihelna has a terrace ideal for eating right on the river! Recommended to me by the very helpful concierge at Four Seasons, it sits next to the Charles Bridge and offers yet more Italian cuisine. Tonight is the night I braved a night of solo dining (never an activity that I've gotten used to), but I was equipped with a loaded inbox, a carton of inextricably cheap cigarettes, and a steely determination to show a very dear man in Northfield, Connecticut, that he was right - I can either relocate my balls and enjoy a very nice meal or I can get bored and miserable in a hotel room, with soggy room service!. I ordered their signature sashimi pizza as a starter and while it was something I neither expected nor previously tasted, I ate the entire thing trying to work out whether or not I liked either it or the idea (I'm still not sure!). The octopus main course was to die for and perfectly cooked, with the largest set of tentacles I've ever seen, while the creme brulee dessert was tasty, but decidedly anticlimactic I'm afraid - by that point though, I was just thankful (and tipsy from the demi bottle of Chablis!) that I'd made it to the 3rd course alone without imploding. Fabulous setting, nice food!
I also would love to recommend some other places that I visited because they looked remarkable, but be warned because looks can be deceiving sometimes and I have not yet eaten in them (not even my belly can cope with too many restaurants in just 2.5 days!). Watch this space though, I will be back in August to sample more...
  • Villa Richter is perched high up by the largest castle I've ever seen and is very easily accessible by tram, though unless you're walking down from the castle, be sure to prepare yourself for a steep climb up from street level. Once you've arrived, you'll see that the gardens, views and dining rooms are all worth it! I've not yet eaten here, but the food comes highly recommended by locals in the know and I will be going there on my next this space. 
  • Bellevue is across the street from the river and only a stones throw from the Charles Bridge, with a very large but inviting dining room; elegant but not decadent, sophisticated but not intimidating. Highly recommended by everyone I spoke to!
  • Palffy Palac is a very traditional restaurant at the bottom of the Prague Castle and is known locally for being a romantic hotspot, popular with many! The garden terrace is colourful and lush, especially in the sun, while the dining room is the epitome of Czech traditional opulence. It's sister restaurant U Maliru is only a stones throw from the outrageously fabulous Mandarin Oriental (a converted monastery, with unmistakable 5* luxury finishes!) - it is an ancient and very charming place, probably best as a warm winter haven because it's small, cosy and erring on the dark side.
  • Ginger & Fred is only recently opened in last 6 months and is a bright and funky restaurant, with a quirky touch of risqué in the décor (check out the toilets!), located on the 7th floor of a architecturally impressive structure overlooking the river.
  • Letansky Zamecek is high up in the park and more of a grand special venue for private occasions, but they have an informal cafe attached, which is ideal for a cold beer and munch outside in the summer, with views over the entire city.
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Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge
Prague street art

Ginger & Fred inside

Ginger & Fred entrance

Hergetova Cihelna: sashimi pizza (starter portion)

Hergetova Cihelna: Octopus 
Hergetova Cihelna: my view!

Palffy Palac
Letensky Zamecek

Palffy Palac entry by stairs!

Palffy Palac: stunning garden terrace
Letensky Zamecek: the view!

Villa Richter

Monday, 14 July 2014

Easy BBQ

With the original venue on the Kings Road, I've been meaning to venture over to Big Easy for quite some time now, though have never quite made it for many a various reason, including, but unfortunately not limited to, my fear of the Chelsea socialite and my woeful loathing of the District & Circle lines (sorry to all you Wimbledon dwellers!). Low and behold though, as I battled through the crowds of Covent Garden with my jaw clenched yesterday (hoping that our choice of a central location for the World Cup final wouldn't be our worst decision this year), Big Easy has infact recently landed in Maiden Lane.

Before now, Maiden Lane has meant only the very sticky Canadian haunt, Maple Leaf (paying homage to poutine and wings!); an even stickier Jewel (let's not go there!), and my go-to central beer den, the Porterhouse (a multi-floored beer haven, not necessarily home to the best pub grub you've ever had, but absolutely brimming with brews from around the world and one of very few places I can rekindle my Cuban love fest with Palma Cristal!).

The former electricity station opened its doors in March 2014 as an all-American BBQ and crab shack, and places itself in the midst of a very competitive insurgence of dirty burger establishments, steak and lobster haunts, and BBQ-based food trucks! The original industrial chic decor is muddled with a fantastic retro Americana edge and is frankly, right up my street, loved it. Unfortunately though, you could sink a weeks wages in this place should you choose to eat a lobster the size of my newborn niece (6lbs for £65); and the can of Hawaiian beer, while exotic and fun, is [call me cheap, but] not entirely worth £5.50 when a bottle of my aforementioned Cuban nectar is only £3.70(ish) next door! We opted for pulled pork and BBQ chicken sandwiches respectively and while rather pleasant, neither quite lived up to the electric decor and epic bar, the latter of which you could drown in for nearly a year and still not have tasted very spirit on offer.

In summary therefore, this is a great place to sit at the bar, with BBQ'd snacks while you bask in the fab atmosphere and live blues music (again, right up my street and I should definitely like to get involved with this!)...there are however, better places to eat!

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