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Saturday, 28 March 2015

London Living and Austrian Eating

I started this blog because I wanted to share my ongoing quest to experience a side of town(s) that tourists simply either don't know about or don't think to look for! I find myself writing this particular blog because I just had dinner with a good friend from back home and it all got me thinking...when do you stop being a tourist and start to belong?!

From the south coast suburbs originally, I grew up with the common and typically bland selection of chain restaurants that descend upon most provincial towns (you know the score: Bella Italia, Pizza Express, Slug & Lettuce, Zizzi, Harvester, Chiquito, Wetherspoons, Strada and the suchlike), and while the village green chippies and riverside pubs that remained were always predictably idyllic, so much of it somehow just started to feel a little rehearsed and manipulated by the aspiring middle class yachties. When I moved to Portsmouth then (more specifically, Southsea), I started to enjoy a bite at a slightly more bohemian and eclectic apple; it offered an owner-managed culture that seemed to still preside over the corporate conglomerates and as a result it had such an endearing personality. Despite outgrowing it a little in the end, I still have a myriad of fond memories towards it and I'd happily live there again one day!

Relocating from coastal suburbia to London feels a lot like being punched in the face with full brute force by a heavyweight omniscient giant with 5 personalities. In reality though, what this actually is, is colliding with 8.5 million people from every culture, ethnicity and class, spread over 1,500 square kilometers, while politely battling through 16.8 million tourists annually and competing with the plethora of brainiacs, megalomaniacs, insomniacs, and maniacs that make up the fifth largest city economy in the world. To say it's a brutal adjustment is an understatement and to claim that it didn't overwhelm me in my first few months would be an outrageous lie. What people don't often tell you though, is that it doesn't take too long for butterflies to replace jitters and for collected excitement to oust nervous blind panic! It simply won't work to sit still and expect things to fall into place must get up, stand out, put in and be a part of this city if you want to flourish here. So every day, I try do just that...

I walk everywhere I can to see as much as I can and I roll around in the spoils of such epic ethnic diversity by eating my way around town. I've written about Chinese, Japanese, Italian, British, Indian, Caribbean, American, Peruvian, Spanish, Cuban, Swiss, and Mexican since July last year, but over the years, I've indulged in far more than this and have experimented with fusion concepts from most of the aforementioned! I've eaten in dozens of different countries, but sometimes when I'm dining in London, I feel like I'm getting a taste of the whole world without even breaching the M25! My latest venture took me to Tiroler Hut, to enjoy some Austrian hospitality.

I've been to Austria and gorged on bratwurst, sauerkraut, goulash and dumplings while drinking from a stein amidst cowbells before, but never have I been able to enjoy this kind of hospitality, food and beer accompanied by the gnashing beats of a Casio keyboard and the unbridled rasp of a saxophone! Entering from a tiny door on Westbourne Grove W2 that I missed the first time I walked up the street, we descended into a basement restaurant to be greeted by the most warm of welcomes from staff all with regional accents (always a good sign!). With low ceilings (oddly corrugated, but fine), dark wood beams and gingham everywhere, it was exactly what I wanted it to be so far.

After a chat with the affable waitress and a couple of beers later, we ordered heavy on the traditionally wholesome dishes, resisting with every fibre of my being, the urge to order a cheese fondue to start. The Bauernschmaus (Tyrolean Peasants Favourite @ £15.50) was steeped high with sauerkraut and oozing all sorts of different meat...mmm! I do wish that the bread dumplings were a little less wet and a little more large, but aside from this, I was exceptionally happy (not forgetting the relentless sax blaring away from a tiny booth in the middle of the restaurant!). All the plates are unfussy and rustic, presented as though you were at home in winter, being fed by your mother who doesn't think you've been eating enough! While not necessarily earth-shatteringly attractive to look at, every meal is infact precisely what you need and I for one, wanted more!

It was a quiet Tuesday night when I visited, but I imagine this place gets very busy and positively swells with frivolity and kitsch fun later in the week. It has so much charm and character that you can't help but to smile throughout the entire experience. I can't wait to go back...

Square Meal Tiroler Hut on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Antiques & Cake

The closest I have come to West London on foot in almost 5 years and its happened entirely by random chance last weekend! I wouldn't say I dread it, but I certainly don't go out of my way to travel anywhere that requires my presence in Paddington (not because it's ropey you understand, but simply because the schlep home is such a lengthy bore and I'd really rather not have to take a punt on the notoriously unreliable Hammersmith & City Line, or indeed, any tube line on a weekend!). Since I must escape this city on the odd occasion though, more often than not, I end up having to travel to/from this hangar for trains, so this time, I decide to avoid said laborious underground trek by walking home, hopefully by way of a myriad of interesting stops and sights...I realise that this may be a tad ambitious, but what's the harm in trying eh?!

Heading off toward the Edgware Road, crossing underneath the demonstratively loud A40, glad that I've never had to stay in Hilton London Metropole and wishing that I could protect my lungs from the traffic (perhaps a cigarette will help?! No! OK!), how ecstatic I was then, to stumble on a market on Church Street. Now, aside from my love of all things cheese and plantain, you should also know that I love a market of any kind - it could be food, junk, clothes, books, furniture, cleaning products and imitation watches for all I care! It really doesn't matter what they're selling or whether or not I actually want to buy anything from anyone because the simply joy of cruising a market stall or car boot knows no bounds! For the record, I bought one of those giant laundry bags for only £3.50 (they're at least £8.99 on Amazon!!), not because I need a launderette, but because they're a superb storage solution for my spare duvet that I have no actual storage space for...because I live in London!

Amidst the market jubilation's then, I found what I've been halfheartedly been looking for since I set off on this random stomp: Alfies Antique Market! I was actually in search of cake, which I was assured I could find somewhere within the bowels of this vast emporium, but boy was I in for a treat because this place comprised of four floors, all crammed with antiques, vintage bits n bobs, and retro gubbins. The cake was going to have to wait a while I fear!

After at least 1.5 hours, I finally reach the top floor and ascending into the heavens of my new favourite creaky and cluttered bazaar, I find a cheerful and bustling cafe. I hear friends catching up over coffee and bloody marys, some navigating their sweet tooth around a freshly baked carrot cake with others basking in the sun of an open decked terrace, tucking into eggs and a cuppa. What a cute little place I whisper to myself, eager to peruse the saccharine-based delights on offer. I had barely completed my review of the options by the time I spied the lemon drizzle though, so there's no more looking for me! Sometimes cake looks delicious, but lacks flavour, and sometimes it looks so over the top, so you're bound to like it, only to discover that infact it's dry and anticlimactic...I'm pleased to report though, that this was not the case here - it was good and moist and good and generous and oh so full of flavour, tang and simplicity! Loved it.

What a great place to while away your Saturday and if you have to tell yourself you're in Maida Vale, St Johns Wood or Marylebone before you give it a go, then I'll forgive you (it's really the dodgy-but-delightful end of NW8, but I won't tell anyone!).

Alfies Roof Top Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, 16 March 2015

Rum Kitchen

My ongoing plantain obsession has most recently taken me to Kingly Court, which incidentally, is now a buzzing hive of eateries that begs the question: when did all the boutiques get banished and how did all these grub holes pop up without me noticing sooner?! Perched on a mezzanine level balcony, you will find the Rum Kitchen lording over said hive below, positively oozing atmosphere above a backdrop of afro-funk melodies.

Jovially welcomed through the busy doorway, I feel as if we'd just walked into the home of our most scatty friend with a medley of other friends, in unison, at that pivotal moment when the cream could burn, the fat might catch alight or the rice just stuck to the bottom of their favourite pot (possibly all of the above!). With a reservation firmly made though, we were whisked to our seats with some bright small talk and a subtle sigh of relief that we weren't just another group to whom the host had to instruct to wait by the open door or perch at the bijou bar. It was chaotic, efficient, friendly and alive so far and I'm smiling because the mania is a rouse - there may be a lot of people squeezing and snaking inbetween the tables or engaged in animated chit chat, but the hardy wait staff were prompt, precise and attentive throughout.

As a self-proclaimed Caribbean inspired beach shack, I was very hopeful that tonight would be the night that plantain would grace my plate and Red Stripe would once again whet my appetite. It turns out that I was right on both counts, although I do wish I'd ordered 3 portions of the plantain because as a side dish at £4, it was humble at best. The jerk was tender and delicious, but alas, I wish the skin was either a little crispier or simply removed instead of being left soft and rubbery. The Saltfish Fritters were substantial and immensely satisfying to share at just £7.50, there was a refreshing amount of meat on the Sticky BBQ Ribs (£7.50) and Baby Gem Seafood Tacos (also £7.50) were fresh and light. Overall, I'm happy, well fed and pretty glad I visited this place...I'm especially pleased with the very organised chaos, fun decor and spot on location, but I fear that nothing particularly stood out, jumped up or screamed out to me here. I would go back again and no doubt thoroughly enjoy it again though, and that's all that matters, isn't it?!

Thanks for your hospitality and your delicious pots of plantain Rum Kitchen! I'll be seeing you again...

Square Meal The Rum Kitchen on Urbanspoon