Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Eating and drinking my way around London - the final instalment (for now)

My list of favourite places exhausted for now at least, I give you my Places I Must Try Before Christmas from across London town.

Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, for lunch. Not that I'm a big Gordon fan, he just happens to open restaurants near my current and former places of work. Not as expensive as you’d think for a 2 or 3 course set lunch, and I'm told  the food is just as good, just a slightly shorter menu. Ramsay's Boxwood Café and it’s mouthwatering Roast Suckling Pig is still sadly missed after shutting down a couple of years ago (sad face.)

Somewhere that sells fish tacos. I have happy memories of chomping down on some in a bar in Chicago, all alone on a work trip. Can't tell you what kind of fish it was though, so I'm open to offers.

The Breakfast Club – Hoxto Square or Soho – in my never-ending hunt for good American pancakes with crispy bacon and maple syrup. And bananas. The Hoxton branch is just round the corner from my new office so hoping to get there soon.

The shisha lounge I passed recently at the end of Brick Lane that reminded me of happy holidays in Damascus in 2009.

More cocktail bars. No, I don't want to book two weeks in advance. No, I don't want to pay more than £15 for ONE DRINK. No, I don't want 2 Woo-hoo's for the price of 1 at Weatherspoons. Happy medium, anyone?

The tiny wine and meat bar on a side street off Soho's Wardor Street. A merry Friday eve was spent with friends - indeed, merry enough that I can't recall it's name. 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Eating and drinking my way around London - Part 3

This third instalment is all about my home turf of South West London.

Rick’s Cafe, Tooting - http://www.ricks-restaurant.co.uk/ Much loved by Tooting locals, Rick’s confit duck is fab and he has supplied us with haggis, neaps and tatties for the last two Burn’s Nights. Come with removable layers though – near the door is drafty and near the kitchen is boiling, but with up to 30 people essentially squeezed into Rick’s front room it’s hardly surprising.

Sappho Meze Bar, Clapham North - http://www.london-eating.co.uk/28769.htm £9.50 (cash only) for a menu-free dining experience of about 20 small home-madeGgreek dishes, lovingly prepared and served by the father and daughter duo at this family-run favourite. Don’t think they’re open Mondays or lunchtime, so worth a call first. Great dining experience with hungry friends.

Gastro, Clapham Common -  https://plus.google.com/107641868137526698042/about?gl=uk&hl=en Best for bouillabaisse (fish soup) with all the extras including home-made garlic mousse, and brutally good coffee.

Harvester, Windmill Road, Mitcham  - www.harvester.co.uk  A classic for when you’re very, very hungry at 4pm on a Sunday. Half a spitroast chicken with corn, fries, red devil sauce and a salad cart, please. If you're too snobby to come with me then you're missing out!

Numero Uno, Tooting Becwww.numero-uno-restaurant.co.uk    Best for pizza – The Four Seasons and their Numero Uno Special with rocket, prosciutto and (gasp!)white truffle, all for only £7.95 each to take away. If eating in then the monster size king prawns wrapped in parma ham and fried in garlic butter are the way to go. But don’t have more than a small glass of house red with it or you’ll need  an entire box of Rennie.

Tram and Social, Tooting Broadway http://www.antic-ltd.com/tooting/shabby chic interiors, ales, wines, well priced prosecco, hit-and-miss but occasionally brilliant DJs, slouching and dancing, dress up or dress down, sausage rolls behind the bar if you’re quick, art students and ethnically diverse locals. Jumble sales and burlesque on weekend daytimes. Open very late. All in a big old shed for trams. All hail Antic, the saviours of South London and now the proud owner of at least half of Tooting! http://www.antic-ltd.com/index.htm

The Selkirk, Tooting Broadway - http://www.theselkirk.co.uk/ Go on a Monday for their 2 4 1 burger deal and check out the food and drink deals for the rest of the week.

Costas Café, Tooting Bec - https://plus.google.com/107123377364678869449/about?gl=uk&hl=en Nothing to do with the coffee chain. I love Costas. They feed me toast, baked beans, black pudding and peppermint tea when I’ve had too many lemonades the night before, and charge me anywhere between £2.10 and £4.40 depending on how the Turkish economy is fairing that week.

Tomorrow: My 'Still To Try' list. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Eating and drinking my way around London - Part 2

Toady's instalment: eateries and drinkeries in the centre of the town that are worth elbowing your way through the tourists for. 

Gordon's Wine Bar, Embankmenthttp://www.gordonswinebar.com/default.php Tiny underground bar-come-sherry-cellar. Best at 4pm on a Friday for conspiratorial conversations over a glass of red at the end of a hard week, but tiny and heaving so book a table if you're planning on going at anything like normal drinking hours. Also does a hearty ploughmans of a lunchtime but make sure you get there bang on 12noon.

Muffinski’s, Covent Garden - http://www.muffinskis.co.uk/ Fresh muffins, not too big, every flavour and every dietary neurosis catered for (low fat, no added sugar etc). Very dense and not unlike scones – in a good way -  so ask for some butter to go with them. Or get a hot chocolate for dunking.

Navajo Joe’s basement bar, Covent Garden - http://www.navajojoe.co.uk/navajo-joe.htm. Restaurant is handy and food is fine but overpriced, but the bar below does a mean gin martini (£10) and it doesn’t tend to be  packed even at 8pm on a Friday.  One of those and you’re basically done for the night so it’s a good investment of a tenner.

The Churchill Arms, South Kensington - http://churchillarmskensington.co.uk/ I never got the whole English pub serving Thai Food thing until I came here for the first time last month. While I still hunt for a regular Thai haunt this will do nicely. It’s so popular there’s a 1 or 2 hour timeslot per table, but the green curry and pad thai was so good we ate ours in about 15 minutes so it wasn’t a problem. Famous for its hanging baskets outside and vast plethora of random knick-knacks hanging low from the ceiling, it’s a slightly convoluted wander from South Kensington so needs to be google mapped first.

Le Pain Quotidian, London Bridge http://www.lepainquotidien.co.uk/ This place just makes me so happy!! Order a coffee and a bread basket to share and they’ll arrive accompanied by a selection of giant jars of toppings, from exquisitely rich hazelnut spread and heavenly white, milk and dark chocolate spreads, to fig and apricot conserves. Last time I was there 3 big full sized pots of toppings arrived with the bread and I asked if we could have all the other toppings as well, and the lovely waitress was more than happy to oblige. The fruit and nut bread lathered in both hazelnut and dark cholocate spread had me in raptures. Best alternative afternoon tea ever. They salads are excellent also, as is most of the rest of the fresh, varied and reasonably priced menu. All tucked between Borough Market and Vinopolis. Very snug, lovely for both day time and evening, and a great lists.

Giraffe – South Bank, but also Marylebone, Spittlefields etc. - http://www.giraffe.net/ Globe trotting menu means something for everyone and they do a v.good breakfast deal for a fiver. My favourite for breakfast meetings is a sausage, bacon and egg sandwich of extra thick brown bread and a hot chocolate. How every working day should begin. Also recommend the brunch menu and enchiladas.

AMT, Euston / Marylebone and some other national rail stations  -http://www.amtcoffee.co.uk/   Best for Chai Lattes. And sometimes free giant gold chocolate coins at Christmas.  they offer to put ice cubes in their herbal teas which no other café ever seems to do (hello burnt tongue.)

Two vegan-friendly hippy raw-food and fibre filled favourites for when your body needs a deep cleanse: InSpiral Lounge, Camden - http://www.inspiralled.net/ and My Village Café, Camden  - http://www.yelp.co.uk/biz/my-village-caf%C3%A9-london-2. Raw chocolate brownies, multicoloured salads, stews and quiches: the quickest way to a week's worth of 5-a-day.

Still to come: The mighty South West

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Eating and drinking my way around London

I keep reading and hearing about new eateries and bars to try out around London. Sometimes I even get round to going to them. But with having the memory of a goldfish I tend to forget them almost immediately, even if they were bloody marvellous.  I keep meaning to write them down, but I forget to do that, too.

So I’ve decided to do a brain-dump here, more for my benefit that yours (sorry dear readers), so I no longer have to spend an hour deliberating where to meet friends at 4pm on a rainy Saturday, or keep texting my friends asking for the name of 'that place near the thing where we had that great falafel about 2 years ago.'

Today: West End, Mayfair and East.

 Apostrophe, Grosvenor Street / St Christopher’s place - http://www.apostropheuk.com/about/ The Best Hot Chocolate I Have Ever had, and I’ve had a lot. (Apart from the Choco Café in Prague, maybe.) So thick you need to eat it with a spoon. Order it ‘small and thick’ and feel all your troubles melting away.

Maze, Grosvenor Square  - http://www.gordonramsay.com/maze/ Very swanky and not inexpensive Mayfair establishment, but surprisingly welcoming and happy for you to perch in the bar with one large glass of wine, when you’ve just left your office over the road and deposited your gym kit and bag of Sainsbury’s shopping with their immaculate cloakroom staff.  They give you lovely nibbles, too. It took 4 visits and as many C-list ‘sleb’ spots before I realized it was the Maze. Shows what a long day at work can do to you  - and that high-end venues needn’t be twattish.

Vita Organic, Wardour Street  -  http://www.vitao.co.uk – no meat, no wheat, no dairy, no sugar, no additives, nothing cooking above a low heat so all technically raw. But still manages to be delicious.

The Samuel Smiths pub on the way to Marylebone, which I’m told is actually called Angel In The Field and is on Thayer Street - http://fancyapint.com/Pub/london/angel-in-the-fields/20. One of the few places near the West End for a seat and a reasonably priced drink in a well lit pub, even on a Friday evening. I am getting old!

Follow this with pitta and hummus a couple of doors down Thayer Street at Diwan http://diwanrestaurant.co.uk/main.htm before you get on the tube.

A great, kitch and but doubtless deeply inauthentic Lebanese is just behind St Christopher’s place  - Le Comptoir Libanais, Wigmore Street - http://www.lecomptoir.co.uk/ A real failsafe for lunch or dinner. Lovely, lovely food. If there’s two of you get a big mezze platter and a meaty wrap to share, then extra mezze if you’ve got room.

Little Georgia, Hackneyhttp://www.littlegeorgia.co.uk/ In between Hackney City Farm and Broadway market, it provides amazing winder warmers like pungent, tomato paprika-y mushroom and aubergine stew topped with wondrous gooey cheese. And great big colourful carrot and beetroot salads. I’ve not tried their traditional cheese bread yet (the one I sampled at The Georgian opposite Clapham South tube was like a big hug for my tummy), but as it’s now made it into one of Nigella’s cookbook’s it’s got to be on my to-eat list for next time. Their website doesn’t seem to be working yet and they appear to have opened another branch, so it’s the one at 87 Goldsmith’s Road.

Still to come – Central, North, South West and Places I Still Need to Go.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Christians versus everyone else?

"I am the way , the truth and the life. No-one comes to the father except through me." John 14 v 6

When I first became a Christian this verse was used to explain, excuse and insist that Christians had it right and everyone else had it wrong. That only we in the church were in the lifeboat and would be 'saved' from drowning in eternal damnation. That we could and should be bloody-minded: we had the answers to the meaning of life, death and the cosmos.

I still believe Jesus is both the bees knees and the cat's pyjamas. I still believe his words and in this verse. But as my understanding of God has deepened, my faith has grown and I appreciate more and more the value of mystery, I simple can no longer with any authenticity hold the view that I'm right and everyone else is screwed.

I've read many translations, interpretations and exegesis that try to unpack this thorny little verse that innumerable Christian friends have relied upon as a trump card in our theological debates.  I have pondered, prayed and meditated on it. More and more I am convinced it is utterly true, but that using it to exclude non-Christians from God's 'shalom' wholeness (or salvation, if you'd prefer) is to have got the wrong end of the stick.

Today on the Northern Line, somewhere around Kennington I think, I read a beautifully succinct perspective on this by my dear friend, teacher and occasional guru Noel Moules in his astonishing new book Fingerprints of Fire, Footprints of Peace

In these words Jesus declares that he is the road to God. What he is saying is that only a person who follows him can know God with the intimacy of Abba (meaning 'daddy') and the quality of personal spiritual experience this enables. But he is not claiming there is no truth or life without him, or that God cannot be known apart from him.

'Coming out' as a Christian who believes God is not restricted to Christian's understanding of him was a painful experience, but every time I read a reflection like this my soul breathes a sigh of gratitude as I'm reminded just how big God is.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Why bacon does not belong in cheesecakes

"No Rachel, you were not supposed to put beef in the trifle. It did not taste good."

Such were the wise words of Judy Geller, aka Ross and Rachels 'mom' in friends, which came to mind around about my fourth spoonful of bacon and maple syrup cheesecake.

The first couple of bites actually tasted okay. Syrup-drizzled crispy smoked bacon and cream cheese laced with maple syrup? Good. Syruppy cream cheese with regular cheesecake base? Good. 

All three mixed together? Not good! 

The whole thing was just too salty, and as it began to churn in my stomach I had to wash it down with a spoonful of Nutella to get rid of the taste.

At least it looked pretty...

Given that it was The Husband who asked for this horror to be constructed, it was somewhat ironic that that the same day I made this he came down with a post-festival stomach bug so couldn't eat any. He might have liked it, but the ship has sailed.

Big thanks to the reader who posted an alternative and apparently delicious recipe below, but it's going to be a while before I brave another meaty pudding.