19 December 2014

The Caffeine Chronicles: Four Corners Cafe

Love & Scandal wasn't my only stop on my tour of Lower Marsh last Friday. A few minutes south-west along the street is The Four Corners Cafe, which has been on my coffee to-do list for a while.  I had heard very good things about the coffee and the ambience and I wasn't disappointed.

I knew I'd reached the right place when I spotted the 'life's too short for shit coffee' sign outside the pistachio-green storefront. Inside, I was greeted with a host of monochrome and pun- and coffee-laden merch. The décor at Four Corners is fun and quirky, with a heavy emphasis on maps and travel. As a fellow cartophile, I took a seat next to a shopping guide to Mexico City and an old Japan train timetable and went to order my coffee.

Four Corners doesn't serve Aeropress or pourovers, but it does offer a Chemex for two (£6). In my post-cold phase, I wasn't quite up for that much coffee, so I ordered a macchiato instead (£2.20). They use Ozone coffee and although my mac was slightly wetter than I usually prefer, the coffee was strong, rich and chocolatey.

Speaking of chocolate, there were some amazing-looking cakes on the counter, including an Oreo cake (£3.50 per slice), but alas: my appetite was lacking. If you are looking for something more substantial, they serve a range of soups and sarnies and, if you come early enough, breakfast. Instead, I sipped my coffee while reading the latest issue of Caffeine magazine, and enjoyed the people-watching opportunities.

It was also nice to hang out in such a friendly cafe. The staff were chatty and helpful, and the long communal tables are great for groups. Basically, if you are in need of great coffee in the Waterloo area — especially if you are also seeking travel inspiration — check our Four Corners.

The Four Corners Cafe. 12 Lower Marsh, London, SE1 7RJ (Tube: Waterloo or Lambeth North). Website. Twitter.

17 December 2014

Use Your Noodle: Den Udon Restaurant Review

My office has a decent enough canteen, but I'm always on the look out for new lunch spots in and around King's Cross. I'm also usually hungry for a bargain, so when I heard that a new Japanese noodle restaurant called Den had opened up on Acton Street and was offering 50% off food during its soft launch this week, I didn't need much time to noodle over my lunch plans today. I didn't have my camera with me today, so apologies for the low-quality iPhone snaps.

When I was in Japan in May, one of my favourite meals was a big bowl of handmade soba noodles, which I slurped overlooking a gorgeous backdrop in Arashiyama, on the outskirts of Kyoto. Udon noodles, which are Den's speciality, are thicker than soba but just as delicious. On the Den lunch menu, you can choose from a variety of hot udon soups, which range in price from £6.50 for the plain option to £11.50 for the prawn tempura udon. You can also choose between the light white broth and a darker, soy-infused black broth (and vegetarian-friendly versions of both are available). For an extra £2 you can convert your soup to a set meal with sides of rice and pickles.

I love me some prawn tempura and, nudged by the 50% discount, I went ahead and ordered it. Den also serves beer, sake, wine, cocktails and soft drinks, but as I had to go back to work, I stuck to a ginger beer. My noodles arrived swiftly and they were very tasty indeed. I never feel very elegant when I slurp my way through them, but there is something wonderfully comforting about a big bowl of noodle soup when it's cold outside. Next time, I would like to try the black broth, which I suspect is more flavoursome than the subtler notes of the white broth. The prawns were particularly good. They were served on the side, but I dropped them straight into the soup, which meant that each mouthful of broth contained tiny pieces of delicious batter.

Den is located on the corner of Acton Street and King's Cross Road, on the site of another Japanese restaurant called Shibuya, which I often saw on my journey to work but never visited. The restaurant is small but light, airy and with a clean, minimalist design: I loved the oversized pendant light bulbs and the stained glass windows on one side of the restaurant. There are long communal tables, which makes life easy for lone diners and medium-sized groups alike.

King's Cross is finally becoming a great dining destination, and it's nice to have a great new udon-eria in the neighbourhood.

Den. 2 Action Street, London, WC1X 9NA (Tube: King's Cross). Website. Twitter.

15 December 2014

Soho Food Favourites

One of the best things about living in London is that there are always plenty of exciting new places to eat. I do my best to try out as many as I can, but that doesn't mean I don't find time to revisit old favourites.

Pizza Pilgrims is one of those places. Technically, it's not an old favourite, but I've probably eaten in its restaurants and at its street-food vans at least once a month since my first visit in October last year. Their pizza is amazing: it easily makes my London pizza top three, with its thin base, satisfyingly puffy crust and delicious sauce.

On Saturday evening, my family and I were in Soho and in need of a quick but tasty meal, so we swung by the newest pizzeria in the Pizza Pilgrims family, which is on Kingly Court (NB, the main entrance is on Kingly Court — the food court at the centre of Carnaby Street — so don't be fooled if it looks like there is no queue on Kingly Street. We had to wait for about 20 minutes for a table, but before long, we were sitting at our green-checked table and admiring the wall art — one wall features take-out boxes from other pizzerias (some great, some not), and the Christmas nduja joke, which tickled my punny bone.

The Carnaby branch specialises in what they call Sohocello and you can have a delicious boozy lemon slushy from their machine, but it was a little chilly outside, so I had a Fiorente spritz, which involved, elderflower, prosecco, mint and lime and which was refreshing and delicious. I always have the margherita pizza with buffalo mozzarella (£9) because it's delicious and when your pizza is made from top-quality ingredients, you don't need a lot of complex toppings. We shared some of the deep-fried arancini and mac 'n' cheese balls to start (£5 and very good), but the fryer was broken so we couldn't try the signature starters, the pizze fritte: small, stuffed, deep-fried calzone. Another time, for sure.

When searching for a place for an early Sunday lunch yesterday, we returned to another family favourite: Hix on Brewer Street. I've been both to the restaurant and to Mark's Bar in the basement (which does some of the best cocktails in Soho) numerous times, and it never disappoints. I ordered a Pegu Club cocktail (gin, Grand Marnier, lime juice, Angostura and Bitter Truth orange bitters) and considered my next move. On Sunday lunchtimes, you can order from the regular menu and the brunch menu, but they also do cracking roasts, which makes food decisions pretty darn tough. They take their meat pretty seriously, so it's my kind of place.

We shared some oysters to start and they were very flavoursome indeed, and shucked so skilfully that it was hard to tell which ones we had eaten. In the end, I ordered the burger for my main course. You can have it bun-less, which I did, and it came with bacon, cheddar and fries (£16.95). It's a great burger: meaty and oozing with juices. The bacon was the only weak link — well-done streaky bacon rashers would have worked better. The roast beef contingent of our party also gave me serious food envy: the roast came with roast potatoes, a Yorkshire pudding and cauliflower cheese, which was probably the star of the show. I couldn't manage a pudding, but I did sample some of my Dad's Peruvian gold chocolate mousse (£7.25).

Soho sometimes gets overlooked for weekend brunch — there aren't as many fun options as in Clerkenwell or, increasingly, Peckham — but Hix is a great choice. From the fun and playful modern-art décor, to the impeccable service and the delicious food and perfectly prepared drinks, they hit all of the marks.

We finished early enough for me to pick up my few remaining bits of Christmas shopping. Oxford Street was chaos, of course, and Carnaby Street was also super-hectic but I always enjoy looking at their musical-themed Christmas decorations and this year's are pretty cool. Soho, I'm sorry for neglecting you: you are still awesome.

Pizza Pilgrims. 11 Kingly Street, London, W1B 5PW (Tube: Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus). Website. Twitter.

Hix Soho. 66–70 Brewer Street, London, W1F 9UP (Tube: Piccadilly Circus). Website. Twitter.

13 December 2014

The Caffeine Chronicles: Love & Scandal

"Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea," the novelist Henry Fielding once wrote. I didn't try the tea at Love & Scandal, nor did I sweeten my coffee, but I did have a sweet time yesterday at the new-ish coffee shop on Lower Marsh, near Waterloo.

Although Waterloo isn't too far from Bermondsey, I rarely find myself in the neighbourhood — apart from when I'm going to the BFI — so when I had a day off work yesterday and not a lot to do, I decided to walk along the river to try out a couple of new-to-me coffee shops. There are lots of nice independent shops and cafés on Lower Marsh, and there was a small but bustling street-food market when I visited yesterday. I had already had some lunch at Borough Market, so I headed straight for Love & Scandal.

It was relatively quiet inside — perhaps unsurprisingly, given that it was a cold, grey Friday afternoon — and the first thing I noticed was the comic book art on the walls. There is a shabby-chic vibe inside: well-loved tables, exposed-brick walls and pendant light bulbs. There is also a very smart-looking red La Marzocco machine sitting in pride of place on the counter. It's pretty roomy inside, which makes a welcome change from some of the beautiful but rather too bijou espresso bars you often get in central London.

Love & Scandal doesn't yet serve hand-brewed filter coffee, although they hope to soon, so I ordered a macchiato (£2.20) and went to hang out with Superman while I waited. The coffee was rather good — they use Alchemy coffee, and it was a rich and smooth. My macchiato came with just tiniest dab of foam, just the way I like it.

If you're looking for something more substantial, they serve soup and a selection of sandwiches, as well as the usual cakes and pastries. All in all, Love & Scandal is a great addition to this part of Waterloo — a welcome respite from the crowds of the South Bank and Waterloo station.

Love & Scandal. 107 Lower Marsh, London, SE1 7AB (Tube: Waterloo or Lambeth North). Facebook. Twitter.

8 December 2014

A New Restaurant on Peckham Rye: Pedler Review

I've always wanted to go to a restaurant and order everything on the menu and yesterday I got the chance. A group of friends and I went to Pedler, a new neighbourhood eatery on Peckham Rye, which was having its soft launch at the weekend.

The menu, which changes daily, wasn't especially long yesterday, but between the five of us, we managed to order one of every dish — apart from the cheese course. This was particularly easy to do as they were offering 50% off food and drink during the soft launch.

Pedler is the sister restaurant of the south-London distillery Little Bird Gin, which produces amazing cocktails at Maltby Street every weekend. I had hoped Pedler would be open in time for my birthday last month, but they weren't quite done. Ahead of their official launch tomorrow, they were doing a few trial runs at the weekend. Not that you would know they were trial runs, given that the food and service were both great.

After a quick read of the cocktail menu, I had settled on the SE15 Collins, which involved mahonia syrup — sourced from locally foraged berries — but they had already run out. Instead, I tried the Early Bird Martini (Little Bird gin, marmalade, cointreau and pink grapefruit), which was deliciously tart and citrusy. Later, I ordered an Aviation, which came complete with an air-mail sticker (a cute, Instagrammable touch). Of course, the Maltby Street Marys were also available and as spicy and flavoursome as ever. The cocktails are all £6–8, which is very reasonable for the quality.

There were three starters (£6–8), two featuring gin, and we sampled them all. The Little Bird gin wings were probably my favourite — so juicy and junipery! — but the tempura cauliflower was probably the best cauliflower I've ever had, and the seafood cocktail with bloody mary-rose sauce was also very tasty.

We also ordered all four of the mains between the five of us. My favourite was the whole lemon roast chicken (£32), which was big enough for two or three people to share. I'm not normally a huge fan of pork, but the kola-glazed pork loin (£16) was juicy and really flavoursome — the glaze was delicious. The beef rump (£16) was also cooked perfectly. The only let-down was the soy-charred hispi cabbage (£12), which was tasty but not much of a main course — especially for vegetarians for whom it was the only choice. Luckily, we didn't have any veggies in our group, and as all of the mains came with plenty of roast potatoes, sprouts, carrots and Yorkshire puddings. The roasties, in particular, were excellent.

We really didn't have any room for pudding and yet...puddings seemed to arrive on the table. I shared sticky toffee pudding with stracciatella ice cream with one of my friends. I think our pudding was probably the winner, although the bitter chocolate délice with mandarin sorbet also looked great.

All in all, we had a fantastic meal. The staff were friendly, helpful and efficient and the food and drink was great. Pedler is also beautifully, creatively decorated. I particularly liked the multicoloured armchairs that sat behind us, the pineapple-cushion-topped bar stools, the teal private dining alcove for groups, and the pendant lights, which were created by a Walworth-based artist and inspired by salad items!

Next weekend, after Pedler is fully open, they will be serving weekend brunch. I can't wait to go back to try the brunch — and that SE15 Collins — and we're already plotting many return visits.

Pedler. 58 Peckham Rye, London, SE15 4JR (Peckham Rye Overground). Website. Twitter.

6 December 2014

A Sunny Lunch at Peckham Market

There are plenty of food markets in south-east London these days, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for one more. Today, I finally got the chance to visit Peckham Market, which started up a few weeks ago. It's open every Saturday from 10 am until 2 pm, and although it's still quite small and quiet, it's still a great place to get some lunch and pick up some produce while escaping the hordes of my local Maltby Street Market.

Peckham Market is a bit like a smaller version of Brockley Market, which also operates on Saturdays: both are held in school car parks (Peckham Market is based at the Academy at Peckham, just off Peckham Road) and both combine some of the regular street-food favourites with farmer's market-style produce and flowers.

It has been a gorgeous sunny day today and, to help visitors get into the festive spirit, there was a brass band playing carols, face painting for kids and free mulled wine. The kids:dogs ratio here is definitely much higher than hipster-er than thou Maltby Street. There were about 20 stalls in total, including a few places to get some lunch or brunch. I was tempted by a pizza from Peel & Chimney, but Original Fry-Up Material's brekkie muffin (sausage patty, bacon, fried egg and cheese on an English muffin) won my heart. Because when it's brunch o'clock, brunch must be had. I definitely chose wisely because my muffin was delicious.

I also picked up a mini Christmas tree for my kitchen and some fresh pumpkin and amaretti pasta from Mansi.

While I was in the neighbourhood, I decided to stroll down the lovely Bellenden Road. Just opposite Anderson & Co is the wonderful General Store — the local food shop you've always dreamed of. Inside, the shelves are filled with gorgeous food and drink goodies — many from local producers. I stocked up on some Christmas gifts and ordered a macchiato while I browsed. Who needs to leave the SE postcode area when there are so many great places nearby?

Peckham Market. The Academy at Peckham, Peckham Road (enter on Lyndhurst Way or Bellenden Road), London, SE15 5DZ (Peckham Rye Overground). Website. Twitter.

General Store. 174 Bellenden Road, London, SE15 4BW (Peckham Rye Overground). Website. Twitter.