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28 September 2016

King's Cross Coffee Guide

When I started working in King's Cross in early 2010, I never thought I'd see the day when I would be able to write a guide to the neighbourhood's coffee scene. I used to go on two-mile round-trips on my lunch break to places like The Espresso Room because there just wasn't anything good nearby. Now, though, there are, if not a surfeit, then at least a goodly number of speciality coffee venues. The following are my favourites.


Note: there are various ways to define the King's Cross area, but I tend to count anything south of the Euston Road as Bloomsbury and anything west of the British Library as Euston — essentially, if King's Cross is the nearest Tube station, it's included!

Caravan


When Caravan opened next to the new outpost of Central St Martins in 2012, I was delighted: partly because they roast, sell and serve excellent coffee and partly because I hoped that it would be a sign of things to come for King's Cross. Whether it's a beautifully prepared piccolo or a flavoursome hand-brewed filter coffee, Caravan always gets it right. If I don't have time for lunch, I still like to perch at the back of the restaurant behind the coffee bar, watching the roasting, cupping and tasting that is often taking place. They do coffee to take away too, although not usually hand-brewed filters.

Caravan is located at 1 Granary Square, London, N1C 4AA. Full review. Website. Twitter. Instagram.


Frequency


One of the newest coffee shops to open in King's Cross, Frequency is slightly off the beaten track but its King's Cross Road location is only a brisk five-minute stroll from the station and it is well worth seeking out for its well-made espresso-based drinks and Aeropress- and V60-brewed filter coffees. The coffee is from Workshop and there are also plenty of tempting sweet treats. Justo and his team are lovely too — say hi from me if you stop by!

Frequency is located at 121 King's Cross Road, London, WC1X 9NH. Full review. Website. Twitter. Instagram.


Lanark


Lanark is so close to my office that it sometimes feels too lazy to pop in for a coffee when I could just as easily make my own, but they do it so much better than I can! Lanark occupies the space that was once home to Drink, Shop & Dash (RIP); it's a small café with only a handful of seats in the window. They serve espresso-based drinks and batch brew filter coffee. Rumour has it that if you ask nicely (and come when it's quiet), they will make you a pourover, but I am always too British to ask, sticking instead to the excellent piccolos and macchiatos.

Lanark is located at 11 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX. Twitter. Instagram.


Noble Espresso


Once a more integrated part of the popular KERB street food market, which has since decamped further north up King's Boulevard, Noble & Espresso usually pitches up on Battle Bridge Place — at the back of King's Cross Station and just south-east of the new Pancras Square development. The espresso-based drinks are always good even when the barista is faced with a queue of epic proportions. The gold-accented takeaway cups are also very Instagram-friendly.

Noble Espresso is located at Battle Bridge Place, London, N1C 4TB. Website. Twitter. Instagram.


Notes


I had enjoyed the delights of Notes' other cafés for several years when they rocked up in Pancras Square back in 2013. Cosy and cool with plenty of seating, both inside and overlooking the fountains in the square, Notes is open all day (until 9 or 10 pm most days), serving wine and cocktails in the evenings and often hosting live music and other events. They used to roast their own coffee just up the road but their roastery has now moved to East London. The espresso drinks are very good and there is usually a good selection of sandwiches, salads and sweets on offer.

Notes is located at 1 Pancras Square, London, N1C 4AG. Full reviewWebsite. Twitter. Instagram.


Origin


It took me until March this year to visit Cornish roaster Origin's Charlotte Road branch in Shoreditch, but it was worth the wait: the Ethiopian pourover I had was probably the best pourover I've had all year. Origin have had a little concession in the entrance hall of the British Library, a few minutes' walk from King's Cross station, for some time but it was their takeover of the formerly uninspiring coffee hatch on the Euston Road side of the library that I was waiting for.

'Hatch' doesn't cut it any more: the café is long and slim with several stools along the window, just opposite the minimalist, tiled coffee bar. There are also a handful of tables on the pavement outside and while the prospect of a relaxing coffee on the Euston Road may not sound like too enticing a prospect, Origin have created a beautiful space and it's a lovely place to sit, especially when the sun is out. The coffee is, as you would expect, excellent: I've already had several Kalita Wave pourovers and a piccolo, all of which have been prepared with beautiful precision. There are also some beautifully styled breakfast and lunch offerings that are a little on the pricey side but look great.


Essentially, I like Origin's new coffee bar so much that I often find myself taking the bus to Euston so that I have the excuse to walk past the British Library on the way into the British Library.

Origin is located at 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB. Full review (Charlotte Road branch). Website. Twitter. Instagram.


Pattern


A short walk from the station on Caledonian Road, Pattern is a cosy café that serves very nice coffee from Bristol-based Extract Coffee. Don't miss the colourful artwork or the delicious cakes and pastries; the lunch menu often has plenty of interesting choices too.

Pattern is located at 82 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DN. Full review. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

26 September 2016

Pizza and Cocktails at The Beautiful Pizza Boy

Peckham's lovely Bellenden Road has plenty of great restaurants but it didn't a pizza-and-cocktail joint — until the arrival of The Beautiful Pizza Boy, that is. The neighbourhood pizzeria and cocktail bar is the latest venture from the lovely people behind Little Bird Gin and Pedler, which featured in my recent list of favourite London restaurants. Although the website wasn't quite finished, I heard whispers of a soft launch on Twitter so we high-tailed it down to Peckham on Saturday — not long after finishing out post-run G and Ts at Little Bird's Maltby Street home.


We arrived towards the end of the lunch shift and there was a bit of a queue — not too much of a problem when it was such a beautiful day on Saturday. Before long, we were sitting at our table inside the bright, colourful restaurant. If you've been to Pedler, you will appreciate the real eye for décor and the accent pieces at The Beautiful Pizza Boy are similarly quirky: fishing nets hang from the walls, a vintage school water fountain (still working) hangs under the kitchen, and pops of sage green, pale pink and neon contrast with the stark brick walls. The lighting is as good as at Pedler: don't forget to look up!




For warmer days, there are a few tables in the back yard and a couple more on the pavement. If you aren't so lucky with the weather, there's a skylight inside to brighten up the dining room.


As the restaurant's name suggests, pizza is the main focus of the menu: wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, to be more precise. There are assorted snacks, starters, sharing plates and puddings to accompany the pizzas, though, not to mention the cocktail menu. The cocktails are creative, ambitious and very reasonably priced at £7–8. The pineapple martini sounded ace but I went for the Rosa Verde (£8), with Buffalo Trace, rose vermouth, pistachio orgeat and rose petals, with a Campari powder rub. The flavours combined beautifully — the bourbon and Campari powder taking the edge off the sweet rose and pistachio. It was also an exceptionally pretty cocktail.


We decided to share a few starters and small plates, which ended up arriving after the pizzas, but that barely mattered. The lemon and pink peppercorn olives (£3.50) came in a very generous portion, and the arancini (£5) were so tasty that I managed not to notice that they had mushrooms in them! We also had the 'nduja with garlic crostini (£5), which might have been more effective if the 'nduja was already spread on top of the crostini; nonetheless, the 'nduja tasted great and again, there was a big serving.





As for the pizzas, we all ended up having margheritas with extra 'nduja (£8). It was nice to see that most of the pizzas on the menu came with buffalo mozzarella as standard and indeed, the cheese, tomato sauce and 'nduja were all great quality. Overall, it was a very good pizza — especially for a restaurant that is still in soft launch. The base was tasty, although the crust was slightly more crispy than puffy and chewy. We were all very happy, anyway. If you are feeling experimental, there are a few more unusual pizzas on the menu, including the breakfast pizza with fennel sausage, pancetta, hen's egg, mozzarella, tomato and honey. The prices are very reasonable too, ranging from £6 to £9, with extra toppings for £1. There are a few puddings on the menu but we were way too full by that point.



I'm not sure who the eponymous beautiful pizza boy is but his restaurant is a beautiful place with a relaxed, neighbourhood-trattoria vibe, attentive service and lovely food and drinks. You can really see the amount of care that has been put into the restaurant: the attention-to-detail really is spot on. We got 50% off our bill for the soft launch, but even if we hadn't both the food and the drinks were very good value indeed. Oh, and if you like the look of The Beautiful Pizza Boy, another sister bar-restaurant, Lucky Gin, is coming soon to Queens Road, Peckham.




The Beautiful Pizza Boy. 182 Bellenden Road, London, SE15. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

23 September 2016

My Favourite London Restaurants

I love to try out new restaurants and in a city like London, it's hard to keep on top of all of the new openings sometimes. But my recent efforts to rediscover some of my 'old favourite' coffee bars also prompted me to turn my attention to my favourite restaurants. When friends, family and colleagues come to London, they often ask for suggestions of places to eat and it's easy to get into the habit of recommending somewhere new.


The following ten restaurants, though, are long-term favourites that always delight and satisfy and that I've visited multiple times over the past few years. I tried to keep the list diverse — in terms of cuisine, location and price — but as regular readers know, I spend a lot of time in Soho, King's Cross and South London and have a fondness for burgers, pizza, brunch, steak and Italian food; my top ten definitely reflects these preferences. Some of the ten now have more than one branch, in which case, my favourite location is listed. Scroll to the end of the post for a handy map version.

Burger & Lobster — multiple locations
It's a fantastic concept for a restaurant: a minimalist menu with just three options (burger, lobster or lobster roll), each of which comes with chips and costs £20. It makes for an expensive — but excellent and substantial — burger, while the lobster is a great bargain. The cocktails and puddings are good too and there are enough branches now (including a few overseas outposts) to mean that you don't usually have to queue for so long to get a table at peak times.


36 Dean Street, London, W1D 4PS (Tube: Tottenham Court Road).
Full reviews: burger and lobster.

Caravan — King's Cross and Clerkenwell
I've worked in King's Cross since 2010 and the day that Caravan opened up its second location in Granary Square, some four years ago, was the day that I knew that King's Cross's fortunes were changing. Caravan is a true all-day Antipodean venue: the breakfast and brunch are top notch, as are the wood-fired pizzas and creative small plates that are served later in the day. They roast their own coffee too and serve single-origin espressos and filters. I'm over the moon that they will soon be opening a south-of-the-river restaurant in Bankside.


1 Granary Square, London, N1C 4AA (Tube: King's Cross).
Full review.

Hawksmoor — multiple locations
For a superb steak or a beautifully prepared cocktail, look no further than the Hawksmoor restaurants. I tend to save Hawksmoor for special occasions (partly because of the prices), but the food is great quality and portion sizes generous. I also like the way that each branch has its own vibe: Spitalfields is dark and sleek, while the Air Street restaurant just off Regent Street is bright and with lovely art deco touches.

57 Commercial Street, London, E1 6BJ (Tube: Liverpool Street).
Full reviews: Spitalfields restaurant and Regent Street cocktails.

Hixter — Bankside
I could have included several of Mark Hix's London restaurants in this list, but Hixter is currently my favourite. The main menu involves a choice between chicken or steak, although there are a number of different options for each meat. They also do great Sunday roasts and bottomless brunch. More than that, the Bankside Hixter is a hip but relaxed place to linger over a long meal and the staff are exceptionally welcoming.


16 Great Guildford Street, London, SE1 0HS (Tube: Borough or London Bridge).
Mini-review.

Honest Burgers — multiple locations
I eat more than my fair share of burgers, but it's difficult to identify one in London that betters Honest Burgers' eponymous Honest Burger, which tops a flavoursome, meaty patty with smoked bacon, cheddar and red onion relish. The rosemary salt chips are also very moreish. No forks are provided, which means that things will probably get a little messy, but it's worth it. The brunch menu is good too, but I usually resist the temptation of avocado and eggs and stick to the Honest Burger.

251 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9NG (Tube: King's Cross).
Full review.

Mele e Pere — Soho
I came across Mele e Pere some four years ago — the hundreds of glass apples (mele) and pears (pere) in the Brewer Street window caught my eye and I'm so glad they did as the lower-ground floor is home to a wonderful neighbourhood trattoria. The seasonal menu includes various pasta and meat dishes (we usually order a few starters to share, as well as a main course) and they also make their own vermouth, which means fantastic build-your-own negronis and martinis. I've celebrated many occasions at Mele e Pere, from house purchases and engagements, to birthdays and New Year's Eve. The food is excellent and the service is always impeccable.


46 Brewer Street, London, W1F 9TF (Tube: Piccadilly Circus).
Full review.

Pedler — Peckham
One of my most memorable meals of all time was when I went to Pedler's soft launch with some friends and we ordered everything on the menu. The neighbourhood eatery on Peckham Rye serves seasonal modern European food in a vibrant and stylish setting. At various points, I've worked my way through the brunch menu and tried several of the roasts. The food is always great and as the restaurant is run by the Little Bird Gin team, there is a fabulous cocktail menu. The staff are among the loveliest in London. What a wonderful place!


58 Peckham Rye, London, SE15 4JR (Peckham Rye Overground).
Full review.

Pizza Pilgrims — multiple locations
London's pizza scene is really on the up and Pizza Pilgrims can take a big chunk of the credit for driving this change. Their Neapolitan-style pizzas are among the best in London with their thin base and puffy, chewy crust that tastes too good to leave; I usually go for a margherita with buffalo mozzarella or an 'nduja, and I've never been disappointed. The Dean Street pizzeria has a fun and lively ambiance and there are usually great '90s tunes on the sound system. My only complaint is that they haven't come south of the river...yet!


11 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 3RP (Tube: Tottenham Court Road).
Full review.

Polpo — multiple locations
When I first visited Russell Norman's original Polpo on Soho's Beak Street soon after it opened in late 2009, I remember describing it as 'a tapas restaurant with Italian food'. Indeed, the simple but tasty Venetian small plates and well-priced, well-curated wine list proved to be a success and there are now Polpos (Polpi?) in Brighton and Bristol as well as several other London locations. With pared-down, industrial-chic décor and a no-bookings policy (natch), Polpo remains a cool and lively venue.

41 Beak St, London, W1F 9SB (Tube: Piccadilly Circus).
Full review.

The Riding House Café — Fitzrovia
If you are looking for a New York-style brasserie in Fitzrovia that will take you from breakfast and coffee to dinner and cocktails (via brunch, of course), The Riding House Café is the perfect choice. The modern menu is varied, encompassing interesting salads, burgers, steaks and more unusual main courses. Their brunch, meanwhile, is one of my favourites in London, although trying to decide what to order is tough because everything sounds great. I've always enjoyed their selection of 'small plates to share', which means I can order the cheeseburger (which I love) while also sampling something new.

43-51 Great Titchfield Street, London, W1W 7PQ (Tube: Oxford Circus).
Full review.

As a bonus, here are five of my more recent restaurant discoveries, which don't yet qualify as old favourites but which probably will someday:
  • Bao (worth-the-hype steamed buns in Soho) 
  • Bone Daddies (ramen in Bermondsey).
  • The Good Egg (all-day restaurant in Stoke Newington with NY/Montreal/Israel influences)
  • Padella (fab pasta in Borough Market)
  • Som Saa (regional Thai in Spitalfields)



21 September 2016

Book Review: The Trespasser by Tana French

Just before dawn on a frigid Dublin night, a young woman is found dead in her sleek apartment with dinner in the oven, wine on the table and a fatal head injury. In Tana French’s new ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ novel, The Trespasser, Detective Antoinette Conway and her partner Stephen Moran are just finishing the night shift when they are called to investigate the murder. All the signs point to a lovers’ tiff and it should be an easy win for Conway and Moran but nothing is ever quite as straightforward as it seems for the Dublin Murder Squad.

If you aren’t familiar with French’s series, each book features a different detective from the squad in the central role and the protagonist is usually a minor character from the previous book. (If you haven't read any of the others in the series, you don't have to read them in order, although I find it more enjoyable to read them that way.) In the case of The Trespasser, the sixth in the series, we see the same two detectives as in the previous novel, The Secret Place, but with Conway assuming the role of narrator while Moran fades into the background. 

Conway is the only woman on the squad and tries to make up for the prejudices against her by acting twice as tough. She will never be ‘one of the lads’ and she has few friends and allies on the squad, Moran — a relative newbie — being one of them. Beneath her abrasive exterior, however, lies a passionate woman. Joining the murder squad has long been her dream and she describes it almost as though it were a lover: “When it’s working right, it would take your breath away: it’s precision-cut and savage, lithe and momentous, it’s a big cat leaping full-stretch or a beauty of a rifle so smooth it practically fires itself.” 

But as the events of The Trespasser unfold, Conway is more concerned with avoiding firing herself — or, at least, being pushed out of her job by the old boys’ network. This new murder may even be the last murder enquiry she gets to run and she is more determined than ever to prove her ability. Yet it soon becomes clear that not everyone on the squad is happy with the way she is handling the case but is that because someone doesn’t like her personally or because they are afraid of what she might find out?

Tightly focused around just a few wintry Dublin days, The Trespasser is precise and meticulous. The case unravels almost in real time and we get full, detailed interviews with witnesses and suspects from Conway’s perspective without summaries or exposition; no shortcuts are taken with the narrative. In the wrong hands, this could feel plodding, frustrating and poorly plotted but French is a master of suspense and I found myself wanting even more detail. For once, I had the mystery sussed early on in the novel, but French kept me second-guessing myself until the final act.

One of the aspects of the Dublin Murder Squad series that I have always enjoyed the most is the seamless weaving in of the lead detective’s back story. In this case, aspects of Conway’s past do come back to haunt her, but the links with the present case are more thematic here than usual. More interesting is Conway’s present-day power struggle with her fellow murder squad detectives; at times, I was more interested in finding out the outcome of that than of the murder itself. As usual, though, French does a good job of putting the reader inside the head of a character that she already knows and doesn’t necessarily like and make her, if not necessarily likeable, then at least somewhat more sympathetic.

The Trespasser is almost 500 pages long and although it isn’t a conventional page-turner (on the contrary; it’s dense and slow-moving), I found myself racing through to the end. My only frustration with finishing the novel is that I will now have to wait another two years for French’s next novel.

Disclaimer: The Trespasser will be published by Hodder & Stoughton on 22 September 2016. I received a pre-release copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own


20 September 2016

The Caffeine Chronicles: The Watch House Tower Bridge

The Watch House on Bermondsey Street, which celebrates its second birthday this month, is a contender for one of the prettiest coffee shops in London. Located in the octagon-shaped former watch house building of St Mary Magdalen churchyard, it combines rustic walls and 'bread pegs' with chic monochrome floor tiles and lovely posies on each table. The coffee is good but the café's tiny size means that tables can be hard to come by.


The team have now opened a second location on Shad Thames, a historic street just to the east of Tower Bridge. Continuing the theme of interesting historical buildings, The Watch House II is based in the Cardamom Building, which, funnily enough, was used to store cardamom in days of yore. These days Shad Thames is home to an assortment of cafés, shops and restaurants and it's a great place to go for a wander, although gets busy at weekends.



The new Watch House is, thankfully, bigger than the original location and although it shares some design features with the original — the bread pegs and flowers, in particular — the design is more minimalist, with white walls and dove-grey wooden booths that form the majority of the seating. Only the espresso machine stands out on the counter, a bold black bespoke La Marzocco machine with golden text.



I've been to the new café twice since it opened earlier this month and have had two cortados, both of which were prepared well, with good latte art, and tasted great too. The coffee itself, as at the original Watch House, is a Brazilian espresso blend from Ozone. There aren't any hand-brewed filter coffees on offer, but there was a single-origin (I think) batch brew filter coffee, as well as various drinks, including Sandows cold brew — perfect if you show up after your Sunday morning run and are in need of cooling down!




And then there's the food. Although the Bermondsey Street Watch House serves breakfast, light meals and sweet treats, the menu is greatly extended over at Shad Thames. When you enter the café, you are greeted with a long counter displaying all manner of pastries and cakes. As I was in the Cardamom Building, I decided to go for a cardamom bun, which was delicious. I did have a bit of brunch regret, though, as I saw various egg/avocado/sourdough dishes being carried out of the kitchen. The poached egg and avo on toast looked particularly good, but the pancakes and French toast also sounded delicious. The bread comes from two Bermondsey suppliers: The Snapery and The Little Bread Pedlar. And yes, brunch runs until 3 pm at weekends and there are a few cocktails on offer too. Fear not if you've missed brunch, though, because The Watch House stays open late — the full evening menu will launch in the near future.





The first time I visited the Cardamom Building, it was extremely busy given that it was only the day after launch, but the staff were friendly and welcoming. The Tower Bridge location means that there is a nice mix of tourists and local workers and residents. It also means that you may have to wait a few minutes for your coffee or for a table, but it's well worth the wait.

The Watch House. The Cardamom Building, 31 Shad Thames, London, SE1 2YR (Tube: London Bridge or Bermondsey). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

16 September 2016

The Caffeine Chronicles: Workshop Revisited

It's hard to ignore the presence of Workshop Coffee in the London speciality coffee scene. There are three coffee bars and a café in their small chain, but more than that, you will see their house-roasted coffees in many of the coffee shops around the city. I often visit the Marylebone coffee bar, now located on Barrett Street although in its former life, it was known as The Sensory Lab and was based just around the corner on Wigmore Street. I've tended to frequent the Clerkenwell Road café less frequently and in fact, the last time it featured on this blog, it was still called St Ali, although about to be rebranded as Workshop, along with its sister coffee shop.


This is a long way of introducing my recent return to Workshop's Clerkenwell Road café. Suffice to say, I had forgotten how much I loved the place and I had a very enjoyable brunch. Figuring that the café was likely to be busy at Saturday brunchtime, even on a rainy September day, I arrived just before noon. Most of the tables were already occupied but I managed to nab a seat at the central coffee bar (not dissimilar to that in Portland's Case Study), which is a great place to sit, especially with baristas as friendly and charming as at Workshop. The non-bar seating is around a series of high, wooden sharing tables; there is also more space upstairs, although I didn't go up to take a look.




It is one of London's most beautifully designed cafés — I love the central coffee bar, but the fancy pendant light bulbs add a cosy glow to what might otherwise be a slightly dark space, and the living wall, back near the poster boards that provide information about Workshop's roasting process, makes a welcome addition. The various Workshop coffee spots use different types of espresso machine, but they are all unified by their gold 'Workshop Coffee Co' customisation on the front (the powder-blue Synesso in the Marylebone branch is still my favourite).




I ordered a filter coffee while I made up my mind about what to eat. I went for a Kagumoini coffee from Kenya, brewed through the Aeropress (£4), which was sweet and citrusy, with the flavour notes growing more intense as the coffee cooled.


The brunch menu included a lot of classic brunch dishes and, intriguingly, a burger. It's rare to get the opportunity to have a really good burger alongside a great cup of coffee, but unfortunately, I wasn't quite hungry enough this time — the barista told me that it was a real beast of a burger. I'll have to go hungrier next time. Instead, I went for the eggs Benedict with smoked ham (£9.50). The eggs were done just right and the ham really tasty; the Hollandaise sauce was quite tart, but I like it that way.



Finally, for 'pudding', I had a piccolo, brewed with Hunkute coffee from Ethiopia, which was brewed perfectly, with a rich, smooth taste and characteristically lovely latte art. If you have more of an appetite than me and have room for pudding, they also have St John doughnuts, but I always think that coffee is the best way to round off a meal.


Afterwards, I browsed the selection of coffees available for purchase and picked up a bag of Loma Linda pulped natural beans (£9.50), which I've been enjoying at home in my Aeropress all week. Aren't their new ceramic cups lovely too?



This visit really cemented Workshop's position in my list of top London coffee bars, and the Clerkenwell café is also one of my favourite places in the city for brunch. Although I've been to their Holborn branch a few times, their Fitzrovia location has still eluded me; another one to add to the list.



Workshop Coffee. 27 Clerkenwell Road, London, EC1M 5RN (Tube: Farringdon). Website. Twitter. Instagram.