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15 November 2019

At Borough Market's Flor, Flawless Cooking and Speciality Coffee

Somehow, I still haven't made it to Lyle's, the modern British restaurant in Shoreditch, whose high-quality speciality coffee offering has won as many plaudits as the food. Luckily for me, a sister restaurant, Flor, opened up closer to home, in Borough Market, a few months ago. I've now visited twice, experiencing both a light breakfast at the downstairs bar and a lunch in the tiny but beautifully designed upstairs dining room.

In a stuffier establishment, I might have felt out of place showing up for breakfast in my running kit one August morning, but at Flor, the welcome was warm — while the marble counter  that occupies most of the diminutive downstairs was pleasingly cool. There isn't a coffee menu — and there's no filter coffee — but the usual espresso-based drinks are available. They rotate coffee roasters, and on this first visit, the espresso was a honey-processed El Salvador variety roasted by Berlin-based Bonanza Coffee Roasters. I ordered a piccolo, which was immaculately brewed, sweet and well-balanced.

There were a few light bites on the breakfast menu, but I was always going to have the fig and fig-leaf custard pastry, which was, by turns, crisp, gooey, sweet and tart. It was almost too pretty to eat, but needless to say, it did not last long!

I returned last week, taking the opportunity to visit on a rare day off in London. I booked a table in the upstairs dining room, which seats about 20 people. Although there were a few free tables when I climbed up the cast-iron spiral staircase at the back of the restaurant, before long, they were all full.

Once again, I started with a coffee, ordering another piccolo. There was a Ugandan coffee from Assembly in the hopper this time and again, it was very well made. After spending a week in New York where piccolos and cortados tend to be on the longer side, it was good to enjoy a more appropriately petite version.

As for the lunch menu, it included 15 dishes of varying sizes and prices. I knew that I wanted to try the scarlet prawns with yuzu kosho (£18), and that I wanted to save room for a pudding. There were lots of tempting dishes on the menu, including an oxtail muffin (which looked great), but in the end, I went for the purple sprouting broccoli tempura with bergamot (£9). I'm not sure the two dishes went very well together necessarily, but they were both delicious. The prawns were so flavourful with the yuzu kosho adding a potent citrus and chilli kick. The broccoli tempura, meanwhile, was perfectly crisp and very moreish.

For dessert, I ordered the delica pumpkin ice cream, which came with a well filled with macadamia milk and a macadamia cookie (£8) — a clever twist on the classic milk and cookies. It was not a cheap meal (£43 including service), but each item was well-executed and a delight to consume. The service was very good too, even though it was busy.

Flor. 1 Bedale Street, London, SE1 9AL (Tube: London Bridge). Website. Instagram.

For 100+ more of my favourite coffee shops in London, please check out my speciality coffee guide.

11 November 2019

An Autumnal Week in New York City

If you've been following my Instagram, you'll know that I spent a week in New York last month. I was there to work in my company's Financial District office but did get three weekend days and a public holiday free to explore in the city, and was blessed with crisp but sunny weather for most of the week. I'm lucky enough to visited New York about once or twice a year for the past quarter-century, which takes off the pressure and means coffee shops, restaurants and things to do can sometimes remain on my to-do list for a couple of years. I've already written about my most recent speciality coffee experiences here, but here's how I spent the rest of my trip.

I took an early flight from Heathrow on the Sunday, and made it to my Financial District hotel just after 2 pm local time. I headed straight out into the sunshine, and walked up Broadway to SoHo for a spot of shopping, before cutting over to Washington Square Park. As usual, there was a lively atmosphere, music, art and poetry. I try to visit the High Line at least once each trip and although it was very busy late on Sunday afternoon, I enjoyed the art and the views as always.

Speaking of views, the following day, I took the opportunity to visit the shiny, honeycomb-like structure known as The Vessel, which is located in the Hudson Yards development, way over on the west side of Manhattan, around 30th Street. It's free to climb to the top of the structure, but you need to book a ticket online — possible only from one of the screens at its base. As it was a sunny holiday Monday afternoon when I arrived, my entry slot wasn't for another 90 minutes, although the opening of the 7 subway line meant I was able to zip up to Central Park to kill some of the time. When I returned, I spent about an hour climbing up and down the many steps of the 16-storey structure, photographing it from all angles.

As I was staying in the Financial District, I spent some time visiting some of its sights from the old — the graves of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton in Trinity Church — to the new — the ultra-modern Oculus centre — and even caught a lovely sunset over the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park. My office view remains as stunning as always!

Over the week, I spent a fair amount of time crossing the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. My standard running route goes over the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn and then back over the Brooklyn Bridge. I managed this twice, plus another shorter run to the middle of Brooklyn Bridge and back. Early mornings are the best time to do this, as the bridge is much quieter; later in the week, when I walked across on a sunny Saturday afternoon the bridge was completely packed. I also stopped by Washington Street in DUMBO, which offers a great view of the Manhattan Bridge between the buildings, and enjoyed an autumnal stroll through Brooklyn Heights, where I always enjoy playing a game of dream house hunting.

On Saturday, I walked over the Williamsburg Bridge from my new Nolita hotel to Williamsburg, where I brunched, shopped, visited Smorgasburg and then took the NYC Ferry down to DUMBO and the Time Out Market New York, whose rooftop offers great views of Lower Manhattan and the bridges . The following day, I took the subway to Prospect Heights to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which was in full harvest festival mode.

As usual, I ate out a lot while in New York and this trip, I made particular efforts to visit some of the eateries and bars that had been on my list for some time.

Breakfast and brunch: I had weekend brunch at two reputed Brooklyn brunch spots while I was there: Sunday in Brooklyn (Williamsburg) and MeMe's Diner (Prospect Heights). I managed to score a seat the bar at the former by arriving soon after opening, and had the cheddar scramble with bacon and home fries, which was filling and tasty. At MeMe's, I put my name down and was able to return an hour later to take my seat at the bar, where I enjoyed a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, with a spicy twist. The food and service were great at both places. For a lighter breakfast, I always like bagels from Black Seed (Nolita), the B.E.C. (bacon, egg, cheese) being my particular favourite.

Dessert: While in Berlin in May, I ate at an excellent dessert bar, Coda. When I heard that a high-end dessert bar had just opened in New York's West Village, I was keen to visit. And as I had to head to JFK at around 5:30 pm on my last day, a dessert tasting menu was the perfect way to say goodbye to the city. At Marble Dessert Bar, you can pick a 'main' dessert from the short, creative menu, and you also get an amuse-bouche, a palate cleanser and petits fours. My main, which included pineapple, basil, lemon, mint and olive oil, was superb but the whole experience, sitting at the marble counter with exquisite service was greatly enjoyable. For rather less formal sweet treats, I stopped by Dough (Flatiron) for doughnuts and Dōmi @ Smorgasburg (Williamsburg) for a profiterole with Asian flavours.

Lunch and dinner: Last time I was in New York, I finally went to Emily (West Village) for a burger, which immediately joined the ranks of my all-time favourite burgers. Although Emily is most famous for its pizza, I had the burger again, and a portion of garlic-cheese bites (incredibly garlicky, incredibly moreish strips of pizza dough). Yes, I was very full for a long time. Yes, the vampires did stay away. I had another evening of carb overload in the West Village at Via Carota, where I beat the line by arriving early and alone. The 'nduja arancini, cacio e pepe and negronis were all spot on. During my trip, I also enjoyed some excellent Mexican food (tacos, enchiladas and a spicy margarita) at Rosie's (East Village), barbecue at Randall's Barbecue (Lower East Side) and fried chicken at Pat LaFrieda at Time Out Market (DUMBO). As a small atonement to these excesses, I ate at The Butcher's Daughter, a vegetarian restaurant in the Lower East Side, one night, and had a quinoa, broccoli and peanut salad, which a gorgeous dressing.

Cocktails: During my trip to Malaysia and Singapore, I reacquainted myself with the World's 50 Best Bars list. This encouraged me to fill a few gaps in my New York cocktail bar map. I started with Attaboy (#7), a Lower East Side speakeasy where there's no menu and the talented bartenders ask a few questions before surprising you with a drink. My Two Step — tequila, Cocchi, lime and muddled strawberries — was not something I'd have ordered myself but was superbly mixed. Meeting a good friend for drinks at the sleek NoMad Bar (#4) in the Flatiron district, was a rather different experience, although the cocktails were just as impeccable. The Nod to Nothing was fruity and tart but with enough creative pairings to create some very unique flavours.

The Dead Rabbit (FiDi; #22) is only two minutes' walk from my office, so of course my colleague and I headed there one evening when the wind and rain were out in full force. We sat in the Irish-pub-style downstairs bar, rather than the smarter upstairs lounge, which meant I got to enjoy a burger with my cocktail. The other bar I visited, Last Light, is located on the rooftop of Sister City, the Nolita hotel to which I moved for the end of my trip. With panoramic views up to the Empire State Building and down to Brooklyn Bridge, this is a great place to watch the sun go down with a drink in hand. I did exactly that and loved watching the lights come on. My cocktail was very good too.

Despite the continued slump of the pound against the dollar, I did quite a bit of shopping on this trip, taking advantage of some of the holidays sales to shop at some of my favourite US chains like J. Crew and LOFT. I also bought some black boots from Thursday Boots, which fit perfectly and have required no breaking-in period, which is really unusual for me. There is a store in SoHo and a showroom in the Flatiron (where I had to go because they were out of my size in SoHo). I've bought a few skincare and makeup products from Glossier, but as I prefer to try before buying, I decided to visit their SoHo bricks-and-mortar store (hint: go late in the evening to avoid a queue to get in). There's a curious new department store in NoHo called Showfields, which offers a home to various online-only brands, like S'well. They also have an 'experience' (culminating in a special slide of some kind) that you can book on to. The lift was quite fun too.

I've visited New York in mid-October two years in a row and have found hotel rates to be especially expensive, even for this city. For most of my trip, my company paid for my room at the DoubleTree by Hilton, Financial District, which is only a few minutes' walk from the office. The rooms are small but quiet and comfortable, and if you can get a high floor, as I did, there are good skyline views of Lower Manhattan.

For the last three nights, I moved to Sister City, a new 'little sister' in the Ace Hotel family, located on the Bowery, near Prince Street, on the borders of Nolita and the Lower East Side. The location was ideal for me, and although my room was small, it was well thought out, with minimalist décor, and a very comfortable bed. There's also a utility cupboard on each floor that contained a kettle, which made me very happy. The Last Light bar, as I mentioned above, is worth a visit even if you're not staying in the hotel.

31 October 2019

New York Speciality Coffee Update — Autumn 2019

Earlier this month, I was back in New York for eight days. I was working and staying in the Financial District for most of the trip, and to the best of my knowledge, I've already explored most of the best speciality coffee options in the neighbourhood (my guide is here). This, combined with what seemed to be a relatively small number of new openings of independent speciality coffee shops since my last visit one year ago, meant I didn't get to visit as many new-to-me coffee shops as I had hoped. There were four or five on my list that I couldn't quite squeeze in this trip, and two more in the East Village (Frisson Espresso and Southern Cross) that have recently closed — alas, Google Maps hadn't yet got the memo!

These are the new-to-me places I did visit (all of which have also been added to my New York speciality coffee guide and map):

Baodega (Flatiron)
After two weeks in Malaysia, where I consumed more than my fair share of dumplings, I couldn't resist visiting a cafe in the Flatiron district that offered both dim sum and speciality coffee. Baodega has an excellent-value set menu at lunch, but as I was looking for something lighter, I went for six soup dumplings instead, which were really good. The coffee is from Kopi Trading Co, and although my cortado was on the long side, it was smooth and well-balanced. As I arrived during the lunch rush, the only seating was at one of the large sharing tables opposite the counter, but this just gave me the opportunity to eye up my neighbours' enviable feasts.

Baodega is located at 7 W. 20th Street nr Fifth Ave. Website. Instagram.

Bluestone Lane (Times Square)
I've visited several branches of this Australian speciality coffee mini-chain before, including one in DC, and have found them to be as good a source of proper piccolos as of minimalist, pastel-accented aesthetics. I was therefore pleased when a journalist I was meeting suggested we meet at the Times Square branch, just opposite the New York Times. It's a small coffee bar, with not much seating, but the location is very convenient for Times Square. My piccolo was very good, even if I was too late to stop the barista making it in a disposable cup.

Bluestone Lane is located at 11 Times Square nr Eighth Ave (and various other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Brooklyn Roasting Company (DUMBO)
I visited the DUMBO branch of this Brooklyn-based roaster mid-way through one of my 'usual' New York runs: over the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn and then back over the Brooklyn Bridge. Located on Washington Street — now 'Instagram famous' as a result of the 'between the blocks' shot of the Manhattan Bridge that you can snap — the spacious, cosy cafe was a great spot for a quick breakfast. My cortado was well brewed, and the cheddar-jalapeño scone set me up for the rest of my run.

Brooklyn Roasting Company is located at 45 Washington Street nr Water St (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Felix Roasting Co. (NoMad)
Having seen photos of Felix Roasting Co. online several months ago, I knew that the NoMad cafe with its straight-out-of-a-Wes-Anderson-film interiors would be beautiful. But what about the coffee?

After having a run of cortados that were slightly longer than I usually prefer, I was keen to switch to filter coffee and was pleased to spot an Ethiopian Wush Wush coffee available as a batch-brew filter coffee. I became familiar with Wush Wush in 2017, when I just missed out on trying it at the London Coffee Festival. At Felix, the coffee's sweet honey and blackberry notes came through nicely, and sitting in the elegant, baroque cafe was a very civilised way to spend a coffee break.

Felix Roasting Co. is located at 450 Park Avenue South nr E. 31st St. Website. Instagram.

Gimme! Coffee (Nolita)
I have been to Nolita-based Gimme! Coffee before but it was a long time ago and I never photographed it for my blog. I was pleased to discover that it was just around the corner from my second hotel, and stopped by for a very fine macchiato on my way into the office on Friday morning.

The narrow coffee shop has just a couple of seats at the end of the counter, as well as on the bench outside, but they've managed to squeeze in a shelf with retail coffee beans and coffee kit, and local art adorns the walls. If you're in Nolita, this is a great place for a quick coffee stop.

Gimme! Coffee is located at 228 Mott Street nr Prince St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Partners Coffee (West Village)
I've visited Australian roaster Toby's Estate's Williamsburg and Flatiron cafes several times before, but not since the New York arm of the company's rebrand — and rebirth as Partners Coffee — earlier this year. As I was in the West Village on my first afternoon in the city, I decided to visit Partners' Charles Street cafe, in an angular, red-brick building on the corner of Seventh Avenue. I arrived not long before closing and so opted for a macchiato with the Bedford Blend espresso, which was a lovely pick-me-up after my flight from London. Single-origin espressos and pourovers were also available, and Partners' signature brightly coloured bags of retail beans are also on sale.

Partners Coffee is located 44 Charles Street nr 7th Ave. South (and other locations). Website. Twitter.

As I was spending so much time in the Financial District, I also re-visited two of my favourite three coffee spots in the neighbourhood, Black Fox Coffee and Cafe Grumpy (the third being Voyager Espresso). At Black Fox, I had a chocolatey Colombian Los Gigantes filter coffee from Ritual, and bought some fruity Ethiopian beans from Vancouver roaster Lüna, which I've been enjoying at home. As Cafe Grumpy's small, orange-accented coffee shop is often busy in the mornings, I stuck to the batch-brew filter coffee and was really impressed with the single-origin Nicaraguan coffee on offer. As I took my coffee to go in my HuskeeCup, I also got a 50¢ discount.

I had hoped to visit Nobletree's Financial District coffee shop, but in my pre-work rush, I couldn't track it down inside the sprawling Westfield World Trade Center (possibly because according to Yelp, if not their own website, it's closed). Instead, I visited another branch of Gregorys Coffee, close to my hotel on Broad Street nr William. The single-origin batch-brew filter wasn't ready yet, so I enjoyed a well-made cortado in this busy coffee bar. There isn't much seating, so it's best to fire up your reusable cup so that you can enjoy your brew elsewhere.

Finally, I was also able to stop by one of my favourite branches of Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, located on Orchard Street in the Lower East Side. I got an Ethiopian pourover to go in my HuskeeCup, which kept me caffeinated on my walk over the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn.

For 80+ more of my favourite coffee shops in New York, please check out my speciality coffee guide; I've also included below my updated NYC speciality coffee map.

28 October 2019

The Caffeine Chronicles: Kiss the Hippo, Fitzrovia

When Curators Coffee Gallery closed earlier this year, I was sad to have lost one of my favourite central London speciality coffee shops. Both its Margaret Street location, just a couple of blocks north of Oxford Circus, and its high-quality, multi-roaster coffee offering kept me coming back time after time. As such, I was excited to spot the distinctive, red Kiss the Hippo branding when I was passing the site one afternoon in June.

Speciality coffee roaster Kiss the Hippo's first cafe is in Richmond and despite the plaudits it has received, I rarely journey that far west in London and hadn't managed to visit. To make amends for this oversight, I've now visited the new Fitzrovia location twice, once on a busy Saturday afternoon and again the following week before an early meeting on Portland Place. Unsurprisingly, I'm very much enamoured with Margaret Street's newest speciality coffee occupants, and it's set to become my go-to 'I'm on Oxford Street...get me out of here' destination.

The sleek space looks quite different from Curators' geometry-centric cafe. Instead, light wood dominates, with lots of light coming in through the large front window, even on duller days. The layout remains similar, however, with the long coffee bar dominating most of the space, several stools perched by the window, a few small tables opposite the counter and at the back, and a basement seating area. At the front, there's also a wide range of Kiss the Hippo coffee and merch, as well as other coffee-making kit.

When I visit, there are three espressos on offer — the George Street blend, a single-origin Ethiopian and a single-origin decaf — as well as two single-origin pourovers and a batch brew filter coffee. Various non-coffee drinks are also available, with some seasonal offerings 'coming soon.' After reading the description of the natural Panama Carmen Gesha (£7), which won second place at the Best of Panama 2017 coffee competition, and which has notes of bergamot, vanilla and lavender, my mind is already made up. I order the coffee and a coconut cookie, and take a seat at the last remaining table, just opposite the coffee bar. NB, the cafe is cashless, which suits me fine as I rarely carry cash.

Although it's busy, I don't have to wait too long for my Kalita-wave brewed pourover to arrive and it smells so good that I savour the scents while it cools before taking my first taste. When I do, the delicate flavours come through beautifully and I enjoy every sip. The presentation is excellent too with the coffee in a glass Kinto cup on a rounded wood tray that also bears a card with the tasting notes and story of Carlos Aguilera's Carmen Estate.

On my second visit, I'm more pressed for time and order a cortado (£2.80) with the George Street espresso blend. My coffee is very well brewed and it is very clear that a great deal of care has been put into the Kiss the Hippo operation, from the coffee itself, to the brewing, the service and the venue. And in case you were wondering, the embracing of ungulates is not required...

Kiss the Hippo. 51 Margaret Street, London, W1W 8SG (Tube: Oxford Circus). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

For 100+ more of my favourite coffee shops in London, please check out my speciality coffee guide.

You can also read Brian's take on Kiss the Hippo over on the Coffee Spot.