26 January 2021

Lighting Up London Lockdown at Connected by Light, Canary Wharf

Although London is in lockdown for the foreseeable, we are at least still allowed to go out for exercise once per day and despite the cold, grey weather, I've been going for a walk, run or cycle ride every day. Well, as I'm still a fair-weather cyclist, I've mainly been walking and running, which does limit the places within a reasonable distance. Much as I love running west along the river from Tower Bridge, close to where I live, I have done the same loop about 150 times in the past year and so I've been looking for some other options.

13 January 2021

The Caffeine Chronicles: District, Nine Elms

While the UK remains in lockdown, I have still been able to seize small moments of joy by getting a takeaway coffee while on my allotted daily exercise. Last week, my walk-of-the-day took me to Nine Elms where I was able to visit the closest of District's three Aussie-inspired cafes; the other two locations are in Parsons Green and Mayfair. Unsurprisingly, I've missed travelling a great deal over the past year, so it was nice to take the opportunity to visit a small piece of Australia rather closer to home.

8 January 2021

The Caffeine Chronicles: Frequency Coffee, Angel

The original Frequency Coffee has long been a favourite of mine, and its King's Cross location was convenient for my office. Of course, working from home last year — and for the foreseeable — has meant I haven't been able to visit owner Justo and his team as often as usual. But when I stopped by on a staycation day in November, I found out that Justo was soon going to be opening a second branch, on Camden Passage in Islington.

4 January 2021

At Six by Nico, a Festive Dinner in Six Parts

Before Christmas and when restaurants were still open in London, I was able to get a table at the London location of Six by Nico. Nico Simeone's small family of restaurants are currently located in six UK cities (the original was in Glasgow) and specialise in themed, six-course tasting menus priced at an extremely reasonable £35. The restaurants are currently closed but will hopefully be back again soon when restrictions ease with another exciting theme.

31 December 2020

My Top 5 Books of 2020

This is the last of my 2020 round-up posts, and highlights my favourite five books that I've read this year. My reading habits changed as much as my travel habits this year, and I've read far fewer books than last year: 94, in total. I used to read for pleasure mainly on my bus ride into the office and when travelling. I've technically had more time this year, but I've tended to use it for other hobbies, like writing (my own novel is now technically finished after I wrote the final 30,000 words this year) and doom-scrolling. I also got stuck on Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light for several weeks, which I did enjoy but felt it should have been 200 pages shorter. Il Decameron is a pretty hefty read too, even in English, rather than the Italian original I studied at university, but its Black Death setting and black humour felt apt for this year. 

Spotted in Rye, Sussex

30 December 2020

Five Travel Stories from 2020

Despite it being a leap year, 2020 hasn't been a year where I've felt like leaping much, what with one thing and another. As such, my annual travel round-up post, where I highlight some of my favourite places for leaping that I've visited that year, has had a bit of a revamp. In January, I had seven international trips booked, but only completes one, to New York and Seattle, before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the others. This year has been the longest I've been in the UK without leaving the country in two or three decades, and it's been hard not to miss the excitement of discovering new cities and countries, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. But I have managed several smaller-scale adventures closer to home this year, and I thought this was a good opportunity to share a few stories.

1. Arriving in NYC in the 'before times'

I spent a few days working in Manhattan before a conference in Seattle in early February, and in typical fashion, took the earliest possible flight on the Saturday morning to maximise my weekend in my favourite city. I didn't know it at the time, but this would be my last international trip for the foreseeable. There had already been cases of the new coronavirus reported when I arrived, but New York was just the same as it always is in February — cold, slightly less busy than usual and particularly quiet in some areas, but with the same frenetic energy that I love so much. Walking through Chinatown amid the Lunar New Year festivities, I couldn't work out if I was pleased to see business as usual, or concerned. Like everyone else, I knew so little then. As I pulled up my scarf over my face against the chill, a charity fundraiser called, "hey, nice mask" — sarcastically, I think. I saw the Snow Moon, ate out a lot, walked the High Line, went to a modern art exhibition featuring fruit and veg, and went to see Parasite at a cosy Brooklyn cinema. I'm glad I got to do lots of my favourite New York things, because I don't know when I will do so again.

28 December 2020

Bex's Coffee and Food Awards: 2020 Edition

And so here we are, inching closer to the end of what has been an exceptionally challenging year. Despite everything, I know I'm very lucky to have remained healthy and in work (busier than ever, in fact, as I work for a science journal) throughout, but it's been such a difficult year for the hospitality industry, as coffee shops and eateries have had to adapt and then adapt some more in the face of constant change. Many places have already closed permanently or may have to do so in the coming months, with devastating consequences for the staff and on our changing neighbourhoods. It's more important than ever to continue to support local businesses, especially those you really care about, wherever possible — and, of course, wherever safe. Do check establishments' websites and/or social media to find out the latest information on opening hours and restrictions.

As part of my end-of-year round-ups, I usually highlight some of my favourite coffee and food favourites. This year is no exception, but as I only made one international trip before travel was shut down, I've rejigged the categories accordingly. As always, I've only included places I visited for the first time this year. Without further ado, here are some of my coffee and food favourites of 2020.


1. Best new London coffee shop

Saint Nine Coffee

It's challenging to open a new coffee shop in London and keep it running even in normal times, let alone in the middle of a pandemic with constantly changing guidelines and legal regulations. In recognition of this, I created a new category this year for new openings in London. And of all the new speciality coffee shops I've visited, Saint Nine Coffee in Bankside may well be my favourite and is close enough for me to pop out for a lunchtime coffee while working from home. I've always had a very warm welcome from Laith, Ashley and Zoe, and they serve great espresso-based coffee from Assembly and Round Hill Roastery. The centrepiece of the small coffee bar is the stunning mural by Gabe Sapienza that wraps all the way up one wall onto the ceiling. If you're in the Southwark area, do stop by for a coffee and to say hi.