Category Archives: Best Of London (IMHO)

For the love of food – Al Boccon Di Vino, Richmond


So, as you know, I now have a small person occupying my time so I haven’t blogged for a while, but this place is just so damn good I wanted to tell you all about it.

It’s called Al Boccon Di Vino and it’s a tiny little restaurant in Richmond owned by this impossibly cool man who managed to make me giggle like a schoolgirl simply by winking at me:


And run by this fabulous lady who The Chef actually fell in love with, and who walked round all night filling up our wine glasses and offering out limoncello, with words of love and laughter.


Now, I didn’t think London could possibly produce a better fun Italian restaurant than Giuseppes in Borough – I mean, when it comes to atmosphere, Giuseppes always has me up dancing by the end of the night – arms round a group of people I only just met, warbling out old love songs on the microphone and listening to Frank Sinatra while sipping limoncello.

But Al Boccon Di Vino has atmosphere in spades and is the most incredible authentic Italian feast.

First, it has to be said it’s great for Richmond, which I’ve always found disappointing food-wise. Richmond is sooo beautiful – overlooked by the deer of Richmond Park as the sun sets over the Thames that runs through it. It should be filled with fabulous eateries and river-side pubs. And yet it seems more to be filled with Zizzis and Stradas and such like, and a mixture of hooray henrys and wobbling young tykes bound for Be At One.

But this place is an institution. It doesn’t care about money, and as such there is no menu, but you squash in next to your neighbor (who you are likely to get very well acquainted with) and are served a veritable banquet of food, like an Italian wedding feast.

We were there for almost 5 hours!!! And were solidly eating for most of it, although there is a well-timed pause before the mains and after the antipasti. We spent quite a lot of time chatting with our neighbours about this incredible feast which gave the place a real community feel. This is what we ate (or what we remember we ate at least):

Antipasti of lightly tempura’d vegetables

Aubergine with the most delicious mozzarella and parmesan mousse

Fried Mozzarella

A plate of prosciutto

2 Types of Scallops


Beef Carpaccio

Pasta with wild boar

Mozzarella and tomato ravioli (which The Chef declared to be the best pasta he’d ever tasted, before declaring his undying love for Simona, and ordering a second bottle of wine)

A whole roast suckling pig that was shown to the diners to a great mass of applause, served simply with roast potatoes

Strawberries and pannaccotta

Some other desserts perhaps (neither of us can remember)

Complementary coffee, grappa and limoncello


The meal was fabulous. Fabulous! A real event, a showpiece meal served with a feeling of joy and community. The cooking was fantastic in the most part brilliant. All I would say is that the scallops were perhaps a bit overdone, but the rest of the meal was incredible, and generous in it’s cooking and presentation.

The cost for all this? £40 a head, which is quite ridiculous when you think of the amount of food and the quality of the ingredients. But as they say, they don’t do it for the money.

We went for the house wine (2 bottles given how long we were there and, well, because we don’t get out much) and this was fantastic, particularly the white, and it comes in at £25 per bottle.

I can’t recommend this place enough, although suggest you don’t go as a surprise as you’ll need to set aside tons of time and don’t eat for say a fortnight or so beforehand. Prepare to be full, happy and a little sozzled by the end. It would be a GREAT place for a group for a birthday or similar.

Al Boccon di'vino on Urbanspoon

A Tale Of Two Cities

I’d wanted to go to the Experimental Cocktail Club in Soho for ages but it was one of those places I’d never got round to trying. But The Chef and I planned a long overdue “Date Night” last Friday, and I suggested we might start there.

Oh how very wrong was I. We didn’t book a table – well, we were only 2 people and meeting pretty early at 6.30pm. Again, wrong. I rocked up on a cold January day on my own, and was “welcomed” by a humourless French bouncer who looked me up and down like I was something squidgy and brown he had just stepped on. AND I WAS DRESSED UP AND EVERYTHING!!! Now in my mid 30s with a decent job, good clothes, an expensive haircut and a credit card, I can safely say I have not felt intimated or belittled by door staff for a good decade or so, but this man made me feel about an inch tall. After asking if we had booked a table (no) he then proceeded to tell me that they were so very busy that I might be allowed in, but he could not promise that my companion would also be allowed in.

OK so let me get this straight. I am dressed up, obviously not a tramp, wearing nice shoes, obviously willing to spend money on your ridiculously overpriced and undoubtedly pretentious cocktails, and you are telling me that my choices are (i) wait in the January cold on my own until my date gets here; or (ii) go alone into the cocktail bar and presume you are going to treat my companion with the same patronising disdain and shoo him away, leaving me alone for the evening.

I went with the former option and this lovely bouncer kept me outside, in the cold, on my own, for a good 10 minutes, letting others inside who came after me, which made me want the ground to swallow me up, never speaking to me nor once suggesting I go inside to warm up. I should also mention in this time he let 2 couples in who had not booked. It seems I was on his blacklist for daring to turn up solo or to question their booking policy. Finally, The Chef arrived and Monsieur Le Cockface (I believe I dropped the C-bomb on him on twitter later that night, perhaps a little uncalled for, but I was a fairly merry by that time) kept us waiting for another 10 minutes before finally telling us that they were far too busy and we would have to wait another 30 minutes but even then we could not be assured a seat.

By this time, I’m ashamed to say I was freezing, annoyed, upset, humiliated and angry, a feeling I recall from trying to get into cool Soho clubs when I was in my 20s but which I had long forgotten. Well, you know what Experimental Cocktail Club? FUCK YOU! Yeah, FUCK YOU and your stupid pretentious look-you-up-and-down patronising derogatory bullshit. You genuinely made me feel like a teenager again, standing outside Oddfellows in Edinburgh in the cold, while you let my friends in and made me wait outside all night, contemplating another lap round the block and changing jackets with my best mate in case you didn’t recognise me the second time. You made me feel that small and pathetic and uncool. And yes, I admit it, I CRIED when I left, walking up Dean Street, freezing and shivering, and away from your patronising stare. I’m ashamed to admit that I cried and I felt like crap and you almost, almost ruined my night. And I will never ever go to your crappy establishment again and I hate you and everything you stand for and the way you make people feel, and the way you think that WE, the paying public, the people who pay YOUR salary, should feel we OWE YOU anything – that WE should feel HONOURED to sit our stinky pleb bottoms on your gold-covered sofas. You got it wrong ECC, you owe US you see, and little did you know, The Chef and I like a cocktail more than most and would have shelled out a ton of cash if you’d treated us right.

Anyway as The Chef said, don’t let them get to you and I won’t. But never ever go to the ECC, unless you enjoy being treated like a dirty little cockroach.

We had booked a table that night at Quo Vadis – the re-done Soho institution on Dean Street. So we decided we might just go there early for a cocktail. And how bloody right we were.

The difference between Quo Vadis and the ECC was astounding. When we came in several staff members smiled. They took our coats, said hello, showed us to the bar. The barman smiled, gave us a menu, asked us what what we liked, explained a few things, let us try their homemade pomegranate juice. And – hello – the cocktails ranged from around £6.50 upwards. How wonderfully refreshing. And the barman was lovely and the cocktails gorgeous. My vodka martini was perfect with delicious little olives, The Chef’s whisky sour fantastic. Add to this a lovely little English fizz and some Campari cocktails and we were happy little bunnies once more. And this is the annoying thing about the ECC – people like us might not look the part to you, but we like nice things and good service and are willing to pay for it.

Quo Vadis has been taken over by Head Chef Jeremy Lee, a charismatic Scotsman who welcomed us to our table and chatted amongst the guests all night. He was formerly head chef at the Blueprint Café which I also loved – a little jewel on the Thames which seemed overlooked, much to my surprise, as the food and service were amazing and the views incredible. As a Scot I just loved the Scottish touches – a weather forecast on the menu: “bonny”, heather on the tables, haggis.

The service was genuinely perfect – Michelin standard. Waiting staff were friendly and knowledgeable and totally unintrusive. Wines were ace. Starters of salsify, mallard and eel sandwich were just delicious. The Chef by now was going off into his trance-like misty-eyed silent mode, eyes rolling back into his head, which meant he loved the food (and didn’t care for conversation) – last time I saw a similar reaction was at the Ledbury, and Leong’s Legends.

And onwards. The Chef had mutton chops which were incredible, a real depth of taste, you could actually picture a wise old sheep gambling up the hillside. I had a delicious hake with parsley mash which reminded me of San Sebastian. This is The Chef’s type of food – simple, rich, and all about the ingredients. Pudding was an amazing almond tart, and cheese, with a glass of Sauternes.

I cannot rave enough about the new Quo Vadis – lovely, friendly service that makes you feel a million dollars (SO important to me, still fuming ECC!), delicious fairly-priced food (starters from around £6, small bites around £3.50, mains around £8 – £15) so for me Quo Vadis has to be the pick of restaurants in Soho.

The cost? Well it was £100 a head, but once we sat down and started smiling because they got it JUST right, we knew we were going to blow the doors off. For £100 each we got: 3 cocktails each before dinner (norty), a £48 bottle of lovely wine (after ECC I suggested we splash out), 3 starters to share between 2, 1 main course each, pudding and dessert wine. It was so worth it, we went home with a smile on our face and a skip in our step. Highly recommended (and did I say already, avoid the ECC).

UPDATE 8 FEBRUARY 2012: After I wrote this blog post, I was inundated with tweets and emails and comments from others saying they had had the exact same experience so it seems it was not just me. However, on the evening I wrote the post, I got the following email from Xavier Padovani, one of the owners of the ECC:

Good Evening,
Firstly I would like to introduce myself, I am one of the owner of the ECC Chinatown.
I have just read your blog and I am horrified, I can not find the word to express how sorry I am, how sorry I am to discover the way you have been treated, this is not how we are or how we want to be, in a few words I am speechless!!
Firstly I would like to sincerely apologise for the way you were treated  at the door, I am sorry, and I understand if you want to tell me to “bugger off” or even so if you wish yo use other words to express your feeling, I totally get it, this is unacceptable!
Again I would like to apologise.
I am tonight on my way to the bar and I can only promise you that I am going to firstly investigate exactly what happened at he door Friday night and once I understand exactly what happened, I will act in consequence.
Yet clearly you must hate us and be upset with us, so the only thing I can do at that stage is to assure you that this is not who we are and who we want to be but rather the opposite, this is not an acceptable attitude for our people to take at the door.
So firstly I wanted to apologise and secondly, and only if this is ok by you, and after investigating on my side what happened, I would like to get back in touch with you to be clear on what exactly what happened and learning from our mistake share with you what we are going to change to make sure this never happen again at he bar!
I can only promise you that we will learn from that horrible experience and I will do what I have to in order to make sure this never happens again!
I will get back to you after speaking to the management and the team.
Best wishes

After investigating, he sent the following email:

Good Evening/Morning,
I have now personally investigated the matter further as I told you I would since it is what we do when we get a complain.
I understand you came to the bar and you were told that you could come in but when you mentioned someone was going to join you later the door staff told you that they could not guaranty entrance for your guest.
This is because by the time your guest would have arrived we may have reached the authorised legal capacity number.
I understand that you decided to wait. By the time your guest arrived, the bar had reached capacity as a result you two could not enter the bar.
After reading your blog comments it sounds like the staff did not communicate properly with you and may have had quite an attitude while dealing with the issue ; believe it or not I am genuinely embarrassed if that is the way they made you feel and tonight I have had a word with the staff.
Again I can only appologize if you feel the door staff did not act properly.
Clearly you did not appreciate the experience so there is nothing we can do to change that. I can only assure you that we have read your words and this will help us improve in the future.
This is a genuine “I am sorry email and we have taken note”. I am genuinely sad this has happened, I really hope you understand that blog or no blog I am totally sincere.
We will continue to get bad reviews and good reviews since everyone can write whatever they want on the net, this is the beauty of it and this is the game we all play.
However I am completely honest and truly thought what happened was a shame, voila, hope you understand.

To this I wrote the following response:

Hi Xavier and thank you for your response.
For the sake of fairness and with your permission, I will publish this on the blog – let me know if you object.
What I may say is that I have genuinely not been treated so badly by door staff for over a decade in London, and from the twitter responses to my blog post, a huge number of people in London have been treated the same by your door staff and will not go back.
If you geuinely don’t want your establishment to be seen as somewhere you have to put up with abusive door staff then I suggest you entirely re-train them, or get new people who are able to be friendly!
In any event, I am grateful for the time and effort you have taken in responding and for the concern you have shown.
All the best

Since then, I am still hearing stories on twitter about poor treatment at the ECC, including tweets from last night by @bittenwritten saying they had the following exchange with the doorman: ECC – “Can we come in?” Answer: “No.” Why? “Maybe wait 45 mins.” Us: Go fuck yourselves.

They are making a mistake here – I’ve heard from people including previous Masterchef winners and influential food bloggers that they have been turned away in similarly rude style. Who passes through the door of doom then? Only those who have booked, or those who look a certain way? Is this Parisian service for you? And why didn’t Xavier offer us to come back and try it if he was so sorry? I suspect we just wouldn’t get in.

Quo Vadis on Urbanspoon

Kaosarn, Brixton Village, Granville Arcade

Oh Khao San Road, Bangkok. How many times have I wandered down your bonkers strip, waiting for a bus to take me to Laos or Chaing Mai or the beaches in the South. How many times have I peered in the window of a tattoo parlour, panicked and walked away. How many times have I sniggered at the white kids getting corn rows or dreadlocks on your pavements, coo-ed at the stray puppies, admired ladyboys (but not their consorts), wandered round the surrounding alleyways with their Thai boxing dens and street food stalls where I ate phad thai and drank Singha or Beer Chang. Oh the fake Diesel jeans and the silver jewelry and the fisherman’s pants and the slogan t-shirts. How many times did I sleep in the Ghekko Guesthouse for a couple of dollars a night, lying under the broken fan to cool down. How exciting it was to find that secret rooftop pool to get away from the heat and humidity. But how sad I was to go back a couple of years ago and discover that you are now inhabited by drunken 16 year olds from Derby with a penchant for starting fights and peeing publicly. Ho hum.

I have no idea if Kaosan in Brixton is named after the Bangkok street so excuse me for the nostalgia-fest, but ANYWAY, Brixton has always lacked a brilliant dinner venue. Sure there are plenty of decent places – Hive Bar, Upstairs, The Ritzy, Satay Bar, Fujiyama – but nothing to get excited about. And of course for lunch options you’re sorted – Franca Manca, Rosie’s Deli, Wild Caper, Brixton Cornercopia – but the market shuts in the evening. You can always shimmy along Herne Hill way to the Lido Cafe, The Florence and The Prince Regent, but sometimes you just don’t want the walk.

So when Jay Rayner gave a glowing review of the family-run Thai restaurant Kaosan in Brixton, The Chef and I and it seems a huge number of other Brixtonites got terribly excited. And it is utterly brilliant. We went there on Tuesday night and had the most amazing meal. You can sit outside or inside and its BYO so we sat under the stars drinking bottles of Sol and eating deliciously spicy food – the atmosphere is brilliant and it had that holiday feeling which is soooo invaluable when you’re living in London.

The food was consistently excellent too. Tender and juicy pork skewers, delicately battered goong tod (king prawns), crispy gaew tod (prawn and pork filo parcels). And then the mains of gai yang, kow neaw, somtum (chicken in a gorgeous marinade with a spicy peanut salad and sticky rice) and the most delicious deep lamb massaman curry. And all this for £15 each.

We both agreed it was the best Thai meal we’d ever had in London and that (shock!) it was probably even better than most of the meals we’d ever had in Thailand. I’m dying to go back and try the pork ribs and the green and red curries and to bring friends and lots of wine and try pretty much everything else.

We met the owner Noy (Noi?) afterwards who was lovely – he runs it with his wife, neice and daughter, a proper family business, and he really cares about the atmosphere and ingredients and his regulars. He did start talking about the “concept” but I chose to ignore that part. He said if you brought a party along he’d make special bespoke meals for you, and he was an incredibly lovely and happy man.

I am so so thrilled to find a fantastic resto in Brixton so thanks to JR for finding it! Icing on the cake was seeing the big man himself on the way there…

Kaosarn on Urbanspoon

My search for the best burger in London #6 – #Meateasy, Above the Goldsmiths Tavern, 316 New Cross Road, SE14 6AF

A lot of great things have been said about #Meateasy and I don’t know how much more I can add, except:

  1. Really do go, its not hype, the burgers really are excellent, as are all the sides, in a gloopy cheese-and-meat-laden slightly down and dirty Americano style
  2. Really delicious actually, when I think back to our meal last night I salivate a little bit
  3. As well as the burger, try the Mac n Cheese which is delicious, the chilli cheese fries, the chilli cheese dog and the onion rings
  4. No-one in our party touched the slaw really but it was good too
  5. LOVE that thick gloopy yellow mustard stuff, and cheese, on EVERYTHING
  6. You have to wait a bit for food (for us – about 1.5 hours) but this is fine – the atmosphere is really good and LOUD, great music, a cool bar, drinks served in jam jars
  7. It’s great value – £15 each for a ton of food
  8. New Cross is a really cool area – with Goldsmith college near, its arty and quirky and cool. Lots of pork pie and bowler hats last night
  9. The staff at #Meateasy are very cool and nice and professional – they got it spot on, you feel well looked after 
  10. I’m 3 pounds heavier this morning. Sadly not an exaggeration

So there you have it. #Meateasy is actually brilliant and it definitely wins the award for the best burger I’ve ever had in London. I have to say I don’t feel especially great this morning, the day after the night before, but I think it’s because the food is a little sloppy (as its supposed to be) and I’ve got that post-fast food type dirty feeling. Oh and also we drank a lot of “corpse revivers” at the bar.

Its open until mid-April (after which I’d be AMAZED if they don’t open up a permanent place ) so you should go along when you can. If you don’t know, New Cross is sort of between Brixton and Peckham but you can easily get there from London Bridge too. Enjoy the photos below. This was my second burger this week – the diet begins again tomorrow.

#Meateasy on Urbanspoon

99 awesome things about London* ** ***

It has been brought to my attention that I haven’t posted as much as normal lately. This is partly because I am a little loved up. But also because it’s frickin’ freezing outside so I’m hibernating. But I’m feeling the tug, tug, tug of London, pulling at me to go out and see her again, so this list is for me really. Here’s what I love about London:

  1. Holding hands and wandering down the South Bank from Waterloo to the Tate Modern to take in the street theatre and eat at a nice restaurant (Skylon or the Blueprint Cafe) overlooking the Thames
  2. Being on a night bus and hearing 7 different languages being spoken at once
  3. Markets – Borough, Portobello, Brixton, Camden, Smithfields, Broadway, Brick Lane, Columbia Road
  4. Anything that is happening in the UK tends to happen here first – trends, food, music, house price falls
  5. The arty poshness of Notting Hill and its lovely pavement cafes
  6. The Evening Standard Friday magazine
  7. Having friends who are into, and parts of London that cater for, a million different tastes which you can dip in and out of as and when you fancy it
  8. The Royal Academy summer exhibition for sheer fun, volume and mentalness
  9. People wearing ridiculous outfits and no-one blinking an eye
  10. The O2 for its big name stars and nostalgia-fests (Suede, Prince, Tina Turner and er… Simply Red)
  11. Random gastro / art experiences at Dans Le Noir, the Wapping Project and Gingerline
  12. Kings Road shopping followed by coffee at the Peter Jones top floor cafe or a wander round the Saatchi Gallery
  13. That moment on the tube you all realise you’re smiling at the same thing
  14. The fact that you can see a Korean film festival and eat at a Zimbabwean restaurant in one day
  15. When your tube isn’t running and you get to work and realise 30 people in your office were in the same boat
  16. Drinking champagne at the top of Tower 42 or the Oxo Tower
  17. Booking your diary up weeks in advance, feeling really knackered and then have a friend cancel at the last minute so you get an impromptu night in
  18. The village in a village that is Crouch End and Herne Hill
  19. The yummy mummy shops and market of Northcote Road, Clapham Junction
  20. Filthy late-night drinking venues – in your twenties The Roadhouse and Infernos, and any time after that random joints in Soho, the Dalston Jazz Club and any pub that will give you a lock-in
  21. East end trendies and cool bars in Shoreditch, Bethnal Green and Hoxton
  22. The way that most Londoners are equal parts intolerant and friendly
  23. The Barbican, Riverside Studios, the Tricycle Theatre and Soho Theatre leading the way with surreal, modern, fascinating comedy and theatre
  24. It is the only city in the UK where you can have a million pound mansion on the same street as a housing estate
  25. Fantastic comedy at the Comedy Store, Jongleurs, the 100 club, Chuckle Club and Banana Cabaret
  26. We got the Houses of Parliament and City boys. Yes, they’ve fucked our lives up, but they’re OURS
  27. Supper clubs popping up throughout London – a modern, exciting and great value way to dine
  28. The Eurotrash and monied folk of Chelsea and Mayfair and pretending you are one of them at London’s best hotels
  29. You can do a course in n’importe quoi at the School of Life, City Lit and loads of local colleges
  30. Massive, friendly, funny, supportive blogging community
  31. A new and exciting film scene, led by the BFI and London’s independent cinemas
  32. The romance and sadness of Highgate Cemetry
  33. Saturday lunch in the million and one restaurants in Upper Street, Angel
  34. Cycle superhighways and bikes – we’re all having a bit of a giggle about it aren’t we?
  35. Afternoon tea at the Ritz or the Wolseley
  36. Going to a new undiscovered area of London and getting to know it better
  37. Treating to yourself to a posh meal in one of London’s fabulous Michelin-starred restaurants
  38. Old school Roman spa days with girlfriends at the Porchester Spa, Bayswater
  39. A day out at the Natural History Museum or the V&A followed by shopping on High Street Ken or lunch at the Kensington Roof Gardens
  40. Great gig venues like the Brixton Academy, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Koko and the Jazz Cafe in Camden, the Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell and Cargo in Shoreditch
  41. Every London school appears to be churning out a decent band (not quite, but see Mumford & Sons, Florence & the Machine and the XX)
  42. Late night exhibitions at the V&A, British Museum, Natural History Museum and National Portrait Gallery
  43. The gorgeous Georgian houses of Islington and the romantic-sounding De Beuvoir
  44. When someone on the tube offers you the empty seat (and not because they think you’re pregnant. Oh)
  45. We’re holding the Olympics here in 2012, and we’re all a little bit nervous that it’s going to be crap
  46. Spending your hard earned salary (or simply imagining it) at the beautiful Selfridges, Liberty and Harvey Nicks
  47. The buzziness of Soho to make you feel young again (until the morning after)
  48. The Jamaican roots of Brixton and its up-and-coming music, market and bar scene
  49. Interesting and eccentric museums like the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury, Sir John Soane’s house in Holborn and Dennis Severs’ house in Shoreditch
  50. Seeing free live music (including Ed Harcourt!) at London’s victorian bandstands courtesy of Bandstand Busking
  51. Riverside pubs, rahs and rowing in Putney, Hammersmith, Barnes and Parsons Green
  52. Fantastic gastropubs – the Eagle, Anchor & Hope, 32 Great Queen Street, Harwood Arms, Canton Arms, Drapers Arms, the Bull & Last
  53. London’s ghostly plague-ridden past which you can re-visit in late night walking tours
  54. The beauty and science of Greenwich park and observatory, followed by a huge pub lunch
  55. Amazing history – the great fire of London, the blitz, Big Ben
  56. London Eye is surely the biggest Eye in the UK
  57. Being a 1 hour drive or train from the countryside of Surrey, Kent and Berkshire  
  58. The view from Waterloo Bridge at night
  59. You can wander round London’s incredible architecture and beautiful buildings every year courtesy of Open House
  60. Realising Essex is actually quite beautiful (I’m not looking at you, Billericay)
  61. Brick lane markets, pubs and curry houses
  62. When you have an amusing tube driver who makes funny comments
  63. The glamour of Canary Wharf and the City (I LOVE the guerkin)
  64. Giving in to your cheesy side and seeing a West End musical
  65. The music scene and hanging out by the canals in Camden
  66. Fantastic coffee shops like Store Street Espresso, Kaffeine, Lantana and Flat White
  67. Festivals in Clapham Common, Victoria Park and London Fields throughout the Summer
  68. Impromptu “snow days” where you try reeeeally hard to get into work (not really) and then you “work from home” (while building snowmen, posting  photos of snowmen on facebook, giggling at neighbours building snowmen…)
  69. St Pauls church and the little churches hidden in the City for being beautiful, soothing and doing lunchtime concerts
  70. It is the inspiration for brilliant songs – London Calling by the Clash, London Town by James Taylor, LDN by Lily Allen, the Lambeth Walk
  71. And films – Mary Poppins, 28 Days Later, Bridget Jones, About A Boy, An American Warewolf In London, Austin Powers, An Education, The Chronicles Of Narnia, The Krays, Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, London River, London Boulevard, and most things by Richard Curtis and Mike Leigh
  72. Ultravox’s Vienna was actually set in Covent Garden – but it means nothing to me
  73. Fantastic plays and famous actors at London’s historic theatres
  74. We got Buckingham Palace and THE Queen. Our continental cousins only have “A Queen”, whose name we forget
  75. Richmond Park for having deer! In a throbbing metropolis!
  76. East end cockneys, barrow boys and pearly queens
  77. The view from Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath, followed by coffee at Kenwood house or a pint in one of Hampstead Village’s pubs
  78. Eastenders
  79. East Dulwich’s Lordship Lane for its cafes, pubs, delis and bars, and just a hop skip and a jump from Dulwich Gallery, Village and Park
  80. Four major airports and the Eurostar can take you from London to the beach in a matter of hours
  81. Pre-theatre dinner deals in Covent Garden (even if you’re actually going to the pub afterwards)
  82. If you run out of conversation, we can ALWAYS bitch about public transport
  83. We are the only city in the world with a trillion green and gorgeous city-centre parks to sunbathe in all summer (like the 9 million bicycles song, that’s a fact. But unsubstantiated)
  84. Seeing famous people all the time in random places, but mostly Soho
  85. Camberwell, Peckham and New Cross for being arty and up and coming
  86. We have better weather than most of the UK, all year round
  87. You can swim outdoors in London Fields, the Serpentine and Brockwell Park
  88. Funky exercise options like every type of hot and sweaty yoga, Frame and Pineapple dance studios, British Military Fitness, pole dancing and burlesque
  89. Mosquitos in summer – how very continental
  90. The kebab shops of Stoke Newington and Dalston
  91. Cool and trendy members clubs like Milk & Honey, Soho House, the Ivy, the Graucho and Shoreditch House, and managing to blag your way in at least once
  92. Boris Johnson and Ken Livingston – whatever you think of them, they are certainly characters
  93. That smug feeling that you are no longer a tourist
  94. There’s something bonding about everyone always being skint
  95. Amazing curries, Indian markets and Primarni in Tooting
  96. Seeing a monk or a nun in an incongruous setting like Oxford Street, holding an HMV plastic bag
  97. We have the beautiful Royal Courts of Justice, steeped in history, pomp and ceremony, and men in wigs (for a short time only)
  98. Listening to drunken, loud and largely unsuccessful flirting on the last tube home of the night
  99. The Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland road

* Yes, well spotted. Idea shamelessly plaigirised from 1000 awesome things. Only less clever and without the accompanying book deal.

** Fuck me, this took me ages. I hope you like it 🙂

*** Yes, 100 would look and sound better, but I’m done. Phew.

Polpetto, 49 Dean Street, Soho, W1D 5BG

A bit of background in case you haven’t heard about this place. Polpetto (means “small octopus” in Italian) is the smaller, younger sister of Polpo (“octopus“) which opened in Soho to fantastic reviews. Little sister Polpetto is above the French House on Dean Street, a pub full of character and rammed to the rafters with squiffy media types, so named as it was home to the expat French resistance during the war (I love the French House – it gets a mention in my homage to Dean Street here). Both make Venetian bacaro food – shared small tapas-style plates (many of you will have eaten this in Venice. I went to Venice and ate in McDonalds, which is why you should never go to Venice as a skint student). Both have a no-reservations for dinner policy which is good for them but means I have tried and failed to eat at Polpo several times.

Relaxed, retro and romantic inside

However, Emmissima and I went to Polpetto at around 7pm last Friday and got a table straight away, a nice one by the window. In fact there were no groaning queues the entire time we were there. And it’s lovely inside – you wander up narrow wooden stairs past old framed photos to a small, intimate, dimly lit restaurant which could be in Brussels or Paris, filled with couples and friends. (Apparently it looks like a New York West Village resto too – am long overdue a trip). I was impressed that even though it was busy, you can take your time to eat, there’s no rush or hassle or table-turning nonsense that can ruin an evening out. So we ordered a bottle of Sangiovese (£16.50) – which you drink in cute little wine glasses – and went about ordering.

We started with polpetti (£3) and white bean crostino (£1)  – both delicious but tiny which was understandable if you consider the price. Then the flank steak with rocket and white truffle cream (£7) which was absolutely gorgeous – perfectly tender meat and the truffle cream was delicious. Decent sized portion too. And then a bit of a wierd one – I ordered cuttlefish in its ink (£7.50) because (a) I have never to my knowledge eaten cuttlefish nor (b) anything cooked in its own ink. This was a bit of a mistake – the cuttlefish was lovely but the ink was black and thick and gloopy and stained our tongues and lips and teeth. I also had flashbacks to ingesting half a fountain pen refill capsule at school and panicked a little bit. Probably a bit over-inky and in any event not something to order on date night. I’m still glad I tried it though. We finished with proscuitto and fig bruschetta (£7.50) which were again simple and delicious.


White bean crostino (lovely but order more than 1)

Bloody delicious flank steak with white truffle cream

Cuttlefish (nice) in ink gloop (stained entire mouth and still pulling out of teeth 3 hours later)

Delicious proscuitto and fig bruschetta

All in all it was £48 or £24 each for all this food and sharing a bottle of wine and we whiled away a nice relaxing two hours in the process. I will definitely be back to try more things in the menu – first on my list is the osso bucco with rissotto and the chilli prawns.

Polpetto on Urbanspoon

The Haberdashery coffee shop and thoughts on Crouch End*

Crouch End is one of those places where everyone who lives there seems to absolutely love living there, and when you get a place like that – I’m reminded of Brighton and San Francisco – it makes it feel very community-friendly and happy. Although I think that’s possibly where the similarity to San Fran ends. It’s a bastard to get to so perhaps it has become its own little oasis – there are some great cafes, pubs and delis along the central drag, quirky and local and gastro and cute. And the streets are lined with celebs. Or at least Simon Pegg, and Minty from Eastenders.

I ended up there on Saturday, to help Emmissima move into her new flat and visit my friend Max of the Nandos Bike Club. Max took me to The Haberdashery on Middle Street for coffee – and it was lovely. It felt very seaside England – bunting and white-washed walls with cakes and mis-matched china and huge bowls of coffee.  And a rainbow cake that was quite scary (see below). The sort of place you can sit for ages feeling quite comfortable and homely and apparently they do craft jumble sales too and play old vinyl. North London does coffee shops like this really well, although Brixton’s getting there with Rosie’s Deli.

So I’m sort of jealous I don’t live in Crouch End – but pleased I now have even more reasons to visit. Like everywhere in London, its developing too – and maybe it will lose its quirkiness as it gains popularity, with the onset of chain stores and cheesy bars. But for now its a nice little escape from busy London life.

*Or “See, I do hang out in North London sometimes…”
The Haberdashery on Urbanspoon

Leong’s Legends, 4 Macclesfield St, Chinatown, W1D 6AX

You know those Saturday nights when you find it hard to leave the sofa? Well I had one of those last weekend but luckily Pippalippa encouraged me to get my glad rags (jeans and trainers) on and hit Chinatown for some yummy food, red wine and banter. Pip loves Chinatown and I love Chinatown with Pip – she lived in China and always orders interesting stuff. Being an indecisive and rather lazy menu-fretter, I love asking her to order for me (apart from the jellyfish incident, splodgy bleurghness).

We started in De Hems, a great Dutch pub on Macclesfield Street which was perfect because it had good music, an upstairs room with free places to sit (in Soho – hurrah) and Lindeboom, nice Dutch beer on tap, which they also let Pip try before ordering, hic. Two pints later and we headed across the road for some Taiwanese food and wine. This was my second visit to Leong’s Legends, the first involving duck’s tongue (gristly bleurghness) and thousand year old egg (surprisingly yum and I don’t think its actually a thousand years old..). Last time I was here I promised Pip I wouldn’t blog about it to keep it a secret. That was until I realised it was much loved and written about by London’s food bloggers…

Rice with bean curd and pork belly nom nom nom

Service is good and efficient and very quick even though they were chocka.  We got all our food at once and seemed to be in and out fairly quickly – so perhaps not ideal for a lingering romantic meal but I guess you could just take your time eating. We got a bottle of Argentinian red and ordered the food – crab dumplings (xiao long bao) and bean curd with thousand year old egg to start; and pork belly and pork with green beans for mains.

Thousand year old egg (yummer than it sounds) and bean curd (Pipallippa likes, an aquired taste I think!)

Crab dumplings – Time Out raved about them, we thought they were good but not crabby enough

Pork belly – super tender and fatty, delicious…

Pork with green beans – this was lovely, one of my favourites – delicate, spicy, meaty

After a bottle of wine, all this grub and very full bellies, we paid £23 each and were on our way sofa-ward again. Great value and delicious food, perfect for those who know and want authentic Asian food, or who like me are happy to give most things (apart from jellyfish) a go. Try to order stuff you’ve never had before – what a shame to order crispy duck pancakes when there’s way more on offer.

You can read about my visit to its sister resto the Empress of Sichuan and my guide to Chinatown here.

Leong’s Legends on Urbanspoon

Vinoteca, 7 St John Street, Clerkenwell, EC1M 4AA

I’ve been meaning to go to Vinoteca for aaaages, having been told by a couple of friends-in-the-know how wonderful it is. When you find a restaurant that people go back to time and time again, you’ve definitely found a winner. And I have to say that having been, it has sailed to the top of my (as yet unwritten) “best restaurants in London” list.

So why did it take me so long to go? My problem was the “no-booking” policy. I get that this makes it more of a local restaurant, but dinners at Wahaca and Polpo failed because we didn’t want to wait 2 hours for a table (Polpo on a Thursday night) or we had to wait until everyone had arrived before we could put our names on the waiting list (Wahaca). Both me and my friends are guilty of rocking up to dinner late depending on our workloads so we’ve always gone for places we could book.

But the good news is that the wait at Vinoteca was fine. I went with Escobar and we rocked up around 7pm on a Friday evening, got a nice seat at the side bar (some people after us didn’t though) and nattered our way through half a bottle of delicious French white wine (see photo below – you can also see from Escobar’s lovely hand gestures how he felt about my taking blog photos during our meal).  We were seated within around 30-40 minutes and it didn’t bother me one jot, I quite liked the pre-dinner drink aspect.

First, I loved the laid-back wood floor long-conversation vibe of the place. You weren’t rushed, service was lovely, it felt like a comfy French bistro inside. It was relaxed and homely – my perfect resto.

Then, the wine. It makes SUCH a difference to have a delicious well-priced bottle of wine served at the perfect temperature. At first the huge wine list  was a bit scary, but we took a punt on a lovely bottle of white (2009 Coteaux de Languedoc from Domaine La Croix Gratiot although I was also thinking about an Aussie Verdelho) which was brilliantly priced at £19. When emptied, we had the recommended glass of wine per main course, again really reasonably priced and absolutely perfect with the meal (a deep red with the bavette and a light fruity riesling with the mullet).

I was also massively impressed at the food – right up there with the best I’ve had in London. To start, we shared toast with chorizo with quail’s egg and some amazing sauce that I can’t remember which was incredible – sooo tasty and warm and delicious. You know when food’s so good you make impromptu appreciative noises and scrunch up your face in appreciation? Just like that. We almost licked the plate clean.  

And then Escobar had the char-grilled bavette (med-rare), chorizo butter, chips and smoked ketchup washed down with the recommended red wine . I managed to grab a bite and the meat was perfectly tender and juicy, delicious. I had the red mullet with samphire (sadly ran out but instead it was a herby thing) with a sort of bulghur wheat, washed down with the delicioso riesling. It was a fantastic mix of tastes and textures and absolutely delicous. I admit sometimes I find fish dishes a little dull but this was interesting and rich.

The amazing thing about all this? For a 3 hour or so meal, with two wonderful courses, a bottle of wine shared and two large glasses with the main, it came to a brilliant £40 each.  So not an everyday meal but a nice meal out with friends, or your mum, or a date. And it is truly a local neighbourhood place – somewhere you could rock up for an impromptu bite to eat after work and have a chat, drink wine and eat superb food. I have never found a restaurant I wanted to return to regularly and could actually afford to do so, but this is it. I’m so pleased I found it!


 Vinoteca on Urbanspoon

Fernandez & Leluu supper club, Hackney

Pippalippa and I headed to Hackney last Friday for the Fernandez & Leluu supper club, and I’ve been reliving it ever since. It was part gastro – with delicious, exciting food; but mainly experience – the chance to meet interesting new people, especially Simon and Uyen themselves who were amazing hosts.

Its has made me think about what it is to be a good host. Not everyone would relish welcoming 35 strangers for dinner at their home. Some hosts are good through practice and some are naturals – Simon and Uyen fall into the latter category. From the pre-dinner email which mentioned local pubs we could try, to the welcome when we walked in, I felt part of an adventure. Uyen knew my name and about the blog, Mia offered us a drink and we were shown outside and introduced to a couple of the guests. This warmth continued all evening – shown in the food, in the way they looked after everyone – and when the meal finished they sat with the guests who lingered to chat (until 2am ish, hic, oops).

I’ve got to be honest – this experience will not be for everyone – certainly not for those who would prefer to eat privately than share a table with strangers. So I suppose that explains the people there – a great mix of nationalities; all friendly and sociable and fun; foodies and those interested to try new things. It produced a hedonistic, liberated atmosphere, the excitement heightened by the fact that we were in someone’s home trying a surprise menu. Everyone was loud and merry and happy by the end of the night.  

The food itself was really incredible – right up there with the best restaurants I’ve eaten at in London, and – I overheard – the jewel in the capital’s supper club crown. We had 8 courses, much of the food an interesting mix of Uyen’s Vietnamese and Simon’s Spanish roots. Here is the menu:

1. Pea Soup with Ham

AMAZING – best I’ve ever tasted. Chunky fresh juicy peas with deep crisp bacon, leading my fellow diner (Tim Hayward food writer, who was recording a Radio 4 programme on London’s supper clubs and from whom I wrestled a copy of Fire & Knives) to proclaim that everything in life is made better with a bit of bacon. I quite agree.

2. Figs with Goats Cheese & Prosciutto

Great combination, perfect textures and tastes.

3. Tortilla & Tomate Picante with Courgette, Cucumber & Feta Salsa

This was delicious – one of my favourites. The tortilla was homely and lovely and the courgette, cucumber and feta salad was a revelation – summery, fresh, with a lovely texture.

4. Deep Fried Lotus With Carrot & Chicken Salad & Prawn Crackers

I must admit I was nattering so much at this point I didn’t concentrate much on this course. Never eaten lotus before though – wish I had known it was lotus beforehand so I had paid more attention!

5. Banh Cuon With Cured Ham & Pork Belly

The angle of this photo perhaps indicates the amount of wine Pippa and I had managed to consume by this point (we were dining from 8pm to midnight after all)!  But this was wonderful and a lovely mix of the slurpy Vietnamese bahn cuon with crispy, tasty pork belly.  Lots of licking lips and sighing with this dish.

6. Tuna Sashimi with Chips

My FAVOURITE dish of the meal (apart from the pud) – this was worth coming for alone.  The sashimi was perfect, the chips delicious and salty and wasabi mayonnaise was bloody fantastic (as that bloke says in In Her Shoes: “Wasabi makes everything better“). A brilliantly leftfield take on English fish n’chips.

7. Beef Pho

I’m too full! No more! I didn’t manage to eat much of this sadly but it was yummily rich and salty.  At this point, I sauntered out to the garden – I give credit to Mia and Uyen that they came to join and gossip with me, filled up my wine glass AND brought my pudding out for me to eat in the garden, thank you!  Which brings me to…

8. Coconut Sorbet W/ Cointreau

I didn’t get a photo of this (being in the garden at the time) but it was a fantastic finish – deliciously coconutty and wonderfully sweet.

We finished up with Simon and Uyen coming to join us to share wine, chat, laughter, and, well more wine. Pip and I staggered out around 2am after dancing to jazz in the lounge and I’m still talking daily about what a wonderful night it was. Foodies, supper club virgins and anyone wanting a truly different gastro experience, I recommend you go.  Just make sure you behave a little better than we did (see below).

If I haven’t persuaded you, check out these other reviews: