Chocolate, churros and cheap things

I don’t believe there are enough churros places in the UK considering how delicious the pastry and chocolate combination is.

It seems that there are others who agree with me. The Evening Standard recently mentioned a boom in Spanish-style eating and the fact that a new churros place is opening on Acre Lane, next door to the tapas restaurant Boqueria.

I have heard that Peyton and Byrne at the British Library do good churros and chocolate and, of course, I will be researching this claim assiduously.

Now, the picture below is not churros but it is delicious Italian hot chocolate from Opus coffee shop in Brixton.

It is very tasty and the cafe is a nice place to wile away the time when you’re not in Brixton or Clapham but in Acre Lane No Man’s Land. (It’s also opposite a new tapas place Boqueria which is supposed to be great.)

Other hot chocolates I think are great are the hot chocolate milano from Cafe Nero and the hot chocolate from apostrophe. If you’re ever in Paris, try Angelina’s for the thickest hot chocolate of them all. My arteries have never forgiven me.

Anyway, back to more solid chocolate ground. I went to a party at a new opening of the shop Choccywoccydoodah last week in Carnaby Street.

The owners describe the concept as “an art and design focused chocolaterie” and they even have their own show on the Good Food Channel. The original branch is in Brighton.

I also met some lovely people who were similarly food-obsessed including the Cake Hunter (otherwise known as Sophie) and Alicja McCarthy who writes for publications such as We Heart.

The chocolate here is camp and ridiculous but also very tasty. I got rather over-excited after having some champagne and insisted on dipping the brownies into melted chocolate until I felt a bit unwell.

I would definitely recommend popping to the store near Carnaby Street to have a nose around and a chat with the staff who are friendly and knowledgeable. And perhaps to try the chocolate, since you’re there (it would be rude not to).

I will be plumbing the chocolatey depths a little more over the next few weeks (I’ve only really scratched the surface so far…) I will talk to some chocolate experts for my next post including the Academy of Chocolate to hear more about sourcing, production and what the future holds.

In the mean time, here’s an article I wrote last week on the history of pie and mash and here are some interesting-looking free things I saw advertised in Brixton library: book at breakfast, community draught busters, a social network for mentoring and training; and free nature walks (including a bat walk!)…


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Hallou-mi or not to be

You would be forgiven for initially thinking that this is a flippant article about not very much. But do not be fooled for there is a fierce debate going on in Breakfast Land – namely, is halloumi a valid breakfast item? ‘A thousand times yes!’ I would cry, if anyone asked me for my view. But before you start worrying that this post is all about halloumi, it’s not, it’s really just about excellent places to have breakfast, some of which feature halloumi (in case I’m accused of being cheesy).

The National portrait gallery restaurant must be one of the most beautiful places to have breakfast in London. It gets busy and it’s not cheap but when I’ve been before I’ve just had the egg and soldiers and it’s been worth it because you get to look out right over the city.

To those halloumi naysayers, I recommend a trip to the excellently-named Break Out in Caledonian road. It is opposite Pentonville prison in case you’re wondering and is recommended by one of the locals in this article. You can have a ‘build your own breakfast’ which is exactly what you want on a hangover. Items include black pudding, a huge portion of bubble and squeak, hash browns, eggs any way you want ’em and plenty more besides. Hell, you can even have halloumi. It’s extremely cheap and you get to rub shoulders with HMP’s finest (employees, rather than residents). The home-made coleslaw is also delicious.  For more advice on hangover cures please see my suggested hangover cure featured (and endorsed) by the Guardian here. I would quite like to have ‘insightful combination’ inscribed on my gravestone.

A little more local to my house in Brixton is Sitifis which is friendly, has great food and is cheap. Last time I went, I got Eggs Benedict for under four quid. You can read more about it in this excellent review by Urban75. Just beware that the name is easy to mispronounce as something altogether less appetising…

If you’re chilly (and most of the people reading this probably will be quite a lot of the time), there’s the Rabot Estate café by Borough Market which is a good way to warm up escape the bustle. Apparently the Rabot Estate plantation in St Lucia is perfectly located for cocoa trees due to the fertile volcanic soil being near Mount Gimie, the Soufriere volcano and Sulphur springs; as well as the high altitude and the rainwater. I recommend the chilli hot chocolate – excellent for a cold, rainy Monday afternoon in London although I really wouldn’t kick it out of bed any day of the week.

I’ve mentioned quite a few other Brixton-specific places in my blog previously such as the Lido café and Brickbox but they deserve another mention because they do such delicious breakfasts. I’ve also mentioned Z Bar in Stoke Newington before and this is a great place to have a healthy breakfast with wholesome, tasty juices and such like.

If you’re after a plain old bacon bap probably don’t go to St John’s (Farringdon or Spitalfields). If on the other hand, you’re after one of the tastiest bacon baps ever, then head on over. I was taken there on the excellent Walk Eat Talk Eat culinary tour.

If you are going to eat at home, and if you only take away a few words from this blog post, pray let it be: ‘STAFFORDSHIRE OATCAKES’. (If you have ever tried them, you would understand the need for capitalisation here.) You can get packs of them from Neal’s Yard for about a pound and even from some supermarkets. Mrs Marmite Lover recommends making them yourself. These oatcakes are soft, a bit like galettes and you can have them sweet or savoury. I would recommend having them with goats cheese because it’s like tasting a little bit of heaven.

If you have any other good tips to share, please let me know…

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30 Second Guide to Cheap and Delicious Wine

It’s been a while since I’ve written on this blog and I thought what better time to talk about budget wine than the lead-up to Christmas? Whether you are about to get tipsy at a work Christmas Party, currently nursing a hang-over or are simply an occasional drinker, here are my tips for drinking stylishly and cheaply.

Drink for free and learn stuff. Try out the amazing free tastings at Majestic Wine. I tried the one in Dulwich Village and our wine guru Dave talked us through a range of drinks including vintage champagne and showed us how to match it with food. This website also has a useful section on matching cheese with wine (apparently the more pungent the cheese, the sweeter the wine should be – makes sense).

Remember the grass is always greener. Look for areas near to your favourite tipple which could offer a similar flavour for lower prices. For example, if like me, you are a Rioja fan (which due to it’s fame can sometimes be overpriced) look to Jumilla. I got this tip from a wine expert in Barcelona, and tried Juan Gil Jumilla, the best wine I’ve ever had. Sadly can’t find the same exact type of bottle in the UK but please let me now if you know where…

Go own-brand. Supermarket own brands are often delicious and great value because the shops are particularly keen to ensure that their names are not associated with rubbish wine. I was first alerted to this from this excellent article by the Guardian’s Fiona Beckett.  I like Sainsbury’s House Torla Rioja and apparently many of their own-brand wines are award-winning. It’s less than a fiver and is plummy with notes of blackcurrant. Sainsbury’s also has a useful website section on food and drink matching.

Don’t be sucked in by half-price deals. I would differ from Fiona Beckett’s advice slightly – she recommends half price deals but I think these are often a let-down and a bit of a con. Investigations by the consumer campaigning body Which? have shown that supermarkets often mislead customers with their supposed ‘half-price wine’ deals.

Don’t be a snob. Remember that the house wine is not necessarily bad but is more often, actually very good – as this money-saving article notes, why would a restaurant want to be associated with a rubbish wine? 

 Join the club (for a cheap introductory deal only). Look out for good deals on wine clubs. I tried the Sunday Times Wine Club which had an excellent introductory offer where the wines were only £3.50 each including delivery (and they threw in a free, slightly confusing corkscrew).

Matchy-matchy catchy monkey. Finally, if all else fails – why not buy this wine matching tea towel?

Please feel free to add any of your own tips.


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Budget Stuff Part Two

Food

Firstly, I hope I didn’t mislead anyone into thinking this would be about cooking. I do not cook unless pushed. I have various several variations for cheese on toast (with tomato purée base, or Marmite or chilli oil, with beans, without, choices are endless) but that’s about it. No, this blog is all about dining experiences in London and I’d be keen to hear your own recommendations. (I am also saving wine for the final in this blog series because it is obviously a whole other kettle of fish.)

However, I will make a concession for the M&S Eat in for £10 because I find it so disproportionately exciting and which has started again today. And it’s not really cooking so it’s okay.

I’ve already talked a bit about the gastronomic delights of Brixton Village, good value Thai places in London and the upcoming Tapas Fantastica festival so I will talk about other places. But I should probably mention Pudding Club run by Relay Team Room in Brixton Village which started June 16th and will be once a month on Thursday – BYOB, DJs and dancing apparently as well as lots of pudding all for the princely sum of £5. My friends already forming an orderly queue after just seeing the word ‘PUDDING’.

Now, I want to talk a bit about foragging. I have not done it but I am desperate to do it. My friend and fellow food blogger Dill Sorbet said the mushroom foraging in Epping Forest was great. When I got a stack of foraging books out, the librarian tipped me off about the invisible food web in Lambeth which meets the first Saturday every month and shows people how to forage culminating in a picnic. (Miss South of North and South food blog also recommends this.) Scavanging is now totally, like, zeitgeist.

Supper clubs are also gaining in popularity and they are a lot of fun. I’m keen to try Saltoun Supper Club (obvs) but I have been many times to the excellent Art for Eating run by James Read and Charlotte Jarvis which encompasses art, theatre and experimental culniary creations.

In terms of restaurants, we are obviously spoiled for choice. Little Bay Café has a half-price menu in Farringdon until the end of September and is pretty cheap anyway. The burgers are great as are the goose-fried chips. If you go there, you should also try Café Kick on Exmouth Market.

The Stockpot is a national institution and for good reason. There are several outlets of this but I think the best one is on St James Street. They only accept cash and the meals are extremely cheap and cheerful (the staff are not all that cheerful, it has to be said). It’s also good for people-watching. Leon on the strand has a BYOB policy in the evening so it ends up very cheap and they have a £10 set meal menu. Another great BYOB place which is also delicious is the vegetarian Indian place Jai Krishna in Finsbury park – last time I went there it ended up about £8 per person and we were stuffed. Kingsland Road is full of good value Vietnamese places but my favourite is actually Namo in Victoria park village in Hackney which uses organic meat and has a big outdoor area. Nearby in Stoke Newington, my favourite place for breakfast is Cafe Z Bar.

Brockwell Park has two cafés: the better known Lido Café which is scenic and full of delicious coffee and organic wine with a special deal on Wednesdays (burger, hand-cut chips and a glass of wine). But there is also the Grade II listed Brockwell House which has a café on top of the hill in the park which is SO cheap and tasty and you can get great views over the park. Last time I was there, I witnessed a baffled-looking pug in a superman cape so I’m thinking it’s equally attractive to yummy mummys as the Lido café.

If there is a particular company or type of food you like, you should join their mailing list or their twitter feed. I am a tea-hound so I joined a tea company’s mailing list and went along to their First Flush Darjeeling tasting which had delicious food as well as tea and we got all our burning tea questions answered by the Tea Master. If you have a thing for free canapés, my friend Ms Buchanan recommends you loiter in posh hotel lobbies for previews and screenings which might have delicious food. I commend this use of loitering to assimilate culinary treats as every canny scavenger knows that the best way to get value from the cheese plate in the cocktail party is to ‘loiter’ nearby rather than to ‘hog’ which is plain bad etiquette.

In terms of markets, Borough will also always be expensive but the traders do slash their prices as the afternoons go on so it’s best to go when it’s quieter. Markets slightly out of the centre will be better value – Lewisham may not be the top of everyone’s list to go but I actually have a soft spot for it and the food market is great. My mum once got a whole bag of avocados for a pound and went on about it for days. The ‘cheese man’ (as we like to call him; if only he were made of cheese) will also often pop a complimentary cheese into your bag and although they are extremely ripe, it’s a good place to stock up on the morning of a dinner party. The stall at the end of Leather Lane near Chancery Lane also has a good selection of food stuffs including Lindor chocolates and olive oil.

Probably worth saying now that I do am not on a pro-obseity mission. Please eat responsibly etc etc. And then go to Pudding Club.

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Cheap London Part 1 – Slap Happy

In an exciting departure from just talking about food, this series of blog entries explore a more holistic look at living in London on the cheap starting with Beauty. (Day 2 looks at food though obvs…)  

London College of Beauty currently has an offer for the whole of June where eye treatments (i.e. eyebrow shaping/ tinting) are a £1 each and if you buy a manicure (£10), you get a free pedicure (make sure you mention offer at time of booking). The deep-cleansing facials are currently £13 and these are great, I would definitely recommend them.It is based by Carnaby Street and is a microcosm of how I believe the beauty world to be: chaotic, run by glamorous young women and full of procedures which are deeply confusing to plebs such as myself.  The electrical treatments are also way cheap but I don’t understand them so I just sit quietly and have my nails done instead. Be warned, the treatments often take a long time, the cubicles are divided by curtains meaning it can be noisy but the services are generally extremely professional because the students have the results graded by their supervisor and you have to give a written verdict on their delivery. I have never seen nails painted so seriously. I have also never heard a gaggle of beauty therapists giggle so delightedly at a (poor) man having his chest waxed. (But then, I’ve never actually a man have his chest waxed before). They are mostly open week days and get very busy although they do some evenings and most Saturdays. If you get there before 11am, you should go to nearby Ben’s Cookies where if you buy a coffee in the morning, you get a free cookie. (The cookies aren’t particularly conducive to looking beautiful per se but they make you feel it.) My mum also recommends South Thames Beauty College in Wandsworth which is a similar set-up to LCB.

Neals Yard have an excellent Graduate School on Sundays where you can different types of treatments for £30 including massages and facials and you can often get same-day appointments. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and great at putting you at ease (I’d particularly recommend Lola), they use Neal’s Yard’s delicious products and you can have free tea in the waiting room. They are particularly good at listening to what outcomes you desire from the treatment and giving advice on relieving tension. 

Somewhere I’ve heard good things about and really want to try is Porchester Spa. It’s Grade II listed building with Art Deco flourishes and can be about £20 for a day of Turkish baths/ steaming and sauna-ing. Apparently these places were established to promote hygiene in the olden days before people actually washed (but I wouldn’t recommend you giving up your showers altogether; that, my friend, is what we call a ‘false economy’ rather than a ‘budget tip’.). Altogether, the building boasts three Turkish hot rooms, two Russian steam rooms, a cold plunge pool, a Jacuzzi, sauna, swimming pool and relaxation lounge.  I know I will come out like a smiley prune but it will be worth it. 

Now this is not London-specific but does deserve a mention – there are a plethora of excellent online websites where you can get great, often top-end products for next-to-nowt. Direct Cosmetics for example offers cosmetics such as Urban Decay, Benefit and Too Faced for discounted prices. Fragrance Direct is also a good’un.

Lancome counters in Department Stores also offer surprising value for money through the fact that you often get a free hour-long facial in return in exchange for spending over £25 on products. But bear in mind that L’oreal is owned by the same company as Lancome (whilst Chanel also owns Bourjouis) so many top-end products are of the same quality as lesser-mortal make-up. 

So, go out into the big smoke and be beautiful and cheap*! And let me know if you have any other good tips of places to go.

*Hopefully not in every sense of the word. See my point about avoiding a false economy.

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Summer Food Festivals

I’m excited about having won tickets to Taste of London later this week. But I’m even more excited about Rioja Tapas Fantasticas on 25th and 26th June (a wine and Spanish food festival sponsored by Rioja Wine unsurprisingly).  I went a few years ago when it was in Brick Lane and it was great. It’s free and I’d recommend it fo sho.

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Tea and Coffee Festival this weekend and South London’s Best Delis

Firstly, this weekend at Southbank – huge amount of tea and coffee tastings. There was even mention of macaroons. Say the ‘M’ word and I’m yours.

http://www.teacoffeefestival.com/whats-on/

Secondly, the website below shows some of the best delis near Brixton. I will be vetting them all of course, because I’d hate to endorse places (particularly those with cheese) and not see if they are up to scratch. Mmmm cheese.

I can vouch for the Cheese Block in East Dulwich. The guy behind the counter has an excellent moustache, a manner brooding enough to convince me he’s Italian (or else just hates me). And the food is great.

http://www.britainsbestdelis.co.uk/bbd_search.asp?keySearch=1&Postcode=sw2+1er&Town=&County=&submitted=1

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