Category Archives: Coffee

Food > Everyfing Else: Eating My Way Through Brixton

Kaff Bar Brixton

Sizzling Hot Creole Sharing Platter at The Kaff Bar in Brixton

Alas, I was a marked man from the start.

“Now, you’re the vegetarian, aren’t you?” says our gracious and knowledgeable host, Penelope, as our tour of Foodie Brixton begins.

I look around, hoping she’s pointing to someone else and I can chime in with, “Oh, that’s me too, I’m veggie too!” in about 30 seconds.

Nope. It’s me she’s pointing at. I’m the only one.

“Yes… I’m vegetarian,” I concede.

“Do you eat fish?” says our other equally gracious and knowledgeable host, Lindsay, hopefully.

“Eh… no.” Sorry. The short tour, then?

“Perfect!” they both say, smiling congenially, assuring me, “there are plenty of veggie options!” while I wonder if the other tour participants are looking askance at me and wondering how such a creature can exist amidst a London so enthralled in the hipness of toe-to-tail chic.

Thankfully, and perhaps surprisingly, from this, somewhat inauspicious beginning, grew a culinarily magnificent experience walking and tasting south of the river on a splendidly soaking Saturday afternoon hosted by the superlative walking tours company, Fox And Squirrel Walks.

Elsa Ethiopian Coffee Brixton

An Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony hosted by Elsa

Founded by London enthusiast Penelope Sacorafou, Fox and Squirrel have been providing quirky, bespoke tours around the metropolis for three years now, garnering the acclaim of ‘best guided walks’ from The Guardian. High praise indeed. And deserving. Slight blips concerning herbivorous lifestyles aside, the walk is an awesome experience, one that left me feeling both full, amazed, well-informed, and a little politically engaged with the local goings on concerning this historic part of the capital, due in no small part to the fact that Fox and Squirrel have worked really hard to establish excellent rapport with the locals and newbie restauranteurs and other business owners of Brixton Market.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

Frankincense, olfactorily enchanting…

Locals like Elsa and her husband Mo, who own The Shawl cafe and hold Ethiopian coffee ceremonies just across the way on Brixton Station Road. I felt like a bit of a cheat having taken part in this East African ritual before at Asmara of Coldharbour Lane, but felt refreshed with all the history surrounding it. The ginger in the coffee was a surprisingly beautiful flavour, warming the cockles amidst the cold, slate grey of the dullish morning on which the excursion took place.

Ethiopian coffee

Mmmm. Ethiopian coffee. Beats yer average tax-dodging chain any day of the week…

A sharing platter atop a bed of spongy injera bread followed the coffee. If you had asked me ten years ago if I would have guessed that the cuisine of Ethiopia could be mind-blowingly delicious, I would have scoffed heartily, but the beauty of being an expatriate is discovery and thanks to some delightful experiences on both sides of the pond, I now know the error of my ways. The joyfully tactile experience of tearing a swather of injera and scooping some moreishly berbere seasoned lamb, lentil or spinach, was bliss.

Ethiopian Food Brixton

Oh, injera.

A quick swill of some vino verde and down Pope Row to family owned Brixton institution Las Americas Cafeterias, where we were afforded the opportunity to sample the uniquely Colombian Lechona, a whole hog (no literally, and yes, I did enjoy just writing that), crisped and stuffed with vegetables, beans and meat and slow-cooked.

Lechona Colombia

Lechona con salsa

Lechona Colombia Brixton

More Lechona, with cracking crackling. Crisp, delish, perfection, a carnivorous paradise…

Impressive still were the time-consuming lengths to which Penelope and Food Journalist guide Lindsay Faller went to cater to my tastes, requesting an order of arepa, the cheesy, cornmealish Colombian cousin to the tortilla and tailor made to hold the cafe’s dynamite salsa. Latin American comfort food at its best.

Arepas Colombia Food Brixton

Arepas, tasty y vegetariano.

Imbibing was the next order of business from local newcomers to London’s handcrafted brew scene, The Brixton Brewery, where we were given an intriguing crash course in the brewing process before tasting libations that would give any of Hackney’s half-dozen microbreweries a serious run for their money. NB: Brixton Brewery names its beers for the local area and the design for their brand is taken from the African influence on Brixton. Ah how I wished to linger and continue, lotus-eater like to lazily sample more of the Effra Ale.

Brixton Brewery

One of the tiniest microbreweries in London, under the arches in Brixton

Brixton Brewery

Makes be hoppy. Electric Pale Ale, named so for the avenue of the same name.

On to the market proper and Brian Danclair’s Fish Wings and Tings, and a colourful palate of Trinidadian flavours in a lively corner of Brixton. One critic has called Paul’s exquisitely flavoured codfish fritters, ‘like a high five from Jesus,’ and his rotis were equally flavoured to perfection, one goat and one pumpkin, perfect parcels of glee-inducing yum.

Codfish Fritters

‘A high five from Jesus’ I Be-LIEVE!

Fish wings and tings

The surprisingly perfect accompaniment to Fish Wings and Tings food

Brixton Market

The warmth of the market hall on a cold wet day

Pumpkin Roti

Perfect Parcel of Pumpkin Roti

Goat Roti

And the goat roti, omnivorous feasting.

And for dessert? Gelato that injects new vim and vigour into the trendified flavour of salted caramel at Lab G.

Lab G Brixton Market

Pure Creamy euphoria… Lab G

Hustle and Bustle

Hustle and Bustle

Brixton Market

Fusion of Cultures

Brixton Market

Fruits and veg of the market

I can’t say enough good things about the Fox and Squirrel foodie tour. I’ve had enough fun and  built up enough of an appetite reliving it while writing this blog post. My fear is that I’ve said too much, but, as they say, the joy is in the eating. I will say though that it is a far more unique walking tour, its guides more frank in their opinions, wittier in their banter, and far more inclined to specially cater to the whims and requirements of a particular group  than your average London walking tour, making eating your way through Brixton with them well worth the time and the cover price. Easily the best walking tour of London I’ve been on, even if I’m pretty sure there was some shredded pork in that last quesadilla (I’m also quite sure the tenderness will delight the majority of readers).

Hot Ginger Beer from The Kaff Bar

Hot Ginger Beer from The Kaff Bar

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London Ate My Pocketbook

Travel and Fashion Writer Evelyn Franklin takes a look at how to make the most out of this fantastic city without it taking the most out of your bank account

Expensive London

Image taken from london.tab.co.uk Photo by Alex Macnaughton / Rex Features

There are few experiences to rival the first few minutes spent in a city you’ve spent a lifetime reading about and watching on TV. In London, your first experience is likely to be one of sensory assault, especially if you arrive at one of the stations: the chaos of the crowds, the damp, musty, smell, the overwhelming grandeur of the architecture, the incomprehensible and garbled announcements. Take a moment, breathe it in, find your way to a coffee stand to protect yourself from the chaos with a shot of caffeine, and feel the next assault: the one on your pocketbook. London is likely rivalled only by New York in terms of sheer budget strain, with even other Brits grimacing at the cost of the basics here. Still, there are ways for visitors to the city to find their way around, even on a shoestring budget. Here are my recommendations.

Mark Noad Tube Map

A more ‘realistic’ take on the tube done by artist Mark Noad in 2011, from travelandleisure.com

1. Walk

The Tube map is not an accurate representation of the actual layout of the lines and stations, and there are plenty of places where various Underground stations are actually closer on foot than they are by train. Cut down on your travelling expenses by seeing more of the city above ground. Earn your pub meal by stacking up the miles, be kind to your pocket, and see more of the sights, all in one go.

2. Choose Your Accommodation Wisely

There are a few standard accommodation options, and most of them aren’t good ones. If you’re on a budget, chances are you’re looking for a hostel: don’t. You may get lucky, but in my experience, London hostels are still horrifically expensive, and many are seedy to boot. You may end up paying an exorbitant rate to be stuck in a damp, dark room with 20 strangers, twelve of whom snore like drains and three (yes, three) of whom are having sex. Unless you’d like to have bed bugs for the rest of your life, choose a hostel very, very carefully, or steer clear. The standard alternative – a large chain hotel, even a cheap one – is not likely to be much better overall: it’ll probably be cleaner, but will also probably break the bank significantly more. So what are your options? One good avenue to explore is to look for timeshare that’s going begging – this can be a better deal and greater comfort than a cramped hostel or dinky hotel. Another good bet is to look for self-catering accommodation, especially if you’re travelling in a group: if it’s just you, it may not work out cheaper, but if you can cram four people into a one-bedroom apartment with a sofa bed, you can split the costs of grocery shopping and save cash by eating at home. And finally, if you’re really broke, look into couch-surfing, which is a sure-fire way to meet excellent people (and a few wonderful weirdos), and end up with your own friendly traveller in future months.

South Bank Book Market

South Bank Book Market, one of my faves (image from visitlondon.com)

3. Head Away From The Crowds

Let’s face it: the best bits of any foreign city are not the ones that people flock to in droves. Save your precious London cash by avoiding the most garish of tourist attractions. A wander around Southbank is definitely worth your time, and you can admire Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament at your leisure, without having to elbow-wrestle with fourteen hundred other tourists to catch a glimpse of something interesting. If historical London really floats your boat, pick a few sites that you absolutely must check out, but don’t blindly go along with what every travel blog ever tells you that you “have to see”; read the reviews, do your research, and narrow it down. Chances are high that you’ll have more enchanting memories from an afternoon’s wander round Covent Garden or a spectacular evening in a pub than you will of the overpriced stampede at the Tower of London. Even those ten minutes you spent with your cheek flattened against the train window when you caught the Piccadilly line at half past five in the evening were probably more fun (and cheaper).

London Souvenir Stall

Yup. London Tat.

4. Don’t Fall Prey to the Souvenir Junk.

What do you think you’re going to do with that “Mind the Gap” t-shirt? It’s not original, or clever. Neither is your miniature London bus. It’s understandable to want to accumulate some mementos to take home with you, but try to make them unique or useful at the very least. Buy a fantastic piece of art at a little market, or a warm scarf that will remind you of London for years to come. If you must buy a standard souvenir, keep it small and cheap, like a fridge magnet or shot glass. That way you won’t weigh down your luggage with unnecessary junk, and when you get home and realise you don’t need it after all, it won’t be difficult to find a place to keep it. Plus, you’ll have saved yourself all the expense of loading yourself up with themed coasters and umbrellas.

Won-derful, Won-derful, KØBENHAVN!

Wonderful Wonderful KOBENHAVN

As the Northeastern United States has finished recovering from the inexplicably named Superstorm Nemo, and as we prepare to head off to Oslo for a few days, I reflect this week on our Northern vacation last February up to the city of Hans Christian Anderson and macabre, underplayed murder mystery serials, the Danish capital of Cophenhagen.

It’s true, some prefer to go someplace warm and Mediterranean to escape the cold — hours lounging on the Costa Del Sol perhaps or maybe some Island hopping in Sardinia and Corsica —  but not us. My wife, being Irish, tends to react to the sun the same way the witch of the west reacts to water, and I, being raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania on the Mount of Pocono… by wolves, tend to prefer the cold wintry winds and see them like a refreshing tonic to the system. Besides, the missus has a penchant for design and no one is more beloved in the design world right now than the Scandinavians. And I’m easy and I like the ancient and proud notion of beautiful and desolate North. 

And Easyjet flies there fairly cheaply. Bonus!

Snow covered streets in Copenhagen

Snow-covered streets in Copenhagen

But I have to admit, aside from visiting the Design Museum and the Lego Flagship store (Lego is Danish! Yes, really!), we didn’t really know what to expect of Copenhagen. It turned out to be full of surprising delights.

Going from Place to Place

Transport for instance, which, I know, is usually relegated to the end of the writeup under a subheading like “getting around” or “Tubes and buses” or, in some countries, like Ireland, “Good Luck”, was one of the most exciting elements of our Danish getaway. We touched down thinking that it was a Scandinavian city and so bound to have an efficient underground and bus network of which we would take full advantage. But by our first evening, we couldn’t help but notice that there was really only one main, preferred mode of transport: Bikes!

Christiania Bike Copenhagen

Ring my bell? Me, looking ever so slightly confused pedaling my son around in one of the famed Christiania Bikes. (photo by Paula Hughes)

Everyone rides a bike in Copenhagen, including the tourists. And because of the sheer joy of doing as the Romans do but not having done it in years, this became our healthiest holiday in years. We rented a standard issue four speed for the other half and a Christiania Bike, the kind that were actually invented in Denmark, in which to transport my son.

And we biked for miles every subsequent day of our stay. Gloriously, we cycled through snow, over bridges, in sun and warmth, in traffic and out of town until our leg muscles ached with a kind of gladsome soreness at the close of each day. As Copenhageners are well catered for with cycling lanes on every road, cycle traffic lights, and even metal footrests for when you are waiting for a light to change, biking in this bustling hub was easy, exhilarating, and inspiring (we bought bikes on our return to London). And for my money, the only way to travel around.

Rush Hour, Copenhagen (Taken from the Winnipeg Free Press Website)

Rush Hour, Copenhagen (Taken from the Winnipeg Free Press Website)

The Views

The Rundetarn (Round Tower) in Copenhagen

The Rundetarn (Round Tower) in Copenhagen (photo from Wikipedia)

Other impressive elements of the Danish capital included its sheer and audaciously impressive grandeur. We visited the Rundetarn on our first full day and were awed. A cylindrical edifice built in 1642 by King Christian IV as an astronomical observatory (Remember Tycho Brahe from Science class? Danish.), it is essentially a cobblestone pathway that ascends spirally for 686 feet affording a breathtaking view of all of the city from the top.

Copenhagen from the top of The Round Tower

Copenhagen from the top of The Round Tower

And do you know what? This doesn't even do it justice.

And do you know what? This doesn’t even do it justice. 

The “Quirky” Neighborhoods

When we first started exploring different parts of the world, being vegetarian, we acquired the habit (naturally) or seeking out vegetarian restaurants in each new city. It’s become a kind of pastime and it always tends to lead us into the most intriguing parts of a city. Thus you will find vegetarian cookery in The Lower East Side, Soho (the original, you know William Blake’s Soho), Stoke Newington, Kensington Market in Toronto, Montmartre in Paris, and artsy, bohemian neighborhoods in Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Madrid. So it was with Copenhagen, but the area, in this case, formed part of the main “destination” or attraction.

Christiania Copenhagen

Christiania, Copenhagen (photo taken from ehrasmussentrip.blogspot.co.uk)

The Freetown of Christiania is a ramshackle collection of dirtstreets, homemade houses, caravans, corrugated iron roofed houses, and some new cheap chic looking warehouse studios that falls within the confines of Copenhagen, but outside its laws. Originally a deserted military barracks until squatters took up residence in the 70s, it now boasts a 1,000 residents. Drugs can be bought fairly openly on the streets and there is a wonderfully hippy-dippy free spirit about the place. Despite being on the map, it’s also charmingly difficult to find. We ate hearty vegetarian stews in a clapboard cottage-housed cafe called Morgenstedet and despite the food being delicious and the staff being uncharacteristically effusive (the Danes don’t effuse), the fire-in-a-steel-drum charm of Christiania wore a bit thin on us and we began to worry about the safety of our bikes.

Still, a fascinating wander off the beaten path just for the sheer sight of this community outside of the laws of its surrounding community. And the cheapest hearty lunch to be had in Denmark.

Lego! 

Lego Flagship Store, Copenhagen

Lego Flagship Store, Copenhagen

Yes, we all love Lego and it was a brilliant store, but even more brilliant was how child-friendly a city it was and how child-centered a culture it seems to be. Scandinavians don’t tend to send their children to school or even think about teaching them explicitly how to read until they’re about seven. It may all sound a bit Steiner School, but it also values the idea of a child being allowed to have a free and well adjusted childhood full of play. Not for nothing do our Northern neighbo(u)rs give some of the most generous parental leave of any country in the developed world. Children are encouraged to form strong bonds that will see them through adulthood with confidence. Parents and their charges are openly affectionate and lavish attention lovingly and unashamedly. We could learn a lot.

Plus, Lego!

Lego Copenhagen

My son, in a Lego World

Lego Copenhagen

The fierce dragons of the North

Food and Drink

It surprised me that Copenhagen has recently developed into a culinary capital, but it was a surprise beyond mere joy, especially with a fantastic place like Bio Mio.

Bio Mio in Copenhagen

Bio Mio in Copenhagen

Food is comforting and divine, but the fun element is in the ordering — from a “mood-based” menu, directly from the chefs. I ordered from our chef, trying my one stock Danish phrase, “Taler du Engelsk?,” to which the Danes stock reply was, “Yah. Of course.” To this day, I can’t figure out whether “Yah, of course” is a stock reply they learn when in school or whether they just think it’s mind-numbingly obvious to any foreigner that all Scandinavians speak English better than quite a few native English speakers, but whichever the case, it’s delivered with such amiability and charm that it has to induce a smile, as did our night of dining at this lovely eatery.

Dyehaven Copenhagen

Dyehaven, Copenhagen (taken from mettebassett.com)

And for lunch to Dyehaven, which, again, reminded me of a trendy place you’d find in the lower East Side, or rejuvenated and trendy West Philly, with its artsy locals meeting for a pint over some warming vegetable soup or some impressively tasty beetroot-dependent vegetarian smorgasbord, which of course, we could not leave Denmark without trying. As in the UK and the US, the craft beer movement is in full swing here in Denmark and the local brews were delightfully sophisticated, a party on the palate for the beer connoisseur.

Dyehaven Copenhagen

Vegetarian Smorgasbord from Dyehaven. Mmmm.

Dyehaven Copenhagen

Pale Ales and Dark, Wintry Stouts

And who could forget, Danish Pastries! They really are delicious, but they don’t  really call them Danishes in Denmark.

Well, they wouldn’t, would they?

They call them wienerbrød (literally “Viennese Bread”) and really, what better way is there to start the day. I can’t imagine a single health benefit, but some mouth-wateringly flaky wienerbrød topped with chocolate or cinnamon does transport you. It transported me anyway.

Proper Danish Pastry in Copenhagen

Proper Danish Pastry topped with almonds  from Lakagehuset on the Vesterbrogade

Best of all though… Snow! 

Some people really despise snow. They can’t stand the cold, are frustrated by the icy roads, and won’t take a step outside.

I wonder if those people have ever been to Copenhagen.

Snow in Copenhagen

Snowy City!

Although I’m often asked if I miss America, one of the things I miss most is a proper snowy winter to rejuvenate the soul. Snow, having fallen faintly and faintly fallen gently on the back or our necks hours after checking into our hotel in Copenhagen, snow that chilled the air and seeped into our bones, invigorating our constitutions, that froze the harbo(u)r as we strolled through Nyhavn, packed tightly as we threw it at each other with gusto, snow that rested gently on every branch and bough as we rode through light layers of it, covering the streets of Frederiksstaden, on a crisp morning on the way to a comforting breakfast, snow renewing an innocent spirit of joy.  Here it is in the far North in all its arctic, purely driven, exhilarating grandeur and glory (yes, thank you Geography majors I know that’s not quite correct) in a place that wears a dusty blanket of snow with a particular panache.

Nyhavn Port Harbour Copenhagen

Nyhavn Port Harbor, Copenhagen

Snowy and quaint Frederiksstaden

Snowy and quaint Frederiksstaden

Suburban Snow Copenhagen

Suburban Snow!

Nocturnal Frost Copenhagen

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling
faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” James Joyce, “The Dead”

Christiania Bike on a bridge in Copenhagen

My son, getting into our rented Christiania Bike, “Dukes of Hazard” style.

And with that, we turn our heads away from the snowy North and its enthrallingly desolate beauty and turn our heads towards Spring, which is supposed to come early according to Punxatawney Phil. Before we do, here’s another ode to the Danish storyteller Hans Christian Anderson, an oldie, but goodie.

All photos were taken by Paula Hughes.

 

 

Favo(u)rite London Locations: Borough Market

Borough Market near London Bridge

One of London’s many lovely food markets

Borough Market holds a special place in my heart for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is a great cornucopia of aromas, sights and sounds to please the palate, amaze the eye, divert the mind and amuse the ear.

It also makes me nostalgic though. It brings back memories of when we first moved to London eight years ago and spent many a weekend sampling and perusing ripe cheeses, artisanal breads, organic veg and fine chocolates whilst balancing plastic prosecco flutes, often concluding the day by taking high tea in the nearby Bramah Tea Museum or hopping on a tube into town to sip a glass of Belgian beer in bohemian Soho pub The French House.

Trips to the London Bridge/Southwark area tend to be further and fewer between nowadays, but perhaps are more cherished because of their rarity. We took the boy to the Emirates Air Line Cable Cars today (more on that later) and found ourselves with some time afterwards and an urge to saunter and sample pleasures old and new, which we did with much joy. From L’Ubriaco “Drunken Cheese”, to Greedy Goat goat’s milk ice cream (the boy ordered Cappucino ice cream, he’s a chip off the ole block), Heavenly Halloumi Burgers (courtesy of Veggie Table) to a veritable smorgasbord of international ales to choose from at the Utobeer stall, this place is the must-see for the London foodie tourist.

But what took us especially out of our way today was the fond memory kindled by the thought of a gourmet coffee after lunch from the company that continues to set the gold standard for that caffeinated beverage in London, Monmouth Coffee. If you want to find Monmouth just look for the line snaking around the corner to Neal’s Yard Cheese Shop of customers waiting to order their filtered Kenyan blend, popular for good reason. These purveyors of roasted java pride themselves on the time they spend researching and getting to know the provenance of the variety of beans they use from different single farms, estates and coops from around the world. They show care and dedicate effort to what they do and you can taste it in every beautiful cup, transporting you to caffeinated epiphany.

Monmouth Coffee Company

Photo taken from virtualtourist.com

As promised though, before we indulged our addiction to caffeine and good food, we embarked on our primary goal today of seeing the Emirates Air Line cable cars today, a cable car system stretching over part of the Thames leading from North Greenwich to Royal Victoria Docks. Although the particular stretch that it traverses is brown and industrial, the view is breathtaking, the experience is thrilling and, at £4.30 for a single ticket, a bird’s eye view of London is not much more expensive than an all-zones travelcard for the day, making it fantastic value. See for yourself.

Greenwich Peninsula Station

Greenwich Peninsula Station

 

Emirates Air Line Cable Cars

Room With A View

Royal Victoria Docks Station

All Aboard! Returning from Victoria Docks to Greenwich Peninsula

Emirates Air Line Cable Cars

Kind of 007, appropriately enough, isn’t it?

An experience well worth the ticket price whether you are afraid of heights (and I am, terribly) or not. All the high flying appeal of a James Bond stunt and all the views looking down on the capital from above.

If you do want to board a flight on “The Air Line” you can obtain more information, specifics and directions from here.

I hope all your Saturdays were equally inspiring.

Salt: Raising the Espresso Bar for Tourists in Covent Garden

Shopfront for Salt in Covent Garden

Refreshingly non-corporate coffee in the West End

Before I moved to London, natives told me that no real Londoner spends time in Central London. “Oh it’s for tourists,” they would insist. I could not see how that was possible. After all, Johnson’s adage is true: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” The humming hub of central London, The West End,  is teeming with life and buzz and character. We spent many a weekend for what seemed like the first few years of our existence in the capital exploring vintage stores and vegetarian restaurants, cocktail bars and coffee shops that secreted cool.

But hey, you discover a beautiful area like Hackney, you buy a nice place, decorate it with reclaimed, exposed brick, distressed g plan and suddenly you’ve carved a corner of this city for yourself outside of which you rarely have to roam.  You think, is there really any point in squeezing, sardine-like, onto the tube to meander around streets immersing oneself in the ubiquitous commercial glitz of the chain store on the Great British High Street, only to compress your body mass once again, bracing yourself for the depths of the Central Line on the way home?

The Missus and I braved it anyway on Tuesday, gluttons for punishment that we are. I had the day off for the Jewish holiday of Shmini Atzeret and we seemed to find ourselves in possession of that rarest of commodities: free time.

The front counter of Salt

Salt on Great Queen Street

So head into the West End we did and surprise surprise, I would rate the journey as okay to moderately pleasant, walking around W1 and environs therein reminded me more of a flaneuristic stroll than a claustrophobic squeeze and most joyously surprising of all was that as we were walking back towards Holborn, hankering for a cup of joe and eager to avoid the blandness of Costa and the burnt yet saccharine putridity of a beverage from a Seattle based chain that will remain unnamed, we stumbled upon Salt (pictured above), a lovely little place and a rare find in touristy central London. Salt is stylishly designed, has a great menu, and a lovely and welcoming atmosphere. It feels much more contemporary East End/Hackney than West End/Covent Garden partly because of the choices made in arranging the sleek and aesthetically pleasing interior and partly because of their choice of coffee — the eminently delectable Square Mile Roasters based in (where else?) the East End, bohemian Bethnal Green to be precise. Employees were cordial and the coffee was smooth, subtle and well crafted as is in evidence below. Tables were high, oblong and affixed to corners and walls, enjoyed atop chic stools from East London Furniture with lattes and flatties served in charmingly mismatched china and glasses.

Creamy and Beautiful

Creamy and Beautiful, made by expert baristas at Salt

Big deal. It’s a coffee shop. Doppio a dozen. Why am I so impressed? I’m impressed because you rarely find an enticing independent establishment that’s able to peep out from below brash and bulky elbows of the crowded together conglomerations of corporate cappuccino-serving  froth factories in the center of this grand metropolis. Generally speaking, the options for tourists (Yanks and otherwise) range from Nero (bland) to Pret (organic bland) to the aforementioned Seattle-based chain (a taste of home bland) with not much in between. In the East End, you find that enterprising, libertarian spirit from Roman Road Market clear across to Murder Mile, but giving tourists in the ole Covent Garden a taste of high quality espresso for moderately low prices? This place gets kudos for bravery, ambiance, and caliber of product.

Salt front counter

Range of delicious sandwiches from Salt

So, visiting compatriots, when you are around the market or The Actors Church or The Transport Museum and you want a delicious lunch at a decent price followed by elation-inducing double espresso, this place is not more than a stone’s throw and worth making the time to find.

Flat White from Salt

Well topped flat white from Salt

Salt is located at 34 Great Queen Street, Covent Gardent WC2B 5AA open from 7.30 am – 7 pm Mon-Fri, 10 am – 7 pm Sat, closed on Sun. www.saltwc2.co.uk

The Best Coffee in Hackney

I’ll admit, I was surprised when Pacific Social Club opened its doors for business. Not much of the gentrification process in Hackney surprises me any more. I expect street markets to pop up out of sewer grates nowadays, but not on Clarence Road. Not my Clarence Road. 
Community-oriented, friendly, dirty and noisy, Clarence Road always felt when I first moved here just a bit edgier than Lower Clapton Road, probably because it’s emptier most of the time and it’s not a street with a lot going on. There are businesses, newsagents, convenience stores, bric-a-brac, Merry-go-round, but posh coffee shops? Not here. Until June of last year when Liam Casey and Nico Atwater opened up Pacific after overhauling the space formerly occupied by Lokat’s motor spares. 
Since its opening, Pacific Social Club has created an inviting space that has rapidly established itself as a feature of the area and is going some way towards making Clarence Road a destination for more than just riot tourism. 
The coffee is superb and unmatched anywhere in Hackney. Machiattos are flawlessly executed, flat whites are the subtlest, smoothest blend of coffee and milk, as only the bona fide Antipodean baristas (my last flat white there was made to precise perfection by an amiably chatty Kiwi called Matt) can do.The atmosphere is vintage with wall to wall vinyl covers behind the front counter, pastels and gentle, breezy dashes of turquoise and whites whimsically reminiscent of, appropriately, the South Pacific in the 1950s.

We’re taking the boy to Legoland this weekend, but if I were sticking around, I know where I’d be getting my Saturday and Sunday morning coffee. Pacific Social Club will soon go a long way towards making this humble thoroughfare quite a desirable destination. 

Divine Revelation Under The Arches: Coffee Is My Cup Of Tea

Last Monday was Shavuot, the Jewish festival celebrating the bestowal of the Torah on God’s chosen people. I work at a Jewish school and the school was closed for the day. As a gentile and not one of God’s chosen, I had the day free to enjoy the rare appearance of the London sun shining down and bestowing its blessed warmth on all God’s creatures. 
My wife and I, footloose and child-free for the day, aimed to lunch at The Happy Kitchen, which we’d heard so much about but had always found difficult to locate. As it happened, last Monday was no different for us. We searched and searched the arches around that little paved tributary of London Fields letting out all the sun worshippers on these rare, bright days and found The Happy Kitchen bakery, which by all accounts is still doing lovely gluten-free cookies and cakes and ended up lunching at E5 Bakehouse, sitting amidst the buzzing atmosphere full of bright young self-made stylistas of Hackney, enjoying an unusually delectable chilled pear and pea soup.
However, the real epiphany came after lunch when we decided to head to somewhere else for iced coffees. A couple doors down, where The Happy Kitchen used to be, we found Coffee is My Cup of Tea, where we were promptly served deeply luxurious iced coffees that cooled us as we sat outside and sipped in the afternoon sun. The inside was bright, airy and full of clean bright whites with welcoming, railway arch industrial chic about. Sadly, I cannot speak for the menu, except to say it was full of organic classic looking Spanish-leaning savouries and richly tempting cakes and muffins that I am looking forward to trying on my next visit. But if you are ever in need of some divinely inspired iced coffees on a warm day in Hackney, Coffee is My Cup of Tea does not disappoint. 

Seriously Caffeinated II: Avoiding the Crash

Most impressive in this last respect were the people at Make Decent Coffee, who seemed to be affably able to chat about the bitter black stuff (the sobering kind, not Guinness) for days, while pulling a perfect macchiatto, the fourth of which made me feel a bit like my head was spinning like race car wheel, so fast it appeared to be intensely still.

Thankfully, just before we left, I spotted Byron Redman, a Bavarian beer specialist with a stall just squeezing into the corner of the True Artisan Cafe area. I bet his place was hopping (pun intended) in the afternoon, but we had the brunch slot, from 10-1. Redman aims for high quality and commercial friendliness, and he aims well. His beers, especially the Brewers and Union unfiltered, are of exceptional smoothness and subtly, distinctly flavourful. This soft spoken Southern German has a great future in beer.

It may have been purely psychological, but the sampler of Brewers and Union seemed to help me achieve chemical equilibrium in my bloodstream with no perceptible caffeine headache. Of course, it is just possible that  this is the sort of experience one should get used to after a whole morning of drinking nothing but exceptionally high quality coffee.

For the seriously Caffienated: The London Coffee Festival

There’s always something to do in the East End on the weekend. Always.

This weekend it was The London Coffee Festival at The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. Sounded like a festival designed just for me and it did not disappoint.

Tickets were £9.50 and so naturally, I start thinking in American buffet mode: must get money’s worth. The canvas bag they hand out at the door does not look promising, holding a few periodicals on beer and coffee geekery and a couple ‘coffee bags’. Thankfully, this did turn out to be a very generous festival.

We start at The True Artisan Cafe area, with a very smooth Flat White from the good people at Caravan Coffee. I waited eagerly, crisp £20 note in hand, waiting to hand our lank, baggy-shirted, floppy-haired baristas, nervously looking around for a price list and wondering if everyone else knew the etiquette because they were just a bit more clued in to the world of coffee than I was. Niggling away at me was the feeling that you can’t possibly have a nice coffee in London for free. My eyes darted around to search the hands at the front of the line for any sign of an exchange of cash for caffeine. None was evident. Then, I ordered: four flat whites, two babycinos. Still no charge. I issued a silly, unnatural sounding laugh as I walked away with my drinks, feeling like I’d got away with it. Naturally, I hadn’t. I’d paid £9.50. Our tickets were good for three hours in the coffee festival. I suddenly realised, I better get drinking.

It turned out that actually, you would be rather naive to pay for any caffeinated beverage at this celebration of all things java. Etiquette, as my wife, Paula, shrewdly sussed, was that if there were prices up, you paid. If there weren’t, you didn’t. And there were plenty of tradesman who were happy to serve you high-quality cup after cup just expounding on their wealth of expertise and experience, thankfully sans snobbery of any kind.

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