Category Archives: handcrafted beer

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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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.

Speaking of beer…

Years of disillusioning experiences have made me suspicious of pubs with city postcodes, even ones that are in Hackney but also within close proximity to The City of London. Too many bankers, having just spent 12 deregulated hours ravishing the economy showing up in their jeans and t-shirts, their ‘casual’ clothes and well, just stinking up the place with testosterone and bleeding all the atmosphere out of  a room. 
The Old Red Cow is a breath of fresh air. Wide variety of beers from all over the world and to satisfy any and every thirst. I decided to stay local and try The Kernel Pale Ale, an uplifting bevvy from a brewery based formerly around London Bridge, notes of grapefruit and sunshine sprinkle down the palate with not a wisp of unpleasant after taste. Sprightly ale with a hoppy sense of fun. Also on show were Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale on tap and a Red Cow Belgian Pilsner. It’s nice to see high quality American beers on tap so close to the 4th. Puts me in mind of home. 
So, if you do happen to find yourself in The City of London this weekend and you are hankering after a drink to slake your thirst should the sun shine down on London in the next 48 hours, angle yourself towards Barbican and The Old Red Cow. Lovely atmosphere, lovely beer. 
The nearest tube stations to The Old Red Cow are Barbican or Farringdon. 

The Clapton Hart: Heralding an era of Restoration

I’ll admit, I was sceptical. I, along with many other local community members (that’s what I’ll call the rumour mill) had heard that the old Clapton Hart building, that crumbling boarded up edifice standing up until recently undecorously at the mouth of the Lea Bridge Roundabout, was going to be taken over by a pub franchise. And when you say pub franchise, I think ‘Wetherspoons’ and there is no quicker way to restore the rock-solid reputation of Murder Mile circa 2002 than to plop a chain pub like Wetherspoons right at the roundabout. I lived across the street from the Wetherspoons on Roman Road Market in Bow when I first moved to London. Looking out the window was better entertainment than any reality TV show any night. And on Saturday nights, it was like that old American fly-in-the-wall, or corner of the squad car as it were proto-reality TV show, Cops, complete with drunken brawling, police vans with vested officers spilling out, pinning down drunken disorderly offenders on their stomachs, knees pressed to their backs, pressing a promise to be good out of each of the inebriated, cider-filled customers to frequent the establishment. Sans guns of course. This was the East End of London. The local gendarme are nothing if not a little civilized.
I digress.
It is this term ‘franchise’ and my wife’s lukewarm review of the place on its opening night what made me apprehensive before my own visit with a couple of friends last Tuesday. Luckily, the new Clapton Hart could not be further from that cookie cutter chain pub that we have become accustomed to seeing on British high streets. Antic Ltd, who also run the Stokey favourite The White Hart, have taken over the decrepit building that used to house the pub of the same name with a notoriously dodgy past. They seem to have set out to restore the interior of the pub as sensitively as possible, bringing it right back to as close to vintage as possible, having taken the retro looking block capital sign from the outside of the building and brought it in. 
The Hart has created a spacious and inviting atmosphere that manages to feel welcoming and contemporary while at the same time kindling a sense of old Hackney circa 1891
And that’s to say nothing of it’s choice of beers. I was suitably impressed that they carried Tottenham-based Redemption Fellowship Porter, a fruity and smooth, but not overly sweet brew that I last had at the Pig’s Ear Beer and Cider Festival when it was in The Round Chapel

Somerset-based Blindman’s Buff was a lighter, more seasonal beverage, ‘a proper bitter’ remarked my friend Dom upon tasting, but I was most impressed by the Jamboree ale, with hints of citrus and summer washing all the way down the palate. I was as impressed by its provenance as by its taste though. It seems very easy nowadays for a pub to put Meantime or St. Peter’s on tap and call themselves local and organic. I very much like Meantime and St. Peter’s, but the beer buyer at The Clapton Hart has clearly worked hard to find beers that we haven’t seen in all the other organic gastropubs popping up in Stokey or Islington or Hackney-Wick-Upon-The-Marsh. Jamboree Ale comes from the East London Brewery in Leyton just down a shot on the dastardly, daren’t-traverse-it-on-a-dark night, Lea Bridge Road and they’re producing sensational beer. Fair play to them and to the Clapton Hart on a great sourcing job. I am a bit surprised and frankly a bit disappointed in The Hackney Citizen with finding fault for just this aspect of our new watering hole. 
Clapton is a very different place even from what it was in 2008, when last this place shut its doors for business. We’re seeing more and more signs that we are closer and closer to that affluent and civilised merchants’ village of the 18th Century here where we can trust our neighbours and our neighbourhoods for our children to grow up in. May The Clapton Hart be a further sign of that restoration.  

The Clapton Hart is just at the top of Lower Clapton Road and can be reached via the 48, 55, 38, 254 or 106 and is well worth making time for.

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.

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