Drink Viennese coffee

6 May

As much as I enjoy clocking out at 5pm on a weekday, it is a pain when your friends only finish later and make arrangements to meet at 7 one tube stop away from the office. So what do you do with 2 hours spare? Go shopping, stay at your desk and answer emails, have a drink somewhere? With the first two unappealing (not enough hands and it had been a long week), I opted for the latter, but not alcohol (it had been a heavy drinking session the night before here) and went for coffee.

Camden Passage in Angel is always an area I walk past on my way somewhere else where I end up saying to myself: ‘Must remember to come back here,’ so with dinner only a street away from it, I took my free evening paper and went in search of Kipferl – a Viennese cafe that had been highly rated by bean hunters in London.

With the gloomy weather we’ve been having lately, the interior was cosy in a pared-down, Continental way and as I’ve never been to Austria was reminiscent of the great cafes I visited in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg.

The back is a restaurant specialising in Austrian fare, particularly sausages, while the front is a cafe offering Austrian coffee and cakes like strudel and Sachertorte. Keeping it simple (I was going out for dinner after all) I ordered a latte and a vanille kipferl – a buttery shortbread crescent dusted in icing sugar.

It was great to sit back, sip my good latte, nibble my kipferl and finish the crossword without feeling harassed by the staff to hurry up and give up my table for someone else.

Was really glad I did remember come back that way.

PS The dinner date was a birthday celebration here. And though I’m not an eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet fan, the mood was festive, food tasty and plentiful – and on another spectrum to my two hours before. But that’s London, eh?

Spend Friday night at a gallery

23 Apr

Last weekend was  one of those crazy-busy two days that only happen in London. It involved travelling from south to north to east back to south in one day, a barbecue, an engagement party, time at the spa and lunch in the shadow of Windsor Castle…

I kickstarted it all off though, at the National Portrait Gallery on Friday evening. Taking my chances I booked last-minute to see the Lucian Freud exhibition and experience the gallery’s Late Shift where it’s open until 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays, usually with a bar and some special activity.

Warning, the staff are strict with the timed visits and I had to spend some time wandering the Victorian portrait rooms, listening to young American students make the remark that Queen Victoria was a ‘wuss’. Ah yes, that would be the woman who reigned for 60 years before the time of women’s suffrage, colonised the world, revolutionised  industry, and remained a widowed ruler until her death. But the fun didn’t stop there as I soon discovered the people at the gallery became as interesting as the paintings.

In the Freud exhibition I eavesdropped on a camp art dealer making transactions with a striking 6ft Cruella De Vil lookalike, some dreadlocked hipsters carrying round portable stools, bored partners of art enthusiasts, bored teenagers of tanned Sloane rangers trying to look cultured, awkward dates (what can you say about Freud’s vivid nudes), clueless tourists…

After the exhibition I tried to seek the bar but the pathway was blocked by a drop-in drawing classes and as much as that would afforded more quality people watching I had a busy weekend ahead and made my way home.

Freud is worth a see, but not as much as its visitors.

Slurp udon noodles at Koya

22 Apr

Koya in Soho keeps to the Japanese minimalist tradition. The interior is white walls and communal wooden tables and chairs (not benches though) in one small space and the menu’s focus is the udon noodle. Have it hot, cold, in broth, or with a dipping sauce. Eat it with tempura, seaweed or a poached egg. And in keeping with Japanese tradition – it delivers excellence.

We started with steamed asparagus and miso butter. Making a second choice was a lot harder and after much deliberation, I ordered the kamo hiya-atsu (hot broth with cold udon noodles and duck) while my friend Sam went for the special of hot noodles in broth with tempura ginger and peas.

We slurped it all and though my duck was lovely and not too fatty and my broth not too salty, I think Sam’s choice was the winner of the two.

We definitely got our zen at Koya – simple yet tasty food, friendly, speedy service, affordable prices, and of course, a chance to catch up over a Kirin beer or two.

You can stay in bed all Sunday…

4 Mar

…and not feel guilty.

Why? No doubt your Sunday started while you were on a dance floor, hailing a cab or riding the night bus, so time to catch up on lost sleep time and recover for the week ahead.

And as it’s London, it’s probably wet, grey and cold – who wants to venture out in that.

Plus, shops only open at noon.

Also, you have to catch up on the TV you’ve missed, DVDs you haven’t watched and the carcrash shows that usually are aired at this time.

Because you can.

(image via Simple Organized Living)

Buy flowers in Columbia Road

27 Feb
Columbia Road Flower Market by Yukino Miyazawa
One of the best things about London is its markets, from bric-a-bac and  antiques to food and flowers. Columbia Road plays host to such a flower market every Sunday from 9am. It’s an amazing tonic to be surrounded by blooms growing, cut, in flower or bulb form on a small stretch of street in London’s East End. Come with cash in hand and a basket big enough to carry your buys as you will be tempted to take home more than a bunch and have some of that flower magic with you for the start of the week.
Warning: it does get crowded and you may find yourself pushed along with the flow of people but it’s the  perfect excuse to just begin walking along the stretch again. The shops on the road also offer some respite. Start Space is a great gallery which has a welcome garden at the back with great coffee, there’s paper artist Rob Ryan’s Ryantown, cutesy cupcake and kitchenware seller Treacle, simple but appealing crockery at Pot Luck or more retro Vintage Heaven and its tearoom Cakehole.

Pop by Buckingham Palace

26 Feb

Okay, so you won’t see the Queen (unless by special invite) or where she sleeps when in residence but at certain times of the year (30 June-8 July and 31 July-7 October 2012) you can get access to some parts of this iconic building. And between then you can visit the Queen’s Gallery, which is host to some amazing exhibitions.

Currently, it’s The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton & Antarctic Photography, which though has its patriotic undertone (it is the year of the Jubilee and Olympics) has insight into the expeditions explorers Scott and Shackleton took to the South Pole. Both sets of photos have a different style – one artistic and tragic, the other more documentary and hopeful, but tell the amazing stories of survival in harsh conditions on the uninhabited continent. Worth a see.

And if you get your timing right, you can also catch the changing of the guard (made famous by AA Milne’s poem) or just take in one of London’s iconic sights.

You gotta have a playlist

22 Feb

Spotting a Londoner is pretty easy. Londoners don’t talk, are normally reading a free paper, book, Kindle or their phones, and have speakers in their ears. Somehow in a city of so many people where you’re constantly surrounded by crowds, we try to make a bubble around ourselves. And the first step is blocking out the sound with your own choice of background music.

I find I’m lost without a commuting soundtrack –  so here’s my essential playlist for Monday to Friday

1. 9 to 5 – Dolly Parton

‘Jump in the shower 
And the blood starts pumpin’ 
Out on the streets 
The traffic starts jumpin’ 
With folks like me on the job from 9 to 5′

Forgive me but no commuter’s soundtrack would be complete with this tune. The lyrics ring true for anyone and the beat is a march well-suited to pounding pavements and jumping on trains.

2. Badlands – Bruce Springsteen

‘Workin’ in the fields till you get your back burned
Workin’ ‘neath the wheel till you get your facts learned
Baby I got my facts learned real good right now
You better get it straight darling
Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king
And a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything’

Fans of The Boss know he captures the struggles of working-class life so well in music, and this angry yet uplifting song ‘spits in the face’ of those days when the grind gets you down.

3. All The Small Things – Blink-182

‘Late night, come home
Work sucks, I know’

When me and my friends started working, this became our theme tune on the dance floor on a Friday night.

4. Under Pressure – Queen, David Bowie

‘Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for’

Under pressure – ’nuff said when you work on a weekly magazine. The music video is pretty awesome, too.

5. Against The Wind-Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band

‘Well those drifters days are past me now
I’ve got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out’

This song normally comes on as I round the corner with my office in sight and nostalgic it also reminds me that some days though you have responsibilities, you just gotta be young and strong and run against the wind.

6. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper

‘When the working day is done
Girls – they want to have fun’

Yeah, it’s the ultimate girls night out track, but it’s also the best tune to leave the building to and head out for post-work drinks, bag over your shoulder and no looking back.

7. Run – Gnarls Barkley

‘You better move.
I said move!’

Okay, so Mr Barkley was perhaps meaning we should be scared of the arrival of himself, but I find those two lines above also serve the purpose of clearing tourists at Tube entrances in rush hour.

8. Time To Pretend – MGMT

‘Yeah, it’s overwhelming
But what else can we do?
Get jobs in offices
And wake up for the morning commute?’

The irony of this song always makes me smile, especially while reading about the latest celeb exploits over someone’s shoulder while on the morning commute. And that the tune was inspired by a praying mantis…

9. Living For The City – Stevie Wonder

‘Living just enough                                                                                                                                                                                                          Just enough for the city’

Stevie was obviously making an angry comment about social injustices, but somedays after work when I flop on the bed at home only to start all over again at 6am I feel I’m living just for the city.

10. Let The River Run – Carly Simon

‘Silver cities rise,
the morning lights
the streets that meet them,
and sirens call them on
with a song’

Just like Dolly’s 9 to 5, no playlist about work would be complete without this soaring hit from (one of my favourite flicks) Working Girl. No apologies for the cheese – on some weekdays you need a double serving of it.

Relive the 60s American style at The Diner

13 Feb

Okay, so the waiting staff are more suited to the Camden surrounds, dressed in black with bed hair (but wearing Buddy Holly glasses), yet the red leather booth seats, fantastic soundtrack and mega shakes are pure ode to the diners of years gone by.

Monday lunchtime saw me and my colleague Laura sticking to the tacos side of The Diner‘s menu – she ordered a burrito (too spicy for her liking) and I had a taco salad, which although the chicken was a bit dry, was big on the groovy factor.

I couldn’t fit in a shake but slurped on my cherry cola while  looking out for Danny, Sandy or at least a Pink Lady…

look for Wombles in Wimbledon Common

12 Feb

Well, you probably won’t find one but you will find dogs, welly-wearing couples pushing buggies, and a jogger or two, even in the snow. But it’s with good reason that gooey-eyed new parents and Fenton-like pooches are the Common’s main inhabitants. Just a few minutes from the high street, you feel as if you’ve stepped in the country as Wimbledon Common stretches to Putney Heath and then to Richmond Park. The North may have its bars and restaurants, the East its cool markets and clubs but the South West has its green spaces and it’s great.

Eat Vietnamese on Kingsland Road

5 Feb

The best thing about having friends scattered across London is that you have the perfect excuse to explore eateries all over the city. So braving snow I thermalled up and journeyed to East (in more ways than one) to meet up with friends Sam (now a Dalston local) and Viv (part-time Londoner) for Vietnamese in Shoreditch.

Kingsland Road is now known as Pho Mile because of the number of Vietnamese joints on the street. The one we chose was Que Viet, whose golden pancakes Sam told us she had been dreaming about. Back in South Africa, my choice of Eastern food was limited to the local greasy Chinese takeaway, a sushi chain and a Thai restaurant that served Singapore noodles and green curry. And in terms of travelling I’ve only been to Malaysia, which has amazing food, but doesn’t make me an epicure in all things Asian. Which is why I fully trust Sam’s judgement. Aside from being a foodie with excellent taste, she’s Aussie and her experience in Eastern food makes mine very inferior.

Que Viet is more restaurant than canteen with leather seats, Gauguin-style paintings of pretty Eastern maidens and efficient waiters dressed in black. It also offers wine on the menu. Now to the food…

Yip, Sam those golden pancakes are definitely worth dreaming about.

Dreams are made of this

Something about the crisp iceberg lettuce, fried egg and fresh veg in sweet sour sauce is definitely yum (and I’m going to attempt to make it at home as it’s perfect after-work nosh).

We then ordered three mains to share with sticky rice – sizzling duck with Vietnamese basil, chilli sizzling goat (yes, goat) and prawns and stir-fried greens – all very tasty.

Duck on a hot plate

And despite the hip Hoxton location, the bill came to just over £20 each including service.

Don’t think I’ll be going to Vietnam any time soon, so I’ll just have to be happy with travelling to Pho Mile in London to broaden my culinary horizons.