Pass through an international station

1 Feb

I’m talking about St Pancras of course. The station itself is pretty amazing – high glass ceilings, a great range of shops, a champagne bar by the tracks – that sure beats any airport terminal. But even better is the thought that under an hour you go under the Channel (wow!) and you’re on mainland Europe, from which it’s another train to anywhere.

Some facts about St Pancras International

  • St Pancras is a martyr, believed to beheaded at age of 14 for his Christian faith during Roman times.
  • The statue of the man on the top floor is of poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, who was responsible for saving the station  from demolition in the 1960s.
  • The Meeting Place is the name of the 9m-high statue of lovers by artist Paul Day who was asked to reflect the romance of train travel.
  • The station was finished in 1868, making it almost 150 years old.
  • When you head towards the Underground, look out for the memorial plaque dedicated to the victims of 2005’s 7/7 bombings travelling on the Piccadilly line between Russell Square and Kings Cross.

The Meeting Place

Drink London beer

31 Jan

I grew up with the metric system, so food is measured in grams, distance in metres and liquid millilitres, especially beer. But here it’s a pint.

There are many breweries in London, small, independent ones, pub-housed ones and big-name brands. One of these is Fuller’s – a brewery I pass in a traffic-driven rush whenever I  head out to Heathrow airport – and one of the beers they make is London Pride (not linked to the march, which comes up first on Google!). A distinctive ale that’s quite mellow, it’s rather enjoyable for a lager-drinking lass like me. A pint of which is obviously an experience that’s pure London.

PS I’ve just clicked on to Fuller’s website and see their outdoor campaign for London Pride is ‘When In London’. Pure coincidence, I promise you!

Brunch at Ben’s Canteen

30 Jan

It’s taken a while for London to wake up (ahem) to the brunch idea. Breakfast isn’t a foreign concept to the UK (a Full English, anyone?) but somehow it never really has been excuse to catch up with friends late morning, drink good coffee (or a cocktail) and choose from a menu offering more than fried eggs, toast, beans and bacon.

But like the Flat White, brunch has now arrived to the Big Smoke, and even better it’s ventured from Antipodean eateries (who know all about good brunch and good coffee) in the East, through Central to South West London where I live.

St John’s Hill in Clapham Junction has undergone a quiet revival with pubs being refurbished, delis and coffee houses opening and more than one restaurant to choose from.

My friend Janca and I chose to ‘do brunch’ at Ben’s Canteen – which when I’d driven past on my bus always seemed popular.

As we caught up, we drank good coffee and picked from the menu of eggs to order. Iopted for the Veggie Ben with wilted spinach,  black mushrooms, beans (not totally off the menu), tomatoes and a poached egg. Janca opted for the Eggs Benedict.

Our brunch

Ben’s is cosy with wooden floors and furniture, the staff friendly, the food good and reasonably priced. Welcome to the brunch club.

PS Janca and I regularly meet up for breakfast and recommend The Pantry in Wandsworth and Nopi in Soho (just get there before noon as that’s when they change the menu to lunch) for a morning meal. And according to Janca, the best Eggs Benedict she’s had in London is at Konnigans.

Hang out with Picasso at the Tate Modern

29 Jan

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The first time I went to the Tate Modern was on my first trip to London with my mother. Aiming to visit the Tate Britain, we ended up at the Modern instead (did I mention I wasn’t very good with navigation?) and walked around looking at dismembered body parts (not real of course!) and a skateboard in an empty room. Ah, modern art. But that was long before I knew I’d be a resident in this city and I hadn’t been back since.

A gloomy Sunday ahead of me, I chucked off the duvet covers and decided to venture back as anatomical art aside, the gallery, once a power station, also houses a fantastic collection of pieces from 1900 onwards, including Monet’s Water Lilies, Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (the priciest painting ever sold at auction for £66 million) and Warhol’s Self-Portrait and many others (Lichenstein, Matisse, Pollock, Miro…)

And the great thing is it’s free to visit… and it has a fantastic shop… and you can’t beat the view of London’s skyline… and there wasn’t a skateboard in sight.

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Go gaga over a brownie

19 Jan

Because I’m committed to this blog so much, I sacrificed an early evening of a glass of wine and mushroom omelette at home to take a detour from work and visit Paul A Young, chocolatier in Soho.

Thinking I could walk away with a little bar of dark, I ended up stuffing a brownie (rather embarrassingly) in my plastic Morrison’s bag after I saw Time Out rated it the best in London.

I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for ‘best’ lists and just so I can casually drop: ‘These have been voted the best brownie in London’  as I walk past any of Paul A Young’s three outlets, I had to give it a try.

And it is indeed worthy of the title – silky, squidgy and oh-so chocolatey, I’ve had to leave half ready to rate again tomorrow night.

Oh yes, Paul A Young make other things as well – there was a pot of hot chocolate bubbling, various bars of milk and dark chocolate and salted caramel truffles and even chocolate ingredients for keen cooks – be aware it isn’t cheap (the brownie was £3.75), but then you don’t get voted ‘best brownie’ for nothing.

Before

Find something in Harrods for under a fiver

18 Jan

I remember when I was younger, if someone went to London they always brought back something from Harrods – whether it was a pencil or much coveted teddy bear. It’s a tourist trap with its elevators, opulent food halls and smartly suited staff.

And I suppose for all of the above, it’s worth a visit and I usually make an annual trip, usually at Christmas to check out the grotto and buy a ‘Harrods Christmas pudding’. But I didn’t get there last year and decided to pop in during the January sales to see if among all the bling I could find a bargain (the price limit being a fiver).

It would help if they had a guide telling us what was on each floor and after wandering through the £500+ (on sale!) women’s clothing I made it to the food hall, thinking there’d be something there cheaper.  And after much price inspection, I did complete the challenge – even though it was only a box of herbal tea, but from Harrods no less.

Munch on mezze at Yalla Yalla

17 Jan

I’ve been meaning to go to Yalla Yalla since it opened in Soho almost 4 years ago and by the time my mate Sam suggested we meet there for a new year catch-up another branch had opened off Oxford Street.

After complimentary olives (we agreed every restaurant should do this), we selected mezze to share: hommos shawarma (hummus topped with grilled lamb fillet), samboussek jibne (triangles of pastry filled with halloumi and feta), warak enab (stuffed vine leaves) and my favourite, the fattoush (a fresh herb salad perfect after all that heavy festive eating), which came with flatbreads. We really enjoyed the Lebanese red wine Chateau Ksara Prieure and said farewell to the new year detox by ordering a second glass.

Apologies for the lack of food photos – we had a lot of catching up to do!

Worth a visit: if you after (Oxford) street food full of Lebanese flavour

Read in rush hour

16 Jan

This year is all about trying to look on the bright side and yes, I have to commute from the south of London to the north every day, the majority of my hour and half squashed under someone’s armpit while sandwiched between bulging rucksacks and tube pole huggers (you know who you are!), but hey it’s enough time to get stuck into a book. What joy!

The Kindle has ruined any ‘what’s everybody reading?’ curiosity on public transport, so here’s some of my faves for whiling away rush hour.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett  – Perhaps it resonated with me growing up in Apartheid South Africa, but the sass and courage of the women in this tale set  in America’s Deep South in the 60s is incredibly moving.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Burrows – Another story about courage in adversity, this time on occupied Guernsey during World War II and told through letters by the captivating characters. It’s put the Channel Isles on my must-visit list.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – A mystery set in Barcelona involving books, family intrigue and murder. It had me hooked.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld – I was enthralled by this biographical tale said to be based on Laura Bush, and if so gave me new perspective on Dubya.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga – Set in present day India (with its poverty, corruption, tragedy exposed), right from the beginning you know the lead character is a murderer, yet you can’t stop yourself from finding him and his woes endearing.

Eat Meatballs

15 Jan

Thursday in my hometown in South Africa was known as ‘Phuza Thursday’ – phuza the Zulu word for drink, having  an easy Friday at work to recover, followed by the weekend, baby. It’s not quite the same in London, though in my London youth many a Thursday night was spent drinking snakebites at the Slug in Fulham (RIP)…

But I still think it’s a great night to go out as you slowly ease out of the working week, and my friend Andy suggested we try Meatballs in Farringdon for dinner one Thursday, where we could drink Blueberry G&Ts and tuck in to some… meatballs, of course.

I always get lost in Clerkenwell/Farringdon and after changing direction twice, found my way to the restaurant (thank god for satnavs on phones) located in a restored Victorian chophouse (think wooden pews, high ceilings and frosted glass).

Our G&Ts were good, but we could barely taste the blueberry element. Each serving is three meatballs and thinking that wouldn’t be enough to feed two hungry after-workers, we chose a range – lamb with raita, pork with rosemary and Parmesan and chicken with a lemon and caper sauce – to share, and added a basket of bread and creamed spinach as sides.

The ‘balls were tasty and our order more than enough, with our meal including tip coming to under £20 each. Not bad for a Thursday night out in London.

Our order

And though we only had one drink, we still managed to get lost on our way back to the station.

Worth a visit: if you after reasonably priced comfort food in a setting from a time gone by.

Visit Maltby Street

14 Jan

I’m a sucker for markets, especially ones selling  food. Maybe it’s those ancient foraging genes that come to fore but nothing makes me happier than carrying bag full of goodies to fill the larder.

I’ve seen Maltby Street pop up on many other blogs, labelled as a quieter, smaller alternative to Borough Market (which as much as I love, gets too congested on a Saturday morning), and so ventured there myself lured by the promise of Monmouth coffee and a raclette for breakfast.

Not strictly a ‘market’ it’s an area where stalls are tucked under railway arches in interleading streets in Bermondsey – Maltby being the main ‘drag’. At first I thought I had missed the turn off, not spotting anyone holding woven bags with green sprouts poking through or clutching coffees to go. But when I eventually I reached Maltby Street, I discovered where everyone was – queuing outside Monmouth (their production site). Though it was a 10-minute wait, thumbs up to the friendly staff, and yes the coffee is good.

So aside from getting a caffeine kick, what else did I come away with? Kabanos from Topolski (yum!), sourdough loaf from St John (so-so), buffalo mozzarella from The Ham & Cheese Co (delicious), an assortment of fruit and veg (from figs and nectarines to chanterelles and samphire) from Tayshaw, and a very empty wallet. I couldn’t find the raclette (disappointed) but enjoyed walking past all the salvage in my hunt for one (intrigued).

Worth a visit: if you’re in the area and after something special for the table.

The queue for a cup of coffee