Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Finding respite from the meat and 3 veg variety of eateries was quite a task, and it wasn't that choices are lacking in London town. It comes back to the rather curious dilemma of there never being a table, anywhere! Diners are slowly coming around to the idea of vegetarian and gluten-free eating, searching for a health kick in their diet (or is that allaying guilt?). Nobody is perhaps more ready to embrace an emerging trend than a Soho hipster. Enter, Mildreds.       

The rather quaint blue-hued exterior. You know you're in London when you have a dapper gentleman in a trench coat blistering past!

Mildreds is a fairly seasoned player, established over 20 years ago on a small block on Lexington St. Vegetarian food is its major selling point and boy do the locals love it. We found ourselves there at the tail end of the lunch rush and the place was still packed to the rafters! The dining room is a rather simple banquet-seat affair, bathed in sunlight and livened up with a few potted plants. 

Views from the rather stylish private dining room, worlds away from the daily grind Credit: Mildreds

Confronted with the menu, you face the rather daunting task of picking from a multitude of dishes, with influences from all over the globe.  In addition to the à la carte options there are also a number of daily blackboard specials. Whatever you might fancy from Mexican to Sub-Continental, it'll be on there. Unfortunately, I'm not actually convinced this is a good thing. The menu could benefit from being reined in a little. Instead of doing everything at par (or sub par), it would be better to hone your skills on a couple of things done really well. Makes sense, no?

Panfried halloumi, cherry tomato and wilted spinach with balsamic glaze. I don't know about you, but I am SUCH a sucker for haloumi. It's like an achilles heel. This version was perfectly reasonable but nothing gave it that wow factor. I'm sure you could whip up a very similar dish at home. The haloumi from Nomad in Sydney on the other hand definitely had "It" (sorry, folks)

Sweet potato fries with mayo (or chipotle). Again, you could tell immediately that  these fries were basically large chunks of baked sweet potato. I was hopeful for that crunch in the skin without any luck. Suffice it to say I was actually looking for a deep fryer here *Gasps*. I kept having flashbacks to the glorious sweet potato chips done by Veggie Patch Van back home

Sri Lankan sweet potato and cashew nut curry with yellow basmati rice with peas and coconut tomato sambal. This was easily the most popular dish on the menu. It was made rather mild but the samba adds a nice hit of spice. And the serving size is ginormous! 

I need to mention that the service was rather haphazard and generally chaotic that day. One of my fellow diners was given the wrong main which was then hastily corrected. Yes, the restaurant was busy but it has always been that way as far as I can see. Another waiter on the floor might have helped the flow (or lack thereof :S) of the service! 

Fresh tortellini filled with pumpkin and ricotta, with chestnut mushroom, white wine cream sauce, drizzled with truffle oil. Don't get me wrong, I love the odd veggo meal but you don't need to overcompensate with stodgy additions like cream and cheese by the bucketload. I suppose it was a bad menu choice on my part! The pasta was reasonably cooked, but each tortellino had too much filling. This dish was rather heavy going; climate appropriate, yes but also giving indigestion!

All in all, the food at Mildreds was acceptable and reasonably priced. I do think however that they've spread themselves thin with a menu that is brimming with too many options, to their detriment. It sounded very nice on paper but in the end doesn't quite deliver. It's certainly a far cry from veggo food in Asia! The cracks in the service come simply from lacking front of house staff at their busiest times. Of course it's all easier said than done and I know that Mildreds will be bearing the flag for vegetarian cuisine in Soho for many years to come.
Butternut squash, pepper, smoked chilli and cheddar pasta bake. Funnily enough, this pasta had less cheese to the sauce than expected!

Thanks for reading!
Mildred's on Urbanspoon

Bar Hop, London styley

Friday, 23 May 2014

Let's just state the obvious and say I'm a total nerd when it comes to travel research. Archivist, collector or chronicler - I simply love to read about restaurants and bars to visit across the globe (let alone my own backyard). Now that the world has become that much tinier (an oyster perhaps?), no distance is too far i.e. challenge accepted! A 24-hour flight is a mere trifle (though ask me again en route and I probably couldn't string a sentence together). Presenting, a couple of London bars I 'dropped' into that I'd like to share with y'all.

Talented Mr Fox

1 Leicester St, London WC2H 7BL

Two years ago I could have sworn this place was something entirely different and I wasn't mistaken. Gone is the old St John restaurant and hotel to be replaced by boutique hotel digs of One Leicester Street (no prizes for that name). Talented Mr Fox has taken up residency on the second floor with style that could only be described as dashing. The understated modern fit out puts you at ease as soon as you stride through the double doors, only to be met with the far wall. It is TINY, like postage stamp tiny.

Loving how this place is decked out, the retro furniture is a big win Credit: Time Out London

It's clear from a quick perusal of the menu that one of TMF's founders, Matt Whiley loves his mixology (I have strong feelings about this word, but moving swiftly on...). The drinks bring 'molecular' to a head utilising some weird and wacky ingredients and techniques. These wouldn't go astray in a Michelin-starred kitchen, let alone a small bar! Perhaps not for the faint hearted but if you're feeling adventurous, TMF will fit like a glove.

The infamous Bloody Mary (left) and Urban Foxtail No 2 in all it's wheelie bin glory (right). More consommé than cocktail, the Bloody Mary takes the traditional and takes it to another universe entirely. Prepare yourself for the delights of pigs blood, black pudding, clarified tomato juice and spice hydrosol in a glass. Let me warn you it's pretty out there. It makes the Urban Foxtail look like a tea party. Made with diplomatic rum, cumin syrup, cider and tangy apple bin juice (no kidding)

TMF issues good vibes by the boatload. The staff are friendly and the place is as bustling as the streets outside. Snag yourself a window seat (or a seat at all) and you're in for a good time. The clear successes of TMF have led to another venture, Peg and Patriot which has just opened in East London (hot off the press, people!). Some of their house cocktails sound pretty funky e.g. Rice Rice Baby (in a 'I'm kind of intrigued' way?). Someone will have to report back because I didn't have nearly enough time to go everywhere I wanted (that my friend, would take years). Maybe next time :)

I come, I fox shit up, I leave. A bit of a hipster "Veni, vidi, vici" perhaps?

Archer Street

3-4 Archer Street, London W1D 7AP

As far as 'It' bars go, I think Archer Street is pretty up there. A multi-storey bar in the backstreets of Soho, the real challenge lies in getting a drink in the space of 20 minutes. Siobhan MaGill is the gal behind this bar backed up with 30 years experience in the industry. The interiors by designer James Halliday are rather chalet chic, with the street level cocktail lounge reminiscent of a hotel lobby in the alps. I'd recommend you make a bee-line downstairs for Piste Bar, where all the action is

It's hard to admire the decor when one is crammed like a sardine in the space so here it is Credit: Bar Magazine

On the surface Archer Street looks like any other bar but it certainly has a wild streak. Much to my surprise (and delight) the multi-talented staff would spontaneously jump atop tables and belt out tunes. And boy can they sing! We were privy to stellar renditions of Royals and You've Got the Love. It gives Idol a run for their money, quite amazing! Soon after they opened in 2013, the bar ran Archer Street's Got Talent, a singing competition as a tribute to the history of Archer Street as a hub for West End musicians and arty-types in the roaring 20s. 

Oozing class downstairs at the Piste Bar. I hope that was supposed to be a pun Credit: Archer Street

Archer Street has quickly cemented it's place amongst the after work trendy types. Perfect to have a few drinks and bust a move as some would have it! What's brilliant is that you can go to bars like this and be stumbling distance from Piccadilly Circus (hello London!). What can I say other than it was awesome fun (free-poured G&Ts may have come into it)! Hot foot it there, skates may be required.

Forget the sign, you can't miss the bass and the rabble ;)

Thanks for reading!

Jackson + Rye

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Dear Londoner,
I've got to hand it to you. Not only do you contend with the routine horrors of the Tube during rush hour day after day, but somehow have the stamina to go out after work; on a weeknight for god's sake. I mean, if it were me I'd be slumped in a half stupor on my couch with a cup of tea in hand come 6 o'clock. So well done, for leaving nothing to chance and booking everything weeks in advance. It's a killer of spontaneity for sure, but I'd rather be eating where I want thanks very much. The mental picture of oneself wandering the streets hungry, cold and clutching a paper cone of chestnuts (or worse, McDonald's) for sustenance is alarming to say the least. It really is survival of the fittest, and the fastest walkers (I was warned). 
Yours truly,

Swan past too quick On Wardour St and you'll miss it! Credit: Jackson + Rye

Thankfully, this time round one of us had the savvy to book online (and yes, punters were being turned away as we walked through the door). Jackson + Rye has been bitten by the hype bug pretty hard and it's still going strong after opening in Soho late 2013. It's premise is rather on-trend (darling) being an American style bar and diner seeking inspiration from 1920's New York. With suitably stylish interiors by Martin Brudnizki, Jackson + Rye looked like the place to be in and by that, I mean it was LOUD. Now I'm not a huge fan of shouting to communicate with my table companions but apparently, c'est très cool. Ugh.

This is it, you're pretty much guaranteed a full house 7 days a week. But look how happy they are! Credit: Jackson + Rye

The menu in all its cardboard glory falls just short of encyclopaedic. My head was spinning at one glance, I hadn't even reached the drinks menu yet. So I basically did what I always do,  and ordered a special. Can't go wrong, right? J+R seem to have forged a reputation for their steaks, a great option to please the lads who are looking for a slab of meat and no veg (well, almost). What's nice about the whole dealio is that the menu is all-day, they are literally open from 8am till after 11pm most days which is kind of nifty. But dinner service is where it's at ;)

Mesdames et messieurs, entrée is served...

Truffled mac & cheese with light parmesan sauce. The sauce was indeed very light, nigh unnoticeable. If I was at home, you'd be able to see that parmesan all gooey and sticking between tendrils of pasta, dammit

Shrimp & Grits: hot shrimp, chilli, garlic, spring onion. Excuse my ignorance but I was a bit perplexed here...what are grits?! Ground corn according to wiki - a feature of Southern American cooking. Well, there you go. I found the 'grits' to be quite gluggy, perhaps that was the desired effect but who knows...

And then for main:

Market fish: grilled swordfish with green beans, tomatoes and new potatoes. A very homestyle kind of dish but boy was the swordfish tasty. Gorgeously cooked and super succulent, delicious!

All up in my grill...200g of grass fed beef fillet. Yes, it looks rather sad and unloved on the plate but it also came with a house sauce of your choosing, fries and smoked garlic butter (that's better). By all accounts the steak was cooked well. The asterisk grill marks look great by the way (kidding)

DOLCE (= party time)
Why not do the obvious and order one of each? Duh?!

Baked cheesecake (left) and frozen white chocolate, raspberry soufflé (right). The general consensus was that the cheesecake was the best dessert (we have a winner!). The cheesecake itself was light and fluffy and when combined with the berry compôte = dynamite. The soufflé was a NOT a soufflé, don't make the rookie error of not reading the fine print. It is essentially a semifreddo moulded into a ramekin. I was wishing for Messina at that point...

In complete contradiction to my mostly kind words, Marina O'Loughlin from The Guardian gave J + R a proper ribbing describing the food as "bland and forgettable". Scathing. Our experience at the restaurant was a rather pleasant one, it looks as though a lot of the initial speed bumps have been ironed out now. The service that we received could not be faulted actually and the food was fairly decent. One day, I'll come back and order the grilled lobster (bring out the big guns). Yeeeaah :)

I think now is the time for some sage words from Apu, "Thank you come again!" Credit: Jackson + Rye

Thanks for reading!
Jackson & Rye on Urbanspoon

Monmouth Coffee Company

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

If there's one thing Monmouth's got going for it, it would have to be heritage. Established in 1978 when they started roasting their own beans the company has gone from strength to strength. Hoards of Londoners with coffee know-how flock to Monmouth's various locations in the city. The original in Covent Garden sits pretty on Monmouth Street (but of course). On a drizzly London afternoon (but isn't that the usual) I came to visit Borough Market (more on that in a later instalment) and came for a caffeine pit stop. 

The straight and narrow - Monmouth in Borough. It wouldn't be London if you didn't use your brolly at least once a day, right?

On my travels through London Town I can't help but establish a sort of coffee hierarchy in my head. You know how dear coffee is to my  heart (see here). I found myself seeking out 'the best' based on recommendations from friends and my reading. It was a grand pursuit seeing how I love this city so much. You'll be pleased to know that Monmouth sits atop the list complete with gilded crown, sceptre and a herald of trumpets. You get my point (Australian expats rejoice!)

Coffees on the fly. The four baristas work like the clappers all day but are still smiling!

I have to admit, it's a very charming space and very Melbourne-esque. Apart from the queue, which is sometimes 2-3 people deep - the general hubbub feels like home. The corner block affords views of the market out the tall windows and if you're lucky enough to get a seat on the corner platform you have a bird's-eye view of this wonderful microcosm. On the large communal wooden table which is chock full of goodies, there is a 'smorgasbord' of freshly sliced baguettes, a gigantic slab of butter and a selection of delectable condiments. A group of Italian tourists were happily hoeing into it, all you can eat for £3.

Cappuccino and espresso made with Monmouth Espresso blend. Tucking into this was like climbing into bed; comforting and smooth. No joke. This blend of beans is constantly evolving, old trusty you might say

There aren't many bad things I can say about this place other than there's probably not enough seating so people are driven to the streets (and it's cold okay!) and the prices again are sky-high. For coffee that good I don't mind (hah), it just seems a necessary evil.  Londoners seem to be slowly coming around to coffee culture (Welcome!). Monmouth is a great place to start but it's a shame they don't open on Sundays. In Oz, cafés are packed on a Sunday for brunch, an Aussie institution. I'd say, watch this space.

The cool café interior, excuse the blur! 

After we had finished out coffees (boo) we proceeded to the shop counter for a tasting of the Finca Capetillo (Guatemalan). This was unbelievably good. With notes of milk chocolate and citrus supposedly. Whatever it is, it's bloody amazing. I barely ever (basically never) drink espresso but I am SO GLAD I made an exception, a freshly made espresso with a dash of milk. Clutching two bags of beans, I was one happy chappy heading out that roller door. The aroma that permeated through my suitcase was divine let alone sipping that first brew @ home. I can't believe I didn't try Monmouth last time I was here 2 years ago. Idiot. 

The rather mini pastry cabinet. Monmouth is ALL about the coffee and I'm okay with that. Find your eats at the market, but be sure to stop for a drink here!

Thanks for reading!
Monmouth Coffee Company on Urbanspoon

Snapshot: Brick Lane

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The cultural melting pot that is Brick Lane. Yet another borough with such a strong identity. The bilingual sign just says it all

One of the beautiful things about the city of London is that it has multiple personalities. Venture 500m thataway and the vibe is something complete different from where you just came. Whatever mood you're in, there's something for everyone and Brick Lane is certainly no exception. Home to a thriving market on Sundays (be sure not to miss the Columbia Road Flower Market while you're at it), Brick Lane is filled to bursting with quirky boutiques, eateries and galleries. Sounds good to me!

Doing Banksy proud, where graffiti is elevated to art form

Nude Espresso

26 Hanbury Street, London E16QR

And so begins the search for that elusive cup of coffee (that's up to scratch)...

Their signature fire engine red façade. Nude also has another café in Soho but has made itself cosy in the hipster east London

Coffee culture is starting to hit London hard and I'm very glad for it. At Nude Espresso, an Aussie ex-pat has decided to bring our coffee culture to the UK. The team have two cafés under their belt now and  roast their own beans (well, naturally). The interior is a very simple affair (to the point where I was thinking flat-pack) but does the trick. With a very simple food menu, this place is all about the coffee.

The coffee I had was not bad actually. There was a very slightly bitter aftertaste without being burnt (thank goodness). Can you tell how low my expectations are? [Snob!] Credit: Nude Espresso

Perhaps the scariest thing about exploring the London café scene is the prices. A cup of coffee pretty much sets you back the equivalent  at home, except in pounds. It's a bit of a stretch to think a regular cappuccino is setting me back $6, just like that. Nonetheless, I've done a bit of legwork around town to investigate. As an Aussie, I've got to get my priorities straight. To further illustrate my point, see here.

Soup of the Day: potato and leek soup. A classic, and actually fitting in the cool Spring weather. The soup had a good flavour but I'm not a huge fan of the raw spring onion garnish. I had to save myself for what was to follow later on, read on :)

Grilled to perfection: banana bread. A café staple all over the world
Nude Espresso on Urbanspoon

Beigel Bake

159 Brick Lane, London E16SB

Glorious! The not-to-be-missed hot salt beef beigel for a tidy £3.50 (time to celebrate!). You can only imagine how long that beef has been cooking, it is so meltingly tender. Truly incredible, and a proper hit of English mustard right up the nostrils.  Probably the cheapest, decent feed I've seen around - can't go wrong really

Ah, this is my new happy place. Beigel Bake churns out beigels like the world is ending. A 24/7 operation, it is a favourite of late night revellers when it really kicks off after 2am. Because they only make the one thing, don't be deterred by the lines because you are served in a flash by those no-nonsense shop ladies. There's literally standing room only so be prepared to hover by the banquet bar or step out for some chilly fresh air. The beigels speak for themselves really (there I go personifying food...), when it tastes that good, you can get away with anything. This place oozes old school charms and is a clear winner judging by the sheer volume of customers. A quintessentially London experience and essential at that.

Never fear, your late night prayers have been answered in the form of salt beef beigls. Can I get a hallelujah? Doesn't it just look tremendously attractive with those garbage bags out front? Lol

And now, just a few self-indulgent snaps :D

Thanks for reading!
Beigel Bake on Urbanspoon

Social Eating House

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Oh London, how I've missed you! The driving rain and blustery winds have done nothing to deter me from returning, hence the delay in posting (apologies!). With double the population of Sydney, you can definitely feel the buzz of this place. In this little window of opportunity I thought I'd explore London's dining and bar scene to dispel those myths about stodgy English food and figure out what the heck 'modern British' grub actually is. Batter up, Social Eating House!

The hand of Russell Sage Studio has given the place a rather eclectic interior that works well with its über comfy booth seats. Day or night, it beckons to you... Photo credit: Russell Sage Studio

Why not start from the top with this one Michelin starred bistro in London Soho? Chef Jason Atherton is certainly filled with ambition and a quiet confidence. His 'Social' brand of restaurants literally dot the globe whilst his London venues continue to win accolades and local fans. He is also due to open yet another in Dubai. Pollen Street Social, his first restaurant was to win a Michelin star within just 6 months of opening and Social Eating House was not far behind.

If you've been left waiting (and wanting), cosy on up at the bar to a pre-meal tipple Photo credit: Russell Sage Studio

With all that spare time, Atherton has gone on to host the UK version of My Kitchen Rules (sorry to say but their version pales in comparison to the Aussie's) and continues to juggle his restaurant empire (what a cinch!). But let's get down to business here. Thankfully, C and I were able to get a booking, mind you it was on a Monday night! This is just how it goes in old London town, be prepared to dine whenever, wherever (in the immortal words of Shakira). 

Cornish mackerel tartare, horseradish cream. A gorgeous way to start a meal with a  fresh as fresh tartare. Being such a keen bean on seafood I think I'm in the right place

Appealing to my design eye the interior is practically faultless and probably came well over budget at that! The menu is rather intriguing with the addition of 'jars' to the menu which are a selection of potted <insert protein/veg>. These would make such spectacular picnic food I would think. You'd also be pleased to know that each sourced ingredient has the food mileage printed for it for all to see. Delicious food with a conscience - I like that.

Smoked Shetland salmon, miso crème fraîche, BBQ cucumber and winter truffle. Wow, what a looker of a dish. With distinctly Japanese influences, this salmon was certainly rave worthy. A lovely smokiness came through and it was still under in the middle...Parfait!

Smoked duck ham, Braddock white egg and chips. This dish has graced the interwebs and with GOOD reason - it is unbelievably yum! The duck ham is surprisingly delicious and that egg is just done perfectly. The only shame is that you only get half!! Those chips were also excellent (you'd hope, anyways). Make sure you order this one :)

Charred côte de porc, heritage carrots, white polenta, spring cabbage, savory (the herb, thanks wiki). Presenting meat and three veg (almost)! Accompanied with a luscious cabernet sauvignon sauce (good), I thought this dish was rather confused on the plate. All those elements didn't seem to gel. There was also a lot of fat still on the pork which hadn't rendered off - a great shame!

Social Eating House definitely sells itself as a bold and brash bistro. The full house every night doesn't lie, even on a Monday. For refined bistro style food, mark this 'Social' on your to-do list. Be prepared however that it is rather expensive (throw booze into the mix and you're a goner), which seems to be the norm around these parts. A small consolation is perhaps that you can easily find food to this quality in Oz for a fraction of the cost, and they say Sydney is the 5th costliest city to live in (London doesn't even factor in the top 10?!). Michelin hasn't quite made the trek to Oceania yet so for now we can keep our gems secret haha. Ciao for now ;)


I know it's been a long time between drinks so...
Thanks for reading!
The Social Eating House on Urbanspoon


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