Workshop Coffee Holborn

Since writing this piece for Caffeine Magazine, Workshop has now opened to much positive press. I managed to visit last weekend when they hosted the UK aeropress Championships in conjunction with Square Mile. The image below is of the UK Aeropress Champion, Gabrielle Von Koss, with the three judges; James Hoffman, James Bailey and Klaus Thomsen.

‘Australian export, St Ali, landed slap bang in the middle of London’s burgeoning third wave coffee scene three years ago, to welcome arms, an excitable fanfare, and a lavish party. However, things soon went awry and, after just a year, owner James Dickson and head of operations Tim Williams parted ways with the brand, quietly, stealthily rebranding. St Ali was re-born as Workshop Coffee, an honest reflection of their business and maybe a nod to the old textile factory they inhabit, with a graphically simple logo that has become synonymous with the roaster we’re all familiar with today. For some, the ghost of St Ali will always linger, perhaps in name only, with the Clerkenwell store

Right from the very beginning, the flagship Clerkenwell store, was never just a cafe, or even just a coffee emporium for local businesses, but a destination for the entire experience. The antipodean style food menu, a fusion of influences, draws quite the crowd; there’s, more often than not, a caffeine hungry queue creeping out of the door for their famous brunches each weekend. They’re one of the few cafes that manages to provide an all day service with panache, seamlessly shifting between breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between (and if you haven’t tried their rare breed burger – you’re really missing a trick). Craft beer and a well sourced wine list wouldn’t look out of place in some of London’s better bars, but it’s their beans that show where their real talents lie.

Presiding over what you might be mistaken for thinking is now a blueprint for cafes and restaurants around town these days; urban cool, exposed brickwork, naked lights, and rather more uniquely, their living wall, is a 12kg, probat roaster. All of the beans are still roasted at the back of the cafe, amongst towers of hessian sacks, leaving you with no illusion where their focus lies; on roasting days customers become part of the process, finding themselves immersed in that intoxicating aroma, enhancing and reinforcing sips of their chosen beverage. This area is also where much of the quality control happens, and that means cupping; lots and lots of tasting, overseen by Head of Quality, James Bailey.

Their second site, the tiny coffee bar in Marylebone, opened shortly after the first and is a lesson in simplicity; an efficient little space in the heart of the West End. But, rather than continue to expand visibly, outwardly to the public, Workshop have been taking time to expand and regroup internally first, focussing on building a strong core team of staff and investing resources in training. This has allowed Tim Williams and Richard Shannon, head roaster, to travel to Central and South America and Africa to develop direct relationships with the farms, enabling them to source the very best beans sustainably. For example, Tim tells me he was able to purchase 250 bags of green beans from Ethiopia and Kenya on his most recent trip, where the previous year they’d bought just 20. This enables a certain level of buying power that just wasn’t available to them previously. In turn, this translates as a better understanding of their core product to all members of staff, which can be passed on to the customer, to create an all-round more coherent and informed experience.

Workshop Coffee may be seen as one of the most consistent roasters, knocking out a steady stream of delicious, clean, sweet, lightly and carefully roasted new harvests, but it’s also seen as one of the most expensive. Tim explains that their filter roasts are actually not that different in price to their competition, however, yes, their espresso blends, the constantly evolving, Cult of Done, are. This is because they source specifically to build a blend that tastes exceptional, rather than working back from a price point and buying their green beans on that basis. This is something he’s clearly proud of, he speaks with an obvious passion when telling me about the next two espresso blends, already lined up.

Workshop Coffee are clearly now at a point where they’re feeling strong enough as a brand to proactively expand and open up to the public. Towards the end of last year they launched classes aimed at home baristas, and now that they have Stuart Ritson looking after their wholesale division, this area is looking increasingly strong. Think of some of London’s best cafes and you’ll notice they’re serving Workshop Coffee; M1lk in Balham, Embassy East, Daily Goods in Kinoko Cycles and Rapha Cafe to mention a handful.

I ask how they maintain the integrity of their product in a retail environment that’s not their own, especially when those wholesale accounts are growing at an increasingly fast pace. James Dickson tells me “Working with great people and great cafes who care about the attention to detail that Workshop goes to in sourcing coffee, is often the best way to protect the integrity of your brand”. However, I’m rather more curious about those that aren’t necessarily as dedicated to serving the beans in a way that Workshop might be proud of.

Tim Williams is more pragmatic in his answer, telling me that whilst they provide full support, you can’t force anyone into training, that you’d be surprised how few people really respond well to a training program. At the end of the day Mr Olke Bire (an Ethiopian coffee farmer that grows particularly good quality beans) doesn’t care wether his beans are brewed well or not, for him they’re simply a commodity and he’s more concerned about providing for his family.

He also doesn’t feel they have anything to worry about when I casually touch on the current roaster wars that appear to be gaining in momentum for those of us watching in the wings. Tim calmly tells me of the combined years of experience the Workshop team have behind them, 15 of his own, and reiterates how heavily they’ve invested in quality control and staff training. Just because, he continues, “some of the new crop of roasters are using the terminology they’ve seen others use, doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.” Maybe, he rationales, “it’s down to the fact we’re growing up, have families and mortgages now,” in answer to why there appears to be a turn for the serious and less of a sharing, caring feeling between them than there might once have been. It’s their livelihood after all.

So, the third Workshop site within the Amazon building on Holburn Viaduct is as different from the first two cafes as you will learn to expect. As part of a new build, the scope for the cafe has been almost unlimited and I get the impression it’s been very kid-in-a-sweet-shop territory, albeit if that kid had a very stylish and an on the verge of OCD neat vision and those sweets were very expensive pieces of kit. Here, they’ve pulled together the very finest equipment to create a dream working environment, perhaps more Tim’s vision than anyone else’s; his taste in bar design seemingly as clean as his taste in coffee. By the time you read this, there’ll have been a full week of training to get the team of baristas up to scratch and iron out any practical niggles, so that by the time they open, the cafe will operate like a well oiled machine.

More on that kit. When the Clerkenwell site originally opened, they hadn’t bargained for certain issues and London complications; we’re talking water here. Far from the water issues encountered at the first site, Holburn is more than prepared to do battle with London’s worst, with a large Bespoke Water RO system, the same system used in the states by the likes of Bluebottle and Handsome roasteries. It’s the first system in the UK and more than up to the challenge of handling the large water demand required for an incredibly impressive set-up working at full capacity. Perched in pride positions on the bar, poised and ready for action are a gleaming and glowing pair of La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machines’s, a pair of Marco Uber Boilers are located on two alternative points, there are also bulk brewers just out of sight. A whole artillery of Mazzer grinders, walls of steely dish and glass washers, fancy water taps, scales and other coffee paraphernalia provide back up for any possible coffee related situation.

Affable James Bailey’s eyes light up at the sheer range of new toys at his finger tips, he comments with childlike glee that it’s “just like Christmas”. Even Tim Williams cracks a smile when he gazes at the bar; a balance between precision workmanship and natural beauty, custom built for ease and efficiency of service.

Yes. That bar, shall we talk about the sheer beauty of vast expanses, sheer planes of Italian Calcutta marble, whispering coolly of elegance and of a polished finish. If you can tear your eyes away, forget just 50, the rest of the space is a million shades of grey, warming, just, to muted teal, with jewel like flashes of blue and silver to mimic the multi faceted logo. A thousand grey suits will, no doubt, finish the picture. The floor is a subdued natural wood, inlaid with white graphic tiles that again echo that diamond cut Workshop logo, the symbol for quality. The ceiling, encompassing all the intricate pipework, is whitewashed, the antithesis to the glossy detail at Clerkenwell. Caged lights illuminate back and side walls and an explosion of domed black light fittings create a feature towards the back of the cafe. The overall effect is that of sitting in a giant, organic, shimmering pebble; at once soothing, natural and sleek but cool and calming, perhaps exactly the counter balance to, what is to be, a frenetically busy service.

A wrought iron sliding door will be able to effectively splice the space in two, directly through the centre of the bar, allowing the back section to be hired out for meetings or events, complete with barista and bar. Seating is kept to a minimum, just 25 at the back, a combination of leather and grey upholstery, with standing tables towards the front and opposite the bar. I notice a vibrant yellow, go-faster stripe that turns out to be a bum rest for those queuing for their coffee. This is not designed to be a space for loitering.

The focus for Holburn is very firmly on creating an impressive, fluid coffee service, all attention is on high impact coffee making, serving as many people as possible their quality brew of choice. There will, of course, be a food offering; this is a busy city location, but it will be kept simple, not quite the succinct offering at Marylebone but a long way from the food service at Clerkenwell. For now. I’ve seen the kitchen area and it’s not inconsequential, there’s certainly scope to offer more, should the need arise. Increasingly processes are being brought in house wherever possible; laundry and food prep just two, another element to their all pervading desire for quality control. Control. Quality. Two words that are echoed many times when speaking with anyone from Workshop Coffee.

You can’t have failed to notice that it’s competition season for many baristas and I wonder aloud that Workshop have no staff entered. Tim explains that, aside from the time investment required for training, he feels that there’s too many of the ‘old guard’ still involved with the competitions, in his opinion holding things back. Ultimately, he doesn’t believe that winning comes with the prestige and opportunities it once did. He goes on to say that he wouldn’t stop any of their staff from entering, James Bailey is the reigning Brewers Cup Champion after all, but if, and when, they do, make no mistake; they’ll be in it to win it. There’s a glint in his eye that belies his smile, this man’s not joking and neither is his attitude to coffee.

You’ve probably heard the rumours of site number four already. It’s true. Tim confirms their 4th store will be just off Regents Street, in prime position to take on the corporate coffee world that is rife in the area. In keeping with the other three sites, the style and feel of the cafe will be dictated by it’s surroundings and also completely different to the previous cafes. So, think Regency era Victoriana then….’

I’ve now seen the next site on Fitzrovia’s Mortimer Street and very much look forward to it opening. It seems that area is becoming a sort of the new coffee hub, as we’ll see the second cafe from Curators opening around the same time, to join Kaffeine on Great Titchfield Street, Mothers Milk on Little Portland Street, TAP on Rathbone Place and Dunnefrankowski at Sharps on Windmill Street (although I’ve heard rumours they may be on the move soon….).

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N’duja, Mozzarella and Basil Fritters

When toying with recipes, I often create a draft with notes in here that I might spend a week adding to and/or amending. I generally have a notion of what I want to make, it will then evolve as I bash it into shape, updating my notes here if I remember.

Although I loved last week’s fritter recipe, I wasn’t done with n’duja just yet and still harboured notions of the deep fried variety. Long weekends, sunny ones at that, or at least the glimmer of hope for warm rays to befit the season, conjure up holiday endorphins, for it’s rare that I actually go away to capture them abroad. Holidays being lazy days, I feel justified in eating what I fancy, which usually translates as non coherent meals, more likely a sequence of drinks and small bites, a sort of tapas style I guess.

I’ve just had to go back and change the title of this post as I entirely forgot to add one of the main ingredients (at least I’m honest!). These were supposed to have crushed broad beans in them, and I will certainly make them with next time. For some reason, they completely slipped my mind, and I spent the evening trying to compensate for the lack of green that was still apparent in my head like an itchy phantom limb. I found myself tearing up more and more basil to add into the mix and then serving with little bowls of green olives and fried padron peppers.

To be honest, the addition wasn’t missed, these aren’t supposed to be healthy, but they are tasty and accompany an ice cold martini superbly; molten cheese, fragrant basil and nuggets of fiery sausage. What’s not to love about that? I *will* attempt to remember the broad beans next time.

1 egg beaten

100g milk

100g plain flour

around 60g n’duja torn into pieces

1 125g ball mozzarella diced

couple of large handfuls of basil

salt and pepper

Slowly add the flour to the egg and milk, whisking until there are no lumps and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the n’duja, mozzarella, crushed broad beans if using, tear the basil leaves into pieces and stir until everything is coated in the mixture.

Heat a deep fat fryer or large pan with oil and drop spoonfuls of mixture into the hot oil, fry for around 2-3 minutes until the exterior is a golden brown and the centre is oozing and molten.

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Cauliflower & N’duja Fritters

Another weekend’s past and another Sunday where I drink coffee and write/work until my stomach springs into action and demands something to eat, whereby I have to get up, hit the shops and rustle up whatever that thing is. I’ve discovered there’s no point in planning, as it turns out my food cravings are whimsical as you like and fail to transfer across days/times. Unless, of course, it’s one of those ideas I’ve been harbouring and evolving all week, whereby the anticipation and creation of whatever dish it is can be almost juicier and more satisfying than in the eating, that is always over far too quickly.

This time it is fritters, prompted I’m not sure by what, they’re something never far from my kitchen, and I fancied cauliflower. A nice cauliflower and feta (I had some in the fridge) number sounded just the thing to fuel a Sunday spent procrastinating on the sofa. However a quick google for a recipe yielded tonnes of the little blighters and they immediately lost their attractiveness. Contrary, moi? Luckily a fridge excavation rewarded me with a slab of n’duja, bought from a stall at Borough the day before, which I’d promptly forgotten about, and so the following recipe was decided upon.

N’duja is a dream to cook with, lending a boisterous fiery and meaty kick to all manner of recipes. A comment from the lovely @SabrinaGhayour on Twitter that ‘anything n’duja touches turns to gold’ is nearly correct; she may have been commenting on the ingredients wonder qualities but in reality it also turns literally everything it comes into contact with an aggressively lurid orange. I almost add cheese to the mix but instead keep it simple with a smattering of nigella as I love their subtle flavour; the mild cauli and spicy Calabrian sausage need no help here, they’ve got each others culinary backs. I add cheese instead to a simple kitchen foraged salad of beetroot, feta, artichoke hearts and pea shoots.

Makes 2 portions

around 250g cauliflower

2 tablespoons plain flour

half teaspoon baking powder

1 egg beaten

around 30g n’duja

nigella seeds

seasoning

oil for frying

Break cauliflower into florets then boil for around 5 minutes, pat dry with kitchen towel then mash so it’s broken down into little pieces but not smooth. Put into a large bowl then and add the n’duja torn into tiny pieces, egg, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper and a handful of nigella seeds. Mix to combine.

Heat oil in a large pan, then scoop the mixture, in heaped spoonfuls into the pan, you should get around 6. Squish down to flatten then continue to fry until they’re cooked through and both sides are golden and crunchy.

Not bad at all with a chilled glass of rose on a sunny Spring day in London!

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Sandwiches – A Retrospective Post

In a state of slothful lethargy, it took a single image of a toastie from @Rocketandsquash to rouse me into action, out of the house and to the shops to procure some suitable ingredients. Of course, by this point, it was late on in the afternoon, I was a couple of coffees to the wind and not a fit state for a Sunday supermarket shop. I dithered and pottered up and down the isles, I bought all the ridiculous things you know not to when properly prepared for this sort of scenario. By the time I’d walked all of 100 yards or so to my local Waitrose and M&S, I’d spent the equivalent of a whole small family’s disposable income on unneccesaries; sweets and wine, cocktail making curiosities, expensive olives, hot sauces, fancy salts and olive oils. By the time I got home I was FAMISHED and it was nearly dinner time so I hastily assembled my chosen ingredients – sourdough loaf from M&S is the only loaf in my town to hold up in these circumstances (good crustage), some black truffle pesto from a jar, scrunchled up mortadella from the Waitrose deli counter, sliced artichoke hearts from another jar (those jars are destined to linger at the back of the fridge for the forseeable aren’t they?) and grated Lincolnshire Poacher from aforementioned deli counter.

I just about remembered to do what any good blogger does in these circumstances; I instagrammed my lunch.

Cue the best response for a pic I’ve taken to date so far. It’s all in that close-up buttered and seared crust and oozing cheese. I know, I know. It just so happens to be National Sandwich Week so I thought I’d pop it on here along with some past thoughts and ideas on the subject.

It was actually my fifth post, three years ago now where I vocalised my ‘Sandwich Love and a Quest‘ which was to be the very beginning of my, at first, tentative journey into coffee. It was simply, back then, a search for the best lunch spots, but you can see that over time this instigated in me a strong yearning to learn more about coffee and all it entails as I doggedly asked more questions and listened and absorbed, propped up at many a London coffee bar.

I fell in love with the trio of Fernandez & Wells stores at the time, the unbeatable sandwiches and some short and intriguing long blacks (yes, that’s what I drank back then). There are, of course, double that number of stores now as well as their Somerset House residency. I marvelled at the absolute perfection of Kaffeine, that still stands out as one of London’s greatest cafes, and Shaun, who won over so many customers behind that bar has now taken his charm outside and has his own brilliant Noble Espresso. I rhapsodised over the chelsea buns, banana bread and monte cristo sandwich at Foxcroft and Ginger, who’ve just opened a second site, but always found their coffee a touch hit or miss. I can only reminisce over the incredible F.A.T. Ultimate toasties at Dunnefrankowski at Sharps while drinking delicious coffee and eating whatever pop up is currently doing so and serving. Oh and they make a damn fine sarnie, and damn fine coffee, at my local Fee and Brown, of which there’s now a branch in Orpington, yes really.

I wrote about Raw Duck , the little sibling to Soho’s Duck Soup, when it opened in the Summer of last year, it met an undeserved early demise after a short few months of trading but has come back bigger and stronger than ever before right next to Lardo up at the top of London Fields. They have a proper kitchen this time around and massively increased space to play with and you’ll be pleased to hear the epic Dirty Bird sanger is back. I popped in recently for a look, I *didn’t* have a sandwich this time but I can confirm the harissa eggs are very good, as is the Provence 75. Caravan are looking after the coffee and I had a good chat to the barista on the day, it sounds like that’s shaping up nicely too. I love that the reincarnated restaurant has the same vivid custom orange espresso machine and cute concrete bar, except stretched, all the way down the length of the long room and around in a loop to provide seating all around the central area.

I fully intend to return for evening, to try more of that extended menu and their delicious sounding wine list, they even have a wine refilling station.

Toasties and wine, a heavenly pairing? They are at Sager & Wilde.

I made sandwiches too. There was the love it or hate it deep fried avocado one, the pumpkin doughnut bacon one, the Boxing Day one and the haggis one to name a few that I’ve blogged. Trust me, I’ve eaten many more.

I don’t usually cast my eye back, have never done one of those end of year blog round ups, but well, this is a subject close to my heart and clearly to many of yours too.

My friend Helen has written a quite brilliant entire book on the subject that I highly recommend you take a look at.

 

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Temecula and Seattle

Since I started selling products manufactured out of a town called Temecula, situated between San Diego and Los Angeles, I’ve come across just one person who’s ever heard of the place, and so I had very limited expectations from a tourist perspective (pretty dreamy work jaunt though, so not complaining!). I was only there for a night and a half, so didn’t put too much pressure on that part of trip, expecting it to pass in an all too brief blur of sunshine and workshop. I was right. I have also never come across anything quite like it. In the midst of avocado farms, micro breweries and vineyards sits the peculiar Old Town; a miss mash of original buildings and mock-ups to resemble something straight from the wild west, complete except for horse drawn carriages, tumbleweed and the cowboys themselves. The impression I get is distinctly odd, it feels like a Disney resort town, populated with a mix of holiday makers and local youth boozing it up in awkward harmony. I wander in a daze past much merry making on sunday evening, but tiredness overcomes me on that first night, after the longest day I think I’ve endured, encompassing an early start, lengthy flight and a confusing six hour journey back in time. I settle for an easy option – a Denny’s diner take-out of philly cheese steak omelette served with hash brown, not the first time I’ll say this here – ‘looked gross but pretty much hit the spot’; it’s packed up for me, without question, like giant plane food that I just about manage to feed into my face whilst sat sloth-like in bed watching unfamiliar tellie before losing myself to zzzz’s.

The following day, I have my first, to my recollection, American sandwich shop experience, it’s one that induces a panic prickle of perspiration that pierces air con cool as I listen to the customer before me easily reel off his own complex order. My garbled attempt, whereby I’m sure I mismatch breads, fillings and dressings to much hilarity to those behind me, is delivered as an absolute beast of a plate. I congratulate myself on my half sandwich order as it’s still bigger than most UK equivalent wholes, whilst wondering how to squish it into my gob (I resort to weaponry); marbled rye with turkey, bacon, swiss, a proper plate full of salad and a bucket of diet coke.

Later, determined to experience at least one evening out in this strange town I venture out for an early dinner, taking recommendations and company, from local and owner of the business I’m here to visit. The Public House has a lively outdoor back yard which we head straight out to, bypassing whatever might be inside, headstrong in my desire to soak up as much sun before my transit to rainy Seattle as humanly possible, we perch on stools at a tall table underneath unnecessary, but cosy all the same, lamp heaters. I watch bemused as my giant plastic wine goblet is filled and then our waiter upturns the rest of the bottle rather than take it away; I must have nearly a pint of the red stuff, it lasts me all evening. We both choose a kobe beef burger, cooked correctly to order and smothered in a thick cloak of mushrooms, cheese and garlicky caramelised leeks. My only complaint is at the expense of an over large and dull bun and the slightly strangely seasoned fries. The US knows how to do a burger though huh?! A couple of hours of kip and frantic emailing session preludes a dazed flight across to Seattle.

Although I have a number of recommendations for Seattle, I’m in a similar state of lack of expectations, mainly because I haven’t had time to indulge in the sort of googling and planning I’d ordinarily prefer to bestow upon a trip, in order to whip myself into the necessary frenzied state of excitement. I do, however, have stowed tightly in my laptop bag, a printed article from Dinehard and the latest issue of Imbibe, grubby around the edges of my soon-to-be-destination section. No, my exuberance at visiting stems primarily from the simple association with that heady music of my youth and the birth of, now vilified, Starbucks; music and coffee; an evocative and soulful combo for this girl.

The most frequently and urgently proffered bar suggestion is for Canon , so with deft and cunning skill I keenly swing our party towards a visit on our first night out, reasoning that if it’s as good as I hope there’ll be time to return. An inconsequential front seems to ward off unworthy passers by, on what I’d learn is the hip part of town on Capitol Hill that’s populated by plenty more bars and restaurants sharing space as it does with University grounds. That diminutive front belies an interior that I immediately knew would win me over; an epic wall of bottles, reaching from floor to tin ceiling, shimmers and whispers behind a long bar, seeming to goad and tease the very Earth to quiver. A self proclaimed whisky and bitters emporium, I’m actually impressed with the range of other spirits, vermouths and liqueurs. Pure prohibition in style, the room is decked out in dark wood and antiques, there’s a gramophone in the bathroom that plays patchy radio stories on loop, though I can’t decipher, or forget, quite what.

The drinks menu is an impressive compilation of riffs on many of my favourites that truly challenges my powers of decision making, and in a highly unusual turn of events I’m not remotely tempted to order off menu. I start with a Fighattan that takes some beating, a mix of bourbon, cocchi torino, taverna, fig and boker’s bitters garnished with my now beloved double cherry. Move onto a silky martini; a dramatic version of the classic made with an old english gin, colin blanc, orange bitters, liquid nitrogen and a lemon twist that arrives in a flourish of ice cold smoke. I finish this session with a triplet of negroni’s (how could I not order a Negroni Experiment?!), a comparison of the drink made respectively with rum, rye and classic gin, they make me pretty happy indeed, every cocktail should come in multiples…! My friends are equally delighted with their aged old fashionds that come in dinky whisky bottles, but in retrospect would possibly have preferred a glass and ice.

Not only are the drinks here epic but the food appears to match in it’s appeal; propped up at the bar, front seats to the sometimes dramatic cocktail making action we sample a selection of those snacks. Pork belly buns with apple slaw are as good as any I’ve had; foie gras panna cotta is a playful dish that incorporates pineapple coulis, mint gel and peanut brittle; hanger tartare is a great example of it’s kind. I mourn baguette with truffle butter, marrow with smoked gremolata, carrot fritters with ginger and paprika aioli and that US menu stalwart of roasted brussel sprouts. It’s ok, I’m already engineering another trip in my head, it’s taking shape quite nicely.

Instead, we decide to move on and take our barman’s advise to lope around the corner to Quinns, a rowdy bar/restaurant with distinctly less genteel vibes and large goldfish bowl effect windows through which to observe. From either side. Taking a seat again at the bar we three order unhealthily as you like; fish and chips, wild boar sloppy joe and foie gras frites respectively. My mess of chips (not the best frankly but so obliterated with topping it’s almost irrelevant) is piled high with shaved foie gras and foie sauce, clearly not decadent enough, I request a duck egg. Oooof. No, it’s not remotely an attractive dish but, oh my, is it tasty. I can’t resist ordering us a comparatively dainty plate of cauliflower florets with capers, endive and mint, doused in meyer lemon, it’s a dish that I expect will find it’s way onto my own dinner table soon. Cocktails here are not really worth writing home about.

Of course I manage to swing a second visit to Canon on our penultimate evening, whereby we share an excellent little pizza topped with maroccan spiced lamb sausage, roasted red pepper, feta, mint and yoghurt. I go off piste with a longer and sweeter drink than I’d normally pick but am rewarded with the cutest delivery and an unusual take on the Last Word, here a Sparkling version of gin, maraschino, green chartreuse and lime. We’re accidentally brought a Swagger, or was it Hanky Panky? In any case it doesn’t last long.

Canon doesn’t feel a million miles from one of my London favourites, wine bar Sager & Wilde, with it’s lazy bedroom slatted lighting, bar seating and attentive, tailored service; I imagine this is what a cocktail bar from the pair might be like. Regardless, it’s right up my street and if we had one in London, I’d be a regular. It would be sure to vie for my attention, jostling with the likes of The Talented Mr Fox, Happiness Forgets, Satan’s Whiskers, Ruby’s, Nola and the new Pearl’s at The Cat and Mutton.

On a local recommendation for good sea food, we hit Steelhead Diner, overlooking Pike Place Market and adorned with fly fishing motifs, it seems a good choice. Whilst my companions tuck into chowder and mussels and everything I abhor, I embarrass them by ordering a very good chicken sandwich indeed, with some of the best chips I’ve ever tasted. I’m not so keen on the local gin I’ve chosen for my martini, but no worries, I’ll try again at the next joint. Following the stairs down towards the market, we chase an early dinner with drinks at Il Bistro . Although we don’t eat anything, I can highly recommend for cocktails if the guy pictured below is working. I start with a martini made with another local gin, this time a highly successful version made with Voyager, after which we decide we fancy something a bit different. Not sure quite what, this fabulous character (sorry – I’ve forgotten his name) comes to sit with us until he’s picked our brains and then delivers three well thought out, individually paired and balanced drinks.

Zig Zag bar is another I’ve been hankering after and so I’m pig headed enough to shoe horn in a trip here too on this final night in Seattle, scooting across the road, further towards the harbour and down more steps. A stern warning of a wait is in fact just 10 minutes or so before we’re ensconced in our own booth and again awaiting a new triplet of individually designed and successful drinks. I could get used to this….

Oh, and if you’re into rum then a visit to Rumba ought really to be on the cards, not ordinarily my thing but we were there for one of the many coffee parties about town that week and I can honestly say I’ve never seen a rum list remotely as extensive as the one here. I indulged in my first ever daiquiri (I know!) and a very sexy take on a rum old fashioned.

I didn’t visit nearly as many coffee or lunch spots as I’d hoped to, mainly because I was at the SCAA Symposium followed by the show for the duration of my stay. That’s not to say I didn’t try lots of coffee anyway, including many US roasts I’d never come across before, so nothing to complain about there! I did make it up to Stumptown on Capitol Hill one morning for coffee and doughnut and I was again reminded, from back to my last trip to the states, how much more slick in general coffee operations are out here. Maybe that’s unfair and it’s largely down to the grander scale? Each cafe seems geared up to cater to a far vaster audience, each one spaced out further than the tight network London has, and what I’m used to…

Dunno, but anyway, service was faultless, and delivered with what appeared to be a genuine smile, and when they mix up my filter brew, they insist my espresso is on them. Filter is served your choice; as a pour over, aeropress or self service batch. No biggie. No drama. No song and dance. My french toast doughnut is the best I have on this trip, I don’t know who makes them, but it’s a cake style, moist, spicy with a sugary glaze that is everything I want for breakfast/brunch with my coffee. They have a fancy cold brew beer tap style dispenser and also roast on site. Atmosphere is laid back and I’m joined by a mix of clientele, all the way from those taking meetings to runners gagging for a caffeinated pit stop to students from the nearby uni.

I attempt to stop by Victrola on Pike Street, but after some stern arguments with Google maps and consequently a later than planned arrival, I manage a short 5 minutes in the queue before deciding it’s time to head off to the show. Shame as I’m told it’s a great spot, I can vouch for the space, large and lofty, but sadly can’t comment on the coffee.

During my brief stay I also manage to scarf a couple of cuban sangers, a french dip sarnie at the sandwich shop underneath the Washington State Convention Centre, eat chicken potstickers, beef bulgari bowls, martini’s and tempura bacon(!) at Dragonfish across the road (great happy hour menus), some highly dodgy negronis and a cherry blossom doughnut from Top Pot that was sadly not as tasty as it was pretty looking and sounding.

My resounding impression of Seattle, after five short days, is just incredibly welcoming; nearly every person I meet, from passers-by on the street to those doing their job in the service industry, genuinely seem like couldn’t have gone out of their way to be more helpful. It feels small enough that I’d love to return to explore further, get more of a feeling as to what it’s like as a local, as though that might actually be possible.

Oh, and I fully indulged in a good old wallow through old memories watching Pearl Jam Twenty on the plane out of there.

Public House on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

Canon on Urbanspoon

Quinn�s on Urbanspoon

Steelhead Diner on Urbanspoon

Il Bistro on Urbanspoon

Stumptown Coffee on Urbanspoon

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Fig, Feta and Juniper Focaccia

I’ve had variations of this recipe ruminating and germinating about my noddle for a while now. It started out as a twist on a classic Italian black grape bread; I paired tiny sweet sable grapes with crushed juniper and sprigs of rosemary; it was satisfying with a good and intense pecorino, but I had an overwhelming urge to pair the ripe lusciousness of fresh figs with herbal, sweet and citrusy juniper. I almost went really sweet with a shower of sugar to carry gin evocative spice in caramelised rivulets. In the end though a balance of sweet and savoury won out, as is often the case when I’m involved.

This bread is an evocative Mediterranean mixture of sticky ripe figs, salty, creamy cheese and fragrant juniper, muddled and melded with a punchy green olive oil. I want to eat this in all the half light hours, either end of the day; with a freshly made brew am or a ripe and fruity red to toast the waning, winking sun. Almost a meal in itself, I accompanied a chunk with a juicy orange and fennel salad anointed with grassy olive oil and plenty of seasoning; all the flavours of sunshine that I crave as summer toys with us, splashing promising beams and at once withdrawing with equal, taunting ease.

It’s hard to resist something so pretty; painterly watercolour splashes of purple, bleed creeping, spilling across the bubbly bready canvas.

The following is based on the E5 Bakehouse ciabatta recipe

250g ’00′ or strong white bread flour

190g warm water

lump of leaven (I used around 60g but a handful is good)

tablespoon olive oil plus extra for drizzling

teaspoon salt

3 small ripe figs

around 75g good, barrel aged feta

10 juniper berries crushed

7g sachet fast action yeast

Dissolve fast action yeast in the water with a pinch of sugar then add leaven to this mixture along with olive oil. Squidge until the leaven is broken down and the mixture resembles porridge, add the flour and stir to combine. Leave for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt over the top of the dough, work in and leave for 30 minutes.

Gently knead by pulling across edges of dough and rotating and repeating until it tightens up. Leave for 30 minutes. Repeat another two to three times.

Flour a work surface and manipulate the dough with your fingers, pushing and pulling it into a rough oblong. Leave for 60 minutes to prove.

Preheat oven to 220 degrees, over the surface of the dough gently push in eighths of ripe figs, and scatter across juniper berries crushed in a pestle and mortar, crumbled feta, a generous drizzle of olive oil and sea salt flakes.

Bake for around 25 minutes until cooked through, golden, and the figs have released their juices.

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Ideas for Wild Garlic + Pancetta, Wild Garlic & Pecorino Potato Cakes

I’m such a bad cook. Completely fickle. Like each new food fad, I view each new season’s produce with fresh verve, as though never encountered before, with virgin’s eyes. I sparkle and crackle with inspiration, feverishly hunting out whatever new-to-this-season-thing-it-is I’m desperate to get my hands on, spending perhaps a full weekend in the kitchen fiddling around like a bipolar person in pure mania phase. Pairing and jigsawing flavours and methods, I forget entirely last years exact same excitement, and the year before. Each and every season in fact.

However, I fail entirely at keeping that momentum going, quickly losing inspiration as work becomes heavy or going out takes a precedence. Until I’m awakened again when the next incoming season fills me with thrills afresh, heart pumping again with the joy of the change of seasons and the promise of flavours new. Winter to Spring, Summer to Autumn, each heralds it’s own uniquely magical properties.

So anyway. Now that we’ve established I’m rubbish I’ll plough ahead. This season/months item du jour is wild garlic. It wasn’t that easy for me to get hold of, but is presumably pretty easy to grow, so I’m going to try that next year. In the end it was the lovely Itamar from Honey and Co that responded to a tweet and offered to give me a bundle. This rewarded me, with not only a quick chat with the man himself, but an excuse for lunch, and yes, it’s still one of my favourite spots in London; I had a very fine couple of breakfasts there recently, though I do struggle not to order the Fitzroy bun…..

Trouble with fresh garlic and transporting it, despite being well wrapped in jay cloths, and  paper, in a bag, is that it really, really pongs. I spent the journey home via tube and train smelling like I’d got inebriated whilst eating Nigella’s 40 cloves of garlic chicken recipe the night before, and was now emitting sweaty pungent odours. Actually, when not amongst a crowd, I really love the smell; it’s vibrant, fresh and headily garlicky, long narrow leaves a bright, lively green, but there’s no denying it permeates.

My first instinct was to make a simple dish inspired by one I’d had recently at Quality Chop House. Jerusalem artichokes chopped into halves or quarters, depending on size, boiled for around 15 minutes and then fried with a thinly sliced red onion, some sliced pancetta, a bunch of roughly chopped wild garlic, field mushrooms, plenty of seasoning and then finished with a scattering of diced smokey ardrahan cheese. Super hearty, comforting and, ahem, farty; they’re not called fartichokes for nothing.

I’ve long had a fascination with potato on pizza. It’s clearly wrong; laying carb upon carb, and yet when I finally tried it – I just understood. Don’t try and make me explain, but something about the combination just works. Since I had the ingredients left over from the previous night, and they’d worked so nicely together; nutty against smokey with fresh aromatic garlic, I assembled a very similarly flavoured dinner for a second round. Taking my regular flatbread/ pizza recipe, with a blob of leaven made the night before incorporated, I made little pizzettes, layered, starchy scale-like with wafer thin sliced jerusalem artichokes. I scattered over this a fried mixture of shallots, pancetta and wild garlic, finished with cubes of more of that delicious Ardrahan, and baked for around 8-10 minutes on a preheated baking tray at my oven’s highest setting.

My favourite of all of the dishes I experimented with was inspired by an Instagram from Lizzie – “oooooh, potato cakes, I haven’t made those for a while” and suddenly that’s all I fancied. I was originally planning on making jerusalem artichoke hash brown, rosti type things with wild garlic, served with duck hearts. But since I couldn’t get hold of either the offal or the carbs, I admitted defeat. My gut’s probably thanking me to be honest. As is the boy. Not sure how many of those ‘chokes are healthy. These are a triumphant dish to serve for brunch; super easy and packed with flavour.

I also added wild garlic this week to a soothing vegetable stew that was nothing much to look at but tasty all the same and some buttery scrambled eggs on toast that were a dream team combo.

Pancetta, wild garlic and pecorino potato cakes – serves 2 as a light brunch

250g new potatoes

50g grated pecorino

1 large egg beaten

5 rashers of pancetta finely chopped

bunch wild garlic chopped

flour

seasoning

Boil spuds for around 15 minutes or until tender (I scrub but keep the skins on). Meanwhile, lightly fry the wild garlic and pancetta. Roughly mash potatoes, then add the egg, pecorino and pancetta mixture and stir to combine. I prefer mine with a little texture, not too smooth.

The mixture will be fairly loose. Divide into 4 balls, dip into seasoned flour to coat and then into an oiled pan. Flatten, if they aren’t already, lightly press down and cook for a couple of minutes each side until they’re warmed through and have a light crust. Serve with a fried quails egg or two.

And with that, I’m probably done with cooking in April, I guess I’ll see you next month for asparagus fever ;-)

 

 

 

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Breakfasting in Style – Street Kitchen, Fingers Crossed & Tuckshop

Street Kitchen were clearly proud of their latest location and spanking new breakfast menu as I received a flurry of messages via Instagram and Twitter keen for me to check it out. I had no doubt it would be an illustrious affair, but as with their other locations, not so easy to get to for those of us who aren’t London town nine to fivers. Oh, but they were persistent with tales of bacon baps and an egg dish, that having called me out on my appropriation of a number of similar style dishes recently, were seemingly confident would lure me. They weren’t wrong, in the end I cracked, and called on a friend to join me in accepting their invite.

It was a balmy Friday, and we found Street Kitchen sat alone on peaceful Devonshire Square, sun beams bouncing off the silver truck, for all the world a mirage, if it wasn’t for the tantalising wafts of pig that were tickling my nostrils. I’d already heard ridiculous tales of the ‘bacon’; actually a confit rolled pork belly seasoned with rosemary, so we kept it simple, ordering one unadorned bacon roll (you can add a number of other breakfasty ingredients to this) to share, and the egg dish split into two mini portions. Wow, if only every Friday could start this way, I’d be a happy (fat. Possibly dead) girl. The bacon roll is the best of it’s kind I’ve ever encountered; squishy brioche, lashings of ketchup and that pork; fatty, juicy, herby pork that’s flavour simply shimmies with deliciousness. Or was that me on my little crate stool, having my world rocked? Eggs are poached to perfection, then caught on the griddle to create an addictive little fried crust, they bob in a pot of healthy tomato and spinach, such clean and vibrant flavours. Coffee is made using Caravan beans and not to be sniffed at, either via the espresso machine or as a regularly refreshed batch brew.

Mark Jankel comes over to check we’re happy, bringing with him dessert. Oooof. I’m stuffed, but can’t resist digging into an ample portion of sweet and tangy rhubarb topped with vanilla flecked creamy yoghurt and apple soaked granola. Seriously good stuff, I’m horrified when I hit the bottom. Oops. He spends some time chatting with us, explaining the ethos behind his business; his vision being to maintain this level of quality, as they expand and eventually find a permanent site, to grow sustainably and carefully. As he speaks in his lovely way, I can’t help finding it entirely endearing how literally each of the ingredients on his menus comes with a whole story attached, that of the producer and terroir and it’s history.

If you miss brekkie, it finishes at 10am, don’t fret, they move on to an equally epic sounding lunch service shortly after.

I discovered Fingers Crossed around a month ago after seeing it mentioned by a friend who’s local to the area. They opened at the very tail end of last year but I expect I’d never have found them if I’d not seen his mention, as they’re way up on Amhurst Road, a fair way up from Hackney Central, not on Twitter, and don’t make a lot of noise. Shame. Though I rather gather they like the laid back ease, the lack of out-of-towners (like me), or yummy mummy types; an air of insouciance gently pervades.

The exterior doesn’t present anything out of the ordinary; a black painted shopfront and slicker, graphic branding on the window wouldn’t look out of place anywhere from where we are, down to Shoreditch and doesn’t give much away. Stepping inside however, I’m immediately transported to a greasy spoon, in both aroma and decor. In fact nothing remotely shouts ‘speciality coffee’, until I clock the Linea and bags of Hasbean on the counter, quietly exhaling as I do a quiet sigh of relief. I order an espresso and settle into decidedly retro, or simply perfunctory, formica style tables with rather incongruous rustic, mismatched benches. I’m soon marked out as a coffee nerd and the barista, Luke, engages me with coffee chatter; turns out he’s many a cafe littered in his past, including the likes of The Pavillion and Elliot’s.

It slowly dawns on me that those around me on this late Saturday afternoon seem to know each other and even the staff and owners kick back at the tables next to me. I’m pleasantly surprised when my espresso reveals all the flavour notes described by Luke, a classic coffee flavour but with pure chocolate orange notes at the finish. I enjoy sitting in such relaxed surroundings that more and more remind me of student digs; punk plays loudly from the stereo, wooden wall panels are rudely painted in garish pastels and the door out to the lavs takes you back out into a home corridor, as though someone’s decided to turn their living room into a cafe. There’s enigmatic nods to coffee geekery as niche books and magazines strewn around but it’s certainly downplayed despite Luke’s skills. A friend has returned recently and found him now in their chefs role, which may explain something, he clearly picked up a passion for bread making along his journey, and produces some prototype sourdough at the end of my visit.

So maybe check who’s making your coffee…

Anyway, it’s the completely fabulous and really reasonable brunches that’ll coax me back, a menu that’s bursting with delicious iterations on my favourite meal of the day. I umm over avocado and feta on toast, aaah at the truffled mushroom, raclette and thyme toastie, almost order the aubergine baked eggs but switch to the one with chorizo and yoghurt at the last minute. It’s the perfect tonic for this time of the week. I return the following weekend to try their homemade doughnuts; not the best lookers, but with a deftness of flavour and texture that belies the eye.

Somewhere I continue to return is Tuckshop, a place that delivers that rare thing; a delightful, overall and complete package. A space that I always enjoy sitting in, whether that’s to work for a couple of hours on my laptop between meetings, or as an excuse for a slice of Bittersweet Bakers peanut butter and banana loaf with a tasty brew. Where else can you sit beneath the hypnotic patterns of a wafflefractor, listening to an eclectic soundtrack and eating tasty food, in the forecourt of a design studio. Tuckshop was a long time in the planning and construction, almost grown from the ground up as Magnus learnt, and then did, everything himself, from the structural work through to growing the plants; this lends a really organic atmosphere that’s reinforced by trailing foliage and that dizzying lighting. It’s the first of what he plans to be a series of communal, canteen type spaces, here fronting up White Rabbit studios and becoming an extension of the creative offices.

They launched with coffee from Alchemy last year, made by Sam who was previously head barista at Nude, but more recently it could be anything they’ve found and liked. I’ve had a fantastic Newtown filter and a very pleasing Climpson too over the last few months.

Perhaps the best situation for a Tuckshop visit however, is on a weekend brunch with a rumbling belly, as their avocado and poached eggs on toast, served with a wedge of lemon, drizzle of herby oil, mouth tingling chilli and and fistful of rocket is the best I’ve found in London. Soak up the casual ambience, have a banter with the staff or just kick back and keep yourself to yourself.

Just a quick note here as I’ve written about them before, that Dunnefrankowski at Sharps is always worth a visit, always for the coffee and tastings, but also for their rotation of food pop ups. I haven’t tried the latest yet, an intriguing sounding sourdough flat bread offering from Flats with selection of accompaniments, but with their impressive inaugural residency F.A.T. and second of Death By Burrito, they’re yet to get it wrong. I was in just at the weekend whereby I found them hosting The Feta Lab, what is intended to to be a once a month pop-up. I arrive late, unintentionally becoming their very last customer of the day and so am served the dregs, but oh, what very delicious dregs they are. The sort of thing to brighten any morning, delivering notions of sun drenched greek Islands and salty sea breeze. I fully intend to try their shakshuka, and arrive in a more timely fashion next time they’re back.

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Brunch Buns

Brunch is the one meal most of us look forward to the very most, due to a combination of factors, I expect. Rather than a specific time of day, brunch signifies a style of eating that encompasses a feeling of leisure, hence why it’s usually a day-off treat, as well as the type of foods that are usually synonymous. It’s the only meal that allows regression; gives license to eat like a child with adult tastebuds. All the things we want in one meal that are normally rationed, often encompassing sweet and savoury in one fell swoop as is often the case for pancakes and french toast style dishes.

When I think ‘brunch’, what springs to mind are long episodes of pleasurely dining, the constitutes usually consisting of a number of the following; bacon, good sourdough toast, eggs, avocado, condiments, cheese, doughnuts, mushrooms; and always plenty of good coffee, perhaps prosecco or a marmalade martini if I’m feeling that way inclined (usually). Put simply, it’s a feast for the senses, a flavour bomb to the palate, umami to the extreme. It’s usually hearty and carb heavy, not least as brunch is often bedfellow to the hangover.

Here, I wanted to combine all those elements that I crave, to create one ultimate brunch dish. I wanted something punchy, gooey, satisfying and comforting all at once and it was always going to come in bread form; I’m that much of an addict. I have a jar of Freddie’s F.A.T. kimchi sauce that I bought last weekend from the delightful London Borough of Jam, but you could substitute for another hot or pungent sauce to your own tastes. I’m ridiculously pleased with these, they’re exactly the sort of thing I crave when I’m after brunch, but have never been quite able to put my finger on what before; deceptively light and fluffy with a crispy, cheese enhanced crust but with an intensely flavour filled core.

A powerhouse of umami and carbs; I give you the Brunch Bun.

Makes 9 Brunch Buns

300g strong plain flour

200g ’00′ flour

50g melted butter

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons of salt

small piece leaven – about 75g

275ml warm water

7g sachet fast action yeast

100g grated Lincolnshire Poacher (or other cheddar style cheese)

75g n’duja

F.A.T. kimchi sauce (or hot sauce of your choice)

4 spring onions, finely sliced

Stir yeast into the water along with a teaspoon of sugar. Measure out flours into a large bowl. When the yeast mixture is frothy, add the leaven and break down with your fingers so it’s incorporated into the mixture. Add the yeast mixture to the flours, along with the butter and combine, giving a light knead, then return the bowl, cover and leave for around an hour.

Sprinkle the salt on top and work fully into the dough then leave for another hour, folding the dough briefly every 20 minutes.

Roll the dough out into a largish rectangle and evenly dot over the n’duja, sprinkle over the cheese and spring onions and spoon over the hot sauce (I used about half a jar). Take one of the long ends and carefully roll up, then cut into 9 even slices and place in a greased baking tin.

Leave to rest for another 30 minutes. Brush all over the top with a beaten egg and sprinkle with plenty of nigella seeds.

Bake in preheated oven at 220 degrees for around 25 minutes and let cool before removing from the tin.

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8 Hoxton Square, Quality Chop & White Lyan

I’d been keeping an ear to the ground for news on the sister restaurant of 10 Greek Street ever since I heard news that there was to be one. You see, although I quite liked the first, I’d never really warmed to it; not in the way that so many had. I’m not sure if it was the clattery, bustling, market like atmosphere, tiny perchy tables, or the food; that should have been my sort of thing but was just slightly off the mark on the couple of occasions I visited. The best thing I had was an utterly inspired dessert dish of tonic sorbet in a pool of gin that quenched so many thirsts on a sweltering Summers day. Pushing any preconceptions aside, I was more than curious to give the second location a new chance.

8 Hoxton Square is conveniently located just a short stroll from many good places to get a drink; I’m in the vicinity sadly just a smidge too late for a coffee (Macintyre Coffee & Embassy East – that would have been you) but perfectly timed for a second visit to the curious White Lyan; a cocktails bar on Hoxton Street that eschews ice and all perishables and, I think, the only place I’ve ever not ordered off menu. You can’t. The vast majority of the cocktail magic is performed in a couple of hours pre service, so that all you’re presented with as a customer is a bar and  a large fridge filled with pre mixed and diluted potions.

The concept is very love or hate and I’m still not entirely sure which camp I’m in; I love the innovation, it’s exciting seeing a bar operate in such a different way, however you do lose all of the theatre that traditional cocktail making creates. It’s a very clinical space and I actually rather like a lot of the paraphernalia that normally goes hand in hand with cocktails. I’m more than once brought to mind of the emperors new clothes; the room itself is not one I’d choose to inhabit and if there wasn’t a spot at the bar, frankly, I’d move on. However a spot at the bar *is* captivating, as the drinks, though not the making of, are very interesting indeed; there’s a certain danger in having the urge to try one of everything to see how simple descriptions are interpreted. I guess, with a group, you could. The Negroni, for example, works despite no ice and no zest, the only task the bar tender does is to fill the glass with smoke and sulphur from a lit match.

I feel very conscious that once the menu has been exhausted, there’s a danger of the novelty wearing off. I think that ultimately the bar needs to prove there’s method in their madness and legs in this type of menu by making sure they update their selection of drinks regularly to maintain a captive audience.

That said, I had a delecate little drink on Friday, named Pixie Dust (what’s not to love about that right?!) from what is to be their new menu; a combination of vermouth and lemongrass distillate that was enchantingly pretty and all of the dainty.

Now, whilst I was sat at the bar, waiting to meet my friend for our reservation at 8 Hoxton Square, I receive a phone call from said friend to say she couldn’t make it. No biggie; it was due to circumstances out of her control and really wasn’t a problem. However, it instantly changed the dynamics of the evening and highlighted the difference mood can make to an experience, especially after a mood enhancing couple of sharpeners. Ahem. I decide to honour our reservation anyway. Why wouldn’t I? I’ve long been an advocate of solo dining. But, oh! What a difference having that decision taken away makes… Rather than striding in with my head held high, proud to be able to dine alone in this wonderful city, confident of my ability not to crumble without conversion. No, I walk somewhat sheepishly into the restaurant, mutter something about being stood up (what do they care?!) feeling a little bit like a failure. Ridiculous behaviour. Don’t worry, I gave myself a stern talking to the next day.

There’s nothing worse than dining opposite an empty seat and so I request a spot at the bar. The main kitchen bar is downstairs, the one on the ground floor is more of a prep/drinks bar and has admirably large stool tops for my ever expanding behind. Once I have a Negroni to hand I allow myself a glance around the room; it’s as different to 10 Greek Street as two restaurants can be. In my mind, 10 Greek Street is all shiny, white, sharp, tight and screechy (but maybe that was my close proximity to the kitchen, sat before it on both occasions), here is a room that is languid and dark, an abundance of wood  lends a cabin-in-the-woods feel; mellow and inviting. The blackboard menu’s allow the same market vibe, there’s also white washed brick and shiny copper bar tops that mirror the former, but there’s none of the harried, frenetic air, I feel like I can breath; 10 Greek Street allowed to relax perhaps, to breath a sigh of spacious relief.

The service, I find soothing to my bruised spirit, I relax and order a slightly strange list of dishes. Just things that randomly appeal. My plan to share a number of dishes gone with my companion. I’m a slave to all things doughnut and so zepole, an Italian version, scream to me. I’m cruelly rewarded with a pungently salty anchovy filling (fish/seafood being my food nemesis – if I haven’t told you a million times before); my bad for not asking frankly, but they’re whisked from sight and I’m not billed, I certainly would have paid for MY mistake. Instead I nibble on rather good house bread, always a good sign; a bouncy corn bread and moist (sorry) onion focaccia particularly moreish.

I’m so hungry at this point that my small plate of orecchiette with n’duja and cime di rapa is hoovered up at an alarming rate; lovely and comforting; turnip tops (new kale? Seen it adorning many a menu of late….) adding savoury green to the punch of spicy sausage. And when all else fails; steak and chips is generally an easy option. Well, a version of it anyway. Chips here are aggressively salty and give just the right crunch, just the thing for my frame of mind, served with a rich aioli, as is the perfect rendition of venison tartare, topped with truffle and a dwarfed quails egg. It’s worth mentioning here that the wine I’m recommended is just perfect too, I forget now what it was (Hi potent cocktails!) but as with their first, the carefully and very reasonably curated wine menu is as much the draw as the food.

Having made myself comfortable now, I’m in the mood to finish things properly. I’m SO close to ordering the almond and marmalade cake but the bar tender nudges me in the direction of the pavlova with rhubarb and pistachio. Good move. Meringue is just as it should be; exterior shattering to gooey chewy sweetness and the seasonal additions are as delicious as they are pretty. A martini completes my meal and finishes me off in more ways than one.

In the end, once I was in the right mind set, I thoroughly enjoyed my solo meal at 8 Hoxton Square and would err towards dining there alone again. As long as I could guarantee a spot at the bar that is. I’ll definitely be adding it to my growing list of great places to grab a drink (wine or cocktail) and a bite.

Quality Chop House remains one of my favourite London restaurants, but strangely is somewhere I’ve never dined alone; I wonder if there’s any correlation? And yet, I just know that I’d have a fine time alone too, sat at one of the tiny tables at the back of the bar, with my thoughts and a few questions about the wine and the produce, maybe a little banter on their cocktail ingredients or doughnuts.

Having only dined in the bar area previously, with many different combinations of friends and family, and always to utter success, I was feeling less confident about the prospect of a fixed menu, as is the only option when booked into the restaurant, which my friend and I were. I shouldn’t have worried, the meal we had last week was one of the very best I’ve enjoyed in London and the clear choice to take someone that’s sadly leaving the country and had yet to visit.

I’ve written about Quality Chop House in more length previously, almost exactly a year ago in fact, so here’s a quick run through of what we ate for an astounding, just £35 a head plus wine.

Starters, as is common in the restaurant world these days, are simply put but deliver far more than their written words. Two spears of endive arrive unannounced, filled with soft squiggles of cheese and pine nuts; I can’t help thinking a modern alternative to that very retro celery stick. A small plate of wrinkled and folded prosciutto is quickly devoured, a salty morsel to tame our aperitif of choice (clearly; Negroni), this is followed quickly with purple sprouting broccoli sat atop a smear of bagna cauda and draped with heavenly beef lardo. A plate, simply described as ‘carrot, brown butter’ is so astonishing we dip in with disbelief, astounded that carrot could be presented in such different ways, textures and flavours delight from crisply fried through tenderly roasted to brown butter sweet daubes. My friend’s crab on toast is declared another success, as are her optional scallops, but it’s my fish friendly dish of jerusalem artichokes with cheese and bacon that is so wildly delicious it’s in danger of eclipsing anything after it.

Again – I needn’t have worried.

Another undeclared small plate arrives, just because the chef had them and thought we might like. Do we heck?! Our miniature felled forrest is made up of tiny morels stuffed with foie gras parfait. HEAVENLY. We’re stuffed, but our main starts to fill the table; tender slices of Herdwick lamb, leg and breast, sit on a celeriac mash, pearl barley and herbs makes an interesting accompaniment as does a clever little dish of salsify that’s encased in a tapenade wrap and is crisply delicious. You cannot come here and not request the confit potatoes. They’re quite ridiculous. So we have, and those turn up too. It’s sheer merit to the chef that we make it through all that food, wiping plates sparkling clean.

Dessert is another triumph of flavours, textures and temperatures; once more really clever stuff; a cool milk ice cream is paired with a kind of whipped dulce de leche, with chocolate biscuit crumbs, hazelnuts and a pair of intense little chocolate macarons.

If we think we’re done, the two little chunks of posh crunchie are just the right side of decadence and send us on our way feeling spoilt and entirely elated with our meal. Simple honest food, extremely well sourced with unexpected flourishes of brilliance and deftness of cooking that leaves me feeling this has to be one of the best set meals in London right now.

It’s worth mentioning the restaurant’s recent proliferation to the shop spaces next door where they now stock many of the products and produce served in the restaurant. I pop back the following day to pick up another bottle of the wine I’d so enjoyed the night before, a natural Pinot Noir from Alsace that has a light natural spritz and a satisfyingly ripe and fruity flavour. I also bag a little jar of whipped lardo, as you do, who wouldn’t want salty, melty spreadable pig with the texture of a cloud?! A tiny jar of red wine salt, is purchased mainly on merit of it’s colour; PURPLE SALT. Sourdough from Elliots Cafe down at Borough Market is as good as the best in London, I’ve since been back to buy more, an incredibly rich and fudgy slab of hazelnut brownie, French salted butter and that king of cheeses; Tunworth, all become mine. They also sell their doughnuts when the pastry chef decides to make a batch. I, buffoon, did not get one of these. I *did* get some streaky bacon and sated the doughnut craving the next day like this

So, anyway, there you have three, very different, recommendations. And certainly, in the case of the restaurants, a good example of how different an experience you can have, or tailer, to befit your mood and your company.

8 Hoxton Square on Urbanspoon

The Quality Chop House on Urbanspoon

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