Sunday, 18 October 2015

Monmouth Coffee

Monmouth wins every time. Although suitably artisan and undoubtedly trendy, Monmouth is nothing new to the seasoned London coffee connoisseur. Everyone loves Monmouth and if they say they don't then they're only fooling themselves because they feel that they don't want to conform to the coffee cult that has taken over the city. Monmouth does it all for me: it has an inviting cafe to sit in and chat, sells beans that you can take home and ultimately, serves the best iced latte that has ever passed my lips. 


Here are a few shots from the Bermondsey branch. The place to be if you ever find yourself stranded on the wrong side of the river. Monmouth use the drip method and I LOVE IT.

Just look at it. The house blend used at Monmouth never fails me and it is a cup of coffee which is reliably good and always comforting. I am not going to limit this post to just the flat white because to me, Monmouth is so much more than that. The cappuccinos? The iced americanos? The lattes? The ham and cheese swirl pastry? The apple tart? I could go on but you get the picture. It is all delicious. There is a reason why the Covent Garden store is always rammed and the queue down the tiny hall way winds down had of Monmouth Street. You can go in and get overwhelmed by the friendly staff who try and make you taste at least 7 different types of coffee before you end up having to take out a small mortgage once you have settled on trying three different types of Brazilian beans. Oh and whats more- don't worry about the consistency of the beans being that tiny bit to grainy for your aeropress because they ask you how you make your coffee and they grind the beans appropriately. (You can also buy whole beans for all those orthodox coffee fiends).

Monmouth changes lives. Take this boy from Birmingham for example. He had only ever tasted the delights of Nescafe Azera (I am not dissing this because I do have a soft spot for Gold Blend (no shame in that)). I remember his reaction when he had his first sip of the beloved flat white: euphoric. When I first went to university two years ago- I made sure that I had two brown bags of my favourite Monmouth beans to take with me, one of my friends made fun of me for this but for me it is a taste of home.

My summers are marked by the willingness of my dad to buy me a £3.20 iced latte from the Covent Garden shop. The first slurp indicates good times ahead. You can make out in the back of this picture the busy workstation at the back where they lovingly create these coffees. The workers seem dedicated to the art of coffee. It's not just a job- but it's a lifestyle with stripey t-shirts and salt water sandals to match. 

I could go on forever talking about my love of this coffee. If you haven't tried it before. Do it. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Destination: The Breakfast Club, Hoxton

Hoxton. How uncharacteristic of me. Every time I've walked past The Breakfast Club in Soho there has been a ridiculously long queue which I have never been patient enough to wait for, especially when the likes of Princi are waiting just around the corner. So when I found myself in East London this summer it only made sense to pay the Hoxton branch a visit, in the hope that I would finally be able to get a seat. And I did! Let's start with the smoothies.


On the left we have the 'Green is Good'- a spinach, mint, apple and mango smoothie. I've got not other word for this that 'whatever'. If you have a nutribullet you should save your £4.50 and make this at home. On the right is 'The Big Breakfast' which is made up of strawberry, banana, oats, honey, yoghurt and milk. I'm going to be honest with you here... also very whatever. BUT, with that being said, I would say that if you are getting a massive greasy breakfast then a green juice might be the perfect accompaniment. 

Yum. This is good. I got the avocado and poached egg on toasted multi-grain bread with chilli and lime. For me this is probably the perfect breakfast, the combination of crunchy toast, soft avocado and runny egg yolk. I must also mention that my boyfriend got the 'The All American' and the pancakes were deliciously fluffy and flight.

I enjoyed The Breakfast Club and I'm glad that I finally got the chance to try it but I must be honest- this place is ridiculously hyped. The combination of consistently long queues and and innumerable amount of berry pancake pics on instagram was enough to make a curious Londoner like me desperate to go to The Breakfast Club. Yes, it is nice, I won't deny that, but it isn't anything amazing. It's a relaxed place with a chilled out vibe, perfect for brunch with friends but if you are looking for an artisan experience, this is the wrong place for you. The decor is also quirky in a typically standard quirky way- yeah we get it, faces drawn on cups and vintage posters, I bet you also idolise Zoey Deschanel. Woah- it's getting a bit deep now. This review isn't meant to be scathing, I actually enjoyed my experience there and the food was alright, but I'm just been ReAl.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Siddhartha- Hermann Hesse

I stumbled across 'Siddhartha' whilst perusing the India section of Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street and what a find it was. 

The introduction by Paulo Coelho perfectly encapsulates why this story is so appealing to so many people, he puts in a way that is far more eloquent than I ever could: 

'It's simple prose and rebellious character echoed the yearnings of a generations that was seeking a way out of conformity, materialism and outward power. In a world where we could see the many lies of governments and the incapacity of leaders to propose a real alternative, Siddhartha emerged as a symbol; the symbol of those who seek the truth- their own truth.'

Siddartha is a story of discovery and acceptance. He experiences everything, from the discipline of becoming a brahmin, the harsh reality of asceticism, the sensory pleasures of love and attachment. He loses everything, sometimes by choice and sometimes not, all in order to find out what is most important in life. I loved the dream like narrative of the novel and the very human experiences of Siddhartha despite his status as an (on/off) holy man. 

This summer I have been reading through the Buddhacarita by Aśvaghoṣa, a Sanskrit work on the life of the Buddha. Of course, these are completely different works, one depicting and honouring the life of the Buddha and the other following the journey of one of Buddha's contemporaries. But there are obvious parallels between Hesse's 'Siddhartha' and the actual story of the Buddha-apart from the themes of going from home to homelessness, renouncing worldly goods etc, both aim to depict of a journey of discovery. (If this a discovery of the Self or not is debatable.) What I found most interesting is that despite the Buddhacarita being an epic, written in the second century CE and 'Siddhartha' being a work of fiction from the 1920s, I felt far more touched by Hesse's writing. Perhaps this is because I have read too much kavya (for my liking) so wasn't able to connect with the text in the same way that I was able to with the somewhat modern novel, written in a style that is familiar to me.

All of my favourite books have depended entirely on the time and frame of mind that I was in when I read them. I'm so glad that I decided to go downstairs to the travel section of Daunt on that rainy Monday because 'Siddhartha' came to me at the perfect time. 

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Best Flat White in West London

And so the the pursuit for the best flat white continues. I must add a disclaimer here that I have a soft spot for a few of these coffee spots. I love the west end and I love coffee- here's how these overpriced milky coffees fare compared to their east end counterparts.

Let's start with Tap Coffee, just off Oxford street. They have a minimalist wooden interior with a big sink for cold drinks and sandwiches and pastries at the front. An interesting combination of up-cycled objects and wooden slabs. You order your coffee on one side and get given a little playing card as a number so they can bring you your drink or you can go to the takeaway bar on the other side to watch their coffee drips and get your coffee to go. I really like the ambiance of this place and think it's great for going with a friend to chit chat away or take along your laptop and blend in with all the other solo Mac book users who are busy working on their latest internet start up company as they sip on a cold brew coffee. The coffee itself is fine. There is no wow factor for me but it's very drinkable and not acidic at all. A fine flat white. 

193 Wardour Street

Next up is Caravan coffee. A bit tucked away behind Kings Cross Station but a short walk away from Camden Market, Caravan had its own in house roastery. The set up of Caravan is very industrial- the coffee bar is partitioned off from the rest of restaurant with the exposed roastery on the other side, scattered with bags on bags of fresh beans. The price of a flat white here is a bit of a shocker and the size of it is rather small. For some reason everything inside me wanted to dislike this coffee but I just couldn't. I really liked it. Smooth, creamy and rich- my perfect trio. This ticked all of the boxes for me.

1 Granary Square
Price: £2.60

And then we move on to the Monocle Cafe. There are l only two- one on Chiltern Street, just off Marylebone High Street and one in Tokyo. I am particularly fond of the Monocle Cafe, not just because of the All Press beans that they use here but also because of happy memories I've had there. My family and I would go every Sunday before going to the farmers market (which is in a car park and not very glam at all). I also went to the Monocle Cafe the day before I set off to university and I can remember sitting outside with a flat white and a humungo cookie and thinking about how my life would have changed by the next time I would be back there. The cafe is a physical manifestation of all the components that make the Monocle magazine so chic- this place is a haven for monocle readers and coffee lovers alike. Okay, I'm getting a bit carried away here. Back to the coffee. All Press beans are consistently good- they produce a rich flat white, undoubtedly pleasant and a strong staple. 

18 Chiltern Street
Price: £3 (I know... I know.)

So here is my tiny sample of West London's finest flat whites. Taste wise I'm going to say that I enjoyed the Caravan sample the most but in reality I will always go back to the Monocle Cafe because I love the familiarity of the place. But this is not the end! My ULTIMATE favourite flat white deserves a whole post in itself. Watch this space. 

Monday, 14 September 2015

Travel Diaries: Lari, Italy

Lari is a small town in Tuscany which we ended up visiting three times. A quiet enclosed hamlet which gave off a local but welcoming feel, Lari felt a little different to the other Tuscan towns we had visited. 

The houses were crumbling a little and the bricks were worn but this only added to the charm of the place. I loved the colour of this blue door- the old man living inside the building started shouting something when he saw me taking a photo but I have no idea what he was saying.

The view from the town centre in Lari.

I had my favourite coffee that I had in Italy here in this little local cafe. A rich Americano which I ended up adding a little bit of milk and sugar to for the perfect coffee pick me up.

I also got a snack here from this local deli- you go up to the counter and choose what ham or cheese you want and they make a sandwich for you. This set up reminded me a lot of afternoon papa secos that I've had in Portugal. 

Lari is a small and quite secluded town. We were there in September so perhaps it gets busier during the summer months in the peak holiday season but I can't imagine what it must be like to live there. Going to the same couple of shops and restaurants that are open there and seeing the same people every day. We went for dinner in Lari and saw the youth of the town sitting around playing on their phones and riding around on their bikes- even though they live in the most beautiful part of Italy with the rolling Tuscan hills just outside their window, I couldn't help but think that life here might get a little mundane. 

But back to that dinner in Lari.

I started with the warm ewes milk cheese with fig jam and walnuts. Creamy and delicious, the fig jam was a perfect a compliment  to cut through the heavy cheese.

A selection of local Tuscan meats. We were particularly impressed by the fennel salami (don't want to sound like THAT person but Carluccios do a very good fennel salami which my family always get at Christmas time). 

Then I had the spicy tomato spaghetti with ricotta cheese. This cheese was unlike any ricotta I have ever tried before. It doesn't look like much but this spaghetti certainly cleared the sinuses with its hot peppery and chilli sauce. The spaghetti used at this restaurant is made in the pasta factory next door- you can buy this pasta all over Tuscany. 

For the secondi we shared a caprese salad with capers. I can't say that I'm a massive fan of capers, they are a little too salty for me but the mozzarella here was lovely. 

And then for dessert. A warm ricotta and chocolate tart. This was so good but I was reaching bursting point by now from the countless number of courses. I would love to know what modern Italian families eat at home everyday. Surely they can't have a starter, primi, secondi and dessert!? If I lived in Italy I would most certainly be obese because how can anyone resist the overwhelming temptation that comes with Italian food!?

If you are staying in Tuscany then Lari is well worth a visit. There isn't too much to do apart from walk up the castle and look around it but it makes for a nice morning or afternoon visit if you are on the way to Pisa or Volterra. Lari is easy to over look but it felt like the most lived in and homely town we visited.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Travel Diaries: Florence

I've been in Italy for a week now! We're staying in the beautiful Tuscan countryside but have had a couple of day trips to Siena and Florence. I went to Florence with no real expectations and left ictching to go back. The combination of ancient Roman relics, wonky old buildings, unreal food and the hustle and bustle of a modern city drew me in.


Naturally, our first pit stop was at a coffee bar to get a cappuccino and a pastry before we set off to explore the city. 


None of us felt like standing in the heat for three hours to get inside the cathedral so we admired it's beauty from the outside. The architecture in Florence is so completely different from the concrete jungle that I'm used to in London. As a self confessed London lover it felt strange to fall a little bit in love with another city. 

Can anyone really say no to gelato? We tried out this organic gelato shop which made their own fresh waffle cones. I chose a scoop of chocolate&hazelnut and coffee. If I had to describe this gelato in one word it would be: creamy. 

The view from the bridge overlooking the Ponte Vecchio. 

LUNCH TIME! This Frutti Mare spaghetti was delicious. Fresh clams and mussels tossed into fresh pasta with a garlicky sauce- havenly. 

Then to the Uffizi gallery. I've been spoilt by countless trips to the V&A and The National Portrait Gallery as a child so I always feel like I've seen the same artifacts again and again. Going to museums and galleries in other cities is so exciting because you get to see everything for the first time. I fell in love with Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus' and 'Primavera'. I'm not gonna go into pretentious art speak because I'm no art historian but I really did love them. The Uffizi is way to big to conquer in one visit and I didn't get to see the statue of David- so I suppose that means I'll have to make another trip back to Florence at some point.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Destination: DF Mexico

Minimalist black exterior, tiny potted cacti in the window and the smell of Mexican food. A winning combination in my eyes. I hadn't heard anything about DF Mexico but had walked passed it on my way to Nude Espresso and was curious to see what it had to offer. 

On going in you are met with an open plan restaurant, perfect for casual dining. The set up is nandos-esque where you are given a table number and have to go up to the desk to order and pay- the most orthodox of diners might turn their nose up at this style but it's perfect for groups. Once you get to the desk you have the option of ordering yourself on the touchscreen pad which I went for but ended up making so many mistakes that the waitress had to come over and help me anyway (haha). Perhaps this is an example of where technology is more or a hinderance than a help.

Peanut butter is my first love but avocados follow as a close second. So naturally I had to sample the guacamole. Rich, creamy, moreish. But nothing you can't make at home. I did enjoy the corn tortilla chips though, they were on another level to the humble dorito.

I was incredibly greedy on this Sunday evening at DF Mexico but I'm going to use the excuse that I was unbelievably hungover and couldn't stomach anything for the whole day so this was my first actual meal- I don't usually go in QUITE so hard. So we tried the veggie nachos which were the same tortilla chips with refried beans, cheese and spicy salsa. Also nice but you probably only need to go for one of the guac or nachos options  satisfy your tortilla cravings.

I decided to try the chicken burrito with a 'cup of corn'. A rather boring option but I enjoyed it none the less. Lacking the heat which is often found in Mexican food, I had to dowse this in chipotle sauce. It was good but it didn't blow me away. The real winner was the cup of corn. Deliciously salty and flavoursome, the unassuming cup of corn stood out as one of the best things I had that evening. 

Next up were the chicken tacos with a side of cowgirl beans. The tacos were fresh and satisfying but again- nothing insane. The cowgirl beans had a LOT of potential. Beans and chorizo.... What could go wrong? They came out luke warm- lacking in both chilli heat and ACTUAL heat. I wasn't impressed.

One of my favourite parts of the meal was the drinks section. Yeeeees, okay, the refillable drinks theme is also quite nandos-esque but look at this! This reminds me of OLD SCHOOL itsu which used to have these same drinks dispensers. The ice sink and wedges of lime on the side were a nice touch and it's always fun to get involved with your dining experience. I tried all of the drinks and I particularly liked the hibiscus agua fresca. I've never tried horchata before but felt obliged to because 'Horchata' is one of my favourite Vampire Weekend songs. I'm glad I tried it because spiced rice milk is DELCIOUS. Think of masala chai but lighter and icey cold, the perfect after dinner dessert drink.

I enjoyed my trip to DF Mexico and have actually been there since. I won't be running back but it is a fun restaurant with some good food. There is nothing really to me that sets DF Mexico apart from Wahacca (they were both started up by Thomisina Miers). Wahacca has a more extensive menu and there are far more locations around London and the country, I'm sure both restaurants can satisfy the same hankering for Mexican food.

DF Mexico- Hanbury Street, E1 6QR.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Bermondsey Brunch

On Saturday I took a trip down South to Bermondsey to explore Maltby Street Market and Rope Walk. If you're a fan of Borough Market but want to try something a little bit different, this is the place for you. The stalls are little less well known on the London street food circuit and it's the home of wholesale Monmouth and Neal's Yard. An artisan dream.

We started off the food fiesta by trying a hopper. When I was India last month I was obsessed with appom with coconut milk so I was PUMPED to see (the synonymous) hopper on offer. This didn't disappoint. It was light and tangy, sweet and sour, crispy on the edges and soft in the middle. I also had a lot of respect for the girl making them because I definitely couldn't handle the heat of the stove which she made the hoppers on! There is a serious gap in the market for Sri Lankan and South Indian cuisine in the UK. It is so different from the rich and creamy Northern curries which are so popular here. England needs more thalis and dosas. Seriously.

I inherited my love of peanut butter from my mum. I can't live without it. Cut me open and peanut butter runs through my veins. (Ok, slight exaggeration). I have seen this company in a few smaller health food shops but always thought it was quite pricey but there was a special offer if you bought three from the stall so it was a must buy situation.

I needed a fresh juice to combat the endless carbs I was about to consume. I went for the Liza Mintelli- so minty and fresh. I would say £4 for a juice is pretty extortionate though. But this is London and with the right marketing techniques I'm pretty sure you could get a Londoner to pay £12 for an almond croissant.

 I then proceeded to sample on the finest St John's raspberry doughnuts, grilled cheese and homemade Italian ice-cream. After a morning of culinary delights, I rolled back West with a serious food coma.