21 July 2011

Local North London

Tufnell Park, Archway Station, Holloway Road: this is part of what I call home.

A few weekends ago, I tackled the very long walk from Camden Town to Upper Hollway via the route the 134 bus takes North.  Surprisingly the walk actually didn't take as long as I had expected - and it happend to be one of the warmer nights of this lovely London 'summer' season.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I really like the area of North London where I live, because it boasts a sense of community with shops for the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.  During this walk home, that realisation became even more apparent as I walked past joiners, and dry cleaners and places that sold everything you need for a home including the kitchen sink.

I find it really impressive that businesses like this can exist in a world of ASDAs, B&Qs and Primarks. Once this blog becomes a bit more established I'd like to interview the owners of these businesses and see how they feel about owning a local shop in a globalised city.  (It's good to write your goals out, right? That means you'll actually do them!)

If you are a local business owner in the Northern London area and you would like your business featured on this blog feel free to get in contact with me. I'm really interested to hear and share your stories!

20 July 2011

Central London - Covent Garden - The Real Greek


On a sunny (yea, I'm surprised as well) weekend afternoon in London, some friends and I met up in Covent Garden for a much overdue lunch.  I don't typically go out of my way for Greek food as it doesn't fit my Chinese or Italian obsession, but we landed at The Real Greek.

As expected in Central, it was quite busy from the moment you walked through the door. Not that there was an overflowing amount of restaurant-goers jumping at the chance to go to The Real Greek - but because the two or three servers couldn't keep up with their tables.  It's not exceptionally large inside, and the seating arrangement feels more like a big family dinner where you share your tables with distant cousins and crazy uncles.

It took us about 5 minutes to read through the menu and decide what we wanted for lunch.  It took the staff about 25 minutes to finally take our order.  The portions were served in a tapas style, with smaller plates that could potentially be for sharing - lending more to that feeling of a large family dinner. As they are cramped for space, the servings are brought out as plates on a tall rack rather than several plates that will further clutter the table.

Dishes ranged from about £4 - £7 each, so if you have a big appetite and a small budget make sure you go with a larger group so you can share each other's portions. I ordered a red pepper and feta dip with pita, some olives and a pork skewer. I may not be the best judge of Greek cuisine, but the best thing I had that afternoon was the £14 carafe of rose we ordered.   The olives were far too salty, the skewer (yes £5 for one small skewer) had lost all of the juicy qualities that meat should have, and you could barely taste the feta in the dip.  At home I frequented a place called The Happy Greek only for their delicious red pepper and feta dip: Kopanisti. The Real Greek's version did not deliver on my expectations.

I'm not one to dine in Central, and it did feel a bit more like a chain restaurant which is another disadvantage for most of my dining experiences.  I more than likely wouldn't come here again for a meal, definitely not for an intimate meal as there isn't much privacy.  I feel I keep finding places that don't impress me, so I'm not trying to be a Debbie Downer.  However, I do feel that Greek food should burst with vibrant flavours that is as colourful as their dishes - and £15 later, that just didn't happen for me at The Real Greek.

The Real Greek can be found at:

60-62 Long Acre
London
WC2E 9JE
Nearest Tube: Covent Garden

www.therealgreek.com/coventgarden.html

Real Greek Souvlaki & Bar on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

16 July 2011

Central London - Fitzrovia - 三峡人家 (SanXia RenJia)

I have a weird obsession with Chinese food. I'm not sure where or why it started but I have some form of pork, noodles and/or rice at least twice a week.  Because, I love it so much, I'm very particular on how it's taste. Some people love the Chinese food in London's Chinatown, but I always feel like I'm eating something cooked in dirty bath water! I tend to prefer the shops that are a bit outside of Central, but I have been surprised before.

My office is on Tottenham Court Road, in the heart of tourist trap London so we have our fill of fast food and chain restaurants in the area. If you head a bit North, to Fitzrovia, Goodge Street pours over with smaller establishments and a variety of flavours.  As Chinatown is quite close to my office, I wasn't too keen on trying any of the places nearby - assuming they would taste like Chinatown restaurangs. One day I finally made the leap!

There are two Chinese restaurants on Goodge Street: one that has a buffet and where everything is written in Chinese characters. I went for the one that was written, 三峡人家 (San Xia Ren Jia). My little bit of Mandarin told me that said, '3', 'something about a mountain', 'a person' and I didn't know the last character. (Google translate says '3 gorges? wtf!?)

Inside, it tends to be a relaxed atmosphere.  There are large, circular tables, great for sharing dishes when you're in a big group. The rest of the building is an open plan, so it's not a very intimate setting for those looking for a quiet date.  The menu is about a million pages long.  I've read it a few times and I still dont see my standard Pork Chow Mein on the list. No worries, I ordered it anyhow and it was still prepared.

As I was on my lunch break, I was in a bit of a rush (I don't have actual lunch breaks, I work straight through them most of the time).  It took about 10 minutes, but that was an acceptable wait.  The food tasted exactly how I wanted so it passes my Can You Make Pork Dishes? test. My only problem was that for £5.50 it was a fairly small serving. I get a delivery from Crouch End that can feed me for three days on £5.50!

San Xia Ren Jia does offer student discounts and special menus during lunch, so perhaps it finds its value in portions with those special offers.  It is also a Karaoke Bar and from it's menu, it proclaims to have bubble tea! We all know how much I love bubble tea. :) They weren't offering it when I went there so I'm not sure if that's still true. Their style of cooking is self-described as 'Authentic Szechuan, Cantonese & Hunan Cuisine'.

As there is a lack of Chinese restaurants that I like in Central, I have and will continue to go there. I just hope I can get some bubble tea soon, and maybe about 33% more food in my takeaway box!

SanXia RenJia can be found at:

29 Goodge Street
London
W1T 2PP
Nearest Tube: Goodge Street

www.sanxia.co.uk

Sanxia Renjia on Urbanspoon





11 July 2011

SPOTTED - Street Art - Brick Lane

I'm not one for talking about art or pretending I know anything about it - but when I stumbled upon this in Brick Lane I was nothing but smiles.  Even in the ever-so-hungover state that a night in East London can put you in...

It took 28 years, but I found Sesame Street!

What random street art have you found in London that put a smile on your face?

02 July 2011

North London - Camden Town - Chaboba

Well friends, here we are again. I seem to be on a quest to find as many bubble tea shops in London as I can. Unfortunately, Bubbleology was not the shiny treasure chest of bubble tea that its PR has made them out to be.

You know, Twitter is a lovely place, I find. Just when I was weeping into my over-priced, and incorrect bubble tea order from before, I received this tweet:


Well, it just so happens that I in fact love bubble tea and live near/love Camden Town! Sounds perfect! I was a bit weary as I had been fooled by friendly tweets from brands that didn't deliver in-store before.  However, I am happy to say, that Chaboba's Twitter account is just as lovely as the Mango milk tea I ordered!

Walking through the stables market in Camden Town is a great way to spend an afternoon in London.  If you have a lot of time on your hands you can get lost in the hundreds of stalls.  Although, it's a good thing that I have been to the stables so many times, otherwise I might have completely missed Chaboba.  Even with the address given and using Google Maps, to someone that's walking through the market for the first time, they would completely miss Chaboba. Just after you cross the bridge near the market, there's a small walkway along the canal.  Turn left here, and climb the stairs to the building on your right. Chaboba is tucked away waiting for you to discover its deliciousness.

When I finally stumbled upon Chaboba I was surprised by the size of the location. I think I was expecting more of an indoor cafe, as atmosphere is equally important for my bubble tea experience as is the tea itself. Luckily it's surrounded by all of the beautiful shops that make Camden Town the awesome location it is today, so there is no lack of great atmosphere here.  

Outside, someone was offering samples of bubble tea to other market-goers and tourists. I may be generalising a bit, but nothing makes me laugh more than British people being confused by the concept of something called 'tea' that isn't PG Tips + milk. 'What is that? TEA? Really?!' Teehehe, silly Brits. :)

Inside, in comparison to the other bubble tea location I sampled which was very busy and showy when it came to the interior design and service, Chaboba relishes in simplicity and minimalism. I like that; no gimmicks, no begging to be accepted as something 'hip' and 'cool' just simple and delicious bubble tea.

Chaboba's simple design

Chaboba offers a variety of flavours in their Milk, Fruit and Crush Bubble Teas where the Crush is a smoothie type version.  They also offer hot teas and snow ice, but my next visit will most certainly include a taste of the Bubble Waffle.  I have no idea what to expect but it sounds amazing!

I have two go-to flavours when it comes to my bubble tea: it's always a milk tea and it's either Mango or Almond.  I was a bit heartbroken when I didn't see Almond milk tea on the list so I hope that's coming soon guys! At the end of the day, I can't complain much about Chaboba at all.  I had a satisfying mango drink, with decent tapioca pearls (they were a bit on the small side) for an acceptable price.  

I was getting a photo of the logo but just realised I captured my order as well!

Would I go there again? Most certainly and it's not just the great tea and the fact that I love Camden that will bring me back. Hats off to the team (or person) running their social media accounts.  I have to say, you are doing brilliantly and not many brands get it right.  You deliver your message well both online and in-store.  Your friendly encounters, fun banter and constant awareness of what's being said about bubble tea online has certainly gained you a new loyal customer and I'm sure others will follow.

Chaboba can be found at:

8 East Yard
Camden Lock
London
NW1 8AL


UPDATE 11 JUL 11:

I returned to my beloved Chaboba over the weekend to introduce my friend to Bubble Tea. We both enjoyed it and I''m glad I've shared it with someone new. I didn't go for the bubble waffles like I planned, but I  DID try popping boba's in my tea.  This was the first time I had them and it is seriously like a party in your mouth.  They literally pop when you eat them! Popping bobas have changed my life and are a new staple in my bubble tea now! :)

Mango milk tea with tapioca pearls and lychee popping bobas!!

INTERESTED - East London - Rooftop Film Club Queen of Hoxton

A few months back, a fellow American ex-pat friend of mine posted a flyer on Twitter for an outdoor film experience in London.  Where better to drench yourself in the memories of drive-in theatres and double feature films that shaped most summer nights growing up in the States, than in trendy, revival city of everything that once was, Hoxton/Shoreditch. Enter, the Rooftop Film Club located on the rooftop of the Queen of Hoxton.

Annoyingly, London hasn't lent itself to many outdoor-appropriate days this summer, so I haven't made much of an effort to visit. Not to mention, tickets seem to be hard to come across as it only seats 100 people - the entire month of July is already sold out.

The Rooftop Film Club includes classics such as The Goonies, Big, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Coming to America and Casablanca this month and tickets are £9 + a booking fee. I'm quite interested to check out this rooftop film experience and see how it compares to my childhood drive-ins. I think that watching movies outdoors makes the film more interactive and I can just imagine the crowd shouting together 'Hey You Guys!' singing along to 'Moon River' or even better yet (and possibly depending on the number of Americans present) tossing our locks to 'Soul Glo'.

I'm not sure what the Rooftop Film Club has in store for August, but I'll try my best to get a ticket and come back with a review.

Swimming with this Mermaid