Northern Powerhouse!

Samuel Johnson, writer, journalist and critic is credited with the quote

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

I wondered what Dr Johnson, as he was also known would have made of the regeneration and transformation of the great Northern city that is Leeds.

Anecdotaly I’ve heard that discerning global shoppers now shun London and make Leeds their first port of call when visiting the UK. It’s not hard to imagine why. An airport that’s close to the city with ease of transit through it on your return, with terminal departures area to gate in less than 10 minutes!

On every visit there’s something new, this time it’s a John Lewis department store to compliment the plethora of shopping malls. The retail scene catering for all tastes from the budget to high end.

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The Victoria Arcade is one of my favourites which could easily rival even the most exclusive Jermyn or Bond Street offerings, with classy jewellers, bespoke shoes and a Vivienne Westwood boutique to name but a few!

Leeds also has a huge amount to offer the discerning foodie. On a previous visit I posted a review of the Crafthouse restaurant which blew me away.

I’ve blogged before about the renaissance of the independent coffee shop in the face of the colonisation of high streets by Costabucks. Leeds is no exception. A little research led me to Laynes Espresso on New Station Street.

With a cool vibe and range of brew methods to show off their range of coffees plus some awesome breakfast offerings (shame I’d already eaten at T5!) this place rocks.

I go for the single origin El Sunzita from El Salvador by Stockholm based Drop Coffee Roasters. Brewed with the Classic V60, a nice touch is the tasting coffee mats which they hand scribe with tasting facts for the single origin that you are drinking! Indeed their insights are spot on with notes of milk chocolate sweetness, apple acidity and nuts!

Leaving the hipsters at Laynes behind I go in search of the new redeveloped south side of Leeds. Inside the Vue cinema complex called The Light I find La Bottega Milanese.  An authentic Milanese style espresso bar serving Italian pastries and amazing Piadina (Italian Flatbread) toasted sandwiches. Here they not only sell a range of coffee beans but also the kit to brew it with from the stylish Aeropress to the Classic V60.

Before leaving the city there is just time to take in a quick early dinner at Pintura, an authentic  Basque style Pinxto restaurant. The place is fairly quiet as it’s only 5pm so I opt to sit up at the counter and start chatting with Jimmy the chef.

Going with his recommendations I choose three small dishes, his colleague recommends three sherry pairings which set off the three dishes nicely!

Pulpo Salpicion

A delicious pickle of Octopus, Peppers, Onions with Sherry Vinegar. A real sweet and sour surprise with the octopus al dente.

Served with a bone dry Williams and Humbert Manzanilla with the saltiness that compliments this seafood dish.

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Brochette de Queso Y Jamon

Intensely rich and buttery Iberica Ham with a hard tangy Goat’s cheese

Served with a Williams and Humbert Palo Cortado 20 year old.  A great fusion of sweet and savoury to compliment the contrasting flavours in the brochette.

Chistorra

Tiny small but spicy chorizo sausages fried on the plancha grill.

Served with a full treacle like and rich Williams and Humbert Pedro Ximenez (PX) 20 year old that total handles the chilli heat and enhances the sweetness of the chistorra.

 

I just have enough room to squeeze in a…..

Mousse de Chocolate

Divine and sublime Valrhona chocolate in a rich mousse topped with a chocolate crumb

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Served with a Williams and Humbert Sweet Old Oloroso, 15 year old semi sweet so as not to cloy with the chocolate and yet enhancing it at the same time.

I’m transported back from San Sebastian to reality as my taxi driver calls to say he is outside! He whisks me  back at the airport in time for a quick look around the Duty Free before boarding the flight back to London eagerly anticipating my next visit to Yorkshire!

 

 

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There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (or Coffee)

I was purchasing a rather delicious and indulgent White Chocolate Mocha at My Cloud Coffee recently and the topic of loyalty cards came up. I just couldn’t believe that there are people out there who would want to commit to doing anything to preserve their Costabucks VIP Gold Card.

As I sat down and savoured my hot beverage I cast my mind back to a dramatic scene in BBC1’s fine adaptation of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” in which the central character, Pierre is imprisoned. He was a man of wealth and used to fine dining but now famished and in dispair in a prison cell. A fellow inmate at the opposite end of the social spectrum took pity on him and shared his last food ration, a humble potato. As Pierre is about to eat the half a potato in a single mouthful, his sage like friend, encourages him to pause, he hands him some salt and encourages him to take small bite size pieces to savour the taste.

The reality is that in our consumer driven world of slick marketing and shiny aspirational lifestyle choices, it seems brand trumps substance. Many of us have, like Pierre have forgotten to pause and actually taste what we are drinking or eating. There’s no denying that the pace of life is relentless and whir of the treadmill constant, yet we may just be able to bring a significant incremental pleasure to our days by just putting a little more thought into what we are consuming.

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I’m also of a certain age where I can no longer just get away with consuming half a dozen or so “Latachinos” in a day without there being a serious calorie overload. I do enjoy a good smooth espresso or a flat white so for me, if I’m restricting myself to just a few coffees a day then I want to make sure that they’re really good ones rather than just tasteless synthetic cardboard versions of the real thing!

So back to the loyalty schemes. How on earth have we got to a stage where consumers are prepared to pre pay upfront for an inferior product to maintain some sort of “status”, when there really is no intrinsic value to that status! What’s more if you only ever drink Costabucks coffee , you will be massively missing out on the huge variety of roasts and blends on offer from the growing number of independent coffee shops that are out there fighting back to give us diversity and choice.

Let’s learn to taste, dare to be different and next time we want a coffee, forget about loyalty cards and instead settle for the greater reward of a fantastic coffee that tastes amazing!! 

Tea for Two

It seems that people have a preference for either tea or coffee as their beverage of choice. The drivers for this can vary. For example I think my Clipper breakfast tea in a bag makes a pretty good cuppa but I’ve never really been satisfied with any kind of instant coffee and don’t really have the patience to use an espresso machine at home. Instead, I reserve my coffee drinking for those wonderful independent coffee shops that I’m discovering all over the South East. Increasingly if I can’t get a good independent brew then I’d rather abstain than waste money on a Costabucks.

By contrast I often find tea to be a disappointing choice of hot beverage. It seems that even in coffee shops that pride themselves on procuring the best beans with the finest roast that when it comes to tea it often feels like the tea is the neglected child! A recent notable exception was My Cloud Coffee, see my recent post.

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Orange Pekoe Tea Shop and Cafe, Mortlake

Against this gloomy background for discerning tea drinkers I recently discovered a joyous beacon of light in the form of Orange Pekoe, an exceptional tea shop just a stones throw from the Thames Path between Mortlake and Barnes in South West London.

If you feel like indulging in a traditional afternoon tea and don’t want the formality of stuffy white tablecloths but do want top notch China teas served in fine bone china cups and saucers then this is the place to head to. At 4pm on a Sunday the place was packed so we opted to al fresco it due to the unseasonably mild weather.

We opted for the cream tea; served with clotted cream as you’d expect but not always guaranteed by some establishments, don’t you just feel cheated when it’s whipped double cream! Scones were fruity, warmed and on the right side of moist. They also have an excellent selection of cakes and if you go for the full monty afternoon tea, served on an impressive cake stand to add a sense of occasion.

Feeling peckish I was also seduced by the chicken salad brioche roll with red cabbage slaw, delicious!

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But the real star is the tea. I opted for the Earl Grey. Arriving at our table correctly infused so that additional stirring was not required, this was a blend of fine black China tea with a noticeable robust tang of Bergamot. This was an Earl Grey with gumption! So enjoyable that I wanted to finish the generous three cups that the pot yielded. 

The perfect tea for two!

My Perfect Park Pit Stop

Followers of this Blog will know that I’m a champion of the independent coffee shop, valiantly fighting to reclaim our high streets and squares from those providers of homgeneous sanitised banal liquids also know as Costabucks coffee!

It’s also no secret that the independent coffee movement has gathered steam in our capital , thriving in the metrosexual creative environments of Shoreditch and the like.  It seems that the further one travels from EC1 the further the  incidence of these outlets diminishes!

I was recently tipped off about a new outlet close to where I live on the edge of Windsor Great Park. When the weather’s less inclement I often enjoy getting out on my bike or for a run so it was a real bonus to find this oasis of independent goodness on my doorstep.

My Cloud Coffee located between the villages of Sunningdale and Sunninghill and close to Ascot is a family run affair with husband and wife team of Kate and Richard ably asisited by sons Dominic and Christian.

Christian prepares a flat white!

Christian prepares a flat white!

These guys are serious about the beverages they serve and unusally for a coffee shop the same care and attention is applied to all their beverages, not just the coffee!

The Loose Leaf Tea Selection

The Loose Leaf Tea Selection

Coffee is sourced from Square Mile Coffee Roasters one of the best independent roasters in the UK.  The espresso I had was smooth and fruity, without the bitterness associated with an abused and over roasted bean! I’ve yet to try the Chai tea but just smelling the fragant leaves I was instantly transported to the sub Continent a world away from where I was!

If hot chocolate’s your thing on a chilly winter’s day then this place will blow you away! They prepare their version with whole chocolate chips and the resulting rich mix is the height of indulgence!

Backed up with a selction of pastries and cakes including gluten free options, this place is a real find and with seven day a week opening,  8-6:30pm Mon-Sat and 10am-4pm on Sunday, I’m sure it wont be long before I’m back again!

7 Silwood Road, Ascot, SL5 0PY. 📞01344 620234

Lavelli Bakery – Acton Central – More Than Just a Bakery!

The day job has really been getting in the way of the Blog so I’ve resolved to try to get at least one to two posts out a week. I was recently on Route to Hammersmith Hospital and had to changed at Acton Central to take the 70 bus! I’m so glad I did. Just outside the station is the Lavelli Bakery. An artisan bakers that also does a wicked line in French patisserie and an OK flat white!

Followers of this Blog will know that I’m becoming seduced by the wonderful array of independent coffee shops in London and whilst the place doesn’t quite cut it in the coffee department it more than makes up for it in other areas.

A fresh selection of French pastries is available to tempt you with calorie laden croissant filled with almonds and or chocolate – I picked up a chocolate, almond and marzipan croissant to take away and a really sticky and nutty florentine with a hint of ginger to have with my signature flat white.

The Florentine

The Florentine

With a selection of Artisan breads for sale and a great choice of breakfasts including omelettes and poached eggs its the perfect place to breakfast or brunch or break your journey on the Overground.

Outside seating area at Lavelli Bakery, Churchfields Road, Acton Central

Outside seating area at Lavelli Bakery, Churchfields Road, Acton Central

Inside you’ll find tasteful furnishings and an original brick fireplace. Outside there is decking and some tables and chairs so if you like your breakfast or your espresso al fresco then this is the place for you! You might just have to squeeze in a visit before we loose the last of the autumn sunshine.

Real Patisserie – It’s the Real Thing!

I really envy the residents of Kemp Town, Brighton. The district has always had a hip and metrosexual feel about it but in the last few years it’s also become for me the epicentre of all that’s great in food and wine in Brighton.

It boasts a great butchers, an eclectic wine merchants, and a heavenly French styled bakery the Real Patisserie .

Everytime I’m working down in Brighton any thoughts of a healthy low carb lunch go out of the window as I drive down St. George’s Rd and I start to salivate at the thought of what delicious treats are in store for me that day.

I had resolved to Blog about this iconic gem 2 months ago before my last food and wine trip but events overtook me as they do. On that occasion I had a delicious salmon, leek, egg and tomato tart.

Salmon And Leek Tart

Salmon And Leek Tart

These are always served on little wooden board and there’s a small benched seating area where you can dine communal style.

Yesterday I was seduced by the courgette, mushroom, bacon and Brie Tart.

Courgette and Brie Tart

Courgette and Brie Tart

The pastry as always was rich and crisp, the filling goey but with an al dente bite from the courgette and a wonderful savoury flavour!

Apart from their selection of Tarts and Quiches, they offer a selection of Croque Monsieurs (my favourite is the mushroom and spinach with truffle oil) using their own French style baked bread, pizzas, sausage rolls and a vast range of patisserie and pastries.

Of note is their legendary chocolate and almond croissant that are unsurpassed by anything I have ever found in France and worth the 1 hour and 20 minute drive to Brighton on a weekend on their own!

The Bread Selection!

The Bread Selection!

Then there’s the selection of breads which range from multi grain, to rye and caraway and to chewy white, not forgetting their traditional sourdough and baguettes.

If that really inspires you to want to get creative in a home baking way, you can even join one of their monthly Sunday bread making courses, details available on the weblink above. They are great fun and good value at £60 per person including lunch.

The Real Patisserie, once bitten forever smitten!

Fair Trade Coffee with Argentinian Style!

Tamp Coffee located just of the Chiswich High Road is one of the best sort of coffee shop discoveries, serendipitious! A few weeks ago while on the way to meet some friends for dinner in Turnham Green Terrace we stumbled across this real gem. A great atmosphere with seating inside and out. The staff are really friendly but not intrusive and you can feel just as relaxed drinking a coffee on your own as with others.

They take their coffee seriously, looking at their blend and striving for continuous improvement. If you’re taking a morning pick me up and want a little sugar fix to go with it, they do a lovely selection of bite size treats that allow you to indulge without consuming a zillion calories! It’s like the reverse principle of the supersize and it’s all about taste!

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So down to the coffee. The current blend is 100% Ethiopian , called Dumerso, and is grown at high altitude, approx 2000m above sea level. It delivers a really silky rich tasting flat white that’s served in just the right size cup!

Saving the best to last! Do try to visit after 11am if you want to try their Empandas! These delicious little parcels of Argentinian goodness are their stock in trade , last time I was here I had the chicken.

The Chiswick High Road is festooned with branded coffee chains but none of them is worth a look, so if you are in this neck of the woods , give Tamp a try! You won’t regret it!

The Borough Barista – Brilliant Beverages!

If you’re passionate about quality and taste in food and drink, just the simple act of finding a really great coffee shop can sometimes seem like a real mission when you are in our fabulous capital city that is London town.

I think the irony of this situation would not have been lost on the forerunners of this Blog, like Dr Johnson, who frequented the coffee shops of our city to pick up stories and create news.

It seems that the high streets, squares and piazzas of our fair city have become colonised with the mediocrity of the Costabucks variety. Yet independent coffee shops are fighting back more valiantly than ever before! Introducing even the least discerning coffee drinker into the heady and rather addictive world of bespoke blends!

This in itself is a good enough reason to seek out these little oases in an otherwise barren coffee landscape but some of these establishments also have a great sense of community and the heritage associated with both the coffee shop and the barista that staff them!

Tim Bloxsome, co-founder of The Borough Barista is one of these. I spoke to Tim to ask him what the inspiration was for his hedonistic “house blend”. He told me that it all came down to working out what his customers really wanted in terms of taste and that many took their coffee with milk. The roast is key here, with Tim specifying around 12/13 minutes between first and second crack to achieve a heady dark roast that yields flavours of caramel and chocolate. I have to say that this style really suits their flat white which is a “showstopper”!

I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll want to stop drinking the bland versions of this antipodean classic available from Costabucks and Nero once you’ve been seduced by this exotic beauty!

So here’s the magic formula that makes up the current “house blend”.

House Blend,

50% Brazil

15% Panama

20% Peru

5% Sumatra

10% Uganda

And if you’re feeling a little peckish on your visit I can thoroughly recommend the Toasted Ciabtta with Chicken, Advocado, Tomato, and Basil. It’s got great texture and taste and avocado takes on a different flavour when warmed in the panini toaster!

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In my interview with Tim, I asked why he thought antipodean independent coffee shops were making such a positive impact in the UK and specifically London. The reasons he believes are three fold: Australia has a rich diaspora of people from native coffee drinking countries like Greece and Italy.

This brings a different kind of heritage to what we have in the UK. With this comes the respect and status of the barista which is seen as much as a career in the food business as the professional waiter in a Parisian restaurant. Finally, in Australia the coffee shop is seen as a melting pot where everyone is equal, a kind of leveller that used to be commonplace in the English pub.

Maybe it’s the combination of these three components combined with an inspired roast that makes this the jewel in the crown of St. James’ coffee shops!

The Coffee Jar – Camden Parkway

After a brief bit of shopping in Camden today we spotted The Coffee Jar , a lovely independent coffee shop. Monmouth roast is the blend they use, always a great place to start! I went for the signature “flat white” which hit the spot after being slightly soaked by the Bank Holiday rain. If you’re feeling really indulgent try one of their homemade granola bars!

Salted Caramel Granola

Salted Caramel Granola

I tried the salted caramel one which was rich and fruity and full of goodness! It’s no surprise this place makes it Continue reading