A visit to Foxcroft & Ginger – east side

Foxcroft and GingerEven though we’ve been to the Museum of Childhood quite a few times (fascinating for me, not actually that much for a two year old to do except run around like a loon but that’s fine) I hadn’t done that much exploring with Sproggett past the local park and the overground station. Bethnal Green Gardens has the advantage of having not one but two train lines run past it so you can keep a toddler happy there for ages. But if you do wander just a few minutes further…

I’m a big fan of Foxcroft & Ginger‘s original outpost on Berwick St. They have a new site on Mile End Road, enormous with a gallery/co-working space upstairs. I loved the industrial styling and it’s got a great relaxed atmosphere. Or it did until these two rocked up, hah!

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I went along with my friend Laura and her two lovely little ones and I have to say that the staff were extremely friendly, doing everything they could to get us settled in. From the picture you’ll notice see we had two tiny perpetual motion machines with us so it was a more fleeting visit that I would have liked, but that’s kind of what happens with kids in tow. I’m hoping it’s just a phase for them I have to admit to being in the camp who sooner have a shorter more enjoyable time somewhere than linger and let them run riot.

Highchairs were offered, although only the youngest member of the party was obliging enough to get into one, then crayons and colouring sheets arrived rapidly to placate the terrible twosome.

The standout thing that would make me run back there at speed is the Blood Orange and Chocolate Ganache cake, which has the added benefit of being gluten free. It’s like a divinely upmarketed cakeified Jaffa Cake. The coffee was great too. All the pastries, cakes and breads are made fresh daily at their Soho location.  I wished we’d been there at lunchtime because the sandwiches we saw looked packed full of fresh ingredients and I know their bread is fab.

IMG_1266They’re doing a special offer on Monday-Fridays, quote ‘Yummy Mummy’ for a coffee and a filled croissant, or coffee and cake for £4.50. When I was pregnant, I would have haunted the place, and with a bub asleep in a buggy, it would be a great place to hang out. I think when Sproggett and his mates are older, and more likely to sit with a book or toy, I’d definitely spend more time there.

Staff were happy to split up juice so that we could water it down for the kids – would be great to have plastic beakers for little ones too. They’ve got a kids menu and they’ll size down items from the regular menus for smaller tums too.

We’ll definitely go back, I imagine that weekend brunches are pretty special. Then it’ll be over to the park to watch trains, trains and more trains.

Foxcroft and Ginger2
Foxcroft & Ginger, Whitechapel, 69-89 Mile End Road, E1 4TT – thanks for inviting us to visit!

How to do Westfield with a toddler


I have to admit that since having a small tyrant person on board, the whole retail experience has become somewhat different. When they are tiny it’s sling them in a sling or pop them in the buggy, and as long as your destination has changing facilities, it’s all pretty simple. You can still eat, shop, and baby cinema is awesome until they are at the crawling stage!

However, once they are mobile it can be a whole different ballgame. To keep everyone happy (him, us, the general public) try to think ahead for days out and plan it a little. We’ve found that Westfield is particularly family friendly and the east London one is near us. We usually tend to head for the “John Lewis end” ie the opposite end to the station. This is how we handled a recent day – ie 3.5 strategically spent hours – at Westfield Stratford City.

1. Timings

P1050711 Get there early. Turns out that Westfield is indeed open at 9:00 on a Saturday (I thought it was 10:00) and this extra hour of bimbling about is invaluable. At 19 months, Sproggett likes nothing better than to leg it off into the distance, which was fine when it was empty and it helped to burn off a little energy. The guy in the Phones 4U shop was also very patient as Sproggett spent ten minutes cooing and pointing at all the handsets, because the store was still empty.

2. Travelators

Again, this works if you’re there first thing before it gets busy. Take child’s hand firmly. Do the roundtrip of the travelators 8-10 times for pure child glee – while staying out of other people’s way, obviously. Like getting there early for exploring, this uses up some extra energy. If there are two parents or carers, one of you does this while the other sorts out the vehicle.

3. Transport

P1050720Like a lot of things pre-baby, I kind of wondered if those little car trolley things were really necessary. Answer – possibly not necessary but definitely a nice to have. It costs £6 to hire a Kiddy Car for a day, plus a £2 returnable deposit. Ample shopping bag and coat storage space too. Before I’d finished filling in the forms, Sproggett was ensconsed and pretending to be Jensen Button. Easier to steer than you’d think but do remember to take the brake off (doh).

4. Pitstop meals

Following on the Formula 1 theme, we have mostly given up leisurely brunches (so no Balan’s this trip) in favour of quick treats along the way. At 19m it’s difficult to keep him in a seat for too long so this works better. We started with coffee, and for Sir, a pain aux raisins from Grind, or ‘my Stratford office’ as we know it because I often have meetings here.

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It’s a very decent indie Kiwi coffee shop that roasts its own beans. I have frequent daydreams about their halloumi salad from the lunch menu. Child is brandishing one of their loyalty cards – eight drinks and the ninth is free, and they also offer a smartphone loyalty card. P1050744

 

I bloody love Pinkberry. The original flavour was the only thing I genuinely craved when I was pregnant, and that was our end of shopping stop-off. Obviously we spoiled the vaguely healthy vibes by adding peanut squidgy delicious stuff. Shopping can be tiring, you know? There’s a Pinkberry loyalty card in my wallet too. (it’s not the first, frankly)

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Just before we left, we stopped by Japan Centre to pick up fresh sushi to take away, as it was nearing nap time. I wanted to buy the amigurumi needle felting kits too – they sell everything!

5. Targeted shopping P1050730 P1050731 P1050732

First stop, Foyles, which happens to be right by Grind. In fact one of you could still be finishing your coffee while the other one moseys on in with the kid… it has a lovely Children’s Department, complete with a cosy corner to sit in and soft toys to keep you company while you try out the books. Again, grab their ‘Foyalty’ card to earn points on your spend.

We bought some lovely board books including the brilliant A Deal’s A Deal, from the amazing Stephanie Blake who also wrote Poo Bum, a current favourite.

Next pop by Playworld, a small indoor playground which is a fun diversion for a few minutes, for kids under 5. After that, it was Mothercare and one of my favourite kids clothing stores, Polarn O Pyret.

We have bought, borrowed and been gifted various pieces from their layerable winter ranges and it’s great quality. I also like that they use lots of bright colours in supercute designs suitable for boys or girls.  Plus they have a train track in the store for kids to play with while parents browse. Look at the beary trousers for tinies! P1050725

 

 

 

Compact

Given that a lot of the kids’ stores are on the ground floor at the same end of the centre, it’s easy to pop into a few in a relatively short space of time and without any sign of a toddler meltdown at all (ie our definition of a very successful shopping trip.)  There’s a number of toy shops, and when Sproggett is older, I imagine that he and his Dad will be spending more time in the Lego store!

In short, Westfield works really well for us when we’re going shopping as a family (and the parent rooms, with changing and feeding facilities including separate rooms for breastfeeding, are really useful, and there are similar amenities in John Lewis). And it’s not just because I can get my Pinkberry fix.

 

Disclosure: We were invited to visit by Westfield but the review is entirely my own opinion.

Fancy making real bread?

There’s a community project afoot near us, that is tantalisingly close to get funded… The Hornbeam Bakers Collective are a couple of hundred pounds away from their £3000 total. They’re building an oven in new premises near Blackhorse Road in east London and will be running a number of bread-making classes:

Hornbeam Bakers Collective

Basic loaf, Shaping breads, Speciality Breads, Sourdough Breads, Special Diets Baking (vegan/dairy free, wheat free, gluten Free, sugar free), Ancient and Alternative Grains, Pizza, Pastry, Cakes, Fermentation

There are lots of rewards for different levels of funding, or you could just sign up in advance for some of their classes – sounds like pretty good value at £30 a session.  The £3000 will pay for the oven and its installation, to allow then to get off the ground teaching more classes and baking more bread to sell.

Have you been to any of their classes? Would love to hear a first-hand account!

The Enterprise, Holborn

You know how everyone thinks that their wedding* was the bestest party ever? Well, we’re no exception to that rule. Credit where it’s due, here are some of the people and suppliers who helped us along to that conclusion.

The Enterprise, Holborn.

It’s one of those places where people narrow their eyes and say ‘Oh – I think I know it’ – but often don’t as it’s a common name. The Enterprise is hidden away opposite Lamb’s Conduit St, at 38 Red Lion Street towards High Holborn.

We wanted a central London wedding and a pub venue for the reception. Ideally without any hire fee and somewhere that we could bring in our own food. A case of hen’s teeth, you might think.

Our fabulous baker friend remembered clients who’d had a strict budget which they spent on Waitrose canapés and wedding cupcakes in a pub that allowed you to bring your own food, and that’s how we found Diana and the Enterprise.

This woman is a saint. I’d like to think we were relatively chilled (because every bride does, even as others are queuing up to slap her silly) and that was largely down to Diana’s patience and organisational skills. Her default answer is “yes” and they literally could not have been more helpful. How many pubs would say

Why don’t we just put up the 75 metres of bunting? Much easier than your coming over. We’ll do it at midnight on Friday when we close, so it’s all ready for you on Saturday at 11:00am.

And the flowers too. We can do those. Would you like balloons? What about balloons? (no, no balloons)

Tea and coffee? Well either you can supply your own which we’ll use or we’ll get in whatever you want.

And yes, we can mix a cocktail on arrival with that specific ginger beer you want and the house Bloody Marys too.

Music? Live band? Great! Just bring an iPod or use or Spotify account for when they finish. What about the disco ball? (yes, definitely disco ball)

You can drop in stuff any time you like or get it delivered directly here.

Of course, your caterer can use anything in the kitchen and we’ll get the chef to come in on Saturday morning to make sure everything is ok.

If you want to pop back on Sunday we’ll have everything packed and ready for you to take away. Or we can keep it until after your honeymoon?

How about an extension until 1:00am? That’s free of charge, we’ll sort it out.

You want striped straws and Fentimans? Just send them over.

And on, and on. We didn’t have to pay anything for hire, just meet a bar spend which was rather lower than anywhere else that we looked at. We had the pub to ourselves for the day (and when one person did wander in off the streets opportunistically, it took the staff about seventeen seconds to clock him and move him on). The pub’s Victorian glory meant we had to do very little to dress it up – in fact we did nothing as it was all handled by the pub.

The Eating.

We were in the lucky position of being able to work with people we knew well for the food.

Sylvain from Undercover Kitchen toiled away in the kitchen for about twelve hours and pretty much used every cooking method available to him. I’ve known him for a while and knew that the presentation would be great but above all the flavours would be perfect. I hear that the quail scotch eggs and the fish and chips went down well (also did that classic thing of not actually managing to eat much at our own wedding, dammit). He made piles and piles of Ginger Pig bacon butties and London Rich sausage sandwiches. He was also game for doing two complete sets of food and even supplied the sugar syrup for the bride’s cocktail. Nothing was too much trouble.

Some issues ahead of the day meant we changed the plans from a small family lunch and evening party, to brunch and afternoon tea and late night shouty singing. Baked greats – not just goods, greats – came courtesy of Scott from Kooky Bakes with American Breakfast Whoopie pies amongst other dazzlingly pretty cupcakery and also including the infamous Kooky Slice; and the amazing Arianna Halshaw of Bittersweet Bakers made all manner of treats. Particularly our favourite Rice Krispie Marshmallow ones, and flourless chocolate cookies, and cinnamon rolls…. the best damn cake ever.

It was three tiers of Guinness and Ginger with vanilla cream cheese icing and it was devastatingly tasty. To the point where I know she’s been bribed for the recipe and she very generously gave it to me too – it’s going to be our Christmas cake this year. It’s gloriously unctuous and moreish, a melting, rich gingerbready concoction. Available to order from her website…

My lovely mum brought us a great pressie, hand carried all the way from Ireland. A wheel of mature Mossfield cheese, made by my cousins from organic milk, fifteen minutes away from where I was brought up. “The Irish Cheese” is like a Gouda and also comes in other flavours like garlic and basil or herb and sundried tomato. I say: the mature wins every time. It’s available from Paxton & Whitfield here.

Steven at Union Hand Roasted Coffee dashed to get a kilo of Revelation into the post to me at 5:00pm on Thursday night after I totally forgot to order any in advance. By 4:00pm on the day of the wedding, given that the ceremony had started at 10:00, people really needed coffee.

We had a ball at our own wedding, not only because we were surrounded by a ton of people we love, but also because we had brilliant people helping us. If you’re considering a London wedding, or even further afield, can’t recommend them all highly enough. Oh, and our photographer Chris was awesome too.

Photos by Chris Osburn, Scott Ball and MiMi Aye.

*Blogging got a bit neglected with wedding planning then getting married and moving house twice, all in the same month. Normal service to resume…


A weekend of food

It was a fun week.

THURSDAY – I was invited to Taste to see Rene Redzepi from Noma. As the chef at restaurant voted San Pellegrino’s Best In The World for the past two years running, he’s kept pretty busy. During the Q&A he said that he doesn’t get to cook at home often, but when he does, he really makes an effort. He said it’s just as important to cook for those you love, when you’re a professional. Cooking for those you love is the essence of having a restaurant, he reckons. (that made sense to me at the time…)

He’s not looking to expand his empire at the moment either, but to continue to innovate at Noma. Building a team up again, and developing the level of knowledge and research they have in Copenhagen somewhere else isn’t on his agenda right now. Bless him, he seemed fairly knackered so I can’t say I blame him. Or maybe public speaking isn’t his thing and he’d sooner be in the kitchen? BTW among the restaurants he rates in London is St John’s, singled out for praise.

THURSDAY PT II was Pigfest at the Drapers Arms, my first visit there. I was starving on arrival and frankly, the second (yes, I know) Scotch Quail’s Egg was a mistake, in hindsight. It robbed me of the ability to properly appreciate the four other courses that were to come. On another day, though, I think I’d go straight for the motherlode of a bigger portion of belly and caramel-like crackling and skip the other courses, interesting as they were.

FRIDAY I was back at Taste to go and see Union Hand Roasted Coffee (who I work with) and to meet up with a lovely crowd of bloggers for a quick food pit stop and some coffee tasting. It was buggeringly cold and wet out, unfortunately. We tried syphon, pour over and Aeropress brewing methods, and the coffees included the geisha microlot from Columbia which is really rather special. Kudos to those who made it out in the rain.

SATURDAY brought afternoon tea in the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot – a friend’s father is a member of the Royal Household, which is what my badge also proclaimed me to be for the day (scullery maid, perhaps?) Serious fun in a silly hat, having a flutter, picking three winners (by the jockey’s colours, mainly) and scoring 5/6 on a £9k accumulator pot, weep… I have to say, it was one of the best chocolate brownies I’ve ever had. Fudgy frosting and a distinct hit of hazelnuts – possibly ground, for the batter. The mini Victoria Sponges defeated us.

SUNDAY  – Grazing Asia is the brainchild (food baby?) of four talented lovely people. Last Sunday was their inaugural outing, hosted by Danny from Jamieoliver.com at Fifteen in London. It’s a great idea, to bring four different upbringings and culinary traditions together, namely Japanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Burmese, plus they were generous enough to put their first menu together to help fundraise for Fifteen’s NYC Marathon team. With help from magical Twitter sponsors the day contributed over £1200!

I hope they manage to find as lovely a space for their next event as Fifteen – tons of photos here and on Uyen’s post, sadly I only captured three of the dishes: above are Luiz’s light citrussy Seared Tuna with Yuzu Ponzu and Sesame Dressing; Mimi’s crunchy texture-filled Spicy Burmese Fishball Salad and Uyen’s utterly comforting, flavourful Baked Crispy Pork Belly with Banh Cuon, Pickled and Fried Shallots, Vietnamese Cured Ham, Thai Basil and Coriander.  I tell you, I would have eaten buckets of each dish, laden with mysterious (to me) ingredients, fresh herbs, exciting combinations. Keep an eye on their website to see when the intrepid foursome are “opening” to the public as this first even was by invitation/donation to Fifteen.

MONDAY –  I went on a diet. I am likely to remain here for some time.

The Charles Lamb, Islington

It’s a curious thing. Mention the Charles Lamb to anyone familiar with Islington and you get one of two reactions. It’s either an immediate grin and an ‘omigodilovethatplace’, launching into stories of sneaky after work pints and lazy weekend lunches, or blank. Nothing. 

To those of you in the latter camp, you really should give the Charles Lamb a try. It’s tucked away behind Angel but utterly removed from the madness of Upper Street.

We went in on a Saturday – the obviously named Map room (also known as the Cheese room, as the lead glass window once served as a shop front from which cheese was sold) and the bar itself were empty when we arrived as everyone sat outside in the sunshine. We walked around reading the art works, lots of typography pieces including some from New North Press, and Steven Kenny’s Please Don’t Feed Mascha signs.  They refer to the resident dog, whose art dealer owners have curated the wonderful collection on the walls. I liked the magnifying glass provided to properly examine the map of 1890s London poverty.

Darren, the very affable manager, talked us through the menu of the day and also told us a little more about their suppliers. They buy locally (including Exeter St Bread and McKanna Meats)  and seasonally as much as possible – many of the vendors they use call them on a daily basis to tell them what’s been caught or is good that day and they plan menus accordingly. As a result, the menu changes frequently and it’s a ‘first come first served’ mentality but their bar menu has some constants too. 
I started with a Fentiman’s Ginger beer as we were hot and sticky after the walk there, and the boy went for that traditional hangover vanquisher, the Bloody Mary. Turns out they liven it up with a dash of Caol Ila, which got the thumbs up – can’t bear tomato juice myself.
 
We started on foccacia with a delicious fruity olive oil, waiting for the first course. The Chicken liver pate from the bar menu was a very generous portion, and when we cracked the disc of buttermilk coloured fat on top there was warm, unctuous, velvety pate waiting underneath which came with heaps of cornichons and wedges of toast.
 

I went for the Raw candy beetroot, mint and feta salad (£6.50) while the boy ordered the Salt beef sandwich (£8) which had tongues of translucent pickle slices hanging out the side, and thick slices of juicy beef. The plan was to divide and share as usual but I found myself hanging on to the salad – this sort of thing doesn’t normally happen. The boy had a pint of the rather good Harviestoun Schiehallion to go with it – it won Best pilsner 2010 and was hoppy, rich, reminded me of a San Francisco craft beer.

We were persuaded into desserts, the pannacotta was particularly popular and when it arrived it was a full wine glass with glorious speckles of vanilla bean showing through. It emerged that I still hate pannacotta but I wouldn’t have been able to wrestle it away from the boy anyway and he really wouldn’t have had a look in at my frangipane tart with the sharpest imaginable red fruit coulis on top, which cut the sweetness perfectly.
When we were in there, a couple of lost tourists who’d presumably come up from the nearby Regent’s Canal came in and asked what local beers they had.  Darren replied  almost innocently ‘Well, pretty much everything in here is local’.    Then a woman came in saying she was looking for ‘Daniel and Charlie’ – Darren said he hadn’t seen them yet. Turns out she was referring to one of the regulars and his spaniel. We quizzed him about whether they do private hire (at the time we were looking for a pub to hold a party after our wedding) and he explained that as they are a local pub, and in a residential area, they only close the pub for regulars or neighbours. That way, he explains, if someone asks why they were closed on Wednesday night, he can say ‘Oh, No 15 were having a birthday party’ which is acceptable apparently.  All I can say is, Elia St and its nearby residents are very lucky indeed.
Thanks to Hannah at Story PR for arranging for us to visit.

Charles Lamb
16 Elia Street
Islington N1 8DE

José

On the eve of the opening of José Pizarro’s eponymous new space, the man himself was good enough to throw open the doors to a bustling crowd and invite us down to sample the wares.

I think everyone has already described the space as ‘cosy’ – and that’s as much down to the service and the atmosphere as the bijou size of the place. It seats seventeen covers apparently, and the house speciality is small sharing plates. We guzzled gazpacho (given that I’m not a huge tomato fan, this even took me by surprise) and tussled over tortilla, accompanied by a great Cava and a Fino – will have to go back and study the lists properly. What a chore, eh?

With his strong focus on both the sherry selection and daily market specials, José has created a spot that you could pop into over and over again – just to make sure you’re not missing out, of course. We loved the hake with aioli, the croquettas, the manchego – and it went on and on. Plenty of justification for visiting again in the very near future.

Thank you to the gorgeous Hannah at Nourish for inviting us.

José, 104 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UB

Open:  Mon-Fri 12:00-22:30; Sat 10:00-22:30; Sun 10:00-18:00

T: 020 7403 4902 (no reservations)