Sunday, 31 July 2011

A review of Franze & Evans

101 Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DL

On a hot day like today, one of the last things even I want to do is sit in a packed cafe and eat a full cooked breakfast. However, when the fridge is empty and heat exhaustion prevents a trip to the supermarket (the risk I might actually get into one of the freezers is just too great) the temptation of someone else slaving over a hot stove to deliver some sumptuous fare is inviting to say the least.

Arriving at Brick Lane to find an ambulance car tending to one of our local domestically-challenged, I was glad to be able to head away from the bustling street market and up the much more civilised Redchurch street to find Franze & Evans delicatessen. Languidly straddling the street corner, with floor to ceiling windows thrown open to invite a cooling breeze, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this corner of Shoreditch for somewhere a lot more, well, European.

The Mediterranean influence spills over into the decor and menu with packets of pasta lining the shelved walls and Tuscan sausages and slow-roasted Sicilian tomatoes making their way into the breakfast offerings. I went for the scrambled eggs with chives and slow-roasted Sicilian tomatoes on toasted sourdough and a latte, my better half opting for the slightly more adventurous Portobello mushrooms with spinach, poached eggs and a hollandaise sauce on English muffins with a cappuccino.

The ordering went smoothly, and once we’d extracted our meals from the ladies sitting next to us when they were inadvertently delivered to the wrong people the waitress was very apologetic. The espresso was lovely with a refreshingly definite difference between the latte and cappuccino, something I find rarer and rarer these days. The eggs were cooked faultlessly and portions were generous without being too optimistic.

 All in all it was a splendid breakfast experience, if a little pricey at over £20 for two breakfasts and drinks. Although in Shoreditch, what can you expect?

My only concern is that I was too full after my brekkie to manage any of their dribble-inducing cakes. Oh well, there’s always another day...

Check out Franze & Evans’ website.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

A great British day out

Saturday. A day designed for hedonistic pursuits. A day cut free from the restraints of the morning alarm or commute to work. A day for adventure.

By gum, I think we’ve got it! After living in London for several months, we now seem to have got to grips with making the most of living in the big city. I’ll let you into the secret. You have to leave the immediate vicinity of where you live.

We’re very lucky to live within a stone’s throw of plenty of distractions with which to while away our weekends, so have to make a concerted effort to get out and about. This weekend, the excuse was made for us as I had booked us tickets to go and see Disney’s 1986 classic – Basil the Great Mouse detective at the South Bank cinema.

Arriving via Temple tube station, we were able to wander across Waterloo Bridge and take in many of London’s iconic landmarks: Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, London Eye etc. etc. This experience in itself lended a kind of majesty to our day trip, making us feel, as the Kiwis would say, we were ‘getting in amongst it’. Add to that the fact that we had accidently happened upon the Festival of Britain, a four-month celebration of British culture and creativity on the South Bank, and we were scoring double points.

Choc-full of live music performances (and rather an abundance of steel drum troupes), art installations in beach huts, a water fountain maze and roof top garden with cafe/bar, it was easy to while away a few hours after the film drinking in the carnival atmosphere.

The Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden was created by the Eden Project with help from the homeless, ex-prisoners, local schools, youth groups and neighbours. Designed by Eden’s landscape architect Jane Knight and designer Paul Stone, it’s a real British garden, with vegetable patches, herb gardens, immaculately groomed lawn and a rosebud ‘walk’. The fact that you can drink in nature, some of the best sights in London and a glass of your favourite vino whilst there makes it a clear winner in my eyes.

However, the highlight for us had to be the Real Food Market, around the side of the Royal Festival Hall. There was everything you would expect from real British food, from ‘biodynamic’ beef burgers, to cheese counters, Colchester oysters, and Cornish cider. We, of course, had to sample a little bit of everything and practically had to roll home. A great British day out if ever I had one.

The Festival of Britain at the South Bank Centre runs until 4 September 2011.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Review of the Towpath Cafe

Regent's Canal towpath, between Whitmore Bridge and Kingsland Road Bridge, N1 5SB

Exploring east London as we often do at the weekend, the fella and I decided to test how long it would take to walk from Broadway Market to Angel down our local canal. Turns out, about an hour with a coffee stop.

Wandering down the narrow tow path, only just avoiding oncoming cyclists and keen Sunday joggers, we felt a little stressed at times on our outdoor pursuit but persevered nonetheless. Being one of the only vaguely warm days we’ve had in July so far, we were soon parched from weaving in and out of the tow path traffic and so were delighted to find a canal-side cafe ready to rehydrate us.

Beautifully and resourcefully kitted out, the cafe makes use of three tiny storage bays along the side of the canal and spills out onto the path with wooden tables and brightly coloured chairs. It’s currently being marketed as part of the Shoreditch Festival, but otherwise has a rather quiet existence below the radar of social media and other avenues of announcing itself. You have to explore to find this place (or have a knowledgeable friend/blogger who can recommend it to you).

The apparent lack of a menu confused us at first and we were a little put off that there was no clear list of food/drink on offer or any clear pricing but a quick chat with the lady behind the counter was enough to secure us some cloudy apple juice. We didn’t stop to eat, but those around us had rustic looking plates of hearty, seasonal fare which, were I not on a mission, I would have tarried longer to sample.

The Shoreditch Festival is in its tenth year and offers a free program of performance, entertainment and exploration in spaces alongside Regent’s Canal between 15 and 24 July 2011.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Wedding tart

It’s come to that time in my life when people I know are pairing off and inevitably getting married. The first of my school friends tied the knot this weekend in a beautiful ceremony in the Essex countryside. It rained all morning but the sun came out just as the ceremony ended in some kind of biblical symbol of approval.

Although the prospect of going to several weddings every summer for the next decade does somewhat fill me with dread, I’m happy to report that this weekend’s wedding was good fun. A lot of our friends chipped in with the preparations by making bunting, playing music or baking and the day felt like a real joint effort – although full credit must go to the bride who’s impeccable taste meant that we were surrounded by beautiful things all day long.

One of the unique touches at the wedding was the wedding cake, or cakes. As the bride doesn’t like traditional fruit cake she went for a more unconventional approach and enlisted friends and family to make different cakes so that there would be something for everyone. The result was spectacular. Eight different cakes layered up on stands and surrounded by meadow flowers, the display was mouth watering.

When asked to contribute, I decided to go for a tart rather than a cake as I know many a fella who prefers a pastry-based baked good over a sponge. Going for something tried and tested rather than taking a risk, I went for Jamie Oliver’s Jethro Tart from his cookbook ‘Happy days with the naked chef’. The recipe usually uses pinenuts rather than pecans, but our local Tesco didn’t have any so I adapted the recipe and was very happy with the result:

 Sweet pastry

115gr/4oz butter
100gr/3 1/2oz icing sugar
a pinch of salt
225gr/8oz plain flour
2 egg yolks

I find pastry works best if you make it in a food processor as it doesn’t get to hot from your hands. Cream together the butter, sugar and salt then pulse in the flour and egg yolks.  When the mixture has come together, looking like coarse breadcrumbs gently pat together to form a small ball of dough, adding a little milk or water if it’s too dry.  Wrap with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for an hour.

Once the pastry has rested, cut thin slices and place in and around the bottom and sides of your 30cm/12 inch tin, squidging it together to cover the base and sides. Leave to rest in the freezer for about 1 hour.

Tart filling

250gr/9oz pecans
255gr/9oz butter
255gr/9oz caster sugar
3 large eggs
4 tablespoons honey
115gr/4oz plain flour
a pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/gas 4, and bake the frozen pastry for around 15 minutes until lightly golden.  Reduce the oven temperature to 170C/320F.gas 3.

While the pastry is in the oven, whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in the pecans, add the eggs one at a time, then fold in the honey, flour and salt.  Spoon into the tart shell and bake for 30-35 minutes.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

A review of Allpress Espresso

Image via pinchofsaltlondon
58 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, London, E2 7DP

Given a rare afternoon alone in East London whilst my other half was off gallivanting around Broadway Market with a pal (they ate pies and sampled beers at the Dove), I shimmied myself over to Columbia Road to have a mooch around the shops in peace and quiet. Although I love the flower market on Sundays, it’s so chaotic I always find it impossible to navigate the shops and get hold of anything I actually need. On a Saturday, however, it was refreshingly quiet and I managed to track down the baking beads I was after at Keeping House – supplier of all necessary baking regalia. 

Errand over, I found myself a little peckish so wandered over Brick Lane way and whilst mooching down the lanes at the northern end, happened across Allpress Espresso Roastery cafe. Originally an espresso company from New Zealand, Allpress emigrated to Shoreditch in 2010 and set up a roastery and cafe which ‘keeps [them] in touch with the retail cafĂ© scene and coffee drinkers.’

Serving their specialty coffees as well as loose leaf tea, they also have a range of breakfast goodies and sandwiches on offer. The table next to me had soft boiled eggs which looked amazing, whilst I went for the chicken, chill and pine nut sandwich. Generously filled, with the slightly bizarre addition of sultanas, it was a ‘two hands’ job and I must admit I struggled to eat it in a lady-like fashion whilst also glued to my book.

Image via pinchofsaltlondon
The crowd was mostly trendy Shoreditch types, although a few families had also settled in for a late lunch. The big tables are perfect for spreading out the Saturday supplements or keeping the kids occupied with some colouring in and although it was busy there was plenty of space for me to sidle into a window seat and munch away quietly undisturbed.

As well as hot drinks and savoury fare, there were a fair few sweet treats adorning the counter by the till. The scones with fresh cream and raspberries drew my eye and I thought it was a nice nod from the kiwis to see our English traditions being taken on board.

Find out more about Allpress Espresso here.