WISHLIST: London restaurants and cafes by Hannah Foster

Places I've been to and recommend:

- Bottega Prelibato (tip: homemade pasta)

- Carluccio's (tip: simple easy Italian)

- Clutch Chicken (tip: fried chicken with secret off-menu veggie tenders)

- CrunchBox (tip: awesome salads)

- Duck & Waffle (tip: amazing view)

- E5 Bakery (tip: fresh bread and pecan pie)

- Embassy East (tip: best cheese toastie ever)

- Hummingbird Bakery (tip: all the cakes)

- Lantana (tip: great brunch)

- Long White Cloud (tip: brunch and TimTams)

- Narrowboat Pub (tip: Sunday roasts)

- Nopi (tip: polenta wedges with truffle oil)

- Ottolenghi - Spittalfields and Islington (tip: fancy salads)

- Princess of Shoreditch (tip: awesome gastro pub)

- The Gate (tip: fancy vegetarian)

- Three Crowns - East Road (tip: another awesome gastro pub)

- Timber Yard (tip: tea and brownies)

- Whitecross Street (tip: street food market)

Places on the wish list:

- Cocomaya

- Jamie's Italian

- The Albion

- The Duke of Cambridge

- The Ritz (for high tea)

- Any recommendations / comments very welcome!


Two months in London! by Hannah Foster

As the title suggests, it has been two months since we moved to London. We haven't quite completely assimilated yet though. My Aussie accent has had me in trouble a couple of times, and produced many laughs from my colleagues at work. Here's a classic which still makes us all giggle:

Talking about tipping culture, I said: 'A fancy restaurant, like a degustation?'

They thought I said: 'A fancy restaurant, like a dingo station?'

There was clearly some confusion over what I believed made a restaurant qualify as fancy, and what exactly a 'dingo station' was. In the end we all decided that we should open a restaurant called 'dingo station' and when an order didn't arrive for a diner, we could just say 'dingo stole your dinner'. I know, very poor taste. 

Other amusing Aussie terms my work colleagues have enjoyed include 'coffee plunger', which is called a 'cafetiere' here, and 'daggy', which is just not used at all here.

Anyway, besides these few minor language hiccups, we have settled into the Hackney area easily and have actually kind of found the London equivalent of North Melbourne. Like North Melbourne, it is coffee snob and fixie bike central, with lots of yuppies running around, walking their cute dogs, going to yoga or producing some elaborate street art installation between their chai-quinoa brekkie and their vintage American style burger lunch. Naturally, I feel right at home!

No issues getting a flat white in East London!

No issues getting a flat white in East London!

I haven even started writing some articles about my new home. There's my Dorchester Hotel high tea review on High Tea Society, plus a little round up of brunch places in London that I wrote for Geckos Tales here

Another recent discovery in our North Melbourne-esque neighbourhood was a board games cafe called Draughts. They have over 500 board games to choose from, and a 'Games Guru' on duty to help you select the right game based on how long you want to play and how many players you have. If you don't know how to play a game, or want to try a new one, the Games Guru will set up the game for you and teach you how to play. The tables are large and quite high, perfect for board games, with handy little metal racks underneath to hold board game boxes, extra pieces, bags and anything else you don't want on the table during a game. Plus you can order a beer, a coffee, snacks like jelly beans and cheese boards, or a small selection of more dinner-y type items while you play. 

We are also absolutely loving the number of cute English pubs in London that serve great food. East London must have the highest density of gastro pubs in the world. On Saturday we went on a 'date night' to The Three Crowns. They had a delicious seasonal menu and I started the night with a quince champagne cocktail (check my instagram feed for a pic) and ended it with a giant hazelnut brownie served warm, with vanilla ice-cream and chocolate sauce. 

Speaking of chocolate, we also managed to squeeze in a trip to a chocolate show, called the Salon du Chocolat, between rugby games two weekends ago. There were a huge number of free tastings and very delicious products, but highlights for me were the desserts at the Valrhona dessert bar and the Italian chocolates tasting session which involved a lot of samples of high-end nutella-like spreads. Yuuuuuuuuuuum!

On the less fun side of moving to London, I'm having to get very creative with the soups, risottos and pasta dishes I know how to make, as we now haven't had a working oven for about a month. First the wrong person came out to look at the oven (they thought they were there to look at the waste disposal unit), then a new part had to be ordered and now it looks like a whole new oven is required, which the landlord, no doubt, wants to avoid paying for for as long as possible. On the plus side, I think I've finally convinced Ed to come over to the dark side and love pasta as much as I do. It's all about silver linings, especially when there are now so many rain clouds in London in which to find them! 

xox Hannah

Italian chocolate tasting session at Salon Du Chocolat

Italian chocolate tasting session at Salon Du Chocolat

This pretty little thing was filled with white chocolate mousse and dark cherries. 

This pretty little thing was filled with white chocolate mousse and dark cherries. 

Weekend in Amsterdam by Hannah Foster

So, as promised, I'm finally finding some time to sit down and blog about our weekend in Amsterdam. It's an incredibly short 45 minute flight between London and Amsterdam's Schipol airport. It actually look us longer on the tube to get out to Heathrow!

When we arrived we got a 3 day Amsterdam transport pass, which worked out really well, since it included trains to and from the airport as well as unlimited trams in the city, which we used a lot. Jumping on a tram again, hearing it screech as it rounded a bend, and 'ding' happily as the tram driver passed a mate driving the other way, made me quite nostalgic for Melbourne. I do miss the trams! 

Amsterdam had plenty to entertain us for the weekend and we were really lucky with the weather. It is starting to get cold here now, about an average of 14 degrees during the day, but it is still very crisp and clear and we got no rain while in Amsterdam. On the Saturday night we had a few giggles doing a red light district tour and then found a pub with some friendly Aussies in it to watch the Australia v England rugby match. It didn't finish until about 11pm, by which time we were starving, on a Saturday night, in the middle of the red light district. Not a great combination! Anyway, we found a decent restaurant that did late night burgers, chips etc and demolished those, followed by post midnight waffles and ice-cream at a cute little chocolate and waffle shop I'd spotted during the tour. 

After a lazy breakfast at our hotel on Sunday, we set out for, well, more lazing about really. We sauntered over to the Jordaan area, which is hipster central, full of great coffee (actual coffee shops, not the Amsterdam special variety) and places that just sell designer backpacks, or rubber duck bath toys (seriously, we found a shop that just sold duck bath toys), or raincoats, or sneakers. We walked to the Amsterdam Sunday Market, which was set up in a gorgeous quiet area next to a canal and a park. We wanted to eat EVERYTHING there, of course. And to buy about half of the cute crafts too! Ed somehow managed to get himself a free serve of mussels, and I had some great treats including really delicious baked potato skins and fresh pierogi dumplings which were rolled, filled and cooked while we waited. Ed of course had to try the BBQ ribs, which were 'most excellent' according to him. 

In the afternoon we braved the line outside the Anne Frank House and it paid off as it moved quite quickly, so we were only waiting about 40 minutes to get in. It's a very sober, sad kind of experience, but also really interesting. The museum has had a lot of investment and the way it is set out, the displays and resources are all really impressive.

On Sunday night we picked a great Turkish restaurant called Maydanoz which was in a quiet local area near our hotel. It was very low key, certainly not fancy, but the food tasted authentic and delicious and since there were only few tables of locals in there on a Sunday night, we got very friendly service and a speedy kitchen which whipped up homemade dips, filo pastry and cheese parcels, whole baked eggplant, couscous, salad and lamb for us. 

After another sleep in (we got quite used to the black out curtains and jumbo king sized bed at the hotel!) we went to the Rijksmuseum on Monday. Compared to the cramped hiding space which forms the central section of the Anne Frank museum, this places is immense. It's basically a huge converted palace stuffed full of art. We only had a few hours, so we couldn't see everything, but headed to the most popular floors to see the Rembrandts and Vermeers. While busy, it was a lot better than what I experienced a few years ago when I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam - wall to wall Americans with telescopic lenses and no way of getting anywhere near the artworks on the walls!

We finished off our long weekend with lunch at a cute cafe that could have been in North Melbourne if it wasn't for the prices in Euros. We flew home (or to what is now home, London) and into London City Airport, meaning it took us only about 45 minutes on the train door to door to get home to our flat.

Amsterdam was our first real experience of what a weekend in Europe is like, having London as your base. We loved it, of course, and are planning our next trip (Paris) for late November. 

xox Hannah 

Us in Amsterdam, having coffee and looking like hipsters. 

Us in Amsterdam, having coffee and looking like hipsters. 

The markets

The markets

More at the markets

More at the markets

But I'm the Princess of Shoreditch! - Weeks 3 and 4 in London by Hannah Foster

London and Melbourne are, in many ways, oddly similar. It is easy to forget when I wake up in the morning that I'm now living in the capital of England, a city of 9 million+ on the other side of the world to where I normally call home. The weather's not too dissimilar from Melbourne (until we hit Winter here!), there's no language barrier and the Cadbury's chocolate tastes largely the same.

But then, just occasionally, I'll be walking to work and I'll be distinctly reminded that I'm 'not in Kansas (or rather Melbourne) any more!' by something like a glimpse of the Shard or The Gherkin buildings in the city skyline, a squirrel hopping across the road between cars (eeek!) or from out of a rubbish bin, stopping to top up my Oyster card or a double decker red bus speeding past me.

Happily for this blog, London, like Melbourne, has a huge number of great places to eat. And there has been a lot of eating happening in London over the last couple of weeks. So much so that I'm going to do a separate post, which I'll update regularly, with names of 1) great places I've eaten in London and 2) a 'wishlist' of places I want to try in London. This may be more for my benefit than anyone else's, but hey, if you to head over to London, especially East London, hopefully you find it useful too. 

A couple of recent dining highlights though for now have been:

Dinner at The Princess of Shoreditch

First up, I love the name of this gastro pub. I totally want to be Princess of Shoreditch, which is the trendiest suburb in East London, absolute hipster central. It's also the suburb where there was a mini riot last week. A mob on Saturday night attacked The Killer Cereal Cafe, apparently as a protest against the gentrification of the area. Personally I don't think it's an overpriced individually run cereal cafe that they should have been targeting. I mean, if you don't want to pay exorbitant prices for coco pops, don't eat there. There real issue is the incredible rise in house prices in the area and the extreme lack of decent housing in London generally ...as I personally experienced when flat-hunting last month! Anyway, rant over. The Princess was brilliant, with a low-lit little restaurant up on a mezzanine above a buzzy pub. We went with a couple of Aussie friends who were travelling through London that weekend. I had a beautiful roast onion, leek and goat's cheese dish, followed by an absolutely stellar dessert. It was a bit like a blackberry Eaton Mess, made with malt flavoured meringue that kind of tasted like the inside of malteasers, combined with fresh blackberries, blackberry compote and a super-soft barley flavoured ice-cream. It wasn't too sweet, and it was a surprising flavour combination that worked really well. 

High tea at The Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair

I won't say too much about this awesome high tea experience because I'm writing a full review for highteasociety.com which should be out in a month or so. But it was very special and the food was, of course, amazing. Particular highlights included the large selection of perfect finger sandwiches with vegetarian fillings and the incredible Cornish clotted cream we had with scones. 

Breakfast at The Duck & Waffle

No prizes for guessing what they serve at this place! The waffles don't all come with duck though, I enjoyed a waffle with brûlée bananas, homemade Nutella and vanilla bean ice-cream. It's up on the 40th floor and we managed to pick a very clear morning (Ed's birthday) so we had a brilliant view while we ate breakfast. Open 24 hours every day, this place is also a popular place to finish a big night out, watch the sun rise, and either keep drinking at the bar or tuck in to a big recovery breakfast. 

A Carluccio's picnic at Hampstead Heath

This awesome birthday present from a good friend of mine was something Ed and I did on a sunny (I know, sunny in London!) Saturday afternoon. We picked up a vegetarian picnic from Carluccio's, complete with its own icepack in the cooler bag, and then jumped on the train to Hampstead Heath, which is a large park/lake/mini forrest in the middle of an inner London suburb. It's a huge space, filled with people walking their dogs, open grasslands, muddy forested areas and several lakes. We grabbed a spot on a lawn and tucked into ricotta, spinach and pine nut tarts, delicious roast vegetable and grain salads, seriously over-sized sea salt foccacias and, to finish, the most delicious strawberry cream tarts! Bliss!

Dinner at Shoreditch Bottega Prelibato 

This place is quite unassuming looking. We arrived for a 7pm dinner before a movie and there were only a few other tables of people sitting at plain wooden tables, checking out the menu boards. The menu changes daily and it's basically Italian antipasto plates to start to share, followed by a choice of six or seven fresh pasta dishes. I started to get excited about the place when our waiter came over with a board of fresh pasta types, and talked us through the menu indicating which pasta was used in each dish. Options ranged from fairly traditional veal tortellini with a cream and sage sauce, to the more unusual, like pasta filled with clotted cream and orange zest, served with courgettes and hazelnuts. Since it was the house specialty, I opted for the Bottega spaghetti, which did not disappoint. A huge bowl of springy-yet-perfectly-al-dente pasta arrived, covered in a rich tomato and pesto sauce, liberally dotted with chunks of fresh buffalo mozzarella. It was bliss. Ed's tortellini was also, according to him, one of the best pasta dishes he's ever eaten. We will definitely be coming back to this place, not least because I discovered it's also next door to a cat cafe where you can cuddle kittens pre or post dinner!

That's it for me for now. Next post is going to be a little more continental...covering the long weekend we just had in Amsterdam!

xox Hannah


London: week 2 by Hannah Foster

I've been in London three weeks now, which is kind of hard to believe. I know everyone says it, but it really has gone so quickly. I have started a new job, adapted to a very different timezone, started hunting out the best cafes, found a place to live (hopefully) and started thinking in pounds. Here's a little summary of the highs and lows so far. 

What's been good:

Exploring a whole new foodie and cafe scene, as you can imagine, has been a lot of fun for me. London is so huge, with so many places to try. In Melbourne there might be two really awesome Japanese fusion restaurants, in London there are more like twelve well rated ones. There's a great coffee spot or a cute local pub on every street. There's just more of everything I guess, starting with more people. The crowds are a bit insane in places!

Some really interesting places that are great at what they do, which I've tried so far, include:

- Dishoom in Shoreditch: Ed and I had dinner here one Sunday night and happily got in early before the queues. The food was top notch classic Indian, with delicious garlic naan bread, lots of great vegetarian options and incredibly creamy ice-creams made from sweetened condensed milk.

- Long White Cloud: a great little brunch spot in Hackney that does a very fancy avocado on toast and even sells packets of TimTams for homesick Australians. 

- BoxPark: A cool 'park' of shipping containers which are home to a range of great cafes, boutiques and bars. We went there for dinner on Friday night. I got a felafel bowl with choose-your-own salads (about 25 to choose from - impossible!) and Ed and our friend Tim went for the BBQ ribs with 'slaw and sauces. 

- CrunchBox: My new favourite for lunch, this little place just does really yummy chunky salads which you can mix and match in a cute takeaway box and then add haloumi or chicken to the top, all for under 5 pounds. 

- Waitrose and The Grocery: supermarkets here are so much more exciting! Waitrose is the fancy chain of supermarkets which sells high-end brands and lots of the kind of impulse buys that get me every time: artfully arranged containers of precut fresh fruit, boutique chocolate brands and pots of yoghurt in real glass jars. And The Grocery is an all organic independent supermarket right near our (hopefully) new apartment. I could (and already have) spent so much money there on good cheese and fresh pasta...

What's been rubbish:

The rubbish situation is literally rubbish here. There seems to be almost no effort to recycle. My work has no recycling bins, everything goes into one rubbish bin. Londoners I've asked report that recycling isn't big here, with a shrug. Plus, I have no idea why, but most people seem to put their rubbish out on the street for collection just in rubbish bags, not in a bin. This means on rubbish collection days there are huge piles of rubbish bags on the footpath. You'd think for a city so otherwise well developed and modern they would come up with something better than that!

Administration here is also out of control and over the top. Being a foreign national means it is many weeks' wait for a bank account and agents want all kinds of documentation in order to rent a place. I mean, I work for a charity, not an international money smuggling cartel! I just want to live and spend money in your nice country. Please?

It's not exactly rubbish, but I can't believe how much tea my colleagues drink. It must be four or five cups a day each. Every meeting necessitates the making of a round of teas beforehand. I feel a little bit odd both not having a tea and also not offering to make other people tea. It's definitely a bonding ritual within UK offices. I would offer to make tea for others (just not myself) but I feel a lot of stress about getting it right. Tea is so serious here that a tea-novice like myself could easily do a bad brew and become the office pariah! I mean, at cafes like TimberYard (a cool spot for tech types to work from and enjoy a filter coffee or speciality tea), if you order a tea it comes with its own timer with suggested optimal brewing time pre-programmed into it! Tea can not be left to chance, or amateurs like me! 

On balance though, I definitely think London is a Hannah-friendly city. This weekend Ed and I are going to have high tea at The Dorchester. Sooooooooo pumped for that!

xox Hannah

London arrival! by Hannah Foster

The courtyard at the V&A Museum, where they serve scones and sandwiches...all very civilised!

The courtyard at the V&A Museum, where they serve scones and sandwiches...all very civilised!

I have arrived in London…to a torrential downpour of course! It rained so much on the day of my arrival that several outer tube stations were closed or partially closed due to flooding. My umbrella was somewhere in the depths of my large suitcase, so I was quickly forced to embrace my new home and its weather and go with the very damp cat-lady crazy hair look.

Things have generally improved since then, including the weather, though it was raining again today. I’m embracing the London local lifestyle quickly; using the tube to get around to various viewings of flats, shopping at Sainsbury’s supermarket, carrying an umbrella everywhere (I did that anyway in Melbourne to be fair), complaining about the weather (see above) and eating lots of egg and lettuce sandwiches. I am actually addicted to Pret A Manger’s egg and cress sandwiches. Seriously, I think I’ve eaten like 4 in the space of the 6 days I’ve been here.

On the tube, a couple of pointers for anyone planning to use it for the first time from someone (me) who has just taken a crash course in tubetiquette (I’m making that a thing/word since I now live in the land of Shakespeare):

1.     Even though there are door open/close buttons on the train doors, you don’t use them, you wait for the doors to open themselves. Not sure if the buttons are for decoration or emergencies…

2.     When changing lines at a station, sometimes you have to simply follow ‘Way Out’ signs until you find the tunnel to the other line. Apparently ‘Way Out’ doesn’t always actually mean way out, it might mean way across, or way to somewhere else, or way to get completely lost and look like a tourist…

3.     It is disgustingly hot and humid on the tube and it’s cold on the streets of London. However, Londoners do not seem to peel off their jackets on the tube, they sit there wearing them, steaming slightly. Maybe it’s too risqué to remove one’s jacket on the tube?

4.     There is wifi down in the tube, but hardly anyone uses their phone on the tube, and I have not seen a single phone call made on public transport. Again, politeness?

5.     Oyster cards are like Myki cards in Melbourne. But they actually, you know, work well.

6.     Only tourists (e.g. me) snigger when funny tube stops are announced. Given my surname, I particularly giggled at ‘Cockfosters’ station, but others I have enjoyed include St John’s Wood, Tooting, Barking and Shepherd’s Bush.

7.     In the UK they drive on the left and overtake on the right. But on tube escalators, you have to stand on the right and overtake on the left. Go figure.

I’ve also been temporarily embracing #collegelyfe while here as I’m staying at a residential college at The University of Westminster until I find a flat for Ed and me. The room is a little spartan, but the special kind of grubby super firm carpet and funny little sink in my room do bring back happy memories of living at Janet Clarke Hall. Plus, on the upside, the college has a great kitchen (it’s a self catering college) and is only a short walk from my new job, which I started today.

Between viewing of flats I’ve also managed to start embracing the cultural and foodie side of London. There’s a huge amount to do, see and eat. It is nice knowing that, rather than having a single day or week to try to cram everything in to, I have a year or more to see things, returning to places whenever I want. For instance, on Saturday I went to the V&A Museum. The museum has something crazy like 7 miles of corridors and exhibition spaces. Instead of madly trying to see it all, I went to the theatre gallery, the temporary exhibitions and then took two tours – one on Renaissance art and one on artworks of LGBTQI significance – with lunch in between in the museum’s courtyard. Apparently the Roman emperors were very in to having harems of attractive men and one even had his favourite male lover deified as a God! I left the museum happy in the knowledge I could come back again to see the jewelry gallery, the ceramics and to take a few more tours any time I wanted (entry is free).

And, of course, on the foodie side of things, I have already been to a number of fantastic markets in London. The Borough Markets I already knew about and had been to before, but I knew they would be worth another visit or ten. I was lucky enough to have an absolutely amazing vanilla custard donut there which, I think, was the best donut I have ever eaten in my life. It was made by Bread Ahead and I’ve put a picture of it up, in all its custardy-glory on my new London focused Instagram account called lickablelondon. Please check it out and follow me there if you’re keen to see London through the eyes and taste buds of me, a new Londoner and ex pat.

That’s it from me for now! Take care and keep in touch!

Xox Hannah