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House of Coffee Pop-Up Café by Panasonic UK

10 Oct

Gone are the days of ugly coffee-makers bringing down the tone of modern kitchens – Panasonic’s latest espresso machine – the NC-ZA1 – is a sleek, elegant newcomer, worthy of its own exhibition space in a futuristic gallery.

The sophisticated, silver-coloured, beans-to-cup machine was unveiled to bloggers at an exclusive, all day pop-up café, called House of Coffee, housed in ‘The Caves’ – a tunnel-shaped venue near Farringdon tube station.

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Stepping into the space, the first thing I noticed was a breathtaking series of images on the left-hand wall. Sheets of parcel wrap were adorned with stunning retro portraits by artist Cosmo Sarson. The disco-inspired images were all cleverly produced using coffee and were a fitting welcome to the ‘café’, which hosted a range of events throughout the day: breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea and a cocktail evening with a DJ set.

 

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Opting for the brunch slot, I arrived at midday to indulge in bagels, pastries and plenty of warm, soothing coffee – it was freezing outside, despite the appearance of the sun, and I needed to defrost quickly!

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An impressive bar area was topped with three of Panasonic’s machines and, spoilt for choice, I started off my coffee binge by asking for a Latte: not too strong and generous in quantity, preferably served in a mug.

Invited to step behind the bar to witness my drink being made, the high-tech machine had no problem in catering to my picky request. Made with hand-roasted coffee beans by Union, and served in a stylish mug printed with Cosmo’s art, my Latte was creamy, smooth and perfectly delicious.

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Using the machine was simple: a touch-screen display offered Espresso, Cappuccino, Latte, Americano and Macchiato, after which further options included the desired strength of the drink and the volume – so if you fancy a super-strong double espresso or a big mug of weak Latte, you can have it within 60 seconds, all at the touch of a screen!

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Expecting something far more complicated (which is often the case with state of the art machinery), I was surprised by the ease and speed of using the machine – so effortless, it will make even the biggest technophobe feel like a professional barista!

Coffee beans were poured into the top of the machine, which can also be fitted with an optional milk chiller – available to purchase separately for attachment to the side of the unit. Otherwise, it’s fine to use a simple jug of milk: the machine includes a handy tube to draw up the liquid without fuss.

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Proving that coffee isn’t just for teetotal-ers, there were three varieties of coffee-laced cocktails on offer – shaken and blended by The Rum Runner (acclaimed bartender Sam Paget-Steavenson, who also made all the hot drinks).

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Whilst I don’t usually partake in cocktails before evening, I couldn’t resist Sam’s menu and threw caution to the wind! Opting for a Madrugada (Bianco Tequila with dark chocolate, fresh mint and espresso coffee, it was crisp and refreshing, despite an earthy undertone with a minty edge!

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By the time I left House of Coffee, I felt super-charged and pleasantly light-headed! I was sent on my [merry] way with a gorgeous goody bag, containing a bag of Union’s hand-roasted Equinox Seasonal Blend and a fabulous espresso cup, decorated with a portrait by Cosmo Sarson – a lovely end to a lovely afternoon.

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The NC-ZA1 retails for around £899, with the optional milk attachment costing a further £69. For regular coffee drinkers, it’s a great investment and worth the extravagance. Sadly, it’s a bit out of my price range, but would definitely be on my Crimbo ‘wish list’ if I had a wealthy boyfriend!

There’s not much to criticise about the unit: it’s compact enough for a kitchen counter, smart enough to look elegant and it makes a damn fine cup of coffee! A great gadget and an undeniable must-have for coffee addicts.

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RECOMMENDED: Four Corners Café near the South Bank

18 Sep

Behind Waterloo station, adjacent to the London Eye and a stone’s throw from the bustle of London’s South Bank sits an airy and charming café: Four Corners.

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Located on Lower Marsh, its pea-green exterior is a welcoming beacon for the delights within. Hot and cold sandwiches, fresh salads, sweet pastries and fruit tarts are complemented by a wide range of loose leaf teas and smooth yet rich coffee.

Surprisingly, there is no kitchen on the premises but the café has no problem in finding ways to serve tasty food. Sourcing ingredients from the four corners of the globe, the simple menu is regularly updated; next week will see the launch of new, tapas-themed dishes. These will include slices of manchego cheese with forest honey, and a platter of lomo, chorizo and serrano ham with pepper jelly.

This comfortable and relaxed café only opened two months ago and its inviting interior – with a global travel theme – has already attracted a loyal customer base. Further charm can be found in the staff, led by owner Shaun. Everyone was wonderfully welcoming, helpful and cheerful, happy to answer questions and explain key menu items.

Having won free teas and cakes for two via a contest on Twitter, I took my mother along for a treat and arrived just after midday. We couldn’t resist buying a freshly-prepared chorizo and cheddar roll (£4.50) – complemented with rocket leaves in what looked like a sesame-seeded pretzel bun. It was delicious: a perfect mixture of texture and flavour.

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Our pastry tarts of fig and apricot were both exceedingly good – washed down with lovely teas and coffees – and it was difficult to select a favourite. After all, partake in a scrumptious tart and you can’t go wrong! We finally settled on apricot, buying one to take home. We plan to return to the café very soon for more!

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Offering great service and excellent food, Four Corners is well worth a visit during your next trip to London’s South Bank; the simple yet flavoursome menu is great value for money in a location were over-priced tourist-traps are usually the norm.

Four Corners, 12 Lower Marsh, London, SE1 7RJ, is opening from 7.30am – 5.30pm from Monday to Friday and from 10am – 5pm on Saturdays.

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Coal Vaults in Soho

31 Aug

UPDATED 5TH SEPTEMBER, 2013: Following its publication, my review of Coal Vaults‘ launch party has been removed, so the link included within my original blog is now invalid.

I gave an honest account of the event and stand by every word submitted. It would have been unethical to lie about such a negative experience and to gloss it up for the sake of popularity. Professional integrity is paramount. I applaud The Upcoming for posting my review – albeit for a brief period – and hope it didn’t cause them any trouble.

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The promise of a new “hot spot” in London is always met with anticipation and excitement. Newcomer Coal Vaults opened its doors this week with a succession of PR-driven launch events to entice celebrities and reviewers.

With promises of seasonal British cuisine, delicious cocktails and a quirky industrial interior, The Upcoming kindly decided to send me along to pen a review. What followed was one the most depressing and deflating nights ever experienced in London. Read why here.

The London Restaurant Interiors Tour – Part 1

25 Aug

Imagine if an events company offered a tour of the most beautiful, interesting or quirky restaurant interiors in London. The possible locations would be endless and it’s difficult to select a Top 10. Thus, I’ve decided to blog countdowns throughout the year: an evolving and expanding list to which others are welcome to contribute.

Whether you prefer dining in themed eateries, quirky diners, intimate supperclubs or sat upon the swaying deck of a boat restaurant, there are enough gorgeous, innovative and opulent choices to ponder and assess.

To kick off the ‘tour’, I suggest we take a virtual walk around a tourist-friendly combination of familiar, central and interesting hot-spots before future lists expand to encompass some of the more brow-raising decors gracing the Capital.

#1 A pit stop to Momo in Regent Street’s Food Quarter is must for a brief sojourn from London life. With its copper tables, dark wooden panels, amazing arches, colourful upholstery and pretty tableware, the heart of Morocco comes to the heart of the English Capital.

Selected wares are available to purchase from the Mo Cafe, next to the main restaurant, but do not endeavour to haggle with the waiting staff; it may look and feel like a bonafide souk but it’s most certainly not. Attempting to negotiate a 2-for-1 deal, or suggesting they throw in a couple of fake Rolex-style watches for an extra quid upon receipt of your dining bill, will only result in confused looks from fellow diners and staff!

#2 One of the most ornately decorated cafés in London is the stunning cafeteria found in the V&A Museum. With exquisitely painted ceilings, globe lighting, stylish columns and attractive arches, it’s a beautiful spot to indulge in Afternoon Tea during a visit to the museum.

So pleasant is this venue, you may find yourself turning into one of their exhibits. I never want to leave whenever I’m there and half expect the cleaner to give me a quick dusting at the end of the evening and hang a sign around my neck stating: Double-Chinned Tea Lover, 2013. A Greek artefact often seen in areas serving cake.

#3 Of course, we can’t mention the ornate without a nod to Gilgamesh in Camden Stables Market. Featuring more wooden carvings than an Indonesian street market, the panels tell the story of the Sumerian King and demi-God after which the venue is named.

Immortalised in the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest stories ever written, the King goes through a series of adventures that require bravery, courage and wisdom. Entering this venue will require the same three skills; the excellent Pan-Asian food and gorgeous cocktails aren’t cheap so don’t go if you can’t face a hefty bill without wanting to chuck yourself onto one of Gilgamesh’s spears!

#4 Competing in the over-the-top carvings stakes is neighbour Shaka Zulu, also located in Camden Stables Market. Try to resist the temptation of turning up in fancy dress; no matter how much a loin cloth may complement the venue’s tribal interior and the scantily-clad fire eaters it houses, I assure you that entry will be denied and your bits will feel quite a chill as you stand in your cloth trying to negotiate with the bouncers at the door.

#5 Flamboyant doesn’t even begin to describe the decor of Turkish-Mediterranean eaterie Sarastro on Drury Lane. Modelled on the Victorian curiosity shops of yesteryear, expect to find more than your mind can dream within the confines of this unusual restaurant!

Fellow food blogger Mint And Rosemary visited the eatery last week and was welcomed by a large figure pointing a giant erection towards her. This was not the manager or a registered sex offender running amok: it was a statue forming part of the decor. Fertility God? Possibly. It might be worth considering a Depo-Vera shot or a vasectomy before you visit, lest you tempt fate.

★Part 2 of my Top 10 will follow soon but please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments box★

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Shake Shack in Covent Garden – Part 2

15 Aug

Slurping noisily, I finished my chocolate shake and possessively hugged the carton like a gorilla cradling her young. Churned with fresh, frozen custard, every gratifying slurp had generated a contented sigh, leaving me bereft after draining my last drop.

My fellow diners may have misconstrued this attachment as a sign of intense satisfaction. After all, Shake Shack – the much-hyped American burger bar which opened its first UK outpost in London two months ago – has attracted an army of cult-like followers, religiously tweeting and instagram-ing tales of near divine experiences. Yet today was the second time I have eaten at the Covent Garden restaurant and both meals proved average and lacklustre.

On both occasions, I rocked up to the soulless yet stylish grey eatery, housed beneath the market square’s glass atrium, and queued for ten minutes for the “amazing” and “incredible” burgers. Surrounded by excited newcomers looking like randy teenagers desperate to enter a brothel during a trip to Amsterdam, expectations were naturally high. Sadly, although my orgasmic shake was worthy of unbridled praise, the same cannot be said of my remaining meal.

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A SmokeShack burger, fries and shake cost a steep £13.50, which goes some way towards explaining why my burger seemingly blinked up at me like a mocking clown with clashing face paint. A golden brioche bun enclosed a brown Aberdeen Angus patty layered with neon cheese, pink Wiltshire smoked bacon and a smattering of red peppers.

Determined to find the fabled ShackSauce allegedly annointing the burgers of hardcore devotees, I dismantled mine to find coral-stained bread and a tiny squelch of remaining sauce. Like a gynaecologist conducting a cervical smear, I prodded at the area with a crinkle cut chip. Feeling apprehensive, I finally shoved the cream-coated stick into my mouth and – Praise Jesus! Holy Ketchup! Or whatever else devoted Shack-ites spout – I was pleasantly surprised. The mild sauce was deliciously tangy with a subtle undertone of heat: a delightful condiment that needed to be laddled on with a skip to sucessfully compete with the mush of bread, bacon and beef. The three core ingredients were locked in a war against a ruthless oppressor: pickled cherry peppers. The ShackSauce was a mere casualty in the epic battle.

Not one to overlook the virtues of an eatery, the chips were undeniably good: crispy, buttery and an acceptable alternative to French Fries (which would have been preferable). It takes a special kind of chef to cock up fried spuds so Shake Shack can rest assured that Mr. Potato Head won’t fire off any angry letters about the mistreatment of his brethren any time soon.

The biggest disappointment was the patty itself: lean and smeared with yellow, it looked as though it had been flattened by one of the local council’s road-marking trucks as they were painting new parking lines. In hindsight, perhaps my visit had some divine intervention after all… had I taken heed of the warning earlier by scanning other people’s trays, I would have parked my rear for lunch elsewhere – Byron Burger and Five Guys are both within walking distance.

The only reason to venture into Shake Shack again would be to grab another delicious milkshake. At £4.50 each, they cost almost as much as the burgers – but with the added allure of rich flavour.

In the blog following my first visit, I concluded that Shake Shack was all frill and no knickers. Now, having tried a milkshake and chips, I concede that I was unduly harsh; it’s more like a lacy crotchless thong – plenty of frills around the edges but a gaping hole in the centre.

Square Meal

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Spice Market

3 Aug

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A visit to Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant Spice Market in the swish W Hotel in London’s Leicester Square was so relaxing, I ignored the perils of a wine allergy and incurred the wrath of an angry immune system to down plenty of superb plonk! I blame The Upcoming magazine for sending me to review the eaterie! 😉

I spent the next day with huge, swollen, bee-stung lips for which most collagen-pumped Essex girls pay a small fortune. But was inflamming my allergy worth it? Read about my experience here.

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Moroccan Afternoon Tea at Momo

28 Jul

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I took a trip to Morocco… without ever leaving London! The Upcoming magazine sent me to partake in a Moroccan Afternoon Tea at one of the Capital’s most popular North African restaurants, Momo. But how did the exotic feast measure up against the traditional British tea? Read my review to find out.