Foodie Friday: The Groundworks

Hitchin is a small enough town that the opening of a new eatery gets plenty of attention (yes, I really used the word ‘eatery’, and yes I’m turning into Daisy Steiner). More often than not though, it’s not so positive attention…..Adam and I are always moaning as more and more chains open up and there’s uproar about the licensing application for the planned Wetherspoons. We’ve been getting more and more frustrated with the lack of places serving decent veggie options, and us-friendly meat doesn’t seem to interest any of the restaurateurs around here. Not so in the case of Hitchin’s newest establishment, The Groundworks though.

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Image from The Advertiser Group

The childhood dream of two local boys, Tom and Ben, this place is about as independent as you can get and is breathing fresh air into what we had thought was a rather disappointing local offering. Curious about the brown-papered windows concealing the old cafe on the corner of the church yard, I snooped around to find you what was planned and soon came across the new website and Twitter feed. The teaser menu was most interesting and exciting, and when I got in touch to ask about the meat they planned to use I was yet more excited…..finally a local place we can get a good meal out!

Keen to find out when we could taste the artisan coffee and home cooked tasties the website boasted of, we had another snoop as we passed the cafe last weekend and found ourselves being invited in. The boys have totally refitted the place, and the reclaimed wood they’ve lined the walls in and made their tables from make you feel rather like you’re walking into a sauna, just without the awkward avoidance of eye contact and strategically placed towel. It’s beautifully fresh and tidy, yet still cosy and bustling. There’s a lovely big sharing table in the window, a reclaimed slate bar that came from a snooker table, and each table is centred with a pretty kilner jar filled with fresh garden flowers.

http://www.thegroundworks.co.uk/coffee/

Image from The Groundworks

Not having planned the visit we ordered just a couple of flat white coffees, which were delivered to our table by a friendly Groundworker in no time. Tom explained how he was still playing with the coffee grinder, so to let him know if they weren’t right, but our coffees were just perfect. Soon finding another at our table to try, I commented on how pretty the micro foam pattern on the top was, and next thing I know Tom is giving me a lesson at the coffee machine!

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Image from The Groundworks

Told that the full opening was happening on Monday, we planned a lunch there on Thursday to try everything out. I was due to meet up with the very talented Hilary (a friend of Adam’s Mum who also came along) who will be doing my wedding hair and makeup, and so we sat with a very yummy coffee whilst rooting through my Pinterest boards and dress silk samples at the big front table. Adam met us after most of the girl chat was out of the way, and we ordered the pulled pork (one a piece for Adam, his Mum and I) and the Caesar sandwich (for Hils).

Our lunches were brought to us on rustic wooden boards with side salads in the gorgeous white and blue enamel Falconware I love. The salad was fresh, simple and crisps, with no dreaded rocket and just a little light dressing which meant that I actually ate it all (unheard of!). The pulled pork came with a great crunchy slaw in a crisp brioche bun, and was bally delicious. I’ve never been able to eat a pulled pork sandwich out before because it’s so dreadfully tricky to find somewhere that makes them using me-friendly meat, so I enjoyed it even more I think. Hilary’s Caesar sandwich was just as impressive and we all left nicely stuffed.

When we returned to The Groundworks later (Adam’s Mum left the bottle of sloe gin we made for her in the window!!) it was still buzzing, and the warm tungsten lights that fill the place made it positively glow as we walked towards it. I know we’ll be back again and again for the rich, chocolatey coffee, and will more than likely try out their brunch offerings very soon.

I can’t believe we’ve had to wait this long for such a place in our new home town, but I have to say that the arrival of The Groundworks was well worth the wait.

The Groundworks officially opens tomorrow….wishing you all the best guys!

Ems x

Vienna: Drinks

Whilst we were preparing for our trip to Vienna last year, it quickly became apparent that one thing we could greatly look forward to was some exceptionally good coffee. Adam and I are constantly frustrated by our country’s rubbish attempts at cafe culture (you know, the over-crowded chain cafes, noisy with crying babies and fake coffee-making noises, and the over-frothy burnt milk that is supposed to pass as a coffee) and although we’ve found a few exceptional places in London and in Hitchin, we were excited by the prospect of being able to get a great coffee in lots of places.

Our guide book also offered us temptations in the form of cocktail bars, Gluwein (the yummy mulled wine you can buy at the Christmas markets) and of course, lots of cakes and things to go with them. And we certainly weren’t disappointed either! We spent many an hour just relxing in one of Vienna’s lovely cafes, and were so pleased with the bar we first found that we didn’t bother going anywhere else!

So, here’s my round up of Vienna’s cafes and bars….

The first place anyone usually tells you to go in Vienna is Cafe Sacher. The famous hotel is located right behind the Staatsoper (opera house) and is a mecca for those wanting to try the iconic Sacher Torte. The dense chocolate cake was first created by the hotel’s chef Sacher in 1832, and the original recipe remains a hotel secret (as you’d expect for what they claim is the most famous cake in all the world!). And whilst the cafe is delightfully traditional and ever so proper (mind you choose the smoking or non smoking room as you prefer….not something we are used to any more!) and the cake is nice enough, it’s certainly more about the experience of going rather than the cake being any kind of special. There, I said it. Don’t hate me.

Purists may dislike me for it, but I actually much preferred our visit to Cafe Sperl, another Vienese favourite although a little more hidden away behind the Museum Quarter. The speciality here is Sperlschnitte, a sort of crispy-topped, dense chocolate torte-style brownie….and BOY is it special! The coffee here was perfect too, and I could have happily whiled away the entire day in the decadent surroundings (even if the service there is a little more brusque!).

I’m usually the sort of person who stays glued to their guide book and only ventures into places recommended by it….but that just makes it even more of a pleasure when I find somewhere by myself! Orlando di Castello didn’t need a Trip Advisor rating to draw me in….the huge shiny glass windows fronting onto one of the squares we visited for its Christkindlmarkt, revealed a stunning interior, and we all know I’m driven by appearances! This place is beautiful though…fresh white walls and furniture are accented with pretty red flower bud motifs, and the attractive looking menu was the sort I just like to stare at and then point at random to order. Despite that though, the coffees here were nothing short of amazing….we visited twice and tried several of their specialities (usually involving booze or ice cream…or sometimes both!) and we were wowed by every one.

Cafe Pruckel isn’t too far behind Cafe Sacher in terms of reputation. Right next to the Stadt Park within a gorgeously deco building, this is the sort of cafe that people sit in for hours reading the papers and slowly drinking their way through their long coffees. Despite the informality though, this is a buzzing cafe and the offerings are just delicious. We tried the Schoko Weicher and Topfelstrudel, both of which were deliciously rich and totally dreamy. And whilst I stuck with a (admittedly yummy) standard coffee, Adam went to town with one of their super-boozy, super-naughty coffee specials, which happily set him up for the cold outside!

As I mentioned, we didn’t venture bar-wards too much after finding our favourite place…..we loved the tiny and charming Loos American Bar near the cathedral, but it was far too smokey for us and crammed from early on….and we had great cocktails (and burgers!) on our first night at the late opening bar in the Museum Quarter….but the only place we really settled in was Kruger Bar. You’re asked to leave your coat with the lovely lady at the little foyer kiosk, then if you prefer to sit in the smoking or non smoking room (nicely separated by glass so non-smokers aren’t bother at all!). We were presented with a very comprehensive leather bound cocktail menu and brought yummy nibbles as we settled into our gentlemans’ club style leather arm chairs….and what’s more is that our order even satisfied my cocktail-snob of a fiance! We tried a good few of our favourite classics as well as some of the house specialities, and all were great quality and good value to boot. I’d definitely recommend nesting-in here for a few pre-dinner martinis, or for your post-opera night caps.

Prost!

Ems x

Something from the weekend…. A super day out in East London

After a tip off by Domestic Sluttery, the boyf and I decided to head out East on Saturday morning, and to the floating market on the Regent’s Canal in Mile End Park. I CAN’T BELIEVE I’ve never taken a stroll along the canal before…. I’ve been meaning to for ages, and I was so glad we did.

We hopped on a bus to get us down to the canal, and had a little bit of a wander in the wrong direction before getting on the right track. We didn’t mind at all though, as we were just so excited by the lovely environment around us….there were dozens of dragonflies and mayflies over the water, some huge fish, and lots of pretty flowers and plants along the water edge.

Finally heading in the right direction, we strolled along just soaking up the tranquility until we came across the Art Pavilion, which was showing Philip Pinchin‘s ‘Sleeping India’ exhibition. The photos are nearly all black and white and show some of the most diverse aspects of the country, as well as how it’s such common nature to take a nap right out in public. Adam found himself wanting to go back to India badly, recalling memories from his trips there, whilst I was reminded how much I want to go for the first time.

The Art Pavilion itself is a wonderful place, so bright and open, and surrounded by gorgeous ponds and gardens….

Just a little wander further and we found the Floating Market. Set up along the towpath are around a dozen narrow boats, all with something wonderful to share…. there are cafes, a hat emporium, jewellery shops, a bookshop, and artists…. in fact, plenty to while away an afternoon with. It’s been set up to coincide with the games and will move on to Little Venice in West London for the Paralympic Games. The towpath itself is an official Olympic walking and cycling route, and nearby Victoria Park is one of the official Live Sites showing highlight from the Games on big screens, so there’s quite a buzz there!

We took our ease for a while, at a little picnic table with a cute umbrella outside Rawlings cafe. With a generous mug of tea each we took on two of their wheat and dairy free cakes….. the sweet potato muffin was super gooey, and the banana loaf just divine. We also enjoyed the company of Jasper, a friendly dog who hangs out at the cafe. He was lovely.

Next we explored the floating bookshop, which was especially great because we got to go onboard! It’s filled with shelf upon shelf of second hand books of all sorts, and also has a beautiful tortoiseshell cat! There are more racks of books on the outside too, but I loved being on board and finding all the goodies stowed away so cleverly and tidily.

Further along we found the Chapeau Bateau, where there are stacks of lovely hats, as well as some ace 70s style sun glasses. After that, we found the Print Galley, where a suitcase full of old cameras caught my eye….. we ended up chatting to the shop keeper about lots of them, including a couple of awesome Super8 cameras and an incredible medium format camera. Elizabeth Hayley is a print maker and photographer, and is currently selling some of her work at the market. I immediately fell for her dreamy images, all of which have such amazing texture and luminosity.

By this time, we were practically at Victoria Park, and wanting to continue our stroll we decided to make our way to the World in London exhibition there. We entered the park via the Rose Gates, whereupon we found the most stunning roses I think either of us has ever seen. Each one seemed so perfectly formed and alike, and almost as though they were made from fine silk or tissue. Just gorgeous!

In our efforts to find the exhibition, we ended up wandering around the whole South side of the park, not realising that there is a much bigger end to the park over the road! It was gorgeous just to snoop about though, and the place smelled just amazing with all the beautiful flowers about. On our wanderings, we found the Pavilion Cafe, and got terribly excited as we learned that all the ingredients are ‘us friendly’, meaning everything is free range and organic! That was enough to remind us it was lunch time, and we chose seats overlooking the huge pond after ordering kippers with poached egg and potato cake (for me), and Eggs Benedict (for Adam). Both arrived in no time and were exceptionally good. The portions are a great size, and very good value I think (about £7 for each dish), and we enjoyed a really yummy iced coffee there too.

We will definitely be back to sample more of the menu…they have a wonderful sounding Full English Breakfast, and a yummy looking burger I want to try! It’s just such a glorious place to sit and eat when the sun is shining…there’s so much going on in the park so it’s really buzzing, but overlooking the water makes it seem tranquil at the same time.

For pudding Adam bought an ice cream from the van behind the Pavilion (I opted to steel the top off it rather than having a a whole one, having scoffed the cake earlier). It seemed that our summer had finally arrived as we walked through the balmy park with an ice cream!

Eventually we found the World in London exhibition, which is actually posted on the exterior wall to the BT London Live event which is showing parts of the games on big screens. An outdoor display of over 200 portraits blown up on large, glossy boards, it showcases a collection put together by the Photographers Gallery over the last three years. Coinciding with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the project was created to show images of Londoners of all ages and walks of life, each originating from one of the competing nations. The photos are arranged alphabetically by country along one long wall, and are also being shown in Park House…. you can actually see all the images online too, here.

Despite having said we weren’t going to do too much over the weekend, we were having such a jolly time that we couldn’t bear to end our day of adventure. So, from the park we walked along to Bethnal Green, and on from there to Brick Lane. It was perhaps the quietest I’ve ever seen it, and at least in many years….I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be indoors on such a lush day, but I guess lots of people wanted to watch some of the Olympics events. I rather enjoyed being able to wander about in a more civilised way than usual though, and took in several of the little markets I love.

The Tea Rooms market is one of my favourites, and is filled with all kinds of lovely treasure….. there is an incredible stall selling loads and loads of beautiful vintage china and crystal decanters…. a cake stall…. loads of bric-a-brac and nick nacks…. and a wonderful collection of old cameras.

After a pootle about some of the other markets along Brick Lane, we headed to Old Spitalfields Market, although by then lots of stall holders were packing up. We zipped around though and took time to stop and take some photos of Adam with some of those crazy mascot things….

Then, pretty tired and with rather achey feet, we made our way home for cups of tea and a light (ish) supper of wholemeal penne with roasted butternut squash, pepper and broccoli. What an amazing day!

Hope you enjoyed a sunny Saturday!

Ems x

It’s nearly here!….. Ideas for your weekend…..

In London this weekend? Here are my recommendations for passing the time in the capital……

A film:

Martha Marcy May Marlene is an eye-opening, thought provoking phycological thriller and well worth a look. You can still see it this weekend at The Everyman Cinemas.

Some shopping:

Shoe hero Manolo Blahnik is back at Liberty this week with a new shop on the second floor of the store. Manolo has collaborated with Richard Nicoll for his spring summer collection, and to mark this year’s Olympic Games he has designed shoes that echo Greek architecture and include metallic medals colours.

An exhibition:

Catch the wonderfully intriguing Miracles and Charms exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, before it ends next week. Actually two exhibitions, ‘Infinitas Gracias: Mexican Miracle Paintings’ and ‘Felicity Powell: A Charmed Life’, it’s free to get in, and you can enjoy a well earned coffee and cake in their Peyton and Burne cafe, or a stroll around their brilliant book shop.

Enjoy the rest of your week and have a wonderful weekend…..it’s not far now!

Ems x

Splendid Snowy Sunday

It’s taken us ages to find a free day to meet up with our friends Siobhan and Matthew, but finally today we managed a whole Sunday together. As they live in South East London (near to my old stomping ground) we thought we’d take the opportunity to visit the Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Royal Observatory, as well as have a snoop around the market.

Having managed to get out of bed at a reasonable hour (considering it was Sunday), we decided to head off a little earlier than planned to take some photos on our walk through Greenwich to meet them. The snow slowed us down a little with signal failure at our DLR stop, but we managed the walk to the next one along thanks to my very snug sheepskin coat, Alpaca socks and my trusty Hunter boots. Once in Greenwich, we began our wander through the Old Royal Naval College, snapping the various scenes we’ve seen in so many of the Dickens series. On our way, we found a temporary structure on the King Charles Lawn, beside which was what looked to be a miniature jousting area, marked out by bunting and several yurts. It rather looked like we’d missed something, so we carried on to the gorgeous Painted Hall for some snaps.

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Outside, a team from the Council were busy shoveling the snow from the central pathway, which seemed an odd length to go to in such a place. But they provided a great subject for our snowy photos, with the Queen’s House and Observatory behind.

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Next we headed over the road to the National Maritime Museum and around the beautiful Queen’s House where we began to hear the happy noises of the park as couples made snow angels and children threw snow balls. It was when we got into the park proper though that I got really excited to see everyone dashing around, over-joyed to be out in the snow. The squeals as people got playfully thunk-ed with snow balls, and the barks of over-excited dogs tearing around brought such a grin to my face…. the place was the noisiest I’d ever seen it and the atmosphere was genuinely joyful. I found myself bounding around squeaking with delight!

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On the large hills running down from the Observatory, dozens of people were sledging on beautiful traditional sleighs, stream-lined plastic sleds and even bits of cardboard and in one case an old door! Despite the slightly treacherous walk up the steep path to the top, everyone was having such a lovely time and it was so gorgeous to see everyone whisking down the slope in the opposite direction that we didn’t mind the hard going at all. And waiting at the top were our dear friends, commentating on which of the snow crafts were most effective and who was ‘winning’.

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So, all assembled, we headed straight inside the Observatory to see the exhibition. It’s been running for three years now and Adam and I have been to every one. It’s a short but well curated exhibition, and free to get in. When we first went I had no idea of the possibilities of astro-photography and what was achievable with such little specialist equipment. The images are always eye opening and awe inspiring, so we wouldn’t dream of missing it.

Entrants are asked to submit photos in several different categories: ‘Earth and Space’, ‘Our Solar System’, ‘Deep Space’, ‘People and Space’ and ‘Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year’. There is also a prize for ‘Best Newcomer’ and this year they have added a new prize for photographs taken with a ‘Robotic Scope’. The Deep Space photographs always grab me, because of the surreal, seemingly computer generated quality in the colours and shapes captured. It’s incredible to think what is going on so far away from us, and how vividly someone can capture it. I especially loved Michael Sidonio’s Fighting Dragons of Ara, in which oily colours and patterns form a mind boggling amount of detail. This year, I also really enjoyed the People and Space photographs, and especially Jean-Baptiste Feldmann’s Hunting Moon in which the subject appears to be catching the moon in a net.

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Back out into the cold and we were ready for something to fill our tummys and warm us up, so Siobhan took us to Bianco right next to the Cutty Sark. Needing an instant warm-up, I ordered a Cappuccino which arrived quickly (thank goodness) and expertly made (in fact, one of the best I’ve had outside Italy and Monmouth). Adam and I decided to do our swapping trick, ordering the special pizza of the day and the baked gnocchi to share.The pizza was perfectly thin and crispy, very authentic, and well laden with its toppings of fresh tomato, mozzarella, Italian truffles and Parmesan. Even though it was pretty large, we demolished every tasty mouthful. The gnocchi too was delicious, baked in a tomato and basil sauce, and topped generously with toasted Parmesan.

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The cute cafe suffers somewhat from the noises of young families, and is a little over-cosy for my taste, but then its location and the quality of the food far outweighs these slight inconveniences.

Next, we were off into the wonderful covered market, where I’ve spent many, many hours but haven’t been for over a year. We used to go regularly when I only lived down the road, and things have changed a little bit now with new shops and stalls. The wonderful 360 Degrees Vintage clothing shop had us all rustling through busy rails of gorgeous treasures, and Adam picked up a stunning military coat with big pointy collar and shiny buttons. The food stalls are also far too tempting, even though we were stuffed from lunch, but we got away with only a small purchase of Maple Pecan flavoured coffee beans.

Just outside, we discovered an enchanting shop called Lush Designs, in which lamp shades, cushions, totes and cards are covered in delightful illustrations of animals, nature and architecture. The colours and lines feel almost 70s, whilst the application of the drawings feels very contemporary and we all quickly picked out our favourites and ‘wants’.

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It was soon time for another warm-me-up, so we hopped over to Bar du Musee for hot chocolates. After those and some more shopping (Siobhan picked up two beautiful dresses in Joy, where I also spied the gorgeous necklaces of Jenny and Jimbob) we began hearing rumours of a parade due to go through Greenwich at 5pm. Presuming this was a one-off thing to celebrate Greenwich being named a Royal Borough as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, we decided to hang around to see it….with another hot drink, this time Chai Cafe Lattes and Spicy Mochas at The Organic Cafe.

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Before long though, it was time to try to find this rumored parade, and following the men in fluorescent vests and the cars at a stand-still, we marched back down to where we’d seen the temporary structure and bunting earlier (which also explained the snow shoveling), just in time to see the very front of the parade pass by. Just like in the park earlier, there was a proper party spirit as hundreds of people passed by with lanterns, some in Royal and historical themed costumes, but all loving the buzz of the parade. Several marching bands, troupes of cadets and a marvelously energetic band (who are you please?! the ones wearing all black with red sashes!) who had us all hopping about to the beat.

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The Royal Naval College had been lit up in bright pinks and purples, with a gobo of the Royal Borough’s Coat of Arms right at the top, and inside the tent adjacent, the brilliant Fat 45 warmed us all up dancing to their fabulous ’11 Piece Jump Jive Big Band’!

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By now though, we’d been out in the snowy chill for almost eight hours, and had become rather sleepy. So it was back to the DLR, farewells to our fellow adventurers, and home to snuggle on the sofa with a pot of Assam and a cosy Vetiver and Cardamon candle from White Company. What a splendid, snowy Sunday.

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We would all recommend the Astromony Photography exhibition, which runs for just one more week until the 12th February). The snow though, well who knows?!