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.

http://www.theadvertisergroup.co.uk/News/Lifelong-friends-to-realise-dream-with-launch-of-Hitchin-business-20140327164348.htm

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!

http://static.squarespace.com/static/525d6560e4b0b7b97f0f0787/t/52e93f56e4b0c73c50b2ba75/1391031703257/tumblr_mzxm3qRSD21qagw1eo1_1280.jpg?format=1000w

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

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Blog Every Day in May: Morning Ritual

“Tell us about what you do every morning to help you get ready for the day ahead.”

I have two of these, and the morning just doesn’t feel right without both of them.

First thing most mornings, or after a shower and prettying up rather, I head out to walk the dogs. There are lots of stunning places to walk very near us, and the hounds are always really excited to get out. Cooper loves to explore every path, and investigate every little thing, whilst Digby is still on the lead most of the time but still enjoys sniffing his way along. We get to meet lots of lovely people for chats, and lots of other dogs who Coops loves to play with. I adore the fresh air to wake me up, the amazing light early in the morning, and just ambling along without a care in the world.

About half way along our walk though I start to crave my second ritual…the morning coffee. I’ve always loved coffee, but I’ve I’ve only been able to properly enjoy it on a regular basis since I started to work from home. I’m a total coffee snob, and don’t consider a Starbucks or an instant a coffee at all (even though I do enjoy both on occasion….just not when I actually fancy a coffee!). We’ve been using the Aeropress at home for a little over a year now, which meant that we could make really great coffee fairly quickly and easily. I’ve always ground my beans fresh and taken care over the heat of the water (we bought a rather flashy kettle which you can set to heat at different temperatures) and the entire process really…it’s well worth it, honestly!

However, in the last couple of weeks we have bought an amazing new coffee machine, which grinds the beans and makes your desired strength and length of coffee at the touch of a button! It took some tinkering with to start, testing our filtered water, varying the grind, and selecting carefully all the other options….now though all I have to do is switch it on, shove a cup underneath and push a button for an amazing coffee. If I fancy a latte, flat white or cappuccino it has a milk steamer too!

I savour my coffee over breakfast, a reward for getting up and out, and to start the day ready and fresh….if I miss out on either the walk or the coffee I feel grouchy and disinclined!

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

A few days in Vienna

This Friday I’m lucky enough to be jetting off to the beautiful Vienna. Friends of ours are getting married just south of there on Saturday, and whilst we won’t get to spend too much time in Vienna itself, preparing to go is reminding me of the wonderful holiday Adam and I had there last November.

Just in time for all the Christmas markets opening up all over the city, we spent a few days in Vienna and absolutely adored it. It’s a stunning city, with lots of open space so that you can stand back to be wowed by the wonderful architecture. We loved the palaces and museums, as well as the incredible food and amazing coffee shops. We were delighted to see dogs everywhere and welcomed into shops, cafes and restaurants.

The Christmas Markets were definitely the highlight of the trip for me, but I can’t wait to see the city again in the warmer weather.

And as I’ve been promising other wedding guests some tips on where to visit whilst there, I thought I’d share some of my favourite bits about Vienna here on my blog over the next few days…..there’ll be a post about our best food and coffee recommendations, where we most loved visiting, and some of the must-see sights. I’ll start tomorrow with food….as that was definitely a huge highlight for us both!

Enjoy,

Ems x

Something from the weekend….Christmas is over. Dexter is over. The weekend is over.

The first weekend after the holidays is always much anticipated. We were looking forward to one filled with relaxation, and that’s just what we got.

On Saturday morning we had a rather long lie in, then went into town on a few errands…. We’re planning to paint our welsh dresser soon so bought paint and sugar soap and things in readiness. As a reward for our endeavors, we popped into the Hermitage Road Coffee Shop, which we have been loving since we found out how marvelous it is. In fact, we found out on Saturday too that it was included in the Independent’s 50 Best Coffee Shops list!

After our excellent Cortados and some home made biscotti, we headed over to Adam’s Mum’s for a lunch of home made soup. We worked that off with a nice walk around a nearby park and lake, where we said hello to the noisy geese and ducks, and made friends with a lovely dog who wouldn’t go into the lake to retrieve her ball so just stood barking at it!

After that I made a quick dash into Hobby Craft to replace some supplies I’d run out of for my Valentines cards (so glad I sold so many already!), then headed home to make a yummy Spag Bol for dinner. We whiled away the rest of the evening by finishing watching the most recent season of Dexter….we had only started it earlier last week, but as usual found it too compelling to watch any slower!

One of our resident pigeons enjoyed a relaxing weekend too….sitting in the water dish of our bird feeder!

We were up at a more reasonable hour on Sunday, and took a walk round a rather quiet car boot sale. We picked up a couple of things for the house….both tea related….a lovely silver tea strainer with a stand (which I’ve been after for ages) and an amazing penguin shaped tea infuser! The latter is most remarkable as it uses its beak to dunk the infuser into your cup, whilst the integrated timer ticks away for as long as you want to steep, then lifts out the infuser when the time is up and dings away to let you know your tea is ready! I love it!!

Our pretty silver tea strainer

And our awesome penguin tea infuser!

Once home we prepared a scrummy brunch of Lumber Jack Stacks (Belgian waffles, cinnamon French toast, pancakes, crispy bacon and maple syrup!) with a large batch of coffee, as our friend Hannah was coming over. We scoffed our rather naughty brunch whilst catching up and gossipping, then once Hannah had left we set about finishing taking down the Christmas decorations. I always hate doing it, as everywhere looks so bare when they are gone, and it’s just the final signal that Christmas is well and truly over. Ho hum.

Lumber Jack Stack!

2012 is over, and the decorations came down

I made a rather good sausage casserole for supper, after which we watched a couple of episodes of Azumanga Daioh, an anime show we are watching. Then it was reading in bed before an early night, ahead of the first *full* week of work after Christmas.

Ems x

How To Tuesday….. Coffee

I wouldn’t at all consider myself a coffee snob. I will even drink an instant coffee. But if I’m going to have a ‘proper’ coffee, I want to do it the best way possible.

I have one such coffee most mornings, and whilst I’d love one of those big flashy machines, I just don’t have the space nor the funds for such an extravagance. Similarly, although the street we live on is littered with hotels and sandwich shops, we’re not blessed with an amazing coffee shop amongst them. Nevertheless, and as usual, I persevere, and have found some jolly good ways of making a rather brilliant coffee with some simpler tools. And in case you’re not spoiled by a super duper in-home barista either, I thought I’d share….

At home….

I’ve tried many contraptions for making coffee at home. I was given a pretty good electric filter coffee maker as a house warming gift at my first student flat, but it was such a faff to set up and clean, and the results weren’t nearly good enough to be worth putting in the effort. And a plunger isn’t much better really, with all those faffy grinds to faff with. I’ve tried all the fancy instant ones too, and whilst I can enjoy one with plenty of milk in, I just can’t consider it part of the same family.

A little while ago though, we were gifted a very odd contraption, said to be the new best thing for making excellent coffee at home. The Aeropress is basically a plunger, which, instead of forcing the water through the coffee using a pushy bit of mesh, uses the vacuum it creates to more naturally force the water through. I had to reserve judgement on this seemingly crazy idea until we tried it…..but by golly it’s good! You get a much smoother flavour, no bitterness and no grittiness. It’s the closest I’ve ever had to those incredible coffees you get at Monmouth (more on that later), and as if that’s not enough, it’s incredibly easy to clean! Once you’ve plunged your coffee, you simply take off the little screw cap underneath and plunge a little further until a perfectly formed ‘puck’ of coffee pops out. No stray grinds, and no mess inside the chamber! It just needs a quick rinse really, although it can all go on the top shelf of the dishwasher if you like. Best of all though is the price. At around £20 to £25 I don’t think this gadget can be beaten, especially when you consider the quality of coffee it produces and the tiny amount of space it takes up. You get 300 of the little filters it takes included, which you can actually rinse and re-use if you can be bothered, but they are only £3.70 for a further 350.

There are several techniques being bandied about, as opposed to the simple operating instructions you get on the box. Whilst I’ve not been bothered to try all the crazy upside down ones etc. I would recommend this one….

  • Pop the filter into the screw on base, and attach to the main chamber
  • Place three scoops of well ground but not super-fine coffee into the chamber
  • Boil the kettle
  • Once it’s boiled, take off the heat and allow it to sit whilst you heat 150ml of milk in a jug in the microwave for one minute
  • Remove the jug and place the Aeropress over it securely
  • Pour over just enough hot water to cover the coffee and give it a gentle stir
  • Then pour over enough water to take it all to the number 4 marker
  • Stir for ten seconds, then plunge
  • Quickly warm up your cups with a little of the left over hot water from the kettle, pour that away, and then pour in your delicious milky coffee

Lush!

Aerobie AeroPress, around £25

At the office…..

Now if you can be bothered, and you don’t mind being asked each day about your odd contraption by your colleagues, there’s no reason you can’t use another Aeropress at work. But, even simpler and more convenient is the cup-top ‘cone’ dripper. You can buy these for just a few pounds in either plastic or ceramic, both work just as well. You’ll need a regular cone type filter, which you place into the dripper then fill with coffee before pouring over your hot water…..your coffee will slowly drip into the cup below, ready to add milk or whatever.

It’s fair to say it takes a little while longer than the Aeropress and the quality of the coffee quite isn’t as good. But, it’s just as easy to clean (just pop the filter paper and it’s contents into the bin then rinse the dripper) and there aren’t as many parts to misplace! It’ll also take up even less space. Not a bad bit of kit really. We also have an over-pot version of the dripper which is great for dinner parties…it makes lots all at once and you can just leave it to drip whilst entertaining, then remove the filter top to serve.

Cup top coffee ‘cone’ filter, around £5 to £15

When Camping….

I always felt well sophisticated making proper coffee whilst camping. In fact, I consider myself a pretty savvy camper and have comfort and practicality down to a tee. When camping in Italy though, I had to be a bit less smug, because EVERYONE on our campsite had this little routine going each morning!….

The little stove top espresso maker by Bialetti is a brilliant piece of camping kit. It’ll sit nicely on even the tiniest camp stove (I use the brilliant and super compact Coleman Cricket) and you can be the envy of your temporary neighbours as you brew up an amazing smelling brew each morning.

It’s a little pricey, comparatively, but mine has lasted me many years already and is still in tip top nick. All you do is pour your water into the base, place the little coffee cradle on top and fill with coffee, screw on the top, and heat…. The water will rise up into the upper chamber as it hots up, taking the filtered coffee with it. Magic!

Bialetti Moka Exoress, 3 cup, from around £25

When out and about….

Now whilst I understand that going out for a coffee is not just about the coffee (I could while away many an hour in almost any place with nice decor, a good atmosphere and some quality cake), if you’re after a really good coffee away from home, I’m yet to find anywhere outside Italy that makes it better than Monmouth.

When I worked at Shakespeare’s Globe and passed through Borough Market twice a day whilst traveling to and from work, it was my little treat to myself to pop into the Park Street shop for a take away latte. Even now, if I’m anywhere near the place, or their Covent Garden shop, I have to dive in for a fix of what is probably the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.

The experts at Monmouth roast their own coffee, traveling extensively throughout the year to visit the producers and cooperatives with whom they work, as well as to look for interesting varietals of coffee and new farms from which to buy. For every producer they work with, they seek to learn more about the coffee they grow and process and the challenges that they face, looking to establish a relationship with the grower and exporter. Core to their method is their sustainable, fair and equal trade…..as well as the most wonderful selection of high quality coffees you could hope for!

For me though, it’s not just the coffee itself which is vital…..each member of staff there have an incredible wealth of knowledge, and not only are they excited to recommend and explain all the different varieties to you, they are expert in making it too. The result is the creamiest, most luxurious cup of coffee I’ve ever encountered, and whilst I wouldn’t sully it with even a spoon of their rather fancy cane sugar, it tastes almost sweet. No matter what beans I use, or what method I try, I’ve never been able to replicate that flavour and texture, and nor has anywhere else I’ve bought a cup.

You can sit in at their shops, and enjoy cakes, breads and pastries from their fine selection (I always loved their big sharing table on which you’ll find hunks of bread and lashing of butter and preserves), but even if you want to take out…expect to queue! During the morning commute, and on a weekend, the queue can stretch well into the streets outside the shops. But it is very much worth it, even if you come back later when there’s a lull. It’s all reasonably priced too….you won’t find a Starbucks-esque bucket sized cup, but I’d pay as much as one of those for a little cup of Monmouth any day!

(I can’t not mention another couple of London favourites too though….. Wild and Wood in Holborn actually serve Monmouth coffee in their delightfully charming little cafe, which is filled with cute mis-matched furniture and black & white photos from Carry On films….. and You Don’t Bring me Flowers in Hither Green is a darling little flower shop cafe, filled with vintage treasures and serving a wonderful flat white!)

Monmouth Street Monmouth Shop, Covent Garden

Spilling the beans…..

One way to jump the queue is to buy beans from Monmouth. At the front of the Borough Market shop is a counter filled with all types of beans, and you can consult with one of the expert staff and even have a little taste before buying. It’s not as cheap as a packet of even the best supermarket beans, but again I’d pay the extra just for the quality difference. If you go up to the bean buying counter (where there’s hardly ever a queue) you can purchase your beans by the gram, and you can order a coffee to go too, without having to join the main queue.

I’ve tried all manor of beans from all over, and whilst many warrant a mention (Nude Espresso at Brick Lane and Soho Square, Union hand roasted coffees, Cafe Direct’s Machu Pichu beans, and Sainsbury’s So Organic, Fairtrade Papa New Guinea Beans) non come up to the standard of Monmouth. With beans for every taste from all over the world, including organic varieties, I just don’t think there’s anywhere better. AND you don’t even need to live nearby to buy them now….they offer a mail order service on their beans, so you can enjoy them from anywhere!

And now, some Rules…..

  1. Buy the best beans you can. In my opinion it’s better to to have quality over quantity, so I’d rather buy less coffee but better coffee! Buying from a proper roaster means you know it’s not been on a shelf for ages losing its flavour, and they can advise you too on the right coffee to buy for your taste.
  2. Use it fast! Even the freshest roasted coffees have started to deteriorate as soon as they’ve been roasted. Buy in beans, which last longer, and only buy as much as you’ll get through in a couple of weeks.
  3. As with most things, extreme temperatures and the air can make coffee deteriorate faster. Keep your beans in an air-tight container (we find a kilner jar good) and at room temperature…keeping them in the fridge can mean they’re subject to other flavours creeping in from the other contents, and the quick change in temperature when you come to make it will diminish the flavour.
  4. Burr mills are widely recognised to grind the beans best, but the less expensive electric grinders are fine if you’re careful to rock the grinder gently as you use it to ensure even grinding (and don’t over-grind!).
  5. Never make coffee with boiling water! The proper brewing temperature is 200°F, or about 45 seconds off a full boil. Also bear in mind that reheating or prolonged holding on a warming platform will turn your coffee bitter.
  6. Keep all your coffee making equipment clean, including containers. The oils which come from the coffee can cling onto anything, and of course they deteriorate as much as the coffee itself, and can contaminate any fresh coffee that comes into contact with them. So ensure you clean out even your containers every couple of weeks.

Well, I hope that little lot helps you enjoy a better cup of coffee at home and away! As ever, I’d love to hear any other tips you have, and do share any wonderful places you’ve had coffee!

Ems x

Something from the weekend…..mainly eating and shopping

It was with a great deal of difficulty that I dragged myself out of bed this morning……it appears that I’m too old now for starting off the weekend with a 3am bedtime and lots of wine. Still, it was a super fun weekend, and I did manage a little relaxation time too! And we’ve only got two weeks left in London so I want to make the most of it!

After work on Friday it was off to the Post Office with the stacks of things I had to post….I’ve been listing lots on EBay to get rid of some things I don’t use any more before we move. That out of the way, we made our way to Hither Green, where we’d been invited to our friends Siobhan and Matthew’s new place for supper. We were a little early, so we took the opportunity to try out You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, the lovely little florist/coffee shop at the station, where I’ve been wanting to go for ages. It was nearly closing time, so we had our flat whites served to us outside on the pretty melamine tables….and the coffees were perfect! It’s such a darling little place, full of treasures and pretty flowers, and the yummy offerings are a real bonus!

By the time we’d finished, we were in good time to pop round the corner to our friends, for our first snoop around the place! It’s such a lovely flat…..really well laid out and organised, and Matthew and Siobhan have added lots of personal, colourful touches to make it special. The place also smelled amazing, with a lamb tagine in the oven, as well as Sophie Dahl’s chocolate cake……we were ravs by the time we finished chatting and drinking gin and Prosecco, so devoured the delicious meal which came along with yummy roasted veg and home made aubergine dip. The chocolate cake was the real triumph though….topped with creme fraiche and fresh berries, it was perfectly balanced and incredibly moreish.

As usual, we lost track of time in our hours of chattings and ended up taking the night bus home……it was a lovely walk over Tower Bridge from the South of the river though from the bus stop, and we flolloped into bed absolutely shattered at 3am!

A lie in was very much needed on Saturday morning, which fitted in perfectly with our days plans……we were heading over to friends Richard and Tara’s place in Farringdon to meet up for a nice late brunch. Knowing that the meal would probably cost us most of our day’s Weight Watchers Points, we opted to take the 40 minute walk there, through the City and Barbican (which gains us extra points). It was a lovely morning for a wander, and I know I’ll miss taking walks in the City, past the Guildhall and the pretty little gardens.

It was the first time we’d been to their new(ish) place too, and we enjoyed meeting their giant house rabbits! Our friend Sam was visiting for the weekend too, with her daughter, so the six of us popped around the corner to Giant Robot for a slap up brunch. It was a Bloody Mary to start for the most of us, and then their ‘Giant Omellette’ to eat….. both were utterly delicious and I left stuffed and sleepy!

We needed the walk back too, in order to wake me up a little and walk off the gluttony….so we ambled over to Old Spitalfields Market, where we met friends Kate and Jason to potter around Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair. I’d been eying up a little Hornsea Pottery Fauna Deer Vase the last time the fair was there, and I’d decided that if the stall still had it, I’d get it! And sure enough, the pretty I Heart Vintage stall was there as usual, and their shelf of cutesy deer ornaments still contained what I was after! I snapped it up and also spent a while snooping their other treasures and getting ever so tempted by various vintage tins, cuckoo clocks and weather houses! I managed to be good though, at least until I came across a stunning green gingham melamine drop leaf table…..I’ve loved the style for ever and moving into the bigger house means we have space for such things. I plan to use it as a desk in my little studio and can’t wait to set it all up!

It was straight home after that (after all, Adam did have a table to carry!), and most of the rest of the day was spent drinking cups of tea, eating and reading, until it was time for an early night.

Sunday started with another naughty brunch of Belgian waffles, banana and maple syrup…..merely to set us up for another day out and about! After having stuffed our faces we jumped on the tube over to Pimlico to go to the car boot sale there. It runs every Sunday, inside and out, and I’m a little miffed that I only recently discovered it and this was our first visit! It’s crammed with booty, and we spent a good while mooching about the various offerings.

I picked up a great haul……several little bits and bobs from a big gingham cloth of treasures on the floor (which Adam had to forcibly remove me from rooting in), a beautiful Toile bed linen set (exactly what I was after for a guest room in the new house), a wonderful little man’s travel set (which will be added to my Etsy shop when I have some more vintage stock), and a darling little sweater with tortoises on it! I’ll post some pictures of my finds soon!

We still had a little energy left for adventure, and needed a cup of coffee, so we walked just round the corner to the Tate Britain. It’s undergoing a lot of work at the moment, so we found it tricky to make our way about, but we eventually found the cafe, only to be served two rather rubbish Americanos. Still, it was worth popping in just to see their awesome collection of Turners (my favourite) and their brilliant shop!

After that though we were pretty shattered, and so once home it was more cups of tea and reading until it was time for a supper of butternut squash risotto and a quick film before another early night! Rock and roll!

Ems x

Something from the weekend…… The August Bank Holiday in Instagram

I bally love the weekend. Even more so a long weekend! Despite having lots to do with our impending move, we managed to have a very fun weekend in London as well as in our soon to be home town of Hitchin!

On Friday afternoon straight after work we caught the train into Hertfordshire to stay with Adam’s parents (and the dogs!) in Hitchin. After a yummy supper of fajitas, we watched the BBC Four documentary on Mark Knopfler. It’s an amazing programme and shows what a remarkably lovely and intelligent man he is, as well as an incredibly gifted songwriter.

It was early to bed though because we were keen to start early on Saturday and cram lots into our day! We set off earlyish into town, just a few minutes walk away, and to the monthly craft and farmers market which takes place around the gorgeous St Mary’s Church. I’m hoping to have a stall there myself when we move, so it was lovely to meet lots of the regular traders. I fell in love with the ‘The Knitting Ladies’ stall, which is full of hand knitted treasures, including the most gorgeous bears! The ladies are most proud of their celebrity knits….in one little basket resides Audrey Hepburn, Ziggy Stardust and a Clanger!

After a browse (and buying up some free range bacon, and home made fudge!) we took the minute’s walk to what will be our new home. Adam hadn’t seen it yet, as I viewed it by myself before we signed up, so he was super excited to see it for the first time and I couldn’t wait to go back. It’s a gorgeous property right in town….it’s actually Grade II Listed and belongs to a local historical trust. It’s full of beautiful period features, and there’s lots more space! I’m going to finally have a studio to work in, and there’s even a garden!

With all the extra space to fill, we set off to a local furniture warehouse afterwards to look for some pieces we’ll need. It’s a great place to look for bargainous things….it’s actually run by a charity that our friend Hannah works for, so buying their lovely second hand stuff helps them with their fundraising! We snapped up a wonderful little extending pine table with chairs for the kitchen…it’s the perfect cottagey looking table to fit in with the old house.

The thrifting didn’t end there though, as we popped into Letchworth and picked up some gorgeous dining chairs. As well as all the shops to look in, there was a sort of mini vintage car show going on in the pedestrianized High Street. I fell in love with a huge turquoise Chevrolet truck, and an amazing little camper trailer with a super cute kitchen at the back.

Next it was into Hitchin again for a snoop about, and to buy sausages for supper from the charming Allingham’s which is the wonderful butcher on the market square and has been there since the 1860s! We couldn’t resist some more furniture shopping though, and Adam fell in love with (and bought!) a stunning sewing machine and table. I also picked up a darling little camera….the Italian Comet S which takes 127mm film…can’t wait to get a roll and try it out!

After our busy day, we needed a serious re-fuelling and yummed up an awesome fry up! It was to the sofas after that though to slob away the evening in front of the telly….we watched the BBC Drama ‘Best of Men’ which I’d been wanting to see for a while. It’s about the first ever Paralympic Games at Stoke Mandeville, and the amazing work there of Dr Guttmann. We all really enjoyed the programme which featured Rob Brydon (one of my favourites from Gavin and Stacey)….it’s well worth watching for anyone interested in the games.

After a little Sunday lie in, we started the day with a nice long walk across Ickleford Common, past Gerry’s hole and over the railway to the Lavender and Sunflower farm. Everywhere looked very lush….. there was wild chicory flowering everywhere, and the fields of wheat just looked incredible. We saw lots of sloe berries getting almost ready to pick (we are planning on making a large batch of sloe gin this year again) as well as lots of rosehips that we plan to make something with too.

After that it was more furniture shopping, at the big shopping park in Stevenage. We tried out lots of sofas, but both chose the same as our favourite, so it was an easy decision and we left having ordered a gorgeous two seater and three seater in sanded and waxed leather, which is now being made for us in Italy….hopefully it’ll be delivered not too long after we move in!

That sorted, we drove to Benington Lordship for the annual chilli festival. The house and grounds are just stunning (I hope to go back in the new year to see the famous snowdrops!), so it was lovely to wander round all the stalls selling chilli-based products and chilli plants of every variety. We bought a big box of Stratta‘s award winning flavoured vinegars (including the lavender, elderflower, raspberry and blackberry)…..and yummy preserves from Jules and Sharpie (including their hot apple and sage jelly, the green chilli and lime jelly and the hot marmalade)…. I’m really looking forward to serving them up and cooking with them.

It was off home then for a quick fish supper, before packing and heading back to London. We wanted to cram as much into Monday too, so we had a big breakfast at our local, then made our way to the British Museum. We have membership there and we promised ourselves that we would see every room there this year….we’ve not done terribly well really but we have at least seen all the special exhibitions.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing the Shakespeare exhibition there ever since it was announced, so we made our way there first. It’s a wonderful exhibition, which comprehensively walks you through all the historical impacts and influences on the playwright, and on ‘his London’. It’s the perfect show for this year of festivities I think….I learned lots about the history of London and England, and the beginnings of Great Britain and our National identity.

It’s quite a big exhibition (well worth a visit and the £14 entry, although you can become a member and get in free!) so we needed a sit down afterwards…. There is now an additional cafe in the Great Court, run by Benugo, and we had a perfect double espresso and flat white there whilst watching the window cleaners high above us on the glass ceiling.

We couldn’t miss the chance to go and see the Olympic and Paralympic medals too whilst they are being shown there, so we popped in to see them and the exhibition about their design and the history of the medals. Right next door is the stunning clocks and timepieces room, so we investigated that next…..I fell in love with the huge gold ship clock which was used to call guests to dinner (it plays music via an internal organ, ‘sails’ across the table, and fires its cannons!). It was lovely to hear all the amazing clocks chime on the hour too, and there is even a charming cuckoo clock!

It was a lovely day outside when we emerged from the museum, so we sat in nearby Russell Square to eat the fruit we’d packed, before walking back to the bus stop. Once home I started on our supper of roasted butternut squash stuffed with ratatouille and topped with cheese, and we’d eaten it in good time to settle in front of the telly to watch our friends appear on Only Connect! It was ace to see them and their admirable performance….well done guys!

We were too shattered after our busy weekend to do anything other than sit, so we slobbed out watching The Incredibles on Blu-ray (which looks amazing!) before hitting the hay…… what an awesome long weekend!

Hope you enjoyed yours!

Ems x

Something from the weekend….. markets, photos and cocktails

WHAT an amazing weekend! I’m shattered after doing so much, but it was all so worth it. Adam and I had our dear friend Hannah to stay, and so we made sure we crammed as much in as possible. There are lots of things I’d like to share individually, so for now I’ll just give you the lowdown….as soon as I get chance I’ll be back to tell you more about the things in bold in detail!

After a lazy start and a bit of a lie-in, Adam and I trundled down the road on Saturday morning towards Judy’s Affordable Vintage fair at Old Spitalfields. On our way though, we decided to pop into the Adnams shop, which is actually one of the shops on the outer edge of the market…..I’d read about their new eau de vie de biere ‘Spirit of Broadside’ on Domestic Sluttery, and wanted to try for myself! I’d never been in before, because I’d foolishly presumed that it’s just a shop full of beers (although I do really rate their beers, that said) but inside it’s actually an incredibly well-stocked wine shop. As well as a great range of wines, home wares and other bits and bobs, there are actually several Adnams spirits for sale…I had no idea that they have their own distillery and make vodka, gin, limoncello and other treats! Anyway, suffice to say for now, we very much enjoyed trying out lots of things, and came out with a bottle of Spirit of Broadside!

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After getting a bit tipsy on samples, we headed inside to the indoor market, and set about snooping the many vintage stalls. There were a few that we recognised, and I was very, very tempted to buy several little Hornsea pottery deer, but it wasn’t quite as good as when we’ve been before. I did however pic up a very lovely floral dish for just a pound! But we couldn’t potter about all day…..we popped across to Brick Lane for some provisions, and on the way finally got around to trying Nude Esperesso next to the Truman Brewery, buying a couple of very good macchiatos and a bag of beans to take home.

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Back at home by mid afternoon, I set about making the flat ready for our visitor, and we prepared our breakfast for the next morning…. I’d been inspired by a post on The Cake Hunter earlier in the week, and decided to make us all cinnamon whirls for Sunday morning breakfast. I actually ended up adapting a couple of recipes to make banana and cinnamon whirls in the end….I made the dough and filling, and put them together in the tray ready to bake first thing in the morning. It all smelled wonderful as I prepared it, so I was most excited to bake them on Sunday!

Before long though it was time to pick Hannah up from the tube station, and for our first adventure we took her to our local, the Oliver Conquest. We only recently discovered that they serve over fifty different gins, so it has fast become a favourite of ours! We all dutifully sampled a gin each…. the Geranium gin (for Hannah), the Hayman’s (for me) and the Old Raj (for Adam). It was a great way to start our evening, sat on the big comfy sofa with drinks, chatting and catching up.

Next, we made our way to Brick Lane where we met up with friends Richard and Tara for a curry. Hannah had never been before, so we’d prepared her for the usual….lots of salesy people out on the street trying to lure you into their respective restaurants with various deals. We decided we wanted to make our way at least half way down the road before choosing somewhere, as we often get over excited and choose the first or second place we come across! And we made it a good way along before heading inside a restaurant where we’d been promised Lychee Lassis!

After the meal, we headed just around the corner to what is probably one of my top three places to drink….. I was told about Lounge Bohemia just after it opened a few years ago. A colleague had worked with the owner, so I was told a little about this fantastic bunker of a bar which served totally out of this world cocktails. Just as well really, as I’m not sure I’d ever have found out about it otherwise! There’s no flashy website to draw you in, and you HAVE to book (there’s a no suits policy too!), but this gives the place a feeling of accessible exclusivity….it’s really not just a bar, but (forgive me) a drinking experience. As usual, we were treated to exemplary service, and THE most incredible cocktails available to man. I won’t give away too much before writing the visit up properly though!

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After our fairly late night (and the copious amounts of booze we’d gotten through), we have another fairly lazy morning on Sunday. I was pretty smug that I’d prepared the cinnamon whirls already though, so they just got brushed with honey and baked for about 20 minutes before we scoffed them alongside the Nude Espresso coffee we’d bought the day before. Then, well fed, we began the walk to Columbia Road flower market. Unfortunately, only half way there, the skies opened and we had to take refuge in Old Spitalfields. Still, it’s not a bad place to while away an hour whilst waiting for the rain to desist, and it was good to show Hannah around. We had started to flag already though, before the rain had even stopped, so we took up a nice spot in the covered terrace of The Luxe. I felt rather better for one of their ‘Veggie’ juice blends, and so with the rain stopped and our energy levels boosted, we finally set off again towards the flower market.

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It was a leisurely, meandering walk there, just because there were so many eye-catching things to photograph, including lots of very cool street art. Nevertheless, we made it there in good time really, and immediately immersed ourselves in the street market. Columbia Road is taken up every Sunday for the famous flower market, and sellers line each side of the road with stalls bearing stacks of fresh cut flowers, herbs, gardening stuff and pot plants. In fact, it’s a mecca for the bargain botanical, and I found myself wishing I had a garden to plant lots of the treasures in. Even if you don’t though, you can pick up amazing steals such as a huge bunch of sunflowers for just a fiver.

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Behind the stalls, there are lots of lovely shops to root about in (handy when it started to rain again!), including Ryan Town, the Rob Ryan shop, which I’ve been wanting to go to for ages. There are also some gorgeous nick-nack shops (my favourite the pretty boutique shared by Buddug and Jessie Chorley) as well as some amazing antique and vintage shops (I was in my element at Vintage Heaven with piles and piles of lovely vintage china!). There is also a little vintage market one road over on Ezra Street, as well as several (very packed) places to eat.

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We opted to make our way back towards Brick Lane though, and stopped in at Benets Ice Cream Parlour for a much needed sugar fix. After being served a rather disappointing Tiramisu, I was given a rather better Rocky Road by the nice man who agreed that the former didn’t taste of anything much. We wandered along Brick Lane with our ice creams and had a snoop about some of the markets. I was very pleased that I Shoot Film were there again, as I’ve been seeing their incredible horse photo for ages and knew Hannah would love it….and in fact, she bought it! We were seriously weary by that time though, and so it was home for a cuppa, and shortly afterwards Hannah made her way home to Hitchin.

Supper was going to have to be pretty filling and very quick and easy, so I roasted up some pumpkin and made a very simple risotto. It was so yummy, despite its simplicity, so I’ll be sure to share the recipe here soon. After that, we were only fit to slob on the sofa watching a film, before we fell into bed for an early night.

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Amazing times!

Hope you had a great weekend too!

Ems x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something from the weekend…. Saturday morning breakfast at The Wolseley

There were more yummy treats in store on Saturday, as we made our way quite early to the decadent Wolseley on Piccadilly for a posh breakfast. I’ve been wanting to go there for years, and breakfast is a bit of an institution there, so Adam thoughtfully suggested we use the excuse of my birthday to finally go! You’re not allowed to take photos in there, so I don’t have any to share, but you can see just how gorgeous it is in the photos on their website and in this lovely book that I would recommend too. In fact, there’s lots on their shop that I recognise from our visit…. I want it all! (links below for my favourites!)….

I started with a pot of their delicious Earl Grey tea (which was presented with this highly covetable strainer) whilst Adam tried there Noisette coffee (seriously impressive!). Then to eat I chose the Kedgeree as I never have it, and Adam went for the French Toast with creme fraiche, blueberries and compote. My dish came with a perfectly poached egg on top and was absolutely gorgeous…. the fish was super tasty and the whole thing beautifully cooked and seasoned. Adam’s was rather impressive too, in fact he said that it got better with every bite! I finished up with a delicious double espresso as I was pretty full, but Adam took on their Wolseley Imperial coffee which is made with mandarin Napoleon and Cognac, long espresso, hot milk, cream and chocolate….lush!

The service is reputably impeccable there and I wasn’t disappointed…. all the staff were very attentive despite it being very busy. I was also lucky enough to be brought a chocolate brioche birthday cake, complete with a little plaque to wish me happy birthday…. I was really too full to do even half of it justice, but between the two of us we yummed it down as it was too tasty to leave! I left the little garnish and plaque, so our waiter kindly offered to pop it into a box for me and I happily took away a very posh doggy bag! You can also pick up a postcard next to the cloakroom, which if you write at the table the staff will post for you free of charge! All in all it was a wonderful experience and I hope to be able to go again!

From there, we took a wander along Piccadilly and then Jermyn Street…. Adam is in the market for summer blazer and there’s nowhere better to shop for that as far as I know! After he’d tried a few on and started up a short list, we walked to Trafalgar Square where we took in a little of the West End Live performance of Wicked….. I do love the song Defying Gravity and would definitely recommend going to see the show itself!

Then we popped into the National Gallery to see their new Titian acquisition and to have a little snoop about…. I’ve not been for ages and after my trip to the Musee d’Orsay in Paris the other week, I was in the mood to see more. It was fun to go there for the first time with Adam and show him some of my favourites…especially the Turners which I am very passionate about.