Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Grill Market, Holborn

Hold it right there, I think I've found one of the best places for lunch on the go in London...

But let's take it back a step. We've been pretty spoilt working in Soho when it comes to places to grab lunch. For the lazy there was Pret, for the healthier minded there was Hummus Bros. Sushi lovers? Yoshino. Vietnamese? Pho. Best sandwiches made to order? Le Cafe Buen Guesto (my best kept secret that I was heartbroken to leave behind).

But now we've moved to the very unfamiliar Gray's Inn Road, we've been at a bit of a loss. We've already scoped out two or three great pubs but come lunchtime, no clue. Until Grill Market came into our lives. Next to Banh Mi Bay and right at the end of our mews, this new venture has got it going on. I've eaten there twice in two days (my colleague three times) and can confidently declare that their made-to-order sandwiches are far superior to your floppy cardboard affairs.

This narrow slither of a 'cafe' keeps things simple. First up, choose what you want from the grill... fancy chicken, BBQ pork belly, teriyaki salmon, field mushrooms and garlic, halloumi and harissa? They have it and more. Then decide whether you want a sandwich (and choose your bread) or a salad box. They'll then grill to order and ask what you want to load in as accompaniments - if you're like me, you'll say everything so will end up with a sandwich bursting with a kale and butternut squash salad, beetroot and carrot slaw, lemon and garlic mayo, braised red onions... Just try to resist the brownies or the cake (it's hard).

Today, I went back and had the pulled pork special. Served in a brioche bun with grated cheese, a lemony garlic mayo and lots of slaw, it was hands down one of the best sandwiches I've ever stuffed into my mouth and had dripping down my hands. A bold claim but I think these guys have stolen my heart.

And you know what's best of all (other than the aforementioned brownies and cake)? They do a loyalty card and I've already managed to get quiiiite a few stamps. I'll have a feeling we'll be on first name terms any day soon and boy, am I excited.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Spuntino (again)

Break-ups and move-outs aren't always bad, it seems. Okay, heartache is not something I'd wish on anyone and having to find a new housemate isn't always that easy, but absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that and I'm loving how the change in our living situation is breathing a bit of life into old friendships.

I think we could all agree that Mondays are fairly rubbish. Especially wet ones that show no remorse. But when dinner at Spuntino's on the cards, who cares about umbrellas anyway?

Having been to Spuntino before, I was keen to go back. It's about four doors down from my (soon to be old) office so it seemed like the perfect time to say goodbye. Part of the Polpo/Polpetto/Mishkin's family, it brings a bit of gritty New York to London. Think lots of cracked subway tiles, tarnished gold, a handful of seats around a bar and a red velvet curtain to take you away from the world outside. Small, but expertly formed, with some of the friendliest bar staff I've ever encountered, I have a lot of love for this place.

Sophie and I were early so, whilst waiting for a bench (Spuntino doesn't do tables), we shared some deep fried anchovy-stuffed olives. Totally moreish and deceptively hot, I washed mine down with a half pint of Camden Hells (don't try and go for a pint, they only offer cans as an alternative and £4.50 is a trifle steep...) When Ash arrived, we'd had some time to go over the menu (and devour the popcorn with chilli salt) and ordered a few things to share. I'm a total fiend for small plates - being able to dip in and out of the dishes gets a huge thumbs up for me.

So we opted for the four sliders - beef and bone marrow, pulled pork and pickled cucumber, lamb and pickled apple, and the prawn po' boy. A little tricky to split into three (don't even try), we essentially had a bite or two of each and declared them all very good. There's not a great deal else going on with the burgers - the focus is the meat - so don't expect your bacons, your cheeses, your several different types of lettuce, just embrace that carnivorous dream. We also chose the burrata (I'm a sucker for burrata) and chicory crostini that was perfectly creamy and garlicky and possibly my favourite dish of the entire night. Trying to get our 'seven a day' we went for the blood orange, ricotta and hazelnut salad and the Spuntino slaw (cucumber, cabbage, apple) as sides and polished off the skillet of mac and cheese - which still remains the crumbliest I've ever tasted and isn't a patch on Mishkin's.

The menu changes regularly depending on what's in season but the firm favourites stand the test of time. Other big draws for me are the barmen (friendly and helpful), the crockery and the infectious atmosphere complete with Jimi Hendrix tunes. Prices are fairly reasonable for a Soho spot and, of course, can escalate if you're feeling peckish. It's one of the better 'informal' places to eat in Soho but naturally, no bookings so grab a stool at the bar as and when you can for a four out of five bit of fun.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Imagery #16

Soho House tells you how it is | Blood Orange San Pellegrino to cure a hangover | Spending a lot of time here recently |  
Trying the NARS Sheer Matte out for size | Work dinner at The Hospital Club | And the Karma Sutra wallpaper | Back in the best bathroom | The dream team | The best pub in the world

Monday, 7 April 2014

& other places: The Old Drum, Banh Mi Bay & Bill's

The Old Drum
A 16th century pub in the heart of leafy Petersfield, we ended up here after a hungover trip down to Southampton to scope out furniture for D's new place. We hadn't seen the good write-ups but were instead drawn to it like a beacon and a source of a much-needed Bloody Mary. Carefully refurbed and complete with a pub dog, there's a lot to look out for. I went for the homecured gravadlax with the crunchiest, sweetest homemade pickles as an accompaniment, while D went for the pease pottage and ham hock which he couldn't get enough of (even if it isn't quite my idea of tasty). The steaks were perfectly cooked and served with triple-fried beef dripping chips and an inspired, chorizo and pancetta stuffed beef tomato. Dessert was in the form of sticky toffee pudding and deconstructed lemon meringue pie - all scraped up and declared good. Book in advance and they'll serve you a roast to carve at your table, or if you're after something light, they also do a great selection of English tapas.

Banh Mi Bay 
Sometimes after spending a morning moving office from Soho to Gray's Inn Road (sob), you need a good something to keep you going. Just round the corner from our new place is Banh Mi Bay, a very popular little Vietnamese cafe. As the name suggests, they do a roaring trade in Vietnamese banh mi (baguettes) and the queue for take-out was out the door. We each ordered a different one (I went for the chargrilled prawn), added sriracha to taste and wolfed it down in no time. You'll also find the usual rice boxes, summer rolls and bun noodles here if you're after something a little more substantial - and I was hugely relieved to see that they serve pho to go. Perfect for those fragile days at work that we really shouldn't talk about.

Bloggers' favourite, Bill's, recently opened its doors in Chichester, half an hour or so away from my parents. Continuing an ongoing dad and daughter day theme (we try and meet for lunch once a month or so), we dropped into Bill's having heard good things about their burgers. Ever one with eyes bigger than her stomach, I started with the honey and mustard Cumberland sausages - sticky and sweet and, frankly, probably enough for me. Dad and I both ordered the burger and stuffed it full of bacon and cheese. No messiness here, this is one firmly held together sandwich and the patty was admirably big. Skinny fries and horseradish mayo added a little something something, but we couldn't resist a plate of hot cross buns with cinnamon butter (Dad) and a lemon meringue cheesecake which I, predictably, failed to finish. With friendly service and a nice little thing going on, I can totally see why it's taking towns by storm. A one-stop shop whatever you fancy; nice.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Earlham Street Clubhouse

Things never stand still in our house. We're coming to the end of two years and in that time, we've seen four break ups, three additional housemates on top of our usual four, two then moving out and two moving in - so while I'm now sitting pretty with three roomies, things just aren't what they used to be.

The good thing about friends moving out (particularly when they move in with boyfriends) is that, whilst diaries can be tricky to align, there's always so much stuff to catch up on. So when Sophie and I finally got round to meeting up for the first time in a month since she moved out, it had to be somewhere good. I was tempted to take her to Burger & Lobster (one of my all-time go-tos because I am going through a massive lobster stage at the moment) but decided to branch out and give somewhere new a try.

The Earlham Street Clubhouse has been on my list for a while now. Pizza, cocktails and a jukebox controlled by an app just sounded perfect for a mid-week catchup and seeing as it's just down the road from my office, an easy choice. Just off Seven Dials and next door to other contender Flesh & Buns, this is one place that's managed to avoid the hordes of crowds so far but popular enough to give that all-important atmosphere. Speaking of which, it's, like, totally channelling the 90s American vibe.

We grabbed a table and spent a significant amount of time poring over the drinks menus (which hang on bungee cords from the ceilings). With names like 'Heather's Revenge' and 'Sweet Valley High', it's clear that these guys are taking their theme seriously. It turns out that Tuesdays are Clueless Tuesdays so their 'Rolling With The Homies' cocktail was 2-for-1 - perfect. Ketel One vodka, peach and strawberry puree, lemon, sugar and sparkling wine, these delights came served in pint tankards and definitely did the trick.

When it comes to the pizza, there are seven to choose from and they come as either 12 inchers (£10) or 20 inchers (£18). Spoilt for choice, we did the 'Ross & Rachel' and had half-and-half of the American Beauty and Vincent Vega. Served on a gigantic pizza board, this badboy was divine. Sliced into triangles the size of your head, you eat off the paper plates and marvel at how you've quite managed to consume the whole thing. Garlic chilli oil is on every table if you need it, but I would like to have seen some dips for the crusts. Speaking of the crusts - expertly thin and crispy, thanks to their woodfired pizza oven visible in the open kitchen.

(This is a photo of the 12' size - we were too greedy to snap our big boy before we ate it.)

We had another couple of rounds of drinks - at around £7 a pop and essentially half price, it'd be rude not to. We also tried the Stifler's Mom which divided opinions - Sophie hated the absinthe in it but loved the gin, whilst I could have drank it over and over.

Service was a little slow, but sweet when it came. The music - which you can oversee if you're so inclined - was bang on with Riot Jazz versions of Snoop Dogg songs and Prince, with old school Mission Impossible being shown (on silent) on screens dotted around the place.

There's definitely a diner-feel here and a great throwback to the teen movies we grew up with, watching valley girls share pizza with the jocks, and somewhere I'll definitely be heading back to. What do I give it? A firm four out of five, for sure.