A good pub lunch Sunday Roast: Scarsdale Tavern, Kensington London

I love a good pub lunch.  I also really love a good Sunday roast. The weather in London was overcast and drizzling, just for a change, and the thought of sitting in a cute pub tucking into a hearty lunch was like a ray of sunshine breaking through a grey day.

I lived in London for six years during the last century, and had organised to catch up with some friends at the Scarsdale Tavern.  It’s a short walk from High Street Kensington tube and once you turn off High Street Ken into Edwardes Square, it’s like you have been transported to a tiny little English village. The huge oak trees line the street, almost forming a complete leafy canopy.  The terrace houses seem to all be homes to gardening gurus. Cute flower boxes with colourful plumes hang from windows and fences and across the road is a large gated private garden for the residents to use.  It’s really lovely.

The Scarsdale itself is traditional English pub, posh-suburb-style.  There’s a little umbrellaed beer garden out the front, and a large bar about two steps in from the front door.  Heavy drapes frame the windows and the walls were tastefully decorated with old fashioned paintings and English memorabilia without being cluttered. The only modernisation visible is the installation of TVs in the corners.  Thank God for that! I mean, the Olympics are on!

As a group of eight, we had the bossy yet accommodating manager put a couple of smaller tables together to seat all of us.

The black board menu featuring delicious sounding dishes such as slow roast shoulder of lamb with rosemary and redcurrant (15.95 pounds) couldn’t kill my hankering for a traditional English roast.

The roast of the day was roast beef (12.25 pounds) – hurrah – that means we were also going to have a Yorkshire pudding, the traditional baked batter that is served with roast beef; it’s purpose is to mop up gravy.  Yum yum yum!

All eight of us ordered the same thing, roast beef. It was a roast beef sort of day really.  And everyone’s plates were empty when cleared away by the waitress.  Our tummies where all so full, so we drank some more beer. I can’t explain that one! 

As far as roasts go, it wasn’t the world’s best gourmet experience. But it was a good hearty roast beef.  The gravy could have been thicker, however it was tasty.  The vegetable accompaniments could have been more traditional rather than the nicely cooked carrots, zucchini (courgette), and cauliflower.  Personally, I would have preferred roast potatoes, roast carrots, roast pumpkin, and green peas.  Still, it was very enjoyable and hit the spot.

Later in the afternoon, after a couple of hours of digestion, we ordered for dessert.  It was a disappointment.  Microwaved mass produced sticky date pudding with packet custard.  The taste was ok, but not really worth mentioning. The chocolate pudding and ice cream was in the same league.

The honey dew beer served by none other than a friendly Australian chap (we are everywhere!) was deliciously moorish and a half-pint after half-pint made for a most enjoyable way to while away the afternoon, catching up with friends while keeping on eye on the Olympics on TV.  I was behaving, hence the half measures ;).

Thanks Donna for booking The Scarsdale and for the recommendation!

FACT FILE:

23a Edwardes Square
Kensington, London W8 6HE
Tel: +44 (0)20 7937 1811

Scarsdale Tavern on Urbanspoon

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Lantana cafe, Fitzrovia London

Hurrah!  Finally we have had coffee worth writing about and a cafe breakkie to match. Allow me to introduce you to Lantana, a small packed out cafe pumping out great food in Charlotte Lane, a cute little lane just a couple of turns off the busy (and ugly) Tottenham Court Road.

After the first sip of my cappuccino, I wanted to kiss the barista. Aahh decent coffee at last. Coffee lovers will know how important this is!

We missed breakfast service, arriving just before midday. However, the lunch menu offered some brunch type dishes. Zorba went for the BERT – an open toasted sandwich on thickly sliced bread with crispy bacon, rocket, a fried egg, tomato and aioli (7.50 pounds). He wasn’t speaking much as he wolfed that down!

Delicious BERT sandwich, Lantana

I had the corn fritters with crispy bacon, fresh rocket, slow roast tomatoes, chilli jam and crème fraiche (10 pounds) and added a fried egg.  Like Zorba, I didn’t chat much during our meal either!  We were starving and so happy to be eating decent food.

Corn fritters, smashed avocado and an additional fried egg YUM

We both had a second cappuccino after our meals. Couldn’t resist!

Little Venice barge cafe looks so pretty but is not the place to eat or have coffee

Zorba had been grumpy for two days and I’m sure it was because he wasn’t able to have a good morning coffee.  He was fed up with eating a rubbish breakfast after a very disappointing tasteless and oily omelette at the Little Venice cafe near our rented apartment, and another average breakfast at Paddington station when we were starving and just had to eat – we expected that one to be average, but really just needed something in our tummies.

The service was quite relaxed. We were greeted and seated straight away and given water promptly without asking. We had to stop a waitress and ask her to take our order as we’d been waiting, ready to order for more than ten minutes (and we were starving!).  Also, it took longer than I would have liked for our food to come.  But when it finally arrived, we were delighted with the presentation, quality, and taste. So the slight wait was soon forgotten.

Other tempting menu items included grilled haloumi and roast beetroot salad (7.50 pounds), Crispy pork belly ciabatta roll with cress and chilli mayo (12 pounds), smoked haddock, pea and lemon risotto (10 pounds), and Confit duck leg w/ red cabbage, fennel and raisin coleslaw (9.5 pounds).

Next door is the Lantana takeaway cafe where fresh looking wraps, paninis, rolls, and salads were available for those that wanted to grab something and eat elsewhere.

Lantana is touted as serving Australian style cafe food.  I don’t know how Australian it is, but it is good.  Very good.

There are other cafes and restaurants in Charlotte Lane yet none of them were anywhere near as packed as Lantana.  We were lucky to arrive when we did, we got the last available table and a queue began to form.

lan·ta·na [lan-tan-uh]: a hardy invasive weed that thrives in unlikely environments.

Well done Zorba for taking charge, jumping online before we left home and find this gem of a cafe.  My tummy and taste buds were all the better for it (not to mention my mood!).
Lantana on Urbanspoon

FACT FILE

Lantana
13 Charlotte Place
Fitzrovia, London W1T1SN
(near Tottenham Court Rd and Goodge Street tube)
info@lantanacafe.co.uk
Tel: +44 (0)20 7637 3347

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London cycling: East End to West End

How cool are the “Boris” bikes? I didn’t know what a Boris bike was until it was explained to me that the public bicycles available around London are an initiative of Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Cycling Zorba

We had a great lunch at Hawksmoor Spitalfields after a disappointing morning when we couldn’t get into Olympic Park despite trudging all the way there, we decided to go for a cycle through London. We rented the Boris Bikes properly known as the Barclays Cycle Hire.

To access a bike, it costs 1 pound and access lasts 24 hours. If you dock a bike at a docking station within the hour, the cost of bike hire is free. If you ride for an hour, the cost is 1 pound; 90 minutes is 4 pounds; 2 hours is 6 pounds and so on.

It was a beautiful sunny London day and the perfect day for a ride. We rode from Spitalfields down to the Thames, across the loveliest bridge in the world, Tower Bridge (so COOL!), along South Bank, over London Bridge (which is really boring an just like any road bridge you see everywhere), along Embankment and finally stopping at St Paul’s Cathedral. It was so much fun! Mind you, Claire, Zorba and I had two pints each at lunch and were feeling pretty good to start with!

Tower Bridge

We stopped a couple of times, at South Bank, and to give our tour leader, my lovely friend Claire, time to consult the map.

After we ducked into St Paul’s for free (yay!) – it was just lucky timing as a service was due to start and the cashier’s taking the usual 12.50 pound entry fee had packed up for the day – we grabbed some water and re-hired our bikes.

We pedalled across London, cycling along embankment to Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. So so so cool!

The best thing was that because the Olympics are on and the cycling event was on earlier in the day, many of the roads were closed and we were able to ride our Boris bikes along part of the Olympic cycle route.

Westminster Abbey

After taking in Westminster Abbey, we continued pedalling and headed towards Buckingham Palace. We rode down the beautiful tree lined Pall Mall that was closed to traffic – just magic!

We encountered a few policemen along the way that were manning road blocks or just on general patrol and I have to say that every one of them was super friendly, happy to chat to us, giving us tips on where we can take the bikes and so forth. I was very impressed with the smiling friendly bobbies, even if some of them looked a bit scary carrying machine guns!

The Queen Victoria Memorial gold statue out the front of Buckingham Palace had obviously been polished by some mignon as it was looking very shiny.

Shiny Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace

Zorba was underwhelmed with Buckingham Palace – he expected it to be grander, bigger, somehow.

From Buckingham Palace, we rode through Green Park, Hyde Park corner, Marble Arch, and through Hyde Park to Kensington Palace. When we reached Queensway, we docked our bikes, regretfully.

We all had such fun riding though London, taking in the sights at a leisurely pace, WITHOUT HELMETS. I loved that. If I didn’t have to wear a helmet I’d ride my bike in Perth much more I’m sure.

London is an easy city to walk around – it’s not all that big or rather spread out really. But cycling adds another dimension. It was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had in London. Pleasant weather, great friends, historical magical sites, access to the world’s famous monuments, closed roads and minimal traffic – really, we couldn’t ask for more.

Moreover, the bikes are quite good quality. They are fairly heavy – not ideal for lugging up or down stairs (which we did once!), but they have gears, are smooth to ride, have a handy little carry area on the front for handbags including a stretchy strap to hold bags in place, little flashing brake lights at the back, and they are so cheap!

We walked up Queensway then along Westbourne Grove until we reach Kath’s place. We could have ridden the bikes almost all the way to Kath’s place as there’s a bike docking station about 60 metres from her house!

Kath and Fiorenzo prepared a fab dinner of antipasti – buffalo mozzarella, mortadella, and home made focaccia which was sensational. We had really delicious authentic home made bolognese for dinner. Thanks guys!

Hiring a Boris bike is a very highly recommended way to see London. Go on, get on yer bike!

FACT FILE

Barclays Cycle Hire

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Hawksmoor, Spitalfields, London

Hawksmoor Spitalfields was the haven we were searching for.

The three of us, Zorba, Claire and myself, felt a bit disheartened when we couldn’t get into the Olympic Park at Stratford earlier in the day.  The consensus was that a good lunch was in order.

Using the reference notes from my food magazine editor Chris, we decided to go to Hawksmoor in Spitalfields after a quick walk through the Spitalfields markets.

Without a booking on a Saturday, we were lucky to find an available table. Hawksmoor specialises in steak and it is the ultimate carnivore’s dream. The meat is supplied by the Ginger Pig, a well-regarded producer. Steaks are charged by weight, for example, t-bone £7.50 per 100g, sirloin £8.50 per 100g. The available steaks were listed on the blackboard, e.g. Rump 900grams, Sirloin 750grams. These were huge steaks and quite pricey too. A bit more than we wanted to spend really.

There were other steaks on the menu, such a 400g Rib-eye for £28. That is what Zorba chose. Zorba’s steak tasted smoky and delicious. He enjoyed it, although he said it wasn’t the best ever steak of his life. But still very very good.

Claire chose the Hawksmoor acclaimed hamburger with triple cooked chips. I pinched a few of her chips as they were crunchy and delicious! Claire loved her burger.

I went for two starters instead. I loved the sound of them both and couldn’t choose between the pork belly ribs and the young beetroot and pea salad with goats cheese and tarragon.

Young beetroot and peas salad with goats cheese and tarragon

My ribs were sticky, fatty and oh so tasty. The beetroot salad was really yummy, and it felt good to eat vegetables again.

We had two pints of beer each and it was a very enjoyable lunch.

Big shout out to our lovely waiter – his service is what really made this lunch exceptional. He was knowledgeable, friendly, and efficient.

Lunch for three including two pints each came to £101 (A$150). Not too bad really.

FACT FILE

Hawksmoor Spitalfields
157 Commercial Street
Shoreditch London E1
Tel: +44 20 7426 4850

http://thehawksmoor.com/locations/spitalfields

Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar on Urbanspoon

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London 2012 – Olympic Park

After an awesome night in Hyde Park for the official London 2012 Opening Ceremony party, we were keen to get more of an Olympic fix and decided to meet my friend Claire the next morning and head to Stratford to Olympic Park.

We knew that there would be a £10 entry fee just to get in to the Park (no events included), but what we didn’t know is that we had to pre book tickets online before arriving. There was no gate and no where we could pay £10 to get in. So many tourists were in the same boat as us, just wanting to get in to Olympic Park and just soak up the atmosphere knowing there was no chance of getting into any events. Not possible. We tried to book tickets on Claire’s phone there and then without success. Alas, it was not to be.

The view of the thousands of people trying to view Olympic Park

One of the security guards suggested we go up to level 3 of John Lewis, one of the UK’s biggest department stores, and from there we’ll see a view of the Olympic Park. Ok, that sounded like a good plan, so that’s what we did. And so did about 40 million other people, half of which I’m sure were not wearing deodorant. It was hot, stuffy and stinky. Let alone near impossible to get near the window to see anything.

Olympic Park

Zorba had enough after about 16 seconds and said he would wait for us outside. Claire and I shopped for London 2012 merchandise and didn’t find anything we liked in our size, so we left also about 10 minutes later.

We found Zorba waiting outside the Olympic Park tavern – I expected him to be in the tavern having a beer whilst waiting for us. Grumpily, Zorba said that it was £3 to get in, and then you had to pay for beers. Out of principal, Zorba refused to pay.

Near where Zorba was waiting for us, Claire spotted a little compact camera on the ground. Oh no! Someone has lost their camera! Shame.  Claire and I had a look at a few of the photos to see if there was anyone in them – and there was one lady of oriental descent wearing a purple top. We looked around the immediate area, couldn’t see anyone that resembled the lady in the photos and shrugged our shoulders. There was no way we’d find them in this crowd. Claire decided to hand the camera into the lady with the megaphone. Just then, I saw a lady with dark hair wearing a purple top, so I approached her to ask if she had lost her camera. Meanwhile Claire and Zorba were shouting at me, “Di what are you doing? It’s not her! You’re crazy!”.

The lady I approached seemed perplexed when I asked her if she had lost her camera. She said no and seemed a bit put out by my forthright nature. I apologised and said we had found a camera and that there was a lady that looked a bit like her in a purple top in some of the photos. I said sorry again and walked away. Claire and Zorba thought I was bonkers! Oh well, I tried.  I know I’d be devastated if it was me who lost a camera.

Three minutes later I get a tap on my shoulder by the very lady I was talking to.  She said it was her camera that she lost – after I walked away she checked her bag and her camera was missing. She described the camera case it was in and was so thankful I approached her. We told her that we handed it in to the megaphone lady. She was very thankful and said bye as she set off to collect her camera. You see! I was right! My good deed for the day done [pat on back].  Claire and Zorba were freaking out that I had managed to find the owner of the lost camera in the throngs of people that were milling around at the time.  I suppose it was uncanny!

Claire ordering her custom made magnum

We had a bit of a walk around the Westfield shopping complex in Stratford, which is huge and impressive. Every big brand has a shop there, Prada, LV, Versace, etc, as well as other quirkier shop fronts, such as Magnum ice creams. I know, why would Magnum have a shop front? Who knew that you could custom make your own magnum? You start with a ‘naked’ magnum, and then choose white, milk or dark chocolate coating, then up to three sprinkles – Claire chose almonds, ginger and something else I can’t remember. The only reason this gets a mention is because I’ve never seen it anywhere before. Claire said it was more of a gimmick than a fantastic ice cream eating experience.

It’s a little like the whole building dedicated to M&Ms in Leicester Square. Four floors of M&M characters, country colour-coded packets, even an M&M themed London bus was inside the M&M store! It was pretty cool. A total tourist gimmick but nonetheless, pretty cool.

Without event tickets, online entry tickets, or last minute mobile phone online entry tickets, we had no chance to get in to Olympic Park and nothing really more to do at Westfield.

And this ends our Olympic Park entry attempt. Unsuccessfully.

There is always a silver lining, right? Our silver lining was the great lunch and afternoon we had cycling around London. You can read about it in my next post.

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