The Betrayal of the Cafetiere

When my eyes were bedazzled by the glossy nespresso machine in the cooking shop where we were on holiday, I wasn’t thinking of myself as being unfaithful. I was unaware I was betraying my humble cafetiere, and the workday faultless barista service of Pret a Manger.

But when I came home from my holiday high and lay awake thinking about it, what actually was wrong with my cafetiere, a masterpiece of a gadget, simple effective and marvelous in providing good coffee? And if I bumped into a regular Pret baristas on the street, how would I explain that I would no longer be a daily visitor despite their pret-trademark charm and efficiency (cappuccino with no queues), and coffee with a good bite.

The only single reason I could come up with for buying a Nespresso (after I had bought one) was to be in the little club; to get something better than you had that you didn’t know there was anything wrong with in the first place. This is what really troubled me, nothing was ‘fixed’ by the Nespresso machine. But the stakes were raised.

I will admit that the one thing that is massively improved by the machine is being able to steam the milk – something that no other milk frother comes close to. And ok, I will save money by neglecting Pret.

I am still trying to find an expresso with the bite of Pret in the 23 capsule options, (otherwise known as grand cru- my teeth are on edge) and when compared with the really good coffee stakes of Blackheath, there doesn’t seem to be a flavour that matches the rich coconutty blend from Black Vanilla and Chapters, or the cindered Volcano blend from The Scullery. Can any one point me in the right direction? I find myself comparing notes at work, and day dreaming about which coffee I will have next. How kitsch this will seem in twenty years time, like black forest gateaux and prawn cocktail.

The letter of introduction to the starter pack assures me that regular partaking of the different options will improve my palate. Cheek.

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The Upsides to Being Miss Marple

A Review of eating out at Montpelier’s, Blackheath SE3

Nice coffee and traditional English cakes make for frequent visits to Montpelier’s.

And some of those traditional English cakes are exactly what they should be. There must have been upsides to being Miss Marple, after all. Other than the mystery solving smugness, she must also have eaten some really excellent traditional English cakes to justify a life in beige.

It’s been a while since I waxed lyrical about chocolate brownies and flapjack so I reckon I’m allowed a moment of repetition here: The best flapjacks crumble, oh they are lovely. They drop soft gold crumbs on your plate to make the flapjack eating experience last beyond the last bite. They have a crispy top and crust to maximise the texture experience. And they are absolutely perfect at Montpellier’s.

Take a moment, here. Reflect on great flapjack.

However in the case of chocolate brownies, there is more than one way to bake perfection. And the method of perfection sourced by Montpellier is this one where it is rich and crumbly and where the taste of a well sourced chocolate shines through.

This time I sat amongst the chintz hinting interior and ordered flapjack and coffee and walnut cake. I’m not sure that this is a criticism, but you had to concentrate to taste the coffee in the coffee and walnut cake which was all frothy butter ice cream (and walnuts plus a touch of cake). It was well made, but perhaps I should have chosen what i know I like best. And I possibly ruined it by ordering peppermint tea rather than coffee due to my delicate disposition (that must be regularly topped up with cake.)

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Service has become more friendly in recent years. I feel much less ‘processed’ as a customer and they smile at you these days. They are also good at solid lunches of the jacket potato or ploughmans variety. It is one of the few places lucky enough to have a continental pavement terrace for the summer.

As you can see from the picture, there is also a plentiful supply of ice cream, although Boulangerie Jade’s selection is so delicious, I seldom experiment with others.

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I do hope Miss Marple found good ice cream too.

Montpeliers
35 Montpelier Vale, London
020 8852 5258

The ginger lamb was just wow. Wow!

A review of eating out at Sun Ya, Blackheath Standard

Pre-planning and much debate is necessary when deciding what to order on an all you can eat menu. Which is tough when you are starving. We considered that ordering 3 mains between the two of us could be justified by sharing hot and sour meat soup. I am glad we shared this. The soup was a soup but it was not all that hot or sour. Also it had prawns in it.

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I’m going to skip through the starters else we’ll be here all night: they were ok. And the crispy duck was delicious, but crispy duck sits in that rare and fatty selection of foods that is hard to prepare in a non-delicious way.

 

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What followed was excellent, a flurry of savoury flavours supported by smokey chicken chow mein and special fried rice. The chilli beef, nice as it was, was the low light, a little two dimensional, those dimensions being deep-friededness and chilli. Obviously the Hong Kong style sweet and sour had at least one more dimension (the first 2 being sweet and sour) and along with the crunch of the deep fry and the addition of actual whole vegetables meant that it reached a harmonic for me. (Excuse the mixed metaphors.) And the ginger lamb was just wow. Wow!

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The only catch to all this excitement was that the three main dishes to share arrived about ten minutes before my husband had leave for a meeting. Most of the eating had to be accomplished by me. It was six o’clock on a week day. I quickly calculated that I had 4 hours of eating until bedtime.

So I sat along amongst the fabric flowers and gold wall paper pondering how I was going to achieve completion of the task and whether the waiters thought we’d had a food war (the table was a bit messy) and split up. I have a confession to make. Other than a smattering of rice on the table cloth (a large smattering) mission was completed.

Yes, it showed on the scales

Location is the strong point, a review of Charlton Lido

Unfortunately whether I blog about the lido cafe, or I do not blog about the lido cafe, it seems that you all know about it anyway, and are filling the aisles with your towels.

Of course when I refer to this being a blog about the lido cafe, I really mean this is about the whole lido sun terrace (where you can also buy a cup of tea) experience, and the should -try-harder cafe is a bit of an excuse for this review.

There aren’t any pictures in this review, because I seem to remember there is something about not having cameras at swimming pools so as not to upset mummies and daddies. It’s a sad sad world.

The lido however is completely not sad, at least not in sunny weather. In cold weather it’s less sad than really hard work. So while this distinctly un-British patch continues, go share in the joy. After an exhilarating lane swim, or childish splash, you can go sit on the sun terrace and listen to the gentle lapping of water to dry off the sun. It feels like being on holiday, in a like, hot place.

Hence the following picture is not of the lido, but of a hot place, in France, to bring the right feelings to mind.

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The exact nature of drying off allowed is up for debate. Despite the plastic seats there seemed to be a rule of not turning up to the cafe wet, that was mostly being ignored. I figured set hair jeans and my boden towelling hoodie (purchased from ebay, have you seen the price of those things?) would be good enough.

The location is let down by under-delivery in the food provisions. Service was friendly and the cakes and pastries were ok, but the bacon baps were already showing signs of wear… that being an absence of bacon that had to be replaced by sausages (cooked from scratch! And hence taking 40minutes before being served with margarine baps.) They even ran out of Earl Grey tea before we left.

Somebody smart could do something amazing at this place. After all Lewisham swimming pool’s Rhubarb is a real gem, and no less affordable. I’m day dreaming of some sort of The Scullery married to Greenwich council solution, but then I might never ever leave the lido.

Has anyone heard of Cypriot zivani? A review of Aqua, Blackheath

I’m always unhappy to read a menu where the choice is too obvious, but there was no such unfortunate experience at Aqua Mediterranean Bar and Grill. Even the main courses were exciting in all their lines. Usually I find I have to look at the starters or desserts to stay amused.

Greek Meze starter sounded great to me as a way of combining all the best starters. If you have simpler requirements for your starters, see if you as talk them into serving just the vine leaves with tzazaki which was definitely the best bit of the Meze.

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The open flame and fish menus in particular looked delicious: souvlaki, medallions, kleftiko… Mixed Grill! This is the relatively modest looking mixed grill, that proved totally filling.

Just like this fabulous chargrilled whole sea bream, that I couldn’t stop eating with its contrasting salty tomatoes and artichokes. Oh stop me from day dreaming!

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In fact, it has been a while since I have done such an utterly food focused review, so to pull away from the plates for a section, a comment on the music: we were surrounded by 70’s crooner does 80’s cheese in an inoffensive wouldn’t-your-mother-like-it sort of way.

And on the interior: nice actually, elegant. And lovely to have the skylight to prevent the room from feeling cramped and dark.

The service: Nervous rather than suave.

Anyway, bored of this, back to food: The desert menu did get off to a bad start by offering sticky toffee pudding. Has anyone actually eaten a genuinely interesting sticky toffee pudding? My curiosity was piqued by the selection of ice cream so having the guts to be the exact list that might appear in Neapolitan ice cream.

Baklava is so rare to see on a desert menu. In my book, this is the opposite of Victoria sponge. Pastry rather than sponge, honey instead of jam, nuts instead of cream- but most of all golden depth of flavour rather than creamy inaneness.

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We asked what was Cypriot zivani. We believe that this is a type of grappa but we overheard the waiter asking several others for flavour in order to work this out.

The accompanying coffee was smooth and interestingly sharp at the same time, and what’s more there seemed to be no question that it would come after dessert- none of this daft arriving before dessert, because the barista and chef are not in sync. This is rare. And very good.

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“The coffee explains the extra special double bill I am able to offer you today.” A review of the The Scullery, Blackheath

A review of the new The Scullery, Blackheath Standard.

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The Scullery, Blackheath

The Scullery is in the place of the old Gambardella’s. I never reviewed Gambardella’s. My respect for it was rock bottom for reasons that cannot be printed. But others seemed to hold a special part of their heart for it. I think that the Scullery has created peace amongst Blackheath because it has maintained the beloved elements of Gambardella’s, whilst mostly wiping out the hated ones.

The Scullery has maintained the interior that Gambardella’s was so lauded for itself maintaining (think: unspoilt depending on your Gambardella orientation). At the back this means it is very dark, with a whiff of cracked tile and ‘is it quite clean?’ paranoia.

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Unspoilt Interior

The front of the cafe however is light and airy with the clever use of an enormous mirror and has just enough modernising touches to make the retro interior rock. I can also vouch for the replacement of the crockery with genuine unchipped ikea. I’m liking all of this. It’s been pointed out to me that the Standard is now becoming the location for all of the fun independents while the village is starting to sink in glossy chain restaurants.

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The other aspect of the original incarnation that has been maintained is the simple and cheap no frills menu. Here is the lunch menu.

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We’d hoped this hid super-fabulous touches. We were a little disappointed to be honest, right up until we moved onto the cakes and coffee.

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Lunch at the scullery

The Scullery respects coffee, and tea. Ok, so everyone seems to want to offer a niche brand of both these days. But the hyped local coffee blend Volcano from Brockley was pretty special, a sort of cinder taste to it. (They said tobacco- I’m not a smoker). And the Dulwich sourced Earl Grey with pretty blue flowers was refreshing without being bitter. (Not 100% sure the flowers were related to the taste though.)

In fact the quality of the coffee explains the extra special double bill I am able to offer you today. Because I enjoyed the coffee so much I went back the following week to try the breakfast, which was not generous in its portions (ONE rasher of bacon? Clearly I forgot my ration tokens) but made of good quality sources. My bubble and squeak with poached egg was perfectly balanced.

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We had suspicious about the cakes. They were dusted with icing sugar. Does this make anyone else suspicious? Kind of implies they were worrying about them?

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Lemon cake and chocolate brownie

But the icing sugar was deceptive and hiding a perfectly gooey and crispy brownie with a decent cocoa hit. Equally the moist lemon cake was delicious. The cake selection was small. I would normally steer clear of the lemon cake / brownie choice because everywhere offers them as staples and I like things to be out of the ordinary. But our guess is, having visited 3 days after their opening, they have plans to expand. This would be welcome.

The Scullery, 48 Vanbrugh Park, SE3 7JQ.

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He reads OTHER reviews. A review of Cau in Blackheath SE3

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For all of Cau’s stainless steel interior, (I never liked this sort of interior even in the 80s when it became so popular. I’ve given up trying to give it the benefit of the doubt; hindsight has been given the full length of the rope) it is actually remarkably cosy when you’ve found yourself a nice corner. You’d never know you were in a tin can.

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The menu is a little bit patronising: with insightful suggestions like ‘have a small salad on the side, or a larger one as a starter.’ Don’t bother looking at anything other than the steak here. (so to be honest, don’t bother even turning up unless you are feeling rather flush at circa £39 per dish). I recommend the brazen, very unEnglish approach of ordering one steak to share with your table… or take most of it home for tomorrow. After all, a 500kilo steak is rather generous portion for me, even on greedy days.

We went for two rather interesting sounding sharing items and one steak with the intention of sharing all ‘as mains’ and skipping the starter. This was a strategy to pacify the 3/4’s Englishness that makes up me and my husband.

Empanadas (Classic Argentinian street food. Served with a fresh tomato sauce.) of Spanish chorizo and cream cheese Spinach, ricotta and date were lovely. But the deep fried pork belly, that sounded like a wonderfully unhealthy sort of a step up from a deep fried mars bar, fat with extra fat, was kind of slimy.

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We ordered our steak medium. And the staff recommended a nice matching Argentinian wine.
Here is a picture of the inside of our medium steak

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The charming staff admitted the mistake. (Please note, mistake admitting goes A. Very. Long. Way. in reparation and they went so far as to remove the entire meal, to return it to the table. I was impressed by this entirely proper way of fixing a mistake which (along with mistake-admission) you don’t often see. The staff registered we didn’t want a replacement of the deep fried pork belly, but replaced the finished empanadas. I think they must have known about the pork belly.

The steak returned remarkably quickly. We should have been suspicious at this point. But we are optimists. To give the chef his due (and there is not a lot of ‘due’ left now to be given) the newly cooked steak looked positively charcoaled on the outside, but the cooked effect only went about half a centimetre into the 10cm thick steak. The rest was jelly.

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My husband remarked that he had read of this experience on other reviews before coming. I don’t know what to be most disappointed by, the fact that he hid this information from me, or the fact that he reads OTHER reviews.

We didn’t want to go through the return-rigmarole all over again. The steak was edible, although a long way from medium, or even medium rare for that matter and again reparations were offered.

But may I note two things. This was their signature dish. Had we paid the full menu, we would have paid £70, for effectively a three course meal and drinks for one.
Let’s move on.

To churros! ! You’ll know I love churros: fried carbs in sugar. What could be more delicious other than churros with dulce de leche? Which, guess what? Was on the menu. We ordered some to share.

They arrived crisp and oily and … What’s the polite word…? I think the right word might be rare. Now I do know that the ‘how rare is rare’ when it comes to steak can be up for debate, hence us playing it safe and ordering our steak medium. But who has ever heard of rare churros? Dough is either cooked, or not cooked. In this case, it was the latter. Within its crispy interior was liquidy goo. Oh, we turned really English now. When the staff asked how our dessert was, we said…. “Thank you”.

CAU BLACKHEATH
10-12 Royal Parade, Blackheath, London
SE3 0TL

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