London

Weekend in the smoke

Mark and I went to London for a couple of days over the May bank holiday weekend. After a super-busy week I was so looking forward to getting away on an adventure.

The main purpose of the trip was actually to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Old Vic, which I bought tickets to after seeing Daniel Radcliffe (Rosencrantz) and Joshua McGuire (Guildenstern) on Graham Norton a couple of months ago. It really was excellent: so funny and well done. I love the humour in Tom Stoppard’s plays, it’s so clever.

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After the play, we ambled over the bridge to Embankment for a half-bottle of wine at Gordon’s Wine Bar, before heading just a couple of minutes further up to Charing Cross for dinner at Barrafina, one of my absolute favourite restaurants. We had amazing monkfish tail from the specials board, and a glass of pedro ximenez sherry over dessert. After dinner, we travelled up to Camden to watch a band at the Lock Tavern before heading back south of the river for slumber. Perfect day.

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Sunday morning was beautiful, sunny and peaceful. We wandered over to Bermondsey Street and had a spot of brunch at the Garrison, before continuing on up to the river.

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We were due to meet my parents and sister at the Tate Modern, but we stopped off to see so many things on the way: Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral, the Golden Hinde, Winchester Palace… When we eventually got to the Tate we had a good nose round, and I spent a long time in the Rothko room for old times’ sake (and because it is soothing).

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From the Tate we went for pancakes and all-day veggie breakfasts with the family at the Breakfast Club, then headed for our train home, back to the provinces. It pains me sometimes that I can’t wake up in London every day, but perhaps it’s better to just visit regularly and so always experience the best of it? That way it can never be harmed by the fog of real life…

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The Coffee Awards 2016

Welcome to the Still Life with Flat White Coffee Awards 2016! Formerly the Weimar Republic Coffee Awards, but new blog, new name, so I suppose these are the inaugural SLWFW Coffee Awards.

I have not really had to stray too far from home this year to get some excellent coffee. The Nottingham coffee scene has exploded in all its rich creamery over the past year or so, to such an extent that we even created a bit of a stir in the national press! Anyhow, stray occasionally I did and here are my favourites from the past 12 months.

Greenhood Coffee House, Beeston, Nottingham

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Greenhood is out in the Nottingham suburb of Beeston, near the university, but is easily reachable by tram/bus/train/bike and well worth the trip. Owned and run by Rory, whom we first encountered some years ago behind the counter of Beeston stalwart The Bean, Greenhood is a beautiful, stylish Sydney-style cafe where you can sit comfortably and enjoy an extremely well-crafted coffee, as well as excellent cakes and light lunches (I recommend the bagels!). Rory also makes a superb matcha latte, for those of your who like your drinks green!

The Speciality Coffee Shop, Nottingham

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Lucy and Michelangelo will give you one of the warmest welcomes you will find anywhere in a coffee shop I am sure. Speciality is a bright and airy cafe up on Friar Lane, and being a couple of doors down from the Nottingham Law Society offices I find myself here quite often whenever I am up there on a course! I love watching Michelangelo make the coffee, he puts so much enthusiasm and love into each one, and they offer some fantastically full-flavoured, rich and tangy coffees. You can also get some really great breakfast here – try the smoothie bowls.

Laynes Espresso, Leeds

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I’m noticing that it’s a good year for green/blue coffee cups, but this one bucks the trend with a classic pure white. Heading north now, and right into the centre of Leeds to Laynes Espresso. A tiny little coffee bar, but squeeze in and you will get yourself one of the most beautiful, rich, creamy flat whites you can find anywhere in the country. Also, exceptionally good avocado on toast, if that sort of thing floats your ice cream!

North Tea Power, Manchester

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Staying in the north for this one, this cute little flat white can be found at North Tea Power, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. A couple of years ago, I found myself regularly up in the North West for work, and often used to retreat here in the early mornings for some toast and a coffee. It’s a lovely, friendly cafe and one of those places that always seems full of interesting people. I also last went there the morning after Cosmosis Festival back in March, and they were playing basically the full Brian Jonestown Massacre back catalogue in their stereo (BJM headlined Cosmosis), which ticks all the boxes in my book.

Caravan, London (Kings X)

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Back to the south. I love Caravan for its consistently excellent food, drink, and the generally all round good atmosphere that always exists in the Kings Cross branch. They roast their own coffee and do one of my favourite blends (‘Special-Bru’), which is delightfully fruity. I always make sure I take a bag home whenever I’m there. I’ve included this particular flat white, which I had back in February, because it should at least probably win best latte art of 2016 for that swan!

Small Street Espresso, Bristol

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My home city, like my adopted city, has some great coffee. Small Street Espresso is one of my favourites and the one I find myself going back to time and time again. Another tiny little cafe, but with an astonishingly wide range of coffee options. Good cakes too.

Cartwheel Cafe and Roastery, Nottingham

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And finally, if there were a first prize in the SLWFW Coffee Awards, I think this would be it. Cartwheel is a pure joy and to my mind one of the best places in Nottingham right now. Owner Alex, also formerly of Beeston’s The Bean, has created a beautiful Australian-European style cafe with a full kitchen dishing up wonderful breakfasts, brunches and lunches, and of course exceptional coffee. This little beauty in the photo bought a little sunshine to a grey day of Christmas shopping in December, but is just one in a long line of wonderful flat whites and cortados I have had at Cartwheel over the past few months. Long may the line continue!

Thanks to all the above for making the awards such a joy this year! Honorable mentions should also go to Outpost (Nottingham), Wired (Nottingham), 200 Degrees (Nottingham), Workshop (London) and Monmouth (London).

Also I should probably thank the Apple Photos app on my iPhone/Macbook, for very helpfully being able to tell me the address at which each of the above photos were taken, and therefore helping me sort between 20-odd very similar photos of flat whites in green/blue coffee cups.

Down and Out

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I read George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London in 2001, when I was 17. There were two things in the book that really struck me and have stayed with me to this day.

The first was the part about Tower House, the doss house on Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel, East London, where Orwell stayed. I was transfixed by the idea of this ‘Monster Doss House’ (although I think it was Jack London in fact who awarded it that title), and when I found out that it was still standing, abandoned and derelict, I went on a visit. This was around 2002 or 2003 (I in fact visited twice, so perhaps both), and Tower House looked like this. I have some of my own photos somewhere but this was the pre-digital world and they will be hardcopies. At that time, Whitechapel was pre-gentrification, Fieldgate Street was a grimy, unkempt little passage and the building itself was being squatted by homeless people. It was truly a dismal scene.

In around 2005, the building got converted into luxury flats. It is a ‘modern portered development’ of ‘contemporary apartments’. Fieldgate Street is ‘conveniently located in the heart of Whitechapel with pavement cafes, boutique shops and galleries’ nearby. And whilst I am generally in favour of progress, a small part of me felt an enormous loss.

The second thing that stayed with me was the Twopenny Hangover. So fascinated was I by the idea that for two pence you could spend a night on a bench with a rope to lean on, that I spent years seeking more information and in particular pictures of this doss house set-up. Unfortunately very little information exists, and even fewer pictures, but the one above has lately appeared online. It apparently shows a doss house in Hamburg, where they probably didn’t call it a Twopenny Hangover, but it is most certainly the same thing.

Watching the BBC TV series ‘Victorian Slum’, I was far more joyful than was probably appropriate to see that the recreated doss house featured its very own Twopenny Hangover. The participants in the series, in which modern families are ‘sent back in time’ to experience the hardships of life at the bottom end of Victorian society, understandably greeted the Hangover with baffled amusement. They were a nice bunch and it was a well-made and interesting series, so I mean no criticism here, but the format naturally encouraged frequent comments on the difficulties of Victorian life, and how lucky we are now, in the modern world, with all our creature comforts and safety nets in place. One of the participants, overwhelmed by the daily struggle to feed and house his family, commented on how nowadays, this wouldn’t happen, how we have housing associations and council services to help us.

I very strongly wanted to direct him and all those who may be nodding along at home to another BBC programme, the documentary filmed in the housing offices of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, where all but the most vulnerable (and ‘vulnerable’ is a very high bar) were turned away to fend for themselves on the streets, as there simply was no accommodation available. We may have one less derelict building and many more luxury flats, but how much use are they really at £1500+ per month rent? Watching the documentary, I wondered how far away we really are from the world of the doss house and the Twopenny Hangover.