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The Cartmel Village Shop for Sticky Toffee Pudding

From the M6 junction 36 follow signs for Barrow-in-Furness (A590). On the big Meathop roundabout take the right exit and follow the brown signs for Cartmel Priory. Continue through the village to the Market Square.

The Carmel Village Shop does sticky toffee pudding. Extremely good sticky toffee pudding. And the best part of it is that it’s all take-awayable. There’s an entire chiller full of it. Aluminum foil packs for two, for four and for six, and they come in different shapes as well. I half considered packing one into a care package back to Singapore for Gloria; she likes the stuff at The Marmalade Pantry but Cartmel’s puds just blow them out of the water. Unfortunately because the stuff is freshly baked and packaged every day there wasn’t a chance it was going to survive a 7 day rough and tumble through the international mail network without spilling sweet sticky goodness all over other peoples’ mail.

Cartmel Shop
The story behind sticky toffee pudding was that it was pioneered by Lake District chefs between 20 to 30 years ago. As with any good thing, there are a number of hotel kitchens and shops like Cartmel who claim and market themselves to have done it first. History is fine but quibbling over what happened in the past is just missing the point; legacies are based on who does something best, not who does something first.

UK Lake District_Cartmel Shop_Sticky Toffee Pudding Upon entering the shop one is greeted by a shop floor filled with condiments, cordials, cheeses and wines. Sticky toffee pudding is the signature obviously, but there is an effort to make the shop more than just that. The cafe on the upstairs is well lit and clean. The food preparation area is not confined in a separate room and one has a sense of being a guest in someone’s house when eating there. The pudding is served fresh from the morning’s batch, spongey, porous and utterly saturated in a saccharine toffee sauce. The vanilla ice cream supplement is a must-have. Wash it all down with a pot of tea and all will feel right in the world again.

UK Lake District_Cartmel Shop 2 The shop floor is lined with shop shelves packed full of tasty things.UK Lake District_Cartmel Shop 1The pub right across the market squareCartmel

77 Hampstead High Street
London NW3
Hampstead Tube Station, Northern Line

Took a gander down to Hampstead Heath at the start of a rather late spring. For tourists looking for some sight-seeing and who tire from shopping, Hampstead Heath is easily accessible by the Northern Line (exit at Hampstead), and is a pleasant 15 minute walk away from the station. Particularly worthwhile if the weather is pleasant that day.

After a long winter, the light coming through the trees in the Heath were particularly bewitching that day. Made me forget for a moment that I was living in one of the busiest cities on Earth  Hampstead Heath_Shadows Signs of Spring peeking out from amidst the branches Hampstead Heath_SpringGolders Hill Park, with plenty of parents with hyperactive children and strollers in tow. Golders Hill Park

I’ve heard plenty about the famous Hampstead Creperie (or La Crêperie de Hampstead for all you francophiles) from friends before, so this trip to Hampstead was pretty much a pretext for me and my housemate to go try it out for ourselves. The creperie was difficult to find. We had thought that because the creperie had a number assigned to it that we were looking for a visible brick-and-mortar shopfront along Hampstead High Street. On my part I take pride in my navigational skills and try not to ask for directions when I’m in tourist mode. Gloria, on the other hand, would attest to the view that I am one stubborn son of a gun, which in this particular case worked adversely against me. I must’ve walked past the shop at least three times before I realised, to my mortification, that what we were looking for all along was not a shop but a tiny, white, plastic-pre-fabricated booth situated in the afternoon shadow of a pub.

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The shop is manned (or womanned, if you will) by a pair of hustling-bustling French ladies. Service runs like clockwork amidst a latticework of crisscrossing arms, tupperware and batter. Orders are taken in a fashion that would have made my parade sergeant major proud. Manners were immaculate though, replete with “pleases” and “thank yous” as you would expect from the French. I have never been barked at by a service worker but walked away feeling so good about it before.

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The food, you ask? Brilliant. Nothing warms the cockles of my heart like a toasty crepe stuffed full of melted chocolate bits and banana slices. The batter is seared perfectly and leaves the heating plate nice and crispy. It is best to share the sweet crepes – portions are generous and one can only eat that much chocolate before feeling saturated.

No such problems with the savoury crepes though. The cheese, spinach, garlic and mushroom combination was a gorgeous mix of salty and tangy. All crepes are served in a specially designed paper card holder, which proved remarkably effective in keeping the mess to a minimal. The Hampstead Creperie is well worth making the trip for, and we can think of worse combinations than a nature walk and crepes to spend your day.

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23-25 Leather Lane
London EC1N 7TE
Opening Hours: Weekdays 8:00am – 6:00pm, Weekends 8:00am – 5:00pm
http://www.prufrockcoffee.com/about-us/

Prufrock_Leather Lane_Premises
Just doing the London coffee round, which wouldn’t be complete without a nod in the general direction of Prufrock Coffee at Leather Lane. These guys are the real deal in the London coffee scene – heck, they not only make coffee, they train the people that make coffee. Plus their dessert table looks so pretty.

We also understand they do coffee-making workshops on top of their barista-training services, which could be a wonderful way to spend the weekend. More information can be found here.

The Quayside,
60 Robertson Quay #01-11
https://www.facebook.com/SmittenCafe

Met up with Denise just before she jetted out of Singapore for coffee at Smitten. Had a latte specially pulled for me by the erstwhile barista (thanks!) and learnt what acidity means in the context of coffee (sourish aftertaste). It was a good time catching up.

Smitten is situated in the quiet Quayside complex next to the multicoloured Alkaff Bridge at Robertson Quay

The cafe occupies a small narrow space at the Quayside. The decor is simple, with bare concrete flooring, stripped ceiling and whitewashed brick walls. The cafe is jam-packed with knick-knacks commonly associated with the coffee business – assorted cups, french presses, filters, coffee bags for sale, and a pretty cool looking coffee roaster at the back. The aroma of freshly-brewed coffee pervades the premises, all the better to enjoy one’s cuppa in.

My coffee was in good hands.

The blend that day was on the sour end, with enough tartness to kick the mid-morning sleepiness out of me. Denise says it’s akin to what one will get at the London coffee houses. Kaffeine and Prufrock did have very similar-tasting brews. I enjoyed it, but generally I prefer my coffee on the nutty side.

Bratwurst Panini

Smitten also has a small selection of sandwiches to whet your appetite. The bratwurst panini could be smelled from a not-inconsiderable distance away and oozed cheese like lava. It’s rich so it’s best enjoyed when shared.

Islington Branch (available for breakfast, lunch, dinner too)
287 Upper Street
London N1 2TZ
http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/

Beautiful beautiful salads! 

It is really a wonder why we’ve not blogged about Ottolenghi before. We’ve been going to their Islington branch for our indulgent salad box treats for the longest time. Ottolenghi is a wildly popular chain of delis in London owned by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. This Israeli-Palestinian cooking duo have brought their Middle-Eastern culinary heritage to bear on the London food scene for several years now, serving up food so good they’ve made seasoned (and jaded) food reviewers write uncharacteristically gushy things about them.

Cheesecakes with a chocolate and macadamia nuts, one of our favourites

Don’t just take it from us. Make a trip down to one of Ottolenghi’s four branches (Notting Hill, Kensington, Islington and Belgravia) and see for yourself. The window displays are culinary works of art, with chocolate financiers, meringue tarts and cheesecakes arranged in beautiful battalions ready to wage bloody(-delicious) war on your taste buds.

Enticing salad displays (chillied brocollis in the foreground)

We nearly forgot to mention the salads, the best green and vegetable-looking things you’ll ever put into your mouth. As Ottolenghi’s website puts it, “Our favourite ingredients are of this ‘noisy’ type: lemon, pomegranate, garlic, chilli.” Be prepared for a veritable explosion of flavour on first bite.

Cous-cous, Ottolenghi style

The selection varies from season to season, but we’ve found that the rice-based salads, anything with squash and sweet potatoes in it, and the grilled aubergines with yoghurt dressing have been consistently good. Cous-cous has never featured highly on our carbohydrates-list, but those we had that day were deliciously blended with lemon and coriander. Some of our friends swear by the grilled brocolli with chilli, so that’s worth trying as well.

Angus Beef Fillet, lightly seared, with a mustard yoghurt dip.

Corn Fed Chicken – quite good, but beef is better

If you’re feeling nippy, get the angus beef fillet, lightly seared on the outside, and complemented perfectly with a light mustard-yoghurt dip. Two slices a person is more than plenty. It is sold by weight, so that will be about £3.50 each. Make it a three-course by choosing from Ottolenghi’s extensive selection of desserts. We love their cheesecakes and their signature passionfruit meringue tarts.

The last two times we were there, we took away lunch and went to the bench at St. Mary’s Church Garden. The weather was perfect and it turned out to be an unplanned but romantic picnic. 

(Pssst, takeaways are also alot cheaper than eating in  (£9.50/regular, £15.50/large). The large salad box is more than enough for two!)

30 Avery Row
Tel: 07740 952015

Everbean is an independently run cafe on Avery Row, a pleasant and cultured walking alley just off Bond Street (psst, the Paul Smith outlet store is here too). The cafe has an impressive selection of salads and sandwiches, which our friends tell us is quite splendid. We made a pit-stop last week and had a latte, which had a delicious nutty taste to it. It was a pity the milk was a bit thin, probably the result of inaccurate steaming. We’re inclined to give the coffee another chance, and will try to pop by again soon.

The cafe is blessed with high ceilings and tall glass windows

9 Penang Road
Park Mall #01-01
Tel: +65 6338 8611
http://kith.com.sg/
Kith café did well by opening its second outlet at Park Mall, a niche mall known more for its expensive furniture shops and lack of patrons. Yet, it’s precisely because of its slow-n’sleepy character that makes it suitable for an indie joint like Kith – far enough from the manic bustle of Orchard Road but still a convenient 2-minute walk from Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. Kith’s coffee came highly recommended by friends, so I dragged Hweifen along for a coffee and lunch.

We started with a macchiato and latte. Now, I’ve mentioned before that I’m not much of a coffee person, so I was happy to defer to the judgment of my better-informed counterpart. She proclaimed in her characteristic manner that the coffee was “mehh”, which I translated meant “good, but I’ve tasted better”. She also noted that the macchiato was smaller than she thought it would be. On my part, I was glad the waitress didn’t give me a dirty look when I asked for sugar with the latte.

Because we were also hungry, we had the tenderloin spaghetti ($19) and big breakfast ($15.50). The spaghetti itself tasted fine, tomato-tangy with the beef adding a smoky hint. However the treatment of the tenderloin was shameful. The meat is just too delicate for stir-frying. The lack of fat means it dries up quickly when subject to high heat – which was exactly what happened. A better choice would be to use sirloin or ribeye, do it on a griddle as a large chunk and then slice them medium rare into the spaghetti.

The big breakfast was customizable, but I picked the wrong combination by choosing the poached eggs and brioche toast. The brioche with added butter and jam was particularly nasty. Go for a sandwich-able combination – ciabatta/focaccia with eggs done scrambled/sunny-side-up. Nit-picking about the steak aside, Kith was decent for food. What made the place nice was how chill (what an indie word!) the place felt. The premises suffered from no lack of natural light and there was plenty of seating in the canopied alfresco area outside. Plus, the waiting staff was really polite (“certainly, sir, any drinks to complement your mains?”). No brusque, dour service here, sir. At Kith, we teach our people their proper Ps and Qs, mind you. That really made my day.

1 Fifth Avenue
#01-01 Guthrie House 
Tel: +65 6468 3656

Chu, Xue and I have been going to Venezia at Guthrie since we were fifteen. Waffles & a single scoop of ice-cream used to cost $3.80, but no thanks to inflation, the price has doubled. I love my waffles with Tartufo or Gianduia  (almost like hazelnut, but not quite).  Glen tried it with salted caramel last week and they tasted like pancakes! Both our families have grown to love this cosy corner and we’ll head down whenever the dessert compartment in our bellies scream for some ice-cream loving. If you are driving along Bukit Timah Road, be sure to drop by! It’s addictive, and you’ll be back for more.

Atlantic Road, London SW9.
Open Mon-Weds 10am to 6pm; Thurs-Sat 10am to 10pm; Sun 12pm to 5pm

Brixton Village is in a rather pleasant state of change right now. The covered market pictured above has been around since 1937, and has for a large part of its history been a fresh produce and butchery market catering to the African and Carribean communities in the vicinity. Most of that is still there, but the market has more recently been the stage of a quiet food revolution. It is now a happy hunting ground for coffee addicts, foodies out for a cheap eat and avid people-watchers. More importantly, it’s not been colonised by tourists yet, and here’s hoping it stays that way.

Getting there is not difficult. Simply take the Victoria line all the way south to Brixton and then walk down Electric Avenue, taking in the smells of freshly killed meat and fish displayed in the Middle-Eastern butcheries along the way.

Honest Burgers
Brixton Village Unit #12
London

Honest Burgers at Honest Prices (Beware the queue!)

Places like Honest Burgers are a god-send to the burger scene in London. With prices from £6.50 for its basic offering, it represents possibly the best value-for-money burger in town. The patties are 35-day aged beef from the Ginger Pig butchery, which in turn gets its meat from British Longhorn cattle, which in turn was described by Heston Blumenthal as the most fragrant and succulent meat available in the UK currently (see this video for a ten minute instructional on how to make the perfect steak).

The patty is complemented by a slightly sweet, glazed brioche-like bun. Nice and crusty on the outside, meltingly pliant when bitten into. The basic burger with red-onion relish is £6.50. The Honest Burger, with crisp smoked bacon, mature cheddar and crunchy pickled cucumber, tops out at £8. Not listed on the menu is the Federation Burger (£12), which is the same as an Honest Burger, but with two patties. You might only want to have this if your family does not have a history of heart disease. Chips are triple cooked, skin on, dusted with salt and rosemary. Like any good burger joint, mayonnaise is available on request.

A word of advice: Come early to avoid the queues. The sitting area is probably big enough to fit only 15 customers, baby prams and all. We arrived at the stall at around half past 11 and were lucky to have only waited half an hour. Not that the wait was an unpleasant one, really. Between my friends and I we took turns to wander the market whilst one of us stayed in.

Federation Coffee (#77-78) just down the block. Family Friendly, too.

The market has a wide variety of cafes to sit and chill out at as well. The proprietors all seem to know each other pretty well: the Federation Burger at Honest Burgers was named after the Kiwis at Federation Coffee just down the avenue.

Space enough to sit outside

Alfresco dining at the Village is actually a viable idea. The covered nature of the market keeps the worst of the weather away but allows enough light to come through. Makes for lovely photography too!

Fresh Produce.According to wikipedia, some stalls are still selling live African snails. We didn’t see any that day.

All in all, a pretty good day out of Central London. Brixton Village is a place that is ripe for repeat visits. KaoSarn (Thai) and Mamalan (Beijing Dumplings) are a couple of places we walked by but were too stuffed to try. Will come back soon. Watch this space!

37 Kampong Bahru Road
Singapore 169356
93683610
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 9:00am – 11:00pm
Closed Mondays
https://www.facebook.com/StrangersReunion

Mocha and Cupcake

So, over the weekend, we finally made our way to Strangers’ Reunion to visit Andrew! The name says it all, really. Strangers stumble upon a cafe and bond over their shared love for good coffee. The cafe follows an interesting philosophy on socialisation, eschewing flashy publicity for a simple understated approach. Tucked away in a nondescript row of shophouses near Outram Road, the cafe is recognisable from the outside only by a set of brown, distressed wooden doors. Most of the patrons had heard of the place from someone else or had done a little research before coming in. Regardless,  simple word of mouth is as potent a tool as a good cup of coffee, and the cafe does a brisk business within its cosy confines.

Andrew at the counterAndrew is a wizard in the kitchen. He was Glen’s housemate in London and was nice enough to cook us dinner whenever we were all home. (psst, what would we do without you? :))

Waffles, Ice Cream, Fresh Fruit

Glen and I are big, big, big fans of waffles and ice cream. It was with a connoisseur’s eye that we approached Strangers’ Reunion’s current offering. The batter was tweaked from a traditional Belgian waffles recipe and uses yoghurt as a substitute to milk. the result was a lighter, fluffier dough that crumbles beautifully in the mouth. It also helped that the waffle mold was a thick one, which gives the waffle more volume to wrap one’s voracious tongues around.

Ciabatta, Chicken Tandoori, Apple and Red Cabbage Slaw, Mint and Dill Greek YoghurtWe didn’t try the sandwiches, but Andrew was happy to let us take some photos of the preparation.

Baguette, Roasted Pork, Hoisin Sauce, Sliced Chilli, Spring OnionAny Singaporean worth his salt (and unrestrained by dietary requirements) knows the value and taste of mouth-wateringly good siobak.  The roast pork here is hand-sourced every morning from the owner’s special contacts. We’re dying to have a go at this the next time. (24/07/12 edit: Came back, tried it. Every bit as succulent and melt-in-your-mouth tender as we imagined it to be.)

Cafe Latte in pretty cups and plattersThe owner of the cafe is Ryan Tan, a two-time Singapore Barista Championships winner. When we visited he was off in Austria to better his previous year’s rankings at the World Barista Championships, where he clocked in at 28th position before. (24/06/12 edit: He was 2nd runner-up in the Latte Art Category.) We’re not experts on coffee, but Glen liked the latte enough to declare he was ‘never going to look at a cup of Starbucks in the same way again’. If anything, you can admire the fine latte art, which makes for excellent pictures.

Whiskey Cake

And then there was the dessert. The whiskey cake came well reviewed, and our personal taste test revealed a cake that was generous on chocolate and packed a good boozy punch. The chocolate layer on the top is similar in taste and texture to champagne Royce chocolates, with a fine, even consistency.

Red Velvet CupcakesAccording to Andrew, the cupcakes follow the same recipe as the Hummingbird Bakery’s signature dessert, but some changes in the icing were made. The original uses a diabetes-inducing amount of icing sugar for a hard-tip icing finish whereas the ones above use more cream cheese, for a creamier and less sweet taste. Although no changes were made to the cake base, they tasted lighter and drier than the originals. It’s a matter of preference on how one likes their cupcakes, but we enjoyed these immensely.

& the picture I took of Andrew and Glen!

11 Leonard Street
London EC2A 4AQ
http://www.ozonecoffee.co.uk/

So, our friend Chu informed us that there was a fantastic new coffee joint that opened in the London Shoreditch area not too long ago. I have never been much into coffee. In fact, if I were to describe my approach to it, I’d be a milk and sugar with an accent of cocoa type of guy, an abomination in the eyes of connoisseurs, I know. The weather was nice today and I was feeling adventurous so I took a gander down to Leonard Street to check the place out.

Nice, spacious premises. Lots of room to walk about.

Now you see it, the next you don’t.

I would have started my afternoon meal with more savoury things, but I didn’t realise there was a lunch menu until I had paid for the coffee and the cake. The latte was velvet on the tongue, with enough caffeinated pick-me-up goodness to kick me up a gear for the day. I’d gush a little more about it but I’m not terribly familiar with the right adjectives to describe a good cuppa currrently. Suffice to know that it was really quite good.

The cheesecake and the handwhipped cream was brilliant. There was a bit of blueberry in the middle of the cake, and together with the strawberry chunks they served as a reminder that summer was just around the corner.

Pork & fennel sausages w potato mash, spinach & brown onion gravyThe cafe also has a selection of egg and lunch dishes to complement your drinks. Just remember to ask for the menu!

The wholesale business downstairs

If your dream has always been to open up your own cafe, Ozone also does a wholesale supply downstairs. These guys are pretty serious about their coffee. Just look at that machine!

* A Photographer’s Note: Alright. Gastrographic is dedicated to a love of food and photography. We’ve done quite a bit on food already so here’s something on the photographic side! I found myself without my trusty Nikon DSLR today so all of the photographs were taken on my iPhone. I post-processed them using this funky iPhone app called Camera Awesome by Smugmug. It’s got a pretty awesome toolkit of free photoediting and sharing functions. If you aren’t already on Instagram, this application is worth playing with. The basic software is free, but you can choose to buy premium content like additional frames and filtering options.

København is a beautiful city and we were lucky to spend some time there with the best food and company. We will do a post on the Danish capital real soon, so keep your eyes peeled. In the meantime, here is something to whet your sweet tooth on. Before we left, we popped by the bakery next to our hotel and managed to taste some of these. Are you drooling already?

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