Archive for the ‘coffee’ Category

I’m reposting this short review of Crouch End’s lovely Hot Pepper Jelly café just because I happened to be there again the other day after a gap of far too long and you know what? It’s still great. What did I eat? The fantastic Hot Pepper Jelly sandwich of course (see below). Still unusual (I don’t know anywhere else that throws this oddball combination of awesomeness into a sandwich), still delicious.

As promised in my recent  Man vs Food post, today I returned to lovely Crouch End cafe, Hot Pepper Jelly on the Broadway, to take down The Inferno.

HPJ is famed for its awesome bacon, peanut butter and chilli-jam sandwiches, and on my last visit I noticed the addition of a new and hotter version, featuring a chill-jam made with scotch bonnets or habaneros, a chilli registering an impressive 350,000 Scoville units. This is for most people the hottest chilli you’re going to come across (although by no means the hottest around, about which more in a minute).

Here’s a pic of the little beauty:

which looks harmless and  pretty much like any of their other eats. It took a couple of bites for the chilli to kick in and it immediately had that unmistakable, fruity fire you get with habaneros. It’s not unpleasant (you know, if you like that kind of thing) and is certainly not just pure heat.  It was a delicious sandwich and I ate the whole thing with little problem. My mouth went a little numb, but in a good way.

To be honest I was a little disappointed it wasn’t hotter. But then I have recently, after a long search, managed to get my hands on some of the elusive naga or ghost chillies (in Tesco of all places!), reputed to be the hottest in the world (although some will tell you it’s the Trinidad Scorpion and yet others say the Hoxton Serenity) and coming in at a neuron-frying 1,000,000 Scovilles. I made my own ghost chilli sauce and of course couldn’t resit having a little bite of the raw fruit. Shitballs, it was hot! Within seconds my mouth was a sea of pain and within minutes my hands had pretty much seized up, I guess paralysed with whatever neuro-toxins I’d released into my nervous system. So maybe I’m getting a little used to this stuff. Either way it was still a truly excellent sandwich.

More local food challenges please – Crouch end cafes, take note.

In other news, House of Dreams is now on sale at the fantastic Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. And the charming waitress at HPJ took some of my House of Dreams postcards to display, and even said she’d put one up on the loo door – now that’s service!


As I mentioned recently I’m taking Allthemacchs in a different direction for a little while. I’m going to be posting about my running and in particular about my plan to run all the tube lines on the London Underground. tube-map

I’m not going to abandon writing about coffee bars, in fact my next post will be about the new branch of the fabulous Coffee Republic (here’s a previous post about the Finchley branch) that’s just opened in Muswell Hill.

But there will be more posts about running.

If like me you like to run and if like me you live in a big city (or a small city I guess; I’m thinking maybe Brighton? Bath?) then I hope I can share some tips for running the urban trails. Over the years I’ve run many organised races, ParkRuns, 10kms, marathons and even an ultramarathon, but recently I’ve been looking for something a little more… bespoke.

And to be honest, cheaper and with less people around. Call me a grouch but I really like running on my own.

The idea started a little while back when me and my good friend, Sticky decided to run the length of Broadway in New York City, which, it turned out is pretty much exactly a half marathon. I like the idea of combining running with sight seeing; you can stop off for a coffee or a taco or to watch some buskers or whatever. It all just seems like a more relaxed deal that the organised race thing. I’d been quite inspired by reading a couple of books by ultramarathon superman @DeanKarnazes who likes to do crazy shit like run all night long then order take out pizza to be delivered to wherever he happens to be when he hits mile twenty, so he’s got the fuel to run home again.

Exploring other cities seemed obvious, but what about my own backyard? Of course I’ve run around London for years, but tbh I usually stick to the same routes. The London Underground seemed like the perfect challenge ¹  .

Okay, maybe not perfect; a cursory glance at the tube map and a few minutes on Wikipedia revealed that some of these lines are really, really long. Ultra marathon distances. But, you know, that’s the nature of a challenge I guess; it should have some measure of er.. challenge in it.

I searched around and found very little in the way of help and advice. There were certainly a few people who’d done it, mostly raising fantastic amounts of money for charity, this guy, and these guys, but considering how many people run in London, I was surprised there was so little out there.

So now I’m doing it too².

Next post: It begins: The Victoria Line.

Anybody else had a go at running the London Underground?

Or have you got any other interesting running projects?

 ¹ I guess I should be absolutely clear here to avoid a misunderstanding, but I’m talking about running the tube lines above ground.

²Although not for charity. Huge respect for people that do; I have done so for marathons I’ve run in the past but I just find the whole business to be a massive pain in the arse. If you’re inspired by my endeavours, maybe just go and drop a fiver in some homeless dude’s hat or something.

After a short hiatus, I figured it was time to get back to the blog; those coffeebars aint gonna review themselves.
And I have a book to plug.
Two actually.
Okay, so I’ve written a new novel and it’s going to be out early in the new year. This one is kind of about the financial crisis of 2008 and ensuring meltdown. In the way of these things it’s about a bunch of other stuff too. It features a foul-mouthed, drug-chomping reincarnation of William Blake. More details to follow.

I am also mid-way through writing my first non-fiction book. About running. Specifically being a runner in the city. Which I am. It may well be that my blog-posts lean a little more towards the running thing over the coming months.
As research for the book I have been running the tube lines in London. Above ground, obv. There will be a blog-post about that.
Anybody else run the tube lines? I’d love to hear your stories.

Over the years that I’ve been visiting the café in Alexandra Palace Garden Centre (I don’t think the café gets it’s own name as such, it certainly doesn’t seem to have a website) I’ve had a variety of experiences w/r/t food, service and atmosphere. Mostly bad. The food, if you do not choose wisely, can be a little dull. The service also veers between the jolly and competent to the ‘Oh, really? You actually want me to make you a fucking cup of coffee? Shit, alright then, when I’ve finished the crossword’.   It used to be run by a foul-mouthed French dude who would swear at you in two languages, and which would have been okay if he cooked like a Frenchman but in fact he was a truly awful cook as well. He’s gone.  On my last visit the chef,  whoever he is hadn’t quite made it in to work yet (it was 9:30, they open at 9) and I had to wait half an hour to get anything to eat.

But you know what? I’m still recommending this joint.

Here’s why.

1. The coffee is very good. They serve Agust coffee, not a big name here but big in Italy and they’ve been around for a long time and they’re Fair-trade and just really tasty, striking that tricksy balance between toasty with a little hit of citrus.

garden centre

2. The bacon sandwiches are really, really good. I mean it’s just bacon and bread as you can see here

garden centre 2

but way better than it has any right to be. I’d eaten half of it before I remembered to take a pic. I think they maybe dust the bacon with crack.

3. It’s in a garden centre. Which is a bit odd, as people trundle past you with trolleys full of yucca plants and compost every so often, but it’s also a bit like being in the jungle. And they have a charming outside area with a little pond. And they have a rooftop terrace with some nice views. They used to have sparrows that nested in the eaves of the building and flew around inside like they were trying to escape. Actually that was a little frightening at times. Anyway, they’re no longer there; I think they had them all shot.  And unlike the fatally flawed Grove Café nearby, no dogs. Maybe they had them shot too.

In a recent post I revealed the secret of a great little spot for a coffee and the chance to stare into the living rooms of some upscale north Londoners and today I’m giving up another little gem just a mile further along the canal. I know for a fact that it is exactly a mile as I ran between the two recently being chased but a woman who was throwing things at me I’m pretty sure with the intention of knocking me into the water (more about that later) and as I had the running app on my phone switched on, as I was trying to outrun the crazy woman and dodging whatever it was that she was hurling at me,  a calm voice in my ear kept updating me with ‘time… 5 minutes and 38 seconds, distance…1 mile, calories burned… 400’. When I eventually lost her I was down by Limehouse basin and 2300 calories slimmer.

So anyway, a mile along Regent’s Canal east of Angel Islington, is the stunning little Towpath Café. If you’re not paying attention you could easily miss it, taking up barely a few metres of the narrow walkway and with very little in the way of signage. In fact I totally did miss it on my first pass (mostly because of the crazy-as-a-mudbug lady hot on my heels) and on the days when it isn’t open, you would never know it was there at all. All of which I like, because when you do find it you feel like you’ve discovered something special.

The coffee is a good, rich style with the rounder, biscuity taste that I like. The food is very good if a little random in terms of what you can get. They clearly have a very small kitchen to work with, and the absence of doing a simple bacon sandwich seems like an oversight. What they do have in the way of food I think would best be described as quirky. On my first visit I gave the duck egg and chorizo breakfast a swerve despite it sounding just my kind of thing, as I only had £5 and it came in at £8. My second visit, the duck egg had been dropped but I had a good grilled cheese sandwich which came with a little scoop of home made chutney. All pretty good and with having unexpectedly just shed the 2300 calories, much needed. They do a fine looking porridge/fruit/yoghurt combo too if that’s your thing. The staff there are very friendly, there’s a bit of acceptable table sharing going on (not normally something I go for, but here it felt fine), but the main draw is the setting.

canal cafe

This particular stretch of the canal is quiet and has that  charmingly desolate urban feel you occasionally stumble across in this beautiful city of ours. It reminded me of the just developing parts of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that I was hanging out in not so long back, where all the cats hang who know that today’s abandoned light industrial wasteland is tomorrow’s ultra hip artistic community. What I’m saying is it’s got a little vibe going on.

Which was only added to, the cool vibe, by the crazy chick mentioned earlier with whom I ended up sharing a table and sorting out the problem she seemed to have with me when she was chasing me along the towpath hurling stuff at my head. It all turned out to be a case of mistaken identity and nothing to do with me at all, which I was profoundly relived about as she did not seem like the kind of person you wanted to mess with. It was only once I’d sat down on the funky little café bench and taken the first welcome sip of my macchiato, that I glanced to my left and saw a woman in Jackson Pollock overalls, staring at me with a fierce and unflinching gaze. Whilst I was still frozen, coffee cup hovering in front of my face, wondering how I was going to escape, her expression changed and she gave me a quite beautiful smile. She insisted on buying me a coffee by way of an apology, and when I pointed out that I already had one, bought me a cake instead as she told me her story.

She told me her name was Blake and she was an artist. The dude she’d thought she was chasing, to whom I bore an uncanny likeness she said, had stolen one of her paintings when he was supposed to be sitting for her in her studio. She had organised what she described as a ‘birthing of visceral ephemera’ which tells you nothing beyond that she was the kind of person who used the words ‘birthing’, ‘visceral’ and ‘ephemera’ in the same breath, but that from her description sounded like a kind of debate of current artistic trends combined with the opportunity for taking a spectacular variety of drugs and then fighting or fucking depending on one’s mood and presumably that of the other participants. Her role, she was quite clear on, was to record the outcome which would become the basis of her current series of paintings. Can’t say I’m sorry I wasn’t involved.

Anyhow, one guy, who’d obviously gone to town a little w/r/t the drugs element of the debate/fuckfest had taken off mid-session with one of Blake’s canvases that he’d pulled down off the wall. She’d given chase but lost him after about a mile, but then thought she’d caught sight of him again, running along the towpath of the canal. He had, at the time he’d fled from her studio, been dressed only in his underwear, which she had mistaken for me in my running gear.

I’m happy to say we were able to laugh about the whole incident and she even invited me to a private showing of her next exhibition. But I tell you this, if you do visit the Towpath Café, and you end up sharing a table with a very attractive, paint-spattered chick with long dark hair and a steely gaze, under no circumstances should you make a move for the communal sugar bowl without asking her first.

I’m taking a small break from telling you about coffee today, to tell you instead about food. Specifically chicken and double specifically, fried chicken.

Today’s post comes to you all the way from Brooklyn, New York, where I’m spending a few days visiting my good buddy Sticky. Sticky moved to Canada some years ago but likes to get around (he also likes to ‘get around’, if you know what I mean, but that’s another story) and has taken an apartment in Brooklyn for the month.  We’ve been to see a play called Sleep No More, in an huge abandoned building in Chelsea, which is my second experience of immersive theatre, basically a cross between a play, a dance, an art installation and a ghost train, and is I’m convinced the future of theatre; sitting still and watching stuff on a stage now is just going to seem so dull.  If I say it involved drinking absinthe and watching people fight naked in bar, you’ll get some idea of  our evening. We also ran Broadway, which is basically the entire length of Manhattan and is pretty much exactly a half marathon. Who knew?

So about the fried chicken. This is where we ate:peaches hothouse

Peaches HotHouse  a quiet, barely noticeable neighbourhood restaurant in Bedford Stuyvesant, one of the sketchier areas of Brooklyn. It was only thanks to Sticky’s ear to the ground knowledge that we knew it was there at all.  I went full on Southern style and ordered the fried chicken, grits and collard greens. To be honest, I could have lived without the grits (watery porridge) and the collard greens (cabbage), but the chicken was off  the chart. It comes in three spicing levels, the medium we had was already pretty fierce, and was the crispiest, tenderest, thing I have ever eaten.  You know what I think did it? There was a little sugar in the dredge along with all the other spices. Awesome. And if that wasn’t enough, they served cocktails in jars. Jars, I tell you!


After we’d eaten  I asked the waiter for a coffee to go with my Knob Creek, and he looked a little puzzled, went off to check with the kitchen and came back to tell me that coffee wasn’t on the menu. Americans, huh.

Here is  the final version of the cover art for my good buddy Callum’s new book The Geek Manifesto, out in just 3 weeks time.


Big thanks to Andrew Riddles for all his hard work.

And don’t forget to book your tickets to come and see him read from it live on 24 April at the Great Northern Railway Tavern in Hornsey. I’m told that these events often sell out, so don’t leave it too late!

So with the upcoming publication it means I may have a little spare time to check out the latest coffeebars of N8 and surrounding ‘hoods. Any suggestions as to where allthemacchs should go?