Posts Tagged ‘coffee bars’

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!

I guess I should be grateful that only a handful of people (astute and uber-cool people, obv) actually read my blog, so that what I’m about to disclose doesn’t get spread amongst too many unworthy coffeehouse sluts and shit-heels.

I have recently discovered the eastern arm of the Regent’s canal, mostly as a route for long, Sunday morning runs, but as it turns out, as an awesome place to stop for a cup of Joe an a bite to eat. I’m no stranger to the canal as it wends it’s way out from King’s Cross, through Camden, Little Venice, the boneyards of Harrow and Ealing and on to the grimy reaches of the North Circular, and a fine run those miles make. But it wasn’t till this summer that I took the road less travelled and headed the other way from Angel and down to the Thames. Finding the fucker again once it goes underground on the Cally Road is the first hurdle, but it surfaces around the southern end of Upper Street amongst some very chichi residential streets… and then you’re away,

The first five minutes (I’m going to give this at running pace as that’s how I’m usually hitting this trail) runs alongside the beautiful back gardens and upscale waterside flats of Islington. I lived around here in the mid-nineties when I guess you might still have called it ‘up and coming’. I mean don’t get me wrong, it was still fairly swanky then, but I did once get mugged round the back of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, so, you know. Anyhow, now it’s all glass ziggurats and roof gardens. And it was here, at the City Road basin, that I found the first of the most stunning places to stop for coffee. And this one isn’t even the really good one.

The Pumphouse Café sits gazing out across one of London’s finest views, and I live at the foot of Ally Pally so I know my views, yo!

pumphouse1

Not only do you get to sit by the stunning City Basin lock, with the view stretching down to the Shard in the distance, but you get to watch genuine narrow boats coming in and out of the lock and best of all, the glass and steel block of flats you can see in the picture gives you the finest Rear Window style viewpoint on a dozen or so little vignettes of city life. Yes, you can see right into everyone’s living rooms and kitchens. Last time I was there I watched a woman do the hoovering in her pyjamas (much more comical and engaging than you might imagine) and right next door what I’m guessing was someone making breakfast for their brand new friend after a first night together – the whole thing looked a little awkward.

The day I went to The Pumphouse they didn’t seem to have much of a clue what they were doing when it came to serving food and drinks (surely 101 for a café!) seeing as one girl was on her first day there, and the guy only spoke Spanish.  Still, we muddled through and I ended up with a good cup of coffee and fat, cheese and spinach filled croissant.

pumphouse2

But it’s really all about the views!

No website, but some people use this Facebook thing https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pumphouse-Cafe/279747098825856

And in the next post I’ll let you in on the real secret find along the canal. Just keep it to yourself.

I posted my initial thoughts on Crouch End newbie, Harris and Hoole the other day, which were not unfavourable,  and having since returned several times feel it’s due for a more considered review.

First up, I still like the place and mostly this remains down to the décor, with the bare bricks and brushed steel, urban industrial thing it’s got going on and which I think they kind of went for at this place, but with much less success. The coffee, which for me works much better in a long coffee like a latte than in a macch is pretty good and they draw a lovely pattern with the foam, look:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the coffee, but in truth I’m no expert, you know like some people who get all autistic about different blends, roasts, barometric pressure of drip and whatnot. If it tastes good I’m fine, and the H and H coffee is good. I’ve come to realise since starting this blog, that the space, furniture and general feel of a place are just as important.

I’ve tried their panini, which looks like this:

and was good, fresh and nothing special but better than ‘bucks, and as you can see comes with a coffee cup full of crisps(!) My six year old son took one bite of the crisps and spat them out on the floor (yes, literally), but then I think he was expecting ready salted and he got salt and vinegar. The crisps were fine, he just doesn’t like to be surprised when it comes to food.

I think giving you one of those little drug-dealer circa 1994 pagers is a bit stupid and I’m guessing they’ll drop that pretty soon. I’ve also found out that they’re part-owned by Tesco, which I’m not really sure how I feel about.

But here’s the big issue.

As I mentioned in my last post, seeing that they have bookshelves, I donated a brand new copy of my novel, House of Dreams, for customers to flick through and then hopefully go and buy here, or maybe here. And then what did I find when I returned the following week?  It was gone! Nowhere to be seen. Now I’m guessing that someone stole it. Which has me all conflicted. A bit fucking cheeky, but I’m glad someone liked it enough to nab it. If anyone can solve the mystery and tell me who took it and get them to return it to H and H, I’ll give you your own free copy.

A quick post to give my first impression of yet another new cafe for N8, Harris and Hoole.

Occupying the space of global financial shitstorm victim, Clinton Cards, and up and running barely had they shifted the last of the musical flashing hats out the back exit, Harris and Hoole have landed with free coffee, free wifi* and a chic NYC aesthetic.

The place is all exposed brickwork, grey tiles and stainless steel, and I must say it looks great. Plus, they have lots of space and although they’ve gone for the ubiquitous mismatched jumble of chairs and tables, they haven’t just bought the lot from an old church; the chairs are actually mismatched but new… and comfortable. They even have a kind of loungy type space at the back, and bookshelves, so I’m guessing lounging and reading is actively encouraged. And if you look carefully you might see a donated copy of House of Dreams.

The coffee

alas is the lemony, slightly sour kind, which although not to my taste, does at least taste of something. The food looks pretty basic, brownies, muffins and the like, which I will try on another visit.

The other minus point is the annoying Starbucks habit of asking for your name when they take your order. I now like to give a different name every time when ever they pull that shit on me, seeing how far I can push it: Mike Hunt is a favourite… “coffee here for Mike Hunt” (try saying it out loud).

*I’m guessing the free coffee is temporary just for the first day or so (unless they’ve developed a bizarre new business model), so get there now. And the wifi is free and doesn’t require a password, although funnily the signal strength is better by connecting to Starbucks next door!

It hurts me to write this post, it really does. I am not only having to write my second crappy review in a row (by which I mean review of crappy place, not badly written, obv!), but it is also of a Crouch End Favourite that holds fond memories for me. But there you go.

When my daughter was born I would spend many a Sunday morning at The Honeycomb Cafe drinking coffee, eating their delicious panini and sucking up the heavenly smell of freshly baked bread from the bakery at the back of the shop. The wait staff were professional and friendly and they were cool about baby vomit and what have you. I haven’t been to The Honeycomb for a few years and I’m sorry to report that things have changed.

Firstly, they don’t appear to have menus. Anywhere. Not on the tables, not on the wall… I mean cafes all pretty much sell the same stuff, sure, but still. You kind of feel a little lost without something in writing.

Then, they  screwed up my (pretty goddamn simple) request to 86 the chocolate on my cappuccino, then obviously remembered and tried to wipe the chocolate off leaving this rather interesting pattern:

I ordered a cheese and tomato panini for old time’s sake, and it was just like I remembered it, good, and with a nice little Greek salad on the side, here it is:

looks nice, right?

WRONG!

And so here it is, the one truly unforgivable sin that any cafe can commit… the avocado was ROCK HARD. Now tell me I’m not exaggerating, that shit is just not right, homes! Someone in that kitchen needs the sack tout de fucking suite.

The other thing that burned me (and admittedly I was now in a poor mood following the avocado fiasco), was that the waitress tried to clear my unfinished coffee and plate away 3 times before I was anywhere near finished. I’ve mentioned before this does not sit well. It also reminded me of the time I was having lunch with my mum in Carluccio’s and the well-meaning but fucking irritating wait staff kept trying to pour our wine despite my repeated instructions to leave it the fuck alone. I know they’re doing it so you drink more, buy another bottle, get a bigger bill and consequently leave a bigger tip, but this got to the point where I honestly thought it had gone beyond that and thatwas an intent behind it that made me think these fucks were looking at me and thinking “damn that dude looks like he needs a drink!”

They, nor the Honeycomb got a tip from me.

Today I stopped by  The Rocking Chair Cafe, latest in a never-ending stream of coffeebars to appear on the bloated, Crouch End restaurant scene.

I love the ridiculous over population of these quirky little Indy cafes in the N8 ‘hood, I do. And it seems as though the upscale residents around here can support  a lot of them, but, you know, they’re not all gonna be winners.

From the outside, on the little strip along by Kiss the Sky and opposite Rock Around the Clock, The Rocking Chair Cafe looks just peachy. It’s got that whole, let’s-get-a-bunch-of-mismatched-furniture-from-wherever-we-can thing going on, and the menu makes a a big fucking deal about organic produce and an ethos that promotes environmental niceness and blah blah blah, you know the kind of thing. Nothing against that, of course, but always a bit suspect to labour it quite so much I think.

There was nothing about the place I liked.

The afore-mentioned furniture was uncomfortable, with the table legs just getting in the goddamn way of your feet. The coffee was just coffee, and I had a latte which they served in a tall glass – man, I hate that.

I ordered a plate of organic scrambled eggs on toast, always a good test of a kitchen, right? These failed on pretty much every level: under seasoned, overcooked and hard, served with a side salad (WTF!) and the toast was burnt ( and which, the burnt toast, they tried to hide under the scrambled egg)! I mean come on, my kid can make freakin’ toast!

And you know how the guy in the apron who runs Riley’s just exudes an air of trust in what he says, I just didn’t buy these guys’ organic claims.

And then… then… whilst I’m composing this very post, the waitress sweeps in and clears away my UNFINISHED coffee! Now most times, anybody tries that with me and they’re likely to lose a goddam finger at best. Irony was, I was so busy writing about how I didn’t really like the place, I missed her swipe my Joe.

Only good thing about the place was eavesdropping the group of new mums with tiny babies who were meeting at the next table. Man, I miss those cosy chats about sleepless nights, electric vs. manual breast pumps and poo.

I still asked the cafe owner to put up a postcard advertising House of Dreams, though!

 

 

When Riley’s ice-cream cafe opened in Crouch End central many people were either hostile, taking over the site of the much loved Prospero’s Book as it did, or just plain bemused: how can they sustain a business that sells something you’re only going to want to eat for at best, a couple of months of the year? Almost 2 years on and they’re still here.

Now I don’t much care for ice-cream, it’s a little too cold for my liking although I understand some people go nuts for it, and not just kids apparently. But then of course Riley’s does sell other things. They sell great coffee, with the toasty, biscuity taste my regular readers will know I dig:

and one my most recent visit I also took down a truly great little square of rich, squidgy chocolate brownie (visible just behind the macch in the pic. I suspect this was made by the cute waitress who served me, as when I paid she asked if I liked it, to which I replied “Yes, I  totally fucking did,” which was nothing less than the truth but may have come over as a little too effusive for her to feel comfortable continuing the conversation, so I can’t say for sure). Riley’s do a kind of half-hearted menu of soups and plates of cold meats/cheeses etc, which suggests to me that they don’t have a proper kitchen, but there are always some nice looking cakes and whatnot, and of course, the main event ice-cream, in a bunch of not-too-weird flavours and all made on the premisies, so they say. And I believe them.

And I’ll tell you why.

The other reason I really like Riley’s is because of the dude who runs the show. He is genial, clearly on a second career having probably made a shit-ton of cash in some far more serious line, banking or similar, and is very, very definitely from a good public school. He is friendly in a totally relaxed, not getting in your way kind of fashion, happy to talk but never going to bug you if you just want to do your thing, looks like he probably has more than a smattering of ancient Greek and… always wears a kick-ass apron. Got to love a dude in an apron. And when he says something is true, you just kind of have to believe him.

There’s free WiFi and groovy pictures on the walls and places with cushions or without depending on your mood and space, lots of space.

Shit, the place could even convince me to like ice-cream… eeughh!