Posts Tagged ‘coffee’

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!


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.

Well if you read my last post on the best secret cafes in London, this one probably isn’t going to be much of a secret, seeing as it’s right next door.

Ribeira is a funky, low-slung café restaurant bar kind of a set up, just a bargepole away from the rather lovely (but erratically operating) Towpath Café, and claims to be inspired by “travels through the waterways of South America”. It certainly has more of a distinctive style ethos going on than the pared-down boat shed décor of it’s next door neighbour and looks like the kind of place where you could happily take down a few caipirinhas of an evening whilst listening to some smooth, pony-tailed hombre plucking a guitar accompanied by a sultry guapa with a voice that sounds like she smokes eighty Fortuna a day and gargles with Mexican acerola cherry brandy.

On my recent visit I just stopped for breakfast after a long Sunday morning run, so no cane alcohol of smoky chicas for me, but instead a plate of damn fine Huevos Perico, a sloppy mound of scrambled eggs with tomatoes, red onion, coriander and sweetcorn, slapped on a slice of rye toast and topped with olive oil and salt.

eggs perico

It was a classy breakfast, way tastier than such a random collection of ingredients has any right to be and exactly what was required after a brisk ten miler. Ribeira seem to specialise in egg-based breakfast brunch style dishes (maybe that’s what they’re all chowing down on along those South American waterways?), slinging them alongside classics like hollandaise, as well as peas, chorizo and coca leaves¹.

If you turn up there in the evening there’s a good looking range of the familiar and weird:  pardon peppers,  tortilla, Peruvian and Argentinian specialities as well as a tasty sounding plate of chicharrones. And you just might catch Mr Pony Tail and his hot lady friend as they have music and suchlike when the sun goes down.

The macchiato I had was very good,

ribeira coffee

and while it was more towards a citrusy style than the richer biscuity type I prefer, it had a faint but not unpleasant taste of something that try as I might I couldn’t quite  pin down. Let me know if you can do better than I did.

But once again, for me it’s all about the setting,


right by a particularly pretty and atmospheric stretch of Regent’s canal, where the shadows fall across the changeless and changing water, and the air smells like the hidden streams you waded in when you were a child.

¹Only kidding.

The Park Theatre café: coffee *****; food *****, atmosphere ****

Best for eavesdropping on hilarious thesps.

The Park Theatre opened earlier this year right by Finsbury Park tube station, and while I have yet to go and see a play there, I have been to the café. In fact I’ve been there three times as part of my new and far more serious attempt to provide accurate  reviews of the coffeebars of London (or wherever; I’ve reviewed places in Paris and NYC, too yo!) As you will see I’m also introducing a rating system – people love numbers. And, if that wasn’t enough, each place will get a “Best for…” tag as well. I fucking spoil you all! At some point I’ll add all this extra stuff to all my earlier reviews, but that may take a while, and I’ve got novels to write.

The Park Theatre café has the Soho loft décor thing inside, a little like Harris and Hoole are doing, with exposed brickwork, wooden benches and little bits of chrome here and there,park cafe 2 overall it’s got a nice feel, although the bench thing means you’ll probably have to sit close to someone else. For me this is not usually a plus, but I guess some people don’t mind that kind of human interaction. I’m pretty sure you could use this to strike up a conversation with some one too, if that was your thing. While I don’t like having to breathe the same air as random strangers I do like to eavesdrop on them, and I caught a lovely little exchange at the Park Theatre café on my most recent visit. Bare in mind, this place is always full of actors.

A group of three people, two mid-thirties men, standing at the counter sipping espresso, one woman drinking an enormous cream topped “coffee” of some kind, being pretty much totally ignored by the two men.

Man 1: Have you been working out? (Seriously, he said this! It was even accompanied by a playful squeeze of man 2’s bicep.)

Man 2: Actually I have. I like your beard. Are you re-imaging yourself or is it for a part?

Man 1: A part. I’m playing the Dane; I’ve always felt Hamlet needed to show his base, animal side somehow.

Man 2: (Trying not to sound impressed/jealous) Good part.

Woman: I’m up for Lady Macbeth. I’m a bit worried I’m still too young. What do you think?

Man 1 and Man 2 : (Absolute indifference).

Anyhow. The macchiato was really good, strangely creamy and smooth. The menu is interesting too with a range of sandwiches that throw in things like onion and chilli chutney and smoked chilli mayo, as well as some nice sharing plates of meats, cheeses and such like.

They have a full bar, and I couldn’t help noticing their cocktails which included the Bank, Buffalo Trace bourbon, fig liqueur and fig jam. I didn’t have one – it was four in the afternoon. But if you do, let me know how it is.

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!


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.


But it’s really all about the views!

No website, but some people use this Facebook thing

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

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?

Last week I found myself in the rare position of not having anything to do.

Okay, that’s not quite right, I still had two small children to look after and a job to go to, but I mean no writing to be done and my agenting duties currently on hold. I have just finished my work on my client callum’s next novel, The Geek Manifesto and now I must wait to hear back from my team of unpaid editors and proof-readers. This means there will of course be more work to be done on it, but until I get a  response, there is nothing to do.

It’s an odd feeling.

In the normal course of things, when I’m writing a new book or preparing a completed one for publication, I am in a perpetual state of low-level anxiety, constantly thinking that I should be getting on with it. But now… nada de nada.

I actually went to a cafe the other day (this one, which I am totally digging at the moment mainly due to their really good coffee. Although the last couple of times I’ve tried to go there, they’ve been full! You know what? Crouch End needs more good cofffebars.) and just sat and read a book. Now I spend a lot of time in cafes, but it’s pretty much always to write. I get a coffee, I open my laptop and I barely look up until I have to leave, or as is frequently the case, I am asked to leave¹. This time though, I just read a book. I used to do this all the time before parenthood saw my free time taken up with cooking pasta, wiping bottoms and playing ‘blind pillow whack’² (although I won’t be doing all three activities at the same time again – man, that ended up in a mess!).

The book I read was Bird by Bird, written by American novelist and creative writing prof, Anne Lamott. The book gives her thoughts on being a writer and the process of writing and gives all manner of funny, though-provoking and practical advice on this life we choose, and which has inspired this post on why I write. She quotes a number of great writers who answer the eternal question “Why do you write?” with pithy replies such as ” Because I have to“, “Because I’m good at it”, “Because I can“, and so on.

For myself, I can’t imagine not writing, and of course like all writers I would love a big advance, a deal with a mainstream publisher and some critical acclaim. For many writers, these are the goals, the marks of success. Anne Lamott says otherwise. Okay, she actually is a successful published writer, she can say that, but it crystallised a feeling I’ve had for a while now. In the end it won’t really matter to me if I ever achieve those goals. Okay, I’m not gonna turn them down if they come along, but I don’t think it will matter one way or the other. And in some ways, the burden that would come with it might make the whole thing seem too much like actual work.

What I’ve come to realise and to be thankful for, as a non-professional, barely-published, part timer, is that I can write, but I don’t have to. On days when I don’t want to write anything, I don’t. And no-one’s going to give a  flying fuck. No-one’s waiting for anything from me. At least not anything I write. Maybe just some pasta, or to be hit on the head with a pillow.

So I haven’t made a fortune, or won a prize or got to hang out with Jon Franzen, but that’s okay. I write because I want to do it.

Most of the time anyways.

¹This would be because the cafe is closing, not because I have done something of the nature that would see one ejected from a cafe.

²Not a complicated game and requiring little more explanation that it’s name suggests but rarely played without something being damaged or tears being shed. V. popular with my two children.