Posts Tagged ‘coffeebar reviews’

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!


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.

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.

Let me start be stating that I’m no candy-ass dilettante when it comes to food challenges in general and chilli-based ones in particular.

I have taken part in three food competitions in the past: pasta, fish fingers and whole green chillies and I have won every one. Easily. The fish-fingers in particular felt like a breeze. As my fellow competitors all dropped out somewhere around the thirty finger mark, I was not only happy to go on, I was still genuinely hungry.

I also regularly make my own chilli sauce using habeneros, and most times curse myself after it’s made for not giving it sufficient fire.

It was therefore with a certain level of confidence that I took on the Chooks of Muswell Hill, Inferno challenge.

It’s simple: 8 chicken wings in their ghost chilli sauce, in 5 mins. Plus an obligatory 5 min afterburn, a waiting period after finishing the wings in which no other drinks, food etc. are permitted. Success will win you a t-shirt, the wings for free and your photo on the wall of fame.

Chooks is a newcomer to the N10 restaurant scene, serving US style fried chicken, wings, whole, half or quarter chickens etc. The menu is simple, the chicken is good and although they bizarrely only offer coffee in one form, ie just Americano (no macch!) it’s actually a good cup of joe. And the fries are killer.

The staff are also charming and seem to like their jobs which must say something about the whole set up.

So back to the Inferno challenge. Before I was permitted to begin I had to sign a waiver which although I can’t recall the exact words (I think large parts of the experience have been wiped from my memory due to a combination of repression and capsaicin generated neural scarring), it was along the lines of “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, you moron? Whatever. Sign this and it’s all on you.

That done, they brought me the wings. Here they are:

The first surprise was that 8 wings is actually a lot. They cut each one in two so there are 16 pieces of chicken to dispatch, which in 5 minutes would be a tough call regardless of the chilli. So I dived in. My first response was ” nice flavour, fruity“, which I think is just because I’ve watched people doing these challenges on TV and that’s the usual comment they all make,  I guess because saying “fucking balls these are hot!” is just a bit obvious. There’s no doubt that these little bastards were hot – really, really hot. It takes a minute or two to kick in, but kick in it does, like sucking down a cupful of napalm. There’s no way to dress it up, it quickly became a deeply unpleasant experience. The smell of the sauce made me want to vomit (which, the smell, it took me a full 36 hours to fully eradicate from under my fingernails to the point where I no longer wretched any time my hand passed within half a metre of my face), my nose ran with streams of caustic phlegm and my hands began to shake. In the end though, I could possibly have eaten the lot given another few minutes. With 1 minute to go and still a little less than half the wings to eat, I gave up.

Which, despite some initial disappointment, turned out to be a good thing.

Because the worst was yet to come.

Now apparently, there is a fairly well-established set of preparations one should make before attempting one of these kinds of challenges  involving lining one’s stomach with milk, crackers and butter (something to do with the fat absorbing the chilli), all of which protect against the toxic effects of a shit-ton of chilli hitting the sensitive insides of your digestive tract. You might think I’d have checked this out BEFORE I began.

I don’t wish to go into any more detail about the next 2 DAYS, other than to describe the whole thing as deeply unfortunate.

Let my pain be a warning to you, at least then I may not have suffered in vain.

Or the Stable Door as we like to call it. This is one of those Crouch End institutions I mostly like to avoid, like Banners (“Hi can we have breakfast here?” ” Have you got a reservation?” “No, it’s breakfast. Who makes a reservation for breakfast?” – that was about seven years ago; haven’t been back since).

My previous experience of the Sable d’or is  that it’s a little cramped and I find the wait-staff a little sniffy and it seems to attract a certain kind of upscale CrouchEnder who might look down on someone bringing in a kid that likes to use their straw to blow bubbles in their coke and then make it come out of their own nose.

Any how, I went there today with the older of my two children (the one slightly less likely to make stuff come out of her orifices in public) and it was pretty good.

First the coffee (obv.):

Double macch (obv.) which was a little biscuity and strong. Not unlike Rileys.

The decor is actually pretty nice and kind of French rustic farmhouse: holes in the brickwork, unvarnished wooden tables. The space is cramped and about the same size and shape as My Kind of Coffee, but used way better and I guess if you were feeling charitable you could call it cosy (although really, it’s cramped).

As I was feeding a post-swimming lesson 7 year old we also ate and the sandwhiches were good. I had a goat’s cheese avocado and tomato on brioche, which I ordered by mistake but was a good combo; cake with cheese, who knew?

The only other down side apart from the crampiness was the wait-staff. Since I was last there they seem to have got shot of the sniffy French ones and replaced them with uber-fierce Eastern European ones who give the impression that should you ask them to replace a dirty fork or fetch you a little cold milk they would just as readily bludgeon you with a peppermill for your decadent Western airs.