The best of London by Gentleman Loves Cake: St John Restaurant

St John - Smithfields

St John – Smithfields

The main conundrum with being the editor(?) of a blog and having excellent contributors is that when they send you stuff you get really hungry. This is a key example of why one should not edit their blog before breakfast. I hope you will all join me in welcoming Ed (Gentleman Loves Cake) and this thoroughly appetite inducing post…

St John - saddle of rabbit

St John – saddle of rabbit

The problem with afternoon tea is there isn’t just enough meat.

This may be a brave (or more likely foolish) thing to say on a site that deals largely with the teatime slot, but having now planted my blogging flag in a small corner of LadylovesCake I feel I can get away with writing about big slabs of cow and unusual bits of other farmyard animals – the preserve of a hearty dinnertime.

Now, while I like a delicate fondant fancy as much as the next man, I was raised a carnivore and this is a trait which has never left me. And there is one London establishment which ticks all my meaty boxes (#NotAEuphemism) and challenges my taste buds each and every time.

St John - the bakery counter

St John – the bakery counter

You may recognise the name thanks to the nigh-on-perfect custard doughnuts served from its railway arch bakery at the now overly-achingly trendy Maltby Street Market, but currently celebrating its 20th year, St John Restaurant in Clerkenwell, has been right at the heart of London’s culinary scene since the day it opened. Born at a time when Brit Pop ruled, Fergus Henderson‘s commitment to nose-to-tail eating has stood the test of time in a similar fashion to the heady anthems of Blur and Pulp.

And in a way, Henderson has followed a path similar to Messrs Albarn and Cocker – taking the scene by storm; producing era-defining work; picking up awards; falling from the limelight; continuing to produce excellence.

So what is it about this place? Well for me, St John (as well as its sibling restaurants St John Bread and Wine and the now late St John Hotel) has always been a place for family and feasting.

Each time I’ve eaten there has been to mark a special occasion – most recently my dad’s 65th – a great celebration of a life’s work complete.

St John - the old bacon smoke house

St John – the old bacon smoke house

Entering St John, aptly on St John Street EC1M, is always a joy – the former bacon smoke-house is packed with utilitarian charm, emphasised by white walls, white tablecloths and waiters decked-out all in white. Simple fixtures and fittings add to this stripped-back charm.

With a menu that changes twice daily, it’s always a joy to be handed the single sheet of A4 on arrival and seeing what obscure animal appendages are being cooked-up.

St John - the menu

St John – the menu

On this occasion – lunch on September 1st – I could have experienced liver, tongue or marrow, but opted for lamb heart with chard and anchovy to begin. Thinly sliced, delicately seasoned and cooked rare, the heart seemed to have all the hallmarks of a fine fillet steak – the knife falling through it with ease and the flesh almost melting on the tongue.

A saddle of rabbit followed, in a sauce of trotter and prune – a brave choice for someone who normally avoids mixing sweet and savoury – but a dish which may seem me changing my stance on this (although I will never reconcile myself with pineapple on a pizza).

St John - lamb heart

St John – lamb heart

And for dessert – a St John classic which seems to have a permanent space reserved for it at the very top of the sweet menu – Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese.

Also brought to the table during a relaxing lunchtime sitting were deep fried salt pollack, smoked herring, skate, a Welsh rarebit and a chocolate terrine.

St John - Eccles and Lancashire

St John – Eccles and Lancashire

So what is it about this place? I have always associated it with good memories, but it’s the food and not the sentiment which sees me return.

The simple menu means you’ll never see a ‘trio of this’ or an ‘emulsion of that’ and the focus on flavour over presentation means you won’t encounter a tower of neatly stacked chips.

But this stark simplicity belies the wonderfully thought-out dishes which are placed before you.

St John has now held a Michelin star for five years and is regularly listed in lists of top restaurants in the world – but you kind of get the feeling these baubles just don’t matter – if St John were a top actor, it would keep its Oscar in the downstairs loo.

I know that for a lot of people ‘offal’ sounds terribly close to ‘awful’, but I urge you to see past this and give St John a try…although I probably wouldn’t go as far as extending this recommendation to vegetarians.

What you’ll get from going is this – fantastic food and wine, knowledgeably entertaining service and the ability to tell everyone you’ve eaten at probably the most effortlessly cool restaurant in the whole of London.

On one visit a charming Irish waitress sang the Ride of the Valkyries as she brought the main courses to the table. I think that says it all…

St. John Bar and Restaurant can be found at 26 St. John Street, London EC1M 4AY. Nearest tube stops are Farringdon, St Paul’s and Chancery Lane. 

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Filed under Eating, Food, Gentleman loves cake, London, Market stalls, Restaurants, Secret London

Happy “blogiversary” and a small introduction to what’s next

I want to invite these women to join team Lady loves cake - they'd make awesome additions don't you think?

I want to invite these women to join team Lady loves cake – they’d make awesome additions don’t you think?

As with all things in life, blogs change and evolve over time. When I first started writing here four years ago, I had been blogging on my little travel blog for six years – seeing the world and telling my friends and family all about my travel adventures. Kat of the Orient started in a small industrial town in China, in the days when blogging was seen as a bit weird, long before twitter existed and when Facebook was starting in a few select universities. It’s crazy to think that more than ten years on, this activity that I have done generally on a weekly basis since August 2004 is now seen as totally normal, almost as a given for those of us who love to write as a hobby and an absolute must for those writing as a profession.

Back in the day of looking for an internet cafe once a week and uploading a CD(!) of photos...

Back in the day of looking for an internet cafe once a week and uploading a CD(!) of photos…

When I first got engaged and set up Lady Loves Cake, Kat of the Orient had dwindled to the occasional post about my travels or an album of pictures from London when I had something interesting to put up. Life had changed. My career had taken a big knock thrice during the recession and I no longer had the money to pack things up and jet off every few months. I had to really tighten my belt and change my ideas about what was possible on my new purse. The summer I started Lady Loves Cake was the first “staycation” Mr Man and I had ever taken and I was really enjoying exploring London in ways I hadn’t thought to before.

This little piece of the internet gave me the motivation to pick myself up and meet friends in different parts of London. A cup of coffee wasn’t going to break the bank and it was a great way to discover new things while still enjoying what I loved the most – great tastes, socialising and seeing stuff. Sometimes you don’t have to leave where you are to discover life – this is particularly true in London and was a massive lesson to the girl who thought that the only way to improve yourself was to pick up your backpack and go to the most “off the beaten track” place possible, writing in your diary about things like the conversation you’d had with the Tibetan monk you met in the snowy foothills on the Indian edge of the Himalayas.

Thutenz the Tibetan monk

Thutenz the Tibetan monk

Four years on, I have fallen in love with London over and over and over again. Thanks to this blog I have met some fascinating people, seen and learned so much, and most of all, have made some incredible friends. In that time I have become a UK citizen, got married to the male version of me (though he’s slightly calmer!!!), had and got to know a gregarious little munchkin then seen London through her eyes, and am now expecting her sibling in 10 weeks or so. There are even bigger changes to come but until I’ve sorted a few things out and have confirmed dates for other things, I can’t discuss them on here.

In the meantime however, I am going to gradually hand the London part of LLC over to my friend Ed, aka, Gentleman Loves Cake. He will eventually become the main London contributor to Lady Loves Cake and we plan to turn this into something that we think will be really cool. Until at least March I will still write about my London adventures on here too but they’re going to be slightly limited come November so he will take over as the main person until I am ready to reveal what’s next. I think you’ll like what we have planned. We’re both really excited about this.

You may remember Ed from various guest posts:

Afternoon tea at Dukes Hotel

The Delaunay

Sam Smith Pubs

But if you’re on Twitter, he is very friendly and would love for you to say hi! Follow him on @TeddyCHolmes

So next time, you shall hear from him. Sound good?

A clue to Ed's background~

A clue to Ed’s background~

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Afternoon tea at the Royal Opera House

The truly incredible afternoon tea at the Royal Opera House

The truly incredible afternoon tea at the Royal Opera House

Launching in a few weeks (i.e. book now) is the Royal Opera House’s long-awaited offering of afternoon tea. R and I recently went to check it out and were blown away by it, both saying the combination of the venue, impeccable scones and delectable cakes put it up there with some of the very very best afternoon teas we have had.

Tea cocktails (we chose the non-alcoholic versions) and champagne

Tea cocktails (we chose the non-alcoholic versions) and champagne

I would go as far to say that for me it was as good as both the Goring and the Corinthia – in my opinion, the standard setters for London afternoon tea.

Launching on 17 September. Here’s what you can expect:

- A simply stunning setting in the Paul Hamlyn Hall

- Tea cocktails (well worth the extra expense)

- Beautifully fresh sandwiches

- CAKES MADE BY THE GODS (Claire Clark MBE, world-renowned pastry chef)

- Very well matched Ruinart champagne and excellent tea collection by London-based My Cup of Tea

- The most perfectly soft and flavoursome scones one could find.

Perfect cakes

Perfect cakes

More perfect cakes

More perfect cakes

The stunning design based on the local history of Covent Garden originally being a flower market

The stunning design based on the local history of Covent Garden originally being a flower market

I’m going to let the pictures do the talking and the High Tea Society has published my full review, but sometimes less is more when it comes to describing one of the best afternoon teas out there. Highly worth the money and a few hours out of your day.

The Royal Opera House afternoon tea launches on 17 September. It will be an ongoing event but check dates on the ROH website before making a date with your friends as times vary depending on performances. The Royal Opera House can be found in Covent Garden. 

We were guests of the Royal Opera House, however, their afternoon tea will be priced at £37.50, or with a glass of Ruinart Champagne at £47.50.

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Filed under Afternoon tea, Afternoon tea London, Cake, Eating, Experiences, Food, London, Tea, The West End

Another cafe by the British Museum: Le Cordon Bleu

Cafe Le Cordon Bleu

Cafe Le Cordon Bleu

A lot of people have asked me if there are any decent cafes near the British Museum. I basically always refer them to the London Review Cake Shop to ensure they don’t end up in one of the global conglomerates that are on every single street corner in London but often I hear back saying that while it looks amazing, it was full so they ended up at one of the chains.

Thankfully my friend’s husband recently informed me that he is very much in the know about Cafe Le Cordon Bleu which is a relative newcomer to the area (it opened in 2012 having been based in Marylebone before then) and offered to show me around the school then sample their cakes.

If you reach the British Museum any day other than Sunday, you can now be grateful that you’ll have the choice of two rather excellent cafes just a skip-hop-and-a-jump from the Mummies and Rosetta Stone.

mmm, breakfast!

mmm, breakfast!

Yes, this is the Le Cordon Bleu, the same school that has taught many a big name on the London cafe scene (Oh Hai, Bea of Bloomsbury and Pei of Teanamu~) and is internationally renowned for teaching French cuisine techniques to everyone from those who left home not knowing how to wield a kitchen knife to others who are total experts in the area. Their 52 schools are now in more than 20 countries, with the London school currently hosting students from over 60 international locations. It has a name, yah yah. Their courses range from a one-day breakfast baking course on a Saturday right up to the 9 month full-time Grand Diplome.

Le Cordon Bleu students

Le Cordon Bleu students

But you want to know if the tea and cake is any good don’t  you?

Afternoon tea - pardon the entry of Mr Man's hand...

Afternoon tea – pardon the entry of Mr Man’s hand…

Of course it is. It’s made by Le Cordon Bleu trained pastry chefs and their cakes are outstanding. The tea, made by French company Dammann Freres is a delightful addition. Mr Man and I thoroughly enjoyed their afternoon tea that they were trialling out at the time – we sincerely hope they make it a regular offering as for £16.50 per person, you get a very decent share of sandwiches made on perfect French buns (Mr Man for once was happy with the savoury to sweet ratio), nice little scones and pastries that make you go “ooooh” and “aaaaaah” an awful lot. Their fruit tarts are possibly unrivalled in central London.

Delectable sandwiches

Delectable sandwiches

Close-up of the cakes...

Close-up of the cakes…

I personally can see myself heading back there for a decent pastry and coffee on my way some Friday/Saturday soon to take BLC to the British Museum or nearby Corams Fields which she adores. They looked gorgeous.

And if I had the time and the money, I would enrol on one of their basic knives skills or week-long cooking classes as it would be good to be able to cook with technique rather than guess work which often results in something just plain odd. I wouldn’t/couldn’t pretend to be Julia Child but hey, if for some reason the passion for cooking (which sadly I don’t have) and the freedom to do a nine-month course came along, this is the first place I’d look to participate in something to make one more professional in the kitchen, then open up a Lady loves cake cafe which would be cool, quirky and serve up the best Mille Feuille that the world has ever seen…

Just perfect cakes.

Just perfect cakes.

Cafe Le Cordon Bleu can be found at 15 Bloomsbury Square, London WC1A 2LS. Nearest tube is Holborn. It is open Monday-Saturday. For more information about their upcoming London-based courses see their website

 

Their classrooms are named after important names in French cuisine...

Their classrooms are named after important names in French cuisine…

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Filed under Afternoon tea London, Cake, Eating, Experiences, Food, Life in general, London, London cafes, Secret London, The West End

A tea room for everyone at the top end of Brick Lane – The Hawkhurst Vault

The way to spend a rainy afternoon - in a cafe that replicates your dream living room...

The way to spend a rainy afternoon – in a cafe that replicates your dream living room…

I’m meant to be on holiday at the moment but couldn’t resist telling you about a little find on this one. Yes, Mr Man and I are on staycation, leaving BLC in her normal childcare routine while we have some quality time remembering the city we fell in love with once again – it’s easy to forget in my normal life of running back and forth from day-job to home to pick up the odd bit of freelancing and entertain a toddler after hours why one lives in the best city on earth and these two weeks are reminding us just of that. It is also flippin brilliant to actually have some solid days of hanging out with Mr Man, who I have remembered is rather awesome.

BLC & I enjoying the marriage of F&B...

BLC & I enjoying the marriage of F&B…

I hadn’t planned to write anything about our staycation – this was all about not thinking about the next blog post and not instagramming every meal but then BLC was a flower-girl at this amazing wedding on Friday and somehow in there, in this crowd of ultra creative people, my blogging mojo returned. The wedding was everything I love about East London, all down to Frank and Bonny who are two of the funniest and happiest people I know – and very much in the know about everything in the area due to the sheer gravity their personalities hold.

Much of the day was spent at Bow Town Hall and Hackney City Farm where the dinner was, but also included in there was the Hawkhurst Vault, a relative newcomer to Shoreditch, opened by F&B’s friends James and Theodore – two impeccably groomed and very nice gentlemen who quit their day-jobs to set up a teashop that displayed their love of tea, craft beer and art, along with decor that is for everyone, no pink or daintyness (apart from the blue china teacups) in sight. Apparently when they set up shop, all their friends got involved, F&B doing the wallpaper, others like the adorable Aggie scrubbing away, completely overhauling what was once a hairdressers and making it their own. I love it when you hear stories about friends and family really getting behind someone to help them stick it to the man so they can work for themselves.

Buzzy but chilled atmosphere

Buzzy but chilled atmosphere

The reception at the Hawkhurst Vault was so much fun that we decided we needed to come back and relax one day this week. So we did that today, headed downstairs and almost fell asleep on their supremely comfortable furniture. I said to Mr Man that when we eventually move, this is exactly how I want our living room to be – displaying collections from our travels, great music playing in the background, a rather distinguished globe on a shelf and furniture you can just sink into.

We chilled for a bit, caught up on some life planning and drank gorgeous tea that the guys brought down for us in fantastic cups, Mr Man drinking Wuyi Cassia Oolong, me going for my favourite White Peony, both by one of my all time favourite tea companies, Jing Tea.

A very nice tea which came with a timer to say when to take the bag out.

A very nice tea which came with a timer to say when to take the bag out.

I like everything about this place and so does Mr Man (he usually objects to the girliness of the places I take him to). I loved the records playing in the background (Neil Young was on at the time but on Friday they had a brilliant selection of Motown hits), the decor that came from family homes and Brick Lane junk shops, the antique-ey smell of it and the delicious tea.

Can I move in please?

Can I move in please?

One to head to if you’re feeling like a chilled out afternoon or want a good tea stop on your way to the Sunday markets. This won’t be the last time we go there. I’m in love.

List of upcoming evening events

List of upcoming evening events

The Cornershop

Lucy Sparrow and her cornershop

Lucy Sparrow and her cornershop

So cool

So cool

Too much cute! I loved this!

Too much cute! I loved this!

Afterwards, we continued walking around Shoreditch, stopping at The Cornershop – an exhibition near Columbia Road where artist Lucy Sparrow has created everything out of felt. We couldn’t resist buying a box of cornflakes – these ones definitely won’t be expiring anytime soon. I love the creativity of the East End, oh-so-very-much.

Hawkhurst Vault can be found at 240 Brick Lane, London E2 7EB. Nearest tube is Shoreditch High Street and they are open Mon-Sun 8am-8pm.

The Cornershop can be found at 19 Wellington Row, London E2 7BB. Open 10am-7pm until 31 August. Again, nearest tube is Hoxton but easily got to from Shoreditch High Street too. 

 

 

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Filed under Eating, Experiences, Food, Life in general, London, London cafes, Mr Man, Secret London, Shoreditch, Tea, The East End

Competition time – Afternoon Tea Week

Fancy winning some afternoon tea vouchers?

Fancy winning some afternoon tea vouchers?

Good afternoon my friends. Here’s a little something for you that I’ve managed to organise in conjunction with www.afternoontea.co.ukIf you live in the UK and fancy a piece of cake somewhere fancy, a nice quiet kettle plus a couple of extra goodies, then this one is for you.

I’m hosting this competition because it is the UK’s National Afternoon Tea Week. Loads of places UK wide are offering 25% off afternoon tea this week as a way to showcase the huge variety of places you can enjoy this quintessentially British pastime.

Cup of tea my dear?

Cup of tea my dear?

And this is where I leave my blog up to you: tell me about your “most memorable” afternoon tea experience in the comments section below – it could be the best afternoon tea you’ve ever had in your life, perhaps the most comical (or even disastrous) service, a unique location, something just adorable or ridiculous, so long as it has a fantastic memory of afternoon tea for you.

As much as my head wants me to use a random number generator I’m going to get personal here: the story that makes me laugh, go “oooooh” or “aaaaaaah” “uh oh” or “Oh-Em-Gee” the most in a fairly short and sweet manner will win. Sound like a plan?

Probably the only time I'll ever take a baby to afternoon tea but it certainly was memorable!

Probably the only time I’ll ever take a baby to afternoon tea but it certainly was memorable!

You have until Friday morning at 7am. Usually I’d make the time later but I’m off to a friend’s East End wedding that day as BLC will be a flower girl (everyone go “aaaaaaahhh”)…

This competition is thanks to www.afternoontea.co.uk. The prize includes the following:

  • A Russell Hobbs Buckingham Kettle worth £39.99 – this super sleek stainless steel kettle is 75% quieter than a standard kettle, perfect for that sneaky cuppa… 
  • A £25 afternoontea.co.uk voucher – the website features 510 afternoon tea venues across the country to choose from
  • A Vintage Tea Party three-tier cardboard cake stand – perfect for hosting afternoon tea at home
  • A BB Bakery London bus travel mug – perfect for tea addicts on the go
The competition is for UK residents and is to run by afternoontea.co.uk during Afternoon Tea Week (August 11-17). Afternoontea.co.uk offer 25% off afternoon teas around the country for the duration of the week.
I will announce the winner on Friday or Saturday morning. 
Friday morning (15/8/2014): After an hour or so umming and ahhing over some brilliant afternoon tea stories – ranging from the Dorchester pretending they didn’t notice the adults looked like drowned rats while the toddler played princess to a horrendous powercut in Delhi being made so much better by a luxury hotel welcoming in two backpackers who’d just come off an overnight train, to some gorgeous home made afternoon teas with a twist and Rabmouse being dragged all over the Scottish highlands to end up at High Tea – I have picked a winner. Congratulations to Lynn Savage who had me in stitches cringing at the Savoy calling her to ask when she planned to pay her bill. So easily done, so very embarrassing at the same time.
Unique afternoon tea at the Intercontinental Westminster

Unique afternoon tea at the Intercontinental Westminster

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Filed under Afternoon tea, Afternoon tea London, Cake, Eating, Experiences, Food, London, Tea

Afternoon Tea in Greenwich: The Queen’s House

The Queen's House, Greenwich

The Queen’s House, Greenwich

Usually I would wait a few weeks after sending my review to the High Tea Society to publish my own blog’s review of said tea, but I felt that as many of you should know about this as possible as it’s only on for a short time and we all know how far in advance Londoners’ diaries fill up (guilty).

On Sunday, Mandy and I had the pleasure of sitting on the balcony of the Queen’s House in Greenwich, in the sunshine overlooking Greenwich Park and the observatory. For the view alone it was worth my mad dash across London given that I’d been giving a friend’s sister a tour of St James only to find that my planned ferry ride to Greenwich would have meant waiting an hour…

I arrived hot and sticky, but to an always chilled and smiling Mandy who was waiting for me. We had the best seat on the balcony. Look at that view!!

Our view

Our view

There was a steampunk festival happening at the time – meaning that a sitar player was our live music which just added to this surreal experience given that to get to Mandy I walked up the most magnificent spiral staircase (pretending I was in a big boofy ball gown and glass slippers rather than my Topshop pregnancy skinny trousers and flat sandals), through the most amazing art gallery, around a few corners and welcomed to quite the view.

Wonderful staircase

Wonderful staircase

I thought that the dramatic entrance would be the highlight of that afternoon but that was just the beginning. The food was excellent – like having tea at your really awesome cook of an aunt’s house, great homemade sandwiches, not bad Dammann Freres Tea, a perfect set of petit fours and a very very nice Bakewell slice.

Our session was 1 hour and 15 minutes which to be honest was actually enough. We then took in the amazing art (worth visiting the Queen’s House for that collection alone) and learned all about steampunk from the friendly festival goers – is it weird that I am suddenly all about steampunk? Must be that the engineers I represent in my day-job have actually rubbed off on me a little bit…

Art and a steampunk machine

Art and a steampunk machine

I’m going to leave you to discover the rest of this fantastic experience on your own now – you have until the end of September but they are only hosting this pop-up on certain dates and people were being turned away at the door unfortunately. This is a must, for the view alone, and maybe that lovely bit of Bakewell…

Afternoon tea at the Queen’s House is available from now until the end of September. Without Prosecco it costs £22 per person, tea and curators tour £30, afternoon tea with Prosecco £27.50, afternoon tea, Prosecco and curators tour £35.50. We were guests of the Queen’s House. 

The Queens House can be found at Romney Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF next to the National Maritime Museum. Nearest tube is Cutty Sark DLR station. Map can be found here as I’m having embedding issues at the moment: 

http://www.rmg.co.uk/visit/get-here/greenwich-map 

Loved these two - they look like inventors.

Loved these two – they look like inventors.

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Filed under Afternoon tea, Afternoon tea London, Cake, Experiences, London