Thursday, June 12, 2014

25 of London's little pleasures that are totally underrated

Feeling inspired by this Pinterest post (probably one of my most repinned ever), I decided to compile a list of the little things that make life better in London. These are things you don't often stop to appreciate, but practising gratitude for the little things makes us all happier people (I think so anyway!). Some of these are UK things and not London-specific, I know, but they all add to my happy London experience.

Image: banksy: balloon girl by Stew Dean on Flickr

Friends at home, very few of these will sound like sufficient motivation to move to London - this one's for the folks who don't need a list of reasons because they already live here :)

  1. When your bus arrives just as you reach the bus stop
  2. When you're running desperately to catch a bus and the driver stops to let you on
  3. When you sneeze on the bus/tube and a stranger says "Bless you"
  4. Going to buy a coffee and realising you have a complete loyalty card
  5. When you're finally able to place accents correctly
  6. When someone correctly guesses your accent
  7. When you overhear strangers speaking in South African accents (even better if it's in Afrikaans!)
  8. Half-price Ben&Jerry's (this is happening at Sainsbury's right now! Go!)
  9. Paying for your groceries and getting a voucher because it would have been cheaper at another supermarket (I still can't believe this is actually a thing)
  10. Withdrawing cash for FREE at any bank's ATM
  11. Being on the exact right tube carriage for your exit
  12. An empty tube carriage
  13. Having the exact right amount of credit on your Oyster card for your journey
  14. Being invited to something that is in walking distance of your house
  15. No one being Designated Dave ever
  16. Actually making it onto the last tube home
  17. Having such a good time that you don't care about making the last tube home
  18. The fact that £1 is small change but also capable of buying so much
  19. Finally reaching home after a bad public transport day, shedding your various burdens, taking off your shoes, going to the loo, and then having a cup of tea (glass of wine, more likely)
  20. Discovering that a clothing item you've been coveting in a high street store but which is sold out of your size is available on ASOS and on sale
  21. All the online shopping, all the time
  22. Paying a maximum of £8.05 for prescription medication
  23. Getting your free Stylist every Wednesday (or Shortlist every Thursday, whatever floats your boat)
  24. When all the pubs start serving jugs of Pimms (and you can tell yourself it makes much better economic sense to buy a jug than a glass)
  25. Spotting things of beauty in amongst the chaos and grit - like an original Banksy :) (Note: The balloon girl graffiti near Old Street pictured here has sadly been painted over, but there is still loads of creative and inspiring street art to be found in east London.)
What are the little things you love or that make life better for you in London?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Burger Tour: Afternoon tea at BRGR CO

I had all of two burgers the entire time I was on holiday in Cape Town, which means I have a lot of catching up to do.

Things are already looking up, as my crew and I headed to BRGR CO (apparently being sparing with vowels is quite an American thing?) in Soho for a belated birthday celebration this past weekend. We tried their American afternoon tea, which comprises a Bellini, iced tea, three sliders (beef, chicken and lobster), small fries, mini vanilla milkshake, chocolate brownie, sugared doughnut hole and strawberry cheesecake, all for a very reasonable £17. Doing afternoon tea is what my friends and I generally like to think of as us being extremely classy, so a burger-themed one does seem a little odd, but bear with me! I think I'll have you converted by the end...

The drinks

To start off, I liked the Bellini - ours had what I think was a raspberry puree. The iced tea was a good pairing for this meal - cola or another soft drink would be too sweet on top of everything else. It would have been nice to be offered a choice as the menu mentions a "selection", whereas ours was brought to us without asking which we'd prefer, but I'll let that slide :)

Whoomp, there it is.

The food

I started with the Chicken Caesar slider (left), which was very enjoyable, but the Butcher's Cut beef and cheese slider (centre) totally stole the show. It was done on the pink side and extremely juicy. The Lobster Blat slider (right) was my least favourite, as the filling was served cold and didn't seem to mesh that well with the meal in general. Consensus at the table was that something warm and crisp, such as battered soft-shell crab, would be a much better choice. My preference these days is for fat, twice- or triple-cooked chips, but BRGR's fries are perfect if you like skinny fries, and the dinky portion size was just right for the tea.

Onto the sweets - I would never order a vanilla milkshake (always, always, always chocolate) but I did enjoy this one and the shot-glass portion was quite enough given the array of other treats to enjoy. The doughnut hole was wonderfully fresh, although the salted caramel accompaniment promised by the menu was nowhere in evidence. To be fair, I wasn't aware at the time that it was supposed to be there, and it didn't bother me then, but still an irritation to discover an element missing after the fact. The chocolate brownie bite was disappointing - it tasted good but the texture was very dry and not brownie-like at all. The strawberry cheesecake was my favourite dessert! Sweet strawberry coulis, soft cream cheese and crunchy biscuit layers, all good things in a shot glass with teaspoon that literally JUST fits inside. I loved it.

The verdict

I loved the concept of a burger-themed afternoon tea and elements of it were pulled off really well. If BRGR CO considered changing the lobster slider and improving the brownie, I think they'd be onto a winner. I have visited the joint before for a full-size Butcher's Cut burger and really enjoyed it - my only quibble was that the bun, sides and toppings were a little uninspired - excellent patty though. If you're checking out BRGR CO for the first time I'd highly recommend the afternoon tea option for a little taste of everything.

BRGR CO, 187 Wardour Street, Soho, W1F 8ZB, 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring things

Having just returned from a glorious three-week visit to Cape Town, revelling in sunshine and catching up with family and friends, I am pleasantly surprised to find London well into spring. I had suspected that our miserable, sorry excuse for winter (exceedingly wet, windy, snowless, FOR SHAME) would result in a half-assed spring, but I am happy to find myself mistaken.

First morning back in London - sunshine and blossoms everywhere.
Disclaimer: this has (obviously) been Instagrammed.

What does spring mean to Londoners?

I feel the arrival of spring in London in a way I never experienced in Cape Town. Something about months of prolonged darkness, drear and mandatory coat-wearing primes you for a heightened appreciation of this season. I don't hate winter - it is the season of Christmas cheer after all - but it almost always overstays its welcome. The contrast between winter and spring is that much greater here - plants and trees appear literally to die in winter, only to burst back into life in the spring, all colours and textures and scents, and it is MAGICAL. 

Add to that the end of daylight savings (which, counter-intuitively, actually means more daylight for us), the promise of bank holidays, picnics, open-air concerts and theatre, lazy long evenings with jugs of Pimms, coat- and scarflessness, braais and general summer joy, and you begin to understand the significance of those first crocuses pushing up through bare soil. 

Summer, I am excited for you. Don't you dare let me down!

In other news, stuff to look forward to on the burger side of things (that's why you're here, aren't you? More food porn on the way, I promise): reviews of Tommi's Burger Joint in Marylebone and a new spot in Hout Bay, Cape Town, called Ragafellows. Spoiler: it's awesome.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Burger Tour: Dirty Burger

You'd be forgiven for thinking at first that Dirty Burger is a myth made up by your friends to lure you to Kentish Town for some sort of practical joke, because it is not the easiest spot to find. The address on the joint's official website is cryptically given as "Rear" or "Round the back",  which is not the most Google Map-friendly of addresses.

It's all good though - just find 79 Highgate Road, which is on a corner, walk around the corner into a sort of open parking area and locate the literal shack that houses this fine burger establishment.

The setup

Once inside, you may have trouble locating seats (especially if you're a large party!) as the place is tiny, even by London independent eating establishment standards. There's a long bar around the perimeter and a large communal table in the middle - do your best! Once you've spied some seats, you can turn your attention to the food.


The food

The menu is very short. I know I'm in the minority, in that I don't love cheese on my burgers, but there is no cheese-less burger here, so I went for the basic cheeseburger, onion fries and a chocolate shake. The total came to £13.25, which is not particularly cheap considering the very basic presentation and accommodation, but I didn't mind. The shake was outstanding, evidently made with chocolate ice cream (vanilla and chocolate syrup for a chocolate shake is one of my pet hates), and the onion fries were a dream come true for someone who believes that nothing is not improved by increasing surface area for deep frying - essentially they are like loads of chopped up onion rings smothered in batter and fried. GET.IN.ME. The portions are generous, so perfect for sharing.

The burger itself does what it says on the box - it's a dirty burger, in the same vein as the grease-fest that is a MEATLiquor burger. My preference is for more of a gourmet-style burger, but for what it is, I liked this Dirty Burger, and I would certainly go back based on the strength of the sides alone!

The verdict

I liked Dirty Burger, but although Kentish Town isn't a long journey for me, its less-than-central location means that I'd have to love it a lot more to go there often. There is another, newer branch in Vauxhall, but I'm told it's even smaller! I definitely recommend checking it out though, especially if you're a fan of American-style burgers and of chocolate shakes.

UPDATE: I mentioned previously that there is no veggie option at Dirty Burger - this was a LIE! DB recently added a few new burgers to its offering, including a "Dirty Cop Out" burger featuring a portobello mushroom topped with smoked applewood cheese. I don't know anyone who's tried it, so if you have then please do leave a comment and tell me how it was. 

Dirty Burger, Kentish Town and Vauxhall,

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Writing, lately

I've been quiet on here of late because I've been busy scribbling away in a few other places! If anyone is interested, you can check out what I've been working on...

The UK version of American women's lifestyle website was on hiatus from the middle of 2013 until January of this year - I've contributed a few new articles which you can read over here.

I'm especially proud of How to raise confident daughters, as it's a topic that's important to me. I wrote it with the helpful input of Lynn, my editor over at Jump! Mag (where I'm volunteer Social Media Manager), and Jo of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign, which is doing some really important work.

Jump! Mag

Jump! Mag is an online magazine for kids, for which I've had the pleasure of managing social media since October 2013. I've also written a few articles for Jump:

Buzzfeed Community

In a media climate where the "listicle" is the most popular and demanded form of journalism, I decided to give BuzzFeed Community a go. Anyone can create an account and post BF-style lists and posts, and occasionally you might lucky and have your post featured over on the site itself. I've published listicle-type posts before (this was one this blog's most popular posts ever), but here's my first BuzzFeed post:

On the blog I've got some more burger reviews coming up, so keep an eye out for those!

photo credit: akaitori via photopin cc

Friday, January 10, 2014

Burger Tour: Honest Burgers

I have not posted about burgers in a while, but calm yourselves, for I have still been doing some serious burger sampling, quietly in the background.

I finally got around to checking out Honest Burgers, which was a long time coming, considering whenever I tell anyone what I'm doing, their first question is usually "What do you think of Honest?" (well, maybe second after asking if I've been to Byron, which reminds me of that episode of How I Met Your Mother when Marshall is hunting down his burger nirvana and someone suggests somewhere so obvious his response is "Want a great cup of coffee?" *looks around furtively and whispers* "Try Starbucks!"). Yeah, I've been to Byron.

Our first burger mission to Honest was thwarted by an extremely long waiting list (three hours or something ridiculous - this is your first tip: don't show up at 7:30pm on Thursday), but we persevered and went back a few weeks later. For your pleasure, burger lovers, my take on Honest Burgers:

Honest Burgers review

The setup
If you're going to check out Honest in a group, I recommend that you go early and put your name down for a table (they don't do advance bookings, quelle surprise) or try out the newest branch in King's Cross, which is at least three times as big as the Soho one I went to on my first visit, and much easier to get a table at. They also have a couple of new items on the menu not on offer at other branches, such as a starter of battered sausages.

The food
So what about the burgers? You have three patty options: beef, chicken, or vegetarian. There is a special beef burger which changes monthly, a basic beef burger, a cheese burger, and the Honest burger (cheese and bacon). Not being a fan of cheese on burgers (I know, I know), I went for the basic option:

I want you so bad.

One of the first things I love about Honest is that it is one of the best value proper burgers in London. A decent size burger (I would even go so far as to contend that Goldilocks would call it "just the right size"), topped with a sweet red onion relish, and a mound of fries, for £8. Can't beat that!

The fries are amazingly good - chunky, rustic, skin-on chips seasoned with rosemary salt. The portion is generous - I dare you to finish them. While your table will get plenty of ketchup and mayo, the chipotle mayo for an extra £1 is really good. 

The burger itself is now a serious contender for my favourite burger in London - let's get a better look:

You know you wanna.

The bun is toasted and glazed, and stands up well to squidging between fingers. The patty comes standard as perfectly rosy pink in the middle, and the onion relish is a really nice addition to pick up the sweetness as well. As one of my friends commented, the burger succeeds at tasting really "meaty", which sounds odd, but often burgers are over-charred on the outside or smothered in barbecue sauce to disguise poor quality meat. Honest uses excellent quality Ginger Pig beef, and it shows.

Those of you interested in the veggie option, I've tried it and really enjoyed it - the patty is basically a big cauliflower fritter that's spiced so it tastes like a chilli bite (my South Africans know what I'm talking about). It comes with a yummy coriander and cucumber yoghurt topping and is definitely worth a try. 

The verdict I loved Honest. I have been back since, and I will go again. And again. I think the prices are really good considering fries are included with all burgers, and I was really impressed with the Soho branch which, when they realised they had forgotten my basic burger amongst all the cheese burgers, resulting in a longer wait for me, then left it off the bill as a "sorry". Nice one, guys. 

Honest Burgers, Brixton, Camden, Soho, Portobello and King's Cross,

PS. I know my photos are terrible! I'm working on it.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year things

I haven't posted in a while, and there are many things that need writing about (my latest burger reviews, a very belated look back on my holiday in Morocco, various other musings), but to start, here's a compilation of my favourite New Year quotes and resolutions found on Pinterest. Be inspired!

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