Saturday, 24 January 2015

A London Evening: Pizza Pilgrims

As dusk settled over London, we realised that our time was becoming limited. Gin had about an hour before having to leave for work and in that time I wanted to show my two recently-transferred Londoners one of my favourite spots in the city.


Now of course I doubt I could afford a single thing in there. Even a lone flower from the beautiful stands at the entrance would probably put me out of pocket.

But as a child, a trip to London with my family would often be accompanied by a trip to Liberty.

Even before I appreciated going shopping in itself, wandering around Liberty felt like a special treat.

As a child, stepping through those doors felt like stepping into another time. I was heartbroken when I grew older and discovered that it wasn't really built in the Tudor era yet it didn't quite lessen the magic.

I always bypass the clothing floors and head straight up to the home departments (after having had a mooch around the chocolate, perfume and stationery downstairs of course).

Perhaps I never quite noticed these parts of the store but I'm sure that certain corners of the building are steadily evolving into vintage and reclaimed treasure troves.

Now, please forgive me for this very outdated Christmas shot (and the few others that will follow later). This was mid-December so Christmas fever was very much at its height and we couldn't resist having a wander around the little wonderland that is created up amongst the rafters every year.

I took part in Dawn's Ornament Swaparoo this year and got my exchange buddy a little something from here.

Outside, we bid goodbye to Gin who grabbed a treat from Ben's Cookies (the best cookies I have ever tasted ever and whom I frequently contact, begging them to open up in one of my local cities much in the same spirit that I emailed Ben & Jerry's once asking them to make their tubs bigger - yes, really, and I actually got a reply too... what can I say, I'm a sugar freak).

Meanwhile Alice and I, whilst still slightly full from the Borough Market goodness and the Hummingbird cupcakes from earlier, decided that the lure of pizza was too much to resist. And whilst we were in the neighbourhood, we thought we may as well drop by... I mean... this wasn't a premeditated binge fest of a day at all...

This was my first time eating the Pilgrims' pizza and what better way to taste it than huddled inside away from the cold at their latest venture on Kingly St., nestled just around the corner from Liberty and barely a few steps away from Hamleys.

A quick word of warning: despite the fact that there were only two of us, we took it upon ourselves to try nearly everything on the menu. And when I say "try", I mean order the full portions and eat it all. Not even a scrap of mozzarella left on the plate. I also owed Alice a meal after her letting me stay the night and drag her all over London in the pursuit of gluttony.

Like all good Italians, we started with an aperitivo. Hers was the monthly special, a delicious and potent concoction of amaretto and lemon whilst mine, an aperol spritz, took me straight back to lazy, balmy evenings in Milan.

With the cocktails thoroughly polished off, we turned our attentions to house wine.

Being able to order it by 175ml, 500ml or 1000ml is a huge plus and something you don't often find in the UK. Last year at work, we would go out for lunch to a local restaurant every day. It wasn't your typical Italian trattoria (no checked tablecloths or wine bottles drizzled in candle wax unfortunately) but it was damn cheap and with company meal tickets, a huge plate of pasta and a half litre of wine with coffee after cost me 50 cents a day.

The warehouse worker would reliably order wine for the table every day and we returned to the office a little dizzy on more than one occasion! When in Rome...

Next, it was time for starters.

Fried artichokes (carciofi) and fresh anchovies drizzled in lemon juice, one of my favourite starters ever. Particularly in the summer I can't think of a better way to begin a meal than with a fresh, zingy plate of fish.

Oh and we had a cheeky little portion of arancini on the side. The best ones I ever tasted were in Taormina, Sicily (it's almost been a year since I was there, sob, sob) but these did the trick that evening.

But now, what you've all been waiting for... 
the pizza.

We shared a margherita (the gold standard against which to assess all pizzerias) and a portobello mushroom and truffle (truffles being my favourite flavour ever - I cannot get enough of them. Especially with cheese.)

I am pleased to report that those more in favour of the Neopolitan pizza tradition will not be disappointed. I personally prefer those thick, doughy bases to their crispy Roman cousins. With a good thick base like this, you can rip a good chunk off that springy, stretchy edge and use it to mop up the extra olive oil and tomato sauce that oozes from every slice.

And this particular one was better than some I've had in Italy. High praise indeed.

We were absolutely stuffed afterwards but decided to have a sweet treat anyway.

The two flavours that we plumped for were both ricotta-based; chocolate and black pepper, sour cherry.

So rich and creamy and full of flavoursome punch. We managed to polish those off too.

Three courses of food, three courses of drink. We finished the evening with some limoncello.

We were feeling more than a little merry by this point.

The last thing on my to-do list for our whirlwind 24 hours was go and see the Christmas lights. Ok so I wasn't exactly pioneering the latest secret hotspots during my single day in London. I'm a huge sucker for tried-and-tested goods (I will pretty much order the same meal in Nandos every time I go. It's been the same way for about six years - mine's a plain beanie burger with chips and halloumi on the side with a perinaise dip, lashings of ketchup and a good squirt of the lemon and herb peri peri sauce in case you're wondering - it got to the point where the waiters wouldn't even need to ask who had ordered it. My life has no meaning.)

Wandering around Selfridges fairly drunk was an enjoyable experience and faintly reminiscent of the time I finally decided to pluck up the courage to go into Prada in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan (also when rather drunk) but unlike that experience, it ended in awesome cuddly toys that we really wanted to take home had it not been for the three-figure price tags. Those are some lucky, lucky kids that get to take these bad boys home! I wanted a whole zoo of them.

And now I will leave you with a final Christmassy shot, an entire month after Christmas has passed. Only 300-and-something sleeps...

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

London with my lovelies

Nobody could ever say that I take too many photos (ahem).

In just one short day, I managed to take about 100. This isn't odd by any stretch of the imagination; I'm sure most bloggers do this and I can certainly accumulate hundreds and hundreds in a single weekend. My problem is that I just can't narrow it down enough!

And so I present to you, pictures from one short day in London.. Part 1.

As I always fly from the London airports when I go to see Michele, I decided to make the most of travelling through the big smoke. Alice and I lived together during the first two years of uni but whilst I was eating pizza and generally lazing about for a year, she passed her final exams with flying colours and landed herself a place on a forensics course in London!

We hadn't seen each other in months so we decided to make a day of it. Naturally, this involved me making a list of all the things I wanted to do in London within the space of about 8 hours before inflicting it on poor, unsuspecting Alice. I'm a huge fan of London; living just a couple of hours away and with grandparents living on the outskirts, I spent many a weekend here as a child.

As a food addict, number one on my list was, of course, Borough Market.

My Dad used to work in an office just ten minutes walk from Borough Market. When we first visited as a family, mere months after he'd left the job, he confessed that he'd never come down to the market for lunch.

I am still uncertain as to whether he truly is my biological father.

After having a wander around the covered part of the market, we headed through the archway to where the stalls are in search of some lunch.

I saw huge Italian panini, freshly made pasta, giant balls of mozzarella... but it seemed wrong to eat these things when I was on my way to Italy itself.

So I tried something from a country I've never been too before: Egypt.

Not really the most attractive of eating pictures but hey, I enjoyed it!

It was a mixture of rich tomato sauce, vermicelli, chickpeas, crispy fried onions, a real winter warmer for a chilly December day.

Fran came along to meet us at the market and decided to treat herself to a giant German hot dog.

Fran was very happy that day as she had just been accepted onto a PhD for her dream project at her dream university! Congratulations Fran!

Alice sunk her teeth into a pie from Pie Minister (I am very happy to report that Exeter now has a Pie Minister on campus, which is reason enough to study there. It got to a point last term when I was having a weekly Heidi pie with all the trimmings; minted peas, mash, gravy, cheese, shallots... ahhhh....)

I hadn't realised that Hotel Chocolat's Rabot 1745 was so close to the market. I'd only seen pictures on the internet and dreamed about it before so as soon as I spotted it, we raced in.

I had a cup of their unsweetened cocoa which seemed to get richer as it went on and kept me full for a good long time.

I'm really excited to be going there in a couple of weeks when I return to London for my birthday woo! The table has been booked and the menu has been digested - let the countdown begin!

We headed back to the market in search of more food after that, believe it or not...

And found this rather lovely lady!

Gin, one of my old uni friends, was living in London for a short while before jetting off on her travels (the lucky thing!) Originally from Lithuania, she decided to just book a one-way ticket to the big smoke and figure it all out once she got here. Within days she found a job and a place to live! Some people...

There is nothing I appreciate more than friends who agree to be photographed.

I would love to go around Borough Market with a fork and just take what I pleased.

Now, being just before Christmas and all, we couldn't just walk past this rather nifty little Christmas pudding stand could we? Whilst the full puddings were a bit beyond our budget for the day, the mini puddings with brandy cream were right up our street.

And just look at that tub of brandy cream! Someone pass me a straw.

The stall owner expressed interest in us sending her some of our photos for promotional shots. I feel like once she has seen these she may change her mind...

Oh dear.

By now it was time to grab a glass of prosecco and head onwards to our next foodie destination!

Never underestimate just how much I can consume.

In fact, just the other day I went to a Lebanese restaurant in Exeter and ordered about six dishes to myself (next to my friends' three between them).
"All for you?" the waiter asked in bemusement.
"Are you sure? It's a lot!"
"Yes, I'm definitely sure!"
"Ok... because I don't like food waste, you must eat it all!"
And eat it all I did.

Alice took one of these absolutely gorgeous focaccia home (don't they just look like a work of art?)

And we said ciao for now to the wonderful market (through which we had wandered for at least two hours by now).

Meanwhile the sun began to descend over London.

In the dizziness of the food, prosecco and the glorious experience of being in my favourite city, I played tourist for a little while.

Next on the agenda was the legendary Hummingbird Bakery.

The black bottom cupcake is possibly the most divine creation to ever have graced a baker's oven. Not too heavy, not too light, I could probably devour at least five of these before drowning in dark chocolate and cheesecake batter.

The lovely Lidia met us for a quick cup of tea; she's one of Michele's friends from Milan currently studying in London. It was lovely having a catch up and introducing her to some of my friends too!

There's really nothing better than good friends, good cake and a good natter. Even if it's freezing cold in December and you're sitting outside like lunatics.

Sadly the sun began to go down on our day in London. Fran and Lidia had to head off, leaving Alice and Gin and I to move on to our next tourist hot spot and (believe it or not) more food!

Has anyone got any recommendations for places to go, things to eat in London next time I go?