I am always on the lookout for new and fun places to enjoy a drink at. The time of the month I find myself in when needing this drink can very much dictate the budget for these alcoholic beverages, I myself guilty, more often than not, of a good old pay day splurge followed by having to turn every penny twice once the 20th hits, while still attempting to maintain a social life.
This is why below you can find 3 recent discoveries of mine that deliver on drinks and atmosphere for a range of budgets, whether you are after a fancy pants cocktail that is worth the big bucks, a happy hour find which comes with snacks (major BONUS in any case) or just a cosy, chilled pub where you can get a decent glass of wine for under a fiver! Your next Wine Wednesday is sorted, thank me later.
It’s taken me a few years (I mean maybe a decade) of living in the UK to “get” the whole pub thing since moving over from Germany. However, I am happy to report that nowadays I have learnt to fully appreciate a cosy, unpretentious pub on a Sunday afternoon, perfect for catching up with friends without breaking the bank and having to worry about splurging on food but so much better than sitting at home.
There are of course hundreds of pubs in London and not all of them are great. There are the smelly ones, the party pubs, the endearing old men pubs which are still a little too rough around the edges for me and the hipster ones in East London, restored to an inch of their life to look “rustic”, and where you’ll end up spending a tenner on a simple Aperol spritz, surrounded by every single bearded stereotype you can think of.
When you find a pub that is the right side of restored without being pretentious, think lots of wood and charming touches, is in a lovely area and has a chilled crowd PLUS cheap wine you have to count yourself lucky and make it your regular ASAP which was exactly the case with the Exmouth Arms.
Bang in the middle of charming Exmouth Market, not too unlike Broadway market with it’s array of great cafes and restaurants but a little less busy and closer to central, this pub ticks all the boxes – lovely staff, plenty of space and a good mix of families, twentysomethings and the occasional hipster (this is still kinda east), which meant that on my first visit I already felt like I had found a little home away from home. A generous glass of wine comes in at under £5 which is fantastic value for London and I am already planning a return visit with the BFF to try their roast dinner offering. Hands down my favourite pub discovery so far in London although I am sure not the last!
I have written about the tasty tapas style Italian fare that gets served up at Polpoa few times on the blog already. However, if you are on a little bit of a budget, the small plates concept can quickly add up when you dine at one of their 6 London branches, I also recently discovered while on the hunt for an early Saturday evening drink in central, that Polpo offers one of the best value and tasty happy hours around.
Indeed between 4-6pm every day, which unfortunately for me with a 6:30pm finish during the week means this is a weekend only offer to be made use of, their Aperol Spritz’s, negroni's, bellini's and a couple of other classic cocktails will only set you back £5. Not only that but alongside your drink, in true apertivo style like I loved so much on my Rome city trips, you will also be served deliciously juicy green olives as well as my all time favourite truffle crisps, making this basically the ideal drinks and nibble set up at a real steal for London standards!
I’ve been to their Covent Garden branch already twice in the last few weeks but there are drinks to be had at all of their rustic yet chic locations across London and I for one will make this my default happy hour when I can make it before the clock strikes 6pm – heck it doesn’t get much better than cheap Spritz’s and free truffle crisps in my eyes!
Oriole is not the sort of place you will spend an entire evening drinking at unless budget really is no consideration. In fact, even if you are feeling plush I’d say start your evening at this decadently decorated, exotically themed bar - think sumptuous gold interiors with palm tree covered wall papers and intriguing trinkets as if collected on an epic journey of discovery around the world, and go for one lavish cocktail, slowly sipped and savoured to really make the most of Oriole and to kick of your night in style.
Indeed this place screams luxe and this is also reflected in the drinks which are divided into three sections: Old World, New World and the Orient, showcased in a menu that resembles more an illustrated novel with it’s detailed descriptions of ingredients, tasting notes and beautiful illustration of the local flora and fauna of Your chosen part of the world. The sheer choice of drinks can make it quite overwhelming to choose a cocktail but fear not because service at Oriole is as impeccable and clued up as you would hope for when paying £15 for a cocktail. Our waitress patiently listened to the alcohols we most enjoy and what we wanted from our ideal cocktail and then suggested what suited this the most from the menu.
In the end I went for the Solomon fizz, a delicate combination of Belvedere vodka, Iranian lime and lavender agricole, satkara lemon and Veuve cliquot champagne served with a stunning dried flower floating in the glass presented to me. I may not know what half the ingredients I just listed were but I do have to say that every sip of this cocktail was complex, interesting and showcasing true bartending skill that justifies the price tag.
Oriole isn’t a place to get drunk or even tipsy at, it’s a place to appreciate the art of cocktail making where every aspect of the drink has been carefully considered, after all you wouldn’t treat yourself to a Michelin star dinner every Friday so go to Oriole for a special occasion, savour every sip and be prepared to be wowed.
I had quite the busy time covering shows during Paris Fashion Week this season but for once actually got to stay longer than 24 hours, spending 6 days at a lovely Airbnb in the heart of Paris’s version of East London - le Marais, which during this particular period was heaving with fashion types from all around the globe.
I did a bit of research before the trip to make sure I was going to be able to squeeze in some culinary exploration and was also lucky enough to have local friends the provided me with some fantastic eating and drinking tips. As always I like to be completely transparent when it comes to my reviews so will also note places that were hyped up on the old Instagram but failed to deliver when it came to actual flavours and value for money, and will hopefully be able to provide you with a little guide of some new Paris favourites, worth checking out whether you are there for #PFW (for serious lolz check out some of the tragic posts under this hashtag) or just for leisure. I for sure got to like and appreciate Paris a lot more this time round.
Everyone that has read this blog will know that I am total snob when it comes to my daily caffeine fix and Paris, unfortunately for me, has had a historically bad rep for coffee. However, the Aussie flat white revolution has also recently reached French shores as I discovered after some quick research in attempt to find an early morning coffee spot.
Strada café was an 8-minute walk from my Airbnb and had laid back minimal café vibes. The minute I walked in spotted the (slightly pretentious) designer cups and snazzy barista set up, I knew I was likely to get a good cappuccino here and I wasn’t wrong. Yes, call me a hipster but I know my beans and these were perfectly roasted and the cappuccino creamy. Be warned the card minimum is 10 euros so come with cash. I was in here three times during my stay which is a testimony to the quality of coffee at Strada!
A lot of typically French food is meat based but I was keen to sample at least some iconic dishes of this cuisine so did a little bit of digging to find an authentic and none pretentious bistro in the neighbourhood that served a great (and veggie friendly) onion soup. Les Philosophes kept popping up as a dinner spot loved by locals, with all the French classics on the menu, so I decided to give it a go for dinner one evening.
The inside is pretty standard French bistro style but my dining companion and I very quickly realised that the room was mainly filled with French people AND not a fashion crowd, a refreshing change and clearly an indicator of the authenticity of the food. We both ended up ordering the French onion soup which was, as most online reviews indicated, SPECTACULAR- warming, rich, full of caramelised onion flavours and impossible to eat elegantly with all those oozy melting cheese strands.
This was in their starter section but was definitely filling enough for a light main and we complimented ours with a lovely cheeseboard selection, a side salad as well as some excellent white wine. Dessert was ok, we went for a tarte tatin which at 9 euros was rather small and unmemorable but overall Les Philosophes was a great and honest dinner venue choice, with good service and high quality, locally sourced food, a little away from the dinner hot spots of Paris but no worse for it!
Chez Janou came recommended by one of my good friends and self-proclaimed Paris experts, Blaise. She said this place was not only fantastic in terms of its fun atmosphere but also had outstanding food, good drinks and great service. And she was not wrong. There was a queue sneaking out of this adorable bistro pretty early on a Friday night and we only got a table because I got my lovely French friend Anne Lise to call the restaurant the week before (TOP TIP IF YOU ARE FRENCH OR HAVE A FRENCH SPEAKING FRIEND - BOOK A TABLE!!) as anyone without was immediately turned away. We got seated towards the back of the quirkily decorated space (think low lights and vintage posters) and got our lovely waitress for the evening to translate the menu for us and give us some advise on what to order.
For a shared starter we ordered a kind of grilled cheese topped spinach toast which after a day of attending 3 shows hit just the carby spot it needed to. For mains, I knew what I wanted even before we entered the restaurant- their scallop risotto having called my name the minute I saw others post about on Instagram. Indeed it was sensational, not cheap I have to say at 24 euros, but one of the best risottos I have had- a decent portion size at and topped with huge, juicy and perfectly cooked scallops. There are of course plenty of meat option including steak, duck and tartare, with every main sounding rather spectacular in its own right. After polishing off our mains my dining companion and I were pretty stuffed but at Chez Janou dessert is kind of compulsory and with dessert I mean the huge white ceramic bowl of mousse au chocolat that arrived in front of with an equally impressive serving spoon to help ourselves with. Now, we did kind of order the mousse because it looked so impressively indulgent when we had spied it online, to be fully transparent I don’t really like chocolate based dessert and Maddie, my fellow diner, has a dairy intolerance but hey we thought YOLO when in Paris let’s do it and ordered it anyway. It was no doubt an amazing mousse but we barely made a dent in the portion and had a our fill after a couple of spoonfuls each – one for chocolate lovers only but at the price (9 euros) still worth ordering if only for that instant wow moment even if you may be defeated by the sheer serving size.
THE BEST TRUFFLE PASTA OF MY LIFE WITH A SIDE OF HIPSTER @ PINK MAMMA
Pink Mamma is pretty much an instagram sensation. It is part of the Big Mamma restaurant group, owned by two young French restauranteurs, who after extensively travelling Italy for culinary inspiration quickly took the French restaurant scene (they have locations in Paris and Lille) by storm with their interpretation of Italian cooking, made for this social media age. What do I mean with that you may ask? Well every detail at Pink Mamma, from the napkins that exclaim “call me mama”, to the carefully mismatched plates, to extravagant Pink exterior walls is worthy of a snap and a share on your Instagram feed.
The menu on the other hand plays on wow moments of Italian cooking and pimps them up for an audience that is constantly chasing their next big culinary experience. Their infamous truffle pasta with house special fresh mafalda, black Molise truffle, mascarpone, button mushrooms was indee hands down the best truffle pasta of my life, not cheap at 18 euros but utterly fantastic and coming served in what else but a gorgeous copper pot, making the whole thing a delight not only to eat but also to look at. The truffle pizza, though on a great base, was nothing to shout home about, neither was a rather tiny and forgettable fried artichoke starter. However the service was impeccable and the wine, of course Italian, was great and really all we could think about was THAT pasta.
Pink Mamma being the talk of the town does have it’s downsides, I am not going to lie. The place opens at 7pm for dinner and, no word of a lie, a queue had started to form outside pretty much as soon as the clock hit 6pm, which means get there early or be prepared to wait for quite some time. I usually hate queuing and had the pasta, service and concept not been as good would have been seriously pissed about the 40 minutes we ended up waiting outside.
Overall Pink Mamma for me is worth the hype, yes it is engineered for an age of social media sharing, but it succeeds in terms of concept, service, interiors and luckily also the food (in most part), especially with the truffle pasta which is simple out of this world. One of the few places I would say the a bit of queuing is worth it.
I mean let’s be real, telling you to go to Angelina in Paris for cakes is basically like telling you that the Ritz in London does a decent afternoon tea. Angelina is of course an institution when it comes to fine French patisserie and is included in most guidebooks, making it a firm touristic favourite, but sometimes being surrounded by obnoxious foreigners is worth it if it means eating spectacular cakes in a grant dining environment.
You may be paying 9 euros for a relatively small cake but you are able to eat it as if you were Marie Antionette, surrounded by grand gold frames, plush carpets and with impeccably dressed waiters taking your orders . Is it a bit basic to go there? Maybe, but I loved every second of it and saw it as an essential part of the Paris experience. My tip- go for the Mont Blanc with a modern speculoos twist, chestnut purée piled on top of meringue rounds. topped with whipped cream and in this case with a hint of speculoos was hands down one of the best sweet treats of my life and worth every penny. Angelina is a tourist experience I fully endorse and one that I will repeat on my next visit.
Café Charlot during fashion week is like a wine fuelled version of The Devil Wears Prada. This is not your average street café in Paris, of which there are hundreds, no this is where the international fashion crowd meets up before shows, after shows and any time in between to nibble on fries and knock back the rose, Kir Royals and Aperol Spritz’s. It is a place "to be seen" but also makes for some rather hilarious people watching whether you work in the industry or not!
THINGS TO AVOID
BREIZH CAFÉ – OVERRATED CREPES NOT WORTH QUEUING FOR.
Overpriced (my sweet caramel crepe was 11 euros), meh in terms of flavour and definitely without the charm of a little crepe stand were you'd be paying the fraction of the price. For me when it comes to finding a good crepe in Paris go for no thrills because here you will leave feeling a little out of pocket and disappointed.
THE HOXTON – A BIT OF LONDON IN PARIS YOU CAN SAFELY SKIP...
I mean I should have known but soooo many people had mentioned that the Hoxton in Paris was oh so cool that I had to check it out. I am not saying it’s terrible but it is pretty much a carbon copy with a few tweaks of the two London ones I have been to, one literally 10 minutes from my house in Hoxton (LOL) and lacks the charm and shabby chic that I want to see in Paris. It’s fine for a business meeting but rather than spending 5 euros on a diet coke (yes I am not joking) I say go to any shitty corner bistro and experience a bit of the real Paris, not a room full of foreigners and freelancers that don’t deem a bathroom without Aesop good enough to use.