Soft launches are great- I mean what food doesn't taste better with 50 percent of the price taken off?! Sure, there are always a few hick-ups during the meals on these occasions, after all soft launches used to iron out problems in service and food before a restaurant opens it's doors to fully paying customers, but being able to feel like a bit of a king by ordering more than you will ever be able to eat, knowing that the bill will be halved at the end, is a pretty good feeling, especially if, as on our visit to the newest branch of The Breakfast Club franchise, the food turns out to be pretty damn tasty. Admittedly The Breakfast Club can be a bit of a tourist trap, probably featured in just about any "hip" London tourist guide, with an hour long queue more the rule than the exception at their better known branches in Soho and Hoxton. However the actual food served at any of their restaurants has in my experience always been pretty consistently good, delivering fresh and tasty brunch grub, and Hackney Wick thankfully proved much the same. With a lovely canal location and what seemed a world away from the centrally located branches, this cafe had a laid back and fun vibe that saw us lingering around a few hours rather than feeling rushed to leave our table straight after the meal. Drinks were great (we all went for my all time favourite an Aperol Spritz), made even better by being half price and the menu, though shorter than their usual menu, catered for everyone in our group whether gluten free, dairy free or very hungover (not naming names this person went for buffalo wings and chilli cheese fries which did much to reinvigorate her). Even though I was tempted by a savoury option, huevos rancheros always a good shout, I couldn't say no to ordering their rather infamous pancakes. These fluffy pancakes, which considering the fact that I'm gluten intolerant were a stomach ache in the making just by looking at them / so SO worth that, topped with berries, the best vanilla cream EVER and lashings of maple syrup, are undoubtedly my favourite pancakes in London. Yes, they are a heart attack on a plate and you can probably get better ones in New York but I bloody love them and would return to any of The Breakfast Club's for them alone. Everything being half price we of course massively over-ordered which gave me the chance to try some savoury bits with the stand out being the amazing guacamole on a delicious chopped salad and the only slight disappointment being undercooked fries which also happened to come in minute portion size.
That being my only minor niggle overall everyone was super happy with their food, all dishes leaving their kitchen quickly and perfectly presented. Of course there were a few minor problems, our drinks were left for a good 20 on the counter before being brought over but this didn't bother us much considering the really friendly service and most importantly excellent food we were receiving.
The Breakfast Club will always have a special place in my food snob heart and as we left, bursting at the seams and slightly tipsy off our spritz's, we couldn't help but smile after what was a great brunch that will see me return very soon and happily pay the full price.
I was also lucky enough to try my way through some of the Skinny Bakery range that you can find at Whole Foods and Selfridges. They try to take the guilt out of your favourite baked goodies and do a surprisingly good job, using healthier and less sugary ingredients compared to their normal counterparts. Favourites included these super juicy flapjacks as well as the skinny beetroot pearls that tasted a hell of a lot like a red velvet cake but came in at only 169 caloreis a pot. I would never say don't have the real deal when it comes to sweet treats (which my ice cream and cookie consumption during weekends proves) but these are an excellent mid week or lunch treat and come highly recommended. Brownie points too for the super nice labelling and packaging.
Everyone knows one of the best things about Summer and decent temperatures is being able to drink outside. All of London is of course thinking much the same which makes it near impossible to find a decent spot in the sun after work during the week. I've written about this little gem near my flat before yet in the summer months have found myself here more times than I'd like to admit. Why? Well firstly they have some great outside seating where you actually stand a chance of getting a table and secondly they have one of the best happy hours in East London.
From 5-7pm every day you get to enjoy 2 of their excellent cocktails for £10 which is pretty amazing for this part of London. More importantly though rather than some watered down, overly sugary concoction, containing approximately 2% alcohol, the drinks that you get here as part of the deal are actually really good. In fact the aptly named 100 Hoxton ranks in my top 5 favourite cocktails ever, it's mix of ginger, lemongrass, chilli, lychee liqour and prosecco making it far, far too easy to drink and can make even this happy hour expensive after your approximately 5th round. This place isn't oveyhyped, or filled with people wanting to be seen in a cool place rather than wanting a good time, heck two doors up you'll find my much beloved local Poundland, but they know how to mix a very good drink here at an even better price and I will most definitely spend a good chunk of my summer sipping on a 100 Hoxton here.
For my bank balance the invention of Deliveroo has been very, very bad news. I was never big on takeaways, the greasy Chinese or Indian usually on offer not really my kind of thing. Deliveroo of course changed all of this and living relatively central in London has resulted in hungover, hungry and incredibly lazy Stella being given access to an amazing variety of restaurants and well known chains without having to leave the house to get access to their food.
Though I'm still a little sceptical about getting an Honest Burger delivered to my house without the fries going a little soggy, so far everything I have sampled has been absolutely excellent. True, it isn't cheap, especially when ordering for just one person where a £2 charge is mandatory for any order under £15 (not that has ever stopped my hungover and barely functioning brain) but ultimately everything is delivered to you super quickly, efficiently and to the very high standard that Deliveroo seems to ensure across the board.
My current Deliveroo restaurant of choice, delivered ideally to my bed, has to be Wagamamas. I know Wagas, as I like to call it, is faaaar from authentically Japanese (after all I had my first experience of it in a Milton Keyne's shopping centre) yet like Nando's it has something ultimately comforting about it, a yummy bowl of noodles that wont let you down, a hug in food form that will make it all better. I've tried a fair bit of their menu by now but the Yaki Udon have to be my number 1 comfort food favourite on their menu- thick Udon noodles in a curry oil with prawns (and chicken according to their menu but I always give them a ring so they leave them out) and lots of veg, so much so that I crave them (and order them) most weekends!
It's so great to have genuinely tasty food delivered to your doorstep when cooking is the last thing on earth you want to be doing and Deliveroo has very cleverly allowed us to have food from London's amazing restaurant scene in the comfort of our homes. Of course I still love eating out, the atmosphere of a restaurant and service key factors in a great meal but this has changed the takeaway game for the better and I for one hungover, or not, am very happy about it.
After an absolutely lovely Christmas last year (in fact probably the best I've ever had) in the Yorkshire countryside with my "surrogate" British family, a massive shoutout by the way to my friend Maddie and the whole family Orme who invited me and instantly treated me like their own, so generous and welcoming that I can't ever thank them enough, I couldn't help but embark on another little Northern adventure, leaving the hustle and bustle of London behind for a weekend and getting the clan to show me a little more of this part of the UK!
I can be a very judgemental when it comes to anything outside London at the best of times ("What they have Byron and Pret in Leeds?!".."Yes Stella, we don't live in the stone age outside London you know!") but I ended up having yet another truly fantastic weekend surrounded by equally great people and defying a lot of the preconceptions I had of going anywhere outside the M25. Once our very fun and boozy Virgin train ride on the Friday eve was done, I enjoyed two days filled with great food at even greater prices, great company and a whiff of countryside air and greenery. I am already planning a return trip in the summer to see York which we didn't manage to squeeze in this time, cook up some BBQ's and hang out with a family that has very much made me feel at home, something I am eternally grateful for.
Below are my foodie highlights but please let me know if I have missed any must-sees as I will be sure to check them out next time! Also look out for another Yorkshire related foodie post very soon. Three cooking obsessed girls (Maddie, her mum and I) let loose at a farmers market and armed with the best selection of cook books resulted in quite the feast!
I am a massive coffee snob- heck I have nearly made barristas cry on several occasions when my cappuccino wasn't frothed properly (it is a bit of a running joke in my office how many times I go back to complain about my morning dose of caffeine) and my guide/host/colleague/all round friend Maddie was very aware of that, promising me truly great coffee at this little gem in the centre of Leeds and thankfully she wasn't wrong! With all the characteristics of the independent coffee shops I love so much in London -artisan cakes, bearded barristas etc. it definitely made me feel at home immediately but it wasn't just the looks that impressed. My cappuccino was super smooth, creamy and with not a hint of bitterness. One of the best cups of coffee I've had this year so far and a must try for anyone living in or visiting Leeds!
Headrow Houses is very East London and as much as I hate being a bit cliché, inevitably living, working and partying in this part of the world I can't help but love anything that is on the good side of hip. And this place definitely is just that. Every floor fulfills a different purpose and comes with a slightly different concept- a super cool rooftop bar, which it was a little too cold to enjoy on this occasion, an event space, a restaurant and a tropically inspired cocktail which we settled for on this occasion. Cocktails are well made, cheap- once you sign up for a free Headrow House membership only £8 for two of their speciality gin cocktails during their happy hour, served in amazing goblets and a real joy to drink. It's the sort of place I'd be wasting way too much time and money at were it in my neighbourhood and could as easily be in New York's East Village as it is 2 minute walk from Leeds's town centre with it's young, fresh and vibrant feel.
Betty's bakery and tearoom is a real British institution and it's Afternoon tea a thing of legends that people happily queue hours for. Yes, the two macaroons I had to takeaway may not have been the best ones I have every had but this place is nonetheless magical and a must visit if you are in the area. It's like time has pretty much stood still here since they first opened their doors in 1919- staff in old school ruffled aprons and uniforms, every baked good carefully presented like a jewel and service wonderfully eccentric and accommodating and like they are serving the Queen not a cynical 24 year old London girl. It's great to see that places like this still thrive despite fickle culinary trends and fades and sitting down for their afternoon tea, with our without a bit of a wait, is without a doubt pretty high on my list of foodie things I still need to try!
Before our train back to London we had just enough time for a quick, tasty (and after our massive home cooked veggie feast the night before) relatively healthy dinner. Maddie immediately suggested Zaap, not far from Leeds's city centre, and was met with immediate doubts from my side. You know when you try a cuisine once somewhere bad and it kind of puts you off it for good? Well I've had some rather lacklustre Thai food in the past and had somehow managed to avoid it altogether for a few years to the point were I would happily put my nose up at the thought of a Pad Thai without ever having tried one. However after a quick instagram stalk, thank the lord for being able to geotag search a restaurant, helping avoid eating out disappointments all round, I decided to give Zaap a go- everything I saw looking incredibly fresh and tasty. The restaurant is super colourful and fun inside (a sort of Thai version of Lebanese chain Comptoir Libanis), prices are ridiculously good with almost all mains under a tenner and the food is just as good as Maddie promised. I went for the classic Pad Thai in the end and it turned out to be a noodle dish bursting full of flavour, topped with crunchy peanut, huge and juicy prawns and finished off with a real chilli kick. Zaap completely changed my perception of Thai food and if they had a London branch, here is hoping for one soon, I would have already returned to sample more of their dishes. I didn't think a Thai restaurant in Leeds out of all places would change my opinion of this cuisine but it sure did!