Love at first sight is a big claim to make for anything in life and though I am still waiting to experience that kind of emotion towards a handsome young fella ( here's hoping), I did always have that sort of relationship with London. Visiting the city the first time when I was seven, coming all the way from Germany and with little clue what to expect, I couldn't help but be completely awed by everything I saw. This awe has never quite went away and though the places that achieve this emotion have changed, my favourite spots at the time, the Natural History Museum and Carnaby Street not quite like the little patch of town I proudly call my home now (East London) , I still love London like on that first day here as tourist. Of course I have visited many places since, all of which I enjoyed - Rome was a foodie's paradise, Kenya was beautiful and Berlin, well Berlin is home to Berghain, and with that arguably gave me the best night of my life. However none of these places quite managed to evoke what London had, that is until I, jet lagged as hell, set foot outside my tiny yet perfectly formed Air Bnb in New York's East Village.
Over-tired, soaking wet ( the only bad weather I had during the entire trip with almost monsoon like rain at tropical temperatures) and with little aim as to where I was going other than using city mapper to gage how far I was from some of my must-try eating spots, the brightly lit shop fronts of places I had always wanted to try and bustling street gave me that sense of a warm embrace by a long lost friend you never knew you had. Oh East Village how I loved you from the minute I discovered you. Yes, you can argue I wasted my 5 days there basically remaining in one part of town ( though I did go on a highly recommendable walk across Williamsburg bridge to reach Brooklyn with great views across the city without having to go to an overpriced rooftop bar) but you know what I am not sorry about that. I've lived in London for the last 4 years now and the best places I have found are definitely not Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace and the like and though some people may insist that you have to visit these sights to tick them of some pointless list of things you can buy on postcards I don't really see the point of wasting my time doing so when I could get to know the real heart of a city.
Thanks to some fellow foodie experts, giving me list upon list of must-trys, an Air Bnb that was a maximum 15 minute walk away from everything on those lists (highly recommended to stay at as well for any single travellers) and some lovely 'semi' locals showing me the ropes ( special shout out to Aideen who discovered my blog whilst in her native Ireland but showed me around her new home New York in the only manner possible..fuelled by continuous cocktails as well as one of my favourite London hip hop DJ's Khalil who invited me to one of his nights over in Williamsburg during my stay) I had, to put it rather bluntly, a rather fucking fabulous time. I didn't think it was possible but London, you lost a little of my heart to New York, and I am already planning a return trip for spring next year.
Below are some of my favourite discoveries, ticked of my ongoing list during my brief time there. If you want some comprehensive city guide telling you what fountain is the coolest in Central Park, what galleries to visit or where Carrie ate a cupcake then this isn't for but neither are my London discoveries because the best places in every city at least for me are where the locals are willing to queue and where the visitors, like me, dream of being a real New Yorker amongst them.
El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette
What is it : An East Village contender to London's Antipodean leaning coffee shops with added sunshine, great people watching on one the most vibrant streets of this part of town and some seriously healthy but tasty brunch dishes to devour if you are hungry.
Where is it: 100 Stanton Street
What to order: If you go to New York during summer which for these lucky bastards means any time between May and end of September ( I had 29 degrees and sunshine bar the first day) you'll notice that everyone and I mean EVERYONE in this city drinks iced coffee and if you are anything like me you'll be on two a day of those by the end of your trip as well. What makes them so great? You get your black coffee with ice and can add whatever type of milk, sugar or sweetener ( darling it is America after all) after to suit your taste, making them the perfect caffeine hit to beat the heat with.
The bar scene in London, to put it simply, kind of sucks sucks compared to New York. Why? Well in New York, not only does nearly every bar offer an amazing happy hour at a decent time but bars as a whole are open until around 4am, considerably later than in London where inevitably you are forced to make the decision whether to hit a club or call it a night before the clock has even hit 2. I may have been a little bit of a hungover tourist after the Friday and Saturday night where me and my newly made friend Aideen hit the Lower East Side bar scene, but the amazing cocktails, ridiculous conversations with bartenders, bouncers and regulars I managed to have and the real sense of having dived into a local night life scene made it SO worth it ( even if it meant me waking up on the Sunday next to a packet of dumplings and little recollection how they got there..). Here are my three favourite bars so far, though I hope they won't be the last I try. So go, rinse the happy hour, get drunk and make new Yanki friends.
VBar St Marks
What is it: Unpretentious bar with amazing happy hour and friendly staff , so good that I went back twice on this trip!
Where is it: 132 First Avenue
What to order: THE PARMESAN TRUFFLE FRIES. If you don't you may miss out on the best fries of your life. These came highly recommended by a friend and boy am I glad I listened. Heavenly and nearly worth a plane ticket over there alone. Cocktails are also great, go for the watermelon margarita as perfect drink to enjoy alongside.
What is it : Cute little neighbourhood restaurant/ bar serving brunch, lunch and dinner with great outside seating to watch the world go by.
Where is it: 85 Orchard Street
What to order: Perfect place to order some nibbles alongside inventive cocktails ( I loved the Rosé sangria) for a civilised start to an evening out on the town. Get the brussels sprouts with quinoa, herbs and lime dressing - god knows what's in that dressing but it made them the best brussels sprouts of my life!
The Beauty Bar
What is it: My favourite bar discovery, hands down. Because what could be better than a slightly grubby 60's style beauty parlour meets cocktail bar where you can actually get your nails done while slightly rude middle aged bartenders pour your $5 dollar mango belinis and funk and soul is blurting out of the speakers..not much. Really, really not much.
Where is it: 231 E 14th Street
What to order: Whatever you like. Just sit back and enjoy.
Artichoke Basille's Pizza
What is it: Of course you can get a pretty decent slice of pizza at nearly every corner in New York but Artichoke Basille's almost cult like status in the city as well as numerous recommendation pointing me towards it in the run up to my trip made me determined to make this my first slice of New York pizza because, well you may as well start with the best. And boy was I not disappointed. Much needed at 2 am and after a few cocktails at nearby Beauty Bar, and after a bit of a wait surrounded by locals also wanting their carb fix, I was faced with a gooey mix of cheese, artichoke and the most incredibly dough ( sans tomato sauce which I am quite happy to live without when it comes to toppings anyway), combining essentially everything you will ever want from a slice of pizza and so much more.
Where is it: 328 E 14th Street
What to order: Do I even need to write it out? Get the artichoke one and enough napkins to stop the glorious grease dripping onto your outfit for the night.
Russ & Daugther's Cafe
What is it: Of course a trip to New York ( or anywhere in America) isn't really complete without a brunch. Though you can now get a pretty decent take on brunch in London, no where is it celebrated as much as the USA with it's overindulged piles of pancakes, french toast and whatever else you can get away with as your first meal of the day be it 11 am or 5pm. I decided for a little less traditional brunch venue, forgoing cult venues like the Clinton street bakery, for Russ & Daughters Cafe, a little bit of old school Jewish eating tradition repackaged into a sleek dining spot. The original deli run by the family is still around the corner and has been so since 1914, selling the finest selection of bagels, smoked salmon and cream cheese one could dream of. The cafe takes those classic ingredients and gives them the sit down brunch treatment without loosing the homely atmosphere and overriding high quality Russ & Daughter's have become so famous over the decades for.
Where is it: 127 Orchard Street
What to order: The deconstructed bagel with cream cheese and all the trimmings looked amazing but not quite as enticing as the Lower Sunny Side, sunny side up eggs, the best smoked salmon of my life and potato latkes as only your Jewish grandma could make them. Ask for a side of scallion cream cheese and an iced coffee (of course) to cure even the worst of hangovers and fuel you for a day of New York city life.
What is it: World famous for its crack pie, compost cookies and of course cornflake ice cream you can not NOT make the trip to one of the Milk bar branches around town. Here food is fun for all senses...BUT don't expect too much, it is only ice cream flavoured like the bottom of a bowl of cereal in the end of the day and not quite worth the hype at least in my eyes!
Where is it: 251 E 13th Street
What to order: The cornflake ice cream of course, and yes it is ok to instagram this one on the spot. It's to a travelling foodie what the Empire state building is to a group of Chinese tourists...
Morgenstern's Finest Ice Creams
What is it: If you do want ice cream that blows your mind, give Milk Bar's hype a miss and head straight to Morgenstern's because the flavours here will blow your socks of. With a ridiculous array of flavours, from Vietnamese coffee to cardamon lemon jam and burnt honey vanilla, you'll be hard found choosing just one but whatever you go for you won't be prepared for the creamy goodness, exploding with flavour you get with every spoon. Best ice cream of my life thus far.
Where: 2 Rivington Street
What to order: Everything if you can? As that was impossible ( for now) on my short trip I went for salted caramel pretzel ( INCREDIBLE) and the raw milk flavour drizzled with honey which was short of stunning with its pure yet sweet flavour. First place I will return to when I step of the plane next time, able to just about cure the worst jet lag in my eyes.