Brunch

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My work-mate/mate-mate Chloe is one of those people that always knows exactly where to go to eat. Whatever conundrum I have (eg. where do I take this client for lunch to look cool but not pretentious? where can I get Scottish square sausage in London? where can I get the best soup noodles in China town?) she has the solution. In fact she EVEN knows what to say when I have those frustrating “I’m hungry but I don’t know WHAT I WANT” moments (um, every day).

This week I have turned into a human pin-cushion. Ahead of quitting my life and travelling the world, there is a lot to be organised and one big part of that is the fifteen vaccines I need before doing things like living on a hammock on the Amazon. On Monday I had three injections in one day (two in the same spot on one side, sprouting a sad sympathy bruise) so I arrived into work with lead arms and a traumatised face and Chloe said “Huzzah! I know what you need. You need to Nordic Bakery” and she was right. It fixes all woes, including needle related sulks.

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Since discovering the Nordic Bakery I have been back more times than I can confess, and plan to camp out there on a weekly basis until I leave Soho. It’s tucked away at the back of Golden Square, so about 10min stroll from Oxford Circus, past the Carnaby Street chaos. I am already a fan of nordic food but this only really stretches to summering in Stockholm a decade ago and… Ikea. I thought I liked Cinnamon Buns, a lot, but I didn’t realise that the rest of them PALE in comparison to the Nordic Bakery Bun. Weighing about the same as an iPad (!) it’s layer after layer of flaky, sticky goodness that is the equivalent of eating a hug.

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The Nordic Bakery is dreamy for breakfast-brunching. Not only do they serve a damn fine cup of coffee (I heart Agent Cooper) they also have an array of pastries and baked goods ranging from standard pan au chocolate to the real traditional Nordic bits such as karelian pie which is a Finnish dish consisting of a crusty rye base, filled with potato or rice porridge and then topped with the most miraculous of ALL food inventions; Egg. Butter. Egg Butter. It sounds like something from the Butterflied Diet, but is an actual real thing and is as tasty as it sounds. The pies are served warm so the whole thing is a flaky, melty, buttery delight.

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There is also a pretty good spread of lunch goods, although I haven’t sampled any yet. But they range from salmon & egg on rye to some traditional brain-busting fish combinations including gravlax, herring and salmon. The cafe itself is very aesthetically pleasing, all wooden loveliness and sleek lines and corners, and has a zen sense of calm and tranquility despite being in the heart of Soho. Oh! I also haven’t mentioned the sweet treats. There are mountainous cakes on offer, lingonberry tarts and I sampled (all in the name of afternoon-tea suitability research of course!) the oatmeal cookie which sounds potentially dull but it was a sweet sticky gooey mass of oats and nuts and dark / white chocolate heaven. The thing I actually like best is what the baristas are wearing! The denim aprons are top of my object of desire list. I think they should start selling them.

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I’ve spent the last seven years working in Soho, only moving from the Tottenham Court Road end of Oxford Street to the Oxford Circus neighbourhood when switching jobs. It’s been the place I’ve clocked up more hours than anywhere else in my adult life and mooched in and out of doing my 9-5 (pah, 9-8 more like) thing for so long that it feels entirely surreal that in a mere 2.5 weeks I’ll no longer be a Soho socialite. Ah well, it’s a good excuse to eat and drink and sample EVERYTHING here before I leave…

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(Have you read Big Apple-ing part i? If not, get a wriggle on!)

I forgot to mention in my previous post, that if you ever get the chance to fly into New York from the West coast, you definitely should. I hadn’t really thought about it but when you fly from London, you literally land into JFK from the ocean. When you fly from the other direction, you fly RIGHT over New York and I was so lucky that the sun was just setting so I could still shove my nose up to the glass and gape as we flew lower and lower with incredible birds eye views of Central Park and the Statue of Liberty.

Popeye

On the Friday night, I had finally finished my gruelling work schedule and was a free free bird to go out and enjoy the city that never sleeps with Nick. Luckily we had tons of friends to meet up with over the weekend, who generously created a packed schedule of the finest NY events. Friday night was kicked off by finally meeting our dear “internet friend” the glorious gorgeous gregarious Heather Park in the flesh. We rolled into K-Town and queued for an hour for the best KBBQ in town over at Wonjo (23 W 32nd St). Whatever you do, don’t turn up to KBBQ hungry if going on a weekend night, instead use your hour queue-time to take in the sights and sounds and SMELLS whilst your appetite grows into one of beastly proportions. We also had the pleasure of witnessing the most intense amazing boss-lady working front of house, barking at her staff and customers alike as she rocked a Britney-headset and flapped about some sort of laminated mega list. Heather & I agreed she would be a serious asset to backstage at NFW. I had never had KBBQ before and so if you are a fellow newbie, it’s basically a feast AND a game. You sit around a huge table (Heather Park comes complete with entourage of beautiful smart New-Yorkers to dine with!) and there is a mini BBQ firepit in the centre of the table. As well as about 20 dishes of veggies, beansprouts and tofu; the Wonjo staff bring over raw meat and barbecue it on the table in front of you. Every morsel was so mouth-watering and tasty, and washed down with BOWLS of soju (what’s soju?) which when mixed with burning coals could end in druken disaster… but luckily everyone left full and happy and with all their fingers intact.

KTown

After our feasting we jumped in cabs to Alphabet City where we hit Evelyn. The bar was cosy, just the right amount of buzz-y but with seats at the bar, and with an extensive tempting cocktail list. It was hard to believe that just a few months earlier, the entire bar (and block) had been underwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Evelyn is such a hidden treasure, and somewhere I desperately wish I could transport home to London to have as my local. I loved the little touches like on the menu there was a “drinking language guide” explaining what on the rocks, short etc means. although there were also a few etiquette guidelines too such as under make it strong it said “This means you want me to pour extra booze for free. Not gonna happen. Order a double” !! I tried my first ever Egg Creme, a drink popular in America and involves a mixture of milk & selzter. I opted for an NYC creme which also included chocolate sauce and rummmm! It’s probably the weirdest thing I have ever drunk but it was oddly delicious. Like a fizzy, boozy Yazoo. Definitely put it on your NY-To-Do list. (Also thanks HP for letting me pinch the only physical evidence of us meeting IRL! We were terrible paparazzi’s)

Gang

Empire

On Saturday we thought the blue sky was finally out and we started the day with a stroll over Williamsburg Bridge which is one of my favourite things to do (the last time I did it I saw Chloe Sevigny riding a bike and Tobey Maguire jogging!) you also pass the old Domino sugar factory which I have been unhealthily obsessed with since Emily Haines sang about it in the Metric song On The Sly. The views from this bridge are unparalleled and you also arrive in the heart of Williamsburg in easy walking distance of everything good to see there. We were there to see something very good indeed – our friends Leah and Gareth.

Graph paper NY

LOVE LOCK

Williamsburg Bridge

Domino Sugar Factory

Leah & Gareth live in Green Point which is a gorgeous neighbourhood, and an easy stroll away from the waters edge to take in a perfect cityscape view of Manhattan. After we had lost all feeling in our extremities and even our fingers clutching piping-hot coffee cups were nearly blue, we scuttled to Allswell for brunch. In America, they just GET brunch. They get that you might want to eat it anytime of day (it’s served until at least 5pm most places), they GET that you want tons of choice and they also GET that you most likely want to get seriously back on the booze wagon after the night before. Over at Allswell I opted for the cheese & egg sandwich which was basically a fancy McMuffin which I could then slather in hot sauce; a habit that has stuck with me long after my NY trip and I’m now eating the hot sauce I bought back with me from the US with almost every meal. It is a surprisingly delicious addition to beans on toast. I also had a bloody mary which went down a treat! We spent the afternoon exploring Green Point and Williamsburg. Nick had desperately wanted to go to the Brooklyn Brewery Bar tour but we arrived at 2pm and the queue was about 4 blocks long and would have taken hours to wait out. Maybe it’t particularly en vogue at the moment but I wouldn’t set your heart on going unless you fancy a looooong wait. We instead invented our OWN tour which just consisted of visiting different bars and drinking Brooklyn Beer. Almost the same..! Oh and eating donuts from Peter Pan which is apparently open from 4am for any night owls. I punted for a standard sugar glaze which was heavenly, Nick braved a red velvet which also tasted of heaven.

cityscape

Donuts

On Saturday night we had tickets to the glorious Planetarium at the BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music – I’d recommend a visit there even if not to see an event, it’s beautiful) which was a collaboration between Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner (of The National, aka my one true musical loves), and Nico Muhly and consisted of a piece of music for every planet in the solar system played along side amazing graphics. I really wish that they’d release the whole Planetarium but it doesn’t look likely. You can catch most of it on YouTube: Jupiter was our favourite and has had Nick & I singing “Jupiter… is the loneliest planet” in distorted voices to each other ever since! It was such an incredible thing to do and has definitely taught me to check out your fave bands/cool locations/events before you go somewhere and to book tickets in advance. This really made our weekend! After hours of inspiring, mind-melting music we hitched the subway back to Williamsburg and crawled to Rosamunde Sausage Grill. I don’t consider myself a sausage fan but this experience converted me for life. Pick ANY sausage you like (sooo many options) to which you can then add numerous onion/chilli based toppings. It’s served hot-dog style in a gorgeous crusty bun, and then there are about 10 pumps of different mustard/condiments to go wild on. It was a messy affair, and the sauce slops did irreparable damage to my favourite rust-colour paper bag skirt, but it was WORTH IT!! We stayed out with Leah & Gareth (and therefore our stolen) friends drinking margaritas into the early hours. Nick also sampled something called a Pickle Back which is apparently all the rage in NY: a shot of whisky with a shot of pickle juice as a chaser. As a pickle phobic, I had to hide under the table at this point.

BAM Planetarium

We awoke on the last day in the big apple, hungover and happy. We walked around the block to The Essex for their brunch deal. Long-time readers may remember that last time I went to NY I booked in for brunch there (you HAVE to book! Dont just rock up) and was then so hungover I couldn’t eat a thing let alone make the most of their unlimited mimosa/bloody mary deal. This time luckily my hangover was less brutal, and I chomped my way through shrimps, grits, eggs and biscuits all covered in hot sauce. Grits and biscuit are a really southern American cuisine and worth ordering for novelty value of saying the name and having no idea what to expect, plus they are mighty tasty. Nick had a giant stack of American pancakes, and to be honest I can see why their brunch is world famous, everything looked dreamy. They really mean business here with the breakfast booze… just take a look at Nick’s wide eyed fear of his bloody mary. The whole clear top half is pure vodka!

Bloody mary

Hungover Bee

Last up on our solo day of dreams in NY was to walk the High Line which you can read all about here. The project has totally rejuvenated this side of Manhattan and is probably now my #1 favourite place in New York City. I imagine it’s even more lovely in Spring/Summer as the blooms come out. The walk takes you past so many different areas and the birds eye view provides a whole new perspective on a city you’ve seen so many times in films and TV. I could honestly have walked up and down it all day! Highlights were seeing The Standard hotel famous c/o Fassbender in Shame (we didn’t see an nekkid action that day though) and the beautiful brownstones. The viewing points where you can stand over the road and feel like Godzilla are also amazing! We also saw Anne Hathaway! She was wearing a wig, hat and glasses but could not keep that post-Oscar-win glow and grin off her face.

High Line

High Line 2

Brownstone

At the end of the High Line you come off in a no mans land so it might be better to retrace your steps and get back into a better neighbourhood. However we had time to kill and Trader Joe’s to find (oh and a Shake Shack to munch on!) so we walked about 20 blocks back to central NY, past Port Authority and accidentally stumbling on Times Square which we’d actually vowed to avoid. I guess it’s impossible, the bright lights suck you in! We took our time walking miles upon miles until our feet screeched with every step, then it was time to head to JFK and on the final plane journey of my extended US trip. On the way home we flew through a snow storm heading in NYs direction, so I wobbled my way through a sleepless night which eventually gave way to a beautiful sunset to chase all the way back to London.

Times Square

I hope you’ve enjoyed my travel adventures. Normal life will now resume on Like a Skeleton Key which I can’t promise will be as exotic… but definitely will be as busy! I wanted to make a final mention that we couldn’t have got through our NY weekend without the Trip Advisor App – it has maps, subway details and information on every cuisine/tour/place you might want to visit. ALL without needing any data, how smart are they? So you can use it without wifi or costing any money. I’m tempted to download the London one now I’m home just to keep living the faux-holiday dream.

Sunset

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Breakfast Club

Oh Brunch, let me count the ways in which I love you.

You aren’t early enough to be breakfast (tummy too tired to function) but you aren’t late enough to be lunch (argh half the day passed already). You are the perfect inbetween; a fake meal who snuck into my life and stole the best meal prize.  The best brunches include a good friend for company, lots of re-ordering pots of tea, the Sunday newspapers, a scrabble board and going 2 rounds of food so you can try two different types of breakfast combinations.

The best brunches start with sleepy Sunday eyes and I need coffeeee, and end when the sun is setting again and you realise that brunch became lunch and dinner and your entire day. Brunch is unrushable, basically! 

I’ve taken my job of discovering the best places to brunch very seriously and here is the top five. If you ever want to discuss this shortlist over brunch… that would be swell. (Especially at The Woseley aka Brunch venue of the stars and way out of my lowly price range; who’s menu I have downloaded on my desktop and read sometimes just for fun. SAD…)

 #1. S&M Cafe Spitalfields, 48 Brushfield Road, London, E1 6AG :

Be sure to sign up to the lovers club for amazing offers. Straight away you get £10 funny money which should see you a couple of trips for free!

Despite the fear in some compainions eyes when I tell them I’m taking them to an S&M cafe, there is nothing kinky here except the occasional Carry On film-still on a menu. S&M stands for Sausage & Mash, which the cafe specialises in when it isn’t serving up KILLER brunches! Cute red gingham table clothes,  oh so friendly staff and – for London – the cheapest  edible brunches I have found so far. You can get 3 breakfast items of your choice (including the holy grail that is bubble&squeak) for £3.25 and a cup of tea for £1.40. If you’re on a post pay day rampage then you should go bigger and braver. Their day job as sausage specialists means there are treats such as marmite or caerphilly cheese & leek bangers to try.

#2. Riveresque 15 Bridge End Road, Leeds, LS1 7HG

 

A picture tells a thousand words and hopefully this one is telling you that the Riveresque cafe WINS the portion size prize. I mean count it for yourself! That’s 4 toasts, 2 hash browns, 2 eggs, 4 sausages, 3 bacons, beans, mushrooms and tomato. For £5. I can’t see how they’re turning a profit but boy was I grateful  (need to work on my grateful face) Added to the generosity, you get a neat view of the river and randomly, a heaving back catalogue of Chat magazines to browse through. After the 2nd egg; reading Love thy neighbour: the girl next door sliced my Mels head off for £30! wasn’t a great move. Please go, but please take your own reading material.

#3. The Pot 38 Crwys Road, Cardiff, CR24 4NR : Click

It’s quite ironic that I had my first ever traditional American breakfast in Wales, but I can’t imagine the yanks make them any better. Wow-wee. Waffles, pancakes stacked to the sky, bacon, maple syrup and the perfect sunny side up. This little gem might involve a hefty hike out of the town centre to the student patch of Cardiff, but it is well worth the treck and hey, you’ll have walked off any calories you injest when you can’t resist the chocolate cookie milkshake. The decor here is flea market/shabby chic and the most serene spot to while away some hours. The waitresses are also adorable, all decked out in frilly polka dotted pinnies and so friendly that it definitely feels like you can stretch out and sit it out for the long weekend haul.

#4. Clock Cafe, Headingley Lane, Leeds, LS6

Is it called Clock Cafe? Or LS6? A long, pointless, bone of contention between Leeds residents Vs the Leeds student population! This place means business and isn’t in any way meant to be visited for less than three hours. Pitch up in one of the huge boothes, grab yourself scrabble and buckaroo and start calling friends to visit you over the course of the day. Afraid the brunch menu isn’t up to much, so this is a location for when you have a serious hangover. Then you can order the giant portion of dutch fries (of which the hot skinny waitresses like to ask ‘are you sure you want a whole portion to yourself, they are very big’ the answer is YES YES YOU DO!) mm curly fries, cheese, mayo and ketchup. Add in an iced coffee and a few hours later the fairy lights come on and the cafe turns into a bar and you can order a Fruli beer and start the night where your day began.

 #5. The Breakfast Club 2-4 Rufus Street, Hoxton, N1 6PE : Click

 

Wins the best cafe name before I even step foot over the threshold. I hadbeen perusing this joint on the internet for weeks before I even moved to London and my hopes were high as it boasts 2nd place in the Observer food awards – Best UK Breakfast line-up. Brunch here quite regularly involves a queue first and even then, it’s so busy you may well have to sit on the big shared tables with… STRANGERS argh! So not one for shy and retiring types, or people who want to swap secrets. The menu is epic though with absolutely tons of choice; including a dish called Green Eggs & Ham ♥ If you like a side portion of risk with your eggs opt for the charity breakfast – where you flip a coin and if you win – you get a £12 brekkie for £4. If you lose, you pay £12 but the extra money is donated to charity. Although I would recommend The Breakfast Club, all the staff I’ve encountered are very East London Cool (read: surly and quite affronted when faced with this prospect of you actually wanting to order food from them, rather than just gaze lovingly at them!) so do not go if you are on the verge of losing consciousness with hunger as service is slightly slow and sometimes stroppy!

PS. In non brunch information, I finally have a blog email address. likeaskeletonkey@hotmail.com – feedback, brunch recommendations, thoughts, ideas for posts and well anything you’d like to say here please!

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