Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Adventures with a 4 Zone Weekend Travelcard

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Starting my journey with a Krispy Creme donut from the stand in London Bridge I'm instantly lobbed into a near coma by the sugar and regret my greed almost as instantly. I love the idea of a Krispy Creme Original Glazed but halfway through I'm always weighed down with Catholic guilt and can't finish it. Not a great start to a day I'm hoping will have some culinary hi jinks.

Heading up the cool steel grey of the Jubilee line with a quick jink on the rather bizarre Hammersmith and City line (I can never really tell what it's for) and I land in Ladbroke Grove and the Portabello Road market on a Saturday afternoon, which is not a part of town I get to that often. I quickly remember why. I try and bound though the crowds to meet my friends for lunch, they are not budging. The torrents of euro trendies, Japanese art students and blokes in ironic t-shirts hold me up and I lose my sense of direction momentarily, ending up heading the wrong way up the Portabello Road. Tacking through the fruit and veg stalls and knick knackaries (you know the sort of pitch, odd bits of porcelain, mismatched silverware and antique cameras) I finally spot the Electric.

It's primarily the coolest of cool cinemas in London, and it is universally accepted to be impossible to get into even if you try and book weeks in advance. I'm heading for the attached brasserie which I had heard good things about. I was just about getting over the Krispy Kreme and was up for some oysters, the place being rumoured to have some pretty good seafood. Knowing that my friends are already seated I ninja my through the wait line and find the table. Checking out the surroundings I'm looking forward to my lunch, some fine looking, simple brasserie classics are flying past and I catch the waitress' eye.

I'm stunned by what I find out next. As I have joined the table I'm not allowed to order any food. I can have a coffee but can't have any lunch. The only words out of my mouth are a very loud "cunting Ladbroke Grove" and then I order a cappuccino. Which is actually pretty good. 10 minutes later I'm outside having to make due with some Paella Valenciana from one of the stalls. It's pretty good, but more of an Arroz con Pollo than a true paella. Still, it fills a hole. A raging expletive ridden hole, but there you go.

We wander the stall's for a bit and then I manage to calm down a touch with a few beers whilst we watch the Italian's historic win in the rugby. The Italian captain looks like Salvatore, the deformed polyglot monk from Name of the Rose. I head off to meet the girlfriend in the centre of town, straight as an arrow on the Central Line from Notting Hill to Oxford Circus and a little jog through Soho. We meet at Abeno Too.

Abeno and it's sister restaurant Abeno Too are one of the very few places that you can eat okonomiyaki, pancakes made from dough, cabbage, tempura batter, pickled ginger with meat, vegetables or fish cooked on a hotplate set into your table. These large round savouries are then are topped off with spirals of Japanese mayonnaise and a Worcester sauce like ketchup and liberally sprinkled with bonito flakes. These are as ubiquitous in Japan as fish and chips in this country and the two Abenos are always rammed with homesick looking Japanese folk. They claim to be the only place in Europe that does them, but I seem to remember a restaurant in Oriental City in Colindale that did them too, but it's been years since I've been up there and it's in Zone 6, so not covered by this particular adventure. Anyway, they are comfort food par excellence and just the thing to sooth a weary traveller, along with a generous bowl of sake.

These followed up by one of the singularly silly ice creams you can get at Bar Caffé Ciao, 17 Charing Cross Road had me more than satisfied. Bar Ciao could once have claimed one of the best ice cream parlours in the city, however, time marches on. It's always a complete bastard to get a table and the very Italian overblown ice cream creations are a bit much for me I have to say. The stracciatella ice cream does kick ass though.

The next morning found me in Spitalfields Market rather hoping that I would end up in the Arkansas Cafe for some ribs but actually ending up having a few pints in the Big Chill Bar and waiting endlessly to get fed. Being in the Brick Lane area you'd have figured a curry was in order, but the whole place has gone down hill in the curry stakes I reckon, so we searched high and low for a Turkish place "just round the corner" from the beigal shops on Brick Lane that a friend of a friend had said looked pretty good. It was as far away from the normal kebab shop as you can get whilst still being able to have chili sauce. The restaurant was dominated by a central charcoal grill and a massive wood fired oven. Huge long Turkish breads where being hoisted out of the oven, still bubbling and crackling as they were thrown onto the counter and the seated chef by the charcoal grill cooked stunning hunks of meat. I had two delicate and sweet quails which were perfect for bone gnawing and greasy fingers and faces. A lovely hidden gem , if only I could remember what the place was called.

On Brick Lane I bumped into someone I had met at the Dos Hermanos dinner the other week. Petra Barran runs Choc Star, the mobile chocolate bar. It's an old ice-cream van which Petra has converted into Britain's one and only mobile chocolate emporium. She's pitched up at Brick Lane most Sunday's and is even thinking of taking it on tour round the nation, so keep an eye out for her. It's all cracking stuff. She gave me a free bit of her choc and mint cake, so I have nothing but good things to say about her!

The final tube journey home on the East London Line took in a Bounty Bar, which has to rate as my favourite of the great British chocolate bars. But that's another post, and probably another travelcard.


Barbara said...

I like the tweaking of the site. I'd have been furious at not being served too.

Catherine said...

Krispy Creme donuts are like a religious experience. don't feel guilty. i'm a vegetarian, low-fat, healthy type (i even jog), but have no problem finishing an original glazed. honestly.

Anonymous said...

I am still reeling from two Fridays ago when, due to the kind of mix-up you wouldn't believe in a contrived soap storyline, we had no less than nine dozen Krispy Cremes in an office of fewer than 30. There were some heroic individual efforts (10 was the record) but several boxes didn't even get started. They don't keep too well, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I need to make it out to London one of these days.

Anonymous said...

What a great way to spend a weekend. I've often thought about doing a similar thing here in Sydney, but I already spend too much time on trains during the week as it is.

rkhooks said...

You should pop by the Hummingbird Bakery on Portobello rd the next time you're in the area. Does all sorts of cupcakes, American style. Very cute.
There's also the best bagel place in london (well that's what I think) 'Brick Lane Beigel Bake' at the end of Brick lane. You can even see them making the bagels in the back.
Definetly missing out on the Krispy creme action. They've yet to make it over to Paris.

Unknown said...

The okonomiyaki restaurant in Oriental City unfortunately closed down several years ago and has been replaced by a Karoke Bar. Shame as it was much cheaper than Abeno! PS Oriental City is only Zone 4, and has an amazing food court full of SE Asian goodies- try it before the forthcoming demolition (planned soon!)