The Alice House, Queens Park

1 year ago

The Vibe

The sister branch to the West Hampstead hot spot, ‘The Alice House‘ Queen’s Park keeps it simple with exposed brick work, filament light bulbs, leather sofas and wooden tables. There’s no reinventing the (fixie bike) wheel here; The Alice House provides a familiar decor to the media-type locals who rely on a diet of well made flat whites and sourdough bread from the comprehensive brunch menu. There are two places to sit; either in the mezzanine area which offers a cosy nook to get to know one another without distraction (more on that in a moment), or at the table in the far left corner between the large glass windows and the bar. Again, you’ll have an area that offers a bit more privacy, but you also have the cold light of day on your side, so your call.

We reviewed brunch but the friendly waitress mentioned that when the sun goes down, this laid back joint becomes a more lively spot with a resident DJ spinning house and soul music into the wee hours. This makes it a welcome addition to the slightly pub heavy NW6 Saturday night scene (it tends to be the pub or Paradise in my experience), and with a ‘can’t go wrong’ cocktail list, and a friendly crowd they’ve got the local feel-good factor nailed.

The Order

The folk here make it easy for you; familiar favourites with quality ingredients. There’s Eggs Ben as standard (not referred to as such on the menu but it’s what the locals call it so do try to fit in); there are ‘spiced peaches with cobnuts and organic cream and brioche’ which sounds bloody magical; salmon on soda bread, cullen skink omelette or potato cakes with what may otherwise be a Full English all suggesting a Celtic mastermind is at play, and there are some solid vegetarian options which go above and beyond avo on toast.

I opted for the stacked buckwheat pancakes served with Dorset blueberries, crème fraiche and London Honey (#local #savethebees), while my date couldn’t resist the aforementioned potato cakes with Speldhurst sausage, a guilty pleasure in the form of black pudding, topped off with a deliciously rich fried duck egg. While the pancakes served my mildly hungover sugar craving and look pretty on Instagram, I had my eye on my date’s sausage (not for the first time), and he was gentlemanly enough to share it with me, along with half a perfectly savoury potato cake, two mouthfuls of black pudding and most of the egg. If there’s any danger here it’s the very real threat of food envy, enough to test any blossoming relationship, especially if you discover you’re sat with a non-sharer. Also notable are the juices; yellow pepper, lemon and carrot packs a Vitamin C punch, so order if you’re the healthy sort. For everyone else the coffee is a must.

The Game

You’ve suggested a ‘brunch date’ so you must a) have been out together since last night or b) actually quite like them and both happen to live in NW6, or you may in fact, c) be married to them with at least one child and potentially a dog. Because that is the overriding flavour of The Alice House on an early Saturday afternoon. And that’s cool right, because ‘marrieds’ more than anyone deserve the comforting, lazy glow that a good brunch cooked by someone else gives you, while also feeling nice and couple-ly regardless of their new house guests, 8 month old Arlo and 1 year old Pongo (you decide which one is the child/ dog). They’ve done their time in the wild ghettos of Singletown. They’ve met, they’ve fallen in love – probably at one of The Alice House’s Saturday night soul shindigs to be honest- and made it work, so get to grips with the fact you are surrounded by actual grown ups and pick a spot so you can concentrate on your own easy breezy conversation and make sure you don’t order something on a hangover whim. All going well, take a post brunch walk-and-talk stroll through nearby Queens Park. You probably live in the area so you can judge whether you’re walking them to the well connected Queens Park station or continuing things elsewhere nearby.

The Faults

Ever the optimist, I like to think of things positively, and will say that, at some point in the dating process you kind of-maybe-perhaps-sort of-but not really want to-in a way be sure that you’re not going out with someone who has no soul, and The Alice House is the place for you to discover this.

In the duration of our time there, I counted six buggies, four full sized children under the age of eight, and a media dad reading a copy of The Guardian to a new baby. Some (normal) people might not be bothered by this, and even if your date is a little bit unsure about why you’ve brought them to somewhere that on this occasion could offer a crèche service (The Alice House team, if you’re still reading, I was thinking you could convert the adjacent Library room into such crèche), this is an openly dog friendly venue, so they may spot a puggle, French boxer or bulldog to swoon over instead. And if they don’t like dogs/ are a ‘cat person’, the in-built buggy ramp is handIly situated by the front door and doubles as a slide for your speedy get away.

Sex Factor*

4 for brunch; 5 for Saturday nights.

*Use protection to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

James Bond Afternoon Tea, 108 Pantry, Marylebone

1 year ago

The Vibe

London is getting ready for Bond, James Bond (!!) and we will take any opportunity to celebrate that. 108 Brasserie has light, clean décor with a warm, glowing atmosphere all wrapped up on a street in this most gorgeous part of London, worthy of any spy mission thanks to its undercover façade. It’s all attentive service, really good acoustics to keep your conversation private and spacious tables that leave just enough room for plotting and canoodling just as James would like it.

The Order

The menu begins with an expertly made Vesper Martini – shaken not stirred, natch – and a selection of yummy teas. The menu is gimmicky and a delicious ode to Spectre, including poker chip cookies (influenced by Casino Royale), edible ginger snap cigars filled with passion fruit crème and the best smoked salmon blinis I’ve had in a while (vodka, beetroot cured salmon and caviar). All of which go surprisingly well with the punch Martini aperitif….

The Game

Dress up and book your tickets to see Spectre at an evening screening in town, perhaps the Curzon in Mayfair. Meet on Marylebone Lane which has some of the chicest independent shops to swoon over and head on over to your comfy table with padded leather seating waiting for you in the brasserie. Sip Martinis and whisper sweet nothings over your scones before heading to the cinema for the full Bond effect.

The Faults

Afternoon tea in London is amateur sport and even though I love this idea, 108 Brasserie could improve on their presentation for the great food on offer. I’m thinking a mini Aston Martini DB9 filled with scones. No?!

Sex Factor

5. Bond is always sexy and these Vesper Martinis are sure to get your pulse racing.

Until November 1st 2015.

Tried and True, Putney

1 year ago

The Vibe

There’s a reason this place, in a location relatively off the beaten track, is regularly packed with a crowd as loyal as those to a central London eatery. The food and coffee here refuses to be anything less than outstanding, every time. It’s the place that locals come to, and wish that they could keep as their secret. Bright, beachy design and cheerful staff only add to the bliss.

The Order

Ever heard of a Pulled Pork Benedict? Neither had we – however Tried and True‘s is award winning. Rest assured that lighter options are available – the scrambled eggs are whisked into a thing of beauty, the avocado sides are generous, there’s toasted muesli and organic produce galore. Coffee is serious here – Red Brick Espresso will set you up for the day.

The Game

Wake with sore heads and see with joy that Uber is playing ball sans surcharge for once. Head over mid morning and go all out for a brunch that’ll satisfy you all day. Order two mains and share bites of the other’s. If it’s warm, seek out the sunspot of a garden outside and feel your hangover slip quickly out of sight.

The Faults

Avoid the times when the children of South West London are brought here for their babycinos.

Sex Factor

3.

Percy & Founders, Goodge Street

1 year ago

The Vibe

Percy & Founders promises all day dining and all day dining it certainly delivers.  Looks-wise, it’s a bit like a jenga puzzle: from the outside, it looks like it could be an All Bar One given that it is located on the ground floor of a modern apartment block, but once inside you feel like you’ve entered the lobby of a lovely new hotel as it’s all pieces of mismatched art, wooden floors, mirrors and huge vases of flowers. The Dining Bar is directly in front of you as you walk in and the slightly more glamorous looking Cocktail Lounge and bar is on your left. On the other side, there’s the Reading Room and Chapel Room dining rooms with plenty of tables including a very large banquet table laid out beautifully, perfect for a wedding remarked my date (yikes, steady on!  It’s only our second date mate) and lots of comfy seating and nice lighting.  Percy & Founders was in fact built on the former site of the Middlesex Hospital, and the old Chapel (now deconsecrated) remains in situ and can be viewed from the Chapel Room – a real thing of beauty.

The Order

Ex-Murano Head Chef, Diego Cardoso is in charge of the kitchen here at Percy & Founders so foodie credentials are good.  They are serving a new bottomless brunch (£16pp) which offers unlimited prosecco and bloody mary for two hours as well as all your favourite eggs and coffee and so on – what’s not to like? Sunday roasts are served from midday and are reliably good thus taking the pain out of deciding where to have that Sunday brunch/lunch date. Puddings are distinctly delicious so consider the crepe souffle highly recommended.

If bru-lunching, head for the Wallace Collection post-nosh to gaze at Old Masters’ paintings.

The Game

Working late on an urgent brief in Fitzrovia?  Like this guy/girl?  Nonchalantly suggest a debrief over a late supper at Percy & Founders (kitchen closes at 10 o’clock so time it juuuust right so you look like a hero) and swiftly order a bottle of wine to go with.  Eat for your mood but do have a dessert if you can. It’s worth it.  After supper, repair to the lounge for a digestif or cocktail and quite possibly a hand on arm/leg situation.

For special occasions there’s Percy’s Den, which is a swish private dining space below deck, kitted out with lots of the latest technological gadgets i.e. a ginormous telly and a banging sound system.  Bespoke menus have been designed for your dining pleasure.

The Faults

It’s no destination date, save perhaps in the case of Percy’s Den, but it certainly does the job.

Sex Factor

3.  In the world of Uber, London is your Oyster and the drinks list is bob on so I’d say a solid three.

PS. The toilets are nice so check fly/reapply make-up within.

New Street Grill, Liverpool Street

1 year ago

The Vibe

The New Street Grill is situated right in the heart of Square Mile territory, next door to Liverpool Street Station and in the Old Bengal Warehouse (originally used by the East India Company). But when Saturday brunch comes around the City Boys have disappeared, and the atmosphere is low-key and welcoming. The décor is elegant and contemporary; exposed brickwork, restrooms hidden behind floor to ceiling mirrors, and the dim lighting is sympathetic to the hangover you’re likely to be arriving with. Eat al fresco on the terrace (under a heater) – it’ll evoke memories of luxurious lunches from City breaks past.

The Order

The brunch menu encompasses an array of breakfast and lunch options: you can kick off with the blueberry crumpet and move on to the rump steak. At two courses for £20 the set menu represents excellent value. This is primarily a grill and the minute steak was delicious – perfectly cooked to melt in the mouth. For a more conventional brunch option the duck Egg Benedict was also tasty – served on a crisp muffin with perfect Hollandaise.

The bottomless prosecco adds an X-Factor. This is a must: the staff are delightfully attentive in re-filling glasses and by the end of the first course you’ll be wondering why you don’t drink fizz at lunchtime every day.  As you linger over those refills order dessert – the bread and butter pudding with honeycomb ice cream is an indulgent, sugary and salty confection. Finish with coffees, served with an artistic selection of sweet treats.

The Game

This is probably one for the spontaneous celebration of a successful previous night and would work perfectly if you want to keep the fun going. By the time you’ve put away a few glasses of prosecco you might be ready to do it all again.  As a straight daytime date option this would be a bold and possibly inspired gambit – who knows where you might get to by 4pm?  If it’s cocktail hour by the time you’re thinking about making your exit, well then there’s the Old Bengal Bar adjoining the restaurant and it’d be rude not to have one.

The Faults

The terrace was entirely populated by gangs of girls gossiping – as a couple you might feel slightly conspicuous (until the second refill).

Sex Factor

3.  Not bad for a lunchtime.

St Clements, Parsons Green

2 years ago

The Vibe

The very best of South West London – immaculately bare wooden floor boards, piles of cookbooks on rustic shelves, excellent coffee, beautiful people, several puppies making friends, fresh roses in vintage vases on each table. Oh, and your menu of course comes on brown paper attached to a clipboard to be perused whilst people watching the stunners of Parsons Green stroll by.

The Order

There’s a strong focus on suppliers and quality here – the majority of the produce is from the UK; English strawberries, Yorkshire bacon, Isle of Wight tomatoes. Perhaps that’s why everything tastes delicious. Go for baked eggs with chorizo, tomato and spinach, or try the corn fritters which come piled with bacon, avocado, tomatoes and greenery. Have at least one coffee, the baristas know their stuff.

The Game

You’ll live in the area, and be cruising past on a weekend morning. Soak up the last of the Summer rays outside on the decking where you’ll see and be seen for a few dreamy hours. Take the newspapers and acknowledge that you’re possibly lining yourself up for the ‘chat’ to make things official. This place is couply, so cosy up and enjoy.

The Faults

There will be Micro Scooters.

Sex Factor

3.

RAW, Bayswater

2 years ago

The Vibe

Thanks to the recent onslaught of model-turned-chef twenty somethings preaching Team Vegan, there now seems to be a mainstream market for it. RAW, a vegan/veggie and booze free restaurant in West London’s La Suite West, is far removed from the veggie joints of Soho in that it’s a little fancier and a lot less likely to attract the Eco-warriors. Looking at the crowd – Japanese businessmen, hot Italian couple arguing – it’s obvious that the patrons here are meat and alcohol free in a quest to look good.
While the main room is elegant, slick and vaguely oriental in design, dates here should only be spent in the gorgeous front garden where delicate trees form a canopy and you get a little fresh air with your side of purée .

The Order

After a dismal flirtation with the vegan section of Planet Organic I can attest that the food here, from Nik Hartland, is incomparable – punchy flavours, inventive combos, well presented and pretty damn rich. In fact, what with the fact that you kick things off with a smoothie, I’d opt for just one course: Spiralized Courgette Pasta with Red Pepper Sauce, Cashew Nut Cheese & Summer Herb Pesto.  Two courses and, I’ll be frank, you won’t feel sexy.

The Game

Your date is a health nut, the options are limited, you pick the nicest place. Then you walk it off in Hyde Park, grab a boat, paddle away and read them Keats.  Good option for West London breakfast or brunch dates too; we all like to be a little virtuous from time to time.

The Faults

Where the booze at yo?

Sex Factor

1.  You’re just being considerate.

Rex Whistler, Tate Britain, Millbank

2 years ago

The Vibe

Classy. Relaxed. Quiet. If your idea of a perfect date is one spent deep in hushed conversation in stunning surroundings, then a booking for brunch at the Rex Whistler restaurant in the Tate Britain is strongly recommended. Once described as ‘The Most Amusing Room in Europe’ due to the mural adorning its walls entitled ‘The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats’, this spectacular room is a national treasure, which every Londoner should visit at least once.

The Order

You’ve come for brunch so prepare yourself for a finely tipped take on the classics. Eggs Benedict and Royale (the latter which swaps ham for smoked salmon) both hit the mark. Also don’t miss the ‘Eggy Bread’, a British answer to French toast served with freshly sliced peaches and maple syrup drizzled atop.   In need of a drink?  The Rex Whistler Bloody Mary makes an impact, employing horseradish infused vodka and a secret ‘Tate spice mix’ to keep you sharp. Order two.

The Game

Gallery visits can indeed open the door to some more interesting and romantic enterprises and allow you to move away from the well worn path of ‘no reservations’ restaurants, shoebox bars and sweaty nightclubs.

Are you ready for a morning brunch date? This isn’t for the faint-hearted, and there’s little in the way of passing distractions. However once you’re deep in conversation, it’ll breeze right by.

The Rex Whistler is the domain of the culture vulture so make sure you’re prepared. Dress smart -dress and heels or a sports jacket for men won’t be out of place here. Bone up on the current exhibitions and permanent collections at the TATE, you’ll want to stop by afterwards.

Brunch at the Tate is served once a week on Saturday mornings. Perfect for a quiet morning after a rowdy Friday night.

The Faults

You’ve really got to be a morning person to make this one work. If you don’t have the confidence nor the conversation to go the distance, maybe save this one until you do.

Sex Factor

3.

The Providores and Tapa Room, Marylebone

2 years ago

The Vibe

Marylebone High Street is a lovely place to mooch about, people watch and shop.  It’s also home to some of London’s loveliest restaurants but it doesn’t feel the need to shout about it.  The Providores and Tapa Room is a London institution for any self-respecting breakfast or brunch fan, especially if you hail from the Antipodes and can’t live without your coffee but it’s a modest space, not glitzy and focuses on keeping the quality coming and customers happy. Upstairs is the fine dining room known as The Providores and downstairs is the Tapa Room, a more chilled out space and fusion cafe.   On weekends, it is buzzy and so alive and the perfect spot for a coffee or brunch date.

The Order

You will want to order everything on the menu.  Light, fresh options sit next to more sumptuous options so everybody is catered for.   Coffee, a Bloody Mary, fresh OJ.  Moving on to French toast stuffed with banana and pecans, fresh fruit salad and granola or the outstanding Turkish Eggs (get this: two poached eggs on whipped yoghurt with hot chilli butter served with sourdough or granary toast – I was thinking about it for the next WEEK.)  Dinner is just as exciting with options such as Lobster and smoked coconut laksa served with a prawn and lemongrass dumpling and seared yellowfin tuna (papaya, cucumber, spring onion salad, shiitake mushroom, soba noodles, lime yuzu chilli dressing, toasted nori, sesame).  Dont be a chump – ensure you have a reservation at any time of the day – just incase.

The Game

Resist the temptation to go out for those Friday night work drinks. No, you will want to be fully compos mentis for this brunch experience on a buzzing Saturday.  Bring your A Game and dress to impress.  Iron that shirt, go for the classiest dress you own.  Reserve a table for two in the first floor dining room. Start with a refreshing juice or cocktail and then dive into your order.  The Turkish Eggs should feature even if you share it, dipping crispy bread into the oozy egg topped with creamy whipped yoghurt and set alight by chilli butter will add a little sensuousness to proceedings. Round things off with a coffee and perhaps a sweet, if you’re enjoying the atmosphere and want to linger.  Take your date’s hand as you leave the restaurant and suggest a wander around Daunt Books, just a few doors down, or a stroll in search of the nearest green space to lie in the grass.

The Faults

I won’t hear a bad word said about this place. Firm favourite.

Sex Factor

3. Although admittedly, one cannot help but feel frisky after sexy food like this.

Blues Brunch @ Q Grill, Camden

2 years ago

The Vibe

‘Cocaine and Caviar’ is emblazoned on a £5 hoodie as you exit Camden station and make the treacherous walk towards the incense-fumigated part of the market. Shuddering past mega-resto Gilgamesh, you reach Q Grill and breathe the sort of ‘thank-God-it’s-good-looking’ sigh that you need to quickly mask over.

Similar to the New York jazz brunch format, you can either get a blues brunch very wrong or nail it. With a low key, t-shirt clad singer in the corner of the room, fiddling with impressive looping techniques and plucking out contemporary classics “blues-ed up,” it’s just enough to set the southern comfort tone without veering into pastiche.

Staff usher you to feeding tables at the bar where, because of the proximity to the liquor, you’ll eat and drink way more of the hard and meaty stuff than you planned. It’s a solid Sunday brunch, but with enough Man vs Food vibes to quickly force a date out of their shell.

The Order

It’s past 11am and you’re already up at the bar so start strong with a couple of Negronis. Start with waffles and maple whipped butter then panic order a side of wings just as the booze hits. Despite obvious foodie credentials the kitchen team are wholly unpretentious about their menu – the insane spiced cornbread waffles were invented more as a joke when they were messing around with leftovers. Yup, and I woke up like this too.

Allocate the different menus, with one person ordering a brunch item – the fry up comes with ribs! – while the other fights the mains corner with buttermilk fried chicken, green beans and truffle Parmesan fries. Forget Mimosas and move onto the Old Fashioned menu next to compliment punchy flavours. Then share a sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

The Game

Bypass the walk from the tube and meet at the bar. This isn’t really a formal date, more like the sort of reckless Sunday where hungover women’s straps fall off their shoulders and men’s white shirts look grubby from the night before.

Share knowing looks with the barman as you order strong drinks. It’s very much like you’re being welcomed into their home so make sure you mix up your date night flirting with moments of across the bar chat. Ask for recommendations and impress your date by enquiring about when the drinking snug will be launching.

Start with cutlery but quickly give up and tear bits of waffle and chicken off, keeping laughter levels high.  Start to feel delirious and chime in to the music for just a line, argh I love this tune. Wipe a smudge off their face and make one cheers too many.

One more whiskey? Fine, but then back to yours for lazy sex and cigarettes.

The Faults

The smaller tables could be more awkward for first dates – it’s booths or bar or nothing.

Sex Factor

4. It’s brunch but n-n-nastier.

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