A review of Little Sparrow Tea

I may be known as a coffee shop blog, but the reality is that I’m much more of a tea snob. There are many things that annoy me about tea, and you may be practising some of them yourself, so I am declaring this a free-tea-opinion site, and state – NO! Earl Grey was NEVER supposed to have milk in. NO! French tea cafes that sell tisserands are missing the point of tea. NO! Adding sugary flavours to tea is NOT COOL. Taste may be subjective, just don’t ever serve it to me.

Is anyone still reading? Perhaps not, but they’d be missing out on my discovery of the local Little Sparrow Tea who posts delicious and describable teas through the letter box. I ordered a long time favourite – oolong tea. The Oolong that was delivered had a wonderful golden warmth in colour and taste, whilst still retaining the needed astringency of tea. The tiny green black balls of tea unravelled in the water when it boils. And… please don’t tell the producer that I said so, but it stands up to a second brew. No, that wasn’t a very tea-snobby thing to say, was it? See, I am ‘of the people’ after all. (Very Importannt Note: unlike a friend of mine I do not recycle tea bags)

Spicy Cocoa Tea

I also ordered a cocoa and spices tea. This is warming and delicious way of recovering from an overcast day (and actually a sore throat too!) without any sugary or fake-flavour additions.

Have you pre-ordered my novel Helen and the Grandbees yet…? Publication date is getting closer. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54882686-helen-and-the-grandbees?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=IvFwpCIJQx&rank=1

Book Cover for Helen and the Grandbees

“Things haven’t been the same” A Review of post-lockdown walks in SE London

It’s fair to say, things haven’t been the same lately. Summers are usually a feast of street food; “oh, we’ll diet tomorrow (assuming there’s enough money in the bank for baked beans) restaurant trips“ and ”I haven’t seen that flavour gin before, that counts as a special occasion… slurp” moments.

And, as you’ve almost certainly observed, I’ve been diligently reviewing local takeouts for you. Not that we’re averse to eating out. We’ve had some unfortunate experiences in pubs better not named, but we’re spontaneous eater-outers, not, let’s plan and book before all the socially-distanced seating has gone people

I’ll put my hands up and admit that I have slightly leveraged this opportunity to lose a little weight, only to discover your average meal out has a frightening amount of calories.

But it’s a moment to consider, what is Blackheath Coffee Shop Food Blogger for? What does it mean anymore if I’m not always finding an excuse for cake, coffee and just a tiny little bit of tasting menu here and there. Just what do we do all day, when we’re not WFH?

Discover the pretty parts of south London for walking of course.

Hall Place has proved a particular favourite. It’s combination of wide fields, and cultivated gardens are much less uptight than Greenwich Park… and much less crowded too. Top tip, you can do the Green Chain Walk from here. One day, I might.

Ducks in Hall Place, Bexleyheath
Ducks in Hall Place, Bexleyheath (not to be fed)

And alongside the Thames has some particularly romantically bleak scenes, beautiful in moody Whistler mists as it is in storming sunlight.

Thameside, coming up to Erith. I need to paint this scene sometime
Thameside, coming up to Erith. I need to paint this scene sometime
The remains of the Woolwich Acquatic Centre. Complete with Heron
The remains of the Woolwich Acquatic Centre. Complete with Heron. I wish they’d reopen it for swimmers.

Have we missed anywhere? We’re considering Beckenham Palace Park but can’t tell if it’s only a swimming pool or not. (Not that I am remotely averse to outdoor swimming).

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? It’s also set in south east London


Book Cover for Helen and the Grandbees

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

“Stocked with all sorts of things that a home-cook might want to buy.” Charlton and Blackheath’s Expo International Supermarket

So you might have noticed, Expo International Supermarket as you drove along Charlton Road recently, partially because of its load up of kitchen roll in its otherwise empty windows not all that long after a kitchen roll shortage

Or you might have noticed the piled up crates outside the front.

or on a good day, you might only have noticed the huge wedges of watermelon inviting you to cool down during the recent heatwave.

I am truly divided on my view of the supermarket, because what it is, is very well stocked with all sorts of things that a home-cook might want to buy. ALL the spices, ALL the pulses, and without the sort of, aren’t-I-a-posh-out-there-cook prices to match. The meat counter at the back is magnificent, although somewhat scaled back since opening as I think we all failed to take the hint. (Eg. I should buy that sometime, mmm,… how much are those eggs…?)

And any place that sells halva and balklava is all good with me.

The interior is very clean. But those crates outside just look grotty, and those staff who don’t know what social distancing is, despite it being clearly labelled on the floor. And who really wants to see kitchen roll in the windows of the main road when there isn’t a run on toilet roll. 

Intrigued to know other people’s thoughts. I know its got its fans….

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Book Cover for Helen and the Grandbees

Tapas by Takeaway, A Review of The Hill SE10

My recent cooking efforts are hitting a wall, everything’s made from scratch down to the pitta and the baked beans, and just recently I’m thinking, surely eat out food once a week can’t be that bad…And hence, this week I sampled for you, tapas by post (well, okay Deliveroo)

As the past few months have probably taught you, a takeaway can be an unrewarding experience for its lack of ceremony and tapas may actually be one of the best examples of this, as dishes that you forgot you ordered turn up randomly throughout the event, bringing with them a strange refreshed new menu effect. Tapas at home, however, pretty much lands on one plate, all at once, especially when still endeavouring to remember that we’re still advised to treat all deliveries as if they’re contaminated.

Yes, that is a tentacle of octopus hidden there… and it’s all mine

On the other hand, you don’t have the moment when you eye the bill suspiciously thinking, I’m not sure the waiter ever bought that dish, or maybe they did, or maybe it was the yellow one with chewy bits. (Usually it turned out to be the green one that you thought was sauted cabbage, but was in fact dyed corn.) Or that moment when your friend definitely takes more chorizo than you.

The Hill delivered a wonderfully oily fiesta of favours, in the form of cerviche with stinging vinegar, red onion and sweet corn. It look so inauspicious and yet we ended up carefully draining the dressing in the bottom of the takeaway box to use throughout the week. Despite tasting amazing, when eaten with the sweet potato chips, this had more than an echo of fish and chips to it.

As with all tapas, however it comes down to one thing. The octopus was tender, and looked great on the plate, the cerviche was dancing, the padron were perfectly grilled and seasoned… but the chorizo was hands down the top of the list. I’m going to have to stop ordering it with tapas so that I can start appreciating the rest of the meal.

Anyways… looking for some Deptford based eating recommendations to chime in with the pending release of my Deptford based novel ‘Helen and the Grandbees.” Anywhere you’d recommend…?

Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!


Book Cover for Helen and the Grandbees

“Dead Cultured”

A review of live streamed performances from ROH, Glyndebourne and National Theatre

Lockdown has made me dead cultured like. So many theatres are offering ‘live at home’ performances, I now attend two to three plays, operas or ballets a week… and there’s no interval-ice-cream, or post-event-tube-crush involved. To be fair, sometimes there just isn’t any ice cream.

Both Glyndeborne and ROH offer weekly programmes complete with English subtitles (kind of essential for me), stunning voices and sets.

Opera has always been a difficult one for me. As a novelist I struggle with opera plot holes, or if not ‘holes’ exactly whole events that seem crucial to the plot just never appearing on the scene, leaving you wondering, “how did that person end up over there?’ (La Boheme being a key culprit!) You also have to prep yourself up for a good deal of cringeable misogyny, especially if it was Mozart’s choice of libretto. How do the singers manage to throw out those anti-women lines without the tiniest eye roll? (My need for subtitles could be working against me here.) Then, on the arrival of a stunning aria in the middle of a scene, all is (temporarily) forgiven. The Queen of the Night’s aria in the Magic Flute for example, could only have been improved by youtube overcoming its recurrent lip sync issue on the live stream.. and actually not by my husband’s google discovery (after sparkling wine) of a marmot singing said aria. I won’t stop you from googling this. But I would point out, you will never listen to it with the same ears again if you do.

Not all opera is sexist by the way. I found Rusulka at the Glyndebourne festival last year, genuinely empathetic. (Okay. I cried. ALL THE WAY THRU. And only stopped for the picnic in the intermission).

Glyndebourne Cosi Fan Tutte (very sexist)

And as for dance, of which the ROH has provided much, I had no idea. I mean, I Had No Idea. Being quite bookish, I’ve always assumed that dance would be more understood by the grown up version of the girls at primary school who were always skipping classes to wear sparkly outfits and be picked up by coaches when they could have been learning about full stops and exclamation marks. And don’t start me on “The Sleeping Beauty” where the whole plot line gets sorted in the first 5 minutes and we’ll all have a jolly good dance about it for the next hour or so nonsense (or were Tchaikovsky’s dancing cats prescient of the social media age..?). But the Winter’s Tale and Metamorphoses have been genuinely mesmerising. This approach also overcomes ROH’s major flaw, its contempt for most of its audience, as supposedly ”affordable” seats actually mean ’painful to watch’ seats, or ‘we’re going to design a set where you could otherwise have seen the action, but now can’t’ seats (presumably to justify a high premium on the stalls).

I’m relieved that the national theatre offerings have grown up a little since the beginning of lockdown when it was all treasure island and tiny tots. Small Island (one of my favourite books of all time) was a great adaption.

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Book Cover for Helen and the Grandbees

“Some artisan butters are just plain distraction from butter’s real magnificence..”

A review of Banquist delivering all elements of ‘Michelin star meals’

This whole stuck at home business means that I haven’t so much saved money exactly, as managed to stick to the budget we were always supposed to stick to. Just as I thought I could be on to something, and actually afford some new clothes,  Banquist turned up in my instagram feed, offering a ‘Michelin meal experience’ by asking a top rated chef, in this case Josh Barnes, to pull together a menu, and deliver the ingredients (including wine and cheese courses) at an agreed time. They’re pitched as an upgrade to the usual meal kit options you might have heard of, as the entire meal to dessert and petit four is offered, along with the matching wines,

Things started to look worrying, when on booking I was asked how I’d rate my own cooking ability and I recklessly awarded myself an eight out of ten. Hey – no one was looking!  Then I wondered if I would fail miserably to bring together such an impressive sounding meal. However, this turned out to be nothing to fret about as the more complicated  sauce and oils came prepared in wonderous sheets of plastic that reminded me of how I always thought chemistry classes ought to be.

Here is the main course of seared Icelandic cod, parmentier potato’s and samphire, lemon purée and oil of wild leeks. At this point, particularly the parmentier potato point, I should admit that this is partially a review of my husband’s cooking – There’s no way I would have prepared such neat and small cubes of potato. In fact when I read the recipe it briefly crossed my mind that I could save a lot of faff by just baking the potato. Briefly, right? I gave myself an eight above. I meant it.

He hummed as he cooked. I’ve been using cooking as a chance to get up from my WFH desk, so he has been deprived of cooking lately. Please note: Banquist makes you hum.

So I even had a chef, just no waiter. 

The sauces combined well: just as we were thinking that the cod needed lemon, the lemon sauce came through. But the cleverest part of the meal turned out to be the matching wine (Torres SAN Valentin Parellada, 2018). I’m often disappointed by supposed wine matches, but this basque wine really did complement the meal all the way through the cheese course, and the dessert. 

Sorry about state of garden. Husband got furloughed, and hence house had to be rebuilt from the bottom up.

What a normal takeaway or cook at home pack misses is the little details, the extras that breeze by and add up on the bill without you noticing. The difference here was that these all came included (except for that waiter… I did double check the paper shreds) and they were worth every penny, including a mega red, swirled seaweed butter. Some artisan butters are just plain distraction from butter’s really magnificence, but this left us searching the house for bread on which to spread it, or oatcakes, or frankly, cardboard would have done it. 

What you do have to do, is take a moment for the ceremony, lay the table properly, make sure everything is delivered in order. These are the details that are easy to miss but could ruin the experience. 

However we do need to talk about cheesecake. I have to indulge a cheesecake rant every now and then, cheesecake can be stella or it can be a bland sugary disaster. I blame banquist for this particular rant. I had no choice. I didn’t know they were going to send me cheesecake. If I had, I might not have ordered the cheese platter as an extra. The good news is that the cheesecake lived up to my epic and oft cited cheesecake standards, the suspiciously sweet looking strawberry compote was en-depthed (yes – that’s a thing) with elderflower, locally grown elderflower according to the notes (get them,) and arrived in jam pots. Good thing that my family’s gift-giving habits had resorted to, ‘I don’t think they have long handled teaspoons yet’ levels. But, oh… I am so sorry to say it, the base was a little too sweet. I think it would have worked perfectly if the dessert had been a little more cheesecake shaped, but being at the bottom of a jam jar, the sweetness was not so evenly spread through the rest of the dessert, and proved a disconcerting end.

Fortunately this was redeemed by three great cheeses, more opportunity to dig into that seaweed butter, and homemade truffles. Here’s the thing, the bill was agreed before we sat down, but we ended up with free jam bars and free seaweed butter.

Still no waiter, though.

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

“An unusually good coffee machine but yards away..” a review of camping in the postage stamp garden SE3

It’s been kind of warm lately, no? Kind of wake up in the middle of the night wondering how you will make it through August warm. And as flooding sunshine drowned out the bedroom I thought, this would have been better if I’d been camping. 

Now my garden is what is generally (outside of delivery circles) known as a Postage Stamp. I have heard many gardens termed postage stamps before, and I would like to make it clear that they are not postage stamps, they are more small envelopes. For true postage-stampness come visit me in Blackheath. (For everyone who wants to jump up and down in disgust at opportunity to yell at a lack of social distancing, I mean ‘virtually visit me’… actually tbh it was just a turn of phrase. Please don’t visit me. You could be anyone.)
Let me define my terms. Postage Stamp: a garden smaller that two double beds. Now I know they come smaller than that, but frankly that would ruin my story so don’t bring it up right now. Hence putting up a tent is out of the question. And anyway, that’s something you’d just do to keep the kids out of the house, right?
Weeeeell, I mean, I really miss camping. So we forwent the actual tent and just set up a bed. There was very light drizzle predicted, it was definitely going to be cooler than the night before, but I just wanted to go camping.

So I fell asleep to the sight of Venus framed by a mop and a half built shed.

I revelled in the existence of the unusually good coffee machine but yards away, plus the clean hot showers and wondered why I’ve ever paid for a campsite. The only downside was the lack of camp fire. That would have basically required burning down the shed. Or the house

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

The Greenwich COVID testing site. An event to leave the house for!

After two days of convincing myself that my temperature was due to heat stroke, the sore throat to hayfever, the cough to asthma and the seeming inability to stand up and make a cup of tea was due to an early morning bike ride (or even burn out) it eventually occurred to me that maybe I should just check that with NHS 111. Mad as that sounds in retrospect, my social distancing up to now has been so paranoid, it did not seem possible that I could have caught anything from anyone, and I’m still putting the whole thing down to a vicious mozzie bite reaction. 

And hence, I have the opportunity to review for you… the Greenwich COVID testing site. An event to leave the house for! Every sore throat that feels like broken glass has a silver lining. This has been only outside visit I have had in twelve weeks other than my daily exercise and unless this test proves negative, I’m not allowed to do that anymore.

Appointments were aplenty, despite warnings to the contrary, which I assume reflects the low London infection rate that we keep seeing reported at the moment. Following registration, the NHS offer daily text updates of what to do and expect each day, which were unexpectedly useful, and help keep track of where you are in your isolation rules. 

I have not provided photos as it feels like somewhere I should not be photographing, like airport security, or the inside of a civil service building. No idea why. I must be missing the airport queues or something. We drove past all the summer Londoners revelling in the brief reports that there had been no London cases reported in the past 24 hours, in a way you could imagine making a shocking news headline, although when you stopped to think of it, was anyone actually not social distancing? The only really shocking thing was how many people were enjoying a Costa. Don’t they read my blog??? I was wearing a dust mask and sitting in the back of the car, because my husband has asthma. I felt like my UFO had just crash-landed on this bizarre planet.

Given how long the team at Greenwich must have had for training; and how they likely have to deal with many differing levels of ability to follow the instructions on a four page leaflet – it has to be said that they were both professional and lovely. So professional and lovely that it was possible to see this despite the surreal and quite stressful experience of trying to do an uncomfortable test whilst trying not to pass it on to my husband. There was much climbing over seats which does make you wonder if you are being a bit of a hypochondriac, at my age, can I have really caught anything worth this kerfuffle? If you go, you will need access to a mirror. My only future advice would be that they try to continue this loveliness without cracking jokes, because most of us are there with a cough, and jokes lead to coughing fits, and you’re not allowed to open the window.

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Emanating Kombucha cordial rays – more tales from Lockdown SE3

My task this week is to use up all the odd things in the house. It seems that Holland and Barratt is responsible for most of the ‘odd things’ I discover that aren’t actually pickled. Mostly down to those ‘two for one’ traps they’re always touting, and then the penny sales. Of course I do know that it isn’t sensible to buy two of an experimental item that probably isn’t good for me really. But if the extra item only costs a penny, surely I being ripped off if I don’t spend that extra penny (in the non-figurative sense).

All this means that while the world races towards a COVID vaccine/cure/test, I will be performing my own internal experiment. When I have ‘worked down’ this supply of off-beat health foods, will I be superwoman an anti-Covid glowing lamp emanating my kombucha cordial (unused due to high dosages of sugar) and matcha powder (unused because it makes me a tad jittery) rays to stop the pandemic in its tracks? Or will I be so disgusted by my own attempts to make homemade chocolate with date syrup that I will sink into a deep depression and never flaunt my healthy green rays in the future non-lockdown world.

Kombucha modelling on my kitchen table. Look at those glints

I‘ll let you know. Assuming that depression isn’t too bad.

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall