“It’s all going to be ok… I don’t face a moral dilemma”, a review of the Age Exchange, Blackheath

A Review of The Age Exchange, A Reminiscence Centre (with a cafe) Blackheath SE3

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It’s all going to be ok… I don’t face a moral dilemma. I’m not going to have to lie in order to avoid destroying a charity’s reputation. I was attracted to the Age Exchange Reminiscence Centre by the glassy light interior, recently installed following a well publicised refurbishment. I ran in to sit at the atrium at the back, only to realise I’d missed the leather seated, book-shelved (fake) stoved area. So I went back. How cool is that? The reminiscence centre offers cosy retro for winter, and modern glassiness for summer. I’d never imagined that calling it the Age Exchange was a reference to the interior.

Glassy atrium at the Age Exchange

Glassy atrium at the Age Exchange

Both Interiors - compare and contrast

Both Interiors – compare and contrast

Guaranteed, this makes the Age Exchange one of the top Blackheath coffee shop listings for comfortable interiors. For that reason I would go back. Often.

And look at the dinky lovely toys all over the place. Miniature tea sets. I always wanted one of these.

I started young on this coffee shop mentality.

Retro toys at the Reminiscence centre

Retro toys at the Reminiscence centre

20121224-171201.jpgWhich all leaves me morally free to tell you the truth about the coffee.

It was dire. This was despite the presumably ornamental coffee bean machine on the top of it. How can it be possible to order a cappuccino and find black coffee under the froth? And do those machines use fake milk? After the coffee flavour, milk and consistency, is there anything left to grade about a cappuccino?

Fake stove

Fake stove

One of the exciting thing about the Age Exchange is the library downstairs. It’s a real live (a little little) library, forced out of its original home opposite the Post Office and rescued by some die hard campaigners (I do wish they’d rescued the room occasionally used for exhibitions. Us local artists are now bereft.)

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The cake selection is very slight and could be added to, but satisfactory. We ate lemon cake. It was priced at £2 a slice, which means the re-vamped location has seen a 200% price rise, but this is still way ahead of the local competition.

I couldn’t tell if the staff thought we weren’t really supposed to be there but it didn’t say the ‘old exchange’ and my husband is getting on a bit. He spent the visit eyeing up the toasting forks. We needed something to cook marshmallows on our own smokeless fuel, and they can’t be much use on the fake stove. But we decided that stealing toasting forks from coffee shops (not to mention ones run by charities) is bad.

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Address The Reminiscence Centre
11 Blackheath Village
London SE3 9LA
Telephone 020 8318 9105

“I found myself gazing enviously at the plates of the competition” Review of Bella Vista, Blackheath

A Review of Bella Vista, Italian restaurant in Blackheath, London SE3

A sophisticated looking glass of coke modelling the Bella Vista Interior.

Where do you stand on ordering food where you do not understand every word on the menu? I don’t normally let this bother me, but we found ourselves giving the waitress at Bella Vista the third degree on the meaning of Chicken Involtini. After much intense study of a largely Italian menu, she was stood patiently as we gradually, over the course of half and hour, rejected that option.

(We think it means Kiev, by the way, but Involtini sounds so much nicer.)

But I had one major objective at Bella Vista and one only. On our last visit I had found myself gazing enviously at the plates of the competition – er, I mean other diners, who were eating arty pasta dishes, with the accompaniment draped elegantly across the pasta, rather than stirred in. It looked great. Surely it would also taste great. I wanted to know what such an exciting work of art would taste like. I really had to study and understand it, the Mona Lisa of the food world.

I focussed. I forced myself to ignore all the other dishes (they were calling out to me). I eventually dived for Paccheri Amatriciana. After all, it featured words ‘giant pasta’ and ‘pancetta and pecorino’ and I have a strange compulsion to order pasta with a balance of meat, vegetable and cheese to maximise enjoyment potential. Also pecorino is pretty fab.

Here is a picture.

Lovely stringy pecorino

Lovely stringy pecorino at Bella Vista, Blackheath

Now, this is lovely stringly chewy exciting and with inch sized cubes of pancetta … but not visually brilliant… Not in the way that the competing diner’s dinners were anyway. I could have eaten Involtini, or fish grill.

The fish grill of a competitor diner

Next time I call ahead.

As an aside, I ordered a Gorgonzola, parma ham and figs for a starter. Cheese and figs. Is there anything I can add? In their efforts not to overdress food, the Italians wouldn’t have added a thing. Well, except for the parma ham, and the rocket, umm… and the olive oil..

I’d also recommend frito misto, a fantastic alternative to just plain white bait.

There is much on line about how Bella Vista is authentic home Italian cooking. I have only once experienced home Italian cooking, about 5 years ago, and I only remember the cantuccini and trying to work out the recipe in translated Italian. So I can’t really vouch for this. I could however believe it. The food and menu are actively exciting, albeit not kind to non-Italian speakers. The frito misto is a great twist on just plain whitebait with lemon and salt. Instead of a bread dish, we received yellow fococcia drizzled in oil, compliments of the chef. I’ll hear none of your ‘jumped up bread wrapped up in words to pretend it’s something special’ lines, thank you very much. The focaccia had an advantage for being served warm but it was light and not a smidgen too oily. It was shaming really, much better than my personal foccacia attempts.

Good Foccacia at Bella Vista

The interior is sophisticated. The addition of campari bottles stacked up upon one another does not assist when I am not a lunchtime drinker.

We moved to Boulangerie Jade for dessert, and had the traditional lemon and chocolate tarts, as previously reviewed. The staff were suitably icy. This balanced out the pleasantness of the staff at Bella vista.

Back at Boulangerie Jade for dessert

Bella Vista Cucina Italiana Restaurant , 3/5 Montpelier Vale, Blackheath SE3 0TA

“The burger was brilliant, really really burgery” a review of Chapters All Day Dining, Blackheath

A Review of Chapters All day Dining, SE3

I really want to hate Chapters All Day Dining. I want to hate it because of its mass self-publicisation in the local free glossies. I want to hate it because on a Saturday evening it is full of fake tans, big zirconas and bleached hair posies who manage to make champagne look tacky.

I nearly really did hate it, because of its really unjust bread policy. Everyone around us was offered warm baked bread except for us. And this is not the first time. We cannot work out why we consistently fail to meet the deserving to be given bread when we have ordered.

So the food has yet to come, but I am well on track to achieve hatred of Chapters (with the exception of a good glass of grapefruit juice), and all my plans collapse into failure after the first chip. The first chip was undercooked… glee! But the burger was brilliant, really really burgery, and so were the rest of the chips and rocket and parmesan salad.

And the dessert list is irrestistable. Often, at chapters, it is resistable just to prevent the death by desesrt experience. However it really does call you in. I struggled between Lemon Posset with Pistachio shortbread, and cherries in the right corner, and sticky toffee pudding with apple sorbet and pecan crunch in the left corner. I chose the latter. A rare choice for me actually. Pity they served it with creamy ice cream instead of apple sorbet. So after much deliberating as to why it wasn’t as quirky as expected and re-consulting the menu, we sent it back and got it back much smaller… and much later.. we think they must have run over to Black Vanilla to top up.

This was an unfortunate mistake, but I have to note that they were impossibly apologetic and helpful about restoring the billed item to its intended glory.

Ok, I’m a coffee blogger, I should talk about the coffee. Rating here is five out of five – a very strong coconut undercurrent, managing to be flavoursome without being over bearing or stomach emptying. Fabulously stiff foam on both the cappuccino and the machiatto and a pleasant absence of chocolate sprinkled on top. That is a little naughty on their part – many people’s definition of a cappuccino includes the chocolate, but we both prefer without. And great leaves. Even in the tiny macchiate. Now how do you do that?

I have one complaint (after they dealt so helpfully with my other complaints). This isn’t all day dining. We came in at 2pm and were given a brunch menu. The substance of which was serious DINNER food, steaks, duck confit etc. Maybe I am supposed to know this from the use of the word dining, but it is not quite the view that is conjured up by the title.There was the odd brunch type thing on the starter menu, but there was nothing in the following all day kind of categories of brunch, tea, lunch, light bites. Many restaurants don’t, but they are not called all day dining.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking for sandwiches, or ciabatta… believe me I really am not. But given the celebrated inventiveness of the institution, could we not have some quirky ‘light bites’. I think even soup of the day to come with bread of the day; more inventive charcuterie dishes.. Le Pain Quotidien manage a good selection if you are looking.

Strangely, while they never featured on the menu, there was a tray of fresh scones and unusual tray bakes on the bar. Perhaps they were only for the people who qualified for bread.

The coffeeshop blogger may have to take her leave a little of the coming months. She has made the most of the summer (it started so late, and died so young) and is now skint and more than a little chubby.

Chapters All Day Dining

43-45 Montpelier Vale
Blackheath Village
London
SE3 OTJ

 

L’Artisan Greenwich Review: “Does what it says on the cover: A Craftsman of food”

A Review of L’Artisan Delicatessen , Greenwich SE10

Imagine piles chocolates and biscuits; meringues and croissants and tarts and different iced cakes.

Ok stop now and listen to what I am saying.

Responding emotionally to plenty is a reaction designed for survival, right? And Tesco’s and Paul Rhode’s Bakery (and a few other venues on the food-selling spectrum) know how to hit that button hard – the shelves replete with diversity and colour. Other restaurants go for plush interiors.

Don’t pretend you’ve never used that ‘nice toilets’ line on a night out.

So I’m going to ask you to put a check on that gut reaction. It would be too easy to dismiss the humble interior of L’Artisan: 3 small red gingham-clothed tables, and some shelves and a fridge. The location is a walk away from tourist Greenwich, hovering uncomfortably east of the (gasp) university and in the section that seems to be competing gambling shops and genuine African or Asian dishes (which I shall be investigating on your behalf).

Dismissing L’Artisan for these reasons would be a mistake.

The view from inside L’Artisan Greenwich

L’Artisan values food. To be specific, it values the food experience. On a very dreary afternoon, we visited, chose something simple, (because we thought this was just a coffee shop) and in response the owner (let’s call him L’Artisan) responded by kicking the door stop out the way to block out the busy road, neatly laying cutlery and a napkin and turning on the classical music. We got the message: Food is an important experience; don’t take a single bite without relishing it even without flash surroundings.

On our second visit, we ordered Quiche with Salad. Perhaps like me, you wonder what the big deal is about quiche. It reminds me of cold weddings in village halls, alongside the winter salad. I have had good quiche lorraines from some of the chain French delis, but while nice they can be little laden with oil. At L’Artisan, the quiche was perfect. Fabulously flavoured with leek and ham and so very light. Served with due care sprinkled with olive oil and black pepper, due attention ascribed to the detail.

The side salads were excellent. My husband raved about the spiced beetroot with herbs. I enjoyed the pickled cabbage.

We finished with a very generously sized lemon drizzle cake. Again, not a heavy cake which lemon drizzles often can be.

They asked, can we get you anything else? They weren’t up-selling. They just thought we might like a glass of tap water to rehydrate after our coffee. Like I said, attentive.

Plat du Jour at L’Artisan

Beautiful pear tarts came out of the kitchen as we went to pay and leave. Are these what you serve in the afternoon, I asked the owner. No, I was told. He proudly runs out of food throughout the day. The batch was arriving now, because everything is cooked on the premises and cannot be supplied to demand. He does fresh soup every day and a different Plat du Jour for takeaway with salad… I quietly wished to myself that I worked next door to L’Artisan.

The deli shelves offer the kind of things you always used to find in a French Hypermarche. The deli shelves offer the kind of things you always used to find in a French Hypermarche – don’t you just love those little spongy biscuits that used to come with a fruit or chocolate filling? And what was with those rich looking bottles of Syrop? They don’t just have Kia Ora on the continent, you know.

There are no pretensions here, behind us was a jar of alphabetti spaghetti (albeit dried and without tomato sauce). And the fridge was largely empty. I honestly don’t know if this was just because they sold out, or if this was all they were able to offer today thank you very much – but it lent to the assurance that whatever was still in the fridge it was made with the highest love.

A shelf of cheese that puts supermarket selections to shame. (Although I came over all English and skipped the unpasteurised offerings.)

And you kind of think – ok, no amuse bouche (would be odd in a deli) but L’Artisan has taken pride in his work down to the last detail, and looked after you as well as in any flash restaurant.

Seriously, these people are doing something special here. Really quite special. If there is any justice in the world I would say they are going far.

If you want to make the most of a visit to L’Artisan, we also visited the quirky Green Parrot Gallery, (opposite the auction house) and it’s not far from the North East corner of Greenwich Park. A few shops closer to central Greenwich is the unbelievably helpful Theatre of Wine.

L’Artisan 93 Trafalgar Road, London, SE10 9TS Phone: 020 8858 0918

Fried Carbs. Hot Fried Carbs. Hot Fried Carbs in sugar.

A Review of San Miguel restaurant and tapas bar, Greenwich SE10

Question is, would I ever have visited San Miguel if the San Miguel Twitterer had not challenged my lunch choice of cold mussels? A choice by which I still stand, you should know.

I might not have, because San Miguel is based in the heart of the Greenwich where the students and funky shoe shops make it all just so colourful, that the duly colourful Spanish bar doesn’t quite stand out. But their website told me they cooked homemade tapas, and churros… so I was going to find search them out.

San Miguel feels authentic. Partially because it is unashamably Spanish, being full of genuine Spanish articles that seemed such wonderful exotic holiday keepsakes for our parent’s sideboards in the 70’s; and partially because it was full of Spanish speakers – staff and guests. I was impressed, if not to say slightly intimidated. I came to sound off about whether I enjoyed lunch, and now I have to concede that my personal opinions might just not be Spanish enough.

Paella was an option on the menu, but so was Tapas. And tapas is a wonderful thing. It means that you can (1) not make up your mind from the menu and have everything, and (2) (where all tapas dishes are the same price) pick all of the meat rich ones. This is a clever thing to do because restaurateur had priced in the assumption that you would have some vegetable dishes, so you can feel smug that you got good value for money (albeit slightly bloated).

Mmmmm… (one on the bottom right is spinach scramble).

I was floored at San Miguel: (1) The menu was so extensive that had to get our iphones out and make a shortlist in order to knock some of the options off; and (2) Not all tapas dishes at San Miguel were the same price.

But the food, atmosphere and service were so good, I forgave them.

Fabulous and undersold on the menu was the spinach and mushroom scramble “revuelto de Espinacas”. Does that sound appetising to you? We ordered it because we thought we should order some vegetables. The scrambled eggs with spinach and mushroom, however had another depth of flavour altogether – coconut…? This was the dish we saved till last… even after the flaming chorizo.

Hmmm, flaming chorizo. A great Spanish food now with a slightly caramelised coating (thanks to the flaming.) Look real flames (hadn’t expected that from the menu description either.)

Makes a slightly caramelised outside to one of Spain’s best ingrediants

We also chose scallops. Don’t often see those on a tapas menu so even though I am getting slightly irritated by every Michelin-wannabe plonking pan-sear-fried-diver-caught scallops on their over-written menus. Scallops are great, but they are easily described with one word and do not make a chef great. (I’ve cooked scallops; that says it all). However, back to San Miguel: Scallops wrapped in bacon; no pretentions; great.

The staff were actually lovely, all of them, not a single gripe; risking burning so that we could photograph flaming chorizo; piling their arms with more dishes than I was trained for silver service and allowing us to eat churros even in the day time (and why not?)

Oh yes… churros. I hadn’t mentioned them. Fried Carbs. Hot Fried Carbs. Hot Fried Carbs in sugar with hot chocolate on the side. (Why aren’t Churros more famous?) The San Miguel Churros were a particularly thin brand that I would have preferred with a rich black coffee, but maybe that’s just not Spanish.

HOT FRIED CARBS IN SUGAR

HOT FRIED CARBS IN SUGAR

San Miguel Tapas Bar & Restaurant: 18 Greenwich Church Street, London SE10 9BJ

Readers, we fall out? Already?

Readers, we fall out already?! I have now discovered the disappointing side of blogging. I was initially flattered when so many people came and told me that I made them want to eat a Boulangerie Jaaaaade lemon tart. Clearly this enthusiasm rubbed off even on me, as I went to Mara Interiors (who serve Boulangerie Jade cakes while you sit in their rather posh leather seats) this morning to enjoy one… only to discover that despite the labelling, and absence of passion fruit seeds, that it was not lemon; it was passion fruit. Now the owner apologised profusely, I do not believe that this was intentional… but we have to ask ourselves: Would anyone along the supply chain have had to replace lemon tarts with passion fruit if you had not all rushed off to eat them all.. leaving none for me?

We need to establish some ground rules here.

Here’s my suggestion: If I say something is great to eat/visit, by all means rush to try it, but you will need to lobby your local coffee shops for a ‘put aside for the blogger fridge’. At your expense I propose that for all good edible merchandise purchased in SE3 (not to mention SE’s 13, 18, 8 &10) a quarter of it is put aside for Blackheathcoffeeshop’s blog. Otherwise I will have to be left to hanging out in all the instant coffee and margarine cafes, and then where will you all be rushing too?

Ok. I’ve got it off my chest. You’re forgiven. Whaddya think – a blog about Hand Made Food, or Buenos Aires next?