“I wouldn’t have ordered glacé cherry icecream. You’d have been ashamed of me if I had.” A Review of Black Vanilla Gelateria, SE3

A Review of Black Vanilla, Blackheath. London

Ok, so i am a stubborn character. This is partly the reason i have resisted recommendations from friends and followers on Black Vanilla coffee. Also Black Vanilla is a gelateria, and not having the time and hands to rearrange a cone of ice cream into an Affogato, I have being buying 2 scoop cones. More seems greedy.

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And add to that, the ice cream in Black Vanilla is ok. Yep, ok. And that’s sad for the only local gelateria I have ever heard of. Take for example, sour cherry icecream. I have a quandary here. I have to remember whether it was cherry icecream or sour cherry icecream. But even without the ‘sour’ in the name, cherry is not without a little tartness, right? With the one exception of glacé cherry icecream. And it definitely wasn’t called that. I wouldn’t have ordered glacé cherry icecream. You’d have been ashamed of me if I had.

Lots of ice-cream at Black Vanilla

Lots of ice-cream at Black Vanilla

So the fact that the maybe-sour cherry icecream was all sweet, also made me pretty cynical about all of these coffee recommendations.

However this is winter. No one ponders icecream at 4pm on a December afternoon (although a surprising number of customers were), and I thought- why not try the coffee? No one would ever know I’d compromised my cynic’s principles.

First sip… Wow… Deep and rich and yet again that slight coconut undercurrent that I encountered in Chapters. Caught in the act, I have to admit this is the best coffee I have tasted in the village.

Coffee at Black Vanilla

Coffee at Black Vanilla

I’d arrived wanting cake, maybe cake with brandy… And I was a little disappointed by the selection.. The quite cupcakes may have been ok, and i have heard good things about the pastries. I sadly skimmed and dismissed the possibility of a crepe, waffles, because when I tasted the crepe that was ordered by my table it was fabulous and lemony and crunchy with sugar. I persuaded my husband to make pancakes shortly after to make up for missing them.

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The white hot chocolate came recommended too.
So that’s how it is, if I fancy good coffee and pancakes, I’ll be down at my local gelateria
Still have cold feet though.

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32 Tranquil Vale, Blackheath SE3 OAX

“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

Sipping coffee amongst actual live flowers

A review of Hooper and Palmer’s, in Westcombe Park, Greenwich/Blackheath

Now as well as considering some of the most enjoyable things about life: food, coffee, bossing you lot about as to where and how to eat, it’s worth remembering the even finer things in life when caught up in city living, like for example, nature. And to be specific – flowers.

Manufactured scents are all too unavoidable these days, even if like me you are not one for airfresheners. As a general guideline, any smell named after a celebrity and adorned with copious airbrushing should be added to the ‘processed’ list. So, it was a real delight to sit sipping coffee amongst actual live flowers at Hoppers & Palmer some months ago.

So nice was the experience that I decided to return to write up an accurate blog about the place and take some delightful iPhone pictures of the light room full of flowers. So at 4pm on a Sunny afternoon I tripped over there to find this:

Hooper and Palmer

Well, maybe they close at 4pm, I thought to myself, so the other day I went over at a much more civilised hour to find:

Still says Closed, but a bit smaller this time

This time I was with my man who had noted that he has tried to buy me flowers from there (everyone say ‘ah’) on Saturday to find that it was:

Hooper and Palmer

(OK, that photo was recycled)
This is a pity, because they are the icing on the cake of this otherwise rather dull corner of Westcombe Park (not counting pistachios in the park… I am coming back to you) . But haven’t they ever heard of STAFF? You can get them; Supply is said to outstrip demand these days.
Well from memory it was like this, and if you are ever wanting to take the gamble, the place is nice. (although the bit behind the mini wall in the middle of the shop is private, doesn’t say so, but the staff will bark at you if you cross it). We loved (in winter time) the stirrers for turning your hot milk into hot chocolate. Please don’t confuse these with milk chocolate stirrers; they were designed to merge with the milk to create hot chocolate. These were –something else, and not in the nostalgia over lollipops sort of way, but in the comforting oozing best way to enjoy chocolate sort of a way. Spanish stand your spoon in cocoa eat your heart out.

There seemed to be a good selection of teas. I really must write that blog about my general opinion on teas types and brands so that I can introduce jargon that you can all refer back.

Selection of cakes is small, but of quality. Good Flapjack and brownies are of the suitably high standard required of Blackheath.

Hooper and Palmer, 113 Humber Road, Blackheath London, SE3 7LW

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

Peas have been Upgraded

A review of Nando’s the Restaurant in Greenwich Pier

If you can spot the sangria I am going straight back

If you can spot the sangria I am going straight back

I was happy to be going to Nando’s this week and in turn to blog about how great it was in an I’m-not-a-food-snob sort of a way. Sunday evening brought disappointment number one: they had run out of sangria. Oh, yeah. The world was ending along with the Olympic Closing Ceremony… there was no Sangria at Nandos.

It has been a souless few days since then. Peering into restaurant windows, seeing the Mexican on the Heath advertising that they now serve San Miguel beer on tap… and thinking, “but not sangria?” (they probably do, actually but I was busy right then).

You may have been led to believe that sangria was invented to go with something other than peri peri sauce. You should rely less on Wikipedia for your facts.
It’s long, it’s mellow, not too sweet, and is actually better than beer in many circumstances – especially ones featuring hot food. The Brahma beer I had instead might have been great, in fact it was the beer I used to enjoy with a Nando’s before I discovered sangria. But it wasn’t sangria.

Disappointments two and three were shared amongst my friends, who found that their loyalty cards were no longer accepted, and that the halloumi had run out. (Can anyone explain to me why this last oversight was a problem?)

I did enjoy my a quarter chicken medium-hot with ratatouille and a good fair chunk of my husband’s chosen side dishes including ‘rugged pea mash with whole peas, parsley, mint and chilli’. Isn’t it great how peas have been upgraded since they were something convenient to have with fish fingers? Is anyone else sure that they are never ever going back there?

I finished with an elegant Portuguese tart. This is one of the great simple eating pleasures in life and is also done very well at Boulangerie Jade. Such a tart cannot be soggy. It must be crisp, flakey and custardy or else it is nothing but a bland mash of wannabe carb. Nando’s tart hit the mark. I had it with black coffee in huge pool of a cup, hence drowning my non-sangria-d state. I tasted some of the bottomless frozen yogurt, but on the whole, I’d be skipping most the dessert menu.

The Nando’s on Greenwich pier virtually sits underneath the stunning Cutty Sark, and has with huge windows overlooking the Thames. On a hot deep blue evening, this location is something else, even if you have no hope of getting a seat in the roof garden.

Nando’s Greenwich Promenade, King William Walk, SE10 9HT

A little bit of ciabatta-nose-up-turnedness

A review of Red Door Gallery & Cafe in Greenwich SE10

In the forest of teapots, in the land of Red Door; underneath the greater luminary (the 70’s paper light shade) and the lesser luminary (the ornate pre-victorian one), my husband and I did eat 2 sandwiches (one each) and a slice of chocolate cake.

Greater and lesser luminaries

We were strangely uptight. Was it my husband’s work weighing on his mind, or was it the lack of cake for sale? (We arrived very late in the day). Or was it because the seats at the front of the cafe were facing the barista/waitress/owner as if we were on a panel interview? There were 3 of them and two of us. So I guess that makes us the interviewees.

There were other seats. There was a throne like sofa facing in the opposite direction, but then they might have spotted me taking sneaky pictures of their interior to report back to you. There was a lovely sunken tea room at the rear (I do mean lovely, not remotely lose-able oneself in, but some how labyrinthine nonetheless.) but that was full.

On our other side, sitting in the pretty window bay we were swamped by paparazzi. Thousands of tourists stopped to take photos of us. I had no idea this blog was so famous.

What am I saying? Of course the blog made the big time. It’s great. The only catch is that I think these people didn’t realise it was BlackheathCoffeeShops blogger in the window… I think they were just taking pictures of the pretty facade. Rude really.

We made 2 good choices having fluffed the seating plan. Mine was a smoked salmon, cream cheese basil bagel. Now how many times have you eaten smoked salmon with pesto and never thought to eat it with fresh basil? What is it about smoked salmon? Does it go with everything, likea sort of fabulous socialite of the food world who’s a little bit wet on her own?

My husband chose the goat’s cheese and sundried tomato ciabatta. I have to admit to a little bit of a ciabatta nose-up-turnedness  going on here. I would rather choose good bread than something a bit stodgy with an Italian name – as if that changes anything (Bognor Regicci; Johnito Majorato). But you knew when I said “Goat’s cheese and sundried tomato” that we were talking something good, didn’t you? And they didn’t fluff it neither– not the singlest drip of intrusive spread or overactive dressing.

Tea arrived in an enamel teapot, nice touch, and poured into my grandmother’s teacup. Well it’s been a long time, but one generation’s faux pas is another’s cutting edge so I sipped. I believe the contents were Twinning’s Earl Grey. This is good.

Can you see the enamel teapot hiding behind grandma’s teacup?

There is no theme to the ‘gifts’ and arts and crafts on the wall. Some I loved, some I err… I did not. I think the point is that Red Door is a work of art in its own right. It’s a sketch book of a coffee shop, rough around the edges with sparks of brilliance made all the more intriguing by demonstrating the thinking behind the art (ooo – I think I will plug one of my pages here … about time I got something selfish out the blogging process. For sketch book – click here (NOW! – no excuses)).

We were instructed by our interviewers that we could only order dessert when we had finished our mains. Finishing the main course was not a problem or hadn’t  you been reading up until now? It was unfortunate that we were so late for the full cake selection which left us with chocolate cake. This was referred to by the owner as ‘you would like a slice of that monstostiy would you?’. Chocolate cake is not what I would normally choose but the cake was light and fresh with no pretensions of ‘death by’; and gratifyingly 2 different types of icing (one within, one out) both meltingly soft. So the cake box is ticked too.

Service was also quirky and fun. No pretensions

Red Door Gallery

10 Turnpin Ln, London, Greater London SE10 9JA, UK

Advice needed: Why is clafoutis, please?

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A review of Paul Rhodes Bakery in Greenwich

Advice needed: why is clafoutis please? (That was a ‘why, not a ‘what’.) And why does it sometimes have an ‘s’ on the end and sometimes not?

I understand that clafouti(s) should theoretically have a place in the patisserie collection. It features berries and custard; both very nice things; and eggs, very clever things; and pastry which features butter and butter is one of the fundamentals to life worth living. Euclid said so, go look it up: Book9. But why is the combination of these things so unbelievably like the unfortunate conclusion to a school diner.

We didn’t choose the clafoutis at Rhodes this time. We had coffee and cake, and a sandwich. That’s the order we thought of them in, not the order we ate them in. (Yes, we are now bankrupt and do welcome contributions – paypal details follow shortly.) This week we ordered a cheese straw too. The cheese straws at Rhode’s bakery are good.

Rhodes used to have their very own rude French man. Genuinely free insults for all visitors. This was a masterpiece on their part. He was a tourist feature. But he started mellowing. Falling in love, maybe? He needed to choose if his love life was threatening his art; you will no longer find him there. Now they have a selection of kids who don’t actually know what they sell:

Me:  “I’ll have the Rhode’s Classic,”

Staff: “Eh?”

Maybe the lad just couldn’t hear me and I was brought up not to say “what”. But my suspicion is that I confused him by calling the sandwich a the Rhode’s Classic, a Rhode’s Classic and not just a cheese toastie. This didn’t bode well.

The Rhodes Classic differentiated itself on the price tag by being made with sour dough. Actually it was just a cheese toastie with larger than normal quantities of tomato. I’ve had dull sandwich experiences more than once here. Believe me, the place for startlingly good sandwiches is Boulangerie Jade. It’s a pity, because Rhodes’ breads (that require more money than you should be carrying loose change in Greenwich) aren’t bad.

Unusually I wasn’t in a cake mood and had a raspberry shortcake.

We like that raspberry shortbread. It was constructed like a large jammie dodger without cream. Don’t stop reading until you’ve heard the rest…

Oh, Rhodes, where do you get a crunch as good as that shortcake had? I’ve never experienced such crunch before. I mean that takes some making: too long off the baking tray and it will soften. Too soon and it will still be warm. Never mind the fact that as a bakery there was no protective wrapping to keep it fresh. And I do like a confectioner who knows to go easy on the sugar and generous on the tart; the raspberry jam that dripped out was spot on, in quantity and in balance of fruit and sugar.

Very Very Well Done Rhodes. I forgive you for forgetting our coffee for long enough period for us to be well jostled by various olympic tourists. (In my husband’s words, Rhodes have their own brand of customer service).

There aren’t a lot of seats in Rhodes, and being in a top tourist location, you’ll be lucky even to set eye on one without buying a pair of binoculars and stalking everything four-legged. But it isn’t far from the Cutty Sark and the Thames and so we ate our purchases next to the swirling river surrounded by police, community officers, olympic staff and pretty much no one else.

Rhodes serve no end of goodies… all options piled up on the tills. The coffee is in the top 3 performers on my list and it comes in genuinely and uniquely environmentally friendly cups. Although I can’t remember why. Go and read one of their posters if you really want to know.

As an aside, I know I am an artist and supposed to be all visual whatever, but does anyone know how I can post pictures with the blog in a slightly more sightly manner…

Paul Rhodes Bakery, 37 King William Walk, Greenwich, London, SE10 9HU

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Boulangerie Jade

Could someone correct me here? Having dated a French speaker I was introduced to pronouncing this place as Jaaaade, rather than Jayde. But I am starting to think that I am the only person in Blackheath to be doing this.

5 steps to enjoying a lemon tart at Jade – best enjoyed with a friend. (or just get two seats and regularly swap sides).

First: ensure you join the queue with enough space to distinguish the lemon tart from the passion fruit tart. The latter is nice, but lemon tart is special on a different level.

Order with a coffee from the grumpy waitress/cashier, and with any luck manage not to offend her at some point during the transaction. Break the lemon tart in half  and watch the lemon ooziness drip out (but not too much).

Argue over which of you will eat jade chocolate button (if it has one)
Enjoy!

Jade also tops my frequent visit list because the coffee is the best in the village and the Earl Grey is Twinnings (yet to find any other contender for Earl Grey, even in the expensive brands – suggestions welcome). Other ‘top the list’ products here are the croissants. They can be a little unusual looking sometimes, but- just the right amount of buttery  crumbs left on the plate to dip your finger into (so long as an over enthusiastic waitress resists whipping your plate away first); the tart tatin; and the chocolate tart; the florentines and the macaroons… and…

And make sure you check BOTH ends of the counter, with the exception of their very good sandwiches, there are some excellent savory options hiding on the other side of the till where you have had no time to check them out whilst keeping your place in the queue. But avoid the pizza. (very bad; worse than your own homemade version with wholemeal flour,; served cold; with broccoli.)
You may have observed a prejudice on my part for pastry here- the very impressive cream concoctions don’t quite appeal for a quick stop for coffee; but I am sure no one would regret shelling out £22 for a larger cream cake thingy for guests later in the day (please use the comment box below to invite me to dinner)