Sunday, 13 October 2013

Columbia Road, E2

So, after a crazy summer of adapting to motherhood and moving house, I've finally found a quiet moment to hop back into the blogging saddle again. And what better suggestion for autumn than a visit to Columbia Road in East London. Not just for its terrific and iconic Sunday flower market, but also for its multitude of excellent cafes, restaurants, shops and pubs. Whether you're after daffs in spring, roses in summer, pumpkins in autumn or Christmas trees in winter, Columbia Road flower market is a floral and foliage haven.

Columbia Road is busy on a Sunday, very busy, but it's worth the mayhem just to soak up the flower market buzz and bag yourself a bargain. Especially if you're there just before closing time when the stall holders are shouting over one another to offer you "two bunches for a fiver!" You know you're in the right vicinity when you see endless smiling punters heading towards Hoxton or Shoreditch, awkwardly armed with massive bunches of gladioli and lilies, regal orchids, hardy laurels, boxes of herbs, wafting hyacinths, giant yukkas and sprawling fig plants. And if you appreciate music, Columbia Road is home to some of London's best street buskers by far!

Once you've survived the crowds, the pollen and the heady floral fragrances of the market, you'll probably be ready for a stiff drink and a hearty Sunday roast. I recommend The Royal Oak, a proper boozer offering just that. If you're a meat eater, you may want to dine at 'Brawn' which serves fantastic mainly meaty treats. If it's more of a cafe vibe you're after, then the Jones Dairy shop and cafe just around the corner on Ezra Street, is a delight.

There are also a load of great shops and art galleries along Columbia Road selling all sorts of interesting artefacts, gifts, cupcakes, antiques and nick-nacks. The only downside is that most of them only open at the weekend to make the most of the market punters, which is a shame, as Columbia Road is also a lovely place to frequent on a weekday when it's peaceful and crowd-free. Come rain or shine, a visit to Columbia Road flower market is a Sunday well spent.

Columbia Road, E2
Flower Market Open every Sunday (inc Easter) 8am - 3pm  

Hoxton (London Overground)
Old Street (Northern Line tube)

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Pip's Dish Kitchen Table, Hoxton Square, N1

Having closed closed the garage door in Islington, Philip & Mary of Pip's Dish have relocated to start an exciting new venture in the heart of Hoxton. This time, they've collaborated with Plain English (purveyors of rather lovely bespoke kitchens) and have set up an excellent lunch time establishment downstairs at 41 Hoxton Square where they've made full use of one of the kitchen showrooms, transforming it into an intimate dining club. This is a brilliant idea and an ideal way to promote the stunning kitchens on offer whilst showing off their culinary expertise.

Pip's Dish offers a homely, relaxed and informal dining experience, a bit like going round to your friend's house (if your friends are lucky enough to have a kitchen as swanky as this, that is). Lunch is served in the open-plan kitchen with random diners gathering around the communal kitchen table, engaging in casual banter with one another, whilst Mary and her lovely assistant quietly busy themselves in the background, choppinging parsley, dicing tomatoes and topping up your wine glass.

I met a friend for lunch there last week and it was such a lovely, relaxing afternoon. Even baby Elliott came along for his first ever blogging expedition and seemed very happy mingling with the other diners. Despite being situated in the basement, the sun streams through the pot-plant lined stairwell, creating a lovely bright space. We were met with a warm welcome and a glass of vino, then found a pew at the table before tucking into a delicious 3 course lunch. And all for a very reasonable £20 per head.


Roasted Sardines with a Sweet Onion, Tomato & Potato Stew

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Feta & Courgette Filo Tart with a Baby Leaf Salad

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Baked Peaches with Chantilly Cream & Almond Brittle

Pip's Dish Lunch Club is open every Wednesday to Friday (bookings only), but if you fancy hosting a private dinner party of up to 10 guests (Mon - Thur) or a Saturday lunch gathering, just check the Pip's Dish website for more info, or give Pip and Mary a call to discuss. They're very friendly and will be happy to accommodate.

Even the loo is lovely. Once you've pampered your hands with gorgeous Aesop toiletries, take a peek in the cupboard saying 'Open Me', which reveals a selection of Pip's special treasures. This really is a great venue and as everyone knows, all the best parties take place in the kitchen!

Pip's Dish
41 Hoxton Square
N1 6PB
07503 293 438
(entry via the shop)

Wed - Fri lunch time 12pm - 3pm (bookings only)
£20 for a 3 course lunch including a glass of wine!
Also available for private parties

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Eltham Palace & Gardens

It's on warm, sunny days like this that you want to take yourself somewhere green, pleasant and tranquil, perhaps enjoying a picnic and a stroll in the grounds of a beautiful house surrounded by acres of stunning gardens, lakes and parkland. But does a place like that actually exist in London? Well funnily enough, it does. Eltham Palace is a Grade II listed Art Deco gem, and it's in South East London. In fact, you can see Canary Wharf in the distance.

If you're a fan of Art Deco then you'll love Eltham Palace. The interior is incredibly decadent with an impressive entrance hall, a beautiful sitting room with a glass domed-ceiling, a panelled dining room and luxurious bedrooms. There are a whole lot of wall engravings going on, and plenty of gold. And for the collectors amongst you, there is an annual Art Deco fair where you can buy all kinds of interesting 1930's pieces whilst soaking up the atmosphere of the palace. This year the fair takes place on the 7th & 8th Sept.

The original Eltham Palace was a medieval royal palace dating back to the 14th century, of which there are significant remains still intact, including the Great Hall. It was a moated manor house where royals used to reside including Henry VIII who grew up here, probably as a sweet young boy collecting conkers in the garden, before he grew up to become a lover of food and collector of wives! But after its royal heyday, the palace deteriorated into rapid decline, being used as a farm and outbuildings, and later being restored to become a gentleman's residence.

The house you see today was built in the 1930's, by a wealthy couple, Stephen & Virginia Courtauld who turned it into one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the country. They were also keen horticulturists and transformed the gardens to include a sunken rose garden and a spring bulb meadow. The Courtaulds left Eltham in 1944 when it was taken over by the Royal Army Educational Corps until 1992 when English Heritage restored the building to its original Art Deco glory and opened it to the public in 1995.

And I love the fact that the Courtaulds had a pet Lemur called Mah-Jongg (also known as Jongy) who was bought from Harrods in Knightsbridge in 1923. Jongy had his own central-heated room complete with lavish murals which you can still see, and lived at Eltham for 15 years until he died in 1938. There definitely aren't enough pet lemurs in the world anymore! Eltham Palace is a perfect place to escape the city, without having to go too far. I spent a lovely day there admiring the rooms and roaming the grounds and highly recommend it.

Court Yard
London SE9 5QE

Open March - November
Sun - Wed 10am - 5pm
Nearest station: Eltham
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