Posts Tagged With: Loitering over drinks

I’ve got 99 problems… and No. 178 New Cross Road ain’t one of them

Cuisine: European

Address: 178 New Cross Road, SE14 5AA

Area: New Cross

Nearest Station: New Cross Gate

Tel.: 020 7998 6922


Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Loitering over drinks, Community feel, Friendly conversation, Comfort food

New Cross is quite a cool place. There, I said it, and no, I’m not ashamed to have said it. Yes yes, there may be some locational bias, but let’s look at it a bit more, er, objectively: New Cross is a real mix and when combined with Deptford and Brockley (and its fast links to London Bridge, the City and Canary Wharf), you can pretty much get whatever you want – hip cafés, chilled local pubs, interesting and cheap produce, ethnic foods, great and affordable restaurants, greasy spoons, fried chicken shops, farmers’ markets… it’s all catered for.

Throwing itself into the mix and doing its part to big up the local scene is No. 178 New Cross Road. “Oh no, not another pretentious café”, you might say. Not quite: it’s run by a social enterprise, Toucan Employment, which helps people with learning difficulties with work and training, so you could say that it’s plugged into the local community and doing its part to better the surrounding area. A very worthy idea, no?

This all happened very much under the radar for me, as No. 178 is at the far end of New Cross to me and not in an area I frequent often (Post Office sorting centre aside). I can’t even remember the shop it replaced, but whatever it was is a long-distant memory, for No. 178 have done an excellent job in transforming that space to meet their needs. It’s big and roomy, with a great sense of airiness and light. It is a surprisingly large lot, deceptively so from the outside, where you’re presented with a low but clean-cut shop front. Interior decorations and furnishings are de rigueur for local cafés: mismatched furniture, interesting bric-à-brac of a parochial nature on the walls, some art from local artists etc. (at this point, you should start counting how many times I use the word ‘local’ in this review).

Spacious interiors at No. 178 - courtesy of No. 178's Facebook page

Spacious interiors at No. 178 – courtesy of No. 178’s Facebook page

When my brother and I came to visit, we perched ourselves at the end of one of their bigger tables, below a chalkboard with a very helpful roadmap of hunger and thirst and what to do about them on it. Whilst it was not the full and complete menu, it did highlight what are presumably some classics such as the English Breakfast Pizza.

The roadmap to happiness - courtesy of No. 178's Facebook page

The roadmap to happiness – courtesy of No. 178’s Facebook page

Sounds pretty sacrilegious, no? Rather, you should be thinking, “Sacrilicious!” A nice runny egg, generous portions of bacon, sausage and mushrooms on a thin and crunchy base – screw what the Italians would think (though I hasten to add that I did once see a ‘McDonald’s Pizza’ on offer in a small pizzeria in Venice… it had French fries on it), it is tasty. It is meaty enough and cheesy enough to satisfy that search for savouriness, and the crust fulfils that need for crunchy and substantial texture. It was certainly a worthy cure for a hangover – not that mine was particularly potent that day.

Breakfast on a pizza - genius idea

Breakfast on a pizza – genius idea

My brother’s American Breakfast of pancakes, bacon and maple syrup was also well-received: the fluffy pancakes and crisp bacon ended up being rather filling, despite being a deceptively-small portion at a very low price.

To wash both of our brunches down and perk us up a bit, we both had a flat white. Now, I don’t pertain to be a coffee expert and although my brother knows more he is not quite there yet, we both appreciated the flat whites that No.178 served.

So, whilst the food has been good at No.178, one thing I would say that they have to keep an eye on is their service. It can seem a bit slow at times, even when the place does not seem that full. Even though this was not a problem the last time I was there (I was able to have a really pleasant chat with the girl behind the counter as I awaited my takeaway flat white), they should be careful not to let it become habit.

But hey, No. 178 is still young. I expect their staff will, in time, get to grips with things and grow into their roles. It is a great opportunity being afforded to them by Toucan – let’s hope that No. 178 makes the most of it.

VERDICT – A good place. There’s enough character and interesting offerings to make me want to come back to this new addition to the New Cross scene (15-minute walk aside). With a quality breakfast selection and decent coffee at very affordable prices, I hope that No. 178 can really make its mark on the area and become an established part of the community. Going by what I’ve seen so far, I think it’ll do just fine.

Currently listening to: Type O Negative – The Profits of Doom

Categories: European | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kain na tayo! Friends and merienda at Lakwatsa

Copyright of Lakwatsa. Sourced from Lakwatsa website

Copyright of Lakwatsa. Sourced from Lakwatsa website

Cuisine: Filipino

Address: 7 Blenheim Crescent, W11 2EE

Area: Portobello Road

Nearest Station: Ladbroke Grove

Tel.: 07900 266 080


Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Sinful snacks, Sharing many dishes, Introduction to new foods, Friendly conversation, Loitering over drinks

This review is long overdue. As someone who is amazingly keen on promoting Filipino food to anyone and everyone at the drop of a hat, I don’t quite know why I’ve forgotten to write up my experiences at Lakwatsa, the past year’s hottest Filipino newcomer in London.

So hot, that it even warranted a glowing article in the Evening Standard introducing ‘meriendas’ as the new tapas. It was a lovely little introduction to one aspect of Filipino cuisine, even if it got things slightly wrong: call me horrifically pedantic (it’s okay, I’m used to it), but ‘meriendas’ are not small plates like tapas; merienda is more like a catch-all term for a snack, savoury or sweet. But that is not the totality of merienda as I understand it.

It is a cultural institution, a time in the day to pause and have a bite to eat with friends and family, sharing news (and gossip), spending some quality time with people and just generally relaxing and enjoying some time off.

And it seems that Claire, the lovely lady behind Lakwatsa, has tried to encapsulate this spirit in her little cubby hole just off Portobello Road. For starters, she tells us that lakwatsa translates from Tagalog as something like ‘relax’, and back in my mum’s day it had the connotations of playing truant (don’t tell my client this is where I’ve been going).

Welcome to the merienda lounge!

Welcome to the merienda lounge!

And certainly, the vibe you get there is pretty chilled. It is, after all, a merienda lounge. Alongside one side of the wall there are swing benches, which is an AMAZING idea (some design ideas for my flat…?) that just screams chillin’. Cotchin’, even.  Throw in some rustic crate-like boxes for chairs and tables, and a menu on the wall composed of giant Scrabble tiles, and you’ve got a place that just screams, nay mumbles (as screaming is just a bit aggressive, and like, kills my buzz, dude) coolness. In a lovingly inclusive manner too, for my mum thought its twee-ness was wonderfully charming

Not the highest-scoring words

Not the highest-scoring words

And so, when I later came with friends, we spent a good amount of time just hanging out and making kwento. Other tables came and went, but we stood, or rather sat, our ground – Lakwatsa just seemed like the perfect place to just relax and watch the day go by. Were we exhausting our welcome? Please, we’d ordered one of EVERYTHING off the menu; I think that bought us a good couple of hours there.

Lakwatsa: Food coma'd

Lakwatsa: Food coma’d

And so what did we think of the food? Let’s do this properly:

Adobo rice balls: sticky rice balls with chicken adobo pieces inside – absolute genius idea. However, the execution could have done with a bit of honing. Whilst the chicken pieces were flavourful and had an even measure of sharpness and savouriness, when I went with my mum there were hardly any pieces in the balls. Also, I love the idea of dipping my adobo rice balls into more adobo sauce, but it did cause the balls to disintegrate. If you’re not keen on the idea of eating kamayan­-style, then the lack of a spoon becomes a real problem. Perhaps serve each rice ball on a big china spoon? And then you can dip it into a big bowl of sauce and then eat it all in one go.

Adobo rice balls: sticky rice filled with chicken adobo, sprinkled with crunchy garlic and served with adobo sauce

Adobo rice balls: sticky rice filled with chicken adobo, sprinkled with crunchy garlic and served with adobo sauce

Lumpia: ah, the humble Filipino spring roll served with spicy vinegar, often under-appreciated. Such a simple little dish, yet devilishly hard to make so that it smacks you in the mouth and says “I’m damn good”. I don’t think Lakwatsa’s versions (the meaty shanghai and the normal vegetarian)  quite live up to that mouth-smacking expectation, but it is definitely a solid offering that helps to provide much-needed sustenance as you wait for the other dishes.

Prawn toast: not strictly-speaking Filipino, but I’m not going to begrudge Lakwatsa when they make prawn toast that actually tastes and feels like there is prawn in there (because, well, there actually is a layer of prawns in the middle. Awesome). Surprisingly chunky and substantial, something I’d definitely have again. And a very nice touch was the garlickyness, which I guess grounds it as a ‘Filipino’ dish.

Tempura: again, not quite Filipino, but considering that many Japanese chefs retire in the Philippines and open up sushi places there, I guess you could argue for the inclusion of this dish. Lakwatsa manage to pull this off with some lightness and fluffiness, evading the usual mistake of letting it get too greasy. The prawns used were sizeable beasts, which was impressive and much appreciated.

Spicy fried squid: this was a bit of a disappointment of a dish. Yes, there were lots of yummy scrummy fried crispy bits hiding around, but the flavourings of the squid were somewhat lacklustre and… unusual. Not quite sure it worked, especially as the squid felt a bit squidgy (I always thought this was a default texture of squid, until I had some absolutely amazing squid at Ceviche and the Quality Chop House). I don’t think it was one that we were too keen on polishing off.

Pandesal: these buns are very good. Very, very good. Light, fluffy and achingly soft, this is very evocative of what you can get in the Philippines. And I’m not just saying that because it is very rare that you can get good, commercial pandesal in London. Even my mum was rather taken with these. They are served wonderfully warm (freshly-made, which probably explains the lag time in getting served), allowing for the butter to melt into every airy nook and crevice of the ripped open and steaming bread. I am told that you must try it with the ube halaya… but it is still very good with strawberry jam. I wonder if they would ever import Good Shepherd from Baguio?

Pandesal served with jam and butter

Pandesal served with jam and butter

Turon: again, it is rare to get turon on a regular basis in London, outside of the various fiestas that are scattered throughout the country and the year. But Lakwatsa does a fine job of filling the gap – their turon is freshly-made and crisp, and is stuffed with lots of banana and jackfruit without being cloyingly sweet. Luscious!

Sweet crispies are made of these...

Turon: spring rolls made with banana, jackfruit and palm sugar

Leche flan: I do remember this to be a bit creamy and rich, but feeling just a bit unsubstantial. Filipino leche flan, again, is a fairly straightforward dish to make, and in order to make it stand out it needs just a bit more ‘oomph’ about it – Lakwatsa probably need to just finetune things a bit, as it was nearly there (I can’t quite put my finger on what though… such a useful reviewer, aren’t I?). My mum did comment that she could probably make this dish better at home, and being a good mummy’s boy I’m not going to argue with her about that.

Bubble tea: both times I’ve been I’ve gone for the taro bubble tea. I presume when they say taro, they mean ube (though correct me if I’m wrong) it’s purple and tastes like ube, so I guess it must be ube (though technically ube is a purple yam, not a taro). It’s not overly sweet and has a good level of milkiness and creaminess, which is enhanced by the ube. The bubbles themselves were a bit on the softer side and perhaps a bit too gummy, but at least they erred in that direction rather than make them too hard (I’m looking at you, Manchurian Legends)!

Taro bubble tea: Don't be put off by the purple colour!

Taro bubble tea: Don’t be put off by the purple colour!

Overall, I’ve had some good times in Lakwatsa, and I look forward to my next visit there. We definitely need more Filipino places in London offering good food and a great experience, and I think Lakwatsa is doing its bit in a modern, slightly-non-traditional but fun way. But, as I always say, the more choice we have, the better it can be for everyone.

VERDICT – A good place. Lakwatsa has a fun and chilled vibe, perfect for hanging out in. It could do with a bit of polishing up in tightening the operation and perfecting some of the dishes, but they’ve got many of the other ingredients right.  I do hope that they become settled and established and really find their stride – and maybe then they’ll open up a branch on the better side of London…?

Currently listening to: Pedicab – Simulan Mo Na

Categories: Filipino | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s time to get to know your neighbours: getting local at the Royal Albert

Cuisine: British

Address: 460 New Cross Road, SE14 6TJ

Area: New Cross

Nearest Station: New Cross

Tel.: 020 8692 3737


Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Friendly conversation, Beer selection, Fresh ingredients, Loitering over drinks

It was Star Wars Day recently, if you were unaware – “May the Fourth be with you” and all that – and for some people it was quite a big deal.

My brother told me that he found this awesome pub in our neighbourhood, and that they had been hosting a Star Wars party to celebrate the day.

“How come we’ve never been to The Royal Albert before??”

“Well, truth be told, I have been there a couple of times, and have told you about it before…”

“Oh, really?”

It’s funny how information, no matter how many times shared, is often passed over and only becomes important to you when it becomes relevant. I’ve been exploring around New Cross and Deptford a fair bit, but when I tell my friends and my brother about the places I’ve been to, I can see it doesn’t really register – they don’t have a particular need to come to New Cross and go to these places because, well, they probably have their own favourite locals and when they do come to New Cross they usually just hang out at ours.

The mean streets of New Cross, as seen from the Royal Albert's terrace out front

The mean streets of New Cross/Deptford, as seen from the Royal Albert’s terrace out front

But we had some friends over that day for a chilled (and chilly) barbecue; as the evening wore on we decided to mix things up a bit by heading on over to The Royal Albert for a nightcap (and a listen to their folk music evening).

It’s a very atmospheric pub with many what seem to be original Victorian fittings around, giving the place an eclectic and busy character. The mood lighting was just a bit dim, but we were still able to navigate our way safely through the comfy chairs to a table in the corner which had its own jungle surrounding it. By the looks of it, this was also the setting for Yoda’s Love Den the night of the Star Wars party; who knows what happened here then…

"Come into my den you will, mmmm"

“Come into my den you will, mmmm”

The folk music and other ambient sounds were not too loud, allowing for some good ol’ chattage to take place.

Anyway, the selection of beer that they have is pretty extensive and constantly rotating – it was a completely different line up to what I had had previously with other friends. So, this is definitely a place for ale experimentation, something of which I am a big fan of. Unfortunately, it being somewhat late in the evening, my memory of which pints I had is somewhat hazy…

I did get a chance to go again the very next day with my brother and some others, for our very first Royal Albert Monday night pub quiz. As far as quizzes go, it was a rather ‘eccentric’ one – with a paper airplane round, a drawing round, a first-up-with-the-answer round – and quite fun. The questions were a good mix of straightforward and challenging; it was just a shame that there was another team that was smashing those questions (grrr).

But now to food. In the run-up to the quiz, I was feeling just a bit peckish and so elected for something off their starters menu. The dish lucky enough to be chosen by my good self was a potato salad with spring lamb belly and mango salsa – something seasonal and something a bit different, no? And as luck would have it, I chose very well that day, for not only was it a very sizeable meal but it was also an extremely well-thought out and creative dish.

Spring lamb belly - spring is in the air!

Spring lamb belly – spring is in the air!

Crisp potato pieces paired up with tender and meltingly-soft lamb belly pieces were flavoured with a none-too-sweet mango sauce, which worked surprisingly well together; here was a good balance of flavours and textures that spoke well of the kitchen’s skill here. To further validate this opinion, our friend asked for her tuna steak to be just simply seared – and it was done as requested, leaving the steak pink on the inside.

Unsurprisingly, The Royal Albert is now my brother’s favourite pub in the area. I’m glad he’s finally come on board to the idea.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. The Royal Albert is a great local pub, but it also transcends that and could even be regarded as a destination pub in its own right. With real charm, great food and a dazzling selection of beers on offer, it really should get a bit more attention. It shouldn’t just have to wait for someone to walk by it in order for it to be noticed. Will you be heading to New Cross any time soon?

Currently listening to: Our Lady Peace – Middle of Yesterday

Categories: British, Pub | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A quiet corner in bustling Deptford: Coffee and treats at Deli X

Copyright of Deli X. Sourced from Deli X website

Copyright of Deli X. Sourced from Deli X website

Cuisine: European

Address: 156 Deptford High Street, SE8 3PQ

Area: Deptford

Nearest Station: Deptford/Deptford Bridge

Tel. No.: 020 8691 3377


Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Loitering over drinks, Sinful snacks, Community feeling

Having only just become a ‘proper’ Londoner (i.e. not just a weekday commuter/weekend playboy) within the last year, I thought it best to set down some roots and really explore the multifarious wonders of Southeast London.

And so, one sunny Saturday afternoon in April 2012, I decided to explore Deptford Market. I spent a fruitful hour exploring amongst the stalls, the fishmongers, the butchers, the greengrocers, the Chinese and Vietnamese stores, the flea market on Douglas Way, the Albany Theatre… and came away with a bag full of veggies, some Chinese ingredients, a nicely-weighted cleaver, a cafetière and an idea that yes, Deptford Market was actually a pretty cool thing to have around.

Well, I decided to head further north along Deptford High Street to explore what else lay beyond the railway bridge. I chanced upon the cheerfully-coloured Deli X and popped in, attracted by the deli displays of fresh fruit and vegetables and tempting cheeses.

The deli itself is small but well-laid out, and is rich with an eclectic theme. Having noticed that I looked a bit lost amongst the vegetables, one of the owners came over and offered to help. Friendly as ever, she managed to steer my attention to the coffees and cakes they had on offer. Clever girl she was, doing that. It wasn’t long before I relented to a Portuguese egg tart and a coffee, after which she sent me over to the dining area, a charming place filled with couches, mismatched tables and chairs.

Carrying on with the eclectic and mismatched theme, my coffee arrived in a bowl that perched precariously on an under-sized saucer. Funky, but risky – the girls here must have the balancing and hand skills of, I don’t know, a circus juggler.

I’m not a coffee aficionado, but I think I know enough to pick out bad coffee – this most definitely did not fit that bill. And as for that first egg tart, it was creamy and very more-ish; although they admitted that they didn’t make them themselves, they were going to give them a shot. I wish them the best in this endeavour

Since that first visit, I’ve also had the pleasure of having their almond croissants, which are a real guilty pleasure of mine and, I feel a good way of measuring up different places that sell them. Deli X’s almond croissants are rather sinful, with a generous filling of smooth and rich almond paste nestled amongst light, flaky and buttery pastry. The croissants occasionally have a bit too much powdered sugar on it, but other than that they make for a great afternoon snack.

All in all, it looks like a place you could linger in for an hour (as I have done on a few occasions, mainly after job interviews), reading one of the books that they have on their shelves, talking to the owners – or, as I did on a recent visit, you can admire the art they hang on the walls. Superhero art this time around – I was invited along to a private viewing the next night, so as to meet the artist and perhaps purchase a piece to adorn mine and my brother’s place. Unfortunately I already had something planned, but I appreciated the gesture.

VERDICT – A good place. I always enjoy warm welcomes, and they are in abundance in Deli X. When coupled with a feel that is relaxed, spacious and comfortable in its uniqueness, I think that Deli X is on to something here.

Currently listening to: Hexes – Lipgloss Ghosts

Categories: European | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Stones, One Dog: The Dogfather at The Sun & 13 Cantons

Copyright of The Dogfather. Sourced from The Dogfather website

Cuisine: Hot Dogs

Address: Usually North Cross Road Market; two-week residency at The Sun & 13 Cantons, 21 Great Pulteney Street, W1F 9NG (NOW FINISHED)

Area: The Sun & 13 Cantons – Soho

Nearest Station: The Sun & 13 Cantons – Oxford Circus/Piccadilly Circus

Tel.: The Sun & 13 Cantons – 020 7734 0934


Pricing: The Dogfather – Medium, The Sun & 13 Cantons – Cheap-Medium

Good For: The Dogfather – Lunchtime fix, Filling meal, Interesting toppings. The Sun & 13 Cantons – Loitering over drinks, Friendly conversation, Victorian setting, Natter with mates, After-work drinks

Some time ago, in the not-so distant past but still beyond the mists of memory, I’d heard tales of a brilliant hot dog dispenser going by the name of the Dogfather, who based himself in the relatively unknown – to me, at least – market of North Cross Road. Not being a Londoner at the time, the thought of making a trip into deepest and darkest South London was a bit daunting for me. Now, as a South Londoner, the thought of making a trip into deepest and darkest Dulwich is still just a bit daunting for me. So, when the Egg Boss tweeted that his good friend, the Dogfather, was just about to set up shop for a couple weeks’ residency in November 2012 at the curiously-named Sun and 13 Cantons pub in not so deep and not so dark Soho, I realised that this was my shot for glory.

It was therefore very fortunate that I’d chosen the first Tuesday of the Dogfather’s pop-up to be suit-shopping day on Oxford Street with mia madre. Keen to get more freebies out of her (what a son I am), I suggested that maybe we re-visit her childhood memories of eating copious amounts of hot dogs back in the Philippines by, well, eating hot dogs in Soho.

Now I’d never heard of the Sun and 13 Cantons pub before, but I think that they now have a new customer – thanks going to the Dogfather for getting me through the door. It feels like a typical London inner-city pub, what with the big windows, wooden flooring and high tables and chairs in the main bar. But it’s the addition of a ‘dining area’ of sorts at the back with lots of mirrors and marble-top tables makes this place stand out a bit in my mind. Not only does lots of places to sit = good place for a natter with friends, but I like the Victorian vibe this room really gives off. Should I mention the decent range of beers and the cute bar girls who are happy to chat? Think before I speak? Oh, too late…

The haute dogs on offer

Mia madre chose the Dogfather (chorizo clices [sic], grilled onions, melted mozzarella, roasted red pepper marinara, chopped jalapenos, grated parmesan and a beef dog). I wanted the Slum Dog of which I’d read much about on the internet, but as it was not available that day I settled for the Snoop Dog (streaky bacon, BBQ sauce, cheddar slices, grilled onion, cream corn mayo, green onions, chopped jalapenos and a beef dog). It took some time for them to arrive, even though we were one of the few dining groups there. And when the dogs did arrive, the accompanying fries were just warm and unremarkable. I attributed these timing issues to the teething problems of settling into a new residency i.e. still getting used to a different kitchen/staff etc. (things that a residency is valuable for teaching) but we were still a bit disappointed.

Mr Snoop Dog and his friends the Fries Gang

Now as for the dogs… curiously enough, mia madre declined to offer me a bite of hers, which suggests that she enjoyed it enough to not want to share (more on that later). I similarly enjoyed my Snoop Dog, as all the flavours melded together pretty well, demonstrating excellent teamwork and maximising of strengths. However, the melding also helped to hide the fact that some of the individual components were not quite there in terms of quality: the streaky bacon was the right level of saltiness but not crispiness (my ex was adamant that the only reason streaky bacon existed was to be fried into crispy crunchiness); the cream corn mayo was, in my opinion, rather lightly applied, and by itself did not distinguish itself from any other mayo I’ve had; the bun did the job adequately if not spectacularly; but most importantly, the beef dog in isolation was… okay.

Snoop Dog lookin’ right at ya

By no means was it bad (I can think of many, many worse examples… don’t make me go there), but in the face of competition from the likes of the Big Apple Hot Dogs, I just felt that the beef dog just didn’t really hold its ground. There was just something lacking, a particular spark that would motivate me to make the trek to the Dogfather’s spiritual home in North Cross Road. I would happily have the Snoop Dog again if it were given to me on a plate/camping tray/plank of wood, but if you just handed me the beef dog by itself… oh, I’d still eat it.

Mia madre, after some reflection, came to a similar conclusion, and as an out-of-towner she is even less likely to want to make it over to Dulwich. Which is a bit of a shame, as I wouldn’t mind having her along as a companion for when I try to hunt down the renowned Slum Dog, and see if the Dogfather is really in his prime on his home turf.

VERDICT for The Sun & 13 Cantons – A good place.

VERDICT for The Dogfather – An okay experience.

I enjoyed my lunchtime in the Sun and 13 Cantons, and if I am in the area again I will readily go back there for a drink. As for my first experience of the Dogfather? I did enjoy it, but the hype I’d read about it had given me extremely high expectations which were unfortunately not met; whilst some of it may be down to the teething problems of setting up a residency (but hey, these things are not just great business opportunities but also valuable learning experiences), at the same time the individual ingredients in the Snoop Dog did not wow me. Still, the man has built up enough of a positive reputation, so he must be doing something right. Maybe one of these weekends, when I have the time, I will get down to North Cross Road to dine on the Dogfather’s own terms, on his own turf.

Currently listening to: La Ruda Salska – Du rififi chez les branques

Categories: Hot Dogs, Pub | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments