Friday, 28 September 2012

The best breakfast in town?

I set off to review the Riding House Café on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the summer. I was feeling a little bit grumpy about the fact that I wasn't going to be able to sit outside, until I arrived (sweltering at 10.30 in the morning!) to be greeted by a sunny smile, as cheerful as anything outside, and blissful air-conditioning!

After being shown to our gorgeously squishy banquette seat by the window (nearly outside!) my first port of call was the loo. Girls always like to know what the loos are like, and the answer here is very cool. We're talking exposed brickwork, a simple copper pipe for a tap, and a matching metal clad Dyson hand dryer. Best of all? The basin and dryer are in the cubicle so no boring queuing up with wet hands.

Anyway, back upstairs and the quirky design details continue. Stuffed squirrel wall lights, a long communal table made form reclaimed timber and using scaffolding as legs, oversized hanging lampshades… it should feel gimmicky but it doesn't. There's just enough kitsch detail combined with seriously good design that it really works. As an interior designer by training I was impressed by all the little touches (the blue water glasses, enamel water jugs and smoothies served in milk bottles) and I also loved the fabulous New York style bar lined with comfy blue leather stools. I would happily come here on my own and sit at the bar, but clearly some cocktails with a glamorous date would be even better! There'd definitely be a great, buzzy vibe in the evenings.

So, on to the food. We came for brunch, which is what the Riding House Café is famed for. It works so well as a date because of it's informal nature and the fact that it can lead on to a whole day spent together… We both started with delicious smoothies served in half-pint milk bottles. I followed this with the legendary buttermilk pancakes. They were amazing and definitely the best I've had this side of the U.S. I tried to be good by not eating the clotted cream that came with them but let's be honest; brunch here is not the place to be good! 

Despite not needing it I then had (perfectly cooked) poached eggs with a chorizo hash brown and baby spinach on the side. My idea of heaven. My date went for the brilliantly named "Full and Proper English Breakfast" with a huge slice of black pudding. The black pudding wasn't on the menu but he asked for it and got it - great service.

In fact, the service in general was excellent with lots of friendly staff milling around, adding to the great atmosphere. This place gets a huge thumbs up from me and I'll be back again for a brunch and definitely some post Oxford Street shopping cocktails with the girls!

My top tip?  Breakfast ends at 11:30 so make sure you get there in time!

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Jugged Hare

We sent the lovely Charlotte off to review The Jugged Hare with her date... it made me laugh when she submitted her review and emailed me to say the following:

"This place really is a man’s pub (fully of city boys) – I was one of the only women eating, and the veggie option on the menu said “Vegetarian - £12” with no explanation. Quite funny. 

At the same time I’d really recommend it. Just not if you’re a girly girl or a veggie! 

There are pigs heads in a glass cabinet as you go to the loo and stags heads on the walls. Right up my street but not for all! "

Intrigued? Click here to read of her full review and see what she made of it. But it's safe to say, she'll be back!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Champagne + Fromage

Serving two of France's greatest exports (aside from Tintin and Breton tops), Champagne + Fromage is un peitit bijou!

So, the other night I took my newly acquired husband to Champagne + Fromage for more than drinks but less than dinner... Located a stones throw from Covent Garden, in the heart of theatre land, this tiny French bistro is the perfect place for a pre-theatre dinner or a quick post-show glass of fizz. We met in  Covent Garden (always nice to start the evening with a trip to Zara!) and then wove our way through the piazza, dodging street entertainers before arriving at Champagne + Fromage. Don't be put off by the busy road, just head straight inside. It's a charmingly rustic shop cum bistro where you'll be greeted with a wonderfully haphazard interior full of mismatched furniture, displays of champagne, cheese and charcuterie and an overriding feeling of Gallic authenticity.

We arrived half an hour early but this wasn't a problem for our charming (and seriously well informed) French waitress. Having talked us through the food and drink on offer (in such a strong French accent we couldn't totally understand everything, but obviously pretended we did!) our waitress served us a cheese board, followed by a charcuterie board and finally a tartine of our choice, all paired with a delicious champagne of course.

These boards of food are perfect for a date as they necessitate a very sociable way of eating. Not good if you are greedy/unaccustomed to sharing! Having to share my Savoyarde tartine was probably the first serious test of our marriage. The portions of the charcuterie in particular are very generous so perhaps order one board at a time and see if you need more? That's the beauty of this place, you can have as much or as little as you want and it is all incredibly relaxed. 

Make sure you ask about what you're eating and drinking as the staff are very friendly and unbelievably well informed. You'll discover that the grower champagnes come from small vineyards, some of no more than 5 hectares, and that the finished product is a real labour of love all the way from the grape to the bottle. The delicious cheeses are of the same quality, all sourced from tiny suppliers across the channel.

To sum up… we had a brilliant evening at Champagne + Fromage. The clientele were mixed which added to the atmosphere and definitely gave us something to talk about!  In one corner we saw a couple indulging in a passionate embrace - so very French - while at another table two older couples were obviously enjoying a pre-theatre glass of fizz before heading off to catch a show. It's also worth remembering that you get tipsy pretty quickly on champagne (or at least I do!) which makes it great for an early days date as the conversation should start flowing fairly swiftly…

Miss Mary's top tip: Dress warmly as the place has to be kept cold for the cheese. No joke, I had to wrap my scarf around me legs - not a great look for a first date!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Queen of Hoxton

We sent the lovely beauty blogger, B Byrom off on a date to Queen of Hoxton to review it for The Great Date Guide... here's what she made of it!

To start your date, meet on Shoreditch High Street and pop into The Foxcroft and Ginger (which is left out of Shoreditch station above the end of the new row of shops on the high street) where you can sit under umbrellas and look down on the world below whilst enjoying a pre dinner drink. It’s then just a short walk across the high street and down a few back streets to Queen of Hoxton. 

On arrival you are presented with quite a dark room, lit by exposed light bulbs intertwined with ivy.  The walls are covered with graffiti with what looks like images of 80s or 90s computer games, which is appropriate as there are various games strewn around; a pin ball machine, foosball table and real computer games too.   These childhood games are a perfect icebreaker at the start of the date whilst sipping on one of the deliciously grownup cocktails on offer.

After your cocktail head up to the roof garden to get some more drinks, and order your food. Several flights of stairs later the roof opens out onto patches of fake lawn covered in a variety of styles of picnic benches and tables! Flowers, bunting and fairy lights are hung all around making the place look absolutely magical. There is a really buzzy atmosphere up on the roof, plenty of people come here even on a weeknight, so it’s a good idea to arrive early and get a good spot. There is also the option of queuing for a set of wireless headphones to watch a film on the large projector screen, details of what is showing can be found on their website. 

At the far end of the garden is a BBQ and bar where food and drinks can be ordered. The menu is small but well chosen for the time of year, as well as being easy to eat should you find yourself perching on a bench! The burgers are a bit mean, but the halloumi salad is highly recommended. The staff are very helpful and friendly and no one seems to wait long for food despite the fact it’s always quite busy.

At the start of the film tables are quickly and efficiently put to one side and rows of chairs set up, if you aren’t staying for the film you will be asked to leave the roof which was a shame but this could be an opportunity to check out what is happening on in the basement - a wide variety of DJ's and events are on offer depending on the night.

Don't let the fact that it is open air put you off should you be planning a trip later on in the year, they erect a huge wigwam in the winter and the food is changed accordingly, there is even marshmallow toasting and hot chocolate, great for cosying up with your date!

This place is ideal for a fun, informal, early date. There is plenty to entertain you if you’re stuck for conversation and the location is great, even if you don't live east, as it is so close to the station.

P.s. Click here to read the official review on our website...