Category: London

Bistrotheque, East London

“And now leave me in peace for a bit! I don’t want to answer a string of questions while I am eating. I want to think!”
“Good Heavens!” said Pippin. “At breakfast?”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

As so many of our old food haunts have left us lately, Jeff and I are on the prowl for new places to fall in love with. When a recent local joint stopped serving regular brunch (they tantalize us with promises that the chef may choose to surprise us with it from time to time, those teases), we decided to go on a wander in unfamiliar territory this weekend to explore somewhere new. East London beckoned and my research indicated that Bistrotheque would fit the bill nicely.

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It’s very much the kind of place I like. Tucked away on an unexpected street in a Bethnal Green residential area, if you don’t know what to look for, you could easily pass the entrance. And even walking through the sign-less door and up the stairs, you might have a few qualms that you’re still not in the right place until you burst out into a bright and open industrial space.

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We had to make a reservation to get in and it was fully almost the entire time we were there. Couples, families, and groups of friends all clustered together comfortably with the open kitchen in view, in keeping with the industrial aesthetic. It’s clearly a very family friendly place, in spite of the prodigiously stocked bar, and there were several children in attendance.

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The menu is a great mix of typical brunch and lunch offerings, most of which with a welcome kind of twist. My avocado and eggs were severed on savory cornbread with crunchy spiced corn kernels and hot sauce. Jeff snagged something with chorizo (which will always call to him). I glimpsed some of the sweeter offerings like french toast at nearby tables and it looked decadent enough to warrant the second visit I’m already plotting.

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We pushed the boat entirely out and grabbed some pudding after our main meals because they looked too good to not try. Jeff plumped for the creme brulee (usually my drug of choice) so that I could go for the blood orange panna cotta, smothered in pistachios.

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The atmosphere is nicely urban, the food is flavorful, and though the prices aren’t exactly dirt cheap, the portion sizes are very filling. What more could you want?

Oh, a piano guy who plays medleys of Guns’N’Roses, Michael Jackson, and the Spice Girls while you munch? Yeah, they have that too!

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An Old Friend at a New Find

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

Living in a city is exciting because there is always something new to see, eat, or do. The less discussed dark side of this equation is that often to make room for the shiny new stuff, existing shops, shows, restaurants, and venues have to go. Once you’ve lived in an urban center for a few years, you’ve likely lost a few of your standbys due to this cycle. We sure have. In the years that we’ve lived here, we’ve said goodbye to several favorites including The Lockhart, El Nivel, and Kopapa.

Some of these were bittersweet. El Nivel’s closing night was also the last night we stayed in our old apartment and attending it felt like the end of an era, our first three years in London finished. That apartment saw some heartaches, some triumphs, and was the place where a lot of hard won victories came to fruition and El Nivel was where we celebrated a lot of those triumphs and got through a lot of disappointments. We made friends with the owners and staff there who made it a point to know and interact with their regulars; through them we were invited to food festivals and introduced to new areas of the city. It felt like saying goodbye to a pal when that place shut up shop–to say nothing of the fact that we had to begin our hunt for good fusion/Mexican food anew. Suggestions welcome, see me in the comments!

Kopapa was a place where we celebrated New Years as well as our fourth anniversary (we’re now coming up on our eighth). It was conveniently placed in the heart of the West End so if we ever needed to entertain guests, it was a trusted stop in Theatreland. It was one of the first brunch places we indulged in as newly minted urbanites, and brunch has become (admittedly stereotypically) an important part of our family routine.

Whilst being nostalgic for our old favorites recently, I went on a bit of a google spree to find some new joints to try out and discovered that Peter Gordon, the chef behind Kopapa also has a restaurant on Marylebone High Street, The Providores. Actually, it predates Kopapa which a more experienced foodie would have pinged to much sooner than me, but let’s set that aside. Joy of joys, their brunch menu contained the same dish I fell for at Kopapa and have never found a substitute for since: Turkish Eggs. Poached eggs sitting on warm, whipped yogurt, with chili oil sauce on top. If it sounds too weird for you, do me a solid and trust me to try it just once–it’s a savory delight.

While it’s fun and important to always give the new a shot, it’s also occasionally nice to rediscover an old friend.

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Where the Pancakes Are

“The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves.”
– W. C. Fields

Today is Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day here in Britain, so it is only fitting that you guys hear about a recent breakfast find.

Welcome to Where the Pancakes Are, in Flat Iron Square. Fairly close by to Borough Market and just south of Southwark Bridge, this is another of those delightful little pockets where markets and sellers and food joints are springing up in tandem

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I’m automatically fond of most areas that contain food trucks but WTPA is charmingly located in a a former trainline archway. A number of these kinds of areas of London have been or are in the process of being redeveloped to shops, restaurants, or other spaces and some of the results are quite fun!

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But you’re not here to read about property schemes, are you, kittens? You want to know about the carbs? I’m here for you!

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Where The Pancakes Are is not a large eating joint, but there is a mezzanine to add tables so its apparent small space is a bit of a deception. If you turn up at the weekend, you may have to wait a bit, but get on the list because it’s not too terrible and there are a few shops and market stalls to explore while the minutes count down.

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Pets and families welcome!

The menu is divided into savory and sweet options and you will have a devil of a time deciding which tickles your fancy. Jeff plunked for the traditional American while I went as wild as I could with the Hummingbird.

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As it transpired, our marriage suffered a major test in the middle of the meal when I excitedly demanded that Jeff validate my enthusiasm for finding a good pancake place. His response was, “Eh, I don’t really eat pancakes.”

My reaction to this was one of outraged shock until he laughed and countered, “We’ve been married for nearly eight years, and you haven’t noticed that I don’t really eat pancakes until now?”

To which…oops? Spousal fail on my part?

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Forget Jeff’s poor taste in breakfast carbs. He’s healthy and leans towards the protein, for which we may be understanding, even if he is misguided. If like me you are among the less than virtuous, breakfast wise, this place is a delightful way to spend a Saturday morning!

Weekend Links: The OK Ladies Now Let’s Get in Formation Edition

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

In case you missed it, the Womens March on Washington (and sister marches around the world, including the one I participated in in London) might have made some records. The coverage is still coming in and it’s amazing to see — more amazing to have participated in. You can see some my images here, but this is a story worth following and watching. To say nothing of joining in. Welcome to the Grab Back.

Oh yeah, and the US has a new president who doesn’t seem to be “pivoting” from his campaign persona in any way. Shock, surprise. I watched his inauguration because I’m a citizen and think it’s important to support the process of free government. The new First Lady looked absolutely lovely, and I thought it was gracious and correct for Secretary Clinton to show up in spite of how awful I expect it felt. The speech was Orwellian, but bang on from the tone of his campaign. The next day I laced up my shoes and hit the streets to make it clear that he was not elected with a mandate and I will be supporting the issues that I care about with my time, my money, and my voice. Because again, I think it’s important to support the process of free government. This is how it works.

Here are your links, kittens. Tell me what you got up to this weekend.

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I found this piece at Politico a very timely read. It opines that President Trump’s hostility towards the press may be a blessing in disguise. If the traditional lines of communication between the administration and the media are clipped, the press can and should (this writer argues) fan out to the myriad unofficial lines instead and take up the opportunity to do more and more extensive investigative reporting.

Also, what did the administration do on Day 2? Malign the press in the face of documented facts and figures, and talk a lot about himself in his “reach out” to the CIA.

Don’t let anyone say the Women’s March doesn’t matter. 2.9 million participants is not a “tantrum.”

An interesting piece on the physical logistics of changing over an administration.

An important reminder about some of the realities of race and privilege, especially when it comes to assembly. I for one, know I can do better and I intend to.

This SNL from Asiz Ansari was great and nicely nuanced against hysteria. We’ll be fine and the people ultimately set the tone for change, and if yesterday is any indication…

Shut up and take my money.

A bit more fashion levity and some street style.

STOP. I swear every time I read an article like this, my heart breaks a little. I know there are more important immediate issues, such as the civilian lives in the crosshairs right now, but this hateful and deliberate dismantling of human history is also hideous

Album of the week: Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool

Politics and Money

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”
― Albert Einstein

For obvious reasons, politics is on my mind this week.

Something I’ve probably not spent enough time thinking through is how politics affects my money choices. A lot of the “big” purchases normally associated with American politics are simply not part of our lives at the moment. We have only ever bought one car and that was from a family member, we have never bought a house, and the biggest choice we’ve made is to live and work abroad which obviously makes an impact in our taxes and expenses. I know that political policy informs my life day to day, but I’d never really really done an examination as to how or how intimately.

That started to change last year after the Brexit vote. It was a political decision that had and will have enormous consequences for the industry I work in, to the tune of millions and perhaps billions of pounds. Of course I know that every budget the US Congress has passed in my lifetime has affected me, but this was the first time that I felt the financial implications of politics hit my work and wallet directly since the Great Recession. It was sobering and it changed several of our potential futures.

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We love living in London, the idea of ever leaving cracks my heart…but we do occasionally take a look at career opportunities back in the States where we’d be likely to make larger paychecks (Jeff in particular). Meanwhile the exchange rate is now much less favorable to us than it once was, with more uncertainty in the forecast. Given these financial realities, influenced by international and local politics, it’s not inconceivable that we may move back to the States or to another country at some point. If we do our taxation will change, so will other political realities.

As the future of the Affordable Care Act is currently in a state of limbo in the States, I just had the cervical exam I’m entitled to as a person who pays UK taxes that funds the NHS–I won’t call it “free.” I’m also provided access to regular birth control at no additional cost to me and regular dentistry (joke about UK teeth care all you want, I still get mine checked out every six month and it costs a fraction of what it would in the States). On the flip side, there are legitimate critiques for a system that many find bureaucratic and overstretched, and that some people dislike.

Money and politics are a constant trade off for what we have, what we want, what we are able to provide for ourselves, and what we deem that government/society/employers should provide for us. The financial choices I/we have made are personal ones, but they are political as well. As the saying goes, “The personal is political.”

But we’ve not yet really parsed out how politics will affect our desire to invest, to save, to retire. These still feel like “far away” problems, even though I know they aren’t.

So, wiser, older, and more experienced friends, talk to me about how politics has affected your money choices. What decisions did you have to make under the past administration (if you’re American), and what decisions do you think you will need to under the new one? Brit friends, ditto your experiences under recent governments?

The Paradox of Space and Stuff

“Our pleasures are not material pleasures, but symbols of pleasure – attractively packaged but inferior in content.”
― Alan W. Watts

When our friends were in town the other week it was an amazing chance to catch up. One half of the pair, Chris, and I have been friends since freshmen year of university. In fact he, Jeff, and I were all in an assigned cohort for freshmen students and it’s kind of funny to think about how life has turned out for us in the past 12 years. I absolutely adore his wife, who I’ve known almost as long, and having the ability to see friends from the States is such a rare pleasure for us.

In talking all things work, life, and adulthood related we got on the the subject of upgrading. They live in California and bought a house there. Since then they’ve been working on all kinds of DIY projects to improve their home and add value to it, and seem to be enjoying the process. But in spite of being able to do these improvements on a tight budget and by themselves, we quickly found we were dealing with a similar issue even though we live in a rented apartment.

The famous saying is mo’ money, mo’ problems. Add mo’ space, mo’ spending to the mix.

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We started comparing notes on how that as soon as we’d either moved into a house or a larger apartment, we found our “stuff” multiplying. Closets full of items they rarely used on their end, furniture we’ve never previously owned on ours. More empty space that we feel compelled to fill for us, a garage for them to store stuff, which means they’re holding on to things that they’ve never accumulated before.

Chris told me of a piece of motorcycle equipment that he doesn’t use anymore, but is loathe to give away or even sell because 1) it cost him a pretty penny to get in the first place and, 2) what if he needs it again in the future? We now have a second bedroom (currently being used primarily as storage) which is where, if an item doesn’t really have a home yet, there it goes! A quick, sheepish scan of the contents this morning revealed a number of older cords and electronics I should probably recycle and a bag of linens and stuff that I’ve been meaning to drop off for donation since we moved in. Oops. Having space clearly does something to our mental relationship with stuff!

In our old flat, we didn’t have room for much…and so we didn’t have much. When we moved to a twice as large apartment in October, we suddenly had twice the space to fill. Plus we gave up landlord-provided furniture as part of a negotiation for lower rent and so had to buy furniture for the first time since living in London. Our old apartment barely held a loveseat, but suddenly we needed a sofa to fill a living room. In our old apartment, that loveseat and a desk chair were the only places we had to sit down in, in our new apartment we had a breakfast bar but we now needed stools to sit at it. We have two bathrooms and so needed two bathmats. We have more than one cupboard now and have somehow acquired a mug collection. Oops again.

Like water, people, their money habits, and their stuff seem to expand to fit their containers. Ours certainly have. When we have made more money, we have historically spent more money…even after living quite comfortably on less! Before moving to a larger apartment, our expenses didn’t necessarily change, but we found our habits did. Both we and the handful of friends I have unscientifically surveyed for this post have also found their ability to accumulate and retain stuff grow significantly due to moving into a house for the first time, a bigger apartment, or a first home all to one’s self after leaving the sharing economy that is living with roommates. Call it the curse of comfort! Part of the reason I don’t want a big house anymore is because I don’t want to have to pay to outfit it, keep up a yard, and take care of the whole thing. I’d rather have a much smaller home with fewer, nicer things, and spend my money on other priorities.

On the other hand, I do think there is a correlation between generally being in a position to make more money, and it having more places to go. If you are working full time, you are likely to be an adult with either rent or mortgage to pay. If you’re living in certain areas, you are more likely to require a car. Past a certain age you are statistically more likely to have a partner or children, leading to different kinds of costs. Life gets more expensive the longer it goes on.

As I’m working to limit my consumption, I’m starting to think a portion of that mindset long term will come from limiting my space, both physical and metaphoric. What else will I have to resize besides a “dream home?”

Have you found this same correlation between space and stuff? Those of you who have up- or downgraded at some point in your lives, I’m doubly curious to hear from you.