London Eats: Friends Of Ours

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It’s official– my love and passion for french toast overrides that for so many other things in my life. It’s just not on. But at the same time, some flaws should be embraced. Hence my decision to do a conclusive write-up some time in the future on my favourite french toast places here in London!

Starting with the lovely little Friends of Ours. Goodness have I missed writing about these café adventures. Judgement will be based on:

  • that lovely saturation in the middle of sufficiently-thick bread slices
  • browning
  • usage and appropriateness of toppings

Though I won’t be able to write about every single place I try, the conclusive write-up will comprise my main favourites, so keep an eye out for that.

There’s something special about making a gala out of little trips like this. Yeah, there’s something special about making a very big deal out of your favourite food in the entire world.

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This little hideaway is adorable. Unpretentious, cosy, with service that can’t be beat. Fresh pastries and sandwiches adorn the counter, and though I’m no proper coffee expert, my affinity for long blacks has earned me some sort of coffee brew intelligent quotient, and the cuppa that greeted me seriously hit the spot.

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Organic brioche french toast, roasted pears with rosemary and vanilla, clotted cream and shortbread crumble– £8.50

Long black– £2.20

What. A pretty picture. A slice of perfect thickness. The eggy, nicely-browned crust and exterior made me envision the battered slice hitting the heat of the pan, cooking thoroughly and quickly. Would have preferred a slightly more saturated and moist middle, but that’s really only because I like the texture to reach the point whereby there’s no problem flaking off bites with a fork. Almost ‘raw’, one could say. The roasted pear was tender and flavourful, offering sweet tangy notes to the bready base. So much more impressive than that served at another café I visited recently (here was hardly any on the plate and what was served was so cooked down that ‘saccharine’ would be a severe understatement as a description).

That, the shortbread crumble and clotted cream are what made every bite truly indulgent. Creamy, crunchy, soft. The toast itself provided a good medium for all the flavours to work together well. If anything, a more citrusy option or additive to this french toast would propel it to greater heights. Looked at the menu again, and cursed myself for only having one stomach. I’m dying to return just for that coconut rice pudding (how good does that sound?) or eggs. More coffee, of course.

Made my way to Shoreditch, freezing and hopeful. What I had warmed my stomach and heart. Hurry down to try their gorgeous brunch fare and coffee, armed with a good read. The solo, well-spaced tables and chairs make it easy to lose yourself in your thoughts or focus on some work.

Friends of Ours

61 Pitfield St, London N1 6BU

Mon-Fri: 8am-5pm

Sat: 9am-5pm

Sun: 10am-5pm

Tea Drinker?

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Tea? Me?

My typical early mornings comprise a bleary-eyed kettle-boiling-plus-toast-making session. In a few minutes I have toast and black coffee. In less than half an hour the sun is way up there and I’m ready to do whatever it is that I have to get on with. Tea rarely makes the cut.

But when I received a lovely assortment of teas from the enthusiastic guys of Clipper Teas, I knew I’d be ready to make a change to this morning agenda. Read: I’m never one for aimless advertising. I have to seriously love a brand’s aesthetic or flavour, or support their cause, or both. So why Clipper?

Before you read any further, please take a minute to click on this link.

Doo doo doo.

Da dum.

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Done? OK.

Shocked? Disconcerted? Yeah, same here. What it really boils down to is this:

Do you know what’s in your tea?

So many of us buy bags and bags of the stuff each week, not once considering how we’re cheating ourselves. I too was completely unaware of the reality of the industry. Though I’m not the biggest tea drinker, I have friends who drink copious amounts of tea every day, and, if not the usual black, green tea is what accompanies those stressful revision sessions.

With Clipper, which also became the UK’s first Fairtrade tea company in 1984, you can be sure to get every bang for your buck, every brew fresh and free of anything artificial. Their mantra is ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts’, and I completely agree. No bleaching of tea bags, no quarter-filled bags, no chemicals, nothing. Just pure, unbleached, natural goodness in a cup.

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A breakfast to complement this hot, flavourful cup of tea. My mother’s amazing homemade pistachio butter, which I here paired with caramelised banana, is one of the best things your lips will touch.

This early morning I enjoyed their lemon green tea, which exudes a bright, true flavour. Knowing the story and aim of Clipper made every sip all the more enjoyable. Here you can find the whole range of their delicious and reasonably priced teas! I’m already planning to smuggle as many flavours as possible back home to Singapore for the family to try.

Next time you think of having a cuppa (tea) or need something to accompany that slice of cake, just remember:

It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

 

Review: Tolido’s Espresso Nook

A long black please ($5.50), oh and that stack of devilish banana buttermilk pancakes. $9, you say? Aw, that’s not too bad at all. I mean, I can make my own buttermilk pancakes, but sometimes I need a step out of the humble abode, a new perspective, fresh insight into a worn classic. I forgot how good it feels to be at a café, alone with my thoughts, senses honed in on words, aromas, textures, flavour.

My penchant for anything sweet with nourishing kicks (think oatmeal with almond butter and honey, or this divine cheesecake) is let down a little once a week, when I hop around in search for something, anything, impressive on this tiny island, be it a sinful plate of crisp, endearing waffles or crazy lush French toast. Yolks oozing, crusts squealing at the first prick of my fork. Letting go can feel good. Almost necessary.

Tuesday’s situation. Ploughing through science writings, a double (upon request; they typically do three but I personally can’t stomach that) stack of RIDICULOUSLY thick and soft buttermilk pancakes topped with torched caramelised bananas, whipped cream and caramel, at the one café I’ve been meaning to visit for the longest while yet. I would’ve come sooner if it weren’t for my mistaken impression of this ‘nook’, something about the mounds of whipped cream I saw on Instagram and chimerical flavour titles on gaudy menus put me on edge; although it all sounded so whimsical and somewhat enticing, an air of off-the-beaten-and-maybe-slightly-greasy-track offset the appeal. I repeat: mistaken impression. One enters the wooden cove and is immediately bathed in a warm glow, some unuttered warmth. Smiling, tall baristas. The large sofa on my left had ‘come hither’ written all over, draped with a tassled beige cloth, resting against a wall filled with mini framed portraits. All the tables were elongated, wooden hexagons. The whole scene was akin to a teen clique’s secret hip hideout, complete with rough indie hits and large, flat spaces for ‘studying’. The nook lives up to its name. IMG_1056 IMG_1059

Delight.

Of course, the de rigueur sips of harsh black coffee. It’s always this or a capp for me whenever I’m in that pretentious assessing mood; the iced blacks typically mask bean quality, not that I’m anywhere near professional, and the smoothest latte (milk in Italian) still may not reveal much. Opted for the stuff straight-up, piping hot in a full 5-ouncer. They have a ‘sea salt caramel latte’ here too, and although I have an unrelenting sweet tooth, I dare not be lured into the lurid albeit enticing half-gimmicks. That being said, I shall allow my penchant for that classic sweet-salty combo to take the driver’s seat if ever I come back, and will be sure to give it a shot (maybe with an extra shot for good measure).

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Pillows. I loathe these for the carnal pleasure they bestowed.

A full centimetre high, impeccably well-risen, so much so that if I were to cut into one horizontally I would get 2 thin carpets of hole-studded pale batter, cooked to perfect doneness. Kid-soft. Ridged, air-punctured edges, just a tad firmer than the middles. At least 4 inches wide in diameter, good God. So perfectly reminiscent of typical American-diner-style pancakes. It’s a standard now, the desired standard for the experienced New Yorker. There were even little bits of banana in the batter. Crack into the elegant banana boats on top and you get a heart-stopping crème brûlée effect. Deep crackle, the break of glass, then the soft grunt of caramelised, almost burnt sugar top giving way to the creamy, ripe banana body. Pause– relish that detail.

Every chew got a little gummier as I went along, mouthfuls of white, sweet stodge. The stocky pancake was quickly reduced to sludge, but that’s alright. I just want everyone to try this. Is that too much to ask?

Rating: 4.5/5

Tolido’s Espresso Nook

462 Crawford Lane

6648 0178

Closed on Mondays

Tues-Thurs: 0930-1900

Friday-Sat: 0930-2200

Sun: 0900-1830

Paddy Hills

I have my personal favourites when it comes to cafés, places I am willing to visit time and time again because they’ve proven themselves to be worthy of sustained customer support. Places which make you feel like you bloody well deserve that pocket of time to yourself, do most of their stuff from scratch, and leave you feeling that much better about yourself. Good food, service, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you get the feel. These days, I find there is a serious influx of new cafés, all hidden in some back alleys, all seemingly rushed, not that I know any of what goes on behind the scenes of course, but nothing truly stood out, beckoning me with come hither vibes. But that’s exactly what Paddy Hills, the newest, half-pretentious, corner-of-the-block little café, did. When I walked in, a kind young lad with a grey beanie I desperately wanted for myself greeted me. I looked around and soaked in the delicious atmosphere– no arse-challenging seats, perfect for actually sitting, would you believe it? There was a large communal table where people chatted and worked on laptops. The air was cool, and indie folk was blaring audibly from above, but nothing intrusive. So far, so good. I was scared of thronging crowds, being packed sardine-style in between customers. It was a blistering hot Thursday at precisely 12pm, and I was waiting for pain. Thankfully, pain was something I didn’t experience. Lucky shot? I should think so. I haven’t written a review in ages, and only find it fitting to revive a well-missed habit with this one. I don’t remember being this excited about visiting a new f&b startup. Look, I do my fair share of stalking. I’ve recently cut down on my gross Instagram usage, but when it comes to that occasional hour of scrolling freedom, that mindless but glorious activity which is supposed to suppress boredom, I make full use of it. How could I not visit a place that sells the most photogenic food I’ve seen in a long time? I’m quite a stickler for tradition, but the dishes, which, although looked modern (obviously well-filtered) and had components which were separated for a contemporary effect, still seemed to speak volumes about flavour. It is this wordless, throbbing excitement which enticed me to hop over to the other side of the country, something I deem a fair feat in light of my usual reluctance to travel far distances for the sake of a good cuppa joe, and especially thanks to all the bird’s eye view shots of this berry ricotta hotcake. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Berry Ricotta Hotcake with blueberry sugar, berries, pine nuts, mascarpone and maple syrup–$19

Now isn’t that a beauty. I marvelled for a while, too scared to touch the forest of berries let alone tuck in. The best part was definitely those perfectly crisp, mildly caramelised edges, a golden-brown ring of sweet, rigid bite. The best bite comprised these three components: a nip off the crisp edge, a poke of fruit, and a generous lathering of mascarpone from the ball of the stuff sitting on top. If one is lucky, you may get a bit of warm blueberry nestled like a crumble surprise in the middle of the cake, or a sweet little bit of mascarpone, pockets of which are also found dotted on the surface of the cake. You work your way in. Alas, it gets a bit stodgy a bit too fast, too soon. It’s indeed one of the lightest and fluffiest cakes I’ve ever come across, but at that, the fluff notch was turned up a bit too high near the middle, right at the thickest part of the hotcake. I know I know– what? How can anything be too fluffy? And prior to my experience here, I would have to agree. However, this maximal fluff generated clouds of uncontrollable, pale crumbs, which refused to cooperate with each other to produce a more solid, manageable mass. I was expecting a glorified Mickey Dees hotcake, but it’s entirely different. I was grateful for the carpet of colourful berries on top, for not only did they make the whole thing like a fairy forest, they were also necessary to balance the cake, which has maple syrup infused in the batter. The crumb, though light and pale, had a consistency moist enough so I could still smush bits together with the cheese and fruit to enjoy each and every bite. If anything, they should attempt reducing the thickness of the hotcake, retaining those divine edges and increasing the density, for maximum brunch pleasure. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset The Asian Brick: bruleed brioche french toast, goreng pisang (fried banana fritters), butternut squash puree, purple sweet potato, yam ice cream, gula melaka and marcona almonds– $18

Though I didn’t have the chance to actually try this french toast, I was highly impressed by the presentation and complementary components of the dish. I had a nip of the yam ice cream, and it was creamy, light and flavourful. The fact that it’s homemade and everything so intricately presented made the steep price a tad more understandable. The next time I’m here, I’m definitely ordering this. They also offer things like orange ricotta pillows, which have orange caramel and a citrus salad. All very posh, like they’re on their tippy-toes and reaching for the fine lights of modern gourmet fare. And you know what? They’re almost there. On the brink of something truly impressive, if it weren’t for two things: the coffee and the waiting time. I ordered a 2-ounce flat white ($4), but it tasted subdued, sub-par. I expected a little more because I read many a review on how spectacular the coffee is. Perhaps I was simply unlucky. I wanted a nick on the palate, a bite of caffeine, something.. more. Thankfully for them, I’m willing to return to try the other enticing menu options. Yes, some time in the future, before I break the bank. Rating: 3.8/5 Paddy Hills 38 South Buona Vista Road 6479 0800

Tiong Bahru Bakery Valentines Day Special

It has been a long, painful while since I’ve done a tasting review. Well, any review, for that matter. You can imagine my excitement when I was invited for this one in particular, because the images of the new Valentines Day Special creations by the one and only Gontran Cherrier looked so moreish I swear there were drool pearls on my keyboard. No exaggeration here. Welcome to TBB.

Chocolate and hazelnut kouign amann ($4.50); pineapple and coconut tart ($8.50)
Clockwise: Chocolate and hazelnut kouign amann ($4.50), chocolate and orange marble cake ($18 a loaf, $4.50 a slice), and pineapple and coconut tart ($8.50)

If there’s anything so dangerous as to put a huge ‘DANGER: DEATH BY BUTTERY DELECTABLE CHOCOLATE PASTRY’ sign on it, then this chocolate and hazelnut kouign amann is it. It’s pronounced ‘queen’, by the way. I learnt that the hard way and got mildly embarrassed. This is it, friends. A monster, the provocative cousin of the sweet, light and fair original. Made with rich French chocolate and generous chunks of chopped hazelnut stuffed like sardines in between the multitude of buttery, flaky layers. The best bit is definitely the middle of the humongous chocolate snail– soft and almost squidgy, yet yielding just enough crunch to (almost) rival the incredibly, shatteringly crisp outer layers. At $4.50, it really isn’t too bad. You can be all good one day and have half. It’s about the saving. Be clever about it. It’s too good to wolf down in one shot anyway.

My favourite, I must say, was the pineapple and coconut tart. The ring of white chocolate on top was the almost de rigueur addition to the perfectly set pineapple mousse sitting atop a buttery, sugar pastry disc. I admit it looked a tad gaudy to me at first; I knew they wished to replicate the feel of actual pineapple rings, but I felt the tart would have fared better in my books (looks-wise) if the hole was filled with, well, more mousse. The filling was delicate without falling apart like my friend’s virgin, failed attempt at an airy-fairy chocolate mousse. It could have been a little tarter, yes, and the coconut chantilly cream was so lost in the world of pineapple that the minuscule piping on top of the chocolate did little for its flavour or acknowledgement. On the whole, this tart caters well to the masses, and is a little less sinful than the former mention with enough chocolate to render you senseless.

I was looking forward to the cake, but sadly, the little bite on my tongue felt like a mass of dry bubbles. Perhaps this was just a one-off mistake, a lost little batch, but I think more needs to be done to improve the moisture setting. It may indeed go well with a cup of tea or coffee (or kopi), doused in some overly sweet, caffeinated beverage, but I think the classic combination of orange and chocolate demands its own crowning without the need for anything extra to compensate. Pity.

Nougat and strawberry macaron ($8.50)
Nougat and strawberry macaron ($8.50)

If you’re anything like me and have a penchant for anything jaw-aching, be it sweet or sour, then you’re in for a treat with this one. Ok, it’s not exactly jaw-aching, but I revere nougat as a complement to anything, so that addition was much appreciated and welcome in my books. The fluffy chew of nougat played up the hard, outrageously hot pink shell, and real fresh strawberries cut through the sweet on sweet. I was offered that lovely, fresh grapefruit juice too, so I guess I managed to tolerate half the macaron without feeling overwhelmed by the candy-cane-happiness of it all, for it can get sickly. If this were less sweet and artificial-looking, it would have had a better chance at beating the lovely pineapple mousse tart. Ah, the details do matter.

Hop over to Tiong Bahru bakery to try at least a few of the new specials, because they won’t last forever! I must say, the original branch at Eng Hoon Street is still my favourite, with its slightly industrial, I-came-all-the-way-here-because-I’m-worth-it vibe. Small tables, smooth coffee, little snippets of conversation getting caught in the air, everything baked in-house.

Tiong Bahru Bakery

56 Eng Hoon Street

6220 3430

Open daily from 8am-8pm, closes at 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays