Don’t! The Common Restaurant & Bar

The other day, my husband and I found ourselves on a nice long afternoon walk headed west on the Grand Union Canal. It was a beautiful weekend and the escape from the noises of the busy city and diesel-filled air was just what we needed. After about 5k, we stumbled upon a large restaurant and community center known as The Common. We decided it looked like a safe place to rehydrate and refuel with an afternoon snack.

Pretty table decor at The Common, London

An afternoon snack for my husband means a full meal, but I just literally wanted a snack. The menu looked like it had something for both of our needs, so we sat down at a table in the modern, industrial space that held a bar, cafe, dining area, and open kitchen all in one oversized room.

The decor was okay. It reminded me of the Home Goods version of Tom Dixon’s Dock Kitchen. A little budget, a little trying too hard. The booths in the dining area were very country to me in comparison to the globe lighting and open duct work. The full view of the kitchen was nice, and well decorated with copper lights, stainless appliances, and a nicely uniformed staff, but the scene was totally interrupted by the service station in front of the cooking area.

The service station was a sloppy mess. The small refrigerator that held oversized jugs of half-used condiments was completely tacky. Not only did it look like something you would see on the counter at the end of the night at a greasy spoon diner, but the staff never managed to consistently close the doors to the damn thing. This was a total violation of the health code, I’m sure, with an irregular temperature, but also a waste of electricity and the cause for me to get very cold.

A scene not meant for customers at London’s The Common

The waitstaff’s oblivious attitude towards the fridge actually turned out to be the theme of my entire experience at The Common Restaurant. After we were seated, the server came to take our drink order and then never came back. We just asked for a bottle of water, which we were desperate for after our long walk, but you would have thought we asked for the world’s most involved cocktail or coffee drink with the time it took the bottle to get over to us. I eventually had to get up and ask a staff member for it myself.  We immediately ordered once I had someone’s attention, out of fear of abandonment. I order the small portion of the BBQ ribs and my husband chose the Chicken & Chorizo Burger.

The food came out pretty quickly and looked pretty delicious sitting in front of me. However, I was very confused by my small little £5.00 rib portion’s massive size. It was a double rack with fries, which seemed to be the other option on the menu that I did not choose. I alerted the server right away and he told me that’s just how it comes and that it was not an error. Okay, I thought, setting a mental reminder for myself to check the bill at the end of the meal for accurate pricing. So we dug in.

My husband was working on his sandwich–which he thoroughly enjoyed–while I started in on the fries. Then, I heard a cook talking to the server about ribs (because we were basically seated on top of the kitchen) and how they had given me another table’s dish. After I had already pointed out the dish was wrong, the server now was back to take it away and replace my dish with a smaller fry-less portion–AFTER I HAD ALREADY STARTED EATING THE FRIES. In my opinion, this was way too late in the meal to take a dish back after they already had the customer point the error out to them that they chose to disregard. Not only did they take the meal away, tacky, but they proceeded to bring my same plate to the correct table AFTER I HAD ALREADY STARTED EATING THE FRIES. Completely inappropriate especially because I let the server know that I had already touched the food!

I was fine with the new dish put if front of me (though completely disgusted with the staff) as it was the size and item I had ordered originally. The ribs were okay. More of an Asian BBQ than the American BBQ I constantly crave, but the taste was fine. They could have slid off the bone a little easier, or at all, but what can you expect for £5.00.

When we were through with everything we waited and waited for service and apologies, which never seemed to come. We paid and left, and on our 5k walk home, discussed the problems with the service industry and standards in London. It was clear that The Common Restaurant was a Don’t and that the only saving grace for the place was that it was cheap. But is a cheap meal really worth it if the service is nonexistent and your meal may have already been in someone else’s mouth? Your call…

The Common Restaurant & Bar, London

The Common Restaurant & Bar
Old Oak Lane
Willesden Junction
London NW10 6FF

Don’t! Tuk Tuk Stick n’ Grill

Poor brand new Tuk Tuk! A simple place with a cute little name surely has a place on Portobello Road, no? Well, unfortunately, no. My husband and I tried the brand new satay place this weekend because it seemed easy and perfect for just what we needed. We needed a quick afternoon snack that also fit with my husband’s sometimes low-carb lifestyle. We slipped inside for what turned out to be an average experience with mediocre food.

Waiting at the Tuk Tuk counter, London

The idea is great. Satays are for everyone when you have choices of steak, shrimp, tofu and vegetables, and many different dips to choose from. That was the gist of the simple, mix-and-match menu. There were some rice, salad, seasoning, dessert, and drink choices, too, but really Tuk Tuk kept in nice and simple. 

Unfortunately, right when you walk into the place you’re confused. There’s a counter on the left and a place to order on the right, then additional seating downstairs. The menu takes a minute to read through and then you’re not sure where to stand or wait. You’re basically on top of people eating at the counter as you wait for your food, before you can retreat to additional seating. 

There just isn’t a real flow to the place. It’s a long hallway with a ton of congestion at the front, and then just dead space in the back. I would have people order and take a number to their seating area (Nando’s style), to prevent the awkward waiting period, then bring the food to them. After the meal you’re not really sure what to do with your tray. My husband fumbled around and eventually figured out their disposal area. (Which is also in the main congestion area.) 

The ordering station at Tuk Tuk Stick n’ Grill, London

So, aside from the lack of flow and the uncomfortable design, the food is not very good. The rice was fine, but the satays weren’t all that flavorful. We chose the Oriental Herb seasoning which didn’t taste all that strong on our Tuk n’ Try platter, which included shrimp, veggies and chicken. It was a decent amount of food for only £13.00, but I guess you get what you pay for. Aside from lacking flavor, I thought the chicken lacked cooking! In between the chicken pieces was a questionable pink color that made me uncomfortable. I let my husband eat those and I stuck to the veggies. The veggies and the rice. The sauces also fell flat. The dish came with three and the only one I truly liked was the Ginger & Coriander sauce. The peanut sauce was like the worst I’ve ever had and there was something not quite right with the sweet chili sauce. So really, what we were left with for the £13.00 was some shrimp, veggies, rice and ginger sauce. 

Tuk Tuk Stick n’ Grill’s satay platter, London

The entire time we were there, a well-dressed man, who seemed to be the new owner, was running around making sure everything was up to his standards. If I try to picture him now I see him as a Frenchman wearing a cape. So now I see him flying with his cape everywhere to save the day and make sure his staff is filling each sauce to his imaginary line and facing all napkins parallel to the front. This man exuded micromanagement and his pride for this brand-new business. Unfortunately, while emphasis on detail is good, people just want an easy go and good food at a place like Tuk Tuk. If you miss the mark on that, nothing else matters.

They do get points for the little moist towelettes, though! But that’s about it right now. Hopefully they iron out these wrinkles before they’re as relevant as yesterday’s skewers.

Tuk Tuk Stick n’ Grill
233 Portobello Road
London W11 1LT

Do! The London Edition Lobby Bar

I’ll keep this “Do” short and sweet for you folks. If you’re looking for a sceney bar for a quick cocktail, waltz on in to The London Edition Hotel’s front Lobby Bar. 

The place is sexy and grand with a cocktail menu to match. Each drink is prepared with precision and pride. The talented bartenders know all the tricks–flipping bottles and pouring top-shelf liquids into glasses a few feet away from their shakers. When the drink finally gets to you, it tastes like magic. And, I think the price tag is just right for the effort and care that go into these libations. 

Cocktails at The London Edition’s Lobby Bar

An entertaining alcohol-free menu, The London Edition

The menu doesn’t disappoint, but does make it hard to choose! I even got a kick out of their non-alcoholic options. Go see for yourself. Whether you’re having a meal before or after at the Edition’s restaurant, Berner’s Tavern, or off site, the Lobby Bar is worth a quick stop in. Enjoy!

The London Edition
Lobby Bar
10 Berner’s Street
London W1T 3NP

Categories Do!

Do! B Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour

Well this is just a delightful little do! B Bakery’s Afternoon Tea sounds like a gimmick that could be nothing more than  a very overpriced tourist trap–I mean it’s an Afternoon Tea on a double-decker red bus, what’s more of a London stereotype than that? But in reality, it’s a special activity that is unique, fun, and appropriate for Londoners and foreigners alike. I was really, really impressed. After so many tourist trap nightmares like the London Dungeon, and even tea “don’ts” like the Ritz (!), it was nice to find something unusual the city has to offer that is actually at an appropriate price point and something I would recommend to others.

B Bakery’s bus has arrived, London

The bus itself is adorable. Just down from Trafalgar Square, you wait at a special bus stop for a vintage double-decker to barrel down the street. A girlfriend and I hopped  on the 12:30 tour and headed to the top level for our VIP reserved table. I really think we had the best seat in the house. There are about six tables on each level, and we had all the way at the front. A two seater booth and table with a full view of London! Sure the old bus didn’t provide the smoothest, quietest ride in the world, but we were happy to explore London in a whole new way.

Your bus as arrived! B Bakery, London

Each seat was stocked with an assortment of typical tea sandwiches and treats, as well as cutlery and a fresh squeezed orange juice. Once the bus was in motion, the most charming staff said their introductions, and began making their rounds for tea and coffee orders. 

The staff was made up of young, expat boys that were definitely not shy and had their little tour and comedic lines down pat. They included the group with a few questions regarding some of London’s big landmarks. I was extremely proud of myself, getting the most right against actual English people. If only I can carry such skills into my pub quiz nights! 

The best seat on the B Bakery Bus Tour, London

I had tea because you kind of have to, but my friend had coffee and we were both pleased. The drinks were served in plastic coffee tumblers that were illustrated with a B Bakery bus tour London design. The cute little sippy cups were ours to take home after the tour, which was a nice little treat. 

Speaking of treats, let me now tell you about the food. I thought the B Bakery did a fantastic job on this tour. Probably because the tour is put on by an actual bakery that makes and takes pride in their quality food. I liked everything from the savory sandwiches to the cakes and tarts. My only criticism is that the scones (my favorite part) get brought around at the very end after you stuffed yourself not thinking anything more is coming. I would include everything up front, but, at least they offer little boxes to package up your leftovers. Very thoughtful!

Tasty treats on the B Bakery Bus Tour, London

So, in summary, this tour is a must-do. Just remember, this is a must-do for your girlfriends, however. There was one male on our bus and while he may have enjoyed himself, my husband would have killed me. The colors, decor, food, and illustrations are definitely geared towards women. Spare your man. 

Other tips:

-Use the bathroom first. There’s not one on board.

-Bring your own booze! The ladies next to us brought a bottle of champagne that the servers happily poured for them in plastic flutes.

-Book early! This will get you a top-level VIP seat which is absolutely worth it and even necessary in my opinion.

-Remember, scones come later! Don’t overdo if.

-Have some change on you to tip the boys at the end. They’re worth it.

-Wear some nice and warm layers and accessories. The bus is very chilly but it’s hard to eat with a bulky coat!

That about sums up my experience on the B Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour. It’s a lovely little experience to try with the ladies in your life. The £60 is well worth this unique and tasty London adventure! Enjoy!
B Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour
No 8 Northumberland Avenur
Trafalgar Square

Categories Do!

Don’t! Bodean’s BBQ

Okay, an American gal may be BBQ’s toughest critic, so plenty probably enjoy Bodean’s. I, however, decided that I won’t be heading back to the Soho spot, therefore, making Bodean’s BBQ an unfortunate Don’t.

Bodean’s BBQ menu, London

My husband and I stopped in for a weeknight meal. We took note of the upstairs cafeteria style setup, but headed down to the main restaurant. There was a short wait, but we had ourselves a table within fifteen minutes. The place had a retro, sports bar feel, complete with a wall-mounted TV showing the recent big game. I liked the atmosphere and was ready to indulge on sticky, sweet, tangy, sloppy BBQ.

The menu had lots of choices, but my sole purpose of the evening was to have a pulled pork sandwich, so all I needed to do was choose my sides. My husband was a little undecided and made the mistake of asking for another minute. Then we never saw our server again. My stomach was eating itself or some small organ next to it while I cursed him for not being able to decide between the combo or basic “Burnt Ends” platter fast enough. I eventually flagged down a completely different man and bombarded him with our order. This was the first red flag of service issues at Bodean’s, and unfortunately it was waved within fifteen minutes of being seated. 

After that, I sat and watched and salivated towards the platter the couple who arrived later than us received. Finally, our food came, and it was pretty good. My pulled pork was definitely the winner over my husband’s “Burnt Ends” (smoked brisket), but doesn’t it always? The sandwich needed a huge kick of flavor and moisture so I added a heavy dose of the table BBQ sauces. The sauces had good flavor, though, so I didn’t really mind having to add my own finishing touches. My sandwich also needed some cheese, so I added our side of macaroni and cheese right on top and eventually had some version of perfection. The mac and cheese solo was also good, as were the sweet potato fries. I really sorted my meal out to recreate the combinations and tastes I miss from home. 

A tasty plate at Bodean’s BBQ, London

Unfortunately, there’s one other hugely important component of great BBQ. Corn bread. And this, my friends, was the worst corn bread I have ever had in my life. Like so bad. To the point that I felt the establishment should be paying me to consume a tasteless brick, not the other way around. I wondered if it was a bad batch, but it seemed unlikely. This was just a bland, dense recipe that the owners probably have never tried. They entrusted their chef to google one and throw it on the menu. Or maybe it comes frozen. It’s that gross. I would like to bring in a few of my outstanding BEST ever cornbread recipes to Bodean’s BBQ and say “See?! This is what it’s supposed to taste like!!”

But, cornbread in itself isn’t enough to take down the whole restaurant and land it in the Don’t category. The service is what sunk this ship. That horrible glimpse we got at the beginning of the night carried through the entire evening. We sat with empty plates in front of us for far too long. I pulled a server, yet again, to clear/wrap/bring the check. We then sat with our wrapped leftovers in front of us for far too long. I pulled another server to bring the check/run the card. We then sat with our check and card in front of us for far too long. I pulled a server, for the last time, who ran the card and we were finally free. It felt like we were escaping a basement prison cell by that point. As we fled through the upstairs quick-dining area, I wondered if we would have had an easier go up there.  But, after the annoying lower-level experience, I don’t think I care to find out.

As I said earlier, I’m a tough critic on this one, so at your own risk. If you have a better experience, please share, and Bodean’s, let me know if you want to try some quality cornbread!!

Bodean’s BBQ
10 Poland Street
London W1F 8PZ


This is a “Do” with multiple exclamation marks, underlined, bolded in neon pink, and maybe sprinkled with some glitter. I love NOPI. You may have read my previous post praising Ottolenghi for a morning must-do, well, here’s their grown-up sister, an amazing restaurant for a truly wonderful evening out. 

Dinnertime at NOPI, London

Head to Soho to find many Yotam Ottolenghi masterpieces, served as small, colorful, sharing plates in a beautiful setting. The Middle-Eastern inspired restaurant is known for its intense flavors packed into these high-veggie, quality dishes. Everything is truly outstanding and you don’t feel overly-stuffed or guilty afterwards!

This was my second time dining at NOPI. Once again, I remind myself I need to go more often. The main reason I don’t is really due to my husband. While he can appreciate all the amazing tastes and flavors, he considers NOPI a place to take the girls. He, like many men, is a section eater that prefers a giant steak and a big cheesy or potato side. He thinks that women appreciate the tapas-style, little bite, a thousand-ingredient dining over white wine more than men do, and that he should be exempt from such experiences. So now, I take my girlfriends and enjoy saying “OMG”and “I can’t even” after each taste of one of the 5-6 recommended sharing plates per couple. 

A savory cheesecake at Ottolenghi’s NOPI

When I returned to NOPI this weekend, I was again impressed by its clean lines and simple, modern decor. The white ceiling and walls keep the place bright, but still soft with tactful uplighting and rich gold adornments. The place steals the show, that is, until the food arrives. 

After a couple signature cocktails and later settling on a nice wine, my girlfriend and I chose to share three small plates and one main. Everything was outstanding and we declared each dish our favorite at some point in the night. The courgette fritters were perfectly crisp outside, but had a moist, soft interior that almost reminded me of the best Thanksgiving stuffing you’ve ever had–with a Middle-Eastern twist. The burrata helped me feel less guilty about not having room for dessert. Served with a plum wine sauce and nectarines, it ticked the sweet box. And the Valdeón cheesecake. This rich quiche was held in a Parmesan crust and topped with beets and almonds. It was a showstopper. When we thought we had enough, out came our chickpea pancake. A spicy end to an amazing feast. We finished our meal amazed at how so many flavors can stand against each other and come through so boldly in these four vegetarian dishes. Truly works of culinary art. 

NOPI’s chickpea pancake, London

The entire experience was amazing and the icing on top was the fantastic service. Fergus was a charming and knowledgeable server that never seemed flustered. He managed his large section with a relaxed confidence and knew just when to check in with our table. It was pretty great considering great service is hard to find in London.

Once again, A+ for NOPI. This is a London Checklist must-do of the highest caliber. So, head to the Soho hot spot and see for yourself. Enjoy!
21-22 Warwick Street
London W1B 5NE

Categories Do!

Do! Marylebone Farmer’s Market

So, I’m ready for the weekend. Not because of any crazy plans or a big trip away (I’ve hit Bordeaux, Bath, and Dublin this month–I need a break), but because IT’S FALL!!! This is my absolute favorite time of year (even though I say that about every quarter) and nothing is better than a crisp, cozy weekend to wear a big sweater and laze about or wander around this great city. 

Welcome to the Marylebone Farmer’s Market

My ideal weekend will include cooking lots, watching some Gilmore Girls on Netflix with the cats (which the husband will probably avoid), having dinner out with a group of friends, and on Sunday, hitting the free morning yoga class at Marylebone’s Lululemon, and then walking down the street to the Marylebone Farmer’s Market to stock up on goodies and groceries for a home-cooked Sunday night meal. This final stop  of my chill weekend before heading home brings me to today’s Do! 

Fall flavors at the Marylebone Farmer’s Market, London

I love farmers markets. I come from a small town (the area Gilmore Girls is based on actually!), so local markets remind me of home and all the amazing flavors that vary from season to season. I am NOT a fan of the big London grocery stores, so I rely a lot on these special little markets to fill the void in day-to-day shopping. 

First and foremost, once I arrive at the market, I get a post-Yoga snack. Some days this looks like a juice and an apple, or maybe a coffee and a pain au chocolat, or other days I may take the super-savory route and get a plate of Gyoza. Whatever you’re in the mood for, the Marylebone Farmer’s Market will have something for you.

A tasty find at the Marylebone Farmer’s Market, London

Once I’m full, I start wandering the market for some take-home goodies. I always swear I’ll bring my car the next week because I ALWAYS overbuy. I never end up bringing it and curse constantly while telling myself it’s great exercise carrying three bags that include some pretty heavy squashes all the way back to Notting Hill.
Organic and fresh at the Marylebone Farmer’s Market, London

Fruits and veggies are heavy. But you’re not really going to find organic anything at Sainsbury’s and you’re definitely not going to find Spaghetti Squash of any kind, so stocking up is inevitable when you’re wandering around such a big, colorful selection of farmer’s stalls. In addition to apples, lettuces, and said squash, you’ll be able to get all sorts of grocery items. I stocked my freezer up with Italian sausage–a U.S. recipe staple but painful to find in the U.K. I usually grab some fancy local cheese for before dinner and some fresh bread for the cheese and the autumn soup I plan to make with all of my new veggies. Lastly, if there’s room in your grocery bags, throw in some jams or honeycomb to add to your cheese board or Christmas present stash. You’ll tick a lot of boxes at the Marylebone Farmer’s Market. It’s all such a treat! 

Of course, you’ll pay more than you would at Sainsbury’s, but to me, purchasing organic, local, and unique foods is money well spent! It’s also not the prettiest market (it’s backdrop is a parking lot), but it’s still worth a Sunday afternoon visit. Enjoy the Marylebone Farmer’s Market and all the tastes and colors this fall has to offer!
Marylebone Farmer’s Market 
Cramer Street Car Park
London W1U 4EW

Don’t! The Hillgate Pub Quiz Night

Okay, so I now regret suggesting The Hillgate Pub as a destination for a casual night out. I am so disappointed with my last experience, and while it could be due to the large crowds a quiz night brings, I really think the problem is that The Hillgate Pub just doesn’t have their act together.

Chalkboard options at The Hillgate Pub, London

Quiz nights are huge in London. We have them in the States (usually referred to as Trivia Night), but not like this. Pretty much every single pub dedicates a night of the week to invite its patrons to participate in an evening of eating, drinking, and test-taking. I had been dying to see what it was all about, and finally got my wish on a Monday at The Hillgate Pub. I chose this pub for my first experience since I had previously had a lovely little evening with my husband there. The place was cute and quaint, the food delicious. I headed back expecting the same level of quality and service with my sister and a couple of friends. 

Quiz time at the Hillgate Pub, London

We got there early so we could order drinks and eat before the 8:00 trivia festivities began. The bartender said he would be right over to take orders. After looking at the menu, deciding, and waiting about 15 minutes, I got up to place the order directly with him at the bar, as he seemed tied up there and incredibly understaffed. Instead of taking my order, he told me he would be right over again, and we proceeded to wait another 10 minutes. I got up again, this time making it extremely clear that he needed to take my order, seeing as we still didn’t even have drinks yet, we were all starving, and trivia was about to begin. I placed the order and drinks eventually came over. The evening progressed with all four of us constantly trying to grab the bartender/server’s attention to refresh drinks, clear old glasses and dinner plates, and to ask for meals and sides that either never came, came out wrong, or were just plain disappointing. The entire service and dinner experience was lame, but the main focus of this night was the trivia, so let me tell you about that.

Once we were semi-drunk and full (but already irritated with the place) the trivia began. It was only £2 or something to enter, so the turnout was pretty decent. There were probably seven teams competing for a free bar tab and a little extra cash. In addition to these seven teams, there was ongoing chatter from the dining side and the bar that made it impossible to hear any of the questions. We had to stand up and ask our neighbors to repeat questions since the heavy-accented English lady had a lame microphone and spent her whole time at the opposite end of the restaurant. 

It wouldn’t have mattered if we heard the questions anyway. The game was extremely challenging for foreigners, but that aside, the place seemed full of cheaters. Most tables were using their phones and the lady in charge didn’t seem that concerned. My table was full of a bunch of rule-biding citizens, so this was extremely difficult for us to witness. The whole experience was loud, unfriendly, drawn out chaos. We obviously lost, not too bad because we had one English chap on our team, but bad enough. I still love trivia and would give it another go at a different establishment, but definitely not at The Hillgate. 

In summary, if you’re looking for weeknight fun, perhaps a silly, easygoing game of trivia with some drinks, friends , and food, London is the place to be. The Hillgate Pub is not.
The Hillgate Pub
24 Hillgate Street
London w8 7SR