You may think of “Cheers!” when you hear someone mention Chin Chin, but here in London, that phrase is not only an expression of good will before your beverage, but also refers to one of the best, most inventive ice cream parlors the city has to offer.
Chin Chin Labs is known for its “Nitro Ice Cream”–ice cream frozen on the spot with liquid nitrogen creating quite a display for patrons watching in awe. Chin Chin Labs limited menu features the specials and flavors of the moment, all of them delicious and customizable with an assortment of unique toppings.
You’ll find Chin Chin Labs right in the heart of the Camden Market. Not my favorite location to have to brave on a busy, crowded Saturday, but well worth it, trust me. The line for Chin Chin moves pretty quickly. Once you’re towards the front, you get to peek at the menu and decide on your order. You may go back and forth a few times as everything sounds so delicious.
Once you’re up, the pressure is really on, though, as the staff works fast, churning people and ice cream out at record speeds. My husband went for the classic “Brown-wich”–the best-selling brownie ice cream sandwich with classic vanilla ice cream–but I went with something a little more decadent. I had the “Warmie”–a warm brownie sundae that I topped off with their torched marshmallow cream. It was amazing and just enough, although I was still extremely tempted by the hot chocolate when I left.
The flavors were rich, presented beautifully, and in the right price range to make the lovely little experience affordable to all. I highly recommend a visit to the sweet spot for a fun afternoon out, or somewhere very unique to take guests that are on their throw-caution-to-the-wind vacation diets!
So, Chin Chin to some tasty ice cream and guilty pleasures over in Camden. Enjoy!
Chin Chin Labs
49-50 Camden Lock Place
London NW1 8AF
One of my favorite brunch spots is The Abingdon gastropub hidden on a Kensington side street. The walk down from the High Street is just darling, and takes you through one of London’s quaintest neighborhoods. When you’re strolling along Abingdon Road, The Abingdon appears like a picturesque destination on a movie set. Pretty little London in all its glory.
Once you first enter the Abingdon, however, you wonder what happened to the classic British charm you saw outside with its strong blue and white paint job, muraled window scenes, and beautiful detailed door. Where did it go? Because what you’re faced with at first is like a pseudo-wine bar you would find in a chain hotel. The first area is just full of bad design choices. There’s awkward low cocktail seating, a stiff bar, and tacky, swirly decorative items. But, WAIT, do not fear. It gets better, right around the corner.
Upon entering, at first glance, my husband and I were so put off by the atmosphere that we thought about slowly backing out the door. Luckily the host quickly came over and made up our minds for us. He took us through the basic area and around a corner where suddenly the experience was looking up. We walked through two long rooms that gave less of a NYC happy hour vibe and more of a sunny French bistro scene. The first room had a large private party occupying the full space, so we headed all the way down to settle into a darling booth in a room brightened with skylights and fresh flowers.
After deciding I loved The Abingdon and that we hadn’t made a mistake, we looked over the brunch menu which had a little bit of everything–sweet, savory, breakfast, lunch. It was great. I had a classic egg breakfast and my husband enjoyed the moules frites (which I think is a gross morning choice, by the way.) This was all after the most amazing bread and butter! The fresh bread really deserves a “do” post on its own, it was that good. These items were delivered to us by a couple knowledgeable servers who didn’t miss a beat.
We had refreshing cocktails, strong coffees, great food and competent service in a cozy little booth on a Sunday morning. My version of Heaven right there.
So, while the cover is charming, don’t judge a book by its–er–front page? Turn it and dig right in to all The Abingdon has to offer. Enjoy!
54 Abingdon Road
London W8 6AP
The London Checklist was due for a “don’t”, so here’s one that’s short, but not so sweet.
Located in the bustling Kingly Court is where you will find Shoryu Ramen. It has a prime location, and in an area that is often packed, you may find yourself eating there by default. That’s what happened to us. After an amazing experience at Cahoots, we found ourselves starving in an area that was fully booked. We bellied up to the community table at Shoryu simply because it was the only place that would take us.
Now the experience wasn’t horrible, but there was not one aspect of this ramen chain that warranted a repeat visit. The decor was all right, I’ll give it that, but the actual atmosphere was all wrong. The community table was very awkward and impossible to move in and out of when you are pushed against the window on a high bench with multiple people on either side of you. The air was filled with kitchen smoke due to horrible ventilation. And it was way too noisy. Clearly, I wasn’t super comfortable.
Once I got past the environment, I recognized how incompetent the service was. Our primary server seemed to have no idea about the menu. Even something as simple as decaf tea. She said they didn’t carry it, but halfway through our experience I noticed it clearly on their menu. Little things like that. Our food came so staggered that all three of us were never eating at the same time, not even two of us managed to dine together, actually, which was just annoying. And when it came to the end of our Shoryu journey, in true London fashion, it seemed impossible to flag down a server and get out of dodge.
The food was not impressive at all. The ramen was pretty bland. The edamame was awful with a bizarre powder on top. And the milk buns were just okay (which was unfortunate since their two-for-one milk bun special forced more on us than we wanted.)
Overall, nothing about Shoryu left us wanting to go back for more. Steer clear of a mediocre restaurant experience in an area with so many better options! So check out the rest of the London Checklist to learn about Soho must-dos instead!
Pizza East is an obvious “do” if you’re from the neighborhood. It almost goes without saying. But for those new to London, or someone visiting the area, Notting Hill’s branch of Pizza East is where it’s at.
Another successful venture from the Soho House group, Pizza East can be found at the top of Portobello Road, and packed with diners of all ages any time of day. Bookings are always recommended, even though you wouldn’t expect a pizza joint to be packed at 10:00am or 3:00 in the afternoon. It’s because Pizza East is much more than just pizza. It’s a trendy brunch spot offering up international classics, an afternoon destination where you can feel the warmth of the pizza oven and a nice bottle of wine, and a full-service restaurant offering amazing starters, salads, entrees, pizzas, cheeses and desserts. There’s something for everyone, any time of day.
The aesthetics are also not what you would expect. Pizza East reminds me more of a French bistro than a quick Italian joint. The muted blues, creams, and soft wood tones make the bright open space cozy and inviting. The downstairs, usually kept open for walk-in diners, offers a full view of the pizza station, a small bar area that services the restaurant (but allows for walk up drink orders from customers waiting for a table), a small community dining area, and lots of little tables. The seating is extremely inviting, although having to wait for a table can be quite uncomfortable. You’re either standing by the hostess stand, basically over people trying to eat while making room for the constant flow of traffic, or standing in the back, trying to perch against a high little cocktail table, while dodging servers and patrons trying to get to the bar, the kitchen, the bathrooms or the computers. It is imperative to make a booking for this reason. Though the old-fashioneds do go down nice and easy while you wait.
The upstairs is much more relaxed. If you have a booking on a busy night, you’ll most likely be seated up there. Any table will be fine except their little garden room. It is awful. Our party of five was seated alone in that little space and the atmosphere was horrible. We may as well have stayed home. We couldn’t see another table and felt isolated the entire time. Our server seemed to forget about us most of the time, too. So aside from that little area, once again, if you have a booking, you’re golden.
So, once in the door and settled (or outside at one of the streetside tables) you get to finally enjoy the simple but flavorful menu Pizza East has to offer. Here are my tips for each part of the day:
-Eggs any style served with sourdough. Their sourdough bread is amazing. Sourdough also beats wholegrain from a health standpoint, so indulge!
-Pain au chocolat
-Granola, yoghurt, raw acacia honey
-Seasonal fruit, yoghurt
-They undertook their eggs! This is something I do not understand. Maybe it’s an American thing, but I believe yolks should be runny, not whites. I always ask for my egg whites or scrambled eggs well done, and even still, I have to send the dishes back 50% of the time. It’s painful. One time that stands out to me, I was dining with a pregnant friend who had to ask for her eggs to be cooked longer (after already requesting they be prepared well-done) and the chef declined!!! He said they were already done enough. My friend proceeded to ask again, more seriously, and finally the chef agreed, probably spitting in the food before sending it back. That was one of the most inappropriate situations I had ever witnessed in a restaurant. Especially to make a pregnant woman uncomfortable like that. What happened to “The Customer is Always Right?”
-They don’t make their juices. While they’re tasty, don’t expect them to be pressed to order. They come to your table bottled, from an outside company.
-Sometimes the portion sizes are inconsistent. I swear, their dishes range from 1-3 eggs depending on the day!
What to Expect
The Saturday and Sunday Brunch menu is just a small version of the Breakfast and All Day menu combined. I usually prefer one full menu over the other, depending on my mood, so I typically skip this mixed dining time period.
While Pizza East will usually be open on a Bank Holiday, they will most likely resort to their weekend Brunch menu over their regularly scheduled Breakfast menu. Just an FYI.
ALL DAY (LUNCH/DINNER):
-Burrata, changes seasonally, but always tasty.
-Mac’ n’ cheese. A crowd pleaser.
-Beef lasagne, one of my personal favorites, though I do believe the ground meat is too finely minced.
-Smoked sweet potato, a newer dish served with creme fraiche and rice that is just perfect when you’re not in a pizza mood, or want a healthier option.
-Spicy sausage, mozzarella, broccoli, cream pizza. Simply the best. Don’t let them talk you into the red version.
-Butter lettuce salad. Enough to share!
-Cheese and meat boards from the counter. Beware, they rarely give enough bread for the toppings! The burrata is A+, but they often run out!
-Apple crumble. They’ve stepped up their dessert game! They used to have nothing that even came close to tempting me. Now, their crumble hits the spot. Beware
-Their service can be pretty awful. You either feel completely rushed or neglected by the staff over at Pizza East. The food comes out with no rhyme or reason, making it impossible to separate dishes into stages, like starters and entrees. I would say 50% of the time something is forgotten, whether it’s a drink or a side dish, and then you never see the server again. You get used to it.
-And, lastly, I’ve never enjoyed the Salt-Baked Salmon, but someone recently said it’s getting better. Just had to throw that in there.
So, there you have it! My overview of Pizza East. Head there for a quick, easy meal that won’t break the bank, any day of the week. It’s reliable, and fit for all parties, even kids. And remember, locals who possess the coveted Pizza East keychain get 50% off their table’s entire check Monday-Thursday days and Sunday nights. It is by far the best deal in town! Enjoy!