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
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!
It’s no secret that Americans LOVE bagels. I used to consume at least three a week back in the States. I really think it’s one of the greatest culinary losses an American expat faces when moving abroad. Bagels, classic cheeseburgers, iced coffees, diner coffee, NY style cheesecake, pies (and not the U.K. meat pies), guilty-pleasure Chinese and Mexican food, movie theater buttered popcorn, classic BBQ, fudge pops (my latest craving), and oh so much more are on my list of what is missing here in the U.K. But, as you can see, good bagels are numero uno.
Bagels here are done all wrong, and I don’t understand it. Bagels are perfect, so why aren’t they everywhere? Okay, fine, so they’re not the healthiest, but England is no picture of fitness, so let’s not blame the lack of one of my favorites on being health-conscious. Let’s look at why bagels are so great.
They’re delicious. You have a nice golden exterior and a soft interior of the best chewy dough imaginable. This amazing carb is coated or kneaded with your favorite flavor addition, whether it’s cinnamon and raisins, dried onions, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, blueberries, just plain salt, a little bit of everything, and many more endless possibilities, it’s all fricken delicious. Not only do you have the perfect punch of flavor, but you get to top it off with the salty, smooth, cream cheese of your choosing. Or butter or peanut butter or jelly if you’re one of those people, but let’s just focus on the cheese. It’s amazing. My go-to, Everything Bagel, toasted with Scallion Cream Cheese, is something I could consume every single day if done right, which, as established, is hard to come by in London.
They’re cheap. You can have a delicious, fresh, filling bagel, and it will pretty much always be under $5.00. How can you beat that? With this price point and the endless flavor combinations, anyone can afford this tasty meal, making it a favorite of teenagers, anyone hungover, and adults alike.
They’re convenient. You can have a bagel in your bare hands, on the go, in the car, at a Monday morning meeting, anywhere! It is the easiest full meal to consume and a real crowd pleaser if you’re purchasing an assortment for a large group. Everyone is happy with a bagel!
There you have it. Sorry about my little bagel rant, but clearly it’s been awhile. Now let me get to the real point of this post. The B Bagel Bakery Bar. This Fulham Road establishment is clearly a thought out “do” if I am this passionate about bagels. While B Bagel will never be a replacement for a traditional NYC bagel place, any American will feel at home sinking their teeth into one of their warm, soft bagels.
While their choices are limited, B Bagel has attractive poppy seed, sesame seed, plain, and onion bagels to choose from. I opted for the onion bagel, toasted with cream cheese, to eat in, and honestly it was perfect. While I would have loved to see a “salted everything” option, the onion bagel was good enough to make me forget what I wished was there. They have all the other bagel spread and bagel meat sandwich options, but I don’t fool around with any of that. You don’t need to.
Despite the deliciousness available at B Bagel Bakery Bar, I thought their table service was a little strange. A bagel is the type of thing you want to order up front, seeing the choices you’re faced with, pay, and then sit with your food once it has been handed to you. At B Bagel, if you want to sit, you have to participate in a full table service song and dance. Very annoying for a bill that ends up less than £4.oo. You don’t get to look at your options, you have to interact with more people than you may care to, and if you want to eat just half your bagel and wrap it back up in the nice stiff parchment paper you would expect to see, well you just can’t. Their bagels come exposed on a platter, and, for the weirdest part, WITH A STRANGE LITTLE SALAD. I do not understand it. That salad does not match a bagel, nor does it make my bagel look any more appetizing. It actually detracts from what is going on. It had strange dressed red peppers on top and made me channel Dorothy. I wasn’t in America anymore.
Aside from those little grievances–just give me a wrapped bagel and let me perch on a seat for a moment–B Bagel Bakery Bar is absolutely worth a visit. If you’re like me, an American missing a home classic, or someone that just appreciates the simplicity and perfection of a winning flavor combo, head to the Fulham Road bakery and grab yourself a bagel today! Enjoy.
While I cannot recommend the movie Fifty Shades Darker, I can absolutely send you in the direction of the Electric Cinema. The Electric Cinema’s Portobello Road location is one of the coolest venues to catch a movie with its comfortable seating, tasty snacks, and impressive acoustics. While it may be difficult to get yourself a ticket (booking in advance is definitely a must), and sometimes their selection may not be up your alley, it is definitely worth checking out one of the oldest cinemas in the country the first opportunity you get!
We went to the retro cinema this week for my birthday. I figured, when else could I drag my husband to such a blatant chick flick. The movie turned into a comedy for both of us because the plot and the acting was just that ridiculous. In such a nice venue and giggling at the Fifty Shades awkwardness, we really couldn’t have had a better time. We booked one of the sofas for £45.00. This booking gets both of you in and onto one of the comfiest sofas, complete with cushions, an ottoman to store your belongings and rest your feet, and end tables for all of your drinks and snacks. Every seat in the house, though–whether you’ve booked one of these three couches, one of the flat beds up front, or one of their many armchairs–is comfortable, spacious, and luxe, covered in a plush red velvet and warm leather. There really is not a bad seat in the house!
Located right on Portobello Road, the Electric Cinema is part of the Soho House’s other neighborhood favorite, the Electric Diner. Check out their “Do!” on The London Checklist from last year to learn more. Without going into too much detail about the diner, it’s the perfect spot for dinner before or after your movie. If you dine between 5-6PM during the week and show proof of your Cinema ticket, you can actually get 50% off your entire meal. Not a bad deal!
If you’re not up for a full Electric Diner experience, you can get a taste of their twists on American classics right inside the theater. If you’re not interested in the candy counter when you first walk in, you can order hot dogs, cheeseburgers, nachos, (amazing) spiced nuts and more from the full bar right inside the theater. The nuts and nachos we ordered were a great start, but we didn’t want to overdo it before our post-theater dinner reservation next door. Next time, however, we might just skip the res and have burgers right inside the theater.
If you’re looking for a rainy day matinee, a different type of date night, a mid-week adventure–anything really–head to the Electric Cinema for an unforgettable movie-going experience. Enjoy some nice lighting, great sound, an unobstructed screen, cozy seating, tasty food, and of course, alcohol! This venue will not disappoint. Enjoy!
191 Portobello Road
London, W11 2ED
Once you’ve frequented London’s top museum destinations, such as the National Gallery, the Tate Modern, or the British Museum, you might be looking for something a little more low-key. If so, look no further than the Somerset House!
The Somerset House, located on the south side of the Strand, is a restored historic building that houses galleries, cafes, film screenings, concerts, and even an ice rink in the winter months. It is far less crowded than the tourist “must-dos” like The National Gallery, so makes for a relaxing time. You can leisurely visit the galleries without being elbowed and crowded by an overload of people. A visit to the Somerset House is free, with some exhibits and galleries charging their own admission fee. I find that, unlike some of the other London museums, anything worth seeing is a charge.
But, it’s all definitely worth seeing. The current exhibit, Hair by Sam McKnight, is powerful and visually stunning. Hair chronicles the career of hair stylist Sam McKnight–an editorial and catwalk powerhouse in the world of hair. The exhibit offers high fashion, behind-the-scenes footage, preserved wigs, and photography featuring some of the biggest names in modeling and entertainment. The exhibit spans over multiple floors and covers a large area of a dark industrial space, serving as the perfect backdrop for such a modern, colorful show. Definitely a must-do.
This exhibit only runs for a few more weeks, so take a nice walk along the river and head to the Somerset House as soon as you can before you miss your chance to see some Hair! It makes for a lovely afternoon, rain or shine.
London, WC2R 1LA
Happy Valentine’s Day! In honor of a special, romantic, loving little day like this one, I’m focusing today’s post on something my husband will only do with me when true romance is required! He cut me off from teas a long time ago. Well, with him, anyway. Now I just go with the girls. He thinks he’s suffered enough with little small plates of this and that and tiny cups of tea to sip. Give him a giant cold drink, or even a coffee, and a big plate of meat, potatoes, pancakes, cheese–you know, guy stuff–and he’s a happy camper. So now, I reserve these special meals for special occasions. Valentine’s Day is all about the girl, anyway, right?
So, for today, I am going to talk to you about the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods. I’ve been to many teas and this one is up there. Going to Harrods in itself is a beautiful London tradition, and getting to make your way up to the fine Georgian restaurant is icing on the cake. I like how they enforce a dress code, as a problem I have with many touristy teas is that anyone off the street can pop in, which can cheapen the whole experience. So, make a booking and dress the part.
Once inside, you’ll enjoy a beautiful open space with elegant tables, plush velvet booths, bright natural lighting, and the sounds of a talented pianist. The staff is nicely uniformed, and very professional throughout the entire experience.
The price is right in line with all the other nice teas in the city–£42.00 for a full Afternoon Tea, £52.00 if you want to add a glass of champagne to the experience (obviously). I do have to say, this tea wins best value for money. I left feeling extremely full (and guilty for not being able to finish all of the deliciousness). It’s a ton of food. Amazing sandwiches, delicious cakes and scones, and the trifle at the end is really what puts you over maximum capacity. Everything about the experience was elegant and proper, aside from watching how much we were able to consume. It was all too good.
There really aren’t a lot of negatives. The bathroom is bizarrely far from the tea room. You actually have to go through what seems like a couple other random restaurants to get to it, which kind of gives you a reality check that you aren’t in a proper English faraway land, you’re just in Harrods. Also, walk-ins start to line up in the early afternoon by the front desk, and that can bring in quite a crowd. If you’re seated close to that area, it can be very noisy and distracting. Especially if those waiting have children that start running around and acting up out of boredom. Not sure why they’re at a tea anyway. They should section the tables off with a full wall to rectify this problem.
My last complaint is an issue I see often in London. You have a great dining experience with good service, but then, at the end of the meal, your server just disappears. You’re ready to close out your bill and your water glasses have been empty for awhile, yet no one is to be found. The Georgian Restaurant staff really had it up until that point.
But, with just those little grievances, I will surely be back. And you should head there, too. Let Harrods’ Georgian Restaurant be a romantic little start to your Valentine’s Day, or something to do this weekend with the girls. That is, if you don’t have to wait a month to get in! Enjoy, and may today be filled with magic and love.
The Georgian Restaurant
87-135 Brompton Rd.
London SW1X 7XL
London’s Chiswick House & Gardens is home to a yearly blow up light spectacular known as the Magical Lantern Festival. The festival celebrates the Chinese New Year honoring the Chinese lantern traditions and whatever animal that year belongs to. The festival is currently celebrating Chinese New Year of the Rooster 2017, and running from January 19th-February 26th.
The lanterns illuminated stand out tall and bright against the darkness of Chiswick Gardens in the evening. It really is an amazing sight, not just viewing Asian inspired designs, but also flowers, famous characters, animals, and buildings of the world.
The ticketed entrance is a complete mess. There are way too many people and not enough staff funneling them through. Everyone stops once in to “ooh” and “aah” at the first lantern they see or to adjust their babies that they are wearing on their bodies or to re-bundle up the children they are pushing in strollers. I actually vowed never to bring a child under four to this event because it is too long and too cold to keep their attention beyond the first couple displays. I really had never seen so many screaming children.
But once through the initial herd of people, you get a little breathing and walking room and it’s actually quite fun! About halfway through the exhibits there is a rest stop for a bathroom break, some snacks, alcoholic beverages, some glow-in-the-dark souvenirs, and a chance to toast your own marshmallows! You can then continue your journey on the park’s paths through an illuminated wonderland. At the end of the experience, there is an adorable ice rink and an assortment of food trucks offering a little bit of everything. There is also a makeshift bar with picnic tables and a plenty of games and candy to keep the kids occupied. The Magical Lantern Festival definitely has something for everyone from beginning to end!
So, in conclusion, if you’re looking for an activity that’s a little different to help with the winter blues, head to the Chiswick House & Gardens. The Magical Lantern Festival will bring out your inner child and dazzle your senses. Enjoy!
The Magical Lantern Festival
Chiswick House & Gardens
Dukes Avenue Gate
London W4 2QN
Fun, fun, fun! This underground bar located in Soho’s Kingly Court is a definite must-do. Bookings are absolutely necessary, and get you right in to a 1940s time warp! The old tube station is quirky–filled with old memorabilia, fun music, and a costumed staff playing the part of cocktail servers frozen in time.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking because I thought it too. This sounds so cheesy, so contrived, so touristy, etc. But trust me, it’s really a good time. There are certain aspects of Cahoots that keep it off the dreaded tourist trap list and, instead, make it a must-do destination for visitors and residents alike. This is what sets Cahoots apart:
The size and exclusivity. You really have to plan ahead to visit this bar. They’re not churning people in and out like it’s a Ruby Tuesday’s. It’s small, you get full attention from the staff, and they give you a full two hours which is fine considering it’s just for drinks.
The staff. The staff is very well trained. They’ve perfected their roles and they put on a great show from the line to get in to the coat check on your way out. You can tell the establishment invests in a high caliber of employees.
The cocktails. A place like Cahoots could probably be full every night and serve shit because it’s cool and different and you can find someone to nibble on whatever you’re selling if you market it right. Take the shitshow that’s the London Dungeon, for example. But, nope, Cahoots keeps it a cut above the rest, actually serving high end cocktails that are crafted with quality ingredients and precision. And the menu is HUGE. They have at least sixty different drinks on their fun newspaper menu that you can flip through, choose your poison, look at some silly ads and even work on a crossword!
This formula that Cahoots follows has created a high level bar that’s worth a visit. Yes, they have a few snacks, but make sure this is a pre- or post-dinner stop. This is a great choice to kick off a fun Saturday night or to surprise some out-of-town guests with something unique. Enjoy Cahoots, their special concoctions, and the impressive staff as soon as you can!
Notting Hill’s Taqueria is an easy Mexican spot for a chill dinner any day of the week. It’s a no fuss eatery at a decent price point, and full of friendly servers bringing you delicious, flavorful small plates.
The place is so uncomplicated that I don’t really need to take you through the good and bad of each restaurant building block. Instead, I’ll keep it short and sweet.
I only have two complaints. The lighting is too bright and the ventilation isn’t doing its job. You don’t notice it when you’re in there, but once you leave, you smell. My sweater went to the cleaners and my jacket had been airing out for two days.
Aside from those two little grievances, Taqueria is great. Their inventive drinks are top-notch and accompany any one of their spicy, rich, colorful, Mexican plates. We shared the Botana, a basic trio of dips and chips, but were blown away by the chorizo quesadilla we started with. Quesadillas at most of the London Mexican restaurants are all little dishes to get in multiples and share, FYI. In the US, you pictures one giant quesadilla as a starter for all. The price should give you an indication of what to expect, but if not, there you go.
After the powerful quesadilla, we went on to enjoy the rolled cheese tacos–basically browned cheese rolled up with tortillas and salsa–which everyone is sure to enjoy. My dad used to make a habit of cooking nothing but piles of cheese in a pan and waiting for the mess to spread and crisp up. He would surely enjoy this taco.
Next were the roadside chicken tacos. These were probably the most powerful and seasoned of the dishes, and my husband’s favorite! I had to cut the intensity with a side of sour cream, but I thoroughly enjoyed my half of the plate.
Lastly, my favorite, the jalapeño tacos. Think jalapeño popper with a layered taco twist. I loved, loved, loved this dish.
A couple drinks and a full dinner will run you about £60-70. In a neighborhood like Notting Hill, that’s not a bad bill for high quality food and a decent buzz. Next time you’re in the area, check out Taqueria for yourself. Reservations are advised. Enjoy!
141-145 Westbourne Grove
London, W11 2RS