Do! Cahoots

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. 

The menu at Cahoots London

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!

Amazing cocktails at Cahoots, London

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!

Cocktail hour at Cahoots, London

Cahoots
13 Kingly Court
Carnaby
London W1B 5PG

Categories Do!

Don’t! The Potting Shed

So this Marylebone restaurant isn’t going to get a horrible review, but it’s not getting a rave one either. The Potting Shed is just the type of restaurant that exists. It’s not wowing anyone, nor being visually offensive. It’s just there, with so-so service, food, decor and prices. I’ve been a couple times due to its convenient location for business meetings when meeting with colleagues off the train, but other than that, I see no point in being a recurring patron. 

The Potting Shed in Marylebone’s Dorset Square Hotel

Let me break it down for you. The Potting Shed is set underground, in the basement level of the Dorset Square Hotel. This would be a disadvantage for many restaurants, but they actually make use of the light they do have, and use a lot of white accents to keep the place airy and not feeing dingy. Their decor, though, is not quite right. The cluttered walls are packed with all white ceramic decorations. Whether it’s the wall of white small pots (how fitting),  the one of ornate garden plaques and gargoyles, or the area of white clay leaves, it’s all really boring. And, right in between the boredom of the repetitive white against the actually pretty mint-colored backdrop, you have the ugliest piece of “art” I have ever seen. Black and white bold, oversized number surrounded by rustic wood paddles of some sort. Might be a British thing. Regardless, it doesn’t match and adds to the clutter. The restaurant is full of these little mismatched oddities, like with an outdated lamp in a window between the upper dining room and the lower bar. 

Dining at The Potting Shed, London

Once you get past the decor and focus on the food, the selection is quite nice. An upscale British mix of meat, fish and pasta classics, lunch specials, and an Afternoon Tea. It just never tastes quite as good as it sounds. My mint pea and mint soup was delicious, and looked lovely in the bowl. Bright green against the white bowl and mint surroundings. But the pumpkin gnocchi special was bland and the entire dish was missing some contrasting colors and textures. 

And I have to point out my tea. While The Potting Shed aimed for a grand presentation, the whole tea service was a little contrived. The teapot was presented with a strainer (as is common for loose leaves) but the pot was actually filled with just tea bags! What was the point?! So close, but so far.

An unusual tea time at The Potting Shed, London

Even with all these little grievances, I did, however, book a table for a business meeting coming up, due to lack of options in that area. So, either Marylebone or The Potting Shed…one of you needs to tighten up. Either get new restaurants in your area or revamp the existing ones! There’s still hope Potting Shed! There’s still hope.

The Potting Shed, Marylebone

The Potting Shed
Dorset Square Hotel
39-40 Dorset Square
Marylebone 
London NW1 6QN

Do! Taqueria

A glimpse of Notting Hill’s Taqueria menu

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.

A little bit of this and that at Notting Hill’s Taqueria
Rolled cheese tacos at London’s Taqueria
 

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.

The great jalapeño tacos at Taqueria, London

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! 
Taqueria 
141-145 Westbourne Grove
London, W11 2RS

Don’t! West Thirty Six

Don’t. Do not. Do not under any circumstance get roped in to going to West Thirty Six.  After numerous bad meals, I kept getting sucked back in to such a poor establishment due to birthday parties, a few “it’s been awhiles” and “maybe it’s changed,” and some “it’s way better now, I swear” from different acquaintances. It’s not better. It’s never better. A restaurant with horrible ventilation, stock issues, inedible food, and awful ventilation, lighting and prices, has earned nothing more than this review.

So, here we go. Now most of my “don’ts” were one or two time experiences, but not West Thirty Six. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been there at least 15 times. Not because I’m a masochist, but at one time they had one good dish that was reasonably priced and worth ignoring how basically every other part of the establishment was crumbling around me, and it’s close. 

But, let me start with the actual building. I love the look of the downstairs. It has a pretty bar and a warm yellow-green glow.  The problem with the downstairs, however, is that you can’t actually sit down there and breathe. The ventilation is so poor that one steak left on the grill is enough to smoke out the entire floor leaving throats dry, eyes burning, patrons coughing, and hair and clothing smelling like a 4th of July campfire. It’s disgusting. 

Dining in the dark at West Thirty Six, London

If you try to dine a floor up, be prepared for West Thirty Six’s take on “Dining in the Dark.” I felt much older than my age when I could not read a menu or cut my food well in the darkness of their upper level. About an hour into our meal, the staff decided to turn the lights on, which did not really rectify the lighting situation, but actually made it worse, shining one ceiling spotlight right in my face. It was like a dark auditorium and I was beginning a performance. So, no matter what level you are on, the place is a fail. Not to mention very quiet…

Word must be spreading about the terrible experiences being had at West Thirty Six because every time I’m in there the turnout is more and more depressing. We were the only table upstairs in the dark for a good hour, and the time before that, even though OpenTable showed the restaurant as 99% full, we were one of two tables our entire evening downstairs! They are selectively releasing seats to look much more exclusive than they actually are. It’s really such a shame because the location is easy and the place has the looks and potential of being a cool go-to. But nope. I also have to note that West Thirty Six marked my last OpenTable reservation as me being a no-show and I had to contact the website because that was certainly not the case. Just another little West Thirty Six annoyance.

Notting Hill’s West Thirty Six menu, a definite Don’t

So, how ’bout the food? Well, it’s just gross. At one time they had a delicious pulled pork sandwich that threw some rose-colored glasses on me, but once they took that off the menu (over a year ago), nothing has hit the spot. My entire party was dissatisfied last visit, trying a mix of chicken wings, beef tartare, ribs, chips, mixed greens, and a steak. Everything was either too bland, tough, or chewy. Ribs should fall of the bone and melt into a delicious barbecue sauce. These were stiff and dry, clinging to the bone with dear life. A huge disappointment. 

Disappointing ribs at London’s West Thirty Six

And, the menu was very incomplete. The restaurant was out of the first five drink and food items we tried to order. I wondered if it was all in preparation to officially close their doors, but no, just another hint of a poorly managed establishment. The server also waited until we decided on and ordered each item before letting us know what was missing, which is also annoying. But, it fits the theme of the place I guess.

Poor service, lighting, ventilation, and food. If that’s your idea of a good time, head to West Thirty Six on London’s Golborne Road. If not, head to any other restaurant in West London!!!

West Thirty Six
36 Golborne Road
London, W105PR

Do! Eggbreak 

Eggbreak is the kind of place I wish I had across the street. It’s easy, delicious, and the type of hangover cure you want to crawl into on a Sunday morning.

Notting Hill’s Eggbreak

At first I was nervous, showing up on a weekend at 11:00 to a brunch place that doesn’t take reservations, but the place is surprisingly large. Located just behind Notting Hill Gate, it’s deceiving size is due to a large lower level that twists and turns into additional seating. Sometimes basement dining can feel dark and dingy, but not at Eggbreak! It was light, pretty, and lively! My only problem with the seating was the temperature. It was definitely too warm down there–nothing that can’t be solved. Everything else was top-notch! Soft napkins, pretty serving dishes, a cool mix of old rolling pins and cutting boards for wall decor. I really liked everything about the place.

The service was pretty good too. Everyone was really friendly and even though we stumped the server on a couple menu questions, she positively assured us that she would come right back with an answer, and then actually did. 

The menu at London’s Eggbreak

Now for the menu! I was in heaven. Mainly because I’m American and nothing hits the spot like a Bacon, Egg and Cheese with actual American Cheese! No it wasn’t American “streaky” bacon, but at least I was part-way there. The sandwich was delicious. I didn’t really understand the whole concept of adding shredded lettuce to it, but that was easy enough to scrape off. It kind of reminded me of how in Asian restaurants you’ll sometimes get a maraschino cherry on your otherwise savory dish. It just doesnt make sense! Cold lettuce on a hot sandwich, I don’t know. They also did not melt the cheese on the fried egg. It was added to the sandwich after-the-fact, instead of onto the egg as it sizzled on the griddle. And for my last criticism, what’s up with a one-egg sandwich?! Eggs are definitely affordable enough to add two…especially when eggs are your thing. But despite my little grievances, the meal hit the spot, the bun was amazingly fresh, and was still the best of its kind in the neighborhood. My husband had the cornmeal waffle/Sriracha/egg concoction and he was satisfied, as well. We both gave Eggbreak a gold star and will surely go back.

While, in my opinion, the fairly-new place still has a few kinks to work out, it’s definitely worth a trip to Eggbreak for some reasonably priced, quality food, in a nice, happy atmosphere. Head to Eggbreak and enjoy!

The cornmeal waffle dish at London’s Eggbreak

Eggbreak
30 Uxbridge Street
Notting Hill
London W8 7TA

Do! The Design Museum

Are you looking for an inexpensive activity that does not eat up your entire day? If so, head to West London’s new Design Museum. A visit to the architecturally stunning museum, which relocated this year from the east, is a perfect afternoon stop. While the crowds can be a little more than the building can handle in its first couple weeks, it’s still nice to wander around a space that you can actually cover in one go. 

Modern design at London’s Design Museum

The building’s size is much grander than the content. At first, it seems like you would never be able to visit such a monstrosity in just a couple of hours, but once inside, you see that the building is comprised mainly of open space, and is really an exhibit in itself. The minimalist, raw vaulted ceiling, soft lighting and clean lines makes for one of the most beautiful modern designs in London. You can take it all in from the mezzanine level, then wander through the three or four free exhibits, have lunch in the cafe, or pay to visit one of their two featured attractions. 

Inside London’s Design Museum

The content is all design–fashion, architecture, furniture, graphic, and more! It’s fun, loud, and colorful, making it a family-friendly environment, complete with a creative drawing station for people of all ages to channel their inner designer. 

A human hair hoodie at London’s Design Museum

A few of our favorite things at London’s Design Museum

At the end of the experience, you can stop in both of the property’s gift shops–just in time for Christmas–to find fun, unusual gifts for all. 

I highly recommend a visit to London’s Design Museum to get in from the cold and explore the best of past and modern design. 
Design Museum
224-238 Kensington High Street
London W8 6AG

Do! The Cross Keys

Everything about The Cross Keys is outstanding. If you haven’t been to the bustling Chelsea pub, get there, ASAP. The Cross Keys really defines the pub culture, welcoming all–the young, the old, families, dogs, your average joe, and even Prince Harry! It’s a pub for all with a menu everyone can get behind. 

The place is much larger than you would expect from the outside. You walk in to a cozy and crammed eating and drinking space, which at first can be intimidating, but once through the initial craziness, you make your way to a relaxed bar and a spacious dining room. The dining area is beautiful and very large in open compared to most London pubs. We arrived a little early and had to stand by the bar while they set up our table. And we were totally in the way. The poor servers and drink runners had to weave around our small group for a good ten minutes, yet they never showed a sign of irritation towards our group. Each time they walked by, they smiled and apologized. We were clearly in their service area, but that was just fine with them. They definitely get an A+ for great attitudes and “the customer is always right” mentalities. 

A menu from The Cross Keys pub, London

Once seated, we enjoyed a nice bottle of wine and amazing entrees. We were coming from the Battersea Fireworks where we stuffed our faces with donuts, so we didn’t have room for appetizers or desserts, but in hindsight I wish I had saved myself for The Cross Keys’ fare. Everything was really and truly outstanding. I had the chicken entree and it was probably the most moist and flavorful piece of poultry I had ever devoured. The skin was perfectly crisp and the sides complimented the dish wonderfully. Our entire party was happy with the food and wine, making our night out a huge success.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner at The Cross Keys, London!

Friendly staff and quality food in a cozy, beautiful atmosphere makes The Cross Keys and absolute must-do! Can’t wait to go back!

The Cross Keys
1 Lawrence Street
London SW3 5NB

Categories Do!

Do! Berners Tavern

Berners Tavern, while a bit of a scene, is a must-do simply due to its grand decor. The Fitzrovia restaurant doesn’t have a meal I can’t live without, or even a menu of amazing options I can’t decide between, but, boy, is it pretty. 

I don’t even think pretty is the right word. It’s glamorous. And grand. Like you’re stepping into an old Hollywood hotel for dinner and not a London hotspot. Rich colors, chandeliers, circular leather booths, high ornate ceilings, a grand illuminated bar, and then, there’s the wall decor. The walls are dressed with hundreds of paintings in gilded frames of different shapes and sizes with unique detailing. It is a sight to see and seems simple with this common structured theme, yet wildly decadent. I will continue to visit Berners Tavern so it can continue to set a romantic tone for special nights with my husband or to impress guests with the grandiose scenery you will not find anywhere else.

Beauty at Berners Tavern, London
The Aging Hipster cocktail at Berners Tavern, London
 

If only the Berners’ menu could be as eye-catching as its decor. I went with a group of people and every single person got the steak. The meal was good, not-over-the-top outstanding, but good. It really stood out to me, though, that no one was really willing to try anything else. Even my husband and I will usually get different items so we can swap half-way through, but nothing at all stood out to us. So beware. It is a heavily British, traditional menu, so if British fare is not your thing, you might get stuck.

After the mediocrity of dinner, we braced for dessert. The Flaming Alaska was beautiful and tasty, but my dessert, the berry pavlova, was awful. So over-the-top sweet that we only could have a few bites. The meringue, berries and the berry coulis was all too much. A complete overload. They should have cut the berry sweetness with some type of a pastry cream filling, a whipped cream topping, or a creme anglais drizzle. Anything, but what was served. 

Chicken dinner at Berners Tavern, London

Berners Tavern’s impressive Flaming Alaska

As you can see, our night had a lot of hits, like the decor and attentive service, but just as many misses, with food and a menu that just didn’t meet my expectations. Berners is still a definite “do” with its beauty and charm, just keep everything else in mind!
Berners Tavern
10 Berners Street
London W1T 3NP

Categories Do!

Don’t! The Mall Tavern

The Mall Tavern is a pretty happening spot. The Notting Hill corner pub is always booming and has a pretty loyal following. Many friends had told me about their local pub, so I went for dinner to see for myself, but honestly, I didn’t get what all the fuss was about. The food was mediocre and the menu didn’t even have a lot to get excited about, and the space itself was too dark, too loud, too average. The only bright light was the service, in my opinion. Friendly and accommodating, the staff was good, just not great enough to make it all worth it.

The building itself on the outside is pretty cool. It wraps with a sharply curved one-way street. The somewhat hidden area has an old English vibe, which is a nice change from the busy area of Notting Hill Gate, just one street away. Inside, however, I feel the pub has a bit of an identity crisis. Half pub–minimalist with a walk up bar, pushed together bare tables, cozy eats and casual fare–and half hipster joint with unfinished walls, subway tiles, and bathrooms so dark you don’t know if the bathroom stall itself is a club.  The menu tried to be colorful and quirky, like an adult comic book, but I just kept rereading it not really soaking anything in. This was probably because nothing jumped out at me. The one item we all wanted to order, the ribs, was no longer available that evening, so we ordered some basics and hoped for the best.

One friend said the place used to be really good until they “Americanized” the menu. I had no idea what he was referring to because nothing jumped out at me as American, but I looked again at the wings, artichoke dip, mac & cheese offerings and tried to see his point. Once the meals actually came, I decided there was nothing American about the dishes.

A cold artichoke dip at The Mall Tavern, London

I started with the artichoke dip and ordered the burger.  I was so disappointed with the artichoke dip, perhaps because I was hoping it would be American-style like my Irish friend had claimed. It wasn’t. Mainly because it was served cold. Not hot, creamy, cheesy and gooey. Just cold and really salty. The mac & cheese was a much better starter so I spent half the time eating my husband’s dish instead. The wings were very unusual. Not my style, a little too soggy, tossed in an all over blue cheese sauce. I prefer a traditional spicy, crispy wing with a nice dip. But they were still tasty. 

An appetizer at London’s Mall Tavern

The burger for my entree was just so-so, but I find that’s London burgers in general. So, after finishing our apps and entrees and starting to understand what my friend meant my missing the mark on American food, we decided to give the place a chance to redeem itself and ordered dessert.

I tried to bring it back to Britain with the sticky toffee pudding and another friend got the “Rolos.” Sticky toffee pudding is amazing and there are plenty of great versions around London. The Mall Tavern, however, does not have one of them. Their take on the classic is a little too spiced and a little too dry. Despite being coated in the sauce, the inside was too dry to be able to mix well when eating. The “Rolos” were just bizarre. Absolutely nothing in common with a Rolo other than the ingredients of chocolate and caramel. Totally different flavors, textures, and consistencies. That one was a misrepresentation and we were all kind of disappointed. 

Sticky Toffee Pudding at The Mall Tavern, London

At the end of the night, I took stock of my friend’s experiences. None of us had an outstanding meal, or were all that impressed with our surroundings. It was hard to hear each other in the loud, echoing room, despite how closely we were huddled together. And the desserts totally fell flat. Again, we all thought the servers were nice dudes, but that cannot carry a whole establishment. For this, The Mall Tavern is an unfortunate Don’t.

The Mall Tavern
71-73 Palace Gardens Terrace
London W8 4RU

Do! Big Easy

If you’ve been following my blog, you by now know that one of my biggest obsessions is good BBQ. On the hunt, once again, I found myself down on King’s Road in Chelsea at Big Easy. This southern joint was lively and tasty and definitely deserves a Do!

Big Easy in London’s Chelsea neighborhood

When I arrived, I couldn’t believe how busy and energetic the place was. As I waited for my friend to meet me, I watched date nights, family meals, and Happy Hours trail on. I got whiffs of amazing oversized meals and sizzling fajitas. I knew I had made the right choice for a fun, comforting weeknight dinner.

Even though the night’s special was tempting–all you can eat fajitas and a cocktail for £20–my girlfriend opted for the healthier choice of the shrimp Caesar salad and I stuck to my guns with BBQ. Our entrees arrived pretty quickly and, boy, were they impressive! London is the land of little shrimp, something I struggle with here, but my friend’s salad was topped with two of the largest I had ever seen. I was instantly jealous of a salad, imagine that! That was until they put down my platter. I had the ribs/BBQ chicken combo with a side of cornbread and the mac and cheese. 

Giant shrimp at London’s Big Easy!

At first I was disappointed with Big Easy’s BBQ menu. I mean for starters they didn’t have a pulled pork sandwich. That’s like the greatest sandwich of all time. Once I got over that issue (and their unaccomodating side substitution policy) I settled on my meal and turned out pretty happy.  The chicken portion was pointless. Not very moist or exciting, just plain chicken really. I should have just gotten the full rack of ribs. But the ribs were AMAZING! Literally falling right off the bone in a pretty tasty sauce. I had to ask for extra sauce and would have liked an option of a spicier one, but given how tough it is to find good BBQ in London, I’m giving them a pass. The mac and cheese was pretty delicious too. The icing on top was the very tasty corn muffin. They should totally change the name, though, because there was nothing reminiscent of a corn muffin about the bread, but it was good nevertheless. It was more like a buttermilk biscuit made with some corn. They should rename it a corn biscuit just so they are not being misleading.  But that’s just me being a critical BBQ-loving American.

A BIG plate of BBQ at BIG EASY, London

But anyway, I had a great time. Both my friend and I were pleased with the quality of the service and the food, as well as the drink and food portions. The price was right and we would both do it all over again. Head to King’s Road if you want a big and easy meal for any night of the week!

PS-Please get some decaf tea bags. It’s not like it expires. Thanks!!

Big Easy
332-334 King’s Road
London SW3 5UR