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Archive for the ‘Cheap Eats’ Category

People love Sacred. Time Out recommends it, my coworker recommends it, random stranger on the street recommends it, so I decide to try it.

Sacred plays on it’s name as a place of worship. The barista is set up on a pulpit and the congregation spills out onto the street at it’s Soho location near Carnaby Street. This makes it a very nice place to hang out on a sunny day soaking up the rays or people watching, on your lunch break, or in-between shopping.

A customer approaches the pulpit.

Sacred offers plenty of sandwiches and pastries. It’s run by New Zealanders who sell things like  jelly lolly cake. My experiences at Sacred and the Roastery are causing me to wonder what exactly is the deal with antipodeans and London coffee shops. Two coffee shops in a row- is this a chance thing or are NZ natives really into their coffee hangouts? I think I’m going to have to make a trip to New Zealand to get to the bottom of this. Either that or call up a friend and ask. The former option seems more dramatic and fun.

Scrambled eggs with wholewheat toast.

I had scrambled eggs with feta and spring onion on wholewheat toast and an Americano. This set me back between £8 and £9. Quite a bit for what is basically an egg sandwich and regular coffee. It took about 20 minutes to get my eggs and coffee, even though there weren’t many in the congregation that morning. In their defense, it was early morning so there were probably a lot of unseen to go orders and I think one of the baristas was training. Also, the coffee was very good.

Empty early morning.

Coffee!

Sacred on Urbanspoon

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I don’t have a sweet tooth so I don’t crave more than the occasional cookie or candy. Even when I do indulge, I will usually only have one or two bites. I would say this is a good thing except I tend to crave the fatty savory foods instead. It is more likely for me to dive into a bag of crips (chips) than a bag of biscuits (cookies).

However, while Rachel was in town we developed the wonderful habit of topping off our meals with a treat. I was getting a welcomed crash course in London pastries and sweets. We just finished a meal in Soho when I remembered that Hummingbird Bakery was around the corner. It had been recommended to me so I suggested we go there.

Cakes and treats at Hummingbird Bakery

Hummingbird Bakery makes American style cakes, cupcakes, brownies and pies and even has a gluten free selection of treats. After much deliberation, Rachel chose a red velvet cupcake and I chose the tiramisu.

Tiramisu

All throughout Rachel’s visit we had been sharing food but we both drew the line here. The tiramisu, which is only available on Wednesdays, was so good that I might have involuntarily bitten off someone else’s fingers if they tried to come near it. That is a huge endorsement from a girl born without a sweet tooth. This may have been the best cupcake I have ever had.

Sorry, Mom.

Hummingbird Bakery has locations in South Kensington, Notting Hill and Soho with a Spitalfields location scheduled to open in May of 2011. Check their website for more location details and hours. http://hummingbirdbakery.com/

Hummingbird Bakery on Urbanspoon

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Vantra.

11-13 Soho St

London W1D 3DJ

www.vantra.co.uk/

 

After our experience at Leon, Molly and I decided to add Vantra to our list of places to try.

Vantra is a casual restaurant in Soho that specializes in raw, vegan and gluten-free foods. The cafe is open and inviting with large wooden communal tables and an organic food bar.

“So how does this work?” I asked Molly.

“You can either pick from the foods behind the counter and pay per serving or you can get a takeout container and fill it up completely from another bar yourself and pay per box.” she explained.

“Kind of like Luby’s but healthy and minus the take-out option.” I reasoned.

The take-out self service option starts at £4 for a box and is available Tuesday through Friday. The food bar offers many selections for £1 to £2 per small bowl. In addition, you can grab crackers and dips, dim sum, kale chips and truffles for dessert.

Choices.

After struggling a bit with the process, getting the attention of the staff,  and making our choices, we finally settled down to a table in the back. Some of the items were better than the others, but most were tasty. At £1 or £2 per item, it’s OK if you get something that’s not your favorite. You load up with different curries, vegan stroganoff, vegetables, noodles and salads to try and go for it.

My choices

Molly's choices

mmm... Smoothie.

We decided to try some of the vegan raw truffles. I want to say they were great, but honestly they were just OK.

Raw vegan truffles

I love this concept and am grateful for this option. During my visit it was obvious that there were still some kinks to be worked out, particularly when it came to the staff. Vantra is still new and going through an adolescence phase. I will be back regularly to check on it’s progress.

11-13 Soho St
London W1D 3DJ
Area: Soho
Nearest Transit:

Tottenham Court Road (Central, Northern)

Leicester Square (Northern, Piccadilly)

Oxford Circus (Bakerloo, Central, Victoria)

Hours:

Mon-Sat 12:00 – 23:00

Sun 12:00 – 21:00

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789 Wandsworth Rd
Lambeth SW8 3JQ

020 7498 5630

Has anybody noticed the glut of car repair shops over in Wandsworth? It seems there’s an entire row of them. I took the car to Wandsworth to have the oil changed. The man told me it would take an hour and a half. The hour and a half ended up being three and a half hours. I stopped into The Roastery in North Clapham to kill some time and manage the extreme appetite I had not initially planned for.

The sign outside promised brunch and coffee good enough for a Clapham coffee snob. The small cafe is fun and welcoming with free wifi and really great music. The barista was friendly as she let me down gently. Brunch is only served Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Panic, then acceptance. “Well, what is that girl in the corner eating?”

The barista pointed to the most lovely looking bagel sandwiches. She described what was in them but all I heard through my hunger was “deliciousness, deliciousness, deliciousness.” Context clues told me that one was vegetarian and one was smoked salmon.

“Great, I’ll take that one. And one of these baked goods? Afghan cookie made with cocoa and cornflakes? Yes, please. Oh and a Latte.” I was fully aware that my eyes were much bigger than my stomach but I was beyond any notions of self control.

I found a seat and relaxed into it. No telling how long the car was going to take at this point, but this was a place I could happily chill at for a while.

Afghan Biscuit

Interesting enough, Afghan biscuits are not from Afghanistan at all. They are a traditional New Zealand treat. The menu and condiments at the Roastery subtly incorporate  the owners’ Antipodean heritage.

 

Latte served with brownie treat

Bagel sandwich

The barista brought out sample Spirulina smoothies to try. The other patron looked at the glass of bright green with curiosity but I dove right in to the algae laced drink. The sweetness of banana overpowered any flavor that might be mistaken as slightly too healthy. I slurped up my tasty and refreshing smoothie while eyeing the price board. For more than £4 a smoothie I hope it is a large serving size.

Afghan biscuit + bagel sandwich + latte = £8. A little pricey for Clapham, but for a cozy place with wifi and friendly staff, I would definitely come back.

The Roastery on Urbanspoon

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For years I heard about the Wagamama chain. When we lived in the U.S., Husband told me this was a top choice for broke university student night out food in London. Wagamama is all over London, so it’s surprising that it took me this long to try it.

I understand why it’s an old standby. Wagamama is healthy and affordable. The atmosphere is casual and it is a comfortable spot for solo dining. Staff approach you at long benches or booths on the side of the restaurant.  It’s style is dining out for the masses, albeit well designed.

The dish was standard issue but the warm broth and noodles in my Saien Soba were comforting on a cold day. I left utterly stuffed.

Saien Soba: whole wheat noodles in a vegetable soup topped with fried tofu, bean sprouts, courgettes, asparagus, red onions, leeks, mushrooms, mangetout and garlic. Garnished with spring onions.

Wagamama on Urbanspoon

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Molly needed to pick up twelve antique picture frames. Where should we go? The first place that springs to mind for antiques is Notting Hill, but that sounds a bit pricey. I suggest Spitalfields market. That place is bound to have a random booth full of quirky old picture frames for cheap, right?

Wrong. We went on Thursday because that was antiques day, but we were unable to locate anything suitable in her price range. Most of the frames had things like hand drawn maps from the 1800’s inside and we weren’t about to purchase them at £40 a piece only to ditch the map.

So we gave up (or rather decided to rely on the internet for this purchase) and get some lunch instead.

We stopped into Leon. I was really excited to try this place. Their model is healthy, fresh and cheap. They’ve done so well that they even have their own cookbook!

I stepped up to the counter and ordered the sweet potato falafel with aioli hot box and passed over my £6. A few minutes later I was presented with a box on a tray. Molly ordered a salad and hummus.

When we sat down I opened my box and urm, was a little disappointed. Look at it, it just seems so squished and sad.

Sweet potato falafel hot box

 

Well I suppose presentation isn’t everything. The meal tasted fine but I’m a calorie snob who would prefer great. Visible in the box is brown rice, coleslaw, sweet potato made into falafel-like shapes that were warm and mushy, and a slight drizzle of aioli.

The hummus was really nice but the flatbread was dull. The flatbread would have been really nice if it were toasted or warm.

 

Molly tucking into the hummus.

Did I catch Leon on the wrong day? Did I order the wrong thing? The food was decent, but not great. Definitely not cookbook worthy. Still, I am grateful for affordable healthy options.

We stopped into Montezuma on our way out where we were greeted with samples of peppermint dark chocolate. I’m not really big on sweets but I love dark chocolate and this was really delicious. I contained myself (mostly) but left with a bar of Sea Dog, dark chocolate with juicy lime and sea salt. I am addicted. Which is OK because it’s gluten free and vegan, right?

Image courtesy of Montezuma

Bottom Line?

  • Antique Picture Frames – Ebay.
  • Leon – Maybe, but probably not.
  • Montezuma – Oh yes.

Leon on Urbanspoon

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Rootmaster's Routemaster

Elys Yard
The Old Truman Brewery
Hanbury Street
London
E1 6QL

07912 389314

http://www.root-master.co.uk

I was stumbling around Spitalfield’s Market and was getting very hungry. I wasn’t sure I wanted to actually eat inside the market as it seemed noisy and separated from the sun. I exited the market and headed slightly northeast, combing the streets for interesting shops and affordable restaurants.

In my search I spied this double decker bus serving food with a sign that read “Rootmaster.” Back home, the funky converted buses, cargo containers and trailers converted into restaurants is the best place to experience street food ranging from simple to gourmet.  Food trailers are found there grouped in parks together, alone, tucked away behind or in between bars and parks, and with their own movie theaters. It’s quite the scene.

I was very excited because I hadn’t seen many of these type of things around London. I took a seat on the makeshift patio and had a look over the menu. Wow, what a great vegetarian friendly menu with gyozas, chickpea dishes, paninis, pastas and curries.

I settled on a Rootmaster burger. I typically avoid veggie burgers as they are often the cliche token vegetarian option. I had successfully avoided them for so long that one actually sounded appetizing! The Rootmaster burger was described as a flame grilled savoury bean burger served in a wholegrain bap (that means roll, y’all) with lettuce, tomato, bus made mayo & tomato sauce and served with organic potato wedges.

I asked the server as I ordered “That’s bean burger only, right? No beef or meat or anything?”

“No, this is a vegan restaurant.” She looked at me sideways waiting for my reaction.

“Score!” She smiled back with a slight bit of relief. That was random luck to stumble on a vegan restaurant in a double decker bus.

Rootmaster Burger

The burger, bap and potatoes were delicious. The bap was slightly toasted. The burger was homemade instead of prepackaged. The potatoes were crispy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. The plate in all was a mere £6.50

I felt a little like I should have branched out and tried some of the other menu items as I saw wonderfully looking plates pass by me and make their way to other tables. I have had my bean burger for the year so I’m ready now to try other things.

Boyfriend later explained to me that the name of the restaurant, Rootmaster, was  a play on words. Routemaster is the type of double decker bus and was in production from 1958 until 1968. Root as opposed to Route is a nod to it’s vegan cuisine.

Molly at the Particular Kitchen informed me of a similar Routemaster turned vegan restaurant in Soho. Vegan Routes is not affiliated with Rootmaster and is at the moment closed.

Bottom Line: Yummy affordable vegan food in a funky converted double decker bus.

Rootmaster on Urbanspoon

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I was at Harrod’s pricing inherited bone china purchased there decades ago that our movers (EuroUSA and IMS Relocation / Mayflower) lost during our transatlantic relocation. I won’t go into details on that right now other than to say that they really botched the job.  I was unable to get the information regarding the pieces as they are no longer in production. This wasn’t a huge surprise. I figured that while I was at Harrod’s, I might as well have a stroll around.

Since I am currently unemployed and therefore broke, strolling through the luxuries was not really appealing to me. I had heard about the food halls, and well, a girl’s gotta eat. I strolled through the massive rolling areas complete with built in restaurants and took a peek at a few menus. Yikes! £15 for a sandwich? No thank you. Luckily the take out areas had more reasonably priced fare.

Harrod's food halls

Harrod's takeout areas

The food halls stretch on and on with delis, bakeries, candy shops, a fromagerie. It went from one room to the next. I was starting to understand the legacy.

My stomach was growling so I became serious about my search for a snack. That’s when I spotted this disaster.

Moroccan Roll? Which Morocco?

“What do you mean by disaster?” you might ask. Well, look closely. The Moroccan roll here is 31% pork. Morocco is a country with a  population that is over 95% Muslim (source Pew Forum.) I’m no religions of the world expert, but I am certain that the Muslim faith forbids the consumption of pork.  I’ve been to Morocco. I do not remember seeing one person eat pork or sell pork the entire time I was there. My dear friend Ghita from Casablanca even refused to eat turkey bacon, just in case. I felt embarrassed for Harrod’s and their ignorant snafu.

But enough about that. I settled on a Beancurd Vegetable Parcel. For £1.65, it was a steal.

mmm, beancurd.

Having purchased my lunch, I was on a mission to find somewhere to eat it. The clerk was of absolutely no help. When I asked her where I might go, her response was a firm “You can’t eat it in here.” Set on a mission to find a place to snack, I exited Harrod’s and went walking about.

In hindsight, I should’ve gone to Hyde Park. Instead, I wondered around the neighborhood running into small private parks that I was not allowed entry into. London’s full of these member only parks. I suppose it’s a brilliant thing if you are a member. It’s a nice way to compensate for the urban density of London, but I just feel like I’ve been expelled from something potentially great. Standing on my tiptoes peeking between bushes, I try to imagine what it’s like inside. One weekend a year about 200 of these gardens are open to the public. I missed this year’s open garden weekend, which takes place in June. I guess I’ll have to wait around 9 months to find out what I’m missing.

I ended up chowing down sitting on a ledge across from one of these parks in a very posh neighborhood. I tried to imagine what it was like to be one of these “Sloane Squarer” types as I munched on my cold and slightly disappointing vegetable beancurd parcel. It wasn’t a mind blowing treat, but not all was lost as it was filling and affordable. Tell me Interwebs, what must-have food item did I miss from Harrod’s Food Halls?

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