Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ideal Closet: Work Out Edition

Jumping on the January fitness bandwagon makes me want to cringe, largely because my picture of my ideal self is always fit and doesn't need to jump on any bandwagons.  But, alas, this year more than ever before, I am in desperate need of getting back into shape.  I've committed the sin of allowing a busy work schedule (and general weekend laziness) to get in the way of staying fit.

I've done reasonable well since Christmas, although there have been a couple of weeks where I've let things slip.  Today, I'm going shopping for some new workout gear to help motivate myself.  Here's my wish list:

GapFit contrast panel training jacket
lululemon Wunder Under pant Full-on Luon
Sweaty Betty Bodymap thermal long sleeve
Nike Free 5.0 running shoe
New Balance N769 NBx competitor no show socks
Under Armour ColdGear infrared thermo full zip hoodie
ASICS Gel-Kayano 20
Sweaty Betty athlete workout vest
lululemon the Un Mat
Sweaty Betty chill resistor thermal long sleeve
Bodyism 'I am Confident' Lily sports bra

Now wish me luck at the gym!

Monday, January 27, 2014

London Guide: NYC in LDN

I spent some unplanned time in Covent Garden last weekend and got to enjoy the best of what New York City has to offer in London.

Living in Twickenham (the 'burbs on the outskirts of London), it's hard to drag me into Central London on the weekends without prior planning.  However, I got a call Saturday to have lunch on short notice at Shake Shack, and I quickly got on the train.

Shake Shack, one of the best fast food burger joints in America (that's a big statement, I know), opened a branch in Covent Garden last summer.  If you're an American expat or are otherwise in need of a bit of 'Merica, head there.

Shake Shake Covent Garden has the classic Shake Shack menu but with locally-sourced, British ingredients.  They've also added a few British-themed Concretes to the menu.  The burgers are everything that you would expect - a substantial, yummy fast food-style burger made with quality ingredients.  The fries are great too - both crispy (crinkled) and soft on the inside.  Shakes - fantastic.  K got the Sticky Toffee Concrete (the poor, British thing thought that the "custard" in "frozen custard" was English custard, not ice cream).  It a ton of syrups and chocolate candy in it and was very sickly, sweet.  Both K and I are serious sweet lovers, and this was just too much.

After lunch, I walked around Covent Garden and did a bit of shopping, before I was in serious need of a coffee.  I thought this was the perfect excuse to try out the Balthazar Boulangerie, another recent New York import to Covent Garden.  Next door to the Balthazar restaurant, the smaller boulangerie offers a variety of sandwiches, soups, breads, pastries, packaged goods and hot drinks.  There are a few seats to have lunch in the shop, as well.

Although it was really tempting to get something that I could eat right away, I ended up taking away two rhubarb, custard and pistachio brioche tarts for after dinner.  They were delicious.  The rhubarb was tart and gave the tart a bit more depth.  My efforts in getting something for later paid off when I received a huge free sample of dark chocolate covered honeycomb (US read: sponge candy).  I'm going to have to exercise some will power to prevent myself from finding excuses to go to Covent Garden just to stop by Balthazar.

Ratings: (numbers out of 10, £ out of 4) 

Shake Shack
Food: 8 (on a scale of similar burgers)
Atmosphere: 7 (simply because you dine on the Covent Garden piazza)
Service: 7
Price: ££
Overall experience: 8

Balthazar Boulangerie
Food: 9
Atmosphere: 9
Service: 9 
Price: ££
Overall experience: 9

Monday, January 13, 2014

London Guide: Hackney Picturehouse

It feels slightly off-piste to be doing a London Guide post about a cinema, but this one is worth sharing.  If you live in or near east London (and can be asked to go further than your closest cinema), skip your average Odeon or Vue and go see a film at Hackney Picturehouse.  You can grab lunch, dinner or brunch (at the weekends) and a few drinks too, and you won't come anywhere near melted nacho cheese (although, they do have nachos on the menu and they look amazing).

I have been two a couple of films here, and Hackney Picturehouse is certainly an improved cinematic experience, with big, comfortable reclining seats and a setting that reminds you of industrial-inspired, loft-living east London.  On Friday, I met a couple of friends there for dinner before a film and it was great.  

Between the three of us, there were two burgers and a hot dog, all with chips (US read: fries) but the menu has a lot more to offer than you would expect at a cinema - like pimentos de padron and antipasti sharing platters.  From what I saw from peeping other patrons' meals, it all looked amazing.  

The burgers come with lettuce, tomato, red onion and mayo on a brioche bun, and I added goat cheese for an extra £1.50.  The burger was cooked perfectly, being a bit pink on the inside but nice and grilled on the outside, and came with a big slab of goat cheese.  It was difficult to eat, but well worth the struggle.

Membership seems like a great idea, as you get discounted ticket prices (£8.60 being on the cheap side for London), free cinema tickets and discounts on food and drinks, both at the cinema and at other restaurants. Don't live near Hackney?  There is a chain of Picturehouses across London (Notting Hill Gate, Brixton, Greenwich, Clapham, etc) and throughout the UK.

Ratings: (numbers out of 10, £ out of 4) - bearing in mind this is a cinema first

Food: 7 (but 9 when you take into account cinemas only)
Atmosphere: 8
Service: 7
Price: ££
Overall experience: 8

(All images from Hackney Picturehouse)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Travel Notes: New York Restaurants, Part 2

For the next instalment from New York:

Northern Spy Food Co - East 12th Street, between Avenues A and B

Northern Spy Food Co., a small restaurant in the East Village, focuses its menu around seasonal, (relatively) locally and responsibly grown food. You can find a list of the restaurant's purveyors on its website. For dinner, the restaurant was very low lit, lending to the rustic, country-inspired decor.  The interior of the restaurant features as much reclaimed and repurposed materials as possible. The overall effect was very effective in bringing the farm to the City.

To start dinner off, five of us shared the pork sticky rolls with a parsnip glaze, smoked bluefish rillettes with garlic toast, beet jerky with grapes, yogurt and frisee and pork jowl terrine with beer-cheddar spread, apple and pickles.  It was all amazing and more than enough food for a starter.  The pork sticky rolls were like glazed cinnamon buns with pork rolled into them and were delicious (I've been enjoying savoury pork sweets at dinner lately, I guess - see London Guide: Duck & Waffle).  The beet jerky was surprising.  The beets were chewy and reminded me of gummy candy - definitely a preferable beet texture.

I then had the Elysian Fields lamb with brassicas, black barley and yogurt, which was cooked and seasoned perfectly.  We also shared a side of duck fat fries, which did what they said on the tin. For dessert, the five of us split a cheese board and the sweet potato, which came in a bar of cold ice cream, with a ginger snap crust, pumpkin seeds and marshmallows.  Again, all fantastic.

Northern Spy Food Co takes a limited number of reservations each night, leaving tables open for walk in custom.

Ratings: (numbers out of 10, £ out of 4)

Food: 9
Atmosphere: 8.5
Service: 8
Price: £££
Overall experience: 9

(External image from GQ; all others from Northern Spy Food Co)
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