Close to Home: Tower of London Poppies

I waited until one of the final days to visit “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” otherwise known as the poppies at Tower of London. While I had to dodge the largest crowds this weekend leading up to today, Day of Remembrance in the UK, the majesty of the installation at completion was incredible and well worthwhile.

The memorial is elegant and moving, commemorating the 100 year anniversary of WWI. It consists of over 800,000 ceramic poppies spread over the moat around the Tower, cascading from a window and flowing up into a wave. While beautiful, it invokes the emotion of the tribute to the lives lost during the great war and in conflict since.

Sadly the poppies will only be on display in their full glory until November 11th, the anniversary of the end of WWI on November 11th, 1918. They will begin to be removed on the 12th.  I think London as a community will greatly miss this lovely work of art.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

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Close to Home: Columbia Road Flower Market

Oh but I do love a London market. 🙂 GoodTravelerKarma readers know that Borough Market is one of my favorite places in the city, and I tend to make it a required stop when I’m meeting visitors or I have tourists in town (Spoiler Alert: Mum is going to experience it next week).

So when my colleague told me about Columbia Road Flower Market, a lively outdoor market held on Sundays, I had to add it to my list of spots to try.  On an uncharacteristically sunny and mild February Sunday in London, I headed up to Columbia Road via Shoreditch High Street .  The road itself is a bit tucked away in between some housing blocks about 10 minutes walk from Brick Lane. You can’t miss that you’re in east London with all of the artistic graffiti identifying this eclectic bit of the city.

On market day, Columbia Road is easy to find – just follow the crowds and watch those who have already purchased head the other direction with bundles of beautiful flowers. It surprised me that the road itself in only a couple of short blocks long – I expected more I suppose, given the scope of markets like Borough and Spitalfields.

There’s not much else to do but simply join the crush of visitors, slowly working your way past the booths of fresh flowers. The basic deal is three bunches for £10, where I picked up some ranunculus (white and pink) and vibrant yellow mimosa. The market does bleed into the sidewalks, making it a tight squeeze to get into any of the little shops. There are a wide range of antique shops and several cute little eateries and coffee stops – one of which is literally just a one-person counter with a queue out into the street.

After I perused the options a couple of times, I settled on an afternoon snack at Cakehole, a little café tucked in the back of an antique store called Vintage Heaven. I chose my favorite Victoria Sponge and a cappuccino, charmingly served at communal tables on mismatched china.

After my snack, and purchasing the flowers, I had a final stop at a little wine bar on the corner of Columbia Road and Ravenscroft Street. I’m not entirely sure what the metal sign with a wine bottle turned into a pig has to do with the name, Brawn, but I liked it. It was quite quiet in this little bar, a nice change from the bustle outside.  A little glass of wine to bolster me up and it was off to meet a friend in Shoreditch. It was a charming (if not crowded) little Sunday.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Close to Home: Duck & Waffle

Duck & Waffle opened in summer 2012 and continues to be one of London’s hottest tables.  It’s on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, just enough within the City to draw the bankers’ fat wallets but also charmingly within a quick walk of some of my favorite bars in Shoreditch. The view is incredible of course, and you can even look down on Sushi Samba’s terrace complete with Japanese maple trees. It’s a pretty swank place, really.

Which is why, no, I wouldn’t say that the eponymous special of the house at Duck & Waffle has any relation to the American soul food chicken and waffles. People love to make this comparison, I’ve found, but we’re not talking fried chicken here. You don’t go to Duck & Waffle to order anything else than this delicious combination of confit duck over a fluffy-inside waffle and topped with a fried egg. Then there’s the delectable maple syrup which my friend Emily proclaimed was good enough to drink. Apparently you’re supposed to share the duck and waffle, according to the menu.  Do yourself a favor, just order your own.

We did decide to share a raw scallop starter served dressed on a pink Himalayan sea salt brick, kind of like a deconstructed ceviche.  The idea is that you grab the little finger of scallop with your hands and swirl it on the brick with the dressing creating, a bit of a culinary slip and slide. The result? Melt in your mouth, flavorful and a touch of salty goodness.

And for dessert, we had the “torrejas,” piping hot slices of apple served in a little cast iron skillet like a deconstructed apple crumble, served with cinnamon ice cream. Yup, just all good.

I’ve yet to try the brunch, but the buzz is that you can order Duck & Waffle’s answer to the great cronut craze of 2013, all with the delightful speakeasy quality that it’s not actually listed on the menu.

It’s a pretty special place, you definitely need a reservation, but the atmosphere is decidedly un-stuffy. Pretty much my favorite restaurant in London.

Duck & Waffle
Heron Tower
110 Bishopgate
London EC2N 4AY
+44 203 640 7310

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Close to Home: Cheese Crawl

When my friend Emily comes to visit London, cheese is usually a big part of the plan, particularly after we first visited La Fromagerie back in 2012.

This time, the weekend turned into a bit of a cheese crawl – much more unique than a pub crawl, after all.

First up was Borough Market where we sampled some “Drunk Cheeses” – cheese cured in wine. Our favorite was the cheese cured in prosecco – appropriate since we love the drink as well. Plus, this just screamed for a pairing with some bubbly. 🙂

Next up was another stop at La Fromagerie where our taste buds tingled in anticipation of the incredible burrata with truffle cream.  Unfortunately they appear to have removed this item from the menu, but we were incredibly happy with a cheese board, quiche and a cauliflower gratin. To finish, I had to order the cheesecake, and I was not disappointed. This is easily the best cheesecake I’ve ever had with a creamy topping and smothered in fresh berries. (Drooling now just writing about it). No stop at La Fromagerie would be complete without a stop in their little market and cheese cave where we got our truffle fix with some beautiful truffle brie.

Finally, I surprised Emily with a stop at Obika in South Kensington.  This mozzarella bar is of Roman origin and we first experienced it in its hometown on that fateful first European trip together back in 2007. The best part of the location in Rome is the apertivo.  You pay for a drink and a selection of snacks are yours for the taking on the house.  Sadly the London locations don’t seem to have embraced the apertivo concept, but the selection of mozzarella makes up for it. It was here that we got our burrata fix.

After a curd-tacular weekend, Emily said, “I think I’m cheesed out.” Mission accomplished.

La Fromagerie
2-6 Moxon Street
Marylebone London W1U 4EW
020 7935 0341

Obikà Mozzarella Bar
96 Draycott Avenue
SW3 3AD - London
0207 581 5208

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Close to Home: Borough Market

“Hey, where did you get that?” said my friend Alan to a guy munching on a chocolate chip cookie the size of a dinner plate. He gestured, Alan looked at me and we both agreed that we needed that cookie.

Borough Market is one of my favorite spots in London and I love to take visiting friends as well as wander through myself on a Saturday. It makes a great stop if you’re strolling the South Bank like I was when I first visited the market. It is nearly always crazy busy but I’ve found that if you brave it on a rainy day, it can actually be quite peaceful. Just keep in mind that the market is closed on Sundays. (Made that mistake only once!)

I think it’s actually a great tactic with Borough Market to do a lap first, assess what other patrons are partaking in, and then choose.  Although, I say this and usually my first stop is the Boston Sausage stand which I love both for its name and for its fare in equal measure. My favorite is the Boston sausage with caramelized onions and Stilton. I’ve been known to devour it so quickly I don’t stop for a photo, but luckily when I took Emily she captured a great picture in the slide show below.

On my most recent visit this past weekend, my first course was the aforementioned sausage, crispy skin with juicy insides, smothered with cheese and onions and leaving a powdery flour cloud with each bite, as delicious as ever. Next was fresh tortelloni filled with wild boar dressed simply in olive oil and parmesan from La Tua Pasta. And finally, the ginormous cookie. In between we quenched our thirst with prosecco from Borough Wines.

The market is primarily both fresh and prepared food; you don’t come here for souvenirs unless they’re edible.  Speaking of which, Borough Wines has some lovely house wine you can fill yourself for £5 in their £2.50 reusable bottles. The pesto or Italian green olives from Borough Olives would make a great gift for anyone. But don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone if you keep it all for yourself. 😉

Borough Market
8 Southwark Street
London SE1 1TL
UK
www.boroughmarket.org.uk

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

From the Vault: Wee Edinburgh Weekend

St. Patrick’s Day weekend, 2013. Turns out Edinburgh is a good a place as any to find a pint of Guinness. Of course, it made it a little more special to take our pint of black gold with a Tunnock’s tea cake on the side. Respect to The Last Drop in the Grassmarket for that lovely treat. 🙂

We ventured to Edinburgh for a little weekend away from London during cold, and as it turned out, a little snowy, March. Upon landing after a slightly delayed flight, we checked into the hotel and headed pretty much immediately in search of a pint. It was a little uphill jaunt from the river through some charming winding back streets to the old town and the Royal Mile. After warming ourselves in a pub with those first pints, we wandered the length of the Royal Mile, ducked inside the cathedral and then popped up to the castle to take in the views. The castle was closing for the evening so we took that as a sign to forage for more beverages.

Enter the Hotel Missoni and bar which became one of our favorite haunts. I think they had me at the bellman wearing a signature zigzag Missoni kilt. At the bar, we ordered one of the special pitchers to share. It was a refreshing combination of gin and fruit juices poured over a single scoop of sorbet. That evening I think we shared two pitchers just to get the merriment rolling. 😉

After an interesting night on the Grassmarket scene, we started our morning with breakfast at the lovely little Southern Cross Café on Cockburn Street.  The place was busy which always bodes well, and had a great little menu of breakfast favorites at reasonable prices. The Southern Cross became our favorite breakfast spot during the trip and it’s a convenient spot for anyone staying in the old town.

Another Edinburgh favorite was The Hanging Bat. About a 15 minute walk from the Grassmarket on Lothian Road, this little bar looked like it could be popped down in the middle of New York City and fit in quite well. Exposed brick, industrial fixtures and big leather sofas furnished the pub and seating areas. The Hanging Bat is a beer lover’s heaven with multitudes of microbrews and do-it-yourself tastings. For £10, you get five tokens to taste half pint sizes of beers of your choice.  The bar staff will give you recommendations and the ideal progression. And you get to take a souvenir glass home with you! The food is an array of gourmet hot dogs and fun sides, with a daily special, one of which when we visited was an Asian flavoured shortrib. Yum. Again, we went back to the Hanging Bat twice, it’s just too good not to!

In addition to touring the castle, we also visited the Edinburgh zoo which was lovely and quiet in the cold March snow. Back in the center, we strolled the charming pubs on Rose Street and chose the Black Cat for a pint, a wee dram and a Scotch pie.  Our final evening was spent at a lovely dinner at Howies on Victoria Street, our most posh meal of our time in Edinburgh.  I can’t say a bad thing about our drink and dining choices in Edinburgh, which is, to be honest, not what I was expecting from Scotland.

Our last morning, we took the underground tour of The Real Mary King’s Close, which, while a bit cheesy at times, gives you a unique glimpse to old Edinburgh in the 1600’s. The most amazing thing is that this part of the old city is completely preserved underneath the new.  You can actually step out into the close and see the homes, doors, windows and imagine the life that was.

I was truly charmed by Edinburgh. It’s a unique city with a rich past so vibrant you feel like you could walk around a corner into the mists and find yourself back in time.  Just watch out for stag dos.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Close to Home: The Good Life

I’ve had a few very tasty experiences with London food recently, and the most recent happens to also be one of the healthiest.

The Good Life eatery on Chelsea’s Sloane Avenue is brand new – to the point that their website is still in progress – but a welcome addition to the South West London culinary scene.

On my first visit, post-barrecore workout, I refuelled with the simple but incredibly tasty daily special, the Clean Lean Bowl: quinoa, sweet potato, kale, two poached eggs and topped with almond pesto. Washed down with a cold-pressed green juice and a cappuccino made with almond milk, I have to admit I felt a bit more Los Angeles than London.

I enjoyed my food so much, I headed back after my workout the next day to partake of the huge Good Life Salad made with a massive amount of marinated kale, sweet potatoes, pomegranate seeds, chia seeds and I added a little avocado for good measure.  It’s not cheap, this green wonder at £11 (without my avocado topper), but it’s so big, I took half of mine home for breakfast the next day.

The gluten-free, dairy-free coconut cake is getting raves on the few reviews I’ve seen online but I have to say disappointingly, mine was quite dry and I only got one moist bite of the large slice.

The Good Life is still working out some kinks with their service as well which is quite slow.  But, if you’re not in a rush and want a healthy option or one catering to special dietary needs in Chelsea, this is the place.

The Good Life
59 Sloane Avenue 
London,  SW3 3DH
+44 (0)20 7052 9388

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2013.

Close to Home: Bubbledogs

Having spent seven years (the majority of my 20s) in New York City, I love a good niche restaurant.  And New York, in my opinion, does this better than anyplace else. Take for example, S’Mac (gourmet mac and cheese), Meatball Shop (self-explanatory) and Rice to Riches (rice pudding).

So when I first heard about a place in London that does hot dogs and champagne, Bubbledogs, my NYC foodie sensibilities stood up and cheered. (How very American). I knew before even darkening the door at this charming Fitzrovia eatery that it would likely have a distinctly New York feel, and it certainly does.  With the exposed brick, family style seating and vintage speakeasy feel, Bubbledogs would easily fit in the East Village.

The menu is a fun selection of themed dogs, and you can likely guess the contents just by the names: Jose (salsa, avocado and sour cream), Reuben (sauerkraut, Russian dressing, swiss cheese). Our choice was the BLT: hotdog wrapped in bacon, lettuce and – let’s all clap our hands together in delight – truffle mayonnaise. That truffle mayo was so good, we got an extra side of it as a dipping sauce for our tots and sweet potato fries. Our dog was served in a red, vintage burger basket which was a fun contrast to the delicate champagne glasses that held glasses of sparkling rose.

I brought my best friend Emily here on her visit to London.  It’s a great tourist jaunt, but would also be a great place for a fun date as well. Just yum.

Bubbledogs
70 Charlotte St
London W1T 4QG
+44(0)207 637 7770
info@bubbledogs.co.uk

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2013.

Close to Home: barrecore Mayfair

Okay, London friends, prepare to get addicted. As you likely know, barrecore is essentially my second home and the first home of the barre fitness craze in London.  If you haven’t joined me at the Chelsea location because you live or work outside of south west London, you’re in luck now as barrecore just opened a Mayfair location!

I made it a priority to visit on opening day, Friday, October 18th and I’ve already scheduled Mayfair into my class rotation as a result.

About a five minute walk from the Oxford Circus tube station in plush Cavendish Square, the new location is large and spacious with a relaxing airy quality. There’s even a cute little courtyard that I’m hoping we can use to sip coconut water and kombucha in the fresh air on those rare temperate London days.

After tucking and pulsing in class to sculpt long, lean muscles, you’ll have everything you need to freshen up for your Mayfair shopping trip. Equipped with showers and a changing room with toiletries, hair dryer and straighteners, you’ll be looking and feeling like a million bucks before you hit the streets.

I’m aware that I’m a total barrecore groupie, but there are definitely worse things to be addicted to right?  Now head out to barrecore Mayfair and see for yourself!

barrecore Mayfair
6 Cavendish Square
Lower Ground Floor
London W1G 0PD
+44(0)20 7637 8458
info@barrecore.co.uk

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2013.

photo © barrecore, 2013.

Close to Home: Brighton

At the time I wrote my last post, we were in the throes of what could only be considered a heat wave by British standards.  So, I decided to take a very slow Friday afternoon off from work and head to Brighton to cool off.

A quick 40 minute train ride from Clapham Junction, and I arrived at the beach town haven that is Brighton.  A couple of people warned me before leaving that it is known for the rocky beach and outward dodginess in the center of town, but I didn’t find that to deter from Brighton’s charm.  I strolled to the beach through The Alleys, cute little side streets crammed with colourful and eclectic shops, cafes and bars.  While slightly distracted by a rail outside a clothing shop selling dungarees (American friends, read: overalls) for £2.50, I didn’t dawdle at the shops but high tailed it to the main event: Brighton pier and beach.

The pier is charming and paints a pretty picture protruding out to sea.  I walked the length and then back to the beach to find myself a spot to soak up the sun.  The area of the beach frontage is also crowded with fish stalls, galleries and bars.  I’m convinced you could never get bored on a week’s holiday in Brighton.

After a couple of hours in the sun and after dipping my toes in the frigid sea, I went back up to town for a bit of a nibble.  My first course was house made ice cream at Scoop & Crumb.  I chose banoffee pie flavour (my favourite dessert out of the UK).  The texture was more like ice milk, surprisingly light.

Next up I went for a main course of local, sustainable mussels marinere at Fishy Fishy.  Paired with a crisp glass of wine, it was the perfect late lunch.

For dessert, I couldn’t help but patronize Gelato Gusto as a quick stop on my walk back up to the train station. I selected the Salted Caramel, which was a complete departure from my earlier ice cream.  Rich, thick and creamy, it was delicious but I’m glad I only had a small scoop!

What struck me most about my whirlwind day trip to Brighton was how European it felt. It’s a real oasis away from the bustle of London and I can’t wait to go back!

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2013.