In April I moved back to Manchester. Well-accustomed to the drizzle and grey skies this city knows so well, I was apprehensive at first. Four months, dazzling sunshine and a heat-wave later, I can safely say this move was a success. Thanks to a pretty great flatmate, a job I love, many long-awaited catch ups with friends, and not to mention the spectacular weather, Manchester has welcomed me back with a wave and casual, ‘Alright?’
Before I knew it, August was here and a return visit to London was due. Unfortunately, with the late notice of my trip and only two days to march around the city, which I’ll add is huge, I didn’t manage to see many friends or eat at as many interesting bistros as I’d have liked. That said, plenty of eating was done. Plus, these past four months without blog regulars Fiona and Tony; everyone must be going stir-crazy. Dear reader, they have returned.
After work last week I boarded the train south-bound, hauling a bag containing the 1000-page Game of Thrones (light reading) over one arm and the largest sleeping bag I’ve ever seen, let alone attempt to carry, in the other. Negotiating my way on and off the tube was an ordeal, the sleeping bag taking up an entire seat, and visits to cafes and coffee shops saw me, with the poise of a upside-down turtle, knock into lamps, tables and people.
Arriving at Tony’s, we dumped my cumbersome belongings and marched out for Chinese. This restaurant has somehow become Tony’s chosen destination for only first meetings… and last meetings. If you want to meet Tony, he’ll take you to this Chinese. If he’s had enough of you, he’ll take you to this Chinese. Seeing as Tony and I have now known each other for 10 years I hope this isn’t a case of the latter scenario. The restaurant is cavernous and, although moderately busy, it appears empty. Some kind of optical illusion was at foot here. As we browsed the menu, we agreed this spacious and sterile room, full of waiters, was in fact a front for the real business clearly taking place upstairs beyond the roped off staircase. Between our constant chatting and pauses for breath, we sipped chowder to start – crab for me, chicken for Tony. The creamy broth was speckled with pale pink dots of crab meat and sunny yellow sweetcorn. After a couple of mouthfuls I realised it was rather lacking in its namesake, which would brighten and sweeten the somewhat bland broth. Within minutes of finishing, the bowls were whisked away by the watchful waiters and immediately followed by special fried rice doled into bowls for us, which we topped with beef in black bean sauce, sweet and sour chicken and mixed vegetables. We ate with gusto, enjoying the salty mix of rice and sauce, and drank beer, our glasses continuously topped up by the many passing waiters.
The next morning we settled on the sofa clutching cups of tea and a little blurry-eyed after all that chatting with further beers, some red wine which was probably opened on New Year’s Eve, and, at last, crawling to bed at 2am. Then I shouldered my bags and headed out for brunch with Fiona.
Scarlett Green is the new branch of the Daisy Green collection, an Australian-styled brunch cafe, and nestled in the heart of Soho. Fiona and I squeezed between other diners, me swinging my bag hither and thither, to perch at our small table. Despite the cramped surroundings, brunch was delicious. Both of us settled for poached eggs coated in hollandaise – which is ironic as only the previous day I had passionately sworn to colleagues, as I make it everyday, I would NEVER choose eggs Benedict from a brunch menu; goes to show I don’t know what I’m talking about. My eggs royale was accompanied by chewy rye bread, lemon hollandaise, a creamy half of avocado, and a blob of red pepper relish meaning every mouthful was a new mixture of flavours. Sharp from the hollandaise, salty with salmon, all intermingled with those burst pockets of saffron-yellow yolk. We ate then out-stayed our welcome as we sat and talked for hours. Sisterly chats, full of stupid in-jokes and endless laughter, are like covering yourself in a care-worn snuggly blanket which will always be comforting no matter how long it’s been.
We eventually left at 4pm – it was a long brunch – as it was time for dessert. Dominique Ansel’s Bakery is a flower-bedecked building on a quiet street in Victoria. Inside is all hustle and bustle, and sugar, and pastries, and slabs of watermelon filled with soft-serve ice cream. And, of course, crounts. Dominique Ansel is the creator of the cronut; that sugary croissant-doughnut hybrid which resulted in the cronut-frenzy of 2013. I had never tasted ‘the original’ cronut, notorious for its soft flaky pastry, the sugar-crusted exterior and the custard centre. This month’s flavour is Banana and Pineapple; a disappointment I must admit (with the bounty of summer fruits available this felt like a cop-out) but I resignedly ordered one all the same, while Fiona chose a delicate salted caramel eclair decorated with a slab of painted chocolate. Once settled back in her room, Fiona and I opened our elaborate pastry boxes and eagerly feasted, sugar covering my face and fingers. After my initial snobbery I had little to worry about – the cronut was bursting with fruity pineapple jam and banana custard, fresh like a creamy pina colada, and coated in a thick layer of banana glace icing which cracked under my teeth.
My last pit-stop was at my friend, Sam’s, house. As my ex-colleague and good friend she has always looked after me, taking me in as a housemate week prior to my move from London and cooking mouth-watering vegan concoctions (only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Butter and cheese is too great a sacrifice for seven days a week), particularly an unforgettable vegan shepherd’s pie (which I have already mentioned, it was that good). The stew was packed with lentils, chickpeas and rosemary, and saw us carnivores around the table scraping the edges of the baking dish clean with our forks. So, apart from the great deal of gossip she fed me last week, she is also a fellow chef and food-obsessive, thus conjuring up a simple colourful brunch of root vegetable hash; a tumble of carrots, butternut squash, beetroot and sweet potato, topped with sweet pickled onions, herby yoghurt and fried eggs. Before I waddled out she pressed a pack of real French butter into my hand as a parting gift. A mark of true friendship.
Thank you, London, you fed me well. My return trip is imminent.