The London Fox | Currently on sabbatical in New York City

Category: Activities

USA Trip: doodles

Some of you may know that the Fox has been away for a tour of the US in the past few weeks. He ventured the swampy, ‘gator trodden lands of New Orleans then whisked away to Wyoming where he camped for three days and stayed away from bears. From there he went to California and whetted his lips in the salty ocean

I’m certainly not going to bore you with my travel tales but I will document some of the culinary highlights and activities in the course of the best week or so.

Here are some cheeky paintings I managed to get done out there.

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Grand Teton

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Another one on Grand Teton, this one of Marion Lake

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Beach in San Onofre

Brunch at Freemans

“You’re coming to brunch, right?” She asked.

The London Fox looked up and thought for a moment. He does have a busy weekend and needs to study.

“Because if not, we can no longer be friends. Brunch is the most important meal of the week.”

He pictured the scene: a group of thirty-something ladies occupy a circular table, consoling each other, as if trying to defuse the ticking timebomb that is their youth; a crowd of fratboys and their drapy girlfriends sit around the table in the centre, still profusely downing drinks as though the night before never ended; the couple sat in silence, enjoying the eggs and bacon that they so easily could have made at home but didn’t because they can’t fucking cook.

“Yeah, go on then.”

I guess it’s becoming like this in London now too, but the brunch scene really has been institutionalised here in New York. Everywhere serves the same range of eggs, granola and pancakes. And everywhere has that decrepit, dark interior that is so popular these days. Nonetheless, it’s a good way to see the friends you’ve just seen and talk about the events that occurred a couple of hours ago.

Freemans is one such place located at the end of an alleyway in Nolita (doesn’t get cooler than that) serving a pretty commendable brunch menu. There were a big group of us, so we managed to wangle the private room which was very beautiful.

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I had the granola and yoghurt as I already ate a big breakfast and washed it down with a Bloody Mary (not too salty, which I find the Marys here to be usually). They also serve this great artichoke pâté with the table bread.

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The granola was great, but my issue is that it seems to taste the same everywhere. I suppose brunch is one of those things that is very samey. fond memories of Nopa in London pop to mind though, which offers something different for brunch dwellers. Nonetheless, Freemans is worth a look, if you’re into the brunch thing.

Freemans
Chrystie & Houston

Wake up, Mr. Fox

The London Fox wakes from his hibernation. The winter in New York was cold, harsh and long. A chink of light teases his eyelids open making him yawn. The murmur of traffic outside his New York apartment starts to clarify into a familiar street symphony. The regular march of car engines and the short hiss of the local bus starting and stopping play the percussion line. The harsh ambulance siren, so much louder than the London melody…crescendo then diminuendo. Against it, the brass band of car horns play purposefully out of rhythm to the time signature of the rest of the traffic.

The London Fox smiles. How he has missed the New York tune.

I’ve been busy exploring, tasting, hosting, capturing and hosting some more lately and have had little time to document all these experiences. It seems that when you move to New York you become some kind of hotel and tour guide to everyone you know. Well, that’s fine because it gives me an excuse to try new things.

Spring has almost ended here in NYC, and the Summer promises to be hot and humid and full of pleasurable offerings. Speaking of which, I wanted to write about one particularly great restaurant of which I have become somewhat of a regular patron.

Catch sits on top of a makeup store in the middle of the Meatpacking district (a glossy, pretentious spot where models and bankers frequent). A part of the EM Group empire, who is responsible for most of New York’s hotspots, Catch is predominantly a seafood restaurant with a random top floor bar.

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Fish tacos

The great thing about Catch is how cool it is. Not too try-hard, with just the right amount of bare-walled New Yorkness. And oh, the food is delectable. One side of the menu offers sharers, while the other serves larger portions of fish. The cuisine is mainly Japanese sushi/robata with a few curve balls kicked in like fish tacos and lobster. The closest thing we have in London is probably Roka (which I love).

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Cook-it-yourself wagyu beef

I’ve been to fancier places, I’ve been to cooler places with better food. However, if I were to take a group of people out here in the City for a nice dinner, Catch is the first place that comes to mind.

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The lobster mash – to die for

Catch
W13th & 9th

The Dinner Bell

The London Fox swoops down the grimy steps at the 47-50th street subway. In this underground city, he feels at home when presented with the familiar sights of tracks, signs and stairs and the smell of soggy concrete. But somehow, he is lost. With no colour coded lines to rely on, he looks at the subway map, and tries to figure out how on Earth he is to reach his destination.

This was my first experience in the New York subway. It was as confusing as hell at first, but became very intuitive and simple once I worked out how it works. I was on my way to Brooklyn, where in my first week in New York, I managed to secure a place at the much hyped Dinner Bell supper club. I’m told that New York is full of these clubs, whereby someone hosts a dinner for an array of random, paying guests.

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Julia, our chef, is an artist-come-untrained-chef. The Dinner Bell began as a hobby of cooking which turned into an experiment with friends and has now become a hugely popular and oversubscribed affair among the New York foodie scene.

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And there is much grounding for the hype. The food was exquisite. Intense flavours, paired with some well thought out wines. I particularly enjoyed the dessert of Panettone Bread Pudding, and I’m not even into sweets. Of course, the main of Braised Beef Brisket, perfectly balanced with a pickled red cabbage was also a favourite.

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The thing that struck me most about the Dinner Bell, though, was the freshness of the experience. Surrounded by a fashion PR and several social network extraordinaires, whilst sat around a stranger’s dining table, you wouldn’t be mocked for thinking his was a bizzare experience for me. However, with some dutch courage (helped by the wine pairings) and everyone’s love of food, I ended up meeting some truly great people.

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Don’t expect Michelin starred presentation at the Dinner Bell, but it shouldn’t be. The food is too comforting, and the setting too homely for that kind of sterility. Overall, an absolute pleasure.

The Dinner Bell
Brooklyn, New York

Goodbye London

The London Fox turns the key to lock the door, picks up his bag, turns and looks at the front door of the building to his Islington flat. He breathes a heavy sigh against the cold winter air, creating a misty cloud in front of his eyes. Through the cloud, three and a half years of fond memories begin to play in reverse at high speed.

There he was, browsing through the canal boat market in the Summer…

The orange Autumn days rustling through Hyde Park…

The Sunday roast chickens…

The tired Monday mornings…

There he was in the car, moving into this city as a fresh faced graduate from smalltown Cambridge.

The mix of cold and nostalgia causes a shiver to run down his back and his eyes to become bleary. It’s time to say goodbye to London…for now.

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The Bar With No Name

Too many times has the Fox seen people pretend to be someone they are not, only to falter at their efforts and end up appearing uncomfortable in their own skin. That’s why the first rule of the Transaction of Love is to ensure you are having a good time. Pick a place you will enjoy, crack the joke that you will find funny, be yourself, damnit and the rest will follow.

One of my favourite London hang outs is the bar at 69 Colebrooke Row. I don’t think anyone knows the name of this place, but it has a great big Martini sign outside. Hidden away in a corner off Upper Street, this is a tiny, delightful speakeasy serving great cocktails with the widest of smiles. I will always have a good evening here.

The waitress, tall, blonde and French lures us to our seats. We each take a menu from her slender, diamond encrusted hands which we squint to read due to the ungenerous lighting. A piano sits in the corner yearning to be played. Next to it is the bar, behind which two bearded bartenders shake up gorgeous looking concoctions. The tiny room is packed with Islington’s most handsomely dressed, a couple of whom sit on the steps leading up to the washrooms due to a lack of space. Condensation drips from the windows to the beat of the jazzy rhythm that fills the room. The waitress returns as soon as we are settled, bringing glasses of water and takes our order.

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Usually I pick the Spitfire, which is no longer on the menu. I have no idea what is in it, but it is delicious. It is kind of a light cider, quite sweet with a tinge of sour. This time round, I picked the Avignon, which I believe is cognac with a splash of camomile liqueur. It was great. My guest chose the Apple and Hay Bellini of which I had a taste, but can’t remember if it was any good.

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Conversation flows as easily as the martini in this bar. I always find myself excited at the prospect of coming here. There are also snacks on the menu for the fiendishly peckish, and those who don’t drink cocktails can choose the beers or wines available.

The waitress returns, as beautiful as ever. She fills our glasses with fresh water and asks us if we wish for any more drinks. What great service.

69 Colebrooke Row
N1 8AA

Duck for breakfast

It’s 6:30am.

The Fox is soaring vertically up towards the misty London sky at an incredible pace. The London skyline gradually becomes a pool of clustered buildings below his paws.

No, I wasn’t high from shooting smack. I was in fact shooting up to the 40th floor of Heron Tower in the City in a glass lift. The tower is a relatively new addition to the City, and I had previously been here for drinks and canapés at Sushisamba which I enjoyed immensely (for the views if nothing else).

It had been a long night of partying and afterpartying. Then someone had the idea of going for breakfast at Duck and Waffle at 6am.

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Open twenty-four-seven, Duck and Waffle boasts incredible city views coupled with clean, non fussy food. At least the breakfast menu at 6:30 was not too fussy anyway. Of course I went for the signature dish: a leg of duck, perfectly cooked, with two slices of soft waffle and a fried duck egg, drizzled with a mustard maple syrup. Sounds pretty strange at first but the combination works. I’m not sure I’d have it for breakfast or brunch, but noone can doubt how well they’ve executed the dish. The skin on the duck has just the right amount of crisp, and the waffle never too soggy.

Admittedly, I don’t think anyone is going to rave about the signature dish, and it’s certainly not amazing to warrant a host if copycat restaurants. However, the novel experience and location (and loose opening hours) means it should receive at least a look in.

Duck and Waffle
EC2N 4AY

Christmas past

Meet me at Hoxton. Dress code: Christmas jumpers. I text her.

London at Christmas time is a great period for activities. The crisp, chilly air, twinkling lights and festive spirits sets a magnificently romantic scene. If only we had some snow.

What are we doing? x She replies.

Going back in time

The Geffrye Museum by Hoxton station runs an annual Christmas past exhibition. It’s a beautiful location, despite the area that is surrounding it. The premise is this: 11 rooms which represent typical rooms from 1600- present day decorated as they would have been during the Christmas period. Think interior design ideas, conversations about how people lived in the past, interesting objects and mistletoe.

I meet her there at 4pm, just before the museum closes. I grab a couple of teas from the Fabrique bakery around the corner and wait outside the station (in retrospect we should have gone there after the museum as you can sit and have some cakes too). We stroll over to the museum and sip our teas on one of the benches in the courtyard. The grounds are calm and in the setting sun, are reminiscent of an Oxbridge college.

The exhibition itself was rather disappointing. I was hoping for a more interactive experience where you can go and wander around the rooms, instead, it was more a stare and read state of affairs. Not to say it wasn’t fun. There are plenty of interesting things to look at and talk about.

I had a great time today, thanks. Would you like to come round and help me decorate my place for Christmas? x

Geffrye museum
E2 8EA

Fabrique bakery
Arch 385, by Hoxton station

Can old recipes still fare against new tastes?

There’s a handful of places everyone is banging on about right now. You’d be cool if you go to these places, the London Fox was told. Everyone would respect you more. Obviously, he had to check these places out.

Heston Blumenthal is a G. There are few men who have the dedication and commitment to their craft as Heston. And as a consequence, he has created some of the most imaginative dishes, holds the highest accolade in the restaurant industry and even revamped Little Chef.

I have been to Dinner twice in a month now. And it’s there is a reason for that – it is very good. Having never been to the Fat Duck, mainly because it is a bit of a trek, I welcomed Heston’s presence in the capital and was eager to get a table.

The first time I went I was surprised at the lack of stuffiness. The ambience is very much business casual over tiptoeingly posh, and the food had a certain efficiency to it. The concept is historic British gastronomy, however, the dishes had a certain Germanic squeeky-clean feel to them. Everything still looked exceedingly tasty. I played with the idea of picking the Meat Fruit, the signature dish, but went against vox populi (how good can liver parfait be?) and went for the Savoury Porridge. My main was the Black Foot Pork Chop which had a lovely risotto served with it (not sure if this has changed on the current menu) and finished with the Tipsy Cake (a must-order).


Savoury Porridge

The taste was as expected – intense and interest flavours, perfectly combined. Take the Savoury Porridge: the combination of beetroot and cod is something I would never think to put together, but worked really well with the fennel and garlic. My counterpart went for the Salagmundy (ingredients I’d never heard of, rich and superb), Powdered Duck Breast (duck is always the same in nice restaurants) and the Chocolate Bar (everyone loves it but me). We also shared some Triple Cooked chips which I’ve seen on his shows. They weren’t that great – too much crispiness and not enough soft fluffiness.


Salagmundy


The must have Tipsy Cake

My second Dinner fix was with work, and we were lucky enough to get the private room. I thought the room would be a bit more decadent and traditional but it was more slick and clean. I wanted open log fires with real candlelight (they have hanging faux-candles) and a boar in the middle of the table with an apple in its mouth. I was expecting to eat with forks forged by the local blacksmith and a sword pulled out of a stone, but I guess that would be going a bit too far. The ambience was certainly suitable for a special dinner.

We went five courses this time with matching wines. I had the Rice and Flesh (incredibly tasty risotto/porridge), Meat Fruit (liver parfait can be pretty special after all), Roast Turbot (pretty bland) and of course, Tispsy Fruit. We also had some triple cooked chips and ended with dessert wine and cheese. And then some coffee and whiskey. What a dinner.

Dinner
SW1X 7LA

Dissatisfactory Shopping Experience, 70% Off

The Fox checks his inbox. Linked-in reports that someone wants to join his network. Facebook informs that another has commented on a photo in which he was tagged. The one from Groupon reads something like: “Big bean bag as seen on major TV shows for 70% of the price omfg lolz”. Usually he would delete any correspondence from Groupon as they make him sick. Indeed upon seeing this garish subject line he did vomit a bit in his mouth, but he does need some new furniture and takes a look. The deal looks good. A huge bean bag for £55 including delivery, down from £145. 8 hours left to grab such a great deal. He stops and thinks. £145. For a bean bag. Something doesn’t smell right. He has a quick look online and notices that there are similar bags for similar prices. And he thought he had to act quickly to get such a deal. He breathes. A narrow escape from the Groupon impulse buy.

At inception, Groupon was a good idea. Promoting local businesses with discount vouchers that are only valid if enough people buy them, which allows the company to realise a fixed cost in exchange for exposure that gives them the possibility of enough repeat business to generate enough revenue to surpass this cost in the future. I could really see where this would work. Family run salons needing a much needed boost, new restaurants looking for exposure, even large cash cow businesses can find new audiences through the Groupon arena. It really was a rational alternative to conventional advertising and marketing.

However the issue with Groupon is threefold.

Firstly the customer experience is glorified.

Consumers are so enticed by the unbelievably good deals, coupled with a deadline to purchase the deal that it would not be surprising if impulse buying was commonplace. Furthermore many of these companies are new or unheard of, and so researching into the products themselves before purchase becomes difficult. I remember buying a deal on a suit from a “bespoke tailor”. The deal mentioned that they were featured in GQ and gave the impression that the suit was fully bespoke. Their website looked very classy, and at full price, the suit was worth just short of £1000. The reality was a one-measurement made to measure suit (similar to the far superior Suit Supply offering – who in my opinion make the best quality-to-value suits I have seen). It turned out that my suit, for £500 was not bad. I still wear it today. But it was only worth £500. Had I paid full price, I would have felt ripped off. Did I want a £500 suit? Not really. But I felt enticed enough to purchase it anyway.

Another way the service is glorified is the restrictions with which some companies place on their deals. For example, there was a London Zoo offer not so long ago which could only be used at a time when there was heavy rain in London. Many punters would not have thought to check the weather and went for the deal. To their dismay, they would have seen no animals if they went to the zoo that weekend. Of course you may say that the weather is unpredictable, and that this is priced into the value of the voucher, but that does not detract from the fact that these deals are misleading. The zoo has done a clever thing here in fixing an amount of revenue in advance of bad weather. Without Groupon, chances are that no one would have gone to the zoo that day. If the weather was good, well, they may have lost some revenue by selling a portion of tickets at a discount but that is better than having no revenue. And the weatherman was on their side anyway. This is the case, I imagine, with many of the holiday deals

Second, it devalues personalised service.

Where have quality products and experiences gone these days? I wrote about Taste previously which I believe also devalues quality somewhat. There must be a wave of people who go on Groupon for all services just because it’s cheaper. Need a haircut? Have a look on Groupon. I’m sure there will be a “top salon” where the haircut is cheaper than the one in your local barber. Why wouldn’t you go there? It will offer a consultation with a designer stylist, spray you with expensive products and rub your head with the bark from a Californian redwood. And of course you won’t go there again. The full price is much more than you can afford. But don’t worry, Groupon will have another, equally stylish salon offering a similar deal in 3 months time. What happened to getting to know your hairdresser, catching up with them, letting them learn your hair’s needs? Fair enough if you haven’t found one yet, but never finding one by Groupon-hopping makes me sad.

Lastly, the business model is questionable

Social media entrepreneur Rocky Agrawal has written extensively on why Groupon’s business model is unsustainable and could actually be harmful to local merchants (and itself for that matter).

Rocky compares to Groupon’s business proposition to merchants as a a risky, high cost ad campaign. Groupon is offering, in effect, a high interest loan to merchants. The merchant gets some cash upfront from Groupon hen vouchers are sold, and in return, agrees to give up part of its future revenue to Groupon customers by discounting its product to them. this may appear to be a low risk way of attracting new customers, but many hidden factors come into play. Fundamentally the business is paying for this service. The difference is that instead of paying an upfront service cost, it will realise this cost over time in the form of reduced margins from discounted products. Interestingly, Rocky states that a business that is going under should do a Groupon. It will provide them with upfront cash to manage their day-to-day costs, the possibility of new customers (a fresh start) and the downside is they go bankrupt anyway. Which highlights another issue in its business model – the fact that Groupon is open to abuse.

Furthermore, it seems that Groupon is prone to hold risky, credit unworthy, businesses that may not be able to meet the deals. Groupon itself takes accountability for refunds to unhappy customers, which is great customer service, but pretty naive and open to abuse.

Have a read of Rocky’s posts here.

I have to say, not all Groupon experiences are bad. There have been a couple of things i bought that I was happy with. It’s not that I hate it or anything, just that I would recommend consumers and merchants to be careful when using Groupon. Or maybe I’m just bitter because I don’t own a company that was once worth $6bn and have accumulated a pile of tat I should have never bought…