Following a recent invitation to discover some of the food and drink highlights available at St Pancras International station, Pete and I had a lovely morning visiting Benugo’s Espresso Bar, Searcys Champagne Bar and Sourced Market.

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Unlike the downstairs branch of Benugo, the upstairs coffee bar (near the Martin Jennings sculpture of poet John Betjeman) is much quieter and cooler. An original tile floor leads to the service counter; the seating area next door has been designed to evoke rail travel of old; gentle jazz music completes the retro feel. During our morning visit, we tried coffee and cake (the shop has one coffee blend for espresso and espresso-based drinks, and another for drip filter coffees). Manager Ondrej was on hand to give further information about all the options, including some good quality loose leaf teas, for those who aren’t in a coffee state of mind. I particularly enjoyed my chocolate, pear and rosemary tart and the biscotti served with coffee.

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Searcy’s champagne bar might seem like an option better suited to summer, given that the concourse is open to the elements at both ends. But booths have little heaters at foot level, and guests are offered blankets and hot water bottles too, so it’s actually rather cosy as a winter destination. I found my hot chocolate excessively sweet but Pete enjoyed his rose champagne tasting trio (£19 for 50 ml each of Henri Giraud Esprit Rose, Besserat Cuvee des Moines Rose and Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose). It’s also a lovely spot to admire the beautiful architecture of the station.

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Sourced Market, downstairs, was a revelation. This little store has crammed in a lot of great products into their wide but shallow floor space. As well as delicious lunch options such as a variety of pies (with mash, gravy and peas), sausage rolls, scotch eggs, charcuterie and cheese platters, soups, sandwiches, salads and more you can also buy ingredients to take home. Pete was particularly impressed by the excellent selection of bottled beers, with small London breweries particularly well represented. I loved the cheese counter and the bakery table. There were lots of delicious treats and I’ll certainly pop in again before long. My only gripe about this lovely place was that all the seating provided was stool-style chairs and table, which are really challenging for those of us with hip, back or mobility problems, not to mention difficult for small children.

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Kavey Eats were given a guided tour of the above venues at St Pancras International.

 

Since our weekend in Amsterdam a couple of months ago, I’ve shared a comprehensive list of Amsterdam food specialities and my recommendations on where to find great coffee, cakes and snacks.

In this post, I want to share a few tips on restaurants and bars:

Getto (Burgers & Bar)
Brouwerij ‘t IJ (Brewery Bar)
Lab 111 (Bar Restaurant)
Cafe ‘t Arendsnest (Pub)
Cafe t’ Smalle (Pub Restaurant)

 

GETTO

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Getto is a burger bar with bling. Describing itself as “an attitude-free zone, for gays, lesbians, bi, queers and straights”, the space is both a restaurant and a drinks lounge and has more disco balls hanging from the ceiling than you’d find in a disco balls shop. All the burgers are named for drag queens who perform there, though our early evening visit meant we missed them.

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The burgers are all priced between €12.50 and €12.90 and come with a portion of home made chips, a little salad and a pot of sauce and include such beauties as the Jennifer Hopelezz (melted cheddar cheese, bacon and guacamole), The Lady Bunny (bacon, sautéed mushrooms and gorgonzola sauce) and the Windy Mills (grilled chicken breast with warm goat cheese, bacon and honey, served with whole grain mustard).

The burgers were decent, but not stellar. The main let down was the patties themselves which I think must have been deep fried. They had a hard crust on the outside and were a little tough throughout, though the flavour was good. However, what won the day were the stonkingly good house chips, skin on and cooked till beautifully brown and crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy inside. The secondary fillings and sauces were also spot on.

By the time we left, a few more customers were finally arriving, and I’m sure this would be a great party spot for those with open minds and open wallets.

Getto
Warmoesstraat 51
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 4 pm to late.

 

 

BROUWERIK ‘T IJ

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An obvious destination for beer lovers visiting Amsterdam but is it a worthwhile one?

The Brouwerij ‘t IJ is located in an old bath house, grain store and windmill, however it’s not as old as you might expect, founded less than 30 years ago in 1983. Today, the brewery still brews all its beer on location here, and visitors can enjoy scheduled tours, should they wish.

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The best way to sample their offerings is to start with a taster of five beers for €7.50. Pete really enjoyed these, and afterwards, a glass of the 6th beer on tap that day.

For me, a number of the beers had a distinctly urinal smell (and no, I wasn’t sitting too near the toilets) which I found off putting but everyone else seemed to enjoy them immensely, and of course, I’m not a big beer drinker.

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The bar also sells a range of snacks, including peanuts, eggs, cheese, salami and a specialist local raw beef sausage.

There’s also a neighbouring cafe called Langendijk which offers a more extensive food menu. I particularly enjoyed the meatballs I had there as we waited for the brewery bar to open.

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Long communal tables make for a friendly experience and we enjoyed chatting about Amsterdam food and drink to a local couple who visit the brewery regularly.

Opening hours mean this isn’t an option for a late night session, so best to visit during the afternoon and take advantage of the outside tables in good weather.

Brouwerij ‘t IJ
Funenkade 7, out east past the Scheepvartmuseum
Open: daily 3 pm to 8 pm

 

 

LAB 111

Lab 111 “media cafe” is located within the SMART Project Space. SPS is an cultural centre offering a continuously changing programme of exhibitions and events.

SMART opened in 1994, in a former Pathological Anatomical Laboratory located in a deprived urban neighbourhood not far from the city centre. The website talks of civic improvement, of providing high quality municipal service and creating a new cultural platform. As well as several galleries for the exhibition of art and events, it also provides 12 artists studios of which 6 are reserved for Dutch artists, and the rest for artists from abroad. Patrons, sponsors and an in-house team support the artists in developing, producing and realising their projects.

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But we didn’t go because we’d heard about the worthy arts centre. We went because I’d read good things about the food.

We walked from the tram stop deeper into a large housing estate. It was dark; at first there were no other people on the streets, then a group of teenage boys, loitering. When we failed to find our destination, we pulled into the lighted entrance hall of a block of flats to check our map and I started to feel conspicuous, nervous, even vulnerable. I had no reason to be – the boys weren’t showing any interest us, let alone doing anything to warrant my fear – but still, we swiftly decided on a direction to try next and quickened our pace.

Just I was about to curse myself and my plans to try something a bit different, and give up, Pete noticed a large red brick building and a tiny sign for Lab 111.

As we entered the main reception, it reminded me of a school. No one was about, the floors and walls had that low budget public building look to them. We followed signs and quickly found ourselves inside the bright, light space of Lab 111.

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Bizarrely, though I kind of liked it, the walls were covered in photographic print mimicking the stacked shelves of a supermarket. All around us were food, drink and household supplies, all with their shelf price labels

Tables and chairs were utilitarian, and not the most comfortable, but OK. Part of the space was given over to a stage area. During our visit it had extra tables set up on it, but it’s used regularly for live performances, we were told. As well as the more formal dining area, there was a large bar and a big green communal table underneath what looked like medical operating theatre lights. As I said, a strange place, but likable.

The review I’d found online suggested a more unusual menu than we were given, things like salt cod fritters with paprika ketchup and wakame seaweed. However, the most unusual thing on the menu was kangaroo and that’s common enough, these days. Still, there were plenty of appealing options.

Pete had the soup of the day (€6.50), a rich squash of some type. It was decent.

I went for the scallops with red and yellow beet carpaccio and lobster gravy (€9.75) which was generous and delicious. My three large scallops were plump and beautifully cooked, with caramelised surfaces and soft flesh. With them came the paper-thin slices of beetroot and a well dressed salad. A good dish.

For our mains, we both ordered the beef steak with potato gratin, mushrooms, beans and garlic gravy (€19.50). Plating was pretty sloppy, even given the casual nature of the place, but the cooking and flavours were good and the portion very generous. Both of us enjoyed it well enough.

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The biggest disappointment was my dessert, a banana cream pie with dulce de leche (€7.50). It sounded like banoffee but had very little flavour and the layers of bread between the cream and banana were dry and tasteless, having not been soaked in anything for flavour or moisture.

Overall, our meal was good not great, but we really enjoyed it.

Within an hour of our arrival, the place was packed, and I’d imagine none of the other diners felt the slightest hesitation on walking to the restaurant. When we left, walking back along the same route, through the estate, across a canal bridge and back towards the busy main road and the tram stop, I chided myself for my irrational and judgemental reactions earlier. The estate might not be wealthy, but the properties were well looked after, and I had no reason to consider it any less safe than anywhere else we visited in the city.

Certainly, Lab 111 is not in a conventional location, nor easy to find for tourists like us, but it’s clearly popular with people who come from much farther than the small local neighbourhood for the food, the buzz and the art.

Lab 111
Arie Biemondstraat 111
Open daily from midday until 1 am (3 am on Fridays and Saturdays)

 

 

CAFE ‘T ARENDSNEST

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Pete has already written about the wonderful Cafe ‘t Arendsnest which we visited twice during our visit, so much did we like it the first night.

To our surprise, most of the bars in Amsterdam serve Belgian beer. Not so Cafe ‘t Arendsnest which serves a huge array of only Dutch beers, claiming to have at least one representation from each of the country’s 50+ breweries. And better still, the bar has 30, yes 30 taps so there’s a superb selection on draft as well as the wide range of bottles.

‘t Arendsnest means The Eagle’s Nest and is also a pun on the name of owner Peter van der Arend, a Dutch beer enthusiast and expert.

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A huge blackboard lists all the draft beers (with ABV and prices provided) but you can also ask the “beerologists” for advice; the cafe is staffed by men and women who know and love their beer and are happy to help customers discover new favourites.

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For a proper meal you’ll need to go elsewhere but bar snacks include various Dutch cheeses, meatballs and nuts.

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There are non-beer drinks, for those who want them. I absolutely loved the Speculaas Liqueur by Zuidam, and their Amaretto was very good too. Pete enjoyed a wide range of the draft beers over the two nights.

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I should say a word about the look of the place too – all comforting wooden panels and polished brass, with enormous lights that look like something out of a ship.

It’s not a big place, with a long row of bar stools and just a few tables, but as the leery drinkers tend to head for the bars selling cheap lager and playing loud music, serious beer lovers should be able to find a corner to squeeze into.

Cafe ‘t Arendsnest
Herengracht 90, corner of Herenstraat
Open Friday 4 pm – 2 am, Saturday 2 pm – 2 am and Sunday 2 pm – midnight.

 

 

CAFE ‘T SMALLE

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Located on a pretty canal in the city centre, Cafe ‘t Smalle is a cafe pub restaurant located in a tiny space within a building originally built in 1780. Many of the beautiful vintage brass features date back to its origin as the Hoppe distillery, and there are old oak casks stacked above the bar, opulent chandeliers, lots of wood panelling and the most beautiful lead glass windows.

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Unlike ‘t Arendsnest, ‘t Smalle doesn’t specialise in Dutch beer, and indeed much of the offering is Belgian/ international. Staff are friendly and prices are normal for Amsterdam.

The ground floor bar area is for drinks and bar snacks and the small restaurant dining room is located on a mezzanine up a narrow staircase at the back. In warmer weather, the tables outside are very popular.

Cafe ‘t Smalle
Egelantiersgracht 12
Open Sunday to Thursday 10 am – 1 am, Friday & Saturday 10 am – 2 am

 

Eurostar UK provided Kavey Eats with return train tickets to Amsterdam and the first night’s hotel reservation.

Apr 032012
 

The new Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar is both a new venture, for restaurateurs Huw Gott and Will Beckett, and a return to their starting point, located as it is in the basement of their first restaurant, Hawksmoor Spitalfields.

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Unlike the bars at their Guildhall and Seven Dials restaurants, the latest bar feels like a much more separate space, and indeed the regular restaurant menu is not available here, due to the small size of the kitchen. (The main restaurant upstairs uses the original kitchen, also pretty small).

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Bang on trend, the space is dark and intimate with retro tiling and a simple decor. There are three huge booths, of which we are lucky enough to be seated in one, and a number of tall tables with stool chairs around them.

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Some things are familiar though, such as a list of original cocktails and a short sweet list of mainly local beers from brewers such as Meantime and Kernel. A handful of cocktails are on the permanent list. These are joined by the Desert Island five, which will be devised and selected monthly by the large bar team across all three properties.

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The menu is short and sweet, split into food, sides and puddings.

We order four items from the sides list, thinking some will work as starters and some as sides to our main order.

I’ve already heard great things about the shortrib nuggets (£6) and they don’t disappoint. Served piping hot with a vibrant and punchy dipping sauce these bread-crumbed beauties contain soft flakes of deeply flavoured meat, chopped pickles and oozing melted cheese. There are 6 in the serving and they don’t last long!

Smashed cucumbers (£3) seem a little steeply priced but are rather good. Very lightly soused in a mild, sweet pickling liquid, they still have the taste and texture of fresh.

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The oxtail poutine (£6) comes out with our mains and is not an attractive dish. That’s because it’s all about the eating, and believe me, on that front it definitely delivers. Fantastic chips, fluffy inside but with a decent crunch on the outside, are smothered in gravy, melted cheese and immensely savoury oxtail meat. There’s gravy beneath them too, so the bottom chips get good and soggy by the time you reach them.

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I am unable to resist the lobster roll, which is priced at £15 rather than the £20 listed on the online menu. That’s just as well as it’s not very large, though it’s reasonably generously filled. The roll is soft and sweet, which brings out the sweetness in the meat. Although the meat tastes really great, it’s a touch too soft, either overcooked or cooked and left aside for too long, I’m not sure which. In any case, it’s a minor quibble and I enjoy every bite.

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Pete’s chilli cheese dog (£10) is also a little expensive though it tastes fantastic, with a lovely smoky dog, punchy chilli, though very little of it and some oozy cheese. However, the roll it’s on is far too small for it, so small that it’s actually not possible to pick it up in the conventional way, as the roll doesn’t extend at all around the sausage. It’s a delicious dog but a tenner ought to buy a big enough roll to hold the thing!

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The Tamworth laab (£6) is the one thing on the menu that just doesn’t make sense to me. Laab is a Laotian / Thai ground meat salad and the Spitalfields Bar version is good and tasty – strong flavours and a pleasant but not too strong chilli kick. It could do with a few more lettuce leaves with which to parcel up the meat, I think, but the dish is decent. However, it doesn’t fit with anything else on the menu, and I can’t work out what it’s doing on there.

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I am already full but, like a moth drawn to a flame, am unable to resist once again, when I see peanut butter shortbread with salted caramel ice cream (£7) in the puddings list. Served hot out of the oven, this is magnificent! I’d venture to say it’s one of the best desserts I’ve had for ages, and the mix of hot, crumbly pastry, a gooey melted peanut butter filling and the tangy sweet salted caramel ice cream is worth busting a gut for!

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So good is my own sweet that I don’t even want to taste Pete’s lemon meringue pie (£6) as it’ll mean one less bite of my own that I’ll be able to manage! He assures me it’s a good example of the dish.

So that’s the food, what about service? We’ve been looked after by Miguel all evening, and he’s enthusiastically helped us with understanding some of the menu items, making our selection, and checked that everything is OK during our meal. Staff seem well trained and on the ball, as they do at all the Hawksmoor venues.

I know that if I worked locally, this is just the kind of casual bar restaurant I’d love to have around the corner, to drag colleagues into for a quick drink and tasty bite after work.

 

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar.

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