Saturday, 18 February 2017

Noak revisted, Brockley

The Quite Healthy
In my first blog post about Noak I wrote that it "makes me want to love it and pull my hair out in almost equal measure." The food we've tried has always been pretty  good, it was just the service that was letting the place down.

We visited again a couple weeks ago and we were greeted when we arrived, shown to a table, given menus, our order was taken and then the food arrived after a perfectly acceptable wait. They had a generous number of staff working and an order of service seems to have been established, making a big difference to our enjoyment of the café. I know it sounds basic, but previously it wasn't always the case.

I had the 'Quite Healthy'. A bowl of halloumi, avocado, home made beans, roasted tomatoes, sourdough, courgette ribbons and an egg cooked to your liking (£10.50). All of the components were well done and the two thick slices of sourdough were a welcome filling addition.

Noak felt like it was on the way to being the café we all hoped it would be when they first opened, so it was a shame that is wasn't full on a Saturday lunchtime. If, like us, others have previously been put off, hopefully they too will give Noak another try.

Noak
209–211 Mantle Road
Brockley
London 

SE4 2EW

Friday, 20 January 2017

Miyajima Island, Japan

Itsukushima shrine with the Great Torii in the background
After hearing some good reviews of Miyajima Island from friends it was one of the few things that we'd included in our very minimal itinerary before we left home and I was very pleased that we visited. The only downside was visiting on a national holiday so we had lots of company on the island!

We caught the train from Hiroshima to Miyajima ready to take the ferry (included in our train pass) across to the island. We decided to try and pick up some lunch before catching the ferry, fearing that all of the restaurants on the island would be rammed. Everywhere between the station and the ferry terminal only sold the local speciality, oysters, and was completely packed so we ended up with two bento boxes from the 7-Eleven. Not a glamorous option, but definitely not as bad as you'd expect either.
Five tiered pagodo on Miyajima


After catching the ferry over to the Miyajima island, we ate our bento boxes next to the front and then set off to explore the island. It was pretty crowded as we walked towards the Great Tori so we decided to keep going past the most popular monuments and to climb to the top of the mountain on the island.

At the base of the climb was the lovely Daisho-in temple that we stopped into for a look around. For a small donation you could ring one of the ceremonial bells which I took great pleasure in bonging as loudly as I could and listening to it echoing round the valley.
Daishō-in Buddhist temple 
On leaving the temple we started the climb proper and it was tough going! The first half of the climb contained a lot of steps while it flattened out slightly in the second half of the climb. We saw quite a few people walking down, but only a couple of others climbing. It wasn't hard to see why the cable car was such a popular option on a hot day.

When we arrived at what we thought was the top of the mountain we sat down on some benches outside of another temple to enjoy a drink of water and a few snacks. After ten minutes it dawned on us that we weren't getting the spectacular views we were expecting at the top and we might not quite be there. A mad dash ensued to get to the very top before the viewing platform closed in ten minutes time.
View from the summit of Miyajima
We arrived at the observation deck on the stroke of the official closing time. Thankfully the caretaker let us in, he was feeling charitable as it was a national holiday and kept the viewing platform open for an extra fifteen minutes for the late comers like us.

We decided to take a different route down from the top and it started to get gloomy between the trees as the sun was setting. We were rushing a bit to get to the bottom before it got too dark for us to see our footing.
Itsukushima shrine 
We got back to the Itsukushima Shrine and the Tori Gate just in time to watch the sunset (along with thousands of other hoping to get the perfect pic). Despite showing some early promise we unfortunately didn't get the amazing sunset we were hoping for.
Becks at sunset


We caught the train back to Hiroshima and decided to visit a small group of restaurants that we'd spotted on previously. After deciding that we didn't want to queue at a couple of interesting places we ended up in Bakudanya and I'm pleased we did as I really enjoyed the food!
Dinner at Bakudanya in Hiroshima station 
The serve Tsukemen, where the noodles are served separately from from a spicy broth. I was a very contended diner as I dunked and slurped with a side of crunchy karage chicken on the side.

After dinner we headed back to our apartment on the sightseeing bus which Becks had expertly discovered we could use free with our train passes.
Curry noodles

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Archies Bar, Deptford Market Yard

The newly opened Deptford Market Yard
Last weekend Becks and I popped down to the newly opened Deptford Market Yard for a spot of lunch. The approach to the station has been completely transformed by the new, wide public square and the railway arches which have been converted into small business units. Even on a slightly dreary and damp day the area was looking good.

There are a few options for lunch and we selected Archie's for some grilled cheese sandwiches.
Queso Fundido and chorizo
We completely over ordered and I spent the rest of the day in a pleasant cheese coma.

Of the savoury dishes we chose my favourite was the posh cheese and onion toastie that is made with Keen's cheddar, ogleshield and onion. You could definitely taste the quality of the cheese which has been grilled until it came oozing out of our sandwich.
Goats cheese toastie
The highlight though, without doubt, was the ricotta cheesecake. It was unlike any other cheesecake that I've had before being much softer and creamier. Unlike most ricotta cheesecakes I'm guessing that it hadn't been baked. It came in a delightfully generous slice too, but something tasting this good can't be good for you....
Posh cheddar and onion
The staff were super friendly and they have fitted out the small railway arch well. The short menu is full on cheese so make sure you, and all of your party, are in the mood for cheese before you go as there aren't any options besides cheese, cheese and more glorious cheese.
Ricotta cheesecake
Archie's Bar London
Deptford Market Yard
London
SE8

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

What on earth are you doing in Rancho Cucamonga on your honeymoon??

Becks with her giant pancakes
It would be fair to say that I wasn't particularly looking forward to the long drive from Solvang to Joshua Tree National Park, so the night before we'd been looking at the map of somewhere to break the journey along the way. We settled on Corky's Kitchen and Bakery in Rancho Cucamonga as a point to aim at, a bit over half way and beyond what should be the worst of the LA traffic.

Corky's didn't turn out to be the idyllic American diner you'd perhaps be dreaming of, instead it was modern building in a small parade of bland shops just off the freeway. But we'd arrived and I was looking forward to a break from the driving so we headed inside.
Reuben sandwich
Detecting our foreign accents, one of the friendly servers asked us what we what we were up to. When we said that we were on our honeymoon we the rather startled, and priceless response, "what on earth are you doing in Rancho Cucamonga on your honeymoon?".

Eating enormous pancakes is what Becks' was doing. The pancakes were so large that the accompanying scrambled eggs and bacon had to be served on a separate plate. They were fearsome looking beasts but Becks put in a valiant effort only leaving a amount for a takeaway box.

My reuben was thankfully a lot more modest.

Rolling back into the car we completed a trouble free drive to the Air BnB apartment we'd rented in Joshua Tree just outside the National Park.
Our Air BnB house in Joshua Tree
In the evening we took a load of washing to the laundrette and sat there while it was going round in the machine. There were some 'characters' who came to do their washing while we were including one women, who after studying us, decided to come over and tell us that she thought we were a well suited couple.

Fed up of eating out we made our maiden visit to Walmart to pickup some supplies for the next couple of days. The US hypermarket was a sadly underwhelming experience and not that different to big supermarkets in the UK or France (or at least the Joshua Tree branch wasn't).

Monday, 26 December 2016

Hiroshima, Japan


After breakfast in the hotel we walked up to Hakata train station in Fukuoka to catch our bullet train to Hiroshima. Taking my first ride on a bullet train in Japan was one of the things I was looking forward to about our holiday in Japan and it didn't disappoint.

We got to the station well in advance of our train, and standing on the platform, the first thing I noticed was just how many bullet trains there were. They aren't some sort of special service a couple of times an hour, but were constantly zipping in and out of the dedicated bullet train platforms.

The second thing that struck me was the precision of everything, there were lots of clear signs telling you where to stand for your carriage / seat number, the trains stopped perfectly in front of the platform edge doors and it goes without saying that all of the trains were on time.

The only thing that would have made the experience better would have been a speedometer in the carriage so we knew how fast we were travelling.
Hiroshima sports dome
After unsuccessfully managing to find a locker for our luggage at the train station (a bit of a theme during the holiday), we dropped of our bags in our Air BnB apartment and then set off for a walk around Hiroshima.

Full of tourists and emotion we initially didn't spend too much time in the Peace Park, instead starting our sightseeing of Hiroshima just to the north of the park.
Hiroshima castle
We spent some time in the grounds of Hiroshima castle which was convincing reconstructed in 1958. We didn't go into the castle itself, but wondered round the grounds and looked inside a temple inside the grounds which seemed to have the Japanese equivalent of a christening taking place.
Shukkeien garden.
After the castle we wondered across to the Shukkei-en garden. We arrived with only half and hour before the garden closed, which was just enough time to have a look round. It was a tranquil and pleasant space, largely free from the large number of tourists that seemed ubiquitous in the rest of the city.

My photos of the garden don't really do it justice, but it was a lovely space. We saw quite a few tiny crabs scurrying along the paths as we made our way round the eastern side of the garden.
Becks in the park
For dinner we started our routine of decision that beset us every time we wanted to find somewhere to eat in Japan. We'd wonder up and down the road staring cluelessly at each restaurant, then down a side street and possibly one more before finally choosing somewhere to eat for no good reason other than we stood outside it. And to think we consider ourselves decisive people most of the time!
Becks at the counter
On this occasion our indecisive shuffle led us to this Hiroshima style okonomiyaki restaurant. We were shown to two prime seats sitting at the counter of the hot plate where we got to see the chef making our okonomiyaki right in front of us. (Although Becks went rogue and was the only person in the place to have noodles instead.)
While I really enjoyed the theatre and atmosphere of the restaurant my okonomiyaki  did get a little same-y but the end of the dish. It probably missed all of the delicate subtleties of the dish.....

My Hiroshima style okonomiyaki
After dinner we went for a walk round the Peace Park before heading back to our apartment for the night. It was much more tranquil now that all the tour groups and day trippers had left which gave us time to appreciate the park much more than you could during the day.
A bomb dome


Restaurant address:
3 Chome-3-5 
Ōtemachi, Naka-ku, 
Hiroshima-shi, 
Hiroshima-ken
730-0051,
Japan

Friday, 23 December 2016

Monarch butterfly colony and Cachuma Lake, California

Monarch butterlfy 
It may have been a year since we went to California, and I'm midway through writing up our more recent holiday to Japan, but I'm determined to still finish blogging our last holiday too.

When Becks realised there was a monarch butterfly colony not too far from where we were staying in Solvang it became a must visit for us. The butterflies are supposed to have a peak of activity mid morning when the sun penetrates through the trees and warms the butterflies up.

When we got to the butterfly glade in Goleta it was beautifully peaceful and we had it to ourselves. The butterflies weren't being particularly active, still huddled together on branches of the trees, but we did get to see a number of the butterflies flying.

Towards the end of our time in the glade a group of four middle aged Americans arrived, completely ignored the signs asking you to be quite so as not to disturb the butterflies and were making a total racket. Not too long after they arrived we left them to it and headed back to the car.
Lunch at Brophy Bros in Santa Barbara
We weren't too far from Santa Barbara so decided to head back there for lunch after a successful visit to the pier a couple of days before hand. Rather than a second visit to the pier we headed to the marina to check out Brophy Bros, I'm not quite sure of the full story, but it's a restaurant where my aunt and uncle know the owner from their regular trips to California twenty years ago.

We had a quick lunch sitting on the balcony over looking the sea. I'd love to tell you what it was like, but I honestly can't remember.
Cachuma Lake
On our way back to Solvang we stopped at Cachuma Lake just as the sun started to set. We pulled in at a large camping area, that was completely deserted in winter, but judging by all the facilities in place must be very popular in summer.

We had a pleasant stroll round the campsite looking at different views of the lake in the glorious golden light. We'd read about California's drought and how many days it had been since it had last rained, but seeing how low the lake was really brought home how bad the drought is.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Four Hundred Rabbits, Nunhead

Courgette, pine nut and feta pizza
Last Saturday night we decided to pop over to Nunhead to check out the new(ish) pizza place Four Hundred Rabbits.

We arrived early and ordered a couple of pizzas that were delivered to our table pretty quickly. They have a relatively short menu with just six different pizzas on offer and they all sounded pretty appealing. I ordered the anchovy, caper, onion, mozzarella, tomato and rosemary pizza (£8.95). You could taste the sourdough crust and I really enjoyed the umami that the anchovies added to the pizza. They were quite generous with the tomato sauce which meant it was a bit soggy in the middle. I don't remember any rosemary.
Anchovy, caper and onion pizza
Becks ordered the courgette, garlic, pine nut, feta, mozzarella and thyme pizza (£7.95). I was lucky enough to taste a slice and remember it being generous with the toasted pine nuts and having a nice bite from the feta.

For dessert they serve gelati from Gelupo, a smart move as it would be hard to beat Gelupo's excellent ice creams making them in house. I enjoyed my gingerbread and mint flavours. The mint had a real fresh zing without a hint of any artificial flavour. Becks had a single scoop of gelati with a brownie. The brownie was incredibly rich and dense and which sounds great but was a bit too much in reality.
Gelupo ice creams
The staff were definitely part of the entertainment singing along to Christmas songs that were playing.

143 Evelina Rd
London
SE15 3HB
Four Hundred Rabbits Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato