Monday, 25 February 2013

Horniman Museum, Forest Hill

Horniman Museum

I've heard a lot about the Horniman Museum over the years of living in the area but hadn't visited until the weekend before last.

We started in the gardens on the museum which, as you'd expect, looked a little barren in winter. However, the formally laid out sections looked full of promise and I'd like to visit again in the spring / summer to see the flowers in bloom and fruit ripening.

The grounds also offered a sweeping panorama of London from Battersea power station in the west round to Canary Wharf in the east. There was also the, errrr, rather striking Ladlands and Bredinghurst estate in the foreground. Once I'd got over the shock the estate had a certain brutalist charm that slowly grew on me the more I looked at it.

I can't think of anywhere else in south London that gives you such an uninterrupted vista of London.

Inside the museum be prepared for a lot of children, something which I found slightly headache inducing. We visited the British Wildlife Photography Awards, had a quick spin through the Natural History gallery and also a look round the music gallery. The collections were quite incredible. However, their formal presentation (rows of objects in glass cabinets with small labels) struck me as being quite dated.

I was pleased to see a Paxman French horn, very similar to my own, in the music gallery. It made me feel a little guilty that I don't play it more.

We ended up walking all the way home. I unexpectedly picked up some free flour in the back streets of East Dulwich from someone who had left a box of food outside their house with a "help yourself" sign on it. I was a bit short on flour so it was a definite baking win.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Valentine Dinner at the Phoenix Restaurant, Brockley

Love Hearts - My Budget Valentine

The Phoenix training restaurant at Lewisham College has been on my wish list for years. However, only being open on Thursday and Friday lunchtimes meant I haven't been able to make it before now.

When I read Nick's My Budget Valentine article over on Brockley Central I knew my time had come. It provided a double win of finally get to try the restaurant and sorting out my valentine's day plans. It had absolutely nothing to do with it being the cheap option!

We met some fellow Brockley Central readers on our way to the college, and after the maze of corridors, were welcomed into the restaurant by Orpheus Violinist an excellent string quartet who played throughout the evening to a very high standard.

Orpheus  Violionist quartet

We were looked after during the evening by an enthusiastic group of young students from the college. The front of house team was helpful and seeking to please; even if they weren't the most polished at times.

Chatting to a couple of our chefs at the end of the night they were NVQ Level 2 students who were hoping to take NVQ Level 3 next year or get jobs in the industry. I was told they'd rotated round during the evening to each have a go at all the dishes.

Our chefs for the evening

My favourite dish of the evening was the beetroot tart tartin with goats cheese mousse starter. The slightly sweet breetroot looked great and was well complimented by the goats cheese. The rest of the food was enjoyable, without being exceptional. It is only reasonable to expect highs and lows (of which there weren't too many) from a group of trainees. And at £20 per head you can't quibble.

The evening was a fundraiser for the Mayor of Lewisham's chosen charity and was complete with a raffle and short speech at the end of the night. You can't say I don't know how to show someone a classy time......

Beetroot tart tartin with a goats cheese mousse

Twelve hour shoulder of lamb and rack of lamb

Steamed bachelors pudding

Shortbread Hearts

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The trials of a new oven

After a false start the weekend before, my new oven belatedly arrived last Saturday. When I realised that the Which? best buy oven was a sensible price I bought the Zanussi ZOB35301XK without any further research. Is it good for baking bread? Does it have a timer? Who knows.

I'd decided to try fitting the oven myself. Before the oven arrived, my main concern was the electrics, but they turned out to be a doddle compared with fitting the oven into the space.

I removed the cable from my old oven and turned to the new instruction manual only to read it tells you to call an electrician with no further information! It was a bit fiddly to open up the cable box, but once we'd got that sorted out the cabling was relatively easy.

We then lifted the oven into the space and it was too small! The screws that hold the oven in place and prevent it from tipping forward, were going into thin air. There was nothing for it but to go to the DIY store for a baton to put inside the unit for the oven to screw into.

To relieve the frustration we stopped at the Blossoming Together café in Deptford for a restorative hot chocolate and a slice of cake on the way home. A slightly peculiar place.

Back home I managed to split two of the soft wood batons before it was third time lucky and I had once neatly fitted. Finally the oven was in! Only to realised the door wouldn't open as it caught on the unit below......

A couple of batons on the floor of the unit to raise the oven up on skis and the oven was finally installed. It had only taken three hours and got close to a sense of humour failure!

The oven seems great so far, certainly a big improvement on the old one. It heats quickly and seems to maintain a constant temperature. It isn't awash with features, but with a timer and delayed start function it seems to do everything I need.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Restaurant Review: Chinwag, New Cross

Inside Chinwag, New Cross

On Wednesday night I had dinner with a couple of friends at Chinwag, a recently opened café in New Cross.

From the interview the owners gave on Brockley Central it sounds like they went through blood, sweat and tears to get their first restaurant open. They've put a lot of their personality into the small café which has a busy interior and lots of detailing on the walls and counter top. They've managed to pull off the decor without making the place feel cluttered.

The Chicken Burger

The dinner menu is compact with just four items on it: a beef, lamb, chicken or veggie burger. A bit limited if you wanted a starter, side or just something other than a burger.

With my dining companions plumping for the beef and lamb burgers, I chose the chicken burger (£6.99) with extra avocado. The first thing you notice is that the burgers are huge. Easily twice the size of the burger I had at Goodmans the previous week and at half the price too it was pretty good value. The base of the bun is smeared with aioli, covered with lettuce tomato and a little red onion and then the filling of your choice is covered with their burger relish.

As can be the way my chicken burger was a little dry, although the aioli definitely helped compensate. The homemade lamb and beef patties looked like the way to go and are the ones I'd like to try next time.

The love their books at Chinwag. Both the menus 
and bill came in one 

Although compact the kitchen in Chinwag definitely isn't the smallest I've seen, so it was a shame to discover that they don't serve any desserts. A retro ice cream sundae or pumpkin pie would have gone down nicely. Hopefully they'll expand the menu as they continue to find their feet.

Enjoying at Norfolk Kiwi at The Royal Albert

With Chinwag still waiting on their alcohol license we decided to finish the evening with a couple of drinks at the The Royal Albert. I've long heard it recommended as one of the areas best pubs, but have never been in before. I can only say I agree with all the reviews. A good range of beer, friendly staff and a good atmosphere. I very much enjoyed a couple of pints of Norfolk Kiwi before strolling home.

21 Lewisham Way
New Cross
SE14 6PP

Monday, 11 February 2013

Restaurant Review: Trattoria Sapori, Newington Green

Antipasto vegetariano at Trattoria Sapori

After visiting the Geffrye Museum we ambled along the Regents Canal and past impressive houses in Hackney's backstreets on our way up to Newington Green for dinner at Trattoria Sapori.

It has been a while since I've had Italian food and I was a little apprehensive over whether pizza was the ideal preparation for my 25km run the next morning, but once I saw the pizzas coming out of the oven I couldn't resist!

I had an excellent view of the open kitchen from my seat. There was a solitary chef making all of the pizzas. He worked with a quiet efficiency, making the pizzas before popping them into the oven heated to 370 degrees for a few minutes to cook.

Occasionally he'd be overtaken with a little bit of flair, throwing the pizza dough up into the air as he shaped it. Or artfully flicking the paddle as he took the pizzas in and out of the oven. But most of the time he kept the flamboyance in check and went about his work with a quiet efficiency.

Calabrese pizza

To get things started we decided to go for the Antipasto vegetariano (small £7.50). The platter of aubergines, courgettes, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, olives and cheese, while tasty, felt a little calculated rather then generous. With the exception of the aubergine and olives there was just two of everything. Surely it wouldn't have hurt to throw in an extra couple of sun dried tomatoes?

As good as the pasta at a nearby table looked it had to be pizza. I chose the Campagnola (£10.50) which was topped with tomato, mozzarella, Italian sausage, sweet peppers and black olives. The pizza base was as thin and crispy has hoped with just the right amount of char. The sweet peppers and Italian sausage were the main flavour hit.


I also tasted the Calabrese pizza (£11.50), topped with tomato, mozzarella, spicy salami, aubergines and onions. The pizza had the same excellent thin and crispy base. The generous covering of salami lived up to it's billing of being spicy.

Tart of the day: ricotta, lemon and pine nuts

Unable to resist dessert our waitress did a good job of selling the ricotta, lemon and pine nut tart of the day and it didn't disappoint. It was subtly different texture from a cheesecake with he ricotta crumbling slightly as I cut into it. Dense and rich with hint of lemon helping to cut through everything I was disappointed to had it over half way through.


However, getting the tiramisu (£3.95) was an excellent trade. The tiramisu was lighter than you'd expect which meant I could close my eyes and indulge guilt free (almost).

Trattoria Sapori is worth a visit for the pizzas, just make sure you leave room for dessert too.

All of the places that I've eaten at are marked on my map.

Trattoria Sapori
Alliance House 44/45
Newington Green

N16 9QH
Trattoria Sapori on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Ashford and District 10k

Sprinting for the line

Last summer, just after I moved back to Brockley, I joined the Kent Athletics Club which trains at the Ladywell track just down the road. Since moving up to the 'B' group in the autumn my running has come on leaps and bounds.

Running with a group of runners who are all a lot faster than me is both inspiring and a fantastic source of tips on how to train more smartly. I realise that back in Australia I was a 'one pace plodder', not pushing the boundaries with any speed work. But also running too quickly during my recovery and long runs.

Everyone you speak to has different ideas on how you should best train, but sifting and distilling through all the advice I've started to mix up my training a lot more and have been upping my weekly mileage (perhaps a little bit too much).

One of the most important things I've taken from the group is confidence in my own abilities. I've always been worried about 'hitting the wall' or not making it to the end of the race which has been having a negative effect on my times as I've held too much back. Having runners that I look up to telling me I've got good times inside me is a great confidence boost. Even if I'm having trouble believing them at times!

One piece of advice I've taken on board is running a shorter race to give you a benchmark of where your fitness levels are and what is possible. When Rich invited me to join him at the Ashford and District 10k last Saturday, I thought it was a great opportunity to use it is a predictor for the Reading Half Marathon.

But how fast could I run a 10k? When we train on the track there are lots of short intervals with rest periods in between it makes me doubt how my stamina will hold up over a sustained period. A week before the race I joined David and Luke for a 5 mile run at speed. It was a challenge and my lungs felt like they were burning for the last mile, but (after a short recovery) I felt refreshed and like I could maintain that sort of pace over a 10k. David sent me words of encouragement during the week that I could go even faster in the race. I wasn't sure, but the confidence boost didn't hurt!

Last Saturday we arrived in a cold Ashford ready for the race and I still wasn't quite sure what pace I wanted to run at. We picked up our numbers and Rich and I jogged up to the start. I felt like a bit of a fraud pushing forward so that we could start from the third row, surely everyone around me would just come bolting past?

The run was round undulating country lanes. Rich and I set off together, and with a sweeping downhill not long after the start, we set a cracking pace and didn't really slow down. It was good to be pacing along with someone of a similar level. It was tough, harder than I've run before, but didn't feel unsustainable.

At the 5k mark there was a water station. I didn't really need a drink, but I grabbed one anyway as water wouldn't hurt and I wanted to practise drinking while running at speed. Half the water went all over me and the bit that made it into my mouth almost made me choke. Not the most successful experience!

Rich ran the race last year and warned me of a steep hill in the course. As we passed the 7k mark there was a shout of "this is it"! Perversely I've always quite liked running up hills and found it's where I can overtake people, so I tried to power up and managed to pull away from the group we were running with and overtake another couple of people on the hill.

I was pretty shattered at the top of the hill and decided to fall in behind someone that I'd managed to catch, but not quite pass, to give me some time to recover. After around 50m I realised I was going really slowly so I gritted my teeth and pulled out round him. The last three kilometers were tough going, but I was determined to try and keep those I'd overtaken on the hill behind so I just kept driving on.

With 1k below I got within touching distance of the person in front of me, but as he saw me it seemed to spur him on and he pulled away again. I just hoped it was him speeding up and not me slowing down!

Sprinting to the line I managed to hold off everyone behind me and I was across the line in a new personal best of 36m 12sec. Incredibly pleased with the time, I was even more shocked to discover that I was tenth. I thought I was comfortably in the midfield somewhere.

In the days after the race I got congratulations from others in the club on my PB, but also words of encouragement that I could go even faster. That's run club for you.

The official results are here.

The data from my watch is here.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Restaurant Review: Goodmans, Canary Wharf

The Goodman Burger

It's rapidly coming round to a year that I've been back in London and shamefully there are still a few people I haven't caught up with since my return from Australia. I hadn't seen Olivier since our trip to  Costa Rica back in 2008. I have a better excuse with Olivier than most as he lives in Geneva. He came to London for a conference last week and it was great to catch up with him. There was quite a lot of catch up to do!

We decided to check out Goodman in Canary Wharf, an American Steakhouse. I liked the decor inside Goodman with the dark wood and high backed leather benches. They've fitted out what could have been an identikit space in a modern building into something that reminded me a little of Roots Steakhouse in New Jersey. Not bad for somewhere claiming to be bringing New York steakhouses to London.

Rocket and Parmesan salad

We both opted to have the Goodman Burger (£15) which my colleague had tipped as one of the best in London.  A big call and one that I can't wholly agree with. Everything around the burger was great. The chips were both crunchy and fluffy. The bacon was thin, crisp and fabulously smokey. 

The pattie was just a little disappointing for me. I'd ordered the burger medium and it came well done and there was something in the texture that prevented it reaching the top league of burgers. It didn't melt in your mouth like a good burger should and I found it slightly 'springy'. I think the meat was either too coarsely ground or they hadn't used a high enough fat content for that perfect melting texture. It didn't stop me from demolishing it though.

After three and a half years away from the UK I am still getting mini 'culture shocks' every now and again as things I expect to see have changed. After leaving Goodman I headed towards South Quay DLR station to head home only to find it had vanished! A station isn't something you expect to disappear and it was a little disorientating. After a quick 360 I spotted it over the road and a little further east. It turns out I'm not going mad, the station did move back in 2009.
Goodman Canary Wharf
3 South Quay
E14 9RU
Goodman Restaurant Canary Wharf on Urbanspoon

Monday, 4 February 2013

Baking sourdough in the oven that wasn't

I decided that I'd treat myself to an oven as a little January present to myself. With a million different ovens on the market research is more complicated than you'd think. There are just so many opinions and options out there. I decided to go with the Which? best buy oven as it was a sensible price and I knew I wouldn't be going too far wrong.

On Tuesday night I got home later after dinner with a friend and a glass of red wine to the good, logged onto the John Lewis website, clicked purchase and selected Saturday as a delivery option. Job done I headed to bed.

I decided that I wanted to bake a loaf as sourdough to christen the new oven. On Friday night I mixed my sponge following the River Cottage method.

The new oven doesn't come with a plug or electrical cable (no idea why) so on Saturday morning I pulled out the old oven and took off the back so I could remove the cabling and swap it onto the new oven when it arrived. And then I waited...

.....and waited. After lots of muttering about John Lewis' delivery service I decided to give them a call. Checking the order confirmation I realised I'd selected next Saturday. Never drink wine and order an oven on the same nigt. What an idiot......

The old oven was re-wired and connected back up. And then I baked!

I've only been baking semi-sourdough since getting back to the UK and this was my first loaf of full sourdough and it turned out really well. There was lots of oven spring and the bread has a great texture. I'd prefer a slightly thicker crust, but hopefully the new oven will help with that.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Running: Camelbak magnetic clip and Yaktrax in the snow

I bought my Camelbak Hydrobak just over a year ago and it has been a fantastic purchase for this dehydration prone runner, especially now I'm back in the UK and water fountains are rarer than hens teeth.

One nagging annoyance with the Camelbak has been how the tube clips into the strap when not in use. As you can see from the photo above (bottom right) it is tucked awkwardly behind you, high under the arm. It gets particularly difficult to clip in the tube in winter with cold hands or while wearing gloves.

I heard about a magnetic that I thought sounded a lot easier. Camelbak don't seem to sell magnetic clips, but Source Hydration do. I was a bit concerned that is might not be compatible with a Camelbak bladder, but it fits perfectly.
The clip has been excellent so far and makes grabbing a quick drink while running a lot easier. Definitely a worthwhile purchase.

I went for a few runs in London when the snow hit last week. Snow is actually quite grippy to run in and the fresh snowfalls on Friday and Sunday made for enjoyable runs over the weekend.

However, by the Monday night the snow had compacted into ice and had become quite slippy. I went for a gentle run in the evening and had a minor fall. Luckily not much harm was done (barring a grazed knee), but my confidence was a bit shaken.

I saw Ray mention that he was going to be digging out his Yaktrax for running in Paris which gave me the idea of getting some too. Yaktrax offer two models the 'walker' and 'pro' editions. The 'pro' is designed for running, but the only shops I could find near the office selling Yaktrax all sold the 'walker' model so I decided they would have to do.

The snow / ice had nearly all melted by the Tuesday night, so I actively had to go searching for some ice to try them out. From my limited testing they seemed really good. Best described as snow chains for your shoes they provided a good level of grip. The 'walker' version seemed perfectly ok for running and felt secure (the main advantage of the 'pro' model seems to be an extra strap to keep the Yaktrax in place).

At least I've got them for next time it snows!