Casa Cannoli, King’s Cross Real Food Market, London

‘Take photos, we love photos’.

I thought I was being subtle trying to take photos of the rows of sugar dusted cannoli when the trader at Casa Cannoli encouraged me to keep taking more, and to share them on Instagram. I always feel awkward taking photos at markets because, to be honest, I just feel like a lemon. I’ve been following Casa Cannoli on Instagram for a while and vowed to get one during my lunch break, and a Thursday hammering down with rain seemed like the ideal time to go. An old American colleague of mine introduced me to cannoli a few years ago. She was flabbergasted that in my 20 something years on this earth I’d never eaten one, and once I’d had one, I was too. The joy of cannoli is the second bite. The first one being insanely delicious, and the second one being a mixture of panic and hilarity at how it’s disintegrated and you have to shove it all in one go rather than attempting a third bite.

Thankfully the rain had stopped when I got to the real food market outside King’s Cross station as I spent a good few minutes deciding which flavour cannoli to go for. Classico, coconut, pistachio, chocolate chip, if I hadn’t have just eaten a giant lunch from Hanoi Kitchen and eaten 3 biscuits at my desk already that day I’d have gone for the 3 for £5 box. I did however choose salted caramel which was handed to me in a Casa Cannoli branded napkin, which I immediately photographed and had to start eating because the ricotta started to spill out and I didn’t want to lose any.

As described above the cannoli crumbled after my second bite and I scoffed the rest of it in one very happy mouthful. After sorting out the ricotta on my fingers with my tongue and a napkin I resumed photographing the rest of the colourful cannoli on display. The awful weather didn’t seem to have put people off their cannoli because lot of the trays had been decimated.

I can highly recommend cannoli as an naughty but compact lunchtime treat to get you through the rest of your working afternoon. I’ll definitely be coming back – I’ve already decided on trying the pistachio cannoli next time – and I’m planning to take a box home for Christmas. Considering all this came about from following Casa Cannoli on Instagram I hope they give their social media person a well earned high five. And a cannoli.

Hanoi Kitchen, KERB King’s Cross, London

‘My poor chopstick tekkers is making my hand hurt’

I sat in King’s Cross station stretching my fingers because they were aching from my attempt to use chopsticks. In my head I’m a pro, but sometimes the chopsticks just literally fall out my hands. Hanoi Kitchen did provide sporks as well as chopsticks but I was determined to eat my chicken noodle pot with authenticity.

It was hammering with rain when I left my office, but I’d Googled who would be at KERB that afternoon and I desperately wanted noodles from Hanoi Kitchen. I zipped up my coat, donned my hood and put up my red umbrella to walk over to Granary Square. The pavements were soaked but instead of being grumpy about it splashing up my legs I just chose to ignore it. The food market at KERB was a bit of a sorry sight. Most of the stalls had no customers and the traders stood with crossed arms behind their steaming stalls, evidently chilly and soggy. The guys at Hanoi Kitchen were in good spirits though and when I asked them if the rain was ruining their day they said no because their trailer was dry and warm. I tried to take some photos but the rain proved a challenge so these are the best I could do:

I ordered the garlic chicken Bún noodle pot, which was served to me after a few minutes. One of the guys offered to put a foil lid on my pot so it wouldn’t get rained on, which was nice of them. I asked if I could take some photos before the lid went on and they obliged, agreeing that if it wasn’t on Instagram then it didn’t really happen.

I grabbed some chopsticks and made for King’s Cross station, trying very hard not to drop my pot of food or my umbrella, but by this point the rain was easing off and the sun started to come out. I made my way to the mezzanine opposite the departure boards and a well-dressed Italian gentleman let me take the spare seat his table. He later asked me if I wanted his napkin because the broth from the noodles was dribbling down my chin. Not my finest moment.

I was so excited to eat having spent 10 minutes visualising dropping my lunch as I walked back from the market. I pulled the foil off and a steamy aroma of coriander and chilli hit my nostrils. I winged-it with my chopsticks and took sips of broth when I thought fewest people were looking. My favourite thing about this sort of food is crunchy peanuts and to my delight it was garnished with lots. Even as I was finished there were peanuts swimming in broth at the bottom of the pot. The whole thing was delicious, warmed me up, and distracted my brain from my soggy feet.

I’ve never been to Vietnam so I can’t comment on authenticity, but I loved it and I don’t really care about authenticity if it tastes good.

BBQ Dreamz, KERB King’s Cross, London

‘I’m so cold, but this is so good’

When I left my office to go to KERB, the food market in Granary Square, the sun was high in the sky and its warmth took the edge off the cold wind. Minutes after sitting down with my chicken satay curry from BBQ Dreamz the dark clouds rolled in and I regretted leaving my umbrella in the office. I moved from the square to the giant concrete steps by the canal to escape the wind and thought about the last time I’d sat there in July eating sweet and salty popcorn and watching the Lion King with my friend Laura in 30 degree heat. I was grateful my curry was warm and delicious, so I persevered eating my lunch al fresco.

I’d spent a good twenty minutes online looking at the different vendors who would be at KERB that day, trying to decide what I was going to eat. Granary Square was getting busy as I arrived and I decided to do a walk round of the other stalls to make up my mind. I chose BBQ Dreamz partly because the queue wasn’t so massive that I’d have to wait around for ages, but because I’d spying other people’s food and their curry looked big and colourful. I stepped up to place my order, a large chicken satay curry for £9, gave my name which was scribbled on the box and paid by contactless. After a few minutes my name was called and I stepped up to the trailer. It made me smile that the ledge to step up on was a Reebok fitness step, but instead of exercise the reward for stepping up was a steaming box of curry.

As I stepped up I could look into the wooden bowls that were on the counter top and they were filled with fresh ingredients to top the curries – peas, slaw, coriander, spring onions, pineapple, lime wedges, crushed peanuts and chilli flakes. I asked for everything, although to go easy on the chilli because I am a wimp.

The final result was a box of curry with every colour of the rainbow in it. I took a photo but the wind was getting stronger and I was getting hungrier, so I headed for the canal to sit down. The curry was delicious despite having to fish my own hair out my mouth thanks to the wind. I’m not a massive fruit fan, so I admit that I ate one cube of pineapple and left the rest. Fruit with savoury just doesn’t work for me (pineapple on pizza is a no no), but if it is your thing then I’m sure you’d love it. The chicken was full of satay flavour, the rice was cooked perfectly and the array of toppings provided crunch, freshness and punches of flavour whether lime, chilli or peanut.

I will definitely be donning my thermals and coming back to KERB (once I get paid) over the coming months. The vendors change from week to week and I look forward to trying out the other feasts on offer. If you have any recommendations then leave me a comment.

KOOX, Store Street, London

‘This is a fancy pants wrap’

The parade of shops on Store Street have a very satisfying smart and quirky aesthetic with matching dark green signage and pristine window displays. KOOX fits the aesthetic perfectly and every single thing from food to décor is intensely Instagrammable. You can tell even the smallest details have been thought about, from the scrupulous placement of indoor plants, the soft shade of light from the lanterns, even the fire extinguishers were a bright silver colour. They display their Instagram handle on the wall as you walk in and they’d probably be sad if you didn’t take out your phone and photograph everything.

Despite being outwardly ‘fancy pants’ as I described it to my husband, KOOX actually had a very welcoming feel. Perhaps it was because I went in at 5.30pm and the only other people in there were office workers sipping tea and demolishing a smart looking tart. I’d heard on the grapevine that KOOX’s egg and spinach miwam (such an unnatural word to type) was something not to be missed.  I ordered one, and a chicken and mushroom Hot Kone. It was expensive, £10.90 (I’d have got 15% off if I was a student) but I’m used to London food prices by now. I was paying for the words ‘Michelin starred chefs’ painted on the wall. My miwam arrived after a few minutes…

… on a slate. And then one minute later, my Hot Kone, in its own stand.

I told you it was fancy pants. I did feel a bit silly eating a waffle off a slate and a wrap off a plastic stand, but I put aside people’s stares and enjoyed the food. The miwam was moreish and I loved the texture of the waffle. Having stared at the wrap for a minute thinking ‘how do I eat this’ I went in with my fork, taking bites of the wrap in between forkfuls of chicken, spinach and mushroom. It was going swimmingly until I got to the last couple of mouthfuls of the wrap when creamy sauce squirted out the bottom of the wrap and went all over the table. There was no styling it out so I mopped up the mess with my napkin and was glad I didn’t have more of an audience otherwise I would probably be on Instagram right now.

I helped myself to a glass of minty water from a communal jug that was next to the trendy fire extinguishers and a jar of paper straws. It’s a simple thing to offer water to diners and I’m always appreciative when food places do it. The server said thank you and goodbye as I was walking out. Overall I liked KOOX a lot and I will be going back to try the chocolate mousse which I picked up and put back, and now regret not trying. Dessert regret is the worst.

Bread Tree, Southbank Centre Food Market, London

‘It’s like summer in a bite’

Following my day at the Women’s Rights festival at Conway Hall last Sunday, I wanted something light for fourses (like elevenses, but at 4pm). I’d eaten an egg and halloumi toasted sandwich for breakfast, a blueberry bun from Fabrique Bakery for lunch and was due to have dinner at my parents-in-law later that evening. It wasn’t a particularly nutritious day so far, and I’d been wanting to visit the food market at the Southbank Centre for months having seen it from my train window many times as I rolled into Charing Cross.

It was a glorious day and I’d walked from Holborn to the Southbank, which took about half an hour. I do my best to avoid the tube when I’m in central London and get as much ‘fresh air’ as possible. The food market was packed at 4pm with winding queues for stalls like The Athenian, Greek street food, which is now firmly on my list when I don’t already have dinner plans. As I walked round the market I was tempted by cannoli, muffins, smoothies, fried chicken, chocolate dipped fruit, but given my lunch was a sticky bun I opted for savoury rather than sweet.

I knew as soon as I saw the bright red and green letters spelling ‘Bruschetta’ that’s what I wanted.

The vendor served me with a big smile, offering me the choice of either mozzarella and basil pesto or vegan bruschetta with aubergine. Unfortunately aubergine doesn’t agree with me so I went for classic mozzarella and basil pesto, which cost £5. It was a bit pricey but then I was at a central London food market and it was the price I expected to pay. I asked the vendor if it was alright for me to take a photo and, after straightening up the bruschetta on display, he said yes.

I settled in a quiet-ish corner in the market to eat. I love it when minimal ingredients create such a flavour explosion: fresh tomato and garlic, creamy mozzarella, rich pesto, and crunchy bread. I’ve had bad bruschetta (mostly in the UK), I’ve had incredible Bruschetta (in Rome they served it regularly as a side with a glass of white wine, whatever time of day), and this was well up there.

I’m looking forward to exploring the Southbank Centre Food Market and discovering what else they have on offer.

Fabrique Bakery, Covent Garden, London

‘It’s got blueberries in. Healthy’

I don’t know why I even tried to convince myself that my blueberry bun from Fabrique Bakery was anything but the decadent treat it was. I had heard about their cinnamon buns from various people and forward planned a pitstop at Fabrique on my way to a Bloomsbury Festival event on women’s rights at Conway Hall in Holborn. I’ve walked the route to Holborn through Covent Garden from Charing Cross a thousand times as I used to work in the area, and yet I completely failed to find Fabrique and had to resort to Google Maps. It turned out to be, in panto style, behind me.

First things first I snapped a pic of the outside of the shop which had an array of buns gleaming in the window. As I walked in the cinnamon smell was glorious and rows and rows of shiny sticky buns were on display calling out to me.

A man and woman wrapped in warm coats were sat inside the bakery excitedly eating generously filled sandwiches made with what looked like rich and crusty sourdough. I watched them out of the corner of my eye as they seemed to be enjoying their lunch immensely, barely coming up for breath in between bites. Flour-dusted crusty loaves were lined up behind the counter and I was distracted for a moment away from the rows of tempting buns at the front of the counter. I had originally planned to get a cinnamon bun but the blueberry buns which were golden brown and speckled with dark purple gooey blueberries seeping out the sides, caught my attention.

For £3 my blueberry bun was bigger than the size of my open palm and I happily placed my Monzo card on the reader. As I walked out the bakery I pulled the bun out its paper bag to take a photo and immediately got sticky fingers – I licked them clean, attempted a photo and stuffed my phone into my back pocket so I could eat.

I did get a few strange looks as I walked from Fabrique to Holborn. This was perhaps caused by my Cheshire Cat grin and my technique of trying not to bite too deeply in an attempt to avoid smearing my chin with sugar. As I walked through Seven Dials a waitress from Hotel Chocolat handed me a sample of their salted caramel hot chocolate. Despite the sugar overload it tasted lovely and complemented my blueberry bun.

I arrived at Conway Hall 15 minutes later and went straight to the bathroom to wash my hands because, despite my best efforts, I indeed had sticky fingers and a sticky chin. The blueberry bun turned out to be my lunch as it was so filling, and it saw me through 3 hours of inspiring and energising talks on women’s rights in the twenty-first century and the future of feminist activism. Thanks for the bun power, Fabrique.

Mother Clucker, Flat Iron Square, London

‘Ketchup – for the kid!’

Opting for ketchup over hot sauce from a stall called Mother Clucker was always going to be greeted with some mick-taking. For the rest of the evening my husband joked that I was a child for having ketchup on my chips. I did try the hot sauce on his chips and to my surprise it wasn’t as hot as I was expecting. Next time I will get hot sauce. We were heading to a friend’s birthday drinks in a pub in London Bridge and wanted a quick dinner beforehand. I’ve been to Flat Iron Square a few times and it’s a no-brainer for speedy and delicious food in the area.

Flat Iron Square is all-round cool, full of hipsters, quirky decor and a great selection of reasonably priced (for London) food outlets. We had initially planned to get thai food, but we walked past Mother Clucker on our way to the main food area and, to quote Love Island, our heads were turned. Big chunks of heavily seasoned chicken were tumbling into the fryer and coming out the most glorious golden brown colour and I salivated at the thought of biting into it. We deliberated for about 30 seconds and both decided that proper fried chicken with Cajun fries and sauce was exactly what we wanted. I chose chicken strips and Murtie went for the burger. £19 altogether.

The server asked me if I was a student, to which I at first said no, and then asked ‘if I’d said yes would you have believed me?’. He replied saying he needed to see a student ID and on hearing that I had one from 2007 he raised his eyebrows and said ‘wow that’s old’. Everything about Mother Clucker is cheeky and I love that. The stickers on the outside of the stall, the servers and the food left us smiling.

Our order came up relatively quickly, and the server was very generous with hot sauce, mayo and ketchup for me – the child. We sat down in the main food area with our compostable forks and got stuck in. There is something very comforting about fried chicken, and biting into the juicy, crispy chicken breast chunks was immensely satisfying. The cajun fries packed a punch of heat and I was glad of my mayo to cool it all down.

Watching Murtie eat his burger provided much entertainment as bits of hot sauce and lettuce seeped through his fingers. During our last bites we noticed that the boxes we’d been eating from were recyclable, as was the cutlery. I’m so glad Mother Clucker do this – every little helps. We’ll be back to Flat Iron Square at some point to get the pad thai we originally went in for. No guarantees though as the sushi, salads, pizza and doughnuts are definitely our type on paper.