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.

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.

Bun House, London

‘I have custard on my chin’

I’d just sat down to watch a production of Wise Children at the Old Vic Theatre with my friend Amy when I realised I had the remnants of a custard bao on my chin. In my defense it was extremely runny, as I had been warned, and I challenge anyone to eat one without getting custard all over their chin. I wanted a quick eat after work before the theatre and had earmarked Bun House a few months ago after eating dinner elsewhere in Soho. I remembered seeing Bun House that night and singing ‘bun house, a whole lotta fun, prizes to be won’ to my then fiancé. We agreed the 90s children’s TV show pun in Bun House was a happy accident, but now whenever I think of Bun House, I sing that line. Sorry Bun House. Whilst there were no prizes to be won, I did have fun as the bao were big, tasty and delicious.

When I walked into Bun House the kitchen was steamy and busy, with lots of happy looking diners sat at small tables devouring bao from bamboo steamers. The menu was varied and reasonably priced at £2.50 per bun. I’ve eaten in other bao places in London where a single bao of one bite is a fiver. Each bao in Bun House was a good 4 bites worth and very filling. I opted for a veg bun, a fish bun and a dish of lotus root crisp, mainly because I’d seen a photo on Instagram and was intrigued. My food came promptly and I took a seat on a leather bench in the window, which was open as it was a mild evening. As ‘fast food’ goes the buns were very flavoursome – I particularly liked the veg bun which had deep mushroom taste.

The lotus root crisps were crunchy and moreish, and gave a satisfying texture to the soft buns. I watched the world go by whilst eating and clocked a lady coming in and out of the restaurant with a giant bamboo steamer. When she went out it was full and when she came back in it was empty.  I finished up my lotus root crisps and went outside to investigate. I discovered that a vlogging company were giving out free, limited edition, pink custard bao to promote their new vlog platform. In all honesty, I was too excited to receive a free bun to remember the name of the company. As I was walking off the rep called after me saying to be careful as the custard inside the bun was runny. She wasn’t lying. I prepared myself and slowly took a small-ish bite. Custard squirted all over my chin despite my best attempts to suck it all up. On the plus side, the custard bun was sweet, satisfying, and just what I fancied to round off my dinner.

Although the custard solidified on my face, it did mean I got to taste it again whilst licking my fingers to rub it off at the theatre. Bun House was great for a quick dinner that didn’t break the bank but filled my tummy. Wise Children was also excellent and I recommend you see it before the run ends.

Pizza Punks, Glasgow

‘Go there, they do mac n cheese on a pizza!’

My friend and I were sipping fancy G&Ts in Gin71 when she suggested Pizza Punks for a cheap place for dinner for my last night in Glasgow. I had booked in to another restaurant but the menu was ‘small plates’ and unless you take Tupperware or haven’t eaten all day, small plates really don’t suit the solo diner. I was also pretty skint by this point in my trip so the prospect of pizza for a tenner, with unlimited toppings was very appealing.

I’d done a whole load of sightseeing that day and despite eating a massive breakfast, a lemon poppyseed muffin, a Tantrum doughnut and a veggie haggis roll, I was surprisingly ravenous by 6.30pm. I followed the neon lights inside and asked for a table for one. This time I got a table for four for one, so I spread out with my book and notepad. I scoured the menu to try and decide what to have atop my pizza. I loved the fact they not only had mac n cheese as a pizza topping, but Irn Bru pulled pork, lamb donner, tortilla chips and potato scone. In hindsight I do regret not being braver than my order of lemon & herb chicken, red onion, artichokes, olives and rocket on a tomato base, with garlic mayo for crust dipping.

It took me a good half an hour to get through it all and it was the sort of pizza where there was substantial crust to really make the most of the garlic mayo. For a tenner it was perfectly tasty. The waiting staff were friendly and although it took a while for my bill to come, it was time I didn’t know I needed to let my food settle. It was nice to slow down for once. I’m used to London where everyone gets annoyed if a tube train is more than 1 minutes away. I appreciated the handwritten thank you note on the receipt and went back to my AirB&B to digest.

Topolobamba, Glasgow

‘Do you want a wee pudding m’love?’

My waiter at Topolabamba, Jamie, was an absolute gem and said the words above in his thick Scottish accent with a giant smile and twinkle in his eye. I’d spent a long day sightseeing – my phone said I’d walked 11km – and as I was parked in a corner on my table for one I was glad of a friendly, welcoming face. The restaurant was buzzing on a Saturday night with tables bulging with food and excitable people knocking back cocktails. I loved the atmosphere and colourful lighting, which went from blue to red to green throughout the evening.

As I sat down Jamie introduced himself and asked if I’d like a regular or large white wine, emphasising the word ‘large’ and giving me a look of ‘it’s Saturday night’. I grinned and said yes, and gave him my food order: shredded beef tostadas, crispy fish tacos and crispy Pasilla king prawn tacos. You’ll have to forgive my weird menu choices, I have a thing for fried things from the sea. It was only after I ordered that I realised I’d missed out using the mini Ikea pencil to circle my choices. Everyone loves a tiny pencil.

I sat back and opened my book just as a bottle of tequila landed on my table. After my initial horror I was relieved to find it only had tap water in it. The last time I drank tequila was on my hen do and the less that’s said about that, the better. My beef tostadas came out first, swiftly followed by my fish and prawn tacos.

Everything was flavoursome but boy was it spicy. It was at this point that I realised the menu had a heat key, which I had completely ignored. As I finished up, my mouth was on fire and as Jamie asked ‘do you want a wee pudding m’love’ all I could do was nod and point at the Horchata ice cream, which he said tasted like Caramac bars.

It arrived pronto in a deep blue bowl that looked like a flower pot. The first bite was like diving into a pool when you’ve been sat in the sun too long. The ice cream was soothing, creamy and indeed tasted like Caramac bars. I asked for the bill as I was finishing the final scoop and it arrived with a smiley face on it.

I don’t know if Jamie was being nice to be in order to earn a tip, either way he was delightful and made my solo dinner all the more enjoyable. I asked him if he got his tips and he said yes. The food at Topolabamba was tasty and I’d like to go back with a big group of people so I can try more of the menu. My takeaway this trip though will be Jamie, who made me feel right at home.

King William Pub, Bath

‘We call you DFL’s round here’.

Nice to meet you too, new pub friend. DFL means ‘down from London’ and we couldn’t really defend ourselves on that one. Our new pub friends softened up once we told them we had got married yesterday. After a nice chat about where else we should go for dinner in Bath (whilst I surreptitiously took photos of their caramel dog) we tucked into our Sunday roast.

The King William Pub in Bath was the first place we found on Tripadvisor. We’d arrived at our accommodation early that day and taken an extended trip to Morrisons whilst the cleaner cleaned. As dinner time approached we couldn’t face more decision-making having spent the past eleven months making wedding related decisions. It had a nice picture, high ratings, was a 5-minute drive away and had free parking (on Sundays) across the road.

The turquoise frontage was inviting and we walked in to a quirky pub with equally quirky looking clientele and staff. We were seated in a corner and took all of 3 seconds to agree that it was Sunday and the only suitable food for two tired newlyweds was a fat roast dinner. It did not disappoint.

The Yorkshire pudding was the size of my face and it harboured a roast potato inside.  Juicy roast chicken and an assortment of veg were sat in the richest and silkiest gravy. It hinted dark chocolate and I made a mental note to ask the chef what was in it but in the end, I completely forgot to ask. My husband of 24 hours and I didn’t speak for 20 minutes whilst we gorged, meeting eyes every now and then to agree, by grunting, that it was ridiculously delicious.

Neither of us could particularly move once we’d finished but the dessert menu was placed in front of us and the words ‘sticky toffee pudding’ leapt into our eyes. Our favourite. Now, we could have shared. We’d literally said ‘all that I have I share with you’ in our vows the day before, and we were stuffed. But no. One each please, kind waiter.

This sticky toffee was Bruce Bogtrotter enormous and it sat in a puddle of shiny toffee sauce and rapidly melting vanilla ice cream. It was deeply sweet and stuck to every corner of our mouths. We were not defeated and our tummies were fit to burst once we’d finished. I can’t describe the feeling of being so content from eating. Suffice to say we went back to our Air B&B and had a wild night of sleeping.

Over the next two days in Bath we did go to a couple of our new pub friends’ recommended eateries.  We ate our bodyweight in steak and chips at Hudson Steakhouse and drank cocktails with unpronounceable ingredients in a Prohibition style, shadowy cornered basement bar called The Dark Horse. I felt squiffy after one, which I think is a good sign especially when the price of each drink was in double figures. Our only misdemeanour was (our choice, should have stuck to local knowledge) heading to Thaikun for dinner one evening – we had a nice time, but the food was pricey, ok tasting and the décor tried much too hard to be authentic. We were trying to evoke our honeymoon to Thailand later this year but agreed to leave our culinary Thai adventures until we are actually in Thailand rather than Bath.

Singtong Burger House, Leather Lane, London

‘I’m being good, the wedding is 6 weeks away’. 

I’d just picked up our wedding rings from a jeweller in Hatton Garden and wondered what to do for lunch. It was the beginning of a half day off work and I was in a really good mood. I walked through the food market on Leather Lane, each stall sizzled and popped and gave off delicious smells. I dodged the queues of city workers and passed giant pans of paella, pizza slices and gourmet kebabs but couldn’t find what a wanted. SINGTONG BURGER HOUSE. I made a beeline to a small corner restaurant with lots of guys sat in the window stuffing their faces and chugging cans of Diet Coke.

I ordered the cheeseburger, not particularly adventurous considering they do a rather fabulous sounding chicken burger, but I was in the mood for greasy beef and fries. I got the lunch meal deal – burger, fries and a drink for £10. I sat at the bar and a few minutes later a try landed in front of me with fries spilling out a bag and an oozing cheesy burger.

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It felt kind of wrong having been in a fancy Hatton Garden jewellers 10 minutes earlier and now I was taking mammoth bites into my cheeseburger. I’d text my husband-to-be about 8 minutes earlier saying ‘I’m finding lunch in the Leather Lane market, I’m being good, the wedding is 6 weeks away’. By ‘good’ I clearly meant good at finding somewhere incredible to eat, and at that I was successful.

I marched off half an hour later, fancy wedding rings safely in my bag, slathering my hands in sanitizer and a big smile on my face.