The Land Sans The Long Black…

This morning I met up with an Aussie friend of mine for brunch. S travels a lot for work and since he has the next 2 weeks in London before his next round of jet-setting, we decided to grab the bull by the horns – so to speak – and catch up over some scrumptious vittels and good coffee at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell.

S and I used to work together and as such, he is a fellow afficionado of both the Melbourne coffee scene and that bastion of Italian yummy-ness, Lygon Street. Way back when we worked together, we were fortunate enough to share premises with the barista training school of a very well-known Italian coffee brand. As such, there was no schlepping around with freeze-dried instant or filter coffee for us. It was punchy espresso with gorgeous caramel-coloured crema, warm milky-smooth lattes and luscious foamy (not frothy people – there’s a world of difference) cappuccinos. Let me tell you, we knew our Robusta from our Arabica.

Then we came to London. And caffeine confusion reigned.

You see there are two types of coffee that are ubiquitous in the Land Down Under (and for that matter, in the Land of the Long White Cloud) but as rare as hen’s teeth in Ol’ Blighty. 

The first is the Flat White. It lies somewhere between a warm milky latte (a flat white has less milk and is served hot) and the foaming cappuccino (the flat white has less/no foam). It’s hard to find in London but with the likes of The Australian Times providing a handy list of good flat white-rs in London Town alongside a little Antipodean word-of-mouth, it’s possible. But most places here will translate the Flat White into a white coffee (a black coffee with cold milk), completely ignoring the craft of creating a steaming Long Black before adding a large dollop of warm milk.

Which brings me to my second point – the Long Black. In non-barista terms, it’s a shot of espresso poured into hot water to preserve the crema.

Simple right? Not nearly as complicated as the Flat White one would think.

But apparently so.

Just ask for a Long Black here and watch the bewilderment appear across the face of one’s waiter. Then try to explain it ie. a shot of espresso with hot water (and that’s not getting into the size of the cup it should come in). In most places, the response is ‘oh so you want a black coffee?’ No. Not if you are going to stick my cup under the coffee filter for 5 minutes.

Some will respond by correcting you calling it an Americano, grinning proudly at you as they successfully navigate the lingo of yet another of the half million or so Antipodean immigrants living in London. Well no actually – but at this stage, an espresso topped up with hot water is starting to sound like an acceptable (and considerably less stressful) compromise.

But all I really want is a proper Long Black. I want a lovely shot of espresso – that’s right, like you normally give one who orders an espresso – poured into the cup with hot water. Rich and smooth with a velvety crema. No bitterness, no acrid aftertaste. Understated yet still packing a caffeine punch.

Just like the one this morning.

Anna Hansen may have been ‘chef-fing’ all over the globe – and let me tell you the food was really, really good – but for the coffee alone , The Modern Pantry gets my vote.

Smooth, rich and velvety. Exactly the way I like it.

Hot chicks & hens

Last night 10 lovely ladies (or as we prefer, hot chicks) gathered to salute the last single days of our gorgeous girl, A-down-the-hill who, in two weeks time will ‘I do’ and morph from Single- to Marry-dom.  So how does one do this with appropriate pomp, circumstance and little finesse in this day and age?  Being a bunch of foodies and self-titled gourmands (ie. basically little piggies), we all went cooking.
The Underground Cookery School lies beneath St Mary’s Church just behind Finsbury Circus and London Wall and allows participants to drink, prepare a 3-course meal, drink, eat the meal they have prepared, drink and…drink.  Last night, under the watchful eye of Missa and Happy (our two chefs) we made tagliatelle, sea bream with roasted potatoes and salsa verde, and souffle.
It got competitive right from the get-go starting with pretty vigorous dough-making and followed by some serious pasta-machine action.  As with any daunting enterprise (ie. 10 women ranging from mildly tipsy to seriously ‘sociable’ preparing a 3 course meal that they are willing to eat at the end of it all), an early victory can be quite motivational and cries of success soon filled the room as each of us produced a proud little bundle of pasta ribbons.
So what’s next? we asked.
There was sea bream filleting (getting those pesky bones out is more difficult than it looks!), then tomato-(for the pasta sauce)-and potato-(for the sea bream)-roasting and salsa verde-making (again for the sea bream).
There was also Thai green curry prep-ping (for the vegetarians in the group) and then finally the piece d’resistance, the raspberry souffle. But lo and behold, how did that ramekin of salt end up in the saucepan of raspberries – it wouldn’t have been one of we enthusiastically helpful ladies who thought it was the sugar that Missa requested, would it??  Just as well Missa had some other fruit ‘out the back’ so we did not have to go ‘souffle-less’.
Dear oh dear.
After over 5 hours of underground cookery and a delicious meal (with more wine), we bid our patient chefs a fond and rather noisy farewell and moved on for a cheeky cocktail at Lounge Lover in nearby Shoreditch and a quick boogie-on-down in Beach Blanket Babylon next door before dispersing for home – which for three of us was a rather nice hotel – Club Quarters opposite Leadenhall Market.  We agreed that this had two distinct advantages: (1) it was significantly better than dealing with a long trip home and a large cab fare and (2) it provided a rather fabulous opportunity to continue our festival of foodie fun into a rather scrumptious breakfast at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell.
Seriously people, the best coffee I’ve had for a long time, really yummy scrambled eggs with haloumi, spinach and tomato and then a shared plate of pancakes with berry compote and creme fraiche…you London-ers reading this must go!
So that’s the night (and morning) that was – a tribute to friendship amongst fabulous women and a fitting farewell to singledom for our fair foodie friend.