A Delicious Dinner at Iberica

Whenever my parents come to London, I take them to my favourite restaurants, so this time we ended up at Iberica in Marylebone for some of the best Spanish food we’ve tried in London. (Yes, I know, the second food post in a row…!)

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Jorge was there too, of course. He’s the one who introduced me to Iberica back in June when we went for the first time. You may remember the blog post detailing our tipsy lunch. We sat by the bright front windows, mid afternoon with sun pouring in to light up the interior which made for some nice photos.

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This time we went for dinner and sat in a cosy area upstairs. It was atmospheric with dim lights (although that didn’t help with the quality of the photos!)

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We settled in with a complimentary bottle of champagne (thanks Iberica!) and picked through the menu. We already knew most of what we planned to order since the food we enjoyed last time was so delicious we wanted more of the same.

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We started with olives and bread with olive oil for dipping. Then we shared a board with of three types of jamón, which came from three different areas of Spain, each with slightly different flavours. Following closely behind were the gooey croquetas de jamón with their crisp outer layer. Then we had one of our favourites – pulpo a la Gallega – octopus with potatoes and paprika. Yum!

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And what are Spanish tapas without a dish full of pimientos de piquillo? You never know when you might pull out a spicy one! Of course we added a Spanish omelette to the table. We also went for something new: fried chorizo lollypops with pear alioli sauce which were fun to eat and full of flavour.

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My mom and I washed it all down with some daiquiris (which came in glasses with the straws “magically” stuck to the condensation on the outside).

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Dessert followed. We all shared a tarta de Santiago and a tarta de la abuela.

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Not only is the food delicious, but the decor and atmosphere are really inviting and the staff are fun, friendly and attentive. They seem to enjoy their jobs, which makes a difference!

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Eventually it was time to head home, but we’ll be back before long, I am sure! Maybe we’ll try the Canary Wharf branch next time…

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Leave me your best London restaurant recommendations in a comment, pretty please!

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A Taste of Spain in London: Tapas at Ibérica, Marylebone

It was back at the beginning of May when Jorge told me he made lunch reservations at Ibérica in Marylebone. He wanted to check out the interior design by Lázaro Rosa-Violán.

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I was more interested in the food. And I was not disappointed.

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This was also my first outing with my new little Lumix camera with the 20mm pancake lens and I was itching to try it out. It turned out this same day offered plenty of opportunity, first with Ibérica, then a stroll through Regents Park and then a wander around Little Venice to check out the colourful canal houseboats.

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But back to the tapas, which even Jorge, who is Spanish, says are some of the best he’s had in London (even though the size of the servings never compares to those back home).

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The outside of the restaurant is a bit nondescript, but the inside is covered in beautiful blue and white tiles and has huge windows that let in tons of natural light.

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We sat by a window, which gave us plenty of people watching opportunities and settled in with the menu.

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Jorge ordered wine and I went for a daiquiri. (Oops, drank half before I remembered to take a picture!)

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It was prepared by a friendly bartender who was telling me about the day Made in Chelsea came by for a visit to the restaurant.

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I think he had fond memories.

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We started with a simple plate full of bread and olive oil for dipping.

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And the requisite bowl of olives.

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Along the bar were beautiful legs of Jamón ibérico which was sliced, very thinly, from the bone.

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It added a bit of extra authenticity to the experience.

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We had a plate of this mouthwateringly delicious Spanish favourite.

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Then came the Pulpo a la Gallega – octopus with potatoes and paprika. It was unfortunate we had to share as I could have polished off the whole plate quite easily!

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Double take – Yum!

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But there was more to come with Croquetas de jamón, gooey with their crisp outer later.

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When I went to Barcelona with Jorge last year, we ate the popular Pimientos de piquillo. When you bite into these, you never know if you might get a super spicy one – at least in Spain. Here, they were all perfectly edible, juicy and sprinkled with sea salt.

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The last tapa we had was Hamburguesas de secreto ibérico, mini hamburgers, which were the only thing that didn’t live up to my expectations. The rest surpassed them.

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When the dessert menu arrived, we couldn’t resist sharing a Tarta de Santiago.

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While Jorge surveyed the after dinner drinks menu, I had a little tour upstairs to take photos of this area of the restaurant that opens up for special occasions and big groups.

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Even the walls behind the glasses had the same blue tiles that decorated the downstairs area.

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That night, they were hosting a party of 40 on a long wooden table in the back room.

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In another corner, there was a smaller round table in a private area with standing room for cocktails.

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I took plenty of photos.

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There’s little trinkets everywhere.

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More trinkets.

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Spanish magazines.

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Wine.

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Downstairs, there is a small nook which has one table and it’s surrounded by Spanish books on shelves. It can be booked out if you’re looking for a space that almost feels like you’re dining privately at home.

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There’s plenty of attention to detail, even with the bar stools.

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The bar itself.

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And the wall of wine.

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When I came back, there were two drinks at my place – moscatel and pacharán. One was free from the bartender as a gift and the other Jorge had ordered. Both were delicious.

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The entire rest of the menu looked tempting, so we will certainly be back!

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We left, slightly tipsy, with happy tastebuds and wandered under the London sunshine to a Regents Park in full Spring bloom.

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If you’re on the other side of the city, there’s also a branch of Ibérica in Canary Wharf. If you go, let me know how it is. I will undoubtedly be jealous as it’s made my current list of favourite restaurants in London.

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Ibérica
195 Great Portland Street London W1W 5PS
http://www.ibericalondon.co.uk/

Listen to a Londoner: Cemay Ilgu

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Cemay Ilgu, 28

Cemay has just moved back to London after seven years in North Cyprus and is very excited about it! She can’t wait to introduce the delights of London to her husband Berat and son Onur, as well as the newborn they are expecting any day now.

LLO:  Which part of London are you most familiar with and what’s the best thing about it?
CI: I guess Hampstead High Street, which has a lot of great childhood memories for me. The best thing about it is the combination of little pavement cafes and cute little boutiques – it’s not the most affordable of places, but it has a certain ambience that I like every now and then.

LLO: I’ve got one night in London and want to stay away from the tourist trail. Where would you recommend I go to eat and drink?
CI: Ah, there are so many places! But I guess the one place I know that has it all is The North Pole Bar, in Greenwich. You start off in the main bar for a pre-dinner drink, then go up to the Piano Restaurant, and then if you have the energy after the gorgeous food (or you just want to work it off!) you can go down to the South Pole Club and dance the night away! It’s a complete night out in one venue.

LLO: You’ve got a small son and another one due this week! Where’s the best place in London to take the kiddies?
CI: We took Onur, who’s now 21 months, to the Science Museum last month and he adored it. It’s great fun for the kids but they also get to learn stuff – a perfect combination!

LLO: After living abroad for quite a while and coming back to us, where’s the best place in London to go to get a taste of the food you’d find near your other home in Cyprus?
CI: Absolutely without a doubt it’s Kervan Sofrasi Restaurant, on Hertford Road in Edmonton. Not only is the food affordable, but it’s just outstanding quality. If you like Turkish food, I could recommend no better place.

LLO: Where’s your favourite bakery in London and the best thing they serve?
CI: I am a sucker for Pain au Chocolat, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better one than they serve at Maison Blanc, on Hampstead High Street.

LLO: You’re about to move house. Any flat-hunting tips for people just moving to the city?
CI: Don’t stick to just one agency and try not to limit yourself too much in terms of area – London has a fabulous public transport system and you’re always within reach of somewhere with great transport links – the best properties are often found a little way off the beaten track.

LLO: A new home means decorating… What are the best London shops to deck out the new place?
CI: For us normal folks, you can’t go wrong with Ikea! I’ll be honest, that’s where I have done most of my shopping! But I mixed and matched with bits and pieces I’ve found in places like Camden market, and charity shops are also great for sourcing one off pieces – we once found a 70’s style padded cocktail bar for a bargain £20!

LLO: Best place in London to go on a romantic date (when you get someone to watch the little ones!)?
CI: One of my favourite places that appeals to the Princess Jasmine in me is Pasha, on Gloucester Road. It feels really decadent. The food is exquisite, mostly Moroccan/Middle-Eastern cuisine, but it’s just a lovely, romantic place – all soft lighting and belly dancing!

LLO: What excites you most about being in London again?
CI: Honestly? The diversity and vibrancy, the way that you could do something new, eat something new, discover something new every day for years on end and never get bored! Very different to North Cyprus!

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
CI: A little Italian restaurant called Polpo on Beak Street in Soho. It’s tiny – seats about 50 people, and it doesn’t take bookings so you just kind of turn up and wait, but the food is out of this world – served in small tapas-like portions so you can try a bit of everything, and it’s a really lovely place to socialise with friends, so different as it’s designed to be like a Venetian wine bar. A fabulous little find! Prices are pretty reasonable too for London.

Thanks Cem!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Steve Slack

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you want to be interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Steve Slack, 30

Steve is a writer and researcher working in the cultural heritage sector. He writes audioguides and museum interpretation and is currently writing a book about what happiness means to us in a modern context.
He blogs at www.steveslack.co.uk

LLO: Tell us a bit about The Happiness Project you’re working on at the moment.
SS:
Happiness is an enormous subject. It’s vast. The more I learn about it, the more questions I have. Down the ages, the great and the good have tried to get to grips with happiness. What is it? How we define it? Thinkers and writers have produced millions of pages on this subject – so much so that I wonder if it’s worth even trying to answer such a huge question that seeks to define happiness in broad terms. Instead, I’m interested in what makes us happy as individuals. So, I started looking at some historical characters and tried to find out what they said about happiness – Aristotle, Henry VIII, Churchill. I found that an understanding of happiness is contextual – to truly appreciate what makes someone happy, one has to understand the world they live in. So one aspect of this project is looking back at some figures from history who’ve had something interesting to say about happiness. These are juxtaposed with the modern section, which involves me going and interviewing lots of people from different walks of life today, asking them what happiness means to them and what makes them happy. The idea is to build up a picture of what happiness might mean to us in a modern context [http://steveslack.co.uk/happiness-project/part-two-contemporary/].

LLO: How do you choose who to interview for your project and what has the response been like so far?
SS: I’ve been interviewing people who have something interesting to say. To be fair, every single person has a unique perspective on happiness – there are no two answers the same. But for this project I’m trying to find people who have a unique contribution. I’ve had to rein it in somewhat, so I’m now looking for people who are living in the UK today. I’ve spoken with a Holocaust survivor, a homeless guy, Woman Farmer of the Year, a hip-hop MC, a psychiatrist, a Buddhist writer, a blind extreme sport enthusiast and more. People are really happy to put their minds to my questions and to talk. After I’ve interviewed them I write up their answers and edit it into a post for the website [http://steveslack.co.uk/happiness-project/].

LLO: Any thoughts on the general state of happiness among Londoners? What could we do to be a bit more cheerful?
SS:
Londoners love to have a grumble about the city. It’s expensive, it’s dirty, the infrastructure is ageing and the people are rude. But that’s only one perspective. I’ve lived in London for 12 years and I find that while some of that is true, London is still the greatest city in the world in terms of inspiration and creativity. There’s so much to do here, you can never complain of being bored. From bars and clubs, shopping, some of the best food in the world to an unrivalled cultural scene. I’ve worked in the museum sector for about a decade and I find there’s so much here to keep me going.

There’s a great blog called the Happiness Project London [http://thehappinessprojectlondon.wordpress.com/] which celebrates all of these things and more. It’s a celebration of all the wonderful things to do here and it’s great way to make sure we don’t take London for granted.

LLO: Is there a place you’ve found in London that always seems to make you happy?
SS:
I have a favourite picture in the National Gallery that always makes me happy. It’s a picture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza by Honoré-Victorin Daumier  [http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/honore-victorin-daumier-don-quixote-and-sancho-panza] – I don’t know what it is about the painting, but it does something very strange to me. I can stand in front of it for ages and never get bored; I’m just content and happy. I find the combination of colours very relaxing and pleasing and the overlapping lines of the picture never cease to interest me. The rest of the world seems to disappear whenever I’m in the room with it. If I’ve got five minutes spare and I’m near the Gallery, I’ll pop in and have a quick look. My partner recently bought me a framed print of the picture. That made me enormously grateful that someone had gone to the trouble to think about what makes me happy.

LLO: Working in the museum/heritage sector, which London museum is your favourite and can you recommend a good one that’s a bit quirky or out of the ordinary?
SS: The Geffrye Museum [http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/] in Hoxton is a real treat. It’s the museum of English domestic interiors. As well as some great displays it also has a charming garden and a great cafe. On the other side of the city I love the calm tranquillity of Dulwich Picture Gallery [http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/]. It’s a hidden gem in London, but it doesn’t deserve to be. The building and gardens are beautiful and the collection – although somewhat obscure – is a time capsule of late 18th-century art collecting. Less than a mile away, but very different in tone, is the fabulous Horniman Museum [http://www.horniman.ac.uk/] with its wide-ranging collection of musical instruments, African objects and natural history.

LLO: Give us a London fact you’ve learned while working that most people probably don’t know, but might put a smile on their face when they hear it.
SS: There’s a stuffed walrus [http://www.horniman.ac.uk/ten.php] in the Horniman Museum’s natural history collection. When the skin was sent to the UK from Canada in 1870 the taxidermist assigned to stuff it had never seen a live walrus. He stuffed it full of filling, like he’d stuff a horse or a dog, until it was completely full. But, of course, walruses are supposed to have rolls of blubber to keep them warm. You can still see the lines in his side where his flab should be, but unfortunately he’s far too big. It’d be a nightmare to undo the work, so he’s left there, looking rather uncomfortable. He’s supposed to be fat, but not that fat!

LLO: Tell us about the most fascinating Londoner you’ve interviewed in your life, either through museum work or your personal projects.
SS:I wrote the audio guide for an exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library recently and got to interview the Archbishop of Canterbury for the introduction. He’s a real pro when it comes to the media – he spoke directly with confidence and ease. And he did it word perfect, in one take. I guess fluent speaking goes with the job! From his study we could see the amazing gardens of Lambeth Palace. Apparently it’s the second largest private garden in London, next to Buckingham Palace.

LLO: Where’s your favourite place to go to unwind over dinner or drinks?
SS:
I love water, so I’m often to be found near the river. But in the summer it can get quite manic, so I’ll head back towards my home in south London. Camberwell and Peckham are having are real renaissance right now. There are loads of great bars and restaurants in which to eat, drink and just hang out. My back garden also has a little suntrap, so I can sometimes be found there on a summer evening with a glass of wine, watching the planes heading into Heathrow.

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
SS: I’d always assumed that if you wanted good curry in London you should head to Brick Lane. But I’d never thought of Drummond Street (near Euston Station) until a friend took me there. It’s great row of restaurants if you like south Indian food.

There’s also a great pop-up bar on top floor of a multi-storey car park in Peckham called Frank’s Cafe and Campari Bar [http://www.frankscafe.org.uk/]. It’s a unique blend of sculpture, food and drinks in the open air, with a privileged view of the London skyline.

LLO: What’s the best part about living in your postcode?
SS: Camberwell gets a bad reputation sometimes, but I think it’s a fabulous place to live. It’s relaxed and artsy and has loads of places to get coffee, food, free wi-fi and evening drinks. It’s such a creative area, there’s something for everyone and for every mood. I maintain that the best tapas in London is at Angels and Gypsies [http://www.churchstreethotel.com/restaurant-menu.asp?menu=6332] at the Church Street Hotel. Camberwell Arts Week [http://www.camberwellarts.org.uk/] each June is a real treat – this year we sat on the roof of the church hall and watched movies projected onto the wall at night!

Thanks Steve!

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Listen to a Londoner: Alexandra Richards

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’d like to be interviewed, email me at littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Alexandra Richards, 23

Alexandra works as a Buyers Admin Assistant for Topshop. She also writes a blog, Alex Does Fashion. She is 23 and lives in South London.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your blog, Alex Does Fashion.
AR:
 I love fashion, have always worked in fashion and have always wanted to write a blog. And then when my previous job took me to a remote area of Coventry for 6 months, I had not much else to do in the evenings! That’s when I started writing it; it helped me escape and now it’s my baby. Alex Does Fashion is about fashion, art and life from my perspective – because it’s my blog! Plus, I get a bit fed up of all the millions of narcissistic fashion blogs consisting only of thousands pictures of the blogger in outfits, or countless street style photos. Alex Does Fashion is all about what inspires and interests me, and hopefully inspires and interests others.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, talk us through some of the best and worst fashion trends that have hit the city in your lifetime.
AR:
Oh goodness. So many. The one that first sprang to mine was definitely when flat winkle pickers came back as the “pointy shoe” in 2003. When I was 15 I had a white pair with a horrendous silver clasp – not a good look. I also once wore them with black tights…enough said.

LLO: Where is your place to show up in the capital on a Saturday night after buying the perfect new outfit?
AR:
I’d say at the moment I’m definitely more of a bar girl than a club girl, and as a South Londoner, of course I absolutely love going out in Clapham. Tapas and sangria outside on the deck at Carmen Bar de Tapas, happy hour cocktails at Rinky Dinks, more cocktails at the gorgeous art deco Loft bar and dancing in Aqqum. And then of course a good ol’ night time cheeseburger and chips in McDonalds at 4am!

LLO: Where can we find London’s best vintage or retro offerings?
AR:
There’s no doubt about it – Brick Lane is still number 1 for vintage in my opinion. There are countless stores to choose from, but my favourite are Hunky Dory vintage which has fantastically elaborate pieces – and the guys who work there are so friendly and lovely, and I love the Boy London store, housing what’s left of the amazing 80s line, with the fantastically eccentric owner as well as the crazy £1-5 bed sale in the basement (literally a 3ft mound of clothes on a bed). And of course, you can’t forget the humungous Beyond Retro.

Away from East London, one of my favourites is Retromania in Pimlico. It’s almost a costume store and they carry fantastic designer collections. For my birthday, my friends bought me an amazing huge black and white furry angora cardigan from there; and they have a fantastic rail outside which changes every week, where I picked up a great hounds tooth men’s jacket for £1! Perfect for guilt free shopping.

LLO: Which London-based living fashion icon do you most admire and why?
AR:  
I don’t really have a fashion icon – I can admire and be inspired by everything and anyone, especially normal people with normal lives.

LLO: After living in NYC for a bit, how does fashion in London compare to the styles in the Big Apple?
AR:
Like London style, fashion in New York you couldn’t even begin to encapsulate in one sentence. There are so many neighbourhoods, and so many different types of people. Although one thing I did notice that there are a lot more vintage stores and small boutiques scattered about, and many New Yorkers do look to London as the most directional fashion city. One thing about New Yorkers though, is that everyone looks a lot more put together. Everything in New York inspires me – from the people, the bars, the buildings and the New Yorkers’ incessant style. I  truly and absolutely heart New York.

LLO: Favourite London-based designers?
AR: 
I love Mark Fast, Issa, Marios Schwab, David Koma, Holly Fulton – and of course, Vivienne Westwood.

Thanks Alexandra!

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