Clerkenwell, Sunshine and Stationery

What a day. Every so often the sun throws her English expectations out of the window and comes out in full force. Today was one of those days: blue skies, no clouds, warm breeze, people everywhere. It’s impossible not to be enamoured by a day like this in London. I spent the opportunity being outside as much as possible. Unfortunately a good part of this outdoor pursuit involved visiting a site I’m working on in Hammersmith, right on the Broadway. Heat and exhaust fumes don’t make for the most charming summer memories. But this afternoon when I skipped out of work I took a long walk to Clerkenwell.

One of life’s great pleasures for me is stumbling upon a new place. Luckily there are endless possibilities for this to happen in London. I found a green space called Spa Fields, just south of the wonderful Exmouth Market. It’s not the largest park in the world, and probably took me about 5 minutes to stroll through in its entirety. I thought it was incredibly characterful though, with some interesting landscape architecture elements including a rolling set of mounds comparable to a mini BMX track, a lavender plantation, vine covered arches and a pyramidal centre building. The yellow grass shows quite how warm it’s been recently.

 

What was noticeable about this park was the range of people using and enjoying it. There were locals and young people, office workers with their trousers rolled up and families. There are many playful elements wrapped up in this green space that make it seem a bit quirky.

Coming out of the park I headed towards Arlington Way, just past Sadlers Wells theatre on the way to Angel. I was intentionally heading here to visit the fabulous Present & Correct shop. Clerkenwell is so full of fantastic architecture. The street layout, other than the trunk-like Farringdon Road, is fine, organic and dense lending itself to a range of functions; churches and old school buildings are found in the centre of small neighbourhoods that are definable because of their common architectural features. One standout building for me was this residential complex on Rosebery Avenue called The Laboratory Building. Predictably it was an old laboratory. I loved the art deco features on this building, the curvature of the frontage and its floor-to-ceiling windows. If you look around the building these windows delineate the height of three floors, and all the floors have their own window type.

Arlington Way itself is a typical Islington street in many ways. On one side there is a 60s style fabricated estate development, with traditional two-up two-down town houses opposite. A number of these town houses have ground-level retail functions with beautifully decorated frontages. There are also some vintage features that have remained such as a traditional painted wall advertising funeral services.

Present & Correct was really the highlight of my day. It’s a beautiful and tiny shop devoted to stationery and products associated with everyday artistry. It’s full of unique designs with a quality and bespoke feel. The shop is also immaculately presented. I would like to devote a whole post to this shop soon. If you are a fan of the genuinely written word as I am, check this shop out for yourself. It’s probably my favourite shop in London at the moment.

My purchases. Detail is everything. My shopping bag from Present & Correct comes complete with a record card a la 1950s library. And yes I continued to Angel and stopped off at the Hummingbird Bakery for my favourite pick, the black bottom cupcake.

Here is today’s haul. It consists of a Palomino Blackwing 602 graphite pencil, a “from the desk of” stamp and Lion ink pad and a vintage telegram. I’m going to save the telegram to write a letter to someone that I know will appreciate this as much as I would! Honestly, if I received a letter like this from a friend, it would be in a frame and up on the wall. I’m intending to do a review of the Blackwing soon.

I hope you are enjoying this beautiful London evening!

Oh and also, while I was loitering in Spa Fields, I read an interesting Guardian article which is essentially a dummy’s guide to building a city. I’ll probably write a response to this article in more depth but as an urbanist I think there are some good points here, but also some critical considerations missing. Disaster-proofing for example. Thoughts welcome.

 

 

Kaweco Sport

I’ve been coveting the Kaweco Sport fountain pen for some time. It seems to be a bit of a cult classic and given that this is a sub-£20 pen, I thought I would finally give it a try.

I chose a fine nib as I have italicised handwriting which is best suited to fine lines, and chose a mint green finish. There are a number of other, darker colours, but something about this pen made me choose something less solemn. The Kaweco Sport arrived in an unremarkable, simply branded black box. My first impression was: small! Altogether the pen comes in at just over 10cm long when capped and about 13cm with the cap on the end.

 

There’s no doubt about it that this pen is fun to use. It is eye-catching and unusual, the octagonal chubby lid is nostalgic and has an almost 70s era quality about it which is further emphasised by the plastic finish on the pen. This whole air of playfulness is topped off by its short stature. I couldn’t wait to get writing. I’ve given it a couple of days of break-in time, as the first times I used it I had quite a few gaps in the ink flow, which does seem to be improving with use.

 

 

The pen has two cute silver accents. Firstly, the logo which is very clean and elegant and secondly at the top of the cap.

Here’s a sample of writing for you to check out for yourself. I’d like to keep this pen in my arsenal for using informally, in my notebooks. Although the nib is fine (they also do an extra-fine), the pen would need to write slightly more smoothly to bring it into more formal territory for me. If you’re looking for a lifetime companion kind of fountain pen, I’m not sure this is it, but I would certainly recommend it as an investment if you’re looking for a fountain pen which is adaptable, reliable and something different from the norm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Midweek Supper

This evening I made a pancetta and wild mushroom risotto. Risotto used to be one of those dishes that I would always order when having a meal out because I was convinced that cooking it at home would never do it justice and that the effort it takes would render any deliciousness futile.

However, when I did finally tackle risottos at home, it became an instant addition to my midweek repertoire. I love how adaptable it is. Some of my favourite flavour combinations include chorizo and borlotti bean, pea and prawn, and smoked haddock with lemon. I use a variety of stocks in these three combos, including fish, vegetable and chicken, usually with a generous splash of white wine. Tonight was all about pancetta and wild mushrooms, specifically porcini mushrooms. It’s a classic match made in heaven.

Many dried foods get a bad reputation. It’s not glamorous soaking the porcini mushrooms while you get to slicing onions and chopping chestnut mushrooms, but there’s something dedicated and patient about devoting a bit of extra time to such a great ingredient. Porcinis are so rich, pungent, earthy and almost nutty. Not only are they delectable on their own, but the deep chocolate coloured soaking water adds a very natural colour to the final risotto. Although they can be an expensive addition to a dish, you can afford to use them sparingly because of their strength, and particularly if you use the soaking water. A small handful is enough, with chestnut mushrooms and oyster mushrooms to give this a thoroughly savoury edge.

The two elements I add right at the end of cooking are the pancetta, and a small handful of grated parmigiano reggiano. I slowly dry fry pancetta cubes separately from my risotto pan so that any fat melts guiltily for stirring into the finished dish when it’s been removed from the heat. Then, the finishing touch, parmigiano reggiano left to melt into the risotto.

I’ve been known to add a couple of twists to this dish before. Sometimes a swirl of red pesto, particularly one with a kick, can add a pleasing sweet undertone, and chunks of goats cheese can bring a creaminess that suits a winter’s night in.

I suppose in its way this is quite an indulgent dish. Only a small helping is needed.

 

Pancetta and Wild Mushroom Risotto

A handful each of sliced chestnut and oyster mushrooms

A handful of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked for at least 30 minutes in 300ml boiling water (keep the soaking water for the risotto)

50g pancetta cubes

200g arborio rice

25g salted butter

2 small red onions, diced

2 garlic cloves, crushed or diced

Seasoning and herbs, including basil and sage

700ml chicken stock

Splash of white wine

30g parmigiano reggiano

Melt the butter in a large, flat saucepan, preferably with a heavy bottom. Allow this to get hot and slightly bubbling, and add the garlic and onions. Keep on a medium heat and allow the onions to become soft and translucent.

Add the arborio rice into the butter and onions and stir until the rice becomes translucent and looks shiny.

Start to add your stock. I usually add liquid to the risotto about 6 or 7 times, so that equates to about 150ml per ladle. Stir the risotto so that the liquid is equally distributed amongst the rice, and stir gently to keep the rice moving.

Continue adding the stock and porcini mushroom soaking liquid and stirring gently. After about half the liquid has been absorbed, add all your mushrooms and continue to add the remaining liquid and white wine until all the liquid is absorbed. During this time, season your risotto and add herbs. I love using basil and sage.

While you’re doing this (it’s a multi-tasking job this one), gently warm a separate small frying pan. Allow this to come to a good heat, and add the pancetta cubes. They should sizzle slightly on hitting the pan. Keep the cubes moving to cook evenly over a low-medium heat and allow the juices to collect in the pan.

As soon as all of the liquid is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat. Add the pancetta cubes and scrape the pan clean of all its meaty juices and any crispy bits. Stir this into the risotto.

Scatter over the parmigiano reggiano. While you’re fussing over plates and cutlery, this will gently melt into the risotto.

Serve! I can’t help but add a pinch of freshly ground pepper.

MushroomRisottoPriyaFloyd

Dalston Street Feast

Although I don’t venture there often, Dalston seems to have a unique character. For a friend’s birthday at the weekend, I ventured to Dalston Street Feast, which is a collection of pop-up restaurants housed within a derelict set of what appears to be warehouses. So derelict in fact that there were a few buckets collecting drips at the Camden Town Brewery bar!

Vital Statistics

Where: 3 minutes walk from Dalston Junction Overground station.

When: All summer long, until the weekend of the 25th September. 5pm – midnight with a £3 charge after 7pm.

What to expect: Burgers and sliders seem to be the order of pop-up food these days, regardless of cuisine. My quest for mac and cheese left me desolate (a homemade version is probably a future blog post in the making). Expect to pay about £5 for a dish and wait a couple of minutes. There is more table space than you’d possibly expect from a collection of pop-ups, so this is a positive for groups.

Try: Breddos Tacos. Just zingy, meaty, spicy deliciousness.

Tips: We arrived just after 7 and I feel this was a good time. The crowds grew rapidly until we left at about 9 to go elsewhere, and associated disbenefits of this become known (bigger queues, less table space, longer waits). Treat yourself to a cocktail at The Gin Store next to Bleecker St Burger.

The Dalston Lane Mural, painted in 1985 by Ray Walker.

Our first stop was a “Bill” burger from Bill or Beak. This came highly recommended from one of our group, and although it was a little on the small side, it didn’t disappoint. The “Bill” is a brioche bun filled with shredded duck and pork, crispy tempura shallots, a Vietnamese potion full of aromatic flavours and various garnishes such as coriander and spring onion.

Next up, a “Proud Boy” from Hank’s Po’ Boys. This was a delicately flavoured blackened piece of white fish, served with a creole dressing and slaw in a brioche bun. I really enjoyed this and it was a bit bigger than most other dishes we saw being served for £5. The fish was meaty and had a real smokiness to it, and held its shape well in the bun, thankfully saving my dignity in front of friends.

 

Mama Wang’s is the trader of the week this week. They seemed to be popular for their hand-pulled noodles, but in the spirit of trying as much as possible, I went for two steamed buns filled with lamb and crispy sesame bottoms. Luckily they were freshly cooked as we rolled up. The buns were very soft and the sesame crispness added a pleasing texture and sweetness. Hoisin on the side is always welcome (with anything frankly). The filling was minced lamb, and for some reason I was expecting shredded lamb. The bun as a whole succeeded in being quite fragrant. Next time I would definitely like to go for some of those noodle boxes too.

After trying a few snack-sized offerings, it was time for more of a meal. Two of us shared this jerk platter from Mama Jerk’s, consisting of a quarter leg of jerk chicken, rice and peas and a salad-slaw combo. All topped off with hot sauce and tropical mayo. I am a big fan of spicy food, and I would have preferred a bit of extra heat from those scotch bonnets. However there’s no denying that the chicken was full of warm flavours.

I disappointingly didn’t manage to get a photo of my final course, which was two meaty tacos from Breddos Tacos. Specifically a pink steak taco and a crunchy nut chicken taco. The old adage saving the best for last is not lost at Street Feast because these were absolutely delicious. Both tacos were big enough for four big mouthfuls and the meat was so tender and juicy. I topped them off with some chilli salsa for an added kick. If there’s one pop-up you stop off at, make it Breddos.

Well hi.

Here I am!

I can’t tell you how long I have been procrastinating about getting this website going. If you want to know a little about me check out the About page. I’ve spent a few days navigating the world of hosting and platforms and page upon page of mysterious technological jargon. It has left me convinced that someone somewhere doesn’t want any more websites in the world because they don’t make it easy! However I somehow seem to have emerged on the other side with a reasonably functional site. I’m lucky to have a few friends with insight into this world of creative design and technology so I’ll be petitioning them for tips very soon.

On my part though I have been collecting many projects and snippets of my days to share with you over the last couple of months. I have always been an avid scribbler of thoughts, sketches, ideas and lists which I draw on day-to-day whether it’s to draw on something uplifting or to focus my intentions, both in the long and short-term. I’ve fretted somewhat that starting a personal website is a self-indulgent thing to do, but I’ve come to the conclusion that The London Parchment is going to be an opportunity to be creative with my own expression.

So please join me along the way, feel free to start up a dialogue in any way you wish. I’m looking forward to it!