Dover to Calais

Not food *

Well at least the weather was nice. You may have been wondering exactly how I made it to Paris from London after Eurostar was shut down due to the fire in the tunnel the very day I was supposed to be boarding it ? (or you may not actually care at all). Well after a customary session of moping and cursing the world at my lack of luck, I gathered all my steely determination and guile about me for the long road ahead. I was going to Paris, I would be in Paris… I was destined for Paris. Also I had a non-refundable hostel booking that I didn’t want to pay for.

First I checked for airfares. Finding out after a brief search that the cheapest airfare I could get at short notice would be around £400 (!!). My next option was the ferry, which sounded like it could be a great way to go. £14 pounds for a ticket from Dover to Calais, and a leisurely cruise across the channel full of wonderful sights. Nautical adventures ahoy !

So the adventure began at 9am on Saturday morning, after a rather boisterous Friday night I boarded the tube to London Bridge a little worse for wear, and got an overland train from London Bridge to Dover. 2 hours later I arrive at the Dover train station, then wait for a bus to take me to the Dover ferry terminal.

Another hour and a half wait at the ferry terminal before the ferry left and I was fortunate enough to enjoy the company of what must have been the angriest man in Britain, working behind the counter of Cafe Ritazza. I didn’t want a coffee, nothing on earth could have made order a coffee from him. I was however macabrely intrigued by his ability to dump the portafilter basket into a bin full of coffee grinds every single time he knocked the spent coffee out. In fact making it more and more filthy each time as he never bothered to wipe it.

Quite frankly put, it was the dirtiest most disgusting coffee machine I’ve ever seen. If the look of it wasn’t enough to scare you off, then the guy swearing audibly each time someone ordered a coffee was a pretty clear indication that it wasn’t going to be good.

Being that I was starving, and had yet to each anything since I woke up, I figured I’d try my luck with a sandwich from the pre-prepared supply behind the cafe counter.

“What type of roll is that one ?” I asked, pointing to a rather nondescript item wrapped in foil.

“No idea, but it’s all we got left” was the gruntingly abrupt response.

“Well I guess I’ll have that one then” I surmised.

He then proceeded to manhandle what I had now determined was a “sub” of some description out of it’s foil and throw it onto a sandwich press. All the while swearing and muttering to himself, cursing all and sundry for putting him in the unenviable position of having to serve people food, a job he was clearly not cut out for.

A few minutes go by, and he slides the now partially warmed “sub” into a bag and flings it across the counter to me. Shortly after this point I made a note in my little food travel diary.

“Cafe Ritazza disgusting coffee machine, angry man, filthy sausage roll type thing. Trying luck with vending machine next time”

I doubt truer words have never been spoken about that establishment.

So finally we board the ferry. Well actually we board a bus to take us to the ferry. The ferry ride was pleasant enough. Although they aren’t entirely equipped to deal with people who don’t have cars. As such there is nowhere to leave your luggage. Which meant I was dragging my bags around for a good 2 1/2 hours, or however long it took to get there.

Time began to stand still somewhere in the middle of the channel. Suddenly the realisation came upon me that I would actually be in country where English was not the common language, and I now began to regret fast forwarding through most of the “French Foundations” CD’s my good friend Alex had lent me to study up on, and hoping my year 10 French lessons would all come flooding back to me.

The scene at Calais ferry port was straight out of Lost in Translations. Hundreds of confused, angry, and disoriented tourists trying to make some sense of where they were, and how they were supposed to get to Paris from here.

I was of the school of thought that everything would work itself out in due course. So whilst American tourists screamed staccato broken French into mobile phones to secure train tickets and hotel transfers. I just sat on the bus and followed the signs. It seemed to give them a sense of empowerment to know that they had some control over what was happening, but in reality, we were all on the same boat, all catching the same bus, the same trains, and arriving at the same time in Paris.

So I secured a ticket to Paris on the train, which would go via Lille, running because everyone else was and then realising it didn’t leave for another 20 minutes. The train was pretty nice, and I somehow managed to “accidentally” end up in first class by not reading my ticket properly. It also didn’t help that the train was 30 carriages long, and I really couldn’t be bothered walking to the one I was meant to be in. The ticket inspector however, was happy to point out my mistake and direct me ten carriages forward to where I was supposed to be.

Arriving at Gare du Nord at 9pm on Saturday night was a little shock to the system. It felt like I’d arrived in the ghetto, as a group of young guys walked past yelling at people with giant muzzled alsatians on chains at their sides. No signs of foie gras or caviar in this enclave.

So finally I find a metro map, get a ticket, and haul my bags on board. Disembarking at Jules Joffrin metro stop, the closest to Le Montclair Monmartre, my hostel of choice for the stay. All I can say is that a tiny crappy room with a bed in it had never looked so good after the day I’d had. Still I hadn’t eaten. After leaving at 9am from London and arriving in Paris at 9pm, It had been a long day, but it wasn’t yet over. The Paris air (which does not smell half as bad as anyone tells you) was full of life and energy. 10pm would see every restaurant in Perth closed for the night, but in Paris, things were just starting to happen.

Borough Market

Salted beef heaven Jarlsberg perhaps

If you run a food blog, or have even a passing interest in food, and live in or near London, then you will well and truly know what Borough Markets are all about.

They are essentially the food lovers markets of choice for all things different, fancy, organic, local, and artisan, in the area of bread, cheese, meat, charcuterie, hams, seafood, wines, beers, ciders, chocolate, truffles… You name it, someone is probably selling it at Borough Markets.

Anything I have to say about the markets has probably been said before on lots of other sites, but I will say my favourite stand out of all of them was perhaps one of the simplest. Selling nothing other than salted beef (which I guess is the same as corned beef) sandwiches with lettuce and mustard. I ordered one of these and then sat watching the guy heap mountains of delicious beef inside a fresh roll, until I was sure it could fit no more, and then keep going. Pure joy for 4 pounds.

Here’s a few photos of the rest of the markets.

Borough Market

St Pancras International Grand Champagne Bar

St Pancras Grand Champagne Bar

Aka, I was supposed to be in Paris.

So finding out that the very day I had chosen to get the Eurostar to Paris there had been a massive fire in the tunnel, was not the best news I’d heard all week. A freight train was going through one of the tunnels and carrying a truck full of chemicals on the back of it. Somehow the chemicals caught fire, they suspected the fire started in a truck’s braking system that overheated and spread to a tyre. 200 firefighters and a day later they had the fire under control, but all trains for that day (and the foreseeable future) were cancelled.

Rather than sitting on my laurels however, I figured it would be good to get an accurate assessment of the situation from Eurostar themselves. Rather than desperating clicking refresh on their website every 30 seconds hoping to see that the trains were running again.

Turns out that the website was in fact, a whole lot more helpful than the people standing at the Eurostar office. With clipboards in their hands and stern looks on their faces, dealing with hundreds of other irate tourists who didn’t want to be in London either.

So rather than dwelling on the situation, we headed upstairs to the Champagne Bar to wet my sorrows (I would say drown, but one glass of champagne is not that big, and my sorrows are strong swimmers), and reassess the situation.

Canape Plate at St Pancras champagne bar

It was nearing midday, so the canape plate sounded like a good option for something to snack on while trying to make alternate arrangements to smuggle myself out of the country. It wasn’t overly impressive, and vaguely reminiscent of something you’d be served at a stuffy cocktail party hosted by people you don’t like. But then the two little tastes of foie gras with a crisp glass of Pommery Brut Royal NV did make me feel that little bit closer to Paris, if only momentarily.

The Eagle, Farringdon


Sometimes things don’t always go as planned. Actually no, that’s not entirely fair. Sometimes there is no plan, but somewhere deep down you have a feeling that everything is going to work out exactly the way you want it to because the universe just likes you… and then it doesn’t.

It had been a long day. Walking the streets of London, popping up at tube stops all over the map all day and taking a great many photos that will never see the light of day for all of your sakes.

After meeting up with my good friend Sam, he and Amanda and I had then slowly meandered our way back through Soho, down over the Thames past the Eye, and then on towards a road called “The Cut” near Southwark. We had tried to get into two restaurants that looked very promising, the Anchor & Hope, and Mason Don Filipe. Sadly both were completed packed and had 2 hour waits for tables… which at 8:30pm wasn’t really cutting it for my exercise ravaged hunger.

We then made a daring attempt to swing a no notice table at St Johns. Black Cabbing it over to Smithfield, however it was all to no avail. The dining Gods were not smiling on us that night.

So the next place down my list was The Eagle on Farringdon Road. Another short walk down the road though, so we figured we’d chance it there before trying Moro in Exmouth Markets and at last ditch, any kebab shop that still happened to be open.

As luck would have it though, the Eagle was indeed open, and although we couldn’t get a table inside, we did manage to squeeze our way onto someone elses table outside while they weren’t looking… and did a tricky little “oh, you didn’t need all these seats did you ? No ?.. cheers” routine.

Thinking back though, I’m not sure how fortunate we were to get that spot. After Amanda almost had a drink spilled over her, and a few cheery patrons who were a tad more interested in the pub than the gastro had a short but charming conversation with her, it wasn’t looking like the most welcoming of venues for our weary legs.

The Eagle is often referred to as the original gastropub, as it’s first owners David Eyre and Mike Belben coined the term in 1991 when they opened it. The concept of the gastropub is simple. Good food, good beers, good wines, in a pub environment. Sadly, what we found at The Eagle wasn’t quite any of those things.

Walking in you’re greeted with the kind of shabby chic mismatched furniture, things thrown everywhere kind of layout that can be cool when the vibe is right. But what it felt like was a pub, well and truly sans gastro.

I hung about watching the chefs in the open kitchen throwing pots and pans around for a bit and then got depressed at how the food was looking, so lingered down the end of the bar in amongst pissed patrons waiting to be able to order.

I ended up going with a tomato, basil, and bread soup with chunks of parmesan through it, which I have to say was actually very tasty, thick and rustic and full of homely flavours. It almost made the stale basket of bread we were given palatable. Amanda also had the soup and Sam ordered the clam chowder, which looked the part as well.

For mains Amanada ordered a chilli pasta with crab, Sam went for lentils with pork, and I went for a Hereford rump with horseradish and roast potatoes. To say I was underwhelmed by the rump would be the understatement of the century. I ordered it rare, it came out dehydrated. Resembling something more like beef jerky than any steak I’ve ever been served and eaten before.

* *

I should have just sent it back straight away, but the service was virtually non-existent at that point of the night, and I knew if I did I would seriously be risking not eating at all, which wasn’t an option. So I bravely ventured forth into a land of sorrow, and mouthfuls of gray tasteless meat. I actually think I became a vegetarian for a minute halfway through that steak, wondering what that poor cow could have done to deserve such a dismal send off.

Sam’s and Amanda’s meals did look and taste better than mine, so perhaps it was just a case of sour grapes and poor menu choice, but the overall feeling coming away from The Eagle was that they just really couldn’t give a crap. They seemed to be doing a roaring trade over the bar, if the amount of people stumbling out the doors in a near paralytic stupor was anything to go by, so perhaps the food has taken a bit of back seat.

One positive thing that came out of it all though, was that after verifying for me just how bad my steak was, one of the drunken patrons nearby our table also mentioned that there had been a fire in the Eurotunnel. The very tunnel that my Eurostar train was due to drive through in the morning on my journey to Paris. Alerted, alarmed, and disappointed with my first London dining experience, I headed home and confirmed that it indeed was all true. There would be no trains to Paris the next day.

Which just goes to show that you should never ignore the ramblings of drunk pub patrons, and that you should always send back bad food.

Le Pain Quotidien – and more of London

You *are* being watched *

And so we walked… and walked…. and walked. I guess that’s what you do on holidays when you actually want to see some of the city. In London it’s pretty easy to get into a rat like mentality. Using the tube system it’s pretty easy to stay underground all day and only pop up in a few places. Super convenient once you get used to where to change lines and how not to get your arm caught in the doors, but not the best way to see the sites.

So we strolled through town, down Regent Street, and Oxford St, though we did not pass go, and did not collect $200 (and there is no such thing as free parking). Then down past the horse guards and over the bridge to the London Eye. Being one of the touristy things I figured I should do, we bit the bullet and got in line. 30 minutes and a couple of cavity searches later we were at the top. Surveying the shabby historic beauty that is London.

Le Pain Quotidien Swirly

With a fierce hunger now brewing but no idea where good food was to be found in Southbank we did a little divining and ended up at Le Pain Quotidien, which looked like a chain, but an up market one. Turns out they are a chain, and in fact have stores in most of the known world… including Australia.

The basic premise at Le Pain Quotidien is quality bread, made on the premises from organic flour, and shareable plates of organic charcuterie and other tastiness. Founder Alain Coumont was apparently a Belgian chef dissatisfied with his choice of bread to serve in his restaurant, so he ended up developing his own loaf and then opening a bakery. From humble beginnings it’s now spread to 10 countries and many stores.

So I went for a simple charcuterie plate loaded with hams, prosciutto, sausage, bread, sun dried tomatoes, pickled veges, and olive. Just what I was after, and a lovely way to relax after a long walk, with a delicious glass of Château Couronneau Bordeaux to wash it all down.

Probably highly presumptuous, but this may have been my most enjoyable experience in a franchised establishment to date… which normally exude a cold sterile vibe that makes me want to wash myself with steel wool.

Le Pain Quotidien
Royal Festival Hall
Festival Terrace, Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX
Tel.: 0207 486 6154

Our next destinations were more snapshots of the city. We went to Camden and checked out the infinite row of piercing places and enjoyed the parade of Camden Leisure Pirates swaggering about. A peak through Camden Markets unveiled rows and rows of crap, and then even more crap hidden behind that crap. I did particularly like the “Chinese Food All Mixed Together” sign hanging above a particularly fine example of salmonella fodder, but yes was strong enough to resist the lure of cheap greasy nasty looking food.

We then hopped back on the tube and jumped off at Covent Garden. I forget why, but Amanda said there were some nice places there. Though the only one we actually ended up going into was the Australian Shop, so Amanda could buy twisties… which apparently are no readily available in the UK (the horror).

More walking and now it’s getting late and we pick up another Perth ex-pat, my friend Sam, who proceeds to lead us on another merry dance through the streets once more. Giving the seedy Soho by night tour that every tourist really wants but doesn’t know how to ask for.

A chance to see the London Eye by night as we cross back over the bridge, and then meander our way towards The Cut near Southwark to try our luck with some of Davy’s recommendations. Sadly we couldn’t get in to most of the places on the street as they were completely packed on a Thursday night and not taking bookings meant we were out of luck.

So then, we made our way via Black Cab to Farringdon Road to check out The Eagle, the original gastropub… which is where the story will continue shortly…

Flat White, Soho

The eponymous Flat White

My first destination. No day of exploring a new city can be undertaken without coffee.

I’ve long stopped being amazed by major cities without an established coffee scene, it just happens all too frequently. So many people, so much diversity, no good coffee. London is no exception to that rule, in fact, it probably invented it.

Fortunately, there are Australians and New Zealanders around to set things right. The Flat White, that quirky little antipodean creation of a shot of espresso with some nicely textured milk is such a well known quantity down under that it’s almost the default when no other information is given. “2 coffees mate”, quite easily translates to “2 Flat Whites please, and thank you kindly sir”.

When I arrived in the store I instantly felt at home. Tucked into a lovely little street in Soho, Flat White is a mecca for quality espresso and milk based coffees in London. Owned by an Aussie and a Kiwi and staffed mostly (i thunk) by Kiwi’s, who really take their coffee seriously.

I started with a flat white, beautifully textured milk and a rich full flavoured double on the bottom, presented with a near perfect rosetta poured from eye level… which ranked well up with some of nicer coffees I’ve had anywhere. Then onto an espresso, pulled as a short double. Super syrupy and sweet, a little bright, but overall very punchy. I was hooked. A piccolo latte to finish off and I was set for my coffee needs for the day.

Flat White (and their sister store Milk Bar, also in Soho) are amongst the first commercial contracts for none other than Square Mile Coffee Roasters. Latest and greatest addition to the artisan roasting world in London and beyond. They used to be using Monmouth coffee, which seemed to be the roaster of choice amongst anyone who cared up until recently, but with a team like Square Mile behind you, it’s scary to think just how good it might get.

So this was a fantastic first experience which I was soon to discover is vastly non-representative of the rest of English coffee :|

Flat White
17 Berwick St, Soho