Category Archives: England

Store Street Espresso and Continental Stores

Piccolo Latte

When I was in London in January 2013, I ran by Store Street Espresso.  The shop looked nice, but I didn’t have time to stop, so I made a mental note as to the location.  In my rush, the mental note flew out the window and I forgot where the cafe was located.  During my trip in November, I thought I found it with TAP Coffee, but only found an answer to the ‘flat white’ query there (answer: it’s good. order it.).

Enter The London Coffee Guide, an online compendium of good cafés in the capital.  As soon as I saw  the Store Street facade, I knew that I had discovered my long-lost cafe.  I took the tube from Paddington straight there.

Store Street Espresso and Continental Stores are sister cafes, run by the same people and serving the same food and drinks. The atmosphere changes to suit the location.  I went to Store Street for Friday lunch and Continental Stores later the same day.

Store Street was bustling when I arrived at lunch time, but I had no problem finding a seat.  There were several communal tables as well as a few double ones.  They serve an extensive café food menu, complete with soup, salad, sandwiches and sweets.  I ordered the vegetarian quiche, a thick wedge of roasted red peppers and eggplant gently laced with egg and cheese.  It had a phyllo crust.  I drank a piccolo latte; served in glass, I hoped it would be like a cortado.

Store Street Espresso

My drink was good, though was more latte than cortado.  The warm milk reminded me of high-school coffee drinks.  The quiche was satisfyingly and disappointingly like a savory pie.  The phyllo didn’t drown the vegetables in crust, my favorite part.  I would have preferred more egg-custard in my slice, but for a lighter cafe-choice I enjoyed it.

In the afternoon, after working up an appetite reading, I went to Continental Stores, conveniently hostel and library adjacent.  This time I ordered a macchiato and a chocolate-cherry-beetroot muffin.  The barista me a number and I took a seat in the back of the cafe.  It was late afternoon — too late to be drinking coffee — but there was barely any space for me.  I nabbed the last table.  Continental Stores is smaller, cozier and more intimate than Store Street, better for a friendly chat than a caffeine fueled working session.

The barista quickly brought me my muffin and coffee.  I gently stirred the schiuma into the coffee, which was pleasantly nutty and dark chocolatey.  Nothing surprising, but well made and a delight to drink.  The muffin was rich and moist, though not worryingly so as coffee-shop cakes tend to be.  There were barely any cherries — I got two total — but there was plenty of chocolate.  The beetroot added a pleasant, almost floral note.

Although they’re owned by the same people, Continental Stores and Store Street Espresso use the same techniques to target different crowds.  Whereas Store Street caters to the university set with ample seating and a bright bustling atmosphere, Continental Stores puts the same good coffee and food in a smaller space to give a neighborhood effect.  Whatever reason you need a cafe, take note.  Write down the names, bookmark the page, print out an image; do whatever you have to do to remember because these are two London coffee shops you don’t want to forget.

But do yourself a favor, order a pastry and skip the quiche.

Chatting or working: what’s your main reason for going to a cafe?

Store Street Espresso on Urbanspoon

What’s it like to be an American student in England?

Cortado and work

I’m not an expert.  Yet, after nearly 3 years living in England, I do feel qualified to give some advice to other international students about starting their new journey abroad.  My university thinks so.  So does HotCourses Abroad, a website that collects testimonials and blogs from international students.  Last December, I sat down to chat with them about what it’s like to be an American student in England.  Click here to see my responses.

If you’re still looking for more advice about adjusting to life in the UK, you can find my regular blog here.

And, while I’m at not being an expert at anything, just a thought about this final term at university.  I oscillate between feeling elated that I’m nearly finished and nearly done with the all-consuming stress of essays and exams.  Then, ever so often, I remember that when I finish there will be no one there eager to drill the subjunctive into my brain or encourage me to read more critical articles on Dante.

Right now I’m so very much immersed in my little university world that it feels hard to see beyond it.  Thinking about further study — which will happen, just not straight away — I can never figure out what sounds right.  I love writing, but a degree in journalism sounds limiting.  I love Italian, but further study in Italian usually requires the knowledge of another language and I gleefully left Spanish behind in high school.  I don’t see any university yet offering a degree in food culture.

It’s an exciting time.  I’m not be an expert in living abroad, but these four years have taught me more than I expected.  The lessons extended beyond the classroom, but plenty took place there as well.

And, on that note, I’m going to go read some Dante.

What are you not an expert on?

A croissant from Papadeli

Croissant from Papadeli

There are different ways to inhabit Bristol.  First, at least in my point of view, there’s the student world that weaves together your friends’ Redland addresses, your Stoke Bishop or Clifton Village first year hall, the university precinct and your favorite/least favorite clubs on the triangle.  There’s also artsy Bristol, centered in Stokes Croft and further afield in neighborhoods with cheaper rents.  You find posh Bristol with its epicenter in Clifton Village.

Papadeli belongs firmly to this last Bristol.  Despite being across from the mega-Sainsbury, the student’s food haven, it feels as if it should be tucked between mansions in Clifton Village.  The shelves are cutely crammed with shelf-stable foods, mostly Italian but some French, all priced to make a student cry.  Especially if they just spent a year abroad and could buy the likes of Macine and Baiocchi for mere euros.

I’ve passed by Papadeli every now and again during my years of university and, despite being curious, always had the sense that it didn’t exist as part of my Bristol and, thus, I shouldn’t go in.  Suddenly, a few weeks ago, I had a reason: croissant.  I was on my way to the grocery store and decided to pop in and check it out.

Unfortunately, I don’t think my wallet will be too happy when I return for some truffle-infused honey or a box of their celery cheddar crackers.

Whiteladies Road

The morning was grey but sprinkled with Christmas cheer.  I bundled myself up for the walk there and found the store pleasantly empty, blissfully calm.  There’s an upstairs cafe, but I chose to sit in the window, looking at the Christmas tree sale across the street.  Every now and then people passed by, too busy with their own Saturday routine to pay much notice to the girl photographing her breakfast.

The croissant wasn’t much to look at.  I felt myself almost disappointed as I saw the slightly squished pastry placed before me.  It looked like bread, nothing exciting.  As soon as I bit into the end, however, I could tell that this croissant was better than it looked.  It seemed dull, mono-texture.  Yet the ends were crispy and the outside just a touch flakier than the inside.  It was subtly buttery, as if an Englishman and a Frenchman has a long debate before deciding how much butter was appropriate to put it.  It wasn’t sweet, nor salty.

The dense-but-light layers reminded me of Patisserie Claude.  In fact, Papadeli’s was like its lighter sister.  I ate my pastry and, while I wasn’t covered in shards of crust, I was entirely thrilled that I crossed the threshold of the posh Bristol world.

Papadeli, I’ll be back.  For croissants, a slice of that brownie and some posh oils.  Goodness help my wallet.

Is there any food item on which you particularly enjoy splurging on

My London

View Across the Thames

As I was walking along Shoreditch High Street last Saturday I realized that I wouldn’t be writing any more ‘trip to London’ posts.  No, it’s not because I decided that I wouldn’t return — far from it, in fact.  This familiar, yet unfamiliar, route made me realize that I can’t truly travel in London anymore.  I will never arrive in the city in the same haze of excitement and confusion that I found myself in upon landing in Copenhagen.  Going to a grocery store won’t elicit the same squeals of delight that emerged when I saw tofu in Germany.  London has become exactly what I wanted so badly for it to be when I first saw the city nearly seven (!!) years ago: normal.

Maps of London aren’t divided into places that I have and haven’t visited.  Rather, each map divides itself up into places that are and aren’t in my London.  Some have changed and some are shockingly similar.  When I arrived at Paddington in September to find that my beloved Paul had been turned into a Patisserie Valerie, I was gutted.  Yet walking along Southwark Embankment is a wave of nostalgia.  There’s the hotel I stayed in before I went to Bristol to begin university and, if you take the district or circle lines from Paddington and change for a west bound central line at Notting Hill Gate, taking that to Holland Park, you’ll arrive at the hotel I stayed at while I toured the country in the search of the perfect uni (it also happens to be the place in which I first saw Eurovision).  Don’t get me started about the jubilee/central line change over at Bond Street station. London has changed a lot since I arrived as a tourist, but for me the biggest change is that I now have an intimate knowledge of the city, along with an oyster card.

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Thinking back to my first trip makes me squirm.  It’s like clicking back through your old Facebook photos.  You get an amused kick out of the early images — dissing your hair to save face — but are relieved you when reach the recent ones, newly confident that you have improved in the interim.  I can trace these photos as I trace my relationship with London, moving from what did I know about the city to a more nuanced understanding.  What takes a city from being a place that you visit with starry eyes to being a place you know intimately, to the point where a map is an accessory not a necessity?  Was there any moment in which my relationship with the city turned?

I don’t know the answers to these questions.  Like any place you meet in your adolescence, it’s filled with the emotions of that time.  Talking with people who studied abroad there — who have an old address as proof they know the city — makes me combative. I’m all too eager to prove that I too have a little slice of the city to call my own.  They’ll tell me about their favorite location of Pizza Express — it’s usually the one in Knightsbridge, though what they were doing there they can never seem to explain — and I retaliate with the itinerary of my 20th birthday.   Should the discussion turn to our respective relationships with England, I could talk the day and night away.  It never does.  Most people who fall in London do precisely that, fall in love with London.  I, however, didn’t.

South Kensington

I’m writing this on a train, watching the English countryside speed by.  I’ve made the journey from London to Bristol countless times, but each time the beauty outside my little window strikes me anew.  You can keep your three-month relationship with the city.  I’ll have my dysfunctional going-on seven-year relationship with the country.

My relationship with London is hard to pin down.  I don’t have places I always go to.  My memories are as intertwined with big tourist sites as they are with spots off the beaten path.  I only just went to Borough Market last Saturday.  Yet there is a piece of London that will always and forever be mine.  Regardless of whether or not I have had, or will have, an address there.

Do you have an ineffable relationship to a certain city?  Which one?

Scenes from Bristol: Walking Along the River

River Avon

My ninth grade history teacher was full of interesting information.  Besides telling hysterical stories about drinking “water” on a boat in Istanbul for his 21st birthday, he was full of trivia.  One such tid-bits was that the majority of cities that achieved great power throughout history had a major river at their center.  London has the Thames, Paris the Grand Canal and Milan the Ticino.  Okay, I wasn’t serious about the last one.  Besides the occasional exception, this rule holds remarkably true.  Just think about port cities in the USA.

Bristol has not just one, but two rivers running through it.  The River Avon and the River Frome meet at Bristol Bridge and helped to make the city a prosperous center.  Unfortunately, any discussion of Bristol will lead you to the sad truth that the city’s fortune was greatly built on the slave trade.  Luckily, the city can also claim explorer John Cabot, so perhaps not all is lost.

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Rivers also make a city more pleasant for modern citizens.  After all, who doesn’t want to take some time out of their day to gaze at the water?  No matter how polluted and grey, watching a river flow is a therapeutic experience.

Walking along the water in Bristol is a surprising experience.  You don’t expect to find the river running through the so-called downtown or business district.  Nothing announces its arrival.  The rivers are there, more as function even if they aren’t the hubs of activity they once were.

River Frome

It’s not particularly pretty nor busy.  On Saturday nights you’ll see people going into the infamous boat club Thekla (yeah, from Skins).  On sunny summer evenings, you’ll see people sitting outside drinking a beer or cider.  Other than that, you’ll get some alone time when walking along the river.

Do you enjoy finding the water in cities? Do you have a body of water where you live?