Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Quater Grocer - Brompton Road

What I love about the Quarter Grocer, unlike many other so called grocers, is that you could actually do a mid week shop here. Everything you need for a few days is available.

Shouldn't more grocers & delis be like this? Far too many seem to think that people only want to top-up the supermarket shopping with a little trip to them. What's the point in selling jam if you don't sell bread, oil but no vegetables or, my pet hate, cheese but no biscuits.

The Quarter Grocer has it all: breakfast pastries baked next door in the cafe, home made salads for lunch, pasta, sauces and a whole load of antipasti for supper too. Unfortunately what they don't have is space. If you like browsing without chatting to the shopkeeper at the same time this is the wrong place for you.

Lemonmonkey - Stoke Newington

It's rare to find sanctuary in a city like London. I'd usually recommend The John Soane Museum, The British Libary or a certain little bench by a pretty little pond in a park I'm never going to divulge. Today I've found another - the dreadfully named LemonMonkey.
From the street it looks a little unpromising, the usual gastropub fittings of mixed up chairs, mashed up tables and moody lighting. Yet once inside a wave of serenity overcomes you, I'm hooked!

The big treat that awaits you is the delightful little annex at the back of the store, full of cookery books and mixed media art, it's somewhere to hanker down or cheer up - you decide.

The service may be a little sleepy but wouldn't you be too if you worked here? The coffee however was expert and the grocery selection curated with care (although I would urge them not to stack Vacherin Mont D'or on it's side) I would also worry that such a tiny selection of foodstuffs hardly makes it possible for customers to spend enough. The average spend here must be tiny - a coffee, a laptop and a two hour visit will not pay the bills.

Like a famous man at Salisbury's once said 'Retail is easy - but it's bloody impossible to get right'. The beautiful staff at LemonMonkey get it right.

Thank you.

PS After 40 minutes in the shop I started to love the name too!

The Ginger Pig - Victoria Park

Whilst the Ginger Pig is rightly famed for it's meat it's move into deli's is perhaps a little odd.

A few years ago I had an inspirational conversation with it's founder Tim Wilson, he hated independent food shops that lacked imagination in sourcing, he felt far too many grocers took the easy option of buying products from catalogues. It might make things easy to make just one phone call and everything arrives in one van the next day - but in essence you're no different from everyone else.

I completely agreed with this sentiment.

I was therefore a little surprised to find beneath the butchers a small deli and grocers where pretty much everything is to be found elsewhere. I've really nothing against Roskilly ice cream, Stokes conserves or the Handmade Biscuit Company but visit any farmers shop in the middle of nowhere and you'll find them. I expected more. Surely Yorkshires finest meats could be complimented by a Yorkshirecentric larder to match.

On the plus side it's a perfect place to create a meal in one stop. Victoria Park is probably the only village in London where you'll find no parking restrictions, the area has a really tight community who have successfully fought off every attempt to install yellow lines, metres or resident only bays. So pull up near by and enjoy anxiety free shopping.

Within the Ginger Pig you'll find everything you need to spend a cosy weekend chopping and cooking. Sausages, sauces, wines and puddings, bread, fruit and veg. Plus of course London's best sausage roll to guiltily pleasure yourself on the drive home.

What you won't find and it's a great shame, is something you've never found before.

Peche Mignon - Holloway Road

If you do something well - show off about it! It's not rocket science but so many shops fail to show themselves off to their best ability.

Peche Mignon never fails.

To be found on a backstreet just off everybody's most hated thoroughfare, the Holloway Road, this is a food haven for locals and the lost. It's easy to find - it's the only place worth going in.

A window brimming with piles of freshly baked pain chocolat and dozens of little Portuguese tarts draws me in. Inside huge displays of fresh flowers threaten to overpower the tiny store but don't. This is a store that cares about it's appearance thus conveying the message that the owner cares about his food, his large tummy gives a reassuring hint too.

With Dolfin Chocolate, Louse valley conserves and Kusmi Teas (a Russian tea via Paris - try the breakfast tea first, it's a treat among treats) among the grocery highlights it's easy to spend a pound or two and just in case you enjoy the music Peche Mignon has a curated display of very tempting Cd's so you can recreate the charming atmosphere at home. From the deli counter I'm always pulled towards the great Comte and simple cooking chorizo.

The service too is second to none, I was third in line and yet still got a 'hello what can I get you?' from the wonderfully effervescent Aussie barista. My coffee was ready before I'd even got to the front to pay.

Sitting outback in the tiny garden reading my news I felt truly ready for the day. What more can you ask from a local store?

Friday, 23 October 2009

Fin & Flounder - Broadway Market

Broadway market has for a long time had almost everything. Today it felt complete. I found the Fin & Flounder

I never know how to start conversations with shopkeepers but seeing a smiling face and hearing a warm "good morning" followed by "what you cooking tonight?" as you walk through the door makes it easier. I had a simple risotto in mind, maybe a little white fish.

It was suggested that I try "a piece of Hake, as it's texture complements the softness of risotto rice perfectly and it's probably more suitable than our cod". After letting slip that I usually add vermouth Mr Happy pulled a free fish head from a bucket under the counter and proceeded to butcher it for me (do fishmongers butcher?) "Making your own fish stock would be fun". While he pulled out the eyes we talked about his 'London Cured Smoked Salmon', something I've not seen in a long time and also about my choice of rice for the evening. Yes I was upsold some rice that I probably don't need and yes I spent more money than I wanted, but isn't that what we all secretly want? Great service deserves reward.

The shop looks great too, on the left of this narrow mongers are gorgeous, almost nautical, pendant lights and simple white tiles, in-front sits a carefully curated and sustainably sourced selection of very fresh fish (deliveries daily from Cornwall and Hastings). On the right, highlighted by a simple wooden paneling, an array of everything else you may need to complement your purchase be it sushi rice, soy sauce, cookbooks or fresh herbs.

Mr Happy loves his job and I loved being his customer.