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Mercado de Woolwich, Innit?

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One of my most favourite places on earth is Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel. I spent a few hours there not that long ago, wandering, sipping, tasting, pointing, chatting, marvelling. It’s a happy place, very near perfect. Buy a glass of cava from the man, point to the oysters you want shucking, nibble on pinchos, experience bliss.

But it’s a bit of a hike to get there from SE18, which is why the Royal Arsenal Farmers Market has gone straight into my all-time hall of fame for Things That Are Good For Woolwich. Already a legend.

The market is held on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. It currently occupies the huge warehouse near Taproom (go there for fabulous local beer and wine and pizza) but will move outdoors to No.I Street when the big ball of fire finally ups its game.

Okay, Woolwich isn’t Madrid. (The nearest tapas is in Greenwich, courtesy of a charming restaurant called San Miguel, coincidently, which I warmly recommend.) But no matter. Our market does exactly the same thing as the Spanish one: it showcases and celebrates fantastic produce in an inviting setting in which it’s easy to lose a few happy hours.

I love the social side of it. I always have a chinwag with my mate and fellow-Melburnian Despina, who runs Souvlaki The Greek with her partner Scott. Make sure you try one of their souvlakis, made to order on the spot. Get your laughing gear around a healthy and satisfying combo of chicken (or pork or lamb), fresh salad, and tzatziki, wrapped in soft artisan flatbread. Also try the life-saving breakfast souvlaki of sausage, gigantes beans, scrambled egg, and oregano. These guys recently made it into a Londonist feature on where London’s best souvlakis can be found.

Find more homemade Greek dishes at Greekelicious. Julia whips up great moussaka, stifado, pastitsio, dolmades and soutzoukakia. Not sure what soutzoukakia is? Only one way to find out (Google doesn’t count and isn’t as much fun anyway).

While you’re in Despina’s neighbourhood, stop by Southern Wine Roads and have a chat to Maria. She will take you through all the wonderful Greek wines she has on offer. Maria is based in Orphington and is passionate and very knowledgeable about her country’s wines. Buy a small glass for just £3 and sip while you saunter. She sells wine and beer by the bottle as well.

Wildes Cheese is another highlight. I met Philip and Keith a few years ago when their adventure in cheese was just beginning. At that stage, Philip was making the good stuff in his kitchen at home, learning the ropes and forming a business plan. These days, Wildes Cheese is well and truly on London’s food map. Philip has even been on the telly: he is a natural in front of the camera and really should have his own show. Their home market is Ally Pally, but they love coming south of the river now that they understand there are no dragons. On market days they bring the cheese down on the clipper.

Anyone who’s on Twitter in this part of the world will know about our very supportive online community of local purveyors and  producers, all doing  their thing around Woolwich, Shooters Hill, Eltham, Charlton, Greenwich, and Blackheath. You can meet this virtual network in the flesh at the market. There’s Mike the Very Green Grocer (@VeryGreenGrocer) for Kent-sourced fresh fruit, veggies,  eggs, and honey. Mike also stocks other goodies: try to get your hands on the amazing hot sauce from Moon Hot Sauce (@moonhotsauce) and a bag of delicious Gildas Bear granola (@GildasBear). For gorgeous cakes, including gluten-free, see Geraldine at Besprinkle (@besprinkle_) and for tasty sauces see Emma at All Things Saucy (@AllThingsSaucy). Fresh bread abounds too, thanks to Adam at Season Bakery (@SeasonEtcetera) and Graham and Jen at The Honest Loaf (@thehonestloaf).

The market has all the food groups covered. Apart from the above, there are butchers, sausage makers, charcuterie makers, fishmongers, and of course Flicks Fancies for the most enormous sausage rolls imaginable.

But wait, there’s more wine. Don’t miss Andrew and Emma Nielsen of Le Grappin. Andrew’s Twitter profile says it best: Australian nano-négociant in Beaune making small lot wines from under-appreciated appellations across Burgundy. Wow! All I can add is that I highly recommend you buy a Bagnum (a bag of wine) and stick it in the fridge for summer. Buy two. Also take a look at L’atypique for natural, organic, and biodynamic wines.

For more sipping, I’m going to start off at Gin Tales next time. Coming into warmer weather, a G&T while shopping will be just the ticket and is really how life should be all of the time.

Circling back to the social aspect of the market, though, I love how it has become a magnet for all the ace friends we’ve made in Woolwich and slightly beyond. Despina and Scott’s stall has become something of an unofficial gathering spot: everyone seems to show up at roughly the same time and the laughs begin. And looking around the market, I see we’re not alone: there are many jolly groups gathered. London can be a lonely, cold, and overwhelming place sometimes, and it can make you feel very far from home. The Royal Arsenal Farmers Market does the exact opposite.

The Royal Arsenal Farmers Market has a facebook page and also tweets at @RAFarmersMkt

 

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A Glimpse Inside Woolwich’s Garrison Church Of St. George

Cities are full of traces. Traces of destruction and creation. Of decline and prosperity. Of war and peace.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, particularly regarding Woolwich and its see-sawing fortunes and the many score-marks of history we can see in its streets and buildings. Sometimes it’s as innocuous as a shoddy shopfront concealing an elegant eighteenth-century townhouse. Other times, it’s as conclusive as the rubble and carbuncles left after Greenwich Council razes an entire town block, or the Arsenal Gate being forever marooned by that flourish of 1980s “planning” known as Plumstead Road.

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A few Sundays ago, I visited the ruin of the 1860s Garrison Church of St. George, which is opposite the Royal Artillery Barracks. The traces that remain are what survived after most of the building was blasted to oblivion by a V2 flying bomb in 1944.

The St. George ruins offer us a different type of trace. They carry the full weight of 20th-century history, for a start, rather than rubbing our noses in the misguided actions of council drones and short-sighted planners. And what’s left is well worth preserving. A new curved roof shields the stunning mosaic work and inscriptions from the elements, and is a marked improvement on the previous makeshift shed. This is also a site upon which other traces of memory have been inscribed. Besides the memorials to soldiers who fell while the church was whole, a more recent set of plaques remembers eleven men who have died in service since WW2 or by an act of terrorism. Lee Rigby is among those named.

A modest garden replaces the aisles and pews. The church’s roof was all but completely destroyed during the war, so now it’s an open-air space that functions as a memorial garden and is occasionally used by the nearby Royal Artillery Barracks.

During my visit, I met some locals who’ve banded together to form a friends group. They aim to gather enough similarly enthusiastic volunteers to enable the church to open to the public regularly (for more details you can follow them on Facebook or Twitter @StGeorgesSE18 or email them hpostgeorgeswoolwich@gmail.com). They’ve already amassed a pile of information on what the church, and its surrounds, used to look like, and will tell you about the plans for its future. Do pay them a visit; you’ll be glad you did.

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Plumstead Pantry: From Pop-Up To Permanent? Yes, Please!

The menu board, with sweet treats in the foreground.

The menu board, with sweet treats in the foreground.

By their nature, pop-ups are supposed to be temporary. Discovered by hipsters today, written about in Time Out tomorrow, gone next month. Plumstead Pantry started life as a pop-up a few months ago, but if everything goes to plan, one of SE18’s newest and brightest stars will soon become a permanent fixture in what is becoming a jolly decent local dining scene.

When I first heard that a brunch spot had “popped up,” as it were, in Tony’s Café in Plumstead, I had to know more. A pop-up? In Plumstead? A place surely where, much like hurricanes in Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire, pop-ups hardly ever happen. Even Twitter was a bit confused. Some didn’t know what or where Plumstead was. Others couldn’t picture Tony’s Café until locals pointed out its proximity to The Old Mill pub. I was intrigued by a posse of well-trained baristas and foodies invading a traditional Southeast London greasy spoon, but I couldn’t see how they were going to make it work.

That said, it only took a couple of photos of drool-worthy plates of eggs benedict, tweeted by indefatigable SE18 enthusiasts @saminus and @SteveToole, to convince me to traverse the lower slopes of Shooters Hill one sunny Saturday and strike out in the direction of Plumstead Common.

We’d woken up at the crack of 11am, busting as ever for bacon and coffee. Happily, we soon found out that Plumstead Pantry does both of those things extremely well. Owners Julia and Ashley source the bacon (and everything else) locally. Chef Ashley then performs some kind of alchemy in the kitchen to turn the succulent rashers into even more succulent Maple Bacon. I don’t normally go in for random capitalisations, but the Maple Bacon deserves it.

Our first crack at the menu was the Pantry Breakfast, the flagship offering. It features eggs on top of sourdough toast (bread baked that day by Charlton-based artisanal micro-bakery The Honest Loaf), a lip-smacking pile of Maple Bacon, a slice or two of black pudding, grilled tomatoes and broad beans. My friend Kim would not condone the broad beans because they go against her no-greens-for-breakfast mantra, but I think they complement the meatier aspects of the dish very nicely. If meat isn’t your caper, there’s the Veggie Breakfast of haloumi, mushrooms, poached eggs, sourdough toast, tomatoes and beans. No Maple Bacon, though, so I’ll probably never order it.

If cutlery and grown up things on a plate is too much for your hangover, just go for a bacon/egg or sausage/egg sarnie. They’re large and restorative.

And the coffee? Well, someone has to be the winner and I reckon Plumstead Pantry does the best coffee in SE18. At least, that’s my opinion as a Melburnian who has sat on many a fake-grass-covered upturned milk crate in Fitzroy, Brunswick, Abbotsford and central Melbourne’s café-lined laneways, sipping flat whites that come as close to perfection as can be imagined. I know I could spend an hour traveling to some hipster café in Soho, or queuing for 40 minutes outside Monmouth Coffee near Borough Market, but I don’t want to have to. I really don’t. The many flat whites I’ve inhaled at Plumstead Pantry have been consistently very, very good. Bold and bright enough, with a creamy texture and lovely finish. Well played, Plumstead Pantry baristas.

Besides ensuring the cranky likes of me get their fill of bacon and coffee, Ashley and Julia have also been working hard to establish the Pantry’s dinner menu. We’ve not been for dinner yet, but the menus that flicker across my Twitter feed sound seasonal, local, healthy, and wonderful. Green tea salmon with jewelled bulgur and harissa yoghurt. Pork tenderloin with greens, brown rice, and Oxleas Wood apples. Tofu burger with kimchi and miso salad. And so on. At the moment at least, you bring your own wine.

If everything falls into place, Plumstead Pantry will soon be permanent. An interior refurbishment is on the cards, too. The notion of the Pantry staying on and growing and becoming a beloved landmark will make its already-sizable legion of local fans very happy indeed. As a near-local from the other bit of SE18, I too cannot wait!

Details: Plumstead Pantry currently does dinner from Tuesdays through Fridays, and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Dinner, BYO booze. The address is 16 Warwick Terrace, SE18 1QJ but most people just know it as the café near the pub. Follow on Twitter and Instagram @PlumPantry.

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Dial A Sunday Roast: A New Service Coming Soon To Southeast London

Roast chook with all the trimmings. To your door soon!

Roast chook with all the trimmings. To your door soon!

When I was little, we’d visit both sets of grandparents regularly and alternately for a Sunday roast. One of my grans was a dab hand at whipping up roasts, puddings, cakes, scones, and that sort of caper. The other gran, however, wasn’t that interested in cooking. I think she could cook, but was more interested in things like tending her bonsai and decorating her home with mid-century furniture. So when we went to her place for Sunday lunch, we got Kentucky Fried Chicken! Of course, we kids loved it (but I think my very health-conscious mum had some reservations).

What my gran needed, in far-off 1970s Melbourne, was something like the roast delivery service that Hannah McDuffus is now offering to the hungry denizens of Southeast London.

Hannah has already made quite a name for herself as BedNBreakfasttt, delivering full English brekkies, bacon sarnies, and omelettes to a very appreciative audience. (I’m sure she’s helped cure many a hangover and that her business, therefore, should be classified as an emergency service.) She’s now branching into full Sunday roasts, either chicken or lamb, with all the usual trimmings plus some special side dishes. Woo hoo!

I was lucky enough to receive one of Hannah’s roasts during her recent testing phase. I opted for the chicken. It arrived good and hot (her drivers use those heated pouch dooverlackies that pizza palaces use) and neatly packaged. Little containers held seasonal vegetables, homemade coleslaw, gravy, and apple sauce. A larger container held the quarter chicken, roast potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding. The chicken was tasty and moist and the roast potatoes were done to perfection. The Yorkshire pudding, albeit smaller than some I’ve tackled, was enough for me. I also ordered a serve of macaroni cheese, which came in its own small tub. Delicious! The easy packaging meant that I could scoop everything out onto my preheated plate and tuck in immediately.

Hannah’s roast delivery service is still in its nascent stage. She’s aiming to officially launch it in September as people come back from holidays, the weather gets colder, and no one can be arsed cooking. I think it’s good timing. Ooh and guess what…she’s talking to a local purveyor of fancy beverages about offering a cocktail delivery service alongside the roast chooks and lambs! Danger, danger, danger…make mine a Bloody Mary.

Roasts with the trimmings (vegetables, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, coleslaw, gravy, and sauce) will start at £10.95 per serve for the chicken and £12.95 for lamb. Extras will range from £1.99 to £2.99.

If you like the sound of all that, keep an eye on www.bednbreakfasttt.co.uk, as Hannah will be posting a link to the roast service there soon. Also, follow her on Twitter @bednbreakfasttt for regular updates.

 

 

 

 

 

The Flower Garden: One Of My Favourite Greenwich Things

 

So pretty. The Greenwich Park Flower Garden is blooming lovely at the moment,

So pretty. The Greenwich Park Flower Garden is blooming lovely at the moment.

I don’t often write about places in Greenwich, the shiny neighbour of Charlton and Deptford. I figure it’s already a known tourist destination and doesn’t really need my tiny voice raising its profile. It has UNESCO’s world heritage imprimatur, after all.

But I was walking through the Greenwich Park Flower Garden the other morning and got all inspired. I’d just knocked back an excellent coffee from The Scullery and was on my way to work, quietly enjoying my caffeine buzz. I always go through the flower garden because I just love it. It makes me happy and that’s a good thing before eight hours in Canary Wharf. Anyway, I got distracted by all the beautiful floral displays. My mum would have done so, too, if she didn’t live 10,000 miles away. The difference is that she would know the names of all the plants, and her photos would be a lot better because she’s a gun at that sort of thing.

Because I’m me, and not my mum, you’re not getting stunning images and scientific knowledge. You’re getting my iPhone snaps and me going “oooh look at the pretty colours and shapes.” The only extra insight I can offer is that the gardens, which were first laid out in the 1890s, are absolutely stunning at the moment. Go there. Take a picnic or something. Have a saunter. It’s quiet and dreamy and perfect, and we probably all need a bit of that.

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A Farmers Market In SE18? Oh Look, There It Is!

Honest Loaf bread (also available at Plumstead Pantry where I took this pic)

Honest Loaf bread (also available at Plumstead Pantry where I took this pic)

There are two types of people in this world. Those who talk about what should happen (me, in other words) and those who just go ahead and make it happen.

Hopstuff’s Emma Wheatley and James Yeomans are exemplars of the second category. Well, they only went and started up their own completely brilliant brewery, didn’t they?

But they’re not stopping at that. The next thing they’ve just gone and done is what I’ve been banging on about for ages: a farmers market for Woolwich, selling locally-grown and -made good stuff. Like several others, they initially contacted Greenwich Council about getting a venue and, like several others, didn’t really get very far. To another local (also keen to establish a market) Council had offered the desolate and wind-blown stub of disused road next to the now-buggered-off Marks & Spencers, near Powis Street. DEPRESSING.

Emma and James got a lot further, however, with Berkeley Homes. In fact, they got No. 1 Street, as much of it as they need, plus some promotional signage and kit. Berkeley welcomed the idea with open arms.

The market opens on Saturday July 11 (10am-3pm) and will then be held on the second Saturday of each month. The July 11 debut is perfect timing as the Good Food in Greenwich Summer Feast is on the same day,  up in General Gordon Square, and both camps have been busily cross-promoting.

Some of the goodies that will be on offer.

Some of the goodies that will be on offer.

The Royal Arsenal Riverside Farmers Market covers all the major food groups: Superb beer from Hopstuff, healthy-sounding biodynamic wine from L’Atypique, divine cheese from urban cheesemaker Wildes Cheese (who is bravely crossing the river to let us nibble his wares), Kent-grown and utterly fresh fruit and veg from Mike The Very Green Grocer, meaty delights from Drings Butchers, and HUGE sausage rolls from Flicks Fancies. There’ll also be freshly-baked bread from The Honest Loaf, tasty jams from Season, handmade pasta from Case Grande Organic Artisan Pasta, Greek food from Greekelicious, delish sauces from All Things Saucy, and juices from Thecherryberryco. Most of these suppliers are so local you could almost crawl to them.

Feeling peckish? I’ll see you there on Saturday!

The top end of No. 1 Street. If you’re a bit foggy on where that is, head for Dial Arch and look for the hoardings and (oh yeah) the cannon.

Losing It: How I Shed Weight As A Cheese-Nibbling Wine-Loving Forty-Something

I upped my three-mile morning walk to five miles. It's mostly leafy, and includes Woolwich Common.

I upped my three-mile morning walk to five miles. It’s mostly leafy, and includes Woolwich Common.

I’ve lost 10 kilograms (or 22 pounds) this year and some people have asked me how I did it, so I thought I’d write this post. Disclaimer: this is not advice. I’m not qualified to offer it and I wouldn’t presume. I’m just sharing a few observations about what worked for me. Some of it may be helpful, but everyone’s different.

Most wars on weight start with an epiphany. For some it’s a bad photo, for others it’s being mistaken for being up the duff. Last year I was treated to both those edifying moments, but the turning point was climbing on the scales on January 2 and discovering I’d hit 80 kilos. According to the NHS, that’s at the very top of the healthy weight range for my height (178cm; the range is 63-80 kilos). One more late-night kebab and I would be officially overweight for the first time in my 47 years. Not on your nelly!

So I set a goal of losing eight kilos in 10 weeks, meaning one kilo a week with a couple of extra weeks to allow for slippages. I marked down my weekly goal on a calendar in good old analogue biro, counting down the Fridays to coincide with a trip home to Australia: 79, 78, 77, 76, 75, 74, 73, 72.

I thought about my daily habits and what I needed to change. I made a mental commitment to walk from Woolwich to Greenwich every day, not just when I felt like it and not cheating by hopping on the 53 bus. I dropped sugar from my daily coffee. I started to count calories, aiming for no more than 1,200 a day. I did Dry January and made it all the way to the 20th, which I thought was a fair effort. Call it Dry Janu if you will. I weighed myself daily. The risks of doing this are widely chronicled, but this approach has worked for me. My bathroom scales go to one decimal place (the cruel bastards), so I’ve been able to observe the increments of my weight loss in tedious and sometimes heart-breaking detail. If I found that I’d put on half a kilo, I’d be upset for about 5 seconds then I’d think about how I could redouble my efforts for the day ahead. If I’d lost half a kilo, I’d let out a little squeak of glee, then think about how I could redouble my efforts for the day ahead. I wrote my daily weight on the calendar, so I could track how I was trending.

A fairly healthy breakfast of smoked salmon, poached eggs and fresh spinach from Koffees and Kream in Woolwich. The mayonnaise was dolloped into the ring of capsicum, so I was able to avoid it easily.

A fairly healthy breakfast option from Koffees and Kream in Woolwich. The mayonnaise was dolloped into the ring of capsicum, so I was able to avoid it easily.

I lost three kilos in the first three weeks and felt pretty smug. Then some alcohol happened, my social life returned, and the battle started in earnest. I used up one of my spare weeks, readjusted the numbers on my calendar and took a deep breath. I cut down on wine. I shunned cheese and bread. I lowered my daily mid-week calorie intake to about 1,000. I avoided pasta and embraced fish and prawns.

That wasn’t enough. It felt like my metabolism was a lumbering, sluggish ship that I was trying to turn around in a sea of melted cheese. Previously, I’d have given up with a weary “sod it”. But vanity and fear and a keen desire to fit back into my wedding dress (I got married at 41 and wore a slinky black gown) drove me on. I upgraded my daily walk to a five-mile slog all the way from my front door in Woolwich to my office in Canary Wharf, via the Greenwich foot tunnel. I started going to the gym at least three times a week, burning off 200-300 calories per session. On some evenings, I even walked part of the way home with the makings of my vegetable-laden dinner in my backpack. I tried to burn off more calories than I took in, Sunday through Thursday, at least. Fridays and Saturdays were more difficult but a girl has to have fun.

This might sound naff, but I bought magazines like Women’s Health for inspiration. Most of the exercises looked impossible (all that leaping about…not with my rickety knees, sunshine) but I picked up some ideas. Stomach crunches from Brittany’s workout, foods that burn fat (cottage cheese, who knew) and that sort of thing. I learned about chia seeds and promptly bought a bag for sprinkling on my daily tuna and bean salad. The good ship Metabolism started to turn and I made it to the departure gate at Heathrow weighing exactly 72 kilos. I made sure I did a lot of walking in Melbourne (to balance 12 days of giddy indulgence with loved ones) and by the time I got back to London, after a side-step to Cambodia, I’d only put two kilos back on.

I've gone easy on the full English breakfasts in favour of this sort of caper.

I’ve gone easy on the full English breakfasts in favour of this sort of caper.

Phase Two was to reach 70 kilos by the late May bank holiday and wear a bikini in Barcelona. And I did: a lovely floral one from Ted Baker. Some may raise an eyebrow at the notion of someone just shy of 50 wearing a two-piece. Those people can do as they please with their eyebrows. Anyway, I didn’t go through four months of exertion just so my belly could get some sun. I did it because I want to feel more positive and powerful about approaching 50. I want to age gracefully and gratefully and turn all the above-mentioned into my “new normal”. I will ditch the bikini at some point. Just not yet!                 .

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