Archive for the ‘Food and Drink’ Category

Apple & Orange

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Okay, so this is the world’s worst image. I was actually taking a picture of The Crown, which I’m excited about, but managed to capture its next door neighbour too, which I’m even more excited about just now.

Apple & Orange have been a proper greengrocer’s shop up at Blackheath Standard forever, and always have a good range of fruit and veg. They’ve now branched out into a shop at Trafalgar Road and I am utterly delighted.

Of course it was a greengrocer’s before, but it always felt a bit…tentative. I wasn’t really sure what they sold; whether they were actually into fruit & veg or pet supplies.

No doubting Apple & Orange. Lots of good quality fresh and seasonal produce (the pears are particularly lovely just now) chirpy service and prices not too dissimilar to others – certainly no worse than supermarkets. They also sell a few odd deli items, though not enough to scare La Salumeria next door but two.

I don’t know – a proper deli, a proper pub and a proper fruit & veg store – perhaps Traf Road is going up in the world after all. Shame we lost the fishmongers, but hey – at last we’re beginning to get stores that aren’t bookies, estate agents and hairdressers and that can only be a good thing. It’s now up to us to use them so they thrive and we get more of the same…


Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Nathan’s just told me:

Just popped into Zaibatsu on Trafalgar Road on the way home from the Picture House tonight to find out from the owner that it is currently ranked as the No.2 restaurant in London on Tripavisor!! Brilliant! He said he’s getting phone calls from all over the world booking tables months in advance. Made my evening to hear they are doing so well.

Now, I confess that I haven’t actually been to Zaibatsu since it was Zin. I’m not a huge fan of Japanese food and haven’t, for various reasons, been eating out at all recently. So I’m asking you guys – is this really as good as the reviewers on Tripadvisor say?

‘Cause if it is, that’s amazing. I know there are ways to skew sites like this, but this just doesn’t look like the sort of place that would put that much effort into an interenet campaign. I do note a fair few of the reviewers have only posted one review on Tripadvisor, which makes the Phantom radar twitch a little, but that could be down to them having had one good experience and wanting to share it.

It certainly shows the might of Tripadvisor – though of course Tripadvisor can give and Tripadvisor can take away. Sounds like the owners of Zaibatsu have got a good thing going and if they’re wise, they’ll keep that recipe – and the quality – as it is – a hidden jewel.

No one’s going to give it any prizes for its looks (sorry I have photos somewhere but I’m darned if I can find them this morning) but maybe that’s its charm – the excellent food comes as a surprise. Some of the most exciting places I’ve eaten in the world have been, frankly, scruffy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it made the other places on Traf Road pull up their culinary socks?


Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Here’s a bit of a worry. The sign says ‘Closed Until Further Notice,’ which if this means what it usually does, would be a real loss, not just to Blackheath Standard but to London’s Greasy-Spoonland in general.

This place was like stepping back in time – those fab chrome strips holding faux-marble wall panels and groovy 1960s swivel seats at the front, black & red shiny panels at the back, formica tables and ketchup bottles. What I liked about it was that it wasn’t self-consciously ‘retro’ – it wore its British-caff heritage lightly.

There always seemed to be “characters” in Gambardella. Builders, families, harmless fruitcakes, slumming toffs, all human life was there. The tea was pleasingly orange, the fried food pleasingly greasy and the atmosphere pleasingly unpretentious. The staff were friendly and up for a joke – often at their own expense. After reeling off all the different varieties of coffee they do, they’d admit it was all so much easier when all they did was instant – so much for the fantasy of the ancient Gaggia in the corner…

They already closed the more modern half of the shop – last year, if memory serves, which doesn’t bode well, but I thought one of the few things that were succeeding in this climate was cafes and coffee shops. Mind you, I guess the small independents have to actually pay tax unlike some of the non-profit-making big chains like poor Starbucks..

Perhaps it’s been closed for a refit, though I really hope not too much of one. It could so easily teeter – either with ill-advised modernisation or an equally dodgy trip down Theme Lane. Gambardella was a real caff, not a plastic imitation of what we might like to imagine 1950s coffee bars were.

If it is closed for good, it won’t just be the Phantom weeping into my PG Tips. Messrs Tilbrook, Holland and Difford, who met for the first time after his placing an ad in the window of Gambardella, will almost certainly join me in shedding a nostalgic tear. Maybe Jools might like to take it over himself. After all, it’s only a cough and a spit from the Holland Arms and everyone loves a nice cup of tea. As Mrs Doyle might say if she was actually relevant to this post, “ah, go on, go on, go on, go on…”

UPDATE: According to Mike, there has been a bereavement in the family. My thoughts and best wishes are with them. I hope that in time we will be able to visit again.

Beachcomber – Another One Bites the Sand

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Beachcomber - by Emo - ask and ye shall receive...

Something that has occurred to me as I begin this week is that although the Phantom photo archives are large and labyrinthine, there are huge gaps in them, many of them being the normal, everyday stuff of Greenwich life – precisely the sort of thing I miss from archives of the past – the shops, restaurants, streets, houses, people that I pass every day and whom it never occurs to me that one of those every days they won’t be there any more.

Maybe I need to get out more with my camera, taking more pictures of ‘nothing in particular;’ maybe I need one of every shop in Greenwich.

I sort of realised this when Kum Luang closed – that I didn’t have a picture of it open. Years ago, I had the same thing with Goddards, and this morning I have done it again. I have no photo of Beachcomber seafood restaurant on the High Street corner of poor, doomed Durnford Street – nothing to remind me of the plastic lobsters, the moveable pot plants, the faded photos of Olde Greenwich, the trifle-topping walls, the life-ring shop sign, now that it’s gone.

At least that’s what I’m told by Mark, who went in there with Mrs Mark yesterday for a bite to eat and was told it was the last day. Apparently there’s been a change in the lease and it is going to retail. Perhaps that’s to make up for the presumable change in lease that allowed two retail shops to turn into the highly original and Greenwich-centric Costa Coffee a few doors down.

I liked Beachcomber. Not particularly for the food; there was always far too much on the menu for any of it to be superbly cooked, but for its character. I liked the faded decor, the tatty pictures, the dodgy tinsel Christmas decorations, the unpredictable service, the gingham tableclothness of it all.

Are we really seeing the final death throes of Greenwich’s independent restaurants now? I can tell you with a heavy heart that there are at least two more indies about to pop, even though they’re not announcing their death publicly yet.

I don’t know whether my mum, with whom the Beachcomber waiters always used to flirt shamelessly, will be relieved or rather sad that they’ve gone…

Bye Bye Kum Luang

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

I am perhaps disproportionately saddened to see the death of Kum Luang in Creek Road. I loved this restaurant, warts and all, and visited often.

I don’t know what happened but it looks pretty sudden – not just closed but boarded up – and before Christmas too.

Can anyone enlighten me?

Grubless Pub Food

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

I’d been hearing rumours for some time, then had it confirmed that Youngs have taken over the Cutty Sark Pub.

Now, I’ve always been quite fond of the Cutty Sark – it’s a fabulous place to sit outside on a summer’s afternoon and watch the water-world go by, a cosy place to snuggle in the winter when the weather’s like, well, like the sort we’ve got at the moment. And I like the food – big plates of, how shall we put this, unpretentious pub grub.

I’m also curious to know what the new look is like, not least because I like the old look – the giant mis-matched tables upstairs, the giant half-barrels downstairs that, although not particularly authentic – I doubt it’s something Hilary Peters would remember from the 60s – feels right.

I know that they’ve been doing some refurbishing, but I haven’t been yet so I don’t know what, if anything, they’ve done to the place.

But I’m rather disturbed by an email I got yesterday from John. He, like myself, likes the place “for various reasons – great view from the first floor, decent selection of drinks, good food, friendly staff, even friendlier customers, and they welcome pooches of all varieties.”

He and ‘His Nibs’ (can’t work out if His Nibs is a partner or the dog…) went on Sunday with a couple of friends, hoping to get a nice Sunday Roast but discovered that Youngs have installed some new ‘systems.’

They now only serve food in what is known as the ‘first floor restaurant.’ To bag a table on Sunday you have make a reservation in advance – and they don’t welcome dogs upstairs.

No dogs in a restaurant? Fair enough, seems like a pretty easy fix – John and Co. could just have the food on the ground floor. They didn’t need anything fancy. “Can’t we just order some pub food downstairs?” he asked.

“Sorry, we can’t do that – we don’t do pub food anymore, only nice restaurant food” – replied the poor girl left to fend off the upset customers.

Not wishing to tie up poor old Nibs (or the dog) outside, John was unable to discover whether this is indeed, true and the new posh food is indeed, nice.

I guess the Pelton Arms, Plume of Feathers and Vanbrugh will be seeing even more droves if there’s only smart dining (with, I assume, matching prices) allowed at the Cutty Sark.

But I haven’t been there myself yet. I still don’t know if they still have the lovely old mistmatched tables and chairs, half-barrels or sightly cranky woodwork. I don’t know whether you really do need to book a table for the nice restaurant food or whether it is actually nice.

Anyone else been since the take over? I could do with some opinions here.

Shop Closures

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Nancy says

Just wanted to pass on my concern about local shop closures.  LeFleur, the flower and teashop on Royal Hill, shut its doors this past week (and sold off much of the interior); Stitches and Daughters, which has existed in some form or another for 40 years, in Blackheath and in Greenwich, has announced through a note on its door (confirmed by the shop attendant) that it is likely to cease trading in a few months. While neither business was doing terrifically before the Olympics, this seems an unlikely coincidence.  

No one can deny that the Olympics/Paralympics effected trade in Greenwich, with lane closures and crowds keeping, I am told, many regular customers away and not replacing them with an equal number of new ones.  A few businesses may have done well — Davy’s Wine Bar and the pub across from the main gate to Greenwich Park appeared well stocked with Olympic clients —  but during an economic downturn, this month-long, unchosen hiatus in normal trade may have been just enough to tip many into into closure.

There’s no denying we’re losing sweet indies like la Fleur (I did take a nice photo of some customers leaving with half the shop under their arm, including tables and a ‘tearooms’ sign but I appear to have lost it, gah…) and I can only assume the worst for Hooper and Palmer at Westcombe Park station, which has been closed for some time.  And as many will know by now, Bar du Musee is to be replaced by a Jamie’s Italian.

But is this really all due to the Olympics? True, there were issues in the first week or so, and they were never totally resolved, but frankly, I think this is wider than that. It’s not just in Greenwich places are closing – the whole country is seeing turndowns.

Could it be that we are just not going to the sweet indies enough? Hooper and Palmer was gorgeous to look at, and admittedly there were fewer trains at Westcombe Park during the ‘lympics,  but they had the misfortune of opening after Pistacchios in the Park, enormously popular with families for being – well – in a park and not next to a road, as much as anything. I loved to look at it, but if ever I was passing, I was on my way somewhere  - it wasn’t a destination.  I meant to go – and never did.

La Fleur, again a gorgeous-to-look-at place, for me, never really made the transition from florist to cafe – it opened rather odd hours, which I never fully got my head around, and did very little in the way of food – which although perfectly nice, didn’t come up to Royal Teas standard IMHO. I think most people thought of it as a florist that did the occasional cuppa – certainly when I was in there, there seemed to be a steady flow of people either coming in or phoning to buy flowers or plants – and being told (rather brusquely) that they didn’t sell them any more.

As for Bar du Musee – well, I can’t see that the Olympics is to blame for that one – it was a cough and a spit from the venue.  For me, that place lost its soul many years ago, when Inc. took over, going from mysterious, eccentric oddity – a really quirky, original experience – to a theme bar where the theme was the bar it used to be. After my mum and me arriving and being ignored in a nigh-on empty restaurant for 15 minutes by gossiping waiters, my last visit was three years ago.

Don’t get me wrong – I am really sad that we are losing our indies – but I do wonder how much blame we should be putting on ourselves for this.

I was a regular coffee drinker at LaFleur (when it was open) but I put my hands up now – I never got round to visiting Hooper and Palmer (much as I intended to) and I can’t remember the last time I visited Stitches and Daughters – mainly because, apart from a copy of Neil Rhind’s Blackheath and Environs, they don’t really do the sort of stuff I buy.

If we want to see these places survive we have to use them. Certainly from Hooper and Palmer I’ve learned something – seize the day – If I see an interesting new place, don’t wait for a gap in the schedule, visit now – it might not be there when I’m actually ready.

I really hope that we don’t lose our indies to chains – Jamie’s Italian will be taking up a large chunk of Nelson Road now (mainly due to Inc’s greed, hollowing out the place at the back to make the venue into such a bloated monster). But we have to support them if we want to keep them.

I notice that Greenwich Communications Centre are starting a new support club for the next generation of would-be entrepreneurs. Their first meeting is next Tuesday.

Right. I’m off to get a coffee at L’Artisan…

Tacky Bell

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Ankur asks:

Walking through the town centre this afternoon made me wonder why there were so many seemingly very similar (and tatty) Mexican/Spanish joints in Greenwich? Are they all owned by the same person/company? Did Greenwich at some point in the past go through a Mexican wave (bad but intended pun)? I am hoping you can shed some light on this perplexing Mexican mystery.

The Phantom replies:

Think yourself lucky Ankur – there are actually fewer ‘Mexican’ / ‘Tex-Mex’ restaurants here than there were even a couple of years ago. The one that really stank is long gone (hands up who remembers The Alamo, opposite Greenwich Picturehouse – a truly abysmal experience from the word go).

To be honest who owns what in Greenwich Town centre is a mystery to me. I understand that one or two of the noodle bars are owned by one company but as for the Tex-Mex I really don’t know. I don’t think the Spanish restaurant is owned by any of the Texican places but in truth, I’m not party to who owns what – I just don’t move in those circles. I am a consumer, not a purveyor and as such nobody tells me nothing.

Over the years I have tried them all though. There isn’t one of them I’d go back to; indeed one of them I didn’t actually stay long enough to order food in. It’s not that I don’t like Tex-Mex food, I just don’t like this Tex Mex food. Certainly when I had pals staying from New Mexico, I took them elsewhere.

Why are there so many? Well, my guess (and it’s only a guess) is that it’s cheap and comparitively easy to do. The ingredients, especially the veg, by their very nature, cost little, and if you slather enough sauce over the meat you can hide a multitude of sins.

It’s possible the various Tex-Mex places in Greenwich town centre have improved since I was last inside one – a good couple of years ago at least – but with a list of places still to test, I’m not going back for a while.

Not that they care. They’re not here for locals. They’re here for the constant supply of tourists who will only ever visit Greenwich once and, even if they don’t enjoy the food, will chalk it up to experience and perhaps mention to a couple of friends (far away) not to go to so-and-so, something the friend will have almost certainly forgotten when they come here.

The closest I’ve had reasonable Tex-Mex recently was, actually, the one time I visited Westfield and, being freaked out by the crowds, retreated to Wahaca, which I really enjoyed. I’ve since eaten in the Soho branch too and liked that as well. Sadly, IMHO, this is one example of a chain being better than an independent (or at least the comparitive indies we have).

I’m not advocating a branch of Wahaca in Greenwich, I just wish the restaurants we have would up their game. But while there are once-only tourists filling the seats every day, I’m not holding out much hope.

I already know what the comments section’s going to be like today – full of people defending these glorious places, telling me how much they enjoy them and that I’m a snob. I’m cool with that.

Tell me convincing reasons why I should go back to any of these places and I will.

The Obedient Wives Club

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Jacky asks:

Do you know which “Greenwich restaurant” is the HQ for this organisation? I’d hate to give them my custom by mistake!

In case you’re in the dark about the Obedient Wives Club, read this article on the BBC Website. It’s pretty radical stuff and, yes, Greenwich does have the dubious pleasure of housing the movement’s HQ. It’s called Nur Mohamed and it’s in the old Kerala Zone restaurant in Trafalgar Road. The cult’s raison d’etre is to convince Muslim women to act like high-class prostitutes so that their husbands won’t go to real ones. It’s also known as the Global Polygamy Club and I’ve been having quite a conversation with Sebastian, who’s actually been there, about it.

Seeing a new restaurant in East Greenwich, Sebastian and a few Malaysian pals went along to test it out – and let’s face it – wouldn’t any of us? I’d certainly been past it a few times and was most intrigued – especially when I went past in the mornings and the awning was pulled down over the window like a blind. I know that the old Kerala Zone used to have people sleeping in it – I went past one day when a particularly disgusting, multi-stained-with-heaven-knows-what secretions mattress was being removed from the kitchen (I don’t want to even think about who was sleeping on that – and in the kitchen – eeek!) Of course these owners are new – and I haven’t had the gall to lift the awning and take a peek myself (but oh, am I tempted…)

The first thing ‘a bit odd’ Sebastian noticed on entering was a large birthday cake. He was curious to know who the lucky recipient was and was told it was Global Ikhwan’s founder, of whom a large portrait can be seen on the wall. Nothing too strange about that – except that he died last year.

Sebastian says:

There was a plasma TV screening Muslim pop videos interspersed with interviews with Malaysian women followers talking how they’ve come to accept the polygamous marriages the cult’s committees arranged for them. An amusing diversion while waiting for your food…Except you might end up waiting for your food longer than you expect.

Granted I went with a group of 15 and we ordered a few dishes but my main failed to arrive despite my numerous reminders. I left 2 hours later without getting my food! (Maybe it was a ploy to get the wives in our group to see the joys of polygamy!)

Sebastian’s pals all being Malaysian, they were bound to have pretty high standards. He says it was ‘acceptable, given the price,’ but it sounds pretty iffy to me.

Our satay was undercooked (parts of it were red raw) though the peanut sauce was good. My curry puff was tasty. My friends who got the “paprik” rice/laksa dishes they ordered were not ecstatic but unoffended, though undercooked chicken appeared in some of their dishes.

Sebastian reckons that as long as you lower your expectations on the food front the visit could be quite entertaining, especially the dodgy videos. For my part, and admittedly I can’t speak from experience, I am less inclined to be so indulgent. The food may be just about acceptable, but I’m not sure I can say the same for the beliefs of the restaurant owners. There’s a point where lifestyle choice becomes coercion and I’d want to know that people, especially women, joined this cult from an absolutely personal decision.

Bianco Take Away

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Methers tells me he’s seen what looks suspiciously like a second branch of the fabulous Bianco Pizzaria -  in Lassell Street, though just as a takeaway/delivery service rather than eat-in. I am delighted. Too long have there been seriously substandard takeaways in East Greenwich – from those abysmal fried chicken stores through to the stuffed-crust acky-ness of Dominoes.

A few months ago the Moghul takeaway took over after the death of the frankly overpriced and under-serviced Bombay Bicycle Club (though being seriously in danger of becoming a spherical Phantom I haven’t actually tried it yet) then we got the delightful little l’Artisan, joining the re-vamped La Salumeria, both now doing rather nice coffee, and now with Bianco opening up – and I am absolutely sure they wouldn’t dream of using anything other than a wood-fired oven – perhaps having a few pals round and deciding to order some pizzas will actually be a pleasure rather than the choice between tomato ketchup on cardboard or burnt pepperoni on plastic cheese-filled sponge it currently is.

I can’t wait.