Now I've settled back into life in London, I think it is time to change things up a little bit here on the blog to reflect my life now. I've been thinking a lot about this, and while I'm still going to posting the usual easy recipes and restaurant reviews, I think it makes more sense for things to go back to being more like my diary of things I get up to again. I've finally settled into working a 9 to 5 (well, 9 to 6 if I'm lucky most weeks!), so weekend plans have become a bigger thing for me. I make sure I have fun things planned with friends, and not just meals out, but little adventures to the part of town I love, or that I simply have not explored before. So, to kick things off I wanted to share my suggestion for how to spend a lazy, sunny weekend in Hoxton, where my friend Sophie and I enjoyed a wonderful Sunday lunch at Beagle after a trip to Columbia Road Flower Market, followed by a wander around one of East London's hidden treasures, Geffrye Museum of the Home.
When it is sunny, around lunchtime Columbia Road is packed. Just a short walk from Hoxton Overground station, remember to take cash (get it away from Hoxton, as all of the cash machines around the market always have massive queues) to get some of the best value blooms in the city (you get so much more for your money than you do at florists and in supermarkets, with much more choice with much better quality, too.) You'll easily spot the market if you just follow Google Maps to Columbia Road, and the market is open from 8am until 2pm. If it is sunny, and therefore busy, you have a catch 22: head their early before brunch instead of lunch and beat some of the crowds, or go towards the end, before lunch, and take advantage of some of the deals offered towards closing time by the vendors who are trying to offload more of their blooms.
This time of year I'd recommend you go for tulips (they're bang in season right now, and there are some simply beautiful colours and varieties on each stall), as they'll last for ages on your kitchen table, or a beautiful bunch of hyacinths, which have the most amazing fragrance (I got this lot for £10). These are a better bloom if you're hosting a brunch or something, though, as they'll only last a few days detached from their bulb. Another, longer lasting option Sophie went for was a bunch of dried English lavender. It smelt amazing, you could smell the pile from metres away, and with my hyacinths and her lavender, we spend the rest of the day, turning heads, walking down the street in a perfumed cloud.
Whenever asked, I'll direct people towards Beagle in Hoxton as my favourite brunch in London (I first wrote about it here in 2014) so it was an obvious, instant yes when the team at the restaurant got in touch to see if I wanted to try out their Sunday lunch menu. They start serving at 1pm, and if it is a gloriously sunny day (as it was when we went; last time Sophie and I had lunch together was at Soot Bull Jeep in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, and I don't think there was any difference in temperature!) you can sit out on the terrace, where I usually like to get a few cocktails when I'm in this part of London.
We started with a carafe of white wine and a couple of plump, perfect oysters each on ice before moving onto the starters. Everything on the Sunday menu at Beagle has a bit of a good Sunday English pub menu feel to it, but with those extra little flourishes that remind you you're sitting in one of my favourite restaurants in London, instead. I had the smoked roe on toast, which was as pretty as a picture, tasted excellent, and was only enhanced by the perfect homemade pickles. Sophie had the pork rillettes, which were rich, juicy and full of flavour, served with more of that fantastic pickle. Now, on to the main event.
Now, famously, I'm not actually much of a roast person. Usually I'd rather eat something else for a Sunday lunch (and I think the average roast-accompaniment treatment of vegetables is probably the worst thing you could ever do to them), but god this roast was amazing, and I polished off every last morsel. You get a choice of beef, chicken or lamb, served with carrots, dripping potatoes, watercress and a Yorkshire pudding. The sides were all perfect, potatoes both crisp and fluffy, and the size of the Yorkshire did not disappoint, and the light gravy was wonderful (and there was the perfect amount - I hate it when my plate is swimming in it!) And just look at Sophie's beef! My roast and confit chicken was perfectly cooked, literally my only criticism being I could have done with a crispier skin. But, then again, I am the person who steals most of it off of the freshly roast bird before carving at home, and who has polished it off before it even reaches the table.
While we pondered the desserts, we had a round of cocktails. I went for the 'Cornish Cooler': Cornish gin, figue, port, lime, almond and orange blossom (wonderfully refreshing and went very nicely with our puddings), and Sophie had the 'TNT': tequila, juniper, homemade lime cordial, elderflower and tonic (which was delicious, but the tequila was so strong it would work better with Mexican food than our very English roast.)
We shared two very English desserts. The rhubarb panna cotta was absolutely sublime, sweet, tender, but still slightly sharp rhubarb on top of the most beautifully textured, creamy, but still slightly wobbly set cream. The crumbly ginger biscuits served alongside were perfect for scooping up spoonfuls. The rich, light and buttery croissant bread pudding was also excellent, served with glorious poached pears and creme fraiche.
Groaning under the weight of all that food, flowers still in tow, we headed around the corner to the Geffrye Museum of the Home. Built in an old 18th century almshouse (that encloses a beautiful hidden square where you can stretch out on the grass with a good book), it explores the past 400 years of how people lived, re-creating peoples parlours/ living rooms/ sitting rooms in what used to be each tenement, so you can walk through the eras to see how people live has changed. Around the back (that you can view from the restaurant terrace and the station) they have recently re-opened a wonderfully fragrant herb garden, and gardens that take you though the different eras of gardening, too. Not many people know about it, so it is a quiet oasis on a usually busy Sunday (where they're now open from 10am so you could also take a look around before lunch.)
Perhaps it is because I'm getting older (and also probably something to do with all of the time I've been spending in the beautiful new gardens - they used to be open to the public - at my parents new home in Kent), but exploring beautiful gardens has become one of my new favourite things to do at the weekends, especially as everything is in bloom for spring, and insects are buzzing around everywhere getting their fill of pollen.
These are one of my favourite flowers since my mother told me their various English names when I was little. You'll usually find them labeled bleeding hearts (because they do indeed look like bleeding hearts), but some people also call them 'lady in the bath', because if you turn each flower upside down, they do indeed look like a very elegant lady enjoying a soak in her bright pink ornamental bath!
You can find more about the museum and its opening times here, book a table and browse some sample menus at Beagle here, and plan your visit to Columbia Road Flower Market here. I'm off to the Whitechapel end of Brick Lane this Sunday (I used to live in the area but I have not been back since university) so be sure to follow along on Instagram for more adventures (planned around the nearest restaurant, obviously!)