Wednesday, 26 October 2011
I've just been in Japan for a fortnight and I really didn't want to leave.
But when I was on the plane back to Blighty, I decided to count my blessings, one of which is a little Vietnamese cafe near my office called City Caphe.
Open only at lunchtimes, I've got through many a long morning at my desk by day-dreaming about City Caphe's food.
The day-dreaming continues as I wait in their queue which stretches out the door - it's a dratted constant, but it's worth standing there, even in the rain.
Sometimes I press my nose against the window, Charlie Bucket-like, to stare at the gorgeous steaming dishes that others are already enjoying.
The queue continues to wind inside, but rather charmingly, they have a selection of books for the hungry punters to pass the time.
I'm not a bread person, but even I adore City Caphe's banh mi, and their summer rolls are the best I've had (apart from my own) - packed with prawns and herbs, though there's a tofu version for the vegetarians.
They have tubs of fabulously zingy papaya and mango salad which cost about £3 - I always pick one up from the shelves as I wait to be served.
Their pho is wonderful too - delicious broth which is somehow delicate yet punchy at the same time.
My only quibble is I want more greenery, more bumf to scatter on top - you get a little plastic bag containing a lime wedge, some chilli rings and a a few choice leaves, but this isn't enough to satisfy my lust for foliage.
By far my favourite dish is their bun bo hue - a vibrant, spicy, meaty beef and pork lemongrass broth with fat, round rice noodles.
I invariably order this, with extra napkins as I almost always manage to splatter myself.
However, it was City Caphe's first birthday recently, and they celebrated by having a week of specials - one of which comfortably toppled bun bo hue as my beloved.
Pleasingly, it was a dish which I asked them to make as I'd never had it before (the lovely lady in charge is Julie Vu and she's on twitter as @CityCaphe and asked for suggestions) - bun rieu cua - crab noodle heaven.
If I wish very hard, they might make it again, but alas it won't become a regular item on their menu (I am wishing very hard right now).
I've been comforted and excited though to find out that City Caphe have decided to do a couple of special one-off nights to show off their repertoire.
A collaboration with L'Amant Dining, the people behind Banh Mi 11, on Thursday 3rd and Saturday 5th November, they will be feeding some lucky people a frankly fantastic-sounding menu.
I've booked to go on the 3rd - hopefully I'll see some of you there.
17 Ironmonger Lane
Open weekdays 11.30am to 4.00pm
Book their 3rd and 5th November supperclub here
Wednesday, 5 October 2011
We get in to London Bridge at 8.12. I kiss him farewell as he travels on to Charing Cross, and join the crowd which oozes blearily onto the platform. At 8.14, as we stumble along, the train to Gravesend pulls in, and as usual it takes all of my (frankly waning) will-power not to climb on it and chug my way back home.
The crowd bottlenecks, then shuffles to the top of escalators, and I grab a copy of Metro from halfway down the pile in a Jenga move. I note that their stands have changed from blue to silver, and I feel a small thrill of excitement and then realise I need to get out more. Everyone else shoves and rushes, but I'm happy to stand on the right as I rummage in my bag to work out what I've forgotten (there's always something).
At the bottom, I cross Tooley Street and walk past the London Dungeon, gaudily unfrightening in the early morning light, and I stop at the fruit and veg stall and buy a punnet of flat peaches for a pound. "I don't need a bag, thanks", I say, and the guy looks pleased and I feel a bit like I've just been given a gold star.
I merge into the wave of bodies crossing the bridge. We pass Evangelist number 1 - dowdy, small and Teutonic, and carries some kind of equipment to amplify his words as he shouts into a microphone that we're all terrible sinners and need to repent. A friend of mine once pointed out that if he was a devout Christian, he'd spend all his time trying to convert the rest of us, to save our souls because he loved us, so I almost feel appreciative of Evangelist number 1's zeal.
We pass Evangelist number 2 - a tall, handsome black man, suited and shiny-booted like the rest of us so it looks like he's just stopped and turned around, he belts out his praise for Jeezoss with no need for artificial amplification. His voice is rich and deep - I'm certain he'd have a bigger audience if he chose to sing the gospel instead of preaching it.
The pungent scents of the City permeate my consciousness. Wafts of cheap and not-so-cheap cologne vie then commingle with the sewer stench rising from the Thames and the toasty vapours from Pret.
We pass the Asian boy in his bright blue branded jacket who proudly hands out City AM. He looks like Tamwar from Eastenders, that is if Tamwar ever smiled, and the look of sheer happiness on his face when someone actually takes a copy is something else. I kind of want to hug him. I never take one from him though. I mean, it's City AM.
We get to the Big Issue seller of indeterminate gender. S/he sits on a fold-up chair, grumpily obese, as frosty as the City AM youth is warm. I wish I were a nice enough person to spend the seconds I go past them getting out my purse, but instead I spend them debating which side of the divide they're on.
The moment's gone, and I stride on, and I manage to mis-step, trip, and stub my toe on nothing. My mother says that this is a sign - that someone somewhere is waiting for me; what it does mean is I'm literally dragging my heels, in no rush to get to my desk. My footwear doesn't help - I bought myself a pair of FitFlops in a fleeting whim of fitness, and the soles are thick and clumsy as clown shoes, though apparently doing wonders for my calves. I have nice shoes under my desk.
I straighten and blush, swear softly at a crooked paving stone that isn't there, but no one spots or cares about my shame. The sea of people simply parts around me, a chastened Moses, then reforms, reswarms immediately ahead.
Their heads are bowed, unseeing as they march along. I'm feeling mildly defiant, so I leave the crowd, and dawdle and look around. On the right is the Gherkin, rampant in the misted sunlight, on the left is St Paul's Cathedral, dwarfed by new builds yet still striking in the skyline, and on both sides, boats glisten gently as they bob upon the river.
I drink it all in, and suddenly everything seems sharper and life seems much brighter. Quenched by these non-mirages, which shimmer in this City of mine, I cross the bridge and continue on my way.