Review: ScooterCaffe at Waterloo

The scooter
The scooter

My adventure to ScooterCaffe was not as I intended. I wanted a hot chocolate; I ended up feeling like a hobo.

I normally don’t feature places that I absolutely loathe, but ScooterCaffe is worth laughing at. Read on…

My friend Mia had discovered a list of people’s recommendations for hot chocolates in London, on which ScooterCaffe was repeatedly recommended by Joe Bloggs and his brothers.

Alarm bells started ringing, however, during my online investigation prior to our visit. Customers were raving about the cats.

As a kid, I wanted to be a cat. I introduced myself as “Phoebe Amoroso Cat”. I drew many pictures of cats (including a picture of my father as a cat with glasses and a disproportionately large human penis attached – much to his approval).

My mum bought me a kitten when I was three. That’s when I got asthma and a whole load of allergies. Oh the ironies of my cat love!  Cats and I do not mix. If you own a cat, I won’t be visiting your home. Within 20 minutes, I will fall ill. If I stay overnight in your house, I’m likely to be ill for the next 5 days. It’s that bad.

This meant ScooterCaffe was probably going to be a take-out visit.

Inside

Inside

We headed to Waterloo to find a rather dark, grimy looking café, with a scooter in the window and, sure enough, a cat. Eclectic objects decorated the room and a various alcohol bottles lined the wall behind the counter. This was a café that was obviously trying for an edgier feel.

In fact, the more I inspected it, the more I realised it should probably be found in Hoxton or Dalston or any other trendy East London location. Through the dirt, I noticed some rather well-to-do, fashion-conscious clientèle. Obviously, this is how they get in touch with the earthier side of life whilst still being comfortably removed from it.

We went downstairs to the basement to find a room so stale and full of dust that even the allergy-free Mia felt suffocated. The air was so thick that it could have been sliced up and served. It did, however, explain why everyone was sitting upstairs.

We approached the counter and ordered two hot chocolates and two egg custard tarts that had been infused with raspberries.

“Excuse me, is there anywhere the cat doesn’t sit?” I asked. “How about those high wooden stools?”

“Huh,” said the woman, clearly confused. “He sits everywhere.”

“Could we get take-out then?”

She gave us the two tarts, then walked out from behind the bar towards the door.

“We’re out of milk. I’m going to buy some more.”

This was not a good sign. A café that serves coffee and hot chocolate and doesn’t keep adequate milk supplies. “How long will that take?”

“Not long. I’m just telling you so you know.” No apology. Nothing. And with that, she was gone.

After ten minutes of me nervously eyeing the cat, she returned and made us some hot chocolates and we scarpered. The service was as neglectful as the place looked.

Hot chocolate - supposedly
Hot chocolate – supposedly

Through foggy breath, we puffed our way to some cold seats in Waterloo. The hot chocolate – quick! Let it warm my hands and its chocolatey sweetness fill my mouth!

Ugh. Something lukewarm and slimy slid down my throat. It was like custard with a mild chocolate flavour. Mia and I looked at each other in disbelief. People actually recommended this? It was thick and sickly and generally revolting.

We also discovered that raspberries should never be put in egg custard tarts.

ScooterCaffe 1/5 – For shamelessly awful hot chocolate in aspiring squat-like conditions, pop by! 😉

Where: I’m not telling you – look it up if you’re feeling masochistic!

Raspberry egg custard tart
Raspberry egg custard tart

Review: Cocomaya – Bakery/Café/Chocolate shop!

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I’m a highly social person, which doesn’t always go well with a Master’s degree, three sports, social media stuff and blogging. To add to my busy life, I decided to attend a chocolate meet-up  with randomers, and I am very glad I did. Not only did I eat great chocolate, but I also met some very nice people 🙂

Cocomaya (W2 2AF) is both a café and a bakery, but most importantly, it’s a chocolate shop!

Cocomaya Cocomaya

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The interior is cosy and quaint, reminiscent of old-fashioned British tea-shops, with wooden floorboards and floral-patterned china. It strikes a welcoming balance between simplicity and cosiness.

Of course, it’s also littered with chocolatey offerings, some of which look too sparkly and too pretty to be eaten.

060 059 057 056 054 053 052Our order was to be a simple process: a cake or pastry from the bakery and a drink for £5.25.

Flourless chocolate cake - wonder what it was actually made of...
Flourless chocolate cake – wonder what it was actually made of…

I chose a flourless chocolate cake with a dense chocolate sauce. It was very chocolatey but it had a very faint, almost-metallic tang to it, which didn’t quite work for me. However, there were plenty of other tantalising options:

047 045 044 042 041 040Of course, there was no actual decision process for what drink we all wanted to order. There were hot chocolates all round.

Amazing hot chocolate!
Amazing hot chocolate!

Cocomaya’s hot chocolate was a powerful chocolate hit. Chocolatey, thick, but not too sweet. It didn’t coat the back of the throat but slipped down blissfully smoothly. It was just like pure, liquid chocolate, which is how the best hot chocolate should be. I have to have it again. I think it might be my favourite hot choc in London so far.

Don’t miss out on some extremely good chocolatey times. Head over to Cocomaya.

Cocomaya’s Hot Chocolate 5/5

Cocomaya
12 Connaught St,
London
W2 2AF

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Eating Out in Stockholm

Not-Swedish-Meatballs: Chinese-style pork and mushroom meatballs
Not-Swedish-Meatballs: Chinese-style pork and mushroom meatballs at restaurant, China!

How To Eat Cheaply + Recommendations 

On New Year’s Day, I experienced a happy wake-up at 7.30am to get on a bus from Dalarna to Stockholm…to arrive to a dead city. “There’ll be plenty of places open”, my boyfriend said confidently. “The restaurants will definitely be open.”

“Are you sure?” I said doubtfully.

“Yes, us Swedes are not like you Brits.”

I rolled my eyes , got off the bus and found myself in a dead city. A few coffee chains were open and the usual fast food suspects. Nothing serving a hearty lunch could be found.

The trouble with Stockholm is that, even when the restaurants are open, the prices are going to damage your wallet almost beyond repair. The cheapest main courses start from around £15, and that will be for a pasta or risotto. You want meat, my friend? Well, be prepared to pay £25 upwards for a main.

You can try and see the positive side of eating out in Stockholm by visiting Norway, a land where no-one can afford take-out food (4 small portions of fish and chips at a street café = roughly £72).

Sweden isn’t nearly so bad, but for students and travellers on a budget, eating out in Stockholm is a challenge.

So how can you eat cheaply in Stockholm?

The short answer is: you can’t. Not really. You aren’t going to find much Swedish food at a reasonable price, and you are not going to find the same value that you can find in the UK. But here are some tips for those that find themselves in Stockholm without access to a kitchen.

  1. Eat your main meal at lunch
    We all make mistakes...
    We all make mistakes…


    Many restaurants and cafés offer a “dagens” or daily lunch, which is a deal that ranges from 75 – 15kr  (roughly £7.50 to £15). This is the best way to get a good meal at a reasonable price.

    Food quality can be hit and miss. Take for example the above picture of a “Mango chicken balti” at an Indian restaurant (Indisk Mukat Restaurang) that my boyfriend insisted was “all right for lunch”. No. No, it wasn’t. The chicken was the awful processed stuff that is like eating a very soft sponge, the sauce was so sweet that I felt sick pretty quickly, and that thin, orangey sliver is really all the mango I got. All for a reasonable 10,5kr (£10.50!). ARGH.

  2. Get fast food or take-out

    Falafel
    Falafel

    As a self-confessed food snob, this really goes against all my principles. But needs must. And weirdly, Swedish fast food isn’t quite as dire as some of the stuff served up in Britain. Pizzerias are commonplace, and are almost cosy. Take Pizza Hörnet by George, for example. The inside was clean, and the service friendly and efficient. As for the pizza, it was unfortunately the most salty thing I had ever eaten which, after one slice, left my mouth burning like I’d been ingesting seawater. I complained to my boyfriend and he shrugged. “Swedes like their salt. This pizza is normal.”

    Pizza Hörnet by George
    Pizza Hörnet by George
    Saltiest pizza in the world
    Saltiest pizza in the world

    Also common are kebab houses. If you don’t trust the meat, go for the apparently ubiquitous falafel.

    My boyfriend reports that this is the best place for falafel in Stockholm
    Falafel King!

    When all else fails, get a take-out and find somewhere to sit where you won’t freeze. I was lucky enough to get introduced to a Szechuan dish, “twice cooked pork“. The pork is first boiled with ginger and salt, and then fried with vegetables. Whilst the execution of this was fairly poor, I bet the authentic dish is fantastic, and it’s now on my “to-eat” list.

    Classic Szechuan dish: Twice-Cooked Pork
    Classic Szechuan dish: Twice-Cooked Pork
  3. Just eat cinnamon buns, pastries and/or sandwiches
    Salami and brie sandwich: dry and unmemorable
    Salami and brie sandwich: dry and unmemorable

    Stockholm is packed with cafés, bakeries (bakerei) and cake shops (konditori) serving sandwiches, which always seem to include a salami and brie combo. Be warned – these sandwiches will set you back £7 – £8, and they’re often dry.

    If you have a sweet tooth, there are plenty of cakes to try. Popular are Sarah Bernhardt biscuits / chocolate biskvi, which consist of an almond biscuit base, a chocolate cream middle, topped with chocolate. All in all, it’s a little too sweet for me. However, these are valued national biscuits as I saw them on the Swedish equivalent of the Great British Bake Off, Hela Sverige Bakar (“All of Sweden is baking!”)

    Chocolate biskvi / Sarah Bernhardt biscuits
    Chocolate biskvi / Sarah Bernhardt biscuits
    Inside the biskvi...
    Inside the biskvi…

    There are also plenty of chocolate balls. These used to be called  negerboll (“negro balls”).  I say no more.

    Chokladboll
    Chokladboll
  4. Avoid Gamla Stan
    Stortorget Square
    Stortorget Square

    Gamla Stan – or Old Town – is the centre of tourism in Stockholm. Don’t even think about eating there, not even in a café. It’s very pretty and there are LOTS of things to check out, including Kungliga Slottet (the Royal Palace) and Storkyrkan (church), which has a spectacular interior with a very impressive statue of George slaying the dragon. So by all means visit Gamla Stan – just make sure you’ve eaten well in advance.

    We were desperate for refreshment and visited Chokladkoppen, which is a take-away and sit-down café. I can’t remember how much it stole from my wallet – although it is definitely not the worst offender price-wise – but I had a miserably milky hot chocolate and the cinnamon bun was underwhelming too, even if it was HUGE.

    Giant cinnamon bun

  5. Starve, and go back to your respective country

It’s a great excuse to lose some weight, right?!

Recommendations

Well, you’ve probably guessed by now that, for obvious reasons, I haven’t eaten out extensively in Stockholm! But there are a few places that I would recommend.

  1. The Muffin Bakery
    Drottninggatan 73 or Linnégatan 42

    The King of Muffins: Chocolate Brownie and Cheesecake
    The King of Muffins: Chocolate Brownie and Cheesecake

    The coffee might not be up to much, but it’s all about the Chocolate Brownie and Cheesecake muffins. I cannot visit Stockholm without devouring one of these. It’s cheesy but chocolatey and gooey in the middle. It’s 34kr but one can easily be shared between two. There are other varieties of muffins and they also do decent sandwiches at prices that are reasonable for Stockholm. There are two cafés – I go to the Drottninggatan one as it’s really central. Their website (Swedish only) can be found here.

    Goats cheese toasted sandwich
    Goats cheese toasted sandwich
  2. Nagano
    Rådmansgatan 58, 11359 StockholmNaganoFriendly lunch place that serves up tasty and reasonably-priced Japanese set lunches. I had a surprisingly good chicken katsu (breaded cutlet) lunch here and my boyfriend appreciated the veggie gyoza (dumplings). The portions are decent too.

  3. Café 60
    Café 60
    Café 60

    Really trendy, slightly kitsch café that is eternally busy. I’ve only eaten here once where I had a cake that was almost as good as Nando’s choc-a-lot cake, but not quite. There are plenty more scrummy looking cakes, and sandwiches and salad. It has free WiFi so it’s often packed with laptops/iPads and coffee cups.  Their website is here.

  4. China!
    Ringvägen 110 – 116 61 Stockholm

    China!
    China!
    Hoi sin pork with steamed buns and spring onions
    Hoi sin pork with steamed buns and spring onions


    It’s always a good sign when a Chinese restaurant is packed with Chinese people! I only had two dishes here – some meatballs (pictured far top) and some amazing hoisin pork with dumplings and spring onions – but I was impressed with the quality, flavours and presentation. The food is flavoursome but light and I didn’t end up feeling sick, which often happens to me after a Chinese. China! is not cheap, but it’s not outrageous – sharing two dishes might set you back £30, but you’ll leave satisfied.

I’m by no means an expert on Stockholm, so if anyone has any recommendations, please get in touch 🙂

Update: One recommendation I’ve received is to target Stockholm University’s restaurants and cafés. Apparently, the restaurant next to Södra Huset in Stockholm University serves dagens for 60-80kr. You can choose one main (fish, meat, vegetarian), and enjoy an all- you-can-eat salad, pasta, and bread bar, and an all-you-can-drink drink bar. Thanks to Toru Anraku for the suggestion.

Lakwatsa Review – Brand New Bubble Tea Lounge!

Lakwatsa

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a sneaky preview of Lakwatsa, a brand new bubble tea lounge in Ladbroke Grove.

For those of you who are a little confused as to what this bubble tea is all about, I should tell you that it’s not fizzy – and no, it doesn’t contain champagne. It’s milk- or fruit-flavoured tea with balls of chewy tapioca, which are sucked up through a giant straw. It’s a popular drink in Asia, but it hails originally from Taiwan.

Bringing this phenomenon to West London, Lakwatsa adds a Filipino twist. Indeed, the term lakwatsa means to ‘chill’ in Filipino, and that’s exactly the kind of place founder Claire Buyson has created.

Inside is cosy yet modern. Crisp lines, simple decoration, wooden surfaces.  Swing seats, low cushioned stools. A menu made from wooden Scrabble tiles. It does cool in an inclusive way. In short, it’s perfect for chilling.

My inner word-game geek got SO excited...
My inner word-game geek got SO excited…

‘Chilling’ needs to be accompanied with appropriate drinks, but the bubble tea was almost a winner just on sight. This is because it’s served in jars. I don’t know why this is so exciting, but it takes me back to my childhood where empty jars were not seen as something to be recycled, but they were grasped like an adventure. For dipping dirty paintbrushes. Hoarding coins. Collecting insects. Empty jars are irrevocably linked with fun.

As for the contents of Lakwatsa jars, fortunately no dirty paint water or grasshoppers were found. There was just simple, delicious bubble tea (£3.40/jar).

Taro
Taro

I tried the ‘Asian favourite’, taro. I find that milk-based bubble tea can be heavy and overwhelming, so the earthiness of taro was a smart choice. The flavours were perfectly balanced and thankfully it wasn’t too heavy on the sugar. It was liquid love at first taste.

But would the other teas be too sweet without taro? I sampled the classic milk tea and it was also spot on. Banished were my memories of the sickly versions served at festivals in Japan.

Milk tea
Milk tea

Of course, no bubble tea place would be complete without fruit flavours. These range from green apple – a little too perfumed for my liking – to passion fruit, which is cool, refreshing and dangerously addictive.

Passion fruit
A little too green apple
A-little-too-green apple

To make these flavours even more tempting, a variety of popping boba (fruit juice balls) and jellies can be added for £0.50 extra. Get experimental and sample aloe vera, aiyu or even grass. I recommend the lychee.

In case you’re worrying about a sloshing stomach, Lakwatsa also serves merienda (light meals). There is a variety of pan-Asian snacks, including tempura prawns, sesame toast and spring rolls. The sauces served with these are lovely – home-made and fresh. The prawn toast comes with a sauce that balances chilli and garlic perfectly, although it’s unlikely to please your friends.

Sesame prawn toast
Lumpia Shanghai - pork and prawn srping rolls
Lumpia Shanghai – pork and prawn spring rolls
Prawn tempura

Claire Buyson has got creative in the kitchen to create a finger-food version of a Filipino classic, adobo. This innovative version has put chicken in a rice ball, allowing hungry customers to dip it into a garlic and vinegar sauce. Tasty, but be warned – the rice balls collapse easily!

Adobo rice balls - marinated chicken in sticky rice balls
Adobo rice balls – marinated chicken in sticky rice balls

Lakwatsa has great bubble tea and a relaxing setting. I’ll definitely be heading back to try some more flavours. Anyone care to join me?

Address: 7 Blenheim Crescent, London, W11 2EE
Nearest Tube: Ladbroke Grove
Opening Hours: 11am – 11pm

Coincidence and Cake

Hot Chocolate/ Chocolate Brownie

Sometimes life throws people together in unexpected ways. Or maybe the world’s just too small. Whatever your perspective, I recently stumbled into the path of someone I hadn’t seen in ten years.

At school, I was a language fanatic, if a poorly-skilled one. I studied French, German, Spanish and Latin in my lunchtimes for good measure (or good geekery). I did a French and German exchange. My French penfriend and I kept in touch. Last year, I went to her wedding.

My German penfriend and I got on very well. But I did a useless job at staying in touch, something which I always regretted but made no move to rectify.

Imagine my surprise when I found a Facebook request from her on a Sunday morning. Scanning her profile, I noticed the same university as mine listed. Then I found her message, which went along the lines of “OMG It’s been years! I found you through our accommodation Facebook page – we’re living in the same building!”

If not for my post on Facebook about wanting to dress up for the James Bond movie, we might have passed the whole year never having met (over 350 live in our accommodation block). As it happened, we met that same day in the stairwell.

Time for a catch-up. Time for cake. Time for hot chocolate.

I am on a quest to find the best hot chocolate in London. First stop…

 Shoreditch Grind

It opened in 2011 and has built itself a reputation as a trendy place to get coffee. It was certainly packed out on a Saturday afternoon and could really benefit from a larger seating area. The chairs aren’t comfy, but the bustling atmosphere meant we could happily sit there for 4.5 hours of updating each other on 10 years of life.

Organisationally, the café loses a few marks. When we ordered our cakes, we were told, “All the plates are dirty, so would you mind having a take-away box?” Coordinating the washing up is not rocket science and should be second nature if you work in a café!  Plus at 2pm on a Saturday  there was no sign of the extensive pastry and sandwich menu splashed tastily across their website, but rather there were a few sad-looking beef bagels. And nothing else savoury. As a result, my friend and I had cake for lunch.

Now, I must confess I’m not a big coffee drinker and I was on my hot chocolate mission. But my friend thoroughly enjoyed her cappuccino, which came complete with heart decoration and her mystery berry cake was pretty scrummy too (“It tastes better than it looks!”)

Berry cake and coffee
Cappuccino

The brownie was not as gooey as I normally like, but it was extremely dense and chocolate-y, so it got a stamp of approval. According to their website, it’s not just any brownie, it’s a Valrhona chocolate brownie. But as I’ve never had Valrhona chocolate, I can’t really validate these claims. (Anyone know anything about Valrhona chocolate?!)

As for the hot chocolate, it was weak, insipid and more milky than chocolatey. It wasn’t too sweet but it wasn’t memorable. And £2.50 for a small cup of poor quality contents?

Shoreditch Grind Hot Chocolate – 4/10.

From Mediocrity to Motown, pt. 2

THE PLACE: Motown
THE FOOD: Home-made ice-cream and cakes, plus good coffee

After a very mediocre meal, my parents needed coffee. I needed pudding. Just look at this:

That is a dessert called “The Temptations”, described as “a quintet of chocolate”. (This is a reference to THE BAND, go sort your musical education out if you’re confused!)

This is a dessert with soft, gooey home-made chocolate brownie and soft home-made ice-cream. Believe it or not, it is not overpoweringly sweet, although it’s heavy, so I recommend sharing. My parents are coffee snobs (Starbucks is the scourge of the earth) and they rated the coffee here as excellent.

The decor in this place was fab and their menu is worth reading for all the puns and Motown references:

It’s run by Asian guys and they’re super-friendly and obliging. And even turned the Motown lights on my photo 🙂

They do 10% off for students.  I’ll be heading back as soon as I can.

Overall 5/5 – Funky, fun, friendly and yum! 

Find Motown here.