Chin Chin Labs: Nitro Ice Cream in Camden

July 13, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Posted in Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, London, Out and About, UK | Leave a comment
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At Camden Lock there’s a new ice cream parlour: Chin Chin Labs. It bills itself as London’s first nitro ice cream parlour.

So what does that mean?

The staff use nitrogen to snap freeze liquid base that becomes the ice cream. You can get vanilla, lemon or chocolate with a variety of toppings.

During the snap freeze process the gas creates a cooling and atmospheric mist that rolls off the mixing bowl and during summer is a wonderful relief.

I selected a Madagascar vanilla bean base with chocolate, hazelnut and rasberry toppings. At first glance I thought the quantity for £3.5o was a little small but it’s surpisingly dense and filling.

Nitro ice cream

Now the flavour. It was remarkably smooth and tasty, with no threat of an ice cream headache. The combination of toppings also worked quite well.

One of the owners who served me advised that in winter they’ll be doing warm options too. Might come back for that as well.

It’s certainly a novel creation method and tastes great but I wouldn’t recommend it as a special trip but if you’re in the area definitely check it out.

The ‘lab’ is located at 49-50 Camden Lock Place (look out for the shop with the swing chairs).

Unfortunately their website doesn’t yet specify the opening times.

Also the FT article was particularly useful in inspiring me to visit.

San Francisco – January 2010

July 6, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, museum, Out and About, Random, Tourism, Travel, USA | Leave a comment
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This was my second visit to San Francisco but the first time as an adult so it was time to party!

San Francisco (218)

I got a great deal through Expedia and stayed at the Hyatt Regency in downtown. The room and service were excellent –  just what I needed at the end of a long trip.

Now onto the stuff. It’s always about the stuff! Oh I’m going to be completely touristy here.

Well why not start with one of the most well known prisons in the world. Predictably the ferry trip over was surrounded by fog thus helping to create the ideal atmosphere.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (118) Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (121)

You can opt for an audio guide or not but obviously it’s better with one (and comes with the ticket anyway). I was somewhat familiar with the prison but didn’t know that it was also a military fort, a Native American sit-in protest site and lastly a nature reserve. Many of the buildings are in a state of neglect (probably managed by the Parks Service to keep it at the same level from when they took it over).

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (22)

I rather liked the tour. It was a little tiring walking around but the various anecdotes (such as prisoner escape attempts) made me forget all about sore legs! Or perhaps it was the refreshing sea air.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (111)

I went early and would suggest the same as it helps to bypass more tourists and maximises the amount of time you can spend on other sightseeing.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (86)

It may be a bit cliché to go and visit Alcatraz but it is worth the trip.

Fisherman’s Wharf and surrounds
Along the bay is the tourist destination of Fisherman’s wharf and Pier 39. There are an abundance of shops catering to tourists, it’s a bit of a trap but enjoyable to wander around in. Also at Pier 39 you can also check out the seals.

Fisherman's Wharf - San Francisco 2010 Sealions at Pier 39 - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Throughout the Wharf, Piers and San Francisco you’ll come across stores selling clam chowder in sour dough bowls. I finally tried it at Boudin’s Bakery (which also has a tour but I didn’t go on it). I thought the dough was a bit, well, sour but on the whole rather nice and filling.

Clam Chowder Sourdough bowl (Boudin Bakery) - San Francisco 2010

Lastly, you might be interested in checking out Musée Mécanique which houses a number of historic penny arcade machines. Most, if not, are still useable and looks like it could be a lot of fun (and just a touch geeky) to play around with.

Musee Mecanique - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Golden Gate Bridge Area
After a bit of a mammoth walk around San Francisco I walked towards the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Don’t worry there are public transport options I just felt like walking.

Before I got there I walked briefly through the presidio where there was a warning about the potentials for coyotes! Even so the presidio was surprisingly calming and relaxing.

Presidio Walk - San Francisco 2010 (2) Presidio Walk - San Francisco 2010 (1)

There’s also the chance to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum but I didn’t have time to go in and check it out. Not to mention the $20 entry fee seemed a little steep.

Walt Disney Family Museum - San Francisco 2010 (3)

At the base of the bridge you’ll find Fort Point. It’s free to enter and a very informative museum covering the history of the fort and military, the bridge and some of the city’s history as well. Top it all off with some excellent views from the roof of the fort and it was definitely one of my favourite places.

Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco 2010 (5) Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Other areas
Castro District – Otherwise known as a the LGBT heart of the city. Having heard so much about it for years I expected something particularly wild but it felt like it was a bit gentrified. A rather relaxing and easy going spot. In many ways it was the same sort of vibe as Sydney’s Oxford Street and London’s Compton Street.

Chinatown – Some Chinatowns can be smaller than you expect (London) and others exceed expectations. San Francisco falls under the latter, with numerous shops and cultural establishments down and around a long avenue.

Chinatown - San Francisco 2010 (1)

The Haight – I think I completely missed this iconic district after getting slightly turned around at Alamo Square. It’s apparently worthwhile but I don’t know. I’m not a hippy/ flower power kind of guy. Still it’d be another reason to come back to the city.

Museums that weren’t
Cable Car – I’m not entirely sure if I’d even found the correct spot. I was basing my search on an online mapping reference without having double checked the website. Lesson learnt.

Chinese Historical Society – Prominent signage exists throughout Chinatown and the surrounds. I was quite interested in checking it out but when I reached the ‘open’ museum I couldn’t enter and there didn’t seem to be any information on how to enter or what to do.

The Chinese Museum that wasn't - San Francisco 2010 (2)

Lombard Street – It’s a twisty, twisty street. That’s about it. Still one of those things traditional tourist spots.

Lombard Street - San Francisco 2010 (1)

UN Plaza/Civic Center – San Francisco was where the UN Charter was signed so I couldn’t help but take a few moments at the UN Plaza. Although only a few moments, it felt a little seedy.

UN Plaza - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Ferry building – I came through on the weekend when it housed a farmers market on top of its regular shops. There were plenty of tourists and locals around calmly queuing for the various goodies on offer.

Coit Tower – This impressive tower stands atop a bluff looking out over the Bay. When I walked up I was too early, on a clear day it would be worthwhile to pay and take in the views from the top.

Coit Tower - San Francisco 2010 (4)

Food and drink
Mama’s – A brilliant breakfast at Washington Square. It’s popular with tourists and locals. The staff are busy but will try and help as much as possible.

Vesuvio – A number of people recommended this relaxed bar and it’s perfect for a catch up with friends (which I did with the wonderful LadyeeNerd)

Vesuvio - San Francisco 2010 (2)

Cafe Trieste – On a side street near a church this crowded cafe offers the usual assortment of coffees and snacks. Apparently it’s quite popular. The mocha was reasonable and sitting outside offered some decent people watching.

Blue Bottle – This was a late recommendation but it was a good call – thanks LaydeeNerd. The Blue Bottle was located at the Ferry Building and there was quite a queue on the weekend. While the mocha wasn’t as sweet as I’d like it was still nice and other patrons seemed happy with their brews.

Peet’s Coffee – A local coffee shop chain and it was excellent. The staff were friendly and the coffees tasty. I wish it was warmer so I could have tried their chillers as well. Oh well yet another reason to come back.

On the whole I liked the city but I don’t think I could live here. It’s not just because of all the hills but the city just seemed too quiet for me. There was a considerable lack of bustle. I’ve grown used to a certain level of activity after living in Sydney and London. Perhaps I could learn to thrive on less – but not yet.

Certainly for a holiday spot it’s great and well worth multiple visits. Often it seemed as though each corner brought out a new type of district, each with its own flavour. Hopefully next time I’ll go beyond the city core as well!

More photos at Flickr and locations at Google Maps.

Allan’s Patisserie Review

July 6, 2009 at 10:14 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, General, London, Out and About, UK | Leave a comment
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I decided to check out the newly opened Allan’s Patisserie at London Bridge after a heads up from SE1. I could have easily given it a miss.

Granted we got there towards the end of the day so it may be understandable but we found the staff abrupt and very slow to take our order from us (despite being the only people there), I ordered a panino and got a sandwich instead (if they’d run out of panini it would have been nice to be told). In the end between a hair in the bread and less than stellar tomato it was just easier to stop eating (with less than half finished).

The volume of coffee and tea was appreciated. The quality of former was ok but I still needed to add sugar to the mocha while the tea retained its teabag at the bottom.

Meanwhile the decor for the top floor was quite nice with some reasonable chairs and couches to sit in and chat with friends. If only the food was better!

Billingsgate & Smithfield Markets

April 7, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Early one morning I tried to wake up early so I could see London’s Billingsgate Market in full swing but sadly the snooze button got the better of me and I only saw the tail end.

Billingsgate is London’s fresh fish market located near Canary Wharf. It’s still run by the City of London (and as a result when you approach you’ll walk past signage indicating the political change). The market is open from 5am to 8:30am Tuesday to Saturdays. It’s a commercial space but members of the public can visit (photography isn’t permitted).

Billingsgate Market Billingsgate Market (2)

I’d envisaged a huge trade floor filled with fish of all descriptions and as I walked towards the long building I continued to believe this. Predictably this didn’t turn out to be the case. The trading booths occupy perhaps a third of the space with the rest presumably given over to storage.

When I arrived at 7:20 many of the traders were washing out their equipment but there were enough still actively trading to get a sense of the environment. I imagine if I was a foodie or a fisherman then you could spend quite some time checking out the varieties.

After Billingsgate I made my way to one of London’s other big commercial produce markets – Smithfields. I’d often walked past this literal meat market (near Farringdon) but never been able to go in due to its opening times. Luckily unemployment has a few benefits. It’s open 4:00am to 12:00 Monday to Friday. Once again this is a commercial building accessible to the public but not a tourist attraction per se.

Smithfields Market (2) Smithfields Market

The central hall runs the length of the building with traders on either side. I arrived about 9 and I assume I was already too late (despite the midday closing time) as most of the booths were deserted. Well that or they just hadn’t been set up yet – unlikely. What I did saw was a lot of red meat and I tried to imagine it multiplied by a hundred percent.

I have no idea when a good time to see the market is (possibly early?)and once again presumably only good for the foodies amongst you.

When you’re done at the market check out Smiths of Smithfield for a great breakfast!

Month Without Junk

March 12, 2008 at 1:00 pm | Posted in General, Random | Leave a comment
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For February I decided to try life without coffee and Coke. My co workers later added crisps and chocolate and this basically morphed into any and all junk food.

As someone who drinks several cups of coffee and at least one Coke a day while living off the produce found in vending machines how did things go?

Days 1 and 2: I didn’t think I could be so run down and cranky. Everyone at work is annoying me. Are they just irritating or is this a symptom of withdrawal? I’m trying desperately to supplement my lack of coffee with tea from the machine in our building. Nope. No help. I want coffee! Nope. must stick to it.

Odd. I managed that. Surprising level of commitment there.

Day 3: I just want something sweet. Like Coke. Coke would be so tasty. Mmm sugar. Swapping Coke for fruit juice and fresh fruit tubs from EAT.

I still feel fatigued but better for switching junk for good. Unless the juices are also filled with unhealthy preservatives… At least my intent is a good one.

Days 4 and 5: I need to create some energy and if I’m being healthy I should try and do as much as possible so I started checking out gyms. I finally settled on Virgin Active because it has a swimming pool. It’s been so long since I went for a swim!

I went and worked out. It was exhausting and exhilarating. Afterwards, I need to get some sleep but over the month steadily things improve and my recovery feels like it is getting better.

Day 6 and 7: My first weekend. Normally, I’d go to my local cafe. Drink coffee, read and surf the web. Again, I substituted in a non-caffeine drink. This time a banana smoothie. Over both days I ended up sleeping in a lot more without the coffee jolting me awake.

Replacing one drink with another is fine but I do miss coffee on those cold days and nights where the only substitute is tea.

While cutting tea wasn’t on my list I did try and keep it to a minimum because it obviously contains caffeine. Although if tea can create an entire ceremony there must be something to it.

Week 2:Spending more time at the gym. If I didn’t have podcasts to listen to I’d be bored so quickly. I could probably use the time more productively (given that seems to be the theme this month) and listen to some of the language lessons and perhaps get back on that goal. Although that seemed to require a bit too much mental energy when I’m desperately trying just to run. Then again, listening to Dave and Joel is a disaster as well given I can’t help laughing mid stride and getting dangerously close to falling off.

I assumed that I would save money not drinking coffee or eating junk food but this was more than offset as I was eating more frequently and the food is generally of a higher quality than 40p crisp packets.

Week 3: This week I stumble a little. One night after getting back from the gym I went straight to see Juno and by the time I got back it was too late to buy groceries so I ordered a Dominos pizza and I ate it all. Yum! Fat! 

The other thing I’ve noticed is at the bar. Again not on the list but I did want to limit my consumption plus my normal drink is a Rum and Coke so when you’re at a bar what can you order if you don’t want a mix drink or a beer? For me ordering only water is a little sad so I’d get whatever beer is on tap and nurse it.

That is unless someone buys me a drink because not accepting it would be rude, right?

Week 4: Things must be going well. I’ve received compliments this week. People say I look slimmer and healthier. I feel that way too! I wonder if it’s the combination of better food and fitness than cutting out Coke etc per se?

Week 5: I’ve now gone past the month and looking forward to the end of the week when I’m meeting some friends from overseas and heading up to Manchester. I’ve decided this will be the official end of my junk food fast.

I had beautiful Choca Mocha Glories from Coffee at Goswell, a few pizzas, wine and several other coffee and Cokes as well as chips and other junk food.

I’ve enjoyed my month off and will probably be keeping the junk food away except as a sometimes food.

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