Reviewed: Earl Grey & Rose, Streatham Hill

On our first ever walk up Leigham Court Road towards our new flat, we passed this quaint little cafe-cum-jewellery shop. The bottom of this road is a random combo of the usual shops – newsagents, barbers, charity shop and a restaurant called the Dorchester that looks like it’s in a time warp (we’re SO visiting there soon).

Earl Grey & Rose sticks out – the pale blue shop sign, windows stuffed with looks-good-enough-to-eat cakes and bakes (just as well, of course). We’ve lived in Streatham for a month and this was our first opportunity to visit.

No detail has been spared – you’ve got bunting, jam jars, rows of teapots and homemade chutney (more on that later), and a miss mash of shabby-chic tables and chairs, not to mention Radio 2 in the background (pleasingly it was Tony Blackburn’s show, which fitted the vintage feel rather nicely).

So, food. We had:

*Brie, bacon and avocado sandwich (£4.50). You could choose between white, granary and rosemary/olive oil bread, and toasted or not. We went for rosemary/olive oil, plus toasted (who can resist the melty texture of brie?).

*Ploughman’s (£7.50)  – choose between a huge variety of cheeses, then whether you want it as it is or half and half (that’d be with a helping of ham).

*Strawberry cupcake. Choose between various basic but delicious flavours, all made that day – lemon, blueberry, chocolate etc. All delicately decorated, as you’d expect…

*We washed it down with Victorian Lemonade and elderflower cordial – hardly their fault, but I always think these bottles are way too tiny for the price sold and the amount you really want. I’d finished mine before our food even arrived.

We only waited around ten mins for our orders. Everything was in huge servings, garnished with soft lettuce leaves (none of the leftover stalky stuff you’re reluctant to gnaw on), and a syrupy honey/mustard/balsamic style dressing. When we say huge, we mean it. Check out the HUGE chunks of ham!

Delicate enough to tear apart easily with a fork, there was actually another layer of the stuff underneath the lettuce, pictured. The gherkins and pickled onions were a fab traditional touch, and the homemade chutney was sweet with a pleasingly sharp aftertaste. You can buy the stuff to take home, too.

The sandwich didn’t lack any ingredient, and the bacon was also substantial and fat-free. Quite frankly, we were too full for the cupcake but we did our duty and gobbled it up. See, strawberries all the way inside too…

Our lunch came to just under £20 – we won’t need to eat until dinner now. It wasn’t as busy as the likes of Lavish Habit, which surprised us. Perhaps because it’s not quite in the hub of Streatham, we don’t know. Do make a visit though. The relaxing environment let us take a step out of our hectic lives, if only for an hour…

Enq: Earl Grey & Rose, 1 Streatleigh Parade, SW16 1EQ.

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Reviewed: Brunch at The French Cafe

That little strip on Ritherdon Road is almost like a Balham sub-culture; far enough from the centre of town to have its own core audience. On our continual quest to find our favourite brunch in Balham, SwishJunction sloped over on a very cold Saturday morning to The French Cafe.

The cafe extends quite far back but retains a cosy feel, and the decor is simple but effective. Everywhere you turn there’s an added detail, from the grand mirrors to the wooden boxes holding napkins and other kitchenware. Almost like an extension of someone’s countryside kitchen, but with posher chairs (no rickety furniture here).

One thing we noted is the adequate amount of space between tables. Cosiness is great (see Lavish Habit; you get a seat where you can but it just works) but this is the sort of place where you want to eat with just your intended company and really stretch out.

The menu is brief, sticking to one side of A4 – always a good sign in our books. A busy menu always feels a little stressful; impossible to choose from and how can you know what the real signature dish is? It was still tricky to choose, but we opted for les oeufs, French-style (well, when in Rome, or, whatever) and good old classic Benedict-style.

Ouefs Francais – that’s soft-boiled eggs on shallot potatoes, bacon lardons and hollandaise sauce – was a great mixture of salty foodstuffs. The yolk was an eye-popping orange hue and we loved the mixture of soft and crispy textures. The portion was modest but enough, although the owner of the dish admitted to food envy when eyeing up the Eggs Benedict ordered. Fat, fluffy muffins lightly toasted (hurrah, no burnt bits vaguely concealed in hollandaise sauce) topped with very crispy bacon (no chewy fatty bits here either), two springy poached eggs that popped and oozed yolk in a very satisfying fashion, mixing with the generous dollop of hollandaise.

You can see by the description our favourite dish, ironically not the French one. We eyed up the English breakfast but figured that would be a pointless exercise. However when served to our neighbours we can report that the portions are generous and they serve HASH BROWNS. Happiness.

The fresh orange juice was zingy without too much acidity and the tea perfectly lovely. Our bill came to around £26 including service; not bad for something that will keep you going until afternoon tea (well we’re only human). All in all a great mid-market option which operated a sleek service, no bustling around or chaotic environment.

 

Enq: The French Cafe, 16-18 Ritherdon Road, SW17 8QD.

Reviewed: Brunch at Lavish Habit

Every time a shop shuts in Balham we wait with baited breath for what will replace it. The replacement of M&S Simply Food and Woolworths with identikit bargain shops (don’t get us wrong, there is definitely a time and a place for them but three in one town? Bit overkill) led us to think this was a growing theme with our empty shops.

Lavish Habit combines good food and the best of shopping; a cosy, calm environment and items you instantly start mentally placing in your home. It reminds us of that old coffee shop chain that used to change its merchandise every month under a different theme. The naff navy/yellow colour way and same-old drinks menu left a lot to be desired, though.

There’s nothing uniform about Lavish Habit; the chairs are mis-matched, as are the tea cups. Every detail has been thought through but it doesn’t look too try-hard. If you’re not keen on slightly wobbly tables and having to share space with strangers, it might not be your thing. We embraced it – and even swapped newspapers with our neighbour once we were done with our Saturday morning read.

The shop:  Beyond the main room is the garden area, splashed with bold colours to perk any dreary British weather conditions, plus downstairs lies a den of vintage treats akin to rummaging through your Grandma’s loft. Products aren’t cheap; expect to pay high prices for original vintage furniture, boutique-style gifts and new clothing. However it’s a pleasure to browse through the well thought out shop and a treat to buy. We really like the cute birthday cards they sell there – understated and at competitive prices to mainstream high street shops.

The food: LH’s brunch menu is modest yet varying; whether you’re dieting or after a carb fix, there’s something for you. We opted for a cheese and ham croissant, and pancakes with honey, yogurt and berries. Together with tea and coffee cost around £12, it’s brilliant value for the healthy portion sizes – there’s no scrimping on any ingredients.

This post is a lot longer than we intended but it just goes to show how much Lavish Habit has to offer. Part of the charm is that every time we’ve visited there’s new merchandise and as well as the classic brunch dishes, there are menu changes in alignment to the seasons. Any excuse to keep going back for more…

Enq: Lavish Habit, 75 Bedford Hill, SW12 9HA.