Eating and drinking, London, Things to do now

Gelupo: London’s new favourite gelateria

It used to be London’s best-kept secret, but this week, Gelupo – Soho’s celebrated ice-cream parlour – has burst out into the open. Formerly, only the initiated knew of Jacob Kenedy’s gelateria discreetly hidden away in Archer Street. But now that the flagship has opened at Cambridge Circus – where Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue intersect – there’ll be no escaping the sweet temptation.

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The secret’s out: Gelupo now occupies a prime location

It’s gelato in the best Italian tradition – authentic, well-made, and laudably free from American-style gimmickry: all you get is straight-up, honest flavours. The chocolate sorbet is so wonderfully soft you want to bathe in it; blood orange has an exciting zest perfect for a hot summer afternoon, and in a nod to English palates, kiwi, elderflower and gin has a gentle zing.

Jacob Kenedy and his business partner Victor Hugo have great plans

Jacob Kenedy and his business partner Victor Hugo have great plans

Combining such culinary mastery with a prime location – who doesn’t pass this junction on their Soho sorties? – Gelupo Cambridge Circus is bound to become a favourite London hangout. And there’s more to come: Kenedy and his business partner Hugo are about to open a brand-new street food restaurant on the same site. It’s a welcome antidote to the new McDonald’s just across the road.

Cliché has it that Soho is losing its soul and falling victim to global forces. That this location has gone to two local lads should give us cause for joy.

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Eating and drinking, In the shops, travel

Little Five Points: Atlanta’s alternative vibe

It’s always a good idea to ask a local where to go – especially if they’re as friendly as DJ, who has come all the way from LA to “Transplanta” in order to study medicine. We were working out in Piedmont Park and had started chatting.

“Go to Li’l Five Points”, he said while doing pull-ups with no shirt on.

“It’s kinda a cool place with lots of bars, shops and hipsters.” I don’t know why, but I instinctively trusted him.

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When I ran this past my airbnb host, who studies Management Science or something similarly clued up, he seemed hesitant. “It’s the sort of places where people wear no deodorant”, he cautioned me.

“But if you want a good burger, you should try The Vortex.”

The same night, I was ubering over. With still an hour or two to go until sunset, the light had started to mellow, bathing everything in a gentle glow. There’s nothing gentle about the Vortex though. Everything about it is in yer face; the entrance is a massive skull. Walking into the dim bar, I made out all kinds of bric-a-brac – street signs, shark heads, motorbikes and skulls – which gave the place some atmosphere and made me feel quite daring and rebellious. I got myself a table on the first floor verandah and opted for the Ragin’ Cajun burger, slightly worried by the menu, which has been written by a ginormous cock:

“Topped with our zesty Cajun sauce and pepper jack cheese. If you show your titties when it comes to the table, you’ll feel just like you’re in N’awlins.”

Still, when my charming and refreshingly unpretentious waitress brought my food, it was truly scrumptious. Note to management: tone down your menu and let the burger do the talking.

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As I was munching on my delectable chow, I mused how right DJ had been. Little Five Points is shopping heaven. For shoes, there’s Wish right across from the Vortex – sadly already closed by the time I had finished my meal. If rummaging in piles of vintage clothes is your thing, try the Clothing Warehouse, the Junkman’s Daughter, Psycho Sisters or my favourite, Ragorama. On its huge shopfloor, there’s an endless supply of cool stuff to browse: vintage tees, unusual jeans, trendy jackets and all manner of jewellery and accessories. I picked up two pairs of jeans at ten bucks apiece (one a light petrol blue I’ve never seen before), a pair of very stylish shades (just a tenner) and a handful of T-shirts at $3.99 each.

Vinyl lovers will feel right at home at Criminal Records and Wax ‘n’ Facts, which has been going since 1976. And finally, if you want some body art, the Southern Star (“Atlanta’s Newest and Finest Tattoo Shop”) looks impressive – as does decorative glass emporium Crystal Blue.
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With my new purchases crammed into my backpack, I skated up and down the street for a bit, checking out the vibe. My host and even the Vortex waitress had warned me to be cautious; there were “bums panhandling”, she said. Worried about my laptop, I was, perhaps, hyper-vigilant and not very approachable. Later I thought how well-mannered the area really was. Maybe Americans are easily scared, driving around, as they do, in air-conditioned cars from point to point. Or maybe I just missed a robbery at gunpoint by five minutes.

I finished up the night with a Zesto’s artificial ice cream, sterilised with atomic rays. While waiting for the gooey cone, a local favelado came in wearing  indoor sandals on his feet and a girl on his arm. Soon the nuzzling started.

Outside was parked a white convertible the size of a small yacht – a 1970s Eldorado. The owner was a dude in his forties with a small Black Power fist in his fro. Still, he didn’t mind me taking his picture. I left at midnight, determined to come back another time, when all the shops are open.

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Eating and drinking, Leisure pursuits, Skateboarding, travel

Forget what you thought you knew about Atlanta (and take a walk in the park)

It seems like everyone passes through Atlanta, the hub of the south, but almost no-one seems to spend any length of time there, or explore the city beyond the confines of its downtown business district. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given that all Google throws up when you do an image search are depictions of a skyline that could be anywhere in the world. At Stanford’s, London’s largest travel bookshop, I could only find one travel guide on Atlanta, from the soulless, ever-so-earnest Wallpaper series. (It had one good listing in it – the rest of the booklet devoted itself to staircases of note, and wanky boutique hotels). As a result, I expected a soulless, corporate centre (Coca-Cola, CNN) set in a sprawling sea of projects (which I imagined all that hip hop ATL is so famous for must be coming from).

Wear a funny hat and I am yours

Wear a funny hat and I am yours

I was proved wrong. Yes, Atlanta has a concrety, skyscapery city centre, and yes, there are only a tiny handful of historic buildings left downtown, such as the Georgia State Capitol and the Tabernacle concert hall. But outside this relatively small core – think Croydon or Frankfurt minus pedestrians – is a lush, verdant city consisting of quiet, well-kept streets which are made up of wooden houses and brownstones. Almost all of Atlanta’s cityscape is low rise and human in scale, making it a joy to explore on foot (a pursuit which will immediately mark you at as European or very odd, or probably both.)

Big botany

Atlanta is so green, it has a tree coverage of 53.9 per cent, ranking first of all major cities in the US. And they don’t just have any trees: gorgeous pink crate myrtles are in bloom everywhere, accentuated by white magnolias and – if you look closely enough – peach trees (a fruit Georgians are famously dotty about). And the people? Well, they say Southerners are hospitable and Atlantans certainly live up to that label. Here, people make time to talk – but crucially, they also get things done. Visit any café or restaurant and you’ll find that staff have found the sweet spot between easy-going small talk and American-style speed and efficiency. So here are a few highlights of the city.

Don't miss Piedmont Park

Don’t miss Piedmont Park

Leaving the tourist attractions of The World of Coca-Cola, CNN and the Georgia Aquarium (which everyone raves about) for later, take a breather first and acclimatise to the city in the serenity of Midtown’s Piedmont Park. Gleaming in the distance, you’ll see the tall buildings of the business district, together with the W Hotel, while all around you there is beauty on display. The sophisticated landscaping – based on the Olmsted Brothers’ 1912 design – creates a huge variety of vistas, uses, activities and people.

Take the time to explore and there are surprising features everywhere. At the park’s centre is a lake, almost hidden away by the surrounding trees. There are swings to relax in and a small path leads across the water to the swimming pool. Before you get there, you’ll pass a gazebo inviting you to stop awhile and take in the view. The running track, basketball and tennis court attracts some astonishingly handsome locals who casually display their perfect physiques. On Sundays, the picnic stands play host to cookout parties, blasting R&B and hip hop out into the park. And in the back, there’s a vast expanse of mud for dogs both big and small to play in, which keeps the belabelled lifestyle gays who own them away from the cruising ground (legal waiver: there isn’t one). Best of all, if you’re into longboarding, you’ll have hours of fun on the park’s slopes and inclines, with just enough people to make slaloming around them a little bit of fun.

The Piedmont Park area is a tad gay, actually

The Piedmont Park area is a tad gay, actually

The truth about grits

If you’ve had enough or your tummy rumbles, there are a number of great cafés and restaurants nearby: Willy’s and Zocalo’s serve Mexican, and The Flying Biscuit is so renowned for its breakfast people stand in line on Sundays. Do not miss but never, ever order grits by themselves – add shrimps or frankly, anything at all to this tasteless pap. I thought my tongue was malfunctioning but in reality, I just didn’t know that this quintessential southern favourite has the consistency of glue (sadly lacking its taste). And another word of warning – your Biscuit may be airborne at this restaurant, but your wifi will stay grounded. To go online, y’all cross the road and hook yourself up for free at the Caribou coffee shop on the corner of 10th St and Piedmont Ave.

By the way, did I mention that this is the heart of Atlanta’s premier gaybourhood? Just in case the massive rainbow flag flying from Zocalo’s didn’t give the game away….

Stay tuned for more of Hotlanta’s delights in the next post!

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Eating and drinking

Hot soup, ca 1965, in Marylebone

51st Parallel applauds Paul Rothe & Son, purveyors of hot soup, jams and marmalades and gingerbread hearts. Since the mid-sixties, the place hasn’t changed a bit. Enter the shop to be served by the friendly and attentive family dressed in white coats just like the good old days. The food is unfussy and tasty; that it is brought to your table is an added major bonus.

In a world dominated by the scripted interactions and mass-produced wares of Pret-a-Manger, here’s the real thing, still going strong.

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Eating and drinking

Speakeasy glamour comes to Soho

One of the venues on my list to visit is Bob Bob Ricard between Soho and Carnaby Street. With all the 1920’s glamour of Boardwalk Empire’s Atlantic City, the restaurant serves an English and Russian menu, making it the ideal place to go for a bit of oligarch-watching, or pay homage to Nucky Thompson.

Roederer Cristal, the perfect way to celebrate a felony

Roederer Cristal, the perfect way to celebrate a felony

Booking is mandatory and prices range from a piffling £6.50 for a 125ml glass of house wine to £1,929 for the 1948 Château d’Yqem. The booths evoke a compartment on the Orient Express, the sort of train an ailing Russian princess might have taken to her lung sanitarium in Davos. And there’s no more need to beseech the waiter to notice your raised hand: buzz the in-built “champagne” button and the bubbly, which starts at £13.75 per glass, will appear.

To line the stomach, there are oysters and caviar on the menu (starting at £10 and £29 respectively), as well as Venison Steak Tartare Imperial (£38.50). Then there is a Venison Cheeseburger at a very reasonable £16.75. The polonium will be complimentary.

It all sounds like terrific fun, even though the journey back on the Northern Line will come as a letdown.

Opulent reception: the decadence starts here

Opulent reception: the decadence starts here

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Eating and drinking

A taste of Alsace in Warren Street

Finally, a German bakery in the West End. It has always been a mystery why certain simple pleasures, such as a salami sandwich with gherkins, are so damned hard to find in this city. Does anyone remember just how difficult it used to be to get a simple loaf of crusty bread? I used to walk up and down New Cross Gate like a desperate hooker looking for a trick before closing time only to find the sort of mushy toast I wouldn’t even stuff my mattress with. Now, thankfully, baguettes are everywhere. Let us never take for granted the civilising effect of European cuisine on this once barren land.

So far, Kamps bakery only have three branches – I visited the one at 154/155 Tottenham Court Road. But you have to start somewhere, just look at Aldi and Lidl now. The kicker is the Alsatian tarte flambée, or Flammkuchen. This is a delicious ultra-thin, crusty pie covered with sour cream and garnished with stripes of bacon and chives. Baked to order, it’s a true delight, and at £3.50, good value too.

Amid the rain-sodden gloom of TCR, the Flammkuchen is a ray of light. Guten Appetit!

 

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