London

+ A Guide to Angel: Interior Shops on Cross Street

Cross Street - Angel
I've lived around Angel on and off now for 4 years and I've never paid too much attention to what's on offer in Cross Street, although Get Stuffed, a quirky taxidermy shop at the junction to Essex Road, piqued my attention on many a bus journey!

Fast forward a few years to when I have a flat in need of a few home improvements, and I've lost count of the number of trips I've made to this little street. The main reason for my visits is Funktional Kitchens, the kitchen supplier we've decided to go with (due Feb 2016)! See below for a quick rundown of places worth a visit:

Funktional Kitchens - 42 Cross St

Before ending up here we had tried a couple of kitchen showrooms in Essex Road, but their designer Andrew was so warm and friendly and really helped us in his walkthrough of what each step in the process involves.

They predominantly offer German or Spanish kitchens, such as the Häcker range. I particularly love the wooden worktop range they supply from Spekva, which is what we plan to install in our kitchen.

The first step is sending a basic floorplan and some photos to Andy, who will then mockup his ideas for the space in a digital render. The tools they use allow him to make large changes (colour of units, chimney hood, switching out appliances) in a matter of seconds.

Once you're happy with this free consultation, you put down a deposit of £500 and that's when he comes to your flat to take accurate measurements of the space. You can find out more in my blog post here.

Tribe Rugs - 52 Cross St

Tribe Rugs - Cross Street, Islington, London
Ned and I had promised each other we'd hold off on too many home accessories until after the kitchen's done. But, after leaving Funktional, we took a detour to Tribe London. They source rugs from as far afield as Turkey, Iran and Nepal, and our eyes wandered to a multi-coloured Afghan rug.

After seeing us ooh and aah over it, the friendly owner said 'you can take it home and try it for free if you like?' No deposit needed - he trusted us with our name, address and phone number!

Needless to say his approach works, as days later to transferred the cost of the rug. He then popped over to our flat to supply the complimentary non-slip mat for underneath the rug.

Fired Earth - 34 Cross St

Obviously these guys are the créme de la créme of tiles, although customer service is rather lacklustre. Anyway, I'm particularly in love with their Shelter Island range and we plan to have these Harbour View herringbone marble tiles as our splashback in our new kitchen.

Tiles Etc - 4 Shillingford Street

OK, so technically it's just off of Cross Street, but it counts! Tiles Etc have stiff competition from the established and well-known Fired Earth, but their range of tiles is second to none. The range that particular caught our eye is the Italian Ca'Pietra and we've now settled on their slate Shepton flagstones.

Tiles etc. and the nearby Farrow & Ball shop (image courtesy of Google Maps)
Tiles etc. and the nearby Farrow & Ball shop (image courtesy of Google Maps)

Farrow & Ball - 38 Cross Street

Wow this place is heaving at weekends! So far we've purchased some beautiful sample colours for our living, including the exotic wildcard Brinjal and the soothing Stiffkey Blue. Staff here are super friendly, with one member of staff sharing with us a great tip of painting a large sample piece of wallpaper to trial colour. This is better than just lobbing different colour swatches on the same wall as it ensures you're not tricked by contrasts between the swatches themselves.

LivingSpace - 36 Cross Street

So our budget doesn't quite stretch to getting our house improved via these guys, but regardless we had a look around their showroom. LivingSpace UK not only supplies designer furniture (mostly from Italy) but they also manage small to full-scale interior design projects. They are my dream designers for whenever Ned and I get round to doing our bathroom!

Living Space UK - Bathroom Design featuring the Lago transparent Depth Basin
Living Space UK - Bathroom Design featuring the Lago transparent depth basin

Pret a Vivre - 69 Cross Street

This elegant showroom hosts only the very best fabrics (exclusive to them), offering custom-made blinds as well as installation for a fee. We've recently ordered some beautiful mango roman blinds for our spare bedroom as well as some wooden venetian blinds in time for our new kitchen, I cannot wait to see how they turn out!

Wooden venetian blinds from Pret a Vivre

And if that's not enough, Cross Street's neighbours Upper Street and Essex Road have SO much to offer. Except more in a future blog post!


+ NEW Escocesa Restaurant - Stoke Newington

After a lazy weekend hibernating in the warmth of our flat, we decided to go on a little jaunt to Stoke Newington. We live five minutes' walk away but this was our first visit there in months. What remains the same is the pace at which new places open up there, and the brand new Escocesa restaurant caught our eye. We knew it was new but hadn't realised it was less than a month old! Many of the staff from Escocesa  (according to this Instagram post) are from Barrafina, one of the top 100 restaurants in ALL of London. We weren't disappointed!

The interior:

Rugged with exposed brickwork and uneven plaster on the walls, the restaurant is stripped of  too much fess with exposed lightbulbs and heavy industrial pendants above a showstopping diner-style bar. From here, you can watch the chefs hard at work, or you can sit at the benches in the mid-section of the restaurant, or make your way to the dining room at the back.

Escocesa bar seating area.
Escocesa bar seating area.
Escocesa dining room at the back of the restaurant
Escocesa dining room at the back of the restaurant

The Food:

The brunch menu had an amazing selection of meat dishes, egg plates and did I mention the specials?! I hope the rib-eye with potatoes and padron peppers  is available one night soon as it seemed a tad too OTT for my Sunday brunch choice.

Weekend Brunch Menu at Escocesa, Stoke Newington (click on image to see larger, zoomable version)
Weekend Brunch Menu at Escocesa, Stoke Newington (click on image to see larger, zoomable version)

To start, we decided to share the jamon croquetas. I loved the presentation of them, resembling little lollipops thanks to the cocktail sticks, accompanied by finely sliced chives. I've tried my fair share of croquettes at Spanish restaurants and these surpassed any I've tried before!

We shared the jamon croquetas to start
Jamon croquetas
butifarra with white beans - catalan sausage
Butifarra with white beans - catalan sausage

For the main, Ned and I shared two dishes together - the butifarra with white beans and ali oli (catalan sausage), and then the revuelto de gambas (scrambled eggs with prawns).

revuelto de gambas
Revuelto de gambas on toast

Each dish was better than I could have imagined, and the staff were all really friendly and conscientious. This far surpassed Sunday brunch at other local places like The Tea Rooms. My next plan is to try out Escocesa one evening when their main menu is on offer. I'm particularly keen to try out the fried aubergine with walnuts & honey and the beetroot and smoke salt cod salad.

New Eateries on Church Street

There's an explosion of new restaurants, coffee shops and cafés on Stoke Newington Church Street, all of which I'm eager to add to my London bucket list:

Good Egg - Walking past here today, there was a queue of about 8 people waiting. Their weekend brunch menu is to die for, featuring the breakfast burrito, an Iraqi aubergine pitta and challah french toast with date syrup.

Fox & Pie - The red Fox Reformed wine bar shut down earlier this year, but walking past today I saw the Fox & Pie sign proudly up on the window. Snooping their Instagram feed it's looking like a 3rd December opening! According to The Dalstonist, "The pub and pie restaurant will be a new iteration of the Newman Arms & Pie Room in Fitzrovia".

Foxlow - We've been once in their opening month, but it was a bit chaotic (although the food was nice) so I'd love to revisit and assess them now that they've been up and running for a while.

The Teahouse Stokey - I walked past the Daniel Defoe pub today and it was covered up with scaffolding. Imagine my surprise when after a quick Google I find out that it's actually going to be a Teahouse. Thankfully, their website says that they'll offer "craft cask ales, a large selection of booze, a fantastic walled garden and some secrets we’re not telling anyone about yet"...  can't wait!


+ 10 Lessons of a First-Time Buyer

For the past five months, my boyfriend and I have been in an emotional whirlwind of failing to buy one property and (in the end successfully) purchasing another. While we had both said we wanted to buy a place together in the near future, it was my drunken clicking of the "arrange a viewing" button for a place we both loved that sped up the process slightly! Long story short, the flat we tried to buy between March-June ended up being a no-go, so I wanted to share my learnings with other first-time buyers, specifically in the bubble that is the London property market.

1) Be Head Over Heart, Not Head Over Heels

When Ned and I viewed the first flat of our dreams, where we saw warning signs we instead saw 'quirkiness' and 'character'. It was only after a supremely negative mortgage valuation and a super-expensive but thorough homebuyers' report that our cute coal vault/bedroom became quite obviously a barely legal spare storage cupboard.

We had so wanted to believe that all the little doubts in our minds were just first-time buyer nerves, but now we realize we should have thought with our heads and not our hearts. Ideally, walk around with the surveyor at the time of the homebuyers' report. This really helped to bring the report to life for us. I'd recommend choosing Gerry Brown (gb[at]consultantsurveyor.co.uk). He's pricey but we trust him 100%!

2) It's Not Over Until the Fat Lady Sings

Our estate agent emailed us saying "I am just waiting for [the seller] to confirm the date for completion. When it is, I will email both solicitors and let them know that’s the agreed completion date." This all sounded fabulous, but we didn't 100% realize what was around the corner.

The day of exchange/completion came upon us, and ONLY THEN did we find out that our solicitor's queries had been ignored and instead a proposal was put forward for an "indemnity policy"... roll on lesson #3!

3) Be Wary of Indemnity Policies

The flat we wanted to buy had works done to it that were never signed off by building control. This essentially made the second 'bedroom' invalid and brought with it the risk of the local council asking us, as the new owners, to be financially liable for either completely re-doing it and (even worse) stopping us from making any further improvements to that part of the flat. For example, even trying to apply to the council to make the room legal would have INVALIDATED our mortgage. This means we were effectively buying a 1-bedroom flat for a 2-bed price. Also, most policies only protect your mortgage lender and not you so be very careful when agreeing to one!

4) Don't Hand Your Rental Notice in UNTIL Completion

At the end of May, we had no reason to suspect that the flat purchase would hit an obstacle. Yes, the seller's solicitors were taking a frigging age to answer the pressing issues my solicitor had raised, but we thought was standard practice. We tried to create a buffer of over 3 weeks between us completing and the confirmed end of our rental contract.

This would have been great if we had completed the flat purchase. But instead, the estate agents had already found a replacement couple for our flat and so we effectively were due to be homeless. If you learn one thing from our mistakes, just cough up the extra rent and don't make yourself homeless!

5) Consider Getting a 'Mortgage Agreement in Principle'

Before we had even placed an offer, we got an "Decision in Principle" arranged over the phone for us with London & Country Mortgages. What's great about them is they offer free, impartial advice and can serve as a broker with (seemingly anyway) your best interests in mind.

Yes, the estate agent will still ask to speak to you and go through details to substantiate your offer, but having this agreement a) helps clarify what your best offer can be and b) should put you  in a stronger position if you're up against another buyer with no financial details ready to share.

6) Sign up for a 30-day free trial with Experian

I had no idea how many addresses were attached to my name until I had a free trial with Experian. It was also really useful to trawl through Money Saving Expert's website for tips on how to boost your credit rating.

7) Instant Property Alerts Are Your Best Friend

A London property can be under offer in just a couple of days, so you really need to have your wits about you when searching for prospective homes. Some estate agents deliberately withhold their listings from Zoopla and Right Move, so it's best to also sign up to the dominant agents in your area as well as the big search sites.

Other good sources of new properties are Tepilo (quality over quantity!), Prime Location and On The Market.

8) Know your LTV Ratio

A mere 1-5% difference in your loan-to-value ratio can open up vastly different interest rates from the big lenders. If you have any spare cash at your disposal (e.g. selling shares, waiting for a few more paychecks until you buy to fatten your deposit) my advice is to put as much as possible into the mortgage. Obviously, you'll need to ensure you have money left over to actually maintain your beautiful new home, but it's worth checking with the lender how even an extra £1000 deposit could change your mortgage terms.

9) Keep Your Mouth Shut

During one viewing, I was very open with the seller about our situation "oh yeah, we pulled out of our other property" and "we're just in the process of sorting out a different mortgage now based on a different deposit".... in hindsight, you should really be selective in terms of what you say to the seller as it can completely change their opinion of you. If in doubt, pipe down!

10) Be Cautious of Requests for Cold Hard Cash

We had placed an offer on a different property via Hampton's in London, and as this sale was in a chain of 4/5 other properties, they told us in no uncertain terms that we'd need to be willing to put down a £5000 payment ASAP. This was without any guarantees of getting it back should something happen outside of our control, and zero paperwork to sign. In the end, not immediately pandering to their requests cost us the flat as another couple were willing to cough up, but I'm glad we were cautious and didn't sign away a big chunk of our deposit without any guarantees.


+ From Highbury to Highgate: Parkland Walk

From Highbury to Highgate; Parkland Walk (South)

Having lived in Highbury, North London for almost a year now, I'm still astonished by how little I know about the surrounding area. As part of my quest to use my time more wisely in 2015 (less couch potato time, more time exploring), I decided to spend my Sunday afternoon walking along the southern part of Parkland Walk Local Nature Reserve, from Finsbury Park to Highgate. We live just a few minutes' walk from Finsbury Park, which is where the southern part of the walk begins (Tired of London, Tired of Life have a handy map here).

THE ROUTE

1) As we live south of the park, we took a quick detour through it, past the flying rats (aka pigeons):

2) To get to the start of the trail we headed across the Oxford Road Gate from the north-western part of Finsbury Park:

3) Turn right and you'll see a sign, with the next stops listed as Upper Tollington Park, wih the walk ending at Highgate via Crouch Hill.
Route along Parkland Walk - South

4) Along the way towards Crouch Hill, it's basically mud, mud and more mud.... and some vibrant graffiti:

Graffiti along parkland walk

5) One of the best finds along the route was the former train platforms of Crouch End railway station. While the train station building has since been demolished, it was really surreal to walk through:
Abandoned railway platforms of Courch End railway station on Parkland Walk

6) Following from this awesome find, you'll see a plaque which tells you a bit more about the history of the park itself:
History of parkland walk

Once you've completed the walk, I would formally suggest a quick drink at the Boogaloo, or if you walk up Jacksons Lane you'll get to Highgate High Street where you can pop into the Duke's Head or the Angel Inn for a well-earned lunch! We'll definitely visit Parkland Walk again in the spring, and next time aim for Alexandra Palace :)


+ Highbury Area Guide: Things to do in N5, London

It's been almost a year since we moved to the N5 area (between Highbury and Finsbury Park). In that time I've seen a few new businesses pop up and seriously think it's only a matter of time before it becomes the next up-and-coming London neighbourhood to watch.

What I love most about the area is that N5 has only a handful of chains and the majority of local businesses are one-off London gems. The N5 area is also super close to the hip and hippy Stoke Newington, and Clissold Park is just two minutes' walk away too. See below for my Highbury area guide:

Green Spaces: Within the grounds of Clissold Park is the impressive Clissold House, as well as a deer enclosure, butterfly dome (although it's currently devoid of butterflies), tennis courts, a skate park and two large lakes. Ok, it's absolutely pissing it down outside right now, but I firmly believe it's one of the best places to run in London when the sun is shining! What's also great about N5 is that you have Finsbury Park about ten minutes' walk up Blackstock Road, so there's no shortage of greenery, and absolutely no excuses for not heading out for a jog (of course, with exception of the rain)!

Brunch Heaven: Since we moved in, a couple of very on-trend cafés have opened up in the local area. On Blackstock Road is Frank's Canteen, which I've reviewed over at Yelp as well. As you can see from the photos below, the food is pretty extraordinary.

Also recently opened is the unique Fink's Salt and Sweet Deli. I walk past this place everyday and while they have a loyal lunch crowd (especially at weekends), it also welcomes a few local trendsetters in the evenings for some low-key glasses of wine.

Another fave of mine (which I don't have photos of yet) is the Blackstock Kitchen. We always go for the chicken & avocado sandwich and a tuna & sweetcorn toasted sarnie to share. Very friendly staff, a nice local feel and some space outside to enjoy the sun, whenever it comes out!

Furniture Shops: Gathering Moss is a beautifully kitted out shop featuring shelving units and bench tables made from reclaimed wood, trinkets, candles and general boho chicery. Ned and I actually found our much-loved bench table from this shop, and the shop staff actually delivered it to our flat within 30 minutes of purchasing! There's also a hidden-away furniture shop called Bennet & Brown which sells gorgeous pendant lamps, 20th-century trinkets and wooden furniture.

 Other Places to Try:

Primeur - This place was initially hard to book as you had to go in person days before you'd decided to eat there, but they now have a Twitter account to take bookings (@primeurbookings). I haven't been to this restaurant yet, but will definitely take advantage of this and book asap!

Garufa - An Argentine grill that does the best brunch, as per my Yelp review, and they've also recently started advertising Malbec Monday's where they offer all wine bottles at 50% off. I hate Mondays but love Malbec so need to give it a go.

Exeter Street Bakery - I spotted this when I walked north of Finsbury Park the other day, and the bread looks world-class!

 Cafe Vintage - The food varies in quality but even so I really appreciate having a quirky, multi-purpose business down the road. This non-chain cafe always has great seasonal window displays, nice coffee and the odd piece of clothing to buy too.

Seasons and Blossoms - Kaleidoscopic selection of organic fruit, veg and they even sell 'biodynamic' bananas! Will definitely go back again to try out their coffee.

La Fromagerie - They often have events, but of course the main draw of this place is their locally made cheese and wine selection.

For more info, you can see all my Yelp photos and reviews.