M: Why is the despair always so thick on Fridays, Emma?

E: I dunno. Because it’s supposed to feel joyful but it doesn’t? If I could be arsed I’d go and buy a cake. BUT I CAN’T

M: I want one of those Marcolini éclairs.

Eclair

E: I was thinking éclair too, but raspberry as they are closer.

M: Mouais. My feeling on éclairs is that they should be brown. Deliciously brown. Like our much beloved, much mourned cappuccino éclair.

E: On fait avec les moyens du bord.*

M: And I want that hit of salty caramel.

E: I hear you.

M: That soft creamy filling.

E: Damn you, stop making me think about it.

M: The crunch of the praline topping.

E: Bastarding Marcolini and his devil éclair.

M: And his wretched “tartine” spreadable salted caramel, with its siren song. It goes something like this:

Spreeeead me

Spreeeeead me on a hot crumpet

Tartine

E: Does Tartine have a voice like Jacques Brel? Or is it more… Axelle Red?

M: I do not know. I do not care. I am too busy stuffing it into my mouth with a spoon.

* We do what we can.

Where: Pierre Marcolini, Place du Grand Sablon in Brussels. Lots of other locations in Belgium and France, including inside the Eurostar terminal in Brussels, conveniently. Londoners, I believe you can buy Tartine at Verde & Co in Spitalfields.

I am in danger of falling in love.

It’s a strange thing, after all these years of avoiding moving to London, how swiftly I have embraced the city. Getting a job here has transformed my experience of it, and I have been swept away, grinning and willing, in the steady, oiled flow of London days, rocked by the rhythm of my daily commutes. There is a joy to being lost here, to finding small treasures in all the bustle and tourist hordes and transportation woes. I think back to the similar post I wrote, this time last year, about Singapore. I couldn’t help listing everything I hated about the place. How my life has changed, how I have changed! I come home, weary from a day at the studio and a long commute, and look forward to the next. I walk, endlessly, through forests and parks, and along the wide, placid Thames with its small shingled beaches and improbable bridges.  I watch people: shiny-eyed toffee-coloured children with hair like cotton candy, angular, dessicated women in worn ballet flats, the man in a camaieu of mustards and yellows rolling a cigarette on the tube. I smile, and I am soothed.

Each week end I try to fit in something new, but it’s hard, even in a city as rich and variegated as this, to resist the lure of routines. Here are 10 of my small London joys. Try them. Let me know if they did anything for you.

1. My bus ride through Peckham

The 363 makes its arthritic way from Crystal Palace to Elephant  Castle in just over half an hour. It is not the most picturesque of routes. It passes rows of suburban terraced houses, the grimness of Lidl, and a street called “Bird in Bush Road.” But passing through Peckham I can see rows of cassava neatly stacked, buxom African women in short skirts and elaborate hairdos, a pile of durian at the Chinese store. There’s the promising, inviting neon of Theatre Local, and when I get off the bus I’m often greeted by a fox who seems to welcome me back home.

2. Crystal Palace Park Dinosaurs

Large Victorian statues of anatomically incorrect dinosaurs. What’s not to love, really.

3. Rose and Pistachio cake

It is perfumed and nutty, gluten free, and topped with a layer of frosting like a cloud of cream. Found at the London Review Bookshop, who have great books and even better cake.

4. Urban foxes

Yes, I know, they are vermin and they root through bins and screech through the night and their shit is pungent (I should know, I unwittingly dragged some into an interview room a few days ago). But every time I see one I am transported to Le Petit Prince, and the fox who asks to be tamed.

5. Jacob’s Ladder burger

This one will need a post of its own. Succulent cow slab with roquette, a generous spread of raw stilton and mustard, served in a toasted sesame brioched bun. GOOD.

6. Sydenham Hill Forest

I am still baffled and delighted by this patch of forest outside my door step, a short 15 minute ride from Victoria station. There are fields of bluebells, twisting lanes that smell of earth and leaves and life, and escaped parokeets in the trees. On the other side lies Dulwich Park, with its outdoors exercise machines, enormously fat geese, and golden horses that canter powerfully along the dirt track. There are also children called Margo and people in those annoying reclining bikes, but you can ignore them.

7. Pain poilâne at Waitrose

This week’s grateful discovery. There’s a Ladurée and a Pierre Hermé too. Who needs Paris?

8. The morning commute

These days I get up at 6 to be in the studio by 8 am, so I can get an hour of writing done before the rambunctious crowds of animators arrive. I find, bizarrely, the hour’s commute restful. It’s a great time to write a few notes down, before my brain is completely clear of the night’s fog, or to just look out the window at the crowded, Victorian rows of Brixton, or the ungainly silhouette of the Shard. There are regulars – a thin, calm woman with a different head scarf tied around her head every day, or the small girl with corn rows with a distracted, blonde mother. I always get a seat.

9. Swing Patrol

Nothing has made me more deliriously happy than taking up swing dancing. I come home sweaty and full of love for humankind, possibly with delusions of being an extra in Swing Kids. I have step-step-kick-kicked my way through a couple of classes, trodden on feet and grimaced apologies at a social dance, and I want more, MORE. It’s like crack, innit. Happy swingy crack.

Last week we did this:

CRACK.

10. Cocktails

Well, some things never change. These guys, in a basement bar rife with girls in twee vintage clothing, make a fabulously pink lychee concoction. Just don’t go if you’re allergic to mould or new wallpaper “artfully” ripped off the walls.

What more can I add to this list?

Hand stamped vintage cutlery, perfect for the spoon thief in your life.

£7.50 from Goozeberry Hill’s etsy shop.

I also want the “Mrs and Mrs” forks and “Everything stops for tea” spoon.

 

It is not a good idea to walk into a cake shop when you are hungry, tired, and grumpy. Emma and I had walked half way round Paris secret filming for Facegoop. It was cold, it was windy, and we needed pastry.

We flopped into the empty Sadaharu Aoki eat-in shop, in the strangely desolate no man’s land of Port Royal. We smiled at the Japanese… what were they really? Waitresses? Salesladies? Fearsome cake guardians? They did not smile back. We hesitated. We looked at neat biscuits in clear cellophane wrappers. We admired the framed live moss on the walls.

Eventually the waitresses deigned to acknowledge our presence, and this was our reward: a classic millefeuille and the Cassis Chocolat, a sort of fruity opéra with a crunchy hazelnut chocolate layer.

This thing was just for kicks. I’d remember its name if it hadn’t temporarily blinded me with a pure sugar hit, but there were definitely  raspberries, wild strawberries and pistachio cream involved.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed by the cakes, which were slightly bland and no match for the exquisite box of petits fours we’d demolished sampled on another trip, but which only seems to be around for Christmas.

The boutique is still worth the détour, if only to cackle mercilessly at the neat hapless French husbands looking desperately for the signature green “masha”  pastries, a haunted expression in their eyes.

Where: 56 Boulevard Port Royal, Paris

Websitehttp://www.sadaharuaoki.com

Tip: The seasonal collections look beautiful, but the classic salted caramel tart and sesame éclair are the real winners.

It has just occurred to me, sitting here in the sweltering sweaty heat, that I am homesick. It’s not that I miss the neverending rain and dark, ominous skies, nor the steady stream of dreadful recession news and depressing statistics on unemployment. But after a year and a half of gallivanting around South East Asia, I sometimes yearn for a few moments of peace and normality.

I would like to blot out the calls of “Lady! Lady!” as I’m walking down the street, to enjoy some guilt-free shopping without wondering whether I’m supporting the right social enterprise, and a bite to eat that is not themed, “traditional”, or mock authentic.

I want, in short, to indulge in a bit of familiarity, and this is exactly what I found at Upstairs Café.

Recently opened on Wat Bo Road by a French lady, the café is a welcoming and breezy space. It’s wonderfully quiet up there, the perfect place to enjoy a coffee and the piles of Elle Deco magazines.

It’s a real shame the lunch menu was limited to only a couple of options, because my creamy carrot soup and slice of lemon cake were delicious. This is just the sort of food my Mamie would have made, if my Mamie hadn’t been a chain smoking grump holed up in the dark depths of the Ardèche.

So hey! Lady! Lady! If you’re reading this, can we have some more please?

Where: Upstairs Café, above Madame Beergarden, Wat Bo Road, Siem Reap

Website: try the Café’s Facebook page

Opening times:

Tuesday – Friday 9am-6pm

Saturday – Sunday 8am – 6pm

Closed on Monday

Tip: If the friendly waitresses tell you there’s an Apple Farm Cake in the oven, wait. It looked delicious.


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