The Peanut Vendor

In London, as the months march on and draw further away from the peak of summer, we have to enjoy whatever periods of sunshine we are given. I think we’ve been especially lucky this year in regards to weather—in my 5 (!!) years here, I can’t really remember a nicer summer. But the last week or two we’ve had premonitions of autumn: a cloudy, rainy day that makes us begrudgingly take out our umbrellas, followed by sunny days that have that particular crisp, clear tang of summer sliding into fall. Outside Euston station, the giant trees have already begun to carpet the park in various shades of rust and gold.

Forgive me if I’m pointing out the patently obvious—of course anyone else in this city is going to be heading out this weekend to enjoy the weather, as it is meant to be glorious. But I did have a particular recommendation in mind, one that had been on my radar for a few weeks that I had ignored until last weekend. I don’t want you to make the same mistake.

Victoria Park is a popular destination for East Londoners on the weekend, as is readily evidenced by the crowds of people at the boating lake and the Pavilion Cafe. I’m sure many people who visit the park think of it as the only place to stop and have an al fresco iced latte in the sun, and before this summer they would have been correct. Now, though, there’s a new option, hidden a bit further down towards the Bow end of the park: an option for those who want to avoid the throngs of people around the pavilion and enjoy their latte quietly over a copy of their favourite weekend supplement or novel.

The Peanut Vendor sits sandwiched between Old Ford Road and Hertford Union Canal, surrounded by blocks of flats that manage to feel vaguely Scandinavian despite the fact that they are in Bow. Perhaps it’s the influence of viewing them from inside the furniture store-cum-café, which would feel perfectly at home on the streets of Copenhagen or Gothenburg. Though The Peanut Vendor has existed since 2008, they have only been in this space since this year, moving from Newington Green. They specialise in vintage furniture, dotted through with modern home comforts such as Meticulous Ink notebooks, Compagnie de Provence soaps, and succulents in a variety of receptacles. If you had only seen the perfect curation of The Peanut Vendor’s homewares side of the store, you might think it obvious that they would be able to open a beautifully-designed café. But even the most gorgeous cafés aren’t worth much if they don’t have the coffee bite to back up their design bark. Thankfully, it is clear that the owners did their due diligence and research in the world of coffee.

Here you’ll find coffee provided by Alchemy—in my personal opinion, one of the best roasters in London that you might never hear about unless you live here—and some of the creamiest, most delicious milk in the entire UK from Northiam Dairy. Head barista Piotr Markowski, formerly of Prufrock, has made sure that the entire staff of baristas is well-trained: even though he was not in when I visited, I still received an excellent coffee. In addition to the coffee, The Peanut Vendor keeps standards high in offering a selection of Good & Proper teas and pastries (including that kouign amann) from Yeast Bakery. For anyone visiting around lunchtime, I would urge you to not leave before eating the kimchi grilled cheese on sourdough—one of the most perfect sandwiches I’ve ever had, absolutely bursting with strong flavours—though perhaps not paired with your coffee.

Many cafés strive for that perfect combination of quality, design, location, atmosphere, service, etc… Where they excel in some aspects, they can fall short in others, often in ways that are too glaring to overlook. When you find a café that seems to tick every box, then it’s worth shining a light on them make sure they get the attention the deserve. Luckily, my visit to The Peanut Vendor was as close to “contented weekend perfection” as I could get, and it’s close enough to be considered my local. If you’re looking for a new café in which to while away the hours, or a place to score your caffeine hit before a pleasant meander through Victoria Park, then I’d encourage you to head over to The Peanut Vendor and experience it for yourself—especially while we Londoners are still allotted our seasonable sunshine.

Birmingham Two Ways: Part 2, BLOC Hotel & York’s Bakery

If Hotel du Vin isn’t your thing, or you’d like a cheaper alternative for your stay in Birmingham, then BLOC Hotel might be the answer you’re looking for. Might. Ah, what to say about BLOC? It’s a very interesting concept: adapting ideas from the best design in hotels around the world, and distilling down into a more cost-effective option. BLOC seeks to offer pared-down chic at great prices.

When Chloe and I went to book our rooms for the SCAE superheat, it was very last minute. Checking price comparison websites for hotels in Birmingham turned up a pretty scary spread – most of the hotels were over £70 at this point, even the Travelodge. I’ve stayed in Travelodges before and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I’m not paying £70 for the “privilege”. I was pointed in the direction of BLOC Hotel and to my surprise, their rooms were much cheaper than almost anywhere else we could have stayed that didn’t look totally run down and scary, or was 30 minutes outside of town. I booked it, told Chloe our rooms were sorted, and prepared myself for 4 intense days of photos.

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Birmingham Two Ways: Part 1, Hotel du Vin

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting England’s “second city”, Birmingham, for the UK Barista Championship “superheats” (which I covered for Sprudge with Nico Halliday – read about it here, here, and here). I also had the pleasure of staying in what is possibly Birmingham’s finest hotel: Hotel du Vin. What a name – it conjures an image of luxury already, doesn’t it? The “boutique” hotel chain is anything but your average chain. Each hotel is sui generis, true to the particular history and architecture of its chosen city and location, from Grade II-listed warehouses in Bristol, to a former asylum in Edinburgh, to the former home of a shipping company in Newcastle.

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Wow, 2014. I feel like this year has really snuck up on me.

For one, I’ve been entirely too lax about posting in the last month of 2013. It wasn’t for lack of doing things – perhaps more for a lack of motivation. Once more the constant battle between balancing university life and an increasingly busy photography business tipped more in favour of university as the end of the semester drew near. When you have an essay due that’s worth 25% of your grade for a class (in two classes), everything else becomes a bit less important. Not that I’m complaining about being busy with business as well as university. I am very happy – but sometimes I worry about that fact that I have decided to pursue my business as much as a I have while still being in university. When the time is right, it’s right, though; I can’t just put a halt to things now or else I’ll have to start from scratch when I graduate, which is just not really acceptable in my mind. View Post

Snapshots of Gothenburg

After the epic Midsommar party in Alingsås and the slow, sleepy day spent cleaning up the aftermath, Jonas, Pauline, and I climbed onto the train for a short journey to Gothenburg. We arrived early in the evening on Saturday to a city eerily quiet and still, deserted for the holiday. As we walked through the empty streets, the threat of rain hanging over our heads, they pointed out their favourite places to me, painting a picture of a vibrant and busy city full of things to see and do. That night, though, I was so tired that I barely registered the shopfronts passing by outside the tram window; I climbed the myriad steps up to their flat, overlooking the city to the north, in a haze.

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Looking Back: Italy

After a 9-day journey, starting out in Oslo and then ending with a whirlwind tour through Florence and Venice, I think it’s safe to say I’m pretty beat. Early mornings, late nights, many airports, long train rides, and a slowly creeping cold have all taken their toll; but nothing could bring me down too much after the amazing things I’ve seen and experienced this trip. I’m still trying to slog through the jetlag and thousands of photos I’ve taken, propping up my tired eyelids with endless cups of coffee from Norway, trying to process it and let it all sink in. It will be a few days yet before I am all caught up with everything and can properly devote time to writing about my experiences and share bunches of photos with you. I do want to share just a few, though, as a sort of a preview, and as a way for myself to take a small break from the “work” side of things for my own sanity. View Post

Nordic Barista Cup 2013: The Beginning

Yesterday marked the beginning of one of the top coffee conferences in the world – the Nordic Barista Cup. If you haven’t made it down, don’t worry – here are a few pictures and links to help keep you up to date on the proceedings.

This year’s event is being held in Oslo, the third time the city has hosted the event. The focus country for this year is Brazil; this means that the coffees being used are all Brazilian and the focus charity is in Brazil.

First of all, you need to meet the teams who are competing this year. Each team comprises three baristas from the country, as well as a Brazilian barista. View Post

Travel Sneak Peek: Oslo, Florence, and Venice

I’ve been pretty excited about September for a while, and now that it’s finally here I can barely contain myself. I always get the pre-travel jitters, a feeling of giddiness mixed with nervousness and sudden panics when you think you’ve forgotten to pack something. I always feel keyed up the last 48 hours before a trip, especially because I usually wait that long to begin planning what I pack, much less actually doing the packing. But for this trip, it’s my usual nerves and excitement times a hundred. Why?

Well, by the end of next week, I’ll have gone back to Oslo, which is a wonderful city; I’ll also have traveled to one new country and two new cities, because right after Oslo I’m heading to Florence and Venice. That’s the excitement part of it. The nervousness comes in because these trips are not exactly for pleasure – they’re my first international jobs as a freelance photographer. The pressure is immense, and no matter how many times I assure myself that I’ll be able to handle it, I still fly into a panic every so often.

This post is something a bit different from what I’ve done before on my blog, but hopefully one I’ll get a chance to do more often if I get more chances to travel like this. View Post

A Midsommar Night’s Dream

On the second longest day of the year, I was wide awake at 4:30 am, thinking I had missed my alarm.  Just a few short hours after the sun disappeared, it returned; light was already filtering in through the high windows to spread a gray glow throughout the room. After languishing a while longer beneath the warm duvet, I blinked the sleep away from my eyes and dragged myself out of bed. There was no time to waste, as today was to be my first Swedish midsommar celebration.

Despite the early hour, the train station buzzed with activity. It seemed that I wasn’t the only person doing my holiday travels on the day of the celebration.  With a farewell to my lovely hosts from Malmö, I hopped onboard the roomy SJ train, which smelled oddly of sea water, and settled in for the long, roundabout journey to Alingsås. Because I booked my train sista minuten (“last minute”) that morning, I would be taking a journey northeast to the interior of Sweden and then back west towards the coast to my destination. The train line I took encompassed such tongue-twisting Swedish names as Falköping (“fall-show-ping”), Jönköping (“yawn-show-ping”), the bewildering Nässjö (the “sj” somehow turns into a “hw”), and Skövde (wait for it… “hove-duh”). But despite my bemusement at the town names, I spent most of my journey staring out of the window and listening to music. Sweden is the perfect place to travel by train – no books or distractions are needed.

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