Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Lantana is on Holiday

Reopening 8am Monday 5 January

Until then, be nice to your family, remember to hydrate and make a resolution to have lots of good food and coffee at Lantana in 2009.
I was going to post a photo of this sign I put on the door of Lantana tonight but as I went to take the photo my camera said "change battery pack" so I tried to take one with my phone but it said "memory card full".

Yes indeed.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

This customer is a cut above

Since opening our doors three months ago, Lantana has built up a small band of regulars who incorporate us into their daily routine.

One of these regulars is Steven, an Australian hairdresser from Sydney who is the manager of a hairdressing salon around the corner from Lantana which, I was delighted to discover, is called Clipso; upholding the great tradition of bad punnery which hairdressing salons (and bloggers) are renowned for.

Steven comes in on his way to work each day for a takeaway flat white and a porridge topped with toasted muesli, maple syrup and hot milk.

If he can manage to get away from the salon during the day, he returns to feed his three coffee a day habit and usually polishes off a friand or piece of banana bread as he stands chatting to us at the counter.

I didn’t realise until recently that its actually Steven I have to thank for finding the site for Lantana on Charlotte Place. Steven has lived in London for 7 years and, like many Australians, lamented the scarcity of good coffee and cafes. He says he used to walk down Charlotte Place on his way to work and "visualise a cool, quirky Australian type café” which served great food and not “shitty toasted sandwiches”. Voila! Lantana opened. That is some powerful positive visualisation.

Steven, you'll always have a special place in our heart at Lantana - a friand in need is a friand indeed.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Not blagging, baking. Honest gov’nor.

The other night I had a dream that two uniformed policemen came to the café to question me about my blag. "Do you mean my blog", I asked? "No, it’s your blag we are interested in. We’ve heard from various sources that you’re a blagger".

I kept insisting that I have been blogging, not blagging, but they wouldn’t believe me and as they threatened to close down the café I awoke in a sweat. True story. What is my subconscious trying to tell me?

This week there is to be no blagging, barely any blogging, just a bit of baking: a less offensive use of hot air.

Orange and Cranberry Torte (serves 10)
From the December 2008 issue of delicious. (Thanks for the magazine freebies and this damn fine recipe which is definitely going to become part of my repetoire).

350g ground almonds
350g castor sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
3 teaspoons baking powder
8 large free range eggs lightly beaten
400ml sunflower oil
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 2 oranges
200g dried cranberries
3 cloves

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C

In a bowl, combine ground almonds, 300g of castor sugar, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and the baking powder. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs and oil. Mix together then add the dried cranberries and zest. Combine.

Pour into greased and lined springform cake tin and bake for 50 minutes to an hour- until skewer comes out clean.

Meanwhile gently heat the citrus juices in a pan with the remaining 50g sugar, cloves and remaining cinnamon until sugar dissolves. Increase heat an simmer for 3 minutes.
Remove cake from oven an pierce a few times with a skewer. Drizzle cake with the syrup and leave for an hour to soak in. Transfer cake to wire rack and decorate with extra cranberries.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

I have a dream

"Australian proprietress Shelagh Ryan is determined to make London a better place by serving quality, no-nonsense food and proper coffees to the people.”

Well its not world peace, but it’s something. This week Lantana was featured in Timeout as one of the best places in London for coffee, thanks, in part, to the ‘coffee super-couple’ of Monmouth coffee and our La Marzocco espresso machine.

But while ‘LaMouth’ receive most of the attention and the accolades, they would be nothing without their team of personal assistants, otherwise known as baristas: Rachel Mary, Geoff, and Kirbie (who is currently on tour).

The barista supercouple; RM and Geoff.

RM throwing some shapes on the coffee machine...and on the coffee.

I am honoured that Lantana has been recognised for its good deeds towards coffee; helping to make the world a safer place for coffee drinkers.

According to RM and Geoff, the top five crimes against coffee committed throughout the developed world are: screaming milk, syrups, bucket cups, mugachinos and towers of froth.

And crimes against baristas? RM cited a customer who ordered a half caf / half decaf semi skim cap with soy froth. Thankfully not a Lantana customer.

Geoff, RM and Kirbie, thankyou for ensuring that I never have to go far for a fantastic coffee.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

T is for team

It has been nine weeks since opening and having received some really positive reviews, especially about the food, I have a humbling admission to make to myself. There is no ‘I’ in LanTana.

While I may be the chirpy proprietor steering the ship, below deck there is a formidable team beavering away in the kitchen and propelling us forward.

All of the awesome food we serve at our stunning café, from the properly scrambled eggs, the super salads and sunny breakfasts offerings, to the irresistible home baking is made at Lantana by a small dedicated team who arrive in the dark early hours of the morning and leave in the dark hours of the late afternoon, rarely surfacing from the basement kitchen to see daylight.

There’s Lisa, our calm, unflappable head chef from Newcastle Australia who handles a squeeze bottle like a sheriff handles a pistol;

Pete, our sous chef, who left the poorly paid, shallow world of advertising to pursue a more glamorous life as a chef, knowing he looked his best in white;

Slimane, our multilingual French Moroccan kitchen assistant who never loses his cool or his sense of humour, no matter how high the dirty dishes stack;

and Becky our part time chef, who is to vegetables what Gok Wan is to women- the makeover queen.
They spend their days sating the appetites of people they don’t know and rarely even see, so if they could have any meal prepared for them, what would it be and who would they want it prepared by?

For Lisa it’s a Lebanese feast with homemade chapattis, tabouleh, hummus and kibbeh made by her flatmate Candy. Pete requested roast swan or peacock prepared (posthumously) by Auguste Escoffier the grand-pere of French cuisine. Slimane misses the cous cous that only his mother can make, and Becky wants to re-experience the 14 course vegetarian dinner she had in a 12 seater restaurant in Japan, made by a chef called Mr Michi.

For me, it would be roast chicken made by my dad....but this is not about me.

Lisa, Pete, Becky and Slimane, thank you - from the bottom of my stomach.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Everybody loves Lucy

When Lantana was still a building site and I was surrounded by debris, dust and builders I would often look up to see a curious pair of eyes peering through the glass front door. That was how I met Lucy, oldest resident, matriarch and unofficial Mayor of Charlotte Place.

Lucy and her husband Dave moved into their small first floor flat above what is now Lantana in 1950 when rent was 7 shillings and sixpence.

I imagine it was a very different looking street in the 1950s than it is today.

Dave was the morning postman for 34 years, starting on a wage of £5 a week, and together they raised four children with no bathroom and only one bedroom to share between the six of them. Their children and grandchildren have now scattered across the globe to New Zealand, Sweden, Australia and Switzerland but Dave and Lucy have always been happy in Charlotte Place and say they will never leave, despite still having to walk down the street to a neighbour's to have a shower.

True to her Irish roots, Lucy is utterly charming and has the gift of the gab. I used to look forward to her daily visits when she would tell me about the various residents and businesses in Charlotte Place and see how our building works were progressing. Lucy’s oft repeated phrase, which did little to assuage my own concerns was, ‘You’re spending a lot of money dear, I do hope you do well’.

Everyone in the neighbourhood knows and loves Lucy. At lunch time she can be seen taking a stroll along the street, chatting to her subjects, receiving kisses and settling any disputes.

When one of the neighbours stopped to complain about my sign being too far out on the pavement, Lucy had a quiet word to her and the woman was on her way.

Once we were up and running I managed to convince Lucy to take me up on my offer of afternoon tea at Lantana. She came with Veronica, who has also lived in Charlotte Place for over 30 years, and after dismissing my suggestion of tea, ordered lattes and tried our banana bread which Lucy had never heard of ; “I’m a daft ol buggar”.

They were soon chatting to customers at the tables either side and told them that they were going to try to find me a husband- one with some money as "You don't want a husband with empty pockets".

I think Lucy’s a lucky ol buggar to be so well loved and content at the age of 84.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Today we're feeling...

Last week I had a phone call from the marketing department of Timeout Magazine to tell me the exciting news that Lantana is to be included in their Cheap Eats Special.

First thing on Wednesday morning I was at the newsagent to pick up a copy of Timeout, eager to read what they had written about the cafe.

While I don’t want to sound ungrateful for any free publicity, I admit, my brow did furrow and heart sank a little when I read the opening sentence: "This new Antipodean-style eatery is run by chirpy proprietor Shelagh Ryan."

Chirpy? Clowns are chirpy. Couldn’t I have been described as charming, charismatic or even good humoured? Chirpy just sounds annoying.

I thought I may have misunderstood the meaning so I looked up the definition of ‘chirpy’ and my heart sank further as I read some of the useage examples.
"He's driving me mad, he's so chirpy and chatty I want to kill him".

"Reese Witherspoon came on set about noon and seemed chirpy".
Suspicions confirmed. Chirpy people are annoying.

So if I seem a little mysterious and aloof when you next come to Lantana, don’t take it personally, I’m hoping its not too late to re-invent myself.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Soup cup alley

In an effort to let people know that we are not just an eat-in cafe but also do takeaway food and coffee I came up with the ingenious plan of setting up a soup urn with sandwiches and tarts on the outside table at lunchtime. The day before I planned to start the outside sales, I discovered that the butcher shop next door had the same bright idea and had also set up a soup urn in front of their shop.

I consulted with Simon, one of the owners of Blackfoot Butchers, and we agreed that this alley was big enough for two soup urns and that together we could make soup in Charlotte Place what music is to Tin Pan Alley.

Feeling slightly like amateurs trying to sell lemonade, Ulrika waits patiently for the punters to start queuing...

which the English are famed for.

Unfortunately this queue is for the burrito shop opposite us and our queue was a little more modest,

but appreciated.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Americans get the vote

On Wednesday the 5th of November we will wake to news of the American election results. Whatever your nationality or political affiliation, it has been hard not to become engaged in what has become one of the more compelling US soap operas with guest stars such as Bristol Palin and Joe the Plumber stealing the show.

My involvement has been largely through watching The Daily Show which, I suspect, has given me a slightly skewed perspective on the presidential candidates.

Whoever the American people choose as our President of the United States, Lantana will be celebrating the end of one of the longest running election campaigns with a £12 breakfast special for both the winners:

Prosseco with ricotta pancakes, crispy bacon and maple syrup

and the losers;

Bloody Mary with ricotta pancakes, crispy bacon and maple syrup

(Vegetarians can have poached fruit with their pancakes but that would be very unAmerican).

Come and join us.
"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter". Winston Churchill.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The city that sleeps

For a city as crowded, fast-paced and intense as London, early mornings are almost eerily quiet and still.

I love being up at this time of the day, cycling to the café along near empty streets, hearing sounds other than sirens and buses, watching the city slowly come to life as it prepares for the thousands of workers, shoppers and tourists who pour into it each day.

The most glorious morning is Sunday - when the city wakes without me.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

God's waiting room

Last Monday one of our regulars came in for a late breakfast. “How is your day going?” I asked. “Well I’ve just been reading your latest rant about British food on your blog. Seems I’m to blame.”

Oops. If this Australian has offended it is without malice or intent. As Russell Davies so politely put it, I’m simply trying to understand “Britain's peculiar food culture”.

I have discovered that British peculiarities can also be lovely.

For the last few months I have been cycling past a curious green hut in the middle of Kensington Park Road in West London.

I could never work out what it was but assumed it was some sort of council shed used to store street cleaning equipment and road signs. It was when I was watching Marco Pierre White’s Great British Feast that I learned that it is in fact a café for cab drivers called a Cabman’s Shelter.

These huts were built in the 1800s with funding from philanthropists to enable cab drivers to park their cabs on the public highway and have a hot meal and a cup of tea without having to pay for parking or for someone to watch their cab. 13 of the 61 built are still operating as cafes but getting to see one in operation is no easy feat, especially if you are not a cab driver and therefore don’t have The Knowledge which presumably includes the locations and opening hours of these exclusive members’ clubs.

I am too early on my way to work, and there are no signs of life on my way home.

I asked one of the locals walking her dog one night whether she knew when I could find it open. “Sorry, I’m not a cab driver”. So next time I was in a cab I asked the driver but he said he didn't know anything about them either.

"I never go there. It’s really just for the old guys.”

"How do you manage to grab a meal while you are on duty?"

"I eat at The Wolseley. There’s a cab rank right outside".

Finally I got my timing right when I managed to get away from the café just before lunchtime and was allowed a glimpse into the secret world of the cabman’s shelter on Russell Square .

What I saw was one of the finest displays of camaraderie around a shared table that I have seen.

8 cab drivers squeezed along narrow benches talking about the football, having a meal and a cup of tea and a rest from the chaos of London traffic. I got the impression that this was the highlight of their day - a ritual they have been following for years with familiar faces coming and going.

A sign that was erected after a period when the drivers were "dropping like flies".

Maureen, who has been cooking meals for the drivers in the tiny galley kitchen for 32 years, tells me that most of them order a fry up which costs £4.25 and comes with a cup of tea and two slices of white bread.

They were interested to hear about my café but when I told them that poached eggs on toast cost £5 they roared with laughter. “Time for prices to go up boys!” Maureen shouted.

I made a quick exit before I was lynched.