Thursday 30 October 2008

Feast your eyes: Laban cafe

A cold but sunny midweek lunchtime offered the perfect excuse to stroll over to the Laban Centre and have lunch at 'Feast your eyes', the cafe in the front of the building.

Apart from the banner on the front gate of the building, this cafe is not really very well advertised, and even when you get to the front door of the Laban Centre, you could be forgiven for thinking the cafe is just for students and staff of the centre. But if you persevere past the security desk and halfway down the corridor on the right, you find the door into the light and airy space with huge glass walls that forms the cafe seating area.

The menu is fairly similar to that in the Albany Cafe (so much so that I wonder if they are run by the same company) - in that there is always a soup of the day, a range of sandwiches, and a choice of two or three mains, at least one of them veggie, and a range of salads that also change daily.

Yesterday's soup, for example, was Spanish lentil, and the choice of mains was pasta with mushrooms, lemon and caper chicken, or three-bean enchillada, which was my choice. It was a huge wrap containing a tomato sauce with chick peas, kidney beans and rice (and presumably some other bean but it didn't stay on the plate long enough for me to find out) and smothered with a delicious cheesy sauce. It came with mixed leaves in a very tasty lemon and mustard dressing and cost just under a fiver (there are discounts for staff and students).

They also have a great range of drinks, including various organic juices (I had pear) and because they are served by the glass rather than in individual bottles, they are very reasonably priced. I haven't tried the cakes or biscuits, but they look quite tasty if you have room, and of course there are hot drinks, including a wide range of different types of tea.

I particularly like the fact that they do their best to discourage waste, charging for disposable cups or takeaway boxes (which makes me wonder - do students bring their own thermos cups or plastic boxes?! I can't imagine it happening somehow..!)

It's not usually a problem finding a seat in the large, airy room which has plenty of stylish white chairs and tables where you can sit and look through the glass cladding to the Quaggy, or to the landscaped grounds outside. It's a well-used facility, you will usually be sharing with groups of dance students or staff from the centre, and it gives the place a very pleasant buzz. My one slight criticism would be that whoever chose the chairs was thinking about them very much as a style statement, not in terms of practicality - they have those 'bucket' type seats, which means they cannot be pushed under the table out of the way when they are not being used, and you are limited as to how close you can sit to your food. This can be an important consideration if you are as clumsy as me!

The other thing that's slightly irksome is the fact that it's not totally clear which of the staff do what, and the cashier often ends up adding salad to plates, or fetching drinks for people. This isn't great if you are waiting to pay and your hot food is going cold.

All in all, though, worth walking a little bit further for (and hey, it's a nice walk anyway!). The food is excellent and the dining experience much more pleasant than the gloominess of the Albany's main room, or the back of the Bear Cafe.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Wavelengths pool opening hours and customer forum

If you have read my previous posts about Deptford's lovely new swimming pool, you will know that I am very happy with nearly all aspects of the facility - except for the opening hours.

Like the majority of the city's working population, my employment is based in central London and my work starts at 9am, which means leaving home at 8am at the very latest. I like to exercise before going to work, but having a swimming pool that doesn't open until 8am is of very little use to me. I only get to use it on my occasional days working at home (a luxury most people do not enjoy), or at the weekends. At least once a week I cycle to the Arches leisure centre in Greenwich, where the pool opens at 6.30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 7am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Believe me, the pool can be very busy at that time in the morning.

When Parkwood Leisure carried out its consultation about the new pool at Wavelengths, I encouraged people to fill in the survey and ask for earlier opening hours. Whether no-one bothered, or whether Parkwood Leisure ignored the feedback (or whether people simply didn't even know about the consultation - several regular users have told me this) I don't know, but when the new pool opened for business, it was with the old opening hours. Without exception, everyone I have spoken to on my occasional visits to the new pool wants the hours extended so that they can swim more frequently.

On my first visit, I filled in a customer comment card and asked about earlier opening hours. I am pleased to see that the management has given a response to this request via its noticeboard just inside the entrance. Apparently they are consulting with Lewisham Council about the viability of earlier opening hours and will report back with any news in due course.

Meanwhile, they are also advertising a customer forum for THURSDAY 11 DECEMBER which will be held at the leisure centre from 6pm onwards.

Please, please, please if you are at all interested in this issue, or of course if you have any other comments or feedback about the leisure centre, put this date in your diary and make sure your voice gets heard. I am convinced that if there is enough pressure for a change in hours, it will be difficult for the management to ignore.

If you can't make it on that date, please fill in a feedback form and put it in the box at the leisure centre (you will have to write your comments on the bottom of the form, there is no question about opening hours, they just want to know if you think the place is clean (yes) and the staff helpful (yes, very - sometimes despite difficult circumstances!).

I will try to find out more about who will be at the forum, how long it will go on for (let's face it, 6pm is just as impossible for central London employees as 8am!) and what format it will take, and will report back with any news.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Albany Cafe

Not the lamb curry; potato & sweetcorn fritters from a couple of months back (forgot my camera today)

Behind an unprepossessing facade lies one of Deptford's best kept secrets - the Albany Cafe. From the busy market square outside there is very little to indicate the presence of an ace caff tucked away behind that rather ugly brick front. I've often thought they should consider putting a board out listing their daily specials, in order to tempt more punters in, but perhaps they don't need to.
Not that it was particularly busy when I went there today for my lunch, happy to take advantage of the autumn sunshine in the lovely garden behind the cafe.

What I like best about this place is that every time I go, the menu is different. They seem to change the menu daily - cooking just enough for that day so that if you are a bit late for lunch and something is popular, it will have sold out. Hence the food is fresh, and the options are varied, which is so important to get your customers to return regularly.

There is always a hot vegetarian dish, and usually one or two meaty dishes - today was a choice of lamb curry with rice, or honey & lime glazed chicken, or a roasted vegetable bolognese with spaghetti. There is always a homemade soup choice - chick pea today - and they also had some snacks on offer today, which were fishy or veggie fritters with sweet chilli sauce.

There are sandwiches, jacket potatoes and a range of homemade cakes as well as ice-creams, and the usual selection of hot and cold drinks, bottled beers, crisps and so on.

The portions are generous and the prices are very reasonable. Today I had a large plate of lamb curry with rice and salad, and a glass of orange juice, for just under £7. The service is always friendly and efficient, and it never seems to be so busy that it's difficult to find a seat.

When the weather is good, the garden at the back offers a lovely quiet place to sit and enjoy the sunshine - another well-kept secret among locals.

My only minor criticism is that the main room can be a bit noisy - especially if there are children running around which sometimes happens - and when the weather is overcast, it can be a bit gloomy too. Overall, though, a little gem of a place and one that will get me returning time and again to sample something different each time.

Good news for flume fiends

After several years of being out of action, the flumes at the Wavelengths pool in Deptford are apparently going to be open for use again on 1 November! Who knows, I might even sneak in there myself when it's quiet!

Monday 20 October 2008

Welcome Se8ker!

The pool of local bloggers continues to expand rapidly, lending credibility to my theory that there is plenty of untapped talent in this neck of the woods!

Welcome to Deptford Se8ker who came on the scene last month and has just posted a very interesting item about other air-raid shelter signs in Deptford.

And while we're on the subject of signs of the past, I'd like to point you to two interesting posts about Victorian ventilation posts; Faded London writes about a selection of these 'stink-pipes' in west London, while Transpontine reports on the possible fate of a rather elaborate, listed version that currently resides on The Island in New Cross.

Saturday 18 October 2008

More Deptford X

The Cost of Living at Deptford's new Arch Gallery. Great to have a new exhibition space; this show didn't really do it for me, although I enjoyed the surreal bone cutlery.

Deptford Marbles; Artmongers do the final touches to their mural, while Laban students provide the entertainment. There was also some symbolic planting and watering of flowers below the mural. Nice to see something happening in a rather unloved and underused part of Deptford.

Yinka Shonibare's White Flag at Half Mast (which as you can see, it was not - at half mast, that is - although the original on the South Bank was. I think this mast was a little too short.) I wondered what the flag was about, there being no interpretation, and I came to the conclusion that the idea was to mark the death of surrender or peace. Or perhaps that the white indicated purity. But according to something on the BBC Radio 4 website that I just read, it is all about rejecting the nationalistic connotations of flags, by proposing a white flag representing no particular country or boundaries. Why at half mast? I'm not sure.

Like the others who have blogged about this work, I felt that the significance of the art was overpowered by glorious views. Not only do you get a totally different view of Deptford from the top of the very narrow and steep stairs of the belltower, you also get a view into town that's as stunning as the one from Point Hill, coupled with a similarly breath-taking vision eastwards, extending down to the apartment blocks of Woolwich and the wind turbine at Dagenham.

A far more impressive and moving work was Matt Stokes' Cipher, and although I don't believe it was made specifically with the location in mind, it was given a powerful intensity from the fact that the film was shown in a narrow brick arch crypt below the church. The film - of organists playing what I'll loosely describe as damn spooky music in what was a rather spookily-lit church complete with silent, staring cherubs - would have been interesting to watch elsewhere, but would not have had me looking over my shoulder and feeling shivers down my spine as the vibrations of the music played out behind me. The space was so narrow and gloomy it had the air of some kind of air-raid shelter; the dark music added to this feeling, giving me the impression that the apocalypse was surely bearing down on the world as I sat there alone.

Another great film was Sarah Baker's Studs, which is showing at the Bearspace Gallery until next Saturday 25 October. It's a tribute to the Jackie Collins novel and with its split-screen format, glitz and cheesy interiors, is strongly reminiscent of shows like Dallas or Dynasty. Impossible not to be wooed by the Stud!

This lovely ceiling is part of the show by Joanna Sands at the Optician Gallery, which is also worth a look for its quirky wooden floor and views of St Pauls church.

Old shelter

One of the interesting things I learned from Ben Cummins' Pavement Sonnets (so far) was that this sign used to show the distance to the nearest air raid shelter. It's on the side of the Barclays Bank.

Considering the amount of bombing Deptford sustained in World War II, it was presumably very well-used.

Friday 17 October 2008

The Hoy

Another day, another new venue to try!

The Dame stepped in for breakfast this sunny morning, on the way to Greenwich. Even at about 10am there were several people already enjoying the sunny and pleasant ambience, lounging on the big leather sofas or reading the paper at one of the tables.

The welcome was friendly and attentive, and as I waited to be served, I marvelled at how the woman behind the counter managed to be extremely patient and polite with a customer who was doing his best to patronise her. Yes, she explained, that WAS an Americano, it's just that the hot water came out with the coffee from the machine, it wasn't added later. Yes, that WAS cold milk she was using (and she brought it over to show him so that he could say exactly how much he wanted). You could tell he didn't think she knew what she was doing, and as I stood there wanting to say something sarcastic to him, I was reminded that that's why she works in a customer-facing environment and I don't! She even resisted the temptation to roll her eyes as he left the shop!

I was in the mood for a fried egg sandwich or something equally breakfasty, and although they couldn't offer me my fry-up choice (apparently bacon sandwiches are coming next week), between them the two members of staff gave me a few options until I settled on a panini with mozzarella, ham and pesto, and an Americano to drink, at the extremely reasonable price of £3 in total (coffees are around £1.60). The Americano was excellent and the panini, while made in a softer bread than is usually used, was tasty and fresh.

I sat in the window and watched the traffic go by; it was lovely and sunny and although I couldn't linger, it provided a pleasant stopover for a break. A nice one to return to, although unfortunately it won't be often until/unless they extend their opening hours to weekends or evenings.

Thursday 16 October 2008

The Duke - drinks review

The Duke on Creek Road is now open for business, and so a couple of nights ago the Geezer and I dropped in on our way back from an evening out in Greenwich to sample the ambience and have a beer.

If you remember the previous incarnation of the Duke, you will know that it had a rather small, unfriendly bar at the front, albeit with plenty of light from the large windows. I'm not sure if there were any rooms at the back - I was never tempted to explore - but the new Duke's interior bears no resemblance to it former state, it could be a different place altogether. (In fact the website has some interesting before and after photos as well as lots of pictures of the building work).

It is now owned by the same company that owns The Dartmouth Arms in Forest Hill and the Dolphin in Sydenham, neither of which I am familiar with.

The route to the front door leads through a fenced outdoor area, overlooking the road and the oversize dancers that are currently adorning the hoardings of the Creekside-Village-to-be.

Inside, the first thing you notice is the cavernous size of the bar - the back area has been opened up into a huge dining room, providing plenty of space for enjoying the gastro aspect of the pub. The bar has been lengthened and moved by 90 degrees so that it is against the partition wall, and the stairwell has been left drifting in the middle of the room, with access upstairs to the toilets.

The decor ticks all the gastropub boxes; the slightly shabby and unmatched chairs and dining tables; the black, white and green colour scheme; the cast iron columns; the feature wall with quirky print wallpaper; not to mention the sofas in the corner (not enough comfy chairs in my opinion, a few more would be good).

We got a friendly welcome, and I was offered a menu to look at when I asked if they were serving food yet, even though I said I wasn't going to be eating tonight. As well as a variety of lagers, they were serving three real ales; I tried the London Pride, which was as good as it should be. I can't remember what the others were, but they were fairly standard offerings.

The place was fairly busy - the clientele mostly students plus a rather lairy group at the bar whom I suspect were regulars of the old Duke. As we sat and enjoyed our drinks, the lights were dimmed and the usual tea-lights brought round for the tables. It made for a rather pleasant ambience.

Although we didn't eat, we did browse the menu in preparation for a proper return visit. One thing I should point out is that the Duke might be on Deptford's side of the Creek, but it is very much respecting its location in Greenwich borough, particularly in terms of prices! Main courses ranged from about £9 up to £14 or so - an acceptable amount to pay if the food lives up to it. One of my main complaints about the pubs in Greenwich, particularly the Greenwich Inc brand, is that the quality of food rarely matches the expectation generated by its price-tag! As well as lunch and dinner offerings, the Duke is also planning a £10.95 Sunday lunch special.

I'll be back with a food review after the Geezer's payday; he has promised to treat me!

Wednesday 8 October 2008

All change on Creek Road

After a tip-off by a commenter on the Greenwich Phantom's post about the Deptford Project, I popped down Creek Road on my bike this evening to check out the new incarnation of The Hoy.

What was once a modest and rather shabby little pub is due to reopen tomorrow as a cafe serving sandwiches, panini and pies, proper coffee and from the looks of the stand inside the door, LOADS of crisps! The interior is unrecognisable apart from the cast iron columns - all the walls painted white to make it light and airy, there is a counter and fridges in the front and tables in the back, and even the entrance has been moved to the corner to provide more room for outdoor seating area customers, albeit with a view of the traffic. The Dame will report back with a review in due course.

My one visit to the Hoy when it was a pub was fairly unremarkable; the main reason it didn't get a second visit was the lack of real ale on offer. It was friendly enough despite its shabby appearance, and even the customers who weren't particularly friendly erred more on the side of 'I'm resigned to my fate' rather than 'I've got a load of pent-up aggression that I'm desperate to vent on someone'.

Which segues nicely into the other formerly-shabby hostelry of Creek Road. Likewise the Duke merited only one visit from myself and the Geezer in its former incarnation. It too had no real ale on offer, but it was the pub's rather edgy atmosphere and unwelcoming interior that put us off returning.

Now I give you; The Duke - pub AND DINING ROOM!

Its interior has been extensively remodelled, and although the place is not open yet, it looks like it won't be long before we can sample its wares. Repainted in a black and white palette with fancy wallpaper inside, the reborn Duke has the appearance of your average wannabe gastro-pub. It also has a fenced-off outdoor seating area for the smokers, and a fancy new pub sign.

Well, plenty of new places to try out, all in the name of research, natch. It's a tough job, etc etc

*Still on the subject of Creek Road, by the way, Cycles UK is intending to open a shop in the new building between the Duke and the Hoy, although for several weeks now it has just been a banner over an empty shop. One Greenwich Cyclists member described Cycles UK as 'the Harrods of cycle shops'. I hope that doesn't mean that it sells vulgar tat at hugely inflated prices - or that it has a shrine to Diana & Dodi in one corner....

The Bear Cafe

You may remember that the Bear Cafe on Deptford High Street was closed over the summer, although initial rumours that it was gone for ever proved unfounded, and the Dame was informed by new manager Dale that it would reopen in September with some 'new, tasty delights' as well as the old favourites.

Well it has been back on the scene for a month now, but today was the first day I had chance to check it out for my lunch.

For those of you who loved the old Bear Cafe, there is excellent news; the only noticeable difference at the front is that there are new folks serving behind the counter. But if, like me, you are going in search of the new tasty delights, I'm not entirely sure you will find anything to satisfy you.

A full review will be forthcoming in due course - today I just couldn't whip up any enthusiasm for beetroot and feta salad so I went to the Deptford Project instead for my salad box. Their salads are still fairly run of the mill but they don't have loads of cheese in, and the dressings seem lighter. More importantly they seem to have resolved some of the issues with staffing which kept me away in the past when I was on my lunch break. They have more staff and they are working much more efficiently. No-one on a 1-hour lunchbreak wants to spend a quarter of that valuable time watching the amount of faffing that I have seen there in the past.