The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

It is such a good feeling when a book is able to pull you into the story and you become reluctant to put it down until it is completed. Whilst there are many good books that come and go allowing for the reader to be interested and attracted to it there are few that make the entire book gripping. For me The Watchmaker of Filigree Street managed to keep me interested throughout, despite my initial reservations about whether it would quite be my sort of thing.

The main thing that I was attracted to when picking this book up off of the charity shop was that there seemed to be a hint of a clockwork octopus involved. I mean a clockwork octopus in my head is a rather cute little image and from the moment it was introduced to the story it became my favourite character due to the way it was given such a mischievous little personality; who needs to have a child in the house when you could have a watchmakers octopus stealing your socks.

Front cover of book

Copyright of book cover/image belongs to Bloomsbury

It was not just the octopus that had a well-formed character though but all of those that appeared in the story, even those that appeared only for a couple of minutes had been given detailed descriptions elsewhere so there was a full picture of them inside your head. This description carried on with regards to locations, emotions and other minor details that helped to create a feeling of intrigue and that you are actually part of the story; the changing between describing things from two different time periods and countries was seamless to allow the book to constantly run smoothly. Personally, having a book based on somewhere that I know reasonably well and am able to consider what it might have looked like at a certain period of time or after a certain event is a real pleasure as it allows my mind to work but only a little embellishing is required rather than needing to paint a full blown scene.

The story arc is based around a big event, an explosion, that causes the main character to think about things differently, encounter different people and go on a life journey that changes a lot of things. Whilst the characters involved are all trying to figure out whodunnit the reader is given enough clues that they are likely to figure it out early on; For the reader the story is not so much about finding out the culprit but instead everything that comes from it for the main character (and a bit of shouting at the book to tell them who is responsible instead of them going through so much nonsense). There are also other things in the story that are very obviously meant to be and going to happen and whilst the predictability of it for the reader is often annoying it is done well here and still leaves enough questions open that nothing is a complete certainty.

As the first book by Natasha Pulley that I have read it has left me wanting to seek out some of her other books, especially given this one received much deserved acclaim from the reading community, and also to consider more books that fall into a similar category. Whilst there was an element of steampunk here there was nothing overly dramatic and that fine balance between a traditional investigation story combined with the steampunk worked really well and suggests that Pulley has a great ability to merge ideas and genres in a captivating and well thought through way.

Highly recommended if you like stories involving mystery, romance and something a bit whacky. A must read should you have the chance to grab a copy or to drop it onto your electronic reading device.

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Miso, Croydon

Some months ago I visited Miso and ate in the restaurant but my photos got lost in some hidden pixel world and I decided not to share my thoughts at the time. Since then though I have eaten food from Miso several times but only in the form of delivery and my thoughts have been allowed to develop to give a fully rounded view.

The restaurant itself is situated in a prime Central London location with East Croydon station, office blocks and the college all in close proximity and existed some time before Boxpark landed on the other side of the road. Whilst there is constantly a stream of people going in and out to have food in and to take away it very rarely ever seems to be completely packed out. It has a similar layout to Wagamama in the style of the benches and larger benches potentially being shared amongst dining groups but generally groups are spread out and able to have conversation and eat at a relaxed pace without issue.meat saucy noodles

The dishes available to eat in store and online are very similar in terms of variety and if you have a particular favourite dish to enjoy whilst eating in you can almost certainly get it to your office desk or home. In fact they take the same care with providing a certain level of service with food delivery than with eating in; they use newspaper or similar to ensure the tubs and containers stay stable and compact to keep them warm and ensure there is no spillage in transit.

Despite there being such a great variety and knowing that they take great care in the food getting delivered there are still certain dishes which I would avoid having delivered. As a result I tend to stay pretty safe and go with some sort of sauce based noodle dish which gives me all the warm comforting happy feels inside and sometimes a gyoza or other side dish for a real extra treat.

Salmon and cream cheese dumplings

Whatever specific dish I opt for I always find that there is a good balance of carbs and other ingredients. If you order something with meat you actually get enough that when it is all mixed together you are pretty likely to get a bite with some included. The vegetables always seem fresh and are cooked to just the right level that allows them to absorb flavour and add additional texture to the dish as well. It seems like a basic enough thing to expect but compared to some places it makes for a refreshing change to see good balance, attention to detail and respect for the ingredients.

The food is always piping hot, well flavoured, a good portion and super tasty. It comes in at a lower price than a lot of very similar chain restaurants such as Wagamama and is actually that little bit tastier and a more enjoyable eating experience all round. It isn’t anything new or breaking the barriers of noodles, rices and soups but what they do is done really well and sees a lot of happy customers and returning visitors. Would recommend for a business meeting lunch, a casual friends catch-up or a quiet meal on the sofa at home after a long week.

Wet Miso noodles

Have you ever visited Miso in Croydon? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Ponte Nuovo, Croydon

A few weeks ago we wanted to celebrate a friend’s birthday and after a bit of encouragement they finally agreed to head somewhere. After a pretty long time deliberating what food they fancied and the options available Ponte Nuovo was the spot decided upon as it allowed for a variety of types of food that would keep everybody in the group happy without being too formal or ridiculous in price per item on the menu.

Red wine in glasses on table

Now I will admit, to my shame, that I might have been a little tipsy by the time we arrived at the restaurant, situated under the flyover in central Croydon, and I was desperately trying to act perfectly normal… in that way that makes the situation 10× worse but you can’t help it. It was nothing too silly and I was still able to fully taste the food and consider it for different depths, ingredients and textures as well as how the staff approached an evening service.

Interior of Ponte Nuovo, Croydon

The staff were actually incredibly attentive and thoughtful. When we asked for water for the table they brought glasses with lemon in and a whole jug so we could pour away instead of constantly having to ask for me (is it just me that hates how tight other places can be with free water?).

They also took pride in their food and the quality of it. One of our table asked for spinach to be added on top of their pizza and instead of the waiter just going with it he asked questions as to why and had it been had like that before. You could imagine if a guest asked for something terribly bizarre they would decline the suggestion to not insult the chef, their traditions in cooking and to not be tricked into something that could land an awful review despite it being the customers demand.

As always, it is the small stuff with serving staff and their attitudes that makes a huge difference to the way a diner feels when walking away from a restaurant. The approach of the staff in Ponte Nuovo certainly left me with a smile and a feeling of welcomed content.

Table just as food arrived

We, well I just sat there and nodded when it was suggested, opted for the house red wine. Amusingly they tried to see if I wanted to be the person to test it but I politely passed that honour across because I didn’t want to end up being like “well all the wine tasting events I have gone to tells me X about this wine”!

Food came out pretty swiftly after ordering, helped by flowing table conversation, especially given they had a number of tables to cover, with four plus people on, that arrived at a similar time to ourselves. The smell of all the different dishes, despite not being super squeezed together on the table, wafted around in the air and was a pleasant aroma of carbs, dairy and deep vegetables.

Vegetarian pizza

Veggie pizza up close

Pretty much as soon as we stepped outside into fresh air to head to the restaurant I had decided that pizza was probably going to be what I ordered. Pasta dishes can be pretty hit and miss in terms of the amount of pasta on offer, despite always being delicious, and substantial carbs were the thing my mind was recommending to me.

After pondering over about five different pizzas I plonked for the vegetarian one that was loaded with peppers, sundried tomatoes, red onion, cheese and an assortment of other bits and bobs. When it arrived it looked wonderfully colourful and fresh as well as having an aroma of herby tomato sauce and a hand stretched base.

The base of the pizza was light and fluffy but a little crispy on the outside to give it a bit of texture during each bite. Whilst large in size the base itself was not heavy to eat and did not leave a feeling of being bloated or overloaded with dough afterwards. It really allowed for the flavours, substance and richness of the toppings and sauce to be the star of the show. A brilliant pizza and compared to the ‘well-known’ Italian chain restaurants this one was better and cheaper!

Tiramisu from Ponte Nuovo

Then there is always room for some sort of dessert. As mentioned on a recent post though, I generally avoid coffee things so decided against the tiramasu (pictured as the birthday friend opted for it) and was just not feeling the cream loaded profiteroles so naturally I swept all other options aside and zoned straight in on the cheese board.

The board came with a variety of different cheeses, as you would expect, some thin slices of fruity bread, some balsamic vinegar, honey and salad as well as a seperate basket of various crackers and some butter. I let my friend tuck into some of the crackers and a bit of cheese whilst I tried to insist that the parmigiana was something entirely different purely because I couldn’t remember the proper name.

It was a good variety of cheeses and items on the board that made for a super hearty dessert for one but could easily have been shared for two because of the way that everything was cut up into multiples of two. Certainly not the greatest and most inventive platter I have ever had but by no means not the worse and it still left me doing the cheese dance (at least inside my head) afterwards.

Cheese for dessert

Ponte Nuovo's cheese board

There are actually several Ponte Nuovo restaurants in and around Croydon but I can of course only vouch for the quality of staff, food, drink and atmosphere in the one that sits underneath the flyover on the High Street in central Croydon.

This is certainly somewhere that I would recommend you going for either a casual meal out, a celebration meal or a date night as the food menu is varied enough to have something to suit everybody and the quality, especially considering the price point, is great too.

I certainly am considering a trip back in the future. If you have ever gone to either this Ponte Nuovo or another location please do share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Crushed Bean, Croydon

There was a lot of talk of wibbly wobbly cheesecake, otherwise known as Japanese cheesecake, amongst our group of friends in advance of a trip to Crushed Bean in Croydon actually happening. They only tend to make it on a Saturday and we heard it tends to sell out super early but we were not expecting to get the last two of three slices just after 10am so were delighted we all managed to get down there early to tuck in!

It was my first time visiting Crushed Bean but a lot of people and friends recommend it highly for the food, drink and the atmosphere thanks to friendly and knowledgeable staff behind the counter. On entering the cafe the first thing that struck me was how small the food preparation area is as it is all on show and a similar size to a galley kitchen; but with a coffee machine and a number of other gadgets to allow them to cook and prepare a handful of different dishes it seemed like an impressive challenge to undertake daily.Japanese cheesecake from Crushed Bean

The cheesecake itself, from a glance at least, looked to resemble a very light and fluffy vanilla sponge cake. On closer inspection it was clearer to see the air bubbles and that the texture was not a crumby one but rather a more continuous layer of cake that when you moved the plate or gave it a little prod there was a mild jiggle. As the cake had been made and allowed to cool and set for a while it has ‘deflated’ a little and was not at peak wibbly wobbly stage but it still looked very interesting.

With regards to the flavour of the cheesecake itself it was certainly on the subtle side and there was a hint of what I can only guess was vanilla. Baked cheesecakes have a very gentle flavour in general, unless loaded with fruit or other things that also tend to make it really dense, so I am not surprised this was low on the impact flavour front but it was still yummy and an enjoyable experience to eat.

Japanese cheesecake from Crushed Bean

There was a number of different options for food when we went in there but again this was limited in terms of the portions that they would be able to make up; a result of a small kitchen means small storage space for ingredients and that it depends on what they are able to get hold of each day to the quantities of certain dishes they can produce. Whilst this can make it a little hit and miss in terms of what is on offer when you step inside it does also mean that you are going to get offered different things each week, or at least some variety each week, especially as the seasons and what is freely available to purchase for ingredients change.

After a moment of standing around and deliberating what to order, before heading to the extra seating in the basement below, I finally decided to go for a banana bread that had walnuts and a few other bits loaded inside as well and a cup of green tea. We then headed down to the light, airy and spacious basement that had a variety of wooden tables, benches and sofas as well for individuals to groups to sit down. They welcome dogs too so there was a very lovely dog sitting near us!

Banana, walnut and coffee bread for breakfast

As we got comfortable were chatting away the drinks and food made its way to us on a variety of crockery. usually different style of crockery in a cafe or restaurant tends to annoy me a little but it really worked in Crushed Bean. I think the way that they are different styles but also consistent in terms of warm/heated foods being on pink plates, cakes and pastry style items being on grey plates and then cups and saucers all being deep blue with white rims and I think that is what makes it work well.

When the bread arrived it was mildly heated but not to the degree of calling it warm. It was just a level of being heated that made it the perfect temperature to smoothly spread the coffee butter across. Usually I shy away from anything coffee flavoured but the flavour mixed with the type of butter they used allowed for it to be a good hit of coffee without being overly bitter or overpowering to the rest of the ingredients. The dish itself was flavoursome, well textured and moist without being too heavy or overwhelming; it felt like the perfect sized dish and weight to have as a brunch item and not feel guilty about it being essentially a slab of cake (masquerading until the title of bread, let us be honest).

Breakfast, cheesecake and tea from Crushed Bean

It was a great first visit to Crushed Bean and I would certainly be happy to return there again in the future and to consider recommending it to other people should they be looking for a cafe suggestion in Central Croydon. The price of each of the items was not too steep and came in at a pretty common point for dishes from independent cafes in and around London (the bread was just over £5).

The vibe was really enjoyable as well and that was massively helped by the layout and the attitude of the staff as they brought everything to the tables and allowed everybody in the cafe to go at their own pace without rushing anybody to get maximum table turnover and this is something I hugely appreciate and feels deserves a shoutout.

Chicago Rib Shack, Boxpark Croydon

There are so many reasons that I love my friends but one of them has to be that they are totally willing to entertain going to different places to eat and accepting I will whack my camera out as soon as food arrives. So when Chicago Rib Shack opened up in Boxpark, Croydon and they agreed it sounded like it was worth a visit that was it – the plan was made and actioned swiftly.

We had wanted to visit it a few days earlier than we did though as they were doing ribs for 1p and each person could get two to three ribs but the times of the offer meant it would have only been possible if we were all on lunch break from one of the offices moments away and also the photos of queues looked ridiculous. The ribs would have almost certainly been individual ones from smaller racks as well so we decided to give the full menu and the beasty ribs on offer a try.

The day we visited was probably the busiest that we have seen Boxpark in a long time and with groups split awkwardly over the benches in the main area we had no choice but to squeeze onto a bench at the back of one of their shipping containers and shout along the bench like an assembly line. Despite the seating arrangement being a little difficult to negotiate, especially as the last person to sit down or the first one to attempt to leave, there actually seemed to be more space in front of us than on some of the tables that had six people crammed onto the benches and that meant we were not banging elbows when tackling the ribs.

Cherry soda with vanilla ice cream

With an attempt to drink less alcohol, especially if it is just a casual afternoon with no real particular occasion attached to it, and a love of ice cream floats or super loaded shakes there was little to deliberate when taking a look at the list of drinks on offer. Not only did they have a soda float but they had a cherry soda that was topped with vanilla ice cream which sounded fantastic but unfortunately it was rather poorly executed.

The dreaded mason jar appeared with a plastic straw; two things that I really hate in the restaurant world and wish we could go back to a time when we just drank out of standard glasses and in a world where metal and paper straws were a lot more common. Not only that but somebody needs to discuss with them what the ratio of soda to ice cream needs to be here and also how the container that they put the drink into needs to be a lot colder…

Dirty fries and sticky ribs

The ribs themselves were balanced in terms of flavour thanks to the sauce they used to glaze it and with the mild smoking of the ribs. Unlike ‘traditional’ rib shacks there was no space for a big hefty oven to put the ribs into and this was obvious with the smoky flavours coming through so gently; the ribs themselves could certainly have taken another whack or two of heat.

In terms of the meat quality and the way it had been cooked it was nothing special. The ribs were tender but certainly not fall off the bone or melt in your mouth on eating them and the meat itself, when breaking through the outer layer of seasoning, was not that juicy succulent meaty flavours you might expect. The ribs felt pretty mediocre and like they either needed more technique and smoke infused cooking or a better quality of rib to handle their slap dash approach.

Slow cooked, deepened and sticky ribs

As for the dirty fries, these are loaded with meat and some sauce, they again just missed the spot of perfection. The chips were never golden and crispy on the outside before the toppings landed which made for a disappointing bite. That combined with the toppings that lacked in depth of flavour, quantity or adding any value to the dish really made them some of the more disappointing fries I have had from an eating establishment for some time.

Dirty fries and sticky ribs from Chicago Rib Shack

For the price, this really wasn’t that fantastic. The ribs were okay, the staff were not overly attentive and the side of fries and drink were fairly disappointing. It was the company that made this meal an enjoyable experience rather than anything else.

The Weight Of Things by Marianne Fritz

Don’t judge a book by its cover and all that but The Weight Of Things by Marianne Fritz has such a pretty cover, a contrast to the topics within, that it is difficult to not be attracted to it. The millennial pink on this modern classic adds to the idea of conflict that the book will present you with.

Unlike a lot of new books that have come into my life recently this was actually a brand new purchase. My partner wanted to make the most of one of the many Verso sales and needed to increase the basket value to be able to get free delivery and asked if I wanted anything that was in the sale and after a little consideration I leaned towards this (mainly as it was one of the few novels in the sale).

The weight of things by Marianne Fritz

Copyright of book cover/image belongs to Verso

The plot of The Weight Of Things is something that a lot of people can relate to and how they either fear losing their identity when becoming a wife/mum or how it is feel that they have actually become. This is certainly a fear I have and things I witness in other people and this book does nothing to disperse those thoughts and impressions as the main character struggles with being a wife and surrounded by children to the point where she is driven to do something most could not even imagine.

There are of course many more things going on in the story, based just after World War Two, than children being present in her life and it is more a combination of them all that results in an ongoing, untreated and extreme mental health crisis. As well as showing how difficult it is to become a docile figure in society and abiding by the rules of motherhood it also shows how trauma was not taken seriously and how it was all too easy for several people, all with their own trauma, to ignore others and become inward facing.

It was not so much a difficult read in terms of the plot or even the concepts being presented but more because it just felt a little dry and in places hard to negotiate and follow. On the whole that style worked with the concept that was being put forward by the author but it did cause it to be a little jarring and result in the book needing to be put down for a few hours before picking it back up and trying to figure out the thread of thoughts it was sharing.

Not sure I would recommend this book itself but would certainly be interested in reading more novels with similar concepts and plots involved.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

When I spotted The Shock of the Fall book on the shelf of a charity shop, it really interested me and even more so when I looked up the background of the author, Nathan Filer, and seen some of the people that had reviewed it. Having people with mental health issues or working in the mental health sector discussing things and coming up with fiction books is by far better than somebody with no to very little personal experience trying to hodge podge a story together based on half-baked assumptions and stereo-types.

The way the story is written makes it a lot more understandable and easy to digest. The story itself is quite muddled and at times clearly reflects the internal thoughts and feelings of the main character but the way that it has been put together allows for each puzzle piece to fall perfectly into place.

Front cover of Nathan Filer book

Copyright of cover belongs to Harper Collins

Looking through reviews on Goodreads and other similar book community sites what became really apparent here is that the people that seemed to struggle to understand it or the format of the book had very little understanding of the different ways that mental health can manifest in people. The people that found it the most moving and relatable also discussed their own experience or knowledge or mental health and how they found the way Nathan Filer to compose the story to be thoughtful, balanced and realistic without going over the top or trying to cram too many themes in there too obviously.

There are a lot of themes in the book but some of them are done in a much more subtle way that allows for the reader to reflect on the additional difficulties and how so many different elements of mental health can be combined together and become a confusing mush of issues for professionals, friends, families and the person suffering. It is a really interesting and thoughtful reflection on mental health and it felt really captivating and at the same time personal to me as certain bits stood out.

It also allows the reader to remember that there are some things in our pasts that will shape us forever and how it will never go away. Those things will appear in very different forms to each person that has been affected by it, as is the case of the death of the brother in this story. It reminds us that each difficulty faced, however it manifests, is completely valid but needs to be understood and respected by people.

The book was a bit of a heavy read but it also captivated me to the point of me completing it in less than 24 hours. Certainly recommend if you have an ability to reflect on mental health issues or have an empathy for people that might be going through a variety of struggles.