Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Assuming the city isn't shrouded in smog, the tables in the window surely have one of the best views on offer of any London restaurant. However, Joanna's reputation does not rest on its lofty location, but on 33 years of dedicated service. On meeting owner, William Ellner, who took over from his parents John and Christina in 2003, it is clear that he shoulders the responsibility of maintaining the restaurant's reputation with great pride.

Set up back in 1978, on a largely American theme, it featured jazz performed at an old piano, giving the restaurant its rhyming slang name. Back then London was a comparative culinary wasteland, so the opening of any restaurant was quite an event, especially somewhere as far flung as Crystal Palace. So successful was it, that after a few years it expanded into the shop next door. 
Housed in an unremarkable 70s building, the interior is a huge surprise. Decked out with  reclaimed panelling and floorboards, it has a timeless quality that somehow avoids the overly themed sterility of many of the high street restaurant chains. Maybe it's the contrast of formality in the starched white tablecloths, and the informality of the mix and match seating, or the delightful eccentricity of the reception fashioned from a former phone booth, and the private dining room that feels like a 1st class compartment on a steam train. And it's not just the style of the place, but the service and attitude of the enthusiastic and multinational staff.
Of course, the food is the real reason people come here. A mix of the classic and the comfort, European and Asian, and with a reputation for the best of British seafood.
I was there on a midweek afternoon to take photographs and expressed surprise to William at how busy they were, given that we are so far from either the stomping grounds of the City gent or West London's ladies who lunch. His reply indicated that building up a solid lunch trade was the hardest challenge of all, but then moments later, he was back to attending to a elderly  regular customer, for whom, it was clear the kitchen would happily go to any lengths. This is what makes a restaurant like Joanna's a local institution, and a place of which the Triangle should be proud.

And finally, the view...

56, Westow Hill, Tel. 020 8670 4052

The Exhibition Rooms

David Massey has beef in his blood. Having grown up on his parents' cattle farm in Leicestershire, it seems fitting that he should end up as chef and part owner of a restaurant where chateaubriand and burgers are the favourite dishes.
The Exhibition Rooms is the culmination of a career that has so far taken David all over the world, cooking in Australia, New Zealand, throughout the Mediterranean, and even in Beverley Hills, where he worked for Austrian-American celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck, at Spago. Returning to the UK, David worked for Antony Worrall Thompson, and was also Head Chef at the 5th Floor, Harvey Nicholls. Then one day he had one of those chance meetings which can change everything. He was manning the smoothie stall at his daughter's school fĂȘte, when he met another parent, Geoff Ridgeon, who just happened to own the site of a former Thai restaurant on Westow Hill.
Located in a handsome Victorian corner site, the original idea was to open a bar, or a less ambitious restaurant, but as the ball started rolling, so too did the creative inspiration. The result is an elegant dining room, which alludes to Paxton's great greenhouse which stood around the corner, without going overboard on the theme. Raffles in Singapore also comes to mind with the lush palms and dark wooden floor.

Downstairs is altogether different. More Exhibitionist Rooms than Exhibition Rooms. Decadent red velvet, zebra skin and gilded Louis chairs make this an exotic drinking den, and popular party venue. Perfectly suited for colourful cocktails. The accidentally discovered vault, which had lain bricked up, can be separately hired for an intimate gathering.

Opening in the teeth of the recession 3 years ago, could have been disastrous, but serving good quality and unfussy modern cuisine has more than seen them through. Manager, Brendan Sharkey points to their Time Out 'Best neighbourhood restaurant 2009' with pride. I for one will be dropping by for their burgers and mussels on a monday, or perhaps even the chateaubriand.

Left: Manager, Brendan Sharkey, right: Chef & Owner, David Massey

Brown & Green

The week after the August Bank Holiday, always feels like the start of a new term, even 21 years after leaving full time education, I still get that slightly anxious feeling. So for those of you dreading the return to work after the summer, and wondering how you're going to put up with all those daily commutes between now and Christmas, I thought it might be a good time to feature Brown & Green at Gipsy Hill Station. I know this isn't exactly in the Triangle, but the station could be said to be one of the Triangle's gateways. And besides, the cafe and its proprietors are lovely, bringing a ray of sunshine to the morning commute, and well worth featuring.

Following the station's interminable recent refurbishment, twin sisters, Laura and Jess Tilli won the pitch to open a new cafe next to the ticket barriers. Many will know Laura and Jess from their TV success on The Restaurant, in which they were runners up in the competition to run their own restaurant. Coming second was the best possible result according to Jess. It gave them a huge boost without having the pressure of suddenly becoming full-time restaurateurs, and it enabled them to continue with their varied food related projects, such as Gobble Gobble, their childrens' party catering business, and Florentine & Pig, a website which aims to get children interested in cooking. The opening of the cafe, followed a brief period of doing the food at the Gipsy Hill Tavern. Now, commuters and passers-by alike, seem to be relishing their home-made and wholesome offerings, and the station has almost become a destination in its own right.

Jess & Laura

In your rush through the station to catch a train, you might want to stop and check not only the departure boards, but also, Brown & Green's blackboard. As well as listing all their tempting treats, if your name is up there, you'll be entitled to a free cuppa!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Crystal Palace Overground Festival 2011

After the ugly scenes that have played out in our cities recently, it was great to see people coming together and enjoying themselves in SE19 last weekend. The Triangle was buzzing with happy crowds mooching amongst the buskers, bunting and street food. However, the epicentre of the weekend's events was Westow Park. I have to confess, when I think of our local park, the other one always comes to mind, and it's not often I've set foot in this one. Tucked behind Sainsbury's, it's slightly off my radar. In fact I've met some locals who were unaware of its existence. With its gentle slope down to the main stage, it turned out to be the perfect venue for a great afternoon. I'm already looking forward to next year's festival.

The Triangle

Bambino Bunting

Skyline Cinema

Brendan's Burgers
The Park

Shady Lady

Capacity Crowd!

No, really!

A man of Good Taste

Still Queuing