Last Minute London Lunch/Dinner Reservations with the Uncover App

Posted by Krista on August 30, 2015

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Last night, after I got home from dinner with A Girl Has to Eat, I checked Twitter and saw this tweet from the lovely James Ramsden, one of the proprietors of Hackney’s Pidgin

What is wrong with people?? When I need to cancel a reservation, I cancel a reservation. I can think of two times in my (relatively long) life where I haven’t done this:

  1. When I had food poisoning and skipped a massage at Kobkhun Thai on the Essex Road because well, you don’t even want to know. It was a dark four days in my life and I never want to ever have food poisoning ever, ever again.
  2. When I skipped a business appointment because I was in recovery from a very, very bad, bad bad email mistake that I will tell you about one day over cocktails.

I think James’ tweet says it all. Last minute cancellations and/or no-shows are a challenge for the restaurant industry, particularly if you don’t take credit cards or tickets before a booking. The rent is too damn high, my friends, to allow for no shows.  (Sorry, I’ve always loved the Rent is Too Damn High guy. I think he’s right!)

There is a partial solution for the industry. My friend Ollie told me about  Uncover, the last minute dinner reservations app, during my 50 coffees with 50 people experiment. (The experiment is temporarily on hiatus in August but more to come soon, I promise).  Through my own research, here’s what I understand about how Uncover works:

  1. Uncover curates a highly selective list of cool places.
  2. Restaurants on the list let Uncover know when they have last minute cancellations or  no-shows.
  3. You make your same-day or next-day reservation through the app.

Uncover invited me to try the app in return for a £50 credit at the restaurant of my choosing. A Girl Has to Eat and I already had plans to meet up and wanted an early dinner, so I checked out what was available centrally. Antidote in Soho had a table for two available at 6:30 so I pounced on that and we I ate and drank our way through our £50 of the menu. (This is a bit of a lie because A Girl Has to Eat held herself to one glass or sparkling rose. I had that and another glass of wine, which was an eye-watering £13 for a 175 ml glass.)

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The Uncover app is very easy to use and the restaurants available are definitely some of the nicer, hipper and more happening places. I am just doing a quick flip through right now as I write this and there are tables available at The Opera Tavern, Fera at Claridges, Locanda Locatelli, Coya, and one of my personal favorites, Rex & Mariano.

If I had any criticism, it’s that the app doesn’t let you have two bookings on the same night. I had this crazy idea to do a progressive — starters at Antidote and mains at Duck & Rice — and Uncover just wasn’t handling it. I guess that makes sense to me and my idea was more of an “advanced” one, but apps like Uncover make progressives so very very possible so why not let people do it? (Maybe require that there be two hours between bookings or something like that.) Progressive dinners, my friends, are the future.Why not let me spend more at more restaurants in the same night??

The PR for Uncover encouraged us to pay with the app — there’s a new payment facility — but from what I can tell, it’s fairly limited right now so we didn’t have a chance to try it out.

All in all, if Uncover can help the restaurant industry recover bookings and revenue lost through no-shows and last minute cancellations, it’s a very good thing. You should download the app and check it out. At the very least, it’s a very well curated list of establishments so it will help you separate the wheat from the chaff when you’re looking for a great night out. Uncover is currently offering £10 off your bill if you book a restaurant with the app and send them a photo of your receipt. Give it a shot.

Download Uncover
Get £10 off your bill

Disclosure: Per the above, I received a £50 credit towards my meal at Antidote in return for writing about the app. I love writing about technology and hope to do some more app reviews in the future. Any suggestions would be very welcome. 

My Week in New York City

Posted by Krista on August 22, 2015

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I am the most disappointing New York tourist. “Where are you from?” they ask me at the beginning of every tour and every interaction where I haven’t had to say the word DAWN. (The only word that still give me away.) “Long Island,” I say. And then they look away because they know I won’t spend any money!!! They’d rather that I was from Omaha. They want me to buy a t-shirt. Or a key ring. Or something.

But I don’t care. Because I LOVE NEW YORK. And I am in it! And I am LEGIT. It’s a always a little weird when I go back. Because I know where I’m going. Even though I really don’t know where I am going because I haven’t spent much time in New York since like 1992, I still know that Penn Station and Macy’s are at 34th Street. I still know that Grand Central is on 42nd. I still know that Central Park starts at 59th.  These are small things to know, but they are important landmarks on your mostly north/south traverso of Manhattan Island.

One week was not enough time! I need to go back Here’s where I ate and drank and cried while I was in town:

Where I ate and drank…

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Long Island Bagels, Wall Street: OK, these weren’t my favorite bagels — Lou’s were better — but their jet-lag friendly opening hours and relative proximity to my hotel, The Thompson, made Long Island Bagels a no brainer. (And, well, I’m from Long Island so there’s that.) Free wifi too! I went here twice for salt bagels with veggie cream cheese. The Verdict: Good. But not the best.

Lou’s Bagels, Wall Street: One morning, when I had a little more time on my hands, I went to Lou’s Bagels. The queue was out the door and down the street. Great sign! I had — surprise — a salt bagel with veggie cream cheese. (I sweated the salt out while I was in town, I promise.) The Verdict: Very, very good.

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Grand Central Oyster Bar, Grand Central: My first time. Totally not what I expected. It’s like one big dive bar. The staff fights with each other in front of you, for real. It’s WEIRD. I should have remembered what it was like to hang around Grand Central when I was a kid. Slightly scary. (It’s really much improved now.) BUT! I still stuffed my face with oysters and wine, although I wanted it all to be a little more — how shall we say — neat and tidy and calm? The Verdict: You should probably go here and maybe you’ll like it here and maybe I’ll like it more the next time I go.

La Villetta, Midtown East: My friend Monica knows the owner so we caught up over low-carb entrees while Monica told us about her upcoming triathlons and her 3rd child, born just a few months earlier. I mean, I know I’m pretty lazy, but I felt really lazy after this meal because I do not plan on running any triathlons anytime soon and I haven’t even had one child yet, forget about three. So I ran for 20 minutes on the treadmill the next morning and went clothing shopping for my cousin’s kids later in the day. That’s about as close as I will get.

Five Senses, K-Town: Kristin was in town from LA so Shin and I met up for lunch with her in K-town. Korean pancakes…they get me every time. And this was an excellent version thereof. Stuffed — and I mean stuffed — with seafood. I was going to order a main dish but decided instead just to eat all the pancake. The Verdict: Loved it.

Bar at Bergforfs, Midtown West: On a hot day, I needed some cool shopping. I popped into Bergdorfs, conveniently located around the corner from my 2nd hotel, The Viceroy, and massaged the expensive candles that Leonid from Bob Bob Ricard loves. (I like them too but the budget right now sadly does not allow.) Given my “Summer of Krista” financial situation, I did not buy anything except one glass of Albarino in the very pleasant bar upstairs. (With free wifi.) The Verdict: Expensive, but good if you need a breather.

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Gramercy Tavern, Flatiron District: After stocking up at, uh, all the same stores they have in London, I dropped into The Gramercy Tavern for a late lunch. The staff were awesome. My food was good and the vibe was good but…I don’t know. I had higher expectations of the food and the atmosphere. I expected there to be more flowers? The Verdict: It’s nice.

Excellent Dumpling House, Chinatown: Heh heh heh. After my foot massage (keep reading), I wanted a snack so I got some pretty excellent dumplings from the aptly named Excellent Dumpling House. I ate them back at my hotel while watching reruns of The Property Brothers. Bliss. The Verdict: Cheap. Not so cheerful. But I liked my dumplings.

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John’s of Bleeker Street: My college friend Doug and his wife met me for the real deal New York pizza at John’s of Bleeker Street. This place is a little scuzzy — I really can’t recommend the loos at all — but the pizza did the trick. Terrible beer and wine selection. Cash only. Totally suspect ATM in the back. The Verdict: Great pizza. Just wish it was nicer.

Where I cried…

9/11 Memorial: I organized a tour of the facility through the official 9/11 memorial museum and I cried. They do a great job with negative space. Negative space I think says it all. The Verdict: You should go here and you should take the tour but be ready to be overwhelmed by all the things left behind. And the negative space.

Renew Bowery Foot Massage: Because I can’t write about 9/11 and leave things on a sad note, I also cried when I went to Chinatown for a foot massage after a long day of walking. William — apparently the teacher — realigned my spine but only touched my feet. It HURT so bad — I cried — but it hurt oh so good I felt like a new person the next day. I was bummed when a regular came in and William left me with his student to do my other foot. The student did a good job, but William was much more awesome. The Verdict: Go, but be ready to cry if you ask for and get William. (Who you really should ask for.)

I love New York! I feel like I am among my people there…when I don’t feel like my people are in London, that is. I need to get back more often! Much more often!

{Sponsored Post}: A Great Getaway Begins With An Excellent Destination

Posted by Krista on August 19, 2015

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Whether you’re the adventurous type when you decide to get away, or you simply enjoy relaxing with a favorite book while soaking up sunshine, your perfect getaway begins with finding the right destination. The best way to approach looking for a getaway destination is with flexibility. Be sure to look at several options and make an informed choice by comparing the destination’s quality ratings, making cost comparisons and looking at the benefits of several different places.

The best way to start is to make a wish list. Decide what activities you’d like to do on your getaway and choose things that will be of interest to each person going along on your trip. It’s smart to plan both indoor and outdoor activities in case weather is a factor. It’s always good to have options!

Outdoor Activities Can Be Found To Thrill Everyone
There are so many outdoor activities that can be enjoyed once you’ve found a great destination. It’s a matter of choosing which activities mean the most to you and are most important for you to do while you’re on your trip. Some activities can be done anywhere; others need a specific location to do them.

Choose from great outdoor, land-based options like:
– Cycling
– Walking and hiking
– Running
– Horseback riding
– Camping
– Attending festivals and special events

Activities to choose from at a water-based destination include:
– Kayaking
– Canoeing
– Snorkeling
– Scuba Diving
– Fishing (fly fishing, or deep-sea fishing, depending on the destination)
– Whitewater rafting
– Tubing
– Crabbing
– Swimming
– Surfing

Types Of Travel To Consider
Some of the types of adventures to consider for your perfect getaway can include visiting beaches, coasts and islands. You can search for luxury travel or budget travel, depending on your budget for the trip. You can also look into family travel if the entire family is going along, and consider wildlife, nature and adventure travel to please the more adventurous ones in your group.

If seeing famous sights is on your horizon, by all means plan for days to spend sightseeing. If seeing animals is a part of your plan, try to find the places that will offer you the best chances of seeing what you want to see. Ocean destinations will offer the best chances for whale and seal watching, for example.

Crucial Tips To Remember When Planning Your Trip
One of the most important things to remember is not to schedule every moment of your trip. You don’t want your dream getaway to be compartmentalized, with you trying to stick to a strict schedule. Doing this can turn the trip into a frustrating endeavor. Be sure to schedule some down time for everyone to rest and recuperate from adventures. Relaxation should always be in the schedule!

You can find many great ideas, tips and suggestions by searching in helpful places like the Outdoor-Traveler FB page. Taking the advice of expert travelers and travel agencies experienced in creating exciting and memorable vacations can save you frustration and the extra work you would put into doing all the research and planning on your own. Helpful hints and suggestions for great travel destinations are readily available when you know where to look for them.

This is a sponsored post, which I occasionally accept to cover my hosting, backup and domain costs.

Pizza Union, Kings Cross

Posted by Krista on August 5, 2015

I have been eating a lot of pizza lately. Maybe it’s because of my recent New York trip. (More about that soon, I promise.) I ate a lot of pizza in New York and well, I came back to London and was still in the zone and just couldn’t stop eating anything sauce-y and cheese-y.

Pizza Union totally delivers. On a crazily rainy afternoon the other week, we scarfed down two piping hot pizzas — one Vesuvio (pepperoni, green chillies, cracked chillies) and one Stagioni (cotto ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, artichokes, black olives) — in the blink of an eye. And I mean blink because Pizza Union is not kidding when they say these are “superfast” pizzas. There were pretty much no minutes between placing our order and being served. Maybe five minutes, max?? We washed our delight down with the house red wine that we affectionately called “pizza wine” because, well, it was a very good pizza wine.

Americans amongst you will laugh when you are handed one of those “Your table is ready” devices which will blink and buzz when it’s your turn to head up to the front and pick up your pizza. That’s part of how Pizza Union does this so fast. You place your order at the till, get your device and find a seat. (When we were there at lunchtime on a Friday, the place was PACKED. By 2:30 pm, it had emptied out.) The staff are seriously cranking out pizzas like there is no tomorrow so it won’t be long before your buzzer is a-blinkin’.

A Pizza Margherita at Pizza Union goes for an astonishing value price of £3.95. The Vesuvio, £5.50 and the Stagione £6.50. How they keep prices so low, I don’t understand!! Either rent is cheap or they do so much in volume that it all sort of works itself out.

During our stay, we also enjoyed some corn nuts, a verdura salad and some crazy delicious desserts that I cannot even explain. Deep fried rings of deliciousness stuffed with caramel and nutella, covered in cocoa. Messy but delicious.

We really enjoyed our time at Pizza Union. It’s buzzy and fun and well, a terrific good value. Staff during our visit were super friendly and nice. It’s a student-y type of place bound to be popular with the kids. But it will be popular with me as well.

The Verdict: Fun for the entire family.

I was a guest of Pizza Union and invited Denise along.

8 Things to Do in Berlin

Posted by Krista on July 29, 2015

I went to Berlin last month! It was my third trip to this grittily artsy city, still emerging from the everything, all these years after 1989. 1989! I still remember my German aunt, married to my American uncle, convinced that the world was going to end the night the wall came down.

I went to Berlin for the first time in 1993. What I remember most about that visit is the massive cranes, hovering above the rooftops. They were everywhere.

In Berlin in 2015, I met up with my friend Karen. We got our MBAs together at the University of Chicago back in 2004. She lives in Geneva now with her husband and two kids, but she had a weekend free and wanted to go somewhere sans kids so up we met.

The German language was what had brought us together in the first place. I had studied at the Uni Innsbruck in Austria many years ago. (20 years ago?How did that happen?) She, Freiburg. Not that speaking German matters anymore in Berlin. Everyone, and I mean everyone, speaks English. And so much better than I do German, despite my many years of superintensiv Deutsch.

It was hot when we visited. So hot. 100 degrees Fahrenheit, plus some. Words cannot explain. So don’t got to Berlin when it’s hot. Most restaurants don’t have air conditioning, and public transport doesn’t either. But also remember that I am American and I’m sensitive to a lack of AC.

But go to Berlin for all the other reasons. This was the Paris of the East then. This is the City of the East now. This is a big city, a large city…a London, a New York. The public transport is awesome and amazing and efficient. The city is massive and sprawling and beautiful. Everything is gorgeous. Berlin is gorgeous. Gorgeous and efficient! I want to live there. I think I might live there.

Here’s where we went, what we did, and what we thought…

Things to See and Do…

Discover Berlin Half-Day Walking Tour: Taking a walking tour of Berlin when it is 100 degrees Fahrenheit is not a wise idea. We lasted two hours before we left to get lunch. The tour was at its half-way mark when we departed. We loved our tour guide Philippa (a Brit expat), but we hated the heat. This is a very good value tour, which is great, but it also means that there will be 50 people on your tour, which is not so great. However, for the value-conscious, it’s worth it.

The DDR Museum: This is a small museum dedicated to life in East Germany before the wall came down. If you like old-school branding, this is the place for you. I loved it here and it only took us about an hour to absorb everything, maybe less.

Kreuzberg Food & Street Art Tour: This is a tour with a lot of potential but for me, it just didn’t live up to its value. We ate a lot of nice things but our tour guide, while entirely pleasant, was not very informative or interesting. Street art was discussed in a very minimal way. (I had to point out the Endless that I saw when we crossed the bridge into Kreuzberg!) Someone could have just given me a list of these places and I could have had just as good a time. (Although we enjoyed talking with the two other girls on our tour.) The reviews online for this are fantastic so I think we just got a bad guide. The places we stopped were great though.

Where to Eat and Drink…

Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg: One of the highlights of my trip was a Thursday night visit to Markthalle Neun. It’s similar to Maltby Street market and Lewisham’s Model Market. I drank some great beers at Heidenpeters and has some delicious snacks from the many vendors. The only downside was a lack of seating. Be ready to stand, a lot. (Which is a German thing. They love the tall tables.)

Lunch at Schwarzwaldstube in Mitte: We had plans to go somewhere else for lunch, but that establishment (who shall remain nameless)  ignored us forever, so we decamped for Shwarzwaldstube and boy were we glad we did. This is simple, hearty delicious German food served in an environment somewhat akin to your elderly aunt’s front room. I loved it here and could have sat there forever, watching the people go by. However, it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit (have I mentioned the heat) and we needed some AC. Very relaxed, very perfect. (And yes, it is sort of funny that we went all the way to Berlin to eat food from the Black Forest but we didn’t really care about that.)

Dinner at Alarabi in Friedrichshein: In an effort to beat the heat, Karen and I waited until dusk to head over to Friedrichshein for dinner. Friedrichshein is rocking late at night. Crazy! We had some tentative ideas on where to eat, but stumbled across an outdoor table at Alarabi and quickly fell in love with the idea of Lebanese food. (Karen doesn’t get much in Geneva.) Alarabi is a nondescript place on a street crowded with restaurants. When our platter of food arrived, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality, the value and overall, the taste. We had a great time here which just goes to show you…don’t judge by appearance alone.

Murat La Barba, Mitte: We totally lucked out with this place. It was AWESOME. I had a huge heaping plate of pork medallions and delicious mushrooms, all washed down with some lovely Italian rose. I liked the simplicity of the space and the friendliness of the staff and would gladly eat here again and again.

Ottorink Wine Bar, Kreuzberg: Another highlight of the trip! After our food tour, I convinced Karen to come with me to this lovely little wine bar in Kreuzberg. (That had been my one request of the trip: visit a German wine bar.) We asked the barman how old he was when the Berlin Wall fell and he shared his amazing stories of the day. We liked it so much here that we went back to our hotel to cool off for a few hours and then came back for dinner.

Seriously, guys, I had such a great time in Berlin even though it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Imagine how much fun I would have had if it were cooler! It is a great city and one I can easily see myself living in. Maybe next year…