August 12, 2008

Just before I wrote my last little whinge about renting in London, I had just spent a day flathunting in Putney. I saw some painfully dire places. costing around £1,000 per month for really horrible dingy studios. Around two days later, when I was about to give up, we finally found a decent place, costing just short of £800. So I put down the holding deposit. Three weeks later the estate agents phoned. The Landlady had cancelled the deal. Apparently she’d decided to move back to London and wanted the flat back. B*tch. A week earlier and things would have been so much easier

So there I was, £500 poorer, until the agents returned my deposit, looking for a place to live in the most heavy season for letting. Further flat hunting in that area proved futile because I needed a place for the 20th of August and it was already the 7th: far too late to be looking, apparently.  I seriously considered going down to Putney in person to give my former landlady a big slap.

Turning my hunt to Hammersmith, I was given more promising news. In a fairly well known agency I was told “We’ve got two places. A studio with separate kitchen for £960 per month and a one bed flat for £1040.” I squirmed at hearing the prices but in spite of my better judgement, agreed to have a look.

The studio turned out to be very small and poky and situated in a basement. It was the kind of place I would end up sharing with a family of mice. ”No way,” I thought ”not for almost a grand.”  

The one bed flat looked much more promising. It was still being done up but it had a nice big bedroom and certainly had a decent view over some greenery. There was just one thing that confused me.

“So where’s the kitchen?” The agent shuffled uncomfortably. It appeared that he wasn’t expecting me to ask this. “I DID only ask for self contained properties with seperate kitchens” I reminded him.
“This does have a seperate kitchen” I looked around. 
“Where?”

He pointed to the back corner of the room where two flimsy partitions had been put up. “Just there.”
“THAT’S A KITCHEN?!” He nodded. I scratched my head in disbelief. “I thought it was a toilet cubicle! Or a boiler cupboard!” I opened the door. “WHAT’S THIS? IT’S TWO FOOT SQUARE!  In front of me was a tiny cubicle, not even the size of my arm span containing a two ring electric hob and a sink.  “This is NOT a kitchen! There’s nowhere to store any food.”
“Well, technically its separated from the rest of the flat and contains a hob and a sink. That makes it a separate kitchen.”
“Separated from the flat? It’s separated from the rest of the flat by TWO PIECES OF CARDBOARD!”
“It’s enough, I’m afraid” “I poked and prodded the walls. Nope, no cupboards hidden here.”What the hell do people DO with places like this?!” “Well, there’s enough space to heat up a tin of something” he suggested helpfully.
I gawped for a few seconds then came to my senses. “Right, well….thanksverymuchI’llbegoingnow!”

I left very, very quickly.

Now this was by no means the worst flat I saw, although it possibly was the worst value for money. Apparantly, if you live in London and want to live in a single person’s/couple’s accomodation, you DO NOT COOK.

That is unless, like me, you are very persistant. After much searching I did find a reasonable studio with a big kitchen and a gas hob that cost considerably less then the two places I mentioned in this post. Apparantly I was lucky. It had been on the market for around 6 hours. It took me roughly 5 minutes to put down a holding deposit.

Of course, agents’ flat descriptions never give you a true indication of what a place is going to be like so, if any of you find yourself in my position, I have written a brief guide to finding a decent one person flat in London.

First Some Vocabulary

  • Studio Flat: A single room with a sofa bed/pull down bed. 
  • Small studio: Really, you’re just going to have the bed.
  • Spacious studio: You can possibly fit in a T.V and sofa.
  • Self contained: you get a shower, toilet and ‘cooking’ facilities to yourself, you lucky devil!
  • Open plan kitchen: One wall of the studio has had a sink and a hob fitted with a couple of cupboards and a mini-fridge. 
  • Kitchenette: You have a two ring electric hob and a sink. No kitchen cupboards or washing machine.
  • Seperate Kitchenette. One of the corners of the room jutted out, so the landlord has put up a partition and shoved the hob and sink in there.
  • Close to all local amenities: There’s a small convenience store/Costcutter withing 10 minutes walk.
  • Good transport links: You are guaranteed that at least one bus stops less than 5 minutes away.
  • Close to tube: Your location has increased your rent by approximately £200 per month.

And some tips…

  1. Start approximately 4 weeks before your proposed move in date. Any earlier and your offers are likely to be rejected because you can’t move in soon enough. Any later and all the places have gone.
  2. Don’t bother looking online. The market moves so fast that the listings are constantly out of date. Get down to where you want to move and talk to the agents in person.
  3. Well known and respected estate agents rarely give you any bullsh*t. The little independant ones are a lottery. 
  4. If a place seems inexpensive but is near a tube station, be prepared for it to be rubbish.
  5. If the place has just been put up for rent by someone who used to live there, don’t be too suprised if they decide to move back in or sell it instead. Things are far more stable if the property has been let before.

And, yes of course I do have some food for you… comfort food of the highest order from my point of view. I was still budgeting when I took this flat, but after having such a grueling day, Dad, who’d been looking at flats with me gave me £10 to treat myself and Goon. He’s very sweet like that. So I popped down to Borough the next day to try out a recipe I’d had in mind for ages.

Sirloin Steak with Sauteed Girolles and Watercress Pureé (outline recipe, adapted from Ramsay’s ‘A Chef for All Seasons’)

a psychadelic puree with steak

  • 1 sirloin steak
  • 100g watercress
  • 25g spinach leaves
  • 15ml double cream 
  • 100g girolles mushrooms, halved if large
  • handful flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, minced
  • olive oil

Make the puree by boiling the watercress in well salted water for about 5 minutes. Add the spinach leaves and wait until they have wilted completely. Drain and squeeze as much water out as possible. Process the leaves with the cream until you have a very smooth paste. You can add more cream if you like to make it into a sauce.

Brush the steak with olive oil on all sides, season and cook to your liking. 

Sautee the girolles with the garlic in olive oil until soft, stir in the parsley, cook for about another minute.

Serve the steak with the mushrooms and watercress puree. We had some steamed broccolli as a side dish.

***********************

As you might tell from the ridiculous close up of this dish, I found this ridiculously hard to present well. Why? Because the sauce was GREEN. I don’t mean the nice dark forest green that Mr Ramsay somehow managed to produce for his book but bright, bright green. When Goon decided he wanted to have his sauce as a pouring sauce and I added more cream, it was positively luminous.  

Despite being a little ‘colourful’ this was a nice relatively simple way to serve steak. The sauteéd girolles were gorgeous and the pureé was good, full of flavour from the peppery watercress but with the  the spinach coming through with almost equal strength. Providing you process it for long enough, the pureé will have the perfect texture:absolutely silky smooth.

So in short, I certainly recommend this in terms of flavour but it possibly isn’t one to try for a dinner party.

These steaks are from Farmer Sharpe’s in Borough Market. They turned out to be a bit less expensive than those from my usual butcher and had a noticeably different flavour and texture. These Galloway cattle give a very ‘beefy’ steak (if that makes any sense) with a strong flavour that reminded me a little of buffalo. I recommend trying them out if you get a chance. 

8 Comments »

  1. If it makes you feel any better, all the new build flats in the city centre of Leeds seem to economise on kitchen space to a ridiculous degree. Too bad if you want to cook a curry or do some deep frying - your living area will have to smell too! Best of luck with the new flat!

    Comment by Alex — August 12, 2008 @ 1:26 pm

  2. God that sounds awful. Is it worth the extra money rather than house sharing?

    The steak dish looks loooovely. I haven’t made a gordon recipe yet, but I feel I should, soon!

    Comment by Lizzie — August 12, 2008 @ 5:25 pm

  3. I love the idea of watercress puree, especially with steak. I know what you mean about presenting things like that though, my brother left me a lovely comment recently telling me my pesto looked like something his kids would eat!

    The flat-hunting sounds horrific, I really feel for you. Well done on finding a place in the end :)

    Comment by Ginger — August 13, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  4. That meal looks so appetizing, if only I could access some Girolles…

    I can hardly believe the amount of rent you have to pay. My mortgage repayments are just over £200.00 a month though I, too, suffer from a minute kitchen. I hope you settle in very soon.

    Comment by Toffeeapple — August 13, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

  5. Sharing seems such a better bet. Dad’s house is renting for £700 a month for each of 4 sharing and it’s a much better prospect for living than the places you’ve described. Still, at least you’ve found somewhere.

    Comment by Trig — August 13, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

  6. Thanks for the kind comments all.

    Sharing sounds like a good idea at times- it probably would be better than renting the places I talked about in this post. Obviously the ideal solution would be to share with Goon again but that can’t happen for a year or so.

    In the end I found a place for well under the prices I mentioned here which is actually really, really nice. I think it costs me around £150 more per month than I would pay sharing. That’s ok when I consider that I have no transport costs where I am, no one else who wastes energy racking up the bills, no tidy freak who throws up to £20 of food away per week because they don’t know what it is (remember the blonde flatmate?) and I don’t have to fight for the bathroom in the mornings. It definitely is worth it for the peace of mind.

    Oh, yes, the kitchen is MINE! ALL MINE!

    Comment by ros — August 13, 2008 @ 6:58 pm

  7. LOL - this is why we haven’t moved in EIGHT YEARS! It’s all too ghastly. I remember the first flat we were taken to see when we arrived in London. It was in a high-rise overlooking a highway and had shag pile carpet and black lacquered wall units. I could not get out fast enough. The second place was a studio with a bed that folded into the wall. I have also come to the conclusion that the houses in my budget in London will never have a kitchen big enough for me :(

    Comment by Jeanne — August 19, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

  8. And I meant to say OMG look at the colour of that sauce!!

    Comment by Jeanne — August 19, 2008 @ 3:11 pm

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