Monday, September 15, 2014

Double Denim, 29th August

If you’re a bar/restaurant and want to start putting on clubnights, then you should ensure that you’re set up to handle it. At 9:30 on a Friday night, you probably shouldn’t have queues of people at the doors, telling them it’s one-in, one-out, only for them to enter and find the place sparsely populated. It creates a resistance to enjoyment and a bad impression. So much so among my group of about 20 that I tweeted at Far Rockaway that I wasn’t impressed. They replied to say they had reached capacity for the number of door staff they had (and not just tried to create an impression of busyness as everyone suspected), but even this is a poor explanation. You want the kind of night that has dancing? Hire another person! So that wasn’t a great start and it didn’t get much better – not for a while at least.

Double Denim was supposed to be a 90s night – all the staff dressed in Converse, cocktails made with the drinks you drank growing up (Um Bongo and Panda pops) and all sorts of 90s bangers from acid house to indie. What they actually did was play mainly R n B from that era before abandoning any attempt to stick to the 90s whatsoever. My group were a little disappointed to say the least! I didn’t mind so much – I like 90s RnB, but to be fair, there are better places to dance to that stuff. I had been looking forward to all the other stuff just as much as everyone else. we sat in a corner and waited to see what would happen with the music but gradually almost everyone gave up and left.

Apart from myself and an intrepid few. in the end we found that the dance floor had been created around the corner from where we were, where the diners had been, those of us left made sure to join the dance floor. Again, I liked the music – some drum n bass went down a treat, but it just wasn’t what was billed. And I don’t think you could call the place busy at any point of the night. Not in a clubnight sense. I am sure I will return to Far Rockaway, but only for their pizza, not for their nightlife.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Freemasons' Grand Lodge Tour, 18th August

Just realised I wrote this blog post ages ago and then forgot to put it live! So here it is...

One of the (very few) upsides to having the ‘in-laws’ visiting is that it gives you an excuse to geek out a little and be a tourist. Having lived in London a long time, we’ve pretty much run out of the traditional touristy things to do and have started to look for the stuff that is more under the radar. (Having said that, the afternoon was filled with wandering round the Imperial War Museum which is pretty obvious.)

So, for one of our ‘things to do’ we went to the Grand United Freemasons Lodge in Covent Garden/Holborn and had a tour. It’s only 45 minutes, and if you expected a treatise on the history and evolution of the Freemasons you’ll be disappointed, but it does give you the chance to gawp and marvel at some architectural splendour. You start in the library/museum and from there go to the robing room where the masters put on their gowns and then down the corridor they walk in procession towards the Great Hall/Temple where they convene. You also get to see the route the lowlier Masons would take, through the three halls representing the stages of a mason’s career through the huge copper doors into a hall almost as high as a six-story building, and completely hidden from the outside world.

The place is literally full of symbolism. There doesn’t seem to be a symbolism they didn’t appropriate from Greek gods to astrology to the expected religious artefacts and symbolism. The hall formerly known as the peace hall is one such wonder with a shrine to those Freemasons who lost their lives in the Great War – all of their names have been transcribed and are held in an engraved chest bedecked with idols.

The place is mainly art deco and is full of Italian marble (plus some Tasmanian timber) and several beautiful stained glass windows. But when it was built in the 1920s-30s Egypt was also in fashion so there’s a bit of that thrown in as well. Unsurprisingly a lot of the tableaux represent masonry and also, there are a lot of religious references which will surprise no one who has read or watched The Da Vinci Code. Hearing how it is headed up by some of the wealthiest and, traditionally, powerful men in the land also doesn’t help – heirs to the throne have routinely been Grand Masters until taking the Kingship themselves.

No photos are allowed on the tour and there are so few people it’s impossibly to flout the rule. So you will just have to go and see this ridiculously extravagant building for yourself. It’s well worth doing. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Flat Iron, Denmark Street, 28th August

Many moons ago, Flat Iron arrived as a pop-up in the Owl and the Pussycat on Redchurch Street offering some nonsense about affordable steak but only in one cut - the underused Flat Iron. I liked it, Stephen thought it smelled weird. I also liked the restaurant they had created and the other dishes on the menu.

Not too long after their stint at the pub, they opened a permanent place in Soho which I added to the list but before I got a chance to go there, they opened a second place just behind Tottenham Court Road on Denmark Street. (Denmark Street - I'm watching you - what with Fernandez & wells also popping up, you better not push out all the music shops to turn into another foodie enclave.)

We fancied a quick bite and headed over at about 6:30. The place was pretty empty but judging from hearing the waitresses and the phone calls they were fielding, it was likely to get pretty busy later and as we were leaving it was filling up.

Flat Iron are basically offering the same as what we had on our first visit, but with the addition of specials, which are typically, their burger with bearnaise sauce, and another cut of meat. Today, it was onglet at £15. The flat iron steaks are still £10, and sides and desserts are still a very cheap £3.50. Cocktails start at £5. FIVE POUNDS! In SOHO! This place is seriously cheap.



And, I think, seriously good. I ordered the flat iron to see if it still tasted the same, Stephen got the onglet. We had a couple of fries and the delicious aubergine 'lasagne'. The flat iron seems to have lost the odd smell it had before, and tasted lovely - light, delicate, and tender, cooked to pink. Stephen's onglet however, I must admit, stole the show. A chewier meat it had more of a char to the outside, though was very tender in the middle and felt more like a 'proper' steak experience. For the extra £5 I would definitely plump for this one over the other.

Stephen had already had like, five cakes or something in the day so no dessert for him, but I had to order their sundae. Flat Iron knows what works - chocolate, cream and caramel (salted of course). Last time I went they combined this in a mousse, this time it was a sundae. Each time was delicious.



The place still has that slightly cowboy vibe to it, with plenty of reminders about the meat you're here to eat. 
Yes, cows in the toilet
I really like that there is somewhere casual where you can have a steak dinner if you really fancy some meat but without all the faff and large expense. Portions are moderate - you'll have satisfied your hunger when you're done but you won't feel bloated and guilty. Yes, Flat Iron's still got it. And they've still got those cute meat cleavers too (no stealing!)



Flat Iron on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finest wine words, 27th August

Me, my best friend and 100 wines. Carnage right? Well, not quite. For I was at a wine tasting, not just an all-you-can-drink extravaganza and I wanted to take it seriously. The reason for the wine tasting? To forget for a while all the professional bottle descriptions listing fruits you might never have even tasted, let alone discern in the wine you’re drinking, not to mention references to minerality and silt. And instead invite some people to just say whatever popped into their heads when they drank different wines. To get the lay person’s perspective. Having spent hours doing a similar thing in Sampler of my own accord in times past, I was absolutely delighted to be invited to such a wine tasting, on a grander scale, and wanted to make sure I did it properly. And that meant not just necking as many glasses as possible, but being considered with our measures so we could taste a wide variety, and being considered in our drinking so we could really decide what we thought we tasted and felt with each mouthful. We were asked to describe each wine we tried with at least three words and submit them, and we had a notepad to also keep tasting notes for our own reference.


Not that I want to give you the impression I didn’t get drunk. I did. I mean come on, we’re not going to waste all that lovely wine, swilling it about our mouths and spitting it out. We’re going to drink it. But we managed to not get properly drunk until the end, and in the course of doing so we tasted some very wonderful wines. They were all from Tesco’s Finest range, and the majority were in the £6 - £10 bracket so pretty affordable. My favourite was a Chablis. I think Alison was particularly struck by a Muscadet. We definitely drank more whites than reds, and then alighted upon the champagnes and much posher wines at the end of the night. A rioja was a particular celebrity of the night, and there had also been a very lovely rioja blanco. The range was quite overwhelming.

When I was invited to this I hesitated - Tesco? How corporate! But let's be honest, I pop in to a Tesco practically three times a week on my way to work so to turn it down simply for not being an independent's wine tasting was a bit hypocritical. Of course I would much rather buy all my wine from places like Sampler or Bottle Apostle on principle but the truth of the matter is that good wine is good wine and I'm more likely to end up buying it from Tesco (or Sainsbury's) as my local independet isn't all that local to me, in my non-gentrified area. 



I drink enough wine now to know what I like, and this tasting didn’t really change my mind, but it was a good way to know that if that’s what I want, I can get it easily from my local supermarket, and it was a fun way to really think about what I'm tasting when I drink it. I thought the set-up of the event was really good - the opposite of a stuffy, serious tasting, they had divided the wines into different categories such as 'Maverick', 'Outrageous' or 'Classic'. In the end we probably tried 16-18 different types, some of which were very drinkable on their own, others I could imagine pairing well with food. Food for thought. And speaking of food we had some lovely canapes to make sure those of us actually drinking the wine didn't get too tipsy (well, it helped). 


More (and better) photos to follow!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Regression Sessions, 24th August

So the idea behind Regression Sessions is to let you regress back to your childhood while having adult fun and getting your dance on. So as well as rooms of house, techno, drum n bass, hip hop and R n B, they have a ball pit, space hoppers, big cards for card games and - best of all... yes I'm not kidding... a bouncy castle!! They also gave away those incredibly creepy face masks which I must admit I do find hilarious as much as I find them disturbing.



All of this is truly tremendous fun. I've done the ball pit thing before, but the space hoppers and the bouncy castle were the height of finding your inner child and letting it run rampant (and the height of lads perving over all the bouncing boobs).



The problem was, for most of the attendees, their inner child had barely been lost, let alone needed finding again - the whole crowd was so young! I honestly think the average age was 20, and it probably would have been lower if my Meetup group hadn't been there to skew the numbers!

The music was really good - they had at least three rooms and the genres changed between rooms which kept you on your toes and meant you could almost always find something you wanted to dance to. In some ways it was my ideal party - great music and a healthy dose of fun. I just don't know if I can handle a clubnight that reminds me so starkly of my age! We shall see - I may yet be tempted back...

Friday, September 5, 2014

Loves Company and Manero's, 23rd August

Loves Company

Loves Company is a funny little bar… that turned out to be quite a big bar. It’s on the corner of City Road and seems to be divided into two, rather snug areas. When we got there at 9, no-one was in there apart from the staff, so we said hello and collected the menus and had a few ‘bants’ over the frisky ingredients of the cocktails such as purple passion and tears of ecstasy, and went and sat down in the other half. There were only about three tables. Soon enough a rather boisterous (too boisterous) came long and transformed the place from what I would have said was a classy drinking den to something approaching a Wetherspoons. They were just too loud for such a small space.


And then I went to the loo and discovered they have a whole downstairs area, which sounded like it was getting ready to be a pretty jumpin’ place to be. Either we, or they, should have gone down there! We only had the one cocktail, but they were well executed, lovely tipples (I think I had the Blossoming Kiss). We then had a very decent glass of wine before heading off for further adventures.

Canvas

I had been thinking of taking us to Portside Parlour or White Lyan but we passed the newly opened Canvas bar and thought we might as well see what it was all about. It was moderately busy for a Saturday night, but not too busy to not get to become a little friendly with the bar staff. We could smell popcorn and asked where that was coming from. The bar girl disappeared and came back with a glass full of it – all fresh and warm. And that glass was replenished no less than four times during our two drinks there!

The inside is dark and sleek, with wooden touches in the form of barrels to sit around or wooden-topped high tables. They have a wide selection of cocktails and all three of the ones we tried were accomplished, especially the Gentlemen’s Reservation (I think) – an old fashioned with maple syrup (y’all know how I have a weakness for whiskey and sweetness). I then had a version of Long Island Iced Tea but cola was replaced with something much fruitier that I now can't remember!


The location of this place, very prominent when you come out of Old Street Station, and opposite Aquarium (which has a Carwash night on Saturdays) means it’s definitely prone to being overtaken by hen nights, and there was indeed one that made an appearance, though luckily just the one and they didn’t stay long. I think this is a great new bar, but you might want to pick your moments as to when you go.


Manero's Private Members Club


We had one quick wine (bottle) in Electricity Ballroom and then went to our final destination of the night – Manero’s Private Members Club. We arrived at about 1:30. Plenty of time for the party to have got warmed up we thought. And, according to the bar staff, ordinarily we would have been right, but on this occasion, the place was more or less empty. We were prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt though, and settled in to await other attendees. It must have got to about 3 before there was a sudden explosion of activity, clearly when the other bars had all shut down. We hadn’t minded not having very many people there – it gave us a chance to chat with the DJ, request our favourite songs, and make friends with the bar staff. But it was even better once a few more people turned up. Manero’s is one room, with a bar at the front, some mismatched furniture in a couple of corners and an area where people dance at the back. I thought the place was excellent – just like stumbling into a house party where you don’t know anyone but the host. Some people’s idea of hell maybe, but it worked for me. Intimate, friendly, I don’t think there was anyone there we didn’t talk to!


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Riding House Cafe, 23rd August

I can’t remember where I read such good things about the brunch at the Riding House CafĂ© that I put it on my list, but I kind of wish I hadn’t bothered.

Not that it isn’t a nice set of surroundings to eat in with its rustic/deco furnishings. Considering we just about made it in, and had to sit at the bar, plenty of people clearly really like it. But I was underwhelmed. Both Alison and I ordered the lobster benedict, which sounded gloriously indulgent. Instead, on two dry, unbuttered muffins were a few flaky, dryish bits of lobster, two smallish poached eggs and some hollandaise. I don’t often say this about lobster but – ‘meh’. It was alright. Not the decadence that you expect when you order lobster. And not cheap either, two eggs were £16!! I had also ordered some mashed potatoes with olive oil. Tasty enough but strangely dry considering the amount of oil it arrived in. 





Alison’s chicory salad was nice and fresh though, and I really enjoyed my bloody mary. Alison had a Prosecco which doesn’t require much remarking upon except to say that our bartender forgot to bring it to her and we had to remind him.


I fear we have been spoiled for brunch places of late with the likes of 100 Hoxton, L'entrepot, the Ginger Pig and Caravan, all of which I'd return to in a heartbeat.

The Riding House Cafe on Urbanspoon

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I work as an editor in educational publishing by day, and then spend most of my spare time discovering interesting things to do in London, and taking people there with my own Meetup.