Friday, January 30, 2015
5 x 15 is basically Salon for older, posher people. Five speakers talk on a subject in which they are knowledgeable for 15 minutes each. When we went, all those topics seemed to tie in with their latest book they wanted to plug but I suppose that may not always be the case.
Tickets are a very expensive £27 with booking fee for only an hour and a quarter’s worth of entertainment, and they mostly take place in the leafy ‘burbs of Westbourne Park at The Tabernacle.
The event said it started at 7pm but, with things like Book Slam and Salon in mind, we figured that would be a rough approximation, so when we got a bit lost and were ten minutes late, we weren’t too worried. We were completely wrong though – the entire place was full and Johann Hari was nearing the end of his talk. We hastily grabbed the last couple of seats available.
Must admit, even though Johann Hari had been one of the reasons I wanted to go to this particular event, of several coming up, having caught only the last of his talk, I wasn’t too bothered we didn’t hear the rest of it. He came across as rather too earnest in his speech about drug addicts and how we all need to remember that they’re people too. Perhaps simply because I already know this, it was a little cheesy and I can imagine sitting through 15 minutes of that might have been rather wearing. Plus he’s been all over the internet lately saying the same thing so I didn’t feel I missed much.
The others on the bill were Theodore Zeldin, Anita Anand, Alex Bellos and Germaine Greer. Most of the talks were pretty lighthearted and entertaining as well as educating. Theodore Zeldin spoke amusingly of how our civilization isn’t working, yet we stubbornly stick to what we’ve always done. That we need to start thinking about things from an individualistic point of view rather than ‘the masses’ and how he spends his time listening to people and learning about people.
Anitathen told us all about a fascinating character in history – Sophia Duleep Singh. A Punjabi princess who was born and raised in England, she seemed to live several lives in her one lifetime, including being a major player in the suffragette movement. Anand told us just enough to pique our interest and leave me wanting to know more about this headstrong woman.
We then had a ten minute break for people to get a drink, or go to the loo. We noticed then quite how posh everyone seemed to be compared to us, and that there must be quite a few regulars as they’d all come prepared with a bit of a picnic!
After the break we had my favourite talk of the night – on numbers! How can numbers be so entertaining? Well, when presented by Alex Bellos they are. He had a very comedic way about him, especially as his manner reminded me of Eddie Izzard, but what he was talking about was funny anyway. As a mathematician he is often asked what his favourite number is, and he always thought it a very silly question, until he realized lots of people DO have a favourite number. So he did a little research on it via the interwebs. Over 40,000 people took part, giving their A/S/L, their favourite number, and why. He presented us with the Top Ten fave numbers (7 was at number 1) along with some theorizing as to why, and then also shared with us some of the reasons people had given.
And finally we had Germaine Greer, by far the biggest name on the list. You might think she were there to speak on a feminist tract or give her views on social media and feminisim or similar but actually, she wanted to share with us this project she has been working on. She has bought a patch of land in Australia and is helping to regenerate its native ecosystem and replenish the natural wildlife. Her message – we can all do this. Lay claim to somewhere and take care of it.
I found all the talks interesting and there was no question that each speaker did a good job (incidentally, all the talks are online here). But the night was wrapped up by 8:30, sharp! I had expected them to eke it out a bit longer, maybe have some more interaction with the speakers and make an evening of it, but no – it was literally, introduction, talk, introduction, talk, break and repeat until we were done and we were all leaving!
The speakers were all indeed quite eminent if not superstars but considering you do get some pretty big names at, say, Damian Barr’s Literary Salon, I’m not really sure this event deserves its price tag. For my money, if I want educating and entertaining talks, I’m sticking with Salon London.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Having a sweet tooth, I have tried a fair few bakeries around London, and I have come away with some firm favourites. For brownies – Konditor & Cook or Bad Brownie. For ice cream, Gelupo or La Gelateria. Rinkoffs are the place to go for Croughdoughs. For cake, I pretty much turn to Hummingbird Bakery time and again though Lola’s and Flavourtown Bakery deserve a mention for their cupcakes.
But I think there is somewhere else to add to my list of old reliables. It’s a shame they’re owned by that annoying Jemma girl on London Live but early signs are that they’re good enough to overlook this minor flaw. One Sunday I went for a leisurely stroll from my place in Bethnal Green to Carnaby Street. A mere hour and 20 minutes later I was inside Crumbs & Doilies. I had already perused their many cakes online and I was a little disappointed they didn’t have such a big selection to choose from. There was one type of cake only, and about 6 cupcake flavours. However, they rotate their flavours daily so if they don’t have anything you fancy one day (unlikely), they probably will the next.
I could only eat so much so perhaps it was best that it made choosing much easier. I had particularly liked the looks of the cakes online, and the one in the shop sounded right up my street – chocolate and coffee – so I had a slice of that. I also got a mini banoffee cupcake so I could taste a range. It’s not cheap but it’s about the same price as the other bakeries I’ve mentioned.
I was impressed with what I had. The slice of cake was light and not dry. I really liked the icing and the crunchy chocolate crumb on the top, though the dark chocolate icing was a little plasticky. A minor quibble. It was good enough for me to know this wouldn’t be my last visit.
I saved the mini cupcake for a dessert bite later on. For such a small cupcake it had a lot going on – a layer of toffee cake at the bottom, then a later of banana flavoured cake, with some fairly decent icing on top – not too thick and sickly, though not quite the American frosting that I favour. Good enough to tempt me back and see what they do with other flavours. They had your typical red velvet but also mint chocolate chip, cherry bakewell and peanut butter and jelly when I went, and when fellow bloggers Fresh and Fearless and Dancing in High Heels went they had a caramel pretzel cake, and offerings including rolo, coconut and raspberry and earl grey for their cupcakes! How am I going to resist going back almost immediately?
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
The Moth is a hugely popular import from NYC – and downstairs at the Book Club seemed the perfect place for it. The Moth, is a story slam. That’s right. You’ve heard of poetry slams I’m sure. Well the same construct is applied here, but to stories. Real stories told by real people. Ten people, who volunteer on the night. And then they are judged. They are judged by other people who volunteer on the night. And, as long as you get enough people brave enough to tell their story, it works really, really well.
I imagine that getting people up on stage to tell a short, 5 minute story (you get timed) isn’t such a problem in the States where everyone is eager to have their time in the spotlight. Over here, at the event I went to, it required a lot of cajoling. Or maybe it was because the subject was Blunders and basically meant telling embarrassing stories about yourself. Actually, I suspect a lot of people went with the intention of telling a story, they just needed to work up the nerve to do it once they got there. It turned out that 12 people signed up in the end, so two people didn’t get to share their tales of shame. The order is picked completely at random so you can’t sign up safe in the knowledge that 10 people have signed up before you. You could even end up first on stage.
Everyone who attended was asked to write an answer to the question “What is a mistake you won’t make again?” on a piece of paper. These were read out, at random, every now and again to break up the storytelling on stage. Most of them were pretty snappy and hilarious, making me regret even putting in a submission. As the evening wore on I thought I would get away without mine being read but just before we left Charlie Partridge, our host, said he’d like to do one more and it was mine! Great relief, then, when it got more than a few laughs.
But, having said that, by this time the audience was well and truly warmed up. We had been treated to all sorts of mishaps ranging from being proposed to and saying yes when you didn’t mean it to taking a shower when your mates are on safari and narrowly missing a lion entering your bedroom to not noticing it was Jude Law you were serving so stroppily under a hangover.
As ever, with amateurs, the raconteur quality varied but most of them were pretty good at telling their story. They all did fit the theme and none of them were particularly boring. The best, by far (and happily the one that won) was a very simple story. It was the story of the most expensive apple in the world. Because did you know that when you order online at Tesco you get charged £6.50 delivery? Yes, even if, by mistake, you order a single apple, which is what one speaker did. Such a simple mistake, one we could all imagine doing, with such embarrassing fallout – having to take delivery of said single apple, for example, and live with the shame of having paid so much for it. It spoke to us all. And Holly’s comic timing was spot on.
The Moth is now on monthly at The Book Club and I would recommend it. It’s not perhaps as soul searching as Natural Born Storytellers can be, but it was a lot of fun.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
I said on my Twitter that I died and went to ‘cue heaven when we went to Hotbox and I stand by that. It was everything I had expected and more. Expensive, sure – the beef rib will set you back 24 squids, but the quality is superb.
We were assured by our waiter that the Hotbox Smoked Selection was big enough to share between two, as long as we got at least a couple of sides as well, and so, wanting to try everything, that’s what we did. We also threw in an extra smoked chicken thigh so we’d have one each. I’m so glad we did as this was exceptional. So smoky and sweet, I would make sure I had this again.
In fact, I wouldn’t be able to choose what to have next time if not the selection again as it was all so good. The only thing I didn’t really like was the sausage which was a little coarse for me. We’d had it before at hawker House and Stephen liked it a lot. I know it is just my personal preference, not a reflection of the actual sausage’s quality.
The slice of beef rib was perfectly tender, and charred, good enough to eat on its own without any of the sauce that accompanied the plate. Same goes for the pork rib. Both were meltingly soft with a robust flavour. The pulled pork (collar I believe) was some of the finest I’ve ever eaten. Not dry at all, and again not really needing any sauce, although we did drizzle some over.
Beware – if you don’t like a bit of heat with your ‘cue then you might want to stay away. It was never overpowering but it was certainly there in almost everything, and the plate came with some extra jalapenos and onions as garnish.
For our sides we had the pickled jalapeno coleslaw (excellent) and the ham hock pinto beans. This seemed to be a mix of two beans – black and pinto, and the black beans were a little too firm for me. We eyed up other customers’ dishes and the sweet potato fries looked just right, as did the grilled elote (Mexican corn).
When we finished our main we were so disappointed. We wanted more! I would say that one person could order the selection and eat it all but they’d be stuff to the gills, whereas for two it makes for quite a light dinner. Getting a more stodgy side like fries would help. However, ignore all of that if you plan to have a dessert because they do not skimp on the size of these, and they are worth leaving a bit of room if you like sweet things.
I had to try the deep fried oreos whereas Stephen went with a less adventurous sticky toffee pudding. Deep fried oreos are, as you can guess, amazing. I don’t love normal oreos so much but when they’re warm and chewy like this they’re wonderful. I could probably do with a little less of the dough they are encased in, especially as you get four of them and they can become quite sickly. I gave one to Stephen. They come with a dark chocolate sauce and ice cream, which is a nice contrast of hot and cold. We chatted to one of the staff and he said they were considering swapping out the chocolate ice cream for a lighter flavour, which I think would be a great idea. A plain vanilla, or even the butterscotch ice cream that Stephen had with his pudding would work really well.
Stephen’s sticky toffee was a brick of a pudding (in size, not texture) and came with toffee sauce and the aforementioned butterscotch ice cream. We were so full after this! Full and happy.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
I think Honey & Co cemented itself in my mind after a joyous review by Grace Dent back in May 2013. Being under the mistaken impression that it was no-bookings, the more it garnered love and attention, the less I was inclined to try to go; I knew it was a very small restaurant and imagined there would be queues round the block. But I ended up there on the eve of New Year’s Eve after trying to have a curry at Ragam only to find it closed. Honey & Co was more or less round the corner, and figuring that we were in the dead time twixt Christmas and New Year, I thought we would get in easily. Well, I was wrong, because it does take reservations and the place was fully booked. The only place they have for walk-ins is five seats at the window and they were all full. If I’d only known they take reservations, I would have booked myself in there ages ago! One group, however, seemed to be nearing the end of their meal...
Our waitress guesstimated it would be about 20 minutes and we went to the really nice pub next door to wait. They said they’d call when space became available. But we were soon starving and had finished our drink without knowing whether to get another, so after half an hour we decided to call it quits. No sooner had we set off did they phone so we did an about-turn and settled in.
And I can confirm, Honey & Co is worth every bit of love it has been showered with. It was a bit of a slow burner but by the time I finished their notorious cheesecake I was certain that I was bewitched.
As it was a post-Christmas/New Year treat we decided to get the special set menu for £29.50 – a starter of nine mezzes plus a main each, and a dessert each. You choose your main and dessert from the a la carte menu but the mezze selection is set.
|Quince and curds|
I was surprisingly full after these little dishes. Eating in such a manner is so good at tricking the stomach. But we had our mains to come and I valiantly ate all of mine. It didn’t look a huge amount compared to Stephen’s tower of quail, but it was quite the hunk of meat. It was cooked to a perfect tenderness, with a nice bit of fat preventing it from being dry. The beef came with quince and potatoes. Having only had quince in jam form before, I enjoyed trying it as a fruit itself (twice in one meal!). It was similar to pear in its texture but a more interesting alternative.
After the customary debate about whether to have one, or if we have one, whether to share, we went the whole hog and ordered one apiece. I had this masterpiece of a cheesecake, which has gained quite the notoriety for itself. Whatever you have read is true. It is unlike any cheesecake I’ve ever had, so creamy it’s almost like eating gelato. And forget your boring old biscuit base, this has a nest of finely shredded filo pastry called kadaif looking a bit like uncooked packet noodles. It is bloody delicious – crunchy and sweet. Each rich, sweet, crunchy mouthful was better than the last. Best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted.
Stephen’s dessert however, was no less impressive. The apple and pear pie he ordered was like an insanely good McDonald’s apple pie – warm fruit completely encased in a delicate, crisp pastry parcel with custard for dipping on the side. While being in love with my cheesecake I could still appreciate the understated splendour of this dessert.
I would heartily recommend this restaurant to anyone for any course, but they really do reserve something that little bit special for their desserts so worth coming here for those alone.
Monday, January 19, 2015
My bestie was in town, which had been the perfect excuse for lunch at the Wine Library, and was an excellent excuse for hitting the town later that evening.
First stop was our favourite little pub, Ye Olde Mitre, tucked out the way near Chancery Lane. We almost always go here for at least one when we go out in central London, and I take people there all the time. You can’t find a better specimen of a proper English pub with real history. And the wine is good too.
Next up – Bar Polski. This is a Polish bar that focuses on their favourite tipple – vodka. A bit like an indie version of Revolution, this bar has every kind of vodka you can imagine in terms of flavours. I don’t know where they get them from – whether they are in-house creations or not, but the range is certainly innovative.
The menu is split into divisions of Dry and Interesting, Nice and Sweet, Clear and Clean, and various brands of vodka. You can try flavours such as starka – a vodka aged in barrels so it becomes a bit like whiskey, or a vodka infused with bitter digestive herbs. We tried quite a range, having about 7 between us in the short time we were there. First up we chose two each – I had honey and spice and melon, Alison had lemon drops and hazelnut. At only £3.00 each, you can definitely try a few different ones so after these four we went back for another three. I chose these and this time I picked sweet plum, kminkowu – sweet caraway seeds and husarska – green fennel bulb infusion.
You can either take the view that they sell shots and so you should shoot them, or, you can sip them and savour the different tastes. For they actually do have quite intense flavours that are (mostly) pleasant to drink, rather than mainly tasting of vodka with a hint of something else. We didn’t shoot ours and instead shared them between us so we could try them all. I liked all of them except the fennel one which had a more powerful aniseed taste than real fennel tends to. The most pleasant surprise was the sweet caraway seed flavour, which reminded me of sesame. Nutty, but indeed sweet.
Being the night before Christmas Eve, with very few people in town, Bar Polski was all but empty. There was just one very drunk work party, and us. So the atmosphere was lacking, and it being rather hidden behind Holborn station I can imagine it doesn’t get too packed anyway. Obviously, this is the place to go for any vodka lover, but I’d highly recommend it for those who profess not to love the spirit as well – the flavours here will convince you.
After this we went to some godawful pub that just happened to be opened while we were passing. We were really just biding our time until we thought it was late enough to go to Trisha’s, otherwise known as 57 Greek Street.
Sure enough, you would never know it was there if you didn’t know. We knocked and were permitted to enter. I think it’s supposed to be a ‘members’ bar, but it’s a members bar in the same way that Manero’s is – basically if you can find it, you’re allowed in. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting though it was a cool little bar and one worth remembering for late night drinks. I thought it would be livelier, with people dancing, but there was barely room for this and people were quite happy to sit at the checked cloth tables or stand at the bar. It was all quite civilized, basically a place to keep drinking when the other bars were shut, not necessarily to keep partying. Or perhaps I was just there on the wrong night.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
I wandered past The Wine Library on one of my many strolls around the city and of course I had to investigate what could be going on in there as soon as I got home. A Library of Wine sounded too good to ignore. It turns out it is a wine cellar and shop but it is also a restaurant of sorts during lunch where you can browse its wares, pick out a lovely bottle of wine (or two) and enjoy it with the all you can eat buffet luncheon they provide for only £20.
These are definitely the finer wines so don’t expect to pick up a bottle for the same price you’d get one for in Tesco. You’re still going to pay roughly restaurant-level prices (although I noticed a couple for around the £12 mark). But just imagine how much these would cost if you actually did order them in a restaurant and you can see this is a good-value way of wining while dining.
The food they provide is exactly the sort of thing you want to eat with wine. The table they lay out is festooned with cheeses and meats in charcuterie and ‘pate’ form, as well as plenty of bread and crackers to go with it, chutneys, fruit, dips and even quiche.
I believe they more or less always have the same thing, but when we went we tucked into a deeply flavoured venison terrine, a very fatty and moist pork belly rillete, plus several different cured meats. They also had duck liver pate which I didn’t try and a smoked mackerel mousse which I knew would be too fishy for me. The quiche that day was broccoli and they also had a lovely red pepper hummuslike dip.
Cheeses covered the range from hard to soft and were very, very smelly. In fact when you approach the Wine Library, the smell hits you before you’ve even fully opened the door. One cheese was particularly brutish on the nose, though not quite so strong when you ate it – it had a very intense tang to it, and was one of my favourites. Naturally I have now forgotten what it was. They also include the usual suspects: brie, and a blue cheese and a cheddar as well. We filled our plates and then went back for more! But just the once.
The wine we chose was a Chablis for £18 and making it last long enough to accompany the two plates of food we had was a challenge. Good wine really is such a joy to drink, none of that back of the throat acidity that makes you wince. It is worth splashing out on every now and then. Happily, in this instance, we didn’t have to.