Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Viva!, 25th January

Every now and again I get a hankering for Wahaca's guacamole. Well, now I think my dreams might be invaded with the guac' from Viva! instead!

A low-lit and unnamed restaurant venue at the bottom of Stoke Newington High Street is what houses Viva! We walked in and were lucky enough to be seated immediately as two others were leaving. Otherwise, we may have had quite a wait - the place is what you could call 'cosy'. Which is great, but only if you're lucky enough to get a seat. There are a few seats at the bar and then maybe ten or so other tables. We got ourselves some nachos with some guacamole and a couple of cocktails. The nachos were great - warm, thick, proper corn tortillas, daubed in sour cream, coriander and 'salsa' - or halves of cherry tomatoes. The guacamole was quite smooth, with lots of coriander, garlic and lemon. Delicious. The only thing it didn't really need were the large chunks of tomato but I didn't mind them being there. A nice touch were the slices of radish to give a bit of crunch. Radishes really do deserve more of an outing in Mexican food. They go well in salsas also.




Our cocktails were tasty enough but didn't quite reach the heights of cocktail sophistry like they do at Nightjar or Opium where we went the following night. To start I had a fruity drink and my companion made the mistake of ordering one which turned out to be creamy. I can't remember the names now! Mine was accompanied by a little garnish of sliced chili and was quaffable enough. For my next drink I couldn't resist the sound of the agave sangaree and whew! They do not skimp on the alcohol on that one. Naturally, for our next round, we ordered that again.




We decided we ought to get something else to line our stomachs, and the couple next to us** had ordered what looked interesting and what we rightly guessed was the moqueca. This is what I would term a Brazilian version of a thai curry - prawns, coconut milk, spices but with a little booze, some plantain and served with a lovely long piece of bread to dip. It was delicious, the coconut being on the mild side (which I prefer) and enough prawns that we both felt guilty about eating more than our fair share of them, until we discovered that we both felt that way.




To order our moqueca we'd had to ask for the food menu again (they had taken it after we ordered the nachos) and when we finally flagged someone down to order, they told us the kitchen had closed! This was at 10 pm. Well, not closed, but not taking any more orders. We were disappointed but took it well and as you can guess from the paragraph above, there was a happy ending to this story. Ten minutes or so our waiter came back and told us they'd fit our order in.

I enjoyed the several hours we spent there, arriving at around 8 and not leaving until past 11.  However, it has to be said, that had they been a little quicker with their service, then we would have asked for that other dish well before the kitchen stopped taking orders. We hadn't planned to spend out whole night there, and for the amount we ate and drank, we wouldn't normally have stayed in a place so long - we don't exactly nurse our drinks. No, it was because the staff here take a "relaxed" attitude to service. We always had to flag them down to get our next drink/request the menu/order more food and I prefer my wait staff to be a little more attentive, although they were more than friendly when they deigned to give you attention.

I liked this place, it had good vibes, a buzzy yet intimate atmosphere, and I liked the food. If we'd had further plans other than just getting drunk then the service would have been very frustrating. By all means go (and I will have to return for more guacamole, and I would love to try their taquitos) but be prepared to wait.

**look at me being all cool - the couple next to us happened to be The Libertines' drummer and his partner. Yeah, we chatted, ended up hanging out for a bit at the Dalston Social. Whevs.

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Square Meal

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

London Cringe, 24th January

The concept is simple and brilliant. People far too generous with their humiliation get on stage and read from their teenage diaries. Or, failing a diary, a poem  from those days when everything was all-too naively from the heart would also do.

It's a hugely popular night, taking place upstairs at The George on the Strand. I got there at 6:30 in order to grab some seats and by 7 if there were a few of you, you'd be struggling to get somewhere to sit together. By the time it started, people were crammed in everywhere even standing somewhat outside the room and peeking in!

And you could see why. It's really up to the reader how much or how little they read and it rather depends on their diary-writing style. The first person to read was the organiser/hostess who treated us to several entries from her "slaggy period" when she was kissing more than one boy, maybe even more than two while simultaneously being in love with several others. Though it's called London Cringe, most of the cringing, it has to be said, is done by the poor fool who is brave enough to share their entires - the rest of the audience mainly falls about with laughter.

Next up was a man who pretty much read us his entire diary for one year. Being male, they were all typically brief and often practical - he made sure to document not only temperatures but the more important world events, juxtaposing them with the even more important events in his personal life, such as what he had for tea. 

We heard about one girl's fashion disasters - after burning a hole in your dress with your iron, no one would make the mistake of doing the same thing with her back up dress would they? Would they? Yes. 

And would you read from a diary in which you ended every entry with "I love Duran Duran"? Except for when, of course, you put it at the beginning of the entry so you don't forget. And then confess to rummaging in your "Duran Duran drawer"? Oh yes, we had an uberfan here. 

One volunteer treated us to her three-part epic poem on the evil seductiveness of drugs, disguised under the analogy of a fairground ride. This was gritty, urban stuff - clearly the work of someone who had lived through it all, could have come from the mean streets of The Wire. Oh the children, the poor, dying children that drugs had under their spell! Which of course meant she came from some quiet country town near Somerset (or similar). Special kudos to this "performer" who, like us, was so struck by the hilarious seriousness of her poem, she could barely recite it through her laughter, but she somehow made it through to the end. 

People are encouraged to sign up in advance to share their teenage worlds, but you can also come along on the night with your diary and let Ana, the host, know you want to get up on stage. In fact, most of the people who read that night were volunteers, as several people were stymied by the snow. 

What all of the excerpts we heard had in common were an innocent earnestness and frankness, which was utterly addictive. I can see why it is so popular. Everyone would love to read another person's diary, get a sneaky look into their lives, but with this event, you can do just that and spare yourself the guilt! 

The next on is March 27th and I can't wait. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tapeheads Video Quiz, 9th January

Well, Hot Breath have knocked it out of the park again, creating a completely silly, highly entertaining version of a pub quiz.

The concept is a multiple choice quiz with questions based around the dubious videotape collection of the host's, including, but not limited to, his own appearance on a TV gameshow, a tragic vehicle for Bill Cosby in his prime, an ass-kicking Burt Reynolds and, The Fat Boys' classic: Disorderlies.

It's a quiz for people of a certain age - my age - late 20s, thirtysomethings who can laugh fondly at the awful 80sness of the videos, even if we don't actually recognise the films themselves.

So Mike, he of Hot Breath fame, plays a clip and then it's kind of a "what happens next" deal, and you pick the option you think is most likely/makes more sense/is most ridiculous. For example, in Leonard Part 6, does Bill Cosby kill the evil henchman by a) stuffing a hot dog down his throat? b) smothering him with a steak? or one of two other equally ludicrous options? (It was a by the way, although I went for b.) To get some extra prizes there are bonus point rounds, and one grand prize in which you have to guess how many times the word "Dude" gets said in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. I wildly overestimated and was no way near. It's a mere 48.

The prizes on offer were pretty darn good, as it was all in aid of charity. The grand prize was a 50 pound bar tab and food for 8 at the Sebright Arms, which, incidentally is where the quiz took place.

It was busy when we got there, packed before the quiz started and chaotic to say the least as the co-host went around trying to take people's entry fees and hand out the answer sheets, while people were still trying to wiggle into spaces to sit.

But once the first clip was up on screen everyone's attention was fully focused on the cinematic delights which could lead to victory. As you can probably imagine, watching such unheard of movies, most people didn't have a clue what the correct answers were, although sometimes you could make an educated guess. This meant that, unlike with most pub quizzes, there wasn't that group of smug, older know-it-all men (it's always men) who get everything right. Winning was more a game of luck than anything else. Of course, I still didn't win anything, but two of my party won one of the bonus rounds and got to take away some rather special beauty products. This was for answering the question on how old we thought the host of a video showing you how to work out your face to make you look younger was. She was a creepy 61.

I had an uproariously good time, and get this - I wasn't even drinking! Note: I did not say I wasn't drunk - I said I wasn't drinking. This was stone-cold sober fun. If they do another one, I'm there.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Catch, 31st December

I have had Catch on my List for so long, I can't even remember when or why I put it on there in the first place. My attention has been drawn to it anew and my resolution to go to it rallied when Death by Burrito opened up their residency there recently.

But it was only my friend suggested we go there for New Year's Eve because her friend was DJing that provided the excuse to go. That and the fact that the entrance fee was only eight quid, which as I'm sure you'll agree, is fabulous for a New Year's Eve.

I have often passed by Catch without realising it was where it was. It's at the start of Kingsland Road, along the same stretch of street that has Dreambags and Prague, but with such an unassuming facade, and tiny lettering decrying its existence that it is easy to miss. 

As I suspected, Death by Burrito weren't operational that night, so I couldn't kill two birds with one stone in this instance. 

No, for tonight, it was just a common or garden club and I had a wicked night there. Downstairs is a fairly ordinary room but with a few booths to the side, presumably where the grub is served when service is on. Then they also have an upstairs which is another fairly ordinary room. Really, that's it. Just a little club with no pretensions to be anything other than a provider of somewhere to dance. Upstairs there's a little raised dancefloor in the corner, but the whole room is basically one big dance floor. There was one table, and a sort of banquette against the wall, but that was it.

Now, as I said, my friend's friend was DJing with his fellow DJs under the monkier of Loose Synths, so I cannot rightly say how much of our enjoyment was just down to the good DJs, and how much Catch contributed. I guess hats off to them for having Loose Synths DJ in the first place. Apparently, they did a set that was a bit special - it was mostly old school hip hop, garage, and RnB, but some of the numbers had a remix twist, bringing out the bassline, or mashing it up with a more ragga style. With a few shots and a few vodka tonics in us, it was the sort of nostalgia-inducing music that made you want to dance. Whether or not you really cared for the music the first time round or not. There was a remix of Destiny's Child Bills, Bills, Bills, they played Mr. Vegas's Heads High , there was a bit of DMX thrown in, Sweet Female Attitude's Flowers, and of course Regulaaaate had to feature! But there was some more modern stuff thrown in too- Disclosure's remix of Jessie Ware was popped in smoothly right in the middle of the set. We spent a goodly amount of time up there before finishing off the evening downstairs where the music was a bit of everything really, as far as we can remember! (We may have had a few more shots and vodka tonics by this point.)

There were a few negatives - I drank spirits the whole night because the wine wasn't up to much, and there didn't appear to be any kind of cloakroom. Had I known I might not have brought the massive, new winter's coat with me, which I then had to stash and slightly fret over in case it disappeared. Also, I'm pretty sure that the lights went up a little earlier than advertised, which, naturally I was very disappointed about, but considering the hangover I had the next day, was probably quite fortunate. 

Now that I've been here, Catch is definitely more firmly on my radar. Music aside, I think we had a good night because it just felt like a fun, friendly little club. No attitudes, just a place to dance and drink. I'll of course be back to try the Mexican food, but I'll have no problem in staying after my dinner is done to throw some shapes, and it's good to know there's a proper club down in Shoreditch amongst all the late night bars. 

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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.