Thursday, December 24, 2015

Sprited Sermons, 24th November

You get a lot of bang for your buck at these Spirited Sermons – and I mean that both in terms of drink but also activity and education. Every fortnight they pick a spirit and a specialty brand and for £25 you can learn about the origins of that brand, have a chance to make (and then drink) a cocktail using that brand, and also get a tasting session if that spirit.

The one I went to was a Japanese whiskey sermon looking at the Nikka brand. We were given the backstory of the founder and, after already having had two of the three cocktails included in the price, we had tasters of the four types of whiskey they make, starting with grain and moving to the pure malts. Apparently Masataka Taketsuru was determined to make real whiskey, not a Japanese bastardisation of it (basically coloured sake) and had travelled all the way to Scotland, almost 100 years ago, to learn how to do it right. His creativity was stifled somewhat when he went back and tried to put his knowledge to work at Settsu Shuzo. So eventually he left to found his own distillery.  All of the whiskeys (apart from the grain) we drank were blended – originally looked down on by whiskey aficionados, it is now being appreciated for the complexity it can offer. We sipped, and allowed the first taste to singe our tongues while they accustomed to the strong liquor. The second sip was smooth as you like and each whiskey tasted more delicious than the last. Portions were very generous.
By the time it came to making a cocktail, I had drunk ALL the whiskey (through the ingenious move of taking along a friend who didn’t really like it) so even though I’ve had a few cocktail making sessions in the past I chose to make an easy one that didn’t involve anything but stirring. That was a little sweet for my liking, having green tea as an ingredient but still drinkable. My friend and I still had one more cocktail on the list to make up our full complement so we retired to our table cluttered with about five different cocktails to finish them off at a leisurely pace.

I love whiskey so this was a nigh-on perfect evening for me. I would highly recommend looking out for a night where they focus on your particular poison, though it would also be a good excuse to discover something new. Even my non-whiskey loving friend appreciated some of what she drank!

Monday, December 14, 2015

TheTabl Supperclub, 20th November

The other Friday I had one of the best culinary experiences of my life. Truly unforgettable and unlike anything I have had the pleasure of doing before. The Tabl have recently launched – they are offering a bespoke supper club service – helping people host their own, finding venues, even helping with recipes. And to celebrate this they put on one hell of a meal to which I was invited.

Collaborating with Charles Spence who has worked with Heston in the past (creating that famous sounds of the sea dish) and Jesse Dunford-Wood who runs Parlour in Kensal Rise, they put together a feast that was not only delicious and entertaining but an education in eating. We didn’t know what we were going to eat until it arrived in front of us (or the method by which we would eat it) and we weren’t told how many courses would be coming our way. In total there were nine I would say, but this does not include the little bursts of experimentation we also participated in.

It started immediately – one fork had woven through its tines a strip of paper. We were asked to place this in our mouths and then asked what we tasted. It seemed it had been soaked in chemicals to me – not very pleasant at all. But others said they couldn’t taste a damn thing – it just tasted of paper. But every strip was the same and this is how they determine ‘non-tasters’ and ‘super tasters’. I think I was somewhere in the middle.

Jelly beans were then passed around and we were invited to take one. But we had to eat it holding our noses. What could we taste? Nothing but sweetness as it turned out. Then we unplugged our noses and the taste flooded in! Going to prove how vital your sense of smell is to your dining experience.

A few other experiments took place – how pleasant we found eating with fingers, or being fed – was it sensual, or sexual, or a turn off? This probably rather depended on who you were sitting next to and what utensil you had been fed with. I was lucky and was spooned some seabass on a normal silver tablespoon by the girl to my right, whereas I had to feed the man on my left with a big soup ladle – much less erotic. When having to eat asparagus with our fingers did we enjoy it or find it slimy? And what about feeding your neighbour a parsnip? Intimate? Too much so?
And all the while food kept coming. We had 'McTucky's' popcorn chicken, chestnut hummus with rosemary pitta bread, raw sea bream with citrus fruits and olive oil, duck liver pate with figs, honey and yesterday's bread, raw vegetable ravioli (pickled veg) with goats' cheese, 'back door' smoked salmon, crispy smoked salmon skin and salmon caviar, blue cheese custard with hazelnuts and marmiteless twiglets. These were served in egg shells and were so rich and cheesy (yet not overpoweringly blue) - amazing. 

Finally we got to the main course and a dish of cabbage was set in front of me. Just cabbage. Next to me, the guy had a small swirl of mashed potato. But to my left was an amazing looking dish of sea bass! And then someone got an actual globe of chicken kiev! this wasn't fair! Luckily it was just another experiment and before long we were all sharing out our dishes. The cow pie that was placed in the middle of the table was more than impressive but the chicken kiev got my vote as the best dish. 
One final experiment came just before dessert when a little dish was placed before us, with lemon juice and a wedge of lime. In the dish was half a pill. We were asked to dip our fingers in the juice and taste it. Sour as you would expect from lemon juice. Then we were instructed to place the half pill in our mouths and chew – not simply swallow it. We tasted the juice again. It now tasted sweet! It was like drinking sugary sherbet! The same of the lime! Unbelievable!.  Unfortunately it had the same effect on the lovely red wine we’d been drinking which was now like having a huge glass of very sweet port.
The piece de resistance of the meal had to be the dessert. Headphones were handed out and a sheet of kitchen foil rolled out along the table. As Flight of the Bumblebee played in our heads, the chefs raced around creating a tapestry of desserts – swipes of chocolate sauce here, blobs of caramel there. A macaroon placed here, a Souffle over there. The tableau of dreams was built up before our very eyes – eyes which were now the size of saucers at all the different desserts being placed before us. A giant wagon wheel was created, there was cake, there was a queen of puddings, a chocolate ‘black pudding’ a chocolate tart. It was amazing. The music stopped, we handed back the headphones and then we plunged into the spread before us. It reminded me of the scene where the kids are let loose in Willy Wonka’s factory – not knowing where to start, wanting to try everything – a spoon went into the soufflé, a finger swiped up a bit of cream. Even that description I do not think does justice to what we were treated to and the joy we had eating it. Absolutely hats off to all involved for creating a truly magical event.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bound, 6th November

Bound is not for the faint-hearted if the one I attended is anything to go by.

It is a night for shibari enthusiasts and novices alike, shibari being the Japanese art of rope bondage. It was held at the Flying Dutchman which hosts many an alternative night, and is a cool, quirky little venue, though not the ideal set up for a performance space as we soon found out. If you didn’t nab your place, and were shorter than 6 foot, seeing any of the performances was out of the question. I realized this after the second act though and didn’t make the same mistake twice.

To start, there is some mingling, and then a demonstration of how to do some basic tying. There is plenty of rope around and people brought their own and there is time to practise and do some tying amongst yourselves before the performances start.

There were five scheduled for the night, due to end by 11:30. I ended up leaving at midnight (only just getting the last tube home) and had to miss the final act as they were so behind schedule.

I can only imagine what the last performance was about as the acts definitely increased in intensity as the night wore on.

Suspension featured in every act, but the level of ‘violence’ in each varied. The first act was quite gentle really – tender almost, with none of the tying looking too vicious. The second was the one I couldn’t really see but seemed to take this up a notch with a little more sadomasochism involved. The third show was thrilling and beautiful – a self-tying performance of twirls and sweeps as the girl expertly tied and untied herself to support her movements.

And finally (for me) an act fraught with tension and power that was almost difficult to watch. What made it bearable for me was knowing that the two involved likely had a deep connection and of course that everything that took place was consensual in some way. The previous pieces had been set to music but for this there was none. You could feel the puzzlement in the room as to why this was so (and a touch of boredom setting in) but as it went on, you realized how inappropriate music would have been and also how unnecessary. The girl of the pair, dressed in a sarong and flower pasties was trussed and bound until her knees were bent and she was hanging against a vertical pole. The rope around her looked menacing and cutting. Her pose was awkward and uncomfortable. She was expertly manoeuvred into several different positions – some better for the flogging she was subjected to. The tension built and built until it culminated in a final humiliation and her being untied, collapsing into her "tormentor"’s arms, her beautiful hair unpinned and falling over her face, where she quietly wept. (In relief? In pain? In ecstasy?). I couldn’t tell if I was turned on or horrified. That was almost a month ago and even now I can picture it all clearly, it was so striking and affecting.

I really wish I could have seen the final performance as well but Camberwell is hard enough to get back from when the tubes were running so off we dashed like Cinderella. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Below and Hidden, 5th November

Below and Hidden is the new mini club from Bourne & Hollingsworth that feels like your partying in someone’s house – except that the walls are all sparkly and awesome. It’s quite a contrast to the almost prim and proper upstairs, it most definitely designed as a den of iniquity with nights not even starting until a bit later in the evening and going on until 2 am. It definitely had the feel of an Arabian parlour, though the decor was actually very Medieval. We were treated to a condensed version of what they wanted the place to be like.

So, lights were fairly low in the first place, but dipped even further when the LEDs came on and the disco was ramped up. They had a short cocktail list, and plan to change the specials on offer on a monthly basis. Of course we had to try almost all of them and the one I was most pleasantly surprised by was the Peacock Suite. I normally avoid lavender but here it was used very judiciously. All the ingredients (kaffir lime, white wine and gin as well) combined to be more than the sum of their parts – it was hard to pick out the individual tastes but they melded together to create something incredibly pleasing on the tongue. And I loved the peacock feather garnish!
To be fair, every cocktail was a winner though. The Diamond days, mixing tequila with vermouths and fortified wine was quite a knockout. 
I attended their launch and hadn’t realized food would be on offer so we had stuffed ourselves with truffled chips at The Bowler beforehand. But the food they provided looked so good we managed to squeeze in some of that as well. 
As the night wore on the party vibes didn’t flag and by 11 pm everyone still there was up and dancing. I loved the intimate feel of this place. If you went along you could quickly make friends with everyone in the room and it would also be just the right size for hiring out for an occasion (if they do that). It also feels like a secret – when we left and emerged into the ordinary upstairs and ended up chatting to people, they were like ‘where have you even come from’, we just suddenly seemed to appear from nowhere. And I enjoyed that too.
Below & Hidden Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Cafe Mish, 29th October

Café Mish opened in Mayfair promising posh handmade sandwiches, and being a sandwichophile (yes, it’s a word**) I wanted to get up there, pronto.
Sadly, this is not how you do gourmet sandwiches (take a trip to Street Kitchen’s sandwich joint for a prime example of how to do it well). I ordered the medium which set me back almost a tenner and decided to get lamb because, well, when do I ever have lamb in a sandwich? I unwrapped the reasonably hefty sandwich with much anticipation to find it was stuffed with lukewarm, barely seasoned and overly fatty lamb, and some onion chutney that tasted like it could have come out of any old supermarket jar. Bitterly disappointing. As a side note, when the woman in front of me asked what was in the roast pork special, both the girls on the till had no idea and had to ask in the kitchen. At this, I suspected things might not be kosher but ordered anyway. So I can’t say I was massively surprised when it didn’t live up to its potential.
I did very much enjoy the homemade chipsticks they came with though - they were excellent. 

(**I know it's not..)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hot Since 91 90s Karaoke, 29th October

If you didn’t know, I’m a bit of a fan of karaoke, and I especially enjoy a themed karaoke night. But the universe seems to be somewhat stacked against me when it comes to enjoying such things – the last time I had planned on going to Gospeloke I was struck down with a throat infection and so it was when 90s karaoke was on the agenda. At least this time I managed to make it, even if singing was off the cards for me.

It was a cracking night – held at The Macbeth every third Thursday of the month, they take over the whole building and put on a total 90s party. Downstairs is where the karaoke action happens, kicking off at around 9:30 but there’s plenty to do beforehand with facepainting on offer, 90s games (like Connect Four and Operation) and videogames (I think maybe a SNES) on the second floor, and free cotton candy being given away. They also brought out free fried chicken at one point too but getting your mitts on that was near impossible.

The music policy is definitely more old school 90s RnB than just 90s but the song selection for singing runs the gamut of pop to indie to RnB. We had someone doing Gangsta's Paradise and a group drunkenly doing Aqua's Barbie Girl! Quality from those performing was variable but that's half the fun. Everyone sang along anyway, and there was a lot of grooving in between people doing their songs. I just loved the host and the DJ in charge seemed to be having a whale of a time too. They had 'bonus rounds' of Guessing the intro which invoked a bit of carnage as people leapt to grab the mic as soon as they recognised the song - then you won a shit prize and had the opportunity to sing the intro. Definitely on my list as one to return to.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Barrio Soho, 21st October

Ok, so I never went to the old-style Barrio Soho, so I can’t compare before and after the relaunch. But I can tell you what it’s like now, having been invited to sample the new menu (both drinks and food) and soak up the atmosphere. This is totally the place to go for fun and fiesta after work – have a few cocktails and a bite to eat upstairs and then once you’re nice and warmed up you can continue the party downstairs where it has its own little dance floor.

Drinkswise we tried pretty much everything they had with my favourite being the Cuba Lima which was a variation on a pisco sour. 
We also had a good selection of food. The mixed basket of fried goodness – pigs ears, pigs trotters and pork scratchings were thoroughly excellent. I was dubious about the ears having had them once before and finding them slimy and gristly, but fried and crunchy they make a good snack! The trotters were in nugget form and definitely my favourite. Both dips had a nice kick to them.

We also got to have a couple of rounds of pork tacos and homemade tortillas with some guacamole were waiting on the table for us. Happily made quick work of those!

The only thing I didn’t care for was the Mexican corn – but I’m just not a corn on the cob kinda gal. This had cheese and cayenne on them and were fine, I just don’t enjoy the process of eating off the cob. Sweet potato fries were tasty but not the best version I've ever had - they were rather large and some of them could have done with a few more minutes.
The atmosphere was as lively as the décor, bringing a bit of sunshine to the rapidly approaching winter. 

Barrio Central Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Barrafina, 8th October

I am not going to write anything bad about Barrafina. There is nothing bad to say about Barrafina. General consensus is that the food at Barrafina is good and general consensus is right. But how good? Well, for me, just pleasantly good, not knock-your-socks-off good. I enjoyed everything I ate and the meal itself was a very pleasurable experience. Even the hour’s wait for a table passed by quite quickly as we started on a bottle of red and got some padron peppers and bread to keep us company. For the first time ever I think I actually found a spicy one!

The meal was on Stephen and he was feeling lavish so we ordered quite a lot. It was very hard to choose between the ‘classics’ that are on the menu all the time and the specials of the night so we did a bit of both. We couldn’t miss out on the ham croquetas or one of the tortillas – prawn and piquillo pepper. I thought the tortilla was spot on – just the right squishy consistency in the middle but not too undercooked for my liking. The croquetas were good but I have to say I prefer the ones Stephen has made at home himself!

Milk-fed lamb belly was a no-brainer and of course if you’re going to eat in a Spanish place, you have to have chorizo (served with potatoes and watercress). Stephen had fried red mullet all to himself and I shared the arroz negro with monkfish with him, and first to come out was the meat platter we ordered. This was very nice but we immediately had food envy when we saw someone else’s choice of, I think, thin slices of lomo. Perhaps going for one specific type of cured meat is the way forward.

I can’t comment on the red mullet, although the saffron sauce it came with was a delight. The arroz negro was an incredibly deep-flavoured dish – too deeply flavoured for the monkfish in fact I think – it rather got lost amongst all that squid ink. A little more of it wouldn't have gone amiss either. 

The lamb – tender and one of those dishes you wish you hadn’t shared. Although by this time I was pretty stuffed so didn’t mind so much. While I enjoyed the chorizo, I was a little underwhelmed by this dish and the way it was presented - it was a tad boring and not the most enjoyable chorizo I've ever had. 

We still, for some reason, decided to get a dessert (shared of course) which was a chocolate tart with an sort of dry, but intensely chocolatey texture. Completely unnecessary but very good. 
It was a really enjoyable meal. And the food was all very decent – more than decent but I just don’t know if I can get that excited about classic Spanish tapas.

Barrafina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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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.