Monday, December 26, 2011

The Three Crowns and Baby Bathhouse, 10th December

As Christmas was fast approaching, we thought it would be nice to go for a nice meal (well, nice but not too pricey) with some of our close friends. We had been considering the Princess of Shoreditch, at which I had eaten before, but our friend suggested the Three Crowns instead. I had already done some investigating of the Three Crowns when trying to find somewhere to go for my boyfriend's birthday. It is owned by the same people who own the Social in King's Cross which I quite like, and below there is a club which is on my list called The Drop. I had subsequently put the Three Crowns on my list so I was more than happy to go. I had said to Stephen that the next time we went out, we should go to Church Street in Stoke Newington, which is where this is. That's the downside of the place and why we'd decided against it for his birthday - for most people Stokey feels too far out (and not in the Sixties sense). But it's not too hard to get to from Mile End.

The pub is great. We only had one drink before sitting down to eat, but I really liked the feel of it. There was quite a young crowd (well, young but not teens) and even a couple of children, but I won't hold that against them. I could easily imagine coming back for a few drinks. The meal, on the other hand, was a little disappointing. The menu sounded pretty good, but it didn't really deliver on it's potential. It was perfectly edible, just nothing spectacular. I started with a salad consisting of some of my fabourite vegetables - courgettes, sweet potato, butternut squash and halloumi. That was great. And then I had the duck which came with mashed potato, some wilted greens (spinach) and a berry jus. The jus was pretty good actually - nice and sweet and a good amount. The mashed potato was weirdly dry (I didn't realise you could get mash wrong), and the duck was inconsistent - some bits were just right, others were overcooked. So, nothing to really turn your nose up at, but I wouldn't go back for the food. 

It was about 10 pm by the time we finished, and Stephen and I felt it was a bit early to be heading back, though our companions had further to travel than we did and so departed. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that we were on Church Street and see some of the other venues I had on my list. I would have been quite happy to just head downstairs to see what The Drop was like, but that night they were playing some cheesy 90s stuff or something which didn't interest me at all. Such a shame, because almost every other night of December it looked like that had had some pretty good acts on (people from Moshi Moshi for example).

So I thought we could try the Lion up the road, also owned by the same people. I had originally decided to go to the Baby Bathhouse but felt like, with just the two of us, pretty sober, maybe it wasn't the right night for it and we should just to go another pub for a nightcap. But when we got to the Lion, it looked like they were showing the football, which didn't appeal, and lo and behold, the Bathhouse was exactly opposite beckoning us to enter.

So enter we did. It wasn't what I was expecting. It was tiny!! Tiny!! We had a couple of cocktails and enjoyed the music. I think when we first ventured in, they were playing Aretha Franklin, and by the time we descended the stairs to the club part below, they had moved through the decades to Hot Chip. So, the music policy upstairs was pretty top notch - and had been the reason we wanted to go there. It made me regret not making it to the original Bathhouse before it shut, because they played similar tunes there, and wonder why they didn't keep it open. The baby version seemed popular enough to warrant a bigger venue.

As I said, there was a club part below and I had a look on the wall to see what kind of night it was. I believe they called it a Disco Goth night. Sounded perfect to me! So we went down with our second drink to see what was going on. It was pretty dead down there, but it was still only about 11:15 so for all I know it could have become a hotbed of dancing fervour later on. The music was certainly good and put us in the mood for staying out for a bigger night. I don't know what I imagined Disco Goth would be, but this was pretty atmospheric, dark, industrialised house music and I liked it. It really suited the ambience of the basement we were in, which was all darkness and decadence. The whole place, upstairs and down, reeks of opulence and Gothicness, a combination that speaks to me. But we weren't on for a big one that night and wanted to get the tube back so we left after only a short while. 

I'll definitely go back, and would do so frequently if Stoke Newington weren't just that tad bit too far.

Square Meal

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Nightjar, Roadtrip and The Russian bar, 21st December

My friend Alison was back in town, and if you have been reading this blog for a while you'll know that this means we were about to hit a few cocktail joints. The first two, Nightjar and Roadtrip, I'd heard of when I made a plea to Secret London to suggest some cocktail bars in Old Street when I was going out with colleagues. We didn't end up going to either but I liked the sound of them so they went on my list.

I then found myself almost going to Nightjar when Stephen and I were looking for somewhere to celebrate our anniversary (literally wandering into Shoreditch looking) and I remembered Nightjar. We sauntered over, it being around 7 pm and were told they had a full house. Reservations were clearly highly recommended. 

And so, I was sure to make them. I asked for a spot between 7 and 9 and was told they were very busy that night, would 6 to 8:30 suit instead? That was fine by us, we don't mind an early start drinking, even though Alison would have only got into the country 6 hours previously.

Close-up of the Cobbler
The Nightjar is another one of those speakeasy type places, and from the outside it really carries this off as you would never know there was a bar there if you didn't know already. There's just a door, with a small logo of the bar on it,in between two shops. You descend the stairs to find yourself in an intimate, yet spacious enough, dimly lit hideaway. There are lots of little tables lit by candlelight and we were seated near the piano. Unfortunately there was no live music while we were there, but they do often have live acts playing swing and the like. Instead we had background music which was on the 1940s side and perfectly suited our surroundings. There are about 4 double page spreads of cocktails, arranged by era (pre-Prohibition, Prohibition etc) and that is almost too much choice. They all sound fantastic. I started with a 24 Volt Cobbler, which turned out to be my favourite of the night featuring chocolate and maple syrup flavours and yet still managing not to be too sweet. They not only take the taste of their cocktails seriously, they also spend a fair amount of time on the presentation as well. I've never seen such gorgeous-looking drinks! They were like sculptures or flower arrangements. 
Volt cobbler and Islands in the Stream

Toreador and something else!
Airmail and Ladybird complete with slab of chocolate

My least favourite cocktail was the Toreador, because even thought it was nice, it did just remind me of a Margarita. I was back on form with my last drink though - the Airmail featuring orange blossom honey water and champagne, and Alison's last cocktail was a rival to my first, with prune and belgian truffle liquer offset by Caribbean spices. 

There were lots of unusual ingredients that I am excited to go back to try. Like ginger and raisin sake! Or griddled korean pear. The prices are a little above what you'd pay in a normal bar, but for this quality, it's worth it. The only downside is that some of the cocktails came with metal straws. It looks nice, and keeps the liquid cold as it travels the short distance from glass to mouth, but the straws were a bit too long for a short person like me, and metal is fairly resistant to being bent down. It also tastes of metal. 

They have food too, and we had planned on having some, but couldn't decide on what so asked for some bread with oil to start. The waitress, however, took the menu away after that so we couldn't be bothered to ask for it again. It was tapas-based, with quite a lot of seafood.

We were then on to the next venue - the Hoxton Pony for an old school hip hop night, but we thought we'd pop in to Roadtrip on the way for one. We were feeling a bit full from the cocktails so we just had wine. Roadtrip is a kind of diner themed place. The decor inside is pretty funky but it did feel a bit too much like a theme bar to me. Just before we left we went downstairs where some jazz was going on. No one was serving down there and everyone seemed genuinely into the music, which wasn't our scene so we beat a hasty departure.

And came to the Pony, which was kinda dead! The downstairs was shut and there was no sign of the hip hop/music video fliming that the website mentioned. So that was disappointing but we got chatting to some people and so we ended up staying. The Hoxton Pony is a very sleek place, very stylish, but I felt it was a little soulless. Perhaps this is just because it wasn't busy. I wasn't sad when it closed for the evening.

Our companions wanted to continue the night, and we never say no to staying out, so we went with them to Trafik, a bar I have never really liked and being there this night didn't change my mind. That shut after an hour and there was talk of going somewhere else! It was 3 am by this time. I was doubtful that anywhere would be open.

But that was because, even though I knew of the Russian bar - a late night venue on Kingsland Road, I didn't know that it was a late night venue every night. So we went! As soon as they said it was open, I wanted to go - can't let an opportunity to cross something off my list pass me by. I was also pretty drunk by this point, which may have been the overriding factor.

And which also means my description of the place is probably a little lacking. It was smaller than I imagined it would be. And reminded me of Ye Olde Axe - there was a little bar on the side, with the same carved wooden posts. But this place played housey dance music as opposed to rockabilly. The dance floor was small but absolutely packed! God knows who these reprobates out clubbing until 5 o'clock were, but there were a lot of them! 

I'd go here again if I ever happen to be at a loss for what to do on a weekday night at 3 in the morning again (unlikely but not impossible), but at weekends Ye Olde Axe might just have it for being closer to where I tend to end up. 

Square Meal
Square Meal
Square Meal

V & A Museum of Childhood, 10th December

I didn't have much of a desire to go to this museum, if truth be told. But I saw from my various sources that they have several exhibitions on at the moment, that were up my kind of street. 

The first was The Stuff of Nightmares which promised to transform the Front Area into a dark and nightmarish forest where the retelling of Fundevogel plays out. It was actually made by local schoolchildren and sounded creepy. It was pretty disappointing. There was a small 'forest' with some macabre looking children's playthings and a TV playing an odd animation on a loop which almost gave me goosebumps. Almost. 

So it was with baited breath, for all the wrong reasons that we went into the museum to look at the other exhibition I wanted to see - My Giant Colouring Book. This was also on the small side. 21 pictures by Jake and Dinos Chapman. They were images based on children's join the dots pictures but fleshed out and made altogether unwholesome. But even though there wasn't much to the exhibition, I thought it was really good. You could just about see the original shape in them all and some of the images were pretty disturbing considering their origins were in innocent pictures. It didn't feel right that children should be running among them. Below are two of my favourite.

Considering the two main reasons I wanted to come took all of ten minutes to look through, we thought we might as well take a look at what else the museum had to offer. It is free after all. And I'm glad I did - it's actually quite fun! Apart from the fact that there are kids running all over the place. But I suppose you shouldn't begrudge children enjoying themselves in a museum all about children. Well, childhood, which basically means a museum of toys. 

There's a hell of a lot in there and the museum have done their best to insert some interactivity into it, with a few coin operated displays and some free stuff for the kids to get into. 

So yes. Toys and toys and toys all through the ages. It was like stepping back in time. Stephen and I enjoyed pointing out to each other the toys we'd had when we were young and I personally enjoyed marvelling at the grand dollhouses. But after a while it did get a bit tiresome and by the time we'd got up to the other exhibition I was interested in: Magic Worlds, we were ready to leave. It wasn't that amazing anyway. And so I leave you now, with a video of my favourite thing from the museum... Wood... as waves.

Sir John Soane's Mausoleum, 9th December

After severely stuffing myself for lunch, I thought a little pedestrian journey might be a good idea to walk it all off. Considering I was round the back of St Pancras, I figured St Pancras Gardens wasn't too far and I should go round there to have a look-see at the Soane mausoleum. 

It's amazing all the tranquil places you can find in London. I have always had a fondness for cemeteries (at least in the daytime) - they're just as good a place to rest as a park and often much less crowded. I wonder how many people even know about St Pancras Gardens as it's as in the middle of nowhere as you can get while still being within London. I came to the back entrance, which doesn't announce what it is, but I was pretty sure it was the right spot. I was correct. A minute in and I knew I'd found what I was looking for, because it was the only tomb in the place with a fence around it. So that was a shame because it would have been nice to get up close. But, being rather grand and a little bit famous, it seemed to have gotten some unwanted attention and thus the fence was necessary.

So who is this Soane guy anyway? He was an architect and designed his own tomb (morbid much?) for him and his family. You may have heard of some of his other works - the Bank of England for example. He also lends his name to the Soane Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields which is actually his old house and filled with weird and wonderful artefacts that he collected from around the world. Asides from the Bank though, one of the lasting gifts he gave the world of architecture was to inspire the designer of the iconic red telephone booths by this very tomb (hence my desire to see it).  You'll see what I mean when you look at the photo below.

So this is just a short and sweet entry as there's not much to say about it. St Pancras Old Church is actually rather pretty so I took a picture of that as well.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Rib man, 9th December

The meat to bread ratio. I'm going to say that again. The meat to bread ratio. It is all important. How many times have you had a pulled pork sandwich, a burger, or one of those hog roast sandwiches, stalls of which can be found at every festival and market and ended up vaguely disappointed. And I can tell you for why - the meat to bread ratio is all wrong. And sometimes the bread is of the wrong type as well. As a bread lover, you would think the more bread the better for me, but I'm quite particular in how my sandwiches are compiled. The bread should not drown the filling and unfortunately it too often does.

Someone who clearly understands this is The Rib Man. Normally to be found on Brick Lane on a Sunday, this guy has taken one of everybody's (I use the word everybody here liberally) favourite foods and made it a gazillion times better. Ribs. Ribs are great. But what is the annoying thing about them? That they're on ribs. They're messy and annoying to eat, you have to make loads to get a decent haul of meat off of them. If only there were some other way...

Well, The Rib Man has provided the answer. He goes through all the trouble of marinating these ribs from outside reared Norfolk and Suffolk pigs and then slow cooking them. He then takes all the meat off the bones and serves it up in bread rolls or wraps. Actually, you can also buy them in their natural form on the bone as well if you so wish. 

Ooh saucy! And possibly as big as my head
I went up to Eat Street again today and he was there. That's why I went - to try him out. I saw that there were a few wraps already made and keeping warm but I wanted to try out the roll. The wraps looked good - pretty stuffed and the meat looked great, but I just had the feeling that the real test would be in the roll. So that's what I asked the lady serving for. They had a couple ready made in some paper bags but the guy 'in back' (who I can only assume is the Rib Man himself) said, wait a minute - I'll make a fresh one. And he grabbed a roll and scooped in the meat, grabbed a bunch of kitchen roll with which to hold it and handed it over. My eyes probably did a cartoon bulge at the sight of it. It was massive. The lady then asked me if I wanted any sauce (which the Rib Man makes himself). I went for some BBQ and of course some of the hot stuff. Apparently there is a second hot sauce you can have but it's so hot you have to ask for it specially. I believe it goes by the name of Holy F**k. So I figured the mainstream stuff would be enough for me.

It wasn't all that busy in that area so I found a seat and began to tuck in. 

This is the view halfway through - I'm attempting to show
how juicy the meat is without sauce
I've got to say, it was pretty special. The roll was hefty, and soft - it was the perfect roll in which to encase some shredded meat. He had also packed it so full, he had managed to attain the perfect B to M ratio (see above). At last! This almost excited me more than the taste. I had quite a bit of sauce on the meat, which I tried, sort of unsuccessfully to spread evenly across all the meat, but to be honest, the meat is so juicy, sauce isn't essential. But it tastes good so whack some of that on too. The BBQ sauce is sweet and smoky, the hot sauce is bloody hot. It seriously made my mouth, tongue and I think even teeth tingle. 

I would say I couldn't get enough of this sandwich but it is so huge, that would just be a blatant lie. At about three quarters of the way through I thought a decent person would probably stop, but I'm not a decent person - I'm a glutton so I ploughed on to the end!  Just wonderful.

Street Kitchen, 7th December

I had an early interview – well early for me – which conveniently finished around lunchtime. Why not go and get some chow from Street Kitchen in Liverpool Street on my way home? Why not indeed.

It was a bitingly cold day, especially as I was in my interview finery ie, a suit jacket as opposed to a warm wintery coat. I followed the circumference around Broadgate Circle and saw the familiar silver van from all those Food Network advert shorts (anyone seen those?). I had told Stephen I was likely to go over there for some scran the day before and he warned me that Jun was unlikely to be there. I said I knew but secretly hoped he might.

And he was! He was there, waiting around for people to come up to the hatch. And he served me! Yay! I love Jun - we've seen him at Taste of Christmas and another foodie event and he always seems so nice. Of course, I didn't chat to him or anything but it was nice that he was there.

They always have a few choices - I was quite tempted by the sticky pork or hot smoked salmon but in the end went for the winter broth with celeriac, cabbage and braised meat (I think it was beef) and a warm brioche roll. Mmmm, it was the perfect choice for a cold winter's day. It was also under a fiver whereas the other options were £7.50. 

See - large chunks of meat
The veggies were just the way I like them - cooked but still with a bit of crunch. And hiding underneath all the vegetation floating on top were some surprisingly large chunks of meat. I took a sip of just the broth at first and was already pleased - it was full of flavour. It reminded me of the chinese vegetable soup I'd had at Yum Bun, mainly in an inverse way (this one had flavour, the other one didn't). As I said, the vegetables were good and the meat was also a little fatty and tender and tasty. As pleasing a winter warmer dish as you could ask for.

Oh - the brioche roll was just meh. And I think the soup was enough really - I didn't even eat the roll at the time but saved it for a snack. As a bread lover, that's saying something.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Homework at The Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, 30th November

My friend Fiona who is a bit of a literary type (it helps, when you're in publishing) brought my attention to the fact that Homework was on that night and she was going, did I want to come? And it was the last Homework of the year. I had planned a relaxing night in with Stephen but it seemed a fitting end to my first enjoyable day of unemployment to go out for a drink or two. In a highbrowish kind of way. I am quite partial to a literary night myself, having been to several BookSlams over the last few years, and also one Literary Death Match and I always find them enjoyable. The added bonus of going to this one, of course (besides it being in Bethnal Green; only one tube stop away) was that I'd be killing two birds with one stone. Attending Homework and striking that off the list and seeing what the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club was like. 

Homework is a monthly night that runs from May(ish) until November(ish) every year which is put on by Aisle16. They are, in their own words 'a looser collective of writers sharing ideas and collaborating on projects as and when'. Although I guess 'as and when' has to coincide roughly with their commitments to Homework. Each Homework has a theme, and this month's theme was Poet in Residence.  The Aisle16 team had to take themselves out of their normal writing habitats and become 'poets in residence' of a different place (building/town/state of mind) of their choosing. 

We had actually seen three of the six poets before, at the aforementioned BookSlams. At first we were a little disappointed by this, although if I had bothered to do my research I would have realised it was inevitable that at least two of them would have been there, considering they are the founders. Last time we'd seen them Joe Dunthorne (author of Submarine) and Ross Sutherland, they had done an ill-concieved 'live poem writing' made up of tweets from the evening on a poem which had been projected onto a wall. 

I'm kinda glad I didn't look though, as it might have put me off - I like to see new people rather than pay to see people we've already experienced and that would have been a shame. Because I absolutely loved this night. The places the poets chose to go and be residence in ranged from a library in Bungay to Occupy LSE to Beachy Head. And the poems they wrote there were enraging, moving and hilarious. I don't think I have enjoyed any other literary night more. Fiona said that normally the subjects were a bit more lighthearted than they were that night but I didn't mind at all. It so happened that the 'heavier' things they touched upon were things I had become interested in myself recently. Well, things probably most of the audience were interested in - CEO pay, council cuts, the closure of libraries and er... suicide. But even addressing these serious issues, all the poets managed to sew in some amusement to the tapestry they were weaving and provide light relief. 

And, somewhat of a surprise, they managed to get a real life poet in residence - the ex-Poet Laureat himself - Andrew Motion to come along and do a reading. It was well worth a fiver.

But I am not only reviewing Homework but also the venue in which it was performed. The Working Men's Club. Do not be fooled into thinking this is just a trendy theme for a bar. There is no mistaking that this either still is, or was until very recently, a real working men's social club. It looks like one from the outside, and it smells like one on the inside. It comes complete with those funny sort of plush velvet-seated chairs, heavy drapes and a little bar in the hall manned by people who looked like they were more used to serving working men than a bunch of middle class people 'slumming it' to watch poetry and sip wine.

Given the milieu I wasn't sure if I trusted the quality of the wine and stuck to cider. Stephen was drinking blackcurrant and sodas. The round together cost me a fiver. That didn't seem so bad until I got a sight of the drinks list and saw that my cider was only £3.50. £1.50 for a blackcurrant and soda is a bit steep. 

The Working Men's Club plays host to many a different sort of night - karaoke, burlesque, electropop club nights, gay nights. I'd like to go back and see what it's like on a night when it really lets its hair down. 

J & A Cafe, 30th November

So far my unemployment hadn't been as relaxing as I had hoped - I spent the first two days applying for jobs, preparing for interviews, and getting stressed out about whether or not I was making the correct decision regarding a job offer. But Wednesday - ahhh Wednesday - my first proper day of respite. I had a lie in and then met my boyfriend for lunch. I consulted my List (not physically but mentally, actually it may well have been physically) and suggested J & A. This place had in turn been suggested to me by one of my friends from work. I particularly liked the sound of their brunches on the weekend but the sound of their sandwiches also appealed - nothing fancy, but I quite like the simple touch when it comes to sandwiches.

We met early, at noon. This was a good thing. People clearly know about this place and by 1 pm  the place was full and people were having to 'bunk up' on tables - a practice my boyfriend detests. I'm not too hot on it either considering I hate hearing other people eat. I find it even difficult to hear the mastication of my nearest and dearest, let alone strangers.  Anyway, so the place gets busy and it isn't even right in the middle of the thoroughfare - you have to go down a little alley to get to it. I almost thought I was in the wrong place. 

I had pretty much decided to have a sandwich but then at the last minute changed my mind to a baked potato. They have several sandwiches that they always serve and then they also have a soup or stew special, a pie special and several jacket potato specials on the day, written up on the board on the wall. I ordered the smoked cheddar, bacon, sundried tomato and apple potato. Stephen had the chicken roast chicken sandwich. 

I also had some orange juice with my meal which Stephen proclaimed 'lovely'. It had bits in it which was a plus for him, though I prefer my juice sans pulp. 

Our food arrived and I think I had food envy. Probably why I took two pictures of Stephen's dish and only one of mine. I didn't have any of the sandwich but I have it on good advice that it was an impressive sandwich. It must have been because ordinarily Stephen would moan that it was £5.50 for a sandwich but this time, he not only didn't moan but said he really liked the place and would be coming back soon! Judging from the looks of the 'wich, I could understand it - just look at those plump slices of bread. And they haven't skimped with the chicken - look at it all juicy and glistening. And they included some skin. Oh yes, they know what they're doing. It's like a proper sandwichy treat you'd make for yourself at home if you could be bothered to roast a whole chicken.

I'm really not great at this photography thing
Oh yeah - that's the good stuff

My baked potato was also pleasing. I worried when it came out that there wouldn't be enough topping for the size of the potato. But I managed to eke it out perfectly. I could taste the smokiness of the cheese and they hadn't gone over the top with the amount so it wasn't a greasy, claggy mess on the potato. and there was more bacon than it looks like there was from the picture. The only weird thing was the apple - I don't think it fit all that well with the rest of it, but I like apple so it was no biggie. I was more than happy to eat it. Even the token bit of salad on the side was pretty good. 

The food wasn't groundbreaking - it's what you'd expect from a place calling itself a cafe - but it was done really well. I can't wait to go back for the pancakes!

J + A Cafe on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Friday, December 2, 2011

Vinoteca, 23rd November

This entry is actually found in the 'Drink' List but I ended up going for lunch here in order to celebrate the launch of an app I had been working on. We were dining on our company's dime and one of my colleagues suggested Vinoteca. I immediately seconded that suggestion as it was somewhere on my List and my other half had said the steak looked good every time he walked past and spied on the diners. 

We also happened to be going on my last week of work and so it was sort of a goodbye meal as well. Which made it feel even more apt that we take the chance to have a glass of wine - I mean, the place is called Vinoteca, clearly wine is something they should do well.

A couple of my co-diners had been there before and one of them recommended the steak. How could I refuse? So I had the bavette (served medium rare only) with amusingly named black trumpet butter, chips and smoked ketchup. For each meal they recommend a wine to accompany it, and, placing my faith in their wisdom, I went with their suggestion. Most of us in fact had the bavette, or the pork belly. One eschewed the meat peer pressure and went for langoustine. She asked if she could have some chips with it as it only came with a salad and was informed that 'they don't do that'. Tsk tsk, how dare she ask for some extra food! So that was a bit of a black mark for them.

But then the steak came and blotted out all memories of any slight lack in service. How can I describe it? I think this sums it up nicely: Mmmmmm mmm hhhhmmmmmmmhhhh. *gurgle*. Sooo good. The chips were amazing. The ketchup was indeed smoky and the butter I can only assume was properly trumpety considering they got everything else right.

Mmmm close up
I swapped with my friend a piece of my meat for a bit of pork belly and that was pretty amazing too. And they weren't shy in the portion size, nor did they serve up a bit of belly that was mostly fat. 

I think the only meal that was a little disappointing was the langoustines. They certainly looked impressive on the plate, with their long claws stretched across it, but there were only four or five of them and though they took as long to eat as our slabs of meat, they weren't anywhere near as filling for my colleague. I pitied her for her lack of chips. This is why I tend not to order shellfish - too much work for too little reward. Plus I find de-shelling them a bit gross.

I got a glimpse of Vinoteca's Christmas menu which was pretty mouthwatering. Especially the desserts. Something we didn't try when we were there. 

I'm no wine expert so I can't wax too lyrical about my glass other than to say it was eminently quaffable and put me in a wine drinking state of mind, which sadly I had to extinguish as we were going back to the office. 

I'm sure I will be back at some point when I can spend longer sampling some more vino varieties. 

Vinoteca on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

The Diner, 20th November

Ok, so I know this is beginning to look suspiciously like a food blog. And the next few posts are not going to do anything to dissuade you of that notion. But bear with me - I will have non-food related posts very soon. I'm working to a backlog so this is not an empty promise - I have something in mind I will write up very soon.

Right. On to the topic in question - The Diner. For brunch. 

I've actually been to the Diner once before years ago, but I didn't have anything to eat. My companion had a burrito. This same companion was with me when we went back the other weekend for brunch. We had first tried the Breakfast Club in Liverpool Street but there was a pretty big queue so we had to find somewhere else. The Diner in Shoreditch also had a bit of a wait, but only about 15 minutes. I didn't remember what the menu was like before, but the Diner had been popping up in recommendations for brunch in stuff like Secret London and Yelp so I wanted to give it a try.

The menu for the breakfast type stuff was extensive. It was quite a task to decide. I thought I was in the mood for pancakes but after careful perusal the western eggs seemed to be calling me. Western eggs - scrambled eggs with onions, peppers and cheese. Stephen, for some strange reason decided to go for the burrito again. I didn't think this was really in the spirit of brunch but he seemed to recall the burrito being good and couldn't be convinced to order otherwise.

I also ordered a side of toast and some hash browns.

This was a mistake. A slightly embarrassing mistake. I did not realise that the portion of eggs would be phenomenal and that they would also come with a side of home fries with onions. I looked like a total greedy pig. I forgot to take a picture and I deeply regret it. The food looked delicious when it arrived and it tasted even better with my mouth than it had with my eyes. The toast and hash browns were completely superfluous, though I did my best to get through them.

As it happens, it was quite fortuitous that I ordered the sides - not for me, but for Stephen.

His steak burrito was a disappointment. He gave me some precise adjectives to use to describe it but I can't remember them now.* It didn't live up to his memory of it and I think the problem was this: he had last eaten the burrito before the proliferation of all the very good burrito places over here. He had nothing to really compare it to at the time. But now he did and it was found sadly lacking. As I said before, I had over-ordered and this was lucky because he made up for the lack in both quality and size of the burrito by finishing off my hash browns. They were tasty.

So, to conclude - I shall be going back to The Diner. There are many more breakfast items that I have faith they do very well that I wish to sample. But I will probably stay away from any of the other things on the menu... apart from the hard shakes. I bet they're good.
*I consulted stephen about his burrito and he wishes me to say that there wasn't enough rice, not enough steak which was dry anyway, and too much of that crappy American cheese.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yum Bun, 17th November

I had just been told that I hadn't got the job I wanted within my own company. Normally going for a promotion in your own company is not too big of a deal if you don't get it, but in this case it meant I was out of a job. I felt both defiant and despondent and knew I needed something delicious to eat to bring me back to equilibrium.

I headed over to Eat St, going by foot to walk off the adrenalin from the revelation that I'd be leaving my job in one week. I regretted the decision to pedestrianise myself about halfway up Farringdon Road and even more so once I got to King's Cross and started up the long walk to actually get to Eat St. I felt like I was trekking to the back of beyond. I had looked up who was there that day and knew it would be worth it - at the very least I could get a banh mi from banhmi11 and if they were as good as the ones they serve on Broadway Market, I'd be happy. But Yum Bun were also there that day and I had yet to taste their wares.

I had a bit of a recky before queuing up - having a look at the meat and how big the buns were. They had a lunch deal on - 2 buns and some soup for £6. One bun on it's own was £3 so it was basically a 'buy two, get soup free' type deal. I wasn't too bothered about getting soup but if it's free, why not? Especially inoffensive chinese vegetable soup.

Yum in a Bun
I took my two buns and soup and found myself a spare bit of kerb to sit on. Ahhhh, the yum bun. They have basically taken everyone's favourite dish of crispy duck pancakes and made them even more fabulous. Hoisin - check. Cool cucumber - check. Fresh spring onion - check. But instead of duck (which I love) they have replaced it with pork belly. Pork belly! Wonderfully tasty and juicy pork belly. And instead of pancakes they come in a fluffy 'bun'! A bun! (Ok, that exclamation mark may not be warranted given their name.) Not a bun as in a bap, or a roll, or a butty, but a bun as in a Chinese steamed bun - you know, the spherical things which often have minced pork and chives in the middle of them. I don't know quite how they cook them, but they must do them flat, a bit like pancakes, that can then be folded and stuff stuffed in.  And then - the piece de resistance is a bit of that lovely orangey chilli sauce that you get in Chinese restaurants. All together, it works beautifully. One is most definitely not enough. I think next time, though, I would ask for a tad more sauce - both kinds.

Mmmm, half eaten Bun
I ate my buns while waiting for my soup to cool and then started on that. It wasn't great. It's just a broth with some veggies in it and, as I suspected, it had mushrooms in it. The horror! Anyway, it was no great shakes - just something extra to fill your belly with instead of another bun and I got tired of avoiding the mushrooms after a while so poured the rest away. I'm glad it was free cos I wouldn't have appreciated paying for it.

Those buns stayed on my mind a long time though... I will be back for more.

Yum Bun on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 14, 2011

Koya, 14th November

This is meant to be the new 'hot spot' for those who like their noodles. People queue up outside the door to get em, waiting up to, maybe even longer than, half an hour. I've read many good reviews of the place and Stephen is a bit of a noodlehead so it made its way onto our radar. And guess what his favourite noodles are? Yes that's right, you get a gold star - its those fat juicy udon noodles, which are Koya's speciality.

So we tried to go the other weekend but at that point in time it wasn't open on a Sunday. So we tried again tonight.

Kinda wish we hadn't bothered. I had the beef hot noodles in hot soup. Stephen had the pork and miso hot noodles in hot soup. And sure, they were welcomingly warm considering the weather we had just braved to get there (some light drizzle - the worst of all weathers). But I thought the noodles were faintly ridiculous. No one needs noodles that fat or that long. They were pleasantly chewy and the broth was quite comforting, but I wasn't blown away. Pho won my heart over recently (the dish, not the restaurant, although I also like the restaurant), and Koya's udon could not steal it away.

If a bowl of noodles were a fiver a pop or something like that, this could easily be a go-to place when we're wandering Soho as we often do, and don't know where to go for some food. But for £10, the likelihood of me going back is pretty slim. Baozi Inn will remain our staple for cheap and tasty Asian food.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wildlife photographer of the year, 6th November

The ‘in-laws’ visiting gave us another reason to go out and do something from my list. This time The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum. Unlike the rest of the museum, admission is not free, and £9 (including voluntary donation to the museum) which seemed a little steep. But we needed something to fill the day with and I thought it could be worthwhile.

I’m really pleased we went. The exhibition contained much more than I thought it would. It took us a good hour to wander around and even then there were a couple of sections that I didn’t get to completely scrutinise. It is a little hard to describe a bunch of photographs, and I didn’t take any of them. Photography probably wasn’t allowed anyway. The first section was of entries from children 10 and under. Ten!! Under!! Each photo had a little note about the person who took it and what they did to get the picture, and then there was another little note about the actual subject. For example, the winner of the children’s category was a close up of a longhorn beetle, and we were told this was taken when the girl was on holiday with her family. There was another picture of a bottle-nosed dolphin playing with some false killer whales. Although it’s been known that dolphins do this, it was almost definitely the first time it had ever been documented in a photo.

There were some spectacular landscape photos, and photos of the ordinary but taken in a different way – like an extreme close up of a bee inside a beautiful white flower. Reading the stories of the photographers and the situations they put themselves in to capture the perfect photo was astounding. Stuff like sitting in what they call ‘hides’ for days at a time, waiting for the particular species they wanted to come along and pose in just the right way.

Naturally I thought it would be a good exhibition or it wouldn’t have gone on The List, but I was pleased by just how satisfying and fascinating it really was.

Walking round a fairly small room can work up quite an appetite. My ‘in-laws’ are quite traditional English folk and were in the mood for a Sunday Roast. I had tasked Stephen (after all, they’re his relations) with finding a place that does a good roast in the area of the museum the night before. He, however, got sidetracked with the evening menu at the Bull & Last, wondering if he should go there for his birthday the week after. No roast venue was found. And so, on the Sunday I found myself hurriedly searching both the recesses of my mind, and the internet for somewhere to go. I only really know places in the East End and had heard of one place that was meant to be good – Mason & Taylor. I also found a blog dedicated to Sunday Roasts – which highly recommended the Water Poet. As that was closer to Liverpool St station than the other one, we thought we’d go by there first and see what they did.

What they did sounded perfectly nice and acceptable to everyone, so we put our names down and waited for 20 minutes for a table.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Our roasts were disgusting. Stephen and I opted for the lamb shoulder. The meat was overdone. The gravy was insipid and a token presence on the plate. (Actually that’s a plus for me as I don’t like gravy that much, but I know for most people it would be a negative thing.). It was supposed to come with ‘carrot puree’ and ‘autumn greens’. That translated to sliced boiled carrots and some peas. The roast potatoes were of variable quality – I had one perfect one, and the rest were chewy as opposed to crunchy. Stephen’s relations had the roast chicken and had similarly derogatory remarks to make about it, one complaint being that it was cold. The Yorkshire pudding wasn’t bad.

For some reason (ever the hopeful optimists I suppose) we decided to order dessert here as well. They did sound very tempting. But they were just as disappointing. Stephen’s mum and I opted for the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and honeycomb ice cream. Stephen’s mum doesn’t like butterscotch sauce and asked for custard instead. This they did get right, but I did notice that she hadn’t asked for the ice cream to be withheld, yet that was also replaced in favour of custard. Which was actually, little did she know it, a good thing, because my ‘honeycomb ice cream’ actually tasted like a scoop of clotted cream. Nothing iced or honeycomb about it. The butterscotch sauce was good but there should have been more of it because the pudding itself was pretty dry.

Stephen ordered the orange pippin apple and plum crumble. He said it was cold in places, making it very unpleasant to eat. I have no pictures, but the place didn’t deserve any being taken.

Last night we went to the Canton Arms for Stephen’s birthday where I had an amazing meal complete with moist, delicious pear and butterscotch pudding for dessert. It put the Water Poet’s roast on Sunday into stark contrast. Perhaps I’ve been harsher than I would have, had I not had an example of how food should be done only a few days later. Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Bad food is bad food and bad food is what we had at The Water Poet. The only thing I can say as a possible defence is that we went very late in the day and so maybe all the good stuff had gone by then. Maybe.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tea at The Wolsley, 5th November Part 2

So, on to the tea. We realised we were actually going to be earlier than our half four reservations and called ahead to see if we could be accommodated. They said they would do their best ans when we were shown through the heavy black curtains, feeling ever so exclusive as we did, we didn't have to wait more than a few minutes before we were shown to a table right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle. We had chosen The Wolsley because it's a bit of a landmark destination and sounds quite posh but in actual fact the prices were very reasonable and it didn't sound too overwhelmingly fancy in its attitude. I think it was a very good choice. It was definitely a lot buzzier than we were expecting - not all prim and proper and hushed. Although it was rather grand, with high ceilings and large lanternesque light fittings, marble floors and dim lighting. 

We had made an effort to look nice but it wasn't a case of designer-wear and tails and I think we fit with the general attire of the crowd. It wasn't at all intimidating, but that didn't mean that the service was less than you'd expect from a good restaurant. The waiters were very attentive (almost too attentive at one point - trying to whip away my hot chocolate before I had finished), constantly topping up our glasses of water whenever they fell below some predesignated level, which roughly corresponded to taking about three gulps.

The food was very traditional, but this was another reason we chose it, so it was exactly what we wanted. We had four afternoon teas. They came with five finger sandwiches each - chicken and tarragon, smoked salmon, celery and cream cheese, cucumber and egg and cress. You also got two scones each - these were delicious - they seemed light and fluffy but then you realise why you are so full after a cream tea as they sit quite heavily on you. They had raisins in them as you would expect, but they weren't crammed with them - which for me was a plus because I don't like raisins and had to pick them out. They were accompanied by, of course, clotted cream and jam. And they didn't skimp on either. There was still quite a bit left over once we were done with the scones.

And on to the pastries. There were six individual kinds to share between the two of you: a coffee eclair, a cheesecake, chocolate mousse cake, redcurrant tart, battenburg and a pistachio macaroon. It couldn't have worked out better for our little group as even though we all had different tastes, they didn't seem to overlap too much, so no one was deprived of the one pastry they really wanted. For example, I had the pistachio macaroon, which Stephen's stepfather didn't want, but he really wanted the battenburg and I hate marzipan. By the end of it we were absolutely stuffed and only two morsels remained - one of the cheesecakes and one coffee eclair. The waiter came by to tidy away the last remaining things and spied we hadn't finished everything off. He refused to clear away the cheesecake, claiming it absolutely must be tasted. Stephen and I hadn't had any of the other one, so we faux grudgingly obliged to share it and I'm very glad I did - it tasted like a proper New York cheesecake: deliciously creamy. It probably was the best dessert on there. Don't get me wrong, the others were good too.

I should also mention the tea. Unfortunately I don't like tea so I can't really comment on anything other than its presentation. It came in a very impressive urn, accompanied by a tea strainer which none of us knew how to use. After some observation of the other patrons, we realised that you had to perform a manoeuvre where you tilted it and hung it on the side of your cup, then poured the tea through it. So now you know.

I did enjoy the experience and I think it was worth doing just to say you've had Tea at The Wolsley. Everything was perfectly tasty. But to be honest, if I were going to have a Tea again and not for any particular special reason - I'd go back to Bea's of Bloomsbury's. We had an excellent afternoon tea there one New Year's Eve, for less than the price of The Wolsley but just as filling, and with slightly more interesting selections.

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Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tea at The Wolsley, 5th November, Part 1

My boyfriend's mother and her husband (obviously not Stephen's father or it would have been easier for me to say 'parents') were visiting over the weekend, partly because they hadn't for a while, and partly because it was the mum's birthday on November 5th. So we wanted to line up something a bit special for their visit. Stephen's mother and step-parent are not the easiest to entertain. It's not that they're picky exactly, it's more that they're not particularly interested in anything. They come to London to see Stephen and they could really be anywhere. They're not particularly interested in food, or drink, or art, or music, so coming up with something spectacular (other than Stephen becoming the model son overnight which was unlikely) for her birthday was a challenge. But we thought we had a pretty darn good solution: Tea at The Wolsley. What mum doesn't like the idea of afternoon tea and the kudos of saying their son took them to one of the better known venues in London?

We were booked in for tea fairly late in the afternoon because we wanted to take them up the road to Broadway Market, our new favourite market. The amount of food on offer up there is ridiculous. I was very much looking forward to it and had even dreamt about it (well, I dreamt about food, I'm attributing it to excited anticipation). Last time we went I had vowed to have a Scotch egg as I'd seen someone eating a fine looking specimen but in the end I was sidetracked by Banh Mi 11 before I got round to the scotch egg stall. It was a most enjoyable diversion - I reckon it's the best Banh Mi in London. To commit full disclosure, I had eaten a Banh Mi from them before at Field Day and it was a very disappointing experience - all carrot and not much else. But I was prepared to give them a second chance, suspecting that they didn't bother to live up to their usual high standards for a bunch of drunk festival-goers. And I was right.

But anyway, I digress. This time around, I wanted to try a scotch egg, or perhaps a Yum Bun, or  a sweet potato flatbread. Or a brownie. Or a pie. Cripes there's so much there. In the end though, the in-laws were after a Full English. We managed to persuade them not to stop in the 'caff' and instead go to the Dove where the Full English boasted components made up from the produce being sold on the market outside. I'm not a massive fan of the classic English B so I opted for some eggs benedict on toasted muffin. Was not overwhelmed. My second egg was cold by the time I got to it and my muffin was using a different definition of toasted to one I am used to. There was also way too much hollandaise for me. But the Breakfast looked good and the others seemed pleased with it. 

And now I am going to build an element of suspense into my blog by not actually writing about the Tea until my next entry! I like keeping you on your toes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ChocStar Van, 21st October

It was pure coincidence that I was able to cross another thing off my list today. Stephen and I bought tickets to the Experimental Food Society’s exhibition at the Truman Brewery. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I thought some food may be on offer, but I knew it was more about showcasing the different things you could do with food, rather than eating it. They were hosting some kind of feast on the Saturday night where clearly eating would be the main aim but that was £60 – a little out of my price range. The exhibition was a fiver – much more like it. We walked up to the first entrance and were directed to the building where we could get our hands stamped (the exhibition was across three close together sites). I think the exhibition made a bit of a schoolboy/girl error in the set up. The place where you got your stamp was also, by far the best room. It was filled with cake, chocolate and sugar. This in itself is normally good enough to get my seal of approval but even better was what it all looked like. There were actual structures, sculptures and models made out of the stuff. The first thing to greet you was an Eiffel Tower made out of Curly Wurlies and raspberries, then The Flying Scotsman made out of a variety of candy bars, and a candy cottage made out of penny sweets. Giving only a brief glance at the gluten free veggie cakes and brownies (the only thing there offering any samples) the next thing you came to was a magnificent dodo made out of cake. I was mightily impressed with it from my first impressions. This was elevated when I realised that all the delicate little feathers that I thought the baker had taken time to stick in, were in fact made out of sugar. Stupendous! There were also grand owls made entirely out of sugar, and a house and head sculpted out of chocolate. Appropriately awestruck we were looking forward to what was in store in the next two buildings. But first, we needed food. We decided to get a salt beef bagel from The Beigel Bakery as we were pretty much on Brick Lane and as we walked up Dray walk to get there, we passed the ChocStar Van.

The ChocStar Van is on my list. It serves up chocolatey treats, from a van and as it is a mobile establishment, it turns up here and there. You can look up online where it is likely to be on a given day, something I have been meaning to do for over a year now, so I was very pleased when I found it without even looking for it. But we hadn’t even had lunch yet so we couldn’t have dessert and went up to get our bagels. I’m sure everyone knows about the Brick Lane Bagel places. We always go to the Beigel Bakery for our salt beef as I think they’re a tad more generous, but I think they’re run by the same people so they’re both much of the same high quality. And amazingly cheap. They were offering chicken bagels for £1.50 when we went in. We scarfed our bagels down (with just the right amount of mustard for me – just a touch) and eagerly went back to the Exhibition.

Where we were a little let down. The second building we went into was massive but had only a few things in it. One being the only place in the exhibition to sell food. Food I had no interest in eating. They were snackboxes prepared by Stefan Gates, author of The Extraordinary Cookbook and you could sit down and listen to him give a bit of a talk and explain to you what was in the snackboxes and why, as you ate them. Considering the snackboxes contained things like mealworms and cochineal bugs, I was not interested. 

Otherwise, in that room, were some tea infusion things, and some coffee, and the little area where talks etc were being given. On to the next one.

The next one was marginally better than the second but nowhere near as impressive as the first. There was an artist there who does ‘foodscapes’ and I really enjoyed them. There were also a couple of people with samples tucked into dim little corners – one person showcasing unusually flavoured marshmallows, and another with unusually flavoured liquers that also glowed in the dark. We had one of those and it was a bit sweet for me.

There was also some camel milk chocolate you could sample and I had some of that as well. To be honest, thought it tasted like that cheap chocolate you get at Easter or Christmas. And then, finally, there was some edible clothing on show, which was impressive because of the idea behind it and what it was made of, rather than the actual appearance of it.

It was now about 3:00 and we went back to building number 2 to see what was termed half talk half gameshow, presented by some woman’s new incarnation of Miss Mertle or something like that. She was supposed to be a 50s housewife character with upper class pretensions – throwing the odd word in a French accent out there every now and then. I thought she was amusing enough. The format was strange – she got two people out of the audience to be contestants and their job was to dress a scantily clad woman with food that could be found in the fridge and see who made the better outfit. It was surprisingly entertaining. After that was done we went back to the first room for one final look round – people had been hanging up a deconstructed cake on wires that I wanted to see the final result of. It wasn’t yet finished but still looked quite good. And then, what I had been waiting for… ChocStar!

It was pretty cold so we were put off the ice cream sundaes and my boyfriend was with me so I was also put off prevented from ordering lots of different things. He even vetoed my idea of buying a chocolate truffle in addition to the brownie – that we shared. As far as brownies go, though, this was one of the best I’ve had in a good long while. Dense and chewy, but with the delicious crusty top and sides that I think make a proper brownie. I’m not exactly making a list of best brownies, but if anyone were to ask I would recommend this one, the one that can be found in the Hull Library café, and the caramel one from Konditor & Cook.

I really want a brownie now.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Revolutions in Sound, 13th October

Ok, so this wasn't actually on my list, but it was so unassailably cool that I feel I have to write about it. It's definitely the sort of thing that would be on my list, if it wasn't a one-off thing, which you could only go to by winning tickets, and even then I still might have added it except that it all happened so fast.

I'm not sure where I heard about the event, but it was one of those where tickets go on 'sale' at a certain time and it turned out to be first come first served. I happened to be in a training thing all day that day and so I knew that by the time I got on the website, there was no way I would get a ticket. I'd asked my boyfriend to try to get us some, but I think he got on the website even later than me so there was no hope for us. 

So what was it? Red Bull had taken over control of the London Eye and were giving you the chance to win tickets to one of the pods, inside which would be a well known act - a DJ or performer. The pods only hold about 30 people so you would be in for a pretty exclusive treat. Runner up prizes were tickets to the silent disco at the base of the Eye and runner runner up prizes were to be able to listen to it live. Big whoop. 

Luckily for me, one of my good friends had also entered the competition, early enough to be in with a chance, had won a pair and invited me along! She, like me, had thought she would just have to submit interest and then the act you saw would be allocated at random. This was not so. When you applied for tickets you also had to say which act you wanted, and aware of the time pressure, she picked the first one she recognised (and liked) - Beardyman. 

I had heard of Beardyman but never seen him before. He's a beatboxer who now uses looping to create songs live and he also has a bit of a comedy act too. We turned up as early as we could to make sure we got in our pod. We were in pod #3 which meant that being early in this case was not at all nerdy (lest you were judging) but in fact the sensible thing to do. Once the pod had gone by, there was no getting in if you missed it. It looked like several people didn't have our sense of timing though, as there were only 12 of us who made it into the pod out of the 22 on the gurstlist. It was incredibly surreal. You hopped in and there was Beardyman making announcements as if to welcome you to outer space. He clearly found the whole thing strange as well, and it inspired his first 'song' about how 'odd it was to be in this pod'. Him alluding to the slight awkwardness made it much more relaxing and along with the free drinks on offer, by the time we were halfway through our first revolution, people had got over the novelty of it all. Some were barely paying attention to the act they'd come to see, treating it like anything else and chatting among themselves. Beardyman was definitely worth paying attention to, though, as he's a great performer. Twice he asked his audience for inspiration, leading to such instant classics as Ginger Biscuits and Fuzzy Box. One of the good things about seeing him, instead of say, Ms Dynamite is that because as a beatboxer, he was inclined to show us the range of his talents, which meant not being limited to a particular genre. He went through house, hip hop, dubstep, drum n bass and even some seventies style funk I dare say. The time passed much too quickly and before we knew it we were disembarking from the wheel. 

I would describe the whole experience as amazing. And I wasn't the only one. Everyone that entered the main concourse straight from their pod was breathlessly gushing about how amazing it was. Everyone, that is, except those who had drunk too much and were sprinting to the toilets because they'd had to hold it for the last hour. It was truly a unique experience, so thank you Sophie for taking me along! Definitely the coolest thing I've ever done on a Thursday.