Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mousetrap...for Soul Shakers, 15th December

I didn't really think places like this existed. But I'm ever so glad they do.

I had a very detailed image in my mind of what I expected the venue to look like. I knew it was a wine bar and I basically imagined it as looking like Concrete in Shoreditch, but with wood panelling and low lights everywhere instead of, well, concrete.

It wasn't quite like this. Not quite the sleek, imposing wine bar, more of an underground little cavern. And by little I mean tiny. I don't think I have ever been to such a tiny club.

We arrived at a little after 11, in order to avoid having to pay a whole 2 pounds more after midnight than the 8 pounds we did pay to get in. It wasn't heaving as yet, but there were definitely quite a few people in there already, and more than a few of these were already on the dance floor. And they were really giving it some - authentic, willowy 60s dancing galore  in a way that seemed not quite on the beat that could only have been the result of a lot of practice. We almost felt guilty joining the dance floor and thus depriving them of the necessary room to throw down their shapes,. But this is probably why they got there so early - to have the luxury of having the whole dance floor to themselves while they could.

The bar was small and served usual pub drinks - as one of my friends was quick to point out, that meant no cocktails. Prices were normal for London bars - not cheap, but not inflated club prices.

It is touted as a Northern Soul night, and there were definitely a lot of people there who were very much into the scene, wearing clothes I can only assume were authentic vintage. But we didn't feel out of place as 'tourists' there, and all the staff were incredibly friendly. Take the cloakroom attendant below, for instance, who took his time to smooth out the creases and hang each and every coat with decorum.

You got the feeling that it's like a big family here, with a lot of regulars who know each other, and the staff. Well, it has been going 20-odd years in the same place! The night we went it was the DJ's birthday and there was free cake on the bar!

The music was fantastic. Mostly Northern Soul as expected but with some jazzier numbers thrown in. I hold my hands up - I didn't recognise a single song, but I didn't stop dancing. I've been places with better soundsystems (this is certainly no Funktion 1 a la Fabric), but if genuine soul and original R'n'B is what you're after then I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better night.

I really felt I'd been transported back in time to the heady days of the swinging 60s with all the hip cats and kittens. Groovy! (or another, probably more authentic slang of your choosing).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Morito, 1st December

Stephen has been to Morito so often that I almost felt like I'd been myself. He always speaks highly of it and I have been pestering him to go with me for a while. That day finally came when we decided to celebrate our anniversary with a lunch there.

Morito does little plates with a Moorish feel to them. Prices range from 2.50 for an assortment of breads up to about 8.50 for some lamb chops. The place is very fond of cumin.

Because Stephen has been there so often and done the hard work for me, by trying most of the dishes on the menu, I turned to him to lead on the choices and I was pretty much guaranteed that each one was going to be a winner. And they were all good.

I had a carafe of full bodied, syrupy syrah with my meal, although Stephen had a few glasses of this as well as his medium beer. We ordered the bread basket to start - a dense, chewy roll each, a large cumin dusted flatbread to share and some breadstick nibs. The breadstick nibs seemed a bit pointless, not really having anything to dip them in, although I did discover you could roll them in some oil and then roll them in the spices you get on the table, which made them quite nice. The other two breads were delicious and I should have saved more of mine to soak up the extraneous oils, juices and aioli from our little dishes.

You can order as many as you like at a time and they all sort of come out haphazardly. The first to come was the scallop dish with sherry vinegar and butter sauce. One plump scallop which had been sliced neatly in three. 

We then had the jamon croquetas - perfectly crispy on the outside while being soft and creamy inside. And no scrimping on the jamon either.

The lamb chops with cumin and paprika were tasty and once again had me bemoaning that you get so little meat on them. They weren't quite as good as the ones I had in The Painted Heron, and were maybe a tad underdone near the bone. Which was funny in a way, as Stephen had said that the last time he had them, they'd been a little overdone. So I guess consistency on the lamb chops isn't their strong point.

The butifarra sausae with white beans and alioli was a lovely salty, meaty, and slightly stodgy dish. Both the sausage and the lamb chops provided plenty of extra oil, and a bit of alioli to get that bread out and make sure none of it went to waste.

 I think I spot some cumin!

We knew we wanted to end with the grilled tetilla cheese with walnuts and membrillo but we also splurged and ordered one other dish as well with that - the chicharrones. I am so glad we got these - I think they were my favourite dish. Cubes of pork belly in cumin (again!) and lemon. The pork was crispy around the edges but soft and tender in the middle, and I loved the lemony tang.

As we were finishing off with the cheese - the sweet quince bringing out the slightly sweet flavour in the cheese, we had a couple of 'digestifs' to end the meal with. I ordered an amontillado sherry, my first ever sherry, and Stephen had a negroni. That slightly melted tetilla cheese was wonderful, another highlight. I loved the sort of crust on the edge where it had been grilled and then the oozy middle to scoop out and sprinkle with walnuts.

Squidgy, cheesy goodness
I enjoyed my sherry more than I had actually expected. It was much more like a strong wine, quite dry - I think I might now be a sherry drinker! But then I knew that Morito/Moro was a good place to start.


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Square Meal

Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Monday, December 3, 2012

London Remixed Festival, 24th November

I was invited to review the London Remixed Festival and after taking a look at who would be playing and who was behind it, I thought I would be a fool to turn it down. So I didn't.

Wristbands were collected from Rich Mix, and while we were there we thought we'd see what kind of acts they had on. The downstairs was the African Rootmaster area, while upstairs was playing host to the Acoustic Boutique. The foursome on stage downstairs weren't doing much for us - a little too easy listening so we hopped into the "Disco Lift" to go upstairs.

Disco Lift Operator - (c) Gareth Reid
I wish all lifts could be like this - instead of an elevator operator you get some groovy dude playing music for your delightment while you travel between floors. We had something cheesy on the way up, and some D 'n' B on the way down!

Upstairs we came across one of the most truly unique acts I've seen in ... well... ever! His name was Ichi and he was a one-man-band. I don't know how many instruments he managed to go through in his set - there were really too many to count and too many to name, especially as some of them seemed to be handmade and wouldn't otherwise exist. He had bells on his feet, used a pedal to hit a drum, played a sort of banjo and 'sang'. He introduced each song but it was impossible to understand them. I'm really not sure if they were in English, Japanese, or other. It was very odd, but also transfixing. Almost impossible to describe, so just watch this video.

After he was through we had things we wanted to see in the Polka Tent at the Bedroom Bar so we went directly there. We were just in time to catch Cut A Shine leading the crowd in a barn dance. I get the impression they are used to bigger spaces to work in, and it was necessary to take out all the tables and chairs to allow just enough room for people to jig about.

Some of the dances were quite intricate and definitely not doable with a drink in your hand which means we didn't get involved in the first three or four. But we did dive in eventually. A dance which involved running in two massive circles, then doing some sort of dosey-do with several strangers until you got to 'lucky seven' with whom you just span around for a bit. It was exhilarating! I was beaming at the end of just one song. Actually, I didn't even make it to the end, it was so high energy, I was getting a right sweat on and decided to sit down to catch my breath. My other friends soon joined me, having the same idea. 

Cutting a rug with Cut A Shine - (c) Gareth Reid
We then went upstairs to catch the last bit of the Horndog Brass Band and we stayed up there to see some of the Monster Ceilidh Band as well. Both were good, but the MCB were a little on the quieter side compared to the Brass Band and Cut A Shine so we went downstairs to watch the last of Gypsy Hill, who I had seen at Rumpus recently and knew would be playing some upbeat foot-stomping sounds. We had a bit of a jig around to them before finishing off the night at the one destination we hadn't yet been to - the Latin Quarter at Village Underground.

Ska Cubano were playing when we got over there, the last act of the night at that venue. They were bloody brilliant, a great way to finish off the night. Everyone was in high spirits, the music was upbeat and fun. People were dancing around with smiles and abandon. 

Crowds at Ska Cubano - (c) Gareth Reid
I left this night on an absolute high, and really hope it becomes an annual event. The only negative thing really was that there were so many acts it was hard to see them all. I'd love to have been part of the 'walking taxi' with Perhaps Contraption for example (though I have seen them at White Mischief), or seen Molotov Jukebox.

Hopefully next time!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tonkotsu, 23rd November

I have never tasted anything that tastes so porky, other than pork, in my life. It was a like a gustatory illusion –  you get all of the taste that something your mind and tongue expect to be fleshy meat, yet the texture is completely wrong. Your brain finds it hard to compute. It's almost like something the modern real-life Willy Wonka - Heston Blumenthal - would conjure up. I definitely had a case of food envy when I’d had a mouthful of that - the tonkotsu a sea-salt based broth flavoured with pork bones with a mildly disconcerting appearance, looking a little milky, not clear like I am used to from pho, for example. 

However, after getting through my Tokyo ramen, a lighter, soy sauce-based dish, I did wonder if maybe such a rich, deeply flavoured broth would be a little hard to finish. Stephen said that he felt that way as well, so perhaps my choice with pork and chicken was the better option after all.

Either way, they were both very tasty, and the meat inside was as flavoursome as you would expect of something that had imparted such flavour to its surrounding liquid. The unexpected highlight, and I can’t really believe I’m writing this, was the ‘seasoned egg’. Now, I’m a big fan of eggs, in almost any form, but they're not the sort of thing you normally get taken aback by. An egg’s an egg’s an egg. Unless it’s a seasoned egg, in which case it is amazing! They are marinated in soy overnight, which gives them a pleasingly salty taste and unusually deep flavour.

Along with your bowl of noodles you have the option of ordering more noodles (given how much you get, this seems completely unnecessary), a garlic shot (I was tempted, but we were going out drinking after and I thought I’d spare my friends the after-effects) or another half season egg. Definitely worth getting them to pop another one of these fellas into your pot.

We turned up at a little past six. I thought we’d get a seat but was a little anxious we might have to wait a while. It was surprisingly empty, considering I feel like it hasn’t been around that long. We chose two seats at the ‘bar’ which was right in front of the kitchen area.

There are only three choices – two meaty ones and one veggie, so naturally Stephen and I had one each. As I said, he had the tonkotsu, for which the restaurant is named and I had what was called Tokyo Ramen. We were hoping that one of them was going to be the spicy one we had read about but I guess the menu changes every now and again. The noodles were the thin kind, which I like, and were topped with big slices of fatty, ever so delicious, pork belly. Pork belly is always good but this seemed to be extrarich in flavour, perhaps soaking up some of the meatiness from the very broth it was sitting in. Highly satisfying.

They’re a little on the pricey side for noodles - a bowl of pho down the road at Nam will only set you back £6.50 whereas these are £11 and £9 respectively - but I don’t mind paying £15 for my dinner, especially when that includes an alcoholic beverage. They serve quite a good selection of beers – Stephen went for the 8-ball, loving snooker as he does, and I had a glass of rose wine. It was actually a very nice rose, not at all too sweet and better than the one I then had in the pub later. 

You can probably take your time over a meal here, as they have starters and sides and seem happy enough for you to order more but we just wanted something hot, tasty and filling before our night’s revelry and Tonkotsu met all three criteria. They do gyoza and something called Kara age chicken which sounded very nice (garlic and ginger - can’t go wrong) so they’re not just a one-trick pony. Although I suppose they could do these very badly, in which case they would be, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Our waitresses were all very friendly, even if one was slightly barmy – they seemed to be having a good time among themselves anyway! 

Next time they put that spicy broth back on the menu, I'm there, going heavy on the seasoned egg and putting their gyoza to the test!

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Square Meal

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dr Sketchy's Anti-Art School, 22nd November

This is a tale of how NOT to do a Dr. Sketchy. 

First of all, if it’s happening at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, like it did last night, don’t turn up early expecting to have a few drinks beforehand. The RVT as it is often known, is not a regular pub, open all day and hosting the occasional event. It is a venue ONLY open for events. Doors open whenever your event says the doors open, not before. 

Secondly, even if it seems logical to sit at the back because there’s a large group of you and this area will accommodate everyone sitting together, don’t. Even though the RVT isn’t massive, it is big enough for the stage to feel quite far away. Not conducive to getting any facial details down, especially when you've had a few and everything looks a bit fuzzy anyway. Also, there are a few poles dotted around, and from where I was sitting they tended to block out at least a third of our subjects when they were posed. 

Thirdly, take something to lean on! In my head I pictured us all sitting in the round with our subject in the middle, possibly wearing white smocks and berets, and with easels provided. This was a romantic notion purely based on sitcoms I have watched where a character takes an art class. In reality, it’s taking place in a pub, where there are lots of you and no room for easels. You are provided with some paper, some drawing materials and that’s it. Actually, there were a few boards available, but not enough for everyone. 

Fourthly, don’t pick a hard-leaded pencil. Soft leads or chalk are much more forgiving and instantly make your works of art look much more like works of art. Smudges look professional and it is much easier to shade in large areas. I had an HB which, when Dusty was going around assessing our works, barely showed up in the dimly lit room. Not good. 

Fifthly, probably better to drink more early on, than having a few throughout and then at the end practically downing two mini bottles of wine. That’s a good rule for a night out in general I find. 

If you get these things right then you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Or rather, sit up, pay attention, get drawing and enjoy the show. For there is a bit of a show element. Your host for the evening is Dusty Limits, a man whose reputation precedes him, in my case anyway, as I am always seeing his name mentioned in conjunction with cabaret nights and burlesque. He actually directed the phenomenal Prospero's Tavern that I saw by the Boom Boom Club. He is a consummate host and more than a little pleasing on the eye as you can see from my uncanny likeness of him here. 

He starts things off by getting people ‘warmed up’ for drawing and explains that it’s not about ability, it’s about doing things your way. We have a scribble to get out any aggression and to just break the daunting first time you put pencil to blank paper. Then there’s an exercise where you have to draw without looking at the paper (see above for how well this comes out). Then the first subject comes on. But she doesn’t just come on and assume a pose. She does a bit of an act first, in the guise, in this instance, of a mega-Rolf Harris fan (although, who isn’t one really - Jake The Peg - classic!), which involved a parody of “Part of Your World” from the Little Mermaid. It culminated in her stripping of her anorak and Rolf Harris t-shirt to reveal two little Rolf-heads covering her nips. She wasn’t the best singer in the world, but she’s got good comedy timing, the song was funny and it’s always nice to see some tits. 

Then it’s time to draw – first two minutes getting a feel for her (FOR her, not OF her). Then a different pose, and a “theme” to encompass into the drawing. This time “wind storm”. Then another five minute drawing, which I liked the most, where you start drawing Frankie von Flirter, our muse, and then Dusty starts telling you things you need to add to your scene – like killer bees, turning the setting into a jazz/poetry night, a tyrannosaurs rex is attacking her! And then she has to contend with Hilary Clinton! Sadly I seem to have misplaced most of my drawings from the night so I can't share the masterpiece I created with this scene. I may not have won any chocolate coins or tiny snowmen but I was still proud of it.

You see, what I didn’t realise before I went was that there is an element of competition involved. After every round Dusty comes over and judges you, sorry, I mean judges your composition and you may get a reward if you’re sufficiently good, or sufficiently atrocious. I like to think I’m somewhere in the middle and this is probably why I got bubkus the whole night. At the end of the evening you can submit your best/worst work for a chance to win a grand prize, which I think was some sweets and maybe, a diary. Big prizes folks!

There wasn't just Frankie, there was a little eye-candy for the girls (and guys of a certain persuasion) apart from the luscious Dusty. For the second act we had a model who was dressed as a sailor. This guy was a little hard to draw as he kept moving around. That's my excuse for the below, anyway.

Also, he didn't get one single piece of kit off, despite us loudly hinting that he should. Disappointing. But Dusty promised that there would be some man stripping in the next half. We waited eagerly.

After another round of drinks out came a man-pilot strutting to Highway to the Danger Zone! But... wait a minute. "He" looks a little slight and his mustache isn't convincing. No, it's miss Frankie again! She does another striptease, this time to "Take my Breasts Away", and very funny it is again too so despite my dismay at not seeing any man-abs, I'm enjoying it anyway.

Dr Sketchy is a really fun night. I would strongly encourage drinking, as does Dusty, and not worrying about how well you can draw. Of course, if you do have talent then it is still going along because drawing is the name of the game for this night. They just don't let it detract or spoil the fun. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Illegal Late Night Cocktail Bar, 17th November

This is definitely not going to go down in lore as my most comprehensive blog post ever. By the time I got to the Illegal Late Night Cocktail Bar, I was a little worse for wear (understatement). So I can really only say what my vague impressions of the place were.

For me, the name suggested an illicit speakeasy with interesting cocktails, an intimate space to dance in the dark. Maybe a bit of jazz. What it was, was nothing like this. It took place in the... Actually, I probably shouldn’t say where the venue is as it is supposed to be a secret. Sod it, this time around it was in the Red Gallery, a place I’d never much paid attention to in Shoreditch. Apparently it was there last time they did this, but next time they're promising a new venue. It felt like a warehouse inside and the night felt more like an illegal rave than a cocktail bar.

The music was housey and while I actually do like that sort of stuff, I still felt a little disappointed that it was the kind of thing I could hear any old night in Fabric. I don’t remember much about the cocktails, whether that was my drunkenness or the fact that they were unremarkable, I couldn’t say. With your ticket you get a Grey Goose cocktail on arrival but they only guarantee these if you arrive before 1 am and we were sadly too late to take up the offer. Considering tickets are only £10 this isn't a bad price for a night out, especially with a little free booze thrown in. I wish I could have taken advantage of said free booze, in order to determine if it was really a free cocktail, or some weak vodka and orange that you'd not be willing to pay more then £4 for.

Mainly I remember a slightly grey, quite large place that reminded me of any East London warehouse space. I can’t say that I didn’t like it, as that sort of thing is just what I’m after sometimes, it just wasn’t what I was expecting from this kind of night. If someone suggested I go back, I would, but I think there are more exciting things on my List I'd like to get to before returning here. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hot Breath Karaoke, 17th November

Oh lordy, how can I ever go to normal karaoke again? Well, I probably will but it will be with a heavy heart when there is no prize-bestowing wheel to spin afterwards, or jingles, yes, there is no other word for them, to be played once I have spun the wheel and been awarded my prize.

This is another one from my personal bible – Time Out’s 1000 Things to Do. I’ve been trying to keep an eye out on when these irregular nights happen but always seem to just miss it. I almost did last weekend as well. You may recall that I said I was going to The Blitz party. Alas, it was not to be as I had no one to accompany me and perhaps, just perhaps, fate was dealing me a kind hand in order for me to make Hot Breath Karaoke instead.

Oh-so-fortuitously it was also being held in a pub just up the road from me which I thought looked nice but had never been in, The Lauriston. It said it kicked off at 9 so we got there for about half eight. I expected the pub to be packed but for the karaoke to be happening in a different room so that we might get a seat in there. I was wrong on both counts. The pub was actually only maybe half full and I went to grab a spare table with glee until I noticed some savvy people had reserved them. I know for next time. Also, the karaoke was taking place in the main pub area – there was in fact no other pub area for it to take place in. Just a little stage, with the wheel and Mike (I think that's his name) with his controls beside it.

The prizes this night were all the same – some of Mike's homemade maple syrup pumpkin pie. I’m not normally a fan of pumpkin pie but the addition of maple syrup piqued my interest and the baker also runs Coins Junkyard Snacks, a cart specialising in American type junk food at Netil Market. Having sampled the frosted flakes chicken nuggets from him before, I thought the pie would be worth a try, if only I could win it.

The premise is simple. You put your name down to sing. If you sing, you get the chance to spin the wheel and if you’re lucky it will land on ‘Winner’. Or ‘Free Booze’ (a shot). If you’re not so lucky it may land on ‘True or False’ and you will have to answer a simple question before you get a prize (the pie). If you’re unlucky you’ll land on ‘Loser’ and have to resume your seat empty-handed.

It’s surprising how much fun this addition makes karaoke, on top, of course, of all the silly songs and cringey singers. I probably graced the stage far too much, as I got progressively more drunk. I think my highlight, or perhaps low point, was singing Barbie Girl by Aqua with my friend. Not something I will be repeating, however. But I’m happy to say I did win a slice of pie, complete with whipped cream and it was delicious. I would love to get my hands on some more.

bad photo of good pie
In between songs our esteemed host plays filler music which is more ‘killer’ than ‘filler’ and which got people dancing in their seats, or standing up depending on where in the pub they were, and the pub certainly got pretty busy by the time the karaoke was in full swing. If you didn’t get your name down early, you might have ended up without even a chance at winning some of that pie.

I would love to come back to Hot Breath Karaoke. It’s really good fun – as long as you bring some people who are up for having a laugh and don’t mind making slight fools of themselves in public.

The people behind HBK do other nights as well and I think I’m going to head to the next one that is coming up – the VHS video pub quiz! 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Orange Buffalo, 17th November

To be honest, I am not much of a hot wing aficionado or even their greatest fan. I don’t really go in for the skin on chickens and wings are always a bit fiddly. But I’d been hearing good things (understatement) about Orange Buffalo and I wanted to give them a try. After we had finally roused ourselves on Saturday, past midday, Stephen and I decided to go down to brick lane and have hot wings for breakfast!

I was expecting it to be busy and was prepared to queue but, whether it was the drab weather that had kept people away, or whether we had missed the lunch rush, it wasn’t busy at all and we walked right up to the counter. We had a portion each, which gets you 8 wings for £6 but we both chose different sauces. There are four to choose from – Original, Woof Woof (spicier), Vincent (Man Gogh – even spicier and with mango) and one with naga chillies, the name of which I can’t remember. I had the Woof Woof, Stephen had the Vincent. We also had a side of curly fries with buffalo ketchup. This was a good decision as even though you get eight wings, they are a little on the slight side, especially when you get the part of the wing that's not attached to the torso.

As Stephen said ‘these are the first wings I’ve had here that actually have crispy skin’. And they sure did. They were deep fried and then doused in the slightly thick, rather orange (the name has to come from somewhere I suppose) spicy sauce. And they were delicious.  If all hot wings are like this then I’m definitely a convert, but of course, all hot wings aren’t like this and even from my limited experience I recognised what Stephen said about the skin being crispy – all too often the wings you get are almost soggy, having sat in their sauce for too long, or not fried properly in the first place. These really do crunch when you bite into them and it’s incredibly satisfying.

Both sauces were yummy and there was much literal finger licking so as not to waste any. It was spicy but it wasn’t all heat – the flavour was there too. Stephen and I swapped wings so I could try the Vincent as well. It was definitely a bit hotter than mine, but you could be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t at first because it is also sweeter than the Woof Woof (that’d be the mango) which fools you  into thinking, initially, that there isn’t so much heat. It’ll catch up with you though and by the end of our wings we both had the telltale 'chilli sniffles'.

You got a pretty generous helping of blue cheese sauce, and also some celery sticks which were good for a break from the heat, but otherwise went untouched. The blue cheese sauce wasn’t particularly cheesey, which for us was a good thing, but might disappoint others.

The curly fries were fantastic, and really made me feel I could have been stateside. Properly crunchy and properly curly, rightly seasoned, and the ketchup wasn’t bad neither.

We felt cold when we sat down to eat, but by the time the chillies had worked their magic, we had a little bit of a sweat on. I could see these becoming a regular habit. 

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Supperclub, Two Hungry Girls, 16th November

You have your first one, and if you’re completely honest with yourself, you think, “is this it?” And then the next one comes along and it still hasn’t touched the sides. But then, eight later and you’re stuffed beyond belief and can’t quite figure out how that happened. At least, this should be the case when eating a multicourse meal if the chefs have done things right.

I’m happy to report that this is just how things panned out when we had our eight-course meal at the Two Hungry Girls' supperclub last Friday.

They normally do a monthly supperclub and you book yourself or you and a friend in and then turn up to eat in close quarters with a bunch of strangers. We did things a little differently by asking Leigh and Shu to hold a private event for Stephen’s birthday. Just us and 17 of our closest friends, squeezed into their living room. As we all turned up on time and bustled into the house I worried it felt like we were taking over slightly, and I do hope we weren’t too boisterous. I think we might have been the largest group they have cooked for and, arriving at the same time as we did, it did feel like we were descending upon them somewhat.

However, they handled us with aplomb and the evening was a convivial success. I popped to the loo about halfway through and was struck by how much it sounded like the next room was a bustling restaurant, only filled with all our friends. It was a lovely thought.

The food was fabulous. There wasn’t a single dish I didn’t thoroughly enjoy and everyone else felt the same. Apart from being the Two Hungry Girls, I think they could easily have the moniker the Two Lovely Girls – they were delightful hosts, talking us through the menu and answering any questions we might have about ingredients, or just their supperclub in general. They started in April doing it as a one-off fundraiser but it was so successful they started doing it on a monthly basis as well and I heard about it through another fundraiser they did recently as reviewed by The London Foodie. Beforehand they were also really friendly, giving us tips on local pubs to enjoy before or after, and wine pairing suggestions.

Our feast began with a welcome drink – a lychee bellini. You can’t really ever go wrong with bellinis and lychee was a particularly agreeable flavour to go for. We then started with silken tofu in century egg sauce with black sesame. I was a little wary of this dish, having heard of the century egg before – I’m pretty sure I’ve read of it as part of "world’s worst delicacies" or something like that. It’s basically, traditionally, an egg that has been left to preserve for so long, it goes green and jellified. Sounds grim. But, as a sauce at least, it was nothing of the sort.
The tofu was soft, a bit like eating mozzarella, the sauce was quite thick and savoury ... it makes me want to use the word umami even though I'm not sure it's entirely appropriate and the sesame seeds added a nice smidgen of toasty crunch. It was a great start – I liked it so much I had a little more when it was evident there was some left -  and things just got better from there. 

Next up was cold poached chicken with THG sauce (a secret recipe but there was definitely ginger and spring onions in it) which we wrapped in iceberg lettuce. This was one of my favourite dishes of the night – that sauce was something special, though sauce probably isn’t really the best word for it as it was quite thick and chunky. 

After this we had an aubergine in a sesame and soy vinaigrette with bean sprouts dish. What I love about aubergine is the way it soaks up the flavours of whatever it is sitting or cooked in. It did a good job of soaking up all the lovely soy sauce here and the chilli and spring onions weren't too overpowering. 

This was followed* by mackerel with sambal. The sambal is also worthy of being singled out as a highlight. I don’t think I’d had sambal before but I will seek it out – it was almost an Oriental salsa as it was, again, thicker than a sauce. It had a very pleasant earthy warmth to it from the chillies used in it.

By this point I would say we had concluded the appetiser section of the meal and had segued into the mains. We were still probably feeling pretty confident in fitting in the rest to come. The tide started to turn after this next dish – 5 spice and Sichuan Peppercorn duck in steamed buns with apple, just a touch of mayonnaise and a sriracha-like sauce of which I put plenty on my buns. Probably too much – I sort of drowned out the apple and the mayo but I could taste the duck sure enough. I love duck. It is probably my favourite bird to eat - always so juicy and dark. It's almost boring to say but again, delicious. After having probably too many Yum Buns recently, it was nice to have something similar, but different. There was one bun each but they were very generously portioned. We began to feel close to full. 

The almost-finale to the night tipped us over the edge. A pot piled high with sweet, BBQ-ey pork belly cubes was served with a large plate of Buddha’s Delight vegetables– a mixture of tofu skins, mushrooms, bean sprouts, mangetout etc and of course jasmine rice to go with it. By the time we were finished with this, there was a lot of patting our tummies and mumblings about being stuffed. This photo doesn't really do it justice.

We were intrepid though – dessert was still to come. This was a gorgeous tower of profiteroles filled with orange flavoured ice cream, and decorated with fruits such as the dragon fruit, and with a candle on top for the birthday boy. It was a perfect end to the meal – sweet, refreshing and light enough not to overdo it.

Leigh and Shu had a couple of people helping out in the kitchen, fetching us our drinks from the fridges (you can bring your own alcohol) or just making sure we were attended to -  and giving the girls a hand with the washing up I think. So they deserve a mention and a thank you too, as well as the huge thanks to Leigh and Shu for putting that on and putting up with us!

And thanks to Nick for being the photographer for the evening – my phone wasn’t up to the task. 

*There were so many courses and they came at a quick pace, I may have confused the order somewhat. Also, there were vegetarian options available for the meat courses but I'm afraid I didn't partake in those.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Painted Heron, 8th November

I managed to lose my camera the other week when I was out cavorting at the Bugged Out Halloween party. This may seem to have little relevance to a review of an Indian restaurant but I mention it by way of apologising for the nonexistent or truly poor quality photos. My camera phone just isn’t up to scratch when faced with the kind of low lighting used to provide ambience. I took two photos of the starters and then gave up.

Which is a shame as some of the food looked really good.

Painted Heron had earned a place on my List from trawling through 1000 Things to do in London. And then, just as with McQueen, Time Out had an offer on to dine there which was an opportunity too good to miss. And what an offer it was – £15 for three courses. Naturally, Stephen and I assumed there would be a set menu as there was for McQueen but we were completely mistaken. Other than being restricted from ordering the sharing dishes as starters we had free reign to choose from their normal menu. They even included a side of rice and a choice of bread. You couldn’t fault the value for money with this.

There were a lot of interesting-sounding dishes to choose from which made deciding tricky. In the end I went for the lamp chops with nutmeg flower to start because I decided I would have the guinea fowl with green chillies for the main. The other starters I had been eyeing up included crispy quail or pigeon breast but once I’d decided on the fowl, I thought that was enough poultry for one meal. Stephen had the plaice with crab to start followed by the quail, pigeon and duck in coconut stew. We also ordered some poppadoms to munch on while we were waiting for our starters, though we forgot to order these when we ordered the rest and we’d barely started on them when our starters arrived.

They were plated beautifully and I was smitten with my lamb chops with the first mouthful. Tayyabs eat your heart out! There was a decent amount of meat on the chops, they were tender and fantastically flavoured and the sauces laid out beside them were equally delicious. Of course, it’s a little unfair to compare them to Tayyabs as, without the special deal, they would have cost £9.50, but on taste alone they win hands down. Stephen was similarly impressed with his fish starter and urged me to try it. We were excited by the food (and our discount) and Stephen even proclaimed that it was getting on for Lassan standards. Lassan is an upmarket Indian restaurant in Birmingham that we went to earlier this year, after having been taken with Aktar Islam’s creations on the Great British Menu. That was some pretty fine Indian food.

The dark splodges in front are the chops, the bright(ish)
yellow thing is the nutmeg flower
So we awaited with baited breath for our main courses and unfortunately they didn’t manage to maintain the gold standard. I definitely ‘won’ the main dish round, being quite satisfied with my guinea fowl. There was heaps of it – I think there must have been half the bird in my curry and I couldn’t finish it all (not a problem when you have a Stephen with you to take over). I liked my sauce – it was sweeter than I had imagined it would be, but the heat of the chillies tempered this. It was really Stephen’s dish that was the let down. He didn’t like the way the birds had been overcooked. He said the duck was alright but the pigeon and quail were far too dry and not at all tasty. The sauce seemed quite nice, if a bit thin. We had saffron rice and a chilli and rosemary naan bread which was nice, though neither particularly spicy nor particularly fragrant with rosemary.

My curry and some of Stephen's in the background
Desserts aren’t in general a strong point for Indian restaurants and this was no exception. Our choices were: kulfi, ice cream or sorbet. Stephen had a mango kulfi which was nice enough, and I had pistachio ice cream which was also nice enough – pretty creamy.

So a bit of a mixed bag but I feel I shouldn’t complain too much as we had it at such a bargainous price. The mains would have cost about £15 each alone, never mind everything else. It’s just a bit of a shame that they didn’t live up to the promise of the starters. 

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Coming up...November 2012

I haven’t done this before, but I might just make it a regular thing if I like it. A lot of the time I go to things on my list at relatively short notice, or only one thing at a time, so giving any forewarning or a ‘coming up’ wouldn’t make much sense. But it so happens that I know I’m going to cross a few things off the list in the next few weeks...

 London Remixed Festival 

If you’ve read my posts on Rumpus and White Mischief and like the sound of them, then I reckon this is for you. It’s a bit of a global end-of-festival minifestival, taking place as it does over three venues in Shoreditch. One wristband gets you entry to all three. Firstly, the venues they’ve picked have a great reputation for delivering fun and/or culturally rich experiences – Rich Mix, Village Undergroud and the Bedroom Bar. 

The lineup, if you like this sort of thing, also looks excellent. I have only seen a few of the acts so far, but that’s what I like about it – I like to see something new. It also helps that Cut a Shine will be there and they’re also on my List. 

So yes, we have the likes of Gypsy Hill performing as part of the Polka Tent at Bedroom Bar who I have seen before and highly rate–. Fun, make-you-want to jig music. And Perhaps Contraption who I’ve also seen and loved are in the Acoustic Boutique upstairs at Rich Mix. Then, on the other end of the spectrum we’ve got African inspired beats downstairs at Rich Mix in the African Rootmaster, and Latin music in the Latin Quarter at Village Underground, and somewhere in between the folks from Cut a Shine are doing their hoedown thing, again, in the Polka Tent. There’s something like 30 different acts on over the course of the night – something for everyone (if you like your music slightly alternative and global). Global Local, the people behind this new festival have also contributed to lineups at festivals such as Bestival, Shangri La at Glastonbury, Lovebox, Secret Garden, Wilderness, and the Big Chill and are the people behind White Mink, so you’re in safe hands. You can see why this night is highly anticipated by me, and at £13 quite a bargain. Obviously I will be reviewing it once I’ve been so stay tuned for that. 

For the full lineup and more info, click the link  


Also coming up soon will be my first supper club. It took me a while to decide to even put on one my List, but really, it had to be done. After reading a post by the London Foodie on a night he went to hosted by Two Hungry Girls, and completely drooling over all aspects of the menu, I brought them to the attention of my boyfriend and he promptly booked them for a bespoke private birthday meal. Does a supperclub count if it doesn’t include the bit where you mingle and dine with strangers? You can probably guess my answer to this – Yes. Again, come back for the verdict. 

The Blitz Party 

Many’s the month that has passed and I have longed to go to the Blitz Party. I have either had plans, or they have sold out far too quickly for me to get my hands on a ticket. But finally the planets have aligned and I am both free on the 17th and have bought a ticket so it looks like I’ll be able to get my ‘air-raid’ on. These parties transport you back to the era of wartime England with the drinks, fashion and music that entails. Stop by to see if it lives up to my expectations. I went to the B & H Prohibition night, and while I liked it, I didn’t LOVE it. I think these ones are more popular, so we will see what I make of it.

The Blitz Party

Friday, November 2, 2012

Shrimpy's, 2nd November

If there’s one thing I like about possibly being made redundant (admittedly there are few but maybe more than you’d think) it’s the excuse to indulge in order to cheer yourself. And so, in honour of pay day on Wednesday and to commiserate the possibility of never having any money again, me and a couple of fellow soon-to-be-ex colleagues went to Shrimpy’s for lunch.

Shrimpy’s as you probably know is tucked into the Filling Station round where Eat Street (otherwise known as Kerb) is situated. There used to be a bar with prosecco on tap and Homeslice pizzas being served but sadly that was only for the summer. Now there is only Shrimpy’s. We walked in without a reservation and were seated at the bar.

Shrimpy’s is a little odd inside. It reminded me of being on a 1920s cruise ship with the pale pink and sort of art deco feel. Something about the pineapples, and the chunky crystal-like glasses for water.

But then, on each side wall there were images that were in a graffiti/stencil style of sort of pop culture, and then on the back walls there were two giant canvasses of giraffes – one normal, one weirdly contorted. The different looks don't gel well and I can see how it would lead to people saying it's trying too hard to be cool.  Much has been made about how it is filled with hipsters in the evening, but on a weekday lunchtime nothing could be further from the truth. The place seems too understated for the kooky side walls and just full of the people who work in its environs. 

The food was also a little understated but mostly worked. It took me a long time to decide what to order but eventually I went for the duck breast, which I can so seldom resist, especially when coupled with one of my favourites – sweet potato. It also came with grapes and sliced pear. One of my friends ordered the fried chicken and red peppers, with fries as a side, and my other friend got the famed soft shell crab burger which came with fries.

We may have had a naughty glass of wine as well. It was only small.

I liked my duck – the skin on the top was crispy with some lovely salt sprinkled on it and it was cooked well. It possibly could have done with being rested a little longer as a lot of the juice (or blood) was running out of it and mingling with my pureed sweet potato which didn’t look too appealing. The grapes and sliced pear scattered among the sweet potato didn’t work too well. The sweet potato was nice with the duck. The grapes and pear were nice with the duck. They weren’t all that nice when combined all together.

I must admit I totally had food envy when the fried chicken came out and I’m pleased my friend let me have a taste. It was far bigger than I expected – a log of breaded and fried chicken sliced and then festooned with tiny, tiny cubes of red pepper. It was really juicy and the coating was lovely. The red pepper bits were pretty good too. Absolutely nothing wrong with that dish in my opinion.

I can’t comment on the soft shell crab burger as I can’t really bring myself to eat whole soft shell crab. So I have had to ask my friend what she thought of it and she said “
Crab burger was excellent - it's hard to go wrong with fried crab though.” It's never a bad thing to pick something good and do it well though.

I did nick a few fries and they were rather good. They were proper fries, not chips, nicely seasoned, not too greasy.

I was pretty pleased by this place on the whole. It’s maybe not somewhere that I’d go gushing about to all and sundry but it did make for a pleasant, slightly upmarket luncheon treat. Service was friendly and attentive, though not overly so – they were especially good at keeping the water glasses topped up. Our mains and glass of wine came to £22 each more or less.

Oh, and how could I forget? As a pre-meal snack they served corn nuts! They’re basically puffed out, deep fried corn kernels and I don’t know what they’re called over here, but take my word for it – they’re delicious, and I rather hope they start a trend for them.

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Roller Derby, 20th October

When I was in New York I somehow managed to score tickets to see movies for free all the time, and one such viewing was a preview screening of Whip It!, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, I believe, and starring Ellen Page. It’s a movie about a girl joining a Roller Derby team. I had never heard of Roller Derby until watching the movie (which is really good, by the way).

Roller Derby is a sport of sorts, between two teams of girls on skates (of the roller variety) who score points when one of their team members laps the other team. Basically. There’s a little more to it than that, but even after watching it on Saturday I wouldn’t be able to fully explain all the ins and outs. All you really have to know is to look for the girl on the team you’re supporting with the star on, and cheer her as she breaks away from the pack. Judging from the movei, it’s quite a rough and ready sport with lots of contact and the girls are not the kind of girls you want to get into a ruck with.

Anyway, so I had heard of Roller Derby in the States, and then pretty much forgot about it. Until I went to the rather weird and not so wonderful night that was Carnesky’s Tarot Drome. This performance art finished with a bunch of girls on skates and suddenly Roller Derby sprang to mind and I wondered if it had made its way across the pond yet. Of course I shouldn’t have wondered, I should have known that it had. There are two Roller Derby leagues in London, the London Roller Girls, and the London Rockin’ Rollers.  Simply because they had a bout on sooner rather than later, I ended up seeing the London Rockin’ Rollers in action first.

I was eager to see if the sport really was as vicious as it seemed in the movie, and how popular it was over here. The bout I went to see sold out in advance, but were allowed to sell some tickets on the door. It took place in a gymnasium in the middle of nowhere, basically, in the outer reaches of London, otherwise known as Plaistow. All the seats in the bleachers were taken and some brave souls were sitting on the floor at the edge of the track. This was at your own peril as sometimes the girls would be nudged with force out of the indicated track and into the audience.

Taking place, as it did, in a gym, rather than a huge purpose-built stadium, it did feel a bit amateurish and like you were just going along to support your local school’s team. But I guess they have to work with what they’ve got. I was sort of hoping for a mini-velodrome in which they competed, but it was just a track marked out with orange tape on the floor. It also, slightly strangely, took place very early evening – at 5, again lending to that school team feeling. It took me and my friend a while to realise alcohol was being served – at that time, in that place, we just didn’t expect there to be any.

Action shot

For most of the audience, you could tell this was not their first time – they were either very familiar with Roller Derby, or were participants themselves, which was lucky as if we just voiced a question out loud, lots of people were on hand to answer it for us. My friend and I still found it slightly confusing – there were so many referees and other officials, we didn’t know why they kept stopping and starting or what penalties were being given and why. It took us probably the first half to figure out the point system (one point for lapping the other team and additional points for each individual team member lapped). But you get a feel for it as you go and start to know when to cheer and when to groan. It’s pretty fast-paced and the points rack up quickly, which keeps you focused on the game. There was a girl commentating, though sadly the sound system wasn’t up to much so it was hard to tell what she was saying.

There are two halves of 30 minutes each, but with all the penalties and extra time, the whole thing lasted two hours in the end. Sadly the London girls lost by about 40 points. The atmosphere was vastly different to that of Whip It and sadly less aggressive than the movie – not a single fight broke out, but I enjoyed it and I think it’s the sort of thing that would get more enjoyable the more you see and get what is going on. It’s definitely a different way to spend an afternoon. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mangal 1 Ocakbasi, 26th October

I really was expecting quite good things from this Turkish place in Dalston as it is generally regarded as one of the best Ocakbasi grill places in the area . . . And it pretty much lived up to expectations (ha - you thought I was going to go the other way with that didn't you?)

We got there at about 8 and there was a moderate queue, but the place is pretty big and it's not the kind of place to really linger so we were probably only waiting about ten minutes before we were seated. It didn't take us long to decide what we wanted, having watched the meat being skewered and put on the grill while we queued - everything! We ordered a mixed grill each (which didn't tell you what that included, though you knew it didn't include quail as that was in the 'special mixed grill) and realised that we had made a bit of a rookie mistake in not bringing any alcohol with us. Dagnabbit! 

As we waited for our food, a basket of bread was brought to our table which we started on. The bread was warm and soft and tasty on its own but both Stephen and I thought it was a bit of a travesty that we didn't have anything to scoop up with it. Two people seated quite close to us had a plate of different and tasty looking dips and it didn't take too much debate between us to decide to order that, which was just a 'meze'. 

It comprised of four different dip-type things, separated by cucumber slices - a hummus (houmous? hoummus? hommous? why are there so many variations?), a tzatziki-style dip, a tomato and parsley salad and a smokey roasted aubergine, tomato and garlic creation which was delicious. Well, actually, they were all delicious and in to time we had polished them and all the bread off. 

At this point we wondered if we hadn't been foolish in ordering a mixed grill. Memories of the mountain of food at Cirrik came back to me and I worried I would end up wasting a lot of my food again.

But I didn't do too badly, and Stephen finished his all (only minorly regretting this later). The portions weren't quite as gigantic as they were at Cirrik. And yes, please forgive me but I couldn't help but compare it to the place around the corner. At Mangal, our mixed grill consisted of a lamb chop, some lamb morsels, a chicken wing, adana kebab (I think) and some rolled belly meat (again, we think). This came with a large pepper (fairly spicy!), a square of bread (for me anyway, Stephen had several squares) and a ridiculously big salad to share. 

The meat was all very tasty. We were given a crazy hot sauce - a bit like a ketchup relish - to adorn our food, but I didn't partake. The meat didn't need it - it was all perfectly seasoned and tasty on its own. My chicken wing was less a wing and more like a wishbone with a few scraps of meat on it which was a bit disappointing, and I thought my lamb chop was a bit too big (I know, pernickety much? But because of its size it was a little dry.) but the edges with the crispy fat were delicious. The chunks of lamb were my favourite bits but it was all pretty enjoyable to eat. Again, I failed myself and didn't finish it all but I gave it a bloody good go before I admitted defeat. 

We'd already tucked into this once before I took this picture.
The salad was unnecessarily big. I took a few scoops of carrot, cabbage, some onion and it was only after we had tucked in once that I discovered all the lovely, juicy, seasoned shredded onion underneath. Why wasn't this amazing stuff on the top where we could get at it before we got full with everything else? I'm not saying the salad wasn't good - quite the opposite but it doesn't need to be so big. I'm worried there were other gems in that heap that I just couldn't get to! 

Overall I think Cirrik gets my first vote - I preferred their bread, and the lamb ribs that came with the mixed grill were amazing. The tiny chicken wing and slightly dry chop, and only one piece of bread (yes, I know I didn't even finish it all, but there's always room for more bread) let the side down a little for Mangal, which is why I'm giving Cirrik the edge here. But please don't take this as damning criticism. Mangal 1 is still pretty amazing and I would take no persuasion whatsoever to go back here again. The staff here deserve a mention as well. I found them really friendly in an unassuming kind of way.

I really hate writing up these things - I am totally craving meat now. I'll have to give Mangal 2 round the corner a try as well and complete the trifecta. Also, their hilarious tweets alone make me want to give them my custom.

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