Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pizza Pilgrims, 29th March

I was very excited to try Pizza Pilgrims after all the buzz about it I'd seen on Twitter etc. It was even half the reason I took yesterday off work as I knew I couldn't get down there from King's cross on my lunch hour, which is the only time they're serving.

I had only recently heard that there was a street food scene on Berwick Street but found it soon enough by following the trail of pizza eaters. This is where I had my first disappointment. In my heart, what I'm probably always seeking is pizza to rival an American slice (though perhaps less dangerous for your arteries) and I could see that these were individual pizzas. There's a very commendable reason for this though - they make all the pizzas in front of you as you wait. It's a great set up - these three guys who apparently have toured Italy to learn and perfect the secrets of creating authentic Italian pizza. They have a counter where they make the pie, and then an oven in a van where they cook it. I watched them take the dough, knead it out and hand spin it in the air to create the base. And then they topped it, while in the background played some toe-tapping inducing folksy banjo-type music.

So far so good. They had three kinds on offer - a margarita at £5, salami at £6 and courgette and garlic also at £6. My second disappointment - nduja, which they seemed to have for their first week and which sounded amazing, wasn't on the menu. I ordered the salami. I could have added chilli and/or rocket to the pizza, both of which I like, and I would have been tempted to do so, but at an extra 50p each, it seemed a bit too much. £6 for a pizza seems more than enough without having to pay extra for ingredients like salad leaves. Disappointing.

About 5 minutes later my pizza was ready and I took it to eat in the sun. This was my fourth and final disappointment. I was about halfway through my first quarter when I realised I hadn't been concentrating on how my pizza tasted. This says something in itself. I think, that when food tastes great, it seizes your attention, without you having to focus on it consciously. This didn't. I chided myself for being distracted by the streets of Soho and turned my mind to the pizza. The base was crispy, and the dough was chewy. I thought it actually a bit too chewy and by the time I was down to the last quarter my jaw was aching. (Though, according to my boyfriend I chew too much, so perhaps this is something that will rarely afflict others.)

Looks good but looks are deceiving

But I can handle knackering in my jaw to get through something I consider too delicious not to finish. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by the rest of the pizza. The tomato base didn't have much flavour to it. The salami was perfectly nice and a little crispy which was a nice touch, but it didn't save it, especially as there was only a little of it. The best moments were when I bit into a part that had a lovely fresh basil leaf on it. Then my mouth had a burst of freshness and flavour. But again, these bites were few and far between. On a Homeslice pizza it doesn't matter because the 'canvas' by itself is so good. In this case, the rest of the pizza was just, meh. So, as far as I'm concerned, Homeslice is the unchallenged titleholder  of best pizza in London. It's a shame it wasn't on my List when I ate there because that means I didn't review it. But it's amazing - great big slices, two for a fiver. I've had plain margarita and some with toppings and they're all equally fabulous. 

Now, I think I may sound like either a bit of a snob here, or not enough of one, but I've noticed over the years that 'authentic' isn't all it's cracked up to be and perhaps Pizza Pilgrims is suffering from this phenomenon. Something being authentic sounds great, but then when you taste it, you realise that what you eat on a regular basis may not be authentic, but it has been improved to the point where it's tasty. And taste is what counts for me. Turkish kebabs for example - love them over here. Went to Turkey and found the kebabs there were pretty rank and bulked out with french fries. Mexican food also - my favourite food and I can't get enough of Wahaca. My friends however, recently went to Mexico and said the worst thing about it was the food. And now finally, pizza. Maybe real authentic Italian pizza just doesn't equate to best?

I have a feeling I'm probably a lone voice on this one, so don't crucify me, but I sadly won't be going back to Pizza Pilgrims. The guys themselves seemed lovely though!

Pizza Pilgrims on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mason & Taylor, 17th March

Mason & Taylor is a reasonably recent addition to the Redchurch Street area at the top of Brick Lane, which is becoming decidedly more upmarket lately and I’m a little confused as to what Mason & Taylor are trying to be. You enter upstairs into a bright room, which is mostly full with tables and chairs. Very little room for standing at the bar. One wall is pure glass. It feels like a trendy wine bar. Or a restaurant. Yet it isn’t either of these things. They do provide food (they are part of the small plates/tapas renaissance) and of course they also have wine. But the real raison d’etre of Mason & Taylor is craft beers, which is why my friend had chosen to go there to celebrate his birthday. Unfortunately I don’t drink beer at all, so I cannot comment personally on whether or not this is a decent place to go for craft beers. I would guess that it is, as this particular group of friends are all into their beer (even a couple of CAMRA members among them) and this was at least the third one of them to choose to come here for birthday celebrations. So they must be doing something right in this regard.

I can categorically state that it’s not so hot when it comes to wine. I hate to pay more than £5.00 for a normal sized glass of wine (175ml) which left me with two choices – one oaky (yuck) and one not (which also turned out to be not so great). And is it really that hard to make sure that the wine you serve is chilled instead of, at best, just below room temperature? It makes a big difference!

So yes, upstairs feels at odds with what Mason & Taylor is all about. It feels soulless. It’s like they’re trying to ‘posh up’ beer and I don’t hold with that at all.

However, there is a basement bar. And this is where we spent most of the evening. Being a basement, it’s dark and feels much more exciting and intimate. They have a DJ down there who was playing a pleasing mix of slightly retro music (Talking Heads, Hall & Oats, some 60s soul). And it’s large. This is the part of which you can hire out certain sections for things such as birthdays. There’s a lot of room for standing, or dancing, but also quite a few comfy seats for anyone who has reserved an area. This is where the party happens.

You can also order a selection of food for your guests if you so wish. This was good in the main, with a special thumbs up going to the mini toads in the holes they provided, and the sweet potato wedges. English rarebit was less successful – it had pickles, did that make it English? – definitely overcooked and dry as a bone as a result. Pate, potted crab, mackerel pate and quiche were all fairly good too. The basement bar stays open until 2 so you can easily while away the whole night in there. Or, if you’re silly like me, you can then easily head into Shoreditch, to Ye Olde Axe, for example, to continue your night.

In conclusion, I did not fall in love with Mason & Taylor. I suppose I’m not who they’re aiming for, though I’m a bit surprised that people who are seriously into their beers and ales are looking for a place with this sort of atmosphere. It feels more like a place for people who think it’s fashionable to be into their beers and ales (previously mentioned company excluded of course). I wouldn’t be surprised if I was back here before long though. It’s size is a real bonus which means it would make a great meeting place for a large group of you. And I’d like to come back to give the ‘proper’ food a try.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pollen Street Social, 17th March

Going to a Michelin starred restaurant for lunch for no special reason isn’t something that most people would consider, but I posit that you should when it comes to Pollen Street Social. As it happens, we went to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday, but I fully intend to return and I’m not going to wait for a special occasion to crop up before I do.

The reason I say all this is because the set lunch at Pollen Street Social is an absolute steal. Two courses are £22.00 and three are £25.50. With wine and service included our entire meal came to just shy of £50 each and we were absolutely stuffed, having thoroughly enjoyed some superb cuisine.

In some places, if you go for the set menu, you might feel you are being relegated to a subclass of diner, as the choices on the menu are limited and sometimes don’t seem to showcase the best of what a restaurant can do. This was not the case with Pollen Street. All of us could have quite happily had any of the dishes on offer for any of the courses and not felt hard done by. Not only that, but we didn’t lose out on having the full dining experience by going for the set menu. By that I mean we were offered the bread basket not once but twice (and yes, I did have some both times), we were furnished with a palate cleanser between main and dessert, and at the end of the meal we were given a delightful mini cake to round it off. As an added bonus, when we booked the main dining area was full and we were seated in the bar area. There were only about 4 other tables in this area, at the back of the room, which made it feel like we had our own private dining area, away from the bustle and noise of the hoi polloi. The only downside being that we didn’t get the spectacle of the chefs at work, or see the dessert bar laid out at the back.

And so, on to the food. We had a choice of three starters – pork knuckle and foie gras terrine with coco beans, squid and sourdough toast; hake with slow-cooked egg and curry rice; and mackerel tartar. Poor mackerel lost out as the five of us found the other two dishes more tempting. I had the terrine (anyone who reads this may by now realise gambling on me having a terrine as a starter is a safe bet). It was an excellent introduction to the standard of the food there. The bread was dense with plenty of flavour and the terrine was much richer than I thought it would be. I think that’s the first time I’ve had foie gras and I think that is what accounted for the luxurious taste. The star of the starters was the egg dish which three of my dining companions ordered. It was presented as a large, gelatinous looking globe of egg with flakes of fish and fried garlic all over it, and then a velvety vivid green soup was poured around it. Stunning. I had a small taste of Stephen’s and it was very silky.

Almost forgot to mention the tart picallili (green blob partially obscured)

There's some oxtail with that there marrow
For our mains again there were three choices – a fish dish that no one really bothered to do more than glance at (though it sounded nice), and then two meat options. Ox cheek with salt baked onion, mashed potato and bone marrow, and dingly dell pork belly with spiced pig’s cheek, pear puree and lardo potatoes. Stephen and I had the pork, the others had the ox cheek. I was over the moon that each dish came with a separate mini tureen of jus which the waiters poured over the meat. I love a little theatre at the table. Once again, fabulous food. I did have one potato that, dare I say it, may have been a tad underdone. And the pork belly did not have crispy crackling on it’s top, so if that’s something which would lose it points in your opinion, then be warned.
Sprouting broccoli - a token effort at some veg

When the dishes arrived I will admit to thinking – that’s not enough! But as I forked in the last mouthful, I was already getting that slightly uncomfortable full feeling. I could have easily gone without dessert and still not needed to eat until much later in the evening.
But, while we were there... Well, silly not to! There are two main choices for dessert but also a selection of sorbets and ice creams on offer. I had the rhubarb sorbet with pistachio financier and ginger, Stephen had the chocolate pave with vanilla ice cream and smoked vanilla crumb. The other sorbets on offer were mango, passionfruit, beetroot and one other I have forgotten. The ice cream choices were vanilla, chocolate, 
milk and honey, and tonka bean. 

But before we had that, we were proffered our palate cleanser. My biggest regret of this meal is that I didn’t take a picture of this when it was first set down. They had recreated a soft boiled egg. But it was nothing to do with an egg at all. The bottom of it was pineapple granita, there was then a thick layer of lychee foam (which looked like egg white) and this was then topped with  a passionfruit coulis (which look like a bit of soft yolk poking through. It was incredibly refreshing, zingy and sweet. Wonderful. 

Finally, dessert was served. I think this may have been my favourite dish of the day, mainly because it was something I wouldn’t normally go for. The rhubarb sorbet was refreshing and the pistachio financier nice and crumbly. Some stewed rhubarb and chantilly cream were some nice added extras. 

I didn’t even have any food envy of Stephen’s amazing looking chocolate pave, which tasted as good as it looked. Even the ice cream/sorbets that the others ordered were presented beautifully. Laid out in individual cups nestled in ice like oysters. So, so pretty! 
Chocolate pave

rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

Sorbet selection
A pumpkin and apricot bite-size cake and the meal was done!

Pollen Street Social on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Owl and the Pussycat and Deviation, 7th March

Who knew such a lovely little proper pub existed so close to Shoreditch? Well, quite a few people, evidently, as it was pretty busy in The Owl and the Pussycat and it was only a Wednesday. I heard about this place through Secret London and popped it on the List. I was going to Deviation at Concrete which is just around the corner so thought this would be an ideal place for a couple of drinks first.

This place goes in for big communal tables that you have to try to nab a place at, ending up potentially sharing with another group or two. The pub itself is quite small but it has a sizeable (heated) courtyard at the back to squeeze some more people in, and it has a separate restaurant upstairs for people who just want to eat. Prices were quite reasonable. A normal-sized (ie not the 250ml bucket) of wine was under £4.00 – which is becoming increasingly rare these days.

The crowd was pretty typical hipster – I don’t think there was a single girl in there without a flat fringe- and it was mostly groups of people. But the pub’s low lighting and woody d├ęcor also made it quite a romantic pub (I think the poetic name helps) and I can imagine going with my boyfriend for a few drinks together and some tasty sounding bar snacks – duck’s egg, chorizo and garlic frites, mmmm!

After two drinks in there it was time to move on to Deviation.

This is a monthly club night curated by Benji B and which was celebrating its 50th session last night. (Cue lots of balloons.) To mark the occasion they had Hudson Mohawke as their speical guest DJ and also James Blake (but I didn’t stay late enough to see him unfortunately). Benji B got things started, easing people into the night with some house music that made you want to move, then journeying into tunes which were more soulful and ambient. At 9 when the doors opened there was a queue to get in and by half ten the place was not only busy but everyone was on the dance floor. Benji responded to this by ratcheting up the atmosphere and getting some dirty, dirty, bassy dnb on and then moving into some heavy hip hop. The crowd was pulsating. It was obvious that the people there loved these nights, loved the music and were intent on making the most out of the limited time they had to enjoy it. Once a month for only a few hours (9-2) isn’t much time. So no wasting precious minutes having a few drinks in there first – once you were in, you were dancing.  I was also impressed by the eclecticism of the crowd. Because of the hip hop influence, it wasn’t just your typical electro-geek. Black and white, young and older, were all there-even an annoying Canadian.

At about 11:30 Benji switched tacks again and moved onto some bassy house music to segue into Hudson taking the decks. Hudson's debut song was a remix of Bjork of all things (sorry, not sure which song), followed shortly after by TLC’s Silly Ho. Why haven’t I heard that song in a club before? It warranted getting right into the crowd to make the most of it. From there the music returned to some major hip hop which the dancefloor was lapping up and at about midnight I decided I should get the last tube home – well it was a school night.

Unfortunately, the cloakroom system was a little inefficient. I had to queue in the same queue as people putting their coats in, and even though there weren’t many people in front of me, it still took about half an hour for me to get my coat. I hope it's not like that when I return later this month for Stumblin' Slims! I missed the tube and had to walk down Brick Lane to get the bus, which put a bit of a dampener on the evening. I’m just glad I live so close by, that it still didn’t take me too long to get home. 

Square Meal

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Old Queen's Head, 6th March

I think it only fair to warn you that this write-up may be slightly biased because - **SPOILER ALERT** - these words are being written by one of the members of the current reigning victors of the Old Queen's Head pub quiz! I have never won a pub quiz before, so it's understandable that doing so, here, may skew my opinion of the place. 

Having said that, I don't actually think this is too much the case. I think I would have liked the place anyway. We went at the behest of my friend Fiona who has been to this pub quiz several times before, coming joint first the last time, but cruelly having the crown awarded solely to the team that tied with them due to a disqualification in the dancing round. More on this treacherous dance round later.

We got to the pub straight after work, and even at 6:15 on a Tuesday the place had a buzz about it. It also has some 'eccentric' decoration to say the least and I'm always a sucker for what looks like a 'rocking lamb' suspended from the ceiling. The place has a haphazard, rather shambolic appearance to it, which succeeds in making it look comfy and inviting. Lots of mismatched sofas with a LOT of bar stools dotted around. 

We ordered food, most of us opting for some variation on burger and chips. I had the chicken burger. I was asked if I wanted cheese or bacon on it and I said yes to cheese (always yes to cheese) and then discovered cheese was an extra 75p, boosting my burger and chips up from a reasonable £8.50 to an amount I was less happy to hand over. It's amazing how the difference between getting £1.50 back from a tenner and 75p back can make you view value for money. To be fair, I think they do say this on the menu, I just hadn't looked properly.

It was a pretty nice chicken burger though, I thought. My friend Rachel had changed her mind at the last minute and got a hamburger. After getting a glimpse of my chicken burger, proclaiming that she had no food envy, and scoffing all hers, she then decided that, actually, the hamburger was a bit disappointing. Too dry. But no matter. We weren't there for the food, we were there for the drink and the quiz.

I need little encouragement to go to a pub quiz, especially when that pub is one that is on my List. What persuaded my teammates that they should go is that this is a quiz run by no other than Spider from Coronation Street. And he does a pretty good job of this second career of his.

You can tell that the Old Queen's Head considers itself to be a pub for a younger, hipper crowd and so of course the pub quiz has to live up to this ethos. Spider as host (sorry, i don't know his real name) is a good start. He's a pretty entertaining compere. Also, in order for it not to be like any old boring pub quiz, they have bonus rounds halfway through each round where you get the chance to win a prize for yourself and a round of shots for your teammates. This week's bonus rounds included flying some model glider's at Spider's head (we won that), blowing the biggest bubble, attempting to draw something pornographic, and the now infamous dance round. I stupidly volunteered for this round at the beginning of the night. Everyone gets up near Spider and you dance to some music. While blowing a very shoddy kazoo. He sends off the dance floor during/at the end of the song anyone not dancing and kazooing well enough. Then another song is played and the same thing happens until finally the third song is played and there are only three of you dancing. I was in that final three. It is then up to the other teams to decide on the winner. As all of my team will attest, I was robbed! My moves were smooth, and varied, not just jumping and leg kicks like some of my competitors, but I don't think the audience were really paying attention when he asked for their appreciation of my performance and I got barely a clap. Gutted.

We then went back and finished the round and then handed in our answers to Spider for tallying.

I won't bother trying to build any suspense here because I've already given the ending away - we were the champions! We weren't expecting it. We found the questions to be fairly easy, but in our minds, this just meant that everyone else would get them right as well. So it was a genuine surprise when we got to fourth place and our team still hadn't been called out. Then third, then at second we cheered so much in anticipation, the team next to us thought we were the ones who came second. Our prize was a bottle of champers to be redeemed at a time of our choosing. Congratulations once again Tom, Fiona, Claire, Rachel and Jenni! Some of us had to dash off and the rest of us stayed in the still lively pub and did what people do best in pubs - ranted about work. There is also an upstairs where they have gigs and events. There was some sort of hip hop/spoken word/open mic thing going on that night, but we were otherwise engaged with the pub quiz so I wasn't able to see what upstairs is like.

Of course, I'll be going back to get my winnings so might get a peek then. But even if I didn't have such a good reason to return, I would like to go back anyway. It was a fun pub, and they have a few things coming up that I like the sound of. Easter Sunday all-dayer anyone?

Square Meal

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Area, 2nd March

Did you know Area is a gay club? Actually we did, but thanks for checking. Repeatedly.

We'd finished our meal at Dans le Noir and headed into the night to Soho. It was 11:30 pm by this time, and our options of places to go, without paying a cover charge, were diminishing. After the obligatory wandering around and wasting even more time, we went to G-A-Y late. What a mistake that was. I was with one of my best friends from home, who is gay, and his boyfriend, and the cheesiness on offer in this place was even too much for them. Add to that an appalling sound system and some clientele who had seen better days (I hope), it didn't make for a happening place to be. After one drink we ditched and got a cab to Area.

Our cabbie was pretty friendly but hadn't heard of Area. We explained where it was and he told us it sounded like it was where 'all those gay bars were'. Yes, we nodded, smirking, chances are it was there! He dropped us at the start of this gay area (perhaps not wanting to spend too much time there) and we walked up to Area. Area is next door to/part of Fire, another club that I haven't yet been to. We were pretty sure we were in the right place when we saw the seven foot black guy replete with what looked like plastic orange flames on his head, massive spiral boobs and a gimp mask. We got in the queue which consisted of just us while the door staff made completely sure that we were aware we were about to enter a gay bar. They singled Stephen out particularly and asked him at least twice if he knew it was a gay place and if he was ok with it. I eventually had to show them the stamp on my hand from G-A-Y Late to prove to him we were cool with it! Considering the Vauxhall gay clubbing scene isn't exactly a place you can stumble on, we thought all this double checking was a little over the top.

Love a bit of podium action
And so we were in. Area is massive. There were three different rooms of music, two of which have a bar, plus an area at the back with a stained glass window, which was mostly empty apart from a couple of guys canoodling. Actually, this was the problem with the place - for such a large venue, there weren't enough people in it! My favourite room was the one playing house complete with live bongo drummer, but very few people were dancing in this one, which meant I sacrificed it in favour of the other rooms where the atmosphere was better. The second largest room was playing cheesyish commercial pop and rnb, and the third and largest room was playing straightforward house music. While the cheesy room started off as the most popular, it was the largest room which ended up having the most people in it. Well, it is where the podiums are and they're always a crowd-pleaser. We flitted in and out of the two bigger rooms for most of the night, though when the music in the second room started to get recycled and L-U-V Madonna came on for the second time, we spent the majority of the time in the third room. Towards the end of the night, they closed down the other rooms and shepherd you all into this one anyway.

I don't really mind whether a club is gay or straight as long as I like the music it is playing and it has a good atmosphere. I felt like Area had potential, but was just too empty. Maybe Saturday night it runs full strength. Music-wise, I was happy to dance but it didn't get right down into my stomach and make me want to jig with abandon. Considering it's so out of the way as well, I don't think I'll be heading back in a rush.

Dans le Noir?, 2nd March

Stephen asked me afterwards if I had enjoyed my meal and I said no. Yet I'm really pleased I went to Dans le Noir? It is a completely unique and interesting overall experience. 

Dans le Noir? is a restaurant where you sit in the pitch black to eat. If you think you have experienced complete darkness before, you haven't. You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face, not even when it's touching your own nose. The idea is to let you have an insight into the world that blind people inhabit every day, to gain an awareness of the problems not being able to see presents and to heighten your senses so that you have a dining experience unlike any other. 

This isn't the kind of place you just pop to because you fancy a bite to eat, not least because a two course meal is £41. So we went for a friend's birthday. While looking forward to it, all of us were a little anxious about how we would react to not being able to see anything, not even each other. No light is allowed into the room at all - you are allocated a locker when you get in to store any light emitting belongings, including watches that glow in the dark. We didn't know whether we'd be able to relax in the total darkness and I wondered whether the room would be filled with hushed tones because my first instinct in the dark is to adopt a 'pillow talk voice' appropriate for the moments before sleep, or the cinema. And would we physically be able to accomplish eating a meal without spilling everything all over ourselves or one another without being able to see?

To add to the mystery and the fun, you have a choice of menus but you don't know exactly what you will be served. You tell the person who takes your order of any allergies you might have, and  they will adapt the menu to make allowances for that, but otherwise you have no say in what you're eating, other than choosing which general menu you want. Your choices are a fish option, meat option, vegetarian or mixed fish and meat, and saying whether you want starter, main and/or dessert. Stephen and I went for the meat main and dessert, our other three dining companions went for the vegetarian option with dessert, figuring this would lessen the chances of any nasty surprises.

We went upstairs for a cocktail in the bar (which has light). In the spirit of things we chose the 'surprise' cocktail which was disappointing for me as it seemed to be Malibu-based, and I don't like coconut. The atmosphere was surprisingly lively, with them playing upbeat house music. Perhaps they expect people to be heading on to Fabric up the road afterwards and want to help get you in the mood. Shortly we were told our table was ready and we went back downstairs, half-drunk cocktails in hand.

At the entrance, we were introduced to our waiter Derek. All the waiters at Dans le Noir are blind and know the layout of the restaurant inside out. They are your eyes. You form a line and each put a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you, with your waiter at the head and then you do the slowest conga ever through two heavy curtains into the abyss (otherwise known as to your table). 

Walking into the darkness feels more than odd. I've walked into pitch black once before when the Southbank had a weird sort of installation there a couple of years ago, but it was for no more than 5 minutes. Going into the black dining area you are faced with the fact that you won't be able to see for at least an hour. But your mind and your eyes don't readily accept this. You can feel your eyes trying to focus on something and your brain telling you that soon your eyes will adjust and you'll be able to make something out. But you don't. 

Inside the Dining Room
We were seated on a table of ten but our table wasn't full. However, there were plenty of other diners, and they were all quite lively, which meant a pretty sociable atmosphere. Derek explained to us we had a knife and fork on a napkin in front of us, a large tumbler for water, and a smaller one for wine. We had ordered one bottle of wine and a bottle of tap water which Derek brought to us, leaving us to figure out how to actually decant it into our glasses. This is where the fun began - we had to devise a system and work together to ensure we all got some wine, hopefully of roughly the same amount, and without spilling any. Hats off to my friends Owen and Ricky for accomplishing this.

And then the food arrived. You are encouraged to guess at what you are eating and at the end of the meal your menu is revealed to you. I'm sure you would imagine, and you are correct, that eating without seeing anything is rather difficult. While drinking in the dark felt almost second nature, eating was a very different matter. Almost immediately I dropped some into my lap. You don't know where on the plate to aim your cutlery and cutting was a task almost impossible. More than once I ended up picking up the meat and biting into it that way. Hell, no one can see you. Knives and forks don't tell you where things are, so you start using your fingers to test the waters. There were several forkfuls I brought to my mouth that were forkfuls of nothing. It's surprisingly stressful. And this is why I said I didn't enjoy the meal. Once you found the food, it was really good. But I know I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I could have seen what I was doing, cut it up and chosen in what order I put it in my mouth. This was literally stabbing in the dark.

And then you weren't even sure when you were finished! And at those prices, you definitely wanted to be eating everything on the plate. As we ate we tried to guess what we were consuming. As soon as the meat plates came we could all smell pork and so I assumed it was a dish of pork in different guises. I was certain there was pork belly, and Stephen said some of it was black pudding and then there were a couple of other bits, which I assumed were slices of roasted pork. There were some types of greens and definitely mushroom (this is what I had picked up off my lap so I made out the shape). And also, a delicious jus.

The veggie eaters thought there was some kind of pancake, something cold they couldn't decipher and weren't too fond of (aubergine raita) and something that was possibly pasta (it turned out to be gnocchi).

Not too shortly after we all guessed we were done with our mains, Derek brought us the desserts. Utterly fantastic. We guessed this one spot on - slabs of white chocolate, a chocolate mousse and raspberry jelly, with one fresh raspberry. There was far too little of it and again, I'll admit, my fingers got a lot more involved than they would in an ordinary restaurant.

More than an hour had passed in the blink of an eye (or should I say it felt like we were in an eye blink that lasted an hour) when we emerged back into the dimly lit foyer and got to see what we'd had for dinner. The pork belly had thrown us completely and we had no idea we had also eaten steak and duck breast! It is amazing how depriving yourself of sight can so confuse the other senses. 

We all had rather dry eyes as all throughout the hour we couldn't stop ourselves from straining to see. It was so dark in there I couldn't even tell how open my eyes were. I dread to think what I would have looked like on the infrared cameras they have for security purposes. I'm sure I kept my eyes half closed throughout the meal - what's the use in keeping them open when you can't see? At the end, and even now, I felt a burning desire to be shown the state of my plate at the end, and what mess I might have made of my surroundings.

The actual dining experience was much easier than we all thought it would be from a social point of view. You can adapt and get used to things so easily. Conversation flowed freely and easily, at normal volume, if not a touch louder. I found myself trying to add inflection to my voice and even more warmth to my laugh in order to compensate for the lack of body language and the others said they also were doing the same.

The total bill came to £60 which, for two courses, one glass of wine and a cocktail makes it one of the most expensive meals I've ever had. But you're really paying for the experience, and it truly is an experience you're unlikely to get anywhere else. Unless you go to another restaurant in the dark I suppose. Or feel like eating in your flat with a heavy curtain over the window. Each to his own.

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