Thursday, April 26, 2012

White Mischief, 21 April

White Mischief is like a variety show revue for the modern era and those who are alternatively-inclined. Similarly to Rumpus, it indulges in the popular Steampunk genre, and encourages - though doesn’t enforce - revellers to get creative and dress up. Most of the crowd, I would wager, need minimal encouragement. 

I mention Rumpus because I know the two have affiliations with 
each other – ‘creatures’ who had attended the recent Rumpus party were eligible for a discount for tickets to White Mischief. But they’re quite different beasts. The focus of Rumpus is dancing, with some other bits thrown in here and there. With White Mischief, the focus of the night is entertainment. You are there to watch a show, although dancing is high on the agenda. There are actual set times for each of the acts, the first of which kicks off at about 10:30 and then follow each other back to back until 2 am, with the compere coming on between acts to introduce and stoke up the crowd. The acts were varied – a brass band that did a fantastic cover of Radiohead’s National Anthem, a lady doing rope acrobatics, two magicians, and two people whose sanity might be questioned when you consider one was hula hooping with a ring of fire in her undies and another was angle grinding on metal knickers. And then the final act, a rousing band that is hard to pin down to a genre called Tankus the Henge.

But this was just downstairs. The event was held in Scala, which is a great venue – a goodsize that feels intimate but not crowded. Downstairs is the stage with all the main acts. But there was also an upstairs with another bar and an area for dancing and other distractions such as little stalls selling alternative and steampunk trinkets, and a Victotian photo parlour. They were playing ‘vintage jazz’ up here but later in the evening moved on to rock n roll which could be heard both upstairs and in the downstairs bar.  You might also bump into some weird and wonderful ‘things’ wandering amidst the crowd – Exploreres from Oblivia (below) and a lady with a snake - and the fire hula hooper hot stepped it upstairs to have some fun ‘offduty’ wowing the dancers with her hooping while dancing shimmying.

There were more stalls downstairs, selling things but also advertising other events such as the Steampunk happening in Tooley Street next weekend. There was also another mini stage, and after the last act finished on the main stage, the brass band (Perhaps Contraption - below) trooped in and set up on this little stage, treating those who were at the bar to a repeat performance. 

As I said, the night is more about the acts than discoing, and when the final band called it a night, the dancefloor emptied noticably and the whole venue’s population decreased. I stayed around for a bit longer, and would have stayed for longer still, as after the band finished, the DJ came on and I cannot fault the music. They were playing songs that everyone would know, but with a grimy, bassy touch to them, which made me itch to dance. The first song was a mashup of two of everybody’s favourite’s – Black Betty and Everybody Dance Now, then they played a remix of Heads Will Roll by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and a mashup of No Limits and Love Shack. Brilliant!

I had tweeted White Michief to say that after Rumpus I was looking forward to their night. They replied to warn that it wasn’t as crazy as Rumpus. They were right – Rumpus feels anarchic, whereas White Mischief has more structure to the night. But they’re not meant to be the same thing – they don’t compete, they complement, and I liked them both for what they were. The next full White Mischief night isn’t until October now, which is a great shame, though there are other events through the summer. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Icecreamists, 21st April

I first heard of the Icecreamists when they caused a furore by creating an ice cream using breast milk. Sounded interesting to me so I put them on the List.

The Icecreamists are like an alternative, higher class Ben & Jerry's. They describe themselves as boutique ice cream  and the servers there are dressed slightly alt/goth. Their ethos is to revel in the idea that ice cream is a sinful luxury and that it's an adult's temptation. Side by side with the list of ice creams was a list of 'Vice creams' which included a cocktail dedicated to Steve Jobs (it contained apple vodka - 'app'le - too soon?) and ice cream concoctions such as ice cream sandwiches. I was there for just some straightforward ice cream though.

It's laid out like gelato - huge swirly tubs of it decorated with elements that are contained within the ice cream. They have your expected vanilla and chocolate, even dark chocolate and white chocolate, and then the have the flavours that remind you of Ben & Jerry's. For instance, I had Ferrero Rocher and Popcorn. They also had peanut butter and stimulant ice cream on offer. While I was intrigued by that one, I was afraid it might taste like Red Bull.

I watched as other people's orders were scooped out. It seemed like hard work for the girls behind the counter - the ice cream was definitely not soft serve. So I wouldn't say it's exactly gelato. Nor is it cheap at £4.95 for two small scoops. But I wasn't too surprised at the prices considering it is in the piazza in the heart of one of the most touristy areas - Covent Garden. What I would say is it's delicious. Much better than I thought it would be as I suspected it would be more gimmick than taste.

The Ferrero Rocher was on top and tasted pleasantly chocolatey and praliney. I thought that was all there was to it until I was nicely surprised by pieces of chocolate wafer within. Now it tasted like a proper ferrero rocher! But, I was still very pleased that my popcorn ice cream was on the bottom as I do like to save the best to last and from my first lick I knew I liked this one better. This wasn't just popcorn but toffee popcorn ice cream with toffee pieces and sauce throughout as well as bits of popcorn, including one huge toffee covered piece. Yum. Double yum even. 

The Icecreamists on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

The London Stone, 21st April

I have found myself on Cannon Street, where I know the London Stone to be, on many occasions and each time I tried to keep an eye out for the stone with nary a glimpse of it. I found the London Stone pub and had a good scout in its environs but could not see the stone. This is probably because until recently I wasn't really sure what I was looking for. I imagined some great boulder sitting on the street perhaps encased in glass for everyone to see. It is thanks to the LondonStuff blog that I finally knew what to look for, and found it today (huzzah) with ease.

As you may or may not know, this Stone goes back yonks, having been written about in the 10th century. It is said that if it ever leaves London, then London will fall, and popular legend has it that it could be the very stone from which Arthur pulled Excalibur. Nowadays it sits unassumingly behind a grill on Cannon Street, where, in the harsh light of day, it is quite hard to actually see the stone at all. An anticlimax for some who are seeking it perhaps, but I was well aware of what to expect and so still had some satisfaction from finally seeing it. And so - here it is:

The Stone


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rumpus, 6th April

I barely know where to start to describe a night at Rumpus. Rumpus is like an adult wonderland with something different going on in every room. I felt like an over-sized child wandering from one atmosphere to the next (it didn't help that my costume made me look like I was about to go to a children's birthday party, nor that we all at one point ventured into the Ball Pit. Yes, there is an adult-sized ball pit.) 

Example of a full on costume
(c) Saffina Rana
So, let me start at the beginning. I have an eclectic taste in music so what Rumpus are trying to do really appeals to me. Up to seven rooms, all with different types of music and goings on in them. Not only that, but dressing up is strongly encouraged. Each night they put on has a different theme. And we're not talking just '70s' or 'Blitz'. These nights have their own backstories to explain the dress code. Friday's was 'Tomorrow's Party, Today': It's the future, the People's Party have taken over in a world where the line between humans and animals has blurred to indistinction and everyone must dance and party forever more. But wait, an underground guerilla resistance group is rising up! And so you can decide - animal creature, towing the party line or guerrilla warfare costume. Or of course, anything out of the ordinary whatsoever.

And, if you can't be bothered or don't have the imagination or wherewithal to dress up, that doesn't matter either. They have all sorts of tails on hand to hire (long furry ones, squat dragonstyle ones, I saw some that were lit up like lanterns) and some talented ladies who will paint your face so that you 'fit in' better with the costumed crowd. But even if you don't fancy that, the place is friendly and non-judgmental - wear what you like so long as you're enjoying yourself!

We arrived about 11:30 and went into the main room which is a courtyard where there's a BBQ, the facepainting and tails, and oh yeah, there just happens to be an underground tube train in the middle. Off to the right was a room with a bar in it that at first was playing some rock 'n' roll music, but then a live band came on singing some soulful dixie music, if that's a thing, which made me feel like I was on the bayou. Music in each of the rooms varies over the course of the night though so if you don't like it when you first come in, just come back later and see if it floats your boat then. Over on the other side of the courtyard is another room which, when we entered had two ladies stamping their feet in a generally Irish kind of way. That song finished and before we knew it we were being rounded up to participate in some kind of Irish line dancing, complete with dosey doe-ing and running through people's arms. Brilliant fun. Breathless, we left to explore upstairs.

Naked body painted people
(c) Saffina Rana
The more serious dancing seemed to be happening up here and later in the night this is where we spent most of our time, raving to house and d 'n' b. There was a large room, which is where the ball pit was situated, some cages, and also some naked body painting was occurring, though somehow I managed to miss this (although I did see some of the results afterwards). On we went through to another DJ-based room, and then to a smaller one at the back where a band that I would describe loosely as Gypsy Turbo Punk were shouting into microphones and whipping up a storm for those who like that kind of thing. 

On top of all this, popping up almost at random there seemed to be burlesque type acrobatics - we saw a woman wending and weaving through hanging sashes, and upstairs a lady threading herself and balancing 
through a hoop. 

I'm still slightly taken aback by the variety on offer. Early bird tickets were only £10 and the night lasts from 10 pm until 7 am representing excellent value for money for a night out as well. Also, the drinks were fairly averagely priced. Not cheap but normal bar prices. And there was a BBQ and cupcakes on offer, though I didn't end up sampling either. We were some of the very last to leave, which you can take as a seal of approval. The next one is June 1st - see you there:

Gino gelato, 1st April

This one definitely made it onto my list thanks to Time Out – I think they did a feature on the best ice creams to be had in London and they recommended Gino’s and the peanut butter ice cream.

Those who are about my age or older may find the name of this ice cream parlor quite amusing, reminding me as it does of that not too high quality ice cream in the 90s called Gino Ginelli. I’m happy to report that the name Gino is the only similarity.

We were meeting a friend at Trafalgar Square to go for lunch and for the first time in possibly ever, took the exit from Charing Cross which takes you closest to the Square. As we surfaced, we found ourselves facing Gino Gelato. Even though we were about to go for lunch, we were starving and so we thought we’d mix it up a bit and have our dessert first. They had peanut butter in stock so I had a scoop of that, and Stephen had biscotti. Both were very tasty. They were both smooth and creamy, but the peanut butter had an added texture to it which really made you feel this was a peanut butter ice cream, and not just one flavoured by peanuts. Peanut butter lovers will know what I mean.

They had some other interesting flavours – one being sweet red wine. I didn’t think this would pair all that well with peanut butter so didn’t go for a scoop of it, but my curiosity has been piqued so I will come back to try it soon.

Gino Gelato on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Stumblin' Slims, 31st March

I can't remember how I heard about Stumblin' Slims. Probably through looking at the Blues Kitchen's website, a bar in Camden that I've been to before. Anyway, I had heard about it and had been considering going to Stumblin' Slims for New Year's Eve, when we decided against it in favour of something more 'clubby'. But I still wanted to go at some point, especially after watching Hairspray over Christmas and getting in a jive kinda mood.

So when their next night came up, at Concrete, I booked tickets as soon as they went on sale, nabbing early bird tickets at merely a fiver. It was just as well. I had no idea how popular the night was, and they sold out of all tickets at least a week before the night was on.

Stumblin Slims has been described as "a cross between a prom night and a late night drag race" (Guardian) though I think that's just them using some 50s vernacular for the sake of it. I saw no sign or cars or corsages. It is a fun night though of great music and people dancing their socks off. There was a good number of people dressed up in some form or other in 50s/rockabilly gear, and when we entered (at 10:45) they had a girl on hand to do people's hair and makeup if you needed it, though she had disappeared only a few minutes later when we went to put our coats away.

When we arrived the live band was on and loads of people were dancing – the dance floor was packed and we were forced into bopping about on the edges. The band were just a three piece but they created a massive sound and played a crowd-pleasing selection of tunes. In fact, it was quite disappointing when the band stopped and the DJ came on. There was a palpable shift in atmosphere as the band finishing coincided roughly with last-tube time and the place emptied out a little. The sound system at Concrete isn’t that great either which also lead to a bit of a deflation in ambience. We rode out the transitory period, and by the time Stephen and I left at a little past one, I would say that the party had picked up and was going full swing again. The music seemed a little louder than it had been, and you couldn’t fault the songs they were playing. If I hadn’t been starving, I would have happily stayed until the very end. At this point I would love to list the various tunes that were played but can't remember any specific titles. Suffice to say, it was some good old fashioned rock 'n' roll.

I’m not sure how I feel about Concrete as a venue. Stephen liked it – thought it was just the right size, but I find the low ceilings a bit oppressive, and as I mentioned, they don’t exactly have a top-end sound system. However, they play host to lots of different and interesting nights so I am sure I will find myself back here more often than not. I am pleased to report that, after the coat queue fiasco at Deviation, that such an incident was not repeated. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Princi, 29th March

Third time's the charm as they so, and so it was with my day of indulgence on Thursday when I ate at Princi.

I've walked by Princi on many occasions, my eyes wide at the baked goods on show, though I had not yet been inside. This time, I was meeting a friend there and so entered to see the full array of Italian confections on show. I can imagine my eyes growing round as saucers as I looked at the array before me. 

I was a little early though, so I grabbed a couple of seats towards the back. It had been a very hot day, and Princi was quite warm, no doubt because of the number of people creating body heat, and the wood fire they have at the back, presumably for baking their bread and pizzas. At the back, there was a sort of water feature, which I thought might keep us a little cool.

Princi was lively when I arrived and positively bustled the whole time we were in there. It is, in all honesty, a little bit confusing. Waiters zip around all over the place and when I sat down, one of them came to take my order. I just ordered a diet coke while I was waiting, thinking I'd eat when my friend got there. So you would think that, should you wish, you could order food from your waiter. Especially when they keep the tab open for you to add to it later. But this is not how Princi works - the waiters deal with drinks only. If you want food it's counter service and you have to go up to order and take your food. 

Princi does savoury food as well, but as you might have guessed, I wasn't very interested in that today. After having eaten a whole pizza and some ice cream, I didn't think I should eat a full meal as well, or another pizza. Princi offers pizza and focaccias with things on them, as well as some pasta dishes and soups if that's what you fancy. But the real star of the show has to be the sweet treats that you can enjoy in there, or take away. 

Lots of people take advantage of this takeaway option. Unfortunately for me, everyone in the queue ahead of me seemed to be ordering copious numbers of cakes to take back to their Italian families (or maybe themselves). Yes, quite a lot of Italians were in there, and it's an Italian place, so that can't be a bad thing. Eventually I forced myself to make a decision and opted for the deliciosa al mascarpone, but I also got a couple of cannoncini to take away. 

The deliciosa did exactly what it said - it was delicious. Basically a cream cake made with mascarpone, so verging on cheesecake, heavier than a normal cream cake, with some candied orange, which hinted at the flavours of panetonne, but without raisins and sultanas, which I don't like, and instead a layer of chocolate on the top. Yum. This was a main event and a little bit pricey at about £4.50.

The cannoncini, which I shared with Stephen when I got home were only £1.10 a pop and also delicious. These are sweet flaky pastry horns, filled with custard cream, with sugary crunch sprinkled on them. They're very good and there will definitely be more of them in my future.

What I also liked about Princi, though, was the fact that even though it was pretty busy, we were able to linger in there for the whole evening. I'd ordered only a diet coke and one cake, my friend had ordered a coffee (and a canonncini) and yet it was three hours before they asked if we would like another drink (a polite way I think of saying we ought to get something, or get out). 

I'd like to say I'll come back to try out the pizza/pasta on offer, but with cakes like pistachio and peach; toffee, lemon and chocolate; and ricotta cheesecake, I think I will find it very difficult to walk past the desserts to the kitchen at the back.

Princi on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dri Dri, 29th March

Over the last year or so I have become a massive fan of Gelato – special mention to my friend Jan who has known it is the supreme ice cream all along – and have been trying to get to the many gelaterias on my List. Yesterday the weather was beautiful, so, even though I’d just had pizza and knew I’d be going to Princi later, I thought not having an ice cream would be out of the question. I was trying to complete a couple of the Big Egg Hunt zones, one of which happened to be Sloane Square and I was pretty certain that Dri Dri had an outlet in that area. A quick check on the smartphone confirmed it and I was able to go and sample their wares without detouring too much from my egg-hunting route.

Bearing in mind the aforementioned food, I opted for a small cup. It was only £2.90 which seemed reasonable. I misjudged though – the amount you get is literally the volume of the cup and no more, so I felt like I didn’t have very much. They have about 12 different flavours and I chose crema (custard) and caramello saltado (salted caramel). The latter was fantastic. I find you really can’t go wrong with salted caramel anything. The crema was a let down. The flavour was quite light and refreshing, perhaps a little too light. And then – cardinal sin – I found quite a large ice crystal I had to chomp through! And then – oh horror – another section which was all ice crystal, and not creamy smooth like gelato should be. I finished it all of course, but, like Pizza Pilgrims, it didn’t do enough to oust what I consider to be my favourite gelateria in London – Gelupo – from its position.

Dri Dri Gelato on Urbanspoon

Square Meal