Monday, May 28, 2012

Regent's Canal, 26th May

I believe the word to describe the weather this weekend is ‘glorious’. And I, like the rest of London, wanted to make the most of it. We decided to walk Regent’s Canal, both because it is on my List, and because Stephen and I live opposite it and wondered if it would make a feasible cycle route for getting to work in Angel and King’s Cross respectively, knowing that it takes you all the way there.

In actual fact, it doesn’t exactly take you all the way there, as you get booted off at Angel and would have to go via real roads for a bit to get to King’s Cross. Not viable for me as I have sworn to myself never to risk life and limb on London’s roads, but potential for Stephen, especially during the Olympics.

But I digress. We joined Regent’s Canal from Victoria Park and walked along it until we could literally walk no more. I didn’t really know the route it took other than it ended up at King’s Cross somehow and of course went past Regent’s Park. The most popular stretch according to Time Out is the bit between Camden and Little Venice, which we strolled along at the end of the day at around 5:30. 

Random Chinese looking building at the start or the Camden leg
It was very serene, with hardly any people going in our direction or coming the other way. It was actually the quietest part of the canal for the part that is supposed to be the most popular but the time of day probably had something to do with that. This stretch takes you along Regent’s Park and past London Zoo, which is pretty cool. You go past the bird enclosure on one side and, I think, the giraffe pen on the other. We didn’t see any giraffes but there was a stork(?)-like bird close to us on our near side.

This section also takes you past some formidably grand houses. We came up to the first one and wondered what the special-looking building was. When we passed it and realised they were all like this, we knew we were in rich person territory and that these were actual houses, the likes of which I wouldn’t even bother dreaming about owning, knowing how unrealistic that dream would be. We weren’t the only ones awestruck enough to take pictures. 

The walk to Little Venice is about 2 miles from where we rejoined the path at Regent’s Park. I thought that once we got to Little Venice there would be ... I don’t know... More, to warrant having a name for the area. Regent’s Canal ends here and turns into Paddington Branch so there is more than one canal, and that must be the only (slightly poor) reason behind the moniker. There was a little park and an area with Zizzi’s and Starbucks etc but that was all.I had no idea where Little Venice was in the grand scheme of things, so Paddington being the nearest tube was a bit of a surprise. I felt quite proud to have walked from East London to West and to be able to compare practically the entire path. I personally preferred the earlier part of our walk through East London. There were varying degrees of busyness and you could get a feel for where you were by the buildings and people that populated the path. For instance, when being deluged by one speed bikes and all manner of bicycle ‘bells’ (including people saying ‘ring ring’) you knew you were in hipsterville. It was busier here, as you veered through areas such as London Fields and Hackney. We passed a couple of food outlets that opened up onto the canal and looked very tempting though we didn’t stop. We saw some fish swimming in the canal and enjoyed the plethora of houseboats lining the canal, some of which were toting their wares.

I love walking around London and have walked so much of it I sometimes feel I’ve run out of areas to explore. It was nice to find a different way to walk through London, and on such a hot day, it was a good way to spend some time outdoors. Definitely recommend East for people watching, West for romance and calm.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Red Dog Saloon, 18th May

I have been watching far too much of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and Man V Food. It’s becoming almost a daily occurrence and might explain why a place like Red Dog Saloon appealed so much. I like the sound of a BBQ place anyway, but Red Dog goes one step further in emulating places in the States by having their very own challenges. They have the Hot Wing challenge, the Philly Cheese Steak challenge, and they have a burger called the Devastator, which isn’t an official challenge but I’m sure would be something of a personal feat to finish.

We had decided we were going to go and do the Hot Wing Challenge. It says on the menu we’d looked at in advance that the hot wings are coated in a hot sauce made from the naga viper chilli. Now, we had been putting the Rib Man’s hot sauce on pretty much everything since we bought it a couple of weeks ago, and that has naga chillies in it, so we thought we’d been in training for this, and would be able to handle a few hot wings. If we had been a bit more savvy, we should have noted the addition of the word ‘viper’. But we didn’t. I was a little more cautious – Stephen wanted us to have the hot wings as a starter and then our mains but I was insistent we order them with food in case we needed something to take the edge off.

When we asked about the Hot Wings, our waitress explained that in order to do the challenge you have to eat the six hot wings in ten minutes, without eating or drinking anything else. You then have to sit a further five minutes without eating or drinking anything in order to ‘feel the burn’. If you did that, then your wings were free and your name went on the Wall of Fame. If you failed, you had to pay for the privilege and your name went on the Wall of Shame. We explained we wanted to both try them and so we’d have them but sans Challenge. 

innocent-looking wings (and I apologise for the quality of the pictures)

For our mains we wanted to try as many different things as possible to get a broad taste of the place so Stephen ordered the beef rib dinner (which comes with a side of your choice – his was fries) 

and I ordered the pulled pork and pork rib dinner with a side of meaty beans. What goes better with meat than more meat?

In due course our food arrived and we were pleasantly surprised that our ‘dinners’ also came with some coleslaw. In just a few moments that pleasant surprised turned to abject gratitude as I tried to douse the pain in my mouth with alternately the cool mayonnaisey coleslaw and great gulps of wine. I have never. In all my life. Eaten anything. So hot. It was unbelievable. It was so painful in fact, that I can’t really believe how painful it was. My mind has blocked the memory of it. Much like childbirth I believe. I had taken a wing in both hands and taken a tentative bite. The smallest of bites. It was enough to burn my lips, my tongue and my throat and almost made me want to cry. I did cry in fact - involuntarily, from the heat – a rivulet of water streaming from my right eye, without me even meaning it to.

Stephen fared worse. Throwing sense to the wind he grabbed a wing and had a bite which took off at least half the wing, if not more. The expression that then appeared on his face is hard to describe. He ate some coleslaw, and drank a lot of his beer. And repeated. But I could tell nothing was working. After what felt like an eternity of this, he looked like he was going to do a combination of vomit or cry or have a mental breakdown and just as I was getting really concerned and was going to ask him if he was ok, he excused himself and went to the bathroom. When he returned he looked much more himself but said that despite repeatedly washing his mouth out with water, his entire lower face was numb. He kept prodding it, almost bemused at the loss of feeling. I then took a moment to wash my hands. Twice. And yet, when I licked my fingers during the meal (because the rest was indeed worthy of finger licking) the residue was still enough to burn my tongue. We pushed those wings as far away from us as possible and declined when they offered to box them up for us.

uneaten wings of the Devil

So, onto the food. I enjoyed it. My favourite morsel of them all were the pork ribs. They were lovely and pink as they should be, moist and a little fatty, coming off the bone easily when torn into with teeth and properly smokey as I expect BBQ things to be. I’d been warned that the pulled pork could be a little dry but I thought mine was fine, I didn’t even need extra condiments for it. Stephen’s beef short ribs were lovely but to me, they didn’t capture the essence of ‘cue enough. I’m never going to denigrate a lovely piece of slow cooked beef, which this was, but apart from a very small amount of BBQ sauce drizzled over them, it was just that – slow cooked meat.

My meaty beans had a nice flavour although the beans themselves were a little too ‘al dente’. The fries were just fries – nothing to write home about. I did like the coleslaw quite a lot, though that may have been because it was such a saviour when combatting those naga vipers. The servings were generous but I think we made a good dent in them...

Service wasn’t the best in the world. We had a reserved a table but it wasn’t ready when we turned up on time so we had to sit downstairs in the basement bar area and have some drinks, which didn't show up until after we were given a table a good 20 minutes later. When we were seated it was in a booth in this same downstairs area, toward the back near the kitchen. This turned out to be a blessing because they also had live music down there, which was just a touch too loud where we were, nevermind if you were any closer to them. And when we ordered a second drink or tried to pay, service was definitely sluggish. But the atmosphere was good, the waitresses were friendly when they were around, and the whole thing felt like a real American-style experience. I would go back, if I had any meatloving friends to impress, or I wanted to torture myself again. And yes, I would try another hot wing if given the chance.  

Red Dog Saloon on Urbanspoon

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Lucha Britannia, 18th May

Remember that Jack Black movie Nacho Libre? No, I don’t blame you if you don’t. I sadly am familiar with it having been on a date so bad that it made the movie seem pretty good in comparison, but that’s another story. But it did mean that when my friend Sophie suggested we go to see some Mexican Wrestling, I knew what she was on about.

Mexican wrestling is called Lucha Libre, and mexican wrestling in Bethnal Green is called Lucha Britannia. Other than knowing there would be a lot of men throwing each other around while wearing brightly coloured masks, I wasn’t really sure what a British version of Mexican wrestling would be like, and it probably in some ways didn’t help that my only frame of reference for the real deal was a Jack Black movie. But Sophie had been once already and said it was really good fun, the only downside being that before the end of the night all the ‘fun drinks’ (sambuca, tequila) had run out.

After a quick drink in the Camel down the road (lovely pub - only sells pies) we went over to the Resistance Gallery (how aptly named) to be sure we got good positions ringside. The place was getting pretty busy by the time we got there at 9:30 (doors opened at 9) and I’m sure the event was a sell out. The compere, dressed devilishly in black with a macabre white face, red lips and black eyeliner, kicked off the night, introducing us to the referee who looked like a fearsome wrestler himself, his co-commentator (who was similar to the McMahon WWF character – no one liked him and his overly Republican views) and then of course the first wrestlers to take the stage. It was a tag team between The Fabulous Bakewell Brothers in tweeds and braces, and two others whose names I can’t remember (probably because they were the ‘bad guys’ for this round and lost, and I was too taken up with yelling the catchphrase ‘How Doooooo’ every time one of the Bakewell Brothers executed a move and finished it off with a knee-bend-braces-pull signature manoeuvre).

There were more wrestlers than I can even remember, and round after round after round. There were one or two moments where I started to wonder how long the wrestling was going to go on for so that I could turn my full attention to drinking, but these were rare; as soon as I had but thought it, some new twist would occur to bring my attention squarely back to the ring. For example, when Los Hooligans came out, costumed in the finest football thug/nationalistic attire and apparently there were no wrestlers willing to fight them. A plea went out to the audience – are there none among you who will take these reprobates on? And then, from the back of the crowd came the little barman who had served me earlier being lifted towards the front and into the ring. A wrestling mate for him was found and they proceeded to kick ass on Los Hooligans. 

Or, later in the evening when there was an every man for himself round with up to six different wrestlers battling it out. All the characters are, well, absolute characters – risque or irreverent or just silly. One of the luchadores was Transexio the cross dresser and another was Estupido dressed in poncho and sombrero. He was a villain, and his name meant that the crowd could gleefully heckle him with shouts of ‘Pido! ‘Pido! 

To prevent wrestling fatigue setting in they also break up the night with a couple of burlesque interludes, the best one being the first one. I don’t know the performers name but she was a formidable lady who came into the ring in basque and tiny, tiny knickers. She then proceeded to light candles and drip hot wax all over her ever increasingly naked body. At the end she poured hot wax right into her mouth like some kind of candle moneyshot and spat out the cold wax onto everyone in the front row. I’m happy to report I was fully wax-jizzed over and had to pick the wax out of my afro-curly hair (knew I should’ve straightened it).

The wrestling finished around 1 am and a lot of people left at that point. As predicted, the bar had run out of sambuca and vodka by then, though my friend and I had made arrangements to counter this potentiality. We stayed until the bar shut, while they packed up the ring and some of the wrestlers mingled with the crowd. There were definitely some Lucha fanatics there and apparently, for those who really love it, they host a Lucha wrestling school at the venue on Saturdays for those who want to learn the craft. 

It’s £15 which isn’t cheap, but then again is pretty standard for a club event, which this sort of is and it was one of the most unique nights I have been to since I started seeking out alternative nightlife. It was utterly preposterous, and despite it’s naughty names and whotnot was really just some innocent good ole-fashioned fun.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Scared to Dance, 12th May

Is it me (and please tell me if it is) or is there a dearth of good indie nights happening at the weekend? And I said good indie nights. Not nights that play nothing but "indie anthems" like Wonderwall and Mr Brightside, or nights where you're likely to hear Here Comes the Hotstepper following Common People (I'm looking at you The Borderline, The Roxy). 

And then I heard of Scared to Dance. Not by scouring the Net looking for indie nights, but because I happen to follow Robin Ince on Twitter. And he happened to be doing a guest DJ spot one week and mentioned it. A little investigation and I thought this might be just what I was looking for. 

Scared to Dance happens twice a month at either The Albany in Great Portland Street or King's Cross Social, in well, King's Cross. They say they play indiepop, post-punk and new wave. If you follow them on Twitter you'll also learn that they're particularly fond of The Cure, The Smiths and Dexys. So far so good. They also take requests in advance of the night. Very democratic. 

So I finally managed to make it to one of their nights this weekend, at The Albany. They often have guest DJs and this week it was the turn of Sean Price from Fortuna Pop (who have The Pipettes and The Temper Trap on their roster). The Albany itself is quite a nice pub, and there is a downstairs room where Scared to Dance takes place. Scared to Dance started at 9 but we wanted a few drinks before going down there to give it time to warm up. As we drank we tried to keep an eye out on how many people were going downstairs, to gauge how busy it was and when we should move on down. At about 10:30 we popped a head down to see who was down there. Very few people. We asked the guy on the door what the deal was and he said that often people from the pub come down there when the pub shuts, but that normally Scared to Dance has its own contingent who turn up and fill the place out. But for some reason this hadn't happened this week. We went back upstairs and had another drink and then decided we'd go down no matter how empty/full the place was. 

By the time we went downstairs there definitely was an improvement, but you couldn't really say the place was pumping. All the seats were taken, and there were a few people bopping about. In due course people did filter in from upstairs when the pub shut and there were definitely a few there who I thought were probably regulars and made no bones about showing their love for the music through the medium of dance.

Ah - the music... the music I thought was great! On their website they give you a taste of the kind of music you'll hear. They're quite the music connoisseurs and I was a little worried I might not know much of what they played on the night (although I do like to discover new stuff). I need not have fretted. There was a good mix of stuff I knew - such "indie bangers" as Blur's Boys and Girls and The Cure's The Lovecats were interspersed with other stuff I didn't recognise but that kept me swaying and that I would like to get to know better. It was just the right balance and exactly what I had hoped it would be.

Unfortunately, the place never really felt like it got going and what could have been an "amazing" night was only a "good" night due to a lack of atmosphere. Maybe I was just unlucky and this was an off night; I do get the feeling from their website that they're well established and they do attract some interesting guest DJs. It feels like there's a lot of potential here, if only all those people out there craving a good indie night (I'm sure you exist in your droves) had descended upon the place. And the entry is so cheap - £6 or you can sign up for free membership and then only pay £4. The downside is that it only stays open until 2 am, which for me is quite an early night. I think it warrants a second chance, perhaps at the King's Cross venue. And in the meantime, spread the word - this night deserves your attendance. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Albion cafe, 12th May

The Albion cafe and bakery/deli is on the ground floor of the Boundary Project - Terence Conran's hotel and restaurant. It is the more affordable option if you want to eat in this establishment (my lunch came to a total of £15 including tip). My friend was in town and suggested meeting up for lunch, somewhere east and so I gave her a couple of options, including Albion. After researching it on her smartphone (what would we do without them) she said the Albion sounded good. We met at 12:30 and while I waited for them to arrive I had a look around the bakery/deli at the front of the cafe.

It was all so utterly tempting. They sell a lot of organic produce like all different kinds of muesli, fresh breads (rosemary and apricot particularly caught my eye) and jams etc. And then, behind the cash register, they sell freshly made sandwiches and pies and all kinds of wonderful-looking cakes and pastries. They do a cookie the same diameter as my head (or possibly larger), flapjakcs, salted caramel tarts - ooh, so much sugary, chocolatey goodness. 

But my friends arrived and we were there for a sit down meal and so I only looked at these before getting seated in the cafe. It was a nice day, and we could have sat outside, but the interior was very pleasant. It has high ceilings, is bright and airy and the kitchen is open so you can see them making all the delicious breads, which are then lined up on the counter.

We had a beverage while we decided - some pear juice for my friend, a hot chocolate for her boyfriend, and an apple juice for me. The hot chocolate, it was said by my companions, was top quality. I wanted to mention this because these guys know their hot chocolate. They do not simply have a jar of instant Options in their cupboard - they have a "collection" so you know if they say it's good, it really is top notch. 

And on to the food. I ordered a cheese omelette with beef dripping chips and my friend ordered one of the wonderful-looking savoury pastries we had seen in the store - a bacon and cheese fougasse. 

At first I wasn't sure about my omelette. It was just freshly cooked and the fat from the cheese inside was making it a bit liquidy. However, after a couple of minutes once the cheese had congealed a little and therefore turned more gooey instead of liquid, it was very nice. The cheese didn't just provide a pleasant chewy, stringiness to the omelette, it was also strong enough for the flavour to come through. The chips were also good - they were no Bull and Last titans, but as far as chips go, better than average.

Omelette, chips and real apple juice

The real star was the Fougasse. Not on the menu but they were happy for us to order anything we'd seen in the shop. My friend ordered the bacon and cheese version and it was excellent. The meat tasted bacony but wasn't exactly a slab of Danepak. It was more like crispy lardons in it's texture. They had clearly seasoned it with herbs or spices of some sort but we couldn't work out what, tasting it blind. Whatever it was, it worked.

I was too full to order any of the cakes I'd been eyeing up when we first got there, which is a bit of a regret. I suppose I can always go back! For a sunny Saturday early afternoon, it was very easy to get a space, which is reassuring, as they don't take bookings for fewer than six people.  

Albion at The Boundary Project on Urbanspoon

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