Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Coney Island, 18th August

Coney Island sounded like it could be a lot of fun but I didn’t really know what to expect. It was supposed to capture the spirit of Coney Island in New York and have some silly games and even a hot dog eating contest. The music was to be 50s, 60s and French pop. It intrigued me.

Well, I finally got to go to it Saturday night. It is held once a month at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club and unfortunately it happened to fall on what must have been one of the hottest days of the year. Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club isn’t just an ironic name, it really is a working men’s club and I suspected their air conditioning wouldn’t be state of the art. I was right, it wasn’t up to scratch to deal with a heaving, busy club night, but that was the only downside to the night.

We arrived and were given the groundrules for entrance by one of the doormen, namely that we must leave quietly and not congregate around the exits because the people over the road were a care home and kept complaining and would really rather the BGWMC was shut down. In an effort to ensure this doesn’t happen, we were happy to agree to the terms and gain entrance. 

We went in and even though it was only 10:30, it felt like the party was in full swing already. Along one wall were the funfair games, which of course we had a go at. There were minor queues for each game but they went swiftly enough. The first I tried my hand at was a mini pitch and putt – you had to get the golf ball between the cutout’s legs. I was so close the first time, but just seemed to get worse on my next two turns. No prize for me. 

Then I tried knocking tin cans off the wall. The lady overseeing this activity was a lot more generous with the definition of ‘three turns per person’. After at least my sixth go I had knocked most of them off the wall and earned myself a prize. Which is to have a lucky dip in a trash bag. I pulled out a flowery hairband. Prizes other people won included a wagon wheel, old not-so-great DVDs (Confidence with Rachel Weisz anyone?) and a mini can of deodorant (perhaps quite useful in that hot environment).

They were also giving away free ice cream and had a lady doing free temporary tattoos (otherwise known as body painting) of dubious quality. All very silly fun.

But they also had some rather unexpected entertainment on the main stage. The first was a magician who had been wandering the crowd but was given a few minutes on the stage to wow the entire audience. With a bit of participation from a member of the crowd, his act was none too bad. Then there was a lady in fetish wear who did a bit of a striptease before stapling blue lights to her body, piercing herself with sparklers and setting alight to them before flouncing around on stage a bit. Quite a sight.

Warning - semi-adult content in the video!

And then there were some competitions! A dance competition where several people on the dance floor were picked upon to go up on stage and compete for the audience’s approval. I am very proud to say my friend won, and beat off some stiff competition. And finally, the hot dog competition. This was actually a little disappointing and not quite the spectacle I was hoping. They picked three people at random to compete and were told they had five minutes to eat as many hot dogs as they could. The clock started counting down and the three people began to eat. Sedately. Normally. Boringly. They had clearly never seen a hot dog challenge or any other kind of timed food challenge before.

Ah well. After that was over it was time to concentrate on dancing and that we did. The music was excellent although it did take a slightly weird turn towards the end (I wonder if this was the French pop part). Maybe they keep that in the bag to help persuade people to leave as the night drew to an end. We thought we'd try to request something else. I went and loitered by the DJ booth looking somewhat hopeful and friendly but failed to make an impression on the DJ who dutifully ignored me.

I have already described what BGWMC is like inside in my previous post on Homework held there, and it was just the same really, except there was a scattering of tables and chairs instead of in rows. It’s definitely a funny little venue; as we were going in some old boy was coming out – it was functioning as a regular club in the downstairs part which surprised some of my companions. But so far 2/2 of the nights I’ve been to have been grand, and I don’t see any reason to imagine the other varied aren’t just as good. I will be gathering more evidence when I go their Double R Club night (cabaret the way David Lynch might do it) in a few weeks. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ministry of Sound, 10th August

Our night in Ministry was almost a disaster, but by some miracle, our bouncer turned out to be more understanding than most. We got to the head of the queue only for the bouncer to tell us we needed I.D. Apparently everyone needs I.D. to enter regardless of how old you look. I had, for once, actually brought my driving license with me, though for the past six months at least I’ve taken to leaving it at home. Two of my friends, however, hadn’t brought any with them. With what we hoped were dazzling smiles, and a friendly demeanour, we kindly asked the bouncer to let us in, pointing out that nowhere when booking advance tickets does the website mention I.D. will be essential. I may have even pulled the ‘it’s my birthday’ thing, and instead of being a knob, he let us through. Huzzah!

We went in and went to the bar in relief for a drink before we explored.

Ministry of Sound had an odd mix of people. I feel like most of the people were there because it’s a bit of an institution, rather than because they think it’s a good club.  I’m sure there were some, like me, who were there because the Ministry is such a big name that they just wanted to see what it was like. I think a good proportion were visitors to London, probably choosing Ministry because the name is world famous and it was almost a tourist attraction for clubbers. A lot of the clientele were quite young. I can imagine them choosing Ministry of Sound for their first clubbing experiences, again because the name is so well known, and they have yet to become more discerning in their tastes.

It’s not that Ministry is a bad club. It’s a lot smaller than I was expecting. The first room we entered felt like it should just be the bar, because it was so narrow, but in fact it was one of the main rooms. Then there was another bigger room, and a chillout area, and that was it! I kind of wondered where the rest of the club was!

I did like the second room. As you go in there’s a warning that the sound levels may cause damage and they’re not kidding. The music being played in there was bass-heavy and the bass was turned up so loud that it made my nostril hairs and eyelashes vibrate. This I consider a good thing.

I was pretty happy with the music overall, though the drinks were pretty expensive. I just didn’t warm to the place, not the way I did when I went to Fabric for the first time, for example. Maybe the crowd was a little too young for my liking, or it might just be that it felt too commercial in some ways whereas Fabric, to me, still retains an underground feel to it. Maybe it was just too busy! Whatever it was, it didn’t give bloom to a burgeoning desire within me to go back there, though if they had on an act I really wanted to see, I would still go back there. However, without such a draw, if I must head south of the river for my clubbing delights, which I rarely do, I’ll be more likely to end up in Cable or The Coronet than Ministry.

Monday, August 13, 2012

La Reve, 10th August

I think I have burnt my bridges with Cafe De Paris. And it was all going so well...

Well, actually it wasn't. La Reve at the Cafe de Paris wasn't the most successful night. We arrived at the venue just a little after 8:30, when the show starts. The lady compere was just in the middle of a song from Chicago as we were shown to our seats. All the tables in the centre where people were also eating with their cabaret were taken but there were plenty of free booths and seats around the side and on the upper section. Cocktail menus were on the table and I took a sharp breath in when I saw the prices - £11 or £12 for some pretty standard cocktails. I don’t mind paying a little extra when I’m being served, say chocolate soil on the side, or a detonated balloon, but for a normal mai tai, that seemed a bit much. Instead, Stephen and I shared the cheapest bottle of red wine for £21, which was no great shakes either. Even Stephen, who is no wine connoisseur (not yet anyway) said he could tell this was of poor quality. 

There were three acts before the break – a strange take on a burlesque striptease from a woman who did a Flashdance-inspired striptease. There was a guy who showed quite an amazing aptitude for balancing which we were impressed by, but the best performers of the first half were a comedy duo I had already seen called Ginger and Black. She’s ginger, he’s black. They do silly songs that can take on an incredibly dark tone. I found them just as funny as the first time I saw them, though wasn’t convinced this was the best showcase for them and wasn’t sure if the rest of the audience really appreciated them.

There was then a short break for refreshments, and the compere came on again and did another song. We were then treated to a magic/comedy/mime act which was faintly amusing. I did quite enjoy the joke about answering a dating ad to find it had been placed by a goose (single, white female). Then there was the act all those looking for some titialltion had come to see – a proper burlesque striptease complete with feather boa and wildly rotating nipple tassels.

The finale was a masculine take on rope work. It was nice to see a guy doing this for a change, and he used chains to climb and wrap around himself instead of ropes. I think this must be considered quite a show-stopping feat in the cabaret world as the Boom Boom Club finished on a rope act as well. And while it is impressive, I think ending on a striptease or something like that is more spectacular.

Individually we knew that the performers were talented, but unfortunately the show as a whole left most of us, who had been at Prospero’s Tavern the week before, underwhelmed. The set up for a start wasn’t great as the acts felt very far removed from us, unlike at the Wonderground where they were in the midst of everyone. You felt like you could have easily ignored what was going on – it didn’t impose its presence like it should. Perhaps this is a shortcoming of the venue rather than the show being put on. Also, it didn’t feel like a complete show – it was just individual act after individual act, with nothing but the compere introducing them. We missed the theatre of the Boom Boom Club.

On the upside, the interior of Cafe de Paris was splendid. I don't mean that in a 'this is jolly good, rather' kind of way, I mean it as pertaining to having splendour. I had never even noticed it before but I would have passed it countless times as it is just by Leicester Square. Part of the reason I wanted to come was for the venue itself – it has a history of putting on cabaret and the like since its inception. So, it was nice to have been a little part of its history. 

We were told toward the end of the show that we would have to vacate our table when the show was over. Our tickets include entry to the ‘after party’ but evidently this doesn't mean you can keep the table you’re on. Our had been reserved for the after show and we were pretty promptly kicked off it when the show finished, even though whoever had reserved it didn’t turn up the whole time we were there. This marked the transformation of this place from a pleasant burlesque soiree to a hideous typical West End club.  It felt like a travesty to put such a gorgeous, quirky (it is modeled on the Titanic) venue to such use. We expected the after party to somewhat match the show in tone and music but no, all pretence at being cabaret was gone and instead the place was full of commercial electropop and RnB. To be fair, I don’t mind this kind of music after having a few drinks but it’s not at all what we were expecting given the show and once the place started to fill up with young, skinny girls in 4 inch heels and white, backless dresses, we knew it was time to leave.

We went to collect Stephen’s bag but unfortunately he had lost his ticket. I find cloakroom attendants to be generally surly and begrudging at the best of times but the lady at this one took it to another level. I know it must be annoying when people lose their tickets, but when the club has barely opened, and two reasonably, not inebriated people are doing their best to help you try to find it, is there really any need for any attitude? I think no, but she clearly thought otherwise. I helpfully managed to dreg out from the recesses of my memory the ticket number, only to be told that ticket number didn’t exist. When the bag was finally found, lo and behold! The ticket number managed the one I had told her. Obviously not wishing to lose face, she tried to insist that wasn’t what I had said at all in the first place. She was very unpleasant and I may have told her so in no uncertain terms, which is why I don't think I'd better go back there. Luckily, I have no intention of doing so. Having already had sinking estimations of the place, that was the final nail in the coffin. Given their location and renown I’m sure they don’t have to bother with good customer service and see a steady stream of tourists and young girls who don’t know any better. I won't be joining them again.

Square Meal

Hammerton Ferry, 9th August

This is another one of those London oddities, which don’t offer much other than the chance to say you’ve done it. As it was a nice day, we wanted to do something outside, so we traveled over to the very West to take a trip on Hammerton’s ferry.

Once upon a time, before there were so many bridges that spanned the Thames, to journey from one side to the other, you relied on a ferryman to take you across. Hammerton’s ferry is one of the longest (if not the longest) running ferries across the Thames, having been in service since the very early 1900s.

We got off at St. Margaret’s and walked down. The route is clearly signposted. What a lovely place St. Margaret’s is, and I’d never even heard of it before we looked up how to get to Marble Hill House, where you catch the ferry. We got there and milled about on the dock for a bit, not entirely sure if we were in the right place or what to do. The lady who hires out the row boats that you can get from the same point came out and when we said we were waiting for the ferry, told us he was just loading on the other side. We then easily spotted him and his passengers coming over to us. They disembarked and we hopped on.

The ferry crossing is £1 per adult and 50p per child. It takes all of 2 minutes to go from one side to the other. It had taken us about 40 minutes to get there. Oh well! One of the nice things about seeking out these things to do in London is that they often help you discover a part of London you wouldn’t have chanced upon otherwise. So afterwards we wandered through the Ham House gardens and then walked east as far as we could before we got tired. We followed along the Thames, coming across the Petersham Nurseries, and walking  past Kew Gardens. It was a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pitt Cue Co., 9th August

I’m going to dispense with suspense here and just start off by saying I now love Pitt Cue Co with abandon. Once again Stephen and I either timed it perfectly, or benefitted from the Olympic effect (or both), but we managed to avoid having to queue for ages to get in. We turned up before it opened and so popped next door for a drink. When we went back at about 6:10, there was a small line, but they were only just letting people in and we weren’t waiting for very long. We sat upstairs at a bar, which was probably the best place to sit, apart from outside which was already taken. It had been a seasonably hot day and sitting downstairs away from windows in their overly intimate seating arrangements may have been slightly unpleasant.

Pitt Cue Co. don’t give anything away on their website, but I follow them on twitter, and had been to their van at the Hungerford Bridge so I knew roughly what to expect. In their sit-down place you can choose pulled pork, house sausage, pork ribs, or beef ribs, which come with a choice of side. There were two specials – chicken fried rib-eye (thinly cut ribeye shallow fried in a breadcrumb batter) or a saddleback pork chop. I was tempted by the pork chop having seen pictures of the beautiful meat, but felt like I should try the basics first. We did our usual – one of us went for beef ribs and the other went for the pork. We chose baked beans and bone marrow mash for our sides.

While we waited for the food to arrive (which did take some time) we sipped on some drinks. There’s a good choice of beers and cocktails, but no wine. Oh dear, guess I’ll just have to have cocktails! I had a couple of whisky sours which were really well balanced – not too strong and not too sour. At £7 they were also a reasonable price for cocktails in this fair city.

Whisky sour

Finally, our food arrived in those ubiquitous Falcon enamelware dishes with the blue rim – not really plates, more like roasting trays. I must admit, both Stephen and I expected to be underwhelmed. We’d been to the Pitt Cue truck and didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. The pulled pork was nice but wouldn’t have me queuing round the block, and I had been disappointed with my brisket, expecting (I don’t know why) to get slices of it like you do at Fette Sau in NY, rather than a brisket version of pulled pork. You might be wondering why we bothered with them again then, but I had been seeing on twitter that the menu at Newburgh Street was more extensive, and I was curious. They had some fabulous sounding desserts as well. As you will have guessed from the opening sentence, I am glad we did.

Beef ribs and beans
I don’t like it when people say something was ‘a revelation’ when it comes to food, so I shall use my own terminology to describe the bone marrow mash: Wow. Just Wow. It comes close to the oh-so-buttery mash I had at the Bull and Last for being the most delicious, most sinful mashed potato I’ve ever tasted. I’ve never had bone marrow before, so choosing this was a bit of a risk, but that risk was well rewarded. The bone marrow on top had been cooked to provide a savoury, but rich-enough-to-seem-slightly-sweet jus. Delicious.

The baked beans, which I had not been impressed with at the van, had improved ten-fold. They had a great flavour and a soft texture which I prefer to a bit of bite.

But the main stars were the ribs. Where Duke’s were smoky but on the tough side, and Red Dog’s were tender but not smoky enough, Pitt Cue have got it completely right. The flesh was beautifully pink on both sets of meat, tasted like BBQ should, and fell away from the bone all too easily. My only slight gripe is that I found the pork ribs to be a bit fatty for me sometimes. A mere trifle. The ribs here (both priced at £12.50 and as mentioned above, includes the side dish) are also cheaper than either Duke's or Red Dog. I guess this is where you feel the benefit of a no reservation policy.

Pork ribs and mash
The ribs are saucy enough without addding either the BBQ sauce or hot sauce. However, these are both good too. The BBQ sauce has more than a kick to it, and the Hot Sauce, (jalapeno-based I believe) was nice too – more of a relish than a sauce as it was quite chunky. The only thing I didn’t like, in fact, which will come as a shock to anyone who knows me. was the bread! Mine was rock hard and, I thought, needless – there wasn’t anything to soak up with it by the time I was finished!

The only other minor disappointment was that the dessert they had was a lemon tart. It sounded good, but not as good as the Snickers mess they were serving when they first opened. Even then, we might have had one, if we hadn’t spent the last two days eating our own homemade lemon meringue cupcakes. We were lemoned out.

The atmosphere, at least upstairs, was good. They have a great soundtrack to munch to and when James Brown’s I Feel Good came over the stereo, Stephen pointed out that the song was very appropriate, given the effect the food had on our moods. 

We’ve already decided to go back soon - very soon – at the end of August in fact, in case they feel like putting that Snickers dessert back on the menu at any time (hint hint). I’m even prepared to queue if we have to.

Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Purl, 8th August

I had already been to Purl’s sister bar, The Worthing Street Whistling Shop, albeit rather briefly, so I knew roughly what to expect from Purl. I would say it delivered this successfully. 

Purl is in an area I wouldn’t head to in search of cocktails if I didn’t know this is where it was. It is a bar in the Speakeasy genre, and in keeping with this has a ‘hidden’ entrance. Whereas with Nightjar you really could walk past it without knowing it was there, Purl does have a sign sticking out from the railings to catch your attention. And a doorman to check if you’re name is on the list. They advise you to book ahead and I imagine that on the weekends this would be necessary. We did have reservations, but on a sleepy Olympictime Wednesday night, there would have been plenty of room for us if we’d have been walk-ins.

We descended the stairs and were lead through the disarmingly spacious bar to our seats – two stools with a piano taking the place of a table. Adorable. The venue is decked out as you would expect in an art deco, 20s kinda way. The lighting is dim and there were several large, set-back leather banquettes which would be ideal if a group of you went as they could serve as private booths. If not, then if you’re placed here, you risk sharing your area with other guests.

We enjoyed where we were seated and spent a few moments perusing the menu. They have wine and champagne on offer, but we were only interested in the cocktails. They have also recently started to do some food – a cheese board, a meat board, nothing too extensive, and to do ‘food pairings’ with some of their cocktails.

There are 12 of these in total. Six are Signature cocktails, and six are twists on classics, and these are the ones paired with some type of comestible. We managed to drink through half of the menu, and bearing in mind that two of the offerings are actually sharing cocktails (for two or four) that’s not bad going.

I mentioned in my post on the Whistling Shop that they have a laboratory where they concoct some of the ingredients for their cocktails. Purl is less about homemade chemistry and more about theatre. Several of their cocktails come with an extra bit of flair, such as the Jewish Champagne I ordered which involved setting alight some celery tonic and adding it to the cocktail while flaming. Or, the Cerez Joker which comes with a balloon which is popped and releases a lemony aroma to compliment your drink. 

Above cocktail too sweet? Simply add this pill to bitter it up.
The cocktails at Purl are not cheap by any means, but of course you are not paying for just the cocktail, but the bells and whistles it comes with. We thought the Signature cocktails were slightly better value for money as you got more actual cocktail in your glass than you did with the ‘Classics’. They were about the same price but the amount of liquid you got was equivalent to a double shot in some cases. I think this is because these cocktails came with ‘food’ but when this is only a smattering of chocolate soil, or one small piece of salmon jerky, it does make you feel you’re being gypped a little and makes it harder to make the cocktails last. Which you want to do because they cost so much. On the flipside, they probably have the same amount of alcohol as the taller cocktails, and are thus more potent.

Some kind of 'snow' accompanies this cocktail
I liked Purl. It felt very elegant. The wait staff were friendly and helpful, they were playing some good background music at just the right level. It was perfect for a special occasion. And we happened to be there for a special occasion, so that worked out well.

But I wouldn’t make it a regular haunt – it’s just a little too pricey for that and a little too out of the way of my normal stomping ground. 

Square Meal

Archipelago, 8th August

Archipelago made my list when I was in the States and came across an article by which listed some of the quirky restaurants in London. It sounded interesting, giving you the chance to try exotic beasts from far and wide. 

It wasn’t the kind of place I could normally persuade Stephen to go to, so I took advantage of it being my birthday and decided to come here to cross it off the list.

Quirky it certainly is, both in menu choices and décor. The inside feels like some kind of opulent African den, with masks and carvings throughout, all dark, lush reds and greens. Our dark wood chairs had patterned cushions on them and we had some kind of carved bird (or possibly seal) resting at the base of the table. Menus are rolled up scrolls hidden inside wooden decorated jars. It certainly looks quite impressive. 

Unfortunately it is also rather expensive. I know that you are paying for the novelty, but at the end of the day, we didn’t feel that the novelty was worth the price tag. The food just wasn’t that good, or that bountiful for the extra pounds they entailed. Of course, exotic meat probably isn’t that cheap to source, but if we were blown away by it, we probably wouldn’t have minded. The fact that they charge you for every little extra does nothing to help.

So, we arrived and after ordering our drinks, we were presented with a selection of canapes: mango and crab, a bruschetta which I was very impressed with, some breads and some sweet potato crisps. This was included in the ‘cover charge’ of £2.00. Would I prefer to save the £2.00 and skip the canapes? Certainly.

For our starters we chose the most extraordinary but still appealing dishes they had on offer: crocodile wrapped in vine leaves, and zebra roulade with mango and raspberry chutney. Zebra, as it turns out, doesn’t have much of its own taste, nor a particularly good texture, but the spices it was cooked in and the chutney made it quite a tasty, Indian-influenced dish. Stephen’s crocodile tasted a bit like fishy chicken, and though I thought it was probably the nicest vine-wrapped dish I’ve ever had, this doesn’t say much as my previous experiences have been of vine-wrapped cold rice. The plum dipping sauce was what really made this dish. Both the crocodile and the zebra came were £10.00 or so and as you can see, you didn’t get much.

Zebra on a zebra plate

Crocodile on stone slab
In between we were offered a palate cleanser – a choice of three granitas. I went for the pink gin which I really enjoyed, and Stephen had the mango and lychee. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised when we got the bill, but no – we were charged for these palate cleansers. I knew we would be, if they charged for the tiny canapes, but Stephen thought it was sneaky of them not to mention it. Charging for this sort of stuff does feel like a mistake. If you’re going to emulate costlier establishments by offering canapes and palate cleansers, and charging similar amounts for your dishes, then you should know that places like these normally make them complimentary. They should be a bit of a thank you for choosing the restaurant, not a privilege to pay for.

But on to the main. Again, we plumped for the unusual, but ones that sounded good. I had the ‘Hot Marsupial’ which was an Asian-inspired dish of kangaroo with bok choi and water chestnuts, with a tzatziki-like sauce. It was tasty enough, and the meat was similar to beef. Stephen’s choice of bison with cassava chips (the Pontiac Rodeo) was also quite similar to beef, but gamier with more depth of flavour. I actually thought his dish was really good. I really liked the bison and I really liked the cassava chips, but Stephen thought the serving was paltry for the price and that the mushroom ketchup was bitter. Each of these dishes were about £19.00.

Kangaroo with greens

Rare bison
Yes. Extortionate really. We wandered back up to Baker Street and passed one of the Galvin restaurants. In the menu in the window they had only one entrée which was more expensive than the ones at Archipelago. And I bet they don’t charge for bead.  I think if the starters had been priced at around £7.00 and the mains at around £13-£15 I would have been quite happy with my meal. Of course, I was pleased to have gone, and crossed it off my List, but we ended up feeling like we hadn’t really got our money’s worth.

The restaurant is cute, it is so overly decorated it does start to feel a bit like you’ve entered another world. And the service was friendly. Something about it wasn’t quite right though. It should have been quite a romantic setting but the ambience didn’t provide this. I think it was too quiet, even though there was some background music and we were sitting among other diners. When a large party of office workers came in, rather than being annoyed they were spoiling the mood, I was pleased that they created a bit more of an atmosphere.

Apparently Archipelago is closing at the end of the autumn to search for bigger premises, although it wasn’t exactly full when we were there. I wonder if it will actually reopen, or if London will miss it if it doesn’t...

Archipelago on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Feast, 4th August

I was so determined to go to Feast that I bought two sets of tickets – one for Saturday and one for Sunday, in case I was too hungover to make it down there on Saturday.

Happily, after an extended slumber, I felt fairly normal, and couldn’t think of a better way to cope with hangover munchies than heading down to a festival of food. Feast was an event coordinated by the same people behind the Long Table in Dalston last year, which I didn’t get to. This time they were bringing together 30 purveyors of food and drink – both street food, and established restaurants, selling their wares. It was a bit like Taste London but with a DJ, more of a festival feel, and less expensive: entry was a mere £6 in advance.

We got there at about 7:30 and spent a good two hours there, browsing the stalls and sharing a few dishes between us, grabbing a drink every now and then to let ourselves digest and make room for more! The weather was luckily very balmy (it was an outdoor event in Guy’s Quadrangle) and the DJ was pretty good – he seemed to be playing all the songs I have on my Spotify playlists.

And so, to the food. Apologies for the lack of photos. I once again forgot at first, and then by the time I remembered it was too dark for my crappy phone.

I straight away went for a dish of spiced lamb, hoummus and chilli butter from Morito. I haven’t yet eaten at Morito, though my boyfriend has several times, so I was pleased to be able to sample their food. This was really good, though perhaps a tad oily, and they let you have as much bread with it as you wanted. For £2.50! I was really impressed with the pricing of all the dishes. The only thing that we thought was maybe a little too expensive were the burgers. The Hawksmoor burgers were going for £9.00, which is probably good value for anything from Hawksmoor, but was the most expensive dish there. The Patty and Bun cheeseburgers with bacon were £7.00 which seemed just that pound too costly. Everything else was around a fiver, or £2.50-£3.00 for smaller dishes. Even the cocktails were £5.00 – very conducive to trying lots of different things.

So, we shared a Patty and Bun burger, which made the cost more bearable. I am not a fan of burgers in general and even though this one didn’t quite convince me, it seemed good as far as burgers go! It had pickled onions, and some ‘P & B’ smoky mayo and I thought those flavour combinations were very good. Stephen’s verdict was that it was nice but the meat wasn’t as steaky as some other burgers he’s had.

I had had a craving for a Yum Bun the day before but they weren’t at Eat Street, so I took advantage of their presence here to have one and to introduce Stephen to them. Mine was as good as I remembered, and Stephen thought the Yum Bun was the best dish of the day. Our next favourite were the tacos from L.A. Sueno, a street food vendor I hadn’t tried before. We had two beef tacos and one pork. I thought the tortilla tacos were good – had a nice flavour to them and not too dry and the beef was delicious. However, the fuego salsa could have done with a bit more ‘fuego’. Didn't even make my nose run!

The only bum note of the day was our last dish, which was ceviche from The Last Days of Pisco. We both thought the leche de tigre that they marinate the fish in was overpoweringly limey. I got one faint taste of fish in my first bite and the rest was lime, lime and more lime. I actually really like lime, but I also like the other things that were supposed to be in the dish so it was a shame not to be able to taste them. Also, there was so much lime that it felt like I had acid burn in my mouth. Not pleasant.

With a couple of pleasing drinks – a spiced cider from the main bar, and then a very impressive rose and raspberry cocktail from the Hendrick’s bar (which mostly tasted of lychee but which I liked all the better for it) we had, I would say, a very impressive roster of consumption. I didn’t feel I could fit any more in, which was a shame as I had my eye on the Bread Street Kitchen chicken wings, and Platform’s pigs’ cheeks with chorizo also sounded very tempting. We mooted the idea of going back the next day, but the weather and feelings of guilt at over indulgence the previous two days prevented us.

Feast is over for now, but if they do something else, I’ll make sure to try it.

The Black Door, August 3rd

This is a rather odd complaint to make of a bar, but the The Black Door was entirely too popular. I guess it has been a long time since I went to a cocktail bar that is more like just a bar, and not the kind of place where you make sit-down reservations. I was ill-prepared for the masses and just didn’t warm to the place, and neither did my party. When I suggested we move on after one drink, everyone was very enthusiastic about this idea. Perhaps it was because there was a sizable group of us and too many people in the way for us to be able to mingle as we would like. I had made arrangements ahead to reserve an area, which was waiting for me when I arrived, and throughout the email exchange they were very professional and accommodated me, but I must admit, they did come across as a bit cold in email. I had a nagging impression they didn’t really care if they got our custom or not (understandable once we got there and saw how full it was). This is in contrast to the Star of Kings who I also emailed about reserving an area and who seemed somehow to exude cheeriness over email, even though, in the end they hadn’t actually set aside an area for me. That didn’t really matter though, as when we got there we pretty much had our pick of places to sit.

After a very enjoyable few hours at the Star of Kings (which was markedly busier than the first time I went there), we moved on to the Black Door. I was firstly disappointed that you couldn’t actually get to the cocktail bar through the black door down the side street. Instead we had to go in through The Fellow, which definitely ruined some of its mystique. Then, there were the aforementioned crowds. So, we found our table, but it was so crowded that not everyone could fit near those of us who were sat down. My friend and I ordered a julep and this was nicely strong and tasty. I have no complaints about the drinks. But the music they were playing wasn’t at all what I was expecting – I thought they stuck to retro 50s and 60s but apart from one Talking Heads song (which doesn't fit that brief anyway), I didn’t know or care for what they were playing. In some ways, this didn’t really matter as there wasn’t any room to dance like I’d hoped there would be anyway. It was a shame though as I am very fond of The Fellow, the pub downstairs. I’ve had a few drinks in there on more than one occasion and think its lovely with a menu that I plan on trying one day. As you’d expect from the sister pub of the Owl and the Pussycat. So I was expecting more of the same charm from the Black Door, and it didn’t deliver.

So, we moved on. To the downstairs part of Drink, Shop and Do, which is called Drink, Shop and Dance. This was MUCH better. Busy, with an atmosphere, but not crowded – there was enough room to start dancing by the bar, but they also had a dedicated dance area at the back which we made much use of. The music policy was commercial but eclectic. Perfect for people who had been drinking for about 5 hours, then.

And, the cherry on the cake, was when we spotted John Torode dancing away in there. So far Stephen and I have seen Michel Roux, Monica Galetti, and now John Torode. Only a matter of time before we see Gregg Wallace chowing down on a pud somewhere and we'll have spotted the full deck.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Boom Boom Club, 2nd August

I was incredibly impressed with the Wonderground setup in general. I expected something a lot flimsier. The show was held in the spiegeltent, which looked like a big red top once inside, with a stage at the back, and a bit of a catwalk leading to a circular stage at the front where the performers did their stuff. We ended up sitting beside the catwalk – I had faith that they wouldn’t have an in-the-round setup if they weren’t good at performing in the round, and on the whole they were, but I think sitting facing the stage probably would have been a tad better. Some of the performers, such as Pirate Phil (an ex-banker who had seen the light and told us about it in song) and the kitty cat – a striptease artist, did roam the audience somewhat, but being nearer the stage and at the front, all in all was beneficial.

The show is very polished, the performers are top class. It’s visually impressive with some great costumes – and it’s sexy. Unfortunately no photography was allowed so you have to go see it yourself to see what I mean.

There was a very loose backstory which tied the acts together and also gave their actions some purpose. The night was called Prospero’s Tavern and the people who came on stage were either regulars of the Tavern or connected to Prospero (of the Tempest fame) in some way. For example, Miranda, his daughter, who was 
‘drunkenly’ heckling Prospero for the first half of the act, was allowed to come on stage and ‘embarrass herself’.  And of course, being intoxicated, she was stumbling and falling all over the place, the perfect ruse to allow her to twist and turn herself inside out, for she was in fact a contortionist. Or when a quarrel broke out between two sailors who incorporated their acrobatics into their choreographed fight. They deftly swore at and punched each other in between somersaults and some very impressive balancing acts. 

There were a couple of amusing songs and even a singalong at one point. The hour went by far too quickly. I could really see why the Boom Boom Club has the reputation it does and I imagine most other acts I will see of this ilk will pale in comparison. Certainly those I’ve seen before so far do not even hold a candle to this. I am going to La Reve next week though, who have been going for quite some time and also have a very good reputation so we shall see how they compare.

One of the highlights for me was ‘The King’ hula hooping to some of his greatest hits. This doesn’t sound like much but I was transfixed by what this tubby little guy dressed a bit like Elvis could do with a hoop. Did I say ‘a’ hoop? I mean several hoops at the same time, even manipulating them to start at his waist and then travel off in different directions. His finale was to hoop with upwards of 20 all at once! He looked like a giant slinky. I fear I am not doing this act justice but it was jaw dropping.

I was also completely seduced by the woman who performed one of the burlesque stripteases. Or, rather, I should say, the woman who was stripped and molested by the possessed hand that tormented her. I think this probably needs explanation. Through a clever fake appendage, she made it look like her hand was a severed malevolent being (like an evil version of Thing from the Addams Family) which was attacking her – first it was being a bit of a sex pest, groping her here and there, then it took an even more sinister turn, choking her to the ground and then reviving her with a tickle to her nether regions. It was funny, creepy, weirdly convincing, and she was utterly gorgeous.

After the show is over, you are all invited to clear out so they can move the chairs away, and then you’re called back in for the ‘after party’ should you wish to stay. This only happens after the Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances and is an extra £5. It might be very different on a Friday or Saturday when people don’t have work to think about the next day, but the majority of the audience last night did not return for the afterparty and the atmosphere was muted. Most of my group wanted to stick around though - after all, we had paid the extra and we were promised live music and two more performers who hadn’t been in the show. We danced around a bit to the music, even though few others did, watched the other two performers (a fire hula-hooper, and a girl doing swinging hoop acrobatics) and stayed until the last song. Overall though, I wouldn’t say you should feel hard done by if you happen to go on a night when the afterparty isn’t an option.

If you like this kind of stuff, you will love the Boom Boom Club. And if you don’t, you should still go – this might change your mind. Brilliant. 

Birthdays, 31st July

I went to Birthdays last night sober. I think this was a mistake. I think Birthdays is the kind of sweaty hole that you have to turn up to fairly inebriated, and then continue to numb your brain cells so that you can ignore pesky things like temperature and people bumping into you because they are snogging so copiously that they’ve failed to notice you, and instead concentrate on the reason you’ve come here. Last night the reason was a gig, on other nights it could be a DJ or club night.

Birthdays is a new venue on Stoke Newington Road, owned by Vice. Currently, upstairs is dominated by Rita’s Bar and Dining, which was very busy when we got there. Downstairs is the where the gigs and parties happen. It’s really rather small, which could be a good thing for seeing a band, but it’s also narrow, which means that even though it’s small, it’s quite hard to see anything unless you are right at the top end where the stage is. Or very tall. I am not so we moved to the front where half the space was being occupied by an older ‘gentlemen’ dancing around overly enthusiastically to the music. There’s always one.

The sound was pretty good though and I did enjoy the gig, though it does get very, very hot in there. My hair was already sticking to me when the support band was on (ie fairly empty). Once the Fixers came on (the headliners) it was getting unpleasant, and this is when I began to wish I was drunk so I wouldn’t care.

This isn’t a venue I would rush back to, although they do have quite a lot of live music on, at bargain prices. The gig last night was £6.00 and there were two support acts as well as Fixers. After the gig was over, two girls seemed to take to the decks and started blasting hip hop (weirdly, considering the type of music the Fixers play) and then followed immediately by some house. I don’t know what time it closes, but it seemed like quite a lot of people were up for staying out on a school night, and Birthdays were about to cater to them.

I will, of course, be coming back at some point, just to sample the food at Rita’s, because it sounds great and has been getting amazing reviews. The throngs upstairs confirmed that this was a place I need to try, before they move on to pastures new.

And, after having said all that, if they have more bands I like, the place might grow on me. Having this on the bar has already helped worm its way into my affections:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Lamb & Flag, 1st August

I very rarely go drinking in Covent Garden, and when I have in the past it has generally been with ‘out-of-towners’ and we tend to end up in places like Browns or All Bar One that we know are reliable. This is one reason why when I read about the Lamb & Flag in an article on the best literary pubs in London, I put it on the List. I thought it would be good to have a nice pub in the bag, for the few times we’re in the area and we don’t know where to go. Another reason was the fact that it sounded like such a lovely pub. It is one of London’s oldest pubs; there has been a drinking establishment on that spot in some form or other since 1772 and it claims that Dickens used to be a regular. It used to be called the Bucket of Blood due to the bare knuckle fighting that used to take place within. With a past like that I had to go.

But I only managed to get there to see what it was like for the first time last night. This is partly because it isn’t the sort of place you just stumble across when you’re out and about. It’s tucked away down a street which, approaching from Long Acre, doesn’t even look like it’s a real street. But if you have faith and persist, you round a corner and, most probably are confronted with masses of people, like I was last night. My heart sank a little – I hadn’t expected it to be so busy! But, luckily, it was just the good weather that had drawn people outside, not a lack of space indoors, and once in, it wasn’t at all crowded. We even managed to grab a table in the back room.

It’s a nice enough pub but nothing particularly outstanding about it. I think it’s mostly its history which lures people to it, or perhaps it is the challenge of even finding it in the first place. Wine is a little on the pricey side – a 175 ml glass of pinot grigiot or sauvignon blanc is the best part of a fiver. We had intended to get some food there but by the time we got around to it they had stopped serving! The kitchen closes at 8, which I think is early. We had to rely on crisps and pistachios – those stalwart pub snacks for the British drinker.

It’s good to know this place exists if I am stuck in Covent Garden and in need of a pub that isn’t a chain. But if I’m not constrained to Covent Garden and just want a nice old pub to go to, I’d stick with Ye Olde Mitre or the Princess Louise which I think are a bit more interesting.   

Square Meal

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

rainbo, 1st August

Rainbo only very recently made my List after having read the Evening Standard’s article last week on the best 20 Gourmet Food Trucks in London. It was the only one in the list that I liked the sound of and hadn’t been to yet. So it went on the List and by fortuitous circumstance, came to be parked right by King’s Cross Station this week. Of course I had to go.

Rainbo do Asian street food – mostly gyoza, which are Japan’s answer to Chinese dumplings, and also called pot stickers. I love them so was excited that a new street food place was purveying them. They also offer miso soup, edamame and something they call crunchy salad. You can get six gyoza, some of the aforementioned salad and some edamame for £5.60 and that is what I did.

In one fell swoop the girl behind the counter scooped up six dumplings off the grill and popped them in the box, threading through some chopsticks. I sat on a stall with the box warming my lap as I set about eating. 

Rainbo gyoza

On the right of the picture is the crunchy salad. This is basically coleslaw – red cabbage, carrots and onion, but without the mayonnaise. Instead, they have ingeniously liberally sprinkled caramelised peanuts all over it. This may totally spoil the health benefits you get by eating salad, but it is totally worth it. It tastes fantastic. Really. Way more impressive than it sounds. The little pot is soy sauce, half of which I used with my dumplings and half of which I poured over the salad. In the middle are edamame beans. They’re covered in sea salt and fairly self-explanatory

On the right are the six plump dumplings, their bases nicely crisp and golden from the grill. They only had a choice between pork and tofu (though sometimes they have chicken and coriander) and I went for the pork and pickled ginger (like you needed to be told). Let me just say that they have made it into the inner circle of street food vendors that I will from now on have to pretend aren’t at Eat Street in order to avoid giving in to temptation. In other words, I’m saying they were good. I think I ate three with soy sauce and then three unadulterated. Yum. And what with all the veggie stuff, on top of being full, I felt unwarrantedly healthy, which is always satisfying. 

In case you're wondering, my other Street Food temptresses (I like to think of them as female - 'temptress' sounds more dangerous than 'tempter'), are Yum Bun, the Ribman, Big Apple Hot Dogs, Banhmi11 and Homeslice.