Monday, October 29, 2012

Mangal 1 Ocakbasi, 26th October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mangal Ocakbasi on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Foxcroft and Ginger, 19th October

I discovered Foxcroft and Ginger through perusing London Rob Stuff’s blog, in which he quests after the perfect cup of coffee. I’m not really a coffee drinker but the food he described (some cheesy French toast concoction) sounded amazing. It went on the List.

They have two establishments now – one in Soho and one in the Boxpark in Shoreditch. My mum was in town for the day and so I suggested meeting her in Central London and going here for lunch.

While not exactly hidden, F & G don’t entirely shout out about their presence on Berwick Street, you can easily walk past it without realising it is there, especially when it’s slightly overshadowed by the food market that is there in the week.

But it’s worth seeking it out as it’s a cosy little cafĂ© but with more space than you’d expect if you just peeked in as they also have a downstairs with seating. The look is rather relaxed and slightly ramshackle. You go in and there’s a counter at the back which displays their wares. I asked the girl serving what the sandwiches were, and made my selection from the 6 or so on offer. She named them by the meat or main ingredient inside (lamb, bacon, falafel) but each sandwich had various ingredients inside.

I also ordered an Americano (or long black depending on your origin) for my mum and we sat downstairs and waited for our sandwiches to be brought to us by the friendly waiter. The coffee came first and there was a bit of confusion over whether we could get some milk for it (though I don’t know why this seemed to cause any confusion – I actually blame my mum in this instance) but he went away and came back swiftly with a little jug of milk.

Soon after he came down with our two sandwiches, which we were sharing – one pork, one bacon. The pork was actually pork belly and came with onion chutney and apple, and the bacon also came with onion chutney but was also served with a bed of rocket. Much to my delight they had been lightly toasted. They were warm and the bread had some solidity to it, holding the sandwich together, but it wasn’t overdone; they were easy to bite into without cutting your mouth. The bread was lovely, and the sandwich altogether really good. Sometimes I think onion chutney can be too sweet and I need only smidgeon before I find it overpowering. The stuff they had had been quite copiously applied, but it worked really well with both meats.

Bacon isn’t my first choice (I know, gasp!) but this was cooked well – overdone rather than under, just the way I like it in fact, so that it is less like a thin piece of gammon and more like crispy bacon. The pork was actually pork belly which was another pleasant surprise and was quickly snaffled by me. Ever unwasteful, and rather partial to salad in my sandwiches, I stuffed all the rocket leaves into both sandwiches which worked a treat. I didn’t have a drink myself and can’t comment on the coffee but they also have carafes of tap water for you to take freely with your meal or drink, which I did.

So yes, a very pleasant lunch at a price that didn’t break the bank – our bill was £13. It definitely encouraged me to come back and try some more – either for brunch or another sandwich or one of the inviting salads, but this time with one of their good looking cakes.

Foxcroft and Ginger on Urbanspoon

Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Dogfather, 20th October

Historically, I haven't been one for 'loaded' dogs. I have only recently made the foray into adding things like relish and mustard to a hot dog, instead of just sticking to ketchup or BBQ sauce. But (and Man v Food probably has a lot to do with this) recently I've warmed to the idea of adding toppings to hot dogs in the same way you do to burgers. (Chicken burgers - I am not fond of the beef variety.)

It was on one Food Network program that I saw The Dogfather and added him to my list. He operates a stall and sitting area on North Cross Road market in East Dulwich. Not exactly close to me but I am willing to travel if I think the payoff is worth it. I'm happy to say that it was.

Cooper getting down to business

The Dogfather is very popular, and even though each hot dog takes only a couple of minutes to rattle off, he had such a backlog that I had to wait nearly 30 minutes for mine. I ordered two - a plain dog, so that I could judge it on its own merit, without other flavours masking or enhancing it, and a Dogfather to see how well it stands up to other toppings and if adding such toppings makes sense. The Dogfather comes with chorizo slices, mozzarella, sprinkles of jalapenos, onions, red pepper marinara and some parmesan savings. I also added a piquant chipotle relish to this one. On the plain dog I kept things simple with just traditional ketchup and American mustard.

I have to say, they were a bargain at 3 pounds for the plain and 4.90 for the Dogfather.

They were also huge. Bigger than I'd anticiapted even having seen people eat them. I was full after the first one (the plain one) and had to wait until I'd walked to the station before I felt I had enough room to cram in the second one, especially as it had all that extra volume.

The Plain Dog

Before I had even really bitten into it I knew this was a REAL hot dog as it entered my mouth (saucy!), and not just a sausage in a bun. I don't know what the difference is between them but there is one and you can tell. It was as if the flavour had hit me before a morsel had touched my tongue. This was a proper American hot dog, working perfectly with my chosen condiments. It was meaty with a bit of a tang to it. The bread was soft but a normal bread bun like you might get at Tesco for BBQs, and I thought there was probably a little too much of it. However, I suspected that if you had a fully loaded dog of some sort, then this much bread was a necessity, and I was right in this regard.

In terms of hot dogs, this is the real deal, reminding me of NYC corners.

The Dogfather

After a brief respite, I started in on the souped up version. It was good. Oh so good. It kind of didn't feel like I was eating a hot dog, more like a pizza in a bun. All of the ingredients were holding up well against each other, the mozzarella nice and squidgy from having been melted down a little on the grill before being added. The chipotle sauce went really well with this too - gave my mouth and extra tingle beyond the jalapenos. And I'm happy to say that the hot dog wasn't too lost amongst all this. It took a bit of a background role, but the texture it added reminded you of its presence, and if you took a moment to think about it, you realised you could taste the beefiness in every bite. 

I got this far before hitting The Wall and having to stop before eating the rest when I got home.

I probably won't be back for a while, as it's such a trek from mine and I have Big Apple Hot Dogs which are more convenient from me at home and at work, but it's good to know there's another person out there doing hot dogs so well. I probably do still retain my simpler tastes, possibly because I just love hot dogs of themselves so much, I don't need all the extras, but for a real meal, loaded dogs are the way to go, and The Dogfather is doing it right. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Beard to Tail, 8th October

To post or not to post? That was the question. As you can see I have gone with the former, and sincerely hope this is not bad blogger etiquette. You see, at the end of the meal I noticed that every table but ours had a little folded card on it. Thinking it might contain some specials we’d missed out on, I got my friend to grab one from the next table. It turned out it was a note, telling diners that their meal would be discounted by 50% but with a plea to customers not to blog or tweet about the place while it was still finding its feet. They suggested people come back again once everything had been got down pat. And it wasn’t that our table hadn’t had one of these cards, it was just that my other friend had moved it out of the way to another table before I’d seen it. 

I had from the outset intended to blog about the place. Now what was I to do? Succumb to their imploration, or proceed? What was the right thing to do? The fair thing? Something about their note seemed a little off – they know people rely on word of mouth, twitter and blogs these days, and they were trying to circumvent the system. I was sure they wouldn’t mind if people blogged about it if they enjoyed it, but it rather seemed like they didn’t have much faith in themselves if they were asking for no reviews. Unfortunately, having already eaten by the time I saw this, I knew their lack of faith was understandable – the meal was not a huge success. Surely people have a right to know, and not just hear only positive reviews?

But then again, maybe they did have the right to iron out the kinks before inviting criticism. Maybe it wouldn’t be right to ‘badmouth’ the place and put off other people who would, by going, otherwise allow Beard to Tail to get things right in the end. After all, they were offering a 50% discount to diners to compensate them for being guinea pigs. Or... Could it be seen as a bribe not to say anything bad about the place? We, as it happens, were getting the meal completely free because my boyfriend had won their facebook competition to name a pig. There was a bit of a gap between us winning and them opening and they did need a gentle reminder as to what the prize was - a meal for four (not two as they'd though) and a welcome drink.

Anyway, what has decided me to post was the fact that they’ve had two practice runs in the form of their pop-up in the summer and a couple of weeks ago, and by all accounts they were successful. I knew it was their first night and wouldn’t have been surprised if there were few upsets as they get to grips with things. But I thought these were more likely to be with staff not knowing the systems or the menu yet, or the speed of food being brought to the table being slow as they struggled to cope with demand. I did not expect the food to be the letdown, again, because they had cooked many of these things at their pop-up. The rump pumpy especially seemed to be a hit both times.

So, let me get down to the review proper. 

Sadly I think these doors have been replaced with real ones

We were rather amused by the outside. Apparently the doors haven’t yet turned up, nor the windows, but they have opened regardless. I hesitated only a moment, before we pushed open the doors which told us to “Come on through!”. This slightly unfinished look carried on throughout the restaurant, though the bits that were done, like the 2 pence wall, were impressive. The smell of paint was quite prevalent, and the bathroom still had a touch of debris, with builder’s marks on the unfinished walls, but to be honest, we cared not a jot about all that. We knew it was the first night and that they’d said things were a little ‘work in progress’. We only cared about the food. 

I was surprised that the place wasn’t full – the pop-ups seemed to have been so popular. But it was a rainy Monday so maybe that had put people off. Or maybe because their second pop-up was so recent, the novelty had already worn off a bit. The staff were very friendly, joking about the pig we’d named and why it wasn’t running around the restaurant. Our waiter was attentive, and came along at appropriate intervals to check if we needed anything else. He didn’t seem to know what the deal was with our free meal – he thought we were getting 50% off but when we told him what we’d been told, he excused himself to quickly confirm this. No harm, no foul. Then I read that card at the end of the evening saying all diners were privileged to 50% off their food bill, and realised he hadn’t been offering us what he thought was our prize at all, just what everyone else was being given!

For starters, I had the steak tartar (my first ever, above), Stephen and Luke shared the ribs and stuffed pig’s trotter between them. Katherine had the mussels with bacon. The ribs were very tasty. They weren’t the kind of ribs you’d expect in a ‘downhome’ BBQ joint, they were ribs ‘restaurant style’ - less messy and with the extra BBQ sauce coming in a little jug on the side. This I thought was terrific, although Katherine wasn’t a fan. On the downside, the ribs were sort of lukewarm, they could definitely have done with being hotter when brought to the table. The same, unfortunately, was said about the trotter, and they weren't overwhelmed by the taste. My friend said her mussels were good, but the bacon was all lumped in her first few mussels – misleading her into thinking they were all so generously sprinkled. And she wished there was some bread to soak up the rest of the lovely sauce. I liked my steak tartar which came with some cornichons and a little quail’s egg on top. It was very gherkiny, could maybe have done with a bit more seasoning (I applied more salt and pepper) but I was happy with it. Not that I have a frame of reference, but steak tartar hadn’t previously been high on my agenda to order, yet on the basis of this one, I would try others. I think that’s not too shabby at all. 

For mains, Stephen and I ordered the rumpy pumpy to share,

Luke got the pulled beef featherblade, and Katherine got ribs. 

Luke seemed to like his featherblade and it did look delicious*, I wish I'd tried it. The rumpy pumpy - the star of the show during Beard to Tail’s pop-ups - was a bit of a let down. It was massive, which was definitely impressive – we had no problems sharing it with our other two companions and still finding it difficult to finish. The texture was fine, just fine, though we think it would have benefitted with a little longer at a lower temperature in order to render the fat down more, make it a little more tender, and the crackling a little crunchier. It is apparently marinated in some herbs and such before being cooked, and these flavours did come through. But then you would be overwhelmed by the saltiness. It must be said you did not simply get a mass of pork on a plate. It came with apple sauce in a little pot and a jus in a little jug. When you added this to the pork, it cut through the saltiness quite successfully and it was all a pleasing combination. But you really did NEED those extras, it would have been a chore to eat the meat without them, and for this reason I think they could have been a little more generous with these accompaniments. We also ordered some chips and a side of bubble and squeak. Both well executed, my only complaint being that they were quite dear for the portion size. That little disc of bubble and squeak was supposed to be £4.50! It was barely five mouthfuls.

This makes it look bigger than it was
One more minor gripe – we were allowed a welcome drink with our free meal. We enquired as to the restrictions and were told it could be anything. We all, of course, ordered cocktails. Mine was delicious - the Derby Pie - and my favourite of the evening (we’d been to Callooh Callay and 98 Bar and Lounge beforehand), which was no surprise really as the people who own Beard to Tail are also behind Callooh Callay. Stephen and I then ordered another drink during dinner – a beer and a wine. When our bill came, they charged us for two cocktails. Clearly, they had given us for free the cheaper drinks.

So yes, the place didn’t leave me wanting to gush about it, the whole experience as prize winners wasn’t quite what it could have been, what with the waiter not knowing that we were getting a free meal in the first place, and then charging us for the more expensive drinks niggled, especially as they didn’t mention they would do that at any point.

Desserts looked good, but we were so full from our mains and starters that we decided not to go for them, and based on the previous I wasn’t convinced they would blow me away either.

I was disappointed, but they are, as they say, in their infancy – there is plenty of time for them to improve things. I appreciated that they had evaluation forms to fill in at the end of the night. We tried to be honest, and reasonable. Hopefully they will take some of the comments into consideration.

I feel I should go back in a month or two to see if things have changed. The problem is, on the basis of last week’s performance, do I want to? I suppose it would be a shame never to give their desserts a shot, and the brunch menu looks like it has potential...

And what do you think? Was I right to ‘publish and be damned’ or should I have respected their requests?

*I have been informed, just yesterday, that Luke did not think his featherblade was delicious - he thought it tasted like the inside of a pasty. Oh dear.

Beard to Tail on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Monday, October 15, 2012

Last Man Standing, 11th October

Last night I competed in a gameshow. No, this one is not televised (and that is probably a good thing) but it was as close as I will ever get to being in a real one. Yes, last night I participated in Last Man Standing, London’s only (as far as I know) interactive gameshow quiz night! It is run by the same lovely folks who run Musical Bingo and offers the same kind of silly, energetic fun you can expect from that night, though in a slightly different guise.

Pick a card, any card... as long as it's true or false
Everyone who attends is a contestant. There are five rounds, a different category for each, and in each round there will be a victor. At the end of the night, these five victors compete against each other to win the grande prize (a bottle of champagne, none too shabby). For each round, the crowd is asked a series of true or false questions, and you have two cards, one saying True and one saying False, from which you have to pick and put one in the air to show your choice. Anyone who gets it wrong is out for the next question and in this way it is whittled down to two or three people who then compete on stage to be the #1 for that round. As with Musical Bingo the winner is decided through various slightly arbitrary games, such as ‘Play your cards right’ or ‘bobbing for sausages’ amongst a) shaving foam, b) chocolate and c) feathers. 

They provide the poncho protection for a messy finale
There are also a few bonus rounds/activities along the way for bonus prizes of shots for your team. One involved creating the tallest structure possible out of the spaghetti and marshmallows on your table (my team hadn’t realised that these were craft ‘supplies’, not treats for us, and, being starving, had tucked into them straight away. I did think it a little odd that they had offered uncooked strands of spaghetti as a snack, but didn’t dwell on it.). 

Yum... uncooked spaghetti
Another was to make a balloon animal out of the balloons they’d given you (the hardest balloons in the world to blow up – our lovely host had to bring round his special balloon inflator to every table to get us started!). I’m happy to say my dog was chosen amongst the finalists, so I made it onto the stage at least, though I wasn’t victorious. It probably goes without saying that I didn’t win any of the other rounds, and neither did my two teammates. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Ah well.
My dog. I was robbed!
We had TWO hostesses to help along the proceedings, and keep tabs on who had answered correctly and who hadn’t.  Jo-Jo was reading out the questions, while Gracie had the role of giving out a clue to help us decide which card to go for. Do not be fooled by the clues. While most of the time they led you to the obvious right answer, sometimes they were red herrings! As the night wore on, the hosts were a little less than hawk-eyed when it came to spotting people who had already got a question wrong but were answering the next one anyway. And Gracie was perhaps being a little too generous with her clues to some teams. But hey, the night isn’t an exact science, it’s about having fun, and I’m not complaining if we got a nudge in the right direction every now and again.

This was just the foundation of our tower
They say you can come along on your own, in a couple or with some friends, and I think if you want a better chance of winning then you need to have a few people, so you can play a little tactically and have some chance of sharing the prize. We sort of attempted to do this erratically through the night. Not that it worked. Of course, the more there are of you, the more you’d have to share the prize at the end!

Last Man Standing was held at House of Wolf, a new venue in Angel that is also on my list. I don’t know if I can count last night as having crossed the place off, as it was more about LMS than a general night at House of Wolf. I think I’ll have to go back to see what they normally do – we were constrained to the bottom floor last night when there’s three full floors to explore. I didn’t even get to try their food because, although they promised ‘posh bar snacks’ from House of Wolf’s twitter, the only food we were offered was a venison burger (sorry, venison roll) with chips, for £10. I’m not much of a fan of burgers (though this one did sound nice if you do like them) and didn’t really want to spend a whole tenner on food. And they weren’t serving the chips separately. The kind bartender said he would inquire if they could come on their own and let us know, but he never appeared so we can only presume it wasn’t possible. In its defence, they had only been open since Saturday and obviously hadn’t finalised their bar food menu. I think this was just something put on for the night simply to have some kind of offering and there will be more to choose from in the future.

The night didn’t quite reach the all out party/dancing levels of Musical Bingo but it was still a really fun night, and I’d definitely go back. In the interests of full disclosure, I was invited to come along to this night (although it was on my List already) but considering this isn’t exactly a one-on-one kinda night, I can safely say I don’t think they did anything different or extraspecial on my account for a good review. The fact that I didn’t win at all speaks to that. Otherwise, tickets are a bargainous £5 and nights happen monthly. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chessboxing, 10th October

The set up
How do you stop chess being boring? Now, I know you think the answer is going to be ‘team it with boxing’, given the title of this post, but you’re only half right. The full answer is that you keep it short and sweet and you have Malcolm Pein commentating on it. 

While you cannot be entertained by chess if there are no players playing it, or making the sometimes controversial moves on which Pein was remarking, it was not the players who made the chess rounds interesting. It was Pein, with his fast-paced, intelligible, informative yet humorous commentary. He managed to not only keep us up to speed with what the chess players were doing (no mean feat at the pace they sometimes played), but also tell us why they might be doing that, whether it was a good move or not, sneak in some trivia on the chess world, squeeze in some explanation of the game for the complete novices out there and still find time to keep us laughing with a few one liners. He really made the night for me.

But it was a fun night on the whole anyway. I’ve never been a huge fan of boxing and have never seen any live, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to see such an odd combination and see how they pull it off. First, they have an MC who also deserves much credit for making the night entertaining. He introduced the night, introduced the players and was the one to interview them before and after the bouts. He was a consummate professional, smooth at all times, no matter what kind of answers the fighters threw at him, and again, making us all crack a smile on more than one occasion.

Chessboxing works thus: 11 rounds, starting off with chess, and finishing with chess. Each chess round is 4 minutes, each boxing round is 3 minutes. Players have 12 minutes each on the clock for the chess. They win by either a knockout in the boxing round, or a checkmate. If neither of these happens, it gets a tad more complicated, going to points scored. By keeping the chess to 4 minutes, with a time limit for each player, they manage to segue quite easily from chess to boxing and back again, maintaining the high octane pace built up in the previous round.

The first bout was between an Englishman - ‘General’ Levy (clearly a junglist, hence the name), and a German - ‘CSI” Bendfeld (who seemed like a lovable geek). The first round of chess went by at a steady pace, as we all watched the giant screens which simulated what was happening on the board. After that, things got faster and faster. The bell went, signifying the end of the round, the table was cleared from the ring and then it was time to FIGHT! Before we knew it, three minutes were up and the chess board was out again. ‘CSI’ was dominating and in a blink it was time to box again. Both sides were tiring and no knockout was going to happen. Never mind, it was obvious it would be all over in the next chess round and it was. Ze Germans had won in under 20 minutes. A thrilling start to the night.

Bendfeld and Levy about to start

A short break for a drink and then it was the Bankers round. One guy from Goldman Sachs in his debut Chessboxing match versus one guy from Citibank. This fight was epic and went down to the wire. It lasted as long as a Chessboxing match possibly can, being decided in the final round. Both pugilists were exhausted in the ring, we knew a knockout wasn’t going to happen, and on the board the Goldman Sachs guy, Sean Mooney had the clear advantage. He had managed to not only make one pawn a queen, but two! A feat never before seen in Chessboxing. But to capitalise on this and force a checkmate in the allotted time was too tough, and it was the Citibank man, Brian Woon’s running out of time which decided this nailbiting match. And believe it or not, it really was nailbiting, the chess especially. The bell always rang too soon and everyone groaned that we would have to wait to see what happened on the board. But then they’d have at it with their fists in the ring, and everyone would really get into that again. 

Mooney and Woon slugging it out

After this gruelling bout was over, an interval, during which there was a hula hooper to entertain, and then the final and main event – the middleweight title fight. This was, in the end, the most disappointing of the lot, with only four rounds being fought and the winner being determined on points in the boxing. In the second chess round they repeated their moves three times, neither player willing to take a risk to break through the ‘stalemate’, which means that ended in a draw. That meant they then had another round of boxing in which to get a knock out or it was down to points in the boxing. In the end the Armenian won by one point, was ‘crowned’ and then buggered off with nary a word! 

The final victor is announced

It was somewhat of a relief that the last round finished so abruptly as by this time it was getting late, and we had bought the ‘cheap seats’ which meant standing the whole time. As much as I enjoyed it, I think more than two and a half hours of it, was a more than a decent amount. It would have gone on for longer, with a women’s bout as well, but the poor girl who had turned up to fight had been stood up – her opponent had pulled out at the last minute.

My boyfriend, who is a big fan of boxing, absolutely loved it. I loved it too, much more than I thought I would, and that applies to both elements. Scala, 8th December – the next Chessboxing event. See you there! Apparently on a Saturday there's more of a club part afterwards, which I'd like to try. I loved the tunes that were being laid down on Wednesday!

Graffitti and DJ adding to the ambience

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

98 Bar and Lounge, 8th October

I have actually been here once before but for reasons I am about to reveal, did not consider it ‘crossed off’ the list. We ended up here the first time by accident. I had secured a free place at a Bombay Sapphire-sponsored event round the corner but by the time we arrived they were full. To make up for this they gave us two tokens and told us we could redeem them at a place called 98 Bar and Lounge around the corner on Curtain Road, for two gin and tonics. So we duly did this, almost missing the awning which is the only sign that this bar exists. It is sub-ground level so you need to keep your eyes peeled and look out for the signage, otherwise it is very easy to miss. We went down the little ornate iron staircase (slightly treacherous when wet, or you’re drunk, or these two should happen to coincide) and entered. The staff had not yet been made aware of the deal that we were trying to avail ourselves of, and looked a little puzzled when we handed over our tokens, but some phone calls were made and they happily made us the free drink we’d been given.

The place wasn’t busy by any means, it was a Wednesday night I think, but it got busier as other people who had turned up too late to get in at the other place also made their way around. We managed to get a seat on one of the loveseats in the corner to sip our drink. I loveed the place. I think it can best be described as ‘fabulous’. It is one of the quirkier bars I’ve been to. It is simultaneously luxuriously and decadently kitted out, but also kooky and kitsch. There is a grandeur within the ornate furniture, the lampshades of pillowy white feathers, the baby grand piano that makes you feel you’ve stepped into a rich eccentric’s parlour. A viscount’s estate with a 20s twist. But the sweets in jars and little rubber ducks that festoon the walls make you also feel like you’ve stepped into a child’s fantasy playroom. It’s an odd combination but, to my mind, totally works.

We stayed for only one drink, a drink not of 98 Bar and Lounge’s creation. Therefore I did not feel I had truly experienced what the bar was all about. I could not cross it off the List.

But last night we went back and did sample a 98 Bar and Lounge concoction. As you may know, it is London Cocktail Week and bars all over London are offering a signature cocktail, or one created especially for the occasion, for £4 to wristband holders. We were such wristband holders, and 98 was one such bar. So we popped in for a drink before we headed to Beard to Tail for our dinner (they are opposite each other). The cocktail on offer was called the Gentleman’s Jamjar. It was an apricot-inspired drink, with real chunks of apricot in it, it had a whiskey base I believe and was topped off with nutmeg. That nutmeg made all the difference, elevating it from just a nice fruity cocktail to something different. Really scrummy. And then, a huge bowl of warm, salted popcorn was brought over. Yes, we were eating dinner directly afterwards, but we still polished it off. I thought it was a lovely little extra touch. Normally they don’t open on Mondays, but, they told us, they had opened because of Cocktail Week, however, we were the only ones in the entire place! Admittedly, it was early, and I hope that when the Cocktail Week bus made its way to Shoreditch it brought with it some more customers. I do get the feeling that this is one of the lesser known bars in Shoreditch - it certainly doesn’t shout out its presence, but it is a gem and I will definitely be going back again.  

Square Meal

Find the bar information on Zomato

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bang Said the Gun, 27th September

Bang Said the Gun prides itself on being the noisiest poetry night in London, even garnering complaints from the locals on occasion. To be honest, most of this volume is created by the audience who are encouraged to take up the makeshift maracas (milk bottles with rice in) and shake them at every opportunity. The poetry itself is spoken at a fairly normal decibel.

The night is held upstairs at The Roebuck pub in Borough (which is a lovely pub and serves some excellent chips. It’s also great value for money – a large wine was only £4.80!). The room is quite small and it does get busy so getting there early is advisable.

And it gets busy for a reason. There wasn’t a single bad act, though some of them stood out more than others.

After our compere for the evening had stopped skipping around the stage to the music, shaking his ‘maraca’ all the while, and occasionally banging on the bar in case rattling wasn’t loud enough, he introduced himself and the night began. It has been going for 15 years or so I believe he said, and was set up because they wanted an antidote to all the ‘beard-strokey’ serious poetry happening at the time. Instead, this is supposed to be more light-hearted . . . more raucous, and they achieve this by playing loud music and having some silly interludes, such as playing ‘keepy up’ with a balloon for a prize. The first act introduced rather emphasised how this night contrasts to others.

Fresh back from the Edinburgh festival, he was definitely one of my favourites of the night. Not strictly spoken word, but part comedy act, his ode to yellow was completely off the wall and silly and not to everyone’s taste, but right up my street. I’d urge you to seek him out and see if he appeals to you. Unfortunately I cannot remember his name. But I can remember some of his shopping mantra ("take a lemon from the shelf, take a lemon for yourself") so if anyone recognises that, please let me know who is responsible for it.

The final speaker of the first half was also excellent. A lot of spoken word artists speak about things that they strongly believe in; it is not unusual for the poems to have a political leaning (always liberal, I do wonder what would happen if a right-wing poet ever found their way to the stage). But, even though I am sure they believe what they are writing, sometimes it is hard to believe that they really know what they’re talking about. Not the case with Joelle Taylor, who works closely with young people from all walks of life via Slambassadors, using poetry as a way for them to deal with or escape from their sometimes tough situations. Her poetry was powerful and touching, clearly inspired from experience (she said as much but you could tell from the way she delivered it that this was true). In fact, she was so overcome with emotion from her words that she couldn’t finish the poem. She was completely forgiven this by the audience who were all touched by the message.

After the break, the person who won Raw Meat Stew last week took the stage. Raw Meat Stew is the open-mic part at the end of the night where you win a slot in next week’s gig. He’d only been doing spoken word for a few months and his novice status was evident, but having said that he had good stage presence and I think his poetry showed promise, there were a few clever turns of phrase, even if it was a little rough around the edges. And long.

My overall number 1 act of the night was Musa Okwonga who brought a huge amount of energy to his poems, commanding the room so much that he didn’t even need to use a microphone. His first poem on the fast pace of this world was delivered with breathless velocity, his poem on the father he never really knew was moving, and his words on the tremendous effort it takes to just do the adult thing and tidy your room (a metaphor for dealing with life as an adult in general) was spot on. I will make the effort to see what else he does. I’m already following him on twitter. Proof of my admiration.

And almost last was Raw Meat Stew. Even the people who did this were pretty good (though not as good as the ‘pros’) and had a charm to them. The guy who won was a bit of a regular at Bang apparently, often participating in the Stew. He won over Joelle, who was judging, and the rest of the audience, with his poem about Shelley Long from Cheers. Clearly we’re all suckers for a bit of audience participation – having to shout “Cheers” whenever he signalled clinched it for us despite his halting deliver (well, English wasn’t his mother tongue).

I was incredibly impressed with the standard of this night. I’ve been to a few spoken word events in my time and this was a head above the rest. Even if it didn’t have all the silly noise and jingles (yes, Raw Meat and the balloon game come with visuals and a song) this would be a night deserving of becoming a regular feature in my repertoire. Bang Said the Gun was kick-ass.