Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Die Freche Muse, 27th July

I have wanted to go to Die Freche Muse for the longest time, and managed to get to the one on Saturday, which was the last ever Die Freche Muse. It was a bit of an anticlimax, but perhaps that is inevitable when I had more than a year of anticipation.

Die Freche Muse hosts parties in various venues with themes ranging from the 20s to 60s. For its final night, dress code was 20s to 40s and fabulous! Well, it was the last one. The entertainment apparently started at 10:45 and we didn't want to miss any of the acts so we only had a couple of drinks in a bar I'd suggested but I would have happily spent the rest of my night there if we didn't already have other engagements. I had never been to Bar 23 before but I enjoyed it; the drinks were reasonably priced and they were playing music I really liked - from Lykke Li to Whitney Houston. The environs were even appropriate for our garb with a gramophone and antique-looking clock on the wall, even if the music was incongruous to our clothing. 

At about half ten we ventured to find the Dalston Boys' Club, a venue I had never heard of before Die Freche Muse hosted the party there. I met someone inside who told me that the building was owned by the host's parents, who also own an antique store on Brick Lane. It showed. The place had been kitted out with a mixture of antiques and peculiarities. The owners could have held an account at Viktor Wynd's Little Shop of Horrors with all the taxidermied animals on show, and off-the-wall mannequins all over the place. 

It felt amazing just to be in the venue, with everyone looking beautiful and sexy. I felt I could have been at a "bright young thing's" private party, where the drink and food was lavished on us while we all pretended to be too frivolous/bored to watch the entertainment. In some ways, this is a very accurate description, although the drinks weren't free. They were exceptionally well priced though (double spirit and mixer for £5!!) and there was free cake and biscuits throughout the night of which I availed myself several times.

The ground floor was the main space where there was the bar and an area under the indoor balcony where the microphone was set up and a little area where the acts could perform. Weirdly, this was also where, to the right, the ladies ONE toilet was situated, so that while you were queuing (and there was always a queue, what with their only being the ONE ladies toilet) you felt like you were 'backstage'. You actually had some of the best views of the acts if you timed your bathroom break propitiously.

Up above, as I said, there was a balcony all around, and, apparently, a roof terrace and the host's private apartments, which, if you stuck around long enough, he would sometimes open up. We either didn't stay long enough or Saturday was not one of those nights.

Downstairs was the smoking area, or basement, upon whose back wall, 20s porn was being projected. I was rather enjoying the lady being spanked (rapidly of course, all movements in old films are rapid) until someone moved the projector to beam into the corner and you could no longer make anything out. Back up I went.

The first act didn't come on for at least an hour after advertised. She was a lithe singer, with a repertoire of songs from years gone by. They started off a little slowly, and really rather quietly. The rabble either didn't know she was on or didn't care for they weren't exactly muted when she was doing her set. Also, the stage was simply another area on the floor - not raised at all, and to the side, so that if you wanted to see anything and were under 5 feet 5 you had to be quite determined to get to the front. We were, and so were able to hear the songs and I thought they were pretty good. Towards the end the tempo picked up and we danced along a little. 

The night moved slowly though and I think suffered because of it. The acts all came on later than the host would promise and while they were good, it wasn't really loud enough or lively enough to command attention, or to get people dancing. Neither was the music played between sets, and each time the host took the mic he implored people to dance and everyone just carried on standing or sitting around sipping their drinks.

As the night wore on the crowd started to thin and it was much easier to see those on 'stage'. The final acts were burlesque, culminating in the same opening act doing a performance based on the Head of John the Baptist. 
She also had some beautiful large white feathers which fanned glitter all over her, and consquently all over whoever was standing near her, and I rather enjoyed that. There was quite a good fire eater (who I saw from the prime position of the toilet queue) and the burlesque stripteases were performed by women whose bodies were sublime. But it really was a case of admiring the female form, rather than the ingenuity of the acts. They didn't quite live up to the standard I've seen elsewhere, or maybe it was just the setting. Either way, I was a little disappointed. 

The final act finished at 3:30 and then we were all invited to stay and dance and drink more. Normally I would have wanted to do just that and see where the night took us, but I think the slow pace of the night had worn me down. Those of my friend group who had stuck it out were ready to go by then. 

So yes, I loved the venue, I will definitely keep an eye on whatever they might allow to take place there in future, and I loved the feel of the evening - being part of a privileged set, in grand surroundings feeling like you were almost at a wild party. I felt similarly at the Last Tuesday Society's party. But the reality was that it wasn't all that wild and that was a little disappointing. I don't mind so much now that I didn't get to any of the previous nights, though I liked it enough to keep an eye on whatever else they might be involved with. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Black Cotton Club, 20th July

On Saturday night I stepped back in time (again) when I went to the Black Cotton Club at Volupte. It's another night steeped in vintageness with people dressed in either 20s flapper gear or 30s-40s costume. But this is no pop-culture wink to the olden days. This feels like the real deal. Almost everyone was dressed up and all the songs played are from original 45s. For me, it made it probably my least favourite of the 20s-style nights. I have realised I do like a bit of modernity to my vintage nights out. I like the swinging jazz of the early century but when you're not an aficionado, after a while, all the songs sound a bit samey, especially when there are no vocals. And I managed to miss dancing to one song I actually did know - 'Why Don't You Do Right?' as made famous by Jessica Rabbit. 

It was clear that the people who came were regulars of the scene and were there to show off their moves, while we helplessly shuffled our feet in imitation of the steps they were committing flawlessly. I recognised one guy from the 50s night at South London Pacific - well it's hard not to remember a guy dressed in a shirt and multicoloured tutu with a sock puppet on his hand! 

I still do love to watch people who know how to dance - the fast steps look amazing but I equally like the slower moves which look so effortless, like they're not even meaning to move so fluidly. I always resolve I must start learning myself. But I haven't and so after a while the novelty did wear off.

It didn't help that the night was so unbearably hot and they didn't exactly have air conditioning - a couple of strategically placed fans stopped people from completely overheating. I confess, my group rather hogged one of the fans, I don't know if the other dancers would have even realised it was there, one of us was always in front of it cooling down. It was less busy than I expected, and I wondered if the heat perhaps was a factor. 

The venue was in an unlikely building. It is down the side of a bunch of office blocks and from the outside is nothing to look at. Inside it is rather gorgeous with risque wallpaper, quite a glamorous bathroom and heavy drapes and pretty lamps everywhere - these of course are all to remind you of the fact that Volupte's day job is a burlesque venue. 

We got in at 10:30ish and with an hour or so break at about 1 to cool down and save our feet, we left at 2:30 when the night finished at 3:00 anyway. So it kept our attention for most of the night. If you're looking for authenticity then this really is not to be missed. If you prefer playing at it, like me, then I'd suggest the Candlelight Club, or Prohibition which are livelier.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tsuru and Maison Bertaux, 20th July

I was only ever going to order one thing when I went to Tsuru - the kara-age chicken burger. This was inevitable because it was the sole reason I put Tsuru on the List after having read the London Review of Sandwiches post about it. 

I recently won a £100 bar tab at the Refinery, which conveniently enough is opposite Tsuru, so I thought I would make my way over there on Saturday and kill two birds with one stone. Bankside isn't exactly a bustling area on the weekend (or perhaps it is underused in general, hence Yelp's recent treasure hunt to promote the area) and many of the little lunch places are shut. Tsuru, however stays open for Saturdays despite clearly not getting much footfall. There were two guys outside when I arrived, no one inside, apart from me, although a couple more people came by for some take out while I was in there.

I was given a very friendly greeting and told to sit where I liked. The place is quite sleek and clean looking and you can see through the service counter to the chefs at the back. I was offered some tap water which I accepted as soon as I sat down, and there are wasabi peas to nibble on while you make your selection, or wait for your food. Despite being on my own, I felt pretty comfortable in there. Tsuru is a Japanese place, owned (or at least partnered) by the same people who run Tonkotsu, somewhere I can highly recommend. I was tempted at first to order some sushi as well as my burger but then decided to get a red cabbage and sesame side instead. As I ordered it, I had a feeling my server hadn't heard me properly and when it didn't arrive I realised I'd been right. This was my first meal of the day though, and I realised as I started eating my burger that I didn't really want anything extra anyway. I'd only really ordered it to have something extra to write about.

 So, the burger. It is described as kara-age chicken on romaine lettuce with a mustard mayo in a sesame seed brioche bun. I must say, that I didn't detect any mustard in the mayo - it just tasted like the kind of mayonnaise you'd get at McDonald's. A little sweet perhaps. The bun wasn't amazing either. It did a good job holding the burger together, was a little too thick and bready, but the sesame seeds were nice. The chicken was definitely the burger's saving grace, made out of thigh meat, with such a load of crispy batter on it that it actually cut my gums a bit! It was very juicy and had a great flavour - I'm sure I caught a taste or perhaps just aroma of lemon somehow. I enjoyed it and would happily eat it again, but I wasn't completely overawed by it. The chicken burger from Rita's doesn't have to worry about being knocked off my top spot any time soon.

Tsuru on Urbanspoon

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Maison Bertaux

I decided to head into town for some dessert and thought I would give Maison Bertaux a try. I wish I hadn't bothered. Located in Soho, it is one of the city's oldest bakeries and patisseries. It looks charmingly French with its blue and white awnings, and inside – at least in the bit I saw – it is charmingly odd, with a lot of mismatched, eccentric ornaments on display behind the cashier.

I only wanted something to take away not to eat in, so I had a look at the wares on display. To be honest, I've seen more appealing confections at Patisserie Valerie. I actually had almost made up my mind not to bother getting anything when I was asked what I wanted and of course, was too British to be rude enough to say 'nothing'. I opted for a, perhaps coffee, perhaps maple, eclair. What I'd really wanted was a slice of what might have been cheesecake but the last two were taken by the couple before me. Everything else was covered in fruit and berries which I don't like. 

As my eclair was being boxed up I saw a cake on the top shelf where the pastries were which actually looked quite good but by then it was too late. I took my eclair with me and ate it down the road. I have nothing to report really. The pastry was rather dry and not that pleasant to eat. The icing on the top was sweet and it was reasonably well filled. There could have been more cream. I didn't eat it all, which speaks volumes. Very disappointing.

Maison Bertaux on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Redchurch, 18th July

I confess I had a predisposition to loving the Redchurch bar before I even went. It has been on my List since 2007 when I first moved down here and from its facade just off Brick Lane, it just oozed shabby chic loveliness. When I would go by at night it always looked busy and I was convinced if I ever did go I wouldn't get in because the place looked so small and so popular.

And then I recently made friends with someone who is something of a regular at the place and said that Thursday nights are where it's at. After Musical Bingo, he took a few of us there and I'm happy to say he was right. We were greeted very cheerily by the bouncers as we entered and I discovered that the front of the bar is deceiving - it actually goes quite far back where there was plenty of room for dancing. 

The whole place has a bit of a red brasserie type feel with tables at the front, and a smallish bar at the back. Next to this is the small DJ booth where the DJ was spinning some excellent music - Motown and 70s funk. James Brown got us all grooving. We were in there at about 11 and it had an atmosphere but there was still plenty of room to move. I thought this was how it was going to stay, then about an hour later there was a massive influx of people! Clearly everyone knows that when it's closing time elsewhere, this is the place to head to. Yet it still remained not too overcrowded. Apparently they do have a habit of not letting the place become too squished to be comfortable. There is something romantic about the place as well. Something clandestine in its red-hued decor and ambient lighting decor. I could understand why there were so many snogging couples. With a tall and exotic-looking mojito - I think there might have been an orange slice in it -  I was perfectly at home and stayed much later than I had planned. 

I'm glad to have finally made its acquaintance and I am sure I will be back. 

Redchurch on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Classic Album Sundays, 7th July

Classic album Sundays is a bit of an odd one. It's aim is to give you the excuse to excuse yourself from the world for as long as it takes to listen to a full album, all the way through, no interruptions - because how often does anyone do that anymore?

My friend Amy suggested it to me and I thought it sounded relaxing and also might provide me with the impetus to give certain albums the attention I had not yet afforded them. Air's Moon Safari seemed to fit the bill and it was a great fit to the weather outside - a perfect sunny day chillout music.

The event starts from 5 pm until the album is put on at 7. During this time they play music that is associated with the album that you're about to listen to. This could be other songs by the band (they played an EP of Air's singles, which included a version of All I Need  slightly different to the finished album version with no vocals) and also songs that they may have sampled (the Beach Boys) or artists that have influenced the band, or artists that were from similar backgrounds (Jean Michelle Jarre and Daft Punk both got an outing). The pub that it takes place in is very nice - quite big downstairs with a decent sized upstairs where the listening area is. They also handily do 2 for 1 pizzas so me and my friend took advantage of this offer. Not the best pizza I've ever had but you can't often go badly wrong with pizza.
At about ten to the hour, the woman who was running the show stood up and introduced you to the album and also explained some of the tracks you had heard previously. She described her relationship to the album and some of her favourite songs from it. And then, the needle is put on (yes, they play the LP) and the listening begins. 

Funnily enough, even though listening does not require you to face a certain direction, and the music system set up was of a very high quality so surround sound was doing its thing, all the chairs were arranged to face the front. There were some comfy looking chesterfield type chairs in the back row (better for the winter as one girl confirmed in the heat they became quite sticky). And then there were some tables and chairs which were great for the eating of pizza and resting of jugs of Pimm's. And then on the floor there were scattered some large cushions. Dotted around were sweets - jelly babies, licorice allsorts, and crisps, if you didn't fancy pizza. As the listening proper began, I regretted my position on the table, handy though it was for eating, and wished we had been on the comfy cushions where people were stretched out in full relax mode. 

I can't remember the last time I listened to an album all the way through without doing anything else. I listen to music constantly - I have my earphones in while I work, or at the gym, or hanging up laundry. But I only really remember listening to music and not doing much else when I was a teenager, when I would lay on my bed and listen to The Foo Fighters or Blur and contemplate whatever it was I was having angst and feelings of injustice over at the time.

I found myself in a morose mood as I listened to Air as one of my best friend's dad had just passed away that morning. He was a lovely man and I had known him since I was 12, so naturally my mind turned to serious things - thoughts of mortality and what it all means. But I made the effort not to dwell on the dark side of life, as that's not what Air is for. I wanted to be focused on the actual music, especially those songs I hadn't heard before, which is a lot harder than you think. The mind so easily wanders, several times I did the mental equivalent of taking it by the chin and turning it to face the music. 

Often I had my eyes closed to fully appreciate the music but I couldn't resist looking around and seeing what everyone else was doing. A lot of people also had their eyes closed, concentrating, absorbing. The odd ones (I mean that in both ways) had their eyes open. Some were tapping their toes or swaying (as I was). Others seemed not to move the entire time! We were encouraged not to keep our phones on and not to talk (whispering in your companion's ear was just about allowed) and most people did neither, although there were still some who couldn't resist the allure of their technology, or who had to comment on an aspect of the track to their friend.

There was a raffle you could enter for a T-shirt just by joining the mailing list, and they also have a sheet of paper pinned up for suggestions for future classic albums. This is how they choose what to play - by attendees' suggestions. On the table there is some further information about the event - including what equipment they are using. I know nothing about it but it looked state of the art to me so I can imagine someone interested in that sort of thing would appreciate the information. 

It was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours on a Sunday. It's a perfect hangover activity, and, depending on the album,  and especially if you were laying on the cushions, would make for quite a romantic date. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Well and Bucket, 10th May

I'd been to the Well and Bucket once on a Friday night but I felt like it didn't give an accurate picture of the pub so I decided to go back again before writing about it. So this is a tale of two visits.

The first time
I thought we might have a drink or two at the Crown and Shuttle but in fact, after buying our Field Day tickets from the Owl and the Pussycat (so excited!) we decided to try out the new Well and Bucket at the top of Brick Lane.

This is quite a large pub capitalising on the trend for craft beers. It looks like it would have a large beer garden at the back in which to enjoy them but, in fact, all it basically has is a little patio for people to cram into to smoke.

The inside is impressive though and I think I would like this pub if I went to it on a weekend. On a Friday night it was packed and packed full of the people who work around there who I'm rather pleased aren't so prevalent on the weekends. O! where were the hipsters?

Downstairs was another world (and a world I didn't venture into in the end) which is where the cocktails are served. This was an darker, more intimate and plush area. It looks like it needs exploring further from me. 

The second time

I was rather worried we'd be in for a repeat performance as the sun was blazing and I thought surely there would be loads of people wanting to have a pint in the sun. But it wasn't like that, perhaps because there isn't much of a beer garden to speak of. And I did like it more than the last time we were there. We sat in a corner booth and the place had a much more relaxed, less frenetic atmosphere. It felt more like a proper pub. We marveled at the number of beers on the menu, or should I say the prices. One beer was 20 pounds! But, I should point out that it was a 75 cl bottle and almost as strong in percentage as a normal wine, so through those lenses the prices seemed quite reasonable.

I ordered a house white which was very pleasant - a chenin blanc I believe, it had a little depth and fruitiness to it. And wasn't badly priced at 5.50 for a 175 ml.

We were heading off to Feast (my third time and just as good as the others) so we didn't try anything on the food menu. Just another excuse to go back. 

I love the mix of traditional pub and macabre graffiti they have covering the walls, it's all a bit Edgar Allan Poe/Dia de los Muertos, which I get a kick out of. 

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Crystal Palace Overground Festival, 29th June

My friends volunteer with running this festival which is the primary reason it has made it onto the List. But also, they promised that this year was much bigger and better (isn't everything) than the time we went a couple of years ago. Oh, and also, I was roped into helping them out with some tweeting during the day, which was fun. Any excuse to tweet.

So, after our breakfast of kings at Hawksmoor's Spitalfields bar, we headed down to Crystal Palace to see what the fuss was about. And, hand on heart, I thought it was pretty good! And it wasn't just me - being their social media person for the day, I got to see what people were tweeting about the place and it was nothing but praise. My favourite tweet of the day came from Original Fryup Material - one of the food vendors there - who said the place was "BOOMING", "Not what they expected" and "like a proper festival!". They were right. 

Being as I've mentioned OFM, the food is a good place to start. They've moved up from having some of your usual lacklustre food purveyors to having people like OFM and FleischMob (they get around a bit - they were at Zoo Lates the previous night) - i.e. well established food traders who don't just do the rounds at local fayres. They've also got some excellent choices for tipples. Westow House, one of the local pubs, had a setup there, and there was lots of cider to be found, which is great for a non-beer drinker like me. I tried three different kinds and finished with a perry (my least favourite of them all as it turns out, a bit too oaky). There was also mead for the medieval-minded, though I didn't end up trying that much as I wanted to. And you got these very cool cups (for a £1 deposit).

It's a family friendly affair and the last time I went the music seemed to reflect this, being fairly middle of the road - as Stephen put it, why do all the bands involve 'funk' in some way, which seems to mainly mean they jam on without having any real tune? This year, the organisers upped the ante and perhaps went out on a bit of a limb with the acts that performed as the day progressed. We got there at about 2 and saw Breezy Lee who had a good voice but probably fell more into the category of family friendly. Same for the band following them, who were upbeat and non-polarising. Just good background music to give the place a bit of atmosphere.

The two bands after this though I really liked - they were bands I would actually want to see outside of a day festival and would see again. One was bringing gypsy swing to Crystal Palace, and I would have had my knees up dancing around to them as they finished had I not been wearing impossible heels. And the final act, Metamono, was not at all about being a crowd-pleaser - unless that crowd was into heavy beats with a dubstep twist. After a slightly dubious start with some droning vocals that my friend rightly identified as not sounding out of place in a Mighty Boosh episode, they got going and so did the crowd, with old and young moving their bodies to the basslines.

I'm sure the weather helped immensely but I had a really good time down there and I'd happily recommend it to anyone who fancies a bit of the festival vibe. Kids are amply catered for with face painting, reading sessions, performances and a a place for them to let out their vandal side by graffittiing a van, and then you've got good food, good beer/cider and good music for the adults. Oh - and it is completely free! So, many thanks to Nick, Claire and the rest of the Crystal Palace Overground Festival volunteers for putting on such a highly accomplished festival.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hawksmoor Bar, 29th June

Well, no surprises here really - Hawksmoor was AWESOME with a side of awesome. I loved it. I loved it even more that we managed to get in before the 50% off deal came to an end (yesterday) but I would happily go back and pay full price for what we ate, and there are some of the bar snacks/starters that I would like to try.

We had tried to get in last Sunday but there was an hour and a half wait (and you weren't allowed to put your name down and come back close to when tables might be ready - that constituted booking somehow) so we ended up at MeatMission instead. But I was determined not to miss out so we went back on Saturday, making sure to get there as close to its opening as possible - 12pm. This worked a treat as we got there and were seated straight away, watching smugly as the rest of the seats filled up and people started having to wait.

We made perhaps a slight mistake. We're not early morning people so what we were eating at Hawksmoor was actually our breakfast. And I normally like to breakfast light. So, whereas I had planned a starter each, a main and then at least sharing a side and then a dessert each, we just weren't up to eating that much food. But we managed to try all the dishes that I'd heard about and considered the must-haves.

So, we ordered the ox cheek nuggets, the ox cheek french dip and the pig's head poutine. For dessert we had a sticky toffee pudding and some of their famed salted caramel rolos.

The food all comes at once (it's meant for eating while drinking, not as a sit down meal) which was fine by us. All the dishes that the food was served on were perfectly sized to fit the food on it, but left no room for drippage. And there were a lot of juices to contend with.

Stephen had expressed doubt about the ox-cheek nuggets, worrying that they might turn out to be dry. I assured him they wouldn't be, but I didn't realise that they ensured extra moistness by having melted cheese in the middle. In fact, everything we ordered ended up having cheese in it. A fortunate happenstance. The ox cheek nuggets came with a sambal dip which was delicious, but overpowered the flavour of the nuggets themselves. They were so tender and gooey with the cheese, they didn't really need a dip. Which lead to the dilemma - enjoy the nugget on its own, or make the most of the sambal by eating it with the nuggets. Oh these tough, tough decisions!

The French Dip was my favourite of all three and was an amazing sandwich in its own right, never mind with the rich, savoury jus that it came with. I would take a bite and decide I didn't want to 'sully' it with the accompanied gravy, but the gravy was so moreish that I would end up dipping the sandwich in it time and again. A similar conundrum to the aforementioned. The bread itself was very soft and inside was the shredded flavoursome cheek meat topped with, yeah, you guessed it - melted cheese. It put the steak and cheese sandwich I had at MeatLiquor to shame. I'm going to have to let my face get at that again some time soon.

The poutine also came with gravy, but a much lighter, sweeter gravy which was also pretty addictive. Towards the end the chips that it had been covering had been completely soaked in it and were a little soggy, which normally I don't really like (and Stephen moaned a bit about it) but it did mean you got a bit more of the gravy flavour as I spooned up the last sodden scraps of chips, cheese and meat. I've never had poutine before, the idea of gravy with cheese and chips didn't appeal but I'm happy to say I was a fool to think this way. And with pork's head scattered all over it, this dish is a main event in its own right, don't be fooled by it being listed alongside the chips and coleslaw.

I had to get the rolos for 'dessert'. I put that bit in inverted commas because what they really are, are three chocolates, as you would get from Paul A Young or something - they're not a proper 'pudding' as the English say. They were lovely, and the caramel was indeed very salty, but if Stephen hadn't ordered the sticky toffee pudding that I was then able to have some of, I would have been annoyed at myself for ending my meal with them. I could easily have had a real dessert and then ordered these as well.

The toffee pudding was magnificent, the caramel sauce was a light cinder toffee in flavour, leaving a pleasant slightly burned aftertaste. The pudding itself was warm and just like a pudding should be - dense and sticky. And it was topped with a completely unnecessary quenelle of clotted cream, which nevertheless was appreciated as an extra touch of decadence.

Just as anticipated, for me anyway, were the drinks (well, it is a bar!). As it was our breakfast and we were heading to a festival straight after, we didn't want to drink loads while we were in there but I just had to try the full fat old fashioned (rather dear at £12.50 - good job the food was so cheap!). This was butter-infused bourbon with  sugar and I could have drank that all day. It mostly just tasted of whisky of course with just enough sweetness to take away any harshness or burning you might get from drinking hard liquor neat. Is it wrong of me to be proud that was the first thing to pass my lips that day? Gorgeous. Stephen had a Kernel Pale Ale which, at 7% and only costing £5 was quite a good deal.

The bar itself has apparently been redone a bit and is all dark wood and low lighting, meaning we could easily forget it was midday outside and that we shouldn't be drinking whisky cocktails at that hour. And our waitress was incredibly friendly and smiley. I'm so, so happy I went.

Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar on Urbanspoon

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Zoo Lates, 28th June

After having been too late off the mark to get tickets to any of the Zoo Lates last year I was happy to be a bit more on the ball and get some this time around. And at half price too, which is a bargain considering they charge the same amount for a day trip, but which I feel is actually a reasonable amount. £25 seems a bit steep day or night. 

Anyway, the Zoo is open after hours from 6 pm until 10 pm which seems like a lot of time but in reality absolutely flies by. Especially when most of the animals 'go to bed' between 8 and 9 (since when did lions prefer to sleep at night?), meaning that after nine there's not much to do but eat and drink, or perhaps attend the silent disco. (You're lucky if you do this because as there's nothing else to do by this hour, everyone else has gotten there before you and there's a queue to get in.) And it didn't help that there was a large group of us and everyone kept wandering off; we probably squandered a good half an hour trying to reconvene.

We thought we had a pretty good plan as one of our group had been before - see the animals we wanted to see most, first, then maybe some food, and then see the others. We sort of didn't realise there was even any timed feedings and stuff going on, so missed most of those. But we did see the gorillas before they 'went to bed' and then the tigers in their new enclosure. A lot of us saw the Komodo Dragon chomping on the remains of its dinner - a chicken. I managed to miss this delightfully gory sight, sadly. And we saw a few monkeys. Then we decided that we should really get a drink, otherwise we wouldn't feel like we were at an adults-only event, and I was starving and wanted to get some food.

So we went over to the International Street Food area, where I was pleasantly surprised that they had some pretty decent street traders - Fleisch Mob were there, and El Panzon to name a couple. Sadly, the queues were absolutely massive, which put most of us off getting anything. Not me though. I had hangover munchies and it was imperative I get some food. Which lead me to choosing where to eat based on who had the shortest queue, which is pretty much a recipe for disappointment. There's a reason for short queues. I opted for a pulled pork bun, which as I got closer to the front, I realised didn't even look very good in the pictures, and was worse in real life - a dry, floury bun, quite ungenerous portion of dry pulled pork, which was still dry even though I put copious amounts of 'American Hot Chillie' sauce on it, which may as well have been ketchup for all its spiciness. Sad times.

We sat down to watch the cabaret act while I ate. I use the term cabaret loosely here, as the acts were pretty dire. We moved on as soon as the last bite was finished and that is when I think I had my most heartbreaking moment of the night. There were no queues! No queues for ANY of the food! Had I just waited ten more minutes, I could have chosen anything, anything I wanted at all! 

I somehow coped with my disappointment and we went in search of more animals, managing to see the lions - one was being a little bit perky - and do the monkey walk-through before that was shut off. We also saw what was the coolest animal of the night - a giant anteater stalking around in its pen. It had these fabulous markings, and a fabulous tail, never mind its trunklike nose, that we were all enthralled by.

Then the world and his wife went to the reptile house which was the last animal enclosure to shut at 9:30. Baby tortoises were a highlight in there. So cute! Also enjoyed the weird places frogs are happy to loiter if it's damp. 

I feel like I've moaned a lot in this post so you'll probably be surprised that I actually had a pretty fun night. Going to the zoo at night is pure novelty, as you see all the same animals you do in the day, and they aren't really any more active than normal. I've been to a zoo that opened at night in the States and it was intense. You really felt like the animals had come alive and that you were in their territory, not the other way around. This wasn't like that - it's so light at this time of year it still feels like day. But it was fabulous to be able to walk around without a bunch of kids getting in the way, and you got quite a good view of a lot of the animals. And, well, the novelty factor was high and it seemed to carry its weight in making it a fun night. Would I go again? Maybe not. Would I recommend it to someone who hasn't been to the zoo before and wants to see all the animals? No - there isn't time. But for just a fun night with your friends, or maybe a date with a difference, then sure! Just remember - animals first, then drinks and food and disco!