Friday, August 30, 2013

Rinkoff Bakery (Crodoughs), 25th August

If you don't know that the crodough, or doughsant or whatever it is that third place that does them is calling it has landed in the UK then you're probably not much of a foodie. And you won't know that it's supposed to be a cross between a doughnut and a croissant and was invented in New York and patented (copyrighted? whatever) so no one else can use that exact name. But three places over here have come up with their own version and one of those places is a bakery that I used to live literally down the road from. I would never have pegged it as a place to bring an NY trend to London and feel bad I used to walk past it with barely a glance. 

That place is Rinkoff's bakery and it has been going for something like 100 years and is a proper, traditional bakery that, considering how much I loved bread and other baked goods, really deserved my attention before becoming a crodough seller. But I only heard about it due to the crodough and so of course I had to go and try one,

I got there at about 1 pm when it shuts at 2. I thought they might be all out but there were still loads of them! Perhaps the cronut hasn't caused quite the stir I thought it had. There was just one young guy working who seemed kind of sweet if not a little surly due to being at that age when talking to people is kind of awkward. 

They had three flavours on offer - custard, raspberry and apple crumble. I got one custard and one apple and Stephen and I shared them. They also had an interesting looking onion bread but there was only so much dough I felt I should eat in a day, and the crodoughs are pretty hefty. And not cheap - my two cost me just under £6.

But they were delicious. The outside was ever so slightly overdone I would say, which I liked, and the inside had all the different layers you expect from a croissant. To be honest, I saw someone say on Twitter once that they just sounded like yum yums and I think they have a point! But a lot heavier and more filling. The apple crumble one was by far my favourite. It's going to be hard to resist making these a regular feature, knowing they're only a couple of tube stops away!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Harmony and Liberation, 24th August

In about a week I will be going to Torture Garden for the first time. While I'm excited, I'm also a little nervous. What on earth can I wear? 

Well to be honest, I pretty much have my outfit sorted, but my friend had some last bits and pieces to get, which lead us to Soho's seedier side, and to me crossing a couple of things off my List.


We'd tried to go to Breathless in King's Cross but it was shut while it relocated to Euston. So we headed into town to Harmony, the one near Peter Street. It's actually massive in there, complete with a downstairs bit and we spent ages getting sidetracked by all the weird and ermm... not so wonderful things in there. Upstairs there's underwear and some clothing bits and pieces where we quickly saw they didn't have the sort of pasties we were looking for. But we headed downstairs to have a look around anyway. The first thing you seem to come to is the men's 'self-help' section selling everything from cheaper 'pocket pussies' to full on, several-hundred-pounds' worth sex dolls. Or, rather, the sexual parts of the anatamoy - you could buy an ass and pussy, or you could buy a tits and pussy. And they were heavy! I guess all the better to hump against.

They had a huge selection of toys for women and couples, we marveled at some of the ingenious devices in terms of what they did and how they were designed. Some sleek glass-blown dildos caught my eye. They also had quite a few sexy outfits and minor S & M things like bondage tape, handcuffs and a few cat o'nine tails, spanking paddles.

There was honestly a lot more in there than I had expected and of rather good quality. I defintely know where to head should I be in the market for anything like that in the future.


We had been unsuccessful at Harmony but we had a few other places to try such as Kiss Kiss (where the owner told us the government is STILL trying to rid Soho of its sex shops, something probably no one but they wants to happen) and Simply Pleasures where I saw the biggest inflatable penis I have ever seen. It was like an elephant's leg! (ok, maybe not that big, but still - is it supposed to go INSIDE someone??). Simply pleasures was also a little more expensive and playing abominable music so we didn't stay long. But nowhere had the pasties we needed. Our last stop was Liberation.

And of course, as logic permits, the last place we looked had the perfect thing. We rang the bell and the girl let us in. I can see why they have the doorbell, this isn't the sort of place they want any old pervert walking into. This is a boutique fetish/latex store, selling high quality items and some Victorian antique oddities. It's not seedy, or mainstream; it's a really interesting store to look around. We found the pasties immediately but still went downstairs to browse through their selection of latex outfits. Boys and girls are catered for so if you've got a spare couple of hundred quid, and you're in the market for a fetish outfit, I would definitely suggest heading here. They even had a latex version of a boys set of tails, polo shirts, a full suit. It was fantastic. Upstairs they had beautiful collars, cuffs and masks and two latex ties I was tempted to get.

At the back of the basement were some more curios - a sex swing, and an 18th century douche amongst others. Apparently the owner has a bit of a thing for Victoriana and collects things but sometimes puts the odd thing in the shop for sale - there were items in ivory and scrimshaw in the display cases as well.

The sales girls were fantastically friendly and chatty, giving us advice about how to put on the pasties and whether they'd go with the outfit my friend was putting together. If TG is a success and I want to invest some money in more outfits, I'll definitely head here. 

Obviously I didn't think taking pictures was the done thing to do, so go and explore the places for yourselves! Doesn't matter whether you're in a couple or not, they both had something for everyone.

Caravan King's Cross, 24th August

Those Kiwis sure as hell know how to do brunch right. After working up an appetite by visiting the El Bulli exhibition my friend and I headed over to Caravan for one hell of a brunch. There was a bit of a wait so we had a drink next door in The Grain Store. They'd said possibly 40 minutes but it was actually only about 15 in the end. 

I had eaten there before but only for lunch, which was very nice, but brunch really seemed to be the star of the show judging by the menu. I was a little worried how I was going to ever decide what to have though secretly suspected I'd go for the salt beef bubble, even though I'd had a salt beef bagel the night before. But when we got there, it wasn't even on the menu! Oh no - cue paroxysms of indecision!  

Finally, the raclette and spinach french toast leaped out at me. I hadn't had savoury French toast, and I like to be a little adventurous with my choices. With difficulty, I turned my back on the equally delicious-sounding jalapeno cornbread with eggs, black beans and quadrillo peppers. My friend, finally managed to decide on the Caravan Fry. We both got some avocado on the side.

This was silly, and wasteful. We thought we'd get a few slices of avocado on the plate, instead we got two plentiful bowls of mashed up avocado drizzled with olive oil, with lemon and chili. Basically two things of quacamole. It was fabulous, but with our mains being sizable themselves we couldn't in all conscious eat all that avocado as well. So shamed they went to waste. So badly could eat some right now!

Anyway, it was brunch so of course we had to get some alcohol. I got one of the special bloody maries. I can't remember what it was called but it had beef in it. It was delicious. Smoky, and yes, beefy but in a good way, it was both peppery and had a good kick at the back of the throat of spice. They used proper peppercorns and I enjoyed getting the odd one to crunch on.

Alison ordered a glass of prosecco and a coffee. I'm not much of a coffee drinker but even I could appreciate how rich and smooth this one was.

We made many, many groans of pleasure as we ate our brunch. My french toast was basically an over the top toastie, with extra luxury/decadence/full fat?? from using egged-up bread. The salty bacon was perfect with this, as well as the tangy bitterness of the watercress. And of course that fabulous avocado which was a genius addition on our part. 

Alison chose poached eggs for her Carvan Fry which were perfectly done - not overcooked or too wibbly. It also came with mushrooms, some slow roasted tomatoes which I think she said were the highlight and some bacon which had nice crispy bits on the edge (as did mine). Her whole dish sat upon a massive slab of sourdough toast.

We were too stuffed to partake of any more food, more's the pity. That meal will stay with me for a while though... And Alison and I have tabled it as possibly 'our' brunch place in the future being easy to get to for both of us. I'm already looking forward to my return!

Caravan Kings Cross on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Dead Dolls House, 23rd August

I FINALLY got to Dead Dolls House, the new venture by the people behind Dead Dolls Club last Friday night. Every time I made plans to get there, something would crop up to divert me. But I am glad I got there in the end as it is absolutely lovely.

We made it out of the house at about 8:30 and Shoreditch was absolutely heaving. Everyone already seemed wasted. But Stephen and I only really wanted a quiet drink as we had an all-day event on the Saturday so we didn't want to be hungover.

Luckily, Dead Dolls House is a members' bar of sorts. In the first couple of weeks before it opened you could become a member simply by registering your interest (as I did). But if you missed this window then membership is still free - they just request you bring them a gift to make them smile, or add to the beauty of the House. Being a members' bar of course means that you're already going to get a reduced amount of traffic as they don't just let anyone in. Even if they did, unless you already knew the place was there, you never would guess from the outside. To enter you have to ring the doorbell and then the sartorially fabulous doorman will let you in and check whether you have a card already, or need to collect one. If you haven't been before, he'll give you the lowdown on what's on what floor. 

We immediately went to explore a little. The whole place is decorated in the same style as the Dolls Club - absolutely gorgeous stencilling on the walls and pretty lights (see above). The ground floor has a bar and some seating for drinking or eating. Upstairs is the 'dining room' which was empty on this occasion, clearly everyone was more interested in drinking than eating. One floor above this was another bar and then at the very top was a 'bloomin marvellous' roof terrace 'shod' with astroturf and on which blankets (provided) could be unfurled for some al fresco drinking. It was lovely up there, looking down on the revellers who probably had no notion you were up there.

Stephen and I got a couple of drinks from the upstairs bar from the specials board. I had the Baroness - gin, cointreau, peach and lemon. Stephen had the Madame Rose which featured lillet blanc and rose liqueur. We then tried to pay by card but the bartender didn't have a reader upstairs so we had to open a tab. Paying by card was not their strong suit, as when I then tried to add on to our tab later, I was sent upstairs to retrieve it. Then, once I'd ordered, downstairs, the girl had to do some 'ballet' with the card reader to actually get a signal and debit my card. She cheerily complained that they didn't have their own wifi and 'can you imagine what it's like when it's really busy' but it seemed she said this with gritted teeth. 

Stephen and I went for the rum-based cocktail with creme de cacao and maraschino, which apparently hardly ever gets ordered. The girl behind the bar had never had to make it herself before. But she did a very fine job and I thought it was very tasty, probably my favourite of the night - people, get it on your lists.

Dead Dolls House is very gin-centric, which might be why a rum cockrail gets overlooked. As well as the special cocktails they have a page devoted to the different gins they stock, which they will pair with the tonic of your choice and garnish according to the type of gin you have ordered. (I.e., orange peel might go better, or a sprig of rosemary, with lime.) 

We had three drinks in total, which means we sampled almost all of the specials. My last  was a beer cocktail combing kraken (rum again - I love it) and amaretto, ginger and lime. Stephen had the Admiral Bloom (gin, cointreau, lime, strawberries). 

We both very much enjoyed the couple of hours we were in there. It was just what we wanted. I understand it tends to be livelier and there seemed to be enough space to handle a lot more people than were in on the night without it being uncomfortable. We still managed to meet one colourful character who we ended up chatting to - he was into the whole jive/lindy-hop scene and was persuading us to get some lessons and get involved. Then we all went outside to marvel at his bike, which can only be described as bitchin'.

I will definitely be making the Dead Dolls House a local of sorts, it's shaping up to be the area's hottest 'secret'. Each week they have a different pop-up street food trader in the house, as they do at Dead Dolls Club, so there's always a reason to return if you're more interested in food than drink. We didn't end up getting any food - my cocktail did enough to conquer my appetite but the lobster rolls from Roll Up Roll Up that other people were getting looked delicious. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Future Cinema, 21st August

I was invited to attend a gathering on Wednesday night of secret operatives in order to be introduced to the new agent in our midst - Agent Maiya. If that name means nothing to you then you've obviously missed the latest in the Compare the Meerkat advert storylines. For the whole night was a night to generate interest and promotion for Compare the Meerkat (*ahem* Market). But it wasn't some cheesy sales plug and there was (sadly) nary a sight of Sergei. No no, this was done in conjunction with Future Cinema, the partners of Secret Cinema, who also specialise in immersive cinema.

Now, I hadn't been to a Future Cinema event before so I can't extrapolate as to what all their events are like, but if they're even normally a fraction like this one then they are very fun indeed! It's ordinarily Secret Cinema where you don't get told what the movie is before you go, but for this event the film was a mystery. Which was probably apt for a secret spy-themed event. However, we knew it was a spy film from 1996 so we were pretty sure it was Mission Impossible. Not to draw out the suspense - it was.

We were told it was black tie, and although I felt a little weird getting glammed up at 6 pm on a Wednesday (and a little worried no one else would end up making the effort) once we got to the venue I was glad I had as everyone else had too; some were in full-on glitzy floor length gowns complete with long gloves.

Of course the other benefit of everyone adhering to the dress code is that it makes it harder to spot the actors from the attendees. So when one of the men in a suit suddenly bursts into a sprint it is a bit of a surprise. Sometimes, though, you can get a feel for who is a part of Future Cinema. When a shady character in big overcoat approached me and Stephen as we arrived, I knew it wasn't some East End weirdo. He advised me - without drawing attention of course - to drop my date should any trouble occur.

Little touches like this happened all throughout the leadup to the movie. Our names were checked off lists several times. The official reason for the event was 'the Ambassador's party'. As we entered I shook hands with the hostess who asked me how I knew the Ambassador. 'Distant cousins' I replied. 'Are you sure?' she asked me, fixing me with a stare and not letting go of my hand. 'Very distant' I answered and was finally let in, where, at the bottom of the stairs the Ambassador himself greeted us and welcomed us in, kissing my hand as you would expect an aristocrat to do. While we were seated the same guy from outside came by, reminding me to drop Stephen should the need arrive. Soon after a blond man accosted me - 'What did he say to you, that man?' he asked in a Russian accent. 'Nothing! Nothing at all', I lied. It made you feel part of the performance and get into the swing of things. 

I should mention the venue - it was held at the Troxy, a venue I have wanted to go to for some time. Can't believe it wasn't actually on my List. The venue is absolutely stunning. Much bigger than I imagined. With tables and chairs and a couple of bars set up it was a most impressive setting. We really did feel like special guests at a swanky do.

I managed to go to the bathroom just when they did one of their set pieces before the movie started during which Ferrero Rocher (oh Ambassador you spoil us) were strewn around the floor. Luckily Stephen nabbed me one. 

And then it was almost time for the movie to begin, but first we had an introduction from Miss Liz Hurley herself and a short speech from Agent Maiya telling us how female agents are the way to go in the Meerkat world. And then it was time for Mission Impossible.

You might think that was where anything of note ended and you just settled in to watch the movie. Not so. Even throughout they would have people recreating scenes, such as people crawling through the tables, or they had rigged up 'explosions' to match the explosions on film. So even though you had likely seen the movie already, there were plenty of surprises to keep you interested. The best by far was the recreation of the famous download of the NOC list where Tom Cruise is suspended in the 'impenetrable' atrium. They meticulously copied the whole thing in front of the screen on stage.

It was definitely a good thing if you had seen the movie before because most of the audience clearly weren't interested in paying attention to it and talked through the whole thing, making it rather difficult to hear. I knew the movie very well, but my boyfriend had only seen it once before so I kept having to tell him what was going on. 

I really enjoyed it and it made me wonder what a Future Cinema event that wasn't a special PR event would be like. I am now regretting that I can't make the next one - they're giving Dirty Dancing the Future Cinema treatment and that is one of my favourite movies!

So, thank you Agent Maiya and good luck with your mission.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Barrio East, 10th August

I had a great time at Barrio East last week for my birthday and from the sounds of it, so did everyone else. There were a couple of things that made me pause for thought but mostly the evening was a success.

Firstly, I'd enquired about booking an area for about 30 people. They didn't have anywhere big enough available (or perhaps big enough period) but I was given some tables in the 'Timber Room' that could seat 12 comfortably. I figured that would be fine - and it was. We just needed somewhere to stash our stuff and where we could sit to eat if anyone ordered food. I wanted people to mingle so didn't really want somewhere everyone would be sitting the whole night.

Also, I wanted to book it from 7 pm but I could only reserve from 8. Again, this didn't turn out to be a problem as when we got there at 7, no one was using our table so we just claimed it straight away. Apparently my boyfriend and a couple of people were asked a few times while I was at the bar if they knew the area was reserved and they were like, yes - for us! But I guess that would have been good had there been usurpers.

I got there at about 7:15 and was asked whether I had a reservation and if all of my party was with me. I explained that my reservation wasn't until 8 anyway and they just let us in but it did make me wonder what they would have said if I had turned up with only the four of us at 8 with everyone else to come. After all, most parties don't arrive en masse at the first port of call.

I'd been told there was a £250 minimum spend which I was a little worried about. Not worried about spending that much - I knew me and my friends would easily pass that target, just about the bar knowing it was my party that was spending it. It did all get a big confusing - they suggested we all stay at the table and let the waitress take our orders so they knew to which party the tab belonged, but the waitress barely ever came over so everyone started ordering at the bar and I was worried the system might fail. But the guy behind the bar said that, to be honest, they only tend to strictly enforce the minimum spend when it's obvious someone hasn't brought along as many people as they'd promised. Considering there were probably at least 30 people in there that could say they were there for my birthday, I didn't have to worry about that!

Revellers on the dance floor
A few of us got food at various points of the evening. I got the reina pepida I'd spied when I first looked at the menu though it turned out to be completely different to what I'd imagined. I thought it would be a single roll, a bit like a burger but instead it was about five mini rolls, with chicken and avocado in them. They were tasty but the cornbread was a little dry. Luckily my friend's tacos came with salsa that she didn't want so I nicked that. Would really suggest they include that as standard. They also missed off my order but I'm happy to report that they took it off the bill when they brought it which I always think is nice (even if I kind of expect some sort of gesture like that). The food isn't really what you go to Barrio East for - it's just something fun and easy to eat while you're drinking the cocktails, of which I had several, mostly from the happy hour list - we took full advantage of that.

I think it is brilliant of them that they have a happy hour every single day from 4 until 8pm, when you can get cocktails for £4.95. They had a couple of classics (like the mojito I had) and a couple of more interesting, fruity numbers (which I also had). I started with a Pitufina - tequila, lychee and passion fruit, and followed that with a Hawaii-n-dry - vodka, grapefruit and guava. Very tropical!

I was worried the night was going to get crazy busy and my late-arriving friends wouldn't get in but there didn't seem to be any real problems. I think one girl had to wait in line for a bit which was a little cheeky. It was busy inside but not rammed - the area we were seated at in fact became quite empty later on in the night as people moved to the dance floor.

I'm afraid I don't remember much of what was played, other than it made me want to dance, and dance a lot, and that's all that matters really. The brave amongst us were already dancing by around 10:30 and the rest of us soon joined them until at some point we decamped to that old chestnut - Ye Olde Axe.

So yes, just happy memories from the night, I think this is a good place to go for a large crowd - it was mainstream but not too cheesy, had a good atmosphere, just seemed to be about having a good time. Thanks guys!

Barrio East on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jubo, 17th August

I had somewhere I needed to be at 9 so I was keen on getting to Jubo fairly early. Not quite as early as we were, as we managed to get there literally as it opened and were the first to arrive, which kind of buggered up our ordering. We wanted to try the pork buns but as they'd only just opened the kitchen, they would have been a half an hour wait so we didn't get them - we got more chicken instead. This may have been a blessing in disguise.

So, we had a seat while they finished properly opening up and ordered a drink. Stephen got a Korean beer (£3.50) and I had a glass of Merlot (£5). We looked over the menu and eventually made our choices to get a variety of what was on offer.

We ordered 4 chicken wings - two soy garlic, two hot and sour, the bulgogi sandwich, some kimchi slaw and two pork buns. When we decided not to wait for those, we swapped them out for three hot and sour chicken strips and some chips. The steak buns weren't available that night as they didn't have the steak for them (though, weirdly, this didn't affect the bulgogi rolls). 

The chips came out first and they were not a good opening salvo. They were clearly some form of frozen 'steak fries' not made on the premises. I mean, yeah, they tasted ok, but you don't go out to eat oven chips you could have made at home. They were also way too salty. Coming soon after were the kimchi slaw and the wings.

The wings were gargantuan. And not split into their composite parts, which was a shame, as I'm a bit squeamish about pulling bones apart. I got Stephen to do it for me. They had a very crispy batter, glazed with the different flavours, and the hot and sour ones came with sesame seeds. A nice touch. These were both really tasty, I preferred the hot and sour versions, as the soy garlic ones were a smidgen too sweet to eat a lot of. Happily, when we ordered the chicken strips, we'd chosen the hot and sour version. These were by far the best dish to come out - such huge strips of chicken we thought they must be on a bone. But they weren't! Inside was juicy breast and/or thigh meat, with the crispy skin all over the outside. Fantastic.

The coleslaw was nice, it did have a different taste to it that had to be attributed to the kimchi, but this could have been stronger. The bulgogi was also fine to eat - I liked the roll it came in, it was just what I picture when thinking about 'subs' but it could have done with a bit more filling  On the other hand, the steak inside wasn't fantastic so maybe there was enough of it! It either was overcooked, or of not great quality (or both) as it was quite chewy. Stephen would like it known that he thought this was worse than a Subway steak 'n' cheese sandwich but I don't think anything is worse than that.

The chicken they do very well and I would go back for that, the rest left us dissatisfied. Of course, they have only just opened, so there is plenty of room and time for improvement and perhaps this is the peril you face when you go to a soft opening. Speaking of which, the bill was quite a good consolation as they have 28% off until Thursday so we only paid £15 each including service. Even without the discount the prices were very reasonable, with the most expensive thing being the rolls which were £6.50. 

Jubo on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ruby's, 8th August

As I was saying to my friends, when I go to a new cocktail bar, I rarely have the same cocktail twice - I want to try as many different ones as possible, and invariably whoever I'm with tries different ones to me as well so we try a full range. So it says something about how much I liked the chilli apple martini that, once I'd had it for my first 'round' I decided to end with it too. And so did my boyfriend.

If Ruby's was a piece of furniture, it would be described as 'distressed'. But you get the feeling that, unlike with designer furniture, no process or procedure has been applied to Ruby's to create this look - this is just how it is. There's attention to detail (take a trip to the bathroom to see that no space has been left forgotten) but there's no pretension to the place. 

I see Ruby's described frequently as East London's best secret and worried that this wasn't so. We went at about 9:30 on a Thursday night and my fear was that it would be packed (you couldn't make bookings after nine). We could hear a little hubbub as we went down the stairs but - hallelujah - there were plenty of tables free. It got busier as the night wore on but it was by no means heaving. It had enough people to create an atmosphere but few enough that the waitress wasn't overwhelmed and came back at about the right frequency to get us drinks when we wanted them.

We ended up having three drinks apiece in there before closing time. They're very reasonably priced for a cocktail bar. Mostly around £9. Like I said, I had the chilli apple martini to start, which was garnished with a chilli on the side. Just hanging there I couldn't resist but to take a bite - I figured they wouldn't use a chilli TOO hot for a garnish. I was wrong. One tiny bite from the end was all I could really take, though I did use it to stir my martini which imparted some extra heat.

It was such a good creation - you could definitely taste the vanilla which of course gave the cocktail a sweet flavour but the bite of the chilli tempered this so that it didn't feel like a 'dessert' cocktail. And the apple taste was the main flavour.

Stephen had a morello julep because he likes cherries so much, but as with most juleps it mostly tasted of alcohol with the cherry flavour just lending it enough sweetness to take off the roughness of the bourbon. The pepper sprinkled on top was a nice touch when you got some of the ice on which it had settled. 

I think I had the apricot cooler for my second drink, and it was nice but I can't remember much about it. This isn't to say this was a bad drink, I know it wasn't - I would have remembered it vividly if it had been, but it was eclipsed by, you guessed it, that martini. Stephen had the rhubarb sour which sort of suffered the same fate.

The cocktail list is relatively short, which I liked as it made choosing much easier. I can see myself making a beeline for this place in the cold winter nights, to bask in its cosy dim where I can happily work my way through the cocktail list developing a 'beer coat' especially in the winter when its cosy intimate aura will be like a warm blanket. 

Square Meal

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Oui Madame, 8th August

After my exhilarating white water Duck Tour adventure, I was whisked off to Dalston for a night out there followed by a stay in the Avo boutique hotel. I won't go into too much detail on the hotel as it wasn't on the List, but it was very cute, a fantastic location and I quite liked the breakfast, though the guy on reception could do with improving his warmth and people skills.

Anyway so next on the agenda was dinner at Oui Madame! This was such a French-feeling restaurant - superfriendly and homely. It had two sections to the restaurant - we were at the front where it opens out onto the street giving the inside a bit of a cafe/bistro feel. The back half felt more like a 'proper' restaurant. 

The back side
So we got there and were given a very friendly welcome, helped by the fact I was beaming myself. We'd been running a little late and had asked if we could push the reservation back by half an hour, which they accommodated with no problem at all. I do not know for certain but I would guess that the restaurant is run by the man and woman, presumably husband and wife who were the front of house staff. The normal menu is a small plates menu, but you can also have a set menu of three courses for £23. There are no choices for the starter or dessert but you have a choice of three mains (one of which is vegetarian). This menu I also presume changes fairly frequently and was written up on a chalk board, which the host carried to each table to display. 

It felt very much like you were at his house and he was treating you to dinner as he bustled around, showing off the specials board, greeting diners, and swigging from the glass of wine he kept close to hand on the counter. I fell in love with the place even without trying any of the food.

Happily, the food was also a joy to eat. It's not fine dining - it wouldn't win Michelin stars - but it was good, homemade food, just the sort of thing you'd want from a neighbourhood restaurant. I keep wanting to say the cuisine was French, but actually there was quite an Italian feel to the menu. The starter was a gazpacho and the dessert was salted caramel pannacotta. 

We had one each of the main meat dishes - pork loin for Stephen and beef for me. 

The tomato gazpacho came with sardine rillete on toast, which turned out to be far too fishy for me, but appreciated for that very reason by Stephen so he had mine, leaving me with the toast it was served on. This had been sprinkled with some sort of seed (I think pumpkin or linseed), giving it an added nutty dimension. The gazpacho was beautifully fresh-tasting, dotted with basil and (perhaps) further tomato oil which dispersed into the soup. It had a deep garlic flavour and was like eating liquid bruschetta. I loved it.

Pretty gazpacho!
I had mainly chosen the beef over the pork because it came with potato dauphinoise. It was also accompanied by a blue cheese sauce, and what turned out to be a basil sauce as well. This basil sauce seemed to be a signature of their plates as it appeared on Stephen's pork dish too. Both of us agreed that it was delicious but we couldn't quite work out its relationship to the other food on the plate. Stephen's pork came with roasted tomatoes, and unsurprisingly the basil went a treat with those, but didn't really pair with the pork so much. I thought it complemented my beef quite well but clashed with the very cheesy and creamy blue cheese sauce and potatoes. Each plate was almost like two dishes in one.

Pork loin
My steak was cooked very well (by that I mean medium rare) and the potato dauphinoise were creamy without being too stodgy, with a crispy potato layer on top. Stephen had forgotten his pork was loin rather than shoulder and wsa about to moan at me that it was a little dry in parts before remembering that was a likely characteristics of this cut. I must admit when our plates were first set down I had a pang of food envy and flirted with preferring his dish over mine after I'd had a bite of the edge of his loin - caramelized and crunchy round the edges. But I think my beef was probably more consistently good.

Our dessert reminded us a bit of the dessert we'd had at Flat Iron. Stephen fulfilled the role of food critic here by trying each element and pronouncing that individually they were all delicious and… together they were still delicious! We had a blackberry sorbet with the chantilly and pannacotta, which tasted great but sadly was a bit too authentic for me. Horrible seeds kept getting in my teeth so I gave mine to Stephen. (Only the sorbet, I ate the other stuff!)

We had planned to get a cheese course as well but I was feeling pretty comfortably full by then and didn't want to push it. I knew we were going for cocktails after and I didn't want to feel bloated and destroy my further enjoyment of cocktails.

We foolishly started perusing the food as soon as we sat down instead of the drinks so when our drinks order was taken, I ordered in a bit of a rush, picking the biodynamic wine just because I hadn’t had one before. Stephen admonished me, saying I should have remembered they have a reputation for being awful, but our hostess (naturally) said it was a fine choice and that you can drink bottles of the stuff without getting a hangover. We only had the one bottle to share, but it was very drinkable, nice and dry, and I didn’t have a headache at all the next day so maybe it can take some of the credit for that.

We didn’t have any cocktails because a) they were all quite absinthe-based and b) we were having cocktails later, but I did love that one was called the Oui Madame!, and one was called the Non Monsieur!.

And weirdly, the bathroom deserves a special mention for being somewhat out-of-the-ordinary. A huge feather duster hung from the ceiling as the light switch, it was illuminated by a soft red glow and on the whole felt a bit like walking into a sex dungeon. I tried to take a picture but it doesn’t do it justice.

Apparently downstairs they have exhibitions and whatnot (which is how I first heard of the place). It’s a little far up Kingsland Road, pretty much straddling Dalston and Stoke Newington but I would say it is well worth the extra walk.

In short I say, Oui Madame? A thousand times oui!

Oui Madame on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

London Duck Tour, 8th August

So, Thursday was my birthday and my boyfriend came up with an amazing day for me, which chiefly consisted of doing things on my List! First up, after a deliciously massive sausage sandwich for breakfast (not a euphemism) was a Duck Tour.

Stephen had done especially well with this, as only the other day (but after he had booked it) we spotted one in London and I reaffirmed to him how much I wanted to give it a try.

The London Duck tours are an alternative way of doing a sightseeing tour of London. You board an amphibious vehicle (ours was Elizabeth) to drive around some of the London streets and then after about half an hour of that the 'bus' goes straight into the Thames, with only a change of driver to mark the transition from road to waves.

These 'boats' are fun enough to be on anyway, but it's even cooler when you think about their origin - they were used to transport soldiers over for D-Day - and picture what it would have been liked in their original guise. They're now painted bright yellow and are much more cheerful and comfortable than they would have been during wartime. There are seats, for example.

I had sort of forgotten that it was a tour, focused as I was on the bit where you seamlessly go from land to water. But it is a tour and therefore there is a tour guide. The guy we had was a rather cheeky, tattooed chappie who reminded us of Alex Zane both in terms of looks and patter. As it turned 1 o'clock and we prepared to start, we were treated to him singing the Rocky theme and then a countdown to the start of the tour as the lights went green. We went around the streets of Westminster while our guide fed us tidbits of information about the buildings and area we were passing, and also incorporating some truly awful jokes. (What do you call an exploding monkey? A ba-boom! *Groan* )

Some of the bytes of information held a tenuous grip on reality (one building was pointed out as being Hogwarts) but there were quite a few other interesting things of note that I hadn't heard of about London before. He focused quite a bit on the Houses of Parliament as we went by, pointing out that the monarch is only allowed in the House of Lords - the last time one went into the House of Commons, he ended up dead. And we all got to grumble at the number of bars (19) there are, and how cheap the pints are (something like £1.60). He also told us all the rhymes about the Lions on the banks of the Thames which are purportedly there to monitor the river levels. It's said that 'if the lions drink, London will sink'. One of my favourite pieces of information was that Florence Nightingale introduce the 'no drinking' in surgery rule for all her nurses. Amazing what wasn't considered common sense back then. And we also went past the Archbishop of Canterbury's house - Lambeth Palace, which I had never even noticed before. 

Steps for the Queen to get to Parliament by river
Stephen and I were probably the only non-tourists on board, and there were a few families as well who were well catered for as we were all encouraged to 'Quack'  and flap our wings at other Duck boats we come across or gawping tourists we passed (the Duck boats attract a lot of attention). The children took to this with aplomb as you can imagine, but even some of the adults (ok, maybe me once or twice) joined in and flapped their arms.

And of course, there was the bit I had most highly anticipated - driving straight into the water. This is quite an odd but fun transition as on the road you're quite high up yet when you go into the water, the boat sinks pretty far in. The pictures probably don't convey how close you feel to the water. With no stretching you would have been able to submerge your hand (the water being a very murky brown, I felt no such urge). You also go from driving around London at a normal speed to crawling along the Thames at a snail's pace. The water was a little choppy - especially when a barge went by dragging containers and created lots of waves and breaks in the water. I sat next to the open space that acts as a window and got quite splashed. It felt like an essential part of the experience. You spend about another half an hour on the water before going back to the original embarking point.

I really enjoyed my duck tour, and the novelty of being on both land and sea. I think this is a great way to see London - a fun alternative to the hop on/hop off buses with the added bonus of giving our military vehicles a new lease of life. I do hate things going to waste. 

Anyone else been? Or are there any other different tours I should add to the List?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Death by Burrito, 7th August

We got over to Catch at about 6:15. There were only a couple of other people in the place so we were told to just grab a seat and were asked if we were eating. We most certainly were. 

I'd done a little research on the place and commonly came across the fact that the burrito was £12 and therefore ridiculously expensive, that the service was pretty poor and cocktails miniscule. None of these things were true of my visit.

I greedily looked at the menu and decided that everything sounded really good. But Stephen wouldn't allow me to order anything other than a main, as it was the day before my birthday and we had 'three days of eating and drinking ahead of us'. Party-pooper. He also came to regret this, as Death by Burrito is rather a misnomer. Perhaps 'Minor injury by burrito' or 'Inconvenience by Burrito' would be more apt. Suggesting that you will die by burrito implies these will be so bursting and so hearty that you'll be rendered incapacitated. In fact, they were probably the smallest burritos we have ever had. 

Fairly tall cocktail
We got one beef burrito for £9.50 and one order of tacos for £6.50. That gives you two tacos so we had one each and split the burrito, which handily came cut in half already. And that was all. I had expected we would also get some blue corn tortillas and quacamole with our mains, as that is what I'd read but I can only assume that the trade-off from reducing the price was that you don't get any extras with it anymore. 

The tacos and the burrito were fairly equally delicious. The short rib was perhaps a little drier than other burritos but this could partly have been because the burrito is made up of all meat plus some lettuce - no refried or black beans providing any other moisture. But not having any of these usual extras means the burrito is very compact and not as filling as the ones you get... well... anywhere else. So even at £9.50 the price tag is still a little steep. A nice touch was the shredded sweet potato which wasn't just a gesture but a discernible texture and flavour that complemented the smoky short rib really well. The burrito came with a pot of fiery salsa on the side, which was delicious, but the serving was tiny, and it was in a very impractical container - dipping your burrito in it was quite the task and you weren't provided with any other means of getting the sauce onto anything.  

Item 1 (burrito) does not fit into item 2 (salsa)
The pork tacos were very juicy, sitting on the right amount of coleslaw. Pieces of crackling were dotted throughout providing a very pleasant crunch, in, I'd say, every other mouthful. For tacos, they were quite generously portioned (compare to the size of Breddo's tacos for example) but only having two of them meant they still weren't all that filling.

I fear we did not do DBB justice, again succumbing to the tyranny of our waistlines and wallets. Judged on these two dishes alone, the food was very tasty and I wish we had tried some of the other things on the menu. The courgette flower and poblano crepes for instance, or the chipotle poppers on the small plates side (all only £6.00). Yes, the burritos are a little pricier than, say, Luardos or Chipotle but when I'm getting dinner out, not just some food on the go for lunch, I don't really mind a little extra cost. We still only spent about £8 between us on food, my cocktail is what bumped the bill up past the £20 mark. 

Must admit, the cocktail I ordered from the DBB menu (see above) was nice but probably not worth inflating your bill for. I had the pink paloma, for £7.50 which was tequila, 'raspberry and aperol charged with homemade vanilla salted grapefruit soda'. I didn't really detect anything exotic about the soda but as I said it was nice enough to drink. Some of Catch's own creations sounded even better, I'd give them a try next time. 

Death by Burrito on Urbanspoon

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