Friday, September 27, 2013

Crazy Bear and The Lucky Pig, 24th September

I've been lucky enough to be one of the seemingly legion of people who are taking part in the Chambord Cocktail Challenge. The arduous task is to visit eight different cocktail bars in the Fitzrovia area, have two free cocktails and then rate each venue on their cocktail-making abilities. Every bar is supposed to serve you a Chambord Glamour and then another one that they have invented using Chambord. Each bar signs your 'passport' to prove you've been there. It's been a great excuse to discover some new bars, and happily, two of the bars taking part were already on my List so I got to try them out without taking too much of a hit on my wallet.

We actually started out at Oskar's bar below Dabbous, which was a very comfortable, stylish place, and given the hype of the restaurant, we expected the cocktails to be sky-high in price. Not so - at about £10 they were less than you'd spend in a place like Worship Street Whistling Shop. Our cocktails were beautiful and the bartender was friendly (in all three places we sat in the best seats of the house - the bar). I can't wait to go back and we only ventured on as I wanted to get through a couple more places in my 'passport'.

DIY cocktail
Finished result

Square Meal

Then we moved on to Crazy Bear.

Crazy Bear

On the one hand you can hardly miss it, with its wall of lights signifying its existence, on the other hand if you're looking for a sign to tell you you're in the right place, you'll be looking for a while. Instead a paw mark denotes your location and it was only as we crossed the threshold that I saw the name on the floor as you go in. The cocktail lounge is downstairs, with the restaurant upstairs and it is a hugely glamorous, seductive room with lots of plus booths that were occupied with snogging couples. Music is up-tempo house so it felt like the weekend even though it was only a Tuesday night. This is definitely the sort of place to take a date if you want to impress - and with a similarly impressive price tag on the drinks. Cocktails are the order of the day here and prices start at £12.95 for your normal martinis and other classics and range all the way up to £18.95 for 'luxury' cocktails. Luckily, as we were there for the Chambord challenge we didn't have to fork out these prices, although with such interesting creations I was sorely tempted. If it hadn't been the night before payday when I was pretty brassic, I probably would have gone for one (a cheap one). Instead we enjoyed our freebies, which were possibly the favourites of the night, and managed to look like total freeloaders by ordering some pistachios that turned out to be complimentary. At least, I hope they were as we didn't pay for those either! If I had some cash to splash I would definitely return here - my marmalade concoction was the standout drink for the evening and I bet some of their other creations are just as good, if not better.

One last thing to mention is probably the toilets. This must be the reason behind the use of 'Crazy' in the title. Firstly you have to find them, which is no mean feat, as the doors merge seamlessly into the walls (one of the bartenders kindly showed me the way) and then you walk into a Hall of Mirrors. It is advisable to feel your way along otherwise you might just walk into the wall as I nearly did! All the mirrors make it seem there is a space where there is none. The sinks are rather flash with an automatic waterfall to wash your hands in. So very, very glam!

Square Meal

The Lucky Pig

From one extreme to another (yet still with an animal theme I'm just realising) - whereas Crazy Bear was all about dressy excess and exotic drinks, The Lucky Pig is a casual establishment more focused on having a good time. It serves classic cocktails and they're all a much more manageable £9.50. But, again, we were here for the Challenge so at first we didn't look at the regular menu. Instead, upon proffering my Chambord passport, I was shown a specially created Chambord menu with four to choose from. Contrary to the rules we didn't have the Chambord Glamour 'control cocktail' as one of the cocktails - instead I had a julep and Stephen had an Isadora Belle - a fruity number with bubbles.

Both were very nice to drink and persuaded us to have another from their regular menu. We decided to stick to traditional gender roles for this - Stephen had a masculine old fashioned and I had a feminine cocktail that blended wine with mango vodka and elderflower. It was a cool and refreshing drink but still a little spiky from the vodka. Stephen's old fashioned was a very good one, not being too overpoweringly straight alcohol but still plenty strong.

We then chatted to the bartender quite a bit who was telling us about what goes on each day of the week and the ethos of the bar being about somewhere you can have a dance on the weekends while still enjoying a good drink. The bar decor itself reflected this - it was definitely channelling the distressed glamour look that Shoreditch and Dalston do so well. It reminded us of Ruby's although in this case, the look was undoubtedly manufactured. The music, even on a Tuesday was fairly crowd-pleasing - some Alt J, a little James Brown, Ray LaMontagne. I can imagine them playing more of the same, but more upbeat on the weekends.

Finally we stopped off for a 'regular drink' (read: beer and wine) at The Albany which we discovered when we went there for Scared to Dance

Fitzrovia has impressed me in general with all of its cocktail places (I am counting Shochu among them) and there is a bounty of nice places to eat. I feel a Fitzrovia night out coming on...

Square Meal

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fernandez and Wells, 23rd September

On Monday night I think I rather spectacularly failed to make the most of my visit to Fernandez & Wells (Lexington Street). I have wanted to go to one of the branches for ages, since being told what great wine they did. And then, when I finally did go, I didn't even have any wine! 

I was seeing a friend I hadn't seen in almost a year and there was so much to catch up on, we spent the first half an hour talking before we even looked at the menus. I did, however, order something to eat - the name of which has escaped me - a vegetable ragout of peppers and onions with a poached egg on top and served with some toasted sourdough bread. It was very tasty, although I must admit, I thought a bit of spice to it - either in the form of chillies, or black pepper, or some spicy chorizo - would have been a welcome addition. It was still very nice to eat and not a bad price at £8.00. My friend ordered the raclette which was a very generous amount of melted cheese all over more sourdough bread and topped with cornichons.

And then we chatted and chatted some more, and by the time I said I was going to get myself a glass of wine, the staff were basically winding down for the evening and were at the other end of the bar doing the washing up. In a way it was quite nice that they left us to it and didn't pester us to order more once our food was done - clearly, if you want somewhere to while away a few hours this is the place to go. On the other hand, I thought maybe just asking us if there was anything else we wanted wouldn't have gone amiss. They would have got an extra bit of money out of me for it. There were plenty of people in there solo, reading or doing a bit of work with a small plate and a glass of wine. When we got there it was still fairly busy but by 8:30 or so, it was practically empty so it's a pretty good place to go later in the evening for a quiet drink and a bite to eat.

Fernandez & Wells on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mockingbird, 22nd September

Sometimes what you need as a pick-me-up to combat the Sunday blues is tapas and cocktails. Which is exactly what Mockingbird provides. Having not seen my best friend for a little over a week (we consider that a long time now she's in London) a catch up provided the perfect excuse to indulge a little on a Sunday.

We had an early dinner so got to Mockingbird at about 5:30. There were a few people inside and all of the outside seats were taken but it was far from busy. As we perused the menu, mouths salivating and eyes opening in joy at the many references to bread, we found it hard to narrow it down. We decided to pick a couple of dishes to start with and then add to that if we needed any more.

So first, probably my two favourite dishes - bifinhos and tortilla. The tortilla was a basic Spanish omelette with potatoes and onions. The bifinhos were slices of beef on bageutte topped with melting brie and a padron pepper, and drizzled with oil. A simple dish but really enjoyable to eat. Likewise the tortilla, which was a really good sized for sharing. All the dishes in fact were large enough to be shared without feeling gypped - we only ordered four dishes between the two of us in the end but I felt more than full. Makes a nice change from eating in 'small plates' restaurants and still feeling hungry but not wanting to order any more because of the prohibitive cost.

Our second two dishes were the croquetas con pollo and the langostinas. Both came with aioli (which could have been a little more garlicky in my opinion). The prawns came skewered together and peeled garnished with (which is what drew us to the dish) grated egg! It worked rather well but after having two or three of them I realised my allergy was kicking in and I had to give the rest to my friend in exchange for more balls. It's always good to have more balls. These were quite dense balls of shredded chicken, and with the addition of some salsa that we requested, a pretty tasty snack.

We accompanied our dinner with a couple of glasses of white wine, but decided that for 'dessert' we should have a cocktail. Most of them are very reasonably priced between 5 and 7 pounds, cover the expected mojitos and sangria but with a few more interesting concoctions such as the Micelada that I had and the Santiago which Alison had. The Micelada is a beer based cocktail (that's the second I've had recently after Dead Dolls House!). It's like a bloody mary but with beer instead of vodka - so it has tomato juice, lime, some spices and hot sauce. It was very peppery. If beer always tasted like this, I'd be a convert.

Alison's Santiago had a reassuringly bourbon taste to it that was lifted and sweetened by the cranberry juice, cucumber and grapefruit juice. It was very refreshing without being too much like lemonade.

Mockingbird may not have provided culinary fireworks but it did provide solid, filling good cooking for reasonable prices. I'd happily go back. I caught a glimpse of the homemade nachos which looked reassuringly fried!

Three drinks meant we weren't in the mood to go home so we headed off to the Ridley Road Market Bar where we were offered a taster of their well-priced wine before ordering a carafe, and finished off the night with a £5 mojito each. It's such a cute, quirky little bar - with its Hawaiian/tropical feel you wouldn't expect to find it tucked past all the smelly fishmongers!

Mockingbird on Urbanspoon

Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

God's Own Junkyard, 21st September

On Saturday I stepped into a funfair of neon. At least, that's what it felt like. it was the closing weekend of God's Own Junkyard before the site is turned into flats so I had to get up there and see this little wonder before it was gone for good.

I'm glad I did and if it were still open I would encourage anyone to make the trip to Walthamstow just to see it. In fact, the workshop will be open for a few weeks more, although the junkyard bit is no longer open to the public and the many, many signs housed there are being moved into storage. 

Basically, inside and out is stuffed with signage, many of it neon. The ones inside are lit up in what feels like an exhibition, the ones outside are mainly piled on top of one another, although there is a fun 'shrine' to the J-dog in a shed which is all lit up.

All these neon signs together are quite wondrous. There are signs that used to be in seedy soho advertising Girls Girls Girls plus other signs commissioned for stores and shows. I spotted several of the lights that were used in the Crazy Horse show that Stephen and I went to see last year (Sexy and Peekaboo). The Peekaboo one is actually my twitter avatar though this one was laying disused behind the others. The place feels like a cross between a museum and an art installation. 

Really good fun. I hope they find somewhere else to set up shop.For now, let me leave you with some more pictures...

Similar to the one in Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Punch Drunk, 18th September

I hadn't seen a Punch Drunk show before as they've been quite inactive over here since I first heard of them but judging by The Drowned Man they are clearly maestros of immersive theatre. This was a truly impressive piece of performance and I don't want to spoil it by giving too much away however, there may be some spoilers in terms of the experience as a whole.

You know pretty much nothing when you turn up but if you know anyone who has already been they will have probably given you one piece of advice - pick a character and follow them, regardless of what your companions do. This is sage advice.

Another thing which I shall reveal without giving too much away is the fact that you wear a mask when you are inside which you are forbidden from taking off. You are also prohibited from talking. You probably shouldn't talk during performances no matter what kind they are, but here as you are a 'part' of it all it is even more important. There is very little temptation to chat though because you will have probably lost all your mates within five minutes anyway.

The 'set' is huge, ranging over four floors. You are encouraged to explore the sets and wander around completely at your leisure; pick things up, read things, sit on the furniture and wait for the action to come to you if you choose. I chose to try to follow the narrative by following characters and therefore didn't explore that many of the sets whereas some of my friends did basically the opposite. The whole experience lasts three hours if you get an early timed ticket but that is still no way near enough time to see it all. They have created a whole world in there. And it is stunning. The amount of detail put into settings that aren't even used for the main storyline - that are 'merely' there for atmosphere and background is amazing. Smells and sounds give each area a distinct feel. And the whole thing is a dark, desolate and creepy. You may be encouraged to explore everywhere but you might not want to!

The masks make you simultaneously an active part of the performance yet also detach you from the action, giving you into a fly-on-the-wall perspective. You can get as close to the actors as you like, and it awakens in you an unnerving feeling of voyeurism; you do feel like you're watching private lives that aren't meant to be observed. On the other hand, if you want to follow a specific arc, you have to follow the actors. And they don't hang around - they make the use of all the space - the storyline sprawls across floors and through all different rooms and they move quickly. When you and several others rush after them, you feel like they are running away from you, that you are purposefully pursuing them, that it's you that is driving them on to whatever next might befall them. Additionally, wandering into one of the rooms on your own, you may come upon your fellow theatre-goers already there. Coming across one sole masked person in the dark, or several just standing there, waiting, is an effective part of the show in and of itself. 

The 'soundtrack' plays a huge part as though there is some speaking, most of the drama is conveyed through dance. Underscoring the whole thing is a droning, menacing noise peaking and falling. It's textbook horror-movie scoring and it can easily put you on edge and build the tension to what you are witnessing. 

And yes, I said this is more 'dance' than 'drama'. I can almost hear some groans but believe me it is not at all cheesy or 'interpretive'. It's fun, sometimes sexy, sometimes more like acrobatics than dance, and it means that even if you aren't right next to them, you can understand what is happening. This is also helped by the fact you are given an outline to the story before you go in. There are actually two main storylines that occur around you, with subplots within them. 

If you manage to follow one story the whole way through then hats off to you. I determined to follow one character but I soon lost them and just arbitrarily picked up the trail of someone else. This does lead to some of what you're watching not making a lot of sense, but I managed to end up in the storyline I began in, and felt like I'd watched almost a full, complete narrative arc. 

There's no right or wrong way to do it though - in fact if you're not fussed about seeing a storyline from beginning to end then chopping and changing the characters you follow is the best way to see snippets of everything on offer. If you just follow one there is lots you could end up not seeing (as one of my friends did). Unless you ignore their advice and stick staunchly with your friends, no two experiences will be alike. I went with a big group of people and some of the fun was comparing notes afterwards. While some of us had seen some of the same things, we all had seen things the others hadn't.

I absolutely recommend going to see this while you can. I'm even considering going back to see a bit more of the other plots and to explore the scenery in more detail, although I must admit the cost of the tickets is making me think twice. [Punch Drunk - any chance of a discount for people who have already been?] Having said that you can see where the money goes - it must have cost a fortune to create the interior and exterior world of Temple Studios in such detail. I am truly in awe of Punch Drunk's The Drowned Man.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It's Your Funeral, 12th September

It's Your Funeral was an absolute riot, I left with a huge smile on my face and one of the friends I was with said she had been smiling throughout. I am surprised that it wasn't standing room only, but if the quality is always that good I am sure they will soon be selling out each show.

The idea is that you have gathered to mourn someone's passing - in this case, it was Jack the Ripper. But we're mourning in style - a sort of New Orleans dixie jazz music style with plenty of laughs and spectacles thrown in. It's got everything - storytellers, dancers, singers, comedy. It's one hell of a wake.

The evening starts with the funeral procession, complete with brass band who provide backing music throughout the evening and play songs to take you into and out of the interval.

Then the compere, Bang Crosby took to the stage and introduced the acts, many (but not all) of which are themed around Jack the Ripper. The first act was in fact a mime - the Ungewinster. I don't think I've really ever watched mime before - it didn't really appeal - but this guy did a superb job. In all black and white stripes, with a manic smile he was quite a grotesque character whose movements on stage to dark music reminded me of body-popping more than traditional mime. It was a pleasant surprise.

Next up we had Miss Carmen Mon Oxide who performed an operatic aria mourning her deceased husband who sounded quite the philandering scoundrel. She had a fantastic voice as well as being a good performer.

We then had a slightly odd interlude which was an homage to George Formby - a window washer came out and 'washed' some windows. He clearly had emotional problems though as he ended up drinking all his window cleaner. We were left wondering what to make of this and whether he'd be coming back later to do a follow up. He didn't, which was quite amusing in itself.

Next on stage was what can best be described as a 'silent movie' live brought to us by the Little Shop of Horrors who hammed up to great effect Jack the Ripper going home with one of his victims and trying to kill her, complete with a chase scene, a gruesome 'disembowelling' (sausages being pulled out of her stomach) and a big reveal that good old Jack was actually a woman! Yep, you even got to see some tits.  

Just before the interval we had Tom Baker - a consummate raconteur tell us the story of Mad Carew (The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God) accompanied by an accomplished 'saw musician'. I've been to a few storytelling events in my time now but this guy was at the top of the game. It was more like an acting performance than merely telling a story such was his presence on stage and command of the audience. The saw musician had a perfect sense of timing, providing an enhancing and amusing soundtrack. It is hard to pick one stand-out act of the night but this was definitely a contender.

After the intermission we were treated to four more acts, starting with Snake Fervor, a woman whose speciality seemed to be inflicting pain unto herself. This was the sort of act you watched peeking through your fingers - not quite wanting to see but unable not to watch out of morbig fascination. First she stubbed a cigarette out on her tongue, then she put hooks through her upper and lower lips and swung a heavy bag from them around and around. Then she stood, nay stomped on a load of broken glass. You could see traces of blood on her legs afterwards. Macabre indeed.

Jaz Delorean, lead singer of Tankus the Henge (who I haven't yet seen) came on and performed I put a Spell on You with his accordion. His voice was so gravelly and raspy, listening to him really made me want a drink. Then he sang a song of heartbreak about losing his ex to a Gypsy King which was quite rousing. 

A creepy and beautiful solo dance followed this up as Mary Beth Morossa tapped to the voice of someone reciting the story of Edward and Virginia (I think?), as they tango in the lamplight while he kills her. It's a little hard to describe how Mary Beth danced along to the voiceover to create a compelling act but it was wonderful to watch.

To round things off we had the Fabulous Bakewell Boys who I was already familiar with from Lucha Britannia Mexican wrestling. I didn't know what sort of thing they would do when they were moonlighting from wrestling but it turned out they did comedy and they were pretty damn funny! Their 'act' is to be slightly dim northern lads but they do this in an endearing and not overly offensive way - it's just a load of silliness on stage really. 

The whole night reminded me of old-fashioned vaudeville variety shows, except with a modern, macabre twist. Honestly, I can't rave about it enough. 

Torture Garden, 6th September

I finally did it - delved into the world of Torture Garden. And I don't mean to sound blase but it was actually kinda tame! Tame that is, not lame - it was still a lot of fun. Yes, there's a couples room, and yes there's a 'play' room, and yes, there was even a medical room. But apart from that, it just felt like one big clubnight. It was weird for its lack of weirdness. In the Kit Kat Cabaret room they were playing 50s and 60s rock n roll, which turned into pop at the end of the night, in the main room they were playing house music like you would find anywhere else. The only strange thing about it was that, in these rooms, quite a lot of people had very little clothes on. But I'm starting to get used to an element of nudity on my nights out, so even that doesn't make me blink.

What they say about the door policy being strict is somewhat true. Despite spending weeks thinking about what to wear, and going to the efforts of hiring some suitable clothing, my boyfriend was still upbraided on his choice of corduroy trousers. We weren't a fan of them either, but it was the best we could do given our resources. However, once we got in there were several people I thought who had made far less of an effort than Stephen. There were a pair of boys who were dressed in shorts and had their shirts open, the only nod to the 'scene' being a pair of goggles and a whip they had. Unspectacular. My girl friend and I felt great in the outfits we had pieced together - they might not have been latex but how much effort does slinging on a one-piece latex dress take? None really, other than spending the money on latex in the first place. No - we'd really put some thought into our attire and I thought it showed. I felt confident walking through the crowds.

Torture Garden was held in Electrowerkz, the same place I went to for my first Rumpus. Even though I had been there before, I found it impossible to get my bearings, which sort of added to the fun. I'm still certain that we missed one or two rooms altogether because we kept getting lost. I wanted to make sure we saw some of the live acts so after wandering around a little we followed some kindly folk who showed us the way to the main stage (which we never again seemed to chance upon). I'm not sure who we were watching, or what they were doing. It seemed some kind of ritual was being acted out on stage, it was full of [probably] symbolic gestures and there was a lot of writhing. I had no idea what was really going on and after many minutes nothing became clearer. I thought maybe childbirth was being alluded to, and expected the woman on whom the rite was being performed to expel something from beneath her suspiciously long skirt (suspicious as she was naked from the waist up). But nothing was forthcoming and we got bored after a while and left. We found ourselves in the cabaret room again where we listened to some warbling, and then saw a pretty good performance. A girl came out as a 'human pony' with braided hair, bridle and shoes that did a good job of conveying hooves. She then performed a fire eating act which was sexy and exciting, and soundtracked by - yeah you guessed it - Ginuwine's Pony.

And that is the full sum of all the acts we managed to see!

The first three hours we were in there went by in a flash. I feel like I can't even recount what we were doing for most of it. Dancing I suppose! We spent a little time in the 'play' room (which I didn't think was quite as good as the one at Antichrist - it seemed a little more chaotic, as if people weren't sure where to go or what to do) but both me and my friend hopped on a horse to get a proper spanking session in - by hand and by crop! 

We of course also had to experience the couples room but I'm not going to be coy here - Stephen and I did absolutely nothing in there beyond being voyeuristic. For some reason this room was hotter than the sun and I couldn't bear to be in there for very long at all, let alone find it arousing. My friend and her boyfriend managed to brave the sauna atmosphere to get up to some mischief though. And though we passed an area with medical-looking equipment, we never saw anyone actually use it!

The club wasn't as busy as I thought it was going to be and by 4 am (it finished at 6 am) the place was beginning to feel empty and lack a bit of atmosphere. I wondered if this was because most regulars were saving themselves for the Halloween event where they apparently pull out all the stops. I still had a really good night and would happily go back. The music was right up my street in terms of ranging across house, electro-swing and rock n roll so with the addition of a bit of nudity and 'play' I can easily see this becoming a bit of a habit!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Velvet Tongue, 2nd September

Who would have thought that underneath innocuous Bar Kick in Shoreditch you could find such a haven of sexual liberation. This, however, sounds a lot more exciting than it was. 

We apparently missed the first act of the night - a reverse striptease, or 'dresstease' where a man started off naked and gradually clothed himself until he looked like a woman. This also sounded like it was the best act of the night.

We got there for the compere, Ernesto, telling everyone about the origins of Velvet Tongue, and then introducing the first act, a gay man who read some 'erotic' literature. I put erotic in inverted comments because even though they did in fact feature sex, and sensuality we all quickly discovered that this alone does not erotic make. As one of my friends put it, it was like listening to him read his boring diary. His monotone delivery didn't help and, as an editor, I was dying to get my hands on it and spruce up his prose a bit.

I quite liked the next two acts, one being just a silly performance of a song involving whoopee cushions and the other providing probably the highlight of the night. Lazlo Pearlman, a stocky, wisecracking Jewish guy came out into the audience, Jew-seeking, in order to distribute doughnuts. He then stripped off a little and started telling us about his sexually liberated mother and upbringing and his encounters with Jews - especially some ultra-orthodox Jews who invited hiim to lay tefillin, which he had never done before. He had stage presence, and was amusing, he was entertaining to listen to. And then, the music went on and he started dancing and then he provided us with the shocker - he wasn't a he! Stripped right down, beneath his burly, hairy, rather attractive chest, he had no, as Nursey from Blackadder might say 'winky'. He then explained, as you can imagine, what a dilemma he had with these Orthodox Jews who wanted him to do rites that only a man in Judaism has any 'right' to be doing. And then, we danced! He grabbed some of the audience and made them follow him around the room. I found myself caught up in his wake, him holding one hand, me holding someone stranger's as we Jewish danced around the room. It ended the first half on a strong point.

Sadly, it was barely worth coming back from the second half as each dire, boring, amateur graced the stage to be replaced by yet another. I derived some small enjoyment from realising I was at what could be the epitome of an 'underground' event - people were dressed (or not) however they pleased, taking advantage of a welcoming, safe place to be themselves - but sadly I might as well have been listening to some self-indulgent jazz or poetry for all the entertainment and eroticism it provided.

Of course, it wasn't all about being stimulating and there were some touching moments and some that took me out of my comfort zone, and I sort of appreciated that. For example, one guy took to the stage and proclaimed he was a sadist - he enjoyed hurting women during sex. Of course, purely consensually. He recited some poems of his that reflected his tastes in sadism - punching, knife play. As a girl whose limits are some spanking and a bit of light electric shocks (see Antichrist) it made for some difficult listening, despite his reminders that for all the violence, an orgasm was at the end for both of them. But his was probably some of the better, more well written material that night and it was compelling to listen to the brutality, and a window into a world I'm not familiar with. 

There was also the person who took to the stage as a 'fairy godmother' and recited a rhyming poem which was quite an amusing ditty in some ways, but also quite a sad tale of acceptance, culminating in her derobing and revealing her transsexuality. 

And I have to give a quick mention to the German who recited a poem on making a chocolate carrot cake - something about combating racism in cookery. I noticed he seemed to have some shrubbery coming out of his shorts. This, it turned out, was the leaves from the carrot he had stuck up his bottom, which he dramatically pulled out and used to stir his wine with. He was quite a character!

But mostly it was kind of boring, and I mainly stayed because as more and more people left, I didn't want to be impolite! We were finally (sort of) rewarded because the final act of the night was not bad, not bad at all. A girl in an open marriage told us a vignette about a recent lesbian encounter she'd had (these were not rarities for her) and did so in a funny, dry, honest way that was both amusing and quite a turn on. I don't know if it was quite worth the wait, but had the whole night been like that I would have been more than happy.

Sadly, with open mic nights you can never really guarantee quality, and I wish they had just tried to restrain the quantity as well a little, so that even if you did have to endure some bad acts, they were at least short. Some of them seemed to drag on interminably. A time limit would have been very welcome. Ernesto himself was quite funny, having more changes of costume than an Academy Awards hostess in the night, progressively getting more naked with each outfit. My favourite was when he came out in nothing but an inflatable rubber ring.  

I appreciate what they're doing in terms of welcoming anyone and everyone to explore and be open about their sexuality, but I don't think I'll be returning. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mien Tay, 2nd September

Last night was, considering I don't live too far away from the area, my first belated visit to one of the Vietnamese places on Kingsland road, of which there is a glut.

One of my friends suggested we go there before an erotic literary night in Shoreditch so I requested we go to one on my list - Mien Tay.

Mien Tay falls under the category 'cheap and cheerful'. The place is a bit of a cross between a cafe and a restaurant - you don't want to look too closely where the floor meets the walls and the whole thing could do with a lick of paint. But I don't really care about that kind of stuff as long as the food is good.

And it was. I wouldn't call myself a Vietnamese expert but I have had pho and bun hue a few times as well as my beloved banh mi sandwiches so I'm familiar with the flavourings. Nuoc cham, red chillies, lemongrass, ginger, and lots of coriander - what's not to like?

As much as I love Pho, and was starving, the warm weather put me off having a bowl of steaming hot soup. Instead, I ordered a dish that Stephen often gets from the chain Pho but which I hadn't got around to trying yet - bun salad. Cold vermicelli rice noodles, with bean sprouts, carrot, cucumber and in my case chicken cooked with honey and spices. I normally like to get something a bit fiery but they had plenty of sriracha on hand to spice it up, and I was also able to take a couple of chillies from my friends' pho garnishes.

There was plenty of chicken and even as I raced through my dish, assuring myself that I was only finishing earlier than everyone else because my portion was a little smaller, I realised I was getting very full. I didn't need to finish the whole thing in order to feel satisfied, but it was so nice I just had to.
Tofu dish - looks as good as a meat one!
Everyone seemed to really like it, from the Vietnamese 'virgins' in the group to my friend who is most discerning in her approval of food places. She had got a beef style tofu dish which looked amazing, and some spring rolls, one of which she was generous enough to let me have. They were really different to what I'd had before - instead of rolled dough with the filling inside, these were 'spun', light casings. They were deep fried and tasted very bad for you. I'd definitely get them again!

I didn't try any other dishes but the plate full of accoutrements to put in your pho (mint, coriander, chillies, bean sprouts) was well heaped, and it all looked excellent - lots of herbs floating around in the soup, a large amount of noodles, plump-looking prawns.

They were really quick at getting us our food (we'd told them we were in a bit of a hurry) and the prices were fab - my bun salad was £6.80 only. A really good start to what I hope is just my first visit to that area for Vietnamese food. 

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