Friday, November 22, 2013

Hawker House (Street Feast), 15th November

What can I say about Street Feast that I haven't said before? It's a fantastic concept and with every new venue or new iteration they seem to improve upon it. Having moved on from Dalston Yard in the autumn, they are now ensconced in Hawker House for the winter (well, pre-Christmas winter). 

This time roughly the same 10 outfits are there every week, but to keep you coming back for more, the menu is changing every weekend. So, Spit and Roast I have had on many occasion, and may normally overlook, but then they decide to offer things like spit roasted pork belly, or chicken braise with sausage. As it happens, these weren't enough to tempt me on my visit because there were some other places I hadn't yet tried at all, but you can see how they're managing to keep the spark burning amongst even their tried and tested customers.

But, much as I love them, and Yum Bun, and Breddo's, I was lusting after new blood that night. And Stephen was there to help me. After grabbing a drink from the Hot Bar (serving a pretty good range of hot, boozy drinks, from hot toddies to mulled wine, via various hot rums - I had the buttered variety which was delicious) we did a quick circuit to decide where to start.

I veered back to Rola Wala who I hadn't tried before. I'd already read the weekend's menu before and thought the rolasliders sounded good. Being cooked on the tava, they looked it as well, so I decided to have just one as a 'starter'. The meat du jour was pulled pork, from piggies we were assured were living a happy life, well, until the day before the day before when it sadly ended for them. This was piled on a mini naan and then on top of that pickled, minted red onion, mango sauce, savian crunch, some other sauce and for an extra 50p a shot of scorpion chilli powder. The bread was slightly crunchy itself from being on the tava but pliant enough to be folded around the meat so it could all be stuffed into my waiting maw. Delicious.

Stephen tried out the sliders from Breddo's (they're resident at the Sider bar don'tchaknow) and thought they were amazing. 'Why are sliders so much tastier than regular-sized burgers?' he mused. He'd already said the classic slider was a good'un but he was even more enthusiastic about the 5 chilli cheesburger he had right after. 

Not keen to rest on our laurels we headed for round two straight away. I'm so glad Stephen wanted something from Smokestak as I was very tempted by them, but Bob's Lobsters had been calling to me. A bargain compared to the one you get at Burger and Lobster and just as good I reckon. They look bloody impressive with a big lobster claw sticking out the top and have just the right amount of mayo and other relish. The lobster itself tasted a little cajun which was a pleasant surprise. It was well worth the worrying minute or so when my lips started tingling and my tongue started itching and I'd do it again!

Stephen had what would win 'most impractically-served dish' of the night - a big, juicy, saucy bit of beef rib, in some brown paper, which got pretty soggy pretty quickly. You can't really go wrong with a well cooked bit of BBQ, though Stephen's bit did have maybe a little too much fat. Naturally he ate it, but felt really guilty afterwards.

I was feeling pretty done by that point but we didn't want to give up just yet so we had a drink while we digested. I wanted to give StreetVinWine a go, although the Whiskey bar, at which they have managed to create a tiny speakeasy-type den was also tempting.  But wine it was and I ordered their cheapest red, thinking this would still be pretty good if they were priding themselves in serving good wine. And it was. And then I did something silly, and used up all my money bar £3.70 buying Stephen a glass of rioja. Why was this silly? Well, I hadn't realised he only had £3 left himself.

So it came to 'dessert' and we discovered we didn't have enough money between us to buy the chocolate, venison and beetroot ravioli from Cooking Cooks at £7 we'd had our hearts set on sharing. As we watched the stall looking slightly neglected compared to the other traders, we (as in Stephen) decided to risk rejection and ventured to ask if they might accept £6.70 instead of the full whack. This they generously did, and, I hasten to add, were instantly met with good karma, as us buying a dish immediately attracted a mini-queue. 

I am really glad we shared this as eating it on my own would have been too much - it was a very rich, dense dish. Each element was noticeable but it worked really well together. As you put the raviolo in your mouth, the chocolate aromas filled it, but as you bit into it the beetroot and venison overpowered this to make it a very savoury dish. It was served with a gorgeous brandy and butter sauce, which I could have happily had more of, and some parmesan shavings. Not just an attention-grabbing gimmick but a really tasty, well thought out plate of food. The styrofoam bowl and my photography skills don't do it justice! 

Having spent our very last pennies, and feeling completely full, we departed after an hour and a half. It was just warming up in terms of atmosphere, but by all accounts things really got busy about a half an hour after that so if you want to go - get down there early! You'll also avoid the £3 charge they're using to help crowd control after 7pm.

I shall be back again tomorrow. Venison rolasliders, I'm looking at you!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Berners Tavern, 8th November

Stephen and I were both already convinced that Berners Tavern was going to be gorgeous both aesthetically and gastronomically, so the fact that it was, was no surprise. 

I think Jason Atherton must be having a laught calling it a Tavern. I've rarely dined in grander surroundings whereas a tavern to me is somewhere peasants go to drink. This place is huge, with walls completely covered with framed portraits. They fit together in such a perfect jigsaw that the arrangement must have taken ages to design. You feel like you are dining in the middle of a fine arts gallery. The other decor is no less sumptuous with giant opulent chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and grand banquettes taking centre stage on the floor.

We arrived very promptly at 8 but something had gone wrong and they didn't have our reservation. Luckily the place wasn't as busy as we thought it would be and they were able to find us a table within 15-20 minutes. Which gave us a chance to try out the cocktails at the bar. An expensive chance, for at £12 - £12.50 they weren't cheap, and probably an expense we wouldn't have incurred had our table been ready when we were. But they were rather good, mine in particular with mead in it was one of the more unusual cocktails I've ever had - and I've had a few.

We were lead to our very low-rise table. Luckily it came with low-rise seats so we were in proportion. We were rather tickled, though, that our waiter was the tallest waiter we had ever encountered, making us feel a bit like we were children seated at the kids' table, looking up at the looming adult serving us.

The staff were very friendly. We had a couple of little mishaps but in a way we didn't mind - it made the whole place seem more 'human' than had everything run like clockwork. For example, we had to ask for the wine menu, when we were being asked for our food orders, and then, after our starters were cleared away, someone was sent over to crumb down. He thought we were done and cleared away our placemats and salt and pepper and then brought over the dessert menus. At first I wasn't sure if they just liked to get prepared well in advance but then we pointed out we hadn't had our mains yet and he was very apologetic and whipped those menus away. And returned our salt and pepper. Though not our placemats...

So, the food. Was wonderful. Starting off with the bread and butter they brought us - two slices white, two slices rye (possibly, can't remember now!) it was dense and had the right amount of chewiness. And there was enough butter not to feel you had to eke it out.

I had looked at the menu beforehand and was particularly worried about choosing a starter as I liked the sound of pretty much all of them. A recent potential allergy to seafood helped me narrow it down, but not by much. We thought for once we should try one of the 'renowned' dishes so Stephen had the ham, egg and peas, while I went for the crispy lamb with butternut and parmesan fregola with marrow crumble.

Wow. What a meaty, hearty dish this was. Honestly, I'd have been happy if this was a main course. I had a 'patty' of lamb which was mixed with some greenery and was crispy on the outside. It had been daubed with butternut squash puree, shavings of pecorino and then bits of marrow crumble I believe. This was then served with a pot of the fregola which had a much deeper cheesy, butternut and marrow taste. It was such a profound earthy, meaty flavour. I loved it but it totally blew Stephen away and he pronounced it the star of the meal.

From the bite of his egg, shards of ham and light, minty mushy peas I had, I thought his starter held up pretty well to mine, but he was having none of it.

We continued feeling pretty pleased with ourselves with our mains. I could not resist having the duck, even though I seem to end up having it everywhere. But when it came with such yummy-sounding things, how could I not? The caramel apples in particular were worthy of note although the plum puree and turnip all tasted great with the perfectly cooked duck. And it was so nice to get a bit of leg with it as well. Dark duck meat is fab.


Stephen had the rack of lamb with lamb neck, cous cous, smoked aubergine and cabbage which he also very much enjoyed though he wished he had more sauce with his as the cous cous soaked it all up.

On top of this we ordered some of the duck fat chips and yes, managed to fit them all in as well. We thought that they were better than the chips at (whisper it) the Hand and Flowers!

We were utterly stuffed by now, and must have looked it because when we finally ordered the dessert, our waiter immediately asked if it would be to share. To be honest, we almost passed on dessert as compared to the other courses, nothing was standing out as a 'mustn't-miss' dish. But I'm glad we didn't as we were served the best eclair I've ever had and I bloody loved it. It was a proper pud with lots of gooeyness and cream, and pastry but in a refined way. Salted caramel ice cream on dark chocolate nibs partnered the caramel-apple stuffed eclair. Fantastic. The only qualm we had with the meal was that prices are very steep, a few quid less here or there would have felt like a reasonable price to pay. 

And so, our love affair with Jason Atherton continues. 

*Apologies for the poor quality photos - the lighting, while perfectly ambient for dining, was too low for good pictures.

Berners Tavern on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ultimate Power Ballads, 1st November

I didn't really expect to be saying this but Ultimate Power Ballads was SO. MUCH. FUN!!! It managed to tap into my adolescent twin loves of being angsty and singing my heart out.

I had a little too much fun in fact as the night quickly descended into a heady haze (I'd been at a free bar before turning up) and so this is not the most comprehensive of posts.

It was only later I thought to look at my photos of the night and my memory was jogged - were there superheroes on the stage? Why? I do not know.

This could be the Riddler?
But what I remember, as I have iterated before, was very good. The night was dubbed Bat out of Helloween in honour of Halloween and lots of people were dressed for the occasion. If they weren't in ghostly guise then they had donned their 80s finest, and some had done a pretty good combination of the two. 

Mullets abounded: the perfect accompaniment to the inflatable guitars and microphones which are the essential accessory for a night such as this. Well, if you're going to be belting 'em out, you need a mic to sing into!

I wasn't sure about the whole concept before I got there but within five minutes they had played Mr. Big's 'To Be With You'  - one of the songs on a CD we had on repeat in my teens: The Best Rock Ballads in the World... Ever! and Def Leppard's 'When Love and Hate Collide', another song we were weirdly obsessed with back in the day, and I was smitten. 

Add to this the fact that they played Whitney's 'I Have Nothing' over the more predictable 'I Will Always Love You' (and my own personal preference), and they cemented my fandom.

I must admit, there was a point where my enthusiasm waned a little - things did get a bit cheesy in the middle (yes, cheesier than the aforementioned) but they brought it back again with the likes of 'Drove All Night' by Cyndi Lauper and 'Think Twice' - allowing me to do my best 'singer in anguish' impressions.

I still maintain that being drunk is the optimal state to be in for such a night - you really need to let your inhibitions go as basically this is just one big singalong. I remember being on the dance floor, but you never do anything much more energetic than sway around a bit. 

The crowd 'dancing'

After confessing my enjoyment of this night, people are now trying to persuade me to go to Guilty Pleasures. But I worry that may be a step too far for me... what do you think?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Night Tales, 7th November

**Warning - this post is not for those with short attention spans - it is almost as long as the queues at Night Tales!***

It's always nice to be in on something from the very beginning, so I was pleased to go along to the launch of Night Tales on Thursday, a new weekend-only (cos Thursday totally counts as the weekend these days) sort of night market. Unfortunately, this is London and everyone else also likes to go newly opened events so the night was very busy.

Luckily, I anticipated this and most of my friends and I got there before 7 and got in without having to queue. Many others were less lucky and a couple of my friends turned up and took fright at the size of the line, choosing not to even try to get in. 

By 8:30 the place was absolutely heaving. There was a great party atmosphere. Actually, I would describe it more like being in the kitchen of a party, or the outside of a club. You could still hear the music enough for the beats to be infused into the crowd and make you feel good, but it wasn't so loud you couldn't have a good chat to your mates. The smell of cooked meats wafted over everyone, rousing the appetite, as did the smoke from the various grills at work, and the open fires.

They had promised cover and warmth and this they did deliver. There was a canopy overhead and so many outside heaters that you could almost forget you were outside. Those that had 'layered up' admitted there was no need to do so.

There was a normal bar at the very back, a dedicated Negroni bar, and upstairs a Tales of Mezcal bar from the people behind Qui Qui Ri Qui which was on Hackney Road but now pops up at things like this. They were one of the reasons I wanted to come here.
Foodwise you could choose from Young Foodie winners Bao's steamed buns, Rainbo's gyoza, Patty and Bun doing what Patty and Bun do best (burgers) and Smokey Tails (more on them below). For dessert Le Petit Paris (the only other food stall I hadn't tried before) were serving French Toast with either peanut butter and jam, or bacon, banana and speculoos spread. I have just looked up what this is and it's a caramelly, gingerbreadlike crunchy spread, based on the Dutch biscuits. I had this latter one for dessert and it was truly amazing. Sweet, salty, slightly crunchy. What a find. 

Mezcaleria Quiquiriqui

I had a drink from the Tales of Mezcal bar to start with - what a lovely crew was running that bar. We went up when it wasn't so busy and they were happy to chat through the various Mezcal-based cocktails on offer. They had reams and reams of mezcals to choose from but I wasn't quite ready to dive into neat alcohol yet so I went for a cocktail that was a take on a Margarita - you could choose to have it with cucumber for a cool drink or spiced up with chilli. I couldn't resist spicing it up and the girl behind the bar asked me what level of spiciness. I said I wanted to be able to taste the rest of the drink but that I liked it spicy. After proclaiming her love for me (don't tell her boyfriend) she put some tabasco and some green chillies in it. Delicious! I went back at the end of the night and ended up having a glass of their cheapest straight mezcal, which honestly did sound like one of the nicest. It was much smoother than you might expect, had the typically smoky mezcal taste but also a hint of sweetness. All of us who tried it thought it was really drinkable.

I also tried my second Negroni ever. And again, didn't like it so much at first, but it's pretty much all alcohol so halfway through it had really started to grow on me. The Negroni bar has about ten different variations - I went for the English one with Gin, Kamm & Sons and Punt e Mes. I had a sip of someone's Sbodaglio (or something) which had prosecco in it - that was really good.

I did have a couple of gripes with the place - firstly we all thought that entry was free but when we got there we were asked for a £3 'donation'. Night Tales didn't mention this anywhere in its promotional stuff or on the FB event. It was such a paltry sum that I didn't protest, or point out that if it's a donation then I should be allowed to get in without giving it; it was pretty obvious that no donation = no entry. And then, when I met up with my friends it turned out that some of them got 'Night Tales membership' cards for their 'donations'. No one really knew what this meant but I hope it doesn't mean that future visits are free if you have one of these cards, but not if you don't, because I wasn't even given the option!

My other overall gripe would be the size of the cocktails. They're so dinky. I'm not saying they're not boozy - they are - they are concentrated booze. Which is good in one way, but in practical, sensible terms, having such a small cup means you finish it very quickly, and it takes a lot of willpower to pace yourself. Cynical moi thinks they rather hope this is the case so that you buy more than you normally would. 

Smokey Tails

Not having made it to Seth Troxlers place in Hackney Wick over the summer, I was delighted that they were upping sticks to Night Tales for the winter. Again, I timed it well - putting my order in for the pulled pork and being served instantly. A short while later and there was a 20 minute wait. My friend ordered the smoky mac and cheese. He was disappointed with his dish - said it wasn't very smoky and nothing to write home about. (Had he had it later in the evening when smoke was clinging to everything, it might have been a completely different dish.) I absolutely loved my pulled pork bun. It was served with a tangy red cabbagey coleslaw on the top. The pork was ever so juicy and tasted great even on its own - I made sure to have a forkful - but was even better with the cabbage. The brioche bun was perfect for it and just about held up to the juice, though the edges did get quite deliciously soggy.

What I would say though, is that the serving was pretty small, verging on slider size. Not quite slider size - more like slider's older sister, but a little too small for the £7 price tag. I definitely had room for more after finishing it.

A couple I was with shared ribs and the pulled pork and the ribs were declared even better than the pork. One of my friends got the chicken wings but didn't manage to finish them so I had a half a one. These were quite heavily coated in a spicy sauce and were also delicious. Smokey Tails know what they're doing. 

I had a good evening here and could be tempted back for some more of the Mezcal and Negroni drinks on offer, and also the ribs from Smokey Tails (and to hear Seth Troxler if he makes an appearance). But the food trucks here are static - there will be the same people each week, although I don't know if their menus will change, which makes coming back less of a draw, especially if I have to pay £3 entry each time.  Street Feast have returned at Hawker House in Bethnal Green where the entry is free (before 8pm) and there are more food trucks on offer (and it looks like they may have different menus each week) meaning you can get something different every week (I haven't been yet, but intend to on Friday - Watch This Space). So if I were to go back to one time and again for a food-based visit, my hunch is that I would end up returning to Street Feast.

But if you take into account the DJs Night Tales are lining up, which will be different each night, then that could provide the variety you need to keep coming back. I would say Night Tales is well worth a visit, and if you haven't tried any of the food trucks parked up there, it's a must.

And I haven't even mentioned the creepy exhibition in the dank bunker...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ghost Bus Tour, 29th October

I love Halloween and I celebrated it in quite a big way this year I think, going to four different things for it. One of which was The Ghost Bus Tour. This runs all year, but it seemed a good idea to go near Halloween, an idea which clearly a lot of people share. They put on extra tours around this time of year, and our bus was sold out. Having had a drink over the road at the Sherlock Holmes, safe in the knowledge we'd get there on time as it departs from outside the pub, when we did turn up, everyone else was already there.

It didn't really matter though - I wouldn't say some seats are particularly better than others, and they have screens up at the front and back of the bus so you don't miss any of the action. And yes, there is action, for this is no ordinary sightseeing bus, though they do a good job of that too. This one comes with all sorts of extra frights and kooky creepiness. Perhaps a leetle too hammed up for my taste but it was all a lot of fun, and the children on the tour really got into it. One poor kid had to put his hoodie up and his hands over his eyes, during the really 'scary' parts lest he not last the journey.

You start at Northumberland Avenue and in the hour and a quarter that you drive through London you go all the way into the City and down into Bankside, pausing on occasion, and being told about all the gruesome and ghostly goings-on that have taken place along the way. I actually learned quite a lot on the tour that I didn't know already, for example:
  • We went past the spot King Charles was executed and saw the bust of him on the very spot he lost his head, which I had never noticed before despite passing by there often.
  • There is said to be a headless woman who haunts opposite Downing Street, and Bank is the most haunted tube station. 
  • They didn't let the fact that Oliver Cromwell was dead stop them putting him on trial, and dug up his body to be present at court.

But that's not all. Interwoven along the way is the bus's OWN grisly history, which is revealed little by little. The guide himself, Marcus McGuffin was quite entertaining and clearly of a theatrical bent - his attitude is that we're all on a normal tour guide, please ignore any odd happenings - all perfectly normal... and then he'll give a worried glance to camera to ensure you know all is everything but.

Partway through the tour we were joined by an inspector checking the bus out for any supernatural evidence. And guess what? She finds some, and this is the catalyst for being plunged into your own little ghost story, with the inspector becoming increasingly hysterical along the way, whipping up the little'uns fright quite effectively. Complete with flickering lights, strange, eerie creaking and moaning, you have a veritable mobile haunted house.

Once the true history of the bus is revealed (I won't give it away) the denouement is a seance to commune with the spirits. I'll let you have a go for yourself to see what the spirits had to say...

As a way to see the city it's actually really good, and the extra theatrics are a lot of fun. It's absolutely perfect for Halloween but I'd recommend going at any time. I thought it was brilliant.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Alaween (ALAN), 26th October

Well, Alaween, from ALAN (Awareness and Love All-Nighters) turned out to be a drum n bass haven, which wasn't exactly what I was expecting (and in mine and my friends' humble opinions seemed a bit of a waste of so many different rooms) but I still had a pretty wicked time there.

The theme for the night (hard to tell from this picture) was zombies vs commandos, although some people had cross-dressed as both. It took place in The Vaults at Waterloo, an amazing underground warren of rooms, just out the back of Waterloo.  Each of the eight rooms had a different DJ, except for one room which was the 'surgical lab' - where you could make an appointment if you were brave enough... 

In the surgical lab bunker, something was afoot. While it claimed that you would be treated and improved by walking through the plastic door, you couldn't help but wonder what might actually befall you as you passed through. Our suspicions were acutely aroused by the fact zombies kept trying to escape from behind the curtain. Yes, something back there wasn't quite right...

About ten minutes after making an appointment, my friend was directed into a wheelchair and told she could bring some family members along (all 5 of us went with her). We were accosted by a slightly undead looking guard but were let through, where my friend was put on the table and assessed - given some dubious liquid (Sprite!) and 'injected'. All the while, we were lined up against the wall trying to avoid our nurse's 'sister', a gruesome creature lurking in a cage and occasionally making a grab for one of us. She had some Haribo sweets to keep her calm but we riled her by nicking and eating them. After the assessment, we went into the recovery room where we were encouraged to have a lie down and relax. And then we left. Oh wait, no we didn't. We were then attacked by the gruesome beast who had somehow escaped her cage in the next room! Bits of disgusting jelly sweets and saliva went everywhere as my friend tousled with the gore-soaked zombie on the ground and tried to escape. While not exactly terrifying, it did give us a bit of a fright, as well as the resultant rush of hilarity afterwards. 

For the rest of the evening we spent it exploring and dancing. The place was huge. Too huge I think, for the number of people. Even though there were 2,000 attendants, the number of people in each arch ended up being quite small, which meant some of them lacked a bit of atmosphere. We spent most of our time in the main bit although flitted into the Imaginarium area from time to time, just because we'd liked their last party so much.

Where is everyone?
Upstairs there was a bit of a chillout room where you could buy snacks (and brains) or take a relaxing lie down on the animal rug, or even the coffin they had provided. My friend and I spent far too long in that doing an extended photoshoot (no I'm not showing you the pictures).

We rounded off the evening in the main part again, once we had determined that yes, every single room seemed to be playing drum n bass, even though a whole range of music had been promised. The main room did seem to vary the most - they played some house and had an MC live in there at one point as well, but kept reverting to what seemed to be the one true love of most people there - dropping bass-heavy drum n bass. I had a good old freak out to it for a bit but with only an hour to go, we had grown weary of the music selection and decided to head home.

What's he spinning? I'm gonna go with DnB.
I enjoyed the little quirky touches, like the coffin, or the dead man hanging from the stairs, and the medical lab of course. They had some nice visuals going on in places - a few movies projected onto the wall. And I enjoyed the music sporadically. But it wasn't my most favouritest of nights recently. Not sure if I will seek out another ALAN event (famous last words - I'll probably end up at one for New Year's Eve!)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Porky's, 26th October

I tried to go to Porky's once before but was thwarted by its offputting group booking policy. Porky's is a no reservations place but if there are enough of you (there were about 12 of us) then you can book in advance. Besides having to put down a deposit you are also told that group bookings pay a set £17 per person and for that you can choose any main from the menu and any two sides. This sounded like a good deal so I agreed. But then I had a look at the menu. And discovered that Porky's is so cheap it is almost impossible to order a main and two sides and have it total £17. I queried them about this and they said that they picked that amount because some combinations would be more than £17, some less and so they averaged it out at £17. They didn't seem bothered that only about three items on the menu together would equate to more than £17. Quite a sweet little deal for them if people are lazy with their sums. 

Unsurprisingly, everyone in my group thought the same way and so I cancelled the booking. It does seem a tad odd that when you are giving them guaranteed custom (and therefore money), they should implement a policy that could – for want of a better word – swindle the customer if they make the mistake of ordering based on preference rather than price.

It would have put me off Porky's entirely had it not already made its way onto my List, and the people I spoke to were actually very friendly and nice about the whole thing.

So I found myself in Camden the other Saturday after buying zombie makeup for my night out and thought we'd get an early dinner in there. 

The menu is what you'd expect - pork ribs, pulled pork, half a chicken and a range of burgers, a couple of things to satisfy the pescetarians and vegetarians plus various sides, and also, as I said, pretty cheap. Very cheap in fact when you take into account the amount of food they give you. Stephen ordered the ribs (£9.50) and even after giving me one and a half, wasn't able to finish them all. Having said that, had they been a bit nicer, I daresay he would have forced it all down.

The downside of Porky's being so cheap seems to be that the quality suffers somewhat. My pulled pork (only £8.75) was smoky through and through, which was nice, but it seemed that all they had done was smoke it. No nice marinades or seasoning - just a load of smoky pork. The pork ribs were of quite a nice flavour - the BBQ sauce they came in was slightly sweet and nicely tangy, but the meat itself was quite tough verging on the unpleasant to eat.

Pickles come as standard and I liked those a lot, especially paired with a mouthful of pulled pork and a bite of the cheesy hush puppies I ordered as a side. Hush puppies in case you didn't know are basically cornbread dumplings, but these were very cheesy and dotted throughout with chillies which gave them quite a kick (a plus!). Not great to eat on their own as they had a bit of a bitter aftertaste, their cheesy crunchiness did work well with the other items in my dish. Together they were greater than the sum of their parts, as Stephen remarked.

Stephen ordered the mac and cheese as his side and we both agreed this was rather good - given a much lighter touch than I would have imagined.

I didn't find Porky's offensively bad, and given that the two places I consider top of the BBQ game in London (PItt Cue and BBQWhiskeyBeer) aren't moving into Camden any time soon, Porky's I'm sure will continue to do quite well there. The BBQ market has definitely not been saturated yet so an average place can still be popular. The restaurant itself was a nice place to hang out - it was decorated with posters of Country & Western and Blues stars, was playing similar over the PA and both the beers and cocktails looked good (we didn't try them). 

The final straw for Stephen was the fact that, given two condiment holders - one brown, one red, they had put the BBQ sauce in the RED bottle, leading Stephen to dump chilli vinegar all over his food instead of BBQ sauce. The horror! Clearly unforgivable. 

Porky's on Urbanspoon

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Friday, November 1, 2013

The Commitments, 22nd October

I was invited by the lovely people at to attend a showing of the new musical The Commitments and review it. Having not seen the motion picture or read the book, I had few preconceptions, although I did know it involved soul music.

As far as musicals go, it was a good night out. It didn't really have to worry about not having any memorable songs, as all the songs are classic soul grooves that you'll probably already know and leave humming at the end. The storyline is basically your classic 'let's put on a show' that MGM milked so successfully for years, only this time they're gigging, not just putting on one show, and hope to make it to the big time. I gather in the movie this all goes very pear-shaped and I don't think I will be spoiling it if I say things don't run smoothly in the musical either, with plenty of upsets and in-fighting. However, in this version we do end on a positive note.

In this respect The Commitments is quite a warm, kinda cheesy all-singing all-dancing show and what with all the upbeat music I want to say it's a perfect show for a family. Although it is meant to be set in a run-down area from which the group is trying to escape through music, this isn't really emphasised and the sets they conjure to go with this are fun rather than depressing. But the cast swears constantly throughout the production with many a reference to sex and therefore even though it feels like a family musical, it really isn't.

The show itself is enjoyable enough. The first half felt more like a play than a musical - even though there were songs, there weren't any BIG numbers with synchronised dancing and the whole cast on stage. I expect musicals to be bigger than life, whereas this felt more life-sized. However, the second half stepped up a bit as The Commitments' gigs got progressively bigger. When they performed 'Satisfaction' the pace really picked up, with the lead singer mugging the Mick Jagger thing to great effect. 

Deco, the lead singer was by far my favourite character - bringing over-the-top humour to it without seeming too forced. His singing, however, was not the strongest of the cast's in my opinion. I'm not saying he didn't have a good voice but sometimes he overdid it. He sounded best when he hit the high sultry notes rather than rocking out... I much preferred the main backing girl's voice and it's kind of a shame the original story didn't have her taking over. I felt the lead character Jimmy was a little corny and innocent for my liking, but my liking does tend towards the morose. 

I really liked the openly makeshift sets and the quirky way they achieved flashbacks and of course the music got your toes tapping and your fingers clicking. Knock on Wood, Satisfaction, Think and Grapevine all feature and put you in the mood to dance. 

I gather that the movie featured Mustang Sally but we had got to the end of the show and Mustang Sally hadn't appeared. But, this show knows which side its bread is buttered on. And keeping with the 'watching a band' motif, it seemed only right that the cast should do an 'encore'. Which of course included Mustang Sally. Everyone was encouraged to get out of their seats, clap their hands, and get down. And everyone did. I think the sole curmudgeons who didn't were me and Stephen - I didn't because I was full of cold, I don't know what Stephen's excuse was. They ended on Al Green's Try a little Tenderness and everyone came away with smiles on their faces. So I think this show will be a success for the duration of its run, although I don't think it will enter the annals of Musical classics shared by the likes of Les Miserables, Chicago and Cats. Yes - Cats! I love that show and I don't care who knows it.