Sunday, December 29, 2013

Whyte & Brown, 17th December

I've been getting in to my chicken lately. Well, yeah, I know everyone has, but actually I've been slightly bucking the trend by giving my money to a knock-off Nando's down the road from me (called Roosters, if you're interested - great potato wedges) rather than the host of new rotisserie and 'posh' fried chicken places that London is so recently strewn with. Not that I don't plan on getting to those places eventually. But the one place that really caught my eye lately (after having been to Clockjack Oven a while ago) for some reason was Whyte & Brown. They're very dedicated to the chicken, but also show a lot of appreciation to the egg. And, while this place is sort of a one-note restaurant, focusing on just chicken and eggs as it does, they are showing a lot of inventiveness in the ways they serve this. Trying to decide which chicken or egg dish to go for was not an easy task.

In the end it was a close call for me between the chicken souvlaki and the ham hock, chicken and leek pie but I fancied something a little lighter so the souvlaki won out. This was a marinated kebab of breast meat with grilled peppers and onions, with two slow cooked chicken thighs, a pita bread, tzatziki dip and feta salad on the side! 

To whet our appetites we shared a starter of chicken croquettes and to feel extra healthy we ordered the roasted root vegetables as a side.

The chicken croquettes were filled with chicken, pancetta and bechamel sauce and came with a slightly smoky salsa which had a really deep tomatoey flavour. The bechamel ensured that the croquettes were not at all dry - the quite reasonably sized bits of pancetta were a nice touch. Chicken nuggets all grown up. So far so good.

The root vegetables came out first - a mixture of beets, peppers and squash. These tasted nice, and looked very pretty but some of them were slightly undercooked. They were a bit of a disappointment and the low point of the meal. 

I enjoyed the chicken kebab while I ate it although it was forgettable compared to the slow cooked, moist and succulent thigh, with crispy skin, of which I was so pleased we had two. The feta salad was light and refreshing, and the pitta and tzatziki brought the whole thing together. Pittas were toasted on the outside, fluffy inside and perfect for scooping up the last bits of salad with some dip. It's no grand feat in gastronomy, but it was a very pleasant meal.

After our aperitifs of prosecco, we had a cocktail each with our dinner. Alison's was a white wine spritzer with a twist - rhubarb bitters. Mine was a Japanese Mac- japanese whiskey with plum sake. Sweet. Strong. Amazing. It took a lot of willpower to make that last my whole meal! And even better, they were only £7 and £8 respectively.

I'm a fan.

Whyte & Brown on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Blow Up at the Bussey Building, 14th December

Merry Christmas everyone! My present to you is my write up of the Blow Up Christmas party. I know, I spoil you.

I must admit, when we first got there I had some misgivings. I hadn't realised there was another night on - called Hawaiian Bop upstairs and when we got there it seemed to be the louder, more happening night, with the 50s rock n roll blasting out the doors. Our room, in comparison seemed rather quiet and sedate.

And the first act, unfortunately, didn't do much to assuage my fears. He was very good but his music was a little downbeat (and a little derivative - all four of us practically jinxed each other when we all said he sounded like the Arctic Monkeys after his first song). I was expecting something a little more fun from the opener, more fun even than his mouth organ could provide.

But we didn't have long to wait. As soon as that act was over, in fact, the DJ kicked it up a gear or two and the night really got started. We knew things had got serious when an instrumental version of Jumpin' Jack Flash was followed up with Sometimes by The Strokes, with Bowie's Rebel Rebel hot on its heels. Sprinkle a little 60s French pop a la Brigitte Bardot into the mix and give it a twist more of 90s indie pop with Blur's Boys and Girls and you have a recipe for success there.

So, that gives you an indication of the kind of music they played - it was far reaching 60s to 90s top-drawer tunes. But on top of this, were the main act of the night - The Bongolian, arriving on stage all dressed sharply in Beatnik style - in black and sunglasses. I hadn't realised the name was so prosaic. They're a band - and they play the bongos! Not exclusively. The front man also plays the keyboard in the style of a Hammond organ (think Booker T and the MGs) with some panache. But when he stands up and whales on those bongos, the crowd's love definitely ratchets up a notch. Similarly to the Bikini Beach Band who I discovered not so long ago, this band is pure joy in entertainment.

We all loved it and only the prospect of a long journey back to the other side of the Thames made us inclined to leave earlier than the end. The Bussey Building made for quite a good venue - no frill but it was spacious and easily held everyone who attended without getting too hot and sweaty. 

I don't travel to Peckham often, especially if I'm staying out after midnight as transport home is not easy, but I'd happily make an exception for Blow Up again. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Love Shake and Timebox, 30th November

Love Shake

I was first drawn to going to the Love Shake because of it being a diner and the fact that it does milkshakes and pancakes and whatnot. I actually ended up going because we were out in Shoreditch quite late and we happened to stumble past and stumble in. The place was buzzing, full of drunk people but, even though this had been a bit of a turn-off in TheLooking Glass, it was more or less what I expected from this place and we were now in the mood for a more mainstream bar. They have some very silly (and by silly I mean good) offers on – two beers (bottled) for £5 for example  of which my boyfriend took advantage. They don’t  have anything particularly exciting on offer – if you’re looking for craft beer, this isn’t the place to go. But if you’re looking for some cheap booze to get you drunk with a fun crown and a casual atmosphere then going here wouldn’t be too much of a misstep. I stuck to wine and therefore missed out on one of my main reasons for going – the hard shakes.  A return visit is therefore a must.

The place was a little bit kitsch – they were playing a Bond movie on the TV screen – one of the old 70s cheesy ones, though with the sound down. The place is a diner’s throwback setting, and it’s not very large. To be honest, the place isn’t very ‘cool’ nor trendy despite the diner theme, but at midnight, neither of these things seemed to be very important.

We stayed for a couple of rounds (two wines, four beers) and then recommenced stumbling, this time off to The Strongroom where I knew Timebox was happening and there was free entry. There was a bit of a queue as there aren’t that many bars that let you in after midnight for free but the doorman was entertaining and the crowd were friendly so I didn’t mind the wait.


I seem to have been spending a lot of time in the Strongroom lately (we went there for Stephen’s birthday a month ago, then as part of the Remixed Festival two weeks ago) and as a bar I like it and knew what to expect – bar and seats upstairs, downstairs another bar and more space for dancing. No cloakroom – sort it out Strongroom!

Timebox was indeed on.  And it is one of the New Untouchables nights so I sort of expected the place to be inundated with Mods. But it wasn’t. It was just a normal Saturday night for the bar, albeit one where they happened to be playing authentic 60s music rather than mainstream. At least, that’s what I remember. You may have noticed that by this point we had been to five bars and so I probably wouldn’t make the most reliable witness.

In some ways, Timebox is good because unlike the other NU nights, there are no intimidating scenesters, but in another way it's not so good because those intimidating scenesters is what makes the nights feel so authentic. If I’m going to listen to 60s R n B and Garage that I don’t know, it should probably be in a more genuine setting. But for a place to go on a Saturday night The Strongroom is a strong contender and having 60s mod music on the go in the background is no bad thing. It was just sort of irrelevant. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Liquor Cabinet, The Looking Glass, 30th November

The Liquor Cabinet

Occupying the premises not-so-recently vacated by Mezcaleria QuiQuiRiQui, The Liquor Cabinet isn't the kind of place you can easily stumble on without knowing it is there. It's behind and underneath the Golden Grill kebab shop on Hackney Road and only a chalk board with faint signage directs you to its presence. Which is probably why we had the pick of the place when we walked in at about 10:00. 

The place is pretty bare - some wooden benches against the wall make up the booths, and there are a couple of makeshift nooks and crannies to sit at on the other side. There's not much in the way of decor on the walls. It could never be accused of being style over substance. They were playing pretty good music and within about 20 minutes of being there, all the other booths had filled and a bit of an atmosphere was being fostered.

The cocktail list is short and covers the classics. Their 'hook' is that they pre-mix all of the cocktails and bottle them before opening, ensuring that each one is as consistent as the last. Seeing them all lined up in the fridge is kind of cute. It somehow makes you feel like you're ordering an innocuous juice or something, the potency almost comes as a surprise. However, if you thought the time they saved by pre-bottling might mean more effort is expended on garnishes, then you're wrong. A strip of orange seemed to accompany every drink.

But you know what? The drinks are good. And strong. And cheap! They were all £6 each, which in my book makes the trek up to deepest darkest Hackney Road worth it.

The bar staff of one was also pretty friendly - my boyfriend got chatting to him about the war on nightlife Hackney council seems to be embarking on. Apparently they're implementing a 'one-in one-out' type rule for new openings, in an effort to clamp down on bad drunken behaviour. The strategy seems misguided if it means more places like this (or Sager and Wilde for example) are restricted from opening as these are hardly the kinds of places that are going to contribute to drunken scraps and scuffles in the street at kicking out time.  

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The Looking Glass

After such serene yet convivial surroundings, walking into The Looking Glass was a bit of a shock to the system. And not a welcome one unfortunately. We definitely got the feeling that The Looking Glass was full of spill-over from Shoreditch High Street, which is fine if that's what you're after, or expecting, but we were expecting a similar sort of low-key refined cocktail bar vibe we'd got from The Liquor Cabinet. By the time we got there it was a little after 11 and so we were probably entering the rowdiest point of the night. Had we gone earlier, or on a different evening I wouldn't be surprised if we had an entirely different experience. Though I'm sure the bar stools would have been just as uncomfortable and impractical. The place was really busy and yet we still managed to grab a couple at the bar. This was probably because they seem to have been designed to actively repel you to sit on them. Kind of slippery and nowhere comfortable to put your legs.

The bar staff were pretty rushed off their feet, trying to keep up with the crowd at the front. I'm sure they knew their stuff, and overheard one of them trying to determine what kind of cocktail one of their customers would like (starting with the basic - sweet or sour?) but whereas normally sitting at the bar affords you some personal attention, it wasn't the case here. We had been served at one end of the bar and then moved to sit. I managed to get our bartender's attention to show him where we were and was met with a curt acknowledgement. Smiles seemed lacking.

Also, I sadly did not get to actually go through the Looking Glass for which the bar is named as there was a private engagement party happening in there. 

The list of drinks is inventive and fun. There were two incredibly tasty-sounding dessert cocktails (the past your bed time!  for example, made with orange and cacao infused bourbon, Oreo syrup, and milk served with mini oreos), that I would have jumped at having, had we been having the last drinks of the night. But I didn't want anything too heavy and instead took a gamble on a carrot-juice-based drink. I don't think I have ever seen a cocktail which uses carrot juice, but I like carrots and I like to try something different. This one was called the Shoreditch carrot and featured Jameson whiskey with sweet caramel syrup and it was actually pretty good! Stephen had one which came with a huge banana leaf in it. Which looked impressive if nothing else but happily tasted good too.

Quite a few of the cocktails seemed to make use of either lavendar, or tea, neither of which I'm a big fan of, which limited my choices somewhat. This is just a personal preference of course, but did contribute to my lack of enthusiasm for the place. 

Price-wise, they were still in the fairly acceptable range of £7.50 - £9.00, with about four more extending to £10 or £12.

So, I am well aware that we may not have seen The Looking Glass at its best, but it was our least favourite place of the night. To be fair I think a return visit will have to be on the cards - keep an eye on my Twitter or Facebook for a follow-up review.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Sager and Wilde, 30th November

I don't really want to play favourites with all of the places we went to on Saturday night as I had a great night and they all contributed to that. But let's just say I was forced to pick one... then Sager and Wilde would have to be it.

We walked in and we just instantly hit it off. The place is rather 'bijou' but as we walked in, right in front of us, were two vacant seats at the bar. It was meant to be. And the smell of cheese almost overpowers you as you enter (though you quickly get used to it) - heaven. We'd already eaten so ignored the bites on offer although we greedily cast an eye over everyone else's and am happy to report the charcuterie and cheese looked lovely. I will most definitely go back for one of their famed toasties.

But it was only the wine we were interested in. I knew that anything we chose would be good - that's what their known for, so it was just a matter of picking one I felt I could afford! I started off with a red and Stephen went for the unusual cherry wine. He had a sip and announced it bitter. I had a sip and pronounced it incredibly sweet. We both thought it was delicious though. The bartender came along and asked if we liked it - saying that it was a great combination of sour and sweet and thus ending our argument with us both being right for a change!

I'd like to write more about the red wine I had other than that I really loved it but I'm writing this so long after the fact that I've rather forgotten exactly what it was like. Full-bodied and rich that's for sure. I can't even remember which one I had!

After that I switched it up and had a white wine. This had a dry taste that hit the back of the throat, a bit like sherry with a pleasing heft to it, if that makes sense. In fact, Stephen had a fino sherry and the differences between them weren't all that discernible. Our bartender suggested some smoked almonds as a snack that he said would complement both wines, and considering how similar they were, that makes sense. However, I don't like almonds, and we had just had our dinner at Mr Buckley's so we stayed away from the bar snacks. 

As we sat more and more seats became free which surprised me. I hadn't expected to get in in the first place, let alone have a choice of seats. It may be because Hackney Road isn't much of a destination - people tend to get as far as Ye Olde Axe only when everywhere else has kicked them out (or maybe the Joiner's) and that's it. But waking further up is this little gem waiting to be discovered. Great atmosphere, classy surroundings, and friendly, knowledgeable staff. I really loved it. 

Sager and Wilde on Urbanspoon

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Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Friday, December 13, 2013

Mr Buckley's, 30th November

Judging from the fact there were two large groups, probably both marking a birthday and then us who were there to mark our fifth year anniversary, something about Mr Buckley’s must appeal to those in the mood for a celebration. I hadn’t been before but the pictures of their food and the menu sounded good, as well as what I was seeing on Twitter about it as a bar. I made a reservation at 7:45 and while it was quiet when we arrived, the two groups either side who soon joined created a bit of an atmosphere. I expected it to be more restaurant upstairs and more bar downstairs but in actual fact both levels rather leant themselves to sitting down.

The place has a clean, stripped back look – bare yellow brick walls, wooden benches and tables.  It appealed to us as soon as we came in and we made murmurings of approval to each other. Our lovely waitress (everyone was lovely in fact) came over and ‘explained’ the menu to us. They have, (like so many places these days) a sharing ethos but one that seems to work more functionally than just telling people to have three small plates each and divvy them up. Here you have jars, small plates, mains and sides so you could do a traditional starter, main, dessert combo if you wanted. What they recommend, however is a jar or two to share, a small plate or two to share (depending on how many jars you’ve had) and then a main to share. And these really are designed for sharing. We had everything come together, which may have been a mistake as what we ordered didn’t exactly complement one another. We also kind of ignored the sharing idea with our jars, which was also a mistake. They are pretty packed and a whole jar to yourself really does feel too much of one thing for one person, even if that one thing is nice. We had got one each because Stephen wanted the black pudding with thyme and I’m not keen on black pudding. So I had the ricotta infused with basil with a tomato compote on top.  They both came with e5 sourdough and crostini.

To be brutally honest, the jars were not a strong point. The ricotta was, dare I say, too creamy and not cheesy enough. Even with the very nice compote on top it needed another dimension – some more structure or density to it. A different cheese perhaps entirely. Stephen’s black pudding was again way too much for one person (our fault) but it was also cold. He likes cold black pudding (and managed to somehow finish it all) but thought that in this case, if it was warm it would have been better – he missed the crispy edges you get with cooked black pudding.

So the jars were nice, but I don’t think either of us would order those particular ones again.

The main – the lamb – however… And our sides of carrots and fennel… Lush. I’m not one to get excited about vegetables generally although there are a few I do take quite a shine to. Carrots are one that I have had a relationship with since I was young – they were the only vegetable I would eat willingly.  But only if they were raw.  As I have matured though, I have started to appreciate the cooked carrot. And these were the best I’ve ever had I reckon. The natural sweetness of the carrot was brought out and they retained a bit of bite (I hate it when they’re too mushy). The fennel gave a pleasing sharpness and it was all drenched with olive oil (or butter), negating any health benefits but ratcheting up the tastiness. And there was loads of it.  Again – ideal for sharing. I’d have those again in a heartbeat.

And the lamb dish was splendid. Lamb two ways – lovely chunks of melt in the mouth morsels and then a ‘tot’ each of coarser lamb meat. These were accompanied by a rich, sweet redcurrant jus and parsnip puree and parsnip cube. It inspired us to have a conversation about which is our favourite meat, and made us realise that even though beef might immediately spring to mind, lamb has such an excellent, underrated flavour it should probably be awarded the top spot. Again, as a main for one it would have been perhaps a little too large – the symmetrical layout and amount were perfect for sharing. Very romantic. (Awful picture - see Mr Buckley's facebook for one that does the dish justice.)

Trying not to stuff ourselves we decided against having a dessert, but I had treated myself to a cocktail with dinner. I couldn’t decide between the equally tempting elderflower fizz or gooseberry fizz so I asked my waitress’s opinion. She said: elderflower so that’s what I did. Very refreshing but enough alcohol to remind you it was a cocktail. However, I could have easily guzzled that and had to do my best to make it last the meal.

Their menu changes weekly and every time I check the food sounds great. Our not-so-successful jars aside, I’d love to make this a regular haunt. It was a lovely start to our night of celebration. 

Mr Buckley's on Urbanspoon

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