Friday, January 31, 2014

Heavy Load, 25th January

When I started my Meetup group our first meetup was to The Phoenix near Oxford Circus for the night How Does it Feel to be Loved - an indiepop night that was a hell of a lot of fun. 

Almost two years later and I was back again, this time for Heavy Load - a night dedicated to the classic rock songs of yesteryear, though with a little bit of diversity thrown in. I'm not really a 'rock' chick - I mean, I like Queens of the Stone Age and Silverchair but have never really got into the rock bands of yore that lead the way, like Led Zeppelin or Lynyrd Skynryd. Not that I don't like them when I hear them, but I've never sought them out or owned one of their records. But I'd put it on my List because it was something that was a bit different, and it turns out one of my friends was a long-time fan of 'The Load'. He let me know he was going with a couple of mates and I decided to tag along.

On this particular Saturday night they were focusing on the year 1974 which meant an hour and a half of classic anthems from that year, followed by normal Heavy Load music policy, with an emphasis on songs from that year, followed by a Top 10 Heavy Load songs of 1974 played at midnight. I'm sure this happened but by this point I was too pissed to notice.  

I walked in and it felt like a completely different place to the Phoenix basement bar I remembered. Incense was wafting around the room and the ceiling and walls were glowing with rainbow-coloured lights in different shapes and sizes. All very groovy and psychedelic. There was a lot of hair - both as beards and long straggly tresses -  and there were definitely a few people who looked like regulars and who probably knew all the music from the first time around.

The music, for the most part, was great! I had a wicked time there. It wasn't ALL just classic rock - I distinctly remember a bit of Stevie Wonder (Superstitious) among the Stones (Gimme Shelter) and Queen (Don't Stop Me Now).  I remember them playing The Doors (Alabama Song) and The Beatles Live and Let Die. I rocked and I moshed and I even did some headbanging. If 60s and 70s rock and roll is your bag then this night is definitely for you as that was definitely the majority of the music played. For me - well, it was fun while it lasted but it probably won't go into my regular rotation of weekend nights out. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Slap! at Dalston Superstore, 25th January

After having gorged myself on chicken the night before - specifically fried chicken at Clutch - you might think I wouldn't want more of the same. And if you think that, you are wrong. Presented with several delicous-sounding sandwiches at Slap! in Dalston Superstore, including a grilled chicken option with chilli and spring onion pesto, or a roast beef with crispy leeks and horseradish creme fraiche, I opted for the panko fried chicken with honey and chilli slaw and coriander pesto. The pesto had me at 'coriander'. They all have silly names, like the 'Sex and the Satay' or the 'Bangh Mi Slowly' which is what you'd expect from a place that serves cocktails called 'The Whore's Handbag'.

Stephen opted for a more traditionally breakfast ensemble, the When Harry Met Salmon - smoked salmon and soft boiled eggs with hollandaise and baby spinach. We thought this would come on toast but it also came as a sandwich.

One massive sandwich. Mine was also huge. I can't believe I even contemplated getting chips with it - that would have been completely unnecessary. I think both of us would have been more than happy to just share one. What's that you say? Oh, yeah, of course I finished it. Rude not to. But Stephen, who was in the process of coming down with a stomach bug, left some of his. Three thick slices of smoked salmon were too much even for his salmon-loving self. 

Anyway, the sandwiches - were tasty. At least, I thought mine was. The pesto was hugely garlicky (a plus) and the 'slaw', which was really just thickly cut red cabbage mixed with a few red onions was really nice. The honey completely blunted any bitterness in the cabbage, and a lot of it oozed out and created a pool of it at the bottom of my basket - perfect for dipping the extra bread of the sandwich in.

The chicken was thigh meat - always good. But it could have done with being given the escalope treatment and beaten into a flat shape instead of just large chunks which I had to wrestle to keep in the sandwich, and meant there felt like there was too much bread. Although the bread itself was tasty. I enjoyed eating the thing, but afterwards, I felt bad. It was all a bit greasy and heavy. Some fresh coriander or a few leaves of rocket might have done the trick to make it feel a little lighter and fresher. Stephen also felt a bit weighed down. For £7.00 it would be hard to find a more filling meal.

I've been to Dalston Superstore twice before - at night when the last thing you can imagine, among the sweaty, dancing drag queens, is a place you'd want to go for brunch. But actually, it's quite a cute cafe in the day in its own right. It's very colourful and was busy but not so busy you had to wait for a seat. Definitely worth bearing in mind if you want a bite to eat, especially if you need something to soak up your hangover, and elsewhere is too packed. I'm not sure if I would make the effort to go back myself (though reading the sandwich menu again while writing this has made me think I should give it another chance - but next time, go for a lighter option!). Perhaps Clutch had just spoiled me for my fried chicken needs the night before. 

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Clutch, 24th January

Friday was pay day and an excuse to go out and spend some money. After weighing up Clutch versus On the Bab, my heart said Clutch so we wandered up in the rain to find the newly opened restaurant in the getting-ever-trendier area that is Hackney Road.

Clutch focuses on pretty much one thing: chicken, and of the fried variety. But, of course, done 'posh' - none of that overly greasy KFC or PFC type stuff and using only the best, well-bred chickens. But it's still fried chicken and I had lumped it into the 'dirty food' movement that London is still undergoing. As such I expected the restaurant to bear some semblance to MeatLiquor or other diner-type place. You know the thing: dim lighting, neon everywhere, falcon enamel dishes. I wasn't expecting the almost dainty, spacious and bright decor that Clutch is sporting. This wasn't just some trendy dive serving fried chicken, this was a proper restaurant! I loved the interior - I think it reminded me of an early 20th-century parlour with its striped black and white walls and green velvet chairs. Or perhaps something out of Alice in Wonderland. Anyone else know what I mean?

There were two other couples there when we arrived, meaning the place was pretty empty, though by the time we left every table had at least one party on it. Was it because it was January? Was it because it was raining? Or was it because people haven't quite cottoned on to the fact Hackney Road has some gems worth venturing off the beaten track for? I kind of hope it is the latter as I am getting quite fond of this neck of the woods and I like the fact that most of these places are not subject to massive queues.

What I think was the proprietor seated us and explained the menu (though it is so succinct I think we could have worked it out ourselves). You can have either a full bucket or half bucket of chicken - two flavours to choose from. A half bucket is three pieces of chicken, or half a chicken in other words. You can also have chicken tenders - for those who don't like to eat chicken on the bone, or you can have a portion of 12 wings. Both strips and wings come in two different flavours.

There is a range of sides like coleslaw, twice-fried french fries (in peanut oil), stuffing, and some 'dippety dips' such as chilli chutney or gravy for £1.

Wanting to sample as much as possible we decided to get a half bucket and some wings to share between us, plus a side of fries and a chilli chutney dip. We couldn't decide between to the two flavours for wings - sour and spicy chilli or honey and sesame so we were cheeky and asked if we could get half of each. They were more than happy to oblige. Out of the peppery buttermilk or sweet soy and garlic bucket, we got a half bucket of the soy and garlic.

So we ended up with three sets of chicken that could have ended up all tasting quite samey, but far from it. The flavours all complemented each other, but they were definitely all distinct. 

The chicken itself was delicious - succulent and as pure white as the driven snow. The spicy and sour wings were covered in a sticky, dark sauce, with plenty of it left in the bowl for dipping in. The chilli chutney we ordered was fantastically zingy and fresh, but honestly, probably unnecessary with all of the wing topping going spare. The honey and sesame wings were my favourite - these were 'drier' and crunchier than the other ones with a lighter flavour, and I do just love sesame.
Spicy and sour

Honey and sesame
Both Stephen and I loved the chicken in our bucket - the batter was crunchy and full of flavour, very moreish. I happily ate it on its own when some of it fell off the bird. It inspired Stephen to want to figure out a version to do at home. This bucket also came with more sweet soy and garlic sauce in the bottom to pour over the chicken, and some spring onion and fresh chillies to liven things up and stop everything becoming too sweet.

The fries tasted just like homemade fries (a good thing) though could have been a little thicker, and crispier. On the other hand, they were soft enough to soak up the extra sauces.  

Clutch chicken sour grouseThe music was an excellent accompaniment - especially if we had been dining before heading out to dance - mainly disco with a little Hot Chip thrown in. They served Kernel ale which pleased Stephen, and I had a refreshing Sour Grouse (their version of a whiskey sour) which was pleasant if a little light on the whiskey.

The staff were just lovely - we were even shown the huge back room which houses the bar and which they will soon make the main entrance so people can just hang out there before getting a table.

Stephen felt that the menu could do with a little variety - and it might be nice to see a chicken burger on there (I bet they'd do a hell of a job) or a salad as a main, but these are minor quibbles and to be honest I was perfectly happy with what was on offer.

It was great for a quick bite but would also be an excellent place to take a group of friends for a birthday or lively special occasion. 

The bill comes in an egg - like a not so fun Kinder surprise

Clutch on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dirty Book Club, Robin Ince, 20th January

The Dirty Book Club has the 'honour' of being blogged about because way back when I started leafing through Time Out's 1000 Things to Do in London and compiling my spreadsheet of things I wanted to do, Robin Ince's Bad Book Club was one of those things. But, when I looked to see when it happened, it seemed he was no longer doing it - not in London anyway. But I kept my beady eye on him... Cue three years later and the announcement that Bad Book Club's naughtier younger sister was kicking off - Dirty Book Club. I had to go. And I thought my Meetup would like to go too.

The mere blurb about it proved immensely popular and I had almost 70 members sign up to go. The general public were also pretty keen as within 2 hours of tickets going on sale, half the tickets had gone. But a good whack of my group managed to get tickets and I reckon with about 30 of us there we probably made up a quarter of the audience.

With so many people, you would think at least some of them wouldn't end up liking the show but everyone I spoke to was full of praise. They all had different favourite bits but overall they just seemed to love it. As did I.

It wasn't quite what I was expecting - I thought it would be a shorter show of mainly Robin Ince reading from Mills & Boon ripoffs and casting about wry comments on the contents, with maybe another guest doing the same from their own choices. It was actually more of a variety show, and the reading of the 'dirty' books made up the minority of the entertainment (sadly there were many books he didn't get to as we ran out of time). 

Robin had four other guests with him in fact, all people he has performed with in the past and it was very obvious they all knew each other and held each other in affection. It was great to see a woman performing and doing an excellent job of being funny - she did a couple of 'ditties' - the first one in the style of jazz, all about sexual intercourse euphemisms, and then another in 'rousing British wartime' mode about remembering Britpop. (Think a lot of people were fond of this one as we were all of a certain age.) I particularly liked her 'diary' a la Celia Johnson from Brief Encounter. I haven't even seen the movie but I knew exactly the sort of frivolous disposition she was lampooning.

We had some amusing anecdotes from Chris Neill who, unfortunately (or fortunately, as he put it, as he didn't have a punchline for his story) spent less time on stage than planned due to being struck down by some irascible broccoli, and exiting stage left to go directly to the toilet.

We were also treated to a cover of Prince's 'Sexy M.F.' complete with commentary on the absurdity of the song, and played on an accordion by Martin White. This act was really funny - only just about funnier than the meltdown he had at his first breath, being overcome by a fit of the giggles. With everyone in the audience in hysterics with him, it took many deep breaths to summon the iron will to curb the giggles and continue. 

George Egg's incredibly dry humour didn't always seem to find its mark with everyone (I liked it) but no one could help but succumb to the 'sublime' word imagery, or food porn, that Nigel Slater committed in the excerpts from Real Cooking that George read out. It was so filthy it can't have been anything other than deliberate - 'tossing around a piece of hot sausage in your mouth as you suck and blow'?!

Some bits for me dragged a little - the various 'sundry' names of male and female genitalia was  laboured on a little too long. But on the whole it was a really good night. The 'word jazz' at the end - an almost freestyling concurrent recital of 50 Shades of Grey and the Shipping Forecast is genius even as it properly brought home to me just how awfully written 50 Shades is.

Here's a picture, just to prove I was there. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Oslo, 17th January

People love a freebie and the Oslo launch last Friday was no exception. Twenty minutes deep into a queue, with what looked like at least as long to go before me, and I started to wonder if this was really worth it. How good could it be in there?

Answer: SO good! Maybe not wait-40-minutes-in-the-cold-good but once I was in I was happy I'd made the effort and I doubt the massive queue will be a regular occurrence. Knowing how many people must have been ahead of us to necessitate waiting so long, we knew it would be busy inside. And, in the downstairs bar area, there was quite a crush. Miraculously, this did not translate to a massive wait at the bar and we got served really speedily. Perhaps that is a sign of talented and efficient bar staff.

Like most new openings, they boast a range of interesting beers, but I know nothing of that. Stephen liked the one he had. What I did notice though was that their wine list consisted of mainly wines I knew and liked - picpoul, sancerre, chablis and gavi. A good sign. 

Downstairs was partly so packed because Oslo will be doing food and downstairs is where you eat it. So there were lots of areas for sitting and the benches and stools took up a lot of the space. (Unbelievably there were even three people trying to sit at the bar, despite the hoards jostling around them. I'm sure they got more than one dirty look for getting in the way, not least because I gave them several.) The bar itself seemed like it was probably gorgeous although it was a little hard to tell because of all the people getting in the way of a good view of the fixtures and fittings. The lightshades, both up and down, at least, were pretty stylish. It reminded me of one of the more upmarket bars in Brooklyn I'd been to. 

The launch hype included some tasters of the new menu by Dave Aherne (the guy behind Burger Breakout) but apart from someone handing out free bits of peanut butter cheesecake in the queue, which didn't get down as far as we were, there was no sign of this. Which is a shame, as I've wanted to try his food for a while. 

It was a little after 9 by this point and we wandered upstairs to find some space and see what their weekly night Valhalla was all about. Turned out it was all about having a massive party where people didn't even bother to pretend they were too cool to dance from the get-go. There was definitely more room to manoeuvre up here and you could tell already what a great little space it would make for gigs. They had a small bar upstairs serving the basics, but up here plastic glasses were the order of the day - appropriate gig drink containers.

The music was wide-ranging and crowdpleasing without veering too much into cheese (in my mind). There was some Whitney Houston and some Madonna, but also Hot Chip were played twice while we were there; LCD Soundsystem, The Streets, Tom Tom Club and even Slow Jams by Twista which I love but never hear out, were given a spin. Everyone was loving it.

We went back downstairs, which had emptied a little as more people went to party on the top floor. People were still trickling in but the place could handle this pace of people entering without it becoming as uncomfortable to move as it had been. We had another drink downstairs where the music was of a different tone – less up tempo, but just as good. Special props to playing some Luther Vandross. Never Too Much - what a song!

I didn't notice a cloakroom which I hope was just us not being very observant and not a design flaw. Although plenty of other people must have missed it too, as there were lots of coats just dumped on the dance floor. That is one thing that really bugs me about places, especially if the aim of the night is to have a dance. But that was my only real criticism. A big plus in its favour is that the bus that goes from outside my flat takes me directly there, so I already started out a little biased in its favour. The fact that it was so good is an extra bonus. 

Oslo Hackney on Urbanspoon

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Coming up in 2014...

I ever so occasionally do a 'Coming Up' blog post and I have so many things lined up already, I thought I would do another one.

I've purposely tried to keep the beginning of January a little on the quiet side as I let my bank balance and my weight recover. But that hasn't stopped me planning away for the end of the month and into the next.

So next week I'll be going to a spin-off of Robin Ince's Bad Book Club - Dirty Book Club (and blogging about it). That's quickly followed by Cringe again, one of my favourite London nights and one I have blogged about before.

The last Saturday of January (the 25th) I'll be going to Heavy Load with my friend Chris who is a bit of a 'Load' regular. It's not my normal scene but I like the Phoenix and am open to being surprised.

I managed to nab literally the last two tickets to the new night The Dance Assembly are putting on in collaboration with English Disco Lovers (EDL) at the Horse and Groom and kicking off my February on the 1st. This is a night attempting to honour the glory days of the clubbing scene in King's Cross but of course with some forward thinking music as well, and a bit of vintage in the shape of Little Nan's tea room (serving cocktails) thrown in. 

The following weekend is a big one - I'll be going to my first Guerilla Zoo night, Interzone, an interactive sort of play based around William S Burrough's invented city, to celebrate his birthday. And then the following night on the 8th I will finally - finally! - be going to a White Mink event. These guys are behind the electro-swing nights and, being based in Brighton, rarely put on nights up here. I've been looking forward to this for ages and think it will be a good'un. 

The week after I'm returning to Choose Your Own Documentary because I liked it so much the first time. The story is determined by the audience choosing their chosen path (like the Choose Your Own Adventure books) so I'm hoping for a different story arc and ending this time. 

I'm then celebrating Valentine's Day with a party in the Vaults - The Art of Hearts at the Vaults from the Artful Badger (with a little help thrown in from ALAN). I love the Vaults as a venue and love the idea of Gypsy Hill, Kissograms and a performance troupe even more. I'm going to have to try to go easy though as the next night I'll be going to Torture Garden again. Apparently their Valentine's Balls are ones you shouldn't miss. 

At the moment, I've got some time to rest in the last two weeks of February, but I'm sure that won't last long. Make sure to check back for my blog posts on these nights, plus I'm sure I will be eating and drinking and writing about it in between! If you know of anything cool I might want to go to coming up, do let me know. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mangal 2 and Farr's School of Dancing, 10th January

Oh January, you accursed month! It's cold and miserable and I am poor and fat after the Christmas excesses. The lack of money is particularly bad this month but my boyfriend was feeling uncharacteristically generous and decided to treat me to a night out as he knew I couldn't really afford one. After much deliberation we settled on finally completing the hat trick of famed Turkish restaurants in Dalston - first Cirrik, then Mangal (1) and now Mangal 2.

Ahhh, are there many more delicious things than lamb fat that has been all crisped up? It is a truly delightful thing to eat when it is still warm and slightly charred. And so, it is hard to go wrong with a bit of grilled lamb. I realise that sentence almost suggests that Mangal 2 have somehow screwed it up, but far from it. 

I already had a soft spot for Mangal 2 due to its famed Twitter account - brutally funny and slightly kebab-obsessed (as you'd expect from a restaurant selling kebabs). The guy who first took our drinks order made me think of whoever runs their Twitter account - I tried ordering a diet coke to parch my thirst but was practically forbade to do so, and cajoled instead into having a proper drink (admittedly I do not often need much persuading). 

With a nod to eating healthily, we decided to split a mixed grill and also have a couple of meze between us - one cold, one hot. We got the aubergine with sweet red pepper and mint as our cold one, and the lahmacun for our hot one. We didn't order any more as we weren't sure what other dishes might come with it.

Sure enough, a bowl of bread was set down, which was warm and soft and which we tried to save until the rest of dinner came in case we needed it for soaking things up. That was difficult. 

Soon after came the aubergine dish - any healthiness negated by the oil it was swimming in. It was very nice but a little on the cold side. Our lahmacun didn't come until near the end of the meal - as our grill was set down the waiter asked us if there was anything else and we had to gently remind him. But arrive it did and it was useful for dipping into what remained. For a warm meze it was a little cold, and not hugely flavoursome.

A plate full of charred onions, peppers, tomato, cucumber and leaves was set down, swimming in that delicious pomegranate dressing. This one had quite a kick to it! I only wish it wasn't quite so thin so that I could soak up more with my meat and bread. Love that stuff.

Our grill consisted of cis kebab, kofte kebab, two chicken wings and another hunk of lamb with that delicious fat I mentioned around the edge, plus a lamb chop. It came complete with a thin bit of bread that the juices soaked through.

And it was all very tasty. The chicken wings in particular, oddly enough, stood out - they were pretty well-sized wings and were very crispy with a sort of dry coating. We asked for some chilli sauce and they also gave us some garlicky sauce which was lovely - strong, but lovely. The chilli sauce was actually quite mild.

But for all this, I have to say that it still didn't quite live up to Cirrik. Especially when the bill came and the onion salad we'd been given was on there! We didn't really mind, just wasn't expecting it as Cirrik ply you with so many free salads and sides.

Mangal II on Urbanspoon

Farr's School of Dancing

We then went for a drink before heading home to the newly opened Farr's School of Dancing, which just happens to be right next to the bus stop that we use to get home from Dalston.

This was quite the funky place. The bar is a central island, and an eclectic mix of seating can be found around the edges - what looked like converted cinema seats, sofas etc. It had a homely, slightly ramshackle feel to it and plenty of space in the middle for dancing later in the night. They were also playing some great music - stuff with a 60s soul vibe that had my shoulders shaking.

And the prices! One round cost us £8 - and that was with me getting a large glass of wine (served in a carafe which I thought was cute). Where else can you get that, even if it was only house wine? For this we could even forgive the surly bartendress her lack of warmth.

I don't think I'd need much of an excuse to go back, but the fact that we will literally have to pass it every time we catch the bus could provide the perfect reason to have 'one for the road'.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Earlham Street Clubhouse, 30th December

The final way I took advantage of an empty London before Christmas was to go down to Earlham Street Clubhouse with a few friends and not even bother to make a reservation. 

I knew the place had a sort of retro 90s feel (how I am groaning that the 90s are now considered retro enough to be a theme) that did pizza and cocktails, which seemed like the perfect combination over which a group of girls could have a gossip.

It actually wasn't as retro as I was picturing - it was in fact, quite stylish, with white plus booths in cosily lit smallish nooks. Only the odd touch provided the 90s reference points and a bit of quirk - the hanging cocktail menus for example (practical as well as fun) and the burger phones at every booth. I'm sure I remember reading that you could call up other booths to have a flirt or whatever, but when we tried calling our own booth from the phone next door, nothing happened. Disappointing.

It was all a tad disappointing actually. We had two cocktails apiece and we weren't blown away by them all. My Axel Foley with Don Julio blanco tequila and ting was refreshing but a little bland with not much fizz to it, and my friend who had the Heather's Revenge also said it was a little watery. The Prom Queen I ordered for another friend was more successful - the strawberry puree and cream made it a touch more indulgent, and so was my second drink, the Power Ranger which had more of an alcohol kick with its bourbon base, and apricot jam and red wine providing the interesting flavour. They were all very reasonably priced though, at £7.50. We all cringed at and delighted in the awfully corny names they had for everything, which, being 90s babes, all meant something to us in some way. 

The only food they serve at the moment is pizza, each of which comes with another silly, 90s-reference name. You can get a few of them by the slice, or in 12" or 18" mode. For the true American feel, you should really get the 18-incher. My friends' eyes practically popped out of their heads when the massive pie was set down in front of us, but they haven't had the real deal before. This wasn't it, of course, but size-wise it came close. You could almost fold these slices in half. However, I was in the States recently and two slices of pizza there filled me up. Here, I easily managed to eat half the pizza and still not feel completely sated. Admittedly, they don't claim to be serving NY-style pizza, but given the American theme, you sort of assume that's what they're aiming for. 

So me and my friend Claire shared a Screech - salami picante, chillies and oregano, and my other friends had a 12" each - one The Fresh Prince with mushrooms, fennel sausage and scamorza and one the Marty McFly with mushrooms and ricotta.

I thought my pizza was okay, but it didn't excite me the way Voodoo Ray's did when I first went there, or Homeslice. Perhaps my ingredients were too ordinary, though I love even the 'boring' margherita at Homeslice. The Screech was a spicy one but the heat was inconsistent - only appearing every couple of bites. Having said that, the chillies did pack a punch when you got one. The base was nice and crispy but I think it could have done with larger pieces of salami. Or less crust. Or more tomato. Or something, just something to make it a little more memorable. The others seemed to like theirs, but there were no squeals of delight. I get the impression they all just thought it was pretty standard pizza.

It served its purpose of being somewhere casual to hang out with a group of friends, and cocktails at £7.50 are nothing to be sniffed at, especially in central London so it's good to have this 'in your back pocket' if you find yourself in town, and want somewhere that's not going to decimate your wallet. But given the plethora of new bars in London, this isn't one I'm aching to return to.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bubbledogs, 28th December

Christmastime in London is one of my favourite times of the year. Why? Because everyone else buggers off and finally you get a chance to get into places without the queue that exists all throughout the year. Last year we took advantage of the emptiness to try out Bone Daddies. this year, we went to Bubbledogs. 

When we got there it was still pretty busy but there were several empty spaces. We installed ourselves at the bar. We'd already had almost a half a bottle of champagne at home before going out and, given the nature of the venue, I saw no reason to not continue so I had a glass of bubbly. The cheapest one, admittedly, but it was still much better than 'cheap' champagne - it was fresh and crisp and stood up to the Veuve Clicquot we had been sipping at home. Stephen ordered a beer, which is a more traditional accompaniment to a hot dog I suppose.

There were plenty of dogs to choose from, from the simple naked dog which was a hot dog on its own, to a straightforward hot dog with onions and saurkraut, the likes of which you would find on any NY street corner (and hence called the New Yorker) to more adventurous toppings like truffle mayo and caramelised lettuce on the BLT. Stephen chose the Sloppy Joe, a riff on the sloppy joe sandwich which is loose chilli in a roll. This one was a hot dog covered in beef chilli, cheese and onions.

I had the Mac Daddy - a hot dog topped with mac and cheese, bacon bites and crispy onions. We had a side of sweet potato fries to go with.

We both had a beef frank and this tasted exactly as I would expect a hot dog to taste. The toppings were plentiful, and a little difficult to keep a hold of. A fork to catch the stuff that inevitably falls off wouldn't have gone amiss. I also think the hot dogs themselves were really, too thin. They were almost suffocated by the amount of topping on top. But the toppings themselves were good. My mac and cheese might have been a little too rich and stodgy on its own but was saved by the salty bacon bits, and the crispy onions which were excellent.

The sweet potato fries were actually probably the most outstanding thing about the meal - the first time either me or Stephen have had them where they've actually been crispy like good fries should be. I suspect they coat them in something first to get that effect.

At around £7 for a hot dog, it's not all that expensive either - not much more than you'd pay at a street food van. However, when comparing these hot dogs to the versions I have had on the street, these ones don't stand up that favourably. Big Apple Hot Dogs, Dogfather Diner and Street Kitchen (at The Miller) are all doing superior versions. 

If the setting were a quick grab and go diner, then these hot dogs would do the business. I enjoyed my hot dog - it was a proper hot dog in my eyes and it was tasty. The champagne to go with it wasn't weird and I think worked fine, although it does just seem there as a novelty factor. But for the price, and the surroundings (it felt like a pretty nice bar), I expected something... more. I certainly wouldn't queue for this, when there are better places around.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Notes, 23rd December

What a cute, cosy little place this is. I have been meaning to go since a friend of mine recommended it to me and it seemed like the perfect place to go to catch up with a different friend over a cup of coffee. 

The place is small but as we were meeting at the beginning of the hinterland that is London at Christmas, I wasn't too worried about us not finding a seat. And I was right. There were plenty. It was a particularly soggy day so entering this warm cafe (in both atmosphere and heating) was a relief. One of the staff greeted me, noting by my craning neck that I was meeting someone, and so he deposited a menu with me, but didn't pester me for a choice until my companion had arrived. Having several minutes to peruse the menu, I found it hard to decide on what to have. A lot of the options sounded great, and they were all priced at around the £7 mark, making it impossible to rule anything out on price alone.

Eventually, I settled on the salad with pistachio-encrusted chicken, feeling like I should be a little healthier in preparation for the Christmas gluttony. So, the beef and mash and the pork belly special, not to mention the chilli and cheddar tartlet narrowly missed out on being consumed. My friend had eaten heartily earlier so was having dessert with her coffee, choosing the marble cake from the several tempting choices on the counter.

Being priced at seven pounds, I fully expected my salad to be more of the 'side salad' size with a couple of nuggets of chicken on top. Instead a piled-up beast of a plate was served to me, with a whole breast sliced upon it. Chunks of avocado and cherry-tomato halves made the salad a little more interesting. It was drizzled with a sweet, sticky balsamic sauce. It was just what you want when you order a salad - plenty of greens to fill you up. I never understand why places skimp on the core of the salad - the leaves.

I had a mocha to warm me up as an accompaniment to my cold sald. It was very rich and smooth. I'm no coffee connoisseur but to me it tasted like top stuff. Apparently they take their coffee seriously - seriously enough to have their own roastery.

Nothing but good things to report - lovely ambiance, lovely food. 

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Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ping Pong - Pop Up Ping Pong, 21st December

In case you didn't know, ping pong is totes trendy right now. The Book Club has a ping pong table, Rich Mix holds ping pong tournaments and two bars in London have opened dedicated to it - Ping in Earl's Court and Bounce in Holborn. Oh, and everyone over here now calls it ping pong when I believe it used to be called table tennis. Ping pong definitely sounds cooler.

And, to add to this, Pop Up Ping Pong have been holding pop-up ping pong nights for, ooh, a while now. But every time they did one, I was either busy, or it was out West, where I don't often bother to go. Finally, they brought their pop up to the East - setting up in Netil House, a venue I like. As usual, they had burgers from #BRGR plus crack pie and cronuts. Only this time they were serving Christmas-inspired sliders with cranberry and turkey etc.

I actually managed to win a pair of tickets courtesy of Doing Something. I'd been out all day, first at Flesh and Buns and then at the lovely Sun Tavern in Holborn, but having some tickets persuaded us to go home via Hackney and see what PUPP had to offer. 

I had fun there - more fun than I thought I might, not being terribly good at any racquet sport, but at the same time it didn't knock my socks off. The place was pretty empty. It was a little like being in an extra cool sports bar rather than a cool bar with ping pong tables. Maybe that's the vibe they're going for but I rather suspect that they were in fact suffering from the pre-Christmas exodus which happens in London. 

In some ways that was good - it meant we didn't have to wait too long to get on a table. And then we played some beer pong with a friendly crew who were out celebrating a birthday. I swear we coulda won that game, I've played beer pong before and knew the deal, even though it was merely three of us against many, but Stephen kept fouling and making us drink our own beer! 

Beer pong, if you didn't know, is a drinking game, where you throw your ping pong ball into cups set up at the other side, filled with beer. If you get a ball in a cup, the other team has to drink. It's a stalwart game of many an American BBQ.

I had a helping of crack pie - a very sugary confection that's named for its addictive qualities. I've never had the original from Momofuko in New York but I can see how this moreish, sweet and salty pie could get you hooked. I didn't end up having any sliders, but Stephen wasn't impressed with his - too dry apparently.

The music they were playing was great, which made it all the more disappointing that the people waiting to get on a table weren't dancing to it. Given the amount of space in Netil house, it could easily have accommodated a makeshift dance floor and I can't help but think that was the idea. I know ping pong was the main draw, but I thought dancing would get as much attention, especially as people waited to get on a table. Not sure if 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

So Tough So Cute!, 20th December

So Tough, So Cute play indiepop and pop punk but with a focus especially on girl groups and female music. They were playing their LAST EVER night in London just before Christmas so of course I had to make a special effort to go. It won't be their last ever event - but all the others will probably be happening in Sweden and that's a little bit further than I'm willing to travel.

It took place in the Macbeth, a pub I hadn't been to before, but which I really liked. It's quite out of the way, so not really the kind of place that gets passing traffic. Which might explain why, at 11 pm, it was practically empty. Or, it could possibly have been that the annual Christmas migration had started. Either way, when we got there we weren't entirely sure whether the night had actually started or not.

I thought it probably had though, judging by the music being played, and as more people turned up and some started making tentative steps on the dance floor, we finally started to feel like we were in the clubnight I was expecting it to be, rather than just a nice pub that had good music. 

And the music was good. They played quite a few Smiths songs, a bit of The Cure but there was also a definite favouring of girl bands and artists that you don't get so much on other nights. The Runways were played. No Doubt's 'Just a girl' followed Sleeper followed Elastica. It was nice to hear some female-centric music as there's some really good stuff out there. And then they played Trouble by Shampoo. I did say 'some' really good stuff. By 2 am when the night was over, we'd all been dancing for a good couple of hours and weren't ready for the night to end. It would have been great if they'd had extended opening hours considering it took so long for the night to get going.

Despite having a really good time there and liking the music, there are other nights around to fill the void So Tough So Cute will leave (like Blow Up or Great Big Kiss) so even though it is a shame to lose a good night playing good music, I'm sure London will survive. Malmo probably needs them more than we do. Farewell and good luck So tough!