Thursday, February 27, 2014

Juicy, 22nd February

If I were going to throw a hip hop/R n B night I probably wouldn't pick the room in the back of a pub to host it, especially if that pub was the Shacklewell Arms, a hipster/indie pub in the heart of Dalston.. But that is what Juicy have done for their monthly club nights in London. 

But let's be honest, if the music is good and everyone is dancing, then the actual venue is low on the list of priorities. After a cheeky couple of bottles of wine in Farr's (still love that place) we headed up to the Shacklewell and had another before going round the back at about 11. It was definitely on the empty side, and there wasn't anywhere to put our coats. Not happy. When I'm at an R n B night, I am there to DANCE and I don't want outer clothing hampering me. 

We laid claim to a corner of a bar and stashed our stuff while we had a few drinks waiting for the place to fill up. Which it really did! I'd say by midnight the place was pumping. 

I don't think I've ever seen a whiter crowd at a hip hop night, but I wasn't particularly surprised by this given the neighbourhood. I guess hipsters like RnB after all. Shame they don't really know how to dance to it! Still, in some ways, watching them made the night more entertaining. And they were playing the good stuff. Timberlake's Rock Your Body, Dre and Snoop's Still Dre, even ABC by he Jackson 5! Unfortunately, they weren't playing quite enough of each track. It wasn't as infuriating as Notting Hill's YoYo but I would still have preferred to hear the whole track before moving on. It would almost get to your favourite bit and then .. no die! Next song!

That's not to say we didn't have a good time. We did. At about 2 am or so one of my friends started to make noises about going. 'One more song', we said, dancing, but then the next one would come on so it was 'after this one'... then the next one would come on... You can see the pattern.

Supa Dupa Fly and Juicy aren't exactly in competition with each other - they aren't held in the same place or at the same time, so I don't really have to make this a competition and choose between them. And in fact, I'd happily go to both. But I AM going to make this a competition and say that Supa Dupa Fly have the edge - it gets held in a club that feels like a club, but most importantly for me - they play the full songs, and long may they continue to do so. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Smoke n Roll at The Black Heart, 21st February

Smoke n Roll have quite the prosaic name for themselves. They smoke meats, and then they serve them in a roll! And right now they're doing it at The Black Heart in Camden, where we went to check them out last week. 

There are a lot of places doing BBQ right now, but for me, as long as it's good, my appetite does but wax for smoked meats, ribs and sticky wings. 

First - the rolls. You can either get pork or beef, and I expected something similar to what we had at The Joint - buns of pulled pork and shredded brisket. Not so. The meat here is bucking the trend by coming in thick slices, rather than shreds. And it was nice to have something a bit different for a change. The pork had a really good, smoky taste to it, although my first bite was mostly gristle, so not a great start. However, I got over that and enjoyed this sandwich a lot. 

I was especially pleased that the brisket came in slices as that's my preferred method of serving. I remember being disappointed when I first went to Pitt Cue's trailer and instead of slices of melting, smokey brisket, a la Fette Sau in Brooklyn, I had a carton of the pulled stuff. Here they've done a pretty good job, and the pickles with it were welcome, but I have to say that if you want slices of smoked brisket, then Texas Joe's pulled this off better (though I wasn't a fan of the rest of their menu).

There was a big group of us, and the menu is short so we ended up ordering everything on there and sharing it out between us. We had one portion of ribs, and enough wings for everyone to have two. The ribs were pretty bad. They were tough and chewy and this was so overwhelming I can't even remember the taste. It seemed so pointless to have them on the menu if they weren't going to cook them until they fell off the bone. 

Everything, twice 
Chicken wings had a great tangy flavour (I dipped my chips in their sauce instead of the BBQ sauce we were given) but by the time I got round to having mine, they were pretty cold. So I imagine they'd be even nicer piping hot. However, I do wish they'd been separated into their separate halves instead of being served whole and having to be cut apart (I'm squeamish about pulling bones apart).

The grande surprise was the fact that we all loved the sides so much. I mean, who really cares that much about sides normally? Well - these guys. Their baked beans (with carrot!) were some of the nicest I've had, if not the nicest - just the kind of texture I like in a bean, not too 'al dente'. The carrots? Yeah, they worked.

And the coleslaw was really, really good. It's a light touch coleslaw, not the claggy mess many a place gives you. It had a distinct taste to it I couldn't quite put my finger on. Kimchee? It reminded me of the crunchy salad that rainbo do. 

And the chips... actually I didn't love the chips but the others seemed to like their fuzzily-seasoned coating. They did go rather well with the cheesy dip we were given.

Smoke n Roll are making a decent stab at joining the BBQ scene and have managed to do some things differently enough to make them stand out from the crowd, but just don't quite have the wow factor that would entice me back. 

This was all in the setting of the rowdy, rockin' Black Heart which was, unexpectedly, pretty busy on a Friday night. This place is rock kitsch, with weird Mexicanesque shrines everywhere, and rock music playing loudly. They do gigs upstairs. The Smoke and Roll dude food totally suited the place. Unfortunately, we probably would have had to be doing tequila slammers in there to have the motivation and enthusiasm needed to compete with the music in order to have a conversation, so after our food we scarpered to the more refined Craft Beer Co round the corner. Still, I liked the chutzpah of the place, and can imagine if I was 'on one' this would be a fun place to return to.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bad Brownie Co, 14th February

It pains me to say it, but Konditor and Cook have some serious competition from the Bad Brownie Co, especially in terms of a rival to their fudgepacker brownie, previously my favourite brownie in all of fair London town.

I have actually had two Bad Brownies now, but slightly ruined the first one, bought at Broadway Market, by taking it home and nuking it in the microwave. Instead of bringing it up to room temperature, we melted it and though it tasted nice, the frosting was completely liquid and the brownie just tasted like cake. We had ruined the special brownie texture. The crunchy caramelised maple syrup bacon on the top also went a bit soft. 

I didn't think this did the brownie justice so on Wednesday I popped by their pop-up in Soho to get another one. This time I opted for the tantalising salted caramel brownie. They don't do things by half, this lot. This brownie is actually TWO brownies sandwiched together and the salted caramel that they make is the filling. If it sounds ridiculously rich and indulgent and gooey then that's because it is. A gold dusting deceives you into thinking this is a pretty little thing, when it fact it is a beast of a brownie. 

Couldn't resist having a bite before I took my picture
I'd be lying if I pretended this was a light snack. The brownies themselves are very rich and chocolatey and the caramel only adds to this. But my, is it good! A really good example of a brownie too, in my opinion. Brownies should be stodgier than cake, nice and dense with a top that is a little crunchy and starts cracking and flaking as you eat it. This fulfilled all these criteria. 

The salted caramel is  their best sellers, and I can see why. If you've got a sweet tooth this will tick all your boxes. Almost as popular is the peanut butter one, which will have to be next on my list, although they do all kinds of flavours; as well as the aforementioned maple bacon, they had a triple chocolate one and a rose pistachio flavour when I went. Utterly scrumptious!

Romantic Misadventures at Bohemia with Manhattans Project, 13th February

To finish our faux Valentine's Day in style we headed up to Hackney Central, to the boutique Bohemia cafe/bar where the Manhattans Project take over every Thursday, and who had collaborated with Romantic Misadventures for the night.

Romantic Misadventures is a night of storytelling, based around love, romance or sex, and often the stories are of a biographical nature. But not necessarily so, and fiction and poetry are welcome as well. As you can tell from the name, tales of the joys of love aren't quite so welcome as recounting embarrassing and horrifying anecdotes from your romantic past. Which the host and several other guests were more than happy to do. In this respect it wasn't dissimilar to the very popular Cringe night. And free, too!

This wasn't a one-off night and I got the feeling that quite a few of the people reading had done so before, and that a lot of the crowd were part of a loyal following. I can understand why. The stories were all very funny, those that were true more so for being true and I had a really good night. Highlights for me included one girl reading us a list of her personal turn-ons, for example: 
'Ginger women
Ginger men
Ginger bread
Any kind of bread'

Or there was the guy who read a work of art about Thaddeus Hardcock, the billionaire who had more than a passing lust for furniture, much to the dismay of the heroine who was trying to court him. This was a hilarious sending up of the Shades of Grey that anyone with even the most scant reading of the original text could appreciate. 

And the woman who, recently divorced, could NOT wait to start having all the sex. But it was a lot harder than you'd think to find decent people to have all this sex with, and we heard of several of her recent attempted conquests, including one young man who 'did a murder wee' in her toilet and then just shrugged it off. 

I wasn't quick enough to note down the names of these brave and fabulous volunteers so if you happen to know, do tell me. Kit Lovelace was the consummate host, sharing with us a couple of his worst ever Valentine's Days to warm up the crowd. Would love to return some time, and may bring my Meetup group along as well, it's right up our street.

Alongside all of these were some fantastic drinks. The Manhattans Project had crafted a menu especially for the night, cocktail names which were an amusing read of itself. To wit: The Thyme Apart (which sold out before the halfway point, possibly because it was the cheapest cocktail) – "This ain't your Grandma's Plymouth Gin ... combo. Because ever since the accident she hasn't been able to move her legs, let alone mix drinks. How insensitive can you be? Here's to grandma." Irreverent much?

First up I had a Fake Orgasm which was my favourite drink of the night (and possibly, ever) and so good I can promise you I faked none of my enjoyment. I think it a little unfair to have named it so - The Gushing Climax would have been a more appropriate representative name. This (like most of the menu) was a whiskey based drink (well, bourbon) topped with condensed milk foam that was thick and sweet and gradually sank into the rest of the cocktail as you drank it. After sipping mine, Stephen made sure to have one before we left.

They had one white wine and one red wine on the menu and I had one of each. Must admit I wasn't a fan of the red wine but the white was a Picpoul which is always pretty reliable. They were also serving Five Points Pale Ale as the beer, which Stephen hadn't had before but will likely be seeking out again as he really liked it.

We had a couple more cocktails between us - my last was a Sex on the Beach with whisky and 'really good schnapps'. This was no ordinary, too-sweet fruity cocktail but one that was properly grown up. Stephen had a Manhattan as his first cocktail, which, you know, is kinda the Manhattans Project's thing, so had to be done. That came with a cherry sunk in it - saved to last so it was completely alcohol-sodden.

The venue itself, Bohemia, seemed cute, a little ramshackle with several wooden tables for four and lots of arty stuff on the walls, low-hanging lights and the comforting rumble of the overground above it. Perhaps a little hard to judge the place when it was overshadowed by the Manhattans Project takeover and the Romantic Misadventures on stage, but it seemed like the kind of place you could get cosy in with a coffee, or come for a bite to eat of something homely, with a laid-back atmosphere. I shall remember it's there, nestling under the arches of Hackney Central for the future. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Opera Tavern, 13th February

My boyfriend and I are developing a few of our own Valentine's Day traditions. Firstly, we stopped celebrating it on Valentine's Day and instead do it the day before (or after) so that if we want to go to a restaurant we aren't forced into choosing from a special Valentine's Menu and the place isn't full of sickening couples. Secondly, we seem to end up at slightly weird places (last year - Naked Girls Reading, the year before, a war memorial). And thirdly, my boyfriend buys 'me' some chocolate from Paul A Young (which he gets to share of course).

This year we took the day off and went for lunch at the Opera Tavern for the first part of our celebrations and then went to the Romantic Misadventures event in the evening (see next post about that).

Opera Tavern is run by the same people who own Salt Yard (and Dehesa, and their new one Ember Yard). We'd been to Salt Yard for my birthday a few years ago and loved it so we thought we should try one of the other ones. 

Salt Yard is a basement restaurant, with a bar for drinking and charcuterie upstairs, whereas Opera Tavern has its bar on ground level and the restaurant upstairs. Which makes for quite a bright and airy room, not quite the romantic cavern we had imagined. The romance was dialled down another notch by the room being mainly occupied by parties of six or more, and so was rather boisterous. Oh well - our own folly for bucking the V-day trend.

First things first - a portion of fluffy, chargrilled bread with a mild, light olive oil was lovely, and the bread was good enough on its own without the oil. Next up came the smoke haddock croquettes with saffron aioli. That aioli was not taking any prisoners with its full-on garlic taste. The haddock croquettes were creamy and fishy, but not overpoweringly so - very happy with those. 

One of the differences between Salt Yard and Opera Tavern is Opera Tavern's grilled selections, so we made sure to choose something from that section. While the food was lovely on the whole, it was probably the grilled dishes that weren't quite as fantastic as they might have been. We ordered a beef and beetroot and a lamb neck and pear skewer and while they were tasty, they weren't quite as juicy or moreish as I thought they might be. There wasn't as much pear on the lamb skewer as I'd hoped – I thought there would be chunks of it cooked on the skewer – and there could have been more of the pomegranate sticky sauce the beef came with.

Another thing that marks out Opera Tavern from its sister restaurants is the focus on iberico pork, which they serve as a burger instead of just in jamon form. Taking advantage of this and the charcoal grill, we ordered the pork and fois gras burger. This didn't quite live up to its expectations on Stephen's behalf, but I really liked it. He thinks this is because I don't partake of the full joy a beef burger can give you but I thought the flavour was lovely, even if I was a little taken aback by the very pink middle at first. I liked the crispy onion and the sweet, charred bun, but must admit, didn't discern the fois gras making much of a difference to the porky taste. Stephen thought that it being served rare did its texture no favours and also lead to a lack of taste. I agree that I thought the firmer edges of the burger were the better parts.

We then had a salad of ndjuja, honey parsnips and quail's eggs, and bavette with braised onions and trevise. The steak was my favourite dish - the bavette being incredibly tender and full of flavour and slow cooked onions pretty much always steal my heart. But the nduja salad put up a pretty good fight - the quail's eggs were perfectly cooked, the parsnips were sweet and the nduja was spicy, with some nice peppery and robust greens to make up the salad part. The spicy chorizo-like oil did a good job of making us feel like we weren't eating anything too healthy for our celebratory meal.

The only real disappointment on the savoury front was the monkfish with orzo and mussels which had a sauce which was a little too bitter for both of our taste buds. Whether this was the sea purslane effect or the choricera pepper I don't know. 

We weren't sure if we really needed dessert but two interesting ones caught our eye and we caved. I had the rhubarb with italian meringue and shortbread while Stephen had the blood orange tart. By gum were they good. Mine was like eating a thick eton mess (but without berries for once) - the shortbread was sprinkled on top, pieces of stewed rhubarb were laden on top and there were lovely chewy bits to the meringue, as well as a sweet rhubarb sauce. Stephen's tart was just that, with a lovely blood orange marmalade and caremelised pistachios. 

I enjoyed my meal at Opera Tavern - the food was accomplished, interesting, and mostly tasty. Stephen had a couple of Alhambra beers with his meal, which he very much liked and I had a very tasty brindisi reserva - a full-bodied red. I think I preferred the cosy intimacy of Salt Yard but allow that it might be purely down to the time of day we visited. However, despite having a lovely lunch, if I would return to one it would be Salt Yard, and I would try one of the others in the group before going here again. 

Opera Tavern on Urbanspoon

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Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Friday, February 14, 2014

White Mink, 8th February

White Mink totally lived up to the (my) hype. I had a stupidly wicked night.

We got over to Village Underground at about 10:30, maybe a little earlier. At first we were a little surprised by the music played - we didn't think it really fit into the electro-vintage style we had expected, it seemed to be a bit mainstream. But the night was still young and they were just getting warmed up before it really got into the 'swing' (geddit) of things.

Apart from knowing White Mink were the people who brought us Electro-Swing I hadn't really looked into what to expect. So the number of live acts were a surprise, as was the aerial performer who wowed us with her sexy acrobatics over the middle of the crowd. The night would have been great without this, but it added to the spectacle of the whole event.

The live acts were stupendous. We were all blown away by them, truly (and there was about 15 of us to impress). Standout act of the night had to be Shea Soul and Kid Kasino, and I'm happy to say I got a chance to chat with Shea after her performance and tell her how great we thought it was. Bart & Baker provided the DJing skills to keep us all dancing when the live acts, which included the Elle and the Pocket Belles and the Shirttail Stompers, had finished.

So, as the night went on, it was more and more of what we had expected and what we loved. Some bass and beats that made you want to shake your hips (especially if those hips had tassels on them, which mine did) along to the fast-paced swing and jazz from the 20s to 40s. There is something about this blending of music styles that just makes you want to dance and dance. Once we started, I think we barely stopped, and when the night finished at 3 am, we easily had the appetite for more.

There wasn't an enforced dress code for the event but most of the people there had outfits that were inspired in some way by the 20s, which was nice as I do love a guy in a waistcoat and trilby! And I think it added to the atmosphere and decadent feel of the party. It was fantastic to have such a big venue as Village Underground, and the place was full to the brim, proving how popular these nights are. I am surprised that White Mink hadn't come back to London sooner, but they appear not to be replicating the long wait after this one with the next show in May. Sadly, I don't think I can make it, but you most definitely should. It was frightfully good. 

In fact the only bad thing I have to say about it was that VIllage Underground ran out of white wine at about 11:30! How do you run out of wine? Ridiculous. 

Pictures to come...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Le Coq, 4th February

According to the women next to us, I must have either been mad or a blogger. Why would I have been mad? Because no one in their right mind would have bothered taking pictures of the food at Le Coq. Oh no no no, one might take a picture of every dish at The Fat Duck, but the stuff they were serving at Le Coq? Well, one could have similar fare in the countryside of France or Italy that would take your breath away didn't you know?

I'm happy to say that, image quality aside, even if I hadn't been a blogger, I don't think I would have been mad to take pictures of my meal at Le Coq because I thought it was brilliant. Apart from maybe the tables being too close together, forcing us to listen to the two posh knobs next to us.

Despite the French-sounding name, this actually has very obviously Italian influences (kind of like Oui Madame) with Italian ingredients and sauces coming to the fore. Ever heard of agretti? Or cedro? What is agrodolce? I'd never heard of any of these despite my mild foodie status.

Le Coq is mainly about chicken and in that there is no choice - you get two pieces for your main - one dark meat, one white, and you get the side of the week. The week we went it was swiss chard with that agrodolce sauce (a sweet and sour sauce). But you do get to choose how many courses you want (2 or 3) and to choose between two options for your starter and/or dessert. There were a couple of specials too, but we didn't pay them any attention - it was hard enough deciding between just two things. We were smart and decided to both only have two courses - but one of us had the starter, one had the dessert and we shared them. We went for the bruschetta with cedro, wood sorrel and mozzarella to start. I'm sure the agretti and shrimp fritt would have been lovely but I refuse to believe it was as lovely as our bruschetta. For that price range I do not think I've had a lovelier appetiser. Cedro, as our Italian waitress explained, is like a big lemon, thin slices of which were all over the bruschetta. It was very, very lemony but without that bitterness, meaning you could eat such slices of it on its own. I don't think I can convey how tasty I found this starter. I would say, just go and try it, but they'll have changed it for something else next week!

We ordered some rotisserie potatoes with our chicken. They were perfectly cooked, both crunchy and fluffy. The chicken was juicy and came with extra chicken jus and a pot of tarragon (I believe) dressing that was light as a feather.The swiss chard was delicious, the sweet juices mixing pleasingly with the chicken gravy. Pine nuts were a welcome additon, as always. I actually wish there'd been a little more of the chard so that I could have some with every bite of my fabulous chicken. 

Finally, we shared the pistachio and grapefruit tart which came with a whipped soured cream. I wasn't keen on the cream, not being a fan of the soured variety, but the tart was fab, even though it was impossible to photograph well. The pistachio was found in the bulk of the tart, which was a bit cakelike and then it was studded throughout with the tart grapefruit.

We had ordered a litre - yes a litre - of the house wine, which wasn't much on its own but paired with the chicken really well. 

I was really impressed with Le Coq - interesting food cooked well and excellent value for money. It's another one of those 'neighbourhood' restaurants - the kind of place to go when you could do with treating yourself to a night off cooking, but don't want to dress all fancy and spend loads of money. And with its weekly changing menu, there will always be something new to discover.   
Not photogenic

Le Coq on Urbanspoon

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Translate Bar and The Dance Assembly, 1st February

I've walked past Translate bar several times, mostly in the day and each time I think 'ooh, what's that place, that looks nice' before realising again it is Translate. On Saturday, I actually went in, for a drink or two before The Dance Assembly at the Horse and Groom.

And it was nice. It wasn't as busy as I feared it would be - plenty of people to give it an atmosphere but there was still plenty of space for standing, or, if you were lucky, sitting like we did. There's pretty lights at the window and interesting art on the wall, plus that stripped back, brick thing that Shoreditch does so well. 

They had a couple of interesting beers that Stephen went for - I had an averagely priced glass of house white which was plenty drinkable before perusing the cocktail list. These are mainly £7.50 (or £10 if you go for one of the 'posh' ones - their words) which is an acceptable price to pay for a cocktail in a place whose raison d'etre isn't cocktails unlike, say, Callooh Callay or Worship Street Whistling Shop. I ordered the Taste of Honey (apparently the first person to actually call it by its name, rather than just the top two ingredients of honey and lime listed on the menu.) The menu, by the way, is a rather cute-looking thing itself, the ingredients of each cocktail being designed in the shape of a drink (presumable to match what it looks like when served). The taste of honey was a short, strong drink of rum, but obviously the addition of honey gave it a sweetness that I like in my boozy beverages. It was great, and I could have have had many more but I didn't want to spend a fortune so I switched back to wine for my last drink there.

The music while we were in there was fantastic. I meant to write down just a few choice songs but each time another song came on, it was again worthy of note. So, a selection of our soundtrack to the night included:

Salt n Pepa's Whatta Man, Soul II Soul's Back to Life, Madonna's Papa Don't Preach, The Doors – Break on Through, The Beach Boys – Barbara Ann and Aretha's Respect. Not too shabby - diverse and a little bit old school but all gems to put you in a mood for a night out.

At about 10 the DJ came along but we didn't notice much of a change in the music - we left shortly after to go to our next stop.

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The Dance Assembly

The anticipation for this night was pretty sky-high. Many, many months ago I stumbled across these guys on twitter and I liked what they were trying to do. Lamenting the demise of all the old rave havens of King's Cross, they wanted to reignite a bit of that spirit in London. They didn't even have a date for their party yet, but I watched and waited. Waited too long in fact as the tickets went on sale and before I even knew it they'd sold out. Luckily a few more were released and I managed to get the very last two tickets. 

I hadn't, I must confess, ever got down to the big clubs of King's Cross like the Cross and the Key back in the day - when they were going strong I hadn't quite yet discovered what proper dance music was (I had been put off by the stuff I heard in my local club, not quite the same thing I came to discover). So this night appealed to me as a chance to experience something I'd missed out on the first time. A bit like going to see a band who have reformed. Only, unlike with many band reformations, it wasn't shit and they played all the good stuff.

This night was a roaring success. I think there were a lot of people there who knew each other from that golden era, but I think there were plenty of newbies like myself and my friends, and The Dance Assembly catered for both crowds. One room was a nod to the raving hey day, another room had license to showcase the best of the new stuff on the dance floor these days, and then, when you needed a breather, you had the lovely parlour where Little Nan's were serving gorgeous cocktails in teacups, and amazing little jars of something scrummy. I had one of these at only £3 a pop, and then I also had managed to be one of the winners to name a cocktail and got to have one free! Lovely to chat to them as well after having had some twitter interaction with them. They're celebrating their first birthday tomorrow - head on down!

There were a few downsides but I know already that the organisers know about these and have vowed they won't be repeated at the next one (June 7th - already in my diary). The queue for the ladies toilet was long, but that didn't faze me as it always is. By the time we got there the cloakroom was full and this was pretty annoying - I came to dance and didn't want to dance holding my coat the whole night! We stashed our stuff behind a sofa and hoped for the best, trusting the crowd to be too lovely to nick them. And, despite limiting the number of tickets to only 150, the place got surprisingly rammed later on in the night! I suspect the Horse & Groom started letting people in willy nilly after a certain point.

But I still had a blast. The music was top notch - lots of stuff I knew and loved. I was in the frame of mind for dancing and they played right to that. It's all a bit of an enjoyable blur - I probably couldn't name what was played, I just remember loving it!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Frenchie, 1st February

I seem to be doing themes for my weekends - last weekend it was chicken, this weekend it was meat in buns, starting with The Joint on Friday night (fabulous) and following it up on Saturday lunchtime with an equally delicious 'sandwich' from The Frenchie.

These guys serve confit duck in a brioche bun, topped with melted cheese and garnished with red onion chutney, mustard and rocket. It tastes as brilliant as it sounds. 

This was maybe my third week in a row trying to track down the Frenchie after not finding it on Brick Lane a couple of Sundays in a row. This time I was taking no chances and went up to Broadway market. It was incredibly blustery and freezing while I waited for my duck to be cooked until it was slightly caramelised, and the smoked cheddar I had ordered started oozing on the grill. Other cheese choices are blue cheese or goat's cheese with truffle honey. Next time I might try the goat's cheese. I think the tang would work well with the sweet chutney and sweet brioche.

Not that I am complaining about the version I had. 'Duck crackling' is also added to the mix and it's all a completely satisfying melange of sweetness, crunch, the slight gameyness duck has , a sharp hit of mustard and proper pepperiness. I'm not a mustard fan but it was great with this, and in fact I would even have been happy with more as the other flavours are so strong they almost overpower the mustard. 

The only downside I would say is that for £6 it's a little small so not incredibly filling - especially compared to the monster buns I'd had the night before for only £7. But I have noticed that the price of street food has been creeping up lately, and £6 isn't an unreasonable amount to charge compared to other vendors. It certainly wouldn't keep me away. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Blanchette and & Co, 28th January

& Co

Having heard of the bar '&Co' underneath Central & Co just after Christmas, I was pleased to notice on Saturday that it is just opposite my friend's office and so would make the ideal place to go for a drink before having dinner. So we were a little disappointed when we walked in just before 6pm and the rope barring the downstairs bar was blocking the way. We enquired as to what time it opened and the girl upstairs was kind enough to go down and see if the bartender down there was ready to open up. He apparently was, and we went down and proceeded to have the whole place to ourselves almost up until we left to go eat. If we felt a little guilty about making Chris, the bartender get behind the bar when no one else was there, we felt even worse after he kindly explained the menu to us and the idea behind all the tasting notes and in the end all we did was order wine. (The original concept was to have only unbranded spirits, and you choose based on the tasting notes but this proved unpopular so they're gradually moving towards brands as per every other bar, which I think is a total shame.) We promised to come back and try something stronger later. 

I had a mascalese from Sicily, a red wine I'd never heard of before but which was deep and juicy. Alison may have had a picpoul but don't hold me to that. Every wine was priced at £5.80 which I liked as you felt like you could take a gamble and order a wine you didn't know without paying more for the privelege. 

We then dashed off so we wouldn't be late for dinner...


Blanchette feels a bit like a little country cottage - with little wooden tables, slightly distressed cabinets, and the water even comes in a cute little pottery jug. It was all very cosy. Perhaps a little too cosy - serving 'small plates' means bringing quite a lot of them to the table. We barely had room for all of ours at once and we only ordered four. And the tables are quite close together - I nearly swept someone's food off their plate as I tried to negotiate the space between tables as I was leaving.

Apart from that, Blanchette was a lovely little place to eat. My friend and I were mainly using it as a backdrop to our conversation, rather than it being the main event - we wanted a few nice things to eat while we conversed and that is what we had. We chose one thing from each category - fish, meat and vegetables, plus a cheese, and some bread and butter. The bread came in a brown bag to keep it warm and was served with a pat of deliciously salty butter - so much butter that we didn't get through it all with our bread. Often it seems to be the other way around in restaurants and you have to calculate how much butter to take per piece of bread to ensure it doesn't run out before the bread does.

Next out came the Camembert supplied with three crispbreads, some chutney and some lovely herbs - chives and perhaps cress and parsley in a light dressing. The Camembert was at a perfect temperature making it creamy and easy to spread. The crispbreads were lovely but it did cross my mind that three was a strange number to provide considering everything is supposed to be shareable. We were glad we still had a bit of the bread to put the rest of the camembert on.

Our jerusalem artichoke and potato gratin rebluchon had a nice thin crunchy topping and a lovely firm texture with a cheesiness and creaminess that was just right - not too rich or overpowering. This came with the gurnard with capers, brown butter and braised cabbage that we'd ordered. Lemon provided a lovely zingy dressing to the dish. 

We were asked then if we wanted to order any more dishes, which gave away the fact that they had forgotten we had ordered the onglet with snails and salsify chips. This was very quickly rectified and was a delicious dish (though no, I couldn't bring myself to eat the snails) but also a very dainty dish, especially when sharing between two. The onglet was almost wafer thin, sticky and sweet - delicious. The two shards of salsify chips were had a crunch but were also quite fluffy. I desperately wished there had been a little more of it simply because it was so good. 

We ordered the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu - a vermentino which was only £18.50! Amazing to see a wine at that price on the list. And it was just lovely to drink.

Blanchette was a charming little place - perfect for a few light bites, and the prices were a joy as well - our meal came to about £25 a head.

I notice on the website that they mention the soundtrack to your meal and it is worthy of mentioning! It was definitely something we remarked upon as we found ourselves listening to a laid-back reggae version of Regulate, and a bit of Arrested Development.

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& Co (again)

True to our word, after that we headed back to Central & Co, for our stronger drink. For once I let myself order a slightly heavier, sweeter drink - a Chocolate Flip, which was a liquid dessert, that went straight to your head (in a good way). Alison also went for a slightly sweet option - the Great Grapefruit, which smelled of candied grapefruit and was gorgeous. They both were. 

Central & Co is a stylish, spacious bar upstairs, but if you want someplace that is a bit more intimate and feels a little more exclusive then go to the smaller, darker '&Co' bar downstairs. And if you like the idea of being a little adventurous with your spirits, and having them served out of some beautiful decanters, then go quickly, before they have phased out this idiosyncracy. 

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