Monday, March 31, 2014

Scene and Heard, 23rd March

Scene and heard is a peculiar little thing. It's a charity which helps youngsters in Somers Town find their inner playwright. I don't know anything about the techniques they use but the results are a series of short plays that are endearing, bizarre and pretty funny, both intentionally and not.

The children who write the plays are between 10 and 12. Their words are not edited at all but the plays are performed and directed by adults. The performances are free - you just need to reserve tickets.

We went along to the Sunday matinee at 3pm. There are two 'Acts'. Each act has five short plays. For the shows we went to see, all of the playwrights had previously been enrolled in the scheme so these were the second works they had written. They were given the brief that it should be about two main characters, then a third comes in with information that changes everything, before leaving again. 

There were some common themes running through each play, which made it a little hard to remember which story arc belonged to which, especially as all of the characters were so random. In one play you might have a pea and a helicopter and a badge, in another a pair of sunglasses or a potato or even stinky armpit bacteria.

And in most of them someone was an orphan, someone was murdered (often the orphan's parents) and at some point one of the characters probably wanted to commit suicide. From making us laugh at a funny turn of phrase that only a child would come up with, to giving insight into one kid's views on Justin Bieber, every play was winningly entertaining. There was even one particularly chilling play where the lead character seemed to befreiend his costar before luring him to an untimely death. Murder by teaspoon! 'Mwah hah hah!

The actors were excellent at capturing the childlike qualities of the plays without resorting to acting like children themselves, and giving the lines the spot-on comic delivery they needed. Lighting, props, some ingenious costumes, and indeed music helped the action along and ensured each skit kept your interest. There were even some musical numbers! So cute. And worthy. Go.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hand of Glory, 22nd March

I could feel my friends' patience dissipating the longer we walked up the residential street towards a destination they muttered 'better be worth it'.

Well, in my humble opinion it was. Brought to you by the same people who run the Shoreditch institution Dreambags and Jaguar Shoes, this is a homely yet polished new pub which, yes, is kind of in the middle of nowhere in terms of nightlife happening around it. Which is fabulous if you live along Amhurst road and want a nice place to go for a pint, not so great if you're coming from Bethnal Green or Dalston. And it's also pretty good in terms of not being absolutely rammed. We got there at about 10 pm on a Saturday night and there was plenty of room for us to perch at the bar, although all the tables had already been filled.

There are lots of wicker animals and horse's heads all over the place, giving the whole bar a slightly pagan festival feel. This is in recognition of the pub's name - Hand of Glory - which is some kind of cursed or magical dried and pickled hand of a man who has been hanged. This bears out a tenuous link to the fact that there has been a pub on this spot for yonks and that the surrounding area used to be fields and rural stuff (like most areas of modern day London compared to the 1800s) and I guess the Dreambags lot are somewhat macabre. But anyway, I'm quite macabre and the aesthetic pleased me. 

It also pleased me greatly that they had proper cider on tap not just a few bottles of Kopparberg in the fridge. I like Kopparberg but I can only drink one before it gets too sweet.  I had a couple of Burrow Hills, part of their 'Deathly Ciders' range at the relatively (compared to Impeared Vision) alcohol light 6%. They also had a range of ales and beers which kept my male friends happy. They conceded that the place was, in fact, a pretty cool pub. Exonerated!

They have Fleisch Mob in residency in the kitchen but we had just filled our bellies at the last night of Hawker House so had no excuse to try any of their stuff. (For the record I had some pork ribs from Hot Box and shared a burrito from Kimchinary. Both amazing.)

If you're somewhere around Stoke Newington/Kingsland Road, or even Hackney Central and don't mind a bit of a walk for quality and a place you can hear each other as well as a bit of space to spread out then you should definitely wander up to the Hand of Glory.

Square Meal

Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wilton's Music Hall, 20th March

I lived in Shadwell for two and a half years which is crazily close to the icon of the area - Wilton's Music Hall. But I only discovered its existence a couple of years ago when I came back from the States and even then only finally managed to get there last week before it shuts is doors for a much-needed refurb.

Wilton's is one of the last surviving great music halls of the Victorian era, and came third in that X Factor-style programme about old buildings which needed saving, and thus probably secured its future, once again. It has been threatened with closure several times over the last century and a half but always gets saved, and I'm so glad it does.

The front part is the Mahogany Bar and then the back is the music hall. The bar is well worth a visit on its own, a shambling little room with a few tables and chairs, which leads onto the box office area. The box office also masquerades as a bit of a museum about the place with posters telling its history and mementos (like aprons) you can buy along with your programme if you happen to be catching a show.

I missed a couple of the critically acclaimed shows they had last year so had to settle for Father Nandru and the Wolves - a sort of fable based on real events about a village before Communism takes hold in Romania. The show was kind of by the by - I was just there to soak in the atmosphere and see what a real music hall would be like, not really to review the play.

It was starker than I had imagined - the interior being all stone and cornices and a wee bit draughty. I could see why something like Dracula would work so well being staged here, and it worked well for the folksy puppetry of Father Nandru as well. I did quite like the play as it happens. It was definitely weird, and sometimes the rhyming was jarring but the actor who played Father Nandru himself was wonderful and the puppets were also pretty cool to watch. There was even a bit of 'fourth wall' being broken which is always fun. 

I will return to Wilton's depending on their programme of performances when they re-open, but I would go back to the bar for itself if I happen to be in the area and in need of something to slake my thirst for wine. Prices were reasonable - I had a decent glass of wine for £4, and they had a few 'crafty' beers on offer as well.

Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Friday, March 21, 2014

Coal Vaults, 17th March

The Coal Vaults, a relatively new, and very stylish underground drinking (and eating) den in the heart of Soho have an offer of 50% off all food and cocktails every Monday to entice people out on the most boring day of the week.

It is well worth taking up this offer, or indeed visiting any other day. This is really my kind of place. High tables with stools for twosomes and threesomes, nooks and crannies with booths if there are more of you. Low lighting (though bright enough to take a decent picture) with boozy cocktails on the menu and some really interesting food to eat. Of that, we did not take full advantage; in the end we had one plate each and shared one and I heartily enjoyed both, leaving me champing at the bit to come back and try some of the others. 

I had the pulled rabbit with black beans, guacamole sour cream and corn on a flatbread. We had been seeing something piled high coming out of the kitchen and I was so pleased it turned out to be this. There were some proper big chunks of rabbit amongst it, which had a distinct flavour, really holding its own with the Mexican tastes. I just loved it. A really mature take on Mexican cuisine, giving it a bit of British flair. They're meant to be sharing plates and the portion reflected this - it was pretty hearty, and I was pretty pleased to be having it all to my own (my friend not quite up for eating bunnies).

The generosity on show, and consideration for sharing, was also exemplified by the scallop dish - two scallops that had clearly eaten all the pies, with two hefty stalks of charred white asparagus, completed with a balsamic bianco vinaigrette and garnished with a plant that mimicked the taste of celery. There was supposed to be truffle to this too but it must have been done with a very light touch as I didn't notice it and normally truffle does not go quietly into the night. It easily enters my Top Ten scallop dishes.This was a delicate dish, just right for spring, compared to the rabbit meal which was perfect for a cosy night. 

Alison had the wild mushrooms with poached egg on chestnut bread. I'm not a mushroom fan so didn't partake but by God did it look like a heavenly veggie dish. The poached egg oozed just right over it all and the bread I am told was reliably dense and chewy. 

At the top of the menu was 'devilled popcorn' – an absolute treat to have with your drinks. Buttery, warm and really rather spicy. This should be the de facto bar snack everywhere. 

The drinks are worth coming for in their own right. There is a lot of attention given to these - and they even pair some of the food dishes with the cocktails. First up, Alison had their version of sangria - sparkling red wine(!), remy VOP and soda. This was really refreshing and had more of an alcohol hit than your common-or-fiesta sangria.

I went for the Naxi Classi, not being able to resist a drink with szechuan pepper and prosecco. This, I must admit had a bit of an acquired taste to begin with, but once the sugar cube in the middle had finished dissolving was so nice I drank it all without realising.

Next up I had the Francis Garcia, mainly because it came with a chilli polenta crisp (which was delicious - they should SO do these as bar snacks in their own right). The campari ice cube - a little frozen disc of campari was like having a naughty ice lolly, and the sherry poached rhubarb, tequila and agave all made for a delicious tipple.

Alison got out the big guns and had the Marano - which is basically two drinks, not even two drinks in one, just two drinks - a cocktail of mirto rosso, gin and blueberries paired with a glass of prosecco. Obviously once you've tired of sipping two drinks at once you can pour one into the other which makes a third, very lovely fizzy concoction.

The one bad thing was that service was pretty slow, but for this our waiters apologised profusely. They were a man down. And we were in no hurry. 

Something about this place doesn't feel like it should be in Soho - it's  far cry from Zebrano's and Club 49 even though it's only round the corner from these places. No, this place is a Londoner's Soho bolthole, it's our little secret. I'm so glad I've found it.

Coal Vaults on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gypsy Hotel, 15th March

I had a great time at Gypsy Hotel but I think that was down to two main things - the company (my gorgeous Meetup members) and the ever brilliant Bikini Beach Band who were just as good as I remembered them from seeing them at Stoke Newington International Airport.

Perhaps my expectations were too high but Gypsy Hotel itself, well, it didn't really feel like it was an entitity of itself. When we got there at 10:30(ish) it was hard to tell there was even an event on. Someone may or may not have been on stage at the time, there were a few people there but it wasn't packed. They say Time Out said 'if you have 12 hours left to live, spend it at Gypsy Hotel' but it didn't really feel like one big, wild party to me. Just a night in a pub that happened to have a good act on. Oh, and then some fire eating.

Perhaps this was a contender before so many other things started up, I don't know. But compared to something like Rumpus, or Carousel that I went to the other week, this was just tame. The venue was fairly interesting too small, yet L-shaped so that it was far too easy to be at the bar and miss all the entertainment. 

And I really don't have much more to say about the night! There was a bluesy act on earlier, and yes, the BBB totally killed it. I thought I might have made the mistake of hyping them up too much but everyone to whom I had already extolled their virtues was in complete agreement that they were fantastic. 

So, I'm in no hurry to return to Gypsy Hotel when there are so many other nights with more going on, but Bikini Beach Band I still <3 you. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Ig Nobels, 14th March

Well, the Ig Nobels were... confusing. Thinking it was a roadshow which would tell you all about  the research that won the Ig Nobel prizes, with perhaps demonstrations or experiments, we really weren't expecting the rather odd variety show that we got. 

The Ig Nobels are a prize awarded to scientific research that initially makes you laugh but then makes you think. And for the first hour of the evening, our compere explained the Ig Nobels to us, how the ceremony happens and did a powerpoint presentation on all the categories and their winners this year, with some brief backstory.

Up until this point I had been expecting the winners to be there, and to share with us some of their research. But no, we then moved on to something only tangentially related. The QI elves had been invited along to pick at random (before the performance) from a stack of real research papers, from which they were allowed to read in as dramatic a fashion as they could muster, for only two minutes. After that point, the audience were encouraged to ask questions of the reader. But only three questions. And bear in mind that the reader had no relationship to the research and knew nothing about it. This section heavily relied on the audience being witty enough to think of questions that would amuse everyone, or lead to answers that would be amusing. And there were rules - the QI elves weren't allowed to bullshit, or make things up, though they could hazard a guess.

So, that was a bit weird. I found it frustrating, time and again, hearing the beginnings of a rather bizarre or random piece of research only to not get to know the conclusions. However, the questions from the audience I actually thought worked better than I would have expected.

All in all, this was a whimsical, amusing thing to do, but it dragged on for far too long, even with the time limits imposed. Seven readers were way too many. And then the evening just got worse. Maybe it was because I had plans that I was itching to get to and it was a Friday night. Or the room was overly warm which made our attention wander. However, I'm inclined to dismiss all these things and conclude it was because the rest of the night was tedious and odd.

We had an actual researcher take to the stage and walk through a presentation on studying people with bipolar disorder. But, again, he was timed and it all felt rushed - too high level to be interesting. What was the point of it all? We don't know. 

Then there was a reading from Andrew George – who read out a poem from William McGonagall, commonly held to be the worst poet of all time. And his poetry wasn't great, but nor did it seem particularly dreadful. Kinda made you laugh. And then he read another poem. It was one poem too far and the novelty had already worn off.

We were then introduced to someone who seems to be a bit of a celebrity in the Ig Nobel sphere, Kees Moeliker, a previous winner who happened to notice the homosexual necrophiliac indulgences of a duck outside his window, and, after observing for over an hour, decided to photograph and take notes on it. He regaled us with the history of his fame and the doors it has opened for him (namely to ask if he would like to contribute to a book on necrophilia). And then came the decidedly worst point of the evening. A person called Danial Gillingwater had composed an opera based on the dead duck story. I'm sure everyone involved thought this was ever so clever and amusing but in actual fact it was mordantly boring. Even though it was sung in English, you couldn't understand a word that was being said, although you were able to realise that they were just rehashing exactly what Kees had already explained. They did the bit where the actual 'copulation' took place quite well, but by this time everyone's patience had been exhausted. (At least in my group.) We just wanted to get out of there. A two hour show had turned into two and a half hours, where the last 45 minutes were a chore to sit through. 

Some good moments, but on the whole rather baffling and disappointing. I wouldn't go next year.

Friday, March 14, 2014

'Alternative' Nightlife Tube Map, 14th March

There are lots of different versions of the tube map going around – best restaurants for each stop, best cocktail bars, even what each stop tastes like. And I’ve found myself looking at the map on my morning commute and realising that some stops had become synonymous to me with particular clubs and clubnights that I go to. I can’t see Angel without thinking of the Islington Metal Works (Electrowerkz) that host Slimelight, Rumpus and Torture Garden (among other things). Or Bethnal Green without thinking of the Working Men’s Club there that has so many different nights, for example It’s Your Funeral, the Double R Club and Homework. For the last two years my hobby has sort of become going out, often to the weirder events London has to offer, with my Meetup group. So I thought, I wonder if I can match up the other stops to venues that host events with an alternative slant, and the clubs I like. So I’ve given it a go. Some of the places are self explanatory, some aren’t so obvious. Orleans in Finsbury Park for example is on there for hosting Mousetrap. The Book Club and Concrete have so many different nights going on there it’s hard to know where to start (like Electro Swing and Musical Bingo). Madame JoJos and CafĂ© de Paris feature for their significance in burlesque and cabaret. And I had to only pick one place per stop. Some had loads I could have added. A lot of stops, especially to the West and further out in Zone 2 don’t really have anywhere I’m aware of. Of course, if you know somewhere, let me know and I’ll add it!

So, if you're ever looking for a night out that's a bit different to just going to the pub, I recommend you check out what's on at these places: 

Alternative nightlife tube map

You can also view this at my Pinterest page. So where have I missed?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

NOLA bar, Made in the Shade, 6th March

NOLA bar

One of my best friends and his boyfriend are in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and not wanting to miss out I thought we might as well finally check out NOLA bar before our dinner. After rather embarrassingly taking the wrong set of stairs (note - if you are walking up a rickety set of stairs thinking they seem too dangerous for people who may be drinking, you're probably in the wrong place), we found the bar. A few tables were reserved but there were plenty of places available. The bar says it is table service only, but one of the groups in there had congregated around the bar. We only had time for one drink and it was hard to pick one out of the many on offer. I noticed a lot of gin, a LOT of rum, and quite a bit of absinthe.

Finally I went for a classic of sorts and one very fitting (sorry!) for New Orleans - the Hurricane. Alison had a French 75. Pitching our choices against each other I'd say she won. Mine was a little too fruity and tropical for my tastes, although it's nice to have an 'umbrella' cocktail now and again. Alison's was fruity but the champagne gave it an elegant dryness, and at the bottom was an alcohol-soaked cherry. Can't go wrong with that. 

Even in the short time we were there I was impressed with the friendliness of the staff, and even though it was table service, service wasn't automatically added to the bill. Which made me want to tip them but I didn't have any more change - so, NOLA, if you're reading, my apologies!

Nola on Urbanspoon

Square Meal 

Made in the Shade

After NOLA bar, we headed over to Made in the Shade, the newest additon to Hoxton Street, which is quickly becoming another cool destination in its own right. 

We only had one cocktail each - Alison had the Shady Maid Lemonade and I had the Ultimate F*cking cocktail as recommended by our waitress. It was whiskey with rum, ginseng liqueur and Guinness foreign extra syrup. Sadly they had no Kamm & Sons ginseng liqueur but I didn't think that would be a problem.

So, was it the ultimate cocktail? For me, no. As far as short and strong whiskey drinks go, I would choose the Full Fat Old Fashioned from Hawksmoor or the Manhattans Project's Fake Orgasm over this. But it was a good drink with a smooth blend to its flavour, strong but not make-you-cough strong, and the Ultimate Fighting Champion it came with was very cute. I actually was more impressed with the drink Alison got – they blended cucumber juice with lemon juice and citrus peel syrup to create a really refreshing drink that had a Pimmsesque flavour without the sweetness. Quite sophisticated. And so pretty!

The food was nice too, but wouldn't leave me raving, although perhaps if we'd tried one of their main dishes, which were more obviously Caribbean-influenced, I would have a different opinion. First we shared a salad of pumpkin, poached egg and rocket. The egg was cooked perfectly and if you thought pumpkin and egg didn't go together, you're wrong. The pumpkin for me was undercooked though. I haven't really had pumpkin much before, perhaps it's supposed to be like that, but I thought it would be cooked to the texture butternut squash takes on when it's done well.

We then shared a caramelised onion and goat's cheese tart, and some oxtail spring rolls. When we requested some condiments, a really delicious sambal was brought out, with some sweet chilli sauce. The ox tail spring rolls were exactly that - completely packed with meat and nothing else. They were pretty good but I couldn't get the idea out of my mind that having one big fat one, maybe mixed with some veg would have been even better.

The caramelised onion tart arrived with the goats cheese sitting atop. I was really impressed with this. Inside the pastry a whole bulb of roasted onion sat, and it wasn't at all overly sweet like some caramelised onion tarts can be. I would say there was exactly the right amount of goats' cheese to accompany it – so often you can have too much and it overwhelms anything else.

We had a couple of glasses of wine after our cocktails. Warning - the prices are instantly appealing but you don't get very much for them. Buying bottles here is the smart move. I unwittingly ended up trying a red and a white. Unwittingly as I thought I had ordered the 'Friendly' white wine from Sonoma but a red one turned up. Nevermind, I made up for it by ordering the Granbazan Verde - how could you not with a description like that?! 

There's a healthy dose of fun and silliness at Made in the Shade as evidenced by the little wrestler adorning my cocktail (and we were given some more to play with), the wine descriptions (see above) and the way our bill was presented (see left). The bar is lovely – it does still feel like the pub it used to be, rather than a cocktail bar, but has been spruced up with some interesting (and slightly disturbing) artwork on the walls and pillars. Our waitress was almost alarmingly friendly, spending a lot of time with us, chatting about the various options, recommending things, and telling us about the artwork. I feel churlish saying so, but it was perhaps a little too much attention - at one point I almost felt like we were going to have to catch her up on what we'd chatted about so far so she could join in! So, while the drinks and the food didn't leave me gushing, I know I will be returning to this place, simply because it was so damn likeable, and as they've only just opened it can only get better. 

I have been loving the fact that all of the places I've been to lately have a reservations policy. Although we wouldn't have needed one when we went – the place only had a few other customers when we turned up, although there was a steady trickle of people arriving as we made our way through our food and drinks. It had a pretty casual, relaxed feel about it, much like a pub would on a Sunday afternoon. It will be interesting to see if and how that vibe changes on a Friday night or as more people discover the place. 

Made in the Shade on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Glazed and confused, 4th March

Blogging as much as I do drains my wallet and makes me fat but occasionally there is an upside when I am given the opportunity to try something for free. In this case, it may still make me fat but at least it isn't costing me anything.

I was given such an opportunity by Glazed and Confused after tweeting that I'd just picked up some of their doughnuts from White Mulberries. Stephen and I had bought a coffeetoffeenut and a cherry bakewell. There was no sharing as I don't like almonds and he doesn't like coffee.

Which I'm pretty glad about as I wouldn't have wanted to give away any of mine. It was chewy and caramelly, and the coffee flavour was actually in the doughnut, not just in the topping. I was impressed. After having these on the Saturday I was eagerly awaiting the delivery to my office on Tuesday.

I was brought six flavours. The lovely guy who made the delivery (one half of the brains behind the outfit) did mention what they were but by the time I'd taken them upstairs I'd forgotten. But through taste testing I deduced I had:

Raspberry pavlova
Coffee toffee hazelnut
Lemon curd filled
Rhubarb filled 
Cherry bakewell

They're not a light, sugary nothingness confection a la Krispy Kreme (though don't get me wrong, I love Krispy Kremes) where you can scoff several before you feel bloated. They're substantial and just one is actually quite filling. They have a dense, chewy texture, that reminds you of the 'dough' they're named for, rather than cake, or an airy mouthful of grease and too much sugar. Doughnuts are pretty ubiquitous in the States but Glazed are trying to do them their own way by creating flavours that will appeal to English sensibilities. These are adult doughnuts with some grown-up flavours. But that doesn't mean they don't have a fun side - whoever dreamt up a doughnut/pavlovla hybrid clearly has a playful heart. 

I truly liked them all and they received positive murmurings from my colleagues as well. Its hard to pick a favourite. The raspberry pavlova was amazing, with lovely chewy meringue on the top and raspberry cream in the middle, if quite messy to eat. But I think the ginger might take the crown. I had thought it was just a regular vanilla flavoured doughnut so the flavour took me by pleasant surprise and I loved its spicy, ginger warmth.

I prefer ring doughnuts but if a filled doughnut was my bag then the lemon curd one would have been my favourite. A good amount of sharp, zesty lemon filling. 

The rhubarb doughnut was one of the weaker ones. In fact, it's a rhubarb and custard doughnut but I didn't see any evidence of custard. I didn't think the rhubarb flavour was strong enough, I wanted more of that sharp rhubarb tang, although perhaps it was diluted by the custard flavour being mixed in.

I didn't try the cherry bakewell doughnut myself, but from the feedback this one was also not the strongest offering. One person didn't think almonds really belonged on a doughnut, and my boyfriend thought there could have been more to it – that it was a bit plain with just almond flakes and a couple of cherries on top. Maybe it would be better as a filled doughnut with cherry jam inside. 

I have noticed a spate of doughnut vendors popping up in the wake of Glazed and Confused – Dum Dum Donutterie and 1235 Doughnuts, both based in East London. I haven't yet tried either so I can't compare. However, if they're even halfway equal to Glazed's doughnuts then Londoners are in for a treat. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Satan's Whiskers, 1st March

I've been meaning to get to Satan's Whiskers for a while now. They hadn't quite opened the first time I wanted to go, and they were too full the second. Third time's the charm and just to be sure we made a booking.

We weren't sure if they did food and didn't think to look until we were on the tube on our way there. Deciding not to risk a hungry evening in case they didn't, we went round the corner to Hawker House (any excuse). We both tried a new trader, and, as we have come to expect, loved it. I had my first Born and Raised pizza - pepperoni, and Stephen had a bento box from Hot Box. My pizza was an oblong individual pizza cut in half. It was amazingly oozey – sauce and pepperoni juice ran down my hand the minute I took a bite. Stephen's bento box had a smoked beef, pork and jalapeno sausage with a barbecued chicken thigh. Plus a piece of cornbread and some BBQ sauce. Neither meat needed any sauce to go with them as they were both incredibly juicy and tender. 

When we arrived at Satan's Whiskers, we were seated in a prime location - in a corner, with the skeleton of a unicorn overlooking us. (Unicorns don't exist because Satan's Whiskers killed the last one to put in their bar.)

One of the many lovely waiters we encountered informed us cocktails were on the front of the menu and food/wine/beer were on the back. Food! So they did do it! And it was all so reasonably priced and sounded pretty decent. It also turned out to be better than simply decent. Stephen stepped up to the plate - he was still peckish after his meat appetiser and after our first drink ordered the brisket bun, which was topped with coconut coleslaw and came with a dollop of chilli corn on the side. I had a bite or two and I must admit, even though I don't like coconut, the sweetness it added to the 'slaw was a perfect touch.  I had a fork of the chilli corn and wished we'd ordered the full side of it as it was so good. I don't much care for corn ordinarily, but the heat of the chilli in this made it a really moreish dish. The food happened to coincide with me ordering the penicillin - a drink which includes peat, giving it a very smoky taste. It couldn't have paired more perfectly with the chilli corn and the smoked beef. 

The penicillin was probably my favourite drink of the night, simply for being the most unusual one I had (oh, and the scotch). It also came with a piece of candied ginger on the side, to complement the ginger syrup, which was fantastic. In general, Satan's Whiskers menu is more 'classics done their way' rather than theatrical cocktails with bells and whistles. And the price reflected this with none of them costing over £8.

I had started with a champagne julep and Stephen went for the bar's namesake - the Satan's Whiskers. Mine was definitely a step up from a normal julep with the addition of bubbles. I now believe all juleps should be made with bubbles. The Satan's Whisker was like drinking an orange sherbet - albeit one to which a lot of liquor has been added.

Finally, I had a brandy alexander, which tastewise was my favourite. It was like a white russian but obviously with a brandy flavour (ie with an actual alcohol flavour rather than the typically tasteless vodka) and the nutmeg on it was a nice accent.

Stephen's last drink was the Queen's Park Swizzle - look how pretty it is! This was pretty much like drinking a mojito (it was rum, lime, mint, and bitters) but with the addition of sugar it was a tad sweeter.

Satan's Whiskers describes itself as a neighbourhood bar, but in reality it is far too trendy to be taken as such. Also, you don't tend to have to wait 40 minutes to get a seat in a neighbourhood bar. But for me that's not a bad thing. It's nice to have such a cool little bar livening up a rather dull and kinda skanky stretch of road. And it's only one stop on the tube from my flat. Sold.

To round off the night we headed to the Old George on Bethnal Green Road, which I hadn't been to before. It kinda smelled a bit but I liked the vibe so we stayed and ended up staying for several drinks. Turns out the place is an Antic pub - who also own Farr's and the BBC in Balham. No wonder I liked it.

Satan's Whiskers on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

BUG at the BFI, 28th February

So, BUG turned out to be quite different from what I was expecting, not least because Adam Buxton who normally hosts it was replaced by Doc Brown. But it was no worse for this (I imagine). Doc Brown was a really funny host who'd obviously put a lot of effort into making sure any Adam Buxton fans (or 'Buckle' to his friends) were not disappointed. 

Having watched Adam Buxton's Kernel Panic, I thought BUG was going to be more of the same - lots of YouTube clips, with Adam's witty commentary surrounding them. Instead, it was a showcase of some amazing music videos - many of which were quite hard-hitting, interspersed with Doc Brown's comedic efforts keeping with the theme of videos and film to lighten the mood.

We were shown 12 music videos, in chunks of two or three. There was also an interview with the music video Josh Cole who has directed videos for Rudimental, Chase N Status and Louis Matters to name but a few. To be honest, for me, this was the weakest point of the night, though I did enjoy watching some of the videos he'd made.

I rarely watch the videos to songs I like and I had either forgotten or dismissed the emotional impact they can have and how once you've seen a video, listening to the song will provoke those same feelings again. Or how music videos can so enhance a song by forging this emotional connection to it, even if that's just one of humour. I wasn't the biggest fan of Rudimental's song Not Giving In but after watching the video, I can't get it out of my head, and that's a good thing.

There was one other song that I couldn't get out of my head after BUG but we'll come to that.

Also, I must say, the actual songs that these music videos belonged to were brilliant. Many were songs I already knew and liked but the ones I was introduced to instantly made it onto my download list.

First up we had J Cole's She Knows - a tale of two youngsters pricking about downtown before one of them making an awful discovery when he comes home earlier than expected. Burning House's Post Party Stress Disorder was a great animated representation of what its like going to a house party and getting mashed up - although it does get pretty surreal (perhaps the guy took shrooms). And keeping with the headscrambling theme we had the video for Julio Bashmore's Peppermint (above) which had some screwy visuals to go with the pumping song. 

Then we had Doc Brown's injection of humour - he took some emotional scenes and, taking the idea of incidental music one step further, overlaid lyrics on top of it (sung live). Heart-swelling moments such as when Will Smith gets a job in The Pursuit of Happyness and when Daniel Day Lewis has to shoot his friend in Last of the Mohicans had words spelling out exactly what was happening on screen and how you should be feeling. Oddly, the music in the Mohicans scene was very upbeat and jaunty, clashing with the dark, traumatic scene on screen, and was exploited by Doc's lyrics, most notably, the final line (repeated to fade) 'killing his best friend to save him from suffering'. These words, and the Irish jig tune they were set to, I cannot get out of my head.

Next up was my favourite trio of videos, starting with the touching story of two long-time lovers in New York who bonded over a mutual love of gigs in the video for Elbow's New York Morning. Then came the clever (I thought) video for Oneohtrix Point Never's Boring Angel - a video telling the story of a person's life completely done with emojis. And finally, the hilarious video for Fidlar's Cocaine featuring the guy from Parks and Recreation... and a fake appendage (see below).

We had another interlude of entertainment collated by Doc Brown, namely the bizarre interview held with James Brown, before he went on tour, after he was arrested for assaulting his wife. Has to be seen to be believed. 

The final four videos included Damon Albarn's Everyday Robots, Jon Hopkins Collider, Disclosure's Grab Her (the more I hear of them, the more I like) and The Last Skeptik's Pick your Battles, which features the hero befriending a bear who attacks him in the woods but then turns out to be quite nice. Or does he...?

There seemed to be an 'epicness' to these final videos, and in recognising that, Doc Brown thought it only right to introduce us to the most epic scene of the most epic of epic movies. If you haven't heard of Singham, you better rectify! I have to share this little treat with you all.

I've included links to all of the videos. They were all awesome so do check them out. And definitely go to a BUG to discover more, I certainly will.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Pies at The Windmill, 25th February

I'm actually not a massive pie fan. Or at least, I don't think of myself as one, and yet I do find myself picking pies a lot for someone who doesn't eat them.

So, if you are a loyal reader, you may have noted that I have been going out on an almost weekly basis with my friend Alison. We're dating - that is, going on friend dates until she moves back to the States in April. That ill-fated El Vino night kicked it off, and this week was date #4 - pies at the Windmill in Mayfair. Cited as one of the best places in London and with an award-winning pie constantly on the menu, not to mention the fact that Alison had been there ooh a bajillion times already, meant expectation was high.

If I was going to have a pie, I wanted a proper pie, which meant choosing from steak and kidney, chicken, bacon, leek and tarragon, or steak and mushroom. The other options were those topped with filo, or those topped with mash (fish pie/cottage pie). Alison thought that the pastry pies came with mashed potato but apparently they don't (despite her photographic proof to the contrary) so we ordered some mash to go with it, and also some baked beans. I had the chicken and bacon pie, Alison had the steak and kidney.

Presentation isn't a strong point. The golden pie is plonked on a plate with absolutely nothing else - not even a side salad garnish. Then the sides we ordered came out in separate dishes for doling out amongst ourselves. 

They are good pies. The pastry is a good thickness, solid and well cooked. The steak and kidney pie pastry in particular was lovely as it seemed to have caramelised a bit from the steak juices oozing out (I had a bit of Alison's). Both pies were packed with their filling. The steak pie is so full of meat that there isn't any room for much gravy inside so they actually give you an extra pot of gravy to go with itr .

I was especially impressed by the chicken pie, as for some reason I think a steak pie is more readily impressive - I guess because it has steak in it. Whereas chicken... Well, chicken has to fight for respect. Hearty chunks of chicken were in a well-bodied sauce and lots of bacon throughout as well.

So the pies were good. Didn't quite reach the heights of the pie I had at the Bull and Last but then, they're not supposed to. These are old-fashioned pies in an old-fashioned pub - food for ordinary folk.

The beans were fine - there's not much to say about normal baked beans. The mash was too stodgy in my opinion: all potato and no cream, or butter... no fluffiness... reminding you that you're in a pub without the 'gastro' prefix or any aspirations to gain one. 

With the pies being only £9.50 each (up to about £11 for the posher ones), and having a bottle of wine between us, we spent £25 each, which isn't too bad for a very filling meal in Mayfair! 

The Windmill on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato