Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Cat and Mutton, 18th June

The Cat and Mutton recently opened under new management. That management being the people responsible for Ruby’s and also initiating a partnership with Licky Chops (the alterego of Lucky Chip), I was keen to get down there as soon as possible.

As with so many things on my List, asap turned out to be longer than I wanted but last week I finally got there. Unfortunately, we went there because we were booked in for a steak dinner at Buen Ayre, which means I didn’t get to try any of Licky Chops food, though I must say everything I saw going out looked gorgeous.

No, we just had a couple of drinks inside before moving on. The place has been given a distinctly pub feel but also one that is quite ‘clean’ and airy. There are some cute little touches that you might not at first notice, which give it its own personality. Like the table legs being made from vices. It’s very far from Ruby’s shambolic décor but it hasn’t gone completely the other way – there’s nothing sterile about the place.

I had a pinot grigio which was one of the nicest I’ve had in a long while. Incredibly pale and way too easy to drink. I had joined my companions partway through their pints yet finished my large one before they’d finished their drinks, that's how easily sippable it was.

It was a Wednesday evening so the place didn't have much custom, and therefore a direct comparison to the last time I was there under the old management, late on a Friday night, is hard to make. I can imagine that not much will have changed - it will still be full of people, still a great place to hang out, but perhaps a touch more grown up.

Cat & Mutton on Urbanspoon

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Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Friday, June 27, 2014

Le Bouchon, 18th June

I have never before ventured to deepest, darkest Blackheath, so when I was invited to a blogger event at Le Bouchon wine bar there, I thought it was a good excuse to visit a part of London that I hadn’t seen before.

It was a lovely sunny day, perfect for sitting outside with a few glasses of wine and some cheese and charcuterie, which is what we did, in a very successful attempt to recreate a holiday feeling.

Blackheath is one of those areas of London that feels like its own little village (and it’s not on the tube line, which helps). Apparently it was dominated by chain places but quite a few independents like Le Bouchon have popped up, giving the place more character.

Le Bouchon was everything I expected a French wine bar to be – small enough to be intimate but big enough to accommodate people dropping by without a problem. Very tastefully decorated with a mix of high tables and stools, and lower tables and chairs, plus big windows that open onto the street and a few tables outside. Chalkboards with the day’s charcuterie and wine specials adorn the walls. We started with a crisp and refreshing champagne rose, and a couple of amuse bouches. I would say this was the weakest area as they were pretty standard offerings – salted mixed nuts, olives, bread and olive oil, sunblushed tomato (not in oil), cheese-stuffed semi-spicy red peppers (in oil), tapenade etc. I had the red peppers and the tapenade which came with a bag of bread and they were very nice but not anything to write home about.

Having said that, the owner’s stated aim for the food is ‘simple but delicious’ with the focus more on the wine (well, it is a wine bar). And so, this he has achieved.

We were then invited to choose three charcuterie and three cheeses. And this is where things got interesting. And also, incredibly filling. I don’t know if we were given more than usual because we were blogging about the place but I have never seen such generous portions of cheese on a plate in a restaurant before! The amount honestly added up to a proper meal and I was stuffed by the end of it!

I chose the venison saucisson, the walnut saucisson and the saucisson with the comte (I can never resist comte) and two other cheeses I hadn’t tried before – Secret and Le Bon Grivois. Well, the cheese stole the show for me. Even now I cannot decide which was my favourite. The creamy, just the right side of gooey Grivois, or the Secret – a tangy cheese that was soft but not runny. The Comte as always was delicious but not the star tonight, for a change. The board came with cornichons, grapes and also dried apricot which I really enjoyed with the comte. And we had plenty of bread to spread our cheese on.

I started off with a beautiful, dry yet slightly creamy Sancerre and then finished my evening with a red I hadn’t had before – Chichon, which I would say was medium-bodied with a bit of acidity to it, which was a welcome accompaniment to the fatty and rich cheeses and meat.

Le Bouchon is everything you would want from a local wine bar – and even on a Tuesday it was buzzy, yet retained a relaxed atmosphere. Blackheath is lucky to have it.

Le Bouchon on Urbanspoon

Find restaurant information on Zomato

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ginger Pig Cafe, 15th June

There are many places in East London to get a decent brunch these days but the Ginger Pig caught my eye with their menu a while ago and so me and my friend Alison went for a brunch date there the other day.

The Ginger Pig Café, is, oddly enough, not affiliated with the famed Ginger Pig butcheries. I do find it weird that they have chosen to name themselves so closely to something that already exists but the butchers don’t seem to mind.

Judging by their breakfasts though, The Ginger Pig are some serious meat lovers, and pig is indeed the flavor of the day.

We had been salivating over the menu online and were a little disappointed to see that it wasn’t the same as what was on offer on the day. My friend in particular had liked the look of the Mexican huevos rancheros, and I thought the grilled halloumi and poached egg sounded nice but neither of them were on the printed menu. Neither were the many varieties of eggs we thought would be on offer (benedict, royale, omelette). But in my heart I think I would have ordered what I got anyway as it has been so long since I’ve had pancakes and I love the sweet/savoury combination of pancakes, maple syrup, eggs and bacon.

So I ordered the lumberjack – two pancakes, two pork and leek sausages, three bacon rashers, two fried eggs, and some ham!

Alison at the very last minute decided to get the full monty – eggs how you like them, sausage, bacon, black pudding, beans and mushrooms. And toast.

I got a bloody mary, she got an aperol spritz and we waited. We actually waited quite a while but I didn’t mind, taking it as a sign it wasn’t all pre-cooked and just sitting there waiting to be ordered. We both savoured our cocktails. My bloody mary was a generous serve and lasted me the whole meal – at £4.50 you can’t afford not to have one!

When it arrived we were confused. Where were Alison’s mushrooms? Where were the beans? The waitress had said something as she set them down but we couldn’t make out what so we enquired. Turns out, these come separately because, rather than give you a handful of each, you get a full dish of both to go on the side! The portions were actually verging on ludicrous. Yet, as you’ll see, a valiant effort was made to eat it all.

The brunch was a top notch breakfast – pancakes were great and there was the right amount of maple syrup to last. For the money you pay I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a heartier meal anywhere. I almost finished it but left some of my ham (it’s not my favourite cut of pork and three kinds of pig on one place is more than enough!). If I had to gripe I would say just what I’ve said – maybe there isn’t a need for so much meat. A hash brown instead would be nice. And I prefer scrambled eggs and streaky bacon with my pancakes (I think it’s the more American way) but I enjoyed it thoroughly nonetheless. The sausages were fantastic – really full of flavor and I tried to make them last as long as I could.

I was stuffed by the end of it.

The Ginger Pig Café on Urbanspoon

But not too full not to have a quick summery drink before heading out to conquer (yes, that’s right, no second place for me this time) A Door in a Wall.

We walked around the corner to Hoxton Square to the Fever Tree G & T pop-up and ordered a flight of four gins to share between us. This came with four varieties of fever tree tonic to go with them. I like gin (I like most alcohol) but have never really paid it much attention, I just drink what I’m given. It was great to explore the different flavours of gins and discover I actually had a preference. We also adored the Fever Tree tonics – elderflower was possibly just about my favourite but Mediterranean, bitter lemon and regular were all good. Sadly we were time pressed and couldn’t try any more but I would love to go back. You can sit outside if it’s sunny or enjoy the inside setting which is just as nice. And I love those big glasses!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hackney Hardware and 184 Hackney Road, 14th June

Hackney Hardware

Let me never be accused of not jumping on a bandwagon as soon as it emerges – the other weekend I got to try the latest craze – orange wine. I have no idea which kind of orange wine I tried (apparently there are a few) but I can tell you it got a big thumbs up from me. It was still dry, and lighter than some of the usual dry wines we have when we go out (Pinot G, Sauv Blanc). A really refreshing summer wine.

I had this wine in the new pop-up bar Hackney Hardware, who have taken over an old hardware store (hence the name) on Hackney Road. It is pure hipster. They have not only taken the name of the store it used to be, they have also pretty much taken the whole décor, fixtures and fittings and just plonked in a very makeshift bar and some barrels and stools to act as tables and chairs. It was actually little too DIY for me, and felt like it could do with a little more of a woman’s touch to make it the sort of place you’d want to while away a few hours in.

But, we were just there for a couple of drinks before moving on to, well, Sager and Wilde. Again. I just can’t resist that place when I’m in the area! This time I finally got to try one of their famed grilled cheese sandwiches and…yeah, it was nice. Maybe a little too much hype for what it was. The Cheese Truck’s was better. But I did like it. We had one or two glasses in there, I now can’t remember how many before going over the road for the latest incarnation of the basement bar below the Golden Grill, simply named 184 Hackney Road.

184 Hackney Road

This is a collaboration between Stagg and Barber who are responsible for the cocktail list and Mezcaleria QuiQuiRiQui who are responsible for the mezcal and mezcal slushies (which I forgot to try). And of course there’s a mezcal cocktail on the list as well. I was last here when it was the Liquor Cabinet but 184 have managed to transform the space even though there’s not much space to transform. The result is better and more comfortable.

My friend Alison had a whiskey, Stephen had a beer but I couldn’t come to a cocktail place and not try a cocktail. Nor could I come to a mescal bar and not try the mescal. So I did both by having their mescal cocktail, though not before a tall, slightly fruity rye drink. I have to say, the shorter, stronger mescal drink was my favourite. So if it were Stagg and Barber vs Quiquiriqui, the mescaleria would have it. Not that I’m trying to stoke up any rivalries or anything.

We then realized what time it was and high-tailed it out of there to try to find a bar showing the England match. Which of course wasn’t a problem – getting into one after kick-off was. We had to cut our losses and go home before we missed any more!

So, glad I was able to drop by 184 to see the original residents taking it back. I hope they stick around long enough for me to try one of those slushies!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mother Kelly's and Dead Dolls Club, 13th June

Bethnal Green used to be a pretty scutty place. But then it seemed that Shoreditch sprang a leak, with cool new bars and restaurants (Sager and Wilde, which I may have mentioned once or twice, Clutch) springing up on Hackney Road, which joins Old Street to Bethnal Green. And this spread further with Satan’s Whiskers opening on Cambridge Heath Road, and that has now been joined by the new home of the Dead Dolls Club, plus the redevelopment of the arches by Bethnal Green station. And so now… well, Bethnal Green is still pretty scutty, but you get the impression that it might not be for long.

Putting aside how I feel about the spread of Shoreditch to the east and what that might mean for rental prices in my area, I’m pretty happy to have so many lovely new places a mere stop away from my flat.

On Friday the plan was to go to the Dead Dolls Club to see Kansas Smitty’s jazz band and maybe stop in on the Craft Cocktail Co on the way. Which is what I thought we were doing as we approached an open arch I hadn’t seen before, stocked full of bottles. On closer inspection they were beer bottles, not cocktails and actually we had discovered Mother Kelly’s, which could easily become a favourite of mine even though I don’t like beer.

This place is a beer kingdom – they have six fridges with bottles of all kinds available (to drink in or take away for a 25% discount), and on top of this they have 20 more beers and ciders on tap! They serve one red wine, one white, one champagne, and keep food to a minimal but well-chosen offering of meat and cheese boards. I tried a bottled cider I hadn’t had before and followed this up with a white wine just to see how much attention they’d paid to it. It was unusual – very fruity and verging on sweet, quite soft and round. Very different to the wines I normally drink but not unpleasant. The beer on draft is served in 2/3 pints in the main, but they're priced accordingly so you're not getting gypped.

We then headed up to the Dead Dolls Club at about 10 pm, which is when I knew the band were meant to be taking to the stage.

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Dead Dolls Club

And so, to another arch, namely The Arch, where Dead Dolls Club are in residence for the foreseeable. You step through its little café-like foyer and into the main room.

At first, we were underwhelmed. There was no one in there and the whole place felt sparse and cold. I’ve been to the Dead Dolls House and the original Dead Dolls Club and was expecting something more homely, the same stencils on the wall, the same feeling of being in a quirky parlour. I was disappointed. This felt like what it was - a railway arch.

But still, we took a seat and got a couple of cocktails and waited while the band warmed up. I had an espresso martini (if you follow the DDC on Twitter, you’ll know they’re quite proud of them) and Stephen had an old fashioned. We were both very pleased with our drinks – mine had a very strong coffee flavour that completely threw me off how much alcohol was in it. After three of these I was pretty sloshed and I don’t say that often about cocktails. I probably should have had some of Checkon's chicken to soak it up - we saw people chowing on buckets of the stuff and it looked pretty good. Stephen stuck to cocktails the whole night, having a julep and a negroni to follow up.

Kansas Smitty finally took to the stage and didn’t waste any time in whipping up some liveliness. They are a jazz band in the speakeasy, 20s-40s sense, not in the strokey-beardy 60s beatnik sense and they were brilliant! They followed up their frenetic start with something a little mellower but in general the whole set was up tempo and got people on their feet.

The place had begun to fill by this point. I don’t know if people were filing in specifically to see the band or if this just happens to be when the DDC gets busy but with the crowds the space came into its own. It’s clearly a place for dancing and merriment, rather than refinement, and the sparkly lights and humongous glitter ball now made sense. We had noted the rather utilitarian chairs and fixtures but who cares about those when there’s dancing to be had. I understood their thinking now.

We loved the band and were having a lot of fun – so much so that our original plan of getting the last tube home went out the window. Of course, this doesn’t mean quite so much when we were only a ten minute bus ride from home, but it is meant to illustrate that we liked the place. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Galvanisers' Union, 11th June

I couldn’t make either the opening of the Galvanisers Union nor its kitchen launch so I was ostensibly invited to come and review the food last night. So I shall talk about the food which was fine, but in my opinion isn’t the real draw of this pub.

The Antic group have slowly and stealthily been taking over London in the last few years. It would be insidiuous and creepy if they weren’t so good at turning out proper boozers you want to come to again and again. If you’ve noticed a long-neglected building suddenly getting a new lease of life, chances are it’s been taken over the by Antic crew.

Ok, so, the food... We happened to have the whole dining area to ourselves because, well, it was a Wednesday and The Galvanisers isn’t exactly in the throng of things. We didn’t mind though. The place had such a cosy character that even with only the two of us in there it didn’t feel empty.

Now, I don’t mean to denigrate the food at Galvanisers Union, I just want to set it in context. This is a pub and what they’ve got on the menu is pub food in the original sense of the word, not in the poshed up gastropub sense of the word. That doesn’t mean it isn’t somewhat refined but it’s stuff like fish and chips and pies and of course a Ploughman’s! The most expensive dish is a salt beef bun for 10 quid so the prices are excellent. 

Stephen for some reason decided to be girly and order the ham and egg salad, and I had the pie which was chicken and leek. It came with mash and parsley liquor and then we also got some frickles to share, mainly because I just loved the word.

Saying ham and egg salad belies what it really was – it was ham hock croquettes with boiled egg on leaves with pickled veg such as radishes, gherkins and little cauliflowers. It looked ever so pretty set down but they seemed to have made the mistake a lot of places make with salads in making it very insubstantial. Stephen kept referring to it as a starter because it was so tiny. More leaves please! And more of those really lovely pickled veg! I know people order salad because they're trying to be healthy - but that doesn't mean they don't also want to feel full after eating it.

My pie was a lot heartier. When I first punctured the pastry I thought it was mostly a watery filling but actually there was quite a lot of chicken inside, enough for me to share with Stephen without begrudging him when he had finished his salad and was still hungry. The liquor was lovely and the pie was tasty. The mash could have been a little more indulgent but then again I’m never going to say no to more cream and/or butter!

The frickles were fabulous. They are beer battered (fried) pickles and they are done with such a good light touch that the batter didn’t overpower the taste. There seemed to be two kinds – pickled onion rings and battered slices of gherkin (my favourites) and the dip they came with was very tasty. That didn’t last as long as the pickles did!

Dessert finished me off as I had a ridiculously rich stout and chocolate mousse with cakey stuff at the bottom. I loved the chocolate pretzels and brownie it came with but think it would be even better if the mousse was sprinkled with them or even if they were dotted throughout. Stephen had the St Clements syrup sponge cake which was very sugary, sticky and delicious. Stuffed!

We then went over to the bar for a relaxing drink after. They have a fairly decent selection of beers (several ales including Meantime as well as stuff like Heineken etc) and quite a few ciders. They were happy to let me have a taste of one that was 7.5% but it had a weird bitter taste and a musky smell so instead I had a milder 4.5% one. There is a mix of sofas, cushioned chairs, or a central bank to sit at and the whole place already has that lived-in local feel that Antic accomplishes so well. It was by no means packed and because of its location it is unlikely to ever get too rammed (it is right on the A12) but it’s clearly meant to be a neighbourhood pub and that’s what it feels like.

Both Stephen and I were really enamoured with the place. I’ve been to Farr’s several times and The Old George and I feel the same way about them. The look may be somewhat manufactured but it really works. They also had board games and it was the kind of place I could imagine whiling away a few hours and actually playing them. They’ve installed a screen if you want to catch any World Cup games, though they’re also keeping the dining area footie-free and the screen will go once the World Cup is over. It’s that kind of place – the focus is on being social – they don’t want to turn you into a bunch of zombies staring at a screen.

It took us less than 10 minutes to get home on the bus so even though it’s not quite our neighbourhood, we may just adopt it as our local anyway.

Galvanisers Union on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cocodough from Cocomaya, 10th June

I was disappointed before I’d even bought my Cocodough – they were all tiny and they were all expensive. But they were meant to be good and I’d rushed here in my lunch hour to get one so get one I did. I picked the flavour (from chocolate, salted caramel, vanilla and red velvet among others) based on which seemed to be the biggest. Lemon it was. They were all very pretty, most decorated with curls or petals and pretty pastel colours.

I paid my £3.50 (*balk*) and had my cocodough boxed up. But as time was running out I decided to eat it on the way back to the office. A mistake. I hadn’t realized that piped through was a lemon crème patisserie that spurted out at the first bite all over my skirt and continually leaked as I ate it. It was a lovely and tasty surprise but it 
did leave me rather sticky.

The cronut itself was pretty faultless – it had a bit of a crust, a proper doughnut texture, the requisite layers of a croissant and the lemon crème was luscious – tasted like lemon curd but much lighter. But, it was small and it was expensive. Small and cheap? Ok. Big and expensive? Yeah, sure. One or the other. But I guess that’s what you get from a West London chocolatier and patisserie in the leafy environs of Hyde Park (looking at the other baked goods and confections, they were all similarly wince-inducing). Tasty as it was, it made me wistful for the beasts you can get from Rinkoff, a mere quarter of which satisfies a cronut craving at a much cheaper price!
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