Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bird, 13th September

What first attracted me to Bird was not its chicken but its Doughnut Hatch. However, from following them on Twitter and seeing more reviews about them, I started to think I needed to check out their chicken operations.

We went for an early dinner, and I was starving. I’d seen good things about their chicken and waffles, a dish I’ve never had before, but when I actually looked at the menu, the waffle burger stood out as something I needed to try. Thinking it would be a pretty standard burger size (which Stephen and I planned to share), we also ordered eight wings, some fries and at the last minute I ordered a side salad too, thinking I’d need something fresh and light to cut through the heaviness we’d ordered.

We got a couple of drinks and waited for our food to arrive, which didn’t take too long.

Their description of the waffle burger reads “boneless thighs and thick cut bacon, cheddar and onion waffles, hot sauce and syrup".

That 's' on the end of 'thighs' is telling. You get two large chicken thighs inside four waffles. It is like ordering two whole, towering burgers. I was almost cross at how big it was - there should be a warning! If I had ordered that just for myself there is no way in hell I could have finished it. As it was, I was in shock and awe, but managed to finish my half no problem. The problem came when I tried to eat anything else as I was completely full. I valiantly managed to stuff in two of the eight wings but didn’t even eat my full half of the fries. And I am not one to turn down food easily. Thank god for that salad to keep my tastebuds on their toes and allow me to keep going through the messy, chickeny, stodgy amazingness that was my half of the waffle burger.

This thing is a beast and I thought it was excellent. The waffle is savoury and chewy, the chicken is moist and juicy. The bacon adds some salty heft. The only thing I would say is that it claims to have hot sauce, and we had to add some to taste any heat. The chicken wings are a really decent size, and the chicken seems of good quality with nicely crisped skins, fried with a light touch. I am sad I could only manage two, but pleased Stephen stepped up to the plate and ate the rest. Fries weren’t particularly memorable but they were tasty enough. The ranch sauce we ordered alongside the wings was a little insipid and thin – I wouldn’t go for that again.

The sad thing is, after all that, I was way too full for dessert so couldn’t try the doughnuts which had brought Bird to my attention in the first place!

As a fried chicken restaurant though, I think this place is tops and really well priced. That chicken waffle burger is £13 and easily feeds two. Our whole bill came to only £20 each. 

Bird on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Find the menu and more information on Zomato.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Halloween 2014 alternative events

Being an organizer of a Meetup, especially one that does lots of different events, means I have to be good at planning. I know which events we’re going to go to at least a month in advance. It also means I need to keep an eye out on the events coming up, and decide which ones I want us to go to. But then I only blog about the ones I’ve been to, which I think means a lot of things I know about are going to waste, and that it would be good to tell other people about them too. So I’m going to try (emphasis on try) to do more previews on here, we'll see how long I can keep it up!

So, first up – Halloween. Halloween in London gets bigger and bigger each year, with several Halloween stalwarts putting on more than one night to ensure their fans can go along. For example, Torture Garden this year has a whopping four events – the two ‘normal’ TGs on the 25th and 1st and then they have their Belle Epoque collab Dark Circus on the 25th and they’re doing a country retreat (how very Eyes Wide Shut) with Killing Kittens on the 1st.

Suzette Fielding’s A Curious Invitation (basically Last Tuesday Society's heir now that Viktor Wynd is concentrating on his museum) has two events on – Satan’s Rout on the Friday and Day of the Dead on the Saturday. These balls are always masked events, with music, DJS and a swing class if you’re early enough, plus a few extras – that might be food to be eaten off naked people, or a menagerie of creepy crawlies and reptiles. It’s a lot tamer than Torture Garden but does provide a frisson of kink if you’re kink-curious but not ready to go the whole ‘latex and dungeon’ hog.

Carousel, which is one of the nights I’m taking my Meetup to, is doing a double header on the Friday and Saturday at Crucifix Lane, on the theme of the Rocky Horror Show. They bill themselves (a bit like Rumpus) as an indoor festival – lots of stages, lots of acts, music ranges from electro swing to house and they have performers and immersive theatre going on throughout the night both on stage and off.

Backyard Cinema are also back for a run of several nights starting on the Friday. This is not just a movie, this is a ‘theatrical experience’ with zombie training, live actors, cocktails, burritos and an End of the World party after the movie. This is the other thing I’m taking my Meetup group to.

There’s also zombiefied shenanigans going down at The Vaults, starting on the Thursday with the Halloween Raveyard, in honour of the necropolis line that ran through here, taking dead bodies out to Surrey. Well, those dead bodies are back! And you’re one of them so dress accordingly. There’s cabaret, a zombie disco dance hall, and Dank Parish giving you your own funeral. Kansas Smitty (who are superb) are also making an appearance.

For even more raving, FOUND are putting on two nights at the Troxy (an amazing venue) featuring the likes of Maya Jane Coles and George Fitzgerald.

White Mischief is another night that knows how to do Halloween right. They have recently been doing smaller, more intimate events at Bush Hall with dinner and cabaret but for Halloween they're throwing a big bash back at their old home of Scala in King's Cross. Dressing up isn't essential but people DO make an effort. Steampunk is the name of the game rather than goth and latex here. They have some fantastic cabaret and circus acts, plus the Roustabouts DJing.

If you fancy something quieter for your Halloween (but likely no less creepy) then head over to Are you Sitting Comfortably’s Halloween storytelling night. Expect chilling tales and some free chip butties.

And finally, if you want to keep your Halloween poppy and fun, then Videoke are back! The crew are on hand to recreate your favourite music videos, and of course encourage you to dance along, dress up as your favourite performer and generally have a great time. 

So, it turns out the Last Tuesday Society are still putting on events every now and again, and they have a Halloween one on November 1st. These days they're all about the D.I.S.C.O and part of the proceeds go to the CRISIS charity. Dressing up encouraged but not compulsory because 'you can always come naked and cover yourself in glitter'!
The Last Tuesday Society

This one sounds interesting. The Dreamery are bringing a 'terrifying horror maze' complete with art installations, live performances and interactive games to the Old Hackney archives. And there's a Day of the Dead theme. This is part of the London Horror Festival and runs from October 28th - November 1st so you can bring a little Halloween into your week.

Lucha Britannia hold pretty regular events but they're also doing a Halloween special on All Hallow's Eve. As they say, it's not a wrestling show, it's a 'Cabaret Sinestre' although there is, in fact, lots of tongue-in-cheek wrestling. Be prepared to jeer the baddies and cheer your favourites, and because it's Halloween, dress up as well! Tickets for this always sell out so if you fancy some real life, up close wrestling with lots of silly characters, bag yours now.

Even more updates!

If I didn't already have plans then I reckon this is what I'd be doing. Bourne and Hollingsworth (also partialy responsible for the Dark Circus part) are hosting A Grimm Halloween Party on November 1st. You can expect their usual tasty cocktails and of course the whole event is inspired by the fairytales. There are live performances, a gingerbread house, glass coffin and even a 'Rumpelstiltskin lair' hosted by A Curious Invitation, who also feature on this list. And all taking place in the beautiful Grand Hall in St Pancras.

There's also a free - yes, free! - event on the 31st hosted by Cubanisto beer. It is the House of Masks final party, It's at a secret location, marked by a neon skull. It features immersive theatrical experiences and interactive puzzles. Sounds intriguing! London is seriously spoiled this year for events. 

I'll add more gigs here if I hear of them! Or tell me, where are you going for Halloween?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Planet Angel, 12th September

If you like raving (techno/house/drum n bass), and you’re not an asshole, you would love Planet Angel. Planet Angel has been going for over a decade, yet remained slightly under the radar, having been set up in 1999 by a couple of friends who wanted to create something that was fun, creative and positive. They put on their first event to about 100 people and since then they have been putting on parties, relying solely on word of mouth to spread their message of friendly, inclusive hedonism and hoping that this will help them maintain and attract the right kind of people. It seems to be working.

They’ve thought about all the kinds of things that make a night out clubbing fun and special and have tried to include them, cultivating a place with no attitude, unless that attitude is about dancing and enjoying yourself. So, they have rooms pumping all sorts of music you would want to rave to – psy-trance, techno, house, trance, drum n bass, and on top of this, they have chill out areas where you can play around with some plasticine, meddle with some lego, or even have a recreational moment of Connect Four, Tic Tac Toe or Jenga (all giant versions of course). 
So. Much. Lego.

Planet Angel also want to look after you, to be sure you have the best night you can have. Flagging a little and need something to perk you up? Why not have one of their herbal teas, or get a toastie in their little kitchen? Or you can simply wait until 2 am when they have stewards wending through the crowd handing out refreshing grapes and berries (at 2 am after some hard dancing, trust me, a grape never tasted so good). 

They also had, at the one I went to (at Fire), some fun touches in and amongst the dancing – someone was drawing a mural of the dancers on the floor in UV paint, while in another room you were invited to graffiti over a designated piece of wall, and they had massive glowing UV butterflies looming over the dance floor. And not to mention the free face painting available, and the space hoppers that suddenly appeared. 

And best of all were the lovely people dancing their assess off, chatting and playing games outside, a lot of whom had clearly been coming for years. There’s a bit of a community here, and in the alternative nightlife world in general that I have tapped into with my Meetup, and it’s welcoming and friendly and non-judgmental and I encourage anyone for whom this sounds like the ideal way of life to go to their next event and see what it’s all about.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bob Bob Ricard, 11th September

Bob Bob Ricard is the kind of place to save for a special occasion, not least because of the eye-popping prices. It is sumptuous inside, employing that grandest of designs, art deco. A bit like Hoxley and Porter, I felt like I was on the inside of an Agatha Christie 20s train. It’s all plush leather booths (literally – every table is a booth), and each comes with the famous ‘Press for Champagne’ button.

Alison and I were having our final date. Yes, she has now moved back to the States and will no longer feature so heavily in these blog posts. So we wanted to do something a little bit special to mark the occasion. We started with an aperitif – a champagne Campari and orange for her, a cucumber martini for me. They were served in heavy, cut glass glasses, all in keeping with the art deco décor. These were absolutely scrumptious. I worried the cucumber might be overpowering but the elderflower kept it in check and it was an amazingly light, refreshing drink that I would gladly order again and again. Alison’s spruced up spritz was equally vivacious, a perfect bubbly starter.

We wanted to be decadent so we ordered dishes that spoke of luxury (easy to do in a place where caviar and truffle seem to appear on every other dish and they even put lobster in your mashed potato if you so choose).  So yes, in our one meal we managed to cram in all the posh food buzzwords – foie gras, truffle, lobster, soufflé.

And everything tasted really nice, but I wasn’t wowed by it. My starter of stinking bishops soufflé for example, on a chive sabayon, with salad of hazelnuts, apple and endive, looked quite pretty, but I was rather expecting a towering mousse, perhaps bursting from its ramekin. It was light, and it tasted very cheesy and worked really well with the oniony chive sauce. The salad was ‘deconstructed’ I guess you could call it and felt more like a token effort than part of the meal. None of the aspects went all that well with the souffle – some whole toasted hazelnuts were a bit pointless.

It turns out that lobster pelmeni Is lobster dumplings (or more like ravioli) and though I only had a half of one because of my allergy, they were a treat. They were parcels of salmon and lobster with some beads of salmon roe for an extra burst of fishiness.

Alison and I couldn’t pull ourselves away from the fillet mignon rossini which came with confit apple and foie gras for our mains. We added truffled mashed potato and sautéed spinach to this and had it cooked medium rare.

Some of this dish was wonderful, some of it I was a little baffled by, and unfortunately, quite a bit before I came to the end of the meal, most of it had gone cold. Two beautifully pink medallions sit atop one another, with seared foie gras to the side, lounging on some apple sauce. Spheres of the apple confit sat to the other side. These were odd, hard, cold marbles of apple that detracted, if anything, from the rest of the plate. The beef was fabulous, but as I said, became cold very quickly. This was my first time eating foie gras and it was amazing enough for me to not twinge with guilt when I ate it. Silky and smooth and delicate of flavour, I can see why it is so popular. The spinach was lightly sautéed so it still held it’s shape and texture, and the truffled mash was the right side of truffly, though could have been a bit creamier. I would have welcomed much more of the truffle gravy that came with the steak, especially as it could have been used to keep the morsels warmer.

We had already decided that the famous ‘press for champagne’ button would get utilized and so it did. What happens is that almost instantly a waiter appears at your table to ask your preference from the champagne list. You can have anything you want from a glass to a bottle, no pressure. We simply had a glass each which arrived swiftly. We both thought that it would be quite fun if they cut out the middle man, and each time you pressed the button, a glass for everyone at the table would miraculously appear. I understand why they don’t but still…

And finally, it was time for dessert. The main had slowly and stealthily filled me up, but for a goodbye dinner of course we had to have dessert. We decided to share the chocolate fondant, which came with a ball of white chocolate ice cream. This was cooked well – plenty of oozy chocolate in the middle of its crunchier chocolate surrounding, but as with my soufflé, I was underwhelmed by its presence. It was a small, thin little thing, looking rather boring sat on its big plate. In general the presentation of the food did not live up to its surroundings, and, though it was nice to eat, it was not spectacular.

Service was exactly right and gave the whole experience an extra boost – friendly and efficient, everyone happy to answer any questions. I had a very lovely meal, and I’m glad we went. But I doubt I would go back for the food. However if you’re looking to impress, or celebrate and you’re after some classy, well executed drinks, the bar is a must.

Bob Bob Ricard on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Find the menu and restaurant information on Zomato.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

El Vino, 15th January

Strolling down Fleet Street one day, I walked past what looked like a quaint little wine store. On closer inspection I realised there were people inside drinking and that it was actually a wine bar. El Vino have several of these bars in the City, some of which have been going for 128 years in some form or other with the one on Fleet Street being the oldest.

I went to El Vino on Wednesday night with my best friend. I specifically chose this place over the many other bars I want to visit because we're both a little low on funds and, shutting at 10, I thought that would stop us from splashing too much cash. They also serve food including a selection of tapas (even olde wine bars are not immune from the small dish pandemic) but a lot of it wouldn't be recognisable as tapas - as it was a hodge podge of different cuisines like English whitebait and beef burgers, Italian bruschetta or Spanish chorizo and fabadas).

I had called in advance to make a reservation in the bar area - we planned to eat but not eat enough to warrant a table in their dining room. When we got there, they had no record of my booking but fortunately a couple left even as we were debating what to do and we grabbed those seats. 

We plumped for a dry white wine called 'New Gate', a chenin blanc which amused us no end by being labelled an 'easy wine' on the bottle. It was just less than £22 which was pretty good value and it really was an easy to drink wine. We got through it in no time.

Being the responsible drinker I am these days *ahem* I had planned to avail myself of at least one of the small dishes on offer. Sadly, we didn't get the chance as, despite the menu advertising food until 9 pm, at 7:30, one of the girls came round and whisked all the menus from the tables. We had to make do with ordering another bottle of wine instead.

This time we went for a muscadet (my choice) and I must say it wasn't my favourite - it had quite an oaky taste which I normally avoid like the plague and which was not at all hinted at in the wine description. 

The bar was starting to shut by the time we were nearing the end of our second bottle and if we had left then, all would have been well. But we had started talking to these older gentlemen who were pretty merry themselves and invited us to split another bottle with them. Which lead to one last drink in the pub up the road. Which resulted in the worst school day hangover I've had since 2008. I completely and utterly blame El Vino for taking away my opportunity to line my stomach.

El Vino is like an old man's pub but for wine drinkers, rather than what you probably typically envisage a wine bar in the City to be. On a Wednesday night all the seats in the bar were taken, and there were a few people standing at the bar, and it wasn't the kind of place you'd feel comfortable just standing in the middle of the room. Traditionally it was frequented by the Fleet Street journos but that has given way to workers in the legal profession (the more pompous of whom we couldn't help but overhear). I must say, that rather than feeling cosy as I had imagined it would when I put it on the List, it felt a little stuffy and slightly threadbare! If you were to compare it to Sager and Wilde, for example,then... well, there is no comparison. You'd be better off comparing it to Ye Olde Mitre or similar, and even then I think Ye Olde Mitre would win. And I'm not just saying that because of the devil of a hangover the place gave me.

El Vino on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Warwick, 2nd September

I rather amusingly found myself in one of the worst examples of a typical West End bar the other day, shortly followed by another!

Every now and then I go through my list of bars to check none have closed before I’ve had a chance to get there. I came across The Warwick, a bar I don’t remember putting on the List, but whose website promises to let you ‘escape the West End bustle at The Warwick. Surrounding you with a genuine laid back ambiance that perhaps country retreats are renowned for, we pride ourselves on our friendly atmosphere, tasty food and great range of wine & drinks.’

How had I never noticed this pub before, right by Piccadilly?

Well, probably because it’s a total craphole. As I neared the corner I saw what looked like a typically country-type pub and assumed I was going there. No – that is the Leicster Arms. The Warwick is the one with the silver lettering opposite. Silver lettering. Already I thought I had made some mistake. I entered anyway. Some dreadful mainstream pop was blaring and on my way to the loo I noticed one of the rooms was called ‘The Crystal Lounge’. Oh dear. I waited for my friend, apologized, and we left without even staying for a drink.

Warwick on Urbanspoon 

Square Meal

She suggested the rooftop bar of the Sanctum hotel instead so we went up there. And promptly left without even staying for a drink. For a rooftop bar, there isn’t much open air, meaning all the smoke from cigars etc clings to the area. We actually did try to order a drink but the poor barman was being harangued and abused by a woman and her friends and that was enough for us to decide we didn’t want to mingle with that crowd.

Instead we went to the Urban Tea Rooms, a charming little coffee shop/bar that had bottles of Prosecco on sale for £18. A lovely little place. We then tried to get into Spuntino but that was full and ended up passing by Polpetto which was decidedly not. I hadn’t been too in awe of Polpo but I really enjoyed my meal at Polpetto – some very lovely Italian cooking, especially the Welsh lamb papardelle with it's huge hunks of lamb and the bobby beans in garlic and white wine. The gargantuan pieces of focaccia deserve mention as did an exquisitely cooked piece of octopus, crunchy yet tender, which I managed to eat some of before the tentacle reasserted itself and I couldn't bear to put it in my mouth again. Fantastic!

Polpetto on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Monday, September 22, 2014

Grill.My.Cheese, 10th September

When I was a child, I loved eating grilled cheese sandwiches. And non-grilled cheese sandwiches too come to that. But I must have overindulged because I went through a long phase of being so put off by melted cheese that I didn't even like pizza. 

I know.

Happily I have overcome that difficult time of my life and now embrace melted, gooey cheese, on pizza, in fondue and best of all in between toasted bread. And it looks like London is doing the same. There are so many places doing grilled cheese sandwiches these days (or 'toasties' if you want to be all British about it) that there are even features about where to get the best ones in Londonist and Time Out.

I of course consider it my duty to work my way through them all. I finally had the one at Sager and Wilde a while back, and went up to Morty & Bob's quite recently. The first one I tried, but didn't write about was the chorizo one from The Cheese Truck. Spotting that Grill.My.Cheese were at Leather Lane, I thought I'd best try them while they were around.

Their USP is mac n cheese toasties. And the big mac daddy comes with pulled pork besides. Yes. Sounds insane doesn't it? Insanely bad for you. In a good way.

Actually, I have to say, that I didn't find it as bloating or as 'Diners, Drive-ins and Dives' as I thought it would be. Perhaps because a lot of the space is taken up by pasta with holes in it rather than cheese, it doesn't feel as heavy or as greasy as others can. The one I had from Morty & Bob's for example, was far more filling, and my boyfriend ate about a quarter of it!

They also add BBQ sauce which is a trifle too sweet for me - I'd have preferred the punch of a chilli sauce (Ribman - when is that collab going to happen?) but it was still a mighty fine toastie and I enjoyed eating it immensely. Behold.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Victoria, 4th September

One of the closest pubs to my Flat in Mile End was/is The Victoria. But we rarely went in there, because it never really looked open, and the couple of times we did venture in, it was dark and devoid of atmosphere. So it was with interest I noted it had closed and was being taken over by the Yummy Pub Co, the team behind Somerstown Coffee House. I immediately found them on Twitter and was chuffed to be invited to their opening.

We were given the grand tour and treated to some food and some cocktails and other drinks. And yes, the word ‘grand’ is appropriate in this instance because they have turned the reborn Victoria into quite the large, smorgasbord of a pub. We’ll start at the front shall we?

Firstly there’s a little ‘cage’ that opens in the morning to serve the locals coffee and pastries. Then later in the day the pub proper opens, a warm and welcoming large area, with access to the beer garden where they have installed little cabanas and a caravan – Charlie’s cocktail caravan in fact, in homage to the first owner, boxer Charlie Magri. You can hire this out and get it stocked with any kind of booze you want!

We then went upstairs to be introduced to the Board Room, a private dining area that can also be used to host meetings and events. From there we went to The Lodge, one of my favourite spaces – a mini country retreat that can be used for all sorts of things – the other Sunday they made it a child-free haven for enjoying one of their roasts. From there we went into another dining area, this one with full view of the kitchen, and we sampled some of their ‘British tapas’. The expected scotch eggs, honey and mustard sausages etc were on offer as well as some interesting vegetarian items which I thought were particularly nice, in particular some fritters and some goat’s cheese ‘dumplings’ which had just the right amount of goaty tang. I must confess, I didn’t try the scotch eggs as they didn’t look that tempting, and when Stephen was brave enough to try the cod and mushy pea version, he was less than enthusiastic about it. But the rest of it seemed pretty good and they also do plenty of big plate food to choose from, and of course roasts on a Sunday.

From there we were shown the rooftops where the plan is to use the flat roofs to grow herbs and veg, and even keep chickens! All for use down in the pub.

We went back inside and were treated to several cocktails made with the bartender’s own infusions, such as whiskey with orange and cinnamon, and one of the nicest gin and tonics I’ve had – though served in a ‘beer mug’ that was a little too big for a cocktail!

The Vic as she is affectionately known also keeps a little secret, a devious side which I am loathe to reveal, but let’s just say downstairs is not all that it seems. I wouldn’t linger over your reflection too much when you enter or leave the bathroom…

They have a good selection of beers and wines – I was very pleased to see a white rioja on the list,  as well as malbec and picpoul to have by the glass (or you can even treat yourself to some chateauneuf du pape!). We spent another couple of hours in there - the place was busy but not crowded, it felt comfortable, just the sort of ambiance you want from a pub mid-week. 

This feels like a very ambitious project for the Yummy Pub co – in one pub they have channeled all their interests – cooking, drinking, cocktails and coffee and it could go horribly wrong.  However, they seem like the kind of people who like to rise to a challenge – who get a thrill out of pushing their boundaries, and so far it all looks and sounds amazing. I really liked the place and have already been back for a quiet Sunday night wine or two. I hope to be there more frequently and see if they make a success of it. Apparently the last place wasn’t very popular and the local residents didn’t want the pub to reopen so they are having to go out of their way to win over the neighbours and the result is a pub that is a cut above the norm. For Yummy Pub’s sake, and the fact I want a decent local to go to, I wish them luck. 

Victoria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Morty and Bob's, 30th August

So, you guys know I love bread and cheese right? And melted cheese and toasted bread are a combination made in the very belly of heaven itself. And luckily, quite a few street food places seem to agree. There’s the Cheese Truck, and Grill My Cheese, and these guys... and counting.

Now, I love street food – you can get some fabulous food for reasonable prices but it does have its drawbacks. They can be kinda flaky and a dedicated trip to get to their stall/van can lead to disappointment if you don’t check ahead. Such was the case the other week when I decided I wanted to finally try Morty & Bob's cheesy goodness only to discover the stall was shut and they were at Wilderness or something. Instead I had the worst banh mi of my life from Caphe VN. It was a bad day.

But I went back, and got treated to a supersized toastie with cheese lava cascading down its sides. I decided to try their ‘straight up’ and see what it was like unadulterated by bacon or pulled pork. I didn’t even get any jalapenos or add any hot sauce. They use a cheese mix of three cheeses plus their own secret sauce and they add some spring onions and regular onions and to be honest, this is all you need for a hearty breakfast. Stephen practically ate half of mine and I was still sated. Mmmmm. I think they should quickly go away to some more festivals to stop me going back every weekend! I could practically feel my arteries turning to cheese. *happy face*. A couple of pickles could be found hiding round the back in case to give you a palate cleanser partway through in case the cheese became too much at any point. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Double Denim, 29th August

If you’re a bar/restaurant and want to start putting on clubnights, then you should ensure that you’re set up to handle it. At 9:30 on a Friday night, you probably shouldn’t have queues of people at the doors, telling them it’s one-in, one-out, only for them to enter and find the place sparsely populated. It creates a resistance to enjoyment and a bad impression. So much so among my group of about 20 that I tweeted at Far Rockaway that I wasn’t impressed. They replied to say they had reached capacity for the number of door staff they had (and not just tried to create an impression of busyness as everyone suspected), but even this is a poor explanation. You want the kind of night that has dancing? Hire another person! So that wasn’t a great start and it didn’t get much better – not for a while at least.

Double Denim was supposed to be a 90s night – all the staff dressed in Converse, cocktails made with the drinks you drank growing up (Um Bongo and Panda pops) and all sorts of 90s bangers from acid house to indie. What they actually did was play mainly R n B from that era before abandoning any attempt to stick to the 90s whatsoever. My group were a little disappointed to say the least! I didn’t mind so much – I like 90s RnB, but to be fair, there are better places to dance to that stuff. I had been looking forward to all the other stuff just as much as everyone else. we sat in a corner and waited to see what would happen with the music but gradually almost everyone gave up and left.

Apart from myself and an intrepid few. in the end we found that the dance floor had been created around the corner from where we were, where the diners had been, those of us left made sure to join the dance floor. Again, I liked the music – some drum n bass went down a treat, but it just wasn’t what was billed. And I don’t think you could call the place busy at any point of the night. Not in a clubnight sense. I am sure I will return to Far Rockaway, but only for their pizza, not for their nightlife.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Freemasons' Grand Lodge Tour, 18th August

Just realised I wrote this blog post ages ago and then forgot to put it live! So here it is...

One of the (very few) upsides to having the ‘in-laws’ visiting is that it gives you an excuse to geek out a little and be a tourist. Having lived in London a long time, we’ve pretty much run out of the traditional touristy things to do and have started to look for the stuff that is more under the radar. (Having said that, the afternoon was filled with wandering round the Imperial War Museum which is pretty obvious.)

So, for one of our ‘things to do’ we went to the Grand United Freemasons Lodge in Covent Garden/Holborn and had a tour. It’s only 45 minutes, and if you expected a treatise on the history and evolution of the Freemasons you’ll be disappointed, but it does give you the chance to gawp and marvel at some architectural splendour. You start in the library/museum and from there go to the robing room where the masters put on their gowns and then down the corridor they walk in procession towards the Great Hall/Temple where they convene. You also get to see the route the lowlier Masons would take, through the three halls representing the stages of a mason’s career through the huge copper doors into a hall almost as high as a six-story building, and completely hidden from the outside world.

The place is literally full of symbolism. There doesn’t seem to be a symbolism they didn’t appropriate from Greek gods to astrology to the expected religious artefacts and symbolism. The hall formerly known as the peace hall is one such wonder with a shrine to those Freemasons who lost their lives in the Great War – all of their names have been transcribed and are held in an engraved chest bedecked with idols.

The place is mainly art deco and is full of Italian marble (plus some Tasmanian timber) and several beautiful stained glass windows. But when it was built in the 1920s-30s Egypt was also in fashion so there’s a bit of that thrown in as well. Unsurprisingly a lot of the tableaux represent masonry and also, there are a lot of religious references which will surprise no one who has read or watched The Da Vinci Code. Hearing how it is headed up by some of the wealthiest and, traditionally, powerful men in the land also doesn’t help – heirs to the throne have routinely been Grand Masters until taking the Kingship themselves.

No photos are allowed on the tour and there are so few people it’s impossibly to flout the rule. So you will just have to go and see this ridiculously extravagant building for yourself. It’s well worth doing. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Flat Iron, Denmark Street, 28th August

Many moons ago, Flat Iron arrived as a pop-up in the Owl and the Pussycat on Redchurch Street offering some nonsense about affordable steak but only in one cut - the underused Flat Iron. I liked it, Stephen thought it smelled weird. I also liked the restaurant they had created and the other dishes on the menu.

Not too long after their stint at the pub, they opened a permanent place in Soho which I added to the list but before I got a chance to go there, they opened a second place just behind Tottenham Court Road on Denmark Street. (Denmark Street - I'm watching you - what with Fernandez & wells also popping up, you better not push out all the music shops to turn into another foodie enclave.)

We fancied a quick bite and headed over at about 6:30. The place was pretty empty but judging from hearing the waitresses and the phone calls they were fielding, it was likely to get pretty busy later and as we were leaving it was filling up.

Flat Iron are basically offering the same as what we had on our first visit, but with the addition of specials, which are typically, their burger with bearnaise sauce, and another cut of meat. Today, it was onglet at £15. The flat iron steaks are still £10, and sides and desserts are still a very cheap £3.50. Cocktails start at £5. FIVE POUNDS! In SOHO! This place is seriously cheap.

And, I think, seriously good. I ordered the flat iron to see if it still tasted the same, Stephen got the onglet. We had a couple of fries and the delicious aubergine 'lasagne'. The flat iron seems to have lost the odd smell it had before, and tasted lovely - light, delicate, and tender, cooked to pink. Stephen's onglet however, I must admit, stole the show. A chewier meat it had more of a char to the outside, though was very tender in the middle and felt more like a 'proper' steak experience. For the extra £5 I would definitely plump for this one over the other.

Stephen had already had like, five cakes or something in the day so no dessert for him, but I had to order their sundae. Flat Iron knows what works - chocolate, cream and caramel (salted of course). Last time I went they combined this in a mousse, this time it was a sundae. Each time was delicious.

The place still has that slightly cowboy vibe to it, with plenty of reminders about the meat you're here to eat. 
Yes, cows in the toilet
I really like that there is somewhere casual where you can have a steak dinner if you really fancy some meat but without all the faff and large expense. Portions are moderate - you'll have satisfied your hunger when you're done but you won't feel bloated and guilty. Yes, Flat Iron's still got it. And they've still got those cute meat cleavers too (no stealing!)

Flat Iron on Urbanspoon

Square Meal