Friday, November 28, 2014

Carousel, 31st October

I had already been to one Carousel and had a gay old time, but didn’t end up writing about it so I thought I would put a few words down about the last one I went to , as well as the time before.

Carousel is along the lines of Rumpus though tends to be on a slightly smaller scale. At least two rooms have various different performances or things going on, and they play a variety of music as well. There’s sometimes a particular theme but otherwise dressing up in anything reminiscent of circuses and cabaret is encouraged. Recently they threw a two-night Halloween extravaganza based around The Rocky Horror Show. People dressed as one of the characters and things kicked off at 11:30 when the ‘official cast’ lead us all in a rendition of the Time Warp. Then, peppered throughout the evening, those playing the characters did various performances of songs from the show, reimagined. Thus ‘Touch me’ between Janet and Rocky was a sexy aerialist performance. And Eddie, who was ‘played’ by someone far sexier than Meatloaf ever was, entered the stage on his motorbike and did a fire-eating performance. And then it was rounded off with an ensemble performance at the end for Frank’n’furter’s demise. In between we had live bands and DJs, which started off a little too cheesy for my liking but with a few brass instruments thrown in made for some good party music.There was dancing galore!

But that was all in the main room. In the second room there was also music but less dancing, at least to begin with. Instead, this was where the party games were, for example bobbing for apples, and then, later on, limbo! And there was at least one secret area as well, which I was lucky enough to discover – I can’t say whether there were any more I didn’t know about! At about 2 am or so my friend grabbed me and chucked me through a door that really looked like it was for staff only. But that was all a pretence, for through that door a secret dinner party was going on and if you came in, you got to be a guest and even get to say some lines as it all unfolded. This was the icing on the cake for me – a wonderful and much fun little immersive surprise.

At past Carousels they have had the fabulous Mr B, Gentleman Rhymer, spitting hip hop lyrics in the most refined vintage fashion, and I’m sure at the other one I went to, they had glitter wrestling, though my mind can’t quite believe that could be the case. People all oiled up and wrestling in glitter? Would something like that be allowed? I can’t be certain it was. (It was.)

So, whatever the theme, Carousel have a way about them with intimate yet highly entertaining parties, and I shall be sure to get myself along to whatever they have in store next time.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Colab's Fifth Column, 30th October

I had really low expectations of CoLab’s Fifth Column before I went due to various things I’d read, and even these weren’t met. I feel like the whole set up had a lot of potential but the way it was carried out fell way short of what it could have been.

We had to gather at a meeting point and then ‘rendez-vous’ with a contact and give them the secret phrase. That part was promising, even though we were given the wrong contact and password to begin with. We were then explained a fairly complicated backstory which already put us on the backfoot, exchanging glances, worried about what we would have to remember. It turned out we had to remember very little as for the whole of the event we were basically shepherded around and had very little involvement in the storyline or what unfolded. This confused our group as we thought there was at least some element of interactivity in the first half and that it might be up to us to push the plotline forward. We kept hesitating to regroup and consider what had occurred, much to the exasperation of our ‘agent’ who basically just wanted to make sure we got to the designated end venue in time.

Some of it was fun – we were all given walkie talkies and an agent number and while we pursued the group we were going to infiltrate, we had fun saying ‘Roger’ and ‘Copy that’ and ‘we’ve been made!’ to each other. But none of it meant anything. There was no real infiltration, or even interaction, with the group we were following – they were just another set of paying participants, put on a slightly different story arc to us. So we followed them around for about an hour, hanging back. At one point someone with a suitcase came along and we took it, but we didn’t have to figure out how to open it or what it all meant – we were just lead to the ‘end game’. At one point our agent gave us a secret word and we all had to run, but we didn’t run to anywhere in particular and no one was following us. It was just running for running’s sake. Nothing happened. I was nonplussed.

The end game was a secret lair where the hackers we were infiltrating and us agents were meeting to bring about the end of this shady organization, the ETF. We had been told the ETF had been controlling most of the world’s funds, using it to start wars and assure England’s continued prosperity. For the first time we had to do something. And time was running out! Only it wasn’t and all sense of urgency was ruined when their WiFi wouldn’t work and so the emails we were ‘hacking’ into wouldn’t load and we couldn’t get the secret password. I could sense a lot of people clocking out at this point. Finally we somehow managed to connect and we put the password and various ‘keys’ into the mainframe and set the scene for the finale. Which – unsurprisingly – was a bit of an anticlimax. There was a scene where a double agent was revealed. This should have been quite touching as it involved betrayal within a married couple, but due to rather poor acting and a lack of built-up affinity with the characters, it was just somewhat awkward. Then our lair was under threat – a SWAT team was on the way – we all had to get out, get out now! And that was the end. I expected at least some sound effects of gunfire or explosions to get the adrenaline going, but there was nothing.

I think they could have included much more interaction during the first half which would have made us buy into the second half. They gave us way too much information to start – this could have been fed to us throughout the evening, by using more characters to interact with – and even just giving us a couple of clues to solve would have greatly improved this evening. The problems with technology in the lair really did jolt the continuity and I just didn’t buy into the urgency or consequences they were trying to foster. We were supposed to be bringing down civilization as we knew it but it didn’t feel like it. If these guys and Agent November could get together, they might have something pretty special, but as it was, I wish I hadn’t wasted my money. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Rum Kitchen, 27th October

That must have been one of the most average meals I’ve had in a long while. My ‘jerk chicken’ burger was incredibly basic, the scotch bonnet garlic mayo having nothing scotchy or garlicky about it, except that it was a slightly pale pink. The chicken had no discernible jerk flavour at all. I decided to get a veggie patty with it instead of a traditional side. This also came with scotch bonnet mayo which again had no heat whatsoever. The actual patty had more spice than the mayo and good flavour but it was pretty soft and squidgy which I wasn’t expecting. I thought the casing would have some bite to it.

My friend also had the chicken burger but she got sweet potato fries and they were, admittedly, nice and crispy on the outside and very moreish.

The only saving grace to this place was the fact that they had a happy hour on until 7, and the cocktails were only £5. I had two of their Alligator wines, a sangria-like drink made with rum and red wine, and my friend had one of these and a Santa Teresa Daiquiri. They were too easy to drink – tasty but light on the alcohol I suspected.

I think I had read a few reviews which got me really excited about this place but the reality was mundanity. I got a glimpse of the other dishes as we left – the mutton curry and the jerk chicken plate. Neither of them made me wish I’d ordered those instead. However, I must admit, the people next to us had ribs and wings and they enflamed food envy within me. I assumed a place that was Jamaican themed would do better on things that were Jamaican but perhaps the ‘cue is the way to go here. 

The Rum Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Yum Cha, 25th October

The final stop in my quest for soupy dumplings in London was Yum Cha, an age old recommendation from Secret London on Twitter, back when they still did that. Previously I've had good ones at leong's Legens but I wanted to see how these would fare in comparison so we popped there for dinner before the St vincent gig at the Roundhouse. The place is so well known for its dim sum that it serves it all day. luckily for us,

Despite its looks from the outside, this is no cheapo skanky place down an alley in Chinatown. It is tastefully decorated, warm and inviting, even though some of the staff are decidedly less so. 

I was here with the sole intent on having soupy dumplings but they don't make a whole meal so we had a few other bits and pieces too. To my great surprise Stephen had never had shredded duck with pancakes so we got some of those. You can never go wrong with this really and it was a tasty and generous portion of duck with just the right amount of pancakes and trimmings.

Our dim sum arrived in a stack of steamers. We had a perfectly tasty honey roast pork bun each. Nothing wrong with these two dishes but they were pretty much what you could get in any average Chinese restaurant. 

The soupy dumplings were served, unusually, without spoons, making me think there wasn't much soup inside them, and sadly lost quite a lot of it when I bit into one of the dumplings. I didn't make that mistake again and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of broth (and the fact that it didn't burn your mouth). I did miss the ritual of pouring the soup out but they were very tasty.

Even better were our szechuan minced pork and peanut dumplings. Absolutely divine, we wished we were smart enough to keep the sauce they came in to dip our other bits into. Salty, spicy, deeply flavoured. I'd love to duck in here on a cold day for a couple of servings of these.  

I don't know why we do it, but for some reason we decided to order something a little different - 'ribs' from the steamed dim sum menu. Had we given it more thought I think we would have realised that steamed ribs weren't going to be to our taste. The bones were cut into little chunks on the bone and steamed, meaning you had to chew off the mushy meat from off the bone. It wasn't a pleasant texture at all and a total bummer to end the meal on. 

Our dishes were in the 4-5 pounds range, except for the duck whic was a bit more, as it always is. Five dishes got us nicely full for the evening so we ended up paying about 15 quid each for dinner with drinks. Bargain!

Yum Cha on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Decompression, 24th October

Decompression is not really a clubnight and if you think of it as such you might not get the most out of it. What it is, is an opportunity for ‘Burners’ (people who go to Burning Man) and people who go to the European equivalent, Nowhere, to come together and ‘decompress’ after these events. To somewhat soothe their re-entry into everyday life after the experience that is these festivals. Now, I have never been to Burning Man or Nowhere so I don’t know how hard this would be, but luckily Decompression is open to anyone who is quick enough to buy a ticket and if you've ever thought you'd like to go to Burning Man, then you'd appreciate this night.

Your imaginary friend DID
look like this didn't it?
Everything is run by volunteers. I mean everything - the lighting, the staff and the decor. And all of the acts and music and DJs are provided by volunteers who also have to buy a ticket if they want to be there. Everyone is in it together – there are no freebies.

Which means that the quality of performance isn’t necessarily going to be the same as a professionally-run event where performers are paid for their time. But what it lacks in quality, the night more than made up for in terms of variety, and in love! Honestly, the type of people that go to this are some of the best in London and this is why I had such a good time. It started when we arrived. We had to wade through blue plastic curtains where ‘greeters’ grabbed us and hugged us enthusiastically, welcoming us to Decompression with phrases like ‘I’m so glad you could make it!’ and ‘How long has it been? So good to see you!’. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face I don’t know what will.

And so it continued – everyone you chatted to was smiley and friendly and every conversation I had ended with a hug if not also a kiss on the lips! Group love everyone.

There’s no dress code but it attracts a creative crowd so you’re free to express yourself however you want. Colour, glitter, nudity – whatever your style dictates you can flaunt it here.
Samba band
This year’s was held in the Coronet because it is so popular and it was a sell out. They made full use of all of the rooms. In the main arena there was a steady diet of different acts – Legs Akimbo had their Church there, we had a live samba percussion band (they were amazing) and some poy/light performances. Upstairs there was a bit of cabaret/burlesque going on in Murkin Wood which was quite fun (and weird - a head served in a McDs box ordered her gimp around in one act). There was a gameshow in one of the siderooms – a version of Blockbusters except, of course, all the letters stood for rude words - so it was called Cockbusters. I had never heard of wolfbagging before this and must admit, my life was probably all the better for that.

Suck my Rock responsible for Cockbusters
They had an acoustic room (a bit too cheesy for my liking) and a teddy bear’s picnic up at the top where you could get your face painted and snuggle a giant teddy while watching the main stage. And there were things going on all over the place on a smaller scale. While trying to find my friends I stumbled on a little table where you could sign up to have a ‘meal’ with someone else. I sat down and had a two courses – the first my fellow diner chose. I had only just met her. We chose the finger touch. We closed our eyes and touched fingers and wiggled them around for a bit. For our main course I made the selection and I chose a short massage, which I gave to her. Then someone started giving me one and before I knew it there were at least seven people standing in a massage static conga line.

The music varied with the acts and I know I missed out on the full range as I didn’t explore as much as some of my other friends. I believe there was soul, funk, electro swing, jazz, jungle, bouncy house, 90s as well as the live acts mentioned, to name but a few. Towards the end it flagged a little – even though there were so many rooms, each one seemed to have decided to play the same kind of generic house music, which I wasn’t really feeling and so I left a whole twenty minutes before the end.

So, as a clubnight it wasn’t the slickest but as an experience it was fantastic and I will definitely try to go again next year.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Simmons and Shenanigans, 18th October

Goths have a secret. Emos, kinksters and other members of alternative subcultures, too. And I shall tell you what it is. They like cheesy music. But they can't just rock up to Club de Fromage or Guilty Pleasures in the garb they are wont to wear without getting a few weird looks. So they've created their own night where they can listen to all the music they like, wearing what they like, among likeminded people.

And this night is Shenanigans. I thought it sounded good with a list as long as my arm of music they play. The night was divided into different DJs and I assumed each DJ would play their preferred genre of music, and that the order of the DJs would have some bearing on how the night would go - maybe some indie to start easing into more poppy stuff as people got drunk, peaking with some 'EDM' (how I hate that term) or other harder stuff.

But it didn't go this way. We arrived at about 10 and people were already on the dance floor. You could tell the crowd was really up for it and that there were a lot of regulars there who knew each other. They were playing some harder rock stuff I didn't know, but that soon segued into the Kylie/New Order mashup. And then some Erasure. And then Boney M. Luckily this also included some Green Day and Violent Femms but I couldn't get my head round it, couldn't get settled into a groove. The music was all over the place. You can see their full setlists here

It was a loosely Halloween themed night but I got the feeling that most of the people there were just dressed how they would for any regular night of their choosing. There was a bit of a mixup of countercultures and while there was no nudity as far as I remember, there were definitely a few people who fell into the polyamorous category, all getting it on in a corner.

I felt like the night for me never really gelled. I couldn't get with the cheesier music or the way the genres hopped around. Maybe I just should have drunk more. It was certainly a popular night, but not my cup of tea.


Speaking of tea cups, if you go to Simmons, that's exactly what you're likely to be drinking out of. They advertise a happy hour Sun-Fri until 9 pm, which has to be the longest happy hour I've come across. And, in addition the Happy Hour advertised, they seem to have it on a Saturday as well! I went to order a cocktail and was told it wasn't on the happy hour list so I should get something else, which I duly did - two Cosmopolitans in tea cups for £10. Not bad at all.

Simmons is quite a cutesy, eclectic place - you wouldn't expect a place that serves its cocktails in china to also have a huge skull disco ball but it does. From the outside it looks like some grubby old second hand furniture store - I didn't realise it was a bar until my friend told me it was. Inside, on a Saturday night it was heaving (which isn't hard - it's pretty small) and plays a pretty crowd-pleasing mix of danceable pop and RnB. Makes a pretty good pre-drinking spot if there are few of you enough to squeeze in.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hash E8, 18th October

When I first saw the pics London the inside instagrammed from Hash E8 I got super excited. I immediately suggested we go and try it out, the very next weekend. Stat!

And so we did, this weekend falling on the one Saturday in about five weeks I’d been horridly hungover, and meaning I wasn’t able to get myself out of the house much before 3. (And I returned to bed straight after brunch.) So, was it worth leaving my bed for however briefly? Yes, I think so, although  it was a little rough around the edges.

They do brunch all day on weekends, and in the week as well, although they also do normal lunch options then. At the moment they only stay open until 5 but we were told they have plans to extend that and have their license all set up, they’re just still quite busy getting it all properly running. They must only be a few weeks old.

So, we rocked up just an hour before they shut. They have a couple of sweet options that sound delicious (stuffed French toast!) and many savoury options that sound equally tempting. They clearly also have a fondness for pig, with a piggy treat or option of adding one on nearly every dish. All music to my ears. Stephen had the special – a plate of pulled pork, potatoes, mushrooms and onions. I had the Hash benedict. With pork belly slice.

I sometimes think the foodie gods do not smile upon Stephen. I’m often more than happy with my choice while his is underwhelming. And so it was the case here, but mainly because the advertised mushrooms weren’t present, meaning his plate was a little meagre. We asked the waitress about this and she was duly mortified (especially as they’d kinda forgotten my pork, although it was brought out just as I was peering under my egg to see if it was there). They quickly rustled up a side of mushrooms with parsley, and Stephen added them to his plate. He said they made all the difference and seemed much happier after that. Our waitress (who was lovely, really) also gave us a complimentary diet coke each to make up for it.

But what about mine? Well, mine was pretty fab to be honest. Atop two fat, crispy hash browns sat a mound of kale, giving the dish a hefty iron tang, with two perfectly poached eggs. I highly recommend adding the belly pork – I got two bits which slotted easily under the eggs and gave the whole thing a nice salty, meaty high note. I was stuffed by the time I’d finished it all. The only thing that I would have added to both dishes was some hot sauce, but we could have just asked – we noted someone else did just that.

You are also welcome to add whatever sides you might want and pretty much every ingredient listed in the dishes can also be added as a side so you can mix and match to your heart’s content.

Hash itself just feels like a cute little café, not overly trendy, just basic and friendly. My seat had colourful astro-turf style upholstery but apart from water being served in milk bottles and a big slab with the special on it, there was no uber-quirkiness going on.

I think they may still be finding their feet but even with our little mishaps, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Anywhere that does brunch all day is A-OK in my book, and I just have to try that French Toast!

Hash E8 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Golden Bee, 17th October

I was really surprised by Golden Bee. Depsite having it on my List, I really expected to end up disappointed by the place – I imagined it would be full of suited banker wankers and the prices would be too high. I was wrong. Prices were pretty decent - £8.50 for most cocktails, although the selection didn’t exactly make me go weak at my knees. I had a lemon tarte flute (vodka, limoncello and Prosecco) but it was a little too heavy on the limoncello, making it a little bitter. A beer and a wine only came to £8 which is really not bad at all for a rooftop ‘City’ (just) bar.

The rooftop really is where it’s at - it reminded me of the White Isle even though I've never been there, and I wasn’t the only one to say so (I assume the others who said so, had been). Palm trees and sunset hues give it this ambience. And the heaters are potent enough that even if it had been chilly, we wouldn’t have minded being outside. And so, everyone was loving it… until it started raining a bit and we were all herded downstairs whether we wanted to admit defeat or not. Suddenly it was way too cramped for comfort. This was basically our cue to leave – although I have to say that even then, with one bar less to service everyone, it didn’t take me very long to get served at the bar.

As long as there's no rain on the way then I would head here in mild or chiller weather – especially if I wanted to impress.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dark Sugars, 12th October

Dark sugars is an Aladdin's Cave of chocolate delights, with a slightly exotic flavour to them. Spices such as cardamom and cinnamon make an appearance, as well as stem ginger and the now fairly standard chilli chocolate. The way the chocolates are laid out in earthy buckets from which you scoop them up, and the fact that many are irregularly shaped, not perfect spheres of glossy ganache, but dusty and rough, makes you think of prehistoric Africa rather than the traditional pretty chocolate box. Although they do have an area where the chocolates are all laid out prettily as well. 

Such rustic setting doesn’t mean that the prices aren’t similar to other high end chocolatiers however. I bought 9 of these beauties and it set me back £9.45!

I treated myself to the following:
Irish kiss with pipette
Pink champagne
Morello cherry
Stem ginger and honey
Milk chocolate nougat
Chilli chocolate
Liquid sea salt caramel

The Irish kiss came with Baileys in its pipette and I was pleased with the alcoholic hit in my other boozy chocs. The chocolate is definitely of good quality with a very rich taste – they’re not kidding when they call their pure chocolate truffle an Overdose. It’s nice to see some unusual ingredients being used - even if I played it pretty safe in my selections. 

It's also nice to see a bit of a different aesthetic to the traditional chocolate shop, and I'd happily go back and trough a lot more of these when I fancy giving myself a treat!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Olive, 12th October

This place is more local caff than Meditteranean café. Cheap and cheerful is the name of the game here – with basic tables and chairs and a few paintings on the wall to avoid it becoming too drab. They've managing to be bother a permanent place and a street food van. Their famous known value-for-money pizzas are cooked in a dedicated van parked up outside the café. 

This is what brought me to the place. I can’t claim that the pizzas here are exactly authentic, but they’re more than a cut above your average pizza takeway joint. They have a thin base, nicely crisped but where they differ from a more Italian pizza is that they’re not shy of loading the thing with toppings, rather than a few artfully arranged ingredients. I had the Mexicana – jalapenos, peppers and chilli flakes, which also, surprisingly, came with a great deal of rocket. It was a tasty pizza, cooked well, if not as spicy as I would have liked. The cheese was nicely stringy and there was plenty of it, a little more tomato on the base wouldn’t have gone amiss. My 12-incher (which at first I thought I wouldn’t finish – how naïve of me) was only £5!

The café seems to be a friendly place, with clearly quite a few local regulars. One young lad came in to say hello, explaining he hadn’t been in for a while because he’d had a falling out with his friend. His friend had nicked something from him - friendship over! The guy behind the counter counselled him to forgive and forget but the lad was having none of it. You don’t steal PS3 controllers from your mates!

It was pretty empty when I went in but a steady trickle of people ordering pizzas to take away arose, and a group of local hipsters came in for a catch up and a pizza each (making me feel a lot better about my greedy guts having a whole one to myself). They also have sandwiches and a surprisingly varied amount of coffees to order. 

Is this pizza that you would walk through fire in order to have just one bite? No. There’s nothing ‘artisan’ about it, no bleating on about locally sourced ingredients. But it’s tasty and no-nonsense and I’d happily pop in here again to satisfy my pizza cravings. 

Olive on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Liberty Cheesesteak, 11th October

The humble cheesesteak gets a few outings in London but it's not anywhere near as ubiquitous as the burger or hot dog. And it deserves to have a little more fame for it is quite delicious to eat.

I was alerted to the fact that Liberty Cheesesteak were doing their own authentic versions from a stall at various markets by one of my favourite blogs, the London Review of Sandwiches. This sounded amazing. And it was rather good - I blame my eyes being bigger than my belly on the way I began to flag and consequently not enjoy it to the full.

These guys are doing it right. They have ever so thin cuts of beef which they grill and chop up before your very eyes, mixing it all up with grilled onions. You then have a choice of three cheeses - their home made cheese whiz, provolone or American. I chose the whiz for authenticity's sake, and then they stuff it all into a proper, US-style sub. You can have a half or a whole, and as I hadn't eaten anything yet that day I went for a whole one. I shouldn't have. There is a surprising amount of meat put into that thing and I got barely over halfway before I reached saturation point. There was too much meat, the cheese had got a bit overbearing and claggy as it cooled. I had to admit defeat. But not total defeat as I saved the rest of it and had it for dinner later and enjoyed it all over again.

For it is very enjoyable. The bread is soft and squidgy, the meat has just a tinge of pinkness in parts and is delicious even on its own. The cheese whiz I wasn't completely convinced by. It did go well here with the meat, but I think I would have preferred the provolone which is a classic melty cheese, rather than one that begins in a melted state. I also probably would have liked to add some hot sauce but my sub was all wrapped up in foil before I had the chance.

But apart from those minor quibbles I commend them for doing a real US favourite, in no-frills proper style.