Friday, January 30, 2015

5 x 15, 19th January

5 x 15 is basically Salon for older, posher people. Five speakers talk on a subject in which they are knowledgeable for 15 minutes each. When we went, all those topics seemed to tie in with their latest book they wanted to plug but I suppose that may not always be the case.

Tickets are a very expensive £27 with booking fee for only an hour and a quarter’s worth of entertainment, and they mostly take place in the leafy ‘burbs of Westbourne Park at The Tabernacle.

The event said it started at 7pm but, with things like Book Slam and Salon in mind, we figured that would be a rough approximation, so when we got a bit lost and were ten minutes late, we weren’t too worried. We were completely wrong though – the entire place was full and Johann Hari was nearing the end of his talk. We hastily grabbed the last couple of seats available.

Must admit, even though Johann Hari had been one of the reasons I wanted to go to this particular event, of several coming up, having caught only the last of his talk, I wasn’t too bothered we didn’t hear the rest of it. He came across as rather too earnest in his speech about drug addicts and how we all need to remember that they’re people too. Perhaps simply because I already know this, it was a little cheesy and I can imagine sitting through 15 minutes of that might have been rather wearing. Plus he’s been all over the internet lately saying the same thing so I didn’t feel I missed much.

The others on the bill were Theodore Zeldin, Anita Anand, Alex Bellos and Germaine Greer. Most of the talks were pretty lighthearted and entertaining as well as educating. Theodore Zeldin spoke amusingly of how our civilization isn’t working, yet we stubbornly stick to what we’ve always done. That we need to start thinking about things from an individualistic point of view rather than ‘the masses’ and how he spends his time listening to people and learning about people.

Anitathen told us all about a fascinating character in history – Sophia Duleep Singh. A Punjabi princess who was born and raised in England, she seemed to live several lives in her one lifetime, including being a major player in the suffragette movement. Anand told us just enough to pique our interest and leave me wanting to know more about this headstrong woman.

We then had a ten minute break for people to get a drink, or go to the loo. We noticed then quite how posh everyone seemed to be compared to us, and that there must be quite a few regulars as they’d all come prepared with a bit of a picnic!

After the break we had my favourite talk of the night – on numbers! How can numbers be so entertaining? Well, when presented by Alex Bellos they are. He had a very comedic way about him, especially as his manner reminded me of Eddie Izzard, but what he was talking about was funny anyway. As a mathematician he is often asked what his favourite number is, and he always thought it a very silly question, until he realized lots of people DO have a favourite number. So he did a little research on it via the interwebs. Over 40,000 people took part, giving their A/S/L, their favourite number, and why. He presented us with the Top Ten fave numbers (7 was at number 1) along with some theorizing as to why, and then also shared with us some of the reasons people had given.

And finally we had Germaine Greer, by far the biggest name on the list. You might think she were there to speak on a feminist tract or give her views on social media and feminisim or similar but actually, she wanted to share with us this project she has been working on. She has bought a patch of land in Australia and is helping to regenerate its native ecosystem and replenish the natural wildlife. Her message – we can all do this. Lay claim to somewhere and take care of it.

I found all the talks interesting and there was no question that each speaker did a good job (incidentally, all the talks are online here). But the night was wrapped up by 8:30, sharp! I had expected them to eke it out a bit longer, maybe have some more interaction with the speakers and make an evening of it, but no – it was literally, introduction, talk, introduction, talk, break and repeat until we were done and we were all leaving!

The speakers were all indeed quite eminent if not superstars but considering you do get some pretty big names at, say, Damian Barr’s Literary Salon, I’m not really sure this event deserves its price tag. For my money, if I want educating and entertaining talks, I’m sticking with Salon London.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Crumbs and Doilies, 18th January

Having a sweet tooth, I have tried a fair few bakeries around London, and I have come away with some firm favourites. For brownies – Konditor & Cook or Bad Brownie. For ice cream, Gelupo or La Gelateria. Rinkoffs are the place to go for Croughdoughs. For cake, I pretty much turn to Hummingbird Bakery time and again though Lola’s and Flavourtown Bakery deserve a mention for their cupcakes.

But I think there is somewhere else to add to my list of old reliables.  It’s a shame they’re owned by that annoying Jemma girl on London Live but early signs are that they’re good enough to overlook this minor flaw. One Sunday I went for a leisurely stroll from my place in Bethnal Green to Carnaby Street. A mere hour and 20 minutes later I was inside Crumbs & Doilies. I had already perused their many cakes online and I was a little disappointed they didn’t have such a big selection to choose from. There was one type of cake only, and about 6 cupcake flavours. However, they rotate their flavours daily so if they don’t have anything you fancy one day (unlikely), they probably will the next.

I could only eat so much so perhaps it was best that it made choosing much easier. I had particularly liked the looks of the cakes online, and the one in the shop sounded right up my street – chocolate and coffee – so I had a slice of that. I also got a mini banoffee cupcake so I could taste a range. It’s not cheap but it’s about the same price as the other bakeries I’ve mentioned. 

I was impressed with what I had. The slice of cake was light and not dry. I really liked the icing and the crunchy chocolate crumb on the top, though the dark chocolate icing was a little plasticky. A minor quibble. It was good enough for me to know this wouldn’t be my last visit.

I saved the mini cupcake for a dessert bite later on. For such a small cupcake it had a lot going on – a layer of toffee cake at the bottom, then a later of banana flavoured cake, with some fairly decent icing on top – not too thick and sickly, though not quite the American frosting that I favour. Good enough to tempt me back and see what they do with other flavours. They had your typical red velvet but also mint chocolate chip, cherry bakewell and peanut butter and jelly when I went, and when fellow bloggers Fresh and Fearless and Dancing in High Heels went they had a caramel pretzel cake, and offerings including rolo, coconut and raspberry and earl grey for their cupcakes! How am I going to resist going back almost immediately?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Moth, 7th January

The Moth is a hugely popular import from NYC – and downstairs at the Book Club seemed the perfect place for it. The Moth, is a story slam. That’s right. You’ve heard of poetry slams I’m sure. Well the same construct is applied here, but to stories. Real stories told by real people. Ten people, who volunteer on the night. And then they are judged. They are judged by other people who volunteer on the night. And, as long as you get enough people brave enough to tell their story, it works really, really well.

I imagine that getting people up on stage to tell a short, 5 minute story (you get timed) isn’t such a problem in the States where everyone is eager to have their time in the spotlight. Over here, at the event I went to, it required a lot of cajoling. Or maybe it was because the subject was Blunders and basically meant telling embarrassing stories about yourself. Actually, I suspect a lot of people went with the intention of telling a story, they just needed to work up the nerve to do it once they got there. It turned out that 12 people signed up in the end, so two people didn’t get to share their tales of shame. The order is picked completely at random so you can’t sign up safe in the knowledge that 10 people have signed up before you. You could even end up first on stage.

None of my group were brave enough, or could think of a story that could be eked out to the full 5 minutes, to put our names in the hat. But, if you are shy, there is another way to contribute: anonymously.

Everyone who attended was asked to write an answer to the question “What is a mistake you won’t make again?” on a piece of paper. These were read out, at random, every now and again to break up the storytelling on stage. Most of them were pretty snappy and hilarious, making me regret even putting in a submission. As the evening wore on I thought I would get away without mine being read but just before we left Charlie Partridge, our host, said he’d like to do one more and it was mine! Great relief, then, when it got more than a few laughs.

But, having said that, by this time the audience was well and truly warmed up. We had been treated to all sorts of mishaps ranging from being proposed to and saying yes when you didn’t mean it to taking a shower when your mates are on safari and narrowly missing a lion entering your bedroom to not noticing it was Jude Law you were serving so stroppily under a hangover.

As ever, with amateurs, the raconteur quality varied but most of them were pretty good at telling their story. They all did fit the theme and none of them were particularly boring. The best, by far (and happily the one that won) was a very simple story. It was the story of the most expensive apple in the world. Because did you know that when you order online at Tesco you get charged £6.50 delivery? Yes, even if, by mistake, you order a single apple, which is what one speaker did. Such a simple mistake, one we could all imagine doing, with such embarrassing fallout – having to take delivery of said single apple, for example, and live with the shame of having paid so much for it. It spoke to us all. And Holly’s comic timing was spot on.
The Moth is now on monthly at The Book Club and I would recommend it. It’s not perhaps as soul searching as Natural Born Storytellers can be, but it was a lot of fun. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hotbox, 4th January

I said on my Twitter that I died and went to ‘cue heaven when we went to Hotbox and I stand by that. It was everything I had expected and more. Expensive, sure – the beef rib will set you back 24 squids, but the quality is superb.

We were assured by our waiter that the Hotbox Smoked Selection was big enough to share between two, as long as we got at least a couple of sides as well, and so, wanting to try everything, that’s what we did. We also threw in an extra smoked chicken thigh so we’d have one each. I’m so glad we did as this was exceptional. So smoky and sweet, I would make sure I had this again.

In fact, I wouldn’t be able to choose what to have next time if not the selection again as it was all so good. The only thing I didn’t really like was the sausage which was a little coarse for me. We’d had it before at hawker House and Stephen liked it a lot. I know it is just my personal preference, not a reflection of the actual sausage’s quality.

The slice of beef rib was perfectly tender, and charred, good enough to eat on its own without any of the sauce that accompanied the plate. Same goes for the pork rib. Both were meltingly soft with a robust flavour. The pulled pork (collar I believe) was some of the finest I’ve ever eaten. Not dry at all, and again not really needing any sauce, although we did drizzle some over.

Beware – if you don’t like a bit of heat with your ‘cue then you might want to stay away. It was never overpowering but it was certainly there in almost everything, and the plate came with some extra jalapenos and onions as garnish.

For our sides we had the pickled jalapeno coleslaw (excellent) and the ham hock pinto beans. This seemed to be a mix of two beans – black and pinto, and the black beans were a little too firm for me. We eyed up other customers’ dishes and the sweet potato fries looked just right, as did the grilled elote (Mexican corn).

When we finished our main we were so disappointed. We wanted more! I would say that one person could order the selection and eat it all but they’d be stuff to the gills, whereas for two it makes for quite a light dinner. Getting a more stodgy side like fries would help. However, ignore all of that if you plan to have a dessert because they do not skimp on the size of these, and they are worth leaving a bit of room if you like sweet things.

I had to try the deep fried oreos whereas Stephen went with a less adventurous sticky toffee pudding. Deep fried oreos are, as you can guess, amazing. I don’t love normal oreos so much but when they’re warm and chewy like this they’re wonderful. I could probably do with a little less of the dough they are encased in, especially as you get four of them and they can become quite sickly. I gave one to Stephen. They come with a dark chocolate sauce and ice cream, which is a nice contrast of hot and cold. We chatted to one of the staff and he said they were considering swapping out the chocolate ice cream for a lighter flavour, which I think would be a great idea. A plain vanilla, or even the butterscotch ice cream that Stephen had with his pudding would work really well.

Stephen’s sticky toffee was a brick of a pudding (in size, not texture) and came with toffee sauce and the aforementioned butterscotch ice cream. We were so full after this! Full and happy.

I was quite surprised by the style of Hotbox – it’s dark and sleek and feels more like a bar than a restaurant. I expected something more Americana-themed. But the food is much more than befits a theme bar so the surroundings suit it. I can’t wait to go back - probably now my favourite BBQ joint in London. 

Hotbox on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Honey & Co, 30th December

I think Honey & Co cemented itself in my mind after a joyous review by Grace Dent back in May 2013. Being under the mistaken impression that it was no-bookings, the more it garnered love and attention, the less I was inclined to try to go; I knew it was a very small restaurant and imagined there would be queues round the block. But I ended up there on the eve of New Year’s Eve after trying to have a curry at Ragam only to find it closed. Honey & Co was more or less round the corner, and figuring that we were in the dead time twixt Christmas and New Year, I thought we would get in easily. Well, I was wrong, because it does take reservations and the place was fully booked. The only place they have for walk-ins is five seats at the window and they were all full. If I’d only known they take reservations, I would have booked myself in there ages ago! One group, however, seemed to be nearing the end of their meal... 

Our waitress guesstimated it would be about 20 minutes and we went to the really nice pub next door to wait. They said they’d call when space became available. But we were soon starving and had finished our drink without knowing whether to get another, so after half an hour we decided to call it quits. No sooner had we set off did they phone so we did an about-turn and settled in.

And I can confirm, Honey & Co is worth every bit of love it has been showered with. It was a bit of a slow burner but by the time I finished their notorious cheesecake I was certain that I was bewitched.

As it was a post-Christmas/New Year treat we decided to get the special set menu for £29.50 – a starter of nine mezzes plus a main each, and a dessert each. You choose your main and dessert from the a la carte menu but the mezze selection is set.

Although none of the dishes are what I would describe as basic, without the final two plates we had, it would be a fairly typical selection of cold mezzes – the sort you might find in many a Levantine or Middle Eastern restaurant. You get falafel, hummus, olives and pickles, some lovely bread (especially the potato bread), some tabbouleh and labeneh with Turkish pepper puree. But the truly unique dishes of pumpkin and pickled apple, and quince with curds and honeyed hazelnuts made all the difference. The pumpkin for certain was our favourite. I’ve never had pumpkin before but I would most definitely seek out its earthy and slightly sweet flavours again.

Quince and curds

I was surprisingly full after these little dishes. Eating in such a manner is so good at tricking the stomach. But we had our mains to come and I valiantly ate all of mine. It didn’t look a huge amount compared to Stephen’s tower of quail, but it was quite the hunk of meat. It was cooked to a perfect tenderness, with a nice bit of fat preventing it from being dry. The beef came with quince and potatoes. Having only had quince in jam form before, I enjoyed trying it as a fruit itself (twice in one meal!). It was similar to pear in its texture but a more interesting alternative.

I gave in to food envy when Stephen’s main arrived. It looked magnificent and tasted it too. The quail was cooked beautifully –  crisp on the outside, the right hit of seasoning, and lots of lovely white bean hummus and crispy onions, of which I stole several. There was perhaps a bit too much on the plate in fact. I would say we could have done with some extra bread to make use of all the remaining hummus but, truth be told, if we’d eaten more bread, dessert may not have been on the cards. And that would have been a travesty.

After the customary debate about whether to have one, or if we have one, whether to share, we went the whole hog and ordered one apiece. I had this masterpiece of a cheesecake, which has gained quite the notoriety for itself. Whatever you have read is true. It is unlike any cheesecake I’ve ever had, so creamy it’s almost like eating gelato. And forget your boring old biscuit base, this has a nest of finely shredded filo pastry called kadaif looking a bit like uncooked packet noodles. It is bloody delicious – crunchy and sweet. Each rich, sweet, crunchy mouthful was better than the last. Best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted.

Stephen’s dessert however, was no less impressive. The apple and pear pie he ordered was like an insanely good McDonald’s apple pie – warm fruit completely encased in a delicate, crisp pastry parcel with custard for dipping on the side. While being in love with my cheesecake I could still appreciate the understated splendour of this dessert.

I would heartily recommend this restaurant to anyone for any course, but they really do reserve something that little bit special for their desserts so worth coming here for those alone. 

Honey & Co on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bar Polski and Trisha's, 23rd December

My bestie was in town, which had been the perfect excuse for lunch at the Wine Library, and was an excellent excuse for hitting the town later that evening.

First stop was our favourite little pub, Ye Olde Mitre, tucked out the way near Chancery Lane. We almost always go here for at least one when we go out in central London, and I take people there all the time. You can’t find a better specimen of a proper English pub with real history. And the wine is good too.

Next up – Bar Polski. This is a Polish bar that focuses on their favourite tipple – vodka. A bit like an indie version of Revolution, this bar has every kind of vodka you can imagine in terms of flavours. I don’t know where they get them from – whether they are in-house creations or not, but the range is certainly innovative.

The menu is split into divisions of Dry and Interesting, Nice and Sweet, Clear and Clean, and various brands of vodka. You can try flavours such as starka – a vodka aged in barrels so it becomes a bit like whiskey, or  a vodka infused with bitter digestive herbs. We tried quite a range, having about 7 between us in the short time we were there. First up we chose two each – I had honey and spice and melon, Alison had lemon drops and hazelnut.  At only £3.00 each, you can definitely try a few different ones so after these four we went back for another three. I chose these and this time I picked sweet plum, kminkowu – sweet caraway seeds and husarska – green fennel bulb infusion.

You can either take the view that they sell shots and so you should shoot them, or, you can sip them and savour the different tastes. For they actually do have quite intense flavours that are (mostly) pleasant to drink, rather than mainly tasting of vodka with a hint of something else. We didn’t shoot ours and instead shared them between us so we could try them all.  I liked all of them except the fennel one which had a more powerful aniseed taste than real fennel tends to.  The most pleasant surprise was the sweet caraway seed flavour, which reminded me of sesame. Nutty, but indeed sweet.

Being the night before Christmas Eve, with very few people in town, Bar Polski was all but empty. There was just one very drunk work party, and us. So the atmosphere was lacking, and it being rather hidden behind Holborn station I can imagine it doesn’t get too packed anyway. Obviously, this is the place to go for any vodka lover, but I’d highly recommend it for those who profess not to love the spirit as well – the flavours here will convince you.

Bar Polski on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

After this we went to some godawful pub that just happened to be opened while we were passing. We were really just biding our time until we thought it was late enough to go to Trisha’s, otherwise known as 57 Greek Street.

Sure enough, you would never know it was there if you didn’t know. We knocked and were permitted to enter. I think it’s supposed to be a ‘members’ bar, but it’s a members bar in the same way that Manero’s is – basically if you can find it, you’re allowed in. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting though it was a cool little bar and one worth remembering for late night drinks. I thought it would be livelier, with people dancing, but there was barely room for this and people were quite happy to sit at the checked cloth tables or stand at the bar. It was all quite civilized, basically a place to keep drinking when the other bars were shut, not necessarily to keep partying. Or perhaps I was just there on the wrong night.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Wine Library, 23rd December

I wandered past The Wine Library on one of my many strolls around the city and of course I had to investigate what could be going on in there as soon as I got home. A Library of Wine sounded too good to ignore. It turns out it is a wine cellar and shop but it is also a restaurant of sorts during lunch where you can browse its wares, pick out a lovely bottle of wine (or two) and enjoy it with the all you can eat buffet luncheon they provide for only £20.

These are definitely the finer wines so don’t expect to pick up a bottle for the same price you’d get one for in Tesco. You’re still going to pay roughly restaurant-level prices (although I noticed a couple for around the £12 mark). But just imagine how much these would cost if you actually did order them in a restaurant and you can see this is a good-value way of wining while dining.

The food they provide is exactly the sort of thing you want to eat with wine. The table they lay out is festooned with cheeses and meats in charcuterie and ‘pate’ form, as well as plenty of bread and crackers to go with it, chutneys, fruit, dips and even quiche.

I believe they more or less always have the same thing, but when we went we tucked into a deeply flavoured venison terrine, a very fatty and moist pork belly rillete, plus several different cured meats. They also had duck liver pate which I didn’t try and a smoked mackerel mousse which I knew would be too fishy for me. The quiche that day was broccoli and they also had a lovely red pepper hummuslike dip.

Cheeses covered the range from hard to soft and were very, very smelly. In fact when you approach the Wine Library, the smell hits you before you’ve even fully opened the door. One cheese was particularly brutish on the nose, though not quite so strong when you ate it – it had a very intense tang to it, and was one of my favourites. Naturally I have now forgotten what it was. They also include the usual suspects: brie, and a blue cheese and a cheddar as well. We filled our plates and then went back for more! But just the once.

The wine we chose was a Chablis for £18 and making it last long enough to accompany the two plates of food we had was a challenge. Good wine really is such a joy to drink, none of that back of the throat acidity that makes you wince. It is worth splashing out on every now and then. Happily, in this instance, we didn’t have to.

Wine Library on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Soul of the 60s, 19th December

I have been looking forward to writing this blog post because I couldn’t wait to share the sheer joy that is Soul of the 60s at The Phoenix. It is exactly the kind of night I had been looking for. Sure, the Northern Soul nights like Mousetrap and Crossfire I’ve been to are good – really good for authentic 60s soul. But I never know any of the songs they play and sometimes you just want to dance to something familiar. Familiar but fantastic.

And that is exactly what Soul of the 60s provides. If you can think of a well-known 60s soul song, they will play it. It is basically non-stop bangers and they even take requests (not sure if that is the general policy or if it’s because the DJ was, self-confessedly, quite tipsy)! Once we got on the dance floor it was a wrench to leave. I had every intention of going home at 12:30 as I had a treasure hunt to get to at noon the next day but I couldn’t tear myself away. I ended up dancing for another hour after that before I decided I would regret it in the morning if I didn’t leave now.

So what do they play? Strictly speaking, not just 60s soul. There was some 70s funk in there too – a bit of James Brown (Get On Up), a bit of 50s as well. But all of it was excellent music. They played Land of a Thousand Dances, they played Soul Man and Sweet Soul Music. I seem to remember they played ‘Stay’ from the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack. Name a song you like from that era, they probably played it, and if they didn’t that night, they probably will at some point.

This is some of the best music to dance to in my opinion – upbeat, happy, sexy, you don’t even have to think about it and your feet start moving. An absolutely stellar night which is definitely going to make it into my repertoire of regular nights I go to. I cannot wait to get back there.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Little Yellow Door, 11th December

The Little Yellow Door is an excellent concept. What is better than a house party? A house party that someone else hosts, that’s what. And this is what The Little Yellow Door aims to be. They have taken over the Blagclub (somewhere close to my heart) and turned it into a simulacrum of a flatshare. Thursdays is open for drinks, Friday they host a dinner party and then stay open for drinks, and Saturday is supposed to get ramped up for a late night proper party.

I couldn’t wait to go and try it out. We thought we’d go for some festive drinks on the Thursday, and then, if we liked it, come back sometime for the Saturday night party.

One of their unique things is the fact that you can make a booking through Whatsapp, just as if you were just texting a friend about coming by. I asked them if I needed to make a booking if I had a group coming, and they said it depended on whether I wanted an area reserved or just have drinks at the bar. I said I’d have an area if possible and they said they’d check but asked if drinks at the bar would be ok if not. I said yes. Then I got an email saying I’d made a reservation for 11 people. I assumed that meant I’d booked an area. But when my friends turned up, no such area existed. Not really a problem but just a little confusing so not the best start to the evening.

However, we were happy to take in the atmosphere and have a few drinks nonetheless. They have done quite a good job of making the place feel like someone’s house. There’s some mismatched furniture – tables and chairs. There is bric a brac lying around, shoes by the door and the girls’ bathroom is full of toiletries. They’d put up a tree and some antlers and Santa hats, making it feel very Christmassy. So, we liked it. My group spotted that there was a table empty until 8:30 and thought we’d sit down while we could, being as it was still only 6:30. The staff at Little Yellow Door had other ideas, with one member particularly insistent that we couldn't sit there, even though the space was going to waste for the next two hours. Eventually, with much persuading they gave in and we sat down until the reserving party arrived. So, we’re starting to get a bit of a sour taste in our mouths. 

This continued when it came time to get the drinks and food in. On the Thursday they serve the kind of finger food you’d expect at a house party. My friends ordered the cheese on toast and got a cocktail each. Their bill wasn't cheap at £17 per person. It might not have been quite so much, except for the fact that a service charge was automatically added. Which seemed a little odd considering you had to order at the bar. Then my friend waited for her food to arrive. And waited and waited. An hour. It was especially grating that she had paid in advance for service which was then awful. To be fair, someone evidently spotted her getting in a bit of a rage and gave her a drink on the house.

I thought maybe the food alone was what incurred the service charge so went to the bar and ordered the Crime of Passion - £8.95. Perfect! I had £9 in coins on me. The bartender asked for £9.75. I queried it and he explained it was the service charge. But I’m sorry, Little Door, that is not how bars work. If you are offering me table service, then yes, I will pay a service charge. If I have to go to the bar, wait and order, then I am paying the price of my drink only, and may leave a tip if I'm particularly wowed. As I'd been sort of forewarned I had the wits to ask for the service charge to be taken off, which the bartender did quite graciously. But normally I probably would have just paid it and then felt like I was being taken advantage of. 

We had a couple more drinks, and the place emptied out a bit and we sat down for a while. It was pleasant, but it did just feel like a bar. And a bar that wasn’t that different to other places I’ve been. It did, in fact, remind me of another Little Yellow Door, AKA Manero’s, in Dalston, where the place is so small and intimate it feels like you’re at a house party. The quirky d├ęcor was a bit more detailed to what might be found in any old East London bar but that wasn’t quite enough. What would have been great is if they took the concept even further – had some fake housemates there to greet you, ask you if you want a brewski, bring your drink over (maybe that would warrant the service charge). You know – the way a real host at a party would. Maybe some extra fun and games (karaoke? a pinata? a way for guests to pick the music?) would help make it seem more on-theme. 

So, great concept. Execution? Not so much and I probably won't be schlepping over to West London to try out their Saturday nights.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Competition - London Remixed Festival

Two or three years ago I went to the inaugural event of the London Remixed Festival and had a totally banging time. I liked it so much I went back the year after as well. Having taken a year off last year it is back and bigger than ever with a two-day event on Feb 6th and 7th. This festival is really unmissable for anyone who enjoys ‘remixed’ music such as electro-swing, Balkan beats, afrobeat or brass band remix, to name just a few.

Friday night sees Electro-blues rule, whereas Saturday has a more varied lineup including Sam and the Womp, the London Afrobeat Collective and Stompin’ Dave Allen all being housed in Rich Mix, making it easy to flit between stages. A few earlybird tickets are available from here.

Sam and the Womp
OR, you can enter my competition to win a pair for the whole event! Simply follow me on Twitter or visit my Facebook page, and either retweet my competition tweet, or Like and Share the Facebook post for a chance to enter. Winners will be picked at random and notified Monday 2nd February.

For more information on previous years and the full lineup visit London Remixed Festival.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Chotto Matte, 11th December

 Way back in May last year my best friend was looking for somewhere special to celebrate her birthday when the ideal place hit me – Chotto Matte. I’d heard a lot about it recently and its stylish bar and fusion food seemed ideally placed for something to eat with a group of friends and some drinks before and after. Unfortunately it was still relatively newly opened and it was fully booked for the night we wanted. And then I kind of forgot about it…

Cue Zomato doing one of their fabulously fun nights at Chotto Matte last month and inviting me along! I couldn’t refuse the chance to see what it was like after all, and even get a tour of the kitchen. I have to say, as someone who had never been in a professional kitchen before, this behind the scenes peek at the hum drum chaos of the kitchen was immense fun. There’s a fair bit of cooking that happens out in the open – upstairs there was a huge open grill blasting out heat where you can sit and watch the cooking take place (something you’ll probably enjoy in the winter more than the summer as it was But it’s always fun to see what goes on behind closed doors, and see all the areas marked out for prep, plating etc, just like on MasterChef.

But that’s not to say the food and drinks weren't also delectable. Chotto Matte does Nikkei, a Peruvian Japanese fusion so there’s lot of sushi, and sushi-like dishes. The best example of this were the tostaditas. Basically they are the Nikkei version of tostadas, a bit like a Latin American pizza. Large corn tortillas were grilled to crisp and then topped with, for example, tuna and wasabi or stunning heritage tomatos. 

I also sampled a fabulous aubergine nigiri – aubergine topped with den miso and flamed, and I also got a spoon of the Nikkei sashimi – yellowtail, yuzu truffle soy, purple potato crisps, jalapeno coriander, cherry tomato. What a symphony of fresh taste!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite savvy enough to position myself where the food was being prepared and so one taste of each is all I managed, and I missed out on the padron peppers and sato maki – sea bass, salmon, asparagus, and peppers, and judging from the other dishes I did indeed miss out. But my one taste of the others was enough to know this was some high end, classy food.

I managed to get my share of the drinks circulating though. First, a drink I’d heard a lot about but hadn’t yet tried – pisco sours. Pisco is a brandy-type drink and the sour is made with lime, sugar and egg white plus Peruvian bitters which gives it a creamy texture with a froth on top. Sharp but sweet, I could drink a lot of those. 

This was quickly followed by a Cuatro Uvas - Pisco, sake, elderflower, red grapes, lime & celery bitters. This was a a short, strong but fruity drink that I really liked. The next one I had was a chicano de tonka which combined pisco (there was a lot of this) with cucumber, lime, tonka bitters and ginger beer. Normally I like drinks with ginger a lot but this was my least favourite, reminding me more of a mojito than anything else. Our last drink was Perfecto Amor – an aged drink fortified with Pisco which was like a lighter, less cloying port. That was quite beautiful to drink.

And, dotted around, were bowls of ‘corn nuts’ as I know them (giant corn I believe is what it gets called in the UK), or ‘canchas’ officially. Crunchy corn kernels that are just SO moreish. They also had some sweet potato and cassava chips with some very delicious guacamole to snack on of which I managed to get a couple of.

As usual, I met so many fellow bloggers I may not have otherwise even heard of, let alone met face to face. And I even got to don the poncho our bar tender had been showing off. Sadly, I didn’t unleash my naughty side and ‘borrow’ it from Chotto Matte as I was off to another event (my own Meetup) straight after. That was the Little Yellow Door which probably wasn’t worth leaving for (see next post)…

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Talking to Strangers, 4th December

Well, sorry for being away from the blog for so long! I thought I’d get loads of blogging done over Christmas when I was off work but instead I did none.

I have loads and loads of posts to catch up on, so better-than-normal service resumes now…

Talking to Strangers is a pleasing blend of spoken word, music and comedy with a little extra surprise thrown in. 

First up we had Lucy Cait, a student singer-songwriter who had a voice much older than her years. I should probably avoid comparisons with Laura Marling, but I don't really listen to that sort of stuff off my own bat, so of course this is what I thought of - but not just because I'm lazy but also because she seemed to have the same pattern of faster, upbeat music, followed by something more swelling. Voice-wise she reminded me of a higher pitched Tracy Chapman. Considering we were such a small group I thought she did really well in her performance, and used it to her advantage, getting us all to clap and sing along at various points. I wouldn't be surprised if I saw her crop up elsewhere in the future.

We then had a poet, who, funnily enough, I had seen before at Velvet Tongue. I thought he looked familiar but only realised when he did his erotic piece and mentioned where he'd performed it before. He was alright - I must admit, he didn't give me chills the way other people I've seen have, and even though he was performing political poetry that seemed to slot into my beliefs quite easily, for some reason I didn't relate that well. It felt forced to me, and I found myself drifting off slightly.

Kadeem, on the other hand (a co-host but this was his last show) had exactly the right touch of humour and serious points to think on, to keep me fully engaged in what he was saying.

After the break we had a special surprise, which I kind of don't want to spoil for anyone who may attend one of these in the future but at the same time I want to mention. Well, look away now if you don't want to know... Talking to Strangers isn't just a cool name. There is an element of this involved. One lucky punter is plucked from the audience and plunked down in a chair and the rest are invited to throw questions at him or her. When I went they picked a gnarly dude who was quite the character (his name was Leopold Growler which probably tells you all you need to know) and so it worked really well. He'd clearly travelled and seen a lot and wasn't shy to share his worldly wisdom with us in a very amusing manner.

As almost the headline act, we had a stand-up set from Andrew Doyle, who reminded me of a cross between Jack Dee and Stewart Lee in his mannerisms and way of speaking. After a slightly rocky start where I thought he might be unbearably arch, he turned out to be very funny. He certainly didn't hold back from throwing a few politically incorrect shocks out to the audience - even if some of them were 'quotes' from other people. (Talking about why he hasn't come out to his mother, he mentioned she once lamented 'Well, Aids did its best'). My only complaint would be that he seemed to think we couldn't handle it. Some of it was a little close to the bone (see above) but if it makes me laugh then it's acceptable in my mind.

And then finally the other co-host Sarah took to the stage and did some of her poetry - because what's the point of running a poetry night if you don't get to perform yourself?

The hostess, Sarah, I can imagine might be a little polarising - she has that sort of twee, girly demeanour that some might find irritating. Also, the girls that run it were either a bit tiddly, or just rather proprietorial, or both, as they had no qualms about shouting out or talking over the acts that were there (spoiling Andrew’s punchline in one instance). In another setting it would be construed as heckling but here it wasn’t malicious, just a by-product of encouraging everyone to get involved and the acts were quite happy to go along with it.

It’s a low-key, intimate and fun little affair.