Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Best LDN Walks, 5th March

Best LDN Walks was brought to my attention via Twitter – someone I know had been on one of their walks where they find all the seven noses of Soho and me and Charlotte, the girl who runs it, got chatting and lo and behold, we organized for my meetup group to go along to one of her walks. She has about 11 different routes, but the ones that stood out as most appropriate for my group were the Sex, Drugs and Sausage Rolls and Haunted Pubs tour. I went with the sex.

We met at London Bridge where the scene was set – North London in days gone by was the posh bit, and South London was where things got interesting – where the drinking and the partying and the fornicating happened. Then we wended our way through Southwark and Borough, with Charlotte telling us the more salubrious history of the places through which we travelled. I have been on a few tours in my time (Duck Tour, Ghost Bus Tour) not to mention being generally interested in London’s history and landmarks so expected that I would know a good chunk of what we covered already. And yes there was quite a lot that I had either visited already myself, or had heard of, but there was more than enough that I hadn’t to make it worth my while. Charlotte seems to be a sponge, continually researching and discovering the hidden histories of London. For example, we stopped off for a drink about halfway through at a lovely pub and she got us all ‘singing’ a Tudor drinking song she’d only just unearthed. We didn’t know the tune but we muddled along anyway.

We heard all about the wicked Bishop of Winchester and his poor Geese (prostitutes), and visited the famous Crossbones Graveyard where they were buried. We went through Borough Market and learned the origins of many a phrase such as ‘umble pie, being dirt poor and pulling your leg (that one particularly gruesome – it comes from when young urchins would be employed to ensure that someone just hanged was actually dead and not faking – by pulling on their leg). We passed the site of the original Globe and paused for thought by the wonderfully gruesome Clink and its ‘mascot’ hanging outside (the inside of the Clink is definitely worth a visit). There was a healthy dose of death as well as the fun stuff – we had started off being shown an old map of London which clearly marked all the decapitated heads put up on London Bridge as warnings.
Fittingly, for such a tour, we ended up near a lovely pub into which we all bundled for a nightcap. I know I speak for the whole group when I say Charlotte was a welcoming and entertaining hostess and we all had a brilliant time exploring the seedy side of London yore. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Brooklyn Bowl, 4th March

I don’t think there is anywhere as corporate or as soulless as the O2 in Greenwich, and yes, I am even counting the two Westfields. So it seems a little weird that hipster mecca Brooklyn Bowl would pick this spot to open up. I can only assume they didn’t realise what reputation the place had. But anyway, they’re here, and I’ve fancied giving them a visit for a while, being as I went to the original one when I lived in Brooklyn.

I was invited there for a special occasion – the launch of their new Elvis-inspired menu, to coincide with the new Elvis exhibition at the O2. A little group of foodie bloggers were treated to a selection of tasters from the new menu, but also a taste of their regular menu as well. My dad is actually from the Souther states so I feel a bit of a charlatan admitting that I preferred the regular menu! But there are definitely some things on the Elvis menu worth singling out.
Taster of their normal menu - ruined by my photography
For me the highlights were most definitely the fried chicken, cheesy fries and peach cobbler. The chicken was so crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle (just like armadillos) – it was probably one of the best versions we’ve had. The cheesy, gravy chips were also great (as were the non-covered version we snacked on later). Gooey and savoury, the fries were light and crispy. And the peach cobbler – mmm, sweet and syrupy with doughy pastry. I wish I’d had more. Stephen had the pecan pie for his dessert bites and thought it was excellent.

Me and ground beef don’t really get on (hence not liking burgers) but I tried the meatloaf anyway and have to say, if you like that sort of thing, I reckon this was a good one – it had this really crunchy crumb coating on top that made it a bit spesh. I decided not to try the chilli with cornbread though and Stephen admitted this was not the best dish of the night. It looked quite dry.

I have to say, the biscuits and gravy didn’t do much for me, and I quite like biscuits, but this was perhaps the way they were served. If you order off the menu you’ll get a whole one with chicken gravy, not little bites drenched in it. If you don’t know, American biscuits are the starchy, fluffy kind, not the thin, sweet ones we have here and Brooklyn Bowl did get that right. People think they’re the US equivalent to scones but actually they’re not – you just have to try one to see how they’re different!

We had a really thick peanut butter milkshake to really hit home the Elvis theme, as well as grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches. The sandwich was good, though I thought it was overstuffed with banana and took some of mine out to even up the ratios. The milkshake was a bit odd – it tasted good but I didn’t really like the texture. Maybe it was just too warm by the time I tried it.

From the regular menu, we had chicken wings, ribs and dinky pulled pork sliders and I had to stop myself from going back for seconds and thirds. The food here is by the Blue Ribbon, the New York restaurateurs (I always meant to get to their bakery in Chelsea but never did) and so it should be a cut above your average bowling alley junk food. And it is, though places like Bloomsbury Bowl and All Star Lanes are probably equalling it in the food stakes. Overall it was good but I don’t think I’d make this place a destination for food alone - for this type of food I think other places are doing it better (hello Hotbox!). However, as a bowling alley, it is well worth checking out (especially if you’re actually any good at bowling. The less said about my performance, the better).
It wasn’t exactly busy, which is unsurprising given its location, and the fact it was a Wednesday. There were quite a few people bowling but not many people just using the tables to eat and drink. It’s a pretty swish operation, and seems to mimic the feel and ‘Americanness’ of the one in Brooklyn quite well. As in the States, they have their own gigs (which in the past have included Lauren Hill and Pharell Williams, though no such A listers in the near future). But even on a Wednesday they had a rock n roll band to bop to while you were bowling and they were really good! This is a bit of a hidden gem for bowling and I like the idea of it staying that way but it deserves to be busier so here you go – consider yourself in the know. I would love to see it when they have one of their top shows on, and the place is in full swing. Greenwich is lucky to have this on its doorstep. When matter (the club) closed down I didn’t think I’d have cause to visit the O2 again, but now perhaps I could be persuaded.

Square Meal

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Smack Deli/Novelty Automation, 28th February

You’ve got to hand it to the people behind Burger & lobster – they like crustaceans and they want you to be able to have them in some form no matter your budget. They went uber high-end with Beast and now they’ve gone the other way with Smack Deli where you can pop in for a lobster roll for £8. Add some courgette fries to that and you won’t top £12 (compare to their £20 for lobster roll and chips and you see how reasonable this is). It’s also really tasty. They have four different types of rolls but Stephen and I had the same so I can only tell you about one. It’s the one I’d heard the most about – the Seven Samurai. The delicate Asian flavours work really well with the fragile lobster taste. The roll is more like a big slab of sweet bread folded in half, almost challah-like rather than the standard brioche bun. I seemed to have far more lobster than Stephen so amounts may vary – you do need a generous portion to compete with all that bread, lovely though it was.
The courgette fries are worth a trip as well. Crunchy, and addictive. I would have appreciated some sort of sauce or dip to go with them but the courgette was juicy enough on its own for that not to be a dealbreaker. I’ll definitely pop in here again when I want a quick bite to eat and I’m in the Oxford Circus area. Lip-‘smackin’ good!

Extra brownie points for the pour your own beer tap! 

Smack Lobster on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Novelty Automation

After this we strolled round to Holborn to check out the new Novelty Automation gallery from Tim Hunkin. It’s free to get in but if you want to operate one of them yourself it’s £1-£3 depending on the complexity of the machine. The kids there absolutely loved them but they’re amusing enough even for child-free adults, with quite a lot of them being darker in tone or humour than you might suspect. Stephen strapped himself into his own private, instant eclipse (probably better than the real one the other day) and I got felt up on the Autofrisk. We watched someone else brave the rabid dog in Test your Nerve, and chuckled dryly at the machine that offered you a holiday without all the nuisance of travelling, too much sun and annoying fellow tourists.

Well worth popping by for a few giggles but you probably wouldn't spend more than an hour there if that. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Psychoward, 27th February

Last month saw the launch of a new night for the fetish scene called Psychoward. It was loosely based around the theme of medical ward, which meant the hosts and hostesses were all dressed up in latex medical costumes, face masks, etc and there were lots of nurses in PVC, although any sort of fetish wear was more than welcome. They had a lot of fun things set up and tongue was firmly in cheek as we had someone roaming around taking your blood pressure (for real!) and handing out pills and injections (not so real – the pills were smints). He also had love potions and pervert potions aplenty (these came with warnings not to overdose) which goes to show the fetish world is as much about being silly as it is about anything else. But it was most definitely a fetish event and had not the costumerie given it away, the other entertainment surely would. I think due to its size, there was a lot of kink in a concentrated area which gave it (for me anyway) a much more hardcore feel than Torture Garden, for instance, where you can easily lose sight of anything too shocking. 
There were a couple of acts on stage riffing on the medical theme – one person dressed as an asylum patient before doing her act, and the other performance involved filling various pouches around the performer’s body with blood from syringes. It was interesting for sure. In addition to this there was something that I would term performance art happening on the edges – and somewhat interactive. A slender girl stood poised in her pen until you switched on a light and then one of two boxes in front of her would light up and she would investigate what was inside. What was inside not only delighted her but threw her into a sexual frenzy – on the one side, several pairs of beautiful shoes, on the other, gorgeous corsets. She would preen and rub herself all over them in sensual ecstasy until time ran out and she had to put them away. She had the grace and fluidity of a trained dancer (I imagine she was) and she was a joy to watch. Next to her, was something that was the exact opposite to watch but transfixing nonetheless. They had someone who was offering his body modification services for the night. One young guy sat, amazingly passively, nary a change in expression on his face, as he got a swirled pattern scarified in his leg. Then a girl had some needles inserted into her back almost like tiny wings, and posed, before having them removed again. The finale of the night was for this guy to perform his body art on himself (with a little help). I can think of no other way to describe it than say he turned his penis inside out and created a ‘vulva’ out of it using piercings to hold the ‘lips’ in place – piercings he did himself. Then he took them out and nailed his scrotum to a wooden board with the help of an assistant. He stood and wiggled that a bit before having his assistant take them out. The last one got caught and you could tell it must have smarted a bit.

After that all that was left was to mingle and get on the dance floor. They were playing a mix of rock and darker 80s music, which wasn’t exactly my thing but also made a nice change from the typical drum n bass. I danced a little but called it a night earlier than usual as I actually had plans for the next day that weren’t just lying in bed waiting to go out again at night. Apparently the dance floor did pick up a bit after I left. There were also some arty visuals around the place for your optical delight and disturbance. 

Tickets were £15 on the door, which I thought was good value for the entertainment provided. Drinks were eyewateringly cheap – you got 3 drinks for 10 quid I think, and you didn’t even have to order them all at the same time. You could get a token for the others if you weren’t ready for them yet. We were really worried we wouldn’t get in so turned up about half an hour after the doors opened (at 8). Everyone else was far cooler and turned up at around 10 but the drinks were so cheap no one minded being in there while it was filling up! A seriously different night out. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Swingers, 26th February

Even though I went on the very last night of this pop-up I thought it was worth writing about as they have promised to return in September with a permanent place. So, for an idea of what to expect when that opens, read on…

Their pop-up place was in the venue formerly known as Factory 7 where I once went to an absolutely ace rave hosted by Krankbrother. But I digress. You go in and either pay for entry or confirm your tickets. They will then give you your starting time and you are free to go in and make use of the bar area, which in this case overlooked the ‘course’. It was set up a bit like a chalet and was a nice enough bar to hang out in even without playing golf.

They had two choices of street food available – when we went it was Pizza Pilgrims and Butchies, both of which I’ve had before. I didn’t really like Pizza Pilgrims when I had them ages ago but must admit their pizzas do look good. I had Butchies again, which was just as good as the first time. I do love fried chicken in a bun and it’s so nice to see it being pimped up the way burgers have always traditionally been.

At our allotted time we walked over to tee off and get our scorecard, balls and clubs. There’s maybe 5 or ten minutes between each group but the whole course is so tiny that you’re effectively forever in a queue. However, it means you get to watch the people in front of you play and you quite easily and quickly become very friendly with the people in front and behind and it just feels like you’re all playing together. I really liked this and 9 holes is just the right amount of time for it not to feel like play is taking forever.

I am already a pretty big fan of minigolf so they were kind of preaching to the converted, but I think, fiven the limited space, they did a really good job of creating a fun course with each hole different enough to the others. There was a ‘sandpit’ feature, a water feature and some areas you could consider the ‘rough’. Most holes were par 3 and you were supposed to have 6 strokes max before cutting your losses in order to keep play moving. Most of the time we didn’t need this but occasionally one was just darn tricky and we had to take the full 6 – sneaky slopes and hidden holes sometimes got the better of us! Both me and Stephen were way over par in the end but what mattered was who won out of the two of us and I’m happy to say it was me!  

So I really enjoyed my City putting and will happily go back to their permanent home in the autumn. But probably without making use of their bar. Me and their pricing policies just did not get on…

One of my pet hates is feeling taken advantage of at a bar. It happened at Little Yellow Door when they automatically included service charge and I felt similarly at Swingers. While beer prices seemed in line with other bars in the area, the wine was really expensive! I asked for a medium white wine and was given a thimbleful – I said it seemed a little small and he topped it up to the ‘large’ size and then charged me £6.50. When looking at the menu I realized their ‘mediums’ were the 125ml and a large was 175 ml. Considering 125ml is the smallest measure you can serve of wine, it seems strange to call it a medium. 

Now besides £6.50 being what I would expect to pay for a 250ml glass, what really annoyed me was the pricing structure. It seemed designed to catch you out. The pinot grigio was the house wine and if you bought the 125ml you paid £1 less than for the other wines. If you bought a bottle of the house wine, you paid £2 less than the other wines. But if you bought a ‘large’ (which I suspect is what most people would order and Swingers know this) you paid exactly the same as the other wines! Same with the reds. Having realized this after buying my first glass, I decided that if I had to pay the same price, I might as well get one of the ‘good’ wines. But then I was told they only had house because they were getting rid of stock (as it was the last night). I said I didn’t want that one as it wasn’t good value for money. “But the house wine is cheaper!” she said. And then I pointed out that it wasn’t. So then I asked for a red wine but they only had the ones they sold by the bottle. So finally I had to get a cocktail and pay an extra £3. It made me wistful for American service where they probably would have just knocked a quid off the wine, opened a red anyway, or given me a cocktail for the same price as the wine I wanted. No such initiative in England. The cocktail was nice enough – a sour made with Gentleman Jack but even so I thought £9 was a bit steep given what you can get elsewhere. So, by all means go, swing away. Just approach the ‘10th hole’ with caution!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Showstoppers, 22nd February

What can a musical that is completely improvised from audience suggestions possibly be like? A lot of fun I can tell you.

We take our seats and three musicians come on stage, along with Dylan Emery who turns out to be our show’s director-cum-narrator. A red phone rings. The premise is thus set – on the other end of the line is the producer (ostensibly Cameron Mackintosh) wanting to know if Dylan has a new show up his sleeves. Well, of course he does! Oh, what is it? Um… well… and here is where the audience has a chance to suggest the direction the show takes. We are asked for some settings and we end up with The International Space Station, Battersea Dog’s Home, the Titanic and one other. We then vote by cheering for the one we like the most. Battersea Dogs Home wins. We’re then asked for some musical styles to incorporate and the audience proffers Seussical the Musical, Fiddler on the Roof and South Pacific. Finally, Emery asks us for a style of musical that can be played on guitar. Of course we give him flamenco, the hardest to play.

Dylan gets back on the phone and tells Cameron he’s definitely got something and he’ll send over the script in about… ooh… 45 minutes? Just enough time for the actors to make something up. And hilarity ensues.

It really does. It’s improv so it’s not completely polished and you shouldn’t expect it to be. There are moments where the ‘actors’ don’t quite pick up each other’s cues, or they overlap but this is incredibly rare. They mostly succeed in putting together a very funny show, with a real narrative arc, and real, actual songs, that may even get stuck in your head! They sing in harmony, they dance in synchronization (nothing too fancy, mind) and each show is different from the last. I can’t guarantee this, having been to only one, but there were people in the audience who had clearly been before which I took as a sign that it doesn’t get too samey.

Our director doesn’t get involved in the storyline himself but instead his role is to interject and move the story along when necessary, or to interrupt in order to, basically, mix things up and challenge the performers. So, in the first half, he stopped the action to say they needed to sing the next number in a fun, punny, rhyming kind of way a la Seussical the Musical, and in the second act, he made them all sing one in the style of ‘the fast one’ from Urinetown – very fast-paced and quite the challenge to the actors.

Audience participation didn’t end with the beginning of the show. In the interval we were asked to tweet our suggestions about what would happen, which lead to our main protagonist (a female dog who wanted to be adopted and just get away from Battersea Dogs Home at any cost, despite having an admirer) being adopted by Snoop Dogg, and realizing that living with a human isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Of course, the other Dogs Home inhabitants come and find her and they all live with Snoop in a happy ending.

As well as being fairly consistently funny, they managed to get a few touching moments in, as each couple had their own lovestory and sometimes even a backstory. It was so entertaining that the first half positively whizzed by, although I must admit the pace slowed a little in the second half. There were still plenty of laughs to be had throughout.

I had thought £19 was a little expensive for this, but considering it is practically a real, full-length show, I think that’s a pretty decent price. If you love musicals and like to laugh, this is for you. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Once Upon a Time... 20th February

New clubnights pop up at a breakneck speed and when I heard about Once Upon a Time… at the Fairground, I thought it sounded perfect fodder for my Meetup group. It  was also being held at the Bussey building (over all floors) which is a cool venue so I took the group along to check it out.

As you can imagine from the title it was a bit of a mish mash of circus and fairground. Dressing up for either theme was optional, some people did but I think most people didn’t.

We went for a pre-drink at the coolest bar in this part of town – Bar Story. We sat outside next to their firepit so I didn’t see much of the inside but it was your general, stripped back, railway arch kind of bar, serving fashionable cocktails such as penicillins and negronis at the kinds of prices you’d expect to pay in South London - £7 or so. The cocktail was good but considering I live in East London it’s not the sort of place I would schlep over to Peckham solely for.

We traipsed over to the club at about 11 where it still felt like the party was warming up. On the bottom floor a pretty good ska-punk band was playing, while upstairs they had the fairground games and photobooth. There was almost no one on this floor so we bypassed this for the very top where the Freakshow and Musical Bingo were taking place. Musical Bingo put on one of their most fun shows I have been to – not only did we get the great music to dance to and cross off our bingo cards, but we were treated to little performances that roughly matched the songs. Of course they had chosen fairground/circus themed songs to play and Ditzy Ritzy was dressed as a bearded lady. Ride a white horse saw our host getting piggybacked by an assistant, and we had people doing synchronized acrobatics and all sorts. After this I was well up for a party. But they had more! The ‘freakshow’ part of the show – where we had the ever naughty Dot Cotton perform her unique clownery, and we also had Sir Leopold Alexsander performing his Strong Man act, as well as just a random performance involving a woman with a lot of balloons bouncing around and popping them. It was at the point when a rather lacklustre magician came on that I chose to explore the other floors.

The second floor was again mostly empty and rather devoid of atmosphere so I went to the ground floor and that’s where I stayed. I must admit, it was a little strange. They were playing hip hop, grime, RnB, drum n bass and I think a lot of the crowd were normal clubbers who expected this kind of thing from a club on a Friday night. Certainly a good portion of the crowd seemed surprised when the music changed tack and suddenly a woman with a big snake came on stage and started stripping! Her show was pretty good but I didn’t think this mix worked so well – the acts felt like interruptions to the dancing (or vice versa for some people), and while I love that kind of music, I don’t think it’s necessarily what people who came to this event for its ‘alternative’ side expected. It was definitely a departure from the live band earlier – I had thought there would be more of this. Unless of course I missed it all when I was upstairs playing bingo.

Whenever I went through the second floor it was empty and so I thought they had been a little overambitious by hiring the whole venue. The fairground games were almost hidden away and when I went no one was playing them.

I did enjoy that there was a bit of walkabout performance going on – we were greeted by stilt walkers, and there was what can only be described as a drunk clown who appeared all over the place with his balloons. Overall I had a really fun night and I will be interested to see what they have lined up next, apparently it is Once Upon a Time – at Sin City. Sounds interesting…

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Anything but Grey, Serendipity party, 13th February

Most people would want to be known as Anything but Grey, and Serendipity’s first party certainly allowed people to discover their ‘colourful’ side if they hadn’t yet already. A night that aimed to show the ‘real’ side of BDSM (take control don't 'lose control') which has been portrayed in the dreaded 50 Shades franchise, they put on a successful party allowing people to dip their toe in kink without going too crazy with it. It was an occasion – dressing up was mandatory – but not full-on fetish like TG. Tasteful elegance was enough – ball gowns and tuxes but any extra touches were welcomed. It was held in the frankly gorgeous setting of Bloomsbury Ballroom and we were all treated to a complimentary (or two) glass of prosecco while we waited for those who had bought the VIP dinner ticket to finish up. Then we went through to the main area, where seating was provided along a long catwalk. Nibbles (very salty popcorn and veggie crisps) were handed out though these were replaced by proper canapes later in the evening and even a massive cheese board! Now that is the way to do a party – throw in some cheese!

Anyway, the night began with an alternative fashion show, which was truly a feast for the eyes, with many different designers and lines on show. After this, we had something of a cabaret/burlesque performance – some aerial work, a magician, and all presided over by Lolo Brow, the ‘drag king’ who is an excellent host. The calibre was high among most of the performers (I missed the magician who apparently wasn't so good) and I was impressed. Unfortunately, despite this, I felt that it went on for a little longer than it needed to and perhaps the burlesque could have been interspersed more with the fashion show. I was also there to party and by the time the show was over, more than half the night had disappeared. There was no time for the music to get cranked and us to get crunk. Especially if you had plans to indulge in the other side of the event – for it wasn't really until the show was over that the specially-built 'dungeon' was unveiled and ready for full use. This was an area at the back of the main room, although paraphernalia and kit spread out along the sides as well. Bondage, ropework, flogging – it was all happening, though there was no pressure to participate, and it was set up for those curious (or voyeuristic) to get a good view.

Drinks were a pretty decent price, and the crowd was a mix of seasoned fet veterans and newbies just there for the burlesque. There had been a question from some of my friends as to whether such a mix would work, but I think it did. Plenty of space for a bit of a fashion/burlesque/fetish crossover night in the London alternative nightlife scene  - just give us more dancing!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Comptoir Gascon, 13th February

There is nothing like rich, moist, fatty duck with which to celebrate, even a minor occasion such as Valentine’s Day. And duck happens to be a speciality for Comptoir Gascon so of course we availed ourselves of it, twice over for me!

Comptoir Gascon is a French bistro in Clerkenwell, the more casual, much cheaper sibling to Club Gascon over the road. Stephen and I wanted to do our usual of going out for a nice meal pre-Valentine’s but we didn’t want to go overboard on the spending this year. Comptoir Gascon perfectly fit the bill, and we had a really delicious, hearty meal. 

We started with a glass of bubbly, and then rather greedily ordered a whole bottle of juicy red wine as well. We weren’t sure we would be able to finish it all in the time it took to eat our meal but we needn’t have worried – it was so easy to drink we polished it off without much effort.

To start, I had the duck rilletes which came with sourdough toasts. This was gloriously fatty, shredded duck which I was happy to plough into on its own, as well as piling it upon the bread. More bread would have been nice but eating it on its own was no chore, especially with some crunchy cornichons to lighten it a little. 

Stephen had the ‘piggy treats', which I warned him didn’t come with any bread. He said he wouldn’t need any but then regretted he had none for his pates. Still, it was quite filling so from that point of view bread was probably unnecessary. There was so much there I can't quite remember it all - charcuterie, pancetta, terrine, black pudding - even pigs' ears. A treat indeed (maybe not so much the ears, still find them weird). 

Stephen had the cassoulet and I had the confit duck with garbure. My vibrant sauce was very garlicky and salty and I very much enjoyed swishing my melt-in-the-mouth duck with its crispy skin in it. The veg was a waste of space and not particularly nice – they could have been canned potatoes and carrots for all they added, slightly too mushy to be pleasant.I know garbure is traditionally a veg stew but I say ditch them and just keep the soup!

Stephen’s cassoulet was a thing of stodgy, meaty, juicy beauty. The duck was every bit as good as mine, and the sausage added some earthiness to it. Beans were perfectly cooked. Food coma was induced.

Almost literally – after waddling out of here I went straight home and slept the meal off before I went out for the night – we didn't even have dessert! of course, we had also shared a portion of chips - these regularly appear on 'best chips' lists and it's easy to see why. They were obviously freshly made in-house, with duck fat (more duck!) and 'crazy salt' which just seemed to be salt with a bit of spice to it. Anyway, they were delicious and moreish, though I let stephen eat the majority as I was so stuffed from my food. What a meal!

Comptoir Gascon on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ceru, 12th February

Levantine cuisine’s star is rising and I couldn’t be more pleased. After memorable meals at The Palomar and Honey & Co, I was keen to complete what I termed the trifecta and go to Arabica. And then yet another place came on the scene in the form of Ceru, a tiny restaurant offering a more affordable Levantine dining experience.

A group of us bloggers had a foodie outing kindly organized by Sheepa of Food That Makes You Smile and Snita of Her Favourite Food and we went for a mini feast for the special offer of £20 a head. To start we could choose a fresh juice or mocktail. Almost everyone chose the Patricia for some reason (the namesake of the owner) which was a mixture of pear puree, apple juice, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves (actually reading that is there any surprise we all wanted it?) but the Percy  - pomegranate, soda, ginger ale and fresh lime also looked very nice.

Once everyone arrived we were seated and our dips and breads to share came out. We had four kinds – hummus anointed with chickpeas, green shilli and lemon; pancar which was roast beetroot, garlic and pistachio; fadi – a courgette puree with tahini, garlic and lemon and then a spicy roast pepper dip made with chilli, walnuts and pomegranate molasses. We had warm pitta with za’atar to scoop it up. I could have dived right into a whole pot of all of them but my two favourites were the garlicky fadi and the warming spiced chilli dips. When the bread ran out we kept the rest of the dips aside to eat with our mains.

Choosing what to have put us all in a quandary but the lamb shoulder cooked with shawarma aromatic spices eventually beckoned. This came as strips of fatty, crispy lamb all well seasoned and spiced and adorned with pomegranate seeds. While I love the taste of pomegranate, I don’t love the fruit itself so tried to avoid them spoiling the lovely lamb. To accompany this we had fried cubed potatoes and a very fresh, light butter bean and tomato salad with, I think, some lemon and herbs.

This part was surprisingly filling and I could have happily stopped there. However, dessert was included so I didn’t. Quite a few of us ordered the baklava ice cream. Ceru seem fond of taking a well-known dish or ingredient and Anglicising it for their desserts. So the baklava didn’t have any baklava but instead had all the components of it – nut brittle, honey sauce, and scoops of pistachio ice cream. It was very lovely to eat, though I think they could get away with a smaller serving! There was a lot of ice cream.

The place is run by husband and wife team Patricia and Barry and even without knowing you can tell they’re a couple from their closeness and the speed at which Barry could get on his wife’s nerves! They made for very friendly and amiable hosts, making it feel a bit like you were round their place being treated to dinner.

And what is really great about this little pop-up (permanent place coming soon) is that the prices are so reasonable you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to come here – it’s very much a casual, drop in when you fancy (if there’s space!) kinda place. Even without our bargain set menu, the lamb dish is only £9 and that is the most expensive plate on the menu!

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Square Meal

Monday, March 2, 2015

Liars League, 10th February

Liars League is a storytelling night with class and one that recognizes the perhaps awkward truth that just because you can write a kick-ass story, doesn’t mean you’re any good at reading it aloud. So Liars League teams good story writers with good story tellers to create a night of tales that is top notch. Each performer is a genuine actor, turning each short piece of fiction into almost a one-person play. Accents are adopted, actions are played out, and you are completely sucked into the narrative.

Liars League is a monthly event at The Phoenix on Tuesdays (The Phoenix fast becoming a place my Meetup group goes to regularly) and each event has a theme. Writers are invited to send in their submissions and then these are vetted by the ‘Liars’ who run the league to pick the cream of the crop and the ones that will work best for the event. They have to bear in mind that someone actually has to read these stories aloud and make them believable. So, for an example of one that didn’t make the grade – someone had written a story all about a person who could do all these amazing impressions. But that would mean the actor needed to be able to do all these impressions so regardless of how good the plot was, it wouldn’t work in Liars League. Once they have the stories, they need to match them to the actors. Any accents that feature prove a strong point to consider – they had to draft someone in especially for one of the stories we saw as they realized they didn’t have anyone who could do a Scottish accent. But more than that they just seemed to match the personas of the stories to the performers incredibly well so that you couldn’t imagine any of the other performers there doing any other story.

They have six pieces per night and an interval after the first three, plus plenty of time to chat and hang around after (when I got to talking to the compere for the night, Liam, who is a writer himself. Never a storyteller apparently although he does a bang-up job of hosting in an amusingly arch manner).

For this event we had the theme The Beautiful and the Damned (it was close to Valentine’s Day) and so we had a range of love-themed stories with many a non-happy ending. First, Selkie, the eerie tale of the disappearance of a man and his entire family – had he married a silkie and they’d all been taken out to sea?

Next we had a unique and unsettling story of this poor sap who had a tendency to fall and fall hard for people who didn't return his feelings. His tendency to pour out his emotions in poetry lead to his exploitation to create renewable energy. There's nothing like the pent-up energy of unrequited love to create a source of power!

We also had the hilarious story of Ger Sheen and the Satanists involving a literal motherf*cker and a bunch of satanists terrorising a poor sheep farmer. There was the sweet love story Gerald the Absolute Swine who finally meets his match. The rather sad Lag, about a prisoner on day release to attend a uni reunion, seeing the now-married ex he still has feelings for. And even a wizard story on the origins of Guinevere's beauty. You can watch the performances of the stories, or just read them yourself here.

And just to keep it even more interesting, at the end of the break there is a short, literary quiz. With books for prizes of course! This time they were giving out tacky YA romance novels in the main although one ‘real’ book was also a prize. This was much more informal than I expected – if you knew the answer you just had to shout out as soon as you knew it, as they read out clues to the title. So even though I figured out a couple I wasn’t brazen enough to pipe up.