Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cocktail Trading Co, 13th June

From the cocktails I tried I would say some of the drinks here are more style over substance. But when the style is this fun, who really cares?

I was already very familiar with this space when it was but the '&Co' part of Central and Co - it was my and my best friend's go-to cocktail joint that we always seemed to get a seat at. The Cocktail Trading Co has got a lot of publicity lately but it also doesn't really make a song and dance about it when it comes to any signage which might explain why I managed to get a seat as soon as I turned up after work.

I already knew I liked the space and it's just as cosy as before, but this time you get monkey nuts to snack on. The staff are just as friendly and attentive, even though it's busier than it ever was when I went previously.

Reading through the cocktail menu is where the fun begins. Not only do they have great names like Tu-Whit-Tu-Whoo-Woo but the descriptions are actually instructions - telling you how to make them and including helpful advice such as 'shake like a dog in heat' or 'shake it up like a revolution'.

They have the more 'normal' cocktails towards the front - margaritas and even mojitos. On my first visit my friend had a 'Delicious Sour' made with calvados and peach wine which was indeed delicious and also very pretty.
I had the aforementioned Tu-Whit-Tu-Whoo-Woo which was a Frankenstein version of a woo woo. Vodka, sage, peach and cranberry syrup and topped up with prosecco. And packed full of ice, so that the flavours were a little muted. I loved the owl it came in and the candy floss it was adorned with, even if the other things festooned on the top got stuck in it.
On my second visit I finally chose a Scout's Honour which was served in a tin cup and came with a ration tin wedged on top and some toasted marshmallows to complement the smoked marshmallow syrup. (Marshmallows are really only any good when set alight to some degree.) Again, I loved the presentation and the tin actually opened to reveal some sweets and a party popper! (Duly popped). But the drink itself didn't do much for me - it took quite a while before I could discern the mallow sweet flavouring over the tequila.
My companion had the Urn-Aged Corpse Reviver No.2 which, for one of their fanciful cocktails, was the least wackily presented. The cocktail rested atop a plot of grass/hay and with a little hand beside it (I think it was meant to be poking out of the ground). But it did taste nice, even if it was only half full. I didn't even mind the absinthe afternotes.
And then I found myself there on a third occasion where we blitzed through even more of the ker-azy cocktails. Again, they were immense fun to order and drink from (squirting cockails into your mouth from a condiment container is always good for a laugh) but they weren't as memorable from a taste point of view.
So, I still really like the bar, and would happily share the experience with someone who hadn't been before, though I might stick to the more 'serious' ones which are a bit fuller on flavour. 

Click to add a blog post for The Cocktail Trading Co. on Zomato

Square Meal

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bao, 13th June

It happened. I queued for a food place. For almost an hour. It could only be Bao. But was it worth it?

Well, firstly I would like to say that queuing was never our intention. I knew it opened at 5:30 and we got there at almost 5:30 on the dot and were about to waltz in when we were directed to the people lining up on the other side of the street. We had actually thought we were the first to arrive and we were not the only ones who mistakenly tried to circumvent the queue because they didn't see it. I knew there weren't many spaces inside but it was hard to tell from the line how much of it would fit in one go so we joined. And slowly... very slowly... they started taking people in and filling the place. This whole process took around half an hour in itself until finally the final two people of the first sitting were lead in. Leaving Stephen and I first in line! Of course, we couldn't just leave then, not when we knew only two people had to leave for us to get inside.

So we waited another 30 minutes, fielding the curious questions of those passing by (people cannot help but wonder why a queue has formed for something) and feeling sheepish for saying it was for a restaurant. We were then beckoned across and scurried excitedly in. Bao has definitely been one of the hottest openings in recent months and my Instagram has been full of photos of their dishes. It didn't take long to decide what to order. We obviously had to have one of their famous bao - for me the chicken, for him the pork, and we both tried the lamb. He was desperate to try the blood cake, and I wanted the guinea fowl chi shiang rice. We also shared some trotter nuggets which I'm going to say right now were just too fabulous. Do not bother sharing these. Just get a whole plate for yourself. And we had some sweet potato chips for good measure.
Unsurprisingly, we were fans of the place. I'd already has BAO's baos from their street food stall/various street food markets and I knew they were good. The chicken one especially, in my opinion, was out of this world. 
The sweet potato fries were crunchy and came with a drizzling of sweet plum ketchup which was very nice. 

I did not partake of the blood cake but Stephen was not disappointed. We both enjoyed the glistening globule of egg yolk that accompanied the cake and the rice, mine I broke and mixed in, it coating thickly the items in the bowl with its egginess. The guinea fowl was quite fatty and made a nice change from darker chicken meat.
I really have nothing bad to say about the place. Would I risk a queue again? No - it was good food but not food worth over an hour's wait. However, if I *happened* to be walking by just before it opened and there was no one around, I'd "hang around" a bit to get the chance to try the rest of the menu.

Click to add a blog post for Bao on Zomato

Square Meal

Monday, July 13, 2015

Vapiano, 10th June

A few of my friends had already been to Vapiano and were quite excited for me when I was invited along to review it. I knew nothing of the concept except that it was Italian food. But I do now, and I like it!

It’s a sort of hybrid fast food joint/restaurant – a bit like Nando’s in that you can be in and out within about half an hour if you want, or you can make it a more leisurely meal if you so fancy.

You enter and are given a card and then you place your order at the relevant stations and load up your card. When you’ve finally decided you’ve finished your meal, you take the card and pay for what you’ve eaten.

Everything is cooked before your eyes – hence the ‘fresh’ bit. You have your usual choices of pizza or pasta or something from the oven and you can customize the dishes if you want. Each pasta dish for example allows you to choose the type of pasta you want.
We started with something from the antipasti and salad bar. My friend and I shared a bruschetta and also ordered the special salad of the day, which upon reflection was meant to be a main rather than a starter. It was huge and full of potato and asparagus which was very tasty but also very filling. We barely made a dent in it. The bruschetta was also a jumbo portion. It was a fairly decent specimen of bruschetta – juicy and fresh tomatoes topped with fat slabs of mozzarella.
We found it hard to choose which pasta dish to go for so we had one each and split them. My contribution was carbnoara made with tagliatelle. I actually have thought about this carbonara several times since because I enjoyed it so much! Strictly speaking it was not made the traditional way, as it had cream in it but I am happy to screw tradition to go with what tastes good. We even added chillies as we are such charlatans. We also had the salami and ricotta with rucola which I thought would be my favourite but while it tasted good enough, I kept going back to the carbonara.

We were stuffed to the gills but with quite a bit of persuasion from the host we ordered dessert as well. They do mini versions so we had a mini panna cotta and then we had a normal sized black forest gateau without the cherries. These didn’t have quite the same homemade taste to them, and if I were eating here again I would either skip dessert or go across the road to Princi.

Prices are really good – almost all the mains are under a tenner, with the simplest combination only being £7.00 so it really makes for a cheap but filling dinner. It’s really perfect for when you’re not looking to ‘eat out’ per se, but you’re out and want something to eat. Great concept.

Click to add a blog post for Vapiano on Zomato

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Keystone Crescent, 7th June

Ok, Keystone Crescent on a Sunday night is not exactly the place to be. But if you're really looking to impress someone with your under-the-radar knowledge then the fact no one else seems to be there could actually work in your favour!

I have to say, I kind of enjoyed having the place practically to myself and it didn't spoil our enjoyment. The vibe that I believe they're going for is '70s lounge'. At least, that's what sprang to mind from the stylised furniture and colour palette they have used.

The menu is simple, yet clever. They had about five different cocktails. I ordered the Dash Reviver (cold coffee, rum, vanilla, apricot) but our waiter told us they'd only put the cold press on that day and didn't think it would be at its best yet. I deferred to his advice and instead got an old fashioned. It was a little sweeter than most old fashioneds I've had, but that suits my preferences to a T and I loved it. One of the best I've had. My friend had the El Jimador which was a much lighter drink but just as easy to sip. He was a bit surprised at its potency but I pointed out that every single ingredient in it was alcoholic! The fact they still made it so delicious shows they're good at their craft.
Then, the clever bit. You can mix and match your own drinks to create whatever suits your mood, or favourite flavour profiles. You can have vodka, gin, rum, whisky or tequila and you can then choose sour, spice, fresh, bitter, tart and tiki as your mixer. The bartender is happy to suggest combinations he thinks go well together but it's really up to you to choose whatever you like. I loved this idea - so many permutations! And I could easily have spent the rest of the night working through them all. Instead I started with a bourbon and spice (ginger, cayenne pepper, tincture and sparkling and followed it up with a gin and tart (apple, apricot jam, basil and lemon). I'm happy to say both worked a treat. 

Square Meal

Monday, July 6, 2015

Wonderland, 30th May

Wonderland was the second time in quite a short space of time I went to the Flying Dutchman for a party. The last time it was for Sparkle Hard and Wonderland had a similar sort of vibe going on. Dress code – colourful and whatever you want to wear (with it being somewhat alternative implied). So, donning as many different colours as possible, we headed down there expecting the same friendly, fun, sexy atmosphere there had been before.

And so there was, although it was in no way a carbon copy. I had a lot of fun (a LOT of fun ;)) but I preferred Sparkle Hard for one main reason – dancing. Even though Wonderland used exactly the same space, in this same space they had put a mini-ball pit and a pole for people to frolic around. I know I’m in isolation in not getting why ballpits are so much fun and everyone else seemed to love them, but it took up a lot of room and discouraged people from dancing I felt. Which is what I’m all about on a Saturday night!

Apart from that, it was a really great night – there’s a bit of crossover with these sorts of nights so it was nice to chat to lots of people and re-meet people I’d seen at other events. Everyone made an effort, donning as many shades as they could which really adds to the atmosphere. There weren't as many silly things going on as at Sparkle Hard - it was more a standard night in a pub but downstairs was the smallish dungeon and the area at the back to get frisky. I had enough fun upstairs to not need to explore (much) what was going on below. That's the thing with these parties. You can get as involved as you want. If you just want somewhere inclusive with a bunch of cool people then you just come along for that. Some people who had been before didn't remember it as being quite as friendly as, say Sparkle Hard, but I'm happy to say I disagreed. Yet another thing I'd be happy to go back to!