Thursday, December 8, 2016

Cellar Door, 10th November

It took me about five years to actually get to Cellar Door and it was a total anticlimax. The space itself is pretty cool – it’s a repurposed public toilet in the middle of Aldwych. You’d never know it was there unless you knew it was there. Downstairs they make the most of the space with mirrored walls – so much so I kept walking through thinking there was more to it. There wasn’t. Luckily there were two seats along the side so we quickly grabbed those and waited for the acts to start.
I will give Cellar Door the benefit of the doubt – maybe we just chose a dud night. It was basically a guy on keyboard with a walkabout cabaret singer doing numbers such as The House of the Rising Sun and In These Shoes and moving around the audience giving them her most personal of attention. I found it all a bit cringey and forced though perhaps I just wasn’t drunk enough.

Speaking of drinks, we ordered ‘martinis’ – mine the Cool as a Cucumber and Carolyn’s the London Calling. For martinis they were oddly frothy and not particularly potent. Mine tasted nice enough – but was too mild. Carolyn’s was similar – and more to her preference when it comes to strength.

We had our cocktail and then made a sharp exit before the singing started again! 
Cellar Door Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Dum Biryani House, 10th November

I was unexpectedly contacted by Dhruv, the man behind DUM Biryiani, newly opened in Soho, inviting me to review the place. He said he liked my blog – clearly he has good taste, which boded well for his new restaurant.

Dum might sound like an odd choice for a restaurant name but Dum biryani is actually a specific dish native to Hyderabadi. So, this is another of those ‘one choice’ places, with either lamb or veg (mushroom, chickpease, and potatoes) biryani being the two choices for mains. With these there’s a handful of starters or sides and we ended up trying all of them except the prawns because I have allergies.

This may sound a little greedy but I had been waiting for my friend for almost an hour by the time she arrived, slowly being driven mad by the tantalising smells though somewhat soothed by the gentle Snoop Doog being played in the background. So by the time she arrived, I was starving, despite demolishing a plate of the masala nuts while I sipped on a cocktail. With the spicy coating it was hard to tell what nuts they were but I definitely spied peanut and cashew and maybe one other. They are fried and coated with a homemade spice mix which was not afraid of some real heat and were completely moreish. Perfect snacking.

They were all gone by the time Carolyn turned up so we got some of the fried yoghurt (because it sounded so strange) and also the black chickpea salad. I wasn’t sold on the fried yoghurt, but I don’t actually like yoghurt anyway so perhaps that’s no surprise. I certainly preferred it in this form – it was a bit like fried cottage cheese/paneer and I loved the curry leaf sauce it came with. But not something I’d choose to eat again.
The chicken wings were superb. They must have come from some mammoth birds and were piled high with grated, crispy ginger – not the sort of thing to take a mouthful of on its own, as I did, but a fantastic kick when eaten with the actual wing. These were plenty spicy but not so spicy it becomes a challenge to eat. So, just right in my opinion. I would have happily eaten another plateful.  
The salad was light and zingy, and did act as a refreshing coolant to the wings I was eating alongside. I wasn’t sure about the firm texture of the chickpeas, but again, full disclosure, I don’t generally seek chickpeas out so I’m not their biggest fan anyway.
And so, soon after, the main event was brought out. At first glance it looks like a pot pie, but no, underneath that (really rather tasty – loved the nigella(?) seeds) was the biryani. This is superhearty. Mine had chunks of lamb throughout and a big bit of lamb on the bone which fell off with the merest prod. There was a lot of rice. A lot. You could easily share this if you also want to have most of the snacks, or have one each and only share a couple of the starters. I would probably recommend the former, unless you happen to be eating with a veggie!
The biryani comes with a couple of poppadoms, some raita, a korma-esque curry and chili (with boiled egg if you get the meat version) and an absolutely delicious chutney. Overall, the biryani was a little too… aromatic for me. The flavour profiles weren’t quite suited to my taste. Sort of reminded me of  incense. However, that didn’t stop me eating as much as I could until I was stuffed. It was still tasty, although the rice got a little dry at times so I would suggest giving the whole thing a good stir so the meat juices can supply some moisture. Or maybe pour your curry into it.
Anyway, we were way too stuffed for dessert and really enjoyed the whole meal - I would, and have, recommended it to others. Especially for those wings. Oh, those wings!

DUM Biryani House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Star at Night (London Gin Club), 9th November

I don’t know why I was so taken aback by the amount of gin the London GIN Club had but it was a little overwhelming – how was I to choose? So many gins. ALL the gins. To be mixed with Fever Tree tonic (natch) and interesting little garnishes – like plum, or tomato and coriander and served in those gorgeous copa glasses that are like fish bowls. They were all priced at £8.95 unless otherwise stated, and actually there were probably more that were ‘otherwise stated’ than weren’t, and they were generally all about £9.50. So I chose the way any sensible lush would – by ABV.
The first one I tried I thought had a bit of a peppery taste to it but what do I know, and my friend was directed to the sloe gins they had on offer when she said she liked it sweet and fruity. The Bathtub sloe was perfect for this – tasted like fruit punch when mixed with tonic.
For her next she had one from the Citrus section but this was too much serious gin for her – not fruity enough. You get a bottle of fever tree to split between you and before I knew it she had emptied pretty much the whole thing into her copa. As much as I could, I did not fancy drinking just straight gin so we asked for another and our request was graciously granted.
I have to say, I thought the service was lovely - not overly present but they kept an eye on you and menus were swiftly handed over when our first drink was finished. And they seemed more than happy to chat through the different types of gin they had on offer. Although one of the servers didn’t know that Martin Miller was a partly Icelandic gin – tsk tsk. (This I only knew from the Gin Off at Graphic – excellent!)

The London Gin Club Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Where the Pancakes Are, 8th October

Weekends to me mean brunch, and brunch very often means pancakes. The fluffy American kind (even though I’m a lover of the thin, English kind too). When I saw Where the Pancakes Are had opened up I was delighted.

They’ve set up in the newly created area that is Flat Iron Square on Bankside, where you can expect to find more foodie type places and even a new venue called Omeara to make up for the shortfall in London from all the ones we’ve recently lost.

I headed there on a Saturday afternoon at about 1 and we only had to wait all of ten minutes, if that, for a table (of course it is no bookings). I think I was there in its first couple of weeks though so don’t take that as gospel that you’ll always get seated so quickly! Especially now this new area is becoming more widely known. 
Choosing what I wanted was very difficult – the eternal question of whether to go savoury or sweet reared its head. Eventually savoury won out because I cannot resist having something with chilli in it! Rebecca, my dining companion for the meal, had a sweet option. I had a 1,000-baby-greens and added some more greenery in the form of avocado. My fluffy, squidgy pancakes were piled with baby leaves, spring onion, a good dollop of avocado and coriandier-lime butter. Fresh and lively. Could have handled more chilli (as per usual).
Rebecca’s Hummingbird plate looked fabulous – cream, cinnamon pineapple but the pomegranates, almond and coconut put me off stealing any of it. She seemed very pleased with her choice.
Each dish comes with two or three pancakes and that’s enough, although I probably could have squeezed in sharing a dessert version after mine. The savoury dishes are towards the higher end of what I’ve paid for brunch at other places (especially considering they’re pancakes which are normally quite a cheap item), at £10-£12 with extras being another £2 or so. But it doesn’t feel like a cheap brunch spot given the locale, and the types of pancake on offer are a cut above your average lemon and sugar. I’d happily go back.  

Where The Pancakes Are Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Souvlaki Street, 5th October

I came across Souvlaki Street in a blog post by Little London Observationist where she said she regularly indulges in their souvlaki when she rarely visits the same place twice. I am much the same – even if I really like a place, there’s always somewhere new to try! With this high recommendation I thought I should seek them out forthwith, so I had a look at their Twitter and figured out when they would next be popping up near me.

They grill skewers of pork or chicken, sprinkle them with herbs, and wrap them in thick pittas with tzatsiki, plus a load of fresh tomatoes, paprika and onions. We added halloumi to get the ‘special’. And they are very tasty. I’m not a huge fan of tzatziki so I found mine a little too heavy on that – it was oozing out the sides all over the place. But I have to say, I could have easily eaten one that was twice as big! One skewer is not enough!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Hill & Szrok and The Gibson, 28th September

There’s very little point in going to Hill & Szrok if you don’t eat meat. They started as a Butchery and cookshop in Broadway market and their pub is pretty much an excuse to show off the meat they butcher. Having said that, there are a few sides which are just as good to eat as the meat.

The sautéed potatoes were gorgeously golden discs of salty crunchiness and soft potato inside. Hispi cabbage which seems to be flaunting itself all over town on many a menu was as good here as I’ve had elsewhere – sprinkled with chilli to liven it up and apparently anchovy was also somehow involved although I couldn’t spot where. Blended into the sauce it was dressed with I imagine. It was a really delicious bit of veg. The salad we ordered was probably unnecessary and barely got a look in after the cabbage and potatoes were all done. It was crisp and fresh but rather too mustardy for me.

While not normally a fan of the pork chop I thought it stood a good chance of being done well here, and I was right. Nice and thick it had a good amount of fat on the edge (although some of that fat could have been a little more melty than chewy) and wasn’t in the least dry. A chunky applesauce accompanied.

I had a white wine and a red wine over dinner. The white was dry but had some personality to it and the red was a montepulciano which I know is always a safe bet and had a pretty heady aroma. Our waiter was so sweet he even offered to let me try the wines I was deciding between – how often do you get that offered to you?

I really liked the set up too. I was worried the place would be more restaurant than pub but they have delineated it so that seated service is at the back and does feel more prim whereas the front is definitely a proper pub where you can pop in for a drink without feeling any pressure to eat.

Hill & Szrok Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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After this we took a short walk up to The Gibson, a cocktail bar I have been eying for some time now. It wasn’t quite what I expected – I thought it was going to be more serious, classic drinks, instead they like to surprise you with added extras and features. Some of them not altogether welcome. I had a shaky start when I ordered the Tiger balm and what was set down was a huge glass with (I thought in the half light) Bombay mix pinned to the side.  Before I reached in to get a few, the waiter explained they were worms! I literally yelped and shrank away, banishing them from my sight. My date was braver and tried one – said they tasted a bit like candied ginger. I would not be persuaded. The chunk of tamarind that it came with was also odd to eat and after one bite full of seeds I abandoned it.  
My companion had ordered the Dry Gibson which came with pickled black eyed peas and a spoon to scoop them out with. That was delicious. They managed to make what is basically a glass full of gin completely moreish. 
My second drink was more like a dessert than a drink (well it was called a Tiki toffee pudding), topped with a thick waffle, with the glass encased in chocolate. But I went back to savoury with my last drink. 
We both had Asian-inspired drinks to finish – my 'Big in Japan' was topped with warmed wasabi peas and my companion had his 'Way of the Dragon' served in a teapot (dragon-shaped of course) which blew smoke into his glass.

But anyone can come up with fun things to do with cocktails. The main thing about this place is that each one tasted as good as it looked and I would have been as happy with them even without the bells and whistles. They’re just my kind of drinks – strong enough you taste the alcohol, with the extra ingredients smoothing and rounding it out.

The number of drinks on the menu is ridiculous so you could easily come back again and again to work through all their inventions. When we went, we even had a bit of jazz being played on the piano, which was a nice surprise. And, unlike Nightjar down the road, you would actually stand a chance of getting a seat on a weekday – when we went at 8:30 on a Wednesday there were but a few others there. 

The Gibson Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fanny Nelson's, 22nd September

I had a plan. I would try three libations of each sort on offer – one cocktail, one wine and one draught beverage. But best laid plans and all that… I did not stay long enough to complete the mission. Nor was I able to try as much of the food as I would have liked. But I was there long enough to realise that the Fanny Nelson is a charming, cosy little pub which manages to be perfect date material but also seems to have a very healthy handful of locals – both of the hipster and genuine East End local variety, who all seemed to know the bar staff by name.

What I ended up having was the Jamonero - dark rum, peach, red wine and yellow chartreuse. Which, it turns out, had only just been added to the menu. The barman was very keen to hear my views upon tasting it as he’d come up with it. It had quite a sweetness to it, reminding me of a punch, which was fine to start but I couldn’t drink it all night. It so happened he agreed but he said he thought he had a more sour palate than most. I guess I do too… 
I sipped at the dinky drink but before long decided I should try some food. I had been told the duck and the steak were very good, but I’d seen how much steak you got and wasn’t hungry enough for that so I did have the duck breast. It was cooked to pink in the middle sections though the ends ended up well done. It came with a beetroot hummus and a sort of couscous crumble all atop almond yoghurt which was too tangy for me and which I avoided. 

Alongside the duck I had to have a glass of red, of course. Having unexpectedly dined on my own up to this point, I decided I had spent enough time in this pub and left for elsewhere. So I only managed two out of the three drinks. I can’t wait for an excuse to go back and try more.

Fanny Nelson's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Padella, 19th September

I’ve been itching to get to Padella. I never used to be a huge pasta fan, but ever since having some silky smooth and buttery pasta at Vasco and Piero, I have been searching for other Italian places to give me the same experience (preferably for less money).

Padella is the fast-serve pasta place from the guys behind Trullo. It’s small and trendy, and doesn’t take bookings so queuing is the name of the game. Unless you can get there early. At 6 pm on a Monday we could have waltzed in except for the fact that one of our number was late and they only seat complete parties. As the clock ticked by to 6:30 we were getting antsy – we had an Escape Game to get to at 7:30 and were running out of time to eat! We were considering suddenly saying we were only a four after all but the girl seating people took pity on us and let us have a table as long as we ordered for our friend while we waited. Luckily, just as we sat down, she turned up. 

The good thing about this place is that pasta is a quick dish to make and even the one which required a bit of  a wait (mine) was only 15 minutes or so. We were in and out in half an hour! Which might be slightly annoying if you had queued for over an hour in the first place but really suited us.

The butternut squash and sage butter ravioli I think spoke to most of us, with all of us considering it at some point. That was partly why I ended up choosing the cacio e pepe so that we didn’t all have the same thing. Plus cheese and pepper are two of my favuorite things. The Late One had slow cooked tomato sauce and my friend Amy tried crab for the first time, in linguine.

We had some beautiful bread with olive oil and creamy, squidgy burrata drizzled with even more olive oil and a plate of the spinach, anchovy and chilli to entertain us during the short wait.

When our plates arrived, I cannot pretend I did not have food envy. My plate seemed like a very small portion of ugly worms. Pici is a pasta I hadn’t had before and is, apparently a thicker, tube like form. Looked gross. But tasted very nice. Just cheese and pepper could have been a bit claggy and overly stodgy but it wasn’t at all. Each, chewy piece of pasta was nicely coated but there was no excess. I do wish the portion had been maybe a quarter to a third bigger though.
I had a taste of the tomato dish – as tomatoey as you could wish, and also a bit of the ravioli which instantly filled my mouth with the saginess of the butter. Lovely.

I feel like Padella is more of a lunch place, although if you wanted you could make more of a meal of it by ordering pretty much all of the pastas on the menu and treating it a bit like tapas. And look! Pasta is an anagram of Tapas. Can’t be a coincidence…
Padella Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Walluc, 1st September

Well, that was the worst meal I’ve had in recent memory.

I didn’t think you could go far wrong with dipping things in melted cheese but Walluc is here to prove otherwise. I had high hopes – suspecting that it might be a rather overlooked gem on Redchurch street, being forsaken for all the hipster places springing up all around. 

It is a ramshackle kind of place, and I’m never entirely sure of its opening hours so I suspected a quirky personality that I could really bond with lay inside. We walked past in June on a First Thursdays walking tour and it was rammed and buzzy, further adding to my hope. However, when we went, we were the sole customers.
There is only one option on the menu to eat – fondue. This is served with boiled potatoes (undercooked) and bread (comically stale and hard). Four tea lights were brought out and a stand set over them. Then the pot of cheese was placed upon it and given a stir. Stirring was essential as it was so lukewarm to begin with it started to set almost immediately. We ate as quickly as possible but still ended up with basically a lump of gooey cheese in the bowl before too long.
The best I can say about this is that at least it is not expensive at £13 for two. And to give them some benefit of the doubt, perhaps, for two people, they just couldn’t be arsed to make an effort with the food and looked upon us as an opportunity to get rid of their leftover product. Androuet, however, is similarly priced and is streets ahead in terms of, well, everything. 

Walluc Bistrot Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato