20 August 2014

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Blog Reviews from Gingle lists everything


Eating. Drinking. Clubbing. Free things. Fun things. Quirky things. This is what I do. This is what I will write about.These are things I list, cross off the list, and then replace with more new things on the list. Join me in my crossing off fetish.

  1. Published : Wednesday, 6th August 2014

    The Palm Tree | INK and The Palm Tree, 29th July

    I love being part of the Zomato community. Not only do they do great blogger events, they’re not shy about giving away prizes. Just recently I won Foodie of the month and a £75 voucher for Ink, a restaurant I already had on my List. It is fairly new and has opened up about 15 minutes by foot from my flat. It looked modern European and definitely a cut above anything else we have in the area (mainly chicken shops and kebabs, so not difficult).Our host for the evening (whose name I didn’t catch) was friendly and charming and also a little silly which is always welcome. He was very good at being there when we needed him but also disappearing when we wanted some time to think over our choices.£75 may sound like a lot, but at Ink it doesn’t stretch very far. However, as it was somewhere I’d wanted to go anyway, we didn’t mind putting in some of our own cash to make the most of the dinner. So we had a cocktail each to start – a whisky sour for Stephen, a classic champagne cocktail (suggested by our host) for me. It could have been a little colder but I liked the sweet/bitter taste. My other drink for the night was a robust picpoul while Stephen stuck with the sours.The chef is a great fan of ‘textures’ – the word festooned the menu. And of course ink featured – once in the starters and once in the mains in the restaurant’s signature dishes. Burnt onions were also conspicuous. Choosing was an enjoyable hardship. I got the scallops with peach puree, with pork scratchings crumbled over them and burnt onions. Two fat scallops were perfectly cooked and the other flavours were exquisite. The scallops were so soft that I really appreciated the extra texture (there’s that word again) from the crunchy scratchings.Stephen had finally decided he wanted the bone marrow and then we were told it wasn’t on the menu for the night. He quickly chose the stone crab with textures of cucumber. Cucumber isn’t something he usually likes but it was done in such a way that he was happy to eat it. Flakes of potent crab sat on a sharp cucumber jelly and pickled cucumber, providing a punchy gherkin tang. For our mains I had the signature dish of salted cod with textures of tomato, ink soil and confit potatoes. The textures in this case were confit tomato (scraped of their annoying sludgy insides), a tomato puree that tasted like tomato soup (a good thing) and crunchy, tangy tomato salsa. On the side were the spheres of potato confit and there was also a light lemon oil that was startlingly good on the tongue. Before I ordered it, I was warned – it was very salty. And it really was. For the most part, the rest of the dish balanced out the salt, but by the end of it the salt was rather overwhelming. I’m not the biggest fan of salty things in the first place! But the salt had done its job – the fish was nice and firm.Then, Stephen made a mistake. He didn’t order a dish which had the word ‘textures’ in it. Instead he got the braised beef with peas, broad beans and potatoes. Apparently this beef had been braised for three days but it was surprisingly dry and solid. For that length of cooking the meat should have fallen apart merely under a stern glare. The potatoes were strangely delicious though – a slight crispiness to them.We had already decided not to have dessert because we’d both eaten bad stuff earlier (me my Crosstown Doughnut) but we couldn’t say no. So we got one to share. Our choices were basically textures of chocolate or textures of vanilla. We got the chocolate. Always a risky choice for presentation but they did quite well, creating bit of a woodland tableau with the two types of chocolate, the chocolate soil (reminding Stephen of chock-lick and consisting of chocolate and hazelnut puffed crumbs) and the pretty mint leaves and flowers (a bit of a theme).You can’t go wrong with what is basically pure chocolate and this dessert did well enough to almost make Stephen forgive them his main, although I think I would have enjoyed something a little lighter, or with yet another texture to it (namely cake). Ink is certainly ambitious, perhaps a little too much so. While I welcome having a good restaurant in the neighbourhood I would welcome one even more that I didn’t feel I had to wait for a special occasion to visit. Despite the beauty of the dishes, Ink was just a touch too expensive, and the dishes a tad too small to win my frequent attendance. If they could shave a couple of quid off the starters and/or make the mains big enough that you could come for just a main and leave feeling sated, I think they’d be on to a winner. As it is, they’re not in a well-trod area and they’re not quite spectacular enough to be a ‘destination restaurant’. I'm not confident that many people who might not otherwise have gone to Mile End will venture here for Ink. And the lack of diners when we were there would back this up, even if it was just a Tuesday. There were only four other covers the whole time we were there and despite the easy listening background music and the canalside setting, it was rather too quiet for my liking.The Palm TreeWhen I first moved to Mile End, my friend gushed to me about The Palm Tree and how lovely it was to sit outside by the canal. I’d only managed to get there once before, after Field Day when it was absolutely packed and far too late and cold to be sitting outside. It happens to be practically opposite Ink, so we thought we’d go along for a drink after our meal. Of course, by this time, even though the day had been bright and hot, it was starting to get a chill in the air and we didn’t want to sit outside anymore. But that was fine, for the inside has a charm all of its own. There is something Victorian about it, with chandeliers sending out eerie gloomy light over the china on the walls. The circular bar juts out into the rest of the room, turning it into a centrepiece. The red lighting brought to mind David Lynchian dream sequences. It doesn’t have a huge selection of beers but it’s reasonably priced – a wine and beer came to just over £8. A hidden gem. 

  2. Published : Monday, 4th August 2014

    Stories | Stories and The Souls, 25th July

    Last time I went to the Cat and Mutton I made the mistake of not having any food there. And this time – I kinda did again! Fate had determined that I was to have a work lunch that day and it kept me surprisingly full for so long that by the time we went to the Cat and Mutton for our dinner reservations, I wasn’t hungry. We did manage to fit in a couple of things, but first, we went to Stories.StoriesThere seem to be some places that you just instantly like, without even knowing why. Stories was that kind of place. It’s the sister venue of the Book Club and has that same kind of laid back, light and airy feel to it. Long tables in the middle and smaller ones round the edge are all loomed over by huge white lamps. We were there for drinks only but we saw other people’s food and it looked great. It also wasn’t too busy for a Friday night, meaning we could get a table and have a catch up without feeling cramped and without having to shout. We stayed for about an hour and had two cocktails, although the last one had to be gulped down rather quickly. We ordered at the bar but the drinks were brought to our table and I must admit the last one took so long to arrive I began to worry they’d forgotten about us.Drinks were good – Alison had the Naughty which she wanted me to mention was possibly the best tequila cocktail she’s ever had. It was tequila, apple, cucumber, chili and lime. I had the Kiss and Tell – gin, strawberry and balsamic syrup, lemon and cucumber. I thought this was summery and fresh but I would say that the ingredients sounded more interested than they actually taste. However, for my next – a Likely – I was wowed. This was basically a rum and coke but with the addition of Disaronno, giving it an extra dimension. I could happily go back and while away a few hours sipping on these. Licky Chops (Pearl's) at Cat and MuttonAnd so, we arrived at the Cat and Mutton and went straight upstairs to Pearl where we joked with the host about our need to make a reservation (it was empty). We got a bottle of wine to share – a nice picpoul, after much debate about trying the one recommended by our host until it turned out they didn’t have it! And then we still weren’t really hungry so we decided to get another bottle of wine. But I really wanted to try some food despite my lack of appetite so we also got some bread with smoked butter and the beetroot hummus with homemade vegetable crisps. As far as ‘nibbles’ go these were some high-end fare. The bread was amazing – chewy, dense. The butter was so thick it was like clotted cream – I never before have scooped bread into butter as if it were a dip. I loved the veggie crisps even if a couple were a tad chewy rather than crispy, and the hummus was lovely and light (though the beetroot seemed to mostly add to the colour rather than the taste). And our waiter was just lovely the whole time. I already liked the downstairs part of the pub but climbing those beautiful wrought-iron stairs is well worth it too for a less pub-like atmosphere.The SoulsWe ended the night on a high by dipping into The Souls (where Portside Parlour used to be). It’s still without any obvious sign it exists and is still incredibly dark down there, but it feels completely different to Portside cos now it’s all about the dancing! I would no longer use terms like ‘drinking den’ and ‘illicit’ instead I would say ‘party’ and ‘disco’! We ended up chatting to the guy who runs the place and his wife who’d been roped into working for the night but seemed to be having a whale of a time. Apparently his friend comes up with the cocktail concoctions while he concentrates on the ‘audio pleasure’ which is meant to be the main focus of the place. We had a taste or two of their frozen margarita which was great but for our nightcap I chose the fiery Fire and Ice - a dark and stormy with added storm (chili bitters). I would have happily stayed until it closed (about 2 am) – it was like stumbling on a private party getting into its stride (complete with resident cat uninterested in anyone) – but I had to get home. I was driving to Dorset the next day for a wedding! But I know I’ll be back.

  3. Published : Tuesday, 8th July 2014

    100 Hoxton | 100 Hoxton, 29th June

    So, I’ve kinda gotten into brunch in a big way lately, mostly because for the first time in a long time, I’ve not been going out until all hours on a Saturday night, meaning I’m up early enough to take advantage of brunch hours. Also, I had always assumed because I know the Breakfast Clubalways has queues for brunch, that everywhere else does too, and I would have to be up with the birds in order to get in anywhere. The last few weeks have proved otherwise. And it’s been great. It cannot last however, and I will soon be returning to my partying ways, but before I do I can probably squeeze in another couple of brunch destinations.Last week’s was 100 Hoxton, the sister restaurant to a place Alison and I discovered and delighted in on Upper Street called Zilouf’s. In the evenings they serve small plates with a Turkish twist but on the weekends they do their own take on some fabulous brunches. We met at about quarter to one, and the sun was shining. It was threatening to disappear though so we didn’t eat outside, instead choosing one of the many scandalously empty tables inside.Sunday has a more limited brunch offering than Saturday, as they then start doing roasts from 1 pm. But it had enough to satisfy us. I had the 100 Hoxton Big breakfast and Alison had mushrooms on toast.Both plates were very generously sized, and a decent price – mine was £9.50 and Alison’s was only £6.00!I can’t fault my brunch – a decent slab of pork belly croquette, two fried eggs done just right, a slice of sourdough with plenty of butter, a mound of avocado and tomato salsa and hidden underneath all that the finest, densest hash brown I’ve ever had. It also should have come with mushrooms but I don’t like them so requested mine without. Drizzled all over was a jalapeno sauce with a heavy dose of coriander. I enjoyed every mouthful and thought the portion was just right. Big enough to sate but not too big that I couldn’t finish it all (it helped that I hadn’t yet eaten anything).Alison’s mushrooms came with two eggs and roasted tomatoes and, like mine, a heap of cress on the top as garnish. As just stated, I’m not a mushroom fan so I didn’t try any of this dish and can’t comment on what it tasted like, but it looked beautiful and Alison polished it off no trouble and proclaimed it lovely so who am I to argue?I was off the booze as I attempt to get myself into some semblance of my former shape so we didn’t try any of the cocktails, which is a damn shame. But I would like to come back in the evening to try their interesting small plates and I’m sure when I do I’ll be allowing myself an alcoholic treat.

  4. Published : Sunday, 29th June 2014

    The Cat & Mutton | The Cat and Mutton, 18th June

    The Cat and Mutton recently opened under new management. That management being the people responsible for Ruby’s and also initiating a partnership with Licky Chops (the alterego of Lucky Chip), I was keen to get down there as soon as possible.As with so many things on my List, asap turned out to be longer than I wanted but last week I finally got there. Unfortunately, we went there because we were booked in for a steak dinner at Buen Ayre, which means I didn’t get to try any of Licky Chops food, though I must say everything I saw going out looked gorgeous.No, we just had a couple of drinks inside before moving on. The place has been given a distinctly pub feel but also one that is quite ‘clean’ and airy. There are some cute little touches that you might not at first notice, which give it its own personality. Like the table legs being made from vices. It’s very far from Ruby’s shambolic décor but it hasn’t gone completely the other way – there’s nothing sterile about the place.I had a pinot grigio which was one of the nicest I’ve had in a long while. Incredibly pale and way too easy to drink. I had joined my companions partway through their pints yet finished my large one before they’d finished their drinks, that's how easily sippable it was.It was a Wednesday evening so the place didn't have much custom, and therefore a direct comparison to the last time I was there under the old management, late on a Friday night, is hard to make. I can imagine that not much will have changed - it will still be full of people, still a great place to hang out, but perhaps a touch more grown up.

  5. Published : Saturday, 7th June 2014

    Harrild & Sons | Harrild and Sons, 23rd May

    Harrild and Sons is the newest bar/pub from the people behind the Well and Bucket in Bethnal Green, and, like the pub in Bethnal Green, downstairs it has one of the 5CC cocktail bars. This is actually where we spent our evening as upstairs was pretty rammed, but no one seemed to have discovered the hidden haven downstairs.Upstairs bears a strong family resemblance to the Well and Bucket with its slightly macabre, Victorian gothic décor. We grabbed a bottle of wine from the bar before going to 5CC where we would have room to get some food. For no real reason we decided it was a lobster kind of day, so I had the lobster roll and Alison had the surf and turf, after the waitress was very frank and told us the lobster on its own wasn’t that big. Alison opted for chunky chips, I had skinny fries.The lighting down here is what you might call ‘mood lighting’ if you’re being charitable. If not, you’d just say it is dark. But then, they are going for the whole clandestine feel. It’s just a shame because if you’re eating, you actually quite like to see your food! But, sight aside, what we had was pretty good. It wasn’t the best lobster roll I’ve ever had, and the claw was a tad dry and chalky, but I enjoyed it. I had a morsel of Alison’s steak which had a great charred flavor and was very tender. I didn’t get any of her lobster but she literally licked that sucker clean and the chunks of it I saw looked succulent and glistening so I think it was pretty good! And those chips! The memory of the chunky ones in particular has lingered pleasingly in my mind ever since. They were basically like perfectly cooked roast potatoes, in chip shape. The skinny fries were also very good in their own way.We had another bottle …. And maybe another cheeky glass for the road.The girl who was serving us was utterly delightful, making the whole evening rather charming. And it also happens to be my office’s neighbor so I’m sure a return visit for those chips will be on the cards before long.

  6. Published : Monday, 21st April 2014

    Smokehouse | Smokehouse, 9th April

    I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that the big draw of Smokehouse is Neil Rankin of Pitt Cue Co and John Salt fame. He is a maestro of barbecuing and smoking things and here that is what you get in abundance.There was five of us but we all pretty much ordered the same things as they sounded so good. About half of us had decided to try the ham hock, pig's head and cuttlefish romescu 'sphere' until we were told by the waiter that they were out of that. It was fairly easy to decide to have the short rib bourguignon instead though, especially as we kept seeing them come out of the pass and they looked very good indeed.To start I had the chopped brisket roll with gojuchang, an immense croquette of chunky meat. At first I was disappointed that it was a bit dry but as I worked my way through it, the meat and fattiness of the brisket came through, providing some juiciness, and of course there was the spicy gojuchang to smear on it. I'm not saying there wasn't enough of this vibrant orange sauce, but I am saying I wish there had been more.Those of us who didn't have the brisket roll had the chicken liver, toast and duck hearts. I didn't try it but I was told it was 'lovely' - that the chicken had a prominent, almost sharp flavour and that the duck hearts rounded it out. There was uncertainty about the sauce that came on it, which was a cheese sauce** and that they thought clashed with the other flavours. On to the mains - ticking into my bourgignon and I all but forgot about the existence of the 'sphere'. I'm not a mushroom fan, but these were easily scooped out of the light broth that the meat came in. The meat was a star, a rightful contender to our favourite 'cue joints - BBQWhiskeyBeer and Pitt Cue. I loved the addition of pancetta and crispy onion strips as well. We didn't realise that this dish came with mashed potato, which made me feel a bit of a pogger as I also added a couple of roasted potatoes to my plate. Again, we were a two-dish table - those that didn't have the shortrib had the peppered ox cheek which came with cauliflower cheese. No real complaints there - the ox cheek was tender with a good smokey flavour but apparently some of the cauliflower could have done with a few more minutes to soften up. It wasn't exactly a special occasion but the Smokehouse isn't a cheap place and so we doubted we'd be back for a while - we decided to make the most of it and get the Korean pulled pork as a side. What a dish. Between five of us, we basically had one mouthful which wasn't nearly enough, though the kimchi was potent enough for that one bite to knock your head off a bit. My favourite pulled pork specimen by far.After all this we were easily full but I had seen a lot of love for the sticky toffee apple cobbler on reviews and knew I wanted to give that a try. Only, upon hearing what Vanilla Vanilla Vanilla consisted of, my convictions were swayed. Luckily Stephen had the apple dish so I was still able to try it, and it did trump my Triple V, although that was also very good. It was a bit like a tres leches - vanilla sponge soaked with vanilla liqueur with vanilla fudge and vanilla ice cream (really should be a Quadruple V). It was basically cake and ice cream for grown ups.The cobbler though - sweet dense pudding, many, many more stewed apples than expected, and a light toffee sauce, with ice cream to top it off? Heavenly.And we all rather enjoyed our character of a waiter who clearly had a little more than his fair share of the gift of the gab. It all made for a hugely enjoyable meal. What more can I say? Believe the hype. **I have been reliably informed (by Neil Rankin himself no less) that it was not a cheese sauce but Thai mayo which makes more sense.

  7. Published : Wednesday, 16th April 2014

    Rita's | The Cock Tavern and Rita

    The Cock TavernNow that you've finished laughing at its silly name, I shall tell you that this is a rather good little pub, at the top of Mare Street, attracting the overflow of hipsters from Broadway Market. Actually, there was a mixed crowd – sure, there was a lot of the younger generation, but also some older, more traditional pub-going folk – you know, people with dogs and beards before they were cool.We only had time for one but I'm sure when I'm in the area I'll be back. They serve the usual suspects of Kernel, Camden Hells etc, but they also apparently have an in-house brewery called Howling Hops, which we didn't try. And they served my large wine in a carafe which I always like. Rita'sI'd already been to Rita's when it was just a little residency at Birthdays, serving fantastic 'down-home' southern cooking, so I have had their permanent place on my List ever since seeing they had finally got new premises.The permanent place has given them a chance to flex their muscles and really show us the kind of sophisticated, 'all growed up' cooking they can do.There was definitely an element of asian fusion in the dishes on the menu, but they haven't completely turned their backs on the southern influences that made them so successful during their pop-up. The green chili mac n cheese is still on the menu, and while the chicken burger wasn't, they have instead a half chicken with warm honey and gravy. As delicious as that sounded, we balked at paying £25 for half a chicken, no matter how good it might be. We had a couple of cocktails, which were nice enough, though next time I'd probably just go for wine as an accompaniment to my meal, noticing that they sold it in 500ml carafes as well as bottles and by the glass. I had really wanted to try the goat tacos, another nod to their 'dirtier' roots but by the time we got there (our reservation was for 8:15) they were already sold out!So, instead we had quite a mature meal that ranged across the different styles on offer. There were several vegetable dishes that we were torn between, which is unusual for us; the asparagus special with duck egg yolk (cooked in a water bath) and miso butter, the tokyo turnips with soy butter, or, the one we did go for - poached calcots with szechuan minced pork.The calcots were like mini leeks and came with dry-fried crumbled pork all over it, sitting on a delicious and subtly fiery red sauce. This was my favourite plate of the night!Stephen then overcame his aversion to ordering a vegetarian dish to get the mushrooms with burnt onions, a ragout of grains, and parmesan cream. This dish would not have been out of place in a high-end restaurant – a fabulous blend of earthy flavours and rich, creamy cheese. I'm not a mushrom person but this dish came close to winning me over. Stephen was almost stunned by how good it was.'My' dish was the rare tuna with radish, blood orange and pickled cucumber. It was the polar opposite of the mushroom dish - light and delicate, crisp and fresh. Another exquisite plate. And finally, lest we start taking ourselves too seriously with all these 'adult' plates, we had a side of the mac n cheese we'd loved so much the first time, and happily, it was just as good.We rounded off dinner by sharing some 'beignets' without the fois gras. I was very tempted to try it, just to try the combination. I know they're famed for them. But I'm not even sure I would have liked it so much, adn it would have been a shame to not enjoy the dessert as much as I had the rest of the meal. The beignets came with a large puddle of dulce de leche, and it was all really tasty, although maybe just a tad too fried-tasting for me. The doughnuts had a lovely, almost gooey, doughy middle though, and the outside was crispy, almost caramelised in some places. And look at the size of them! Definitely a sharing dessert.Stephen and I both came away in awe a little bit with what they are doing here. The restaurant is unassuming from the outside, but has a clean, yet warm interior - it might look like a typical new hipster joint but what Rita's doing here is that little bit extra special.

  8. Published : Tuesday, 1st April 2014

    Q Grill | Q Grill, 23rd March

    Reviewing a place while it is in its soft launch might not be entirely fair. But I'm going to do it anyway. However, please do bear in mind that it WAS their first week and so I'm sure any little niggles will soon be resolved.I hadn't intended on heading to Q Grill so soon after its opening but we happened to be in the area (after seeing the Scene and Heard plays) so it seemed silly not to take advantage of the 50% discount!Stephen and I did our usual of ordering a couple of things to share. The menu isn't exactly extensive but each of the seven or so choices under each section sound so good that it took a while for us to settle on something.Eventually the wild garlic sauce on the southern fried chicken dish called to us and of course, choosing to have short rib wasn't a hard decision to make. I knew I wanted beans, and we thought a good measure of a place is its fries so we had some of those as well.The chicken arrived and I was a little disappointed. Instead of maybe a thigh and a breast a la KFC, what arrived was basically a chicken escalope which had been cut into slices. It really wasn't the most appealing presentation I had ever seen. And no sign of the sauce which had prompted us to order it!The short rib on the other hand looked delicious and easily fell apart as we portioned it out. It came with a sweet potato (we think) puree and two strands of cime de rapa which were like a cross between brocolli and celery. In layman's terms it turns out they're turnip tops and they were a nice bit of veg. The short rib was beautiful and full of meaty, savoury flavour. I didn't even bother adding any BBQ sauce to it.We called our waiter over to ask about the lack of sauce with the chicken. He took a look at the menu and agreed it ought to come with some and said he'd go back to the kitchen to ask. In the meantime I decided to give Stephen his share of the chicken and as I moved a strip I saw that the sauce was underneath it all! This seems a bit odd to me as it's such a pretty vibrant green, why hide it? I felt a bit silly and tried to call the waiter back. However when he reappeared it was with a whole pot of the stuff. Must admit, it was wonderful so I was rather glad we'd wangled more of it without meaning to. The chicken was fine – nicely breaded and not greasy at all, though a little pedestrian. I wouldn't order this again, though I might ask for the wild garlic sauce as extra to whatever I did have!Peekaboo! Hiding sauceSo, it was pretty evident that our waiter was new to the waiting game and the whole place hadn't quite found its feet yet. He checked and double checked our order, and obviously had yet to completely get to grips as proved by not knowing that the sauce was served underneath the chicken. We did notice a little confusion over where orders were going, but like I say, the soft launch is all about figuring this stuff out so they deserve the benefit of the doubt. I thought the beans were perfect - a good texture and a nice BBQ taste, and the chips were crunchy and came with a smattering of chip spice on them, which was slightly sweet and very moreish. The only point of complaint I would have about the food is that most of the dishes could have been warmer in our opinion. The chips especially. The prices are average for this kind of food, though we thought the chicken, at 13.50, was a little expensive for what it was. Overall I think they're onto something good here - the josper ribs we saw as we left looked fantastic.And the restaurant itself is a good-looking place, classy but with the woody feel you expect of a BBQ place. It actually feels like a mid-level New York steak restaurant. And it's huge! I loved that they've really thought about the space you need if you're eating at the bar, not a table. And I got a kick out of my swivel chair. A while ago I went to Porky's and wasn't too impressed but said they'd probably do alright as there was no competition in the area. Well, now there is, and Porky's ought to be worried.

  9. Published : Thursday, 27th March 2014

    Hand of Glory | Hand of Glory, 22nd March

    I could feel my friends' patience dissipating the longer we walked up the residential street towards a destination they muttered 'better be worth it'.Well, in my humble opinion it was. Brought to you by the same people who run the Shoreditch institution Dreambags and Jaguar Shoes, this is a homely yet polished new pub which, yes, is kind of in the middle of nowhere in terms of nightlife happening around it. Which is fabulous if you live along Amhurst road and want a nice place to go for a pint, not so great if you're coming from Bethnal Green or Dalston. And it's also pretty good in terms of not being absolutely rammed. We got there at about 10 pm on a Saturday night and there was plenty of room for us to perch at the bar, although all the tables had already been filled.There are lots of wicker animals and horse's heads all over the place, giving the whole bar a slightly pagan festival feel. This is in recognition of the pub's name - Hand of Glory - which is some kind of cursed or magical dried and pickled hand of a man who has been hanged. This bears out a tenuous link to the fact that there has been a pub on this spot for yonks and that the surrounding area used to be fields and rural stuff (like most areas of modern day London compared to the 1800s) and I guess the Dreambags lot are somewhat macabre. But anyway, I'm quite macabre and the aesthetic pleased me. It also pleased me greatly that they had proper cider on tap not just a few bottles of Kopparberg in the fridge. I like Kopparberg but I can only drink one before it gets too sweet.  I had a couple of Burrow Hill at the relatively (compared to Impeared Vision) alcohol light 6%. They also had a range of ales and beers which kept my male friends happy. They conceded that the place was, in fact, a pretty cool pub. Exonerated!They have Fleisch Mob in residency in the kitchen but we had just filled our bellies at the last night of Hawker House so had no excuse to try any of their stuff. (For the record I had some pork ribs from Hot Box and shared a burrito from Kimchinary. Both amazing.)If you're somewhere around Stoke Newington/Kingsland Road, or even Hackney Central and don't mind a bit of a walk for quality and somewhere you can hear each other as well as a bit of space to spread out then you should definitely wander up to the Hand of Glory.

  10. Published : Friday, 21st March 2014

    Coal Vaults | Coal Vaults, 17th March

    The Coal Vaults, a relatively new, and very stylish underground drinking (and eating) den in the heart of Soho have an offer of 50% off all food and cocktails every Monday to entice people out on the most boring day of the week.It is well worth taking up this offer, or indeed visiting any other day. This is really my kind of place. High tables with stools for twosomes and threesomes, nooks and crannies with booths if there are more of you. Low lighting (though bright enough to take a decent picture) with boozy cocktails on the menu and some really interesting food to eat. Of that, we did not take full advantage; in the end we had one plate each and shared one and I heartily enjoyed both, leaving me champing at the bit to come back and try some of the others. I had the pulled rabbit with black beans, guacamole sour cream and corn on a flatbread. We had been seeing something piled high coming out of the kitchen and I was so pleased it turned out to be this. There were some proper big chunks of rabbit amongst it, which had a distinct flavour, really holding its own with the Mexican tastes. I just loved it. A really mature take on Mexican cuisine, giving it a bit of British flair. They're meant to be sharing plates and the portion reflected this - it was pretty hearty, and I was pretty pleased to be having it all to my own (my friend not quite up for eating bunnies).The generosity on show, and consideration for sharing, was also exemplified by the scallop dish - two scallops that had clearly eaten all the pies, with two hefty stalks of charred white asparagus, completed with a balsamic bianco vinaigrette and garnished with a plant that mimicked the taste of celery. There was supposed to be truffle to this too but it must have been done with a very light touch as I didn't notice it and normally truffle does not go quietly into the night. It easily enters my Top Ten scallop dishes.This was a delicate dish, just right for spring, compared to the rabbit meal which was perfect for a cosy night. Alison had the wild mushrooms with poached egg on chestnut bread. I'm not a mushroom fan so didn't partake but by God did it look like a heavenly veggie dish. The poached egg oozed just right over it all and the bread I am told was reliably dense and chewy. At the top of the menu was 'devilled popcorn' – an absolute treat to have with your drinks. Buttery, warm and really rather spicy. This should be the de facto bar snack everywhere. The drinks are worth coming for in their own right. There is a lot of attention given to these - and they even pair some of the food dishes with the cocktails. First up, Alison had their version of sangria - sparkling red wine(!), remy VOP and soda. This was really refreshing and had more of an alcohol hit than your common-or-fiesta sangria.I went for the Naxi Classi, not being able to resist a drink with szechuan pepper and prosecco. This, I must admit had a bit of an acquired taste to begin with, but once the sugar cube in the middle had finished dissolving was so nice I drank it all without realising.Next up I had the Francis Garcia, mainly because it came with a chilli polenta crisp (which was delicious - they should SO do these as bar snacks in their own right). The campari ice cube - a little frozen disc of campari was like having a naughty ice lolly, and the sherry poached rhubarb, tequila and agave all made for a delicious tipple.Alison got out the big guns and had the Marano - which is basically two drinks, not even two drinks in one, just two drinks - a cocktail of mirto rosso, gin and blueberries paired with a glass of prosecco. Obviously once you've tired of sipping two drinks at once you can pour one into the other which makes a third, very lovely fizzy concoction.The one bad thing was that service was pretty slow, but for this our waiters apologised profusely. They were a man down. And we were in no hurry. Something about this place doesn't feel like it should be in Soho - it's  far cry from Zebrano's and Club 49 even though it's only round the corner from these places. No, this place is a Londoner's Soho bolthole, it's our little secret. I'm so glad I've found it.

  11. Published : Thursday, 13th March 2014

    Nola | NOLA bar, Made in the Shade, 6th March

    NOLA barOne of my best friends and his boyfriend are in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and not wanting to miss out I thought we might as well finally check out NOLA bar before our dinner. After rather embarrassingly taking the wrong set of stairs (note - if you are walking up a rickety set of stairs thinking they seem too dangerous for people who may be drinking, you're probably in the wrong place), we found the bar. A few tables were reserved but there were plenty of places available. The bar says it is table service only, but one of the groups in there had congregated around the bar. We only had time for one drink and it was hard to pick one out of the many on offer. I noticed a lot of gin, a LOT of rum, and quite a bit of absinthe.Finally I went for a classic of sorts and one very fitting (sorry!) for New Orleans - the Hurricane. Alison had a French 75. Pitching our choices against each other I'd say she won. Mine was a little too fruity and tropical for my tastes, although it's nice to have an 'umbrella' cocktail now and again. Alison's was fruity but the champagne gave it an elegant dryness, and at the bottom was an alcohol-soaked cherry. Can't go wrong with that. Even in the short time we were there I was impressed with the friendliness of the staff, and even though it was table service, service wasn't automatically added to the bill. Which made me want to tip them but I didn't have any more change - so, NOLA, if you're reading, my apologies! Made in the ShadeAfter NOLA bar, we headed over to Made in the Shade, the newest additon to Hoxton Street, which is quickly becoming another cool destination in its own right. We only had one cocktail each - Alison had the Shady Maid Lemonade and I had the Ultimate F*cking cocktail as recommended by our waitress. It was whiskey with rum, ginseng liqueur and Guinness foreign extra syrup. Sadly they had no Kamm & Sons ginseng liqueur but I didn't think that would be a problem.So, was it the ultimate cocktail? For me, no. As far as short and strong whiskey drinks go, I would choose the Full Fat Old Fashioned from Hawksmoor or the Manhattans Project's Fake Orgasm over this. But it was a good drink with a smooth blend to its flavour, strong but not make-you-cough strong, and the Ultimate Fighting Champion it came with was very cute. I actually was more impressed with the drink Alison got – they blended cucumber juice with lemon juice and citrus peel syrup to create a really refreshing drink that had a Pimmsesque flavour without the sweetness. Quite sophisticated. And so pretty!The food was nice too, but wouldn't leave me raving, although perhaps if we'd tried one of their main dishes, which were more obviously Caribbean-influenced, I would have a different opinion. First we shared a salad of pumpkin, poached egg and rocket. The egg was cooked perfectly and if you thought pumpkin and egg didn't go together, you're wrong. The pumpkin for me was undercooked though. I haven't really had pumpkin much before, perhaps it's supposed to be like that, but I thought it would be cooked to the texture butternut squash takes on when it's done well.We then shared a caramelised onion and goat's cheese tart, and some oxtail spring rolls. When we requested some condiments, a really delicious sambal was brought out, with some sweet chilli sauce. The ox tail spring rolls were exactly that - completely packed with meat and nothing else. They were pretty good but I couldn't get the idea out of my mind that having one big fat one, maybe mixed with some veg would have been even better.The caramelised onion tart arrived with the goats cheese sitting atop. I was really impressed with this. Inside the pastry a whole bulb of roasted onion sat, and it wasn't at all overly sweet like some caramelised onion tarts can be. I would say there was exactly the right amount of goats' cheese to accompany it – so often you can have too much and it overwhelms anything else.We had a couple of glasses of wine after our cocktails. Warning - the prices are instantly appealing but you don't get very much for them. Buying bottles here is the smart move. I unwittingly ended up trying a red and a white. Unwittingly as I thought I had ordered the 'Friendly' white wine from Sonoma but a red one turned up. Nevermind, I made up for it by ordering the Granbazan Verde - how could you not with a description like that?! There's a healthy dose of fun and silliness at Made in the Shade as evidenced by the little wrestler adorning my cocktail (and we were given some more to play with), the wine descriptions (see above) and the way our bill was presented (see left). The bar is lovely – it does still feel like the pub it used to be, rather than a cocktail bar, but has been spruced up with some interesting (and slightly disturbing) artwork on the walls and pillars. Our waitress was almost alarmingly friendly, spending a lot of time with us, chatting about the various options, recommending things, and telling us about the artwork. I feel churlish saying so, but it was perhaps a little too much attention - at one point I almost felt like we were going to have to catch her up on what we'd chatted about so far so she could join in! So, while the drinks and the food didn't leave me gushing, I know I will be returning to this place, simply because it was so damn likeable, and as they've only just opened it can only get better. I have been loving the fact that all of the places I've been to lately have a reservations policy. Although we wouldn't have needed one when we went – the place only had a few other customers when we turned up, although there was a steady trickle of people arriving as we made our way through our food and drinks. It had a pretty casual, relaxed feel about it, much like a pub would on a Sunday afternoon. It will be interesting to see if and how that vibe changes on a Friday night or as more people discover the place. 

  12. Published : Friday, 7th March 2014

    Satan's Whiskers | Satan

    I've been meaning to get to Satan's Whiskers for a while now. They hadn't quite opened the first time I wanted to go, and they were too full the second. Third time's the charm and just to be sure we made a booking.We weren't sure if they did food and didn't think to look until we were on the tube on our way there. Deciding not to risk a hungry evening in case they didn't, we went round the corner to Hawker House (any excuse). We both tried a new trader, and, as we have come to expect, loved it. I had my first Born and Raised pizza - pepperoni, and Stephen had a bento box from Hot Box. My pizza was an oblong individual pizza cut in half. It was amazingly oozey – sauce and pepperoni juice ran down my hand the minute I took a bite. Stephen's bento box had a smoked beef, pork and jalapeno sausage with a barbecued chicken thigh. Plus a piece of cornbread and some BBQ sauce. Neither meat needed any sauce to go with them as they were both incredibly juicy and tender. When we arrived at Satan's Whiskers, we were seated in a prime location - in a corner, with the skeleton of a unicorn overlooking us. (Unicorns don't exist because Satan's Whiskers killed the last one to put in their bar.)One of the many lovely waiters we encountered informed us cocktails were on the front of the menu and food/wine/beer were on the back. Food! So they did do it! And it was all so reasonably priced and sounded pretty decent. It also turned out to be better than simply decent. Stephen stepped up to the plate - he was still peckish after his meat appetiser and after our first drink ordered the brisket bun, which was topped with coconut coleslaw and came with a dollop of chilli corn on the side. I had a bite or two and I must admit, even though I don't like coconut, the sweetness it added to the 'slaw was a perfect touch.  I had a fork of the chilli corn and wished we'd ordered the full side of it as it was so good. I don't much care for corn ordinarily, but the heat of the chilli in this made it a really moreish dish. The food happened to coincide with me ordering the penicillin - a drink which includes peat, giving it a very smoky taste. It couldn't have paired more perfectly with the chilli corn and the smoked beef. The penicillin was probably my favourite drink of the night, simply for being the most unusual one I had (oh, and the scotch). It also came with a piece of candied ginger on the side, to complement the ginger syrup, which was fantastic. In general, Satan's Whiskers menu is more 'classics done their way' rather than theatrical cocktails with bells and whistles. And the price reflected this with none of them costing over £8.I had started with a champagne julep and Stephen went for the bar's namesake - the Satan's Whiskers. Mine was definitely a step up from a normal julep with the addition of bubbles. I now believe all juleps should be made with bubbles. The Satan's Whisker was like drinking an orange sherbet - albeit one to which a lot of liquor has been added.Finally, I had a brandy alexander, which tastewise was my favourite. It was like a white russian but obviously with a brandy flavour (ie with an actual alcohol flavour rather than the typically tasteless vodka) and the nutmeg on it was a nice accent.Stephen's last drink was the Queen's Park Swizzle - look how pretty it is! This was pretty much like drinking a mojito (it was rum, lime, mint, and bitters) but with the addition of sugar it was a tad sweeter.Satan's Whiskers describes itself as a neighbourhood bar, but in reality it is far too trendy to be taken as such. Also, you don't tend to have to wait 40 minutes to get a seat in a neighbourhood bar. But for me that's not a bad thing. It's nice to have such a cool little bar livening up a rather dull and kinda skanky stretch of road. And it's only one stop on the tube from my flat. Sold.To round off the night we headed to the Old George on Bethnal Green Road, which I hadn't been to before. It kinda smelled a bit but I liked the vibe so we stayed and ended up staying for several drinks. Turns out the place is an Antic pub - who also own Farr's and the BBC in Balham. No wonder I liked it.

  13. Published : Sunday, 2nd March 2014

    The Windmill | Pies at The Windmill, 25th February

    I'm actually not a massive pie fan. Or at least, I don't think of myself as one, and yet I do find myself picking pies a lot for someone who doesn't eat them.So, if you are a loyal reader, you may have noted that I have been going out on an almost weekly basis with my friend Alison. We're dating - that is, going on friend dates until she moves back to the States in April. That ill-fated El Vino night kicked it off, and this week was date #4 - pies at the Windmill in Mayfair. Cited as one of the best places in London and with an award-winning pie constantly on the menu, not to mention the fact that Alison had been there ooh a bajillion times already, meant expectation was high.If I was going to have a pie, I wanted a proper pie, which meant choosing from steak and kidney, chicken, bacon, leek and tarragon, or steak and mushroom. The other options were those topped with filo, or those topped with mash (fish pie/cottage pie). Alison thought that the pastry pies came with mashed potato but apparently they don't (despite her photographic proof to the contrary) so we ordered some mash to go with it, and also some baked beans. I had the chicken and bacon pie, Alison had the steak and kidney.Presentation isn't a strong point. The golden pie is plonked on a plate with absolutely nothing else - not even a side salad garnish. Then the sides we ordered came out in separate dishes for doling out amongst ourselves. They are good pies. The pastry is a good thickness, solid and well cooked. The steak and kidney pie pastry in particular was lovely as it seemed to have caramelised a bit from the steak juices oozing out (I had a bit of Alison's). Both pies were packed with their filling. The steak pie is so full of meat that there isn't any room for much gravy inside so they actually give you an extra pot of gravy to go with itr .I was especially impressed by the chicken pie, as for some reason I think a steak pie is more readily impressive - I guess because it has steak in it. Whereas chicken... Well, chicken has to fight for respect. Hearty chunks of chicken were in a well-bodied sauce and lots of bacon throughout as well.So the pies were good. Didn't quite reach the heights of the pie I had at the Bull and Last but then, they're not supposed to. These are old-fashioned pies in an old-fashioned pub - food for ordinary folk.The beans were fine - there's not much to say about normal baked beans. The mash was too stodgy in my opinion: all potato and no cream, or butter... no fluffiness... reminding you that you're in a pub without the 'gastro' prefix or any aspirations to gain one. With the pies being only £9.50 each (up to about £11 for the posher ones), and having a bottle of wine between us, we spent £25 each, which isn't too bad for a very filling meal in Mayfair! 

  14. Published : Wednesday, 26th February 2014

    The Black Heart | Smoke n Roll at The Black Heart, 21st February

    Smoke n Roll have quite the prosaic name for themselves. They smoke meats, and then they serve them in a roll! And right now they're doing it at The Black Heart in Camden, where we went to check them out last week. There are a lot of places doing BBQ right now, but for me, as long as it's good, my appetite does but wax for smoked meats, ribs and sticky wings. First - the rolls. You can either get pork or beef, and I expected something similar to what we had at The Joint - buns of pulled pork and shredded brisket. Not so. The meat here is bucking the trend by coming in thick slices, rather than shreds. And it was nice to have something a bit different for a change. The pork had a really good, smoky taste to it, although my first bite was mostly gristle, so not a great start. However, I got over that and enjoyed this sandwich a lot. I was especially pleased that the brisket came in slices as that's my preferred method of serving. I remember being disappointed when I first went to Pitt Cue's trailer and instead of slices of melting, smokey brisket, a la Fette Sau in Brooklyn, I had a carton of the pulled stuff. Here they've done a pretty good job, and the pickles with it were welcome, but I have to say that if you want slices of smoked brisket, then Texas Joe's pulled this off better (though I wasn't a fan of the rest of their menu).There was a big group of us, and the menu is short so we ended up ordering everything on there and sharing it out between us. We had one portion of ribs, and enough wings for everyone to have two. The ribs were pretty bad. They were tough and chewy and this was so overwhelming I can't even remember the taste. It seemed so pointless to have them on the menu if they weren't going to cook them until they fell off the bone. Everything, twice Chicken wings had a great tangy flavour (I dipped my chips in their sauce instead of the BBQ sauce we were given) but by the time I got round to having mine, they were pretty cold. So I imagine they'd be even nicer piping hot. However, I do wish they'd been separated into their separate halves instead of being served whole and having to be cut apart (I'm squeamish about pulling bones apart).The grande surprise was the fact that we all loved the sides so much. I mean, who really cares that much about sides normally? Well - these guys. Their baked beans (with carrot!) were some of the nicest I've had, if not the nicest - just the kind of texture I like in a bean, not too 'al dente'. The carrots? Yeah, they worked.And the coleslaw was really, really good. It's a light touch coleslaw, not the claggy mess many a place gives you. It had a distinct taste to it I couldn't quite put my finger on. Kimchee? It reminded me of the crunchy salad that rainbo do. And the chips... actually I didn't love the chips but the others seemed to like their fuzzily-seasoned coating. They did go rather well with the cheesy dip we were given.Smoke n Roll are making a decent stab at joining the BBQ scene and have managed to do some things differently enough to make them stand out from the crowd, but just don't quite have the wow factor that would entice me back. This was all in the setting of the rowdy, rockin' Black Heart which was, unexpectedly, pretty busy on a Friday night. This place is rock kitsch, with weird Mexicanesque shrines everywhere, and rock music playing loudly. They do gigs upstairs. The Smoke and Roll dude food totally suited the place. Unfortunately, we probably would have had to be doing tequila slammers in there to have the motivation and enthusiasm needed to compete with the music in order to have a conversation, so after our food we scarpered to the more refined Craft Beer Co round the corner. Still, I liked the chutzpah of the place, and can imagine if I was 'on one' this would be a fun place to return to.

  15. Published : Saturday, 15th February 2014

    Opera Tavern | Opera Tavern, 13th February

    My boyfriend and I are developing a few of our own Valentine's Day traditions. Firstly, we stopped celebrating it on Valentine's Day and instead do it the day before (or after) so that if we want to go to a restaurant we aren't forced into choosing from a special Valentine's Menu and the place isn't full of sickening couples. Secondly, we seem to end up at slightly weird places (last year - Naked Girls Reading, the year before, a war memorial). And thirdly, my boyfriend buys 'me' some chocolate from Paul A Young (which he gets to share of course).This year we took the day off and went for lunch at the Opera Tavern for the first part of our celebrations and then went to the Romantic Misadventures event in the evening (see next post about that).Opera Tavern is run by the same people who own Salt Yard (and Dehesa, and their new one Ember Yard). We'd been to Salt Yard for my birthday a few years ago and loved it so we thought we should try one of the other ones. Salt Yard is a basement restaurant, with a bar for drinking and charcuterie upstairs, whereas Opera Tavern has its bar on ground level and the restaurant upstairs. Which makes for quite a bright and airy room, not quite the romantic cavern we had imagined. The romance was dialled down another notch by the room being mainly occupied by parties of six or more, and so was rather boisterous. Oh well - our own folly for bucking the V-day trend.First things first - a portion of fluffy, chargrilled bread with a mild, light olive oil as lovely, and the bread was good enough on its own without the oil. Next up came the smoke haddock croquettes with saffron aioli. That aioli was not taking any prisoners with its full-on garlic taste. The haddock croquettes were creamy and fishy, but not overpoweringly so - very happy with those. One of the differences between Salt Yard and Opera Tavern is Opera Tavern's grilled selections, so we made sure to choose something from that section. While the food was lovely on the whole, it was probably the grilled dishes that weren't quite as fantastic as they might have been. We ordered a beef and beetroot and a lamb neck and pear skewer and while they were tasty, they weren't quite as juicy or moreish as I thought they might be. There wasn't as much pear on the lamb skewer as I'd hoped – I thought there would be chunks of it cooked on the skewer – and there could have been more of the pomegranate sticky sauce the beef came with.Another thing that marks out Opera Tavern from its sister restaurants is the focus on iberico pork, which they serve as a burger instead of just in jamon form. Taking advantage of this and the charcoal grill, we ordered the pork and fois gras burger. This didn't quite live up to its expectations on Stephen's behalf, but I really liked it. He thinks this is because I don't partake of the full joy a beef burger can give you but I thought the flavour was lovely, even if I was a little taken aback by the very pink middle at first. I liked the crispy onion and the sweet, charred bun, but must admit, didn't discern the fois gras making much of a difference to the porky taste. Stephen thought that it being served rare did its texture no favours and also lead to a lack of taste. I agree that I thought the firmer edges of the burger were the better parts.We then had a salad of ndjuja, honey parsnips and quail's eggs, and bavette with braised onions and trevise. The steak was my favourite dish - the bavette being incredibly tender and full of flavour and slow cooked onions pretty much always steal my heart. But the nduja salad put up a pretty good fight - the quail's eggs were perfectly cooked, the parsnips were sweet and the nduja was spicy, with some nice peppery and robust greens to make up the salad part. The spicy chorizo-like oil did a good job of making us feel like we weren't eating anything too healthy for our celebratory meal.The only real disappointment on the savoury front was the monkfish with orzo and mussels which had a sauce which was a little too bitter for both of our taste buds. Whether this was the sea purslane effect or the choricera pepper I don't know. We weren't sure if we really needed dessert but two interesting ones caught our eye and we caved. I had the rhubarb with italian meringue and shortbread while Stephen had the blood orange tart. By gum were they good. Mine was like eating a thick eton mess (but without berries for once) - the shortbread was sprinkled on top, pieces of stewed rhubarb were laden on top and there were lovely chewy bits to the meringue, as well as a sweet rhubarb sauce. Stephen's tart was just that, with a lovely blood orange marmalade and caremelised pistachios. I enjoyed my meal at Opera Tavern - the food was accomplished, interesting, and mostly tasty. Stephen had a couple of Alhambra beers with his meal, which he very much liked and I had a very tasty brindisi reserva - a full-bodied red. I think I preferred the cosy intimacy of Salt Yard but allow that it might be purely down to the time of day we visited. However, despite having a lovely lunch, if I would return to one it would be Salt Yard, and I would try one of the others in the group before going here again. 

  16. Published : Monday, 10th February 2014

    LeCoq | Le Coq, 4th February

    According to the women next to us, I must have either been mad or a blogger. Why would I have been mad? Because no one in their right mind would have bothered taking pictures of the food at Le Coq. Oh no no no, one might take a picture of every dish at The Fat Duck, but the stuff they were serving at Le Coq? Well, one could have similar fare in the countryside of France or Italy that would take your breath away didn't you know?I'm happy to say that, image quality aside, even if I hadn't been a blogger, I don't think I would have been mad to take pictures of my meal at Le Coq because I thought it was brilliant. Apart from maybe the tables being too close together, forcing us to listen to the two posh knobs next to us.Despite the French-sounding name, this actually has very obviously Italian influences (kind of like Oui Madame) with Italian ingredients and sauces coming to the fore. Ever heard of agretti? Or cedro? What is agrodolce? I'd never heard of any of these despite my mild foodie status.Le Coq is mainly about chicken and in that there is no choice - you get two pieces for your main - one dark meat, one white, and you get the side of the week. The week we went it was swiss chard with that agrodolce sauce (a sweet and sour sauce). But you do get to choose how many courses you want (2 or 3) and to choose between two options for your starter and/or dessert. There were a couple of specials too, but we didn't pay them any attention - it was hard enough deciding between just two things. We were smart and decided to both only have two courses - but one of us had the starter, one had the dessert and we shared them. We went for the bruschetta with cedro, wood sorrel and mozzarella to start. I'm sure the agretti and shrimp fritt would have been lovely but I refuse to believe it was as lovely as our bruschetta. For that price range I do not think I've had a lovelier appetiser. Cedro, as our Italian waitress explained, is like a big lemon, thin slices of which were all over the bruschetta. It was very, very lemony but without that bitterness, meaning you could eat such slices of it on its own. I don't think I can convey how tasty I found this starter. I would say, just go and try it, but they'll have changed it for something else next week!We ordered some rotisserie potatoes with our chicken. They were perfectly cooked, both crunchy and fluffy. The chicken was juicy and came with extra chicken jus and a pot of tarragon (I believe) dressing that was light as a feather.The swiss chard was delicious, the sweet juices mixing pleasingly with the chicken gravy. Pine nuts were a welcome additon, as always. I actually wish there'd been a little more of the chard so that I could have some with every bite of my fabulous chicken. Finally, we shared the pistachio and grapefruit tart which came with a whipped soured cream. I wasn't keen on the cream, not being a fan of the soured variety, but the tart was fab, even though it was impossible to photograph well. The pistachio was found in the bulk of the tart, which was a bit cakelike and then it was studded throughout with the tart grapefruit.We had ordered a litre - yes a litre - of the house wine, which wasn't much on its own but paired with the chicken really well. I was really impressed with Le Coq - interesting food cooked well and excellent value for money. It's another one of those 'neighbourhood' restaurants - the kind of place to go when you could do with treating yourself to a night off cooking, but don't want to dress all fancy and spend loads of money. And with its weekly changing menu, there will always be something new to discover.   Not photogenic

  17. I've walked past Translate bar several times, mostly in the day and each time I think 'ooh, what's that place, that looks nice' before realising again it is Translate. On Saturday, I actually went in, for a drink or two before The Dance Assembly at the Horse and Groom.

    And it was nice. It wasn't as busy as I feared it would be - plenty of people to give it an atmosphere but there was still plenty of space for standing, or, if you were lucky, sitting like we did. There's pretty lights at the window and interesting art on the wall, plus that stripped back, brick thing that Shoreditch does so well. 

    They had a couple of interesting beers that Stephen went for - I had an averagely priced glass of house white which was plenty drinkable before perusing the cocktail list. These are mainly £7.50 (or £10 if you go for one of the 'posh' ones - their words) which is an acceptable price to pay for a cocktail in a place whose raison d'etre isn't cocktails unlike, say, Callooh Callay or Worship Street Whistling Shop. I ordered the Taste of Honey (apparently the first person to actually call it by its name, rather than just the top two ingredients of honey and lime listed on the menu.) The meny, by the way, is a rather cute-looking thing itself, the ingredients of each cocktail being designed in the shape of a drink (presumable to match what it looks like when served). The taste of honey was a short, strong drink of rum, but obviously the addition of honey gave it a sweetness that I like in my boozy beverages. It was great, and I could have have had many more but I didn't want to spend a fortune so I switched back to wine for my last drink there.

    The music while we were in there was fantastic. I meant to write down just a few choice songs but each time another song came on, it was again worthy of note. So, a selection of our soundtrack to the night included:

    Salt n Pepa's Whatta Man, Soul II Soul's Back to Life, Madonna's Papa Don't Preach, The Doors – Break on Through, The Beach Boys – Barbara Ann and Aretha's Respect. Not too shabby - diverse and a little bit old school but all gems to put you in a mood for a night out.

    At about 10 the DJ came along but we didn't notice much of a change in the music - we left shortly after to go to our next stop.

    Square Meal

    The Dance Assembly

    The anticipation for this night was pretty sky-high. Many, many months ago I stumbled across these guys on twitter and I liked what they were trying to do. Lamenting the demise of all the old rave havens of King's Cross, they wanted to reignite a bit of that spirit in London. They didn't even have a date for their party yet, but I watched and waited. Waited too long in fact as the tickets went on sale and before I even knew it they'd sold out. Luckily a few more were released and I managed to get the very last two tickets. 

    I hadn't, I must confess, ever got down to the big clubs of King's Cross like the Cross and the Key back in the day - when they were going strong I hadn't quite yet discovered what proper dance music was (I had been put off by the stuff I heard in my local club, not quite the same thing I came to discover). So this night appealed to me as a chance to experience something I'd missed out on the first time. A bit like going to see a band who have reformed. Only, unlike with many band reformations, it wasn't shit and they played all the good stuff.

    This night was a roaring success. I think there were a lot of people there who knew each other from that golden era, but I think there were plenty of newbies like myself and my friends, and The Dance Assembly catered for both crowds. One room was a nod to the raving hey day, another room had license to showcase the best of the new stuff on the dance floor these days, and then, when you needed a breather, you had the lovely parlour where Little Nan's were serving gorgeous cocktails in teacups, and amazing little jars of something scrummy. I had one of these at only £3 a pop, and then I also had managed to be one of the winners to name a cocktail and got to have one free! Lovely to chat to them as well after having had some twitter interaction with them. They're celebrating their first birthday tomorrow - head on down!

    There were a few downsides but I know already that the organisers know about these and have vowed they won't be repeated at the next one (June 7th - already in my diary). The queue for the ladies toilet was long, but that didn't faze me as it always is. By the time we got there the cloakroom was full and this was pretty annoying - I came to dance and didn't want to dance holding my coat the whole night! We stashed our stuff behind a sofa and hoped for the best, trusting the crowd to be too lovely to nick them. And, despite limiting the number of tickets to only 150, the place got surprisingly rammed later on in the night! I suspect the Horse & Groom started letting people in willy nilly after a certain point.

    But I still had a blast. The music was top notch - lots of stuff I knew and loved. I was in the frame of mind for dancing and they played right to that. It's all a bit of an enjoyable blur - I probably couldn't name what was played, I just remember loving it!

  18. Published : Wednesday, 29th January 2014

    Dalston Superstore | Slap! at Dalston Superstore, 25th January

    After having gorged myself on chicken the night before - specifically fried chicken at Clutch - you might think I wouldn't want more of the same. And if you think that, you are wrong. Presented with several delicous-sounding sandwiches at Slap! in Dalston Superstore, including a grilled chicken option with chilli and spring onion pesto, or a roast beef with crispy leeks and horseradish creme fraiche, I opted for the panko fried chicken with honey and chilli slaw and coriander pesto. The pesto had me at 'coriander'. They all have silly names, like the 'Sex and the Satay' or the 'Bangh Mi Slowly' which is what you'd expect from a place that serves cocktails called 'The Whore's Handbag'.Stephen opted for a more traditionally breakfast ensemble, the When Harry Met Salmon - smoked salmon and soft boiled eggs with hollandaise and baby spinach. We thought this would come on toast but it also came as a sandwich.One massive sandwich. Mine was also huge. I can't believe I even contemplated getting chips with it - that would have been completely unnecessary. I think both of us would have been more than happy to just share one. What's that you say? Oh, yeah, of course I finished it. Rude not to. But Stephen, who was in the process of coming down with a stomach bug, left some of his. Three thick slices of smoked salmon were too much even for his salmon-loving self. Anyway, the sandwiches - were tasty. At least, I thought mine was. The pesto was hugely garlicky (a plus) and the 'slaw', which was really just thickly cut red cabbage mixed with a few red onions was really nice. The honey completely blunted any bitterness in the cabbage, and a lot of it oozed out and created a pool of it at the bottom of my basket - perfect for dipping the extra bread of the sandwich in.The chicken was thigh meat - always good. But it could have done with being given the escalope treatment and beaten into a flat shape instead of just large chunks which I had to wrestle to keep in the sandwich, and meant there felt like there was too much bread. Although the bread itself was tasty. I enjoyed eating the thing, but afterwards, I felt bad. It was all a bit greasy and heavy. Some fresh coriander or a few leaves of rocket might have done the trick to make it feel a little lighter and fresher. Stephen also felt a bit weighed down. For £7.00 it would be hard to find a more filling meal.I've been to Dalston Superstore twice before - at night when the last thing you can imagine, among the sweaty, dancing drag queens, is a place you'd want to go for brunch. But actually, it's quite a cute cafe in the day in its own right. It's very colourful and was busy but not so busy you had to wait for a seat. Definitely worth bearing in mind if you want a bite to eat, especially if you need something to soak up your hangover, and elsewhere is too packed. I'm not sure if I would make the effort to go back myself (though reading the sandwich menu again while writing this has made me think I should give it another chance - but next time, go for a lighter option!). Perhaps Clutch had just spoiled me for my fried chicken needs the night before. 

  19. Published : Tuesday, 28th January 2014

    Clutch | Clutch, 24th January

    Friday was pay day and an excuse to go out and spend some money. After weighing up Clutch versus On the Bab, my heart said Clutch so we wandered up in the rain to find the newly opened restaurant in the getting-ever-trendier area that is Hackney Road.Clutch focuses on pretty much one thing: chicken, and of the fried variety. But, of course, done 'posh' - none of that overly greasy KFC or PFC type stuff and using only the best, well-bred chickens. But it's still fried chicken and I had lumped it into the 'dirty food' movement that London is still undergoing. As such I expected the restaurant to bear some semblance to MeatLiquor or other diner-type place. You know the thing: dim lighting, neon everywhere, falcon enamel dishes. I wasn't expecting the almost dainty, spacious and bright decor that Clutch is sporting. This wasn't just some trendy dive serving fried chicken, this was a proper restaurant! I loved the interior - I think it reminded me of an early 20th-century parlour with its striped black and white walls and green velvet chairs. Or perhaps something out of Alice in Wonderland. Anyone else know what I mean?There were two other couples there when we arrived, meaning the place was pretty empty, though by the time we left every table had at least one party on it. Was it because it was January? Was it because it was raining? Or was it because people haven't quite cottoned on to the fact Hackney Road has some gems worth venturing off the beaten track for? I kind of hope it is the latter as I am getting quite fond of this neck of the woods and I like the fact that most of these places are not subject to massive queues.What I think was the proprietor seated us and explained the menu (though it is so succinct I think we could have worked it out ourselves). You can have either a full bucket or half bucket of chicken - two flavours to choose from. A half bucket is three pieces of chicken, or half a chicken in other words. You can also have chicken tenders - for those who don't like to eat chicken on the bone, or you can have a portion of 12 wings. Both strips and wings come in two different flavours.There is a range of sides like coleslaw, twice-fried french fries (in peanut oil), stuffing, and some 'dippety dips' such as chilli chutney or gravy for £1.Wanting to sample as much as possible we decided to get a half bucket and some wings to share between us, plus a side of fries and a chilli chutney dip. We couldn't decide between to the two flavours for wings - sour and spicy chilli or honey and sesame so we were cheeky and asked if we could get half of each. They were more than happy to oblige. Out of the peppery buttermilk or sweet soy and garlic bucket, we got a half bucket of the soy and garlic.So we ended up with three sets of chicken that could have ended up all tasting quite samey, but far from it. The flavours all complemented each other, but they were definitely all distinct. The chicken itself was delicious - succulent and as pure white as the driven snow. The spicy and sour wings were covered in a sticky, dark sauce, with plenty of it left in the bowl for dipping in. The chilli chutney we ordered was fantastically zingy and fresh, but honestly, probably unnecessary with all of the wing topping going spare. The honey and sesame wings were my favourite - these were 'drier' and crunchier than the other ones with a lighter flavour, and I do just love sesame.Spicy and sourHoney and sesameBoth Stephen and I loved the chicken in our bucket - the batter was crunchy and full of flavour, very moreish. I happily ate it on its own when some of it fell off the bird. It inspired Stephen to want to figure out a version to do at home. This bucket also came with more sweet soy and garlic sauce in the bottom to pour over the chicken, and some spring onion and fresh chillies to liven things up and stop everything becoming too sweet.The fries tasted just like homemade fries (a good thing) though could have been a little thicker, and crispier. On the other hand, they were soft enough to soak up the extra sauces.  The music was an excellent accompaniment - especially if we had been dining before heading out to dance - mainly disco with a little Hot Chip thrown in. They served Kernel ale which pleased Stephen, and I had a refreshing Sour Grouse (their version of a whiskey sour) which was pleasant if a little light on the whiskey.The staff were just lovely - we were even shown the huge back room which houses the bar and which they will soon make the main entrance so people can just hang out there before getting a table.Stephen felt that the menu could do with a little variety - and it might be nice to see a chicken burger on there (I bet they'd do a hell of a job) or a salad as a main, but these are minor quibbles and to be honest I was perfectly happy with what was on offer.It was great for a quick bite but would also be an excellent place to take a group of friends for a birthday or lively special occasion. The bill comes in an egg - like a not so fun Kinder surprise

  20. Published : Wednesday, 22nd January 2014

    Oslo | Oslo, 17th January

    People love a freebie and the Oslo launch last Friday was no exception. Twenty minutes deep into a queue, with what looked like at least as long to go before me, and I started to wonder if this was really worth it. How good could it be in there?Answer: SO good! Maybe not wait-40-minutes-in-the-cold-good but once I was in I was happy I'd made the effort and I doubt the massive queue will be a regular occurrence. Knowing how many people must have been ahead of us to necessitate waiting so long, we knew it would be busy inside. And, in the downstairs bar area, there was quite a crush. Miraculously, this did not translate to a massive wait at the bar and we got served really speedily. Perhaps that is a sign of talented and efficient bar staff.Like most new openings, they boast a range of interesting beers, but I know nothing of that. Stephen liked the one he had. What I did notice though was that their wine list consisted of mainly wines I knew and liked - picpoul, sancerre, chablis and gavi. A good sign. Downstairs was partly so packed because Oslo will be doing food and downstairs is where you eat it. So there were lots of areas for sitting and the benches and stools took up a lot of the space. (Unbelievably there were even three people trying to sit at the bar, despite the hoards jostling around them. I'm sure they got more than one dirty look for getting in the way, not least because I gave them several.) The bar itself seemed like it was probably gorgeous although it was a little hard to tell because of all the people getting in the way of a good view of the fixtures and fittings. The lightshades, both up and down, at least, were pretty stylish. It reminded me of one of the more upmarket bars in Brooklyn I'd been to. The launch hype included some tasters of the new menu by Dave Aherne (the guy behind Burger Breakout) but apart from someone handing out free bits of peanut butter cheesecake in the queue, which didn't get down as far as we were, there was no sign of this. Which is a shame, as I've wanted to try his food for a while. It was a little after 9 by this point and we wandered upstairs to find some space and see what their weekly night Valhalla was all about. Turned out it was all about having a massive party where people didn't even bother to pretend they were too cool to dance from the get-go. There was definitely more room to manoeuvre up here and you could tell already what a great little space it would make for gigs. They had a small bar upstairs serving the basics, but up here plastic glasses were the order of the day - appropriate gig drink containers.The music was wide-ranging and crowdpleasing without veering too much into cheese (in my mind). There was some Whitney Houston and some Madonna, but also Hot Chip were played twice while we were there; LCD Soundsystem, The Streets, Tom Tom Club and even Slow Jams by Twista which I love but never hear out, were given a spin. Everyone was loving it.We went back downstairs, which had emptied a little as more people went to party on the top floor. People were still trickling in but the place could handle this pace of people entering without it becoming as uncomfortable to move as it had been. We had another drink downstairs where the music was of a different tone – less up tempo, but just as good. Special props to playing some Luther Vandross. Never Too Much - what a song!I didn't notice a cloakroom which I hope was just us not being very observant and not a design flaw. Although plenty of other people must have missed it too, as there were lots of coats just dumped on the dance floor. That is one thing that really bugs me about places, especially if the aim of the night is to have a dance. But that was my only real criticism. A big plus in its favour is that the bus that goes from outside my flat takes me directly there, so I already started out a little biased in its favour. The fact that it was so good is an extra bonus. 

  21. The final way I took advantage of an empty London before Christmas was to go down to Earlham Street Clubhouse with a few friends and not even bother to make a reservation. I knew the place had a sort of retro 90s feel (how I am groaning that the 90s are now considered retro enough to be a theme) that did pizza and cocktails, which seemed like the perfect combination over which a group of girls could have a gossip.It actually wasn't as retro as I was picturing - it was in fact, quite stylish, with white plus booths in cosily lit smallish nooks. Only the odd touch provided the 90s reference points and a bit of quirk - the hanging cocktail menus for example (practical as well as fun) and the burger phones at every booth. I'm sure I remember reading that you could call up other booths to have a flirt or whatever, but when we tried calling our own booth from the phone next door, nothing happened. Disappointing.It was all a tad disappointing actually. We had two cocktails apiece and we weren't blown away by them all. My Axel Foley with Don Julio blanco tequila and ting was refreshing but a little bland with not much fizz to it, and my friend who had the Heather's Revenge also said it was a little watery. The Prom Queen I ordered for another friend was more successful - the strawberry puree and cream made it a touch more indulgent, and so was my second drink, the Power Ranger which had more of an alcohol kick with its bourbon base, and apricot jam and red wine providing the interesting flavour. They were all very reasonably priced though, at £7.50. We all cringed at and delighted in the awfully corny names they had for everything, which, being 90s babes, all meant something to us in some way. The only food they serve at the moment is pizza, each of which comes with another silly, 90s-reference name. You can get a few of them by the slice, or in 12" or 18" mode. For the true American feel, you should really get the 18-incher. My friends' eyes practically popped out of their heads when the massive pie was set down in front of us, but they haven't had the real deal before. This wasn't it, of course, but size-wise it came close. You could almost fold these slices in half. However, I was in the States recently and two slices of pizza there filled me up. Here, I easily managed to eat half the pizza and still not feel completely sated. Admittedly, they don't claim to be serving NY-style pizza, but given the American theme, you sort of assume that's what they're aiming for. So me and my friend Claire shared a Screech - salami picante, chillies and oregano, and my other friends had a 12" each - one The Fresh Prince with mushrooms, fennel sausage and scamorza and one the Marty McFly with mushrooms and ricotta.I thought my pizza was okay, but it didn't excite me the way Voodoo Ray's did when I first went there, or Homeslice. Perhaps my ingredients were too ordinary, though I love even the 'boring' margherita at Homeslice. The Screech was a spicy one but the heat was inconsistent - only appearing every couple of bites. Having said that, the chillies did pack a punch when you got one. The base was nice and crispy but I think it could have done with larger pieces of salami. Or less crust. Or more tomato. Or something, just something to make it a little more memorable. The others seemed to like theirs, but there were no squeals of delight. I get the impression they all just thought it was pretty standard pizza.It served its purpose of being somewhere casual to hang out with a group of friends, and cocktails at £7.50 are nothing to be sniffed at, especially in central London so it's good to have this 'in your back pocket' if you find yourself in town, and want somewhere that's not going to decimate your wallet. But given the plethora of new bars in London, this isn't one I'm aching to return to.

  22. Published : Tuesday, 7th January 2014

    Bubbledogs | Bubbledogs, 28th December

    Christmastime in London is one of my favourite times of the year. Why? Because everyone else buggers off and finally you get a chance to get into places without the queue that exists all throughout the year. Last year we took advantage of the emptiness to try out Bone Daddies. this year, we went to Bubbledogs. When we got there it was still pretty busy but there were several empty spaces. We installed ourselves at the bar. We'd already had almost a half a bottle of champagne at home before going out and, given the nature of the venue, I saw no reason to not continue so I had a glass of bubbly. The cheapest one, admittedly, but it was still much better than 'cheap' champagne - it was fresh and crisp and stood up to the Veuve Clicquot we had been sipping at home. Stephen ordered a beer, which is a more traditional accompaniment to a hot dog I suppose.There were plenty of dogs to choose from, from the simple naked dog which was a hot dog on its own, to a straightforward hot dog with onions and saurkraut, the likes of which you would find on any NY street corner (and hence called the New Yorker) to more adventurous toppings like truffle mayo and caramelised lettuce on the BLT. Stephen chose the Sloppy Joe, a riff on the sloppy joe sandwich which is loose chilli in a roll. This one was a hot dog covered in beef chilli, cheese and onions.I had the Mac Daddy - a hot dog topped with mac and cheese, bacon bites and crispy onions. We had a side of sweet potato fries to go with.We both had a beef frank and this tasted exactly as I would expect a hot dog to taste. The toppings were plentiful, and a little difficult to keep a hold of. A fork to catch the stuff that inevitably falls off wouldn't have gone amiss. I also think the hot dogs themselves were really, too thin. They were almost suffocated by the amount of topping on top. But the toppings themselves were good. My mac and cheese might have been a little too rich and stodgy on its own but was saved by the salty bacon bits, and the crispy onions which were excellent.The sweet potato fries were actually probably the most outstanding thing about the meal - the first time either me or Stephen have had them where they've actually been crispy like good fries should be. I suspect they coat them in something first to get that effect.At around £7 for a hot dog, it's not all that expensive either - not much more than you'd pay at a street food van. However, when comparing these hot dogs to the versions I have had on the street, these ones don't stand up that favourably. Big Apple Hot Dogs, Dogfather Diner and Street Kitchen (at The Miller) are all doing superior versions. If the setting were a quick grab and go diner, then these hot dogs would do the business. I enjoyed my hot dog - it was a proper hot dog in my eyes and it was tasty. The champagne to go with it wasn't weird and I think worked fine, although it does just seem there as a novelty facto. But for the price, and the surroundings (it felt like a pretty nice bar), I expected something... more. I certainly wouldn't queue for this, when there are better places around.

  23. Published : Monday, 6th January 2014

    Notes | Notes, 23rd December

    What a cute, cosy little place this is. I have been meaning to go since a friend of mine recommended it to me and it seemed like the perfect place to go to catch up with a different friend over a cup of coffee. The place is small but as we were meeting at the beginning of the hinterland that is London at Christmas, I wasn't too worried about us not finding a seat. And I was right. There were plenty. It was a particularly soggy day so entering this warm cafe (in both atmosphere and heating) was a relief. One of the staff greeted me, noting by my craning neck that I was meeting someone, and so he deposited a menu with me, but didn't pester me for a choice until my companion had arrived. Having several minutes to peruse the menu, I found it hard to decide on what to have. A lot of the options sounded great, and they were all priced at around the £7 mark, making it impossible to rule anything out on price alone.Eventually, I settled on the salad with pistachio-encrusted chicken, feeling like I should be a little healthier in preparation for the Christmas gluttony. So, the beef and mash and the pork belly special, not to mention the chilli and cheddar tartlet narrowly missed out on being consumed. My friend had eaten heartily earlier so was having dessert with her coffee, choosing the marble cake from the several tempting choices on the counter.Being priced at seven pounds, I fully expected my salad to be more of the 'side salad' size with a couple of nuggets of chicken on top. Instead a piled-up beast of a plate was served to me, with a whole breast sliced upon it. Chunks of avocado and cherry-tomato halves made the salad a little more interesting. It was drizzled with a sweet, sticky balsamic sauce. It was just what you want when you order a salad - plenty of greens to fill you up. I never understand why places skimp on the core of the salad - the leaves.I had a mocha to warm me up as an accompaniment to my cold sald. It was very rich and smooth. I'm no coffee connoisseur but to me it tasted like top stuff. Apparently they take their coffee seriously - seriously enough to have their own roastery.Nothing but good things to report - lovely ambiance, lovely food. 

  24. Published : Sunday, 29th December 2013

    Whyte & Brown | Whyte & Brown, 17th December

    I've been getting in to my chicken lately. Well, yeah, I know everyone has, but actually I've been slightly bucking the trend by giving my money to a knock-off Nando's down the road from me (called Roosters, if you're interested - great potato wedges) rather than the host of new rotisserie and 'posh' fried chicken places that London is so recently strewn with. Not that I don't plan on getting to those places eventually. But the one place that really caught my eye lately (after having been to Clockjack Oven a while ago) for some reason was Whyte & Brown. They're very dedicated to the chicken, but also show a lot of appreciation to the egg. And, while this place is sort of a one-note restaurant, focusing on just chicken and eggs as it does, they are showing a lot of inventiveness in the ways they serve this. Trying to decide which chicken or egg dish to go for was not an easy task.In the end it was a close call for me between the chicken souvlaki and the ham hock, chicken and leek pie but I fancied something a little lighter so the souvlaki won out. This was a marinated kebab of breast meat with grilled peppers and onions, with two slow cooked chicken thighs, a pita bread, tzatziki dip and feta salad on the side! To whet our appetites we shared a starter of chicken croquettes and to feel extra healthy we ordered the roasted root vegetables as a side.The chicken croquettes were filled with chicken, pancetta and bechamel sauce and came with a slightly smoky salsa which had a really deep tomatoey flavour. The bechamel ensured that the croquettes were not at all dry - the quite reasonably sized bits of pancetta were a nice touch. Chicken nuggets all grown up. So far so good.The root vegetables came out first - a mixture of beets, peppers and squash. These tasted nice, and looked very pretty but some of them were slightly undercooked. They were a bit of a disappointment and the low point of the meal. I enjoyed the chicken kebab while I ate it although it was forgettable compared to the slow cooked, moist and succulent thigh, with crispy skin, of which I was so pleased we had two. The feta salad was light and refreshing, and the pitta and tzatziki brought the whole thing together. Pittas were toasted on the outside, fluffy inside and perfect for scooping up the last bits of salad with some dip. It's no grand feat in gastronomy, but it was a very pleasant meal.After our aperitifs of prosecco, we had a cocktail each with our dinner. Alison's was a white wine spritzer with a twist - rhubarb bitters. Mine was a Japanese Mac- japanese whiskey with plum sake. Sweet. Strong. Amazing. It took a lot of willpower to make that last my whole meal! And even better, they were only £7 and Â£8 respectively.I'm a fan.

  25. The Liquor CabinetOccupying the premises not-so-recently vacated by Mezcaleria QuiQuiRiQui, The Liquor Cabinet isn't the kind of place you can easily stumble on without knowing it is there. It's behind and underneath the Golden Grill kebab shop on Hackney Road and only a chalk board with faint signage directs you to its presence. Which is probably why we had the pick of the place when we walked in at about 10:00. The place is pretty bare - some wooden benches against the wall make up the booths, and there are a couple of makeshift nooks and crannies to sit at on the other side. There's not much in the way of decor on the walls. It could never be accused of being style over substance. They were playing pretty good music and within about 20 minutes of being there, all the other booths had filled and a bit of an atmosphere was being fostered.The cocktail list is short and covers the classics. Their 'hook' is that they pre-mix all of the cocktails and bottle them before opening, ensuring that each one is as consistent as the last. Seeing them all lined up in the fridge is kind of cute. It somehow makes you feel like you're ordering an innocuous juice or something, the potency almost comes as a surprise. However, if you thought the time they saved by pre-bottling might mean more effort is expended on garnishes, then you're wrong. A strip of orange seemed to accompany every drink.But you know what? The drinks are good. And strong. And cheap! They were all £6 each, which in my book makes the trek up to deepest darkest Hackney Road worth it.The bar staff of one was also pretty friendly - my boyfriend got chatting to him about the war on nightlife Hackney council seems to be embarking on. Apparently they're implementing a 'one-in one-out' type rule for new openings, in an effort to clamp down on bad drunken behaviour. The strategy seems misguided if it means more places like this (or Sager and Wilde for example) are restricted from opening as these are hardly the kinds of places that are going to contribute to drunken scraps and scuffles in the street at kicking out time.  The Looking GlassAfter such serene yet convivial surroundings, walking into The Looking Glass was a bit of a shock to the system. And not a welcome one unfortunately. We definitely got the feeling that The Looking Glass was full of spill-over from Shoreditch High Street, which is fine if that's what you're after, or expecting, but we were expecting a similar sort of low-key refined cocktail bar vibe we'd got from The Liquor Cabinet. By the time we got there it was a little after 11 and so we were probably entering the rowdiest point of the night. Had we gone earlier, or on a different evening I wouldn't be surprised if we had an entirely different experience. Though I'm sure the bar stools would have been just as uncomfortable and impractical. The place was really busy and yet we still managed to grab a couple at the bar. This was probably because they seem to have been designed to actively repel you to sit on them. Kind of slippery and nowhere comfortable to put your legs.The bar staff were pretty rushed off their feet, trying to keep up with the crowd at the front. I'm sure they knew their stuff, and overheard one of them trying to determine what kind of cocktail one of their customers would like (starting with the basic - sweet or sour?) but whereas normally sitting at the bar affords you some personal attention, it wasn't the case here. We had been served at one end of the bar and then moved to sit. I managed to get our bartender's attention to show him where we were and was met with a curt acknowledgement. Smiles seemed lacking.Also, I sadly did not get to actually go through the Looking Glass for which the bar is named as there was a private engagement party happening in there. The list of drinks is inventive and fun. There were two incredibly tasty-sounding dessert cocktails (the past your bed time!  for example, made with orange and cacao infused bourbon, Oreo syrup, and milk served with mini oreos), that I would have jumped at having, had we been having the last drinks of the night. But I didn't want anything too heavy and instead took a gamble on a carrot-juice-based drink. I don't think I have ever seen a cocktail which uses carrot juice, but I like carrots and I like to try something different. This one was called the Shoreditch carrot and featured Jameson whiskey with sweet caramel syrup and it was actually pretty good! Stephen had one which came with a huge banana leaf in it. Which looked impressive if nothing else but happily tasted good too.Quite a few of the cocktails seemed to make use of either lavendar, or tea, neither of which I'm a big fan of, which limited my choices somewhat. This is just a personal preference of course, but did contribute to my lack of enthusiasm for the place. Price-wise, they were still in the fairly acceptable range of £7.50 - £9.00, with about four more extending to £10 or Â£12.So, I am well aware that we may not have seen The Looking Glass at its best, but it was our least favourite place of the night. To be fair I think a return visit will have to be on the cards - keep an eye on my Twitter or Facebook for a follow-up review.

  26. Published : Monday, 16th December 2013

    Sager & Wilde | Sager and Wilde, 30th November

    I don't really want to play favourites with all of the places we went to on Saturday night as I had a great night and they all contributed to that. But let's just say I was forced to pick one... then Sager and Wilde would have to be it.We walked in and we just instantly hit it off. The place is rather 'bijou' but as we walked in, right in front of us, were two vacant seats at the bar. It was meant to be. And the smell of cheese almost overpowers you as you enter (though you quickly get used to it) - heaven. We'd already eaten so ignored the bites on offer although we greedily cast an eye over everyone else's and am happy to report the charcuterie and cheese looked lovely. I will most definitely go back for one of their famed toasties.But it was only the wine we were interested in. I knew that anything we chose would be good - that's what their known for, so it was just a matter of picking one I felt I could afford! I started off with a red and Stephen went for the unusual cherry wine. He had a sip and announced it bitter. I had a sip and pronounced it incredibly sweet. We both thought it was delicious though. The bartender came along and asked if we liked it - saying that it was a great combination of sour and sweet and thus ending our argument with us both being right for a change!I'd like to write more about the red wine I had other than that I really loved it but I'm writing this so long after the fact that I've rather forgotten exactly what it was like. Full-bodied and rich that's for sure. I can't even remember which one I had!After that I switched it up and had a white wine. This had a dry taste that hit the back of the throat, a bit like sherry with a pleasing heft to it, if that makes sense. In fact, Stephen had a fino sherry and the differences between them weren't all that discernible. Our bartender suggested some smoked almonds as a snack that he said would complement both wines, and considering how similar they were, that makes sense. However, I don't like almonds, and we had just had our dinner at Mr Buckley's so we stayed away from the bar snacks. As we sat more and more seats became free which surprised me. I hadn't expected to get in in the first place, let alone have a choice of seats. It may be because Hackney Road isn't much of a destination - people tend to get as far as Ye Olde Axe only when everywhere else has kicked them out (or maybe the Joiner's) and that's it. But waking further up is this little gem waiting to be discovered. Great atmosphere, classy surroundings, and friendly, knowledgeable staff. I really loved it. 

  27. Published : Friday, 13th December 2013

    Mr Buckley's | Mr Buckley

    Judging from the fact there were two large groups, probably both marking a birthday and then us who were there to mark our fifth year anniversary, something about Mr Buckley’s must appeal to those in the mood for a celebration. I hadn’t been before but the pictures of their food and the menu sounded good, as well as what I was seeing on Twitter about it as a bar. I made a reservation at 7:45 and while it was quiet when we arrived, the two groups either side who soon joined created a bit of an atmosphere. I expected it to be more restaurant upstairs and more bar downstairs but in actual fact both levels rather leant themselves to sitting down. The place has a clean, stripped back look – bare yellow brick walls, wooden benches and tables.  It appealed to us as soon as we came in and we made murmurings of approval to each other. Our lovely waitress (everyone was lovely in fact) came over and ‘explained’ the menu to us. They have, (like so many places these days) a sharing ethos but one that seems to work more functionally than just telling people to have three small plates each and divvy them up. Here you have jars, small plates, mains and sides so you could do a traditional starter, main, dessert combo if you wanted. What they recommend, however is a jar or two to share, a small plate or two to share (depending on how many jars you’ve had) and then a main to share. And these really are designed for sharing. We had everything come together, which may have been a mistake as what we ordered didn’t exactly complement one another. We also kind of ignored the sharing idea with our jars, which was also a mistake. They are pretty packed and a whole jar to yourself really does feel too much of one thing for one person, even if that one thing is nice. We had got one each because Stephen wanted the black pudding with thyme and I’m not keen on black pudding. So I had the ricotta infused with basil with a tomato compote on top.  They both came with e5 sourdough and crostini. To be brutally honest, the jars were not a strong point. The ricotta was, dare I say, too creamy and not cheesy enough. Even with the very nice compote on top it needed another dimension – some more structure or density to it. A different cheese perhaps entirely. Stephen’s black pudding was again way too much for one person (our fault) but it was also cold. He likes cold black pudding (and managed to somehow finish it all) but thought that in this case, if it was warm it would have been better – he missed the crispy edges you get with cooked black pudding.So the jars were nice, but I don’t think either of us would order those particular ones again.The main – the lamb – however… And our sides of carrots and fennel… Lush. I’m not one to get excited about vegetables generally although there are a few I do take quite a shine to. Carrots are one that I have had a relationship with since I was young – they were the only vegetable I would eat willingly.  But only if they were raw.  As I have matured though, I have started to appreciate the cooked carrot. And these were the best I’ve ever had I reckon. The natural sweetness of the carrot was brought out and they retained a bit of bite (I hate it when they’re too mushy). The fennel gave a pleasing sharpness and it was all drenched with olive oil (or butter), negating any health benefits but ratcheting up the tastiness. And there was loads of it.  Again – ideal for sharing. I’d have those again in a heartbeat.And the lamb dish was splendid. Lamb two ways – lovely chunks of melt in the mouth morsels and then a ‘tot’ each of coarser lamb meat. These were accompanied by a rich, sweet redcurrant jus and parsnip puree and parsnip cube. It inspired us to have a conversation about which is our favourite meat, and made us realise that even though beef might immediately spring to mind, lamb has such an excellent, underrated flavour it should probably be awarded the top spot. Again, as a main for one it would have been perhaps a little too large – the symmetrical layout and amount were perfect for sharing. Very romantic. (Awful picture - see Mr Buckley's facebook for one that does the dish justice.)Trying not to stuff ourselves we decided against having a dessert, but I had treated myself to a cocktail with dinner. I couldn’t decide between the equally tempting elderflower fizz or gooseberry fizz so I asked my waitress’s opinion. She said: elderflower so that’s what I did. Very refreshing but enough alcohol to remind you it was a cocktail. However, I could have easily guzzled that and had to do my best to make it last the meal.Their menu changes weekly and every time I check the food sounds great. Our not-so-successful jars aside, I’d love to make this a regular haunt. It was a lovely start to our night of celebration. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

  28. Published : Thursday, 21st November 2013

    Berners Tavern at Edition Hotel | Berners Tavern, 8th November

    Stephen and I were both already convinced that Berners Tavern was going to be gorgeous both aesthetically and gastronomically, so the fact that it was, was no surprise. I think Jason Atherton must be having a laught calling it a Tavern. I've rarely dined in grander surroundings whereas a tavern to me is somewhere peasants go to drink. This place is huge, with walls completely covered with framed portraits. They fit together in such a perfect jigsaw that the arrangement must have taken ages to design. You feel like you are dining in the middle of a fine arts gallery. The other decor is no less sumptuous with giant opulent chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and grand banquettes taking centre stage on the floor.We arrived very promptly at 8 but something had gone wrong and they didn't have our reservation. Luckily the place wasn't as busy as we thought it would be and they were able to find us a table within 15-20 minutes. Which gave us a chance to try out the cocktails at the bar. An expensive chance, for at £12 - £12.50 they weren't cheap, and probably an expense we wouldn't have incurred had our table been ready when we were. But they were rather good, mine in particular with mead in it was one of the more unusual cocktails I've ever had - and I've had a few.We were lead to our very low-rise table. Luckily it came with low-rise seats so we were in proportion. We were rather tickled, though, that our waiter was the tallest waiter we had ever encountered, making us feel a bit like we were children seated at the kids' table, looking up at the looming adult serving us.The staff were very friendly. We had a couple of little mishaps but in a way we didn't mind - it made the whole place seem more 'human' than had everything run like clockwork. For example, we had to ask for the wine menu, when we were being asked for our food orders, and then, after our starters were cleared away, someone was sent over to crumb down. He thought we were done and cleared away our placemats and salt and pepper and then brought over the dessert menus. At first I wasn't sure if they just liked to get prepared well in advance but then we pointed out we hadn't had our mains yet and he was very apologetic and whipped those menus away. And returned our salt and pepper. Though not our placemats...So, the food. Was wonderful. Starting off with the bread and butter they brought us - two slices white, two slices rye (possibly, can't remember now!) it was dense and had the right amount of chewiness. And there was enough butter not to feel you had to eke it out.I had looked at the menu beforehand and was particularly worried about choosing a starter as I liked the sound of pretty much all of them. A recent potential allergy to seafood helped me narrow it down, but not by much. We thought for once we should try one of the 'renowned' dishes so Stephen had the ham, egg and peas, while I went for the crispy lamb with butternut and parmesan fregola with marrow crumble.Wow. What a meaty, hearty dish this was. Honestly, I'd have been happy if this was a main course. I had a 'patty' of lamb which was mixed with some greenery and was crispy on the outside. It had been daubed with butternut squash puree, shavings of pecorino and then bits of marrow crumble I believe. This was then served with a pot of the fregola which had a much deeper cheesy, butternut and marrow taste. It was such a profound earthy, meaty flavour. I loved it but it totally blew Stephen away and he pronounced it the star of the meal.From the bite of his egg, shards of ham and light, minty mushy peas I had, I thought his starter held up pretty well to mine, but he was having none of it.We continued feeling pretty pleased with ourselves with our mains. I could not resist having the duck, even though I seem to end up having it everywhere. But when it came with such yummy-sounding things, how could I not? The caramel apples in particular were worthy of note although the plum puree and turnip all tasted great with the perfectly cooked duck. And it was so nice to get a bit of leg with it as well. Dark duck meat is fab.DuckLambStephen had the rack of lamb with lamb neck, cous cous, smoked aubergine and cabbage which he also very much enjoyed though he wished he had more sauce with his as the cous cous soaked it all up.On top of this we ordered some of the duck fat chips and yes, managed to fit them all in as well. We thought that they were better than the chips at (whisper it) the Hand and Flowers!We were utterly stuffed by now, and must have looked it because when we finally ordered the dessert, our waiter immediately asked if it would be to share. To be honest, we almost passed on dessert as compared to the other courses, nothing was standing out as a 'mustn't-miss' dish. But I'm glad we didn't as we were served the best eclair I've ever had and I bloody loved it. It was a proper pud with lots of gooeyness and cream, and pastry but in a refined way. Salted caramel ice cream on dark chocolate nibs partnered the caramel-apple stuffed eclair. Fantastic. The only qualm we had with the meal was that prices are very steep, a few quid less here or there would have felt like a reasonable price to pay. And so, our love affair with Jason Atherton continues. *Apologies for the poor quality photos - the lighting, while perfectly ambient for dining, was too low for good pictures.

  29. Published : Sunday, 3rd November 2013

    Porky's Camden | Porky

    I tried to go to Porky's once before but was thwarted by its offputting group booking policy. Porky's is a no reservations place but if there are enough of you (there were about 12 of us) then you can book in advance. Besides having to put down a deposit you are also told that group bookings pay a set £17 per person and for that you can choose any main from the menu and any two sides. This sounded like a good deal so I agreed. But then I had a look at the menu. And discovered that Porky's is so cheap it is almost impossible to order a main and two sides and have it total £17. I queried them about this and they said that they picked that amount because some combinations would be more than £17, some less and so they averaged it out at £17. They didn't seem bothered that only about three items on the menu together would equate to more than £17. Quite a sweet little deal for them if people are lazy with their sums. Unsurprisingly, everyone in my group thought the same way and so I cancelled the booking. It does seem a tad odd that when you are giving them guaranteed custom (and therefore money), they should implement a policy that could – for want of a better word – swindle the customer if they make the mistake of ordering based on preference rather than price.It would have put me off Porky's entirely had it not already made its way onto my List, and the people I spoke to were actually very friendly and nice about the whole thing.So I found myself in Camden the other Saturday after buying zombie makeup for my night out and thought we'd get an early dinner in there. The menu is what you'd expect - pork ribs, pulled pork, half a chicken and a range of burgers, a couple of things to satisfy the pescetarians and vegetarians plus various sides, and also, as I said, pretty cheap. Very cheap in fact when you take into account the amount of food they give you. Stephen ordered the ribs (£9.50) and even after giving me one and a half, wasn't able to finish them all. Having said that, had they been a bit nicer, I daresay he would have forced it all down.The downside of Porky's being so cheap seems to be that the quality suffers somewhat. My pulled pork (only £8.75) was smoky through and through, which was nice, but it seemed that all they had done was smoke it. No nice marinades or seasoning - just a load of smoky pork. The pork ribs were of quite a nice flavour - the BBQ sauce they came in was slightly sweet and nicely tangy, but the meat itself was quite tough verging on the unpleasant to eat.Pickles come as standard and I liked those a lot, especially paired with a mouthful of pulled pork and a bite of the cheesy hush puppies I ordered as a side. Hush puppies in case you didn't know are basically cornbread dumplings, but these were very cheesy and dotted throughout with chillies which gave them quite a kick (a plus!). Not great to eat on their own as they had a bit of a bitter aftertaste, their cheesy crunchiness did work well with the other items in my dish. Together they were greater than the sum of their parts, as Stephen remarked.Stephen ordered the mac and cheese as his side and we both agreed this was rather good - given a much lighter touch than I would have imagined.I didn't find Porky's offensively bad, and given that the two places I consider top of the BBQ game in London (PItt Cue and BBQWhiskeyBeer) aren't moving into Camden any time soon, Porky's I'm sure will continue to do quite well there. The BBQ market has definitely not been saturated yet so an average place can still be popular. The restaurant itself was a nice place to hang out - it was decorated with posters of Country & Western and Blues stars, was playing similar over the PA and both the beers and cocktails looked good (we didn't try them). The final straw for Stephen was the fact that, given two condiment holders - one brown, one red, they had put the BBQ sauce in the RED bottle, leading Stephen to dump chilli vinegar all over his food instead of BBQ sauce. The horror! Clearly unforgivable. 

  30. Published : Friday, 25th October 2013

    Hoxley and Porter | Hoxley and Porter, 18th October

    On occasion me and my friends like to play at being adults by doing the whole 'Come Dine With Me' thing, which is how you must refer to throwing dinner parties since its advent.It was my friend who lives in Highbury's turn so to give her some time to prep after work, Stephen and I went for an 'aperitif' at Hoxley and Porter which I had been hearing so much about.I can't remember what was there before, either because it was a pretty forgettable place to begin with or possible because what H & P have done with the place is so stunning it has obliterated any memory of its former guise.The room is gorgeous - you walk down a long corridor to get in, giving you a chance to admire the dining area and then you basically walk into the set of Murder on the Orient Express crossed with Death on the Nile (without the murders), or at least that is what I was it felt like to me. It was definitely reminiscent of a grand train carriage and the decor and foliage were all very exotic 20-40s. There should have been girls slinking about with cigarettes in holders and if they don't host a 20s night they are missing a trick.We had a seat by the bar and while Stephen finished his wine, I perused the menu and started to order something rum based with honey and bubbly. The bartender, however, had other ideas, assuring me that they had better cocktails if I wanted bubbles. Well, who am I to argue with the expert? I had a belize bellini which was very nice. Obviously I can't say if it was better than the one I originally wanted, as I didn't have it.Sitting at the bar totally paid off as we got to chat to the bartender a bit and see what he was creating for the other people at the bar. The couple next to us had an amazing concoction that looked like a trifle in a glass and apparently tasted like boozy cake. And it had red wine in it! Must see if I can try that next time. We were also treated to a sample of their housemade falernum - a lightly spiced lime syrup that reminded Stephen and I of lebkuchen, those German spiced cookies. The combination of flavours tasted better in drink than in biscuit form. The cocktail menu is short, but they're really happy to make anything off menu if you give them an idea of what you like, including, of course, the classics. For my second cocktail I had an old fashioned, again, at their recommendation. They told me it was made with 'awesomeness' so I couldn't refuse. They make theirs with 12 year old El Dorado rum instead of whiskey and let me try the rum before I agreed to try their kerazy take on the old fashioned. I like rum but I wouldn't pretend to be an aficionado. However, it was definitely quite a sweet rum and it definitely had notes of coffee. It is so naturally sweet in fact, that H & P only use half a teaspoon of white sugar (not the more intense darker stuff). I could have easily sipped it neat.Stephen went for the Baron's Tipple which was a fruity little number of overproof rum, lime, apricot jam and guava juice. You might think all this fruitiness would leave you with an overly sweet cocktail but it wasn't at all. It didn't exactly wow us either, but it was still pleasantly sippable.  Even if I hadn't liked the cocktails I think I would be tempted to go back simply for the setting, but the fact that the staff were ever so friendly and that the cocktails were made with care and attention means a second trip has already been lined up for a few weeks' time. I might sample the food they have on offer next time as well - both bar menu and a la carte had some very tasty-sounding options!

  31. Published : Wednesday, 23rd October 2013

    The 10 Cases | 10 Cases, 15th October

    10 Cases (as you probably know already because it has been open ages now) takes its name from the fact that it only ever buys 10 cases of each wine. So if you come across one you like, you have to return pretty smartish to get a second taste. Quite a clever way to encourage return business - because also, they will have new wines for you to try all the time!It describes itself as a small bistrot and small indeed it is. There are a few spaces by the bar to sit and then space for about 30 diners at most. There was a lot of scooching around and that sort of ballet you do when two of you are trying to get out of each other's way, if anyone ever got up to go to the bathroom. But it's very cute and this lack of space if completely forgivable.The wine was absolutely the star of the show. It's by no means cheap but I would say, based on the bottle we had that it is worth it if you happen to feel flush that day. We got a riesling blend combining pinot gris, muscat and, gewurztraminer called Domaine Pfister Cuvee 8. It was delicious. It might sound strange to say so, but it had a texture to it. My friend remarked that it was sweet on the tongue at first but that then melted away leaving a light, drier touch. It was silky smooth to drink, almost a little buttery. It was hard to make it last the whole meal but at £40 we felt we had to!The food was perfectly good as well and I'd happily eat there again, but it did feel like it took a backseat to the wine. I really enjoyed my courgette fritters which came with a light, fresh tomato salsa with olive oil. Alison had the soft shell crab to start with avocado salad. I cannot comment on the crab as I didn't have any but the avocado was welcome as always.My pork belly was nice but I think it could have been cooked for longer and the crackling crackled up a bit more. Sometimes it was a little chewy and the fat hadn't rendered down as much as I'd like. The mashed potato and slow cooked red cabbage were absolutely delicious though.Alison had the steak. We enquired about how it would be cooked and she opted for medium rare, with the waitress saying the chef would be happy to chuck it back on the grill if it was too blue. (Our waitress by the way, was ever so friendly and affectionate - oh yes, she wasn't above a little human contact!) The steak came with some well executed chips and I DID have a bite of the steak which had a nice slightly charred flavour. Alison got through two-thirds of it and then realised that actually, it was a bit too underdone for her. However, we both felt that the window of opportunity for requesting further cooking had passed, being that she had eaten the rest of her dish and all they would have been putting on the grill was a few mouthfuls! The chips that came with the steak were excellent. Alas, we didn't end up having dessert, instead going across to the Cross Keys for another glass of wine, which we knew would taste like acid in our mouths compared to what we had just samples. It did. But the Cross Keys was a very cool little pub and I would go back there probably before treating my taste buds to such delectable wine, rather than after.

  32. Friday night was a very special night. My friend Alison and I celebrated the fact that we have known each other for 20 years now. We have a reputation for cramming a lot in on a night out and we surpassed ourselves this night, but I won't go into too much detail on every place we went as a lot of them weren't on my List. Only Portside Parlour and The Dolphin made it onto that.First a quick cocktail in the Covent Garden Cocktail club as part of the Chambord Challenge. It was incredibly lively in there and the bartenders had a certain flair with fire. Consdering we were in there at 6:30 and the atmosphere was in full party mode I'm sure this would be a good place to come for a longer night out.We then went to get another free cocktail at the Salon bar in L'Atelier by Joel de Robuchon. This was the spectral opposite of CGCC - sleek, smooth, high end. We had complimentary olives and met Mr Robuchon himself on the way out. Another cocktail place to impress a date.And then, because we're not total heathens, we had something to eat at Vasco & Piero's Pavilion. This was my second time there and Alison's third or fourth. We split a creamy burrata and a tangy tuna sashimi to start (weirdly they went quite well together on the plate) and then I had a buttery, rich, lamb tortelloni with rosemary and Alison had the prawn spaghettini. Tempting as dessert sounded, with half a bottle of red with our meal, and, delightfully, a glass of prosecco on the house (did they know it was a special occasion) we felt too full to eat any more. And so, we headed East. Northeast to Hackney where we managed to get into Portside Parlour before it shut. Portside ParlourI had thought it stayed open until 2 but when we got there at about midnight, we were told they were taking last orders. So we did have time for just the one cocktail (even though I'd been hoping to have more) in there before moving on, and I think this was my favourite of the night. They have a fairly small but well-crafted selection of cocktails. Portside is a rum parlour so that features heavily - the first page is all rum-based cocktails, but on the second they cater to rum unenthusiasts. My cocktail, the Aged El Presidente, described as 'rounded and boozy' was pretty much all alcohol, but with enough of a fragrance to be drinkable. Alison's was bourbon based and fruitier with basil. Beyond that we cannot remember and I'm blaming it on the strength of those cocktails. The venue itself was very cool. If you didn't know it was there, you would never suspect, but I did and so with determination we made our way through the crowds in Off Broadway to the very back where there was a sign pointing you down the stairs. Had the door been shut down there, even then you might not have been certain you were going to a bar, as the door makes it look like it's just another toilet. If you go through that though you enter a bijou little den of drinking, with candlelight and a musky illicit aroma. Just my kind of place.After this we went to the Cat and Mutton for a drink before they also called last orders and then went round to the London Fields for another before it seemed late enough to be appropriate to go to the Dolphin.The DolphinIf you've been adding things up you'll probably guess that we'd had a few by now, but in the immortal words of the Dolphin's faux twitter account 'Fuck it, it's Friday!'. But it did mean our time in the Dolphin isn't exactly crystal clear in my mind. What I do remember though is that we had an excellent time. I had been there on a Tuesday or something for a drink before Buen Ayre, but rather suspected this was not the best way to experience the Dolphin. After the recent announcement that they may lose their late-night license (a travesty - they're appealing the decision) I thought I'd better get there 'toot sweet' to see this bastion of revelry for myself. Either it is always that busy (possible) or a lot of other people had the same idea for it was packed. We made our way from the little cash bar and courtyard sort of area to the main bar area I'd been in before, where we almost instantly made friends with some guys who lived nearby. What can I say, it's a friendly place. I think it was at about 5 am that they started kicking everyone out, but not before one last R Kelly song. By all accounts, talking to strangers and dancing to R Kelly is exactly what the Dolphin is all about so I think we did the place justice, even if we didn't have any 'Forgot about Dre'- or indeed 'Independence Day'-gerbombs'. I really hope they can persuade the council to let them keep the late license - I will be really sad if that's my one and only experience of late-night Dolphin. #savethedolphin

  33. Published : Thursday, 26th September 2013

    Fernandez & Wells | Fernandez and Wells, 23rd September

    On Monday night I think I rather spectacularly failed to make the most of my visit to Fernandez & Wells (Lexington Street). I have wanted to go to one of the branches for ages, since being told what great wine they did. And then, when I finally did go, I didn't even have any wine! I was seeing a friend I hadn't seen in almost a year and there was so much to catch up on, we spent the first half an hour talking before we even looked at the menus. I did, however, order something to eat - the name of which has escaped me - a vegetable ragout of peppers and onions with a poached egg on top and served with some toasted sourdough bread. It was very tasty, although I must admit, I thought a bit of spice to it - either in the form of chillies, or black pepper, or some spicy chorizo - would have been a welcome addition. It was still very nice to eat and not a bad price at £8.00. My friend ordered the raclette which was a very generous amount of melted cheese all over more sourdough bread and topped with cornichons.And then we chatted and chatted some more, and by the time I said I was going to get myself a glass of wine, the staff were basically winding down for the evening and were at the other end of the bar doing the washing up. In a way it was quite nice that they left us to it and didn't pester us to order more once our food was done - clearly, if you want somewhere to while away a few hours this is the place to go. On the other hand, I thought maybe just asking us if there was anything else we wanted wouldn't have gone amiss. They would have got an extra bit of money out of me for it. There were plenty of people in there solo, reading or doing a bit of work with a small plate and a glass of wine. When we got there it was still fairly busy but by 8:30 or so, it was practically empty so it's a pretty good place to go later in the evening for a quiet drink and a bite to eat.

  34. Published : Tuesday, 3rd September 2013

    Mien Tay | Mien Tay, 2nd September

    Last night was, considering I don't live too far away from the area, my first belated visit to one of the Vietnamese places on Kingsland road, of which there is a glut.One of my friends suggested we go there before an erotic literary night in Shoreditch so I requested we go to one on my list - Mien Tay.Mien Tay falls under the category 'cheap and cheerful'. The place is a bit of a cross between a cafe and a restaurant - you don't want to look too closely where the floor meets the walls and the whole thing could do with a lick of paint. But I don't really care about that kind of stuff as long as the food is good.And it was. I wouldn't call myself a Vietnamese expert but I have had pho and bun hue a few times as well as my beloved banh mi sandwiches so I'm familiar with the flavourings. Nuoc cham, red chillies, lemongrass, ginger, and lots of coriander - what's not to like?As much as I love Pho, and was starving, the warm weather put me off having a bowl of steaming hot soup. Instead, I ordered a dish that Stephen often gets from the chain Pho but which I hadn't got around to trying yet - bun salad. Cold vermicelli rice noodles, with bean sprouts, carrot, cucumber and in my case chicken cooked with honey and spices. I normally like to get something a bit fiery but they had plenty of sriracha on hand to spice it up, and I was also able to take a couple of chillies from my friends' pho garnishes.There was plenty of chicken and even as I raced through my dish, assuring myself that I was only finishing earlier than everyone else because my portion was a little smaller, I realised I was getting very full. I didn't need to finish the whole thing in order to feel satisfied, but it was so nice I just had to.Tofu dish - looks as good as a meat one!Everyone seemed to really like it, from the Vietnamese 'virgins' in the group to my friend who is most discerning in her approval of food places. She had got a beef style tofu dish which looked amazing, and some spring rolls, one of which she was generous enough to let me have. They were really different to what I'd had before - instead of rolled dough with the filling inside, these were 'spun', light casings. They were deep fried and tasted very bad for you. I'd definitely get them again!I didn't try any other dishes but the plate full of accoutrements to put in your pho (mint, coriander, chillies, bean sprouts) was well heaped, and it all looked excellent - lots of herbs floating around in the soup, a large amount of noodles, plump-looking prawns.They were really quick at getting us our food (we'd told them we were in a bit of a hurry) and the prices were fab - my bun salad was £6.80 only. A really good start to what I hope is just my first visit to that area for Vietnamese food. 

  35. Published : Thursday, 29th August 2013

    Caravan King's Cross | Caravan King

    Those Kiwis sure as hell know how to do brunch right. After working up an appetite by visiting the El Bulli exhibition my friend and I headed over to Caravan for one hell of a brunch. There was a bit of a wait so we had a drink next door in The Grain Store. They'd said possibly 40 minutes but it was actually only about 15 in the end. I had eaten there before but only for lunch, which was very nice, but brunch really seemed to be the star of the show judging by the menu. I was a little worried how I was going to ever decide what to have though secretly suspected I'd go for the salt beef bubble, even though I'd had a salt beef bagel the night before. But when we got there, it wasn't even on the menu! Oh no - cue paroxysms of indecision!  Finally, the raclette and spinach french toast leaped out at me. I hadn't had savoury French toast, and I like to be a little adventurous with my choices. With difficulty, I turned my back on the equally delicious-sounding jalapeno cornbread with eggs, black beans and quadrillo peppers. My friend, finally managed to decide on the Caravan Fry. We both got some avocado on the side.This was silly, and wasteful. We thought we'd get a few slices of avocado on the plate, instead we got two plentiful bowls of mashed up avocado drizzled with olive oil, with lemon and chili. Basically two things of quacamole. It was fabulous, but with our mains being sizable themselves we couldn't in all conscious eat all that avocado as well. So shamed they went to waste. So badly could eat some right now!Anyway, it was brunch so of course we had to get some alcohol. I got one of the special bloody maries. I can't remember what it was called but it had beef in it. It was delicious. Smoky, and yes, beefy but in a good way, it was both peppery and had a good kick at the back of the throat of spice. They used proper peppercorns and I enjoyed getting the odd one to crunch on.Alison ordered a glass of prosecco and a coffee. I'm not much of a coffee drinker but even I could appreciate how rich and smooth this one was.We made many, many groans of pleasure as we ate our brunch. My french toast was basically an over the top toastie, with extra luxury/decadence/full fat?? from using egged-up bread. The salty bacon was perfect with this, as well as the tangy bitterness of the watercress. And of course that fabulous avocado which was a genius addition on our part. Alison chose poached eggs for her Carvan Fry which were perfectly done - not overcooked or too wibbly. It also came with mushrooms, some slow roasted tomatoes which I think she said were the highlight and some bacon which had nice crispy bits on the edge (as did mine). Her whole dish sat upon a massive slab of sourdough toast.We were too stuffed to partake of any more food, more's the pity. That meal will stay with me for a while though... And Alison and I have tabled it as possibly 'our' brunch place in the future being easy to get to for both of us. I'm already looking forward to my return!

  36. Published : Thursday, 22nd August 2013

    Barrio East | Barrio East, 10th August

    I had a great time at Barrio East last week for my birthday and from the sounds of it, so did everyone else. There were a couple of things that made me pause for thought but mostly the evening was a success.Firstly, I'd enquired about booking an area for about 30 people. They didn't have anywhere big enough available (or perhaps big enough period) but I was given some tables in the 'Timber Room' that could seat 12 comfortably. I figured that would be fine - and it was. We just needed somewhere to stash our stuff and where we could sit to eat if anyone ordered food. I wanted people to mingle so didn't really want somewhere everyone would be sitting the whole night.Also, I wanted to book it from 7 pm but I could only reserve from 8. Again, this didn't turn out to be a problem as when we got there at 7, no one was using our table so we just claimed it straight away. Apparently my boyfriend and a couple of people were asked a few times while I was at the bar if they knew the area was reserved and they were like, yes - for us! But I guess that would have been good had there been usurpers.I got there at about 7:15 and was asked whether I had a reservation and if all of my party was with me. I explained that my reservation wasn't until 8 anyway and they just let us in but it did make me wonder what they would have said if I had turned up with only the four of us at 8 with everyone else to come. After all, most parties don't arrive en masse at the first port of call.I'd been told there was a £250 minimum spend which I was a little worried about. Not worried about spending that much - I knew me and my friends would easily pass that target, just about the bar knowing it was my party that was spending it. It did all get a big confusing - they suggested we all stay at the table and let the waitress take our orders so they knew to which party the tab belonged, but the waitress barely ever came over so everyone started ordering at the bar and I was worried the system might fail. But the guy behind the bar said that, to be honest, they only tend to strictly enforce the minimum spend when it's obvious someone hasn't brought along as many people as they'd promised. Considering there were probably at least 30 people in there that could say they were there for my birthday, I didn't have to worry about that!Revellers on the dance floorA few of us got food at various points of the evening. I got the reina pepida I'd spied when I first looked at the menu though it turned out to be completely different to what I'd imagined. I thought it would be a single roll, a bit like a burger but instead it was about five mini rolls, with chicken and avocado in them. They were tasty but the cornbread was a little dry. Luckily my friend's tacos came with salsa that she didn't want so I nicked that. Would really suggest they include that as standard. They also missed off my order but I'm happy to report that they took it off the bill when they brought it which I always think is nice (even if I kind of expect some sort of gesture like that). The food isn't really what you go to Barrio East for - it's just something fun and easy to eat while you're drinking the cocktails, of which I had several, mostly from the happy hour list - we took full advantage of that.I think it is brilliant of them that they have a happy hour every single day from 4 until 8pm, when you can get cocktails for £4.95. They had a couple of classics (like the mojito I had) and a couple of more interesting, fruity numbers (which I also had). I started with a Pitufina - tequila, lychee and passion fruit, and followed that with a Hawaii-n-dry - vodka, grapefruit and guava. Very tropical!I was worried the night was going to get crazy busy and my late-arriving friends wouldn't get in but there didn't seem to be any real problems. I think one girl had to wait in line for a bit which was a little cheeky. It was busy inside but not rammed - the area we were seated at in fact became quite empty later on in the night as people moved to the dance floor.I'm afraid I don't remember much of what was played, other than it made me want to dance, and dance a lot, and that's all that matters really. The brave amongst us were already dancing by around 10:30 and the rest of us soon joined them until at some point we decamped to that old chestnut - Ye Olde Axe.So yes, just happy memories from the night, I think this is a good place to go for a large crowd - it was mainstream but not too cheesy, had a good atmosphere, just seemed to be about having a good time. Thanks guys!

  37. Published : Monday, 19th August 2013

    Ruby's | Ruby

    As I was saying to my friends, when I go to a new cocktail bar, I rarely have the same cocktail twice - I want to try as many different ones as possible, and invariably whoever I'm with tries different ones to me as well so we try a full range. So it says something about how much I liked the chilli apple martini that, once I'd had it for my first 'round' I decided to end with it too. And so did my boyfriend.If Ruby's was a piece of furniture, it would be described as 'distressed'. But you get the feeling that, unlike with designer furniture, no process or procedure has been applied to Ruby's to create this look - this is just how it is. There's attention to detail (take a trip to the bathroom to see that no space has been left forgotten) but there's no pretension to the place. I see Ruby's described frequently as East London's best secret and worried that this wasn't so. We went at about 9:30 on a Thursday night and my fear was that it would be packed (you couldn't make bookings after nine). We could hear a little hubbub as we went down the stairs but - hallelujah - there were plenty of tables free. It got busier as the night wore on but it was by no means heaving. It had enough people to create an atmosphere but few enough that the waitress wasn't overwhelmed and came back at about the right frequency to get us drinks when we wanted them.We ended up having three drinks apiece in there before closing time. They're very reasonably priced for a cocktail bar. Mostly around £9. Like I said, I had the chilli apple martini to start, which was garnished with a chilli on the side. Just hanging there I couldn't resist but to take a bite - I figured they wouldn't use a chilli TOO hot for a garnish. I was wrong. One tiny bite from the end was all I could really take, though I did use it to stir my martini which imparted some extra heat.It was such a good creating - you could definitely taste the vanilla which of course gave the cocktail a sweet flavour but the bite of the chilli tempered this so that it didn't feel like a 'dessert' cocktail. And the apple taste was the main flavour.Stephen had a morello julep because he likes cherries so much, but as with most juleps it mostly tasted of alcohol with the cherry flavour just lending it enough sweetness to take off the roughness of the bourbon. The pepper sprinkled on top was a nice touch when you got some of the ice on which it had settled. I think I had the apricot cooler for my second drink, and it was nice but I can't remember much about it. This isn't to say this was a bad drink, I know it wasn't - I wouldn't have remembered it vividly if it had been, but it was eclipsed by, you guessed it, that martini. Stephen had the rhubarb sour which sort of suffered the same fate.The cocktail list is relatively short, which I liked as it made choosing much easier. I can see myself making a beeline for this place in the cold winter nights, to bask in its cosy dim where I can happily work my way through the cocktail list developing a 'beer coat' especially in the winter when its cosy intimate aura will be like a warm blanket. 

  38. Published : Thursday, 15th August 2013

    Oui Madame Bistrot | Oui Madame, 8th August

    After my exhilarating white water Duck Tour adventure, I was whisked off to Dalston for a night out there followed by a stay in the Avo boutique hotel. I won't go into too much detail on the hotel as it wasn't on the List, but it was very cute, a fantastic location and I quite liked the breakfast, though the guy on reception could do with improving his warmth and people skills.Anyway so next on the agenda was dinner at Oui Madame! This was such a French-feeling restaurant - superfriendly and homely. It had two sections to the restaurant - we were at the front where it opens out onto the street giving the inside a bit of a cafe/bistro feel. The back half felt more like a 'proper' restaurant. The back sideSo we got there and were given a very friendly welcome, helped by the fact I was beaming myself. We'd been running a little late and had asked if we could push the reservation back by half an hour, which they accommodated with no problem at all. I do not know for certain but I would guess that the restaurant is run by the man and woman, presumably husband and wife who were the front of house staff. The normal menu is a small plates menu, but you can also have a set menu of three courses for £23. There are no choices for the starter or dessert but you have a choice of three mains (one of which is vegetarian). This menu I also presume changes fairly frequently and was written up on a chalk board, which the host carried to each table to display. It felt very much like you were at his house and he was treating you to dinner as he bustled around, showing off the specials board, greeting diners, and swigging from the glass of wine he kept close to hand on the counter. I fell in love with the place even without trying any of the food.Happily, the food was also a joy to eat. It's not fine dining - it wouldn't win Michelin stars - but it was good, homemade food, just the sort of thing you'd want from a neighbourhood restaurant. I keep wanting to say the cuisine was French, but actually there was quite an Italian feel to the menu. The starter was a gazpacho and the dessert was salted caramel pannacotta. We had one each of the main meat dishes - pork loin for Stephen and beef for me. The tomato gazpacho came with sardine rillete on toast, which turned out to be far too fishy for me, but appreciated for that very reason by Stephen so he had mine, leaving me with the toast it was served on. This had been sprinkled with some sort of seed (I think pumpkin or linseed), giving it an added nutty dimension. The gazpacho was beautifully fresh-tasting, dotted with basil and (perhaps) further tomato oil which dispersed into the soup. It had a deep garlic flavour and was like eating liquid bruschetta. I loved it.Pretty gazpacho!I had mainly chosen the beef over the pork because it came with potato dauphinoise. It was also accompanied by a blue cheese sauce, and what turned out to be a basil sauce as well. This basil sauce seemed to be a signature of their plates as it appeared on Stephen's pork dish too. Both of us agreed that it was delicious but we couldn't quite work out its relationship to the other food on the plate. Stephen's pork came with roasted tomatoes, and unsurprisingly the basil went a treat with those, but didn't really pair with the pork so much. I thought it complemented my beef quite well but clashed with the very cheesy and creamy blue cheese sauce and potatoes. Each plate was almost like two dishes in one.Pork loinMy steak was cooked very well (by that I mean medium rare) and the potato dauphinoise were creamy without being too stodgy, with a crispy potato layer on top. Stephen had forgotten his pork was loin rather than shoulder and wsa about to moan at me that it was a little dry in parts before remembering that was a likely characteristics of this cut. I must admit when our plates were first set down I had a pang of food envy and flirted with preferring his dish over mine after I'd had a bite of the edge of his loin - caramelized and crunchy round the edges. But I think my beef was probably more consistently good.SteakOur dessert reminded us a bit of the dessert we'd had at Flat Iron. Stephen fulfilled the role of food critic here by trying each element and pronouncing that individually they were all delicious and… together they were still delicious! We had a blackberry sorbet with the chantilly and pannacotta, which tasted great but sadly was a bit too authentic for me. Horrible seeds kept getting in my teeth so I gave mine to Stephen. (Only the sorbet, I ate the other stuff!)We had planned to get a cheese course as well but I was feeling pretty comfortably full by then and didn't want to push it. I knew we were going for cocktails after and I didn't want to feel bloated and destroy my further enjoyment of cocktails.We foolishly started perusing the food as soon as we sat down instead of the drinks so when our drinks order was taken, I ordered in a bit of a rush, picking the biodynamic wine just because I hadn’t had one before. Stephen admonished me, saying I should have remembered they have a reputation for being awful, but our hostess (naturally) said it was a fine choice and that you can drink bottles of the stuff without getting a hangover. We only had the one bottle to share, but it was very drinkable, nice and dry, and I didn’t have a headache at all the next day so maybe it can take some of the credit for that. We didn’t have any cocktails because a) they were all quite absinthe-based and b) we were having cocktails later, but I did love that one was called the Oui Madame!, and one was called the Non Monsieur!.And weirdly, the bathroom deserves a special mention for being somewhat out-of-the-ordinary. A huge feather duster hung from the ceiling as the light switch, it was illuminated by a soft red glow and on the whole felt a bit like walking into a sex dungeon. I tried to take a picture but it doesn’t do it justice.Apparently downstairs they have exhibitions and whatnot (which is how I first heard of the place). It’s a little far up Kingsland Road, pretty much straddling Dalston and Stoke Newington but I would say it is well worth the extra walk.In short I say, Oui Madame? A thousand times oui!

  39. Published : Tuesday, 13th August 2013

    Death By Burrito | Death by Burrito, 7th August

    We got over to Catch at about 6:15. There were only a couple of other people in the place so we were told to just grab a seat and were asked if we were eating. We most certainly were. I'd done a little research on the place and commonly came across the fact that the burrito was £12 and therefore ridiculously expensive, that the service was pretty poor and cocktails miniscule. None of these things were true of my visit.I greedily looked at the menu and decided that everything sounded really good. But Stephen wouldn't allow me to order anything other than a main, as it was the day before my birthday and we had 'three days of eating and drinking ahead of us'. Party-pooper. He also came to regret this, as Death by Burrito is rather a misnomer. Perhaps 'Minor injury by burrito' or 'Inconvenience by Burrito' would be more apt. Suggesting that you will die by burrito implies these will be so bursting and so hearty that you'll be rendered incapacitated. In fact, they were probably the smallest burritos we have ever had. Fairly tall cocktailWe got one beef burrito for £9.50 and one order of tacos for £6.50. That gives you two tacos so we had one each and split the burrito, which handily came cut in half already. And that was all. I had expected we would also get some blue corn tortillas and quacamole with our mains, as that is what I'd read but I can only assume that the trade-off from reducing the price was that you don't get any extras with it anymore. The tacos and the burrito were fairly equally delicious. The short rib was perhaps a little drier than other burritos but this could partly have been because the burrito is made up of all meat plus some lettuce - no refried or black beans providing any other moisture. But not having any of these usual extras means the burrito is very compact and not as filling as the ones you get... well... anywhere else. So even at £9.50 the price tag is still a little steep. A nice touch was the shredded sweet potato which wasn't just a gesture but a discernible texture and flavour that complemented the smoky short rib really well. The burrito came with a pot of fiery salsa on the side, which was delicious, but the serving was tiny, and it was in a very impractical container - dipping your burrito in it was quite the task and you weren't provided with any other means of getting the sauce onto anything.  Item 1 (burrito) does not fit into item 2 (salsa)The pork tacos were very juicy, sitting on the right amount of coleslaw. Pieces of crackling were dotted throughout providing a very pleasant crunch, in, I'd say, every other mouthful. For tacos, they were quite generously portioned (compare to the size of Breddo's tacos for example) but only having two of them meant they still weren't all that filling.I fear we did not do DBB justice, again succumbing to the tyranny of our waistlines and wallets. Judged on these two dishes alone, the food was very tasty and I wish we had tried some of the other things on the menu. The courgette flower and poblano crepes for instance, or the chipotle poppers on the small plates side (all only £6.00). Yes, the burritos are a little pricier than, say, Luardos or Chipotle but when I'm getting dinner out, not just some food on the go for lunch, I don't really mind a little extra cost. We still only spent about £8 between us on food, my cocktail is what bumped the bill up past the £20 mark. Must admit, the cocktail I ordered from the DBB menu (see above) was nice but probably not worth inflating your bill for. I had the pink paloma, for £7.50 which was tequila, 'raspberry and aperol charged with homemade vanilla salted grapefruit soda'. I didn't really detect anything exotic about the soda but as I said it was nice enough to drink. Some of Catch's own creations sounded even better, I'd give them a try next time. 

  40. Published : Wednesday, 24th July 2013

    Maison Bertaux | Tsuru and Maison Bertaux, 20th July

    I was only ever going to order one thing when I went to Tsuru - the kara-age chicken burger. This was inevitable because it was the sole reason I put Tsuru on the List after having read the London Review of Sandwiches post about it. I recently won a £100 bar tab at the Refinery, which conveniently enough is opposite Tsuru, so I thought I would make my way over there on Saturday and kill two birds with one stone. Bankside isn't exactly a bustling area on the weekend (or perhaps it is underused in general, hence Yelp's recent treasure hunt to promote the area) and many of the little lunch places are shut. Tsuru, however stays open for Saturdays despite clearly not getting much footfall. There were two guys outside when I arrived, no one inside, apart from me, although a couple more people came by for some take out while I was in there.I was given a very friendly greeting and told to sit where I liked. The place is quite sleek and clean looking and you can see through the service counter to the chefs at the back. I was offered some tap water which I accepted as soon as I sat down, and there are wasabi peas to nibble on while you make your selection, or wait for your food. Despite being on my own, I felt pretty comfortable in there. Tsuru is a Japanese place, owned (or at least partnered) by the same people who run Tonkotsu, somewhere I can highly recommend. I was tempted at first to order some sushi as well as my burger but then decided to get a red cabbage and sesame side instead. As I ordered it, I had a feeling my server hadn't heard me properly and when it didn't arrive I realised I'd been right. This was my first meal of the day though, and I realised as I started eating my burger that I didn't really want anything extra anyway. I'd only really ordered it to have something extra to write about. So, the burger. It is described as kara-age chicken on romaine lettuce with a mustard mayo in a sesame seed brioche bun. I must say, that I didn't detect any mustard in the mayo - it just tasted like the kind of mayonnaise you'd get at McDonald's. A little sweet perhaps. The bun wasn't amazing either. It did a good job holding the burger together, was a little too thick and bready, but the sesame seeds were nice. The chicken was definitely the burger's saving grace, made out of thigh meat, with such a load of crispy batter on it that it actually cut my gums a bit! It was very juicy and had a great flavour - I'm sure I caught a taste or perhaps just aroma of lemon somehow. I enjoyed it and would happily eat it again, but I wasn't completely overawed by it. The chicken burger from Rita's doesn't have to worry about being knocked off my top spot any time soon.Maison BertauxI decided to head into town for some dessert and thought I would give Maison Bertaux a try. I wish I hadn't bothered. Located in Soho, it is one of the city's oldest bakeries and patisseries. It looks charmingly French with its blue and white awnings, and inside, at least in the bit I saw it is charmingly odd, with a lot of mismatched, eccentric ornaments on display behind the cashier.I only wanted something to take away not to eat in, so I had a look at the wares on display. To be honest, I've seen more appealing confections at Patisserie Valerie. I actually had almost made up my mind not to bother getting anything when I was asked what I wanted and of course, was too British to be rude enough to say 'nothing'. I opted for a, perhaps coffee, perhaps maple, eclair. What I'd really wanted was a slice of what might have been cheesecake but the last two were taken by the couple before me. Everything else was covered in fruit and berries which I don't like. As my eclair was being boxed up I saw a cake on the top shelf where the pastries were which actually looked quite good but by then it was too late. I took my eclair with me and ate it down the road. I have nothing to report really. The pastry was rather dry and not that pleasant to eat. The icing on the top was sweet and it was reasonably well filled. There could have been more cream. I didn't eat it all, which speaks volumes. Very disappointing.

  41. Published : Monday, 15th July 2013

    Well and Bucket | The Well and Bucket, 10th May

    I'd been to the Well and Bucket once on a Friday night but I felt like it didn't give an accurate picture of the pub so I decided to go back again before writing about it. So this is a tale of two visits.The first timeI thought we might have a drink or two at the Crown and Shuttle but in fact, after buying our Field Day tickets from the Owl and the Pussycat (so excited!) we decided to try out the new Well and Bucket at the top of Brick Lane.This is quite a large pub capitalising on the trend for craft beers. It looks like it would have a large beer garden at the back in which to enjoy them but, in fact, all it basically has is a little patio for people to cram into to smoke.The inside is impressive though and I think I would like this pub if I went to it on a weekend. On a Friday night it was packed and packed full of the people who work around there who I'm rather pleased aren't so prevalent on the weekends. O! where were the hipsters?Downstairs was another world (and a world I didn't venture into in the end) which is where the cocktails are served. This was an darker, more intimate and plush area. It looks like it needs exploring further from me. The second timeI was rather worried we'd be in for a repeat performance as the sun was blazing and I thought surely there would be loads of people wanting to have a pint in the sun. But it wasn't like that, perhaps because there isn't much of a beer garden to speak of. And I did like it more than the last time we were there. We sat in a corner booth and the place had a much more relaxed, less frenetic atmosphere. It felt more like a proper pub. We marveled at the number of beers on the menu, or should I say the prices. One beer was 20 pounds! But, I should point out that it was a 75 cl bottle and almost as strong in percentage as a normal wine, so through those lenses the prices seemed quite reasonable.I ordered a house white which was very pleasant - a chenin blanc I believe, it had a little depth and fruitiness to it. And wasn't badly priced at 5.50 for a 175 ml.We were heading off to Feast (my third time and just as good as the others) so we didn't try anything on the food menu. Just another excuse to go back. I love the mix of traditional pub and macabre graffiti they have covering the walls, it's all a bit Edgar Allan Poe/Dia de los Muertos, which I get a kick out of. 

  42. Published : Tuesday, 2nd July 2013

    Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar | Hawksmoor Bar, 29th June

    Well, no surprises here really - Hawksmoor was AWESOME with a side of awesome. I loved it. I loved it even more that we managed to get in before the 50% off deal came to an end (yesterday) but I would happily go back and pay full price for what we ate, and there are some of the bar snacks/starters that I would like to try.We had tried to get in last Sunday but there was an hour and a half wait (and you weren't allowed to put your name down and come back close to when tables might be ready - that constituted booking somehow) so we ended up at MeatMission instead. But I was determined not to miss out so we went back on Saturday, making sure to get there as close to its opening as possible - 12pm. This worked a treat as we got there and were seated straight away, watching smugly as the rest of the seats filled up and people started having to wait.We made perhaps a slight mistake. We're not early morning people so what we were eating at Hawksmoor was actually our breakfast. And I normally like to breakfast light. So, whereas I had planned a starter each, a main and then at least sharing a side and then a dessert each, we just weren't up to eating that much food. But we managed to try all the dishes that I'd heard about and considered the must-haves.So, we ordered the ox cheek nuggets, the ox cheek french dip and the pig's head poutine. For dessert we had a sticky toffee pudding and some of their famed salted caramel rolos.The food all comes at once (it's meant for eating while drinking, not as a sit down meal) which was fine by us. All the dishes that the food was served on were perfectly sized to fit the food on it, but left no room for drippage. And there were a lot of juices to contend with.Stephen had expressed doubt about the ox-cheek nuggets, worrying that they might turn out to be dry. I assured him they wouldn't be, but I didn't realise that they ensured extra moistness by having melted cheese in the middle. In fact, everything we ordered ended up having cheese in it. A fortunate happenstance. The ox cheek nuggets came with a sambal dip which was delicious, but overpowered the flavour of the nuggets themselves. They were so tender and gooey with the cheese, they didn't really need a dip. Which lead to the dilemma - enjoy the nugget on its own, or make the most of the sambal by eating it with the nuggets. Oh these tough, tough decisions!The French Dip was my favourite of all three and was an amazing sandwich in its own right, never mind with the rich, savoury jus that it came with. I would take a bite and decide I didn't want to 'sully' it with the accompanied gravy, but the gravy was so moreish that I would end up dipping the sandwich in it time and again. A similar conuncdrum to the aforementioned. The bread itself was very soft and inside was the shredded flavoursome cheek meat topped with, yeah, you guessed it - melted cheese. It put the steak and cheese sandwich I had at MeatLiquor to shame. I'm going to have to let my face get at that again some time soon.The poutine also came with gravy, but a much lighter, sweeter gravy which was also pretty addictive. Towards the end the chips that it had been covering had been completely soaked in it and were a little soggy, which normally I don't really like (and Stephen moaned a bit about it) but it did mean you got a bit more of the gravy flavour as I spooned up the last sodden scraps of chips, cheese and meat. I've never had poutine before, the idea of gravy with cheese and chips didn't appeal but I'm happy to say I was a fool to think this way. And with pork's head scattered all over it, this dish is a main event in its own right, don't be fooled by it being listed alongside the chips and coleslaw.I had to get the rolos for 'dessert'. I put that bit in inverted commas because what they really are, are three chocolates, as you would get from Paul A Young or something - they're not a proper 'pudding' as the English say. They were lovely, and the caramel was indeed very salty, but if Stephen hadn't ordered the sticky toffee pudding that I was then able to have some of, I would have been annoyed at myself for ending my meal with them. I could easily have had a real dessert and then ordered these as well.The toffee pudding was magnificent, the caramel sauce was a light cinder toffee in flavour, leaving a pleasant slightly burned aftertaste. The pudding itself was warm and just like a pudding should be - dense and sticky. And it was topped with a completely unnecessary quenelle of clotted cream, which nevertheless was appreciated as an extra touch of decadence.Just as anticipated, for me anyway, were the drinks (well, it is a bar!). As it was our breakfast and we were heading to a festival straight after, we didn't want to drink loads while we were in there but I just had to try the full fat old fashioned (rather dear at £12.50 - good job the food was so cheap!). This was butter-infused bourbon with  sugar and I could have drank that all day. It mostly just tasted of whisky of course with just enough sweetness to take away any harshness or burning you might get from drinking hard liquor neat. Is it wrong of me to be proud that was the first thing to pass my lips that day? Gorgeous. Stephen had a Kernel Pale Ale which, at 7% and only costing £5 was quite a good deal.The bar itself has apparently been redone a bit and is all dark wood and low lighting, meaning we could easily forget it was midday outside and that we shouldn't be drinking whisky cocktails at that hour. And our waitress was incredibly friendly and smiley. I'm so, so happy I went.

  43. Published : Wednesday, 12th June 2013

    The Fourth Wall | The Fourth Wall, 7th June

    I had quite the Bourne & Hollingsworth weekend. Firstly, on Friday I went to their roving bar 'The Fourth Wall'. This is a replica of their bricks and mortar establishment in Rathbone Place, which pops up in all different places. If you are on their mailing list, you are emailed a couple of days in advance of them popping up and given a clue as to its whereabouts. So, on Wednesday when I got an email written in semaphore, I decoded it to give an address and booked me and my friends in.Now, I knew that B & H were doing a summer-long affair called Kitchen Party which promises good food, drinks and happenings, and also the Fourth Wall as its bar, but I didn't realise that it was the same Fourth Wall bar (i.e. I thought there would be one at Kitchen party and another which travelled). I must admit I was a little disappointed when I turned up and it was the one at Kitchen Party, as it rather rendered the clues pointless when anyone can look up where Kitchen Party is residing over the summer. And, also, unlike other Fourth Walls, this one is clearly there for quite the long haul.Makeshift wallsPerhaps that is why it wasn't very busy at all. Most of the other drinkers there seemed to just be having pre-dinner drinks before heading into the dining area which made the Kitchen part of the party. Or maybe the semaphore was just too much effort for most to bother decoding. As it got a bit later and the diners drifted into the sit-down section, the bar was rather quiet. I do like a bar where you can sit down and hear yourselves talk over the din of fellow drinkers but I do also like there to be some fellow drinkers.Still, quite enjoyable, and it did deliver the 'granny chic' I had promised to my friends, in its chintzy wallpaper, faded and peeling at the edges. They also had one cocktail that was served in a teacup which I had looked forward to having but it did have a tea element in it which put me off. So I didn't. Instead I had one served in a cute little jam pot.MargarinhaI had several cocktails which were all quite nice. I made sure to have the famed Re-Bourne cocktail as my first. It was light and refreshing, constituting of gin, lime juice and elderflower, topped with lemonade but it didn't make me sit up and take notice. The Rose 75 - rose and raspberry syrup mixed with gin, lemon juice and topped with bubbly was more interesting. At first sip it tasted like Turkish delight but in a nice way, and as the cocktail matured this became quite subtle. Very nice and different to any other cocktail I've had. For my third and final drink I had the margarinha which was also a tasty cross between a margarita and a caipirinha. My favourite was definitely the Rose 75 though.Admittedly, they didn't have the showmanship or inventiveness of some other cocktail places I've been to (Opium or Purl for example) but then again, you don't always want that from a cocktail. Sometimes you just want something straightforward and reasonably priced to sip at (these were all £7.50-£8.00 compared to £10-£12 at other cocktail joints). Stephen's complaint, as ever, was that they were so small and he is right - you have to be very judicious with your sips to make the ones served in martini-esque glasses last. A 'rose' between two thorns - the Lychee cocktail and the Hollingsworth FizzThey had a DJ set up in the corner where we were seated, playing some hip hop and smooth soul. Very appropriate for background lounge music but up-tempo enough to be good music to get you going if this was only your first stop on a night out. I recognised the DJ as the same guy who'd been incredibly enthusiastic at the first Belle Epoque night I went to and he was no less into his music this time either.I got there a little later than my friends and apparently there was just one weird thing that happened. I'd made a booking for four you see, and when they got there they were ushered towards a table which was clearly only big enough for two. When Stephen explained we weren't going to fit, the hostess said that we didn't all need to sit at the table together. Stephen rather disagreed and managed to get us a table where we could all sit at the same time. Bit of an odd approach to reservations and seating!I'm glad I've crossed the Fourth Wall off my list but I doubt I'll be making a repeat visit - I'll just stick to their themed parties, which often serve similar drinks - The Gatsby makes an appearance at Prohibition, and a version of the Re-Bourne was on offer at the Blitz party.

  44. Published : Monday, 3rd June 2013

    Lucky Chip Slider Bar | Slider Bar, 29th May

    Slider bar is dead, long live Slider bar!So, I follow Slider Bar on twitter and some time a couple of weeks back they tweeted that Lucky Chip's time there had but ten days to go. I thought it meant curtains for Slider Bar and quickly figured out when I could get down there for the first (and last) time.And that was last Wednesday. Actually, I had rather misunderstood the tweet. Lucky Chip will no longer be at Slider Bar as of this week (presumably because they've got Licky Chops at Climpson's Arch going on over the summer) but Slider Bar itself, at The Player, still exista, and with the same chef. Presumably, the burger names associated with Lucky Chip, such as the El Chappo won't continue but otherwise it doesn't sound like there will be too much of a change. However, I knew of it because Lucky Chip were there and I am glad I visited it in its Lucky Chip guise, even though there were a few disappointments. (If you remember my visit to Lucky Chip in Netil Market, you'll recall that I was subjected to disappointment then as well. My record with them is not good.)Thing is, I'm not really a burger eater. So when I first wanted to go to Slider Bar, it was to see what they could do with other things you put between two buns. I knew they had a chicken version, and a pulled pork version. But neither of these things were on the menu when I went. In fact, the whole menu looked quite different to the one I had been salivating over online. No mac n cheese with truffle, or chicken bucket for two, or pork tacos for starters. Luckily, I had already decided that I ought to for once try a whole burger (and what better place to start than a mini version) but it was still disappointing that those things weren't available. I wasn't too hot on the type of fish they had for their fish burger so I had to have the completely veggie burger, which sounded more interesting anyway. And the Royale with Cheese.Stephen had the Royale with Cheese and the El Chappo. The two sliders come with fries and a pot of aioli to dip them in, for £10. We also ordered one of their alcoholic floats to drink to complete the 'diner-junk-food' feel but they didn't have any ice cream! So that was really rather disappointing. Stephen very quickly ordered the mint julep instead which surprised me considering the price was so steep. Quick to follow his lead, I had the rye and rosemary julep. It was only when the bill came that I discovered he hadn't realised the price. At £10 a cocktail they are indeed quite pricey but they're also pretty strong (as our lovely waitress had warned us). Not too strong for my alcoholic tastebuds but they do have a triple measure in them which is only just offset by the other flavours. Drinkable, but only if you like the taste of alcohol to begin with. Which I do.Our sliders arrived shortly after. They're small but bigger than they look once you've eaten them. The portion of fries I think are a good size and were fantastic specimens of fries - nice and crunchy, nice and salty, bit of fluff in the middle, and that aoili was bloody delicious. All I could really taste when I left there was garlic. Not complaining.So, I took a bite of my hamburger. And it was pretty good (bear in mind I have no real frame of reference). Then I took a bite of my veggie burger. I had some trepidation in ordering this as it was a potato and onion cake and I thought that might be too stodgy between bread. But it was delicious! It out-delicioused my hamburger I have to say. So I saved that to last and finished my Royale. I quite liked the texture of this burger - it felt meaty and not like the graininess I associate with mincemeat. The bacon and cheese covered most of the burger so you got a bit with each bite. My only criticism would be that the bun was a bit soggy towards the end. I would say I enjoyed it but it has not yet converted me to a hamburgervore. Then I finished my veggie burger which had come with ginger and garlic mayo, and sat on a single piece of greenery, possibly spinach. Lovely! I'd definitely eat that again.I think my photography might be getting worse...Stephen proclaimed both his burgers excellent and as good as the full sized one he'd had at Lucky Chip many moons ago. His one criticism was that his El Chappo, which was topped with jalapenos and blue cheese sauce was a little light on the tang of blue cheese. Well, actually he had another criticism - that he could easily have polished off another slider or two but that should probably be considered praise.As I expected the ice cream slider was also not on the menu, so I guess I can't count that as a disappointment when I was pretty certain it wouldn't be, but I had held out a hope that for their last week they'd bring it back. Ah well. Perhaps whoever takes over after would like to reinstate it, or Lucky Chip will bring it to the Sebright.I'd never been to the The Player before and thought it was quite a cool little drinking lounge. It made me feel like I was in the 70s with its brown banquettes and retro TV screens. I'd happily go back for a casual cocktail or two after work.So, I don't think my meal at Slider Bar is going to make it into my Top Ten of the year, and knowing what I know now, my life probably wouldn't have felt unfulfilled without going. (Unlike with Rita's, which after having eaten there, I kicked myself for not having gone before.) But for a quick burger fix, yeah, it works. No queue and a good deal more relaxed and enjoyably laid back than MeatLiquor. 

  45. Published : Thursday, 23rd May 2013

    The Miller | The Miller Pub, 16th May

    The Miller pub is the new pub from the people behind the Sebright Arms only this time they've transported their laid-back casual hipsterness slightly south of the river to London Bridge.They officially opened on the 17th but I was quick enough off the mark to RSVP to their launch party, which was a night of awesomeness.Their flyer promised a drink on the house and food from the ever wonderful Street Kitchen who are to have a residency there much like Lucky Chip have at the Sebright. Street Kitchen have been busy creating some special hot dogs for the Miller.The flyer belied their generosity. When we arrived at the door we were given four tokens - three orange and one black. Each orange token was for a free drink and the black one was for a sample of the food.I had expected one free drink and to pay for the food so I was already well chuffed with these arrangements. I became even more pleased when I went and got my first drink and, as a non-beer drinker, saw that they had four different ciders on tap (in additon to those overly sweet Bulmers that are nice to have one of, but soon become too sickly) and also a perry! They were quite happy for you to have a taste first so I had a bit of the perry and opted for that.For ale and craft beer lovers they also had quite a selection, and I noticed someone with a bottle of 'Doggie Style' pale ale later in the evening which made me smile.Then, when it came to the food, the 'sample' was a whole hot dog plus chicken wing on the side. Amazing! Of course, all this free stuff had to have some drawback but in this case I found it to be a completely acceptable trade-off; the queue for the hot dogs was looooong and sloooow. They were only cooking them in batches of 10 but of course as soon as people saw someone with one, everyone went to get theirs. And lots of people were queuing for their friends so were taking three (or in one case six) hot dogs at a time, meaning the length of the queue was deceptive. Some of the girls in front of me were getting a little fractious and opining that no one will come back because the queues were so bad. I thought this a little disingenuous and unfair of them. Much as I didn't like the queuing I could appreciate that this did not indicate what the normal state of affairs would be on a normal night - I have faith that when they're operating a full service, and people order as and when they want during the night instead of all rushing at once, a half-hour queue (or thereabouts) isn't going to materialise.And so, eventually, me and my boyfriend got our hot dogs and we didn't begrudge the queuing at all in the end. Especially when as soon as I had sat back in my seat The Boy is Mine by Brandy and Monica came on. It has been years since I've heard that song and it instantly put a smile on my face. In fact, I was totally digging the music the whole time I was there - all the old 90s, early noughties swing and R n B classics working their way into some more contemporary stuff like Jamie XX's mix of Adele (love that remix). Yep, had me grooving in my seat.Anyway, the food. Now, over here, until recently, I haven't really considered that hot dogs exist. Not the way I know them, not US-style franks. What gets called a hot dog over here is ususally just a sausage in a bun. And I love those - I love English sausages - but it's not a hot dog. Street Kitchen claimed to be doing hot dogs, and I think they just about fall short of that criteria but what they have created is a pretty bloody good banger in a bun. Held well in a firm but not sweet bun was a layer of coleslaw and a pork sausage, lined with pickles on one side, pork belly on the other and topped with pickled cabbage and crackling. At least, I think those were the ingredients - I couldn't make out the menu with my poor eyesight. It was very, very tasty. That was a gourmet 'dog' if ever I had one. Must admit, both Stephen and I thought the cabbage on the top was unnecessary what with the coleslaw on the bottom adding crunch. It looked lovely but I mostly picked mine off and ate it on its own as otherwise it made eating the hot dog that much messier. So I pronounce this my third favourite hot dog, behind Big Apple Hot Dogs and the Dogfather Diner (whose hot dogs what I consider a 'frank' to be and also taste amazing). Street Kitchen's tasted amazing but loses points for being so 'English'.I loved the chicken wing - it was a really good size for a wing, coated in quite a thick batter with sticky BBQ sauce and a smattering of spring onion. The sauce had a slightly lime flavour to it I believe and I really enjoyed it. Stephen didn't like his so much - he said it felt 'spongey' like too-thick fish n chip shop batter. And then someone came around handing out free popsicles from the Ice Kitchen! They were raspberry and basil and topped with white chocolate. Unfortunately they were a bit too high quality for me, and by that I mean you could tell they were made from proper raspberries rather than raspberry juice. Which is great for everyone who likes eating raspberries, but not for me because it came complete with seeds. Bummer. Stephen had mine.The decor reminded me very much of the Sebright Arms - it was sort of old man's working club turned cool. Mismatched chairs, those weird, red-topped flimsy-looking wooden tables, sort of a sparse feel to the place. You can imagine it's former life in which the carpet was sticky and everything stank of beer. But now it's all scrubbed up and had lovely Pure Evil artwork on the wall (gotta wonder how much that sells for these days). I liked it.We had our third, final drink at about 9 and left at about half past as we're a little low on funds this month, so didn't end up seeing NightWorks who were keeping the party going upstairs. But this was a great introduction to The Miller Pub and I highly recommend you go! Well done guys. Thanks for the party!

  46. Published : Tuesday, 9th April 2013

    The Coal Hole | The Coal Hole, 16th March

    I had forgotten I had this on my List when I picked it as a place to meet before going to the Last Tuesday Society ball! So I didn't take as much note about it as I should have.I had trepidations about meeting here as someone told me it was small but I hoped it might be able to squeeze us in. I needn’t have worried. Even though I turned up at about half seven, once I made my way through the scrum at the door there was quite an empty space behind the bar. The pub itself was larger than I expected but had the ‘pub’ feel I was expecting. The Coal Hole made it onto my List for its historical merits – a place where Gilbert & Sullivan used to perform and where the Shakespearean actor started a society for oppressed husbands called the Wolves’ Club. And it felt like a traditional public house. Mostly. Once the football crowd had disappeared. It's an attractive place from the outside and the inside continues this, it has a woody feel to it yet more polished.I had a glass of wine or two, but they were bought for me so I can’t comment on the cost. I believe a bottle of house was £18 which is not unreasonable, though wasn’t my favourite white wine ever.My friends noted a more than a pleasing number of men fair of face. So yes, well worth keeping a note of this place if you want a boozer and you’re on the Strand. Nothing about it really stands out to wax lyrical about but neither does anything stand out to bemoan. 

  47. Published : Tuesday, 19th March 2013

    Leong's Legends | Leong

    Leong's Legends was a bit of a mixed bag. Fortunately, the things I picked out of that bag were great and on that basis I'd go back again. My friend George wasn't so lucky and it was his dishes which were duds.I heard about Leong's Legends when I sent a plea to secret_london for places in London that do soupy dumplings after I was disappointed with the ones in Beijing Dumpling. So all I was really interested in was how well they did this one dish. And they were far superior to the Beijing ones - these ones actually had a spoonful of porky soup in them, and the dumplings themselves were tasty - light skins, fully filled.But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.There was no queue when we arrived and we were asked to wait on the stairs. As was everyone else who came in behind us, keeping the growing queue out of sight from passersby. We watched with a keen eye all the tables which might soon be leaving and we struck gold - we got a booth away from the slurps and chewing noises of other diners! Best table in the house, tucked round a corner at the back.I knew I was going for the soupy dumplings but they had a variety of dishes which sounded a bit different and for my other dish I chose a ginger chicken soup with rice wine and sesame.Stephen, rather courageously, ordered the century egg with tofu dish because he'd liked Two Hungry Girls' version so much, and then went for the old staple, braised pork. George was also a little adventurous and ordered stuffed dates with honey and then something reliable - an ordinary noodle dish.The century egg arrived and both George and I said it was a mistake on a plate. A huge cube of tofu surrounded by jellified egg. Stephen didn't even recognise the egg for what it was at first. We demurred trying any until he had. When he attested that it really was nice, I had a bit. And it was! I don't think I could have eaten a whole dish of it on my own, but I did like a few bites of it. It came in a spicy/sweet dressing which was also really, really good.Most of our food came at about the same time. Stephen's pork was a particularly good version - it had a very deep, sweetish flavour. I only had a bite or so but I would happily have a whole dish of that to myself. Fantastic.George's noodles didn't look all that much and he didn't think they were amazing either. A bum note for him. But my siu long bao lived up to and exceeded my expectations as I said.Hard to see but that's a whole spoon of porky brothWe were almost done with these dishes and were beginning to wonder when mine and George's others would arrive - they were the only two we'd ordered that hadn't been on the order form you fill out. We worried they were forgotten, but the waitress just assured us they 'needed time to cook'. A good five minutes or so after we'd eaten the rest of the dishes, my soup came out. It was full of ginger strips and pieces of chicken on the bone. Not a good dish for me to order in retrospect as I'm not great at eating chicken on the bone. The flavour of the soup was fragrant and the sort of thing you could eat if you're feeling a little under the weather. It got a little salty for me towards the end but I liked it.Finally, the stuffed dates arrived. I don't eat dates anyway so I didn't try them but they didn't look great. Sadly, it seems they didn't taste great either (and God knows what they were doing with them that it took so long to make). George and Stephen couldn't figure out what the dates were actually stuffed with. SOme weird gelatinous substance that left a chalky taste in the mouth apparently. We asked and it turned out to be rice! Who knew.So, for me, and enjoyable meal and I would definitely go back. They had a number of dishes on the menu that I thought sounded intriguing or just tasty. George probably had a completely different experience to me and Stephen and would say the exact opposite. 

  48. Published : Monday, 18th March 2013

    Chickenliquor | Wishbone, 13th March

    I am used to eating alone and have done so on several occasions but I have never eaten quite as alone as I did the other day at Wishbone.Wanting to avoid the lunchtime crush, I arrived in Brixton a little after half one. Walking past Honest Burgers on my way to Wishbone and seeing the small queue outside, I worried that I had still mistimed it. Worry I need not as when I arrived at Wishbone the place was entirely empty apart from the two members of staff. Not letting this deter me I went in anyway, was greeted by one of the waiters/barmen and took a seat.I hadn't heard great things about Wishbone I must admit, but as Stephen would be happy to tell you, I don't tend to listen much to other people and wanted to try it out for myself. I kind of regretted not being with at least one other person in order to try out a few more of the dishes so I just tried to order a couple of the more 'specialised' dishes. One of their specials today was basically their version of a KFC Tower burger which sounded great but I knew if I got that I wouldn't want have room to try anything else on the menu.So instead I ordered the Thai thighs which came with a tamarind dressing, mint, chilli and shallots and I also ordered the Hot Mess as a side. I had initially thought I'd go for the deep-fried mac n cheese, something so sinful-sounding I wouldn't dare order it in the presence of anyone else, but when my server described the hot mess as "like nachos but with hash browns instead" I was sold.My thighs were 5.50 and my Hot Mess was 4.50. For these prices I thought the portions were excellent and made for sharing. Nevermind, I'd have to do my best on my own.I was still the only one in the place.The thighs came chopped and coated in batter with mint leaves adorning them and sliced chillies and shallots all over the place. I took a bit and my first reaction was "this is great, what is wrong with other people?" The tamarind dressing was sweet, the chicken crunchy and although I felt like I was eating nettles having such large leaves of mint all over the place, the taste was good. Moreish even. But after a few of the nuggets I must admit my enthusiasm for them waned. I realised the chillies weren't doing anything at all. To test this theory I had a couple of forkfuls of them and nothing else (left).They didn't elicit even a sniffle. I also realised that the yummiest bit was the tamarind dressing and that there wasn't anywhere near enough of it. I'd have much preferred it if it had come as a side for a dipping sauce. I tried a little of the hot sauce they provided, to make up for the lack of kick in the chillies, and found this a bit too vinegary and watery for my tastes. Maybe I'm just too used to The Ribman's wonderful Holy Fuck. *nudge, wink*I dug into the Hot Mess and almost instantly disliked it. The same vinegary hot sauce was all over it. I didn't even like the cheese they used. Do you hear that? I didn't. Like. The Cheese! I think it was a mix of some sort of processed orange stuff and some white stuff I couldn't place. Stephen said it sounded like the kind they'd ruined their chips with at Meatliquor. (The major investment in the "Meat" chains is also behind Wishbone.) And the pickles I thought didn't work with it at all - more vinegary sharpness to compound the horrible sharp hot sauce. I tried to dig out some of the plain hash brown to see if I liked that but it was too smothered with everything else to be discerned. I tried to like it, I really did. And certainly ate more forkfuls of it than I really needed to before realising that I was treating eating it like a bit of a chore, and decided to stop.Being the only person in the place (still) the two staff asked me a couple of times how it was and I feel very guilty for being deceitful and supplying them with the stock answer of "oh, yes, very nice". One guy even asked me specifically how I liked the Hot Mess and I was forced to evade the question, answering "There's a lot of it" rather than actually answering the question.Back to the chopped up thighs then, which I did finish though after eating them all, liked even less. At first I was excited that they were made from thighs, dark meat being my favourite part of a chicken. But some of the nuggets were really fatty, a couple of the smaller ones almost all fat, and it made me think wistfully of traditional nuggets made out of white meat (or even pink slime if you believe the facebook rumours. Don't, by the way - they're completely false.).No tamarind dressing left! Just nuggets of fat.lf you liked the food it would be good value for money, as the servings are very generous. My main and side could easily have fed two. And it was only 10 pounds. I handed over my note and left. Apart from two people getting take out, not a soul had come in to eat the whole time I was there.So yeah, not a very successful dining experience. I doubt I'll go back. I had to go and have an ice cream from LabG to make up for it. And that was delicious. Panna Cotta flavour. Mmmm.

  49. Published : Friday, 8th March 2013

    Meatliquor | MEATliquor, 22nd February

    You might say I'm a bit late to the party when it comes to MEATliquor. I would agree. I'd say I was so late that I'm arriving the next day, in fine fettle, annoying everyone who is nursing a hangover.In my defense, I did get to MEATeasy when they were in residence at that pub in New Cross, so I didn't feel the urge to rush here. You probably also know by now that I am not keen on having to queue to get into places and that put me off as well. But with the arrival of a third in the rapidly expanding MEAT chain, we felt that the queues should surely have worn off at the original premises by now.We went early just in case.And there was a bit of a queue but nothing too traumatic. And I am glad. Because if I had queued for it, I would have been less impressed than I was. And I was not overly impressed.We already knew the burgers were good from having gone to Meateasy. Consensus after that visit was that the burgers were good but the rest was decidedly average. I don't even eat burgers so it wasn't such a great trip for me. I wanted to give them a second chance.Clearly we were there for a junk-food fest but I didn't expect the food to be quite so greasy and heavy. Granted, our choices weren't particularly health conscious. Stephen had the cheese and bacon burger, I got the philly cheesesteak. Stephen had some chilli fries (which came with melted cheese and jalapenos) and I had both onion rings and deep fried pickles.Our grease feast In a way, those two sides were a mistake and ordering both entirely unnecessary. But in the interests of journalism, I did want to try as much as possible.Stephen still liked his burger and said he would come back for it, but when pressed, admitted that he preferred the ones at Honest Burger. He'd really only said he'd come back here because he hadn't remembered Honest Burgers had opened a place in Soho.I liked my cheesesteak and I know that there aren't many places over here (in the grand scheme of things) doing this kind of food and doing it well. But I couldn't help but be a little underwhelmed when I thought of how, really, this is just the kind of stuff any 'dive bar' worth its salt can churn out in the States. The steak was alright, the peppers and onions tasty, the bread nice and chewy. Some jalapenos in it would have really topped it off to make it excellent.I loved the fried pickles. I thought they might come as 'chips' rather than 'strips' and they had not been shy about coating them in their batter. Tempura-style, these were not. The batter was almost overwhelming the taste of the pickle, but it just about managed to come through. The blue cheese dip was also great - nice and tangy.I much preferred the pickles to the onion rings, which had undergone the same heavy-handed batter treatment but didn't have enough oniony flavour peeking out. And look at them! They're mountainous! Too big really.I didn't have many of the fries but Stephen wasn't singing their praises.  As I said, we didn't queue for long but that's only the first stage as you get ushered to the bar when you go in. I liked the bar area - a long metallic slab which made me feel I really could be in a bar in Brooklyn. The rest of the restaurant did not conform to my expectations at all. I had imagined that they had basically lifted their pub residency and transplanted it behind Debenham's. The rough and ready style of that venue suited the food. This place was a lot more ROCK. Like they'd arrived, and they knew it. It was dark, and much bigger than I thought it would be, and if I'm honest, I didn't like it that much. In all the reviews of Bone Daddies they mention the too-loud music, but this place was by far a much guiltier perpetrator of that than Daddies. It was a bit much.The staff were friendly though, and I liked the cocktail list. I had a Pinot Grincho in the end - a fruity/appley cocktail with apple liqueur and topped off with pinot grigio, everyone's go-to wine of choice. Very refreshing. And it was garnished with a candy cane, which is always a bonus.If this place was a little more under the radar, the kind of place you could just pop in to like any normal diner in the States, I'd say I'd be back. But it's too hyped for what it is - if I ever had to queue, well, basically, I wouldn't.

  50. Published : Monday, 18th February 2013

    Le Gavroche | Le Gavroche, 13th February

    Apologies in advance for the quantity and quality (or lack thereof) of photos in this post. We were the youngest diners in the restaurant by at least twenty years, and with my fellow patrons not being of the blogging and tweeting generation, I felt conspicuous, in such an esteemed establishment, taking the few photos I did.Le Gavroche is the opposite of contemporary in decor, but without being staid. You feel comfortable in your surroundings, as if you're sitting in a favourite wealthy uncle's library. There is no background music - Le Gavroche gets booked up months in advance and so can rely on there being a soundtrack of chatter and clinking to distract you from the sound of your companions eating.Just one of the quirky decorative touchesWe were offered a glass of champagne each on the house (perhaps because it was so close to Valentine's Day?) and soon after our canapes arrived. An egg salad 'tart' adorned with three coral beads of caviar and a finger of chorizo wrapped in pastry. This was my first taste of caviar and I must say I liked it although even such a small amount was so fishy I can't imagine eating it by the scoopful. It made me feel like I was eating sushi. The chorizo pastry was gorgeously salty and meaty. Wouldn't have complained if there had been one or two more of those.Next up was our amuse bouche - smoked eel with the lightest, subtlest horseradish cream I have ever tasted (because I dine on this kind of stuff all the time don'tchaknow). And the eel was another first for me but this was fine dining and of course it bore no real resemblance to it's natural form. It was just a perfectly shaped piece of fish and quite a delicately flavoured one at that.At about this time our order was taken. We had decided to treat ourselves for Valentine's Day by coming to Le Gavroche but that doesn't mean we were suddenly flush with cash - we had decided to choose lunch here for a reason. They do a set lunch for only 52.60 which includes three courses and half a bottle of wine. (Bear in mind that a main from the a la carte started at around 30 pounds and you see what an excellent deal this is.)There was a choice of three for each course. For some reason the set menu was all in French, whereas the a la carte menu gave you the translations. This wasn't really a problem as my French is pretty up to scratch (at least when it comes to food) but there was one item I couldn't puzzle out even with the context. Our waiter was more than happy to help and I ended up ordering this for my starter -  the veloute de topinambour, or Jerusalem artichoke. This came with iberico jamon and more artichoke in the bowl and then the velvety veloute is poured over them.What a deeply rich, buttery and savoury taste this was. If I hadn't know it was artichoke I probably wouldn't have been able to place it, it just tasted delicious and 'rooty'. The mouthfuls where I had some of the ham with it were fabulous - the touch of saltiness it added working perfectly. I think this was actually my favourite dish of the meal!Stephen chose the pan fried seabass with chive butter and said it was a very fine dish, though he commented that once again, in a high-end establishment, the skin wasn't crispy! We surmised it had been fried only on the one side as you could see the bottom was cooked through and it grew more translucent towards the top.We both ordered the lamb neck on beans with wild garlic for our mains. Our first bites of the lamb were a little on the dry side but it soon gave way to pink, slightly fatty, tender meat. The bean and puree provided a worthy accompaniment, and there was some token green stuff to make us feel marginally healthier.By this point I had availed myself twice of the bread basket yet still didn't turn down the chance to complete the hat trick - there were three varieties of home baked bread on offer, and therefore three I had. With a choice of salted or unsalted butter that was replenished as soon as a dent was made in it, each kind was moreish; a rustic campagne, a French bread and a light, chewy rye. I made an unusual choice for dessert for me - I went for the ice cream and sorbets option. They wheel over their cart of ice creams and scoop the flavours you want at the table. Taking the advice from our neighbours who were very friendly and obviously seasoned fine diners, I had a scoop of each - wild berry, pear, blood orange (my favourite), milk chocolate, vanilla and one other I can't remember!Stephen had the cheese platter, instigating another trolley being wheeled over from which you can make your selection. I was too timid to take a picture while it was at our table, but I took one from afar. Cheese trolley? Cheese 16-wheeler more like!My idea of heaven - and you can only see half of it!Cheese was served with yet more butter, and some wholemeal 'melba toast' studded with fruit and nuts. Quince, a chutney and celery were served as relishes. I can't remember exactly which cheeses he chose, but all were, predictably, lovely. (I'm almost never going to say anything different about cheese.)To finish we had the customary petits fours - a sweet marshmallow, a brandy snap, a candied kumquat and a miniature perfect pistachio brownie. Our kindly neighbours tried to encourage us to order a second serving of these, as we seemed to like them so much, and although I was tempted, if only for that brownie, we had eaten quite enough by then!Our petits fours with our table 'mascot' in the backgroundService was polished and attentive, mostly with a smile and a willingness to answer any questions, though for some reason the man devoted to keeping our glasses refreshed was rather stern.Eating at Le Gavroche is obviously not something I can make a habit of, but it was perfect for a celebratory occasion. I loved Pollen Street Social for its laid-back, accessible feel, but when you really want to spoil yourself, you want a place that feels grand and special. Le Gavroche is definitely that.

  51. Published : Thursday, 14th February 2013

    Clockjack Oven | Clockjack Oven, 8th February

    As my friend and I remarked afterwards, one of the reasons we enjoyed Clockjack Oven so much is because, for us, chicken is much neglected in a meal out. Given the choice, I'm much more likely to order some lovely beef, or pork belly rather than the poor, plebeian chicken. But, being at a restaurant where there is no choice, we heartily enjoyed giving some attention to the oft-overlooked beast. Now, I know there are chicken-only places popping up all over the place, but apart from Orange Buffalo, which is by no means a restaurant, this is the first I've tried. It has piqued my interest to try some more.We arrived at 7 and to our delight were seated straight away. This being another no-bookings place (for groups of 5 and under) in Soho, I worried we would be too late to avoid a queue. There were plenty of empty seats but it transpired they were booked up for larger groups already. Barely 20 minutes later and we smugly watched the line at the door appear and grow as we nibbled at complementary vegetable crisps.Succumbing to a case of 'the polites' we didn't want to appear too greedy in front of each other and ended up under-ordering. Between the four of us we had 14 pieces of chicken, two portions of fries, some coleslaw and a salad, but we all agreed afterwards we could have easily eaten more.The chicken was juicy and succulent. I was completely enamoured by the sauces and had very few unsauced bites but I made sure to try the chicken on its own, and it held up. I could easily have eaten the bird without any sauce at all and been more than satisfied.The chicken in pieces is rotisserie chicken that has been marinated in Clockjack's special sauce which perhaps helps to gives it its juiciness - it doesn't really impart a great amount of flavour of itself but maybe brings out the chicken's own taste. A whole bird gets cut into 10 pieces to share, or you can order three or four pieces. We didn't get any of the chicken bites - their version of chicken nuggets but I definitely want to try it on my next visit.There are four sauces to choose from - ranch, BBQ, chili and caesar. I absolutely loved the ranch and chili sauces. My boyfriend said that it did just taste like the garlic sauce you get in a kebab shop, or the pots you get from Domino's but that is none the worse to me. It was thick and delicious. Likewise the chili sauce which was spicy but not overwhelming - you could easily dunk chips into it all night. The BBQ sauce was a little thin for me, as a dipping sauce, and I must admit I didn't even try the caesar dressing. Something fishy just doesn't appeal to me and my friends who did try it said it was really rather strong.The fries were great - not skinny shoestrings, not chunky chips but sort of KFC-size. Appropriate really. They were crunchy but had a good potato filling and seasoned well. The coleslaw was also a good version of it. The salad came with three balls of sage and onion stuffing which were a little dry but also tasted quite good. Weirdly it was the most expensive side at 4 quid compared to the fries at 3 pounds. No salad should be more expensive than the fries, even if it does have apple in it (which this did).As I've said, I haven't tried the other chicken places - Chicken Shop for instance, but I think this place is deserving of being a restaurant in its own right - it's not simply jumping on the bandwagon of doing a no-choice menu. Or maybe it is, but it's doing it so well and at such reasonable prices that I can only wish them well.

  52. Published : Thursday, 7th February 2013

    Sebright Arms | Sebright Arms, 1st February

    I almost forgot to write about this place. Last Friday was actually my second occasion there, as when we went to the Tapeheads VHS quiz, that was the venue. However, I was so caught up in the quiz, I didn't give much thought to my surroundings.I found myself there for a quick drink on Friday before gorging myself on Fonduta at Forza Win(ter) and had much more time to appraise the place.I liked it. It is definitely a pub, not a bar, and not of the shiny gastro variety neither. In fact, the decor rather reminds me of the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club - similar red velvety yet shabby tones abound. There's an upstairs with a few banquettes and tables and chairs, and a downstairs where they have several gigs a week. As I sat sipping my large house red (only a fiver, bargain!) my table vibrated with the drums and the bass of whichever band was warming up in the basement.While it feels like a local boozer, and its location would rather lend itself to slightly shady clientele (it's on a street off Hackney Road, where there isn't much else) pretty much everyone in there was clad in a hipsterish manner. It's a hip place. And this should really be no surprise when you learn that Lucky Chip have had a residency here since the middle of last year. They serve up some of their famous burgers, like the El Chappo, but have a few more dishes on the menu to choose from, and some specials that aren't always options at their van - one with softshell crab caught my eye, even though I don't actually eat softshell crab myself. I'm not much of a beer or ale drinker but the Sebright serves the "Real" version of them, and ciders too, and it has gotten the nod of approval from someone I know who knows more about these things than I.In short, a great little pub.

  53. I knew Opium was tricky to find. I already warned my companion to keep her eyes out for signs of it, and I had the exact address on me. And we walked right past it, standing on the corner near where we were sure it must be, unable to see it. And then, I spotted him. A lone burly man standing in front of a door. A door to Opium.We walked up and saw the discreet sign. We said hello and informed the doorman that we had a reservation. A word in his mike and a response from his earpiece and the door was swung open and we were told to head to the second floor where we were greeted and lead up a further storey. We were seated by the window and our waiter came along to furnish us with menus. Three storeys high, we gazed down on the hustle of Chinatown, feeling smug that the people walking by had no idea we were up here or what lay behind that innocuous door. Around us on the shelves were title upon title of books pertaining to the art of alcohol and behind us was what would be described as the "chef's table" had we been in a restaurant and not a cocktail bar where the drinks were mixed up.The menu: two pages of speciality cocktails, one giving a rundown of the classics, several pages of "prescriptions" (spirits) and on the final page, the dim sum. There were two cocktails that stood out for me for being intriguing. The first one I went for was the Royal Plums, mainly because it sounded a bit risque, but also because the use of plums in cocktails isn't something I'd come across before. It had a tequila base with chinese plum wine, poached black plum and rosemary syrup. It was served with a sprig of rosemary as a garnish - sooo aromatic to drink. The top had a thin sheen of broken ice and there were specks of the black plum in it. My friend couldn't quite make up her mind and asked for a recommendation. Our wonderful waiter Oscar suggested she go for the Opium Cocktail No. 1. This was quite a spectacular cocktail that came with a side of theatre. Two types of rum and absinthe, mandarin juice, lime juice and a ginseng capsule. The receptacle was placed and the ginseng poured into the capsule, then the rest of the cocktail and then the mist began. And continued for the duration of the drink being consumed. It was beautiful. As was what it was held in. With it's little metal pipe sticking out we were of course reminded of the cocktail bar's namesake (not that we have any experience of smoking opium ourselves). For round two my friend went for some bubbles in the form of a kir royale and I joined her, by ordering the Kung Fu Fizz. What a drink! My favourite of the night by far with a completely unexpected taste to what I imagined from the ingredients. A champagne base with parnsip puree, honey and sweet black asian malt, I thought it might be quite a thick, sweet "dessert cocktail" with two such sweet components. But it was lifted by the champagne and malt I suppose and was incredibly refreshing. It did taste of parsnip but in a way that made you think parsnip in a drink was completely normal; it belonged. This was served in a cute teacup, continuing the Chinese parlour theme. To accompany our libations, we ordered some of the delectable-sounding dim sum. To start we had the crab and fennel dumplings and the lobster prawn toast. Both were delicious, but we felt that just two more dumplings wouldn't have gone amiss for the price tag. Although, it has to be said, they were far cheaper than the cocktails! The crab dumplings were 7 pounds, the toast 9.50 (well, it was lobster). Both were tasty but my favourite was the lobster toast which was really plump and juicy and the spicy tomatoey dipping sauce went well with them. To follow up, we had the scallop, coriander and pea dumplings. These were tasty but not quite as tasteful as the crab versions. The scallop was slightly masked by the pea flavour. Again, I thought there could have been  more filling. And if I were to be very, very picky I would say that maybe the dough was a little thick - at least at the top where it was pinched together, which wouldn't have been as noticeable if there had been more filling. We spent a couple of hours there which was enough to lighten our wallets considerably and also fill our stomachs satisfactorily. The bill came to a whopping 86 pounds, so this is definitely a place for a special occasion, or when you want to impress someone. I was kinda doing a bit of both.

  54. Published : Wednesday, 30th January 2013

    Viva! | Viva!, 25th January

    Every now and again I get a hankering for Wahaca's guacamole. Well, now I think my dreams might be invaded with the guac' from Viva! instead!A low-lit and unnamed restaurant venue at the bottom of Stoke Newington High Street is what houses Viva! We walked in and were lucky enough to be seated immediately as two others were leaving. Otherwise, we may have had quite a wait - the place is what you could call 'cosy'. Which is great, but only if you're lucky enough to get a seat. There are a few seats at the bar and then maybe ten or so other tables. We got ourselves some nachos with some guacamole and a couple of cocktails. The nachos were great - warm, thick, proper corn tortillas, daubed in sour cream, coriander and 'salsa' - or halves of cherry tomatoes. The guacamole was quite smooth, with lots of coriander, garlic and lemon. Delicious. The only thing it didn't really need were the large chunks of tomato but I didn't mind them being there. A nice touch were the slices of radish to give a bit of crunch. Radishes really do deserve more of an outing in Mexican food. They go well in salsas also.Our cocktails were tasty enough but didn't quite reach the heights of cocktail sophistry like they do at Nightjar or Opium where we went the following night. To start I had a fruity drink and my companion made the mistake of ordering one which turned out to be creamy. I can't remember the names now! Mine was accompanied by a little garnish of sliced chili and was quaffable enough. For my next drink I couldn't resist the sound of the agave sangaree and whew! They do not skimp on the alcohol on that one. Naturally, for our next round, we ordered that again.We decided we ought to get something else to line our stomachs, and the couple next to us** had ordered what looked interesting and what we rightly guessed was the moqueca. This is what I would term a Brazilian version of a thai curry - prawns, coconut milk, spices but with a little booze, some plantain and served with a lovely long piece of bread to dip. It was delicious, the coconut being on the mild side (which I prefer) and enough prawns that we both felt guilty about eating more than our fair share of them, until we discovered that we both felt that way.To order our moqueca we'd had to ask for the food menu again (they had taken it after we ordered the nachos) and when we finally flagged someone down to order, they told us the kitchen had closed! This was at 10 pm. Well, not closed, but not taking any more orders. We were disappointed but took it well and as you can guess from the paragraph above, there was a happy ending to this story. Ten minutes or so our waiter came back and told us they'd fit our order in.I enjoyed the several hours we spent there, arriving at around 8 and not leaving until past 11.  However, it has to be said, that had they been a little quicker with their service, then we would have asked for that other dish well before the kitchen stopped taking orders. We hadn't planned to spend out whole night there, and for the amount we ate and drank, we wouldn't normally have stayed in a place so long - we don't exactly nurse our drinks. No, it was because the staff here take a "relaxed" attitude to service. We always had to flag them down to get our next drink/request the menu/order more food and I prefer my wait staff to be a little more attentive, although they were more than friendly when they deigned to give you attention.I liked this place, it had good vibes, a buzzy yet intimate atmosphere, and I liked the food. If we'd had further plans other than just getting drunk then the service would have been very frustrating. By all means go (and I will have to return for more guacamole, and I would love to try their taquitos) but be prepared to wait.**look at me being all cool - the couple next to us happened to be The Libertines' drummer and his partner. Yeah, we chatted, ended up hanging out for a bit at the Dalston Social. Whevs.

  55. Published : Monday, 17th December 2012

    Morito | Morito, 1st December

    Stephen has been to Morito so often that I almost felt like I'd been myself. He always speaks highly of it and I have been pestering him to go with me for a while. That day finally came when we decided to celebrate our anniversary with a lunch there.Morito does little plates with a Moorish feel to them. Prices range from 2.50 for an assortment of breads up to about 8.50 for some lamb chops. The place is very fond of cumin.Because Stephen has been there so often and done the hard work for me, by trying most of the dishes on the menu, I turned to him to lead on the choices and I was pretty much guaranteed that each one was going to be a winner. And they were all good.I had a carafe of full bodied, syrupy syrah with my meal, although Stephen had a few glasses of this as well as his medium beer. We ordered the bread basket to start - a dense, chewy roll each, a large cumin dusted flatbread to share and some breadstick nibs. The breadstick nibs seemed a bit pointless, not really having anything to dop them in, although I did discover you could roll them in some oil and then roll them in the spices you get on the table, which made them quite nice. The other two breads were delicious and I should have saved more of mine to soak up the extraneous oils, juices and aioli from our little dishes.You can order as many as you like at a time and they all sort of come out haphazardly. The first to come was the scallop dish with sherry vinegar and butter sauce. One plump scallop which had been sliced neatly in three. We then had the jamon croquetas - perfectly crispy on the outside while being soft and creamy inside. And no scrimping on the jamon either.The lamb chops with cumin and paprika were tasty and once again had me bemoaning that you get so little meat on them. They weren't quite as good as the ones I had in The Painted Heron, and were maybe a tad underdone near the bone. Which was funny in a way, as Stephen had said that the last time he had them, they'd been a little overdone. So I guess consistency on the lamb chops isn't their strong point.The butifarra sausae with white beans and alioli was a lovely salty, meaty, and slightly stodgy dish. Both the sausage and the lamb chops provided plenty of extra oil, and a bit of alioli to get that bread out and make sure none of it went to waste. I think I spot some cumin!We knew we wanted to end with the grilled tetilla cheese with walnuts and membrillo but we also splurged and ordered one other dish as well with that - the chicharrones. I am so glad we got these - I think they were my favourite dish. Cubes of pork belly in cumin (again!) and lemon. The pork was crispy around the edges but soft and tender in the middle, and I loved the lemony tang.As we were finishing off with the cheese - the sweet quince bringing out the slightly sweet flavour in the cheese, we had a couple of 'digestifs' to end the meal with. I ordered an amontillado sherry, my first ever sherry, and Stephen had a negroni. That slightly melted tetilla cheese was wonderful, another highlight. I loved the sort of crust on the edge where it had been grilled and then the oozy middle to scoop out and sprinkle with walnuts.Squidgy, cheesy goodnessI enjoyed my sherry more than I had actually expected. It was much more like a strong wine, quite dry - I think I might now be a sherry drinker! But then I knew that Morito/Moro was a good place to start.Cheers!

  56. Published : Monday, 29th October 2012

    Mangal 1 | Mangal 1 Ocakbasi, 26th October

    I really was expecting quite good things from this Turkish place in Dalston as it is generally regarded as one of the best Ocakbasi grill places in the area . . . And it pretty much lived up to expectations (ha - you thought I was going to go the other way with that didn't you?)We got there at about 8 and there was a moderate queue, but the place is pretty big and it's not the kind of place to really linger so we were probably only waiting about ten minutes before we were seated. It didn't take us long to decide what we wanted, having watched the meat being skewered and put on the grill while we queued - everything! We ordered a mixed grill each (which didn't tell you what that included, though you knew it didn't include quail as that was in the 'special mixed grill) and realised that we had made a bit of a rookie mistake in not bringing any alcohol with us. Dagnabbit! As we waited for our food, a basket of bread was brought to our table which we started on. The bread was warm and soft and tasty on its own but both Stephen and I thought it was a bit of a travesty that we didn't have anything to scoop up with it. Two people seated quite close to us had a plate of different and tasty looking dips and it didn't take too much debate between us to decide to order that, which was just a 'meze'. It comprised of four different dip-type things, separated by cucumber slices - a hummus (houmous? hoummus? hommous? why are there so many variations?), a tzatziki-style dip, a tomato and parsley salad and a smokey roasted aubergine, tomato and garlic creation which was delicious. Well, actually, they were all delicious and in to time we had polished them and all the bread off. At this point we wondered if we hadn't been foolish in ordering a mixed grill. Memories of the mountain of food at Cirrik came back to me and I worried I would end up wasting a lot of my food again.But I didn't do too badly, and Stephen finished his all (only minorly regretting this later). The portions weren't quite as gigantic as they were at Cirrik. And yes, please forgive me but I couldn't help but compare it to the place around the corner. At Mangal, our mixed grill consisted of a lamb chop, some lamb morsels, a chicken wing, adana kebab (I think) and some rolled belly meat (again, we think). This came with a large pepper (fairly spicy!), a square of bread (for me anyway, Stephen had several squares) and a ridiculously big salad to share. The meat was all very tasty. We were given a crazy hot sauce - a bit like a ketchup relish - to adorn our food, but I didn't partake. The meat didn't need it - it was all perfectly seasoned and tasty on its own. My chicken wing was less a wing and more like a wishbone with a few scraps of meat on it which was a bit disappointing, and I thought my lamb chop was a bit too big (I know, pernickety much? But because of its size it was a little dry.) but the edges with the crispy fat were delicious. The chunks of lamb were my favourite bits but it was all pretty enjoyable to eat. Again, I failed myself and didn't finish it all but I gave it a bloody good go before I admitted defeat. We'd already tucked into this once before I took this picture.The salad was unnecessarily big. I took a few scoops of carrot, cabbage, some onion and it was only after we had tucked in once that I discovered all the lovely, juicy, seasoned shredded onion underneath. Why wasn't this amazing stuff on the top where we could get at it before we got full with everything else? I'm not saying the salad wasn't good - quite the opposite but it doesn't need to be so big. I'm worried there were other gems in that heap that I just couldn't get to! Overall I think Cirrik gets my first vote - I preferred their bread, and the lamb ribs that came with the mixed grill were amazing. The tiny chicken wing and slightly dry chop, and only one piece of bread (yes, I know I didn't even finish it all, but there's always room for more bread) let the side down a little for Mangal, which is why I'm giving Cirrik the edge here. But please don't take this as damning criticism. Mangal 1 is still pretty amazing and I would take no persuasion whatsoever to go back here again. The staff here deserve a mention as well. I found them really friendly in an unassuming kind of way.I really hate writing up these things - I am totally craving meat now. I'll have to give Mangal 2 round the corner a try as well and complete the trifecta. Also, their hilarious tweets alone make me want to give them my custom.

  57. Published : Friday, 19th October 2012

    Beard to Tail | Beard to Tail, 8th October

    To post or not to post? That was the question. As you can see I have gone with the former, and sincerely hope this is not bad blogger etiquette. You see, at the end of the meal I noticed that every table but ours had a little folded card on it. Thinking it might contain some specials we’d missed out on, I got my friend to grab one from the next table. It turned out it was a note, telling diners that their meal would be discounted by 50% but with a plea to customers not to blog or tweet about the place while it was still finding its feet. They suggested people come back again once everything had been got down pat. And it wasn’t that our table hadn’t had one of these cards, it was just that my other friend had moved it out of the way to another table before I’d seen it. I had from the outset intended to blog about the place. Now what was I to do? Succumb to their imploration, or proceed? What was the right thing to do? The fair thing? Something about their note seemed a little off – they know people rely on word of mouth, twitter and blogs these days, and they were trying to circumvent the system. I was sure they wouldn’t mind if people blogged about it if they enjoyed it, but it rather seemed like they didn’t have much faith in themselves if they were asking for no reviews. Unfortunately, having already eaten by the time I saw this, I knew their lack of faith was understandable – the meal was not a huge success. Surely people have a right to know, and not just hear only positive reviews?But then again, maybe they did have the right to iron out the kinks before inviting criticism. Maybe it wouldn’t be right to ‘badmouth’ the place and put off other people who would, by going, otherwise allow Beard to Tail to get things right in the end. After all, they were offering a 50% discount to diners to compensate them for being guinea pigs. Or... Could it be seen as a bribe not to say anything bad about the place? We, as it happens, were getting the meal completely free because my boyfriend had won their facebook competition to name a pig. There was a bit of a gap between us winning and them opening and they did need a gentle reminder as to what the prize was - a meal for four (not two as they'd though) and a welcome drink.Anyway, what has decided me to post was the fact that they’ve had two practice runs in the form of their pop-up in the summer and a couple of weeks ago, and by all accounts they were successful. I knew it was their first night and wouldn’t have been surprised if there were few upsets as they get to grips with things. But I thought these were more likely to be with staff not knowing the systems or the menu yet, or the speed of food being brought to the table being slow as they struggled to cope with demand. I did not expect the food to be the letdown, again, because they had cooked many of these things at their pop-up. The rump pumpy especially seemed to be a hit both times. So, let me get down to the review proper. Sadly I think these doors have been replaced with real onesWe were rather amused by the outside. Apparently the doors haven’t yet turned up, nor the windows, but they have opened regardless. I hesitated only a moment, before we pushed open the doors which told us to “Come on through!”. This slightly unfinished look carried on throughout the restaurant, though the bits that were done, like the 2 pence wall, were impressive. The smell of paint was quite prevalent, and the bathroom still had a touch of debris, with builder’s marks on the unfinished walls, but to be honest, we cared not a jot about all that. We knew it was the first night and that they’d said things were a little ‘work in progress’. We only cared about the food. I was surprised that the place wasn’t full – the pop-ups seemed to have been so popular. But it was a rainy Monday so maybe that had put people off. Or maybe because their second pop-up was so recent, the novelty had already worn off a bit. The staff were very friendly, joking about the pig we’d named and why it wasn’t running around the restaurant. Our waiter was attentive, and came along at appropriate intervals to check if we needed anything else. He didn’t seem to know what the deal was with our free meal – he thought we were getting 50% off but when we told him what we’d been told, he excused himself to quickly confirm this. No harm, no foul. Then I read that card at the end of the evening saying all diners were privileged to 50% off their food bill, and realised he hadn’t been offering us what he thought was our prize at all, just what everyone else was being given!For starters, I had the steak tartar (my first ever, above), Stephen and Luke shared the ribs and stuffed pig’s trotter between them. Katherine had the mussels with bacon. The ribs were very tasty. They weren’t the kind of ribs you’d expect in a ‘downhome’ BBQ joint, they were ribs ‘restaurant style’ - less messy and with the extra BBQ sauce coming in a little jug on the side. This I thought was terrific, although Katherine wasn’t a fan. On the downside, the ribs were sort of lukewarm, they could definitely have done with being hotter when brought to the table. The same, unfortunately, was said about the trotter, and they weren't overwhelmed by the taste. My friend said her mussels were good, but the bacon was all lumped in her first few mussels – misleading her into thinking they were all so generously sprinkled. And she wished there was some bread to soak up the rest of the lovely sauce. I liked my steak tartar which came with some cornichons and a little quail’s egg on top. It was very gherkiny, could maybe have done with a bit more seasoning (I applied more salt and pepper) but I was happy with it. Not that I have a frame of reference, but steak tartar hadn’t previously been high on my agenda to order, yet on the basis of this one, I would try others. I think that’s not too shabby at all. For mains, Stephen and I ordered the rumpy pumpy to share,Luke got the pulled beef featherblade, and Katherine got ribs. Luke seemed to like his featherblade and it did look delicious*, I wish I'd tried it. The rumpy pumpy - the star of the show during Beard to Tail’s pop-ups - was a bit of a let down. It was massive, which was definitely impressive – we had no problems sharing it with our other two companions and still finding it difficult to finish. The texture was fine, just fine, though we think it would have benefitted with a little longer at a lower temperature in order to render the fat down more, make it a little more tender, and the crackling a little crunchier. It is apparently marinated in some herbs and such before being cooked, and these flavours did come through. But then you would be overwhelmed by the saltiness. It must be said you did not simply get a mass of pork on a plate. It came with apple sauce in a little pot and a jus in a little jug. When you added this to the pork, it cut through the saltiness quite successfully and it was all a pleasing combination. But you really did NEED those extras, it would have been a chore to eat the meat without them, and for this reason I think they could have been a little more generous with these accompaniments. We also ordered some chips and a side of bubble and squeak. Both well executed, my only complaint being that they were quite dear for the portion size. That little disc of bubble and squeak was supposed to be £4.50! It was barely five mouthfuls.This makes it look bigger than it wasOne more minor gripe – we were allowed a welcome drink with our free meal. We enquired as to the restrictions and were told it could be anything. We all, of course, ordered cocktails. Mine was delicious - the Derby Pie - and my favourite of the evening (we’d been to Callooh Callay and 98 Bar and Lounge beforehand), which was no surprise really as the people who own Beard to Tail are also behind Callooh Callay. Stephen and I then ordered another drink during dinner – a beer and a wine. When our bill came, they charged us for two cocktails. Clearly, they had given us for free the cheaper drinks. So yes, the place didn’t leave me wanting to gush about it, the whole experience as prize winners wasn’t quite what it could have been, what with the waiter not knowing that we were getting a free meal in the first place, and then charging us for the more expensive drinks niggled, especially as they didn’t mention they would do that at any point. Desserts looked good, but we were so full from our mains and starters that we decided not to go for them, and based on the previous I wasn’t convinced they would blow me away either. I was disappointed, but they are, as they say, in their infancy – there is plenty of time for them to improve things. I appreciated that they had evaluation forms to fill in at the end of the night. We tried to be honest, and reasonable. Hopefully they will take some of the comments into consideration. I feel I should go back in a month or two to see if things have changed. The problem is, on the basis of last week’s performance, do I want to? I suppose it would be a shame never to give their desserts a shot, and the brunch menu looks like it has potential...And what do you think? Was I right to ‘publish and be damned’ or should I have respected their requests? *I have been informed, just yesterday, that Luke did not think his featherblade was delicious - he thought it tasted like the inside of a pasty. Oh dear.