Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Agent November, 12th July

So, for all you puzzle lovers and treasure-hunt enthusiasts, you’ll be pleased to know there’s another game afoot in London. Brought to you from a Hint Hunt ex-employee is Agent November – a game where you must use your wits and ingenuity to save London from a catastrophic explosion! Born of the same stable as Hint Hunt there are similarities, not least in the time frame and having to race against the clock. There is also a similarly constrained area in which to solve the puzzle, though this time you’re outside rather than in. Everything you will need for the game is provided, unlike with Door in aWall, where you wouldn’t get very far without a smartphone.

I went along to the inaugural game so we were very much the guinea pigs, meaning there are probably some things that will change or run more smoothly as it finds its feet. But we still had a really fun hour and a half and, I’m happy to report, we also managed to solve all the clues and save London from imminent disaster! Of course, I can’t say too much as I don’t want to spoil any surprises or give anything away!

You get about twenty minutes at the beginning of the game to be given the backstory and get a few initial clues together before being lead over to where the ‘action’ takes place. Some things are straightforward tasks to complete but others require a little sideways thinking, and of course there are a few red herrings along the way as well. Even seemingly unrelated things, though, were hidden clues, that made us all go ‘aaahhh’ at the end once we’d figured it all out. A couple of things in particular I thought were ingenious but obviously I won’t say what they were!

Agent November was on hand throughout to help should you get stuck though there aren’t any other characters to meet or interact with. I had a few seasoned puzzlers with me, and we would have preferred a bit less help. Some of the hints were some that seemed to appear out of nowhere when we would rather have figured something out. And, considering we did solve it with several minutes to spare, we wouldn’t have minded a few extra riddles or puzzles to solve, or spending some more time on solving clues ourselves rather than having a hint or clue given to us. I#d probably pitch its ease at a little below that of Hint Hunt, which doesn't help if you haven't been to Hint Hunt! Having said that, there was a point about halfway through where I really thought we were no way near figuring it all out and that time would run out before we did. You never know whether the next clue will pull it all together or lead to something else to solve, and of course it depends on the order you manage to find them in.  We had a full team of 6 which worked well but if you had less I think you could still manage to find everything within the time frame if you don’t mind a bit of running about!

This is a great way to spend a couple of hours, giving your brain a work out with some likeminded friends. If you've already done Hint Hunt or a Door in a Wall, and are looking for something new, or if you're yet to try them and want to see what these live puzzle adventures are all about, then Agent November is your man!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Finger in the Pie, 6th July

I'd only recently seen the crème de la crème of cabaret at Black Cat, so I was completely prepared to be underwhelmed by Finger in the Pie, a monthly cabaret show at Madame JoJo’s. On a Sunday.

But I've been wanting to check it out so took my Meetup group along with me. And when we got there and there was a queue, I began to wonder if I should expect a little more. I will admit, what followed wasn’t quite as sleek, sexy and showbiz as something like the Black Cat, but boy was it fun! And just plain weird.

Hosted by Michael Twaits, the manliest transvestite I’ve probably ever seen (he doesn’t even bother to shave his legs) we were treated to acts ranging from the ridiculous to the slightly less ridiculous. There was quite a heavy emphasis in this show on comedy, even when it wasn’t strictly a comedy routine. There were a few burlesque acts as well, a couple of which were rather routine, but one I really enjoyed – Little Lady Luscious did some actual ballet combined with a sort of dance of a thousand scarves routine. Different and effective, which is what I’m looking for in burlesque.

Some of the acts were just baffling but not necessarily in a bad way. Some of these were my favourites. ‘Katy’s friend’ for example, where ‘Katy’ came in dragging what I thought was a rock in a cart behind her. It wasn’t a rock, it was a sheep’s skull and then she sang ‘The first time ever I saw your head’ her ode to her deceased lamb lover.

Probably my absolute favouritest act was ‘Womans’. With a generic Borat-like accent she wooed us with the art form of dance. Unfortunately what she did doesn’t lend itself well to being described – it’s a ‘you had to have been there’ kind of act. Let me just say three words. Art. Bum. Tassles. Carlos, Istanbul’s premier operatic singer was a close runner for top performance. He came out with his accordion and ‘sang’ a song that is about as far from opera as you can get and was utterly hilarious. He’s actually got a solo show at Soho Theatre this week and I’d definitely recommend checking him out.

The truly weirdest act was probably Gentleman John and his friend. He came out with a colander on his head strapped on with an elastic band, a bushy moustache and boxing gloves, while his friend came out in multi-coloured clothes and some leggings on his head. And then they proceeded to fall about the stage muttering nonsense for about ten minutes. This actually was pretty funny, although for me probably went on for a tad too long before they muttered an almost incomprehensible ditty and disappeared off stage.

In between, Michal Twaits (who was at least as entertaining if not more so than the acts) would keep our enthusiasm levels high, make us laugh and even treat us to a song or two, taking suggestions from the audience. We persuaded him to sing Sweet Transvestite from Rocky Horror even though it went against all his instincts to avoid cliché, and that was a lot of fun, but his musical theatre ‘quartet’ was the best bit. He mashed up Nicki Minaj, Nirvana, Bon Jovi and one other into one of those ‘storyline recaps’ oft used in musicals where each separate character sings their theme song yet they all blend seamlessly into one new song. Know what I mean? No? Well then you probably don’t know musical theatre dahling!

So it was a fun night, and for only £10 you could do a lot worse – there were ten acts, excluding Michael, so a pound an act is not bad value at all. A good way to liven up a Sunday.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Death by Burrito at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, 3rd July

Having been to Death by Burrito when they were a pop-up at Catch, I was excited that they had a permanent place at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen (one of my ‘go-to’ bars when I’m in the area). My thinking was that, as with Rita’s, it would give them space and time to get creative and put some new items on the menu that would really show the breadth of what they could do. I was pleased to be invited for a sneak peek the day before they opened up officially. I imagined a sit down event with a selection of everything on the menu for everyone to try and maybe with some explanation of it all as well.

It turns out the night wasn’t quite like that. It was more of a party than a food event. Ryan Chetiyawardana (otherwise known as Mr Lyan of White Lyan which I have yet to get to) was responsible for the cocktail menu and the three I tried were all delicious, and strong, so no complaints there. But you start serving cocktails, and free cocktails at that, and the bar becomes a blockade very, very quickly. They probably should have just whipped up batches of one cocktail and lined them up on the bar for you to take as you pleased – let’s be honest, when something is free, people aren’t that picky about what it is.

(c) Vivek Vadoliya
I ended up talking to one of the bloggers from InformedLondon and his friend, and one of the BarChick girls, who, like me, were there to see what the menu was all about. We came hungry and we wanted burritos! And we stayed that way for quite a while as food didn’t start coming out until past 9pm. Finally, it arrived to a chorus of grumbling stomachs – a basket of chicken wings to share and a slider each. Not quite as Mexican as I was expecting. We waited for more, or, specifically – some burritos. But – can you believe this? – no burritos were to be found! What was even more bizarre was that the food we did get wasn’t even very good. If you’d never had DBB before, I don't think this offering would persuade you to come back to try the main event, unless of course once you had a hankering for burritos you couldn’t rest until you’d been back to get some. 

The chicken wings were alright – the agave gave them a sweet taste that I liked but they weren't as good as wings I’ve had elsewhere. Then we tried the sliders. Now, I know I’m not a burger fan but even I could tell these were not the way to do burgers. They were cold by the time we ate them, and had dried out (though there were signs they were cooked well originally, being slightly pink in the middle), and there was far, far too much bread. Assuming these were the candied bacon and jalapeno burgers on the menu, I didn’t realize any bacon was involved until looking at the menu afterwards, and the jalapeno might as well not have been there for all the kick it gave it. The mini-tacos were okay – the meat in particular was lovely; a slightly sweet, smoky flavour and a barbecued texture to it, and I liked the crunch of the radish on top, but they too were a little dry. I applied hot sauce liberally.

(c) Vivek Vadoliya
(c) Vivek Vadoliya
But don’t be too disheartened. I spied on the menu the items I’d had before, so if you wanted to know what their burritos are all about, which is where their strengths lie, read my previous post on them.

(c) Vivek Vadoliya
Because this was also to launch of their cook book there were a few copies on sale and I had a browse through it. Some pretty tasty-looking food in there, but I don’t cook so it was pointless me getting a copy. Several people did though, and there was a flurry of transactions which seemed to double as a signal for half the party to clear off! Which was a shame because the DJ they had was banging and if it had been a Friday I’d have merrily sipped a few more cocktails soaking in the tunes. The place has been done up all Mexi-macabre and looks the business so it’s a pretty cool place to hang out. And those cocktails are certainly worth a visit.

They didn’t have the slushie machine for slushie negronis, and they couldn’t make the most interesting-sounding drink on the list – the Sweet Papel with sweetcorn and coriander atomisation. But I tried the Pineapple and Cacao Smash, the Bandito Hi-Ball and the Ring-a-Ting-Ting. All were very easy to drink, easy on the mixer and strong on the liquor. I worried that the Bandito, being in a high-ball glass would be mostly ginger ale, but I needn’t have: slug after slug of tequila went into the cocktail shaker, and the ginger ale was only a quick gesture to sweeten things up at the end. My favourite though was definitely the Ring-a-ting-ting – not too sugary with a cucumber background aroma making it super-refreshing. I would have stuck to these but for the blogger in me wanting variety.

So, not sure what to make of this place. If you’ve been, let me know what you thought!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Kopparberg Urban Forest, 2nd July

A couple of years ago Kopparberg had a pop-up in Shoreditch called the unestablishment which I thought sounded good but never managed to get to. This summer they’re back, creating an Urban Forest round the back of Dalston Roof Park. Well, perhaps not so much of a forest as a woody clearing in a glade, or even a treehouse, but there’s wood, there’s greenery and if you go up in the canopy, there’s a lot of leaves so I guess it’s sort of creating a Swedish forest vibe. There are a couple of street food vans to stave off hunger, serving buffalo wings and pulled pork – Joe’s Buffalo (Stephen had some of these and preferred them to Orange Buffalo – bigger wings) or various jerk wraps and plantain from Mama’s Jerk. I had the chicken jerk wrap, which was bursting at the seams and was really good – hot sauce was hot, chicken was nice and crispy in parts and the mango pineapple mayo was a nice, sweet touch.

Fika, the Swedish bar/café on Brick Lane have also got in on the act, having a stall and providing us in the “VIP” canopy (yes, I got a wristband and everything) with some Swedish canapés. We had some smoked salmon and cream cheese and some beef with a sweet jam on thin rye bread (I think) which was very nice. These were spoiled a little by savoury beetroot cakes which had a nice flavour but a pretty horrible, claggy texture and meatballs which were, as Stephen put it, like the very worst burger. I didn’t even eat the whole of my half. It was dry and with a weird taste. Having nosied around twitter I suspect they might have been elk meat, in which case, I am not a fan of elk.

Being hosted by Kopparberg, they had several of their ciders and some cider cocktails on the go. The cocktail we tried with elderflower cider and tequila (I think) was delicious. So was the cider for that matter. I like Kopparberg cider. It is light and refreshing and they have some lovely flavours. I think we had elderflower and maybe even cloudberry. The problem is, after one or two it just gets too sweet to keep drinking throughout the night. But I guess that's where the cocktails come in. And of course there's beer.

This is the same area where Night Tales was held for the first time, except that where there was a bar, there is now a stage and a dance floor. If you like intimate gigs, then this is really a great space to go to. If you’re prepared to wait it out you can be less than an arm’s length from whoever is performing. And they’ve got some pretty good action lined up. We saw Kelis, who was fab, treating us to most of her hits in some form or other (be that remixed or just a burst of chorus) as well as her latest single. Her DJ was amazing too, pumping some excellent tunes before Kelis herself came on and the party continued long after the show was through. The other acts might not be quite on the superstar level that Kelis undoubtedly is, but they’re still pretty good – NYPC (formerly New Young Pony Club) and Lucy Rose among others will be gracing the stage. And it’s all free! Just arrive early as when Stephen popped to the loo at about 8 they were operating on a one-in, one-out policy. Oh, and you might want to pee before you get there – toilets were a bit of a rare commodity! My boyfriend and several others were herded by one of the doormen practically all the way up to Dalston Roof Park to go because the queue was so long.

If you like cider and live music, or even just want a cute place to party (So Fresh, So Clean and Supa Dupa Fly are both hosting their clubnights there) then head over any Thursday to Saturday from now until August 2nd.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

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 Club always 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.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Camden Crawl, 21st June

The Camden Crawl took last year off to reorganize and reposition themselves. One of the original multi-venue festivals in London, they felt there were a lot of events in this space and they wanted to focus on what made them different and come back with a new look.

I almost put this live on Saturday and was going to say the following “And so the Camden Crawl became CC14 and instead of being in October it was held in June. As it was my first I cannot say whether they’ve come back bigger and better than before, I can only say that I had a fantastic day.” But I didn’t, and on Sunday I discovered that the Camden Crawl had gone into liquidation which I guess shows that they did not come back bigger and better. I remember one of my friends saying they were surprised it wasn’t busier and that Camden Rocks (on at the end of June) may have stolen some of their thunder. It seems she would be right. The sad thing is that many bands weren’t paid in advance and may not receive any of their money. I still had a fantastic day, though this post feels rather redundant if it’s never happening again. However, this was what my day was like…

Things kick off a lot later than I thought they did. I imagined it was an all-day festival but really it’s more of a night festival with the majority of the bands not starting until about 7pm. I wanted to head down a bit earlier though to get to as many venues as possible, and the Dig-It Soundsystem playing on the Roundhouse’s terrace (I did not even know they had a terrace) caught my eye, as the weather was wonderful.

And, as it turned out, so was the DJ. Me and my crew felt like we’d been transported to the White Isle, basking in the sun listening to some top notch dance tunes. It really was difficult to tear ourselves away over an hour later to get stuck into what I felt the festival is really all about – live bands. This also meant going inside and saying goodbye to the sun but needs must.

We went up to the Electric Ballroom first to see Dry the River. These guys had quite the crowd so must have a bit of a following. They were fine but not really my cup of tea. They were a little too ‘safe’ for my liking – I prefer my guitar bands to be a little grungier and heavier when I’m watching live music. I was starving by this point so we went to the Lock Tavern to get some food and wait for the next gig. Fatty Chan’s were in the beer garden serving up Vietnamese-inspired food and the pork banh mi I had was amazing. Seriously. It came in a roll rather than a long baguette, packed with meat, topped with crispy onions, I loved it.

And I loved the band, Autobahn, too (not the famous German Autobahn, a younger Londoner band, don’t know why they’ve chosen a name already in existence). I hadn’t been to the Lock Tavern before but it’s a really cool pub with a cool little venue upstairs and another open terrace. The emphasis is on little here. It’s a teeny tiny room and it was packed. We wiggled through the crowd to the terrace and then from outside leaned in, practically over the band to watch them. They were fantastic. Lots of energy, lots of heavy guitars, the singer had a great voice. The sound they made belied their very young years.

And so it continued, with all the bands I saw either impressing me in terms of their music, or at least their performance. The Slaves in Underworld particularly stand out for their showmanship and they also clearly had some loyal fans, intent on making a moshpit in the crowd.

The last place we went to was Belushi’s where the band was set up in the corner. These guys, Bad Wolf, were alright, I liked them, though the singer’s voice wasn’t my favourite of all the bands we’d seen.

I then had tickets to see the 2 Bears and Jarvis Cocker at XOYO but stuff was still going on in Camden until the early hours in a few of the venues where the focus shifted to more dancey stuff such as Mumdance and Mouse on Mars.

I paid about £25 for my day ticket although you could easily have got a ticket for less as there were discounts a plenty. Doesn’t look like I’ll be able to go again, given recent developments, but should they pick themselves up, I would say that, taking place in June, the weather has a reasonable chance of being pretty good and even at 7pm you may not want to spend your evening in dark and dingy rock clubs and pubs. It would be better as a winter’s event. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Black Cat Cabaret, 20th June

This. Was. Fabulous. And I do not say that lightly. I’ve been wowed and awed by some pretty stupendous acts, especially at the London Wonderground which seems to curate its shows with such care – Limbo and Boom Boom Club. And the Black Cat Cabaret was pretty up near these giddy heights.

I think what sets this show (and others like it) apart from other cabaret revue nights is that there is a story to everything. Each act is its own little vignette. And it’s coupled with a banging soundtrack to keep things sizzling. And of course, there’s a lot of sex to it. Not necessarily in nudity, but in the attitude it exudes.

Dusty limits is a debonair and devilish host as always. His risqué humour was perfect for this show. However, as with other appearances he has made, I do think one song is really the maximum he should be allotted. He’s a great performer but he’s not the best singer in the world.

Unlike the second act Lily la Scala whose voice is tremendous. She portrayed a boozy, libidinous, living doll, managing to wobble in a rigid, artificial way all over the stage and into the audience, while singing opera. This climaxed with, well, a climax for one poor (lucky!) sod in the audience who got to have Lily astride him as her song, and she, peaked.

Before this we had been wowed with an act I hadn’t seen before – Joe Moss did what I would loosely call acrobatics with a giant hoop, turning and twirling it while balanced inside. Hoops made another appearance later on, this time in normal ‘hula’ size. I’ve seen a few hula hoop acts before and they’re always quite fun. Jess Love made this one different by having a whole heap of attitude to her like she found the whole thing a drain on her free time. Oh, we're all clapping now? How very dull. And then she messed up! Oh no! Or did she…??

All the acts were good but one that I found rather stirring was Vicky Butterfly’s performance – it started out with a pretty standard burlesque act of wings, this time lighted, that she wound and wended about her, but then she climbed aboard the moon at the back of the stage and proceeded to ride it as if it was a big seesaw, holding on with ropes to an emotive? soundtrack of the theme to Requiem for a Dream and Edward Scissorhands. Beautiful.

Cabaret rouge were the ‘house’ dance troupe popping up to do quick routines such as an homage to the can can, or a tribue to Degas and his ballerina girls, alluding to what life was really like for an aspiring Parisienne ballerina trying to make ends meet and ending up on the wrong side of a coke addiction. The dancing was fun, funny, outstandingly good, but you couldn't forget its dark undertones.

Tom Baker who crops up at a lot of things (especially It’s Your Funeral) was a part of the band but also did a solo stint, engaging the audience in a singalong, which I have definitely seen him do before but I can’t pinpoint when – maybe at Boom Boom Club. Anyway, it’s a great song about the end of the world, fun to sing and it was no less fun this time.

I also liked the way they messed with gender roles - a love triangle involving a man and two women was danced out with all three parts played by women, and the aerial act was performed by a man and woman - but the man started out in a dress and the woman, in trousers, seduced him.

I enjoyed the night so much I am very tempted to go again as I feel I didn’t even have as good an experience as I could have, had I not spend half the acts writing notes about what each performer was doing for the blog!

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I work as an editor in educational publishing by day, and then spend most of my spare time discovering interesting things to do in London, and taking people there with my own Meetup.