Monday, September 22, 2014

Grill.My.Cheese, 10th September

When I was a child, I loved eating grilled cheese sandwiches. And non-grilled cheese sandwiches too come to that. But I must have overindulged because I went through a long phase of being so put off by melted cheese that I didn't even like pizza. 

I know.

Happily I have overcome that difficult time of my life and now embrace melted, gooey cheese, on pizza, in fondue and best of all in between toasted bread. And it looks like London is doing the same. There are so many places doing grilled cheese sandwiches these days (or 'toasties' if you want to be all British about it) that there are even features about where to get the best ones in Londonist and Time Out.

I of course consider it my duty to work my way through them all. I finally had the one at Sager and Wilde a while back, and went up to Morty & Bob's quite recently. The first one I tried, but didn't write about was the chorizo one from The Cheese Truck. Spotting that Grill.My.Cheese were at Leather Lane, I thought I'd best try them while they were around.

Their USP is mac n cheese toasties. And the big mac daddy comes with pulled pork besides. Yes. Sounds insane doesn't it? Insanely bad for you. In a good way.

Actually, I have to say, that I didn't find it as bloating or as 'Diners, Drive-ins and Dives' as I thought it would be. Perhaps because a lot of the space is taken up by pasta with holes in it rather than cheese, it doesn't feel as heavy or as greasy as others can. The one I had from Morty & Bob's for example, was far more filling, and my boyfriend ate about a quarter of it!

They also add BBQ sauce which is a trifle too sweet for me - I'd have preferred the punch of a chilli sauce (Ribman - when is that collab going to happen?) but it was still a mighty fine toastie and I enjoyed eating it immensely. Behold.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Victoria, 4th September

One of the closest pubs to my Flat in Mile End was/is The Victoria. But we rarely went in there, because it never really looked open, and the couple of times we did venture in, it was dark and devoid of atmosphere. So it was with interest I noted it had closed and was being taken over by the Yummy Pub Co, the team behind Somerstown Coffee House. I immediately found them on Twitter and was chuffed to be invited to their opening.

We were given the grand tour and treated to some food and some cocktails and other drinks. And yes, the word ‘grand’ is appropriate in this instance because they have turned the reborn Victoria into quite the large, smorgasbord of a pub. We’ll start at the front shall we?

Firstly there’s a little ‘cage’ that opens in the morning to serve the locals coffee and pastries. Then later in the day the pub proper opens, a warm and welcoming large area, with access to the beer garden where they have installed little cabanas and a caravan – Charlie’s cocktail caravan in fact, in homage to the first owner, boxer Charlie Magri. You can hire this out and get it stocked with any kind of booze you want!

We then went upstairs to be introduced to the Board Room, a private dining area that can also be used to host meetings and events. From there we went to The Lodge, one of my favourite spaces – a mini country retreat that can be used for all sorts of things – the other Sunday they made it a child-free haven for enjoying one of their roasts. From there we went into another dining area, this one with full view of the kitchen, and we sampled some of their ‘British tapas’. The expected scotch eggs, honey and mustard sausages etc were on offer as well as some interesting vegetarian items which I thought were particularly nice, in particular some fritters and some goat’s cheese ‘dumplings’ which had just the right amount of goaty tang. I must confess, I didn’t try the scotch eggs as they didn’t look that tempting, and when Stephen was brave enough to try the cod and mushy pea version, he was less than enthusiastic about it. But the rest of it seemed pretty good and they also do plenty of big plate food to choose from, and of course roasts on a Sunday.

From there we were shown the rooftops where the plan is to use the flat roofs to grow herbs and veg, and even keep chickens! All for use down in the pub.

We went back inside and were treated to several cocktails made with the bartender’s own infusions, such as whiskey with orange and cinnamon, and one of the nicest gin and tonics I’ve had – though served in a ‘beer mug’ that was a little too big for a cocktail!

The Vic as she is affectionately known also keeps a little secret, a devious side which I am loathe to reveal, but let’s just say downstairs is not all that it seems. I wouldn’t linger over your reflection too much when you enter or leave the bathroom…

They have a good selection of beers and wines – I was very pleased to see a white rioja on the list,  as well as malbec and picpoul to have by the glass (or you can even treat yourself to some chateauneuf du pape!). We spent another couple of hours in there - the place was busy but not crowded, it felt comfortable, just the sort of ambiance you want from a pub mid-week. 

This feels like a very ambitious project for the Yummy Pub co – in one pub they have channeled all their interests – cooking, drinking, cocktails and coffee and it could go horribly wrong.  However, they seem like the kind of people who like to rise to a challenge – who get a thrill out of pushing their boundaries, and so far it all looks and sounds amazing. I really liked the place and have already been back for a quiet Sunday night wine or two. I hope to be there more frequently and see if they make a success of it. Apparently the last place wasn’t very popular and the local residents didn’t want the pub to reopen so they are having to go out of their way to win over the neighbours and the result is a pub that is a cut above the norm. For Yummy Pub’s sake, and the fact I want a decent local to go to, I wish them luck. 

Victoria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Morty and Bob's, 30th August

So, you guys know I love bread and cheese right? And melted cheese and toasted bread are a combination made in the very belly of heaven itself. And luckily, quite a few street food places seem to agree. There’s the Cheese Truck, and Grill My Cheese, and these guys... and counting.

Now, I love street food – you can get some fabulous food for reasonable prices but it does have its drawbacks. They can be kinda flaky and a dedicated trip to get to their stall/van can lead to disappointment if you don’t check ahead. Such was the case the other week when I decided I wanted to finally try Morty & Bob's cheesy goodness only to discover the stall was shut and they were at Wilderness or something. Instead I had the worst banh mi of my life from Caphe VN. It was a bad day.

But I went back, and got treated to a supersized toastie with cheese lava cascading down its sides. I decided to try their ‘straight up’ and see what it was like unadulterated by bacon or pulled pork. I didn’t even get any jalapenos or add any hot sauce. They use a cheese mix of three cheeses plus their own secret sauce and they add some spring onions and regular onions and to be honest, this is all you need for a hearty breakfast. Stephen practically ate half of mine and I was still sated. Mmmmm. I think they should quickly go away to some more festivals to stop me going back every weekend! I could practically feel my arteries turning to cheese. *happy face*. A couple of pickles could be found hiding round the back in case to give you a palate cleanser partway through in case the cheese became too much at any point. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Double Denim, 29th August

If you’re a bar/restaurant and want to start putting on clubnights, then you should ensure that you’re set up to handle it. At 9:30 on a Friday night, you probably shouldn’t have queues of people at the doors, telling them it’s one-in, one-out, only for them to enter and find the place sparsely populated. It creates a resistance to enjoyment and a bad impression. So much so among my group of about 20 that I tweeted at Far Rockaway that I wasn’t impressed. They replied to say they had reached capacity for the number of door staff they had (and not just tried to create an impression of busyness as everyone suspected), but even this is a poor explanation. You want the kind of night that has dancing? Hire another person! So that wasn’t a great start and it didn’t get much better – not for a while at least.

Double Denim was supposed to be a 90s night – all the staff dressed in Converse, cocktails made with the drinks you drank growing up (Um Bongo and Panda pops) and all sorts of 90s bangers from acid house to indie. What they actually did was play mainly R n B from that era before abandoning any attempt to stick to the 90s whatsoever. My group were a little disappointed to say the least! I didn’t mind so much – I like 90s RnB, but to be fair, there are better places to dance to that stuff. I had been looking forward to all the other stuff just as much as everyone else. we sat in a corner and waited to see what would happen with the music but gradually almost everyone gave up and left.

Apart from myself and an intrepid few. in the end we found that the dance floor had been created around the corner from where we were, where the diners had been, those of us left made sure to join the dance floor. Again, I liked the music – some drum n bass went down a treat, but it just wasn’t what was billed. And I don’t think you could call the place busy at any point of the night. Not in a clubnight sense. I am sure I will return to Far Rockaway, but only for their pizza, not for their nightlife.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Freemasons' Grand Lodge Tour, 18th August

Just realised I wrote this blog post ages ago and then forgot to put it live! So here it is...

One of the (very few) upsides to having the ‘in-laws’ visiting is that it gives you an excuse to geek out a little and be a tourist. Having lived in London a long time, we’ve pretty much run out of the traditional touristy things to do and have started to look for the stuff that is more under the radar. (Having said that, the afternoon was filled with wandering round the Imperial War Museum which is pretty obvious.)

So, for one of our ‘things to do’ we went to the Grand United Freemasons Lodge in Covent Garden/Holborn and had a tour. It’s only 45 minutes, and if you expected a treatise on the history and evolution of the Freemasons you’ll be disappointed, but it does give you the chance to gawp and marvel at some architectural splendour. You start in the library/museum and from there go to the robing room where the masters put on their gowns and then down the corridor they walk in procession towards the Great Hall/Temple where they convene. You also get to see the route the lowlier Masons would take, through the three halls representing the stages of a mason’s career through the huge copper doors into a hall almost as high as a six-story building, and completely hidden from the outside world.

The place is literally full of symbolism. There doesn’t seem to be a symbolism they didn’t appropriate from Greek gods to astrology to the expected religious artefacts and symbolism. The hall formerly known as the peace hall is one such wonder with a shrine to those Freemasons who lost their lives in the Great War – all of their names have been transcribed and are held in an engraved chest bedecked with idols.

The place is mainly art deco and is full of Italian marble (plus some Tasmanian timber) and several beautiful stained glass windows. But when it was built in the 1920s-30s Egypt was also in fashion so there’s a bit of that thrown in as well. Unsurprisingly a lot of the tableaux represent masonry and also, there are a lot of religious references which will surprise no one who has read or watched The Da Vinci Code. Hearing how it is headed up by some of the wealthiest and, traditionally, powerful men in the land also doesn’t help – heirs to the throne have routinely been Grand Masters until taking the Kingship themselves.

No photos are allowed on the tour and there are so few people it’s impossibly to flout the rule. So you will just have to go and see this ridiculously extravagant building for yourself. It’s well worth doing. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Flat Iron, Denmark Street, 28th August

Many moons ago, Flat Iron arrived as a pop-up in the Owl and the Pussycat on Redchurch Street offering some nonsense about affordable steak but only in one cut - the underused Flat Iron. I liked it, Stephen thought it smelled weird. I also liked the restaurant they had created and the other dishes on the menu.

Not too long after their stint at the pub, they opened a permanent place in Soho which I added to the list but before I got a chance to go there, they opened a second place just behind Tottenham Court Road on Denmark Street. (Denmark Street - I'm watching you - what with Fernandez & wells also popping up, you better not push out all the music shops to turn into another foodie enclave.)

We fancied a quick bite and headed over at about 6:30. The place was pretty empty but judging from hearing the waitresses and the phone calls they were fielding, it was likely to get pretty busy later and as we were leaving it was filling up.

Flat Iron are basically offering the same as what we had on our first visit, but with the addition of specials, which are typically, their burger with bearnaise sauce, and another cut of meat. Today, it was onglet at £15. The flat iron steaks are still £10, and sides and desserts are still a very cheap £3.50. Cocktails start at £5. FIVE POUNDS! In SOHO! This place is seriously cheap.

And, I think, seriously good. I ordered the flat iron to see if it still tasted the same, Stephen got the onglet. We had a couple of fries and the delicious aubergine 'lasagne'. The flat iron seems to have lost the odd smell it had before, and tasted lovely - light, delicate, and tender, cooked to pink. Stephen's onglet however, I must admit, stole the show. A chewier meat it had more of a char to the outside, though was very tender in the middle and felt more like a 'proper' steak experience. For the extra £5 I would definitely plump for this one over the other.

Stephen had already had like, five cakes or something in the day so no dessert for him, but I had to order their sundae. Flat Iron knows what works - chocolate, cream and caramel (salted of course). Last time I went they combined this in a mousse, this time it was a sundae. Each time was delicious.

The place still has that slightly cowboy vibe to it, with plenty of reminders about the meat you're here to eat. 
Yes, cows in the toilet
I really like that there is somewhere casual where you can have a steak dinner if you really fancy some meat but without all the faff and large expense. Portions are moderate - you'll have satisfied your hunger when you're done but you won't feel bloated and guilty. Yes, Flat Iron's still got it. And they've still got those cute meat cleavers too (no stealing!)

Flat Iron on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finest wine words, 27th August

Me, my best friend and 100 wines. Carnage right? Well, not quite. For I was at a wine tasting, not just an all-you-can-drink extravaganza and I wanted to take it seriously. The reason for the wine tasting? To forget for a while all the professional bottle descriptions listing fruits you might never have even tasted, let alone discern in the wine you’re drinking, not to mention references to minerality and silt. And instead invite some people to just say whatever popped into their heads when they drank different wines. To get the lay person’s perspective. Having spent hours doing a similar thing in Sampler of my own accord in times past, I was absolutely delighted to be invited to such a wine tasting, on a grander scale, and wanted to make sure I did it properly. And that meant not just necking as many glasses as possible, but being considered with our measures so we could taste a wide variety, and being considered in our drinking so we could really decide what we thought we tasted and felt with each mouthful. We were asked to describe each wine we tried with at least three words and submit them, and we had a notepad to also keep tasting notes for our own reference.

Not that I want to give you the impression I didn’t get drunk. I did. I mean come on, we’re not going to waste all that lovely wine, swilling it about our mouths and spitting it out. We’re going to drink it. But we managed to not get properly drunk until the end, and in the course of doing so we tasted some very wonderful wines. They were all from Tesco’s Finest range, and the majority were in the £6 - £10 bracket so pretty affordable. My favourite was a Chablis. I think Alison was particularly struck by a Muscadet. We definitely drank more whites than reds, and then alighted upon the champagnes and much posher wines at the end of the night. A rioja was a particular celebrity of the night, and there had also been a very lovely rioja blanco. The range was quite overwhelming.

When I was invited to this I hesitated - Tesco? How corporate! But let's be honest, I pop in to a Tesco practically three times a week on my way to work so to turn it down simply for not being an independent's wine tasting was a bit hypocritical. Of course I would much rather buy all my wine from places like Sampler or Bottle Apostle on principle but the truth of the matter is that good wine is good wine and I'm more likely to end up buying it from Tesco (or Sainsbury's) as my local independet isn't all that local to me, in my non-gentrified area. 

I drink enough wine now to know what I like, and this tasting didn’t really change my mind, but it was a good way to know that if that’s what I want, I can get it easily from my local supermarket, and it was a fun way to really think about what I'm tasting when I drink it. I thought the set-up of the event was really good - the opposite of a stuffy, serious tasting, they had divided the wines into different categories such as 'Maverick', 'Outrageous' or 'Classic'. In the end we probably tried 16-18 different types, some of which were very drinkable on their own, others I could imagine pairing well with food. Food for thought. And speaking of food we had some lovely canapes to make sure those of us actually drinking the wine didn't get too tipsy (well, it helped). 

More (and better) photos to follow!

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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.