Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Basil's Sandwiches and Cruffin, 9th March

Basil’s Sandwiches

I’ve seen Time Out have fallen in love with a place called Max’s sandwiches for its oversized portions. Well, I reckon Basil’s would give it a run for its money. I heard about this place from the lovely Alex at Zomato – their offices are near there and she’d tweeted about her mammoth sarnie for lunch. I was transfixed and put it on my List. The only problem was that they are a City lunch place – only open Monday to Friday 12 pm until 3. I had to wait for a day off before I could give them a try!

They make sandwiches fresh for you and have all the usual – egg salad, tuna, chicken tikka, as well as a LOT of variation and some of their own creations. Alex’s sandwich was a scotch egg and corned beef behemoth. I found it really hard to choose – I wanted something your average sandwich deli wouldn’t do but also something that filled my non-specific craving. In the end I felt I was taking too much time looking at all the options plastered over the walls and went for the first thing that I’d liked the look of – the Chicken Swiss Melt (although the sausage crunch melt also sounded tempting – it has crisps in it!). This was a ciabatta stuffed with Basil’s own chilli chicken mix, chicken escalope strips (there was a lot of chicken escalope on the menu) swiss cheese, mustard mayo and chilli flakes.

I was a little worried that the ciabatta would make mincemeat of my gums but it was perfectly soft, yet sturdy enough to stand up to the overflowing filling. It was served warm and I didn’t want to let it go cold before I ate it so I started tucking in on the tube back to mine. Mistake. The chilli mix was packed with onions and peppers (crunchy and fresh they provided a great bit of bite and sweetness) and it was very saucy. I made such a mess. A delicious mess though. They did not skimp on the chilli flakes and the mustard mayo gave off a lot of its own heat as well, (yet without making my nose hurt the way mustard and horseradish can). I loved the breaded chicken strips. The only thing I would say didn’t quite work was the swiss cheese – it hadn’t really melted properly and was rather superfluous.

And this beast was only £4.90! Fabulous.

Fox and Ginger Cruffin

After that brute of a sandwich you would think I would be too full to eat anything else. And I was. But I’d already bought my dessert so I was sure as hell going to eat it. I’m always up for trying the latest craze. I’ve had a cronut, a duffin, a townie (tart/brownie) and the new cronut – the kouign amann (should be kouign amazinn!). Now Foxcroft and Ginger are getting into the mix with their own invention – the cruffin. This is a croissant/muffin hybrid with various fillings and I have to be honest, I can’t see any need for it. Not as buttery and rich as a croissant, not as doughy and sweet as a muffin, it was just a sort of dry, sugary bread that was very unsatisfying to eat. Not even a filling of salted caramelly cream could save it for me. Not worth making a special effort for.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Best LDN Walks, 5th March

Best LDN Walks was brought to my attention via Twitter – someone I know had been on one of their walks where they find all the seven noses of Soho and me and Charlotte, the girl who runs it, got chatting and lo and behold, we organized for my meetup group to go along to one of her walks. She has about 11 different routes, but the ones that stood out as most appropriate for my group were the Sex, Drugs and Sausage Rolls and Haunted Pubs tour. I went with the sex.

We met at London Bridge where the scene was set – North London in days gone by was the posh bit, and South London was where things got interesting – where the drinking and the partying and the fornicating happened. Then we wended our way through Southwark and Borough, with Charlotte telling us the more salubrious history of the places through which we travelled. I have been on a few tours in my time (Duck Tour, Ghost Bus Tour) not to mention being generally interested in London’s history and landmarks so expected that I would know a good chunk of what we covered already. And yes there was quite a lot that I had either visited already myself, or had heard of, but there was more than enough that I hadn’t to make it worth my while. Charlotte seems to be a sponge, continually researching and discovering the hidden histories of London. For example, we stopped off for a drink about halfway through at a lovely pub and she got us all ‘singing’ a Tudor drinking song she’d only just unearthed. We didn’t know the tune but we muddled along anyway.

We heard all about the wicked Bishop of Winchester and his poor Geese (prostitutes), and visited the famous Crossbones Graveyard where they were buried. We went through Borough Market and learned the origins of many a phrase such as ‘umble pie, being dirt poor and pulling your leg (that one particularly gruesome – it comes from when young urchins would be employed to ensure that someone just hanged was actually dead and not faking – by pulling on their leg). We passed the site of the original Globe and paused for thought by the wonderfully gruesome Clink and its ‘mascot’ hanging outside (the inside of the Clink is definitely worth a visit). There was a healthy dose of death as well as the fun stuff – we had started off being shown an old map of London which clearly marked all the decapitated heads put up on London Bridge as warnings.
Fittingly, for such a tour, we ended up near a lovely pub into which we all bundled for a nightcap. I know I speak for the whole group when I say Charlotte was a welcoming and entertaining hostess and we all had a brilliant time exploring the seedy side of London yore. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Brooklyn Bowl, 4th March

I don’t think there is anywhere as corporate or as soulless as the O2 in Greenwich, and yes, I am even counting the two Westfields. So it seems a little weird that hipster mecca Brooklyn Bowl would pick this spot to open up. I can only assume they didn’t realise what reputation the place had. But anyway, they’re here, and I’ve fancied giving them a visit for a while, being as I went to the original one when I lived in Brooklyn.

I was invited there for a special occasion – the launch of their new Elvis-inspired menu, to coincide with the new Elvis exhibition at the O2. A little group of foodie bloggers were treated to a selection of tasters from the new menu, but also a taste of their regular menu as well. My dad is actually from the Souther states so I feel a bit of a charlatan admitting that I preferred the regular menu! But there are definitely some things on the Elvis menu worth singling out.
Taster of their normal menu - ruined by my photography
For me the highlights were most definitely the fried chicken, cheesy fries and peach cobbler. The chicken was so crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle (just like armadillos) – it was probably one of the best versions we’ve had. The cheesy, gravy chips were also great (as were the non-covered version we snacked on later). Gooey and savoury, the fries were light and crispy. And the peach cobbler – mmm, sweet and syrupy with doughy pastry. I wish I’d had more. Stephen had the pecan pie for his dessert bites and thought it was excellent.

Me and ground beef don’t really get on (hence not liking burgers) but I tried the meatloaf anyway and have to say, if you like that sort of thing, I reckon this was a good one – it had this really crunchy crumb coating on top that made it a bit spesh. I decided not to try the chilli with cornbread though and Stephen admitted this was not the best dish of the night. It looked quite dry.

I have to say, the biscuits and gravy didn’t do much for me, and I quite like biscuits, but this was perhaps the way they were served. If you order off the menu you’ll get a whole one with chicken gravy, not little bites drenched in it. If you don’t know, American biscuits are the starchy, fluffy kind, not the thin, sweet ones we have here and Brooklyn Bowl did get that right. People think they’re the US equivalent to scones but actually they’re not – you just have to try one to see how they’re different!

We had a really thick peanut butter milkshake to really hit home the Elvis theme, as well as grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches. The sandwich was good, though I thought it was overstuffed with banana and took some of mine out to even up the ratios. The milkshake was a bit odd – it tasted good but I didn’t really like the texture. Maybe it was just too warm by the time I tried it.

From the regular menu, we had chicken wings, ribs and dinky pulled pork sliders and I had to stop myself from going back for seconds and thirds. The food here is by the Blue Ribbon, the New York restaurateurs (I always meant to get to their bakery in Chelsea but never did) and so it should be a cut above your average bowling alley junk food. And it is, though places like Bloomsbury Bowl and All Star Lanes are probably equalling it in the food stakes. Overall it was good but I don’t think I’d make this place a destination for food alone - for this type of food I think other places are doing it better (hello Hotbox!). However, as a bowling alley, it is well worth checking out (especially if you’re actually any good at bowling. The less said about my performance, the better).
It wasn’t exactly busy, which is unsurprising given its location, and the fact it was a Wednesday. There were quite a few people bowling but not many people just using the tables to eat and drink. It’s a pretty swish operation, and seems to mimic the feel and ‘Americanness’ of the one in Brooklyn quite well. As in the States, they have their own gigs (which in the past have included Lauren Hill and Pharell Williams, though no such A listers in the near future). But even on a Wednesday they had a rock n roll band to bop to while you were bowling and they were really good! This is a bit of a hidden gem for bowling and I like the idea of it staying that way but it deserves to be busier so here you go – consider yourself in the know. I would love to see it when they have one of their top shows on, and the place is in full swing. Greenwich is lucky to have this on its doorstep. When matter (the club) closed down I didn’t think I’d have cause to visit the O2 again, but now perhaps I could be persuaded.

Square Meal

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Smack Deli/Novelty Automation, 28th February

You’ve got to hand it to the people behind Burger & lobster – they like crustaceans and they want you to be able to have them in some form no matter your budget. They went uber high-end with Beast and now they’ve gone the other way with Smack Deli where you can pop in for a lobster roll for £8. Add some courgette fries to that and you won’t top £12 (compare to their £20 for lobster roll and chips and you see how reasonable this is). It’s also really tasty. They have four different types of rolls but Stephen and I had the same so I can only tell you about one. It’s the one I’d heard the most about – the Seven Samurai. The delicate Asian flavours work really well with the fragile lobster taste. The roll is more like a big slab of sweet bread folded in half, almost challah-like rather than the standard brioche bun. I seemed to have far more lobster than Stephen so amounts may vary – you do need a generous portion to compete with all that bread, lovely though it was.
The courgette fries are worth a trip as well. Crunchy, and addictive. I would have appreciated some sort of sauce or dip to go with them but the courgette was juicy enough on its own for that not to be a dealbreaker. I’ll definitely pop in here again when I want a quick bite to eat and I’m in the Oxford Circus area. Lip-‘smackin’ good!

Extra brownie points for the pour your own beer tap! 

Smack Lobster on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Novelty Automation

After this we strolled round to Holborn to check out the new Novelty Automation gallery from Tim Hunkin. It’s free to get in but if you want to operate one of them yourself it’s £1-£3 depending on the complexity of the machine. The kids there absolutely loved them but they’re amusing enough even for child-free adults, with quite a lot of them being darker in tone or humour than you might suspect. Stephen strapped himself into his own private, instant eclipse (probably better than the real one the other day) and I got felt up on the Autofrisk. We watched someone else brave the rabid dog in Test your Nerve, and chuckled dryly at the machine that offered you a holiday without all the nuisance of travelling, too much sun and annoying fellow tourists.

Well worth popping by for a few giggles but you probably wouldn't spend more than an hour there if that. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Psychoward, 27th February

Last month saw the launch of a new night for the fetish scene called Psychoward. It was loosely based around the theme of medical ward, which meant the hosts and hostesses were all dressed up in latex medical costumes, face masks, etc and there were lots of nurses in PVC, although any sort of fetish wear was more than welcome. They had a lot of fun things set up and tongue was firmly in cheek as we had someone roaming around taking your blood pressure (for real!) and handing out pills and injections (not so real – the pills were smints). He also had love potions and pervert potions aplenty (these came with warnings not to overdose) which goes to show the fetish world is as much about being silly as it is about anything else. But it was most definitely a fetish event and had not the costumerie given it away, the other entertainment surely would. I think due to its size, there was a lot of kink in a concentrated area which gave it (for me anyway) a much more hardcore feel than Torture Garden, for instance, where you can easily lose sight of anything too shocking. 
There were a couple of acts on stage riffing on the medical theme – one person dressed as an asylum patient before doing her act, and the other performance involved filling various pouches around the performer’s body with blood from syringes. It was interesting for sure. In addition to this there was something that I would term performance art happening on the edges – and somewhat interactive. A slender girl stood poised in her pen until you switched on a light and then one of two boxes in front of her would light up and she would investigate what was inside. What was inside not only delighted her but threw her into a sexual frenzy – on the one side, several pairs of beautiful shoes, on the other, gorgeous corsets. She would preen and rub herself all over them in sensual ecstasy until time ran out and she had to put them away. She had the grace and fluidity of a trained dancer (I imagine she was) and she was a joy to watch. Next to her, was something that was the exact opposite to watch but transfixing nonetheless. They had someone who was offering his body modification services for the night. One young guy sat, amazingly passively, nary a change in expression on his face, as he got a swirled pattern scarified in his leg. Then a girl had some needles inserted into her back almost like tiny wings, and posed, before having them removed again. The finale of the night was for this guy to perform his body art on himself (with a little help). I can think of no other way to describe it than say he turned his penis inside out and created a ‘vulva’ out of it using piercings to hold the ‘lips’ in place – piercings he did himself. Then he took them out and nailed his scrotum to a wooden board with the help of an assistant. He stood and wiggled that a bit before having his assistant take them out. The last one got caught and you could tell it must have smarted a bit.

After that all that was left was to mingle and get on the dance floor. They were playing a mix of rock and darker 80s music, which wasn’t exactly my thing but also made a nice change from the typical drum n bass. I danced a little but called it a night earlier than usual as I actually had plans for the next day that weren’t just lying in bed waiting to go out again at night. Apparently the dance floor did pick up a bit after I left. There were also some arty visuals around the place for your optical delight and disturbance. 

Tickets were £15 on the door, which I thought was good value for the entertainment provided. Drinks were eyewateringly cheap – you got 3 drinks for 10 quid I think, and you didn’t even have to order them all at the same time. You could get a token for the others if you weren’t ready for them yet. We were really worried we wouldn’t get in so turned up about half an hour after the doors opened (at 8). Everyone else was far cooler and turned up at around 10 but the drinks were so cheap no one minded being in there while it was filling up! A seriously different night out. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Swingers, 26th February

Even though I went on the very last night of this pop-up I thought it was worth writing about as they have promised to return in September with a permanent place. So, for an idea of what to expect when that opens, read on…

Their pop-up place was in the venue formerly known as Factory 7 where I once went to an absolutely ace rave hosted by Krankbrother. But I digress. You go in and either pay for entry or confirm your tickets. They will then give you your starting time and you are free to go in and make use of the bar area, which in this case overlooked the ‘course’. It was set up a bit like a chalet and was a nice enough bar to hang out in even without playing golf.

They had two choices of street food available – when we went it was Pizza Pilgrims and Butchies, both of which I’ve had before. I didn’t really like Pizza Pilgrims when I had them ages ago but must admit their pizzas do look good. I had Butchies again, which was just as good as the first time. I do love fried chicken in a bun and it’s so nice to see it being pimped up the way burgers have always traditionally been.

At our allotted time we walked over to tee off and get our scorecard, balls and clubs. There’s maybe 5 or ten minutes between each group but the whole course is so tiny that you’re effectively forever in a queue. However, it means you get to watch the people in front of you play and you quite easily and quickly become very friendly with the people in front and behind and it just feels like you’re all playing together. I really liked this and 9 holes is just the right amount of time for it not to feel like play is taking forever.

I am already a pretty big fan of minigolf so they were kind of preaching to the converted, but I think, fiven the limited space, they did a really good job of creating a fun course with each hole different enough to the others. There was a ‘sandpit’ feature, a water feature and some areas you could consider the ‘rough’. Most holes were par 3 and you were supposed to have 6 strokes max before cutting your losses in order to keep play moving. Most of the time we didn’t need this but occasionally one was just darn tricky and we had to take the full 6 – sneaky slopes and hidden holes sometimes got the better of us! Both me and Stephen were way over par in the end but what mattered was who won out of the two of us and I’m happy to say it was me!  

So I really enjoyed my City putting and will happily go back to their permanent home in the autumn. But probably without making use of their bar. Me and their pricing policies just did not get on…

One of my pet hates is feeling taken advantage of at a bar. It happened at Little Yellow Door when they automatically included service charge and I felt similarly at Swingers. While beer prices seemed in line with other bars in the area, the wine was really expensive! I asked for a medium white wine and was given a thimbleful – I said it seemed a little small and he topped it up to the ‘large’ size and then charged me £6.50. When looking at the menu I realized their ‘mediums’ were the 125ml and a large was 175 ml. Considering 125ml is the smallest measure you can serve of wine, it seems strange to call it a medium. 

Now besides £6.50 being what I would expect to pay for a 250ml glass, what really annoyed me was the pricing structure. It seemed designed to catch you out. The pinot grigio was the house wine and if you bought the 125ml you paid £1 less than for the other wines. If you bought a bottle of the house wine, you paid £2 less than the other wines. But if you bought a ‘large’ (which I suspect is what most people would order and Swingers know this) you paid exactly the same as the other wines! Same with the reds. Having realized this after buying my first glass, I decided that if I had to pay the same price, I might as well get one of the ‘good’ wines. But then I was told they only had house because they were getting rid of stock (as it was the last night). I said I didn’t want that one as it wasn’t good value for money. “But the house wine is cheaper!” she said. And then I pointed out that it wasn’t. So then I asked for a red wine but they only had the ones they sold by the bottle. So finally I had to get a cocktail and pay an extra £3. It made me wistful for American service where they probably would have just knocked a quid off the wine, opened a red anyway, or given me a cocktail for the same price as the wine I wanted. No such initiative in England. The cocktail was nice enough – a sour made with Gentleman Jack but even so I thought £9 was a bit steep given what you can get elsewhere. So, by all means go, swing away. Just approach the ‘10th hole’ with caution!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Showstoppers, 22nd February

What can a musical that is completely improvised from audience suggestions possibly be like? A lot of fun I can tell you.

We take our seats and three musicians come on stage, along with Dylan Emery who turns out to be our show’s director-cum-narrator. A red phone rings. The premise is thus set – on the other end of the line is the producer (ostensibly Cameron Mackintosh) wanting to know if Dylan has a new show up his sleeves. Well, of course he does! Oh, what is it? Um… well… and here is where the audience has a chance to suggest the direction the show takes. We are asked for some settings and we end up with The International Space Station, Battersea Dog’s Home, the Titanic and one other. We then vote by cheering for the one we like the most. Battersea Dogs Home wins. We’re then asked for some musical styles to incorporate and the audience proffers Seussical the Musical, Fiddler on the Roof and South Pacific. Finally, Emery asks us for a style of musical that can be played on guitar. Of course we give him flamenco, the hardest to play.

Dylan gets back on the phone and tells Cameron he’s definitely got something and he’ll send over the script in about… ooh… 45 minutes? Just enough time for the actors to make something up. And hilarity ensues.

It really does. It’s improv so it’s not completely polished and you shouldn’t expect it to be. There are moments where the ‘actors’ don’t quite pick up each other’s cues, or they overlap but this is incredibly rare. They mostly succeed in putting together a very funny show, with a real narrative arc, and real, actual songs, that may even get stuck in your head! They sing in harmony, they dance in synchronization (nothing too fancy, mind) and each show is different from the last. I can’t guarantee this, having been to only one, but there were people in the audience who had clearly been before which I took as a sign that it doesn’t get too samey.

Our director doesn’t get involved in the storyline himself but instead his role is to interject and move the story along when necessary, or to interrupt in order to, basically, mix things up and challenge the performers. So, in the first half, he stopped the action to say they needed to sing the next number in a fun, punny, rhyming kind of way a la Seussical the Musical, and in the second act, he made them all sing one in the style of ‘the fast one’ from Urinetown – very fast-paced and quite the challenge to the actors.

Audience participation didn’t end with the beginning of the show. In the interval we were asked to tweet our suggestions about what would happen, which lead to our main protagonist (a female dog who wanted to be adopted and just get away from Battersea Dogs Home at any cost, despite having an admirer) being adopted by Snoop Dogg, and realizing that living with a human isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Of course, the other Dogs Home inhabitants come and find her and they all live with Snoop in a happy ending.

As well as being fairly consistently funny, they managed to get a few touching moments in, as each couple had their own lovestory and sometimes even a backstory. It was so entertaining that the first half positively whizzed by, although I must admit the pace slowed a little in the second half. There were still plenty of laughs to be had throughout.

I had thought £19 was a little expensive for this, but considering it is practically a real, full-length show, I think that’s a pretty decent price. If you love musicals and like to laugh, this is for you. 

About Me

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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.