Friday, April 24, 2015

The Widow's Bun Ceremony, 3rd April

London is full of strange rituals and ceremonies – the Ceremony of the Keys where a Beefeater goes round locking up the Tower of London every night (and you can go and watch) is one on a large scale. At the other end of the scale is the touching ceremony held every year at the Widow’s Son pub in Bow. It also doubles as an exuse for a right ol' knees up.
Legend has it that a woman’s son went to sea and was due to return home at Easter so she baked him a hot cross bun and put it in the window for him. He didn’t turn up, but having faith that one day he would, and not wanting him to think she’d given up hope, each year she did the same. When she died and the place was turned into a pub, the pub upheld the tradition. So, each year, at 3 pm on Good Friday, a hot cross bun is hoisted into a net which hangs above the bar in remembrance of the original sailor and also, as it turns out, other sailors who have passed away over the years. Locals and non-locals alike gather to take part in/observe this East End tradition and it is quite a merry affair with music blaring, and a big spread laid on. At 3 pm on the dot a young sailor is lifted into the air to do the honours and everyone sings along to some sea shanty (I presume) and also God Save the Queen. And then we have a moment of silence as we remember those in the community who passed away, which is quite moving. But they soon lift the mood again with some tunes and that quickly gives way to karaoke.
It provides an excellent excuse to drop into a local pub which still has a community about it. There were the typical East End characters – older brazen ladies all done up in their war paint, hair and nails immaculate. There were attendees young and old, and of course, plenty of sailors. We stuck around for a couple of pints (a round was only just over £6!) and Stephen made sure to sample one of the many, many hot cross buns baked for the occasion and then  we headed off for our normal 'hipster' lives…

Thursday, April 23, 2015

R & She/Tipsy, 28th March

So, a gay R & B night, especially one that plays nothing but tracks by women can rightly be described as pretty niche. But what a popular niche that is!

Monthly at Tipsy is R & She, a clubnight covering just such a niche. Doors open at 9 and by 11:30 the place is already a sweaty mess. Tipsy is one of those basement clubs that is basically just a space, a bar and a soundsystem, no more no less. Everywhere else is for dancing, and so it is used. They warned on their Twitter feed that it gets busy and to get there early. We made a concerted effort to get there before 11 and I wouldn’t say it was very busy at all. Half an hour later and that had all changed. I was so pleased we got there that little bit earlier as it meant we could dance with a bit of room. We do like to spread out when we're dancing! And everyone was dancing straight away - the music defied you not to!

Especially with such a strong start – Amerie’s 1 Thing, Beyonce’s Naughty Girl and Aaliya’s More than a Woman made an appearance. It mostly stayed at that level although there was a weaker point in the night where we noticed they were cheating a little – playing remixes of songs made famous by men originally. For example Pretty Lady by Savana.

But other than that it was pretty solid – we bumped and ground to Nina Sky, Destiny’s Child and lo, not very long after I said I would love them to play a song by Cassie, so they did!

I don’t know if Tipsy has air conditioning but if they did it could not compete with the sheer number of bodies and the heat they were creating by moving. After a while, you just had to give yourself over to the sweat. It was all part of the fun! Naturally we stayed to the very end, even when my feet had more or less given up on me. I was happy to take a seat and sit-dance along. Fabulous, darling!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Joe's Southern Kitchen, 24th March

I’m all for getting bang for your buck but sometimes a little warning of how much food is about to come your way would be a good idea! We totally over-ordered at Bird because of this, and then, seemingly due to a quirk of fate, my friend and I did this at Joe’s as well.

I know that Stephen and I can easily eat a whole chicken between us so ordering a half chicken and another main between me and my friend seemed like a pretty sensible decision. It wasn’t. So we ordered the beef rib. What came to the table was not just one rib to share as I would have expected, but two! Yes… two! I asked Joe’s on Twitter and they confirmed that this dish is normally the one rib at 1kg. But they said sometimes, if the chef thinks it looks a bit small he’ll give you extra. So this must have been the case here which ordinarily is great but it did mean we couldn’t face finishing the equally good chicken. Without a beef rib each to eat I think we would have polished it off with room for more quite easily. But sadly we got well stuck into the beef and it was so good we couldn’t stop so we ended up leaving half the fried chicken languishing. And what I did eat of the chicken I ate out of a duty to try it, I certainly didn’t have any need to eat more! Should have asked for a doggy bag. (Or better yet – UK restaurants – start doing this as standard!). 

Joe’s Southern Kitchen first caught my eye when I noticed they had spinach and artichoke dip on their menu, something I haven’t seen on UK menus at all. This was my sole reason for putting it on my List. But in the interim, from following their twitter account, I began to want to try some of their other food as well. For ages they were known for their beer can chicken (another American standard) but lately they’ve got quite a following for their fried chicken (and even changed their Twitter handle to reflect this). And so it was the fried chicken that we tried.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I got there at about 6:15 and I noticed that happy hour finished at 6:30 so I quickly ordered me and my friend a margarita for £4 each. Worth noting that cocktails are £8 otherwise for the classics which isn’t a bad price at all for central London.

I did indeed manage to get the artichoke dip to start and we also got the corn bread with paprika butter and green tomato chutney. They have a strong ‘snacks’ menu – even better than their starters menu I would say. Jalapeno poppers and popcorn shrimp also feature so it was hard to narrow it down. I was a little disappointed when the dip arrived. It was in a tiny bowl. Typical England, I thought, thinking about the vat it would probably have come in in the States. Oh Joe’s – you totally fooled us with this serving size – we had no idea of the portions to come! The dip was ok – very cheesy, but could have done with being a tad warmer to make it easier to scoop. A bit more seasoning wouldn’t have gone amiss. Also, it was supposed to be toasted bread but as you can see this has barely seen the inside of a toaster. Crunchy bread would have made for easier dipping. Pita chips might have worked nicely.
The cornbread, however, was fantastic. It was much cakier than cornbread I’ve had in the past and we smothered it with the paprika butter which melted into the warm bread. Just yummy. The tomato chutney was nice enough but I didn't think it was needed here.

Then came the mains, which we ordered with southern fried potatoes (or home fries). You can't go massively wrong with fried potatoes but I have to say they did get them massively right, having a really good crunch and seasoning. I’ve already said how defeated we were by the mains. The chicken was spot on – succulent, with a crunchy, well flavoured coating, though it didn't seem to come with the tabasco honey I'd heard so much of. Perhaps this was the hot sauce provided on the table anyway. The beef had a nice bite and a great taste. Can it compete with somewhere like Pitt Cue or Hot Box? It’s not quite there (few places are) but it is much more than just lip service to BBQ food. I would happily order the same again. It's just what you want out of this kind of restaurant - nothing fancy, just tasty, dependable food.
Unsurprisingly for this part of town, there seemed to be quite a lot of tourists. You could tell by the conversation that the two parties next to us were on holiday (there was talk of trains to catch and ‘treating themselves to dessert cos they’re only here once’) but unlike many other places in Tourist Hell (Covent Garden), Joe’s isn’t just phoning it in. I need to go back and work my way through the rest of their snacks and give the beer can chicken a try! Or I might just have to try their new outpost in Kentish Town. That area is ripe for exploration…
Joe's Southern Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon
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Monday, April 20, 2015

(Picnic at) The Horniman Museum, 21st March

I have had on my List for about four years ‘picnic at Horniman museum’. Does eating a slice of chicken and ham pie in the cold count? I think so.

For our day’s diversions we took Stephen’s mum and her husband to the Horniman museum where they also happened to have a farmer’s market on. The best looking stall was the one dishing out sausages in baps but by the time I joined the queue they had run out of rolls so instead I got the pie. Tasty, but not the best thing to eat in the biting cold. We then went into the Horniman itself and whiled away a couple of hours staring at all the taxidermied animals. Sure it's kind of morbid but that's half the fun (the other half maybe being a juvenile delight in the name of the museum itself).

The most famous of which is, of course, the Walrus – stuffed so full that none of his natural wrinkles exist (it even has its own Twitter account). This is such a cute story from this age of exploration – people were going out and having these adventures, bringing back tales (and specimens) of exotic animals but the people back in Blighty had only the intrepid explorer’s descriptions or they had to guess at what the animal looked like. Hence overstuffing Mr Walrus. They didn’t know he had wrinkles in the wild.

How much fun can a museum full of stuffed animals be? Well, quite a lot actually. They have so many types of wildlife and species on show, we easily spent an hour wandering through it all. It gives you a chance that you would get many other places to get up close to animals of all shapes and sizes. So what if they’re dead? And, I must admit, in many cases, rather mangy looking. Some of them are more than a little forlorn. The accompanying text is a bit 'students on a field trip' but ignore that and it's just as fun for an adult to meander through and look these animals in their beady dead eyes.

They also had an exhibition on Romanians in London and a gallery dedicated to African art and culture which looked quite interesting but interest from my other parties was beginning to wane so we headed back into town for Blacklock.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lardo, 22nd March

Lardo is just lovely. It has perfectly positioned itself as a neighbourhood restaurant and was exactly the kind of place we fancied for a Sunday evening meal out, that was full of fresh and tasty, good food without us going overboard. It’s the kind of restaurant you can just pop to on a whim – no special occasion needed. Except for the fact that if you do that on a Saturday night you will probably find the place full.

And there is good reason for this. As I said, we kept things fairly simple and the food is relatively simple. The menu is quite short but long on Italian specialities. Lardo is a type of cured meat and while they didn’t have just this on the menu they do cure all their meats in house (and it made an appearance on my pizza). We orderered the burrata and lomo (I think) to start, and also asked for some bread. The burrata was so creamy without being soggy, with a good dose of salt and oil (basil flavoured, I can't remember) and the meat was silkily fatty.

After our meat mound at Blacklock the previous night neither of us wanted to go down that route again. Stephen had the grilled mackerel and I had the spinach, egg and lardo pizza. This was such a good pizza - so much flavour. The egg was the right side of over for me, not running all over the place, and no uncooked white. The lardo was placed in thin sheets across the pizza like gossamer, almost hiding among the spinach until you put it in your mouth and it surprised you with its meaty bloom. I thought it might be too doughy and that I would miss the tomato but that wasn't the case at all. You could really taste the depth of the cheese - I enjoyed every mouthful, but there was a lot there so I gave a good fraction of it to Stephen to enjoy as well. 

I was treating us and so dessert had to happen. We had a chocolate tart which came with crème fraiche (bleugh) and was indulgent without being sickly - it was more cake than tart. I'd go back to eat here in a heartbeat. 

Lardo on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blacklock, 21st March

So, it turns out Blacklock is not the kind of place to take your in-laws, not matter how much they might love meat. We waltzed in on a Saturday night at about 7:30 and got a table straight away. Had we left it much later that would have been more difficult but it didn’t get to queue-down-the-road territory, at least, not while we were there.

Their gimmick is simple – pay £20 ‘all-in’ and you get a selection of their canapes, an assortment of the different ‘chops’ they have that night on a plate and a side of your choice each. You can also choose to have one of the special chops if you want (written down the sides of the posts) but that could get pretty expensive.

So all four of us went all-in. We were brought four of each of the canapes (there are no starters). The dirty ham was a complete misnomer as there’s nothing dirty about it, but it was delicious – a very hammy bit of ham on a blob of I don’t know what but I could easily have eaten several. They were all delicious actually. Even the simple egg and anchovy was worthy of comment among us, and the blue cheese with pickles was fabulous. I’m still weaning myself onto blue cheese but I could easily have eaten all four of these myself.

Then came our plate of chops. I had wondered if it was really going to be as mountainous as everyone was making out and it was a decent showing. Stephen and I left completely stuffed but we probably ate more than our fair share as the in-laws are a bit fussy – if it had been just the two of us I dare say I would have had more than enough room for dessert and might have wished those canapes were a bit beefier too. In this instance, I still did have room for dessert but I was denied any because the in-laws were obviously keen to get the hell out of there. So I missed out on the famed cheesecake.

But anyway, what of the meat? Well, our server explained what we’d been given and advised us to chow on the beef rib first while it was piping hot – and don’t trouble yourself with a knife and fork! This was my favourite cut of the night – well grilled and seasoned, I had a good gnaw on the bones to make sure I got as much as I could. My least-liked cut was the pork belly rib which I thought tasted a bit too much like bacon. There were two types of lamb, which I couldn’t distinguish from each other (or maybe I just ended up eating the same thing twice) and a pork chop but I didn’t get a taste of that. Our sides were a grand success – a delicious half a sweet potato (a whole one might have been nice), a crunchy and light salad of heritage carrots, meat radish and some sort of seed and also some charred baby gem. All had more care and attention than you might expect of sides and this impressed me more than the meat feast itself!

The only thing I didn’t really like, was, strangely, the bread. All the chops sit on top of some bread which is meant to then soak up the meat juices. I felt like the bread may have been fried or something first as it was ever so greasy and I didn’t really like eating it. This is in contrast to the bread that sits underneath the grilled meats at Cirrik and which is one of the best bits of ordering it. 

We had chosen Blacklock because it was from people affiliated with Hawksmoor and we thought it might be a bit more ‘restauranty’ than your typical new Soho opening. But it wasn’t – it was total hipsterville with no frills décor and loud music. Which got louder at about 8 pm. I’m a pretty young and trendy person but even I prefer to be able to hear my companions without having to shout when I go out to eat. Or even to drink. (Especially when that music is uber-cheesy Kool and the Gang.) Loud music is for clubbing and late-night bars, otherwise it makes me suspect it’s used to mask a place’s lack of organic atmosphere.

Another thing I kept hearing about Blacklock was that it did cocktails for £5. I was very excited by this. Too excited. I should have known that for that price you would get a fraction of the size of a normal drink. This was literally the smallest cocktail I’ve ever been served. People shouldn’t say it is a cocktail for £5 – it is £5’s worth of cocktail. However, it was certainly strong (but then, without any room in that glass to add anything else, it was going to be!) and it tasted very nice.

So, I did like the food, but I’m not entirely convinced by the place. I’m just trying to picture if I’d be that tempted to return. If I had a hankering for some serious meat, I feel I’d be more likely to just go for a steak or a BBQ joint. Although the amount of food we had for £20 was more than decent, so this might make me head here rather than a steak house, or Flat Iron... I’m not sure. I think it’s definitely worth a visit once and would tick all the boxes if I had a meat-loving (younger) visitor I wanted to impress with London’s trendy restaurant scene but I'm not aching to go back myself. 

Blacklock on Urbanspoon

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Love Shake (food), 18th March

I’d already been to the Love Shake for some late night revelry some time ago. But I always wanted to go back and try their shakes. It’s part of their name after all. So I met up with some friends there the other night and we thought we’d get some food too. Unfortunately their cooking options were limited and the only thing they were serving were hot dogs. Awful, typically English, no flavour or substance hot dogs. Do not ever bother with these. However, milkshakes were definitely on the menu and the one I had was worth going back for.

I had the Mars Attacks and firstly, it was gargantuan. It was a hard shake with Makers Mark in it, and it was so big you couldn’t taste any alcohol in it at all. At least, not until you got towards the bottom when the whisky flavour suddenly appeared. It was served in the metal cup in which it was mixed, and it was freezing, proving it was made the proper way, with ice cream. Mine had peanut butter, toffee and chocolate and it was just delicious! I really did ‘love’ that ‘shake’. (groan). So, don't bother with the food, but definitely try a milkshake or stay for their cheap beer offers. 

The Love Shake on Urbanspoon

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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.