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Tuesday 30 April 2013

Golden Bee - Callooh Callay - Cantina de Cuervo @ Jubjub - MEATmission - Rodizio Rico

Tuesday 23rd April - Despite having my ankle mauled (though not bitten) at football the night before, I stuck to my Shoreditch-based plan for the evening and met Will on the roof of The Golden Bee for a quick drink after work.  For some reason, everyone formed one long line to the bar, snaking around the whole rooftop - very British behaviour!  Once the sun comes out for good this will be a a nice spot for some beers and cocktails, though there are many exciting rooftop bars (I have a separate rooftop List!) so it isn't your only choice.  You can get yourself 2-4-1 cocktails from 5-7, Tuesday - Friday.

Golden Bee Rooftop Bar
We moved down the road, as fast as I could limp, to Callooh Callay who were launching their new menu that evening.  They have apparently had various themed menus in the past but this was my first visit so I haven't seen any previous incarnations.  We were greeted and led through a wardrobe door in to the lounge where our table was waiting.  Jane and Lee (List debutants but experienced Londoners) arrived a few seconds after we sat down.  I had originally made the booking for 2 weeks before, but the menu launch was postponed. Callooh Callay (or Marie) generously offered me the first round free for the inconvenience - not a bad deal when you are ordering four £9 cocktails.  The new theme is School which they represented by having a menu in the form of a High School Yearbook, and by dressing the bar staff in school uniform.  The first guy we saw when we arrived had a school tie for a bandana but I assumed he was just a hipster (he probably is anyway - he had the lumberjack beard).  The menus cost a fair amount to print so our waitress wasn't too happy when I pointed out a typo after a few minutes - elderflower iqueur anyone?  

The quality of cocktails varied.  I was lucky to have two of the best - 'La Penca and the Brain' and 'Monkey Nuts' were both excellent, but others seemed watered down or didn't quite live up to the description.  Thanks to our waitress for bringing us a free taster of Xante (Pear and Cognac Liqueur) which we hadn't come across before.  Perhaps they will continue to tweak them over the next few weeks.  Apart from the wardrobe entrance and the cassette wall, the design isn't too quirky and when you are sat down it feels like any old dimly lit bar.  I think once you have gone to the effort of concealing a door with a wardrobe, you should make the hidden room slightly more exciting! I can't comment on the atmosphere as it was a Tuesday night and everyone else in London was probably drinking outside in the sun.  The vibe was picking up by the time we left.

Wall made of cassettes in Callooh Callay
After a couple of rounds, we moved upstairs to Callooh Callay's secret weapon, the Jubjub bar.  It used to be a members club with different guest bartenders serving up their own menu each month, but now anyone can go up (booking advised).  Every 4 weeks or so, they completely change the bar to fit a new theme.  First off was a month as a Parisian Absinthe house serving up oysters and absinthe.  Currently it is Cantina de Cuervo, a Mexican Tequila bar.  It's a colourful little room with Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) playing on a TV in the corner.  There are several Mexican beers and cocktails on offer (as well as a wide range of tequilas), but you really have to go for the Tequila slushy made with pineapple and chilli.  It's one of the best drinks I've had since starting The List.  The Mexican street food was also tasty.  One thing that Jane ordered ran out, and so she was offered anything else for free. Obviously she went for the most expensive thing on the menu, a Chimichanga (a deep fried burrito).  This then took so long to arrive that they offered us another round of free slushies!  This took our freebies total to about £68 for about the evening.  I urge you to catch Cantina de Cuervo before it disappears on May 18th.  You may also want to head there on 5th May for the Cinco de Mayo takeover - Live Mariachi band. free slushies for those in Mexican outfits plus much more.

Despite the fantastic snack food, Will was still in need of a proper meal so we wandered over to Hoxton Square.  Red Dog Saloon had stopped serving food but luckily MEATmission (in the same series as Meat Liquor) was still open for business.  The red neon sign outside hints at the stunning interior design.  Having already eaten at Meat Liquor, I knew what to expect from the food.  I went for the Dead Hippie burger this time around which was messy and delicious.  Will went for the enormous Roast Beef Garbage Plate (order this if you are hungry) whilst Lee had the Peckham Dip (roast beef roll that you dip in bone marrow gravy and horseradish cream).  Although I was tempted by the 'Lagerita' tequila & beer slushy, we went for a jug of Brooklyn Lager to wash everything down. It's not all about the food. You can easily spend the whole evening sitting around the bar trying their mad cocktails.  The drinks menu is a great read. The description for the 'Dam Abassador' cocktail says "ACHTUNG in einem glas. Trockenbeerenauslese wine und finlandia vodka stirred down, garnished mitt ein ferroro rocher".  And how can you resist a glass of Argento Malbec? - "a cracking wine for just necking and giving you red teeth". I can see myself ending up here for late night food again pretty soon.  I was also intrigued by the mention of the MEAemisson Photobooth but we didn't investigate further this time around.  We left satisfied and went our separate ways after a successful Summer's evening out in Shoreditch!  Thanks to Will, Jane and Lee for getting involved.

Sunday 21st April - Just a quick mention for Rodizio Rico that I went to with Ali and others after her marathon last week.  She chose this Brazilian churrascaria (steakhouse) because 'rodizio' is a style of restaurant service where, upon paying a fixed price, waiters come round and bring you unlimited grilled  steaks until you can't eat anymore.  When you are finished, you turn a bar mat from green to red so that they stop offering you food.  I was only beaten by one person (yes, of course it's a competition) - the chicken sausage meat was the tipping point for me.  Final standings - Rich, me, David, Sophie, Natalie, Ali and Lauren.  There are various salads and extras available at the buffet which help to round out the meal, but the steaks are the main event.  It's good fun and you won't leave hungry!  Rodizio Rico is a chain and can be found in several places in London.  If there isn't one near you, try Rodizio Preto instead.

I don't know this woman.
Coming up: Blog on Street Feast London and more in Haggerston, plus I will possibly be ticking off more places in Farringdon and Brixton this week.

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Friday 26 April 2013

Social Eating House Opticians - Reason & Mankind - Size Matters - Ain't Nothin' But

Friday April 19th - Team List (Natalie, Harriet, Sam, Libby and myself) assembled early last Friday at 16.30 in The Crown and Two Chairmen on Dean Street to plan our evening in Soho. It's a great pub for beer and a good place to start if you are heading out nearby.  After a pint of Hoptimus Prime, some Sierra Nevadas and a Proper Job, we moved on.

Earlier in the day I received an email from The Nudge about the public opening of Social Eating House (set up by Pollen Street Social owner Jason Atherton).  Most of the fuss was about the restaurant (which was already booked up) but I was more interested in their hidden upstairs bar.  Look for the Opticians sign on Poland Street and go through the door with a blind pig on it.  Natalie and I tried to pop in before the pub, but they informed us that they were not opening until 17.30 (they are normally open from 12am-12pm).  We returned at 17.31.

We sat down at the bar in front of several barmen who I think we caught off guard.  They confirmed that we were indeed the first ever paying customers!  Feeling smug, we got down to business and worked our way through some of their cocktails.  I started with the Thermo-Nuclear Daquiri (see picture below) as I couldn't resist a cocktail that listed 'glowing radiation' and 'danger' amongst its ingredients.  They clearly love a good pun (Kindergarten Cup, Cereal Killer, Piscotheque, Robin Hood Quince of Thieves, Dill or No Dill etc) so they were distraught when Harriet failed to understand the reference and required pronunciation for 'Wi' Jam In'.

Thermo-Nuclear Daquiri
Other highlights included the Cereal Killer cocktail containing coco pops milk served in a milk carton shaped glass, and the Silver Screen which had a mini bucket of popcorn attached.  We benefited from being at the bar as a couple of imperfect drinks for other customers were passed our way.  We also had a good chat with the staff, who all seemed to hail from the North which went down especially well with fiercely Northern Natalie and Libby.  We inquired about the piggy on the door and they explained that they had hoped to call the bar 'Blind Pig' (another term for a speakeasy) but had discovered slightly too late in the day that there was already a bar with the same name (which you can find in The Anthologist near Bank).  Our bill was presented in a piggybank with tape over its eyes - my second pig-based bill after Opium presented theirs in an ornate piggybank.  I would imagine that the bar will end up being known as Opticians to people in the know - a bit catchier than Social Eating House Bar.

Cereal Killer
Silver Screen

We stayed for a couple of rounds as the banter with the mixologists was flowing.  We had a sneaky peak at their sharing cocktails - Soho Chic (on the menu) is served in a bottle in a brown bag and comes with 4 glasses that are shaped like bent, disposable plastic ones - at one stage it was going to be called Soho Tramp. They were also not quite ready to serve one in a bathtub with glow in the dark ducks and edible bubble bath!  We didn't order any of the bar food this time around, but I would guess that they rustle up some pretty tasty snacks in the restaurant downstairs.  A random girl who had also received the email from The Nudge turned up and joined us at the bar for a while.  She had a plate of something that she seemed to enjoy!  Try and head over there before the whole world does.

Piscotheque and Buck Stops Here
Kindergarten Cup

We headed back outside where the sun was still shining, and wandered up the road to find Reason & Mankind, a new unmarked bar that has opened recently in connection with The Libertine Club (occupying the space left behind by Chinawhite).  Look for the bouncer on Winsley Street and ask if you can head down to the bar.  You can reserve a space, but it wasn't too busy when we want considering it was a Friday night.  We again sat at the bar so that we could chat to our host and see the magic happen.  I went for a ridiculous cocktail ('Top Hat and Tails') that appeared from inside a smoking hat, whilst Sam's Mezcal based cocktail was left for him to mix himself with a giant syringe.  They are in the process of coming up with a new menu so I can't guarantee that the ones we had will be there, but I am certain that they will be exciting either way!

Wait for it...

The girls formed some sort of witches coven at this point and starting rating potential suitors around the room.  Meanwhile, Sam and I spotted that there was an 'anti-griddle' machine behind our barman.  He seemed eager to show it off (one of the many treats that they have inherited from Chinawhite) and so mixed up a small cocktail to make use of it.  He put down two small sticks, and poured out a small measure of the cocktail which formed a circle at the top of the stick and very quickly became an ice lolly!  I might have to get one.

We decided to head off in search of food, not really expecting to get in anywhere particularly exciting.  We found ourselves at The Sun and 13 Cantons which was on my list because of their popup food residency 'Size Matters' that was being run by the Criterion Restaurant nearby.  It looked horrendously busy, but the witches battled their way through and somehow ended up with two lovely sofas.  The premise of the popup is that you can order your starter/main/dessert in small, medium or large as you wish.  Do you want something enormous to yourself? Do you want to share lots of little things?  The choice is yours.  For example, my medium fish and chips had two pieces of fish and two portions of chips!  Harriet's medium burger option landed her 3 burgers - we can only assume that the large burger option would be 4.5 burgers?  The food was fantastic and the concept added some fun to the meal.  Size Matters is on til 4th June - I highly recommend dropping by.  You can book a table most days - check their website for details on booking and opening times.


Harriet takes the credit for our last stop, Ain't Nothin' But - an American blues bar on Kingly Street.  There is apparently always a queue but it moves along fairly quickly.  We queued for 15-20 mins which isn't too bad considering it was '1 in, 1 out'.  Sam had disappeared with my friend Lee by this point (who turned up at The Sun and 13 Cantons) as he had a party to go to.  Once inside we grabbed some drinks and headed towards the tiny stage.  The band (bass, harmonica/vocals, percussion. guitar) was excellent and the audience was very appreciative.  We eventually made our way to the very front and on to a table with fantastic sight lines to the band.  It is open til 2.30 on Fridays and Saturdays and is a great alternative to going clubbing.  We started to flag around 11pm since we started so early so we didn't stay til closing this time, but I can see it happening in the future!

Thanks to the Witches of Soho (Natalie, Libby and Harriet - 5 points each) and to Sam for keeping me company.  Natalie has overtaken Tim at the top of Team List. Dark Horse Sam has also caught up.  What's your next move Tim?

Shoreditch Trip #5 Blog from Tuesday coming soon! I'm also off to Street Feast London hopefully tonight and possibly Midnight Apothecary on Saturday.

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Tuesday 23 April 2013

Gilbert Scott - Black Door Bar - Drink, Shop & Do / Dance - VOC - Burrito Café

Wednesday April 17th - Day 3 of Tim's pursuit of Natalie's Team List points total was spent in King's Cross.  Tim, Cath and I started off at the bar at The Gilbert Scott for some classy cocktails.  We sat up at the counter and met the man behind the menu, Dav, who looked after us incredibly well along with his accomplice, Ama.  Dav gave us some tasters of Caraway liqueur and their homemade caramelised date and star anise syrup to help us decide on our first round.

We started off with the 1873 (charged with CO2), Sticky Toffee Tipple and Trade Winds which were all fantastic.  Dav spotted us eyeing up the bitters bottles and offered us some more tasters.  Next up was some homemade apple syrup, and some very tasty Mozart white chocolate liqueur.   Ama had apparently been working on a new cocktail all day containing Mozart, Frangelico and Apple Syrup amongst other things, which didn't yet have a name (or a garnish!).  We suggested 'Requiem' which they seemed to like - please let me know if anyone spots it on their menu! Cath couldn't resist and requested one in our second round whilst Tim and I had Yupanaqui and Amber Embers respectively.  Tim and I spotted a third barman doing something sneaky with a smoking cauldron at the back and told him to explain himself.  It turned out he was making my drink!  Meanwhile Ama turned up with some silly garnish for Cath that he had 'just thrown together' or in Dav's words 'spent 4 hours making'.

Dav decided at this point to whip out some Smoked Butter and Black Pepper popcorn - doesn't everyone have that lying around?  When we asked him what his strangest ingredient was, he told us to look up.  Above our head was a row of mysterious bottles - every time one of the team goes abroad, they have to bring something weird back to put on the shelf.  Tim clambered up and grabbed a Polish honey liqueur called Pas that Dav hadn't yet tried, which turned out to be pretty excellent.  We tore ourselves away eventually as we had places to be, but The Gilbert Scott was a cut above the rest.  The team behind the bar were incredibly generous and so engaging that we stayed for much longer than we were meant to.  It's perfectly placed for a drink if you are on your way in or out of the nearby stations.  Make an excuse to go their soon!

We didn't have to go far to find Black Door Bar on the first floor of The Fellow pub on York Way.  After having such wonderful cocktails at The Gilbert Scott, we decided to have a cheeky pint, but there are some classic cocktails on offer.  It's a great spot to have a few drinks after work if you are in the area, and is much more pleasant than the busier pub downstairs.  

Black Door Bar above The Fellow

We moved on quickly as we were meeting Emma, Ali and Maggie in Drink, Shop & Do round the corner for an evening of Lego Robots. That's right - LEGO ROBOTS.  Don't worry it wasn't a one off, look at their hilarious listings to find the next date.  Drink, Shop & Do is an arty shop/café/bar that holds fun events in their main room.  For example, 'Lionel Rich-Tea' is an evening of decorating Rich-Tea biscuits to look like Lionel Ritchie's face.  'Lego Robots' meanwhile is a night of competitive lego robot building.  We split into two teams and set to work, whilst munching our way through their enticing range of cakes.  Maggie, Emma and I decided early on to call ours 'Lindsay Legohan' (fresh out of Robo-rehab) having discarded Lego-las and Foghorn Lego-horn.  The other team were joined by Rosie and created a robot that actually launched a projectile AND a separate vehicle!  Despite Lindsay Lego-han's self-lowering middle arm, fully rotating helicopter blades and moveable sidekick, she didn't make it on to the podium, whilst the others grabbed 3rd place.

Lionel Rich-Tea!
It was great fun (and the cocktails are good), though more could have been made of the judging and prize-giving after we had spent 2 hours making them! The events are all free too which is very kind of them.  We will no doubt return soon, possibly for Doodle Club or Patrick Swayze Clay night (modelling clay, Ghost style, in the shape of Patrick Swayze's head).  It's worth going just for their cakes to be honest.  There is also fun stuff up on the walls that you can buy, and there are some amusing cards and gifts in the shop at the front.  

Drink, Shop & Do wall art
Emma, Ali, Rosie and Cath headed home, leaving Tim, Maggie and me to check out Drink, Shop & Dance downstairs.  It's an attractive little bar that specialises in gin, and houses some of the more lively events that require dancing space.  We sat up at the bar with Riccardo who gave us some tips on what to choose.  Riccardo was a riot - he had possibly already had a fair amount of gin himself as it was a quiet night.  We ordered three interesting gins, with a bottle of tonic water and ginger beer to mix and match.  They were all very different and didn't really need mixing - Tim's Hoxton gin almost tasted of Malibu, whilst Maggie's Berkeley Square clearly had basil in.  We also had a free taster of the other barman's favourite bottle which we could only describe as "very gin-ny".  It's a very affordable place for high quality gin (though we avoided the bottle priced at £13 per shot / £376 for the whole thing), and it's probably still unknown to most people in the area.  You don't need to be at an event upstairs to head down there.  Keep your fingers crossed for Riccardo being there.

Despite being in serious need of some savoury food to go with our cakes, we decided to squeeze in a drink at VOC in the secluded Varnisher's Yard.  VOC is a "17th Century-inspired Punch House" that specialises in bottle-matured and barrel-aged drinks.  It was shutting in half an hour, and it was pretty empty but luckily we had the perfect hostess.  We only learnt her name after we had left when Tim was sent back to procure it - "This is going to be weird", he said as he stumbled back in.  She made him outright ask for it just to make it more amusingly awkward. "We forgot to ask your name!" - "Yeah, you did..." - "Um... What's your name?" - "Ana" - you get the idea.  It does also say we were served by Mary on our bill so maybe she was messing with him.
VOC Bottles

We settled at their cosy mezzanine table with a sofa per person and tried to make a quick decision which proved difficult, partly because the drinks are so fascinating, but also because it seemed Luis Suarez had already visited and taken a chunk out of one of the menus.  Ana noticed we were struggling and came up to help, rather than hurry us.  She went through explaining some of the stranger ingredients in detail (hay-infused stout reduction, anyone?), and made us feel extremely welcome for closing time on a Wednesday night!  Along with our drinks, Ana then brought us three tasters (without us asking) from some of her pre-made bottles - Rack Punch, Raspberry Shrub and VOC Spiced Rum were all very impressive, as were the drinks that we settled on.  It's a shame that we turned up so late as this would have been a great place to spend the whole evening.  Keep a look out for VOC updates as they are renovating a large room in the back so that they can start offering substantial food alongside their enticing bar snack menu.  Yet another place that I need to return to!  Also, if you haven't yet discovered Varnisher's Yard in King's Cross, head there a.s.a.p - it's such a peaceful place and it's a stone's throw from King's Cross and St.Pancras.

VOC mezzanine
We finished off our evening with an enormous burrito from Burrito Café over the road that was luckily open until midnight.  The portions are ridiculous - most people would be fine with the (huge) small burrito.  It's a friendly place with ample space for sitting in to eat (recommended to avoid making a fool of yourself trying to consume it on the tube/bus/street).  They also sell good bottled beer (including Sierra Nevada) at very reasonable prices.  I hope they open up a SW London branch soon!

It was a seriously successful evening, especially considering how close together they all were.  With more left to try nearby, and Upper Street not too far away, King's Cross seems like a very clever place to live right now.  There's nothing Tim and I like more than fun bar staff, and Dav, Amma, mystery cauldron man, Riccardo, and Ana/Mary were a dream team that kept us highly entertained all evening.

Tim moves ahead of Team List leader Natalie with a 6 pointer, whilst Maggie finally gets some more points on the board - remember when she was winning?  Emma gets her first and last point before disappearing to Chicago for the foreseeable future.  Hopefully there will be a Chicago List special edition in the future. Ali, Cath and Rosie continue to grind out the points.  Flatmate Maggie now leads flatmate Ali 8-7, though a special mention must go to Ali this week for running the London Marathon in a ridiculous time of 3 hrs 14 mins 42 secs.  Go and sponsor her ongoing 3000 mile challenge through her blog here.

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