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Thursday, 4 April 2013

Opium - Real Street Food Festival - In the Hidden City

Three very different experiences to report on today from various outings over the last week.  Let's start with a hidden opium den in Chinatown:

Wednesday 27th March - The main event of the evening was a trip to see The Book of Mormon (Hasa Diga Ebowai!) in Leicester Square - a ridiculous musical from the creators of South Park that is booked up for the next few months already (well done Natalie for securing tickets). Before the show we planned to visit the Tanqueray gin popup in Floral Street only to find that it was reserved for posh people and namedroppers (can you sense the bitterness?).  With an hour to kill, Natalie and I decided to pop into Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour - look for the "hidden" jade door that is guarded by a bouncer!  It is situated at 15-16 Gerrard Street.  They are open from 17.00 most days (12.00 on Sunday) and stay open very late (3am on Fridays and Saturdays!).


We went upstairs to the Apothecary Bar where we were well looked after by Nick, a young bartender who has worked his way up the bartending chain very quickly and is in the process of writing a book - follow his exploits here.  Nick entertained us with his knowledge of spirits and gave us some tasters of Sipsmiths Gin and Chartreuse.  I went for the Opium Cocktail No.2 that is served bubbling away on dry ice, with a ginseng capsule chaser and guava jam. These strange concoctions with extra bits on the side don't always work, often going more for novelty value than actual enjoyment, but they have got this one right. The ginseng capsule gives a bitter taste that you wash down with the sweet cocktail and follow up with the jam that matches the guava puree in the drink. Unusually too, the cocktail itself is rather large (which helped me swallow the hefty £14 price tag).  Natalie went for the Flying Firecracker with which she was given firecrackers instead of the advertised sparkler for health and safety reasons - Nick probably spotted she was from the North and played it safe.

Opium Cocktail No.2
on dry ice with ginseng and jam
They have several rooms to keep you busy, the most exciting of which is the Bartender's Table where you can sit as they prepare food and drinks in front of you, and even have a go at making your own cocktails with their help.  They run Cocktail Academy sessions for groups here on Saturdays.  There is also tasty looking dim sum on offer which we didn't sample this time around.  I also spotted in their archives that they occasionally set up a Chinese Photo Booth in The Den which looks fun! I highly recommend a visit - pricey but unique.


Saturday 30th March - For four days over the Easter weekend, the Real Street Food Festival set up shop on the Southbank near the London Eye.  Team List (Lauren, Natalie and myself) descended on the riverfront at 12.30, having starved ourselves in preparation. We started at Pizza Pilgrims, who make yummy Neapolitan style pizzas. Look out for their Piaggio van with a wood fire oven in the back - you can find them in Berwick Street Market.  They will also be opening a restaurant in Soho soon so follow them on twitter to stay up to date. Update: They have opened their Pizzeria in Soho - read about it here.


We moved on to Soul Food for a very large portion of Jerk Chicken with rice and coleslaw which was delicious.  I'm not quite sure where you can find them normally! Then we had some excellent Speck Dumplings with Sausages and Sauerkraut from the Speck Mobile - Austrian food served by Austrians, Franz and Marco.  We also went back later for some Strudel.  These guys are part of the exciting Kerb collective of street food traders.  Another group doing a fantastic job of promoting street food are Kitchenette.  Check them both out if you have caught the street food bug like I have!

Speck Mobile dumplings
We decided to have a rest in the Craft Beer Rising area to warm up under their heater and to shelter from the snow.  They were a friendly bunch handing out lots of tasters from their impressive range of beers, and their presence made us stay at the festival for a lot longer.  Here we also met Jack Hobday of the Anspach and Hobday Brewery.  Jack was giving away samples of three beers that he and his housemate Paul have been creating in their kitchen - the pale ale and porter were both very nice, but their "Smoaked" beer was rather special! Compared to many smoked beers that are over the top and end up tasting like salmon, this brew had a much subtler flavour.  Click on the link above to go to their Kickstarter donation page to help them get their brewery out of their kitchen.  They have already passed their initial target but they could still do with more.  They cunningly offer different rewards depending on how much you offer them.  There are rumours that they might be popping up at the Euston Tap this Sunday 7th March from 3pm.

Anspach and Hobday artwork
from inhouse artist Amie Dearlove

We forced ourselves back out into the snow for some more food, cramming in some lovely Salt Beef from Bell and Brisket.  We went for the no bread option as we were in no mood to waste valuable meat space, but they do also serve their beef in bagels or rye bread. We then got an enormous box of paella from Jamon Jamon that was great comfort food, especially in this weather.  Both of these traders are part of Kerb too, and well worth a try!  Due to the cold, we soon found ourselves back in the Craft Beer Rising area again, ready for dessert.


We went for some Speck Mobile strudel plus some cakes from the Ion Patisserie that can normally be found in Borough market on Thursday, Friday and Saturday - there were lots of enticing options but we decided on a big old brownie and a slice of toffee and pecan cheesecake.  To fight the cold, I also got a cappuccino from the Bean About Town coffee van, and I was really impressed with it.  Surprise, surprise  - they are also part of Kerb. Now if only Kerb would bother setting up shop in South West London...


It was a really good day out, if a little cold, and it was held together well by Craft Beer Rising in the middle! The food portions were on the whole extremely generous and good value, so it is perfect for going with a group of friends to try as much as you can. Make sure you head down to the next one from 24-27th May on Southbank.



Monday 1st April - I ignored all the Easter Egg hunts and trails on offer because I normally do one with my family, but after this fell through (everyone was distracted by a new baby and it was too cold outside) I had a look on the Timeout website and decided to book the In the Hidden City Easter trail for the next day.  I assembled a last minute Team Speak Easy Find Hard with Natalie and Libby, and we met at the start point in The Wellcome Collection in Euston at 1pm.  The whole trail works via a text message system whereby you follow their clues to places around London, send them the answer, and get sent your next clue in return.  A team of 3 was actually ideal as it allowed us to move around very quickly, and reduced the chance of disagreements!  The trail sent us round the exhibition at The Wellcome Collection, before moving into Regent's Park, up Primrose Hill and ending in The Engineer pub nearby.  It is a great way to get you to walk around bits of London that you might not know too well, and is a nice non-alcoholic alternative to all the other things I have been doing! There was also a Divine Easter Egg waiting at the end for all successful teams.  We are currently lying in 8th place out of 392 teams which I am pretty happy with!


I will definitely check out some more of their events that sound fun such as The Cryptic Covent Caper or Hidden Places, Open Spaces, and I advise you all to do the same!  You pay one fee for the whole team, and all you need is a phone and a map.  They can also be found outside of London in Manchester, York, Brighton and Newcastle.

Thanks to Lady of the List Natalie for scoring an impressive hat trick, to Lauren for an all day effort at the food festival, and to Libby for her expert clue solving abilities in our quest for the pub.

Square Meal

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