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Friday 31 May 2013

Cryptic Covent Caper - Vestal Voyages - Simmons Bar

Saturday 25th May - Two months on from my epic weekend trip to visit Tim "French-shaw" Henshaw in Paris, Timotei came back to London with List legend Shannon and List debutante Miranda for another weekend of adventures.  I will split them in to separate posts this time since various people were involved and I wasn't with them for the whole Bank Holiday weekend.  Tim and I had discussions for a few weeks to come up with some ideas but a solid plan only really materialised a couple of days before.  We decided to start by recycling a couple of old favourites - Skyroom and In The Hidden City.

We all met at 11 (with extra Londoners Will, Tom and Cath) for an early morning brunch with The Good Egg at The Hangover Club in Skyroom.  They had all been out until 4am at O'Neils so they did very well to make it that early, and Bloody Marys and Egg Burritos (plus alka seltzers on every table!) were just what everyone needed.  Steak and Eggs has been added to the menu, though I couldn't resist going for the tasty Shakshuka again.  It is open tomorrow from 10-4 - don't miss out! Read more about The Good Egg at Skyroom here.

Next we did a cryptic clue hunt with In the Hidden City (same company as the Easter hunt that I did - read more here) around Southbank and Covent Garden.  This was perfect for tourists (though hard without Londoners or rather Tom, who basically solved it all himself) as it took us to Somerset House, National Portrait Gallery, St.Martin-in-the-Fields Crypt etc.  A new discovery for me was the excellent Stanford Cartographers shop with a giant map of London covering the whole of one floor.  We also spent about 15 minutes trying to count the number of dials at Seven Dials (it's tricky walking round in a circle looking up at the sun with a hangover), eventually solving it by placing someone underneath each dial.  It turns out that there are only six as the pillar was commissioned at an early stage of planning when there were only going to be six roads coming out of the centre.  There are several other interesting trails on their website in different parts of London (and different cities!).  It's only £16 for a team, all run by text messages, and you can start whenever you are ready - highly recommended for some innocent (sober) fun!

"Be the map!"
Six Dials and the sun on a rare outing
Tim regretted being "too tired" to shuffle for Big 2 at the end of our hunt
After speeding through the hunt in record time (88th place is good right?) we hopped on a tube up to King's Cross and made our way to the canal to go on a Vestal Voyage.  I read a couple of weeks ago about this floating pop-up bar from the team behind Vestal Vodka on Twitter and Barchick and instantly started courting Captain James with a flurry of emails so that our group could make it on to his barge, Disco Volante.  They need between 8 and 12 people to make their trips viable - they set sail up to five times on weekends, and twice in the evening on weekdays.  We only had 7 people - so close!  Just after the Captain offered me an incredible open-bar based deal if we paid a bit more, two more people signed up for trip.  We forgave latecomers Louise and Sam though and in retrospect, an open-bar might have been a tad unnecessary.  For £25 each you get two cocktails from your personal barman and a whole barge to yourself (although we did have two of the Captain's friends aboard, who stayed out of our way and bizarrely weren't interested in the drinks!).  If you don't  have enough people for a trip, there is a Doodle Poll buddying up system for small groups - email the Captain for more info.

When we reached the canal, there was no sign of Captain James and his crew.  I gave him a quick call and discovered that they were stuck behind a barge full of drunk girls who were holding up everyone at the lock round the corner.  Thankfully they managed to get past them and were only 10 minutes late.  We were welcomed aboard, given our two drinks token bottles and shown round our barge by Tom the barman as the Captain set sail.  Music was left in our hands (via Bluetooth) which led to a mix of songs about boats (obviously including this) alongside the finer works of Shaggy.  Even without the drinks, it would have been an interesting trip, particularly with the eerie section spent in the 960-yard long Islington Tunnel.

However, what made the trip was our talented barman, Tom (BYOB take note).  Louise (drunk with barge power - later with drink power) instantly put the Captain hat on and rang a bell she found in the corner of the barge to which Tom replied "that must be last orders then".  He started us off with a round of refreshing citrus based vodka cocktails (using Vestal Vodka) before allowing us to come up and ask for anything for our second free drink (all cocktails £5 after or £3 Asahi beers but you'd be a fool to take that option).  Once Tim and I went up for our second drink we didn't see the outside world again as we just got stuck at the bar chatting away, drinking "promotional" free shots (tasty Vestal Amber elderberry flower liqueur, fantastic creamy Podlasie Vodka and direct to mouth Vestal Vodka - all great) and requesting weird drinks.

What could that marmite be for?
He was very competent at making high quality stuff up on the spot including Tim's request for a drink with Port, Tequila and Tabasco in.  He also let us in on a Tabasco secret - on the bottom of the bottle is a number which represents the strength, with 1 being the strongest, although the Tabasco website says the number is in fact connected to the glass mould type.  Anyone know the answer to that one?  There was an interesting concoction with a marmite rim which Sam found to be a bit too sticky.  When Will asked for some kind of Long Island Iced Tea, he poured lots of spirits in with some ginger beer and said "That won't taste anything like a Long Island Iced Tea", clearly understanding that Will was just after as much alcohol as possible - it was named the Long Tunnel Iced Tea instead.  In between drinks, there was plenty of entertaining barman flair with straw catching, ice cube littering out the window and throwing cups into bins (better than it sounds) with Tom clearly enjoying his time in his tiny bar (compete with temporary, fairly unstable crates stuck to the walls holding up his spirits). The time flew by and we were sad to leave him behind as £5 was a bargain for anything he created.  Hats were given back, The Lion King soundtrack was turned off and we stepped back on to dry land and said goodbye to the crew who were about to do it all over again.

Tiny beer or giant man?
Most of the group were heading off to a masked ball (snakes, nude waiters, giant jenga and waltzing anyone?) whilst I was going to Soho with Team List Leader Natalie (I'll save Soho times for the next post or else it'll be too long!), but some of us decided to squeeze in one more bar in King's Cross since we were in the neighbourhood.  Simmons Bar is a crazy little place that has a 5 hour happy hour (4-9), affordable sharing cocktails in teapots, a giant skull shaped disco-ball and a downstairs Sega Megadrive room! A SEGA MEGADRIVE ROOM. The decor is bonkers with tonnes of different lamps, a wall of beer cans, school desks and a fireplace adding to its charm.  

The Teapot cocktails (G&Tea, Mar-Tea-Ni etc) went down easily alongside some craft beers.  Obviously, the main attraction is the Megadrive which has all the classic games available to play - Road Rash, Street Fighter etc.  Tim and I got hooked playing Micro Machines on a suitably tiny screen in the odd downstairs disco/games room, making him later and later for his masked ball pre-drinks.  Eventually (after a crushing 10-2 victory for Emilio over Jethro), we made a move via the lovely Burrito Café that we discovered in our last King's Cross adventure (Burrito number 2 for some) and went our separate ways.  Simmons is a great find and somewhere I will definitely be revisiting in the future, especially with Drink, Shop & Do and VOC opposite.

So ends part one of Tim, Shannon and Miranda's weekend trip to London.  Points for new places so far - 2.  We agreed to meet at 14.00 the next day giving us time to recover from our respective nights out.  Stay tuned for the next instalment, plus a separate post on the rest of my evening out in Soho with Natalie.  For more instantaneous/annoying List-themed entertainment, follow me on Twitter:

Coming up this weekend:

Toast festival in Shoreditch - food, drinks, workshops, talks and more on Saturday and Sunday.

Craft Beer Battle in Haggerston on Saturday - £10 ticket gets you 8 beers to taste and vote on - many more beers also available to drink and the wonderful Gin Store bar open upstairs.

Square Meal

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Stag's Head Hoxton - Dead Dolls Club - Dukes Brew and Que

Friday 24th May - Hot on the heels of Sister Jo and Fiancé Ant's Extreme Garnishing adventures in Clerkenwell, Sister Em and boyfriend Al got in touch about an evening in Hoxton and Haggerston to put some more points on the board.  I met Albert for a cheeky pint of Guinness in his new local boozer, Stag's Head Hoxton, whilst Emilio was speeding over (points for anyone who gets that videogame reference) from work.  Stag's Head is a quirky pub giving off a few different vibes - barbers waiting room / saloon complete with piano / cosy pub with fireplace / gig venue behind red curtains.  Check the website for events as they host everything from punk music to afternoon tea dances plus movie screenings and BBQ parties. 

We popped back to Al's new canal-side flat to collect Em and to briefly experience his ridiculous new electrostatic speakers and ploum sofa before heading along the canal to Haggerston.  I wanted to pop in to Street Feast to say hello to The Good Egg, and to have a quick drink in the lovely upstairs Gin Store - read about my first trip to Street Feast in Merchant Yard here.  I had a cocktail rather than craft beer this time around which was excellent and generous in size.  As I said before, it's one of my favourite places at the moment, and it won't be around for ever!  Apart from the free Street Feast every Friday, there are exciting one-off ticketed events coming up on Saturdays such as Craft Beer Battle (this Saturday), Ginstock and Ribstock which are run by Tweat Up.  

Ben Spalding Stripped Back "Menu"
We moved up the road for another quick drink at Dead Dolls Club, an attractive little bar restaurant set up and designed by Tinker & Tailor duo Adam Towner and Katy Gray Rosewarne who also run the creative studios called Dead Dolls Club Creative Studios in Hackney.  On the bar front, they have a special G&T menu alongside an interesting cocktail list.  I had a refreshing Bathtub and Tonic whilst Al had an extremely tasty Gardener cocktail.  The Foragers have sadly just ended a lengthy residency on the food side, but a new summer burger menu is on its way which promises to be delicious.  On Thursdays they also have live music - check the website for details.  They are making great use of a small space and the design is really eye catching - well worth a visit for food or drink or both!

We couldn't stay for long as we had a reservation down the road at Dukes Brew and Que, "home to Beavertown Brewery and the best smoked meat in town".  This has been high up on my List since Haggerston local Rayna recommended it to me.  It is extremely popular so make sure you book ahead.  They only had space at 21.00 for the three of us but we took it.  The atmosphere is fantastic with people spilling out on to the streets with food and drink.  The busy bar is worth visiting on its own - I had a local Beavertown mashup brew to start and a Moor Raw later on, both very drinkable.  Beavertown make a lot of excellent beers - 8 ball, smog rocket and their Alpha experimental series are all impressive.

The food lived up to my high expectations.  Embob went for a cute pulled pork slider, whilst I had its big brother which was one of the specials that day.  Al said his Duke's burger was the best he had tasted in London.  Everything was served in trays, similar to but shallower than the ones in Pitt Cue Co (another great place for smoked/slow-cookeds meats - read more here).  None of us went for their incredible looking ribs so I guess we'll have to return.  They also do an American Style Brunch on Sat/Sun from 11-3 - no reservations.  Check out the communal wash basin outside the saloon door toilets downstairs!  The staff were extremely friendly and fun throughout - we were honoured to be served by our Saviour (see picture below!).  Get on that Overground to Haggerston asap - with Street Feast, Tweat Up events, Dukes, Dead Dolls, Passing Clouds, Fox Craft Beer House plus much more further up Kingsland Road, you really are spoilt for choice.

Sister Em moves up into 12th place with 8 points - lots of work still to do but for the moment comfortably ahead of Sister Jo who is on 3 points.  One of my favourite List trips so far was to Feast back at the beginning of March.  They have just released tickets for the next Feast food festival which will be held from July 4th-7th at Brick Lane Yard and will include offerings from Spuntino, Moro, Flat Iron, Patty and Bun, Yum Bun and Bonnie Gull plus many more.  Get your tickets fast before it sells out here.

Square Meal Square Meal

Sunday 26 May 2013

The Lazy Fox - Fabulous Feast - London Whisky Fest

Just a few little mentions today ahead of some bigger posts from this weekend's adventures in Haggerston with Sister Em and Al, and round London with the Paris edition team.

Wednesday 22nd - Natalie, Libby and I squeezed in a quick pre-Star Trek trip to The Lazy Fox pub behind Fulham Broadway station.  The website doesn't give much away but this the second London pub from the Robot Pub Group, the other being The Thirsty Bear (order from iPads and pour pints at your table) which I mentioned here a while ago.  The Lazy Fox's innovative feature is the Wall of Beer.

You get a tab card which you slot in above the beer you want before you start pouring away.  Downside: pay for what you spill.  Upside: try lots of different beers and have as much as you want, when you want!  Thankfully The Lazy Fox is not offering the likes Carling and Magners, but is instead going for really tasty craft beers.  When I was there they had Anchor Steam, Harviestoun Schiehallion and Brooklyn Lager.  The American beers were very reasonably priced compared to what I have paid for them around London.  Get yourself down there whilst it is still relatively unknown and affordable!

Saturday 18th May - Two festivals to mention - you may have to wait until next year now if you want to go yourself!  In the afternoon I wandered over to St. John's Hill with Wandsworth local Rosie to visit the Fabulous Feast street festival (the culmination a week of foodie events at cafes, bars and restarants on St.John's Hill).  Alongside your usual cake stands there was also 'Make your own Mojitos', Bloody Mary mixing tables, and a brilliant stall outside Powder Keg Diplomacy.  They were giving away generous portions of their new dry ice cream with jam dessert, and hosting a beer and meat pairing workshop, on the same table.  Powder Keg Diplomacy is the jewel in St. John's Hill's crown, and was one of the earliest places that Team List visited - read more here.

Later on in the evening, I made my way over to Shoreditch for London Whisky Fest at Village Underground for my friend Lee's birthday.  You could choose to go from 5-9 or from 7-9.  I opted for the shorter session, but Lee, Jane and EJ started early at 5, and had clearly had a few whiskies by the time I got there.  Once you have paid entry (between £15-£25 - incredibly cheap!), you can go round sampling as many as you like, including 2 "under the counter" expensive whiskies.  There were also interesting whisky cocktails from Salt Bar in one corner, flanked by street food vendors.  More whisky fans arrived late from Lords (Sam, Mark, Henry, and Rich) but definitely got their money's worth.  Henry was worth sticking near for lines like "it screams of an oaked American Chardonnay".  Our favourites were Kilchoman, Talisker, Chicibu and the interesting range from Compass Box (Hedonism and Peat Monster in particular).  Keep an eye out for the next one and make sure you get yourself a ticket - a must for whisky fans!  

Well I couldn't not take a photo - note the tube trains on the roof
Yes, I know it isn't whisky
Compass Box range - Hedonism and Peat Monster on show
We ended the evening at Crown and Shuttle, Shoreditch's best new pub - read about my last visit here.  It doesn't get much better than Twin Peaks beer from Sierra Nevada and Thornbridge.  More posts coming soon!

Square Meal

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Kitchen Party Popup - Fourth Wall - Extreme Garnishing - Café Kick

Friday 17th May - Another night in Farringdon and Clerkenwell started out with a return trip to Lazybones with my sister Jo, her fiancée Ant and Team List regular Harriet.  I couldn't resist the slow-cooked pulled pork again, it is really something special.  Anyway, you can read more about Lazybones here.  We quickly moved off to find Kitchen Party Popup in Clerkenwell - a mix of popup dining experiences tied together by the central Fourth Wall bar, all curated by Bourne and Hollingsworth.  They have brought over the same "Grandma's living room" wallpaper from their Goodge Street bar and a few of the cocktails.  The Lychee Martini and Chimps Tea (in a teacup) were the most enjoyable of the ones we tried.

At 7.30 we were called in for Extreme Garnishing workshop (which we booked in advance - £15 each) by our hosts for the evening, Brandy & Robin (of The Robin Collective - Bompas and Parr proteges who put on bizarre food and drink events).  We weren't quite sure what to expect from the description on the website, and when we entered the room we found our places laid with syringes, knives and a mysterious looking pill.  Thankfully, Brandy and Robin were an amusing double act who quickly took away the fear with the use of a silly flip chart, although they also warned us about the finale which involved Class 3 explosives.

We started off slow, making a dinner jacket out of a napkin (Jo's collar was singled out!) and a rose out of a tomato before blindly swallowing our mysterious pill.  This turned out to be a pill for turning off your sour receptors, which we proved by eating some slices of lemon and drinking vinegar.  Then we did some creative melon carving before using our syringes to make some cocktail caviar - all clever stuff, send The Robin Collective a message if you want any of it explained.  I won't go into too much detail or you won't need to go yourselves!

One they made earlier plus some "human grade" (dead) maggots

One of my favourite parts was the use of party poppers.  We took out the coloured paper filling, leaving just the explosive, and filled it back up again with parsley before firing them at mashed potato!  No doubt you could use various other fillings for some easy to replicate Extreme Garnishing.  The two big final events were carried out by Brandy and Robin without our help - probably wise.  First up, they adapted icing sugar to make it extremely flammable and put some in the top of the pineapple - see the video below.  They have previously covered a wheel of cheese in it at a wedding for a groom who hated wedding cake, allowing him to initially conceal the fact that it wasn't a real cake, before dramatically burning away the icing to reveal the cheese.  Finally, they attempted to stuff a chicken by firing a rocket with a stuffing-laden spade attached into its rear. This involved setting up a string track for the rocket aimed at the chicken's bum, and lighting a highly explosive substance (all available from Amazon!) in the bottle. It sadly just missed, but it was great, shambolic entertainment!

Just as we were leaving, they also gave us a taste of one of their Historical Bitters.  They extract the essence from walls of famous buildings and add it to various spices to make a bottle of alcoholic bitters.  We tried a bit of Arthur Conan Doyle, who apparently tastes of cloves. Robin has made a bottle from the burial chamber of the elephant man.  Brandy has Winston Churchill in her freezer.  Keep an eye out for other new events from The Robin Collective - past events show that they an inventive and ambitious team.

Kitchen Party Popup has three other events at the moment worth checking out - 1. Rack and Ruin (£25 a head) - hearty 3 course mediaeval banquet served straight from the fire to your plates. 2. Russian Revels (£45 a head) - a theatrical dining experience with a 1920s Secret Soviet Dinner. 3. Blanch and Shock (£35 a head) - experimental food designers serving up a four course tasting menu.  The current installations will be there for four to six weeks, when they will introduce some new experiences.  Catch them before they disappear!

We ended our night with drinks in Exmouth Market.  I must confess it was my first visit to this buzzing pedestrianised street, but it certainly won't be my last.  It felt like a summer night in a European city with people spilling out onto the streets, even though it really wasn't that warm.  Moro and Morito, which I have heard good things about, were both packed.  We also passed by the Exmouth Arms who have 5cc Cocktail Club hidden away somewhere (Team List have already been to the Shoreditch one so we didn't go in).

We instead set our sights on Café Kick, a classic Continental bar/café specialising in table football that opened all the way back in 1997.  They also own Bar Kick in Shoreditch - read London Foodie's review full of excellent photos here.  The walls are covered in flags and football memorabilia and the bar shelves are packed with all kinds of bottles.  The atmosphere inside is fantastic - I could happily spend a whole day here drinking Duvel, playing cards, watching football, playing babyfoot and munching my way through their yummy bar food.  Jo ordered us some fishcakes and merguez sausages with various homemade sauces which were both delicious.  The chef popped out to pick up the plates and was delighted to chat about his food - he varies the side sauces depending on his mood!

There was a good crowd in to watch Athletico beat Real for the first time in 14 years which added to the fun.  We eventually dragged ourselves away from food and a cosy table to get involved with some table football.  It's very affordable (compared to hiring a table tennis table at Bounce for example!) at £1 a game - just put your money down and wait for your turn.  Don't be afraid of locals hogging tables, they are very friendly!  Jo turned out to be a terrifying striker, which caught Harriet and I by surprise in the first game.  Once we realised that she was just wildly swinging at everything, the tables turned and we won a hard fought victory the second time around.  I did however lose to the Duvel hangover which gets me every time - damn that tasty 9% beer.

Athletico finally beating Real after 14 years

Sister Jo makes up some List points ground on Sister Em, and fiancée Ant starts to catch up with boyfriend Al, although a Hoxton/Haggerston trip with Em and Al looks likely this Friday.  Harriet picks up a few more valuable points as she tries to set a hard score to beat before moving to Vienna.

Square Meal

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