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Wednesday 26 June 2013

Ginstock 2013

Friday 14th June - I don't really know where to start with this one, it's all a bit hazy.  Ginstock is an annual event (fingers crossed) that started in 2012, run by the Tweat Up gang who organise fantastic one off foodie / drinkie days out including recently Taco Wars, Craft Beer Battle and Ribstock.  This "summer", Tweat Up  have been making use of Merchant Yard in Haggerston where the wonderful Street Feast is held every Friday.  If you haven't been to Street Feast (read more here) then you only have this Friday and a closing party on Saturday left to experience it (and the awesome Gin Store bar upstairs).  Street Feast is then effectively relocating to Wood Wharf under the name of Truck Stop which starts on the 4th July.

Anyway, I digress.  Ginstock.  I managed by some stroke of luck to win two free (usually £35) tickets through a competition that Barchick were running in association with Boodles Gin.  List Leader Natalie managed to get a few regular tickets before it sold out, but there were others who still needed tickets that I was delighted to be able to bring along.  I was informed that my prize also involved brunch for two with breakfast cocktails at 10.30 on the morning of Ginstock at Marcus Wareing's The Gilbert Scott, plus a taxi ride from there to Haggerston for kickoff at midday.  I sadly couldn't take them up on that as I was ambitiously packing in a concert in the morning before heading over to Kingsland Road, but they told me to chat to the folks from Boodles and Gilbert Scott in the hope of rearranging.  This was probably for the best anyway, as there was absolutely no need to have more cocktails than were already included with the Ginstock ticket!

Milk and Honey, Perkin Reveller and Dishoom have so far evaded The List , and Megaro has just opened

Team List (Natalie, Luke, Libby and Cassie) arrived first and had a good system going by the time I got there, saving seats and sending troops out in to the rain to battle through the crowds.  Everyone was given a voting card which also acted as the stamp card for 10 gin based cocktails from the competing bars. I love an imperfect stamp system as it always leads to a few extra free drinks (remember Malt Jockey?).  I was a couple of drinks behind schedule so had to really knuckle down.  Every bar was vying for our attention with freebies and witty banter.  Perkin Reveller gave out a tin containing all the ingredients of their cocktails so that it could be recreated at home.  Powder Keg gave out a bottled version of their cocktail - "stick your middle finger up at Boris and neck this on the Overground".  Free food and drink vouchers, badges, popcorn, sloe gin marshmallows, stickers, moustaches, bindis - you name it, we were bribed with it.  

My camera was having a temperamental day so most of these photos are from the Perkin Reveller website - see more here.

Teapots and jam from the Perkin Reveller team
The voting cards had plenty of room for leaving comments so that you could make an informed decision 10 (or 15) cocktails later.  The comments naturally became less pretentious and more honest / imcomprehensible as the afternoon wore on.

"Excellent presentation - fresh but a bit too floral"

"Red Bull / Worcestershire Sauce?" 
"Went down easy - that's what she said"
"Deliciousness personified" - what does that mean?
My favourite - "Oh, no :( "

Respect to latecomers Victoria, who arrived at around 3 and powered through them very quickly, and Arwa who finally escaped from work near the 5pm closing deadline which was luckily extended to 6pm.  The queues were a bit crazy towards the end but in general it was just the right amount of busy.  It was great to taste the new Boodles and Opihr gins, and to meet the people behind the new Megaro bar that is opening soon in King's Cross.  There was fantastic food on offer too.  I devoured a "fatty, greasy, piggy wrap" from the wonderful Stripped Back stall run by Ben Spalding, and also later on tucked into some delicious Yum Buns.  There were gin / botanical themed ice creams and lollies available from Sorbitium Ices and The Ice Kitchen but the weather didn't help them out too much.

No idea who this is.

Time to vote!
Eventually we got to the close of play and the votes were counted up.  Our favourites were The Gilbert Scott, Dishoom and Megaro.  The Gilbert Scott "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" was a delicious, drinkable CO2 charged concoction which we all finished in seconds.  Dishoom made a wonderful orangey cocktail named after Vasant Dhoble, an Indian police officer who goes around Mumbai hitting people with a hockey stick for breaking alcohol based laws - the idea behind their breakfast cocktail was that it could pass as orange juice, and Dhoble hopefully wouldn't notice.  Megaro were the last bar to be confirmed for Ginstock but did a fantastic job with their Sipsmith twist on a Tom Collins.  The winner of Ginstock 2013 was finally announced and the trophy went to the team of Boodles and The Gilbert Scott.  I managed to catch up briefly with Dav and the team earlier on in the day, and I'm delighted that they won.  I look forward to hearing more about their Ginstock adventure when I collect the second half of my Barchick prize at their establishment.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Our party split in two at this point.  Some that were "ginned out" went to the excellent Fox pub and then on to Vietnamese food and The Book Club. I stayed put with Natalie and Arwa for the Gizzi Erskine after party lock in upstairs in the Gin Store.  It took a while for the bar to warm up but we saved our seats early before everyone else made it upstairs.  I spent the next hour playing poker and roulette in the casino earning tokens for more gin, with Arwa as a wing woman, whilst Natalie had a 7pm nap in the corner.  My secondary aim in the casino was to find a pretty lady called Flora who I had met in passing.  I wasn't very proactive sitting still at a poker table, but Arwa nearly had success by screaming "Does anyone know Flora?" in the queue for the women's toilets outside - there is no happy ending I'm afraid.  I also had a brief conversation with another female gin fan, but that ended when she said "Ergh, Battersea? Why would you live there?" - charming.  By 8pm we were totally shattered but we stuck it out for a couple more hours, surrounded by equally tired people and Gizzi Erskine's slightly terrifying Go Go Dancers who were being followed around by a cameraman.

View of Kingsland Road from the Gin Store
We eventually crawled on to an Overground train to that awful Battersea place, and had a quick spotify sing along before crashing out for most of the journey - the Powder Keg bottled cocktail was left for another day  if you are reading, Boris.  It was a hilarious, epic day filled with lovely people and awesome gin, and Ginstock 2014 has a lot of work to do to top this year.  Huge thanks to Barchick for giving me the tickets, and congratulations to Team List for making it through the day - only counts as 1 point though!  Don't forget to go to the last Street Feast this Friday or their closing party on Saturday,

Sunday 23 June 2013

Franco Manca - Odonno's - Babylon at Kensington Roof Gardens - Bangalore Express

A few odds and ends to mention from the last few weeks, starting with some food on Northcote Road:

Wednesday 12th June - After failing to get in to the private launch party of the Toyshop Bar in Putney (more on that when I actually finally make it!), List Leader Natalie and I moved on to Clapham Junction to have a drink somewhere fun.  We were too late for the excellent happy hours around (King of Ladies Man / Dime Bar / Southsider all good choices) and instead of making the sensible choice of having a swift pint in the excellent Northcote Draft House, we greedily decided to have our second dinner of the evening at Franco Manca.

They only take reservations for large groups so there is often a wait for a table, but they are quick to give you a No Logo bottled beer to pass the time.  As it was quite late, we were seated after only 10 minutes.  The menu is simple and incredibly cheap - the pizzas range from £4.50 to £6.95 which is astonishing considering the quality.  They also do takeaway, but sadly not delivery - Domino's wouldn't last a day.  The pizzas arrived quickly and were dispatched even quicker.  The dough is wonderfully squishy and moreish, and the toppings are delicious. I could definitely eat two or three in one sitting, especially at under £6.95. Head to you closest branch (Brixton Village, Westfield, Chiswick, Battersea) as soon as possible, and stop going to Pizza Express.

Odonno's late night ice cream parlour is dangerously situated just over the road from Franco Manca.  I couldn't resist, and I was confident that despite her claims of being full, Natalie would give in to peer pressure.  I also needed to start investigating more gelaterias after my completely unfounded claim to a randomer that Gelupo served the best ice cream in London.  Sure enough, once we got inside, Natalie caved and ordered two enormous scoops - she was seduced by Peanut Butter and Pistachio.  I went for Salted Caramel and Hazelnut to directly compare with Gelupo, and they are hard to choose between.  I have to say that there were more flavours in Odonno's that got my heart racing, which led to discussions with people in the queue about getting one of everything as a team.  I can see the Franco Manca + Odonno's double bill happening again soon, especially if we ever get anything resembling ice cream weather.

Tuesday 28th May - This was a long time ago now, but I thought I would fit in with some other foodie mentions.  I was lucky enough to be treated to lunch at Babylon in the Kensington Roof Gardens complex by an extremely generous parent of one of my violin pupils.  Babylon is situated on the 7th floor and has lovely views over London and the gardens below.  The prices aren't astronomical considering the location, and there is a very reasonably priced lunch menu.  We worked our way through 2 excellent courses and coffee which came with a cute complimentary box of chocolates.  The drinks menu is interesting - the Sunbeam cocktail with Proseco, Peach Liqueur and Sunflower Tea Tincture stood out.  There also 4 bottled aged cocktails to choose from - Negroni, Martinez, Manhattan and Hacienda.  They amusingly list their free water in the wine and champagne section - Thames Cuvée Brut - simple, light and refreshing.  The much loved water of the Thames lightly carbonated to give a defined mousse.  This year's vintage is quite amazing.

Afterwards we went for a wander around the gardens that form part of the club downstairs.  There are three themed gardens to explore - Spanish Garden, Tudor Garden and English Woodland.  During the height of summer this has to be one of the best places to go out in London, if you can get in.  Where else can you sip on a cocktail with Virginia the cow and a bunch of flamingos (Bill, Ben, Splosh and Pecks) wandering around?  Dress to impress and keep yours fingers crossed - the club is open on Fridays and Saturdays.

Friday 14th June - Last one to mention is Bangalore Indian restaurant next to Waterloo Station.  Similar to Buona Sera At the Jam on King's Road, Bangalore has bunk tables that you have to reach via a ladder.    The design isn't quite as cosy as at Bueno Sera as the restaurant is much bigger, but it is still a fun concept especially after a few drinks.  Book ahead for those as we didn't manage to get one when we turned up without a reservation.  We stayed anyway as we were starving after an evening of wall climbing, and Maggie (flatmate / climbing guru / monkey) highly recommended the food.  We shared some fantastic naan wraps and enormous dosas which were very good value, and a welcome change to the usual poppadom, naan, rice and curry combo.  Delicious, cheap and extremely well situated - Bangalore is a no brainer.

Three more points for that pesky List Leader (please keep coming out) and 1 for flatmate Maggie which edges her ahead of flatmate Ali.  The current List Leader has spoken of saving money and cutting back on List trips - could the door be opening for Sam or Tim to mount a challenge in the second half of the year?

Square Meal Square Meal
Square Meal Square Meal

Thursday 20 June 2013

Inamo - Bar Américain - Cinnabon

Tuesday 11th June - My friend Taro hasn't appeared on The List since his eventful trip to B.Y.O.C and Pitt Cue Co three months ago.  He finally got back on the scoreboard last Tuesday, along with a few other friends from Kensington Symphony Orchestra, when we paid a visit to Inamo in Regent Street.  After a quick pint in the cosy, well hidden Three Crowns pub round the corner, I met Taro, Anna, David, Rosie and Jason outside Inamo.

Inamo is a Japanese interactive dining experience with two restaurants currently open in London - one in Soho and  the other just South of Piccadilly Circus.  Every place setting has a projector directly above which beams down a stylish computer screen that you control with a touch sensitive mousepad.  The most important use for this is ordering your food and drink.  When you select different courses, a picture of them appears on your plate in front of you whilst drinks arrive almost as soon as you have pressed the order button.

We ordered in a hurry as we were just in time to get their Spring Offer (2 courses for £15 or 3 for £20).  We then settled and started playing with the interactive screens.  There are various games to play - Taro and I had 3 fierce games of Battleships.  You can click on Chef Cam to see how the chefs are getting on.  You can also plan ahead for the rest of the evening and even call yourself a taxi.  We enjoyed being able to keep an eye on the mounting bill and individual totals (Taro with his ridiculous Chilli cocktail won the coveted "most money spent" award), and the "request the bill" button is something every restaurant needs!

This would all be fairly pointless if the food wasn't up to scratch but luckily it was tasty, interesting, and well presented.  Jason was happy with his first sushi experience (how has he avoided it?).  Taro, resident Japanese dining expert, gave us all some top etiquette tips, particularly regarding the placement of chopsticks - put them in the wrong place and you might find yourself accidentally honouring the dead.  Guess the sorbet trio flavours proved very difficult.   The waitress even had to go check - Fuji Apple and Ponzu, Strawberry and Yoghurt, and Carrot, Yuzu and Cucumber obvs.  I can spot Ponzu sorbet a mile off.  It's a good looking place too, with bamboo and sliding doors giving you privacy, plus a wall of water (or shimmering stones as two of our number thought) adding to the sense of calm.  The Soho branch is apparently not quite as attractive but correct me if I am wrong!

We actually ate everything in this picture.

Flowing water or shimmering stones?
Five of us were still up for a drink afterwards so I looked into some options.  After being turned down on the phone by Milk and Honey for not having a reservation 24 hours in advance, we went instead to the charming Bar Américain in Brasserie Zédel.  Situated right next to Piccadilly Circus, Brasserie Zedel blends in to its surroundings and most people probably miss it on their way in to Soho.  The only thing visible is the ZL café, a beautiful, classic French coffee bar that I can picture myself reading a newspaper in with an espresso (if I ever did either of those things).  Venture a little further in however and you will be rewarded.  Head down the opulent staircase to find the Bar Américain as well as the Brasserie and the Crazy Coqs cabaret and performance venue, all through different doors from a wonderful Art Deco hallway.  I would love to come back and try out the Brasserie and especially the Cabaret as it seemed to be buzzing as we walked past.

The Bar Americain is a classy cocktail bar with cosy tables and a wonderful atmosphere. Once you enter Brasserie Zedel you no longer feel like you are seconds from the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus allowing you to relax and enjoy your evening.  They produced a very fine Aviation and a delicious Old Fashioned along with some nice mocktail Mojitos.  The beer choice of Pietra or Anchor Steam was enough for this type of bar.  Free snacks are always appreciated too - olives and spiced nuts disappeared pretty quickly.  Check out this write up on the whole venue that I discovered whilst looking for some better pictures.  Don't judge a book by its cover - head inside and discover the delights of Brasserie Zedel!

ZL Café
Bar Américain
Crazy Coqs cabaret and performance venue
I couldn't leave Piccadilly without taking Taro to Cinnabon as he had never been.  I'm amazed/upset that there aren't more of them around London.  Cinnabon make the most indulgent cinnabon buns, and serve them all squishy and warm covered in delicious frosting straight from the oven.  If you haven't had one then you need to go and get one (or order them to your door), and if you don't like them then there is something wrong with you - bring on the foodie baking community backlash.  Here are some pictures for you to salivate over whilst I go and get on a bus to Piccadilly Circus for another hit, damn you Cinnabon.

Thanks to Team KSO - come and see our final concert of the season on Monday 24th June in St.John's Smith Square at 7.30 and have a drink afterwards in the Marquis of Granby.

Square Meal

Square Meal

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Soho Food Feast - Hint Hunt

Saturday 8th June - I booked two tickets a long time ago for Soho Food Feast - a 2 day festival of food and drink from Soho's finest restaurants and bars in aid of Soho Parish Primary School.  It is sadly an annual event so you will have to wait for next year now.  I dragged List regular Sam along as he has a healthy appetite and we arrived at St. Anne's Garden nice and early to beat the crowds.  With the ticket price at £15, and food tokens at £2 we knew we had to eat a fair amount to get our money's worth - so that's what we did.

BRGR.CO, Cabana, Ceviche, Chipotle, Cinnamon Kitchen, The Fresh Olive Company, Gelupo, Hix, Lina Stores, Mestizo, Polpo, The Ivy and a few more I didn't catch the name of all made it into our tummies.  The portions were extremely generous for £2 (with the exception of Gelupo who bizarrely charged £4 for one scoop, which would normally get you two scoops in their gelateria).  The Ivy stood out for me - they offered four fantastic taster dishes, with the duck and watermelon particularly delicious.  On the drinks front, Chipotle were making good looking £4 Margaritas, Ceviche were making cute £2 baby Pisco Sours and Milk and Honey were serving up £10 giant cocktails.  There were a couple more standard bars serving up pints and Pimms, and an affordable wine tasting area in one corner.  Food demonstrations were held regularly throughout the day, events were put on for kids, and an awesome selection of funk music was pumped out by an excellent DJ.  

Lina Stores fresh ravioli
Duck and Watermelon from The Ivy

I have hung out with foodies (and drinkies - is that a word?) for the last few months, so it was interesting to go to a foodie feast mostly full of posh people out of their comfort zone.  We encountered several pushy people who didn't quite know how to handle queuing or collecting their own food, bless them.  One old bean pushed me aside as I was talking to a Lucha Libre wrestler handing out tortilla chips.  I assumed he was in a rush to get somewhere, but then he said "Excuse me, I need to get to the chips".  Really?  Anyway, they provided us with endless amusement, and the event wouldn't have the same feel without them.  Bring on next year!

Soho Food Feast kept us going for several hours, and we also popped into the new Loading Café/Bar for a spot of Fifa before going our separate ways.  I was very excited to be heading to King's Cross to take on the Hint Hunt challenge.  It was pretty much sold out for the rest of its current run, and I put myself on the waiting list for availability, though they have since created another room and released more tickets - get them fast.  Hint Hunt is an escape game, similar to an online point and click puzzle adventure, that you try to solve with a team of 3-5 people - you are put in a room together, and given 45 minutes to escape.  I assembled a crack team of Mary, Luke, Simon and Cassie to take on the challenge.  A couple of us met for a quick drink in the Euston Tap to discuss tactics before heading over to the Hint Hunt offices on Eversholt Street.  Make sure you have cash on you as they don't currently take card payments.

I obviously can't go in to much detail as I don't want to spoil the experience, so don't worry about any massive spoilers. We were greeted by our Hint Hunt guide who would be helping us throughout our ordeal - she was humorous, talking about locking us away in a dungeon, and telling tales of previous clients who had found it all too frustrating and had ripped radiators of the walls to find clues.  She also warned us that only 40% of teams manage to escape the room in time (we were doing the supposedly harder Zen Room, as opposed to John Munroe's Office).  What can I say?  We nailed it.  5.10 minutes left on the clock, 40 seconds off the record so far.  We worked well as a team (Mary and I also recently won the Dead Man's Hand trophy together) and stayed relatively calm, and are now desperate to go and do the other room.  It left us all buzzing and most of us went back to the Euston Tap afterwards to talk about how clever we all were.  I can't recommend it highly enough - it is such an innovative, well-crafted way to spend an hour, and should appeal to most people.  It is unlike everything else on in London, and you need to catch it in case it disappears!  It is currently above Book of Mormon on Trip Advisor as the #1 Thing to Do in London so it would seem I'm not alone. These games are apparently huge in Hungary - fingers crossed, many more will turn up soon that match the quality of Hint Hunt.  

Team List escaped with 5.10 minutes to spare

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