Created with flickr slideshow.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Brixton Brewery - Florence Brewpub - Courtesan - Effra Social

Saturday 26th October -  When I was kindly invited to sample the delights on offer at The Courtesan Dim Sum Bar in Brixton, I decided to make a day of it.  I started by paying a visit to the Brixton Brewery which officially launched on October 16th down the road at Craft Beer Co. They are operating out of a railway arch (much like the Bermondsey breweries) on Brixton Station Road, and are currently producing three beers - Reliance Pale Ale, Effra Ale and Electric IPA.  There is apparently a Stout on the horizon as well.

The guys were very friendly, handing out tasters of all 3 beers and even giving impromptu mini tours around the brewery.  It is hard to pick out a favourite as they were all delicious and dangerously drinkable, and I bought more than one of each to take home for closer inspection. The Reliance Pale Ale (4.2%) and the Effra Ale (4.5%) are both excellent session beers, and the 6.5% Electric IPA hides the extra 2% very well! They aren't planning to open a brewery tap bar on site, but they do hope to open most Saturdays for off sales. 

Bottled beers almost always have great artwork these days, but the Brixton bottles are particularly striking.  I may struggle to throw them away after emptying them of their contents. Go and get your hands on some!

Weighed down by my new bottles, I went to meet Lauren and Morgan for a wander around Brixton Village.  Despite there being numerous delightful places to stop for a drink or a bite to eat, we always seem to end up at Seven as their ever-changing £5 cocktail menu is hard to beat.  This time around I went for a Gringo Bebida made with Monte Alban Mezcal and Wild Turkey Honey, with a drunk Weevil Larva floating on the surface. Monte Alban Mezcal bottles apparently comes with weevil larvae inside, and a small jar of spares to use in whatever way you see fit! Seven is also a tapas bar and an exhibition space for local artists - check out some attractive images here.

After our slightly unnecessary 4pm cocktail, Lauren and I hopped on a bus to Herne Hill to check out the popular Florence Brewpub opposite Brockwell Park.  Two separate ranges of ales are brewed here by Peter Haydon, a former explosives engineer who spent 10 years working for the Meantime Brewing Company in Greenwich.  The Florence Ales (Weasel, Stoat, Bonobo, Beaver) are only available at Capital Pubs, whilst the quirky Head in a Hat beers can be found all over London.  I went for a pint of Beaver, a malty wheat beer with a hint of orange. You can opt for Sparkling Beaver if you like your beers fizzy.

A Head in a Hat Brewing
There is plenty to enjoy here besides the beer too, though I'm never sure if wine on tap is a good idea! The pub is has a cosy village feel to it, with a food menu to match.  There is a retro arcade table and a table football table to keep you entertained, and I'm sure there are some board games tucked away.  It is also a family friendly pub with a dedicated kids play room next to the family area.  Nearby you also have The Lido Restaurant and Bar, the superb Sesami delicatessen and café, and The Prince Regent pub which rotates interesting ales - plenty of reasons to visit Herne Hill.  Brockwell Park is also home to Lambeth Council's free "four seasons" themed fireworks display taking place on November 5th next week - read more here.

Lauren and I had different evening plans so we made our way back to Brixton together before going our separate ways.  I found Flatmate Maggie in Craft Beer Co and we wandered over to The Courtesan for an evening of cocktails and dim sum with the owner Hammant Patel Villa and professional drinker Su-Lin (who was also responsible for my recent trip to CoLD Bar - read more here).

The Courtesan herself
The courtesans that Hammant is referring to here are the ancient Chinese ladies of the court who often had the ear of the Emperor or equivalent power, and were, as a result, incredibly influential.  The courtesan concept runs tastefully through both the menu and the decor without it being a "themed" restaurant.  Empty birdcages represent the fact that whilst the courtesans seemed to be caged, it was actually those that stared at them and sought their company who were in fact trapped.  In the dining room, a picture of one troubled courtesan is centre stage, surrounded by wallpaper covered with her tears.  This is one good looking place.  We had the perfect view of the stunning bar area from our cosy corner table, and it was hard to put the camera away.  

Hammant, who has an industrial design background, joined us shortly after we arrived, and encouraged us to get a drink so that he could start telling all the stories behind his labour of love.  We duly obliged, starting with a Courtier, a Yang Yuhuan and a Treacherous Heart.  

Yang Yuhuan (often known as Yang Guifei - so beautiful, flowers are put to shame) is one of four great beauties from ancient Chinese history who make it on to the cocktail menu. The other three are Wang Zhaojun (birds fall from heaven), Xi Shi (fish forget to swim) and Diaochan (who eclipses the moon).  They apparently brought kingdoms to their knees, and their lives ended in tragedy or under mysterious circumstances. My superb Courtier (made with two whiskies, chilli, fig liqueur and lapsang-souchon tea) represents the last cigar that you might be offered after being rejected in court by one of the courtesans.  The Treacherous Heart doesn't need a back story, especially once you taste the thick blood red concoction made with plum wine, cognac, Sangiovese, chilli and red bean paste.

With a drink in hand, we wandered downstairs to take a look at the dark, attractive boudoir which can be privately booked.  They have a 5am license here but that is saved for special occasions - I hope I get a call when they have a lock in here as the atmosphere downstairs would be fantastic.

We made our way back upstairs for more cocktails and some dimsum, chosen for us to match our drinks.  We were mainly here to imbibe though, so I won't go into great detail on the food front.  We moved away from their house drinks temporarily, going for a Whisky Sour Sour (created in response to their Whisky Sour not being sour enough) and a Courtesan's Mojito (with St.Germain Elderflower liqueur).  They use elegant glassware here, and I particularly liked their enormous coppa style glasses.

All sorts of food turned up and disappeared equally quickly.  We had their house prawn crackers (simple but delicious), taro croquettes (a masterclass in frying), mushroom & duck puffs (a welcome change from the traditional pork filling), pickled vegetables (Hammant's nod to home cooking), Szechuan style ribs (messy but worth it), deep fried squid (perfect with chilli oil) and special vegetable spring rolls (more interesting than they sound!).  We will need to return for a full dinner soon to put the rest of the menu to the test - Stormy Seaweed, Wagyu & Ribeye Sliders, Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab and Chocolate Spank (no idea) are among the many things on my wishlist for next time.  

It is rare to have such high-quality dimsum outside of Central London and many that come here may think that it is bought in, but it is all created on site by a very experienced and adventurous chef.  The dim sum style of small sharing dishes originated as meals for the Royal Court where chefs would experiment to produce exciting treats for the great Emperors, "so exquisite as to touch their hearts", says Hammant.

We moved on to one final round of drinks, and Hammant was eager for one of us to finish with a Courtesan's Ghost (Wyborowa Vodka, Rose Liqueur, Lychee, Rose Peony).  This cocktail is always presented to guests on their birthday at The Courtesan with a slightly spooky message - life is fleeting, and you will one day be a ghost like the courtesan who haunts this place, so appreciate and embrace your life whilst you are still living!  On that note, why not head there tonight for a ghostly All Hallows Eve?

Hammant's passion for The Courtesan was infectious, and we had a wonderful time eating and drinking in his charming establishment.  Both the drinks and food are reasonably priced (you will want both) and the atmosphere is hard to beat.  I would head straight to the tables which have been raised to bar level so that you can have space to eat your food but still chat to the bar staff whilst they are mixing you up something special.  With food available til 10.30pm and the bar open til 2am on Fridays and Saturdays, The Courtesan is a fantastic alternative to the overcrowded Brixton Village at the weekends.  Book ahead by emailing - be sure to be courteous or you might find yourself having your last cigar!

The night was still fairly young when we left The Courtesan, so we decided to squeeze in a quick trip to nearby Effra Social.  Team List visited here a couple of months ago, but a comedy night was well under way downstairs so we didn't get to see the main room.  I'm glad I made a return visit as we had a grand old time dancing away to obscure soul music & drinking pints of Truman Lazarus and bottles of Beavertown 8-Ball, with sheet music hanging above our heads on washing lines.  There seemed to be 4 DJs all working at once having an absolute blast on the small stage, which added to the already very relaxed atmosphere.  It almost has a wedding / student union type feel to it which is infinitely preferable to going clubbing in my opinion.  There's dancing, it's open late, it's free to get in, you get pints rather than £6 bottles of Sol, you can still have a conversation and there is space for all of your friends! What's not to love?

Effra is another cracking Antic London pub (Balham Bowls Club, Tooting Tram and Social, Battersea Mess and Music Hall) with a social club feel - it was previously the local Conservative Club which shut in November 2012.  It is hard to keep up with Antic who seem to open a new place in South London every week.  That said, Farr's School of Dancing will be opening soon in Dalston Junction, taking its name from a dance school that occupied the building in the 1930s.  It will be spread over 3 floors and will apparently have a "speakeasy events space in the basement".  Stay up to date on with their other new sites by checking the Antic website regularly, or by following them on twitter.

Whilst we're on the subject of Brixton, a new cocktail bar / club / restaurant called Sorry, No Vacancies is set to open on Saturday 2nd November, with drinks from Soul Shakers and gourmet hot dogs in The Dog House.  Read more on Brixton Buzz here.

Want more ideas for going out in Brixton? Check out my posts on my last two trips there:

Crown & Anchor - Gremio de Brixton - Honest Burgers - Seven

Craft Beer Co - Kaff Bar - Wishbone - Effra Social

Square Meal

Square Meal

Tuesday 29 October 2013

City of London Distillery Bar - Rotary Room - Far Rockaway

Tuesday 22nd October - Ahead of Halloween this Thursday, I was invited to a preview evening of spooky drinks at the City of London Distillery Bar, hosted by the London Bar Consultants.  Nate Brown and Lewis Hayes are an experienced pair who first worked together in The Living Room in Manchester.  Nate has since had a big hand in setting up the London Cocktail Club chain, whilst Lewis has worked all over, including as the Bar Manager at Ronnie Scott's (best seat in the house, and free jazz piano lessons).  

London Bar Consultants - Nate, Lewis and Alfie
At CoLD Bar, they have decided to train up some bartenders from scratch, as they want to get fresh ideas from people who haven't been in the bar trade their whole working lives.  Our bartender for the evening was Rob, who got the job after seeing an ad on Gumtree!  He had no bar experience before, and after only a few months is now the brains behind their special Halloween menu, The Horrors of Gin Lane.

Gumtree Ginster Rob
The special menu will be available from Thursday 31st October to Saturday 2nd November.  There are 6 one-off cocktails available, all at £9.50, as well as some deadly Blood Shots (more on those later) for £3.50. Taro and I started off with a Poison Apple which isn't listed on the menu below but will be by Thursday.  It was possibly the best drink of the night - a spicy fruity concoction laced with gin and garnished with a miniature toffee apple.  The poison refers to the fiery pepper tincture which has more and more of an effect as the drink goes on.

We worked our way through the rest of the menu, moving on to an Eye-Ball Martini (complete with a hideous lychee & blueberry eyeball garnish), a Black Cat (a very boozy sweet iced coffee with a liquorice cat tail) and the Witches' Brew (served as a potion in a bottle).  The Tom Collins Cadaver is filled with "blood and guts" and topped with chewy edible maggots, and the Blood Bath involves making a trick or treat choice which I won't spoil.  Rob has had a lot of fun with the presentation, but has also made six dangerously drinkable cocktails along the way.  Try them all!

With the cocktails all sampled, it was time to move on to the Blood Shots, all made with City of London Gin.  Rob lined up a worrying number of glasses - Nate & Lewis were getting involved, as were seasoned drinkers Wilkes, Su-Ling, Andrew (Motley Spicer), Alex (Yelp) and Gavin (Blood, Sweat and Fashion). You can select Type A (redcurrant), Type B (plum), Type O (tomato) or mix A and B together to get Type AB!  The Bloody Mary style Type O was the winner for me, but they were all tasty.  I would imagine that tables are booking up pretty fast for this one off ghoulish gin event so email to secure a spot.

If you can't make it to their Halloween event, there are plenty of other reasons to come - 217 in fact. CoLD Bar must hold the London (or even world) record for stocking the widest range of gins.  There were 217 when we visited, but there are probably even more by now, as they are visited every week by new distillers handing over sample bottles.  What makes this all the more impressive is that they have a distillery on site, run by Master Distiller Jamie Baxter, where City of London Dry Gin is distilled.  It shows a lot of confidence to force your own gin to compete against every other variety in the world!

Jamie was on site that evening, and was kind enough to give us a quick tour of his distillery, talking us through the process.  Tours are open to the public between 12pm and 3pm on the hour.  You can also sign up for masterclasses and even make your own batch of gin if you so wish!  Jamie has plans to release a second gin with more spices to form the base of the City of London Gin brand, before getting a bit more experimental next year.

Jamie Baxter - Master Distiller of City of London Dry Gin
Last thing to mention is the Connoisseurs' Collective, a new membership club (one-off £50 fee) from the London Bar Consultants for CoLD Bar which gets you all sorts of discounts and invites to special events.  Most importantly, every time you order a drink, you get a shot of the gin used neat on the side for your sipping pleasure.  A no-brainer for London based gin fans.

Connoisseurs' Collective
I dragged myself away eventually and scampered across town to meet flatmate Maggie who has sneaked up to 4th place on the Team List Leaderboard with a series of late appearances.  We dropped in to the Rotary Room, underneath Rotary Bar and Diner near Old Street.  The Rotary Room is usually a members only bar, but we were on the guestlist for Tweat Up Meet Up, a chilled evening organised by Street Feast and Tweat Up to say thanks to all traders, workers, and bloggers for support during the first "Summer of Grub".  Cans of Camden Hells Lager were on the house, so we grabbed a couple and found a table.

It's a good looking bar, with attractive mismatching lights and mirrors all around.  The fairly-lit walk to the bar (down a staircase that is open to the elements) is reminiscent of the Gin Store at the Merchant Yard Street Feast site.  It is a shame that Rotary is only a temporary establishment, but hopefully they are going to relocate somewhere nearby.  Try and talk your way in before it disappears!

Now that the clocks have gone back, and storms are raging, it is time for the street food vendors to move indoors.  Tweat Up and Street Feast have just announced their winter project called Hawker House down the road from Broadway Market, which will run on Fridays and Saturdays for 6 weeks starting on the 8th November.  They have managed to get a 2am late license which they have never had before, and these guys know how to throw a party.  They have swapped the Gin Store for a Whisky Bar (complete with a Random Whisky Generator for the indecisive), and they will also have a Hot Bar serving up heart-warming cocktails.

They will have competition in the form of Night Tales, an alternative night market that is setting up shop over two floors of a car park near Dalston Junction.  They will also have hot drinks as well as a Mezcal mezzanine, and a Negroni station.  They have secured some excellent street food vendors including BAO and Patty & Bun, and are open Thursday-Saturday every week (starting one day before Hawker House on November 7th).  The setting sounds magical with canopies, warm lighting and planted trees, and the space will also house a WWII bunker hosting "weekly live visual art and a series of interactive exhibitions".  There is more than enough room in London for two excellent night markets, and I look forward to going to both of them!  If you can't wait til next week, there is also Kerb's Halloween Hellraiser event this Friday (1st November), 6-11pm in King's Cross.

Anyway, I digress! Maggie and I decided to grab one more drink elsewhere since we were far from home, so we walked for a few minutes to get to Far Rockaway on Curtain Road, a Queens NY inspired bar and diner covered head to toe in urban art.  We stuck to Camden beer (pale ale this time) and had a wander around.  The arty bartenders were keen to show us their favourite pieces, which is a good way to break yourself in when there is so much to see.  It is a big site so it could have ended up looking a bit tacky, but they have carried off confidently, and as a result it's a fascinating place to drink.

There are lovely little touches all around, including security cameras dressed as vultures, skateboards lining the ceiling, and bottles adorned with faces looking out at the street.  If you ask nicely, they will show you in to the private room which is full of some pretty risqué art from Saki & Bitches which you can see on Wilkes blog here - NSFW warning!

There are some interesting bottled beers, though they are fairly pricey so you might want to stick to draught.  Food-wise there is plenty to choose from, including 18" pizzas, burgers and sandwiches. You should be able to find a table as it is huge, though I can imagine it will get crazy busy here at the weekends.

There is one particularly cosy section that feels more like a café, with a wall of comic books for you to pick and choose from.  It looks like they have a vast collection, though I'm not an authority so I can't really comment any further than that.  I highly recommend paying Far Rockaway a visit, but don't expect to sit still!  It might be best to go during the afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday for a drink and a good look around, or perhaps some quiet time with one of their 4000 comics.  

Thanks to Su-Lin Ong for the CoLD Bar invite, and to London Bar Consultants and Tweat Up for the complimentary drinks.  The two prairie oysters from Nate were possibly a tad unnecessary after all the blood shots!  Who knows how many more they had after I left.  Taro picks up just 1 point (but a very fun one), and Maggie gets a speedy 2.

Square Meal

Sunday 27 October 2013

Buffalo Trace Empire - American Bar at The Savoy - Anspach & Hobday

Thursday 17th October - Thursday nights off are a rare treat for me as I am normally rehearsing with Kensington Symphony Orchestra, so it was fortunate that Barchick decided to have their London Cocktail Week after party at the Buffalo Trace Empire popup bar on my only free Thursday in October. In keeping with London Cocktail Week (post to come soon), cocktails were priced at £4, but hardly any money changed hands all evening.  

Lauren and I turned up at 18.15 to take advantage of the free drink before 18.30 offer, but this seemed to go on for most of the night.  We had vague plans to head off elsewhere later on, but we soon gave up on those.  We immediately ran into other drink bloggers Wilkes, Louis (Tuck and Vine) and Amy, who had also found their way on to the guestlist, and settled down with some Figgy Pudding cocktails and fig-infused bourbon shots which kept coming.  Various Barchicks were wandering around, and Buffalo Trace photographers were snapping away throughout the evening. Team List member Cassie wandered in just as we were taking part in one very staged shot which involved drinking a couple of Picklebacks (Buffalo Trace with a pickle juice chaser) on the house.

We propped up the bar for the rest of the evening, after befriending the entertaining barmen during the pickleback photoshoot. They generously gave us some tasters of the limited production George T. Stagg bourbon which is rarely seen outside the US.  This year's bottle is 64.1% ABV, which is relatively low compared to 71.4% in 2012!  Joey (pictured below) also humoured us by making "blind cocktails", running his hand across spirits and waiting for us to shout stop.  We eventually tore ourselves away, and nearly forgot to pay!  Big thankyou to Barchick and the Buffalo Trace team for a riotous few hours.

Lauren and I wandered off in the direction of Embankment with a new friend Keegan who we had picked up at the bar.  He was very knowledgeable on the drinks front, and before we knew it we were walking into the The American Bar at The Savoy instead of a tube station.  The American Bar recently came 20th on the World's 50 Best Bars 2013 List, due in no small part to Eric Lorincz making the drinks behind the bar.  Eric is often described as "bartending royalty" and was headhunted by The Savoy to take over when they relaunched in 2010.  Luckily for us, Eric was around when we went, and actually came over for a chat thanks to the mysterious Keegan.

We had a lovely little table right next to the pianist who was still tinkling away when we got there after midnight.  The menu was a little daunting after a couple hours of shots and blind cocktails with the Buffalo Trace guys, so Lauren and I both ordered a Negroni.  Our round was ever so slightly delayed (which we didn't notice at all) so they decided to give it them to us for free.  If you want that to happen anywhere, it is at The Savoy!  The cocktails were unsurprisingly fantastic, and the atmosphere was wonderful.  You really get a feel for the heritage that the bar has - both Ada Coleman and Harry Craddock (author of the essential Savoy Cocktail Book) tended the bar here back in the day. There is a small museum right next to the bar, and the long walk to the toilets takes you past all sorts of interesting things.  It was a brief visit, but a perfect and slightly mad way to end a very fun evening. I wonder if we will ever see Keegan again, or if he even exists?

Eric Lorincz

Sunday September 29th - Regular readers might remember that Team List came across new brewers Anspach & Hobday back in March at Craft Beer Rising on Southbank.  They were brewing out of their flat at that stage, with great results.  I have kept in contact since and run into them a couple of times, at the Euston Tap and Brew by Numbers in Bermondsey.  It has been fascinating following their progress whilst the London craft beer scene is booming, so I was delighted when they kindly invited me to a private tasting session in a flat in Liverpool Street.

Luke got the nod ahead of Natalie and Lauren to be my +1 since he is more of a beer fan.  We took a very roundabout route from Liverpool Street station via the market that I didn't know existed on Middlesex Street before we found our way to the flat.   We caught up with Jack (Hobday) and Paul (Anspach) and then got stuck in to the tasting, starting with their refreshing Sour, and an interesting IPA Saison. I'll let the experts do the talking once the beer is officially released, but there is a lot of quality here.  We also tried their Table Porter, Stout and their rather special & subtle Smoaked beer which I was impressed with back in March.  They have already won a Silver Medal at the International Beer Festival with a bottle of their Porter - not bad for something that was brewed in their kitchen.

We weren't just there to taste beers, as they gave a presentation to update friends and family on their progress, and thank their extended team who were all in the same room for the first time.  They ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to upgrade their kit, and are ready to go on all fronts except the location - they are looking around Bermondsey and Brixton but haven't settled on anywhere yet, so get in touch if you know of somewhere that might be suitable!  They have settled on a classy new design, with London clearly referenced.  Two gentlemen from different eras with a striking resemblance to Jack & Paul are centre stage, in a nod to the fact that they are using old brewing methods with a modern twist.  There is also a pigeon in a hat on the back - why not?  

They have grand plans for expansion, and hope to one day open up their own "Beer Cathedral" in London, a large home for superb beer served fresh right in the centre of London.  They have an experienced team with them, and most importantly a very good product, so I see no reason why they can't go far!  We met several enthusiastic supporters and helpers, including the wonderful one-woman PR army that is Su-Lin Ong, who is my new best friend (stay tuned for posts on CoLD Bar and Courtesan with Su-Lin).  After the presentation we tried their award winning Porter, which deserves all the praise it has received.  We also had a little sample of their Munich Pale, and the Nordic Breakfast which has an amusing back story that you'll have to ask them about.   

Hopefully they will find a home soon, and start selling their wonderful beer (ideally in Battersea, please). Thanks to the guys for the invite, and good luck for the future!

Square Meal

Friday 25 October 2013

69 Colebrooke Row - Slim Jim's Liquor Store - Smokehouse

Saturday 5th October - After holding off on Islington for the first 6 months, Team List has been all over it recently (read about the last Upper Street crawl here).  69 Colebrooke Row ("The Bar with No Name") was one of the first places to be added to my original list, and I finally made it there with Lauren at the start of October.

Tony Corigliano is the master mixologist behind 69 Colebrooke Row, and he is one of the most respected members of the cocktail world.  He often works closely with chef Bruno Loubet - Zetter Townhouse and Grain Store are their two London collaborations.   Here though, it is all about the drinks and the atmosphere.  Despite what you may have read, it is not hard to find at all, and doesn't look like a run down apartment from the outside!  It is, however, a very small space, so booking ahead is highly recommended.  Despite it only being 6.30, the bar was packed and people seemed to have been there for a while.  We were squeezed in next to the door, which brought a welcome breeze every few minutes.  

The menu is relatively short with 12 house cocktails listed, but I'm sure one of the lab-coated bartenders would be happy to go off piste.  Two drinks that stand out instantly are the Prairie Oyster (see below) and Terroir.  The latter is described as "distilled clay, flint and lichen, served straight from the bottle" - how could I resist?  Our friendly waiter brought over a sample and talked us through the thought process behind it. The word terroir normally relates to wine, specifically the land / soil that the grapes are grown in, which has a big impact on the wine's flavour profile.  Tony has essentially distilled terroir and bottled it, with a little sugar to take the edge off!  It is very drinkable, but actually a little too sweet for me - don't leave without giving it a try though.

The Prairie Oyster is Tony's take on the classic raw egg and tabasco based shot of the same name, which is often used as a hangover cure.  Tony's version replaces the raw egg with a "tomato yolk" and plays up the oyster link with an appropriately shaped dish and an oyster leaf on top.  It ends up as a bizarre, almost edible Bloody Mary which can be yours for £5.50.

Prairie Oyster
We moved on to a Death in Venice (Campari with grapefruit bitters, Prosecco and an orange twist) and an Avignon (Merlet Cognac, Camomile Syrup and Frankincense).  The Avignon was the more interesting of the two, with the frankincense having a real effect - "It smells like Dorset at Christmas", says Lauren.  The drinks are of the highest quality, though I think I need to know a bit more about the art of mixology to really appreciate everything that is going on.  I should probably sign up to one of their masterclasses which happen fairly regularly - check the website for details.

We enjoyed our stay but decided to move away from £9.50 drinks for a bit.  It's an obvious date spot, though I would save it for people that really know their cocktails.  Keep your eyes peeled for Tony's next bar which will apparently be called Air Mail, according to Barchick.

Tony Corigliano
Mary joined us as we moved on to our second stop of the evening, which is probably as far from 69 Colebrooke Row as you can get (in style, not distance).  Slim Jim's Liquor Store is a popular rock and roll dive bar, sandwiched between Upper Street's delightful cafés and restaurants.  You are transported to LA as soon as you step inside.  As one review on the website says, "It smells like grunge sounds!". One of the first things you will notice is the array of bras hanging from the ceiling - anyone that is willing to hand over their bra will receive a drink on the house apparently.  

The bar is incredibly well stocked, and it does apparently work as an off license too, though I'm not sure if this is actually true.  I would have thought that it would be more of a bourbon and beers type bar, but a lot of effort went in to Mary and Lauren's cocktails.  The bottled beers are more interesting than the draught options, and I went for a Sierra Nevada Kellerweis which I haven't seen in London before.

This is the place to rock up to towards the end of the evening, especially from Thursday-Saturday when it stays open til 3am, with no suits / ties / formal wear allowed.  There will either be a DJ playing classic tunes, or a free jukebox for all to enjoy.  We were very taken with Slim Jim's and plan to return en masse soon, after stopping off at Primark first for some bras of course.

After a few drinks, we were in need of food, so we wandered along Upper Street, past the fully booked John Salt, before veering off towards Essex Street to check out Neil Rankin's Islington pub/restaurant, Smokehouse.  Neil Rankin made a name for himself as a BBQ and butchery maestro with stints at Pitt Cue Co and John Salt, so there was a lot of expectation for Smokehouse.  I was too slow off the mark to make it to the soft opening over the summer, and watched on with increasing jealousy as it received rave reviews.  

We were fortunate to get a cosy table in the bar area that looked out into the stunning fairly lit garden - a magical place to drink which needs to extend it's licensing hours once they have made friends with all of their neighbours.  It felt like we had escaped the city, so we settled in for the rest of the evening.

We were looked after by two superb waiters who seemed to be competing to be the most entertaining. I could attempt to recount some of our bizarre conversations but they wouldn't come across as well on here.  We did particularly enjoy the enthusiasm that one of them showed when asked to go through the silly pudding menu which includes Vanilla Vanilla Vanilla, Krun Chee Nut and the mysterious Friday Pie. He convinced us to get the Friday Pie (I won't spoil the surprise, but it is delicious) and then brought an extra giant spoon to the table for himself!

Anyway, back to the meat.  I was torn between the Onglet, the Peppered Ox-Cheek and the Smoked Pork Rib-Eye.  The menu is one of those "I want to eat everything" lists, but we all somehow ended up with the Aberdeen Angus Onglet which comes with Charred Vegetables, Roast Potatoes, and a Smoked Bearnaise sauce, though the sides aren't listed.  It was easily one of the best meals I have eaten this year, and I've scoffed a fair amount in the last few months.

As well as having fantastic smoked meats to shout about, they have over 20 craft beers on tap and many more in the fridge.  I recognised one of the barmen as we had briefly met in the Earl of Essex on my last trip to Islington.  He was very generous with tasters, and passed me samples of Mikeller APA, Rogue Dead Guy Ale and Redhook Longhammer IPA amongst others.  It's not the cheapest way to try craft beer in London, but it is certainly one of the best combined beer and meat hangouts.  Smokehouse should be at the top of your to-do list.

Team List - Maggie turned up right at the end as usual for a sneaky point, whilst Mary gets 2 (bringing her into the Top 10) and Lauren gets 3 (edging towards 50 points).  I think many members of Team List would be suitable candidates for a new venture called Whitenighter. People who are visiting London can book a knowledgeable Whitenighter host who will plan an evening out, avoiding tourist traps and discovering some of London's hidden gems along the way.  They are also currently running a competition for visitors travelling to London, to win places on their London Safari night out - click HERE for more details.  If you are a Londoner who thinks you have what it takes to be a Whitenighter, you can apply on their website.  It's a fantastic idea and will hopefully give tourists a better experience of London's food and drink scene.

Square Meal

Square Meal

Square Meal

Seeking out the best places to eat, drink and be merry in London and beyond - follow @MattTheList or sign up for email updates above

Contact Us