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Monday 29 December 2014

Stokey Bears - Original Sin - Pisco Embassy - Rosa's Thai Café

Today on the blog - Matt The Trek.  No, not a William Shatner skit, rather a mission to Stoke Newington : The Final Frontier.  Men (and women) have boldly gone there before, some even live there. 

And it's a right schlep from Battersea.

But when Burger Bear Tom and Alastair Burgess & co. from Happiness Forgets open up new spots, not only in the same postcode but in the same building in Stokey, I pipe down, pack an overnight bag and get out CityMapper.

Tuesday 9th December - You may have spotted Tom Reaney banging out burgers, beats and bacon jam as Burger Bear on the London street food scene, at Red Gallery, or at the Old Nun's Head in SE15 (Mon, Tue, Sat). 

Earlier this year, Tom ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund Burger Bear HQ, a diner made out of two shipping containers that I'm sure we'll hear more on soon.  But whilst we wait for that to appear, you are most likely to spot him at the adorably named Stokey Bears, a new collaboration with Bear Hug Brewing on Stoke Newington Road.

Before we get to the food - that menu design.  It's part Tiki Bar, part Family Guy, and I love it. Kids will love it too, though their parents might not when they spot the Ribman's Holy Fuck Sauce in the Angry Bear burger.  Beefdogs will soon be joining Hot Wings on the menu, but you've got to go for a burger, right?

Grizzly Bear is the obvious choice.  Alternatively, double up with a Greedy Bear, go veggie with the Koala Bear or take on the mysterious Triple Threat.   Fries and onion rings arrive in massive portions so order wisely, and possibly go for "Angry" or "Chilli" fries for a bit of variety.

I'll be a Grizzly Bear man every time.  A meaty cheeseburger with double oak smoked bacon and that bacon jam you've been hearing about.  Be sure to buy a jar to take home.  Or go all out and swing by Flock & Herd in Peckham for their 100% Sussex beef too. 

The look you get if you ask for a bite...
To drink, it's got to be some Bear Hug Brewing beer, especially as each one you knock back saves a bit of the rainforest.  I'm a fan of the Hibernation IPA myself, but the Bruno Lager is very drinkable and a strong companion for the burgers.  Feeling soft? There's a brilliant Square Root London soda dispenser (unlimited refills!) by the bar.  They look after you at Stokey Bears.

By the way... There's one more weekend left of Square Root's "WTF Why Not" collaboration with Tongue'N'Cheek at the Square Root Soda Works on Amhurst Road.  More details here.


I feel like I've forgotten something? Oh yeah, that's it.  The boys from Happiness Forgets (you know, the 12th best bar in the world this year) have opened a neighbourhood cocktail bar called Original Sin below Stokey Bears, and they've only gone and put a pool table in it.  It's all coming together...

They are in a soft launch of sorts at the moment, so this is just a quick preview.  I'll report back properly in January once everything is in place.  I can tell you now though that it's a stunning joint, with inviting booths, attractive lighting, and a glorious bar that stretches as far as the eye can see.

One drink that is sure to survive the cut is Sea City, an outstanding Mezcal & Cachaca based fizz.  It's one of several £8 signature serves that sit alongside £7 Highballs (including a rousing Laphroaig & Kamm & Sons concoction) designed to tempt punters away from ordering a G&T every time.  Beers from the likes of Pressure Drop, Beavertown and Hammerton fill the fridges.  

And that's all you are getting for now.  The atmosphere & booze is great, what more do you need to know?

P.S. It's winner stays on at the pool table and we haven't lost yet. See you there.

N.B. Original Sin will be closed from 22nd December to 2nd January. 

Thanks to Helena for stealing my camera and taking some great shots whilst Ella & I defeated various London bartenders.  You can see the full set of photos on Matt The List : Facebook.


That Stokey evening actually started in Islington - breaking up the journey and all that.  We dropped in to Comedor Grill & Bar on Upper Street for some pre-burger cocktails at Pisco Embassy, a new late night pop-up pisco bar that takes over the restaurant every Friday and Saturday from 12am-5am. It doesn't have to be Slim Jim's Liquor Store every time now.

Pisco, if you didn't know, is a grape brandy made in Chile & Peru, though it can be wildly different depending on where you get it.  The Peruvians are purists whilst the Chileans like to mature and sometimes dilute their pisco before bottling.

Pisco Sour is the most well known use of it over here, and Pisco Embassy's version is heavy on the lime, with equal parts of Pisco & Lime Juice when many would keep it at less than a 2:1 ratio even. This theme continues down the menu, with most drinks too sweet for my tastes, or not strong enough, but they may well appeal to the 12am-5am Islington crowd.  I'm sure you could get Jose to whip you up something specific if need be too.


A week earlier, I was a few doors down from Pisco Embassy...

Tuesday 2nd December - Whilst most foodies (me included) are raving about the arrival of Thai hotspots Som Saa and Smoking Goat, Rosa's Thai Café are quietly taking over London having just opened their sixth site in Angel.

Spitalfields is where it all began in 2008 for the lovely Saiphin and her family. Two Soho sites, Westfield & Chelsea followed before they arrived in Islington last week.

Rosa's Thai Café in Angel

The menu is extensive but easy to navigate. It's worth noting that there are fewer dishes available at lunch. Be sure to grab some starters and salads. Fish Cakes with Crushed Peanuts & Sweet Chilli Sauce (Thod Mun Pla) hit the spot, and moreish Spicy Pork Patties (Lab Tod) come attached to colourful rice cakes. A zingy Pork Neck Salad was attractively wrapped in lettuce leaves.

Fish Cakes with Crushed Peanuts & Sweet Chillia Sauce - Thod Mun Pla

Spicy Pork Patties - Lab Tod

You can't go wrong with the generous portions of Pad Thai or Rosa's Fried Rice, but you can also push the boat out a little with the likes of Soft Shell Crab, Black Pepper Highland Venison, Pumpkin Red Curry and Broccoli in Oyster Sauce. I've heard rumours that the Pineapple Fried Rice is served in a large, hand-carved pineapple vessel.

Rosa's Fried Rice

Pork Neck Salad
I wouldn't be surprised to see 10 or more of them this time next year. A book is already on the way, set for a February release. Time to jump on board Rosa's train. You'll leave satisfied with plenty of money in hand for a return trip. 

Wine and cocktails at Rosa's Thai Café in Angel

Rosa's Angel on Urbanspoon

Friday 26 December 2014

The Good Egg - Christmas in Jerusalem Special

Merry Christmas one and all! I won't take up too much of your festive free time today; this is a short and snappy post.

With any luck, Father Christmas & co. brought you a load of cash that you don't know how to spend, or the holiday season has at least put you in a generous mood.

Either way, The Good Egg needs you!

Fresh from making waves on the London street food & brunch scene, Joel Braham (Top Londoners to watch in 2014 - Evening Standard), Oded Mizrachi (ex-Ottolenghi pastry chef) & friends at The Good Egg are looking to settle down permanently with an all-day brunch café in Stoke Newington.

They are raising the funds through Crowdcube, aiming to collect £180,000 by the end of January. Christmas Day saw them reach 50%, so things are going well, but now they need that big push to the finish.  If you haven't yet had any of their incredible Shakshuka, all the more reason to dig deep! Check out the video below (email readers click here) for more details:

If you need a little more encouragement, here are some photos from a fantastic Christmas in Jerusalem brunch that they put on at the new Kitchenette space in Ladbroke Grove last weekend.

After a little bit of deliberation, we ordered everything on the menu:

Thick cut, house-cured spiced and smoked NY-style Pastrami with Xmas pickles and Russian dressing

Homemade labneh, za'atar and olive oil

Buttermilk fried chicken with za'atar & cranberry and habenero honey

Sweet challah French toast with figs, spiced creme fraiche and date syrup

Cardamom roast squash with rocket, tahini and seeds

Sweetcorn and zucchini latkes with sour cream and homemade guacamole

Brussel sprout salad with feta, pancetta & lemon

Shakshuka with grilled halloumi

Hansen & Lyderson smoked salmon plate with cream cheese, lemon & capers

Fluffy scrambled egg pot

Freshly baked poppy-seed bagels & challah with tahini, olive oil and za'atar

Shakshuka with grilled halloumi

Brussel sprout salad with feta, pancetta & lemon

Thick cut, house-cured spiced and smoked NY style Pastrami with pickles & Russian dressing

Buttermilk fried chicken w/ za'atar & cranberry and habanero honey

Sweet challah French toast w/ figs, spiced creme fraiche and date syrup

One hit after another (that buttermilk chicken...) was washed down with Clementine Mimosas & coffees.  Another day and I might have been up for a Rosemary & Gin Fizz, or a Big Wave Golden Ale (both good signs for booze options at their restaurant), but I was too focused on the food.

What little space we had left was soon full of donuts; homemade Chanukah donuts with eggnog custard to be precise, plus some moreish Babka bread and butter pudding.

Chanukah donuts with eggnog custard

London does brunch, but not like this.  It's going to be a runaway success once it opens, we just need to make sure it has the chance to do so!  Even if you just chuck £10 their way, every little helps.  Get involved if you can on Crowdcube and/or spread the word by sharing this post on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc. using the buttons at the bottom of this post.

Eggciting times ahead. Sorry.

Happy Chanukkah faces at The Good Egg Christmas in Jerusalem Brunch at Kitchenette

Monday 22 December 2014

Holborn Grind - Bar Termini - Belsazar Vermouth

Wednesday 10th December - There's no stopping Grind & Co..  

First came Shoreditch Grind, the iconic Old Street café which made a name for itself when it started opening later and serving Espresso Martinis in 2012.  Then Soho Grind arrived earlier this year with a basement bar attached, followed by temporary pop-up Piccadilly Grind inside the Underground station.  To cap off a busy 2014, Holborn Grind opened up attached to the new Hoxton Hotel, Holborn.

Espresso Martinis are their calling card, made with Grind & Co. House Espresso Blend, Chase Vodka & Sugar Syrup.  The House Blend has recently been tweaked leading to a slightly sweeter cocktail, but it still does the business.  There's also an enjoyable Flat White Russian and an interesting Espresso Old Fashioned.

If you want a caffeine-free cocktail, you can opt for classic Negronis, Old Fashioneds and Tommy's Margaritas, or branch out to brandy based Quincey Jones and Pear Pressure creations, and the gin-laced Rhubarbie.  It's worth asking if they have some Hot Buttered Rum brewing too.  Thanos behind the bar will sort you out.  In fact, all of the staff were rather excellent on my visit.

Flat White Russian

Espresso Old Fashioned & Espresso Martinis

Thanos on Negroni duty
There's charcuterie & bruschetta to nibble on, but you could also check out Hubbard & Bell or Chicken Shop that are also attached to the hotel.  If you fancy another drink nearby, do it in style at Scarfes Bar at The Rosewood, or choose from a wide range of beers at The Holborn Whippet.

What's next for Grind & Co.?

They have just announced that a fourth site will open in London Bridge in late January, called London Grind -

Holborn Grind on Urbanspoon


Friday 12th December - Sticking to the coffee & cocktails theme, Tony Corigliano of 69 Colebrooke Row, Zetter Townhouse and Grain Store fame has just opened up a boozy little espresso joint in Soho called Bar Termini, with Illy's Marco Arrigo in charge of the caffeine.

Bar Termini opens bright and early at 7.30am (later at the weekend), serving £1 Illy espressos to be consumed "al bar" (no takeaways here) and good-looking treats from L'Anima Café.  Stronger / longer £3/4 coffee options are available to drink at the tables, if you manage to grab one of the 25-30 covers.  Booking is advisable after 5pm.

The alcohol starts flowing at around 11am, and three Tony Negronis take centre stage.  They may seem cheap at £6.50 but beware the tiny glass.  Hop over to the Highball Hoodoo for more details. They are bottled far in advance and poured out in front of you, much like the quirky Terroir (distilled flint, clay and lichen) which has survived the journey from 69 Colebrooke Row along with Death In Venice (Campari, grapefruit bitters & prosecco).  

The Bellini is beautifully presented and a delight to drink, but for best value for money, go for the outstanding Marsala Martini for £8 - Beefeater Gin, Marsala Dolce, Dry Vermouth & Almond Bitters.  This is one serious drink, with the added bonus of a palate cleansing acidic almond garnish from Tony's lab.

Rosato Negroni at Bar Termini

Bar Termini is small but perfectly formed.  A seat at the bar is always a winner, but the charming staff here make every effort to involve all tables, sitting down for a chat through the finer details of the menu when they get a chance.  For Soho, £6.50-£8 cocktails of this quality and £1 mini-paninis and coffees are a steal, though it's not just the espressos that will last only a couple of sips.  

With any luck, the festive season part-time drinkers will be absent in January and there will plenty of space for us perennial types early next year.  I have a feeling that Bar Termini will prove to be rather popular.


Feeling in need of a Negroni after all of that?  I don't blame you; it's one of the finest cocktails, and the simplest:

Pour equal parts of Gin, Rosso Vermouth and Campari into an Old Fashioned glass.  Stir with ice, give some orange peel a little squeeze, and you are done.  Too easy? Try this.

At home you can mess around with the ingredients; quirky Gins like Opihr for a different botanical kick, perhaps some Cynar or Kamm & Sons instead of Campari to vary the bitterness, and whichever Red Vermouth that takes your fancy.  Cocchi di Torino and Antica Formula seem to get the bartender's vote.

This week at home I tried the full range of Belsazar Vermouths which have recently launched in the UK.  Naturally I went straight for the Red and whipped up some Negronis, before sampling the Dry, White and lesser spotted Rosé expressions.

The Vermouths are crafted near the Black Forest in Germany with a blend of six of the best wines from South Baden, a variety of homegrown spices, herbs, peels and blossoms, and local small-batch Schladerer fruit brandies.  They are finished in stoneware casks that prevent the Vermouths from oxidating whilst the ingredients blend.

So what to do with all this Vermouth?  Well, they can be enjoyed on their own of course, but they go a lot further when you put them to work in cocktails (or the kitchen).

Tasting Notes:

Belsazar Dry – 19% - the fruity and floral tones of Mirabelle, apricot and chamomile are followed by fresh yeast and finishes with bitter aromatics,  delivering an explosion of bitter orange, gentian, coriander, wormwood and cinchona bark.  Ideal for the light gourmet kitchen and classic, dry cocktails.

Belsazar Red –  18% warm tones of vanilla, candied orange and bitter chocolate are released and enriched with traces of mace, cinnamon and cloves. Hints of dark caramel and traces of matured cherries and spices. That is what creates the typical Vermouth, slightly tart finish.  A strong partner in classic cocktails.

Belsazar Rosé17.5% - fresh and light with tones from raspberry, pink grapefruit, orange blossoms, bitter orange and currant. Summer fruit acidity and vermouth’s typical bitter-sweetness harmonize perfectly. Great in light cocktails or enjoyed straight on ice, garnished with a zest of a citrus fruit. 

Belsazar White –  18% - full-bodied sweetness and aromas of dried peach and oranges. The finishing notes of this fine fruity laxity are provided by fresh herbs and various spices. Complimented by the vermouth bitter tone.  Ideal in full-bodied cocktails or fresh long drinks.

I started with the aforementioned Negronis (which were glorious), before moving on to Manhattans, Martinis & more, taking inspiration from the Suggested Recipes section of their website.

Negroni- Belsazar Red, Moonshine Kid Dogs Nose Hop Gin, Campari

The Dry performed admirably in a very wet Martini or "Belsazar Vermouth Cocktail":

6 cl gin 
3 cl BELSAZAR Vermouth Dry 
2 dashes of orange bitters 

Stir with ice & fine strain in to chilled glass

I didn't have any orange bitters to hand, but it worked fine with a little squeeze of orange peel oils instead.  You may want to up the amount of Gin depending on your tastes.  If Gin isn't your thing, why not try making an El Presidente with Rum, Orange Curacao, Grenadine & DryVermouth.

The Rosé also makes a great Martini.  Matt Whiley (Talented Mr Fox & creator of Moonshine Kid gin) suggests a 5:2 ratio of Gin to Vermouth for that.

For the White, Belsazar suggest a simple Vermouth & Tonic combo, or White Vermouth and Pear Brandy.  I went instead for White Vermouth & Calvados in equal parts (stirred on ice & fine strain) which was a delightful drink, and again so easy to make.

Vermouth is something that no booze cupboard should be without, and you won't go wrong with the Belsazar range.  Give them a try, and don't be afraid to put your cocktail hat on at home.  The three drinks pictured above don't even need a shaker, just make sure to use plenty of ice, and chuck your glassware in the freezer for a few minutes!

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