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Friday 31 January 2014

The Joint - Seven - Sean's Bar

Thursday January 30th - I'm currently excitedly planning a Summer trip to New York, Toronto, Chicago and Minneapolis (all recommendations welcome!), but after yet another wonderful evening out in Brixton last night, I was left wondering whether anything across the pond could compare.

Yesterday began as it so often does in Brixton, at Craft Beer Co for a couple of beers.  I enjoyed a Thornbridge Sequoia & Evil Twin Nomad Wit, and Max started with a Thornbridge Chiron.  If you haven't made it to one of the Craft bars around London, put it on your to do list.  There are quality drinks besides beer, but try a few samples of their 20+ taps and you might just be converted.

Max always brings back fun gifts from his travels abroad, and he impressed both me and the Craft Beer Co staff by presenting me with a box of 3 bottled beers from the Shiga Kogen microbrewery which is situated in a Japanese ski resort - pretty niche.  They are one of the few breweries in Japan to grow their own ingredients.

Shiga Kogen beers - a microbrewery in a Japanese ski resort
Choosing where to eat in Brixton Village / Market Row is always difficult (for all the right reasons), so we took the advice of Burgaffair and Gordon Ramsay (see below) and sat ourselves down at The Joint.

The menu is short and simple - a few sides (onion rings, riblets, sweetcorn, wings, hushpuppies etc), two types of slow-cooked pulled pork / shredded chicken in a bun/wrap and BBQ ribs.  It's BYOB so pop round to Market Row Wines and pick up some cheap bottles of Brixton beer or refillable wine.

The sides are cutely presented in little bags with tags, and the Drink Me... mint-infused water is a nice touch. The onion rings were delicious - covered in a delicate batter and an indulgent BBQ sauce.  To celebrate Chinese New Year, they are currently serving special pulled pork wontons with a BBQ sweet chilli jam dip - highly recommended.

For mains, we both went for the Asian BBQ 16-hour pulled pork in a bun which comes with coleslaw, pickled ginger, chilli, spring onion and salad.  Sounds pretty great, but lots of places are doing tasty pulled pork options, so The Joint have mixed things up by infusing a sourdough (not brioche!) bun with fig and giving it a vanilla glaze.  A bonkers idea but they have pulled it off.  It might be on the sweet side for some, but personally I was very taken with it.  The initial sweet flavour quickly gives way to the pulled pork and chilli.

The portions are enormous for £7 but I managed to polish it off pretty quickly.  Beware - it is a fairly messy meal, but they do helpfully provide a mountain of napkins.  Staff were very friendly, service was good, and the oddly appropriate chart music kept us from freezing on the outdoor tables.  

No trip to Brixton is complete without a £5 cocktail from Seven.  I have already mentioned them twice on The List, so I'll go one better this time and mention them twice in one post!  Not only are the drinks an absolute bargain, the bar itself is stunning.  Even the corridor has been transformed into a beautiful, candlelit hallway, with foldable chairs efficiently hanging off hooks on the walls.  We stopped here for a Honey Chilli Margarita and a Ginger Beer Basil Mojito before moving on elsewhere, but we did return later on!

Max and I were joined by local Luke and flatmate Maggie (3rd & 7th on Team List respectively) in Sean's Bar, a cosy watering hole which pops up at night in the popular Rosie's Deli Cafe, round the corner from Seven.  The drinks are simple but well executed by the eponymous Sean and his team, all to a banging soul soundtrack, every Thursday-Saturday 6-11pm.  

UPDATE: Sean's Bar has moved out of Rosie's Deli Cafe.  Rosie is running a similar bar in the evenings currently.  Sean runs Sean's Thai Bar in Balham and is looking for a new space in Brixton.

There are only a few tables so it can be very busy, but it can also empty very quickly.  It doesn't really matter as the atmosphere is great however full it is.  Sean & co are a friendly bunch and keep themselves amused choosing the next tune.  We had a serious Barry White session yesterday, which I continued with at home. A friend texted me this morning saying that Spotify had notified him that "Matt has been listening to a lot of Barry White". I recommend starting with Sha La La Means I Love You - off you go.

I stuck to £4 G&Ts whilst Maggie went for an Old Fashioned from the £6 cocktail list.  They are mostly classics (Negroni, Sours etc) but they do a couple of specials - Quince Tom Collins was on offer yesterday. Local Brixton beers are also available for £4.

There are also several tempting food offerings including "Rosie's" Reuben Sandwich and Truffled Macaroni Cheese.  Maggie's Roast Pumpkin, Prosciutto and Walnuts was beautifully presented and disappeared quickly.

We could have stayed all night, and perhaps another time we will (late night lock in with Sean & Barry?), but we decided to pop back to Seven for one more as Maggie had never been and we were so close!  Sean's Bar is a wonderful addition to Market Row - go and check it out!

Back at Seven, we returned to our corridor and I decided to splash out and go for the £7 Smoked Ale Old Fashioned - Walnut Bitters, Wild Turkey Honey, Buffalo Trace Bourbon and London Pride Ale - aged in Buffalo Trace Barrels and Smoked with Wood Chip Smoke.  We joked that for a hefty £2 more we expected the full barrel experience, but they went one better and brought it in a skull shaped bottle filled with wood chip smoke.  The drink was part shisha, part old fashioned and the smoke-filled bottle went round the table several times.  Go and order one whilst they still have it on the menu, they change it quite often!

It's worth noting that Seven have one of the few toilets in Market Row - Wishbone opposite also have one. Also, Sunday nights upstairs at Seven are currently the home to Sunday Skool, an evening of wine tasting and tapas run by A Grape Night In aka Laura & Kiki - two wine lovers who were responsible for several exciting popups last year.

Brixton went above and beyond as usual - I'm proud to be a Londoner when there is so much quality and innovation on show all over the city.  I'll leave you with some Barry (email readers click through to the blog if you want to join in):

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Redchurch Brewery - Satan's Whiskers - King's Arms

Thursday 23rd January - List Leader Natalie has been resting on her 50 point lead for the last couple of months, so when she decided to get back involved, I thought I'd make her trek to Bethnal Green and head down the dodgiest alleyway we could find.  

Powser Street is the one you want, for after a slightly unsettling walk in the dark alongside the railtracks you will find the Redchurch Brewery who open their upstairs space as a taproom on Thursdays (6.30-11pm) and occasional Saturdays (when there is often live music).  We were joined by Luke, Lee and Sam (who are fighting it out for 3rd place) and East London locals Taro and Tom.

Unlike most brewery taprooms, a lot of care has been put into the design.  It is a really good looking bar, one that deserves to be open more than once a week!

We settled in and worked our way through the 6 beers that were available on tap - Shoreditch Blonde, Great Eastern IPA, Bethnal Pale Ale, Brick Lane Lager (seasonal), Old Ford Stout and Hackney Gold. The strong IPA and Old Ford Stout (both around 7.5%) were my favourites, but the whole range is very impressive.  Brick Lane Lager and Hackney Gold are perfect for a relaxed session.  They might need to look at their pricing again - 1/2 pint = £2, 2/3 pint = £3 - I know which I would go for!

If beer isn't your thing, there is gin and vodka from Sacred and a selection of wines.  There isn't much going on food wise, but there was a jar of Holy F*ck nuts (made using one of The Ribman's deadly hot sauces - he also has one called Christ on a Bike!).  It was pretty empty for the duration of our stay - I really hope it picks up as it's a wonderful space to have a drink, and the beer is top notch.  Maybe time to put a sandwich board out on the main road?

Our second stop of the evening was just on the corner of the creepy Powser Street and Cambridge Heath Road.  Satan's Whiskers is a "neighbourhood cocktail bar with a penchant for old school hip hop".  It was buzzing when we arrived, and we just about managed to squeeze on to a couple of tables thanks to some kind rearranging from punters.  The décor is pretty bonkers and our waitress was bizarrely decked out in stars and stripes.

There has been a lot of talk about the high quality of their classic cocktails, but we also decided to stop for food.  Sweet potato fries were a huge success, as was the quirky Scallop and Bacon Roll with Mary-Rose sauce.

Cocktails are reasonably priced at £7.50 / £8.  Vieux Carre (Rye, Cognac, Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, Bitters) was well balanced, as was the very drinkable El Diablo (Tequila, Ginger Syrup, Lime, Cassis, Ginger Ale).  Clementine Buck (Gin, Clementine and Ginger Ale) didn't impress the List Leader.  Sadly no-one went for the Salty Dog (Vodka, Pink Grapefruit and Pink Salt) which sounds very interesting.  There is an impressive back bar to get stuck in to if you don't fancy a mixed drink.

The vibe was fun and service was superb - a much needed hangout to drink in Bethnal Green along with Redchurch Brewery.  Check out Hunter S in Dalston and The Hemingway in Hackney from the same people.

Last but not least was The King's Arms, sister pub to the awesome Earl of Essex in Angel.  It is hidden away on a side street in between Bethnal Green and Shoreditch High Street.  The lack of punters suggest that it is possibly not the best situated boozer in London, but the quality of beer on offer will hopefully start to draw more people in.  It could be part of a brilliant beer crawl with Redchurch Brewery, Well & Bucket, Brewdog Shoreditch and Crown and Shuttle all nearby.

We stuck to halves again to get through as many beers as possible.  Burning Sky Aurora, Ska Modus Hoperandi, Lagunitas IPA, Bristol Beer Factory Nova ranked highly on our visit, but there is something for everyone here.  If the 20+ taps don't do it for you, dip into their excellent bottled list where you can find the likes of Evil Twin Even More Jesus, Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard, and Westbrook Citrus Ninja Exchange.

Non-beer drinkers are well catered for with a solid range of spirits and wines.  On the food front, they don't have a kitchen space at the moment, but there are £8 meat and cheese boards with some really interesting choices on there alongside massive Pig & Hay Scotch eggs (Pork & Herb, Chorizo, Mushroom & Tarragon).

I enjoy their Beer of the Day posts on their website - the staff are all clearly passionate about beer.  Buy them one of the weird bottles if you have any spare cash, they are waiting to taste quite a few of them!

I highly recommend going out of your way to drink at The King's Arms - hopefully others will start to do so as it deserves to be busier.  The Earl of Essex is equally brilliant and similarly tucked away!  The King's Arms are having a Birra del Borga Tap Takeover tomorrow (Thursday January 30th) with head brewer Leonardo di Vincenzo which should be worth a look.

Thanks to the Team for a fun, boozy Thursday.  Luke and Sam move to 39, one ahead of 4th placed Lee on 38.  Taro moved up to 8th place with 25 points.  Anna turned up in The King's Arms to pick up a sneaky point.

Square Meal

Monday 27 January 2014

Drake's - Hand and Flowers

List Dad Guest Post – For the third of these very occasional blogs, I am following the example of Giles Coren and taking a look at two of the best restaurants I have visited outside London. As readers may know, Coren’s crime in the eyes of others was to publish a list of his 50 favourite restaurants, 35 of which happened to be in London. Giles not unreasonably pointed out that he was a Londoner and therefore tended to eat in London.

He went on to say that the most recent statistics suggest that more than 80 per cent of all new restaurants that open in the UK open in London, and that it is reported that 92% of the total national restaurant spend is in the capital. So, by rights there should be no more than six or seven restaurants from outside London on his list, whereas there are in fact 15. Twice as many as there ought to be. His list is ludicrously skewed away from London and towards the provinces, giving the non-London restaurant scene fully twice the coverage it merits on the basis of performance, at the expense of a thriving capital that has been woefully underrepresented with only 35 of the 50 places, a meagre 70%.

Another matter for debate was raised recently by the Sunday Times who announced the death of fine dining (pronounced as fayn daynin). According to Joe Warwick, the editor of Where Chefs Eat, Chefs hate the words ‘fine dining’. It sounds like something from the 1950s. When chefs eat out, they want fun and informality. Apart from observing that Joe surely can’t have been around in the 1950s and that I’m definitely not a chef (ask Matt), I’m certainly all for informality. As for fun, the main requirement for me is that the food is packed with interesting flavour combinations, and that the puddings are spectacular!

Cheese and pineapple on a stick anyone? - 1970s dining
Drake's restaurant is in Ripley, Surrey – not far from the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Wisley. Like Dabbous it has one Michelin star, but the similarities don’t end there. Steve Drake, as with Ollie Dabbous, uses fresh ingredients, cooked to perfection. I have lunched there three times and, apart from some of the amuse-bouches, the menu has been completely different each time.

Steve Drake
The most recent visit started with an ‘extra’ – sweetcorn cream with grated mushroom and charcoal oil. The starter was roast scallop with truffled pearl barley, sorrel and apple. I am a huge fan of scallops and nearly always choose them when they are on a menu. These were probably the best I have tasted.

The main course was equally stunning. Poached and roasted guinea fowl with buckwheat and onion, runner beans and mustard frills.

There followed a huge plate of delicious and interesting British artisan cheeses to share between the five of us. And, yes – the dessert was spectacular. Raspberries and peach, with passion fruit sorbet, lemon verbena and cardamom ice cream. All this, plus more amuse-bouches, some in the form of ice lollies.

The Hand & Flowers at Marlow, Buckinghamshire has had greater national coverage than Drake’s, not least because it was voted No.1 UK restaurant in the 2013 National Restaurant Awards (for the record, Dabbous was number 11, Drake’s was 81 and Kitchen Table didn’t figure, possibly because it is so small). It also boasts a ‘celebrity’ chef in Tom Kerridge, plus one more Michelin star than Dabbous or Drake’s. It is a greater distance from London than Drake’s but is within easy reach for lunch. It doesn’t offer a tasting menu, so my regular dining friend Chris and I opted for the A la Carte rather than the set lunch menu since the latter consists of two or three courses with no alternative dishes.

Tom Kerridge
The ambience is that of a country pub so this would probably not be considered 1950s style fine dining, but the cooking plus the ingenuity of its menu have rightly won it much praise. I didn’t feel it was as outstanding as Drake’s, though Chris (older but not necessarily wiser than me) strongly disagreed. We did agree on the excellence of the pudding, however, which was a sweet malted gateau with malted ice cream, a yeast tuile (certainly a ‘first’) and a brandy snap filled with crème fraîche. We debated having seconds or trying the chocolate and ale cake with salted caramel and muscovado ice cream – we have previous on this, including at the quaintly named Ametsa with Arzak Instruction at the Halkin Hotel in Belgravia where we couldn’t resist a second helping of their amazing piquillo pepper ice cream. On this occasion, we felt we needed to hit the road back to London.

Back at the Hand & Flowers, we both had the starter of crispy pig’s head with rhubarb, pancetta and chickweed. The rhubarb had an intense flavour which blended wonderfully well with the other ingredients. The pig’s head was presented looking rather like a fat fish finger, so it was with some relief that I cut into it and found that the resemblance stopped at that point.

Chris had three starters instead of a main course, and pronounced the blowtorched Scottish scallop with beef and mead bouillon (broth), trompettes, nasturtium and apple as the best he had tasted – I may never know whether it was better than the scallop at Drake’s. His third choice was the ‘interesting’ potato “risotto” with baked potato stock, artichoke, pickled girolles and puntarella (chicory).

My main course was Tom Kerridge’s signature dish (winner of the main course on the BBC’s Great British Menu series of 2010) – slow cooked duck breast with savoury cabbage, duck fat chips and gravy. It was beautifully tender and fully lived up to its billing.

For outstanding cooking, Steve Drake and Tom Kerridge’s establishments are two out of town restaurants worthy of very serious consideration.

Two points in passing. I haven’t quoted prices in these articles as they can change – please check the restaurant websites via the links provided. Second, I’m not qualified to comment on wines as I am virtually teetotal. One criticism I have is that very few top restaurants provide a list of imaginative non-alcoholic drinks. Many times have I watched a waiter filling a wine glass with cranberry juice from a carton!

Square Meal

Square Meal

More List Dad Guest Posts: Dabbous - Kitchen Table

Saturday 25 January 2014

Discount Suit Company - Bones - Peters & Co. Gin Palace

Friday 17th January - Dry January? Why would you stop drinking in the most depressing month of the year? I feel it is The List's duty to soldier on and support these poor businesses that are needlessly being shunned.  Feeling fat? Run to a pub that is further away than your local.  One smart friend suggested that publicans should hand out tokens to punters in January giving loyal customers priority seating in December when all the boring people come out to play too.  Anyone out there brave enough to give that a go?

Anyway, last Friday, I met Team List regular Sam and debutant Jen in Liverpool Street for some mid-January drinks.  We started at Discount Suit Company, a lively new cocktail bar in an old tailor's store room. Trust your instincts as you walk along the deserted Wentworth Street, and look for the big shop sign (see below). Head through the door and downstairs, past the superfluous member of staff that pulls a curtain back and forth, and get stuck into one of their £7.50 house cocktails.

It was already packed by the time we arrived, so get there early if you want a seat.  The atmosphere was great all round, but having one of the cosy tables would definitely improve the evening and is essential for anyone pushing 6ft!  We appreciated the plethora of coat hooks around the bar, particularly suitable (sorry) given the name.  If you find yourself near the toilets, don't play with the random lock on a seemingly unused door - I accidentally locked in a bartender, who marched off blaming her manager.

I could have drunk the mezcal-based Pina Fumada (Smoked Pineapple) all night, but there are several other tempting concoctions such as Goldfish Bathtub with Earl Grey infused gold rum, brandy and lemon.  Bottled beers are less exciting and slightly overpriced but most of the Liverpool Street crowd won't care.  It's a great little spot to take someone to off the beaten track, and an easy place to spend a whole evening.

Next up was dinner at Bones, a new restaurant & bar with sharing food and rotisserie chicken at the Hoxton end of Kingsland Road.  Here we were joined by 13th placed Cassie and two more first timers, Caroline & Andy.  Newbie Caroline nearly took herself off to Leicester Square due to a misleading Google maps entry so, whilst we were waiting, we worked our way through the superb Redwell bottled beers on offer which I can't recommend highly enough - the IPA is particularly fine.  Also, after growing very attached to unlimited bottles of Grenache red wine in St.Anton a couple of weeks ago, we were delighted to find several varieties of it on the list at Bones.

Once everyone had arrived we ordered a great range of plates to share which worked very well.  The Crispy Pigs Ears were a little too reminiscent of, well, pigs ears, and the Ceviche didn't stand out, but everything else was rather wonderful.  The simple Rotisserie Chicken was beautifully flavoured, Pigeon breast salad with toasted hazelnuts disappeared very quickly, and the Squid & Chorizo Sourdough Bruschetta was keenly fought over.  Sam was however pretty devastated when the variety of foods on his plate caused him to inadvertently eat a mouthful containing a key piece of halloumi that he had been saving for the end - first world problems.

Service was definitely on the slow side but I'm sure they will find their feet soon enough.  Considering we were next to the bar, getting a glass of Grenaaaaaaache seemed to be a very complicated process.  We nearly had a mousse-related death when Cassie wasn't warned that her dessert contained nuts - luckily she spotted it.  Several of us enjoyed a portion of their Deep Apple Pie which was cinnamon heavy in a good way.

It's a great looking place and the prices are very reasonable.  The sharing plates are interesting and will change regularly, and their rotisserie chicken stands up well to likes of Chicken Shop.  I would like to see the Redwell beers or something local on tap rather than in bottles, but that's not a deal-breaker - well worth a visit.

We lost Sam and Jen at this point as our last stop was a bus ride away at F.Cooke's Pie and Mash shop on Broadway Market.  By day, this classic London establishment that is over 100 years old serves up pie, mash, liquor and eels to hungry punters, but at night they hand over to various popups.  According to scientist Cassie, all eels mysteriously originate from the same source which has never been found.  She also claimed that they occasionally crawl across land - she lost my trust at this point.

Back to last Friday - At the moment, Peters & Co. Gin Palace have the keys and are running a relaxed candlelit gin bar from 7pm-1am, every Thursday-Saturday for the foreseeable future.  There is food available, currently in the form of well-sourced platters, but pies may soon make it on to the evening menu. There are also Harviestoun beers and Chapel Down wines on the menu to keep the gin-haters happy.

Current F.Cooke owner Bob Cooke
We started with a round of ridiculously affordable £4.50 Sipsmith & Fevertree G&Ts - you won't find much better value in London.  There are several gin cocktails on offer including Negronis, Martinis and a Bob Cooke Bramble named after the current owner, but we decided to continue with some of their premium gins for a second round of G&Ts, this time priced at £7.  Death's Door and Monkey 47 were the runaway winners.  I need to return sometime to try the Aviation Rye and the Botanist Islay Gin which wasn't available as someone came in and bought the whole bottle!  They plan to expand the range over the next few weeks, and there are also going to be masterclasses and tastings - check their Facebook page for more info.  

My one bit of advice would be, bring a cushion! The bench seats in F.Cooke's must be amongst the least comfortable in London, probably there to keep anyone from lingering too long in the daytime!  Peters & Co. is another fun place to sample a wide range of gins, joining the likes of City of London Distillery, 214 Bermondsey and London Gin Club.

Team List update: 2 points for Sam take him back up to 3rd place, joint with Lee.  How long can he hang on to that spot?  Cassie moves up to joint 13th, her highest position on the leaderboard so far.

In other news, isn't this a horrible name for a restaurant?

Scoff & Banter
One friend suggested that we set up a rival establishment next door called Boff & Scanter.  "It would be full of highly intelligent people but with woefully inadequate supplies of food and drink".  Who's up for crowd-funding this?

Square Meal

Square Meal

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