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Friday, 28 February 2014

Oslo Hackney - Hand of Glory - The Shrubbery

Thursday February 13th - I normally choose Saturdays for a Hackney jaunt since it is SO FAR AWAY but I managed to squeeze in 3 places on a school night a couple of weeks ago. 

Flatmate Ali and I started off the evening at Oslo - a two storey bar, restaurant & music venue housed in the only remaining part of the original Hackney Central station which was closed in the 1970s.



The ground floor bar & restaurant is stunning, particularly on the lighting front as you can see below. We settled onto a table in the corner for dinner & people watching, with a great view of the lovely long bar (which is also home to a Pioneer DJ mixer - don't spill your drinks!).  They have an excellent range of wines & beers, including local offerings from Crate, Redemption and Five Points.




The food menu (created by Dave Ahern formerly of House of Wolf) is quite something.  We started off with a bonkers Salmon BLT and Apple & Horseradish Mackerel with pressed apple & griddled cucumber, which got chosen just ahead of Beetroot Tarte Tatin with Smoked Yoghurt & Herbs

The Salmon BLT consisted of smoked tomatoes, lettuce butter, and a piece of salmon masquerading as bacon having been cured & who knows what else. The bacon similarity is subtle but most definitely there, and the dish worked well as a whole.  My attractive plate of apple & horseradish mackerel (see below) was also a great success.

Apple & Horseradish Mackerel with pressed apple & griddled cucumber - Oslo Hackney
Moving on to mains (or "large plates"), we resisted the tempting Oslo Burger (served with Oxtail shot & Bone Marrow mayo) and instead went for Pan Fried Plaice & Glazed Chicken Lollipop with Sauteed sea vegetables & Jerusalem Artichokes and Pan Roasted & Poached Chicken Breast with Garlic Mushroom Mash and Bacon & Butter Sauce.

I should possibly have pushed the boat out and gone for Cod, Smoked Eel & Clams, but my chicken dish was comforting & delicious.  The Plaice was beautifully cooked and the Jerusalem artichokes deserved their spot, but the sea vegetables were (intentionally) too salty for us.


Dessert was arguably the highlight with a fantastic Winterberry Trifle with Rose Jelly & Lemon Posset Top attractively presented in a small jam jar.  I was sad to see that Cucumber Sponge with Gin & Tonic Icing had disappeared from the menu, but an indulgent Chocolate Tart with Chocolate Chip Ice cream made up for it.  I also love the sound of Peanut Butter Cheesecake with Caramel Bananas to share.


By the time we left, Oslo was packed & buzzing - impressive considering the size of the place and it being relatively new.  The upstairs music venue looks superb and is home to live music & regular club nights - check the website listings for more info.




Our second stop was a little further north up Amhurst Road at the charming new Hand of Glory pub, part of the Jaguar Shoes collective (whose Old Shoreditch Station café has apparently just launched the first Bitcoin ATM).

The decor & drinks nod to British folklore with flagons of cider, maypoles, trees, wicker masks and a terrifying (adorable) straw bear.  A lot of love and attention has gone into making Hand of Glory look fantastic, and I would adopt this as my local in a heartbeat if I lived anywhere near here.  The awesome honey monster lookalike in the corner will apparently be scarier when he has arms - I hope they leave him as he is!



The beers are great with draught offerings from Weird Beard, Crate and Five Points and a solid bottle selection including Pressure Drop in the fridge.  A barrel aged "Ents Blood" Negroni sits proudly on the bar top, along from an imposing stone tom-cat apparently made from a chunk of St. Paul's Cathedral! In the days of bath tub gin, tom-cat plaques used to be placed outside gin houses & would dispense gin when a coin was placed inside its mouth.  This one isn't up and running yet, but they hope to create a Mouse Trap style coin run that will eventually find its way to the cat.



I want this in my flat.
On the food front, they have brought in popular street food team, Fleisch Mob (run by Mark Edwards), who are serving up a range of rural "Folk Mob" British dishes with Austrian twists.  Go for "Pork Life" pictured below- smoked pork sausage stuffed with emmental, wrapped in Old Spot bacon, served in a roll with fermented cabbage.  The roasts sound pretty special too - big tables will be able to pre-order a chunk of meat (e.g. 60 day aged Shorthorn topside) which will arrive ready to be carved with a load of veg to share.  Finish off with Sorbitium ice creams for dessert.

There he is again!
It was hard to leave the wonderful Hand of Glory, but more fun beckoned in the form of The Shrubbery cocktail bar tucked inside The Russet at Hackney Downs Studios.




Ali and I unwittingly walked right into a pre-Valentines blindfolded dinner dating event which looked like great (messy) fun, but sadly meant that The Shrubbery wasn't fully operational.  Luckily, head bartender Rory Shepherd was on hand to take us back stage to sample some of their shrub-based concoctions.

Blindfold dinner at The Russet
"What is a shrub?", I hear you cry. Let's ask Rory:

"Well, well, well - there are 2 types of shrub...

"They are both similar in that citrus / vinegar / anything high in acid (!) is mixed with sugar to get that sharp & sweet flavour.

"The first type dates back to the 17th century England and is pretty much a homemade liqueur (our example would be Mum's Shrub - secret recipe).  This is made by heating fruits (ones that are heavier in citrus usually) with sugar and rum/brandy - it would traditionally be drank hot.

"The second is made with vinegar and as far as I know was started in America specifically for cocktails. It is a longer process that leads to a much more intense flavour. All of our vinegar shrubs are usually left to infuse for anything from a week up to 4 months (though our plum, walnut and sherry shrub is nearing month 5!).

"By then you are left with a lovely, deep, sweet flavoured syrup. A small amount can be used to subtly develop the flavour of a drink."

The Shrubbery at The Russet
The Shrubbery at The Russet
The Shrubbery cocktail menu is constantly evolving as the bartenders are encouraged to experiment with their ingredients. On the shrub front, they already have several to work with including Juniper, Bay and Cider vinegar and Pear, Vanilla and Sherry vinegar. They also have an excellent back bar at their disposal.  I was particularly taken with the St. George's Dry Rye Gin & I have heard even better things about their Botanivore & Terroir gins.  Try the St George's Forest with Fresh Basil, St.George's Rye Gin, St.Germain Elderflower Liqueur. Absinthe, Fruits Of The Forest Shrub & Orange Bitters.  

We thoroughly enjoyed The Original Shrubbery (Plantation Trinidad Dark Rum, Cocchi Americano Vermouth, Original Shrub, Flamed Lemon Zest) and Mum's Martinez (Gin, Antica Formula, Mum's Shrub, Grapefruit Bitters).  Grin + Hydroponic with Blackberry & Walnut Reduction, Old Tom Ampleforth Gin, and Tonic would be my next choice.  The shrubs were also delicious on their own, albeit in very small quantities - make sure you taste them when you visit.


St George's Dry Rye Gin
St George's gin range - Terroir, Dry Rye & Botanivore
If you are aren't in the mood for a shrub-based cocktail, there is still plenty of wine, beer & spirits to keep you going.  The bottled beer selection is particularly excellent & eclectic with the likes of Beavertown (Hackney), Delirium Tremens (Belgium), and Big Wave (Hawaii) on offer.

Rory & co. have got a great thing going with The Shrubbery, making very drinkable, yet experimental cocktails in a friendly, laid-back environment.  Look out for Woodburner at The Russet - live folk music curated by my old friend Theo Bard with cracking drinks from The Shrubbery on the side.

Parking spaces at Hackney Downs Studios
Ali and I scampered off to catch a handy Overground train back to Battersea from Dalston. Shame I left my hat in the Hand & Glory - I guess I'll have to come back.

Square Meal

Square Meal

Oslo Hackney on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Bibimbap - Andina - Monty's Deli

Guest Post from Jane - Mostly unplanned, the first couple of months of the new year have brought lots of opportunities to try new (for me) bars and restaurants.

Firstly, a quick eat before the theatre in January took me to the central, fast and cheap Bibimbap. A new fan of Korean food; I loved it. We ordered traditional Bibimbap - apparently 'court food' which is basically a mixture of what they promise is healthy rice, veg and meat, which comes in a very hot stone dish and if you choose, you can have a raw egg on top which cooks in the stone. We couldn't resist a bit of kimchee on the side as well (reputedly the food Korean's get most homesick for when abroad) - it's more or less pickled cabbage but tastes much better than it sounds.

The design and atmosphere of the place was very much in keeping with the other quick, cheap east Asian eats coming up around Soho - clean and small, with a young feel and an ever present but fast diminishing queue by the door. A friendly touch was a series of small photos of customers on the wall in the shape of a heart.


For under a tenner, you get a tasty, hearty meal. I'm quick becoming a fan of the up and coming Korean food trend.

Andina was my February treat. Having thoroughly enjoyed a previous visit to Martin Morales' Ceviche in Soho I was keen to get booked in as soon as I heard about it.


We sat down at 6.45pm on a Wednesday and were pleasantly surprised to find the place already quite full despite the ongoing tube strike. We started with a couple of house cocktails, which having tried the pisco sours in Ceviche were a slight disappointment, a little too sugary for my tastes. I stuck to beer thereafter.

The food, however, was a different story. Starting with a street eat and a ceviche, we ordered the prawn & quinoa chowder and the seabass ceviche. Both were tinged with chilli, warming and full of flavour. For mains we chose the lamb skewers and the three potato cakes with varieties of fish. Again, superb flavours and pleasing presentation.

Three potato cakes at Andina
For dessert I shared a brownie with cream ice cream. This was incredibly rich and could have done with something to balance it out. All in all, at nearly £80 for three courses, coffees and drinks for two this was great value, great tasting food with flavours and compositions that are still rare in London. Not to be missed.

The Music Room at Andina - a private dining room with 2000+ strong vinyl collection
Finally, I couldn't miss the opening of Monty's Deli's new premises on Druid Street (just behind Maltby Street Market). Having witnessed the queues when Monty's were on Rope Walk I was curious from the hype and had to try it but had never had the patience to wait out the queues before. On the Sunday lunch when I wandered over to Druid Street there was no queue and I was quite excited.

The menu at Monty's is simple and involves variations of salt beef and pastrami. We opted for one salt beef and one pastrami 'Reuben' which comes with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye bread. Portions here are ridiculous but at £7.50 a pop, they need to be.


The new premises are a success - the atmosphere is friendly and on Sundays slightly less 'yuppie-ish' than the usual Saturday Maltby St crowd.

Whilst we're talking about Druid Street, I have also popped into Anspach & Hobday a couple of times since it opened in January. This is the latest brewery on the Bermondsey Beer Mile and the closest yet to Maltby St. Market.  I highly recommend the Smoked Brown and the Porter. The brewery is open from 11am-5pm on Saturdays (and sometimes Sundays too), and there is occasionally live music. They also seem to be sharing the space with Bullfinch Brewery who had a 7.2% USA IPA for sale when I visited.  Bullfinch are technically a cuckoo brewery working off the A&H kit for the moment. Head there this Saturday (March 1st) from 11.00-19.00 for their "OPENING FESTIVAL OF BEER". Sounds good to me.  Matt will probably report some more on these two breweries soon.




Read more Guest Posts from @JaneSlocombe :

Bermondsey Street
Square Meal

Bibimbap Soho on Urbanspoon
Andina on Urbanspoon
Monty's Deli on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Le Quecumbar - Scratch Bar - Sambrook's Brewery

Sunday February 9th - I often find it difficult to get rid of the Monday morning feeling on Sundays, don't you? Film and a takeaway is normally the order of the day for delaying the inevitable.  A boozy gin & tonic tasting did the trick a few weeks ago.  But my most successful distraction came courtesy of Le Quecumbar, a stunning 1930s Parisian Gypsy Jazz bar & brasserie tucked away in Battersea that might just be the best looking bar on the planet.



Flatmate Maggie and I went along to help them celebrate their 11th birthday for which they lined up an incredible group of musicians led by Dutch virtuoso swing guitar master Lollo Meier.  We got there early to sample the food, and can now highly recommend the comforting cauliflower cheese & tartiflette options.  The menu is amusingly carried around on a giant black board which gets plonked next to your table until you give in.

On the drinks front, we stuck to Leffe & wine for most of the evening, but they also do a range of "strong cocktails" & have a well stocked back bar including an interesting bottle of Saffron Gin.  The obvious gin to order is Hendricks because of the cucumber / Quecumbar link, and they have in fact recently created a partnership which is kicking off with their Prohibition Party on March 6th where Hendricks cocktails will be served in a range of prohibition style cups & saucers.  Book ahead as it should be a very popular evening.




Lollo Meier was joined on stage by Ferg Ireland on bass (that bloke standing in the tree at the back), Ducato on rhythm (who sticks out beautifully in photos below with a bright shirt) & the phenomenal Giacomo Smith on clarinet who constantly threatened to steal the show.  Despite having never performed together before, they delivered a faultless evening of hot club gypsy swing, sticking mostly to tunes written by Django Reinhardt & Lollo himself - impressively, it was hard to work out which were which despite the gap in composition of 70 years or so.  The sound quality at Quecumbar is fantastic & the sight lines are excellent from most seats - do get there early if you want ringside seats though.

Left to right - Lollo, Ferg, Ducato & Giacomo
After two long sets, the party didn't stop.  Friends were invited on stage to join in, Lollo performed on his own, and jamming went on long into the night (which apparently it always does).  Maggie and I intended to head home at 11pm but two Laphroaig's later and it was closer to 1am.  In between songs, the musicians sat down and chatted to the audience, and by the time we left we felt like we were part of a new family.  Incredibly, they did it all again the next night.

Lollo isn't in the UK that often but Giacomo (clarinet) performs all over London, mainly with the Kansas Smitty's who you can catch at Vaults Waterloo (Tue & Wed 9.30 onwards, free entry) and Ronnie Scott's Late Late Show occasionally amongst other places.  I highly recommend tracking him down.


Shining light Ducato holding it all together on rhythm guitar
What's over there?




I could have stayed all night but Monday morning beckoned - 6 hours was longer than we expected to stay.  It was a night of pure escapism for which we mainly have owner Sylvia to thank, who lives upstairs and is always the life and soul of the party.  Steve & Andy also looked after us well - I'm sure you'll know them by the time you leave.  

The décor needs to be seen first hand - every time I looked around, I spotted something tucked away, and the overall feel plants you right in the middle of 1930s Paris.  11 years is impressive for a small niche venue but that doesn't mean it will last forever, so get down there and support this incredible jazz bar, especially if you are a Battersea local.  There are gigs most nights, some of which are ticketed so check the website or go on a Tuesday to see the free jam session to get yourself started.  They have their own record label with many recordings of live Quecumbar gigs available to buy online or in the bar.


Friday February 7th - Sticking to the Battersea theme, I stumbled across the lovely Scratch Bar (@BACscratch) attached to the Battersea Arts Centre after the Battersea Beer Festival a couple of weeks ago.  BAC is one of London's most influential theatres and has sensibly put in a fresh café/bar to match the quality productions.  

It is open 6 days a week (Mon-Sat) in the quirky Grade II listed building, and the food menu changes regularly playing on themes found in BAC shows.  They have Nude coffee to go with their extensive cake selection, free wifi, music & entertainment on Fridays, and local beers - what's not to love?  We were delighted to find the excellent range of bottled Brixton beers which were sadly absent from the CAMRA beer festival (that seemed to be stubbornly refusing to move with the times).


BAC membership (only £20 a year) will get you 10% off food & drink, and their £10 burger & beer is well worth a look. I imagine I will be making use of Scratch a fair amount this year with its inviting laidback vibe and tasty treats.


Last but not least, I thought I'd mention my local brewery, Sambrook's, which now seems like an old hand on the London brewing scene despite only being 6 years old.  They turned up a few years early to the show, and have firmly established themselves with their award-winning core range of Junction, Wandle and Powerhouse Porter that you may have seen around.  I myself am a big fan of Pumphouse Pale Ale, and was delighted to be able to lug home a fresh 18 pint box of the stuff for a New Year's party.


They don't have a taproom bar that opens regularly, but their superb shop is open 6 days a week, selling their beer fresh in various sizes, alongside an interesting selection of bottled beers from some of their favourite breweries.  You can order a 9 gallon cask for £120-150 if you so wish!  Staff are friendly and fresh tasters are always available if you can't make your mind up.  There are also monthly tours on the third Wednesday of every month for £15/person.


They recently announced that they plan to hold quarterly parties, starting with Spring Zing this Saturday (1st March) at the brewery.  They will be launching their new Archer Mild Ale named after John Archer who became Mayor of Battersea & the first ever black Mayor in London 100 years ago. There will also be live music & food including Ginger Pig sausage rolls.  Check their blog for more important dates to save throughout the year.


Le Quecumbar on Urbanspoon