It's been a slow week venturing out for The List thanks to another fun London tube strike, so I'm considering spending next week in Dawlish or Sochi to get away from it all. Who's with me?
Friday 31st January - In a simpler time, when certain employees of TFL decided to actually do their job, I made my way over to Liverpool Street to try out a few places, starting with a trip to see the Mayor.
The Breakfast Club started life in Soho back in 2005 but has since spread its wings to Angel, Hoxton, Spitalfields and Battersea. The Spitalfields branch was the first to get on the speakeasy train with their hidden bar, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town. When it first opened, you needed to ask to see the Mayor before being led through a Smeg Fridge to the downstairs bar but this formality seems to have disappeared over time.
Depending on when you arrive, you may face a short wait in The Breakfast Club itself (which is one good looking place), or if you time it really badly, a queue around the block! The Breakfast Club gets extremely busy for weekend brunch, so The Mayor opens up from 12pm on Saturdays & Sundays to serve more brunch behind the fridge - a late weekend afternoon might be your best bet for getting in straight away.
We rocked up at 6.30 last Friday and there was only standing space available, but before too long we squeezed into two seats at the bar - the only place one should ever sit in a cocktail bar. Not only do you get the most out of the entertaining bartenders, you also get the best view of the eye-catching decor.
Cocktails are £9 with the exception of the £11 King Yellowman's Answer which won the Rumfest 2012 cocktail competition with its tempting mix of pineapple, Blackwell rum, pear juice, lime juice and coffee, topped off with a flaming, over-proof rum filled scotch bonnet. Click here to see Mayoress Kate Jackson take you through the recipe.
Golden Hind was an interesting blend of Kamm & Son's (Gingseng spirit), gin, lemon, red grapes, sage, ginger and fresh apple. Our entertaining barman gleefully added in The King's Ginger liqueur in the absence of fresh ginger, but to be honest it could have done with even more booze as it was almost too drinkable. A refreshing Spitalfields Spritz with Aperol, coriander, bitter lemon and Prosecco also disappeared very quickly. I highly recommend Tommy's Chilli & Lemongrass Margarita having had it previously elsewhere. I might go for the chicken-filtered mezcal next time I'm in.
For the most part, the cocktail list is simple but solid, allowing the buzzing atmosphere to take centre stage. Get in early on weekdays (it opens at 5pm), order some of the Mayor's cat food, and don't forget to leave via the My Little Pony / He-Man wallpapered toilets to preserve the hidden entrance feel.
If you want The Breakfast Club cocktails without the worry of waiting, try out The King of Ladies Man in Battersea, their relaxed 70s bachelor pad bar tucked away behind a fake laundrette -great for disco drinks, interesting bottled beers, and any food that revolves around cheese (order the Smokey Joe Mac n Cheese). Watch this space for details on their next branch in London Bridge which will be opening soon complete with a tequila-driven "Mr Lucky" bar somewhere inside.
For our second stop, I decided to revisit one of my favourite popups from 2013 - Wigwambam on the roof of Queen of Hoxton. If you make it past the unnecessary bouncer, through the sticky ground floor and up several flights of stairs, you will be rewarded with one of London's coolest (and hottest) hangouts. It gets pretty busy, but if you can't pack into the boiling wigwam (heated by a massive central BBQ) then you can spill out on to the attractive open air rooftop space.
It is almost identical to last year's popup with the addition of some Nordic inspired "Eastern Lights" visuals which are projected on to the interior and exterior of the wigwam. Hot drinks are still good value at £5.50 / £6 - sadly there was Pumpkin Spiced Cider left, but hot buttered rum and hot gin punch hit the spot. Every day something different is cooked on the central BBQ, and the Crispy Pork Leg with Chestnut and Herb Stuffing smelled fantastic. You can also get yourself 5 marshmallows for a pound to roast over the open fire.
"If you have a keen eye, be prepared to unearth a discovery of your own elsewhere on the rooftop. Explorer, Arthur Lane has made his mark on the Queen of Hoxton and it’s up to you to tweet your findings for fellow pioneers to uncover too..."
I'm pretty sure this amounts to free drinks tokens hidden around the tent - let me know if you find any! The website also states that there are several "Drink and Do" events including spoon carving, pinhole photography, speed listening (?), pumpkin carving and origami workshops - check the Facebook site for details. Even more exciting, you can hire the whole place out by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
We resisted the crispy pork leg and made our way over to the Catch Bar at the Hoxton end of Kingsland Road. Catch is a lively little bar which is making a name for itself with top food residencies. All last year, Death by Burrito were in the house serving up contemporary Mexican street food alongside a Ryan Chetiyawardana (White Lyan) cocktail list. Now the keys to the kitchen have been handed over to KERB regulars Kimchinary for at least 3 months, every Wednesday-Sunday.
Hanna Soderlund is the crafty chef behind Kimchinary and has brought her popular Korean / Mexican tacos and some exciting side dishes to Shoreditch. Meanwhile Catch have put on a flavour paired drinks menu of Korean Soju and British Craft Beers. We had to wait a few minutes for a table, so we started off with pints of the local Pressure Drop Pale Fire and resisted the urge not to belt out some of the wonderfully cheesy tunes that Catch were playing.
As soon as we were seated we got stuck into the tacos (£6 for two) which arrived almost as soon as we ordered them! Each one is a work of art but you won't be able to look at them for long without stuffing them in your face. We all went for different approaches for minimising mess but this is not a knives & forks meal. We started with Gojuchang Pulled Pork with apple & sesame coleslaw, house kimchi and chives. This ended up being our favourite and the portions got bigger and bigger as we ordered more!
Best looking taco of the night goes to the Buttermilk Fried Squid with celeriac & radicchio remoulade and kimchi guacamole - delicious.
The "Bulgogi" Ox Cheek and Tongue taco with radish kimchi, blackened spring onion and horseradish wasn't as photogenic, but it was no less tasty. Dukbokki was the standout side option - a sweet and spicy bowl of squishy gnocchi-esque Korean rice cakes with rainbow chard and rainbow shallots. The Kimchi Chimichanga was also superb - don't be put off by the "mini burrito" description, the portion size is generous for a £4.50 side.
We washed all of Hanna's wonderful creations down with various craft beers, including the fine trio pictured above - Five Points Pale, Crate Golden Lager and Beavertown 8 Ball. As it was a Friday night, many seemed to be just in for drinks but hopefully got peckish after a couple of beverages. The food arrives so quickly that you can just keep ordering as you go. The Catch Bar waitresses were very efficient and friendly, as was Hanna who we had a couple of chats with.
Special mention has to go to one excellent member of Catch staff who was very helpful moving us around to different tables as our numbers expanded, and even did a little dance number for us to demonstrate that they were clearing space on the dance floor. They certainly have some bizarre customers to deal with, including a couple who decided a busy bar was the best place to have sex, and a pushy pair who tried to nip in and sit on our table when we were standing over it.
Anyway, go and check out Kimchinary at Catch Bar (Wednesday-Sunday) as soon as you can - 3 months will fly by before you know it. You can also find Hanna and her team at Kerb street food events.