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Thursday 18 September 2014

Shochu Kanteen - Union Street Bar - Call Me Mr Lucky - The Alchemist


That's my impression of my Twitter feed this month.

I was a bit slow getting to Bone Daddies in the first place, and I still haven't made it to Shoryu or Tonkotsu. Now United Ramen, Kanada-Ya and Ippudo are getting in on the act too.  It's all a bit overwhelming.  In response, I've eaten a fair amount of the stuff in recent weeks, from Nanban in Brixton all the way to Momofuku in Toronto, and I was at it again on Monday.  

Shochu Kanteen is a new lunch time offering at Shochu Lounge, the bar beneath the award-winning Roka on Charlotte Street.  It's open for business from Midday to 3.30pm, Monday-Friday.

We started with a fresh juice of beets, ginger & apple, homemade but pre-bottled for maximum efficiency in a busy lunchtime period.  There are also iced teas, beers, and shochu with plum soda if you fancy something stronger.

Food also arrived impressively quickly.  First came some comforting steamed buns with dips & extras on the side - Korean spiced lamb shoulder with pickled cucumber, and Teriyaki Salmon with pickled red onions.  

Then came the ramen - a massive bowl of Tokyo Style soy ramen with char su pork, bamboo shoots and soft egg for £11.  It wasn't the most beautifully presented I have ever seen, but it was delicious and extremely filling.  Perhaps it should be a tad cheaper and smaller for a lunchtime crowd, but I was content.  

For the sake of research, we also got ourselves a plate of Fried Tako Balls - Octopus croquettes with kewpie mayo.  A lot of flavour came from the accompanying mayo and the octopus was rather adept at hide and seek, but I would happily have eaten several more.

There are also salads available - one for £5, two for £7, three for £9:

- tomato and hijiki with shiso and wafu dressing 
- edamame and mixed bean with chilli and bonito
- crispy ramen noodles, cha shu pork and soya eggs

Fried Tako Balls - Octopus croquettes with kewpie mayo
To avoid falling asleep for the afternoon, we finished with two cute Little Tsubo (pots) of vanilla and chocolate, served with a bag of peanuts & marshmallows to add at your leisure.  The focus again is on speed of delivery which I'm sure will be appreciated, but with no compromise on quality.

Shochu Kanteen is sure to be a popular lunch destination for workers in a hurry in the area with its great service, relaxed atmosphere and tempting dishes.  Prices are a little high for lunchtime - perhaps a lunch deal will be brought in for those wishing to have more than just one item off the menu.

One less ramen to go.

View the menu here.

Tuesday 9th September - From lunch to aperitivo hour, Gordon Ramsay's Union Street Bar has joined Jamie's Italian in offering early evening cured meats, olives etc with drinks in a relaxed atmosphere.  We dropped in briefly for a few Peronis (in new pocket-sized Piccolo bottles) and a meeting with The Don (Peroni, tequila, lime, basil, rosemary, sugar).

And to eat: Spicy Nocellara olives, Tomino cheese with chilli and honey, Parma Ham and Salatini, Traditional tomato bruschetta, Spicy chicken wings, Union Street Arancini, Balsamic Beef Meatballs, and Friggitelli “green sweet fried peppers”

It's a relaxed space, perfect for casual after-work drinks, and there's always the restaurant upstairs if you don't want to move too far for dinner.  

Aperitivo Hour at Union Street Bar
Felix and I fancied another drink or two afterwards and marched off to the new Breakfast Club in London Bridge, opposite Katzenjammers (an old favourite of mine).  

They have made a name for themselves with hidden bars, one accessed through a fridge (Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, Liverpool Street) and another via a laundrette (King of Ladies Man, Battersea). Now they can add a kitchen to that list.  

After whispering the "secret" password at the door, we were led downstairs, past the chefs, in to Call Me Mr Lucky, a tequila soaked dive bar

The first thing you will notice is the deadly Wheel of Fortune which can supposedly only be spun once on the hour.  I took the 8pm spin and soon found myself "singing" the tune from Fresh Prince of Bel Air behind the bar.  Felix stepped up for the 9pm spin, ending up with a shot that involved jalapeno pickle and habanero. Yum.  At least we didn't land on "go home".

Next you will notice that they have raided Woolworths and Athena to decorate the place.  And that it looks great.  The shape of the bar lends itself to a sociable evening with staff and fellow punters.  If you want privacy, there are two banging booths (not like that) round the back, but they aren't currently reservable.

And the booze? £8 cocktails & £4 London beers are alright for me.  Lucky Rostini (Herradura anejo tequila, plum liqueur, Campari, black walnut bitters) was a very drinkable Negroni twist, and Pea Diddy (El Dorado 3yr rum, fresh pea & horseradish, lime and pineapple) was not nearly as odd as it sounds.

Quince Dreams (G’Vine Nouaison gin, homemade quince syrup infused with pink peppercorn, cardamom & coriander seeds, lime, bitter lemon) beckoned, but we veered off menu with a tequila, mezcal and beetroot invention that might just make it on to a menu one day.

Food is available too - we know where the kitchen is, after all.  Just check Mr.Lucky's blackboard to see what's cooking.

Call Me Mr Lucky is a no-frills party bar that doesn't take itself too seriously.  For me, it's the best of the three Breakfast Club bars (at time of writing) for exactly that reason, and one of the rare "speakeasies" in London that's willing to have a bit of fun after you've made it through the "hidden" door.


Wednesday 10th September - Completing a busy start to the week was a press launch at The Alchemist next to The Gherkin.  It's the first London site for a primarily Manchester based bar group, famed for their molecular mischief.

After a slow start in an All Bar One atmosphere with bottles of Sol and houmous on some doritos, the cocktails started to make their mark.  The poor bartenders have over 58 bonkers concoctions to memorise from a an overlong menu - they were all over it.

You might think the "molecular madness" section would be their five wackiest creations, but over 21 of their drinks fall into this category.  There's beer foam, smoke, dry ice, colour changing drinks, flames, a transparent cuba libre, strawberry caviar, raspberry dust and much more to keep an eye out for.

The Smoked Manhattan and Hot & Cold Espresso Tini (cold chantilly cream layer and a boiling espresso martini) were causing a stir on the bar.  Impressively, most of these eye catching drinks are around the £7.50 mark, a Manchester hangover that surely won't last long in the shadows of The Gherkin.

Hot & Cold Espresso Tini

Smoked Old Fashioned

Elsewhere on the menu, there are barrel aged cocktails (the Negroni was a success), hipflask cocktails (which can be kept for an extra £4), sharing kettles and soda syphons, classics (which could be omitted), and even some mocktails (which are for once appropriately priced at £3.50/£4).  

Bubblebath and Smokey Paloma impressed on taste and aesthetics, faring better than White Chocolate Raspberry Martini and a Lavender Daiquiri.  Going off menu (not long enough...) also paid dividends with a delightful stirred Mezcal & Chocolate Bitters combo.

But the silliest drink of all, by some way, is the Mad Hatter's Tea Party (£20 between two).  A mix of Green Mark Russian vodka, Briottet elderflower liqueur, Cointreau, citron gomme and water is boiled up at the table, and infused with fresh fruit and herbs.  It is then served warm, with smoke billowing all over the table - it's quite a sight.  I was never expecting to be wowed by the flavours, and the temperature was on the tepid side which didn't quite work, but it is a lot of fun.

Ella from The Little Brown Book
I can't comment on the food (The Alchemist won't want me to judge them on their canapés) but I can guarentee there's a drink for everyone!  The prices are extremely low for the City (long may that continue) and there are some winning drinks, but I do prefer my bars to be smaller & cosier with more of a laidback soundtrack.  Expect it to be very busy after work, and take your camera.


MATT THE COMPETITION - This week I'm running a competition with Zomato to win two £22 vouchers for cocktails at Looking Glass Cocktail Club on Hackney Road.  Head to my twitter page for a chance to win and you might find yourself with Tweedledee & Tweedledum behind the mirror.

Looking Glass Cocktail Club

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