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Wednesday 15 October 2014

Picture - Pudding Bar - Loves Company - Sun Tavern

Two lively East London bars and some pudding in Soho coming up, but first, a lunch with Dad The List at Picture Restaurant in Marylebone.

Monday September 29th - We thought we might be the first ones through the door at 11.50am but Leyla of The Cutlery Chronicles was already on site snapping away for her new food photography portfolio -

Leyla was soon old news as the lively and entertaining Tom Clegg (co-owner) took over proceedings, getting us seated and started with some delicious bargain beef bites (£1 each) and freshly made soft drinks that, for once, were sold at the right price point (£3).  Fresh watermelon and pomegranate lemonades arrived first, followed later on by homemade ginger beer with apple.  

The complimentary sourdough and triple (quadruple? quintuple?) whipped butter was up there with the equivalent offerings at Trinity and The Dairy in Clapham Common.  The bar seems to have been raised.

Beef Bites - £1 each

Sourdough Bread

Seasonal Drinks - Fresh Watermelon Lemonade & Homemade Ginger Beer - £3 each
Also like The Dairy, there is an affordable Tasting Menu available (6 courses for only £35!), alongside an A La Carte section split up into Vegetable, Fish and Meat (a.k.a Garden, Sea, and Land in SW4).

Round 1 - Vegetable:

- Grilled tenderstem broccoli, fresh goat's curd, plum tomato and caper - £7
- Portobello mushroom, parsnip, pear, Parmesan - £7

Possibly the best two courses of the lunch, we left wondering if we should also have got involved with the Ravioli of Italian greens with ricotta and chilli.  Every mouthful of the broccoli was a delight, and all the Ps combined well on my Dad's plate, though he fancied a bit more pear.

N.B. There is an enticing Vegetarian version of the tasting menu too

Grilled tenderstem broccoli, fresh goat's curd, plum tomato and caper - £7

Portobello mushroom, parsnip, pear, Parmesan - £7
Round 2 - Fish:

Crisp brandade, endive marmalade, fennel, castelfranco - £8
Sea bream, puy lentils, fennel, white turnip and dill - £9

If you hadn't noticed already, the presentation at Picture is phenomenal across the board.  I'm not sure I've ever had so many good-looking dishes in one sitting.  

The Sea Bream was another success, beautifully cooked and a decent size for the price.  Dad was less enamoured with his crisp brandade which he thought wouldn't get ordered as often if the description said croquettes instead - nothing wrong in particular, just not as exciting as he had hoped.  We somehow missed the key word crisp (i.e. fried) and expected a plate of gooey salt cod and olive oil. Cod, celeriac, trompette mushroom and cobnut crumb would no doubt have kept him happy.

Crisp brandade, endive marmalade, fennel, castelfranco - £8

Sea bream, puy lentils, fennel, white turnip and dill  - £9
Round 3 - Meat:

- 28 day aged beef, curly kale, salsify and red onion - £9
- Wild boar sausage, braised celery, apple and hazelnuts - £8

More healthy portions arrived, and I ticked off two hipster ingredients in one plate with kale & salsify accompanying my excellent 28 day aged beef.  Dad was also pleased with his choice ("Can't go wrong with hazelnuts"), even if he couldn't tell whether his sausage actually hailed from a boar, let alone one that freely roamed the Earth.  Both dishes looked like food art installations, but that didn't stop us from demolishing them.

I also have it on good authority from Leyla that the Shoulder of lamb with merguez sausage, coco beans and tomato is exquisite.

28 day aged beef, curly kale, salsify and red  onion  - £9

Wild boar sausage, braised celery, apple and hazelnuts - £8
Round 4 - Dessert:

- Blueberry and almond tart, frozen yoghurt £5
- Chocolate mousse, banana, peanut butter cream £4

Dad's always keen to end with a tart (wahay) and we loved the cheeky presentation, though an extra pot of yoghurt on the side for top-ups wouldn't go amiss. I've been on a bit of a banoffee binge recently, and Picture's moreish plate of chocolate, banana & peanut butter was close enough to give me my weekly fix.

Blueberry and almond tart, frozen yoghurt - £5

Chocolate mousse, banana, peanut butter cream - £4

Blink and you'll miss Picture on Great Portland Street, and that would be a great shame.  Fine dining at affordable prices doesn't come along that often, plus Picture have a secret weapon in Tom whose energy and good humour helped us all to forget that it was only lunch time on a Monday.

Picture on Urbanspoon


Tuesday 30th September - A busy Tuesday spent ringing in my friend Mary's birthday started off with several glasses of Digby fizz.  Digby were also celebrating on account of having been officially crowned World Champion English Sparkling Wine.  See more photos from this event on Matt The Tumblr.

Following this, we dropped in to the new permanent home for street food traders Bunnychow in Soho. Here's the origin story:

"The 40s were not easy - the Great War happened and the world changed forever but many good things came out of that era: Tupperware, Velcro, Frisbees, Silly Putty and Slinky’s to name a few. The 40s were also responsible for the bunny chow; now let’s make this clear, there are a few stories about the creation of bunny chow and we merit them equally depending on how we’re feeling but basically, Indian workers living in Durban, South Africa, would travel to the sugar plantations with little more than their favourite curry wrapped in a roti bread. The long walk to work in the blazing sun made the curry and roti bread turn into a single, sloppy lump of food. This led one clever chap to devise a bread container, made from a hollowed out loaf of bread. This hollowed out loaf with curry in it became known as ‘bunny chow’ and over 70 years later, on a rainy street in London, we’re bringing our version of a bunny chow to the UK.

"In their homeland, ‘bunny chow’ or ‘bunnies’ – as they’re better known – are very, very popular. Starting out life as a vegetarian, bunnies soon saw sense and now they’re typically filled with curries from traditional Indian recipes using mutton, lamb, chicken and that culinary-delight: beans and chips. For many, the key to a bunny is when the gravy from the filling soaks into the walls of the bread, giving each bite a perfect balance of bread and sauce. For us, we fell in love when we were out visiting friends in South Africa. After a hard day of lazing in the sun, we were introduced to the pleasure of sitting on a sea wall with a bunny and a few cold beers. It was love at first bite! All we could think to ourselves was, why had we never thought about this before? Why were we favouring sandwiches with two measly slices of bread, haplessly trying to hold the filling together? And where had these bunnies been during our worst hangovers? It was at that point that we thought: let’s bring bunnies to Britain!"

A load of meat surrounded by bread was just what was needed to soak up all the Digby booze, and we wolfed down the Bankcluck Bunny (chicken, squash, beansprouts and thai ginger sauce) and a Monkey Gland Bunny (meatballs, peppers and monkey gland BBQ sauce).  Eating them is quite a challenge - I can only imagine the carnage that will ensue on a rowdy Friday night in Soho.  Will I go back? Probably not, but it was a fun experience.

Bankcluck Bunny (top) and Monkey Gland Bunny (bottom)
We finished the evening at The Pudding Bar pop-up in Soho that I've been meaning to get to for months.  Currently they have the lease until January, and they open up Mon - Sat 12pm to midnight and 12pm to 11pm on Sundays, so you've still got plenty of time to make it over there.

Unlike the recently opened cocktails and dessert hangout Basement Sate, The Pudding Bar is mainly focused on the sweet courses - the wine list probably doesn't get as much attention as the teas and coffees. The menu offers six puddings for around £6-8 which rotate regularly, as well as a cheese board and the option of a full tasting menu for two for £28.

It's a typical Soho space set over three floors (slightly shambolic with buckets of charm), and the staff were on good form even though an external event had led them to run out of almost everything on the menu that evening. I would have continued my banoffee binge with Banoffee Delight (Banana and caramel mousse between walnut shortbreads with caramelised bananas and white chocolate ice cream) but we were more than content with their signature/most popular creation, S'more Cheesecake - Milk chocolate cheesecake on a ginger nut biscuit base with peanut butter ice cream and flamed marshmallow.

Judging by the full tables late on a Tuesday night, Soho has fallen for The Pudding Bar.  Fingers crossed they find another site nearby after January rather than relocating East.  I'll return soon for another go at the full menu.

Pudding Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 1st October - I'll finish up by mentioning two funky East London bars, starting with Loves Company near Old Street Station.  

It opened up a few months ago, but the stunning upstairs décor only took shape more recently.  I dropped in for a couple of drinks whilst Russell Burgess (the "Daddy" of Loves Co.) showed me around.

Downstairs is a much larger space, no doubt hard to fill during the week but perfect for raucous weekend parties, lockins and events (including Russell's Rematch Biatch speed bartending comp that came before Speed Rack).  Both floors also serve as exhibition space for rotating artists - a good excuse to pop in for an afternoon cocktail or coffee (as they open at midday Mon-Fri).

On to the drinks, each cheeky concoction has a secret ingredient like purple passion potion or cupid's seed.  The very drinkable Cheeky Rita (Herradura tequila, pineapple, lime - £9) is given a sexy thyme twist, whilst refreshing Sink The Pink (Tanqueray gin, grapefruit, lemon - £7.50) benefits from liquid polygamy.  DayJar Vu (Four Roses Bourbon, lemon juice, aphrodisia no.9 - £11.50) is an amusing nod to the extreme garnishing going on over the road at Nightjar.  Serious bartending is backing up the playful menu, and you won't leave feeling short-changed.

Cheeky Rita with sexy thyme
If you are feeling peckish, grab one of their ridiculously named Toasties - Cheezus of Nazareth, Notorious P.I.G and Ham'mer Time are the worst / best depending on your love of puns.  Also, ask for a taste of their "rummed-butter", something they created to put on toast whilst making buttered-rum.

From one beautiful bar to another, the folks from Discount Suit Company have moved above ground with The Sun Tavern, an atmospheric neighbourhood bar on Bethnal Green Road.

"Steeped in history, the site formerly known as The Sun Inn was built in 1851 and has been a local favourite in the heart of East London ever since. Notable regulars have included the Kray twins and the pub was also used as a meeting place for the local boxing fraternity for many years."

Cocktails were flying out from behind the bar, some in eye-catching tankards (£8) and others in more conventional glassware (£7.50).  But what's this, effort going into cocktails AND beer in the same bar? Did I miss something? Are we in New York?  We Londoners aren't very good at multitasking, so it's nice to see somewhere try to provide exciting drinks for more than one group. That said, those in search of some fine wines only get to choose between house red, white or fizz. Sorry.

But yes, the beer. There are 10 taps of "Local Heroes" (e.g. Beavertown, Redchurch, Five Points) that rotate regularly, and some top bottles in the fridge too.  Pints (that's right, not 2/3) are served in pleasing thick-rimmed glasses that feel like steins. They look a little silly next to some of the cocktails, but who cares?

The tankard cocktails are drinkable but a little sweet for my tastes.  Jacques De Sores (Rhum Agricole, Cuban Rum, Velvet Falernum, Lime, Honey Water, Angostura Bitters, Topped with Prosecco) fared the best. Ask your bartender about their sharing punch for £25 that serves 4.

Mixed drinks were more successful. Two Irish Men (Tyrconnell Irish Whiskey, Cocchi Americano, Benedictine and Peychaud's Bitters) and 2nd Avenue (Teelings Irish Whiskey, Calvados, Lemon, Fresh Grenadine, Passion Fruit Syrup & Orange Blossom Water) were my kind-of boozy, or spirits-forward as I learned to ask for in the States.  They also handled requests for classics well with some fine Negronis, Sazeracs and Old Fashioneds.

The Sun Tavern is a lively boozer that is bound to be a huge hit.  Prices are affordable and there should be something for everyone on the menu.  And if you are looking for more exciting wine options in the same evening, you don't have to go far to reach Sager & Wilde's Mission.

What's more, it opens up as early as 9am for local coffee and pastries, and thereafter provides scotch eggs, pork pies, grilled sandwiches etc to soak up all of those drinks.

Yet another reason to move to Bethnal Green...

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