Tuesday 10th February - Beer and Buns. Buns and Wings. Wings and Pinball. Pinball and Foosball. Foosball and Chalkboards. Chalkboards and Googly Eyes. Googly Eyes and Slushies. Slushies and Beer. BEER AND BUNS!
Easiest write up ever.
OK, I'll give you a little more.
Beer & Buns is a new popup Izakaya with long term aspirations, tucked above K10 on Appold Street near Liverpool Street / Moorgate. They currently have the UK's largest range of Japanese craft beer on offer, mostly in bottles, and an array of hirata buns and crispy Korean style jumbo wings to soak it all up.
We kicked off with Echigo Koshihikari, the first Japanese craft beer imported from Niigata Prefecture in Japan. It's a rice lager that uses a super-premium short grain rice called Koshihikari, which is harvested literally from the backyard of the Echigo Brewery. It's pricey at £9.95 for 500ml but it is a classy (and hard to find) beer. Bone Daddies' new Shackfuyu Popup in Soho has also got hold of it and is selling it for £10.20, so it must be a rather expensive import!
I then worked through some of the impressive Coedo Brewery range which have recently been imported by Amathus. I've previously had their wonderful Beniaka Sweet Potato Ale, so I opted for a quirky Kyara India Pale Lager, and a rich, malty Shikokku Black Lager. I also made space for a Hitachino Nest Beer Amber Ale which was enjoyable if not particularly thrilling. Hopefully some more of the Hitachino Nest Beers will make their way to the UK soon.
|Coedo Kyara India Pale Lager|
|Coedo Shikkoku Black Lager|
|Hitachino Nest Beer Amber Ale|
It wouldn't be an Izakaya without food though, and we munched our way through the hirata buns and jumbo wings menu. The steamed buns themselves were a little on the sticky side but the fillings were promising, particularly the signature Chicken Karaage with Yuzu Koshu Slaw. £6.50 for two is perfectly reasonable. The Korean style wings are a truly messy affair, and not short on heat. £9.95 for six is a steal (jumbo is the key word), though you may find yourself waving a white (or sauce covered) flag if you can't handle the kick.
|Beer and Wings|
|Chicken Karaage Hirata Bun with Yuzu Koshu Slaw|
If beer isn't your thing, you can get by with some wine and sake, or their dangerously drinkable boozy slushies (frozen Daiquiris and Margaritas turned Japanese with Soju and Yuzu Juice).
There's plenty of space for everyone, so bring a bunch of mates and grab a large table (no reservations) before splintering off to play pinball or foosball, and be sure to leave your mark on their chalkboard walls. Julian & co. (who are a friendly bunch) have created the perfect post-work hangout - let's hope it's here to stay!
Beer and Buns is currently open Mon-Fri 5pm-11pm but check their website for up to date opening hours.
|Losing the plot slightly here|
|Taster of Frozen Yuzu Margarita|
|Googly Eyes not included|
|Beer and Buns pinball - £1 a go|
|Ella vs Creature from the Black Lagoon|
Tuesday 17th February - Skip forward a week and I've just come home from an utterly bonkers and magnificent meal at Parlour in Kensal Rise. I'm writing it up straight away just incase I wake up tomorrow and I can't separate it from my dreams.
For three and a half hours, my sister and I were at the mercy of Jesse Dunford Wood, the mad scientist / stand-up comic / master chef / owner of Parlour (and Notting Hill's The Mall Tavern). I should say first that to experience what we experienced, you need to somehow end up on the chef's table, which I think you might manage by booking the Party Menu for a group. I don't really know, just make it happen. It's only going to set you back around £27 per head which, considering what follows, is utterly ridiculous.
Now I'm not going to give it all away. In fact, I could just stop there and ask that you trust me. But I can't help myself...
Over the first hour or so we made our way through eight starters. Jesse began with a cryptic talk about pacing ourselves, which we all but ignored right off the bat when he presented us with moreish McTucky's Popcorn Chicken Nuggets (with actual popcorn - take that, Colonel), and Chestnut Hummus in Sherry Vinegar with Rosemary Pitta Bread which the kitchen team happened upon when crucial chickpeas were accidentally left out of the mix.
"It's good, but it's not Hummus", said a table full of Israelis on a recent visit...
|McTucky's Popcorn Chicken Nuggets|
|Chickpea-free Chestnut Hummus in Sherry Vinegar with Rosemary Pitta Bread|
Space was then made for a slab of wood topped with Backdoor Applewood Smoked Salmon and Crispy Salmon Skin with Caviar. Short of following traditional Nordic smoking instructions, Jesse just chucks it on a plank at the end for good measure. We made quick work of it with Today's Soda Bread, which is so damn good that foodie friend Felicity Spector always buys an extra loaf to take home.
|Backdoor Smoked Salmon|
|Today's Soda Bread|
It was around about this point in the meal that Jesse casually wandered past with a cutlass. He muttered something about using them to chop pancakes. Just a normal day at the office.
Next came two beautiful, colourful dishes. The first was Jesse's lazy/playful take on Goat's Cheese Ravioli which swaps fiddly pasta for raw watermelon radish and swede, served on a bed of yellow raisins and capers.
"No pasta was harmed in the making of this ravioli" - Head Chef.
This was joined by a standout signature dish that his wife apparently married him for - Duck Liver Pate with Blood Orange Marmalade served with Yesterday's Bread (a crustier version of Today's). If it's good enough for Mrs Dunford Wood, it's good enough for Matt The List.
|Raw Vegetable "Ravioli" with Goat's Cheese|
|Duck Liver Pate with Blood Orange Marmalade & Radish|
Right, where are we? Ah yes, here's an Eggshell filled with Stilton Custard and Hazelnut Praline, served with what some might call "a marmite-less twiglet". Jesse prefers "unravelled pretzel". Another kitchen mishap led to this nutty (and stinky) creation, and thank God. It was outrageously tasty, and possibly the highlight of the meal (on the sustenance-side of things).
|Blue Cheese Custard with Hazelnuts & a Marmite-less Twiglet|
|Blue Cheese Custard with Hazelnuts & a Marmite-less Twiglet|
That's the starters covered then. There was a brief pause before a couple of main courses arrived. On the Party Menu, you share all Starters and Puds but choose your Main in advance. Some of the popular A La Carte dishes turn up here, including the self-explanatory Cow Pie and the "Remarkable" Pork Chop.
As it was Shrove Tuesday, we were treated to Duck with Beetroot Pancakes alongside a glorious bowl of Sea Trout with Romesco Peppers and Monk's Beard. After the (welcome) barrage of funky starters, these were serious plates centred around generous portions of expertly cooked meat and fish.
|Duck with Beetroot Pancakes|
|Sea Trout with Romesco Peppers and Monk's Beard|
Now, what happened next I can only hint at. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, but let's just say that dessert was something special. After warming up to Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra", Jesse presented his 2015 Food Odyssey including Leftover Christmas Tree, Fisherman's Friend and Horlicks Arctic Rolls, Rhubarb Souffle, Giant Flaming Wagon Wheels, Naive Chocolate Salted Caramel Rolos, Chocolate Orange Battenburg, Dizzy Fresh Fruit, Kosher Black Pudding, Chestnut Macarons, a Pancake Cake and a Spoonful of Sugar!
If only he'd told us to pace ourselves.
After picking our chins up off the table, we did our best with the plethora of puddings in front of us (perhaps more manageable between seven) before tearing ourselves away to catch an Overground train back to more familiar junctions.
|2015 Food Odyssey - Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra|
|Chocolate Bomb THING|
|Cheesecake in a CRISPY THING on a Terry's Chocolate Orange Battenburg|
It was quite simply one of the best meals (certainly the most entertaining) that I have ever had. And that's without taking into consideration that it's far more affordable than most stuffy Tasting Menus that still require a trip to Chicken Cottage afterwards. What's more, the bottled beer list is great; the roasts look top notch; there's a £10 set lunch menu and an £18 dinner menu; and it's all very easy on the eyes, both in the décor and the gastronomy department.
Book Now. Dinner at Jesse's Chef's Table is an essential, unique London dining experience, but you'll also have a wonderful time if you go A La Carte, or even just pop in for a drink. Thank me later!
N.B. Parlour is closed on Mondays
If you like the look of Parlour, you should also check out The Mall Tavern
Wednesday 18th February - It takes a lot to get me to Edgware Road.
80+ bottles of whisky, in fact.
That's the offering at the new Whisky Lounge in Hilton London Metropole, a classy corner of the hotel stocking some of the world's finest drams.
Most of the whiskies on show hail from Scotland, but there are also bottles from England, Wales, Ireland, Japan, and even Taiwan.
It's often hard to know where to start though, so you may want to check out their fun and informative group tasting events, which range in price from £26 to £61 per person. Bespoke personal tastings can also be organised.
I was invited along for a session with 4 award-winning whiskies that would cost a reasonable £42.
Our Hungarian host Eszter ran through her top tips for tasting whisky:
1. Look at the colour - a darker dram may be older, but the distillery may have cheekily added caramel to make it more "appealing". Still, isn't it pretty?
2. Check out its legs - translation: tilt your drink by 45 degrees and rotate it to see how it falls back down the glass. Smaller "tears" suggest a higher ABV, and slow "legs" most likely make for a rich, intense whisky.
3. Give it a sniff or three - your first nose of it might be a little harsh, but you should get more out of it after a couple of goes. Take it easy, or breath in with your mouth open to avoid destroying your receptors!
4. Tasting time - get in there, give it a good chew, and swallow, Repeat. Perhaps go back to another whisky (if you are spoilt for choice) for comparison. Open it up with a couple of drops of water if you wish. There's nothing wrong with a bit of dilution, though beware ice which can upset the whisky.
|Eeny, meeny, miney, mo.|
#1 - Yamazaki 12yo - 43% - An outstanding dram from an award-winning distillery. Dangerously drinkable; light; floral; sweet; smoky; balanced; brilliant.
#2 - Lagavulin 16yo - 43% - A close second from Islay, the best (and peatiest) island in the world. Dry with a long finish; peaty and smoky; a boozy bowl of cereal; glorious stuff. Enjoy after a salty meal perhaps.
#3 - Singleton of Dufftown 12yo - 40% - A sweet and fruity dram from the Speyside region of Scotland, aged in American & European Oak. It's very smooth with little or no finish; fabulous with chocolate! It was noticeably sweeter after tasting Yamazaki & Lagavulin.
#4 - Kavalan - 40% - A pleasant, sweet dram from the King Car Distillery in Taiwan. Whilst it finished well, the front was a little harsh for me compared to the high calibre competition.
Whisky is certainly an expensive hobby, but tutored tastings are a great way to learn more and discover new drams. I'll certainly be buying a bottle of Yamazaki 12yo before too long. Why not treat a loved one and go along for the ride? The Whisky Lounge is expecting you.