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Wednesday 27 May 2015

Kansas Smitty's Bar

Whilst I've loved powering through my enormous London food, drink and fun to-do list since early 2013, my favourite posts are usually related to three ongoing stories:

- Paul & Jack (Anspach & Hobday) graduating from homebrewers to Bermondsey pros
- Joel Braham (The Good Egg) getting closer to his dream of opening a bricks and mortar restaurant
- The continued rise of the incredibly talented Kansas Smitty's on the London scene

Coincidentally, the first two also have musical backgrounds which ties this all together nicely. I first met Blues Brothers Banned trumpeter turned chef Joel on a jazz band tour to Rotterdam; and Paul & Jack may not have become Anspach & Hobday had they found success with Great Dover Street Productions - bit of a reach that one. Anyway, today I'm here to talk about Kansas Smitty's. 

"Putting the danger back in jazz"

I first become aware of them early last year after meeting band leader Giacomo Smith (sax / clarinet) at a gig at Battersea's hidden gem Le Quecumbar. Since then, I've seen them countless times, both as Smitty's Big Four and the full House Band, all over London, from The Dolls House to Ronnie Scott's.

"While the House Band draws its main inspiration from Count Basie’s hard swinging late night jam sessions in 1930s Kansas City, the Big Four is interested in the music of Sidney Bechet and the upbeat swing of New Orleans."

No two shows are ever the same, though the music making is always exceptional.  If there's a tighter swing band currently playing on the London circuit, I'd like to hear them.  Mad Mardi Gras gigs at The Vaults have been known to end with an impromptu victory lap around Waterloo Station, and alongside all of the live shows, an LP has been recorded and is awaiting release later this year.  But the Smitty's have always had their eyes on a bigger prize - their own bar.  

A magical, immersive Backyard BBQ event in Dalston last April proved that they were all over it on the Southern States food & drink front too, and a year later they finally unveiled the Kansas Smitty's Bar underneath Off Broadway on Broadway Market.

Their stripped back basement bar is now open for live jazz and juleps from Tuesday-Sunday, 6pm-midnight, with special "Basement Tapes" ticketed gigs every Wednesday featuring a different Smitty. You can't go wrong, from trumpeter & vocalist "Sweet" Pete Horsfall ("a cross between Billie Holiday and Tony Bennet") to multi-talented, dynamic percussionist Pedro Segundo.

Giacomo & Jack - Gentlemen of Jazz

Joe Webb's Piano

Dave Archer's Gibson

Dave Archer's Gibson

Now these juleps. In quite a coup, Milk & Honey bartender Sean Fennelly was brought in to set things in motion, and he's organised an 8-strong £8 julep jamboree ranging from the Smitty's Julep (Bourbon, Amaro Bitters, Raisin, Peach, Cassia Bark & Mint) to the Jesuit's Bark Julep (Rum, Clove, Pimento, Lime and Grapefruit Peel, Quinine Cordial & Mint).

The booze & botanicals are pre-mixed and left to blend in traditional julep fashion, before being poured over fresh mint and ice.  Bartenders just need to "clap that mint" first and your drink is good to go.

There's something for everyone on the list, but I'd recommend the Morning Joe-lep (Bourbon, Coffee Bean, Stem Ginger, Cardamom, Cocoa Nibs & Bitter Orange Marmalade) or the Sleepytime Julep (Scotch Whisky, Chamomile, Pink Peppercorn, Raspberry, Lemon Peel & Mint).  

If you want to save a few coins, you can stick to house wine and beers (currently New Orleans Dixie Beer with more local brews on the way).  Food is restricted to Giacomo's nuts at the moment, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Most importantly though, it's a great venue for live music, with excellent acoustics and no need for amplification; and crucially, it means I always know where to go if I need a Kansas Smitty's fix, and so do you.  Get down there and support some of London's finest musicians, and don't forget your dancing shoes!

Tuba-man Theon Cross

Giacomo & "Sweet" Pete on the front line

Kansas Smitty's Bar is open 6pm-midnight, Tues - Sun, 63-65 Broadway Market, E8 4PH

Click here to book tickets for Wednesday night "Basement Tapes" gigs


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Friday 15 May 2015

The Truscott Arms - Max's Sandwich Shop - Ollie Templeton at Carousel

Today on the blog, more recent eats around London, from Crouch Hill to Maida Vale via Marylebone.

Sunday May 3rd - First up, a trip to leafy Warwick Avenue for lunch at The Truscott Arms.  Chef Aidan McGee has recently launched a new bar menu at Maida Vale's much loved gastropub, and the summer terrace is set to open any day now, but we were in the market for Britain's Best Roast 2014.

Ella (The Little Brown Book) and I made ourselves at home in their quirky first floor dining room that was once part of the Shirland Hotel.  Two glasses of Chateau des Graves D'Ardonneau Bordeaux (an utter gem) kept us company as we perused the menu and the nutty décor.

We kicked off with a generous Truscott Meat Board (£7) and a colourful plate of Maple Cured Salmon with Compressed Cucumber, Pickled Beetroot and Sourdough Toast.  Both delicious but possibly unnecessary when followed by one of their ridiculous roasts!

The Truscott Arms roast is truly enormous.  Our epic board of meat & veg would have provided a stern test for Adam Richman if he hadn't thrown in the towel and turned vegan. As it all comes piled up on one slab of wood, you might as well get more than one type of meat and share it all around. 

Choose from 35 day aged beef rump cap with red wine gravy, Free-Range English rare breed pork (pulled shoulder & roast loin) with mustard sauce, and Smoked English lamb leg & braised shoulder with garlic & rosemary infused lamb sauce served with honey roast root veg, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding & seasonal greens.  Having been to one too many BBQ joints, the pulled pork shoulder seemed a bit out of place, but the beef rump cap and the roast pork loin were sublime.  A very nice man kindly packaged up our 7th and 8th portions to take home - phew.

Obviously, we still had room for dessert though - separate stomach and all that.  I kept things light with a fresh pot of Strawberries with Lemon Cream and Mint Granita whilst Ella committed to an indulgent Dark Chocolate & Pecan Brownie with Chocolate Sauce & Vanilla Ice Cream.

Three hours later, after a quick tour of the garden and function rooms cutely named after streets that the owners used to live on, we rolled ourselves outside and attempted to walk it all off in Little Venice.

Is it the best roast in London? I have NO IDEA! But it's a good place to start, and I'll definitely be back for the full dinner menu soon, or perhaps a pub quiz or two.  There's plenty else going on too including film nights, wine clubs, art exhibitions and an exciting event called "Eating Sound" where dishes are matched with live music composed for the evening by Sam Bailey - the next one is on Tuesday 23rd September.

Not content with the one site, this June sees the opening of The Truscott Cellar in Belsize Park, a 60 cover wine bar with small British plates from Aidan McGee and design by Michel Schranz set over two floors.  I'll be in the corner stuffing my face with their Cellar Skins filled with the likes of Blackened Lancashire Bacon, Wensleydale & Truffle Oil, Creamed Haddock & Spring Onion, and Wookey Hole Cheddar & Fried Leek.

The Truscott Arms on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Roasts in my sights : The Colonel Fawcett / Jones and Sons


That's pretty much all you need to know about Max's Sandwich Shop run by former Salt Yard FOH and Le Coq GM Max Halley.  He's opened a lively little joint in Crouch Hill that slings out hot sandwiches with a healthy side order of alcohol to a funky soundtrack.  Whilst in the neighbourhood (which I never thought would happen), we popped in for a couple of sarnies.

Beware - these are big sandwiches.  After a couple of arancini balls, we were defeated by Chris' Infamous Robocoq (there's a sentence) - Confit Chicken, Chicken Liver Parfait, Chicory, Sweet Potato Fries and Wild Garlic Salsa falling out of two chunks of focaccia.  What's Your Beef All About? was a tad too rich and salty for me, but a third team member arrived in the nick of time and polished it off, slutty gravy mayo and all.  Gin & tonics and beers from Beavertown & Kernel went down a treat, and the music was right up our street.

Chris' Infamous Robocoq - Confit Chicken, Chicken Liver Parfait, Chicory, Sweet Potato Fries, Wild Garlic Salsa

If I lived slightly closer, I would be in here on a weekly basis. Great fun, highly recommended.

Check out the Faltering Fullback's sprawling treehouse garden whilst in town too.

Max's on Urbanspoon

Thursday 7th May - Last but not least on this round-up, a lovely lunch at Carousel in Marylebone - a rotating residencies restaurant & events space run by the multi-talented Templeton cousins.  

Whilst everyone has been making a fuss about Clove Club changing to an advanced bookings ticketed system of payment (popular in Chicago at Alinea, Next & co.), Carousel have been successfully doing it under the radar for a while now in a bid to avoid food wastage.

After curating the line-up for a few months, ex-Moro Chef Ollie Templeton is finally taking the reins himself (until 30th May) with his modern twist on traditional Spanish cuisine.  

There's one sitting for dinner at 7.30pm which is a £35 4-course affair that starts optimistically in the Carousel garden with snacks a la plancha and fino sherry before moving inside. Lunch is a more casual affair and three classy courses will only set you back £21.50, or you can just grab a main for £9.50.

After some pretty fantastic bread and oil, we got stuck in to a light salad of Smoked Trout with Pickled Chicory and Chegworth Leaves and a moreish plate of Cuttlefish with Wet Rice, Preserved Lemon and Aioli that came with a little kick.  I've been dreaming of the latter ever since, even after some of Nuno Mendes' tasty off-menu cuttlefish rice at Taberna do Mercado.  Wet Rice, in case you were wondering, is effectively a risotto prepared without butter (gasp) - it's delicious, I promise.

Smoked Trout, Pickled Chicory, Chegworth Leaves

Cuttlefish, Wet Rice, Preserved Lemon, Aioli

The starters were followed by a comforting plate of Confit Pork Belly with White Beans and Romesco - beautifully cooked and just the right amount for a leisurely lunch, washed down with some fine wines and Kernel table beer.  In the evening, you would also get a plate of Swaledale Lamb with Grilled Onions, Garlic and Herbs.

Confit Pork Belly, White Beans, Romesco

To finish, we shared a delightful little bowl of Rice Pudding with Rhubarb Jam and Pistachios - not something I would usually order myself, but thankfully we didn't have a choice! It's a smartly restrained way to end a perfectly balanced lunch.

Rice Pudding, Rhubarb Jam, Pistachios

Get down to Carousel before 30th May if you can to catch Ollie Templeton in action.  Otherwise you'll be stuck with Leo Carreira (2nd-13th June), and wouldn't that be a disaster?

Square Meal

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Taberna do Mercado - Rosita & The Sherry Bar

Today on the blog: TAPAS TWO TIMES. 

Portugal vs Spain - Nuno vs Cristina - Spitalfields vs Battersea - Ronaldo vs Messi... no wait - that's not right. Casillas? Alonso? Nadal? Bloody talented sporting Spaniards. Well except Nadal; I hear he's pretty crap on clay these days.  Anyway, focus Matt.


Saturday 9th May - I've been waiting a while now to taste Nuno Mendes' cooking.  I missed him at Viajante (now Lee Westcott's highly rated Typing Room), and then there was the whole Chiltern Firehouse, shall we say, phenomenon?  

Thankfully, he has just opened a relaxed Portuguese restaurant called Taberna do Mercado in Old Spitalfields Market that will hopefully remain celebrity free for the time being.  Currently you can book a table for lunch from 12-2pm (  Between 3-6pm you can walk in for drinks, cured meats, cheeses and other cold snacks, and dinner is from 6-9.30pm (also walk in only).  They will soon be open in the mornings from 8am for coffee and a simple Portuguese breakfast.  Check their website for up to date info -

It's a simple, airy space with 40 or so covers and a small bar, though there is apparently also a secret Chef's Table with room for four in the back of the basement kitchen.  You'll have to fight your way past Nuno and co. to have a peek though.  On that note, a trip to the lone basement toilet is essential, especially if there's a queue, as you literally sit in the kitchen whilst Nuno makes you (and these are his words) "Bathroom Break Snacks".  

Tapas menus designed to hang off the edge of the table

We settled in with refreshing glasses of Clip do Monte Da Vaia and bottles of Square Root. Cocktails are on their way soon, most probably of the aperitivo variety, and beers are limited to 20cl pours of Super Bock at present.  It would be nice to see some craft Portuguese beers in London - perhaps some Sovina or Mediaevalis?

Between four we ordered eleven dishes (and all the puddings) which was just about right.  We didn't delve in to the cheese or cured meat sections, but we covered pretty much everything else.  First to arrive was Scallops with Brown Butter and Walnuts - a no brainer from their House Tinned Fish section, unsurprisingly presented in a tin, with plenty of bread to mop up the buttery leftovers. Then came Prawn Rissóis (fried croquettes) which are often eaten cold in Portugal.  These were hot half-moon humdingers - order several.

Prawn Rissóis

Two vegetarian dishes came next - a colourful plate of Chicory, Massa de Pimentao with Pear & Almonds and Wild Garlic, Asparagus & Fennel Migas. In the former, the peppery sauce kept the pear mostly at bay, and almonds passed me by, but you couldn't miss the chicory. Meanwhile, migas is a traditional Portuguese (or Spanish) bread pudding, usually made with leftovers.  Here it was soaked in fennel and topped with the rest - very enjoyable, though a stretch to share between four!

Chicory, Massa de Pimentao, Pear, and Almonds

Ask nicely and you might get some off-menu Cuttlefish Rice in a rich broth - one of the highlights of the meal.  And then go and order the delicious Cuttlefish & Pigs Trotters Coentrada so that it doesn't feel left out.  Both are fine examples of the cuttlefish genre. Yes, that's a genre.

Cuttlefish & Pigs Trotters Coentrada

Moving on, Corvina and Picadito Algarvio is a stunning plate of white fish, "similar to seabass, but much tastier" according to one of several charming waiting staff that keep us informed, fed and watered throughout.  Apparently, the corvina is caught around 6am in Portugal, and it makes its way to London for 6pm, so it's pretty fresh.  And he's right, it is tastier than seabass, or at least our one was.

The last of the small plates was Bisaro Pork Tartare, Cozido Broth and Cabbage, another rich and moreish dish.  Google tells me that Bisaro is a Central and Northern Portuguese pig, part-boar, of Celtic origins.  Supposedly they originated in Gaul.  All I can tell you is that it goes well with cabbage.

Bísaro Pork Tartare, Cozido Broth and Cabbage

According to Nuno, you've got to finish off with a sandwich. Or two. Pork Bifana with Yeast Mayo and Fennel had great flavours but some pretty gristly meat, so Beef Prego with Prawn Paste and Wild Garlic came out on top.  Both benefitted from glorious bread, divided up with fancy knives that Nuno has a stake in (sorry).  They are going to start selling them soon hopefully. Nuno Knives? NuNives? I'll stop.

Beef Prego, Prawn Paste, and Wild Garlic Sandwich

Naturally we ordered all of the desserts. Bolacha Maria Cake with Butter Cream & Coffee was lovely but forgettable. It's a cookie based cake that caught on during the Spanish Civil War, but apparently it was created in 1874 by an English baker.  Feel free to dispel that.  In the absence of some classic Portuguese Nata tarts, Tigelada, Rice Milk & Orange filled the custard void in style.  It was served in rectangular slabs, presumably having been cut from ceramic bowls (cooked crème brulée style).

Even better was the Abade de Priscos and Port Caramel, a Portuguese BACON PUDDING named after Abbot Joaquim Manuel Rebelo from Priscos in Braga - recipe here.  It's presented as a bright orange bar floating in a boozy bath - I'd rather see both the Abade de Priscos and the Tigelada in their traditional shape and form, but I can imagine that's of less interest to those who have been eating them all their lives.

That brings me to the showstopper, the Olive Oil Pao de Ló - a gooey, eggy, oily sponge cake, undercooked to perfection and comically plonked on the table in a paper bag.  Grab your spoons and dive in - there's plenty to go around.

Olive Oil Pao de Ló

Gooey Olive Oil Pao de Ló

Eggy, Gooey Olive Oil Pao de Ló

What a damn fine lunch.

I make that about 15-0 to Portugal sem vinho.  What have you got Spain? Over to flatmate Ali...


Tuesday 5th May - The evening started with a tequila tasting session in Clerkenwell which we sadly had to leave before getting to the really good stuff (añejo), but dinner and drinks at Rosita & The Sherry Bar on Northcote Road in Battersea more than made up for it.

Cristina who, with her husband, runs both Rosita and Lola Rojo (a few doors down) welcomed us and explained the concept behind Rosita: introducing patrons to sherry by pairing their impressive range with the finest tapas. There aren’t many places offering us Londoners sherry (see also Drakes Tabanco), and when Cristina presented us with a booklet showing us the varieties, my ignorance was confirmed. Who knew there were so many types?

They range from the almost savoury Fino, which is the colour of white wine – this was the only one I’d had before – right the way through to the very dark and sweet Pedro Ximénez, which reminded me of malt loaf (in a good way).

Sherry bluffing time.  Fino & Manzanilla are aged under a thin film of natural yeast called flor that prevents oxidisation, leading to the tangy, rancio, quality.  Manzanilla is the saltier as it is cellared near to the sea.  An aged Fino eventually becomes an Amontillado once the flor dies and the sherry begins to oxidise. 

Amontillado La Cigarrera

Oloroso meanwhile is matured sin flor so it has contact with the air throughout the maturation process leading to fuller-bodied but still dry sherry.  They are often sweetened to become Oloroso Dulce or Creams. The Pedro Ximénez & Moscatel sherries are made from the sun-dried grapes of the same name and, as such, are pretty indulgent.  But that's enough technical stuff - we can discuss the Solera system another time (N.B. not to be confused with the Sun & planets and stuff). 

All the oxidised sherry - Oloroso, Oloroso Dulce, Cream and PX x2

In true tapas style, we settled ourselves at the bar, and Cristina and her staff brought us glass after different glass of sherry, each paired with a couple of outstanding tapas plates. By the end of the evening, we’d tasted eight: a Fino, a Manzanilla, an Amontillado (La Cigarrera), an Oloroso (Maestro Sierra), an Oloroso Dulce (Cristina), a Cream (Solera 1847) and two types of Pedro Ximénez (Emilio Hidalgo and Maestro Sierra).  We'll be back for the Mozcatel and Palo Cortado to complete the set.

We were narrowly divided on favourites. I enjoyed the salty Manzanilla (a bottle called I THINK, “En Rama”, La Guita), and Matt settled on the Fino (Maestro Sierra). Although, stiff competition from maltloafy PX at the other end of the spectrum. 

Manzanilla I THINK "La Rama", La Guita

So far, I’ve focused on sherry at the expense of the superb food, which is equally deserving of attention, especially as we ate eleven plates of the stuff.  Don’t leave without trying the Leche Frita (literally fried milk, but here an awesome custard and cinnamon flavoured dessert from the Basque region of Spain). Or the Iberian Chorizo. Or the Crispy Aubergine. Or the Josper grilled Octopus. Or the White Anchovies, the Chicken Croquetas and the Sherry & Oxtail Empanadillas. Oh, you get the picture. In fact, look at the pictures...they’re below. And then pay Cristina and Rosita a visit to see, and taste, for yourself.

Crispy Aubergine, Sweet Tomato and Balsamic

Roast Chicken Croquetas with Vegetables and Tomato Sauce

Octopus with Potatoes and Mojo Canario

Roast Pumpkin, Beetroot, Carrot and Blue Cheese "Cabrales"

Oloroso Sherry & Oxtail Empanadillas

FRIED CUSTARD! Leche Frita, Vanilla Ice Cream and White Chocolate Sauce

Go for one of their very affordable set menus and chuck in a sherry flight or two.  And if you are feeling brave, head down on a Sunday night for Flamenco with your tapas.

If we're counting booze, I make that Spain 19-18 Portugal.  Back to you Matt.

Thanks Ali - Only one winner here: London.


P.S. If you are a Battersea local like myself, you might want to check out St.John's Hill Fabulous Feast - a week-long celebration of food and drink from 18th – 24th May. Special £15 menus will be served at participating venues on the Hill including Powder Keg Diplomacy, Ben's Canteen and Fish Club.

The Fabulous Feast ends with a massive street party and food festival on Saturday 23rd May from 11am – 5pm with local traders of the Hill running food & drink activities such as cooking lessons, tastings and demonstrations. The Great Battersea Bake Off will once again return after the success of last year's event.  Get involved!


Square Meal

Square Meal

Rosita and The Sherry Bar on Urbanspoon

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