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Tuesday 22 September 2015

Homeslice Pizza - Spirited Sermons at Reverend J.W. Simpson - Lyle's - Highlights

Today on the blog: Monster pizzas, Mezcal masterclasses, Michelin madness and more...

Let's start with former street food traders Homeslice Pizza who recently opened their second permanent site on Wells Street in Fitzrovia, two years after launching in Neal's Yard. There's space for 70, plus some al fresco seating, meaning it's much easier to get a table at than the Covent Garden original.  That said, you can always get takeaway if all else fails.

If you can, grab a seat in front of the pizza oven to watch the chefs at work, though beware, you won't have a great deal of room to eat! You can order any of the top three pizzas on the menu by the slice (£4 each), or you can go all out and get an enormous 20" pie for £20, with the option to go 50/50 on toppings. It's more than enough for two people, and you can pack it up if you don't manage it all.

Homeslice always has some interesting combos going on, and we were almost swayed by Goat Shoulder with Savoy Cabbage and Sumac Yoghurt and Mackerel, Broad Beans, Peas and Mint. Instead though we went full veggie, opting for half courgette and artichoke, half aubergine, cauliflower cheese, spinach and harissa.  Both were delicious, though I'm not sure I'd have wanted many more rich slices of the latter.

London is spoilt for pizza choice at the moment (see Ben Norum's top picks here), and Homeslice's quirky creations are right up there with the best of them. I'm a big fan of the option to eat by the slice, and there aren't too many places that offer it - NY Fold and Voodoo Rays are your best bets elsewhere.

Homeslice's new site somewhat bizarrely also has a basement cocktail bar which was empty on our visit. Time will tell, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was an event space by the end of the year. For alternative booze nearby, grab a beer at the Draft House Charlotte Street before, and a cocktail at the World's Best Bar Artesian at The Langham afterwards. Sorted.

P.S. A third Homeslice will apparently open later this year in Shoreditch at 347-348 Old Street

Homeslice Fitzrovia -

Mon-Sat: 12pm-11pm / Sun: 12pm-10pm

52 Wells Street London W1T 3PR 

Square Meal

Homeslice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Post-pizza, I wandered back towards Goodge Street with Flatmate Maggie to confess my boozy sins at Reverend J.W. Simpson's underground abode.  This cosy, clandestine cocktail bar skipped over the previous brothel-based tenants for inspiration, and instead looked to 1963 when Rev Simpson, whoever he may be, moved in for a quarter of a century. The stained glass entrance hall is stunning once revealed, and the shabby chic décor downstairs works well when the bar is buzzing.


We dropped in to attend one of their weekly Spirited Sermons, a series of informal masterclasses taking place every Tuesday throughout the evening (roughly starting at 6pm and 8.30pm). 

Our night was all about Mezcal (loosely in honour of Mexican Independence Day) and agave expert Tom Bartram from Speciality Brands came down to give us a tutored tasting of four bottles and an introduction to Mezcal production. He spent a month in Oaxaca (Wahaca to us Masterchef fans), the home of Mezcal, and his unique travel pics from rarely visited distilleries were of great interest.

It all starts with the agave plant and a machete. The jimadors (harvesters) cut through to the piñas (the pineapple-shaped hearts) which are then cooked in the ground in covered fire pits for up to five days which gives Mezcal its unique smoky flavour.  

This is where it differs from Tequila production. Tequila is technically a Mezcal, made only from the blue agave plant in the Jalisco region, but it is cooked in large industrial ovens for the most part and therefore doesn't get that smoky characteristic.

The roasted piñas are then mashed and left to ferment naturally with water. The resulting liquid is then distilled, and you're done! It's a lengthy, artisan process, which might make you appreciate your Mezcal a little more when you are handing over a £50 note in Amathus or The Whisky Exchange.

Tom told a whole host of entertaining stories, the most memorable being that of Ilegal Mezcal. New Yorker John Rexer bought a bar in Guatemala when drunk (as you do), named it "Café No Sé", and began smuggling unbranded Mezcal over the border using a combination of uncles, priest outfits and porno - "Regalos para mis amigos and libros para los niños". The booze became popular and was eventually named Ilegal for obvious reasons. The FAQ on their website is a great read -

"No te preocupes. Yo tengo un tío."

We tasted two bottles of Ilegal, one aged in American oak (less common for Mezcal), along with some Derrumbes (sweet, spicy and boozy at 46%) and San Cosme (milky, almost chocolatey). The sweet and smokey young (joven) Ilegal was my favourite, just ahead of Derrumbes. Both have gone on the list for when I replace my almost-empty bottle of Del Maguey Vida (itself a great entry level Mezcal).

After the tasting, we also had a chance to mix our own cocktails with the Rev J.W. Simpson team, picking from a five-strong list of Mezcal Cocktails created especially for the Spirited Sermon evening by the bartenders. I kept it fairly simple with a Tommy's Margarita style Flor de Jamaica with Ilegal, hibiscus-infused agave, lime, and kaffir lime bitters, whilst Maggie got top marks for her Bandito - Ilegal, lavender, grape, herbal liqueur, and ginger, topped with champagne.

Bandito with a face

The Spirited Sermons are a fun and friendly way to get to know a spirit better whilst sipping on classy cocktails. They are continuing right through to the end of the year, so there are plenty of opportunities to make it down - I've included my top picks below:

/// 6th October 2015 - Rev Presents Spirited Sermon Special with Makers Mark ///

London Cocktail Week partners Makers Mark will be coming down for a Spirited Sermon Special. Guests can expect the usual exquisitely crafted Reverend cocktails, lashings of lovely bourbon, fascinating insights into the history and production of the spirit, and some good ol’ Kentucky fun.

/// 27th October 2015 - Day of the Dead Special with El Jimador Tequila ///

Dia de los Muertos is one of the great festivals in Mexico, where families and communities gather and dress up in parades to celebrate the lives of departed friends and family members, inviting the spirits back for a visit and helping their passage to the next life. A joyous time often lasting three days, skulls and skeletons are brightly coloured and detailed, with people spending a whole year working on their outfits and figurines. Expect face painting, dancing and raising glasses of Mexico’s number one tequila, El Jimador!

/// 24th November 2015 - Japanese Whisky, A Love Story – with Nikka Whisky’s Stefanie Holt ///

The birth of Japanese whisky is both beautiful and tragic, with the early attempts at recreating the magic nectar of Scotland in Japan finally coming to fruition with the birth of the two great Japanese whisky houses, and culminating in the incredibly intricate and complex liquids produced by Japan. These are recognised by experts and aficionados as some of the best whiskies in the world today.

Tickets are £25 (or occasionally £12.50 through Timeout) which gets you three cocktails, a tutored tasting of three spirits, and a spot of mixology practice. It's a no brainer. Get tickets here.

Autumn & Winter Spirited Sermons at Rev J.W. Simpson -

Arrive at 6pm or 8.30pm for tutored tastings, cocktail making and boozing

32 Goodge Street, London, W1T 2QJ

Back to food, the full 2016 Michelin Star and Bib Gourmand list was revealed a day early last week after a bookshop prematurely started selling the guide. Hot Dinners has all the info you need on the 2016 winners here.

Four of the six newly awarded restaurants are in Mayfair (Araki, Umu, Bonham's, The Goring) and are for the most part out of my price range. The other two are Fitzrovia's Portland (whose Game Pithivier nearly crashed Instagram), and Lyle's in Shoreditch - both big hits with the foodie community.

By chance, I went for lunch at Lyle's the day before they were awarded their first Michelin Star, and in all honesty, I was a bit disappointed. It was enjoyable but not thrilling; not one of the finest restaurants in London. Surely Robin Gill & co. deserve a look in first? Does it help to have a Sethi or Young Turk on board? What do I know? After all...

- Former Young Turk James Lowe wasn't in the kitchen - he was off being cheffy in Mexico
- I've only been once, and it was for lunch rather than the set menu dinner
- Several foodie friends whose opinions I value greatly rate it very highly
- I'd perhaps built it up in my head too much beforehand

Then again, it has a critics score of 6.5 on Hot Dinners compared to 8.5 for The Dairy, The Manor and Peckham Bazaar amongst others. Maybe South London isn't allowed Michelin stars... 

The décor has come in for some criticism, but I actually quite like the minimalist, almost brutalist layout at Lyle's, with huge windows allowing sunlight to pour in.  It seats 50 and opens early on weekdays (8am) when it does a roaring coffee trade.

Dinner is a £44 strictly set menu affair, but at lunch you can choose from ten or so dishes plus a few desserts.  At £30 or so for 3 courses, it's not bad value, though I'd rather be treated like I'm on a tasting menu at The Dairy with 4 courses plus treats for £24 at lunch.  Here's what we ordered:

- Duck Hearts, Cauliflower & Almonds - £6.90
- Blood Cake, Redcurrants & Dandelion (x2)- £7.50

- Saddleback Loin, Burnt Apple & Fennel - £16.50
- Dexter Flank, Onion & Pickled Walnuts - £16.90
- Monkfish, Greengages & Liver - £15.90

- Fig Leaf Ice Cream, Figs & Verbena - £6.90
- Treacle Tart & Milk Ice Cream (x2) - £6.30

Duck Hearts, Cauliflower & Almonds

Blood Cake, Redcurrants & Dandelion

Saddleback Loin, Burnt Apple & Fennel

Treacle Tart & Milk Ice Cream

My favourite bits? Probably the treacle tart (always been a sucker for it) with its fresh milk ice cream, followed by the complimentary bread and a bottle of Siren Calypso. The Blood Cake was no Bao, and the burnt apple really didn't do it for me or the saddleback loin it was accompanying. Dad's Duck Hearts were rather winning - I can't get enough of cauliflower at the moment - and his main of Monkfish, Greengages & Liver was the most successful large plate, though not something I would order myself.

Maybe it was just an off day, or perhaps the 40 minute Overground journey took its toll on me, but I won't be rushing to recommend Lyle's. For a different perspective, read Leyla's writeup on The Cutlery Chronicles. I wouldn't be adverse to returning, especially as the service was superb and the atmosphere very friendly, but there's plenty more on the to-do list so it may be some time. I should probably save up for Mayfair too, I hear they have some Michelin-starred restaurants there.

Mon-Fri: 8am-11pm / Sat: 12pm-11pm / Lunch: 12pm-2.30pm / Dinner: 6pm-10pm / Closed Sundays

Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JJ

Lyle's -

Square Meal

Lyle's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


10 restaurants currently on my hitlist: The Clove Club, Oldroyd, Craft, Typing Room, Naughty Piglets, Paradise Garage, Salon, Newnham Arms, The Marksman, Gymkhana


To finish on a more positive note, here are some of the best things I've consumed this week:

- A load of beers at the magnificent Trans-Atlantic Rainbow Project event at Beavertown's taproom
- Epic 48 Hour Short Rib Beef Kare Kare from The Adobros Filipino Supper Club
- Gizzi's Bananas Foster Waffles from Waffle On at The Watch House
- Tortilla with Paprika fresh out of the oven at Park Road Kitchen
- Mum The List's GBBO-inspired Peach Frangipane Tart
- A monster 20" veggie pizza from Homeslice Fitzrovia
-  Photogenic cocktails at Bermondsey Arts Club
- Flatmate Emma's Secret Chocolate Cake
- Lundenwic's Mini Chocolate Fondant


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