Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lardo, 22nd March

Lardo is just lovely. It has perfectly positioned itself as a neighbourhood restaurant and was exactly the kind of place we fancied for a Sunday evening meal out, that was full of fresh and tasty, good food without us going overboard. It’s the kind of restaurant you can just pop to on a whim – no special occasion needed. Except for the fact that if you do that on a Saturday night you will probably find the place full.

And there is good reason for this. As I said, we kept things fairly simple and the food is relatively simple. The menu is quite short but long on Italian specialities. Lardo is a type of cured meat and while they didn’t have just this on the menu they do cure all their meats in house (and it made an appearance on my pizza). We orderered the burrata and lomo (I think) to start, and also asked for some bread. The burrata was so creamy without being soggy, with a good dose of salt and oil (basil flavoured, I can't remember) and the meat was silkily fatty.

After our meat mound at Blacklock the previous night neither of us wanted to go down that route again. Stephen had the grilled mackerel and I had the spinach, egg and lardo pizza. This was such a good pizza - so much flavour. The egg was the right side of over for me, not running all over the place, and no uncooked white. The lardo was placed in thin sheets across the pizza like gossamer, almost hiding among the spinach until you put it in your mouth and it surprised you with its meaty bloom. I thought it might be too doughy and that I would miss the tomato but that wasn't the case at all. You could really taste the depth of the cheese - I enjoyed every mouthful, but there was a lot there so I gave a good fraction of it to Stephen to enjoy as well. 

I was treating us and so dessert had to happen. We had a chocolate tart which came with crème fraiche (bleugh) and was indulgent without being sickly - it was more cake than tart. I'd go back to eat here in a heartbeat. 

Lardo on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blacklock, 21st March

So, it turns out Blacklock is not the kind of place to take your in-laws, not matter how much they might love meat. We waltzed in on a Saturday night at about 7:30 and got a table straight away. Had we left it much later that would have been more difficult but it didn’t get to queue-down-the-road territory, at least, not while we were there.

Their gimmick is simple – pay £20 ‘all-in’ and you get a selection of their canapes, an assortment of the different ‘chops’ they have that night on a plate and a side of your choice each. You can also choose to have one of the special chops if you want (written down the sides of the posts) but that could get pretty expensive.

So all four of us went all-in. We were brought four of each of the canapes (there are no starters). The dirty ham was a complete misnomer as there’s nothing dirty about it, but it was delicious – a very hammy bit of ham on a blob of I don’t know what but I could easily have eaten several. They were all delicious actually. Even the simple egg and anchovy was worthy of comment among us, and the blue cheese with pickles was fabulous. I’m still weaning myself onto blue cheese but I could easily have eaten all four of these myself.

Then came our plate of chops. I had wondered if it was really going to be as mountainous as everyone was making out and it was a decent showing. Stephen and I left completely stuffed but we probably ate more than our fair share as the in-laws are a bit fussy – if it had been just the two of us I dare say I would have had more than enough room for dessert and might have wished those canapes were a bit beefier too. In this instance, I still did have room for dessert but I was denied any because the in-laws were obviously keen to get the hell out of there. So I missed out on the famed cheesecake.

But anyway, what of the meat? Well, our server explained what we’d been given and advised us to chow on the beef rib first while it was piping hot – and don’t trouble yourself with a knife and fork! This was my favourite cut of the night – well grilled and seasoned, I had a good gnaw on the bones to make sure I got as much as I could. My least-liked cut was the pork belly rib which I thought tasted a bit too much like bacon. There were two types of lamb, which I couldn’t distinguish from each other (or maybe I just ended up eating the same thing twice) and a pork chop but I didn’t get a taste of that. Our sides were a grand success – a delicious half a sweet potato (a whole one might have been nice), a crunchy and light salad of heritage carrots, meat radish and some sort of seed and also some charred baby gem. All had more care and attention than you might expect of sides and this impressed me more than the meat feast itself!

The only thing I didn’t really like, was, strangely, the bread. All the chops sit on top of some bread which is meant to then soak up the meat juices. I felt like the bread may have been fried or something first as it was ever so greasy and I didn’t really like eating it. This is in contrast to the bread that sits underneath the grilled meats at Cirrik and which is one of the best bits of ordering it. 

We had chosen Blacklock because it was from people affiliated with Hawksmoor and we thought it might be a bit more ‘restauranty’ than your typical new Soho opening. But it wasn’t – it was total hipsterville with no frills décor and loud music. Which got louder at about 8 pm. I’m a pretty young and trendy person but even I prefer to be able to hear my companions without having to shout when I go out to eat. Or even to drink. (Especially when that music is uber-cheesy Kool and the Gang.) Loud music is for clubbing and late-night bars, otherwise it makes me suspect it’s used to mask a place’s lack of organic atmosphere.

Another thing I kept hearing about Blacklock was that it did cocktails for £5. I was very excited by this. Too excited. I should have known that for that price you would get a fraction of the size of a normal drink. This was literally the smallest cocktail I’ve ever been served. People shouldn’t say it is a cocktail for £5 – it is £5’s worth of cocktail. However, it was certainly strong (but then, without any room in that glass to add anything else, it was going to be!) and it tasted very nice.

So, I did like the food, but I’m not entirely convinced by the place. I’m just trying to picture if I’d be that tempted to return. If I had a hankering for some serious meat, I feel I’d be more likely to just go for a steak or a BBQ joint. Although the amount of food we had for £20 was more than decent, so this might make me head here rather than a steak house, or Flat Iron... I’m not sure. I think it’s definitely worth a visit once and would tick all the boxes if I had a meat-loving (younger) visitor I wanted to impress with London’s trendy restaurant scene but I'm not aching to go back myself. 

Blacklock on Urbanspoon

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Love Shake (food), 18th March

I’d already been to the Love Shake for some late night revelry some time ago. But I always wanted to go back and try their shakes. It’s part of their name after all. So I met up with some friends there the other night and we thought we’d get some food too. Unfortunately their cooking options were limited and the only thing they were serving were hot dogs. Awful, typically English, no flavour or substance hot dogs. Do not ever bother with these. However, milkshakes were definitely on the menu and the one I had was worth going back for.

I had the Mars Attacks and firstly, it was gargantuan. It was a hard shake with Makers Mark in it, and it was so big you couldn’t taste any alcohol in it at all. At least, not until you got towards the bottom when the whisky flavour suddenly appeared. It was served in the metal cup in which it was mixed, and it was freezing, proving it was made the proper way, with ice cream. Mine had peanut butter, toffee and chocolate and it was just delicious! I really did ‘love’ that ‘shake’. (groan). So, don't bother with the food, but definitely try a milkshake or stay for their cheap beer offers. 

The Love Shake on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Disco Dodgeball, 14th March

You all know the motto – Dodge Duck Dip Dive and Disco! Wait. What?

That’s right – disco!! Cos playing just plain ol’ dodgeball wouldn’t be any fun - Disco Dodgeball add dance into the mix! Not to mention animal fancy dress. It’s a tricky combination but in terms of fun that can be had it works a charm.

And so, I found myself in an edgy East London warehouse, a setting that would not feel out of place for illicit bare knuckle boxing, instead playing and watching games of dodgeball. I half expected dodgy bets to be taken in the corner but of course it was all just good silly fun.

I have to confess, we sucked. I had thought I had pulled together three teams of dodging might but serval no-shows left us severely depleted for our third team. Not a problem we though, we’ll just sub in people from our other teams. It was actually working quite well (well, apart from the fact we were losing every game) when all three of our teams were called to play at once, illuminating our lack of players. Somehow we still managed not to be disqualified as two teams were playing each other (4 on each side) so they just let us get away with it.

Ah yes, I mentioned we were losing. I’m totally putting this down to the fact that our teams were fluid entities, meaning we weren’t ever able to come up with a strategy, play to our strengths, or, more importantly, figure out our entrance battle. Where does this figure in dodgeball? Ordinareily it doesn’t. Balls are placed in a line and the two teams dash forward to try and get them, then dash back again to begin play. With disco dodgeball there is a dance off at the beginning of the match and whoever wins gets all the balls! This severely disadvantaged us. Without getting our team together to practice we lost almost every dance off and it was quite hard to avoid being hit when you had no balls. Still, I have to say this didn’t mar my enjoyment one bit. Playing was fun, doing the dance offs was tremendously silly, and watching everyone else’s dance off skills was quite eye-opening. These guys had brought their A game and had some serious moves!

My team (the bears) were the ultimate losers. It was announced that us and one other team had won the wooden spoon prize for being the worst. Or so we thought. I merrily went about changing out of my sneakers into my platforms for the afterparty, and to watch the remaining rounds. Some of my team decided to head home. We let go, grabbed some amazing (and massive) food from White Men Can’t Jerk and enjoyed the bouts which lead to the final. Then all of a sudden, my team was being called to play! We were supposed to do a final head to head with that other team for the wooden spoon prize! But we couldn’t get the team together and had to forfeit. We couldn’t even win the losingest game. Which, I think, makes us the ultimate losers. I’m kinda proud of that.

As if Disco Dodgeball with dance-offs wasn’t silly enough, they had hosts with the mosts in full-on disco gear (Niles Dodgers being the most glam) and our commentators were in full character form. It was all meant to be light-hearted fun and to keep it that way the motto was ‘Don’t be a Dick’. If you were found to be a dick (taking it too seriously, repeatedly not going out when you’re hit) you were forced to wear an inflatable penis. Seems fair. They could also penalize you by rolling out someone in a massive inflatable costume who would basically shield the other team from getting hit and thus put you at a disadvantage.

As I said, there was an afterparty, after – a mini Regression Sessions with ball pit, bouncy castle, space hoppers, absolutely wicked music just like last time, and a round of pass the parcel! I didn’t seem to notice or mind the age of the attendees this time, just had a serious amount of fun. I was kind of gutted that it started to clear out a couple of hours after the dodgeball ended and we decided to head to the bar over the way (Number 90). I had wanted to try this out in my last jaunt to the Wick but it had been shutting whne we got there. I feel I didn’t miss much. For an area that should be effortlessly cool, we all felt Number 90 was trying a bit too hard and wasn’t sure what it was meant to be. Wine bar? Pub? Gig space? It was none of these convincingly.

Here's a good montage of the tournament:
Disco Dodgeball vs Regressions Sessions : Battle of The Beasts

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Bogan Bingo, 12th March

If there’s one thing that can be said about the Aussies it’s that they now how to party. So as soon as you let them loose on bingo, you know it’s going to get a lot messier than most bingo you’ve ever played (unless you’re familiar with Rebel Bingo).

The name of the game is Aussie chavs, or Bogans, and our hosts for the evening really ham this up. Honestly, they are so immersed in their roles, high-octane the whole time, I don’t know how they find the energy to do it on a weekly basis. The Slug in Fulham is completely taken over for the evening by the Bogan boys and their bingo ballerz and there are lots of drink offers on as well as some dude food to soak it up. Thirty wings for £7.45? FIFTY for £9.45? What a bargain! We got there quite early and apart from the cheesy songs being played, wondered where the 'bogan' was going to come in. That is, until Trevor and his co-host come in, fully ‘okkered up’ with mullets, vests, denim cut-off shorts and strewth! some fruity language to get you going. Music is full throttle and you just have to be even louder to compete and claim your prize (though luckily they use microphones so you can hear the numbers being called).

There are a few rules. Or should I say rituals. To do it right, if you got bingo you had to do rock horns, grab your crotch, clench your butt and shout ‘BLOODY BINGO!’ And that was just to start. For any number ending in one, you were encouraged to shout ‘up your bum’, for 55 you gave everyone near you high fives, for any number ending in 3, one half of the room drinks, any number ending in 7 the other half does. Six meant ‘your tits’ and if any girls actually got them out, you got a drink for each nipple. This number didn’t seem to make an appearance until near the end of the night when plenty of people were liquored up enough to actually do it!  What with all of this, plus the music blaring and the Bogan Boys dancing, there wasn’t much time to play the actual bingo, so it was limited to two games. Usual rules applied – you were looking for a line, two lines and then full house. And yes, professional dabbers were used.

We were heartily and strenusouly warned - this is all about winning. Taking part counts for nothing! If you weren’t a winner, you were a loser. And who would want ot be a loser when there were such fab prizes as a framed photo of a panda on a slide, and a cereal dispenser, not to mention a Rick Astley dustpan and brush! But there were serious prizes on offer as well such as bottles of wine, £25 bar tabs and a real trip to Egypt!! To win a prize you first had to get bingo, and then you were invited up to pick from the board of famous bingo bogans including a fat kid of the week and Jesus (long hair, sandals, water into wine – of course he’s an Aussie!).

Then at half time there was an air guitar competition (though no one really beat the hosts at their own game) and there was also a round of guess the 80s or 90s theme tune for a free drink.


The music wasn’t necessarily my thing but it was hard to fall for the sheer brute charm of the event and the music all adds to the theme. It was mainly 80s and 90s cheesy rocky anthems like Black Betty, Dancing in the Dark, Summer of 69 which you can bop to while the hosts dance around like loons. Everything is turned up to 11 – this is ROCK bingo. They don’t just spin those balls, there’s a smoke machine and plenty of tongue action!

The grand prize is well worth entering for that alone (as usual I won a sum total of nothing – bingo is not kind to me) but it is an absolute blast. The pub stays open way after midnight and you’re encouraged to stay and keep the party going. But unfortunately, it was on the wrong side of town for me (it’s one negative point) so I couldn’t stay to see what kind of carnage it descended into.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Babaji, 9th March

Levantine food, Turkish food, I’m lapping it up. So I really wanted to try Alan Yau’s new casual place in Piccadilly, Babaji Pide Salonu, which is dishing up some traditional Turkish food with a focus on pide (their version of pizza, a bit like their lahmacun but, I think, doughier bread and differently shaped).

It’s a no-bookings deal but it was 7pm on a Monday so we didn’t think there would be too much trouble getting in and indeed we only had to wait ten minutes. The narrow space on the ground floor is deceiving so if it looks full fear not, there are plenty more tables upstairs. Many people have commented on the décor of Babaji and it’s easy to see why. It’s polished yet cosy and feels like an upmarket tea salon.

Neither my friend nor I were there to stuff ourselves so we ordered moderately – a pide each, a salad to share and then we ended up getting dessert after seeing someone else’s. I ordered the lamb pide as I do like to get the classics when I’m in a place to see if they’re done right. My veggie friend ordered the feta, kale and sultana pide. Mine arrived as expected – a flat bread cut up into pieces with minced lamb and some sparse flecks of tomato and peppers. Carolyn’s arrived as a sort of roll which was a little different and meant we’d munched a good third of it before realizing we hadn’t spotted any sultanas at all. Carefully uncurling the others, we could see none. We enquired and the waitress had to check on what was supposed to be in there before peering herself and agreeing she couldn’t see any either. She agreed to replace it, and so we waited for a new one to arrive. And waited. And waited. I think we had to ask whether it was on its way eventually and I was pretty convinced they’d just forgotten about it.
In the meantime, I was trying to make my lamb version last as long as possible so that we weren’t eating at different times. I’m sorry to say that this one really did lack flavour and seasoning. It wasn’t unpleasant to eat, it was just bland and I really wished for some chilli sauce to perk it up.

The salad was nice enough – light and fresh, the classic combination of cucumber, tomato, and onion with plenty of parsley and some Turkish green pepper, it had plenty of dressing that I used to dip my pide in.

We had ordered a glass of wine each. I don’t know why some restaurants are so mean with their wines – we were served a 125ml portion which is about two gulps. I had finished my wine and the glass was sitting there when someone came along and whisked it away. I tried to catch them – not because I wanted the empty glass but because I wanted a refill but they were way too quick, and had no intention of checking if I wanted any more. Slightly odd service. Finally Carolyn’s pide with sultanas turned up and we were able to corner the waiter and get another glass of wine. The first had had far too much feta in it, the second had almost too little. But, despite not really loving raisins etc myself, I do think this one needed them – you needed something sweet to balance the sharp cheese and irony greens. Obviously why the chef intended to include them in the first place!

The whole meal was underwhelming to say the least both in terms of service and food, though to their credit, they did take the veggie pide off the bill.

We also ended the dinner on a high note as we shared their kagit helva ice cream sandwich. Clotted cream ice cream in a chewy wafer with a pistachio coating. I could have done with more pistachio but this was absolutely yummy to eat. If I were being ungracious I would point out that the yummiest bit – the wafer – probably was bought in and not made by them but it still tasted great and I’d happily eat that again. And next time I wouldn’t share!
Babaji on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Basil's Sandwiches and Cruffin, 9th March

Basil’s Sandwiches

I’ve seen Time Out have fallen in love with a place called Max’s sandwiches for its oversized portions. Well, I reckon Basil’s would give it a run for its money. I heard about this place from the lovely Alex at Zomato – their offices are near there and she’d tweeted about her mammoth sarnie for lunch. I was transfixed and put it on my List. The only problem was that they are a City lunch place – only open Monday to Friday 12 pm until 3. I had to wait for a day off before I could give them a try!

They make sandwiches fresh for you and have all the usual – egg salad, tuna, chicken tikka, as well as a LOT of variation and some of their own creations. Alex’s sandwich was a scotch egg and corned beef behemoth. I found it really hard to choose – I wanted something your average sandwich deli wouldn’t do but also something that filled my non-specific craving. In the end I felt I was taking too much time looking at all the options plastered over the walls and went for the first thing that I’d liked the look of – the Chicken Swiss Melt (although the sausage crunch melt also sounded tempting – it has crisps in it!). This was a ciabatta stuffed with Basil’s own chilli chicken mix, chicken escalope strips (there was a lot of chicken escalope on the menu) swiss cheese, mustard mayo and chilli flakes.

I was a little worried that the ciabatta would make mincemeat of my gums but it was perfectly soft, yet sturdy enough to stand up to the overflowing filling. It was served warm and I didn’t want to let it go cold before I ate it so I started tucking in on the tube back to mine. Mistake. The chilli mix was packed with onions and peppers (crunchy and fresh they provided a great bit of bite and sweetness) and it was very saucy. I made such a mess. A delicious mess though. They did not skimp on the chilli flakes and the mustard mayo gave off a lot of its own heat as well, (yet without making my nose hurt the way mustard and horseradish can). I loved the breaded chicken strips. The only thing I would say didn’t quite work was the swiss cheese – it hadn’t really melted properly and was rather superfluous.

And this beast was only £4.90! Fabulous.

Fox and Ginger Cruffin

After that brute of a sandwich you would think I would be too full to eat anything else. And I was. But I’d already bought my dessert so I was sure as hell going to eat it. I’m always up for trying the latest craze. I’ve had a cronut, a duffin, a townie (tart/brownie) and the new cronut – the kouign amann (should be kouign amazinn!). Now Foxcroft and Ginger are getting into the mix with their own invention – the cruffin. This is a croissant/muffin hybrid with various fillings and I have to be honest, I can’t see any need for it. Not as buttery and rich as a croissant, not as doughy and sweet as a muffin, it was just a sort of dry, sugary bread that was very unsatisfying to eat. Not even a filling of salted caramelly cream could save it for me. Not worth making a special effort for.

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I work as an editor in educational publishing by day, and then spend most of my spare time discovering interesting things to do in London, and taking people there with my own Meetup.