Thursday, October 30, 2014

London Cocktail Week/El Nivel, 10th October

I’ll be honest – I like most of the places that I put on my List, because I put them on my List for a reason. I think they sound good. But every now and again something doesn’t quite live up to my expectations. And so it was with El Nivel, one of the bars we went to, to round off London Cocktail Week.

London Cocktail Week, if you didn’t know, is a week-long festival of cocktails. Hundreds of bars all over town participate and either create a cocktail or offer an existing one for only £4 if you have bought a wristband. On top of this, they have masterclasses, mixology sessions and pop-ups going on all over the place. I didn’t manage to go to any of these, but I did get to sip quite a few cut-price cocktails, which makes it all worthwhile.

First on the list was El Nivel, a bar specializing in tequila and mezcal but whose licensing restrictions mean you also have to eat while drinking there. That was fine with me. The menu sounded pretty good and I liked the sound of the LCW offering. And it was good. But for a Mexican bar it was rather devoid of atmosphere. I had tried to book but the booking system said it was full so we chanced it. We managed to get a seat and to be honest, while there were plenty of people there, it was never completely full the whole time we were there. Even with it more than half full though, it seemed rather quiet and subdued. Especially considering it was 8pm on a Friday night. Even thought it aims to be 'one of the best new bars in London', this place is really a quiet restaurant with a good drinks selection rather than the other way around.




We ordered the special LCW cocktail, a fizzy little tequila number with coctel de marisco to eat and then got another plate each. I really enjoyed the seafood cocktail – they didn’t skimp on the shrimp or scallop and it all tasted fresh and juicy in a salsa equivalent of marie rose - a tomatoey 'sangrita' sauce. My plate of tres chiles beef was also enjoyable, served with sour cream and tortillas to create little tacos if you wished. I had five of these and there was plenty of beef to eat on its own as well. It had quite a rich, savoury taste, a Mexican stew. Service was a little hit and miss – we ordered two glasses of red, for white to turn up. When we sent that away it took a good long while for the correct drinks to show – we had to check again they were on their way.

If you want a very quiet drink and bite to eat then head here, but for some reason quiet + Latin don’t go together in my mind so I probably won't make it back here.

El Nivel on Urbanspoon

However, after this we went to some much livelier places. First we went into Adventure Bar. Kind of on accident as we actually wanted to try out Dub Jam. This was exactly the kind of place I would normally avoid. Lots of drunk people dancing to mainstream music but I must admit there was something about the place that was likeable.Our cocktails were really tasty and came with a cute fortune cookie. It was called the Appleton Dreamcatcher and was made up of Appleton Estate Rum, black raspberry liqueur, vanilla, apple and passion fruit. It didn't taste too complicated and was easy to drink. The fun everyone was having was quite infectious and everyone seemed pretty friendly, especially the bar staff, so had it been a bigger night for me, I could happily have stayed and joined the dancing revellers.



I would say - not true.
However, my friend and I really wanted to be able to talk and hear each other so after one, we went upstairs to the buzzy but quieter Dub Jam where we had a really lovely rum punch, which was sprinkled with either nutmeg or cinnamon and made it very hard to sip slowly. At first the bartender warned us they were all out of tin cans in which to serve them (some scallywags keep nicking them) but he managed to procure a couple from somewhere so we got the full authentic experience. This place is really barely more than a hole in the wall but it’s a fun one, encapsulating sunny vibes in such a small spot and I’d happily go back.



Finally, we went over to the Big Easy and had the prettiest mojito I’ve seen. It was too dark to take a good picture and do it justice but it was a cocktail which seemed to have a ball of lime sorbet in the middle. Hands down one of the most memorable ways to serve this classic cocktail and a really good blend of sweetness and refreshment. Now my favourite mojito – I hope they do these all the time and not just for London Cocktail Week!


And so we concluded our cocktail self-tour. Can’t wait to do it again next year.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Slamboree competition

You may remember a couple of years ago I went to the excellent London Remixed festival in Shoreditch, showcasing a huge range of alternative music spanning everything from electro-swing to gypsy punk and more.

Well, if you liked the sound of that then you’re probably also going to like the sound of this – Slamboree, being held at the ElectricBrixton on November 15th from 10 pm until 6 am. It promises “hyper-immersive, circus themed, bass fueled, off-the-scale mayhem” from the likes of Dr Malaka, the Rumpsteppers and DJ Chris Tofu. There’ll be plenty of electro swing, Balkan beats and mashups to get your feet stomping all night long. It really does sound like one hell of a party.


And if you like the sound of that, then you’re going to love this: cos I’m giving away a pair of tickets! All you have to do is follow me on Twitter and tweet (or retweet) the phrase “Wham Bam thank you Slam-boree! I want those tickets @ginglesnuff @slamboreeMusic!” Or, you can Like my facebook page and comment on the competition post with that same phrase. 

I will then pick a winner at random from the entrants (You must be 18 or over to enter). Competition closes at noon on November 13th and I will notify the winner via Twitter, and you’ll be put on the guest list for Saturday’s all-night extravaganza. (Please be available to go - no prize substitutions available.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Salon, 8th October

Apparently, in this era of knowledge at your fingertips, people are craving curated content more and more. We want to put our trust in someone to deliver reliable and interesting knowledge and there are a spate of events that cater to this. One such would be the Lost Lectures which aim to make learning a night-time affair. Another, is Salon London. Each bring together experts or people of note in their field.

Salon does this by having mini-seasons in which they will have several salons on a theme. This season’s was Crime and Punishment, and the event I went to was on Punishment. Apart from the overselling of tickets and the fact that my name wasn’t down, even though I’d already checked with them by email to make sure it was, I thought this was a really enjoyable and well put together evening.

It differs from the Lost Lectures in a few ways, and it was for these very differences that I preferred it. Instead of bite-size introductions to a topic, cramming in six or seven acts into the night, Salon gives each speaker a good thirty minutes to talk. This allows them to really get into a subject, yet it’s not so long that they lose momentum. Each of our speakers did a really good job of sticking to their time limit and keeping our interest. And the nature of the event is such that, even though there is a short Q & A section, you are encouraged to mingle and chat to the speakers during the intervals.

So. Crime. Punishment. Big themes. Controversial themes. So controversial that I cannot in fact tell you much about our second speaker, save to say she was well placed to reveal some very interesting things about our prison system. Before she got up we were told that ‘Chatsworth house rules’ would apply. I didn’t really know what that meant, but it meant I can’t tell you too much on the content of her talk. It was basically focusing on the reasons behind imprisonment, and how well we actually achieve those things by imprisonment. Not exactly 'thought provoking' as a lot of it lined up with what I have begun to believe anyway, but it did give you more food for thought on the subject.

But before that we had an interesting presentation on the Fine Cell Work company, an organization that gets long term prisoners involved in fine needlework, hand stitching various products. It gives these long term prisoners something of value to do, something to take up their time on which to concentrate their mind, which might otherwise be unhealthily distracted. And then these items are sold, and the prisoners are paid for their work. Working with prisoners, as it turns out, is not the easiest of tasks. Everything must be hand delivered to them, and the same is true of the completed projects. Apart from the good that they’re doing in terms of rehabilitation, they are producing all sorts of pieces, from their very popular pillow cases (the componenets of which were passed around the audience) to grand works of art such as quilts through which prisoners expressed how they feel about their lives. They take commissions as well – logos, tapestries, whatever you might want.

We ended on an extraordinary performance from a comedian, Wil Hodgson who basically told us a story. A story of a man who was hanged and of all the various characters that were involved in his hanging. We were literally walked through how he came to be there and what happened in front and behind the scenes of a typical hanging in the 1960s - a true hanging. Wil was quite the accomplished raconteur, weaving a story (taken from his show You Will be Taken from This Place) that was historically fascinating, told with a pinch of humour, and ultimately left you feeling rather unsettled and disturbed. Which is just how I like all my intellectual evenings. Plenty to mull over.

I have already bought tickets to one of their birthday celebrations next month when they will be taking on Acid House and Rave culture. If it’s anything like this was, I am in for a treat. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

East London Liquor Co, 6th October

Once again London Cocktail Week was badly timed for me. Last year I was on holiday, this year I was in the middle of a month of ‘not drinking’. Of course, I had to make an exception for London Cocktail Week but not so much of an exception that I took full advantage of everything LCW had to offer. I didn’t attend any masterclasses or tours, I didn’t go to a different bar every night and I didn’t even get to Monkey Shoulder’s Cowbell Bar. But I DID manage to go out a couple of times in the week for a few drinks at discount prices.

My first stop was meant to be the Craft Cocktail Co. After much checking of Google, the LCW booklet and more I was assured the places I’d planned to go would be open on a Monday. Not so. We rocked up to the arch and found nothing but a shutter, forcing us to revisit Satan’s Whiskers up the road instead. On a Monday, getting in was easy peasy and we enjoyed their LCW offering of their Silver Pineapple (like a pina colada but without the horrible coconut) before ordering one each off their menu – a classic champagne cocktail for me, a New York Flip for Stephen. Mine was as expected, but Stephen’s was absolutely delicious, like a mini, liquid dessert, perfect for the cold weather outside.


From there we headed on to the East London Liquor Co, which is a fairly new addition to Mile End, and thus of much interest to me. It is closer to Victoria Park than Mile End so may get a little footfall, even though the area doesn’t get many visitors beyond those who live there. This place is also set back from the road, and it was a Monday, so I wasn’t surprised to find it bereft of clientele. It literally was empty when we walked in, making us feel guilty at putting the bartenders to work. They took it in good spirits though and we had a little chat with them about whether and how busy the place gets. Stephen recognised the male bartender and it turns out he was working at Hoxley andPorter when we went.




We stuck to the LCW cocktails here - the Darjeeling Sour, made with the East London Liquor company’s own Batch No. 1 Premium gin distilled on site. This was a light, frothy concoction, which would make pleasant sipping on a summer’s evening. The exact opposite of this evening in fact, but it was nice enough to warrant a cheeky second as a nightcap before heading home. I feel the place didn't have its best side on show as it was so very empty. I can imagine it doesn't ever feel exactly homely as it does have a warehouse feel to it, especially with the grand machinery of the distillery peering from the back of the bar. But, with the calibre of bartender, and based on our drink, a second visit is very much warranted. I"m feeling positively spoiled - this place and The Victoria right up the road from me!


Friday, October 17, 2014

Natural Born Storytellers, 5th October

Everyone is interested in other people’s lives. That’s why soap operas and reality TV (even if there isn’t much reality to them anymore) are so popular. We all want to know what secrets everyone else is harbouring. Tapping into this desire, are a few storytelling nights where people get up on stage and tell a story to the audience – one that has to be true and has to have happened to them.

Spark was my first event of this sort, and I suppose Cringefalls under this category as well. The other day I went to another – Natural Born Storytellers. They have been going for roughly a year, and this event was a ‘Best of’ so everyone there had already performed at a previous event and was telling a story they’d told before – meaning they’d had a chance to refine and, perhaps, update it if anything had unfolded since then.


It was wonderful. There were three sections, with three speakers in each section, two of them being the guys who run it. There was a welcome ratio of female to male storytellers, and one slot was held for a volunteer in the audience to get up and give it a go. Normally, the events have a theme, but as this was a ‘best of’ it meandered all over the place, although funnily enough, unwittingly being paid for sexual services came up twice.

To start us off, we were asked to share with our neighbor one of our own stories, falling under the banner of shame or humiliation. I’ve done many embarrassing things in my life, normally involving alcohol and men, but at that moment I couldn’t think of anything. (And I should admit, that with the benefit of time having passed, I’m actually more proud of those things that embarrassed.) My friend luckily had a recent story I hadn’t heard which took up the time.

Then the storytelling began, and it began with a toe-curling, yet hilarious recounting of the time our host got a big splinter in his eye, while at a music festival, high on LSD. He only had one good eye at the time, so something happening to it was his worst nightmare. Having to go to hospital while high, as he did, is probably not the most fun way to spend an evening at the best of times but it did make for a very funny story. And one with a happy ending as he was forced to see a specialist who said they could in fact do something with his ‘bad eye’ and improve his sight.


Next up we had a lady, also telling a humorous story, and the first of our dabbling with prostitution. As a green young girl out of uni, working at an estate agents, she somehow became embroiled in a kinky spanking party, courtesy of the worldly female boss she so admired. And, of course, at that age she was just too polite to excuse herself as things became more bizarre… I won’t tell the whole story here just in case you have the chance to see it live.

But everything wasn’t all fun and (kinky) games. One very powerful story was told by the other organizer about the strain put under his long-distance relationship when his girlfriend was attacked by her thuggish neighbour. Listening to his inner turmoil and struggles as he had to deal with his urge for revenge, his desire to not propagate violence, and of course wanting to comply with his girlfriend’s wishes not to retaliate, we all felt his frustration and were powerfully affected by this story.

Not every speaker was as accomplished as the others, and some of the stories lacked structure, or were a little too long but they all raised a smile, or told a lesson and my group left feeling like the last few hours we’d spent peering into these lives were rich and worthy. I heartily recommend going to another of these events. I know my group will. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rock, Paper, Scissors Championship, 4th October

I competed in a national championship at the weekend. And yet, I’m no athlete, training all hours of my spare time in order to become the best I can be. No no, anyone can compete in these, for they were the National UK Rock, Paper, Scissors Championships and in order to participate all you needed to do was buy a ticket. Said ticket earned you a place in the main competition, a knock-out style tournament, where in order to move on to the next round all you had to do was beat the person you were up against. Best of three.

I absolutely loved this. While there were several stratagems posted around – what were called ‘gambits’ that you could employ, in reality it was purely down to luck not skill, meaning everyone could concentrate on having fun, rather than trying to prove their ability. And this many did with gusto. There were plenty of newbies (Wacky Nation, who run it, got quite a lot of press this year) but there were plenty who obviously come every year, and some who had travelled from all over the land and beyond. We even had some competitors from Sweden.


Your number was called and you stepped into the ‘pen’ to await your turn. There must have been about 130 entrants in the end, which meant 65 games in the first round, but they’re lightning quick so you don’t get bored. Sadly I crashed out in my first game. Stephen did a bit better by lasting a further two before being beaten by the guy who went on to come fourth. 



It’s true that as people lost, the crowd thinned slightly but there were still a significant people who stayed right to the end. Why, when they no longer had a personal stake in it? Because it’s such a laugh. People really ham it up – pretending to psyche out the other contestant or mugging for the crowd by limbering up or stretching before their turn. There was a large group of lads who clearly come every year who would chant their ‘teammates’ names, going so far as to give them massages and refreshment in between their throws as if they were Rocky Balboa returning to their corner for a pep talk. Some even had overly exuberant 'coaches' getting into the ring and arguing with the ref on their behalf. It was all very seriously silly.



To highlight this, fancy dress is encouraged, though this year there was only a Darth Vader and a Superman who made the effort. Each time they played they entered ‘the ring’ to everyone singing their ‘theme tune’. I think you know what I mean.


As if to prove what a good time I had, I had this much fun and only had ONE glass of wine the whole time! The rest of my enjoyment was down to sheer entertainment.

To stave off any potential ennui amongst those unlucky ones who didn’t get past the first or second round, the organisers added in a couple of extra elements. In between rounds 2 and 3 was the Losers Round where 8 losers were picked at random to play again and compete for some RPS challenge money. Oh yeah, the RPS Challenge. This is what happens while you’re waiting for the main event, or even, if you want, during the main event. Everyone gets $3 of this money, to gamble away on their games with other players in the room. The two people who amass the most of this challenge money at the end of the night then have an RPS playoff and the winner walks away with £25.


So there’s plenty to keep you busy and hold your attention through the event, if the main playoffs isn’t enough. But I think you’ll find it is. I was pretty much glued the main table. As the rounds wear on, you get to know the 'characters' of the competitors. You start picking people to root for, so you start to care about the outcomes. And even if you don’t, it’s just a lot of fun. And truly anyone can win the £100 Grand Prize. So what are you waiting for? Sign up for next year’s and get practising! 

The FINAL in action - best of FIVE:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ribstock, 27th September


I have wanted to go to a Ribstock for about three years now but things beyond my control, rather than inability to get a ticket have always got in the way. Not this year though. I was there, at noon, finger on the mouse, ready to get my ticket, and before 12:01 I was one of the lucky 200 to have nabbed one. They did things a bit differently this year – previously tickets are around £50 and that entitles one person to try all the competition ribs  and cast their vote for their favourite. Being a Tweat Up event, they normally throw in a free drink or two with that, and I think there’s normally about ten competitors.


This year, the ticket was a whopping £79!! BUT, it was a plus one ticket – so you could go on your own and eat ALL the ribs, or you could bring someone with you for ‘sharesies’. And believe me, doing ‘sharesies’ did not mean losing out. There were only three competitors who served up a single rib, and these were gargantuan examples of a rib. Otherwise you would get at least two ribs, or, where they were baby back (by Roti Chai) we actually had four! I was stuffed by the end of it, and we had to seriously slow down our eating after four servings to make sure we didn’t ruin our judgment by being too full to enjoy them.

On top of this each ticket got you a pint glass which entitled you to unlimited refills of Frontier lager. I’m not a beer drinker myself, but Stephen made ample use of this and got through five pints in the evening before we called it a night and headed off at 9:30. Had we stayed until the end he could easily have made that seven.


On top of this – yes, there’s more! We got a free old fashioned, and a free shot of tincup whiskey – lovely stuff – smooth and sweet. But wait, there’s more!! With each ticket you also got a free bottle of The Ribman’s Holy Fuck Bacon sauce, plus some pork scratchings.


But wait, there’s EVEN more!! Some of the stalls had other freebies they were giving away with the competition ribs. Roti Chai had an apple and cinnamon whiskey shot, Breddos had a pickleback (love them!) and Texas Joe gave away packets of his fruity, lip tingling, chewy jerky (seriously – it’s delicious). Yeah, I did the math and we got our money’s worth that day that’s for sure. (I literally did the calculating as we were going along and we easily ate and drank £80 worth.)
Roti Chai's baby backs with apple and cinnamon whiskey shot
So. The Ribs. There were seven traders taking part and I won’t go into detail on them all or this post will last as long as it took to eat them. For Stephen and I there was a definitive Top 3, and we were actually split between our two favourites, it was such a close call. We enjoyed all of the ribs but there was something we couldn’t quite define yet which we knew we were looking for when it came to choosing the best. It couldn’t be too much like any old slow-cooked meat. It had to have some BBQ char, flavour and texture to it. A bit of bite, a bit of its own unique taste, not relying simply on its sauce. For us, Smokestak and Hotbox ticked all these boxes. I slightly preferred Smokestak with the rib tips it came with and a very good hot coleslaw and pickled chillies.

Winning ribs
Stephen preferred Hotbox, which came with some delicious pickled onions and also chillies. In the end, I voted for Hotbox in the name of romance.


Our third choice were Breddos tacos, although the public chose otherwise, with Roti Chai coming in third. We both liked the Roti Chai ribs but we felt they were more about the sauce than the rib – a lovely satay-esque sauce with a good hit of chilli. I really loved the Breddos boys’ short rib offering though, topped with the best mole I’ve ever had. I had thought I was running out of room and yet I got that in my stomach without pausing for breath. What kept it from the top spot for us was that it seemed more like a slow cooked pot roast than a barbequed beef rib. Damn tasty though!


We began our feasting at 6 and it took us three and a half hours to get to the final rib, and I’m sad to say we were far too full to try any of the other porky offerings for sale as part of PorkLife which was running concurrently. The pork belly croquettes from Breddos looked delicious, and I think Stephen was sad he couldn’t fit in a Bleecker burger. But what an amazing event. I’m now in my semi-non-drinking month so apart from all the free shots, I didn’t buy any drinks, and Stephen had his beer refills so we didn’t spend any money the whole night. Tweat Up, I salute you (again).



Here are the rest of the competitors’ ribs:

The Ribman's with Holy Fuck 'slaw




Texas Joe's beast


Q Grill's sticky ribs


Smokestak's pig

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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.