Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Culpeper, 7th August

After our lovely drink at The Discount Suit Co we went to the newly opened Culpeper (where the Princess Alice once was, on Commercial Street). Their USP is having a garden on the roof from which some of your dish might be made but other than that they’re basically a pub in the front and a gastropub in the back and I’d read really good things about the place. 

For some reason it wasn't quite as satisfying as I'd hoped. Perhaps our choices didn’t give them a chance to show off their flair, but when it came to choosing, there weren’t that many items on the menu I was particularly taken with. Fish and chips seemed a little too boring (and didn’t look anything special when I saw someone get them). The pie looked quite good but I don’t like mushrooms, and it was one of those where you only get a pie topping, not the whole pastry shebang. I don’t like sardines. And I don’t really like mustard either but I thought ‘how mustardy can they really make potatoes?’ so ordered the pork chop. Stephen had the sardines.


To start we got some of the porkcorn. This was good if slightly chewy but basically just tasted of pork scratchings. I'd like to fool myself that it was healthier than actual pork scratchings though. 



Stephen got the anchovy salad and I had the artichoke with crab butter because it sounded the most interesting.This dish is not made for one person to eat. It is basically liquefied butter with crab meat in it and is one of the richest things I’ve ever eaten. It tastes good with the artichoke leaves but they don’t provide enough ballast to counter the grease and I began to feel a bit queasy as I neared the end. I more than encouraged Stephen to tuck in and have his fill as well. What we really could have done with was some house bread to dip in it, and fill my stomach so that all that butter wasn't sloshing around in there - but if I wanted bread I had to pay for it. Why don't we get free bread anymore? When did it become a 'starter' or part of a 'cover charge'? It's only flour and water. (Ok, ok, oftentimes a sourdough starter as well.) I feel this is stingy on the part of restaurants these days. While I’m at it, I kind of feel the porkcorn could have been a freebie too – such gestures are appreciated!


Anyway, Stephen was more than happy to give me a hand with this as his was a little underwhelming. He described it as a caesar salad without the good bits. I’m sure that all the ingredients were of the highest quality and fresh as a daisy, but I guess we’re just the kind of people for whom quality isn’t the thing that makes you say ‘wow’ when you’re eating a salad (unlike a steak, say, where quality is everything) - we want some more interesting ingredients as well.


So, our mains. My pork was cooked to almost rare in some places, which was a touch underdone for my liking. I know the trend is to cook it pink these days, and I’m pretty okay with that, but towards the bone it seemed to get a bit mushy and hard to cut and it didn't look that appetising. I am happy to report I didn’t suffer any side effects from this though! The potatoes were pretty full-on when it came to the mustard. They were thickly coated in a mustard sauce, rather than a mustardy vinaigrette as I’d expected. I could bear with them with the rest of the meal but couldn’t eat any of it on its on its own. Even Stephen, who loves mustard found them a tad overwhelming. 


Stephen’s sardines were fresh and cheeky-looking. But, in a similar vein to the pork, they were a little underdone - there was some blood towards the spine, and apparently one or two of them didn't seem to be properly gutted. He also didn't like the romesco it came with, which he thought was too sweet but I thought it was really good and kept nicking it to dilute the mustardiness of my potatoes. He got some chips on the side and of course I had to have one or two but I can't remember much about them. They definitely weren't bad but they weren't stand-out either.


We weren't even tempted to have a dessert, instead deciding to head over to the Peg and Patrio to finish the night. 

I've been back to the Culpeper since for a drink mid-week and enjoyed the light and airy space, with only a few people having a quiet drink. This in contrast to the Thursday evening we went when it was so busy, with people dribbling out to the pavement outside, that we were quite lucky to get a table (it doesn't take reservations). It doesn't exactly feel like a proper (read - old man's) pub, but nor does it seem to be just a restaurant with a bar attached. It's two very separate spaces and I would happily go back to share another bottle sitting in the window, but am in no hurry to get back to the other side for food. 

Culpeper on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Discount Suit Co and Peg + Patriot, 7th August

The Discount Suit Company

This place is another basement bar serving cocktails speakeasy-stylee. Nothing groundbreaking there. Nothing groundbreaking in general really but that didn’t stop me from really liking the place. It takes its name from the shop that used to be here, and the original signage and façade are retained, giving pretty much no indication that there’s a bar below the dark hole that constitutes a doorway. It’s an odd location – near Brick Lane and near Liverpool Street but among the odds and sods of the environs of Petticoat Lane. Inside, the feeling is cosy and comfortable, with love seats in one corner to mooch into. The lighting is low (annoyingly so if you’re trying to take photos) and the music is excellent. We had some country, some soul and some disco in our short visit as well as My Sharona and that song Jessica Rabbit sings – Why Don’t you Do Right?.

The rest of the décor borrows heavily from the theme of a clothes shop with the bar made of drawers that you can imagine once held material to be tailored. In fact, the whole place reminded me a bit of a shoe shop. So far so good in terms of atmosphere.


And they kept it up in terms of drinks and service. As we weren’t sitting at the bar we had to rely on one of the staff regularly checking on us to be sure our drinks were replenished and our guy was pretty good at keeping on top of that. We stayed for two, not wanting to turn up at The Culpeper where I wanted to eat too late in case we couldn’t get in. I really enjoyed both my drinks, and even though the Peg + Patriot where we later went was good too, Discount Suit Co was the victor on this occasion.

First I had a Zizi Jeanmarie and Stephen had the Skipper. They were similar in taste, both of us having chosen drinks with fortified wine in them (mine sherry, his port) and both having pretty much nothing but alcohol in them. They were good, strong drinks.



We then had a quick second which were equally as tasteful. Stephan followed his Skipper with a Clipper, managing to make even absinthe taste good, and I had a Charlie Chaplin. Gin, more gin and apricot brandy. Delicious! Prices here were pretty good – one side of the menu had cocktails at £8.50, the other a bargain £7.50. They have a new place opening up in Bethnal Green (where else - and who decided this was the next 'in' area?) called the Sun Tavern which I shall be putting on the List.

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The Peg and Patriot

After our dinner at The Culpeper we made our way home via The Peg and Patriot, recently opened in the Town Hall, another place poshing Bethnal Green up a bit. We took a stool at the bar and took a gander at the amusingly named cocktails. I was drawn towards the odder-sounding concoctions but chickend out and ordered the relatively normal ones instead. They have a penchant for savoury cocktails, or those taking inspiration from a dish – hence the cocktail Pho Money, Pho Problems, designed to taste like pho, and the Rice Rice Baby, which uses rice ice cream liqueur. Needless to say they make all these crazy thigns in-house (where else would they get them from?!). I had the Rice Rice baby as a bit of a dessert to the evening and I really enjoyed the sweetened, bubbly drink. But first I ordered the Riot Cup Number One.


Stephen had the Barley Legal to start which tasted like a grown-up pina colada, and which he wasn’t very taken with and on the basis of this, didn’t want to stay for a second. I must admit, in comparison to the ones at Discount Suit Company, I wasn’t too enamoured either. The drink was eminently quaffable, but also reminded me a little too much of a Pimms. For drinks that sounded so different, they were a bit too familiar. But I persuaded him to take another bite at the cherry and our second drinks were much more to both our liking. His Rye your Eyes Mate came with a cherry dipped in beeswax for either peeling and eating whole, or, as he did, squishing into your drink. I’ve already said my Rice Rice baby was a lovely little number. 



The place was pretty swanky looking though not exactly full of life on a Thursday night. Prices for this kind of establishment were pretty standard – 8 or 9 pounds.



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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Salvation in Noodles (SIN), 3rd August

Noodle joints are ten a penny in London these days what with the Tonkotsus, Shoryus, Phos and of course the plethora of Vietnamese places along Kingsland Road but as long as they’re doing them well, then London still seems to have an appetite for them, and this London er in particular hasn’t got bored of them either. One of the newer ones is SIN (Salvation in Noodles) who opened up on the Dalston end of Balls Pond Road last year (I think, could have been early this year). 

The other Sunday I was supposed to be going to Feast for a chow down with the Nuffnang lovelies but someone (read - the boyfriend) couldn’t be bothered so instead we enjoyed a stroll around London, stopping by the evocative Poppies at the Tower of London and then walking to SIN. They had been at Feast and this way, I felt I wasn’t completely missing out. 





We pulled up a pew at the window and got ourselves some chicken wings to start and then I had hot noodles - the bun bo hue (spicy pho with pork belly and brisket in a lemongrass broth) and Stephen got cold noodles - a noodle salad with beef wrapped in betel leaves. I also ordered a Dalston lemonade to wash it all down.

At first I was a little worried for SIN's prospects - there was literally no one else in there when we arrived. But we soon decided that it must have only just opened for the evening when, 20 minutes later, the place had all but filled. 

So, the wings arrived – five beasts of them. They were finger-licking good, with quite a light, subtle flavour and crispy skin, though I didn't love the little hairs all over them - a bit too reminiscent of the creature they once were.



My lemonade had yet to arrive. Our waiter came back to explain that he did have the lemonade, but it wasn’t at all cold so he wanted to wait for his colleague to arrive with some ice. That was no small wait. I didn’t mind at all although at one point, when I was halfway through my bun hue and it still hadn’t arrived I did contemplate cancelling the order. He was very apologetic though and when it arrived, he gave it to me on the house, which was appreciated.

Both our mains were pretty satisfying. Am I whooping with unbridled glee at them like I did with Roti King (and soon would again at Palomar)? No, but such was the nature of the meal. I had chosen a delicate broth, not one rich with meat stock and indulgence, and Stephen had a light salad. Actually, I really rather did love Stephen’s cold noodle dish – each mouthful had the zingy nuoc cham sauce on it - I had food envy. I thought there were a little too many bean sprouts in mine and the noodles were quite choppy – good for scooping, but not good for twirling round your chopsticks into a big mound to shove in your mouth with a big spoon of soup. The broth was a perfect spiciness though – I had quite the sheen on me by the time I finished and I didn’t have to add any sriracha to get the heat I wanted. I also loved the sound of the crab pho and would happily come back for that cold noodle salad.




Salvation in Noodles on Urbanspoon

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Roti King, 1st August

Oh Roti King! King of the Rotis! How do I love thee, let me count the ways…

Not for these the cool environs of Old Street or Soho. No! A tiny Chinese that barely fits 20 is where they have set up shop. 

And time is money! You hesitate for a second while you order and the guy is gone to the next table. What kind of slow-witted dullard are you for not having decided by the time he gets to you?

But everything sounds so good! Do you want roti canai – two rotis that come with a pot of chicken, lamb or dahl curry? Or do you want rotis stuffed with lamb or chicken? Or perhaps you want rotis stuffed with cheese? (You do.) We had them all! Well, no. We weren’t that greedy. There were four of us and we started off with 2 x roti canai chicken, 1 x roti canai dahl, 1 x roti lamb murtabak which came with curry sauce for dipping.




What wonders these are. The man who must be ‘King’ makes the rotis in full view, pulling and slapping the dough about and then placing them on the grill to create these half pancake-half paratha layered, oily creations. One serving is most definitely not enough, and when they’re priced at £5.50 each, they don’t have to be! We ordered another round of dahl roti canai and the cheese stuffed roti to share and even then I probably could have gone one more. But, after the cheese ones, I would have felt too guilty ordering another. Oh, the grease! The gooiness! The cheesiness! The most naughty of all naughty grilled cheese sandwiches. And they were sooo good.


Excitement ruined my focus
My friends had very high hopes, having loved their roti breakfasts when they visited Malaysia, and those hopes were met. Mine only stemmed from the good reviews I’d been reading but they too were satisfied. I already know when I’m going back. 

Roti King on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

INK and The Palm Tree, 29th July

I love being part of the Zomato community. Not only do they do great blogger events, they’re not shy about giving away prizes. Just recently I won Foodie of the month and a £75 voucher for Ink, a restaurant I already had on my List. It is fairly new and has opened up about 15 minutes by foot from my flat. It looked modern European and definitely a cut above anything else we have in the area (mainly chicken shops and kebabs, so not difficult).

Our host for the evening (whose name I didn’t catch) was friendly and charming and also a little silly which is always welcome. He was very good at being there when we needed him but also disappearing when we wanted some time to think over our choices.


£75 may sound like a lot, but at Ink it doesn’t stretch very far. However, as it was somewhere I’d wanted to go anyway, we didn’t mind putting in some of our own cash to make the most of the dinner. So we had a cocktail each to start – a whisky sour for Stephen, a classic champagne cocktail (suggested by our host) for me. It could have been a little colder but I liked the sweet/bitter taste. My other drink for the night was a robust picpoul while Stephen stuck with the sours.

The chef is a great fan of ‘textures’ – the word festooned the menu. And of course ink featured – once in the starters and once in the mains in the restaurant’s signature dishes. Burnt onions were also conspicuous.

Choosing was an enjoyable hardship. I got the scallops with peach puree, with pork scratchings crumbled over them and burnt onions. Two fat scallops were perfectly cooked and the other flavours were exquisite. The scallops were so soft that I really appreciated the extra texture (there’s that word again) from the crunchy scratchings.


Stephen had finally decided he wanted the bone marrow and then we were told it wasn’t on the menu for the night. He quickly chose the stone crab with textures of cucumber. Cucumber isn’t something he usually likes but it was done in such a way that he was happy to eat it. Flakes of potent crab sat on a sharp cucumber jelly and pickled cucumber, providing a punchy gherkin tang.


For our mains I had the signature dish of salted cod with textures of tomato, ink soil and confit potatoes. The textures in this case were confit tomato (scraped of their annoying sludgy insides), a tomato puree that tasted like tomato soup (a good thing) and crunchy, tangy tomato salsa. On the side were the spheres of potato confit and there was also a light lemon oil that was startlingly good on the tongue. Before I ordered it, I was warned – it was very salty. And it really was. For the most part, the rest of the dish balanced out the salt, but by the end of it the salt was rather overwhelming. I’m not the biggest fan of salty things in the first place! But the salt had done its job – the fish was nice and firm.


Then, Stephen made a mistake. He didn’t order a dish which had the word ‘textures’ in it. Instead he got the braised beef with peas, broad beans and potatoes. Apparently this beef had been braised for three days but it was surprisingly dry and solid. For that length of cooking the meat should have fallen apart merely under a stern glare. The potatoes were strangely delicious though – a slight crispiness to them.


We had already decided not to have dessert because we’d both eaten bad stuff earlier (me my Crosstown Doughnut) but we couldn’t say no. So we got one to share. Our choices were basically textures of chocolate or textures of vanilla. We got the chocolate. Always a risky choice for presentation but they did quite well, creating bit of a woodland tableau with the two types of chocolate, the chocolate soil (reminding Stephen of chock-lick and consisting of chocolate and hazelnut puffed crumbs) and the pretty mint leaves and flowers (a bit of a theme).

You can’t go wrong with what is basically pure chocolate and this dessert did well enough to almost make Stephen forgive them his main, although I think I would have enjoyed something a little lighter, or with yet another texture to it (namely cake).

Ink is certainly ambitious, perhaps a little too much so. While I welcome having a good restaurant in the neighbourhood I would welcome one even more that I didn’t feel I had to wait for a special occasion to visit. Despite the beauty of the dishes, Ink was just a touch too expensive, and the dishes a tad too small to win my frequent attendance. If they could shave a couple of quid off the starters and/or make the mains big enough that you could come for just a main and leave feeling sated, I think they’d be on to a winner. As it is, they’re not in a well-trod area and they’re not quite spectacular enough to be a ‘destination restaurant’. I'm not confident that many people who might not otherwise have gone to Mile End will venture here for Ink. And the lack of diners when we were there would back this up, even if it was just a Tuesday. There were only four other covers the whole time we were there and despite the easy listening background music and the canalside setting, it was rather too quiet for my liking.

Ink on Urbanspoon

The Palm Tree

When I first moved to Mile End, my friend gushed to me about The Palm Tree and how lovely it was to sit outside by the canal. I’d only managed to get there once before, after Field Day when it was absolutely packed and far too late and cold to be sitting outside. It happens to be practically opposite Ink, so we thought we’d go along for a drink after our meal. Of course, by this time, even though the day had been bright and hot, it was starting to get a chill in the air and we didn’t want to sit outside anymore. But that was fine, for the inside has a charm all of its own. There is something Victorian about it, with chandeliers sending out eerie gloomy light over the china on the walls. The circular bar juts out into the rest of the room, turning it into a centrepiece. The red lighting brought to mind David Lynchian dream sequences. It doesn’t have a huge selection of beers but it’s reasonably priced – a wine and beer came to just over £8. A hidden gem. 

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Crosstown Doughnuts, 29th July

Well Crosstown Doughnuts, I expected more from you and you let me down. But then totally redeemed yourselves.

How so? Well, let me explain.


On a sunny day at Lovebox, instead of the usual summer treat of ice cream, we decided to have a doughnut from Crosstown while we sat in the shade and listened to some 90s R n B. They had several smaller doughnuts with interesting flavours (3 for £5) or a single, classic vanilla iced doughnut for £3.50. I chose that. And wished I hadn’t. The glaze was tasty enough but the doughnut itself? A bit too dry (horrible memories of Dum Dum Donutterie surfaced) and too airy – practically the whole top of mine was a hole.



My friends had also chosen the same and we all shrugged with complacency when we’d finished it. Not much to get excited about.

And yet, something made me think I should give them another chance. Pictures I’d seen of other doughnuts of theirs looked much more inviting. And fortuitously, they can be found daily at Leather Lane – just five minutes away from my office.

So, I went back. And had one hell of a heavenly doughnut. Sea salted caramel banana cream. A filled doughnut with caramel glaze, sticky toffee and cakey crumbled bits, with a wobbly, thick banana custard inside. The topping was more cinder toffee than just salted caramel, giving a deliciously burnt edge to the otherwise very sweet pastry. The dough on its own was still slightly dry, but meant it was a more than able prison for the abundant custard (that was just the right side of bananaey), not allowing it to get too boisterous and fall out all over the place, getting your fingers all sticky.



Do not go to Leather Lane without getting one of these.

But finally – a word on their paper bags. They are high quality bags, the type of bag you feel guilty throwing away. What is the point of them? I appreciate the feel of the heavy paper and the pretty branding on them, but it seems like a bit of a waste of money. It is, ultimately just going to be thrown away (don’t worry – I use the recycling bin). As long as the doughnut inside is up to scratch, fancy paper is irrelevant! 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Stories and The Souls, 25th July

Last time I went to the Cat and Mutton I made the mistake of not having any food there. And this time – I kinda did again! Fate had determined that I was to have a work lunch that day and it kept me surprisingly full for so long that by the time we went to the Cat and Mutton for our dinner reservations, I wasn’t hungry. We did manage to fit in a couple of things, but first, we went to Stories.

Stories

There seem to be some places that you just instantly like, without even knowing why. Stories was that kind of place. It’s the sister venue of the Book Club and has that same kind of laid back, light and airy feel to it. Long tables in the middle and smaller ones round the edge are all loomed over by huge white lamps. 


We were there for drinks only but we saw other people’s food and it looked great. It also wasn’t too busy for a Friday night, meaning we could get a table and have a catch up without feeling cramped and without having to shout. We stayed for about an hour and had two cocktails, although the last one had to be gulped down rather quickly. We ordered at the bar but the drinks were brought to our table and I must admit the last one took so long to arrive I began to worry they’d forgotten about us.


Drinks were good – Alison had the Naughty which she wanted me to mention was possibly the best tequila cocktail she’s ever had. It was tequila, apple, cucumber, chili and lime. I had the Kiss and Tell – gin, strawberry and balsamic syrup, lemon and cucumber. I thought this was summery and fresh but I would say that the ingredients sounded more interested than they actually taste. However, for my next – a Likely – I was wowed. This was basically a rum and coke but with the addition of Disaronno, giving it an extra dimension. I could happily go back and while away a few hours sipping on these.


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Licky Chops (Pearl's) at Cat and Mutton

And so, we arrived at the Cat and Mutton and went straight upstairs to Pearl where we joked with the host about our need to make a reservation (it was empty). We got a bottle of wine to share – a nice picpoul, after much debate about trying the one recommended by our host until it turned out they didn’t have it! And then we still weren’t really hungry so we decided to get another bottle of wine. But I really wanted to try some food despite my lack of appetite so we also got some bread with smoked butter and the beetroot hummus with homemade vegetable crisps. As far as ‘nibbles’ go these were some high-end fare. The bread was amazing – chewy, dense. The butter was so thick it was like clotted cream – I never before have scooped bread into butter as if it were a dip. I loved the veggie crisps even if a couple were a tad chewy rather than crispy, and the hummus was lovely and light (though the beetroot seemed to mostly add to the colour rather than the taste). And our waiter was just lovely the whole time. I already liked the downstairs part of the pub but climbing those beautiful wrought-iron stairs is well worth it too for a less pub-like atmosphere.


The Souls

We ended the night on a high by dipping into The Souls (where Portside Parlour used to be). It’s still without any obvious sign it exists and is still incredibly dark down there, but it feels completely different to Portside cos now it’s all about the dancing! I would no longer use terms like ‘drinking den’ and ‘illicit’ instead I would say ‘party’ and ‘disco’! We ended up chatting to the guy who runs the place and his wife who’d been roped into working for the night but seemed to be having a whale of a time. Apparently his friend comes up with the cocktail concoctions while he concentrates on the ‘audio pleasure’ which is meant to be the main focus of the place. We had a taste or two of their frozen margarita which was great but for our nightcap I chose the fiery Fire and Ice - a dark and stormy with added storm (chili bitters). I would have happily stayed until it closed (about 2 am) – it was like stumbling on a private party getting into its stride (complete with resident cat uninterested in anyone) – but I had to get home. I was driving to Dorset the next day for a wedding! But I know I’ll be back.





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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.