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A merry maritime in Greenwich

A merry maritime in Greenwich

By on Jul 1, 2014 in Commentary, Drink, English, Food, London, Real ale, Restaurants, Reviews, Travel | 0 comments

Oh England. England, England, England, with your soggy summers and bitterly disappointing football scores, we do still love you. And what better way to remind ourselves of just how much we love you than to pay a visit to a royal borough to experience your heritage and parks in all their rich green lush splendidness, to seek out some hidden gem of gastronomic delight in a tavern where we might replenish our spirits by feasting on seasonal fare, slaking our thirsts with an extensive wine list and chugging down a selection of hand-pumped ales? No better way. For some inspiration on visiting Greenwich for a day out, one might consider taking the ferry boat from Westminster pier so as to soak in the sights along the way. It’s a great way to see parts of London you might not usually get to witness, and there is also a guide on board to talk you through some of the history and points of interest. Once at the historic naval heart of Britain that is Greenwich, there is a raft of things to see and do. You can visit the National Maritime museum and learn about England’s rich maritime past, or the Royal Observatory and planetarium to learn about star charting, and pop off on a voyage through the universe. I’m rather intrigued by the show “Back to the moon for good” which chronicles the efforts of teams to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, for which they must land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, navigate 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to Earth. “This global competition is designed to spark imagination and inspire a renewed commitment to space exploration, not by governments or countries – but by the citizens of the world.” Of course there is the legendary Cutty Sark, a Grade 1 listed dry docked clipper vessel with a fascinating history. As wikipedia tells us: “Willis considered that the bow shape of Tweed was responsible for its notable performance, and this form seems to have been adopted for Cutty Sark. Linton, however, felt that the stern was too barrel-shaped and so gave Cutty Sark a squarer stern with less tumblehome. The broader stern increased the buoyancy of the rear of the ship, making it...

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King of King’s (Road) and Cadogan.

King of King’s (Road) and Cadogan.

By on May 29, 2014 in Cocktails, Drink, Food, Interior design, London, Real ale, Restaurants | 0 comments

In which Philip King, 1st King of Streatham is reunited with an old Earl. Many many moons ago, far far back in the distant past in the year of our Lord 1992, I ventured up to The King’s Road, Chelsea, with a crumpled tenner in my student duffle jacket pocket and high hopes of achieving a pleasant level of inebriation, perchance to impress one of the many damsels I had spotted earlier in the day as they shopped for designer threads amongst the many boutiques in this highly fashionable district. My partner in crime was a dashing fellow inebriate, and together we headed straight for a tavern by the name of The Cadogan Arms, as it had a right regal ring to it, what with having been a tavern since 1869 and named after the first Earl of Cadogan. Faded, jaded décor featured crimson flock wallpaper, wonky wall mounted lampshades with velveteen trim and plump little tassles, scrappy printed portraits of huntsmen and women on horseback gallivanting over hills and dales. It was very much of its time, in that the renaissance of pubs bars and restaurants had yet to take hold of London. To experience walking to the bar was akin to experiencing being a fly glued to fly paper as one’s feet stuck to the floor; meanwhile everything had a habit of creaking as though on the film set of a Hammer horror movie, but we didn’t care because the booze was cheap and the bands and the beat-up juke box made a vaguely pleasing racket as I recall.  Suffice it to say, this has all changed dramatically now, since the site was taken over and renovated some time ago by the same brains behind The Jugged Hare, a praiseworthy establishment over Barbican way. Whopping windows now provide a vista onto the ever busy King’s Road. Inside, the scheme evokes a sort of highland refectory, with woodiness abounding, a curious assortment of huntsman’s spoils adorning the walls and overall there is a feeling of everything being pared back. It’s unfussy, yet with enough touches to make it quaint and quirky. I took a pint of Jugged Hare IPA, brewed especially for the group by some indie craft...

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Dan the apples n pears

Dan the apples n pears

By on May 1, 2014 in Drink, Food, Italian, Restaurants, Reviews, Vermouth | 0 comments

You would be forgiven for walking straight past mele e pere whilst out and about in Soho scouting for a top notch watering hole and eaterie. Rest assured you’d be missing out, as beneath the elegantly simplistic upstairs bar facing onto Brewer Street, extends a spacious and welcoming basement, where the serious business of rustic Italian trattoria dining at its finest takes place. We sat upstairs in the goldfish bowl bar before dinner, sipping gin Martinis, absorbing the laid back vibe. Staff genially busied about the floor, a couple next to us shortly taking delivery of a profiterole dessert I was so impressed by that I rudely asked its recipient diners if I could snap the beast. They kindly obliged and in fact joined in the fun. Take a look at the beauteous objects and you’ll perhaps understand how such temptation took hold.  Mele e pere means apples and pears in Italian, or stairs in cockney rhyming slang, which is cute, as their extensive collection of blown glass apples and pears comprises the entire wall beside stairs you descend to get in amongst it in the basement, featuring a stunning copper topped bar stocking an assortment of vermouths blended by their team and bottled in beautifully ornate glassware. If you are so inclined you can join in the vermouth revival movement by attending monthly masterclasses hosted by head sommelier Ed Scothern, where you will learn how to blend different vermouths, and naturally, to drink them too. This is great value at only £15.00 which includes cicchetti (light bites such as olives, ham and squid). The meal was a culinary delight from start to finish. Rather than choosing mains, we selected a number of starting plates to share, so as to graze gently and savour the experience. Seirass ricotta, fresh peas, purple sprouting broccoli and smoked bacon proved an excellent medley of flavours and textures, creamy mild Piedmonte ricotta blending beautifully with tangy, salty bacon, freshened with lightly blanched greens. Salad of grilled octopus and calamari was cooked to tender perfection, fruity olive oil providing a gorgeous warmth to softened potato, dressed with fresh wild garlic leaves, the aroma and flavours of which had me reminiscing of walks in Devon where the good stuff...

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Tootle on to Tooley Street

Tootle on to Tooley Street

By on Apr 24, 2014 in Commentary, Food, London, Restaurants, Reviews, Travel | 0 comments

We in the West are privileged. Very much so. In global terms, it’s almost obscene how privileged many of us are. We have employment opportunities galore, good quality housing, sanitation, water and praise be, we have plenty of food. Or at least most of us do. There is of course a percentage of people who at some point in their lives will struggle to break even, and may reach as far down as rock bottom. No job, possibly no home to live in, and little prospect of finding housing or work. It’s a frightening thought, and one I’ve personally faced; however I was fortunate enough to have family who helped me to pick up the pieces. Not everybody is so fortunate. So what on earth does this have to do with a restaurant review? To put it simply, Brigade bar and bistro is a social enterprise which trains and supports jobless and homeless people, equipping them with kitchen skills, life skills and jobs in the exciting world of catering. So much more than just a place to eat; Brigade is an eaterie where one can take satisfaction in the knowledge that the proceeds from your dining experience are helping to drive social change and improve the lives of individuals less fortunate than ourselves, it’s a shining beacon in a sea of gratuitously self-satisfied gluttons who make it their business to simply gorge and waffle (I’m blushing by this point, being both gorger and waffler).  The food is outstanding too. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the skills these apprentices are taught are somehow sub-standard, or that ingredients are processed to cut costs; this is certainly not the case. As bistros go, Brigade is what you might call high end, with a relaxed, casual feel, and a buzz that you won’t find in a formal restaurant, owed in part to the open plan theatre kitchen and a bar section that runs directly alongside the main space. I couldn’t find fault in any single aspect of the decor, the service, the menu, the food and drink or the prices. The group of fellow writers I dined with had similarly positive experiences with their dishes, and were also enamoured by the venue and principles...

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Diciannove? Yes, she did a Nove.

Diciannove? Yes, she did a Nove.

By on Jan 2, 2014 in Adventure, Cocktails, Italian, London, Real ale, Restaurants, Travel | 0 comments

After browsing through the many artefacts at the Victoria & Albert museum, including the legendary Ardabil carpet and Dale Chihuly’s mind-bendingly intricate glass sculptures, we returned to Blackfriars and had a quick tipple in the Black Friar, an art nouveau pub, notable for it’s ornate sculpted and carved friezes, and which rather conveniently has a great range of very well kept cask ales. Then we crossed back to Crowne Plaza to pay a return visit to the beautiful Voltaire bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. This particular invention is a quirky little number created in partnership with Temple Spa; it’s a gin based drink containing grapefruit juice, thyme, rosemary sugar and lemon, and was a perfect aperitif, even including a tube of soothing foot balm which was much needed after all the walking. As tempted as I was to kick off my boots there and then in the bar and start applying the lotion, I resisted the urge, instead heading to the recently renovated and re-launched Diciannove. From the very moment we arrived, service was warm, attentive and friendly, and I noticed this to be the case not only with us, but with every table that was being attended to. It struck me the effectiveness of good service really can’t be under-estimated as it adds to the overall atmosphere, in part because nobody feels ignored or frustrated. I remember my days working as a waiter and event organiser fondly, as it would often be the case that you could turn around a person’s bad mood from the moment they walk in, lending a kind and sympathetic ear, finding out and fetching exactly what they require in a timely fashion and by simply smiling in spite of their frustration at the cruel world responsible for delivering them to you in this state of angst. This chrysalis of perfection becomes their safe haven, and you are their protector for a brief while. As we were staying in the hotel that night we figured on staying at Diciannove for the duration, so rather than seeking to wolf a meal down in two courses, we opted to share a range of smaller dishes. After a round of delicious freshly baked breads and infused oils came thinly rolled classic Neapolitan...

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Barber lud.

Barber lud.

By on Dec 22, 2013 in Food, French, London, Restaurants, Travel | 0 comments

“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’ ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Taking a long and lazy breakfast in the executive lounge of a luxury hotel in the financial epicentre of Europe, as swarms of people busily weave and wend their way to work, beavering diligently at the foot of your ivory tower as you tuck into a princely feast of eggs and bacon, toast and jam, croissants and pain au chocolat finished with fruit and yoghurt to aid digestion, can fill you with a sense of self satisfaction, the effect of which borders on arrogance. Views down on to Blackfriars Bridge from Crowne Plaza are a treat, and the advantages to this location don’t end there. Being located directly opposite the tube station is another bonus, and a short walk over the bridge and along, is the South Bank Centre with it’s assortment of restaurants and cultural destinations including the British Film Institute’s National Film Theatre. Further downriver is Tower Bridge, a national heritage landmark that no trip to London would be complete without visiting. This particular morning however, we got off to a decidedly lazy start and headed back at lunchtime to Knightsbridge for more feasting, courtesy of Daniel Boulud, a globally acclaimed chef and restaurateur with an extensive list of restaurants under his name in The US, London, Singapore, Beijing and Toronto. As Daniel’s reputation had understandably preceded him, I was particularly excited to be dining at Bar Boulud, which takes up a large swathe of floor space at the grand Mandarin Oriental hotel, directly beside Hyde Park. Throughout his illustrious career, this auteur has amassed a long list of awards, and I had yet to speak to anybody in London who has reported anything less than a brilliant experience from dining at Bar Boulud. You know you’re in good hands when it’s almost impossible to choose from a menu that reads so well it frustrates you to have to omit certain dishes. After much deliberating I chose to commence...

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