Category Archives: Pub

Pub review – The Candlemaker, Battersea High Street, SW11

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My head is buzzing with wedding stuff at the moment. We’re three weeks away from the big day and I honestly feel like it’s taken over my life. But this weekend Andrew and I decided to take a break from wedding chores, and went out and about in London, have a stroll and do the things we used to enjoy before Weddinggedon took hold of our lives.

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Bar review – The Warwick, Warwick Street, W1B

Gin is ruddy marvellous, isn’t it? Unless you’re one of those people where it transforms you into a sobbing wreck, I guess. It’s my favourite spirit – a nice cool gin on a sunny afternoon is unsurpassable.

Here are some gin facts for you (I like gin, suck it up):
– Gin is made with juniper berries
– London gin doesn’t have to be made in London – it’s a way to make gin
– Gin joints in 18th-century England allowed women to drink alongside men for the first time. It’s thought this led many of them to child neglect and prostitution. So gin became known as ‘Mother’s ruin”
– Gin and tonics were invented in colonial India when they found the quinine in tonic water was effective in preventing malaria. Soldiers added gin to tonic water to make it more palatable

Are we having fun yet or what?!
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My London… with Rupert Cross

For me, if I like someone I mock them. It’s perhaps not a great trait, but growing up with two older brothers has meant that it’s the way I communicate my friendship. If I feel comfortable around someone and like them, I will tease them and joke around with them.

When I first met Rupert he was wearing heavy-framed glasses, which were without lenses. Like a red rag to a bull (I’m the bull in this scenario), right away I started mocking him, and there started our friendship of me cruelly taunting him and him being generous enough to laugh along (and maybe cry himself to sleep at night). As a firm part of my north London circle, no pub visit is complete without Rupert blustering in an hour late, shouting “Darling! How are you?” while wearing some chunky knitwear.

Here Rupert, ever-tolerant and entertaining, talks football pubs, his karaoke track of choice and trying to illegally board a train bound for Paris…

Name: Rupert Cross
Job: Composer
Neighbourhood: Holloway

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I love London because… it’s a  giant smörgåsbord of everything from architecture to the arts.
London is at its best when… nippy springtime gives way to full blown barbecue summer. The mood of London is epitomised by the 10 people opposite you on the tube, and in summer they look like they may just make eye contact and smile. You can almost forgive the guy wearing his shiny new Ray-Ban sunglasses underground – although seriously: never be that guy.
The Swimmer on Eburne Road
The Swimmer on Eburne Road

My ideal day off in London would be… a Saturday. I dream of this perfect day of waking up not too hungover, opening the windows to sunshine before writing music throughout the morning. Content with a hard day’s work by midday, I head to lunch at the Swimmer at The Grafton Arms pub in Holloway, where Laila and Jon [the staff] greet me and my friends like the opening from Cheers. Sitting outside drinking pints of Brugse Zot, my friends and I discuss where to watch the afternoon’s football – a debate utterly irrelevant as The Tollington Arms on Hornsey Road is excellent and we’ll be going here. As this is a fantasy day, we watch Manchester United not lose horribly and all my Arsenal supporting friends break down in tears, admitting they have been closet Reds all along.

The evening will end with karaoke, probably in the Birdcage in Columbia Road, so the post football journey is all about the most exotic and exciting route to take. Along that route is The Lamb on Holloway Road which has an excellent selection of local beers and the staff are impeccably friendly. By 9pm I’m panicking that it’s getting late and I need to submit my karaoke song choice so we all cab it to Shoreditch. I’m in luck – they always have space for R Kelly’s “Ignition” (Remix).
In this perfect day I probably have a dog, and his name is Marco Fu.

I absolutely love this little-known place… called Shoreditch. I think it’ll catch on.

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… one that ended at 8am at St Pancras International pleading with the ticket office to let us on a train to Paris without our passports. At the time I imagined it looking more Withnail and I than Fear and Loathing. Now I’m not too sure.

L'atelier de Joel Robuchon
L’atelier de Joel Robuchon
My favourite restaurant is… L’atelier de Joel Robuchon in town. I had never eaten in a Michelin-starred restaurant before and a deal had arisen on Toptable for this restaurant. Although it was clear to everyone there that our wine-less, shared starter, shared desert, 2-for-1 mains order was designed to absolutely minimise the overall cost of eating at the restaurant, the staff were kind and courteous throughout which left me with a strong desire to return.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… Borough Market, and if I’m honest, two thirds of that will be on cheese. Anything left over will be spent in Bang Bang, a vintage clothes shop in Soho where I can safely say that pretty much all of my clothes are purchased from. Not underwear, that would be weird.
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… Oval House theatre in Oval. They very kindly gave me one of my first breaks in theatre, and the team that run it work incredibly hard providing opportunities for youth in South London.
The Hoxley & Porter on Upper Street
The Hoxley & Porter on Upper Street

One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is… the best espresso martini is made at The Hoxley & Porter in Upper Street.

London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… when bus drivers don’t wave to each other when they pass one another. There is no excuse for this.

I’ll leave London when… I’ve had the perfect day mentioned above, but luckily my non-Manchester United-supporting friends are so entrenched in denial that this could take years.

You can follow Rupert on Twitter at @Rupertx
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Pub Review – The Truscott Arms, Shirland Rd, W9

I don’t really trust west London – I never have. I once worked for the BBC, who at the time were based in White City (aka Shepherd’s Bush – or “SheBu” if you’re a twit/Cressida Bonas). That’s a grim little corner of London best forgot. For me, all of west London is this same uninterrupted sea of grey dual carriageways and enclaves of Aussies talking about TimTams like crack addicts talk about, well, crack. They have the same look in their eyes. I imagine, anyway – I don’t know any crack addicts personally.

I digress. Oh yeah, I hate west London. Sorry – I mean I “don’t trust it”. Anyway, I had cause to go there recently on a fact-finding mission. Specifically I went to St John’s Wood (shh, it IS west London) and Maida Vale. As I clearly don’t know west London from Manley Beach, I asked some Twitter buds about where was good to go – and I was inundated with recommendations, as if all of west London had just been waiting to be asked and I had opened the flood gates.

Most people recommended The Truscott Arms, and one person in particular – Sam – told me about a thing they sold called beef shin chips. Beef – good, chips – good, shin… um, good…? So I went to The Truscott to see what the heck all the hype was about.

I got there alone and had to wait for my companion (because he is always. running. late.) so ordered a nice, healthy (massive) glass of red. I instantly regretted this after Andrew arrived (late) and ordered some kind of macho cocktail called a Lady Truscott. It was bloody yummy and I was jealous.

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We ordered from the bar menu – I went for a wagyu beef burger and the tardy one went for a pulled pork sandwich with a side of beef shin chips. I forwent the extra foie gras topping on the burger because, well, it was lunch and I am not Rockefeller.

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The burger was OK, but the patty was slightly dry and uninspiring. It was meant to be wagyu beef, and while I have no doubt it was, I’m not sure the burger did the beef proud. A cow drank beer and had it’s tummy massaged and all it turned into was a dry burger.

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The best part of it was the onion relish, which was sweet and sour and really sung out among the rest of the slightly insipid burger.

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The beef shin chips on the other hand were sublime. They’re made by slow-cooking beef shin (win), pulling the beef apart and then making it into a terrine (I’m on board), which is then sliced into chunks, coated in polenta (ohhh yeah) and deep-fried (POW!). FEEL THE HEALTH. They were served with a hot, meaty gravy. They pulled apart deliciously and were crunchy on the outside and beautifully succulent on the inside. A marvel. (Sorry for the crappy photo that follows…)

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The pulled pork looked like this. When I asked Andrew how it was, he said “yeah, good”. High praise, indeed.

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When pressed further he gave the startling admission that there was an apple relish inside, which was really good. I had a bite and can confirm it was pretty good – meaty yet light somehow.

The Truscott Arms was a really nice venue – the staff were so friendly and helpful, and the bar was bright and airy. The cocktail list is something that I am still mulling over even now, plotting a time I can sneak back to west London and sample the whole list. It seems The Truscott has changed my philosophy on west London entirely…

Service: 5
Venue: 5
Value: 3
Overall: 8/10

The Truscott Arms, 55 Shirland Rd, London W9 2JD

Nearest tube: Warwick Avenue (10 min walk)

The Truscott Arms on Urbanspoon

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The fire at The Swimmer

Top 5… Cosy Pubs in London

As I have said before, rather recently, I love cosy pubs at this time of year. I love nothing more than heading to a warm pub, settling into a nook and drinking wine, chatting with good friends and watching people come and go.

I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 pubs to do this in, incase you want to do similar.

1. The Swimmer at the Grafton Arms

The fire at The Swimmer
The fire at The Swimmer

This pub is pretty close to where I live, and very much makes up part of my regular pub list. It’s tucked away behind the grim Seven Sister’s road, and is an absolute gem. It has board games, generous and yummy food, a good wine list, an open fire and even a sort-of adopted pub cat called Tallulah.

A pic of me and one of my besties (he'll love being called THAT!) last Christmas
A pic of me and one of my besties (he’ll love being called THAT!) last Christmas at The Swimmer

 

It lacks any pretension and is just a good, honest boozer without being stinky or too local. I absolutely love it here and will no-doubt be having Christmas sessions in here before long.

13 Eburne Road, N7 6AR

2. The Flask, Hampstead

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A few of us have a traditional walk on Hampstead Heath on New Year’s Day. Nothing blows the cobwebs away like climbing Parliament Hill to enjoy the view!

After a chilly walk, we normally head to The Flask in Hampstead for a mulled wine and a chat about our resolutions. It’s a small pub, but always has a lovely warm welcome. Again, it’s nothing fancy but I love that about it.

14 Flask Walk, NW3 1HE

3. Smokehouse

A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room
Smokehouse, Islington

You can read a more extensive review here, but this pub is the epitome of cosy. A friendly welcome, lots of people have a good time, and again, an open fire. It helps that the beer and wine list could have you busy for several days of non-stop drinking and the food is amazing – all conspiring to make you say, “I’ll just have one more, then I really must go…”

63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG

4. The Hunter S Bar

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Low lighting, fun decor and a warm, bustling atmosphere help this pub feel super-cosy. The taxidermy animals dotted about and the various different seating layouts make it quirky without staying into tedious hipster territory. The food is also great, with everything made fresh in-house every day and a wide and interesting menu.

194 Southgate Rd,  N1 3HT

5. The Dove

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I’ve spent many an evening here, growing foggy while enjoying the wine list. However, The Dove’s forte is Belgium beers, and their list is probably one of the most impressive in London. The pub itself is cosy and constantly busy, with the tables set close together and the unisex loos – everything is very intimate.

24/28 Broadway Market, E8 4QJ

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Top 5… Christmassy Things to do in London

I am a bit of a grumpy lady about people celebrating Christmas too early. Christmas adverts in September, the festive music in the shops in October and special offers on mince pies in the supermarkets in November. NO! December is the month of Christmas. Even then, putting up a tree in the first week of advent seems a bit premature to me. I fear suffering from Christmas burn-out, so by the time Christmas Eve (REAL Christmas) rolls around nothing feels special any more.

Having said that, I love Christmas a lot. And now we’re past my Christmas embargo date, I am feeling well excited about all the Christmas things I have planned. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of my favourite things to do over Christmas in London.

1. Ice Skating

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Every year Andrew and I go ice skating just before Christmas. It seems so romantic. But in actual fact, ice skates seem to have been designed by a sadistic cobbler, and I feel queazy at the thought of putting my foot in a cold, damp boot that’s been on loads of other people. That’s before you get on the ice, and realise you’re more Bambi than Torvill. “We hate ice skating,” Andrew and I say to each other, “why have we come? We suck at it and it’s beyond painful!”

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However, we always go out of duty. It’s now a horrible Christmas tradition, but I kind of love it.

There are lots of places to go ice skating in London, and I have sampled a lot. My favourite would be Somerset House, followed by the Tower of London.

Afterwards I prescribe a strong mulled wine to rid yourself of the aches, pains and cold that you will have acquired.

2. Choosing a Christmas Decoration

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My Mum and I have a festive tradition where we go out together with the sole purpose of choosing one new decoration for our – well, my parents’ now I suppose – tree. We’ve done this together ever since I can remember. We spend a long time oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over all the pretty (and hideous) sparkly thing, before selecting one and scampering off for a cup of tea.

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Last year we went to Heal’s, which has the most amazing array of festive decorations (and homewares – man, I love Heal’s). It feels and smells so festive in there, and Paul A. Young has also just opened a cafe next door – ideal for our victory afternoon tea.

3. Christmas Markets

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Winter Wonderland and Southbank Christmas Markets are my favourites, but there are all kinds of festive outdoor adventures to be had in London. I love wrapping up warm, linking arms with a buddy and carefully choosing where to buy a festive feast from. And it’s all the better when it’s washed down with a heady mulled wine before getting on a fairground ride of dubious safety standards.

4. Getting Cosy in Pubs

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I love pubs anyway. They’re such a uniquely British thing, I think. Sure, everywhere has bars, but the British pub is something that just can’t be replicated anywhere else.

And in December they really come into their own. Walk in out of the cold into a blast of buzz, warmth and the scent of mulled wine. Huddle into a booth with friends and watch the sky grow dark by 4pm while knocking back festive drinks, all while you’re being warmed by an open fire. Extra great points if there’s a pub dog in the mix.

This year I’m going to the Draper’s Arms for a Christmas carol sing-a-long with friends. I cannot think of anything more festive.

5. The Nutcracker

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Every year my Mum and I go to the Nutcracker, either by the English National Ballet at the Coliseum or at the Royal Opera House. I love getting swept away in the Christmassy story and gasping at the amazing costumes.

I also love seeing all the other families who have come to watch for a Christmas treat. It feels so magical and special. I cannot wait to go this year.

Gordon's Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice's best nights out in London.

My London… with Alice Judge-Talbot

I’ve known Alice for quite a number of years through the wonderful world of blogging. She’s an all-round superwoman and lady of excellent taste. Here she shares with me a few of her London things…

Name: Alice
Job: Blogger and Marketing Consultant
Neighbourhood: I moved out of London when I had kids and now live in Buckinghamshire (boohooh). But in my time in the fair city I lived in Kentish Town, Shoreditch, De Beauvoir and Muswell Hill.

Alice with her ridiculously cute son, Hux
Alice with her ridiculously cute son, Hux

I love London because… of the diversity! There aren’t many places where you can experience such a rich mix of cultures and languages. You always meet someone with a story to tell.

London is at its best when… Frosty and twinkly or sunshiney and happy. Both as lovely as each other.

Borough Market would kick of Alice's perfect day.
Borough Market would kick of Alice’s perfect day.

My ideal day off in London would be… starting at Borough Market I’d walk along the Thames to Embankment, stopping off at The Savoy for a cup of tea. I’d get the tube up to Camden to visit some of my old haunts before powerwalking up Parliament Hill to marvel at the amazing view. I’d finish the day with prosecco at The Dean Street Townhouse or maybe Shoreditch House, followed by espresso martinis. And karaoke.

 I absolutely love this little-known place… the sushi cafe above the Japanese shop at Centrepoint. In my opinion it’s the most authentic (and tastiest!) sushi in London.

Gordon's Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice's best nights out in London.
Gordon’s Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice’s best nights out in London.

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… too many to count! I was recently introduced to Gordon’s Wine Bar – the oldest in London – and had a very raucous night in there with a very fun friend.

My favourite restaurant is... what a difficult question! I seem to eat at The Dean Street Townhouse a lot these days (love their chips and salad) but you really can’t beat the shortrib nuggets at Hawksmoor. Also, the Street Feast/Mr Hyde burger festival in Dalston earlier this year was bloody brilliant

 If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in...Cos, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie. Harrod’s Beauty Hall. I can’t decide!

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

 My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is absolutely breathtaking. I saw To Kill A Mockingbird there in May and despite the freezing rain it was a wonderful experience.

 One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived there is… How accessible everything is on foot! I try not to use the tube or buses if I can walk, it’s a much better way of travelling.

 London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… SLOW WALKERS!

I’ll leave London when… I will never move further than 30 minutes outside of London. It always leaves me feeling energized and happy.

Your can head to Alice’s blog, morethantoast.org, and find her on Twitter.

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Pub Review – Ape & Bird, Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H

Ape & Bird opened last week to much fan fare. In a huge old Victorian pub in Covent Garden, the team behind Polpo, Mishkins and Spuntino have brought something to the area that was desperately needed: a decent, large pub. Soho and Covent Garden aren’t exactly famous for their decent pubs with great customer service. It’s more of a “drink on the pavement, try not to get run over and fight your way to the bar” type vibe in the rest of the area. Ape & Bird is an oasis of calm in comparison.

Last night I went along with two of my favourite people to see whether the place lived up to the hype. On entering the pub, it was totally empty. “Err, hello?” I said to the three front of house staff who were eagerly waiting to greet people. The place was dead, but it was 5.45pm on a Monday evening. I was swiftly taken through the main pub/more formal dining room to a back “public bar”.

The lighting was soft, the decor was tasteful and the wine was expensive. They only had three red and three whites on in the bar out of a longer list, which was a slight shame. Later in the night the beers also dwindled as we were told our choice beer was “off” now. Teething problems, I am sure, as the pub is only just out of its soft launch phase.

We decided to have food, so were ushered into the main pub bit, which was adorned by fairy lights, candle lights and gentle music. We decided it was a perfect date venue, and, being terribly boring, the music wasn’t too loud so we were able to hear each other. There’s nothing worse than having to nod along to someone’s story but not really getting a word of it.

An extremely under-lit menu
An extremely under-lit menu

The menu is modern British cuisine: chestnut and mushroom shepherd’s pie, steak and chips, trout with shrimp and tarragon butter. I went for a cheeseburger with a side of cheese and truffle fries. Andrew also got a burger but with rosemary and salt potato skins, and Amy got the veggie shepherd’s pie.

The portions were modest, but on reflection I think this is because I have become used to places overloading the plates. I admit these photos aren’t great but this is 65% because of the “date lighting” there and only 35% because I am terrible at taking photos.

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The burger was really decent – plenty of sauce, nice and meaty and a good ratio of sharp pickles. The fries were really rich, but provided an excellent salt and fat hit. Andrew’s potato skins were crunchy and deliciously herby, but I think the fries were best.

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The service at Ape & Bird was a bit hit and miss, and slightly on the cold side from some staff members, but for this you have to be forgiving in the opening days of the place. Despite this, Ape & Bird is a warm and relaxed venue, and with many other bars within the venue (including an amazing-looking subterranean cocktail bar), I am already planning my next visit.

The bill came to about £60 for three, with service and drinks.

Service: 3

Venue: 4.5

Value: 3

Overall: 7.5/10

Ape & Bird Public House, 142 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8HJ

Nearest Tube: Leicester Square (5 min walk)

The Ape & Bird Pub on Urbanspoon

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A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room

Restaurant Review – Smokehouse, Canonbury Road, N1

Before we moved, Andrew and I promised ourselves we’d go out for a really lovely celebration meal together once we completed on the sale. However, as ever with us, we were optimistic about how much free time we’d have after completing.

Since we became homeowners our lives have been a heady whirlwind of filling walls, buying sanders (I am now the co-owner of multiple sanders! Try not to feel too jealous, guyssss), painting and shouting, “Have you seen my red jumper anywhere?” across the house as we live in a semi-unpacked dystopian nightmare. So we haven’t had time to go for dinner, and we hadn’t unpacked any nice clothes to go out for dinner in. I’m pretty sure any maître d’ would turn his nose up at my paint-covered hoodie. I mean, I turn my nose up at it and I’m a slob.

But the clouds lifted on Saturday. We finished our decorating, I found my nice shoes (one pair, natch) – it was time for our celebration meal. We wanted to go somewhere local, that wasn’t stuffy but served good quality and interesting food. There’s quite a lot of that on offer in Islington, but eventually we plumped for the Smokehouse.

Our 'excited to be out and not painting' faces. Andrew's playing it cool, as ever.
Our ‘excited to be out and not painting’ faces. Andrew’s playing it cool, as ever.

Smokehouse is owned by the guys behind The Pig & Butcher and has Neil Rankin, of John Salt and Pitt Cue fame, as the chef. Smokehouse specialises in all things smokey and firey and has a smoker on site. As well as this, the emphasis is on the quality and provenance of their ingredients. As well as the best possible produce, Smokehouse also has a startling array of ales and beers and a stellar wine list, for it is a cosy pub as well and not at all ‘just a restaurant’.

A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room
A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room

We got a great table in the restaurant (needed to book ahead), and had an amazing waitress who was just the right level of attentive. She was battling on even though she’d sliced open her hand on a bread knife too. That’s the commitment I like! She was also really knowledgable about the menu and seemed to be passionate about the food she was delivering to us. Full marks to her!

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I opted for a starter of foie gras, apple pie and duck egg. It was so delicious I stopped on my first mouthful and sighed! The foie gras was lovely and rich, with the duck egg perfectly cooked (so much so I asked Andrew in a frustrated tone, “but how do they get it this perfect?” – side note, I am rubbish at cooking eggs). The apple pie was perfect for cutting through the richness and adding a lovely tang to the plate.

Foie gras (two generous pieces!), apple cake and duck egg starter
Foie gras (two generous pieces!), apple cake and duck egg starter

Andrew went for a chopped brisket roll & gochujang. Gochujang is a Korean condiment that’s essentially like a chilli mayo. The chopped brisket was perfect: smokey and headily meaty, while the gochujang added a beautiful chilli kick.

The chopped brisket
The chopped brisket

We followed these up with a shortrib bourguignon (me) and peppered ox cheek (him). We also got a side of roast potatoes, but the stew came with mash anyway.

Short rib bourguignon with creamy mash
Short rib bourguignon with creamy mash

The bourguignon had a real depth of flavour and a melt in mouth texture. It had some chillies on the plate, which added a lovely firey hum in the undertones. It was incredibly rich and decadent, and absolutely superb.

The ox cheek came with cauliflower cheese, which was just insane. The cauliflower, which is an easy vegetable to overcook and ruin, was so sweet and nutty, and the cheese sauce covered the cauliflower but didn’t overpower it.

Peppered ox cheek with cauliflower cheese and gravy
Peppered ox cheek with cauliflower cheese and gravy

Feeling rather full of rich meaty food, we weren’t to be beaten by pudding. I went for a Double D pie, which is inspired by a Double Decker chocolate bar. A layer of coco pops, a layer of nougat, a layer of peanut butter, a layer of the richest chocolate known to man. Kapow! It was amazingly nutty and chocolatey. The pistachio ice cream it came with wasn’t quite powerful enough to beat those flavours. Bums, as I love pistachio ice cream – it’s a firm family favourite in my crew.

The Double D
The Double D

Andrew asked for an affagato, which wasn’t actually on the menu, but they knocked it up for him.

And breathe!
And breathe!

Smokehouse was everything I hoped it’d be: cosy, without pretension and serving excellent, exciting food. It’s the ideal place to snuggle down in, eat until you’re full to bursting and then relax in front of the open fire. A new favourite for me!

Sorry this photography is a bit Martha Stewart!

Service: 5

Venue: 5

Value: 5

Overall: 10/10

The Smokehouse, 63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG

Nearest Tube: Highbury & Islington (10 min walk). The 271 goes right past it though!

Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

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Top 5… Budget London Date Venues

The Prop Store

Sometimes life calls for a little date. Not a big date, which would demand for heels, a blowdry and ~booking~ something (P.S. I’ve never got a blowdry for a date. Soz, Andrew). I’m talking a spontaneous, “Hey, shall we go out tonight? Just you and me?” date. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be with someone you feel a bit woozy with love or lust about, it could just as easily be a pal.

These evenings, in my experience, are normally best when they’re local, often in a little place that you discover – a gem that’s budget-friendly. In these places, the staff leave you alone to chat, the wine is decent and the food delicious. You leave the place arm in arm and step out into a cold, dark evening thinking how life is a little bit better for your date being in your life.

I’ve compiled a list of my top five date venues, where I’ve had evenings like this and think you might be able to enjoy them too.

1. Le Mercury, Upper Street, Islington

Le Mercury, Upper Street
Le Mercury, Upper Street

I’ve had more than one lovely evening here, with a range of different people from friends to family to my boyfriend. Each evening has been great. At Le Mercury they serve simple French food, and offer little tables close to one another and soft candlelight. There’s a huge capacity, and due to their massive popularity in North London they’ve actually expanded from their original restaurant to a second venue just down the road. The great thing about Le Mercury is that for those on a budget or splitting the meal, each offering on the menu is the same price per course. So starters are all £4.45, mains £9.95. And you know what? The food is really bloody good for that price. It holds a little special place in my heart, and is definitely one of Andrew and mine’s favourites.

2. Petek, Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park

Petek, Stroud Green Road
Petek, Stroud Green Road

I’ve written a more extensive review of Petek before, which you can read by clicking on the link above, so I won’t go on too much. But this is one of my fave date venues. It helps we currently live very close to Petek, but it is like a beacon of joy on the somewhat grey Stroud Green Road. Inside the lighting is glowy and soft and the service is friendly without being all up in your grill. It’s pretty darn perfect. And it kind of feels like you’re on a Mediterranean holiday in there. All that is missing is the stray dogs.

3. Kettners, Soho

Grab a booth at Kettners
Grab a booth at Kettners

OK, so Kettners might not fall into the “little-known place” bracket, as it is a London institution, but I like it as a date place so it’s going in, alright? Good.

I’m not talking about the restaurant here, cos that’s all sparkly and new and, well, just a fairly standard Soho restaurant. I’m talking about the champagne and cocktail bar. That might sound a little intimidating, but don’t be put off! Really it’s a cosy and relaxed bar, and is great for people watching. Dangerously, you can buy champagne in glasses, half bottles or bottles. And they stock a lot of champagne. So what might start out as a cheeky flute of bubbles can gloriously descend into an evening of being drunk on champagne and feeling all cosy and great. They do great cocktails too.

4. Albertine, Wood Lane, Shepherd’s Bush

Albertine, Wood Lane
Albertine, Wood Lane

If you ever had the misfortune to be in Shepherd’s Bush, as I did for a good while when I worked at the BBC, then Albertine is like a beautiful oasis in the drab wasteland of Shepherd’s Bush. I’m not suggesting you go there for a meal, because I’ve only had one proper meal there and it was slightly odd and slapdash. No, I mean you go there for drinks and snacks. Albertine’s is a wine bar, and owned by a guy who is obviously passionate about wine. Consequently, the wine list is bloody massive and has wines from all over the world. They also do a good line in bar snacks, with my faves being mini chorizo sausages. It’s all a bit rustic at Albertine’s. You can sit in the window, hunker down for the night and have really great chats.

5. The Prop Store, Southbank

The Prop Store
The Prop Store

One of my closest and most charming friends introduced me to The Prop Store, for it is attached to the National Theatre, where she works. Had it not been for her, I don’t think I would have found it as it’s quite easy to miss a lot of stuff on Southbank, especially in the Summer when the Prop Store operates.

Yes, indeed, this is a seasonal bar. As I said, it’s run by the National and exhibits inside an interesting array of props from the theatre company. The bar itself is kind of tiny and it does take a while to get served, but the drinks are reasonable for Southbank, and you can spill out onto the river bank on a hot, sticky summer evening and have one of those nights when you’re like, “Yeah, London is so pretty and awesome and I get to live here!” And although I generally find Southbank a bit too frantic in the summer months, it’s nice to rest up at the Prop Store and watch the world go by.

So that’s my list. Do you have any cute little places you like to go on for dates? Think I’ve missed somewhere? Rant at me in the comments.

BURGER REVIEW – Lucky Chip @ The Sebright Arms, Coate Street, E2

Lucky Chip Burgers at the Sebright Arms


Lucky Chip Burgers at the Sebright Arms
Lucky Chip Burgers at the Sebright Arms

I’ve been wanting to go to the Sebright Arms for ages, to sample the much-raved about Lucky Chip burgers. Having dined at the Slider Bar (at The Player in Soho), and found them wanting I’d heard many people say The Sebright is where to get the real Lucky Chip experience. Indeed, my friend Ed claims that The Sebright serve the best burgers in London town, and Ed knows what is up.

The Sebright is a rough-around-the-edges pub in the no man’s land between Bethnal Green and Hoxton, but it is a large venue with plenty of comfy seating and extremely friendly staff. We went on a Friday night and it was busy, but not unpleasantly so and everyone seemed to be having a good time. An all-round good vibe, if you will.

Lucky Chip have a residency at The Sebright, and no doubt the reason behind the pub being so bustling. The menu looks a little something like this…

The Lucky Chip Menu at the Sebright Arms
The Lucky Chip Menu at the Sebright Arms

I went for a Royale wit Cheese, but most people (seasoned Lucky Chip fans) seemed to favour the El Chappo. We also all had chili cheese fries and wings for sides (not each, we’re not greedy. Well, only slightly greedy).

The burgers were delicious – very juicy meat, perfectly medium-rare (a good burger has to be nice and pink in my opinion), the bun didn’t fall apart and the fillings were a perfect accompaniment. My dining friend, Toby, dubbed it “just like a Big Mac”. I think that’s a little harsh – the flavour and style is similar to the ubiquitous Big Mac, but it is so much more hearty, meaty and juicy than a Big Mac. The best burger I’ve had in London? Yep, easily.

Chili Cheese Fries @ The Sebright
Chili Cheese Fries @ The Sebright

The chili cheese fries were totally smothered in chilli and jalapenos, with a moderate sprinkling of cheese. They were very good indeed – but not as good as those served at Meat Liquor. However, the experts said the fries had improved since their last visit, with tweaks being made to the recipe. I like that Lucky Chip aren’t resting on their laurels, but instead striving to make things better. I’d definitely order these again when I go again (when, not if!).

The BBQ wings
The BBQ wings

The chicken wings were the let-down on the night. The BBQ sauce wasn’t punchy at all, and instead just a slightly sweet, sticky glaze. The chicken itself was flabby and not at all crisp. And there was no extra dip. MeatLiquor wins here again I’m afraid in the wings stakes. With a few tweaks, these could be great but instead I found myself wishing I hadn’t bothered with them.

As I said before, the staff we lovely and smiley and fast to serve you at the bar. The drinks were good – the boilermaker (a beer and whiskey cocktail) was a particular favourite. I had a really excellent time, and would definitely recommend this place. It’s not fine dining, it is no frills but what it’s doing they’re doing well. Sure, there are a few niggles, but they’re slight and I am sure as the place evolves these will get ironed out.

Service: 5/5

Venue: 4/5

Value: 3/5

Overall: 4/5

Lucky Chip @ The Sebright Arms, 31-35 Coate Street, E2 9AG

Nearest tube: Bethnal Green 15min walk

London Pubs – The Lamb Beer & Liquor (Holloway Road)

The Lamb Pub, Holloway Road
The Lamb Pub, Holloway Road

Situated conveniently close to where I live, The Lamb has become a firm local for me and my friends. An independent pub on an unattractive stretch of Holloway Road (is there an attractive stretch of Holloway Road?!), this place is best described as a typical ‘boozer’.

Stripped floors, mismatched furniture, informal service and an eclectic playlist combine to provide clientele with an easy-going, no frills evening.

The Lamb serves craft ales and has some decent wine too. The Lamb serves only crisps and meaty snacks, but they actively encourage you to order from a delicious pizza takeaway service, Sorrento, who deliver to your table. As I said, it’s very non-frills. However, Sorrento’s pizzas are actually incredibly good and authentic – there’s nothing Domino’s about this place.

Having said they’re no frills, The Lamb have excellent live music events from incredible talent such as Rupert Cross, and host film nights showing indie films on a projector screen. There’s also occasionally live sport when there’s a big event on, but it’s in no way a football pub (having said that I haven’t been there when an Arsenal game is on – it’s probably packed, as are most pubs on Holloway Road).

The Lamb offers you a warm welcome and an unpretentious night out. I’d recommend a visit before everyone finds out about it. Everyone I’ve taken there has been back, some even organising their birthday parties there – surely that’s a stamp of approval if there ever was one.

Pub Review – The Pig & Butcher, Liverpool Road

A little scampi snack - The Pig & Butcher
A little scampi snack – The Pig & Butcher

Yep, I started my meal before I remembered to take a photo – what of it?

The Pig & Butcher has opened up on Liverpool Road where the slightly ropey Islington Tap used to stand. They have an in-house butcher slicing up prime cuts that the seemingly skilled chef cooks up for customer’s delight. They also do a healthy (and expensive) line in craft ales (beers? Who knows the difference? Not me!). It’s all very… Islington.

I’ve popped in there twice so far, and have been fairly pleased with the pub on both occasions. The first was a Sunday roast. Just as a precursor to what I’m about to say, I just want to make it clear that I don’t rate pub roasts. They are never as good as home-cooked roasts. There’s something about mass-made roast potatoes that doesn’t work. You can’t taste the love that you can in a home-made roast. Anyway…

The roast was pretty decent. I went for a 32-day aged Hereford beef rib. It was incredibly rare (fine by me, but might not be to the taste of those who don’t like their plate swimming in red juices), and delicious. It came served with a silky cauliflower cheese, greens and roast potatoes (which were not great). Some of my companions got the whole roast chicken, which was absolutely ginourmous even for two. The beef was £15.50 and the chicken was £14.50 per person, which is slightly on the pricey side for the area.

The second time I went in, it was for a light lunch with friends. I ordered the scampi, as pictured above, with a side of fries. The scampi was great – light, sweet with a lovely yet naughty batter. The chips were so thick that they were still quite solid in the middle. Andrew went for a steak sandwich. Here’s the pics to prove it happened…

Steak sandwich – The Pig & Butcher

It was actually an open sandwich, which was fine, although Andrew claimed, “It wasn’t what I was expecting… but yeah, it was nice.” He actually praised the meat really highly. He also had the undercooked humungous chips.

The Pig & Butcher is a lovely gastro pub, really close to Upper Street, so I am sure it will do well. However, it has a slightly more expensive than average menu – but in Barnsbury that’s probably not going to hinder them. The meat there is to die for – they do it excellently and in spades. However, with meat being the star of the show, some other factors do suffer a little. I’m sure these will get ironed out. Oh, and the staff are extremely friendly – I love their staff!

Service – 4/5

Venue – 4/5 (although it’s so hot in there – they need a/c or something)

Value – 3/5

OVERALL – 3/5

The Pig & Butcher, 80 Liverpool Road, Islington, N1 0QD

Nearest tube: Highbury & Islington (10 minute walk), Angel (12 minute walk).

The Pig & Butcher is open 5pm-11pm (Monday-Wednesday), 12pm-11pm (Thursday), 12pm-1am (Friday & Saturday), 12pm-11pm (Sunday).

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