Posts Tagged With: Good Place

Riding Shotgun: Catching up over Filipino at Kalesa

Copyright of Kalesa. Sourced from Kalesa website

Copyright of Kalesa. Sourced from Kalesa website

Cuisine: Filipino

Address: 59 Lavender Hill, SW11 5QN

Area: Battersea

Nearest Station: Clapham Junction/Clapham Common

Tel.: 020 3417 5639

Website: http://www.kalesa.co.uk/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Comfort food, Casual dining, Taste of home, Introduction to new cuisines

You know how I am with my Filipino food. Always banging on and on about it, telling people how good it is, how it’s overlooked gabba gabba hey.

But without somewhere proper to actually take people to so that they can try the real deal, that doesn’t involve me having to cook it all (though The Adobros are pretty good BOOOM), it all becomes a bit problematic to convince the good people of London of the merits of Filipino food… we have a bit of a dearth of good Filipino restaurants in town.

And so here steps up Kalesa to give it all a good shot. Some friends had been here for a breakfast last year, and whilst we all know that Filipino breakfasts are automatically the Breakfasts of Champions and hence amazing (see shamelessly self-promoting photo below), these friends had relayed to me that Kalesa’s version was actually pretty decent.

Enlisting the help of two good friends of mine – an Irish couple who, though not being massively experienced in the ways of world food, are certainly game to try anything – I finally got myself into gear and made it down one fine and balmy August evening and made the long trek to the far end of Lavender Hill from Clapham Junction.

Even though from the outside, the place is nothing special (it’s got that very neighbourhood-café-on-the-cheap feel about it, with added tropical decorations), once through the door the welcome was extremely warm, if a little shy. The guys here are evidently doing their bit to show off the good side of Filipinos and the Philippines – apart from the Filipino hospitality, there are photos and brochures (courtesy of the Department of Tourism) all over the place displaying enticing scenes of white beaches, verdant hillsides, exotic wildlife, fresh produce… oh, to be in the Philippines right now!

But we are in the Battersea/Clapham borderlands, on the drab Lavender Hill. Will Kalesa’s food be able to transport us to the tropics?

Laing: First up on the menu is laing. A dish from the Bicol region, it is typically taro leaves stewed with garlic and chilli in coconut milk. As an aside, I’ve always wondered why chillies never took as big a hold in the Philippines as elsewhere in Asia – after all, chilli was ‘discovered’ by the Spanish in Mexico, and the Manila-Acapulco Galleon was the primary trade route between the Americas and Asia… I digress. Back to Kalesa, and their take on a Bicolano favourite. It was creamy, sweet, savoury and just the right level of spice; additionally, the taro leaves were of the right consistency – think creamed spinach. I was pretty happy with what we had, and so were my friends.

Laing and pakbet - so dainty!

Laing and pakbet – so dainty!

Pakbet: Pakbet, or in its longer form, pinakbet (which I am told is itself a shortened version of the Ilocano word, pinakebbet, meaning shriveled), is a vegetable sauté/stew, often including bitter melon (ampalaya) and flavoured with fermented shrimp paste (bagoong). Still interested? You should be. Again, the vegetables were the right texture, retaining some bite despite being stewed and steeped for some time, and the bagoong provided enough savouriness without being overpowering. And again, it was a hit with my friends, despite their having had no prior idea of what fermented shrimp paste should look, smell or taste like. Perhaps what helped was the liberal smattering of crispy pork belly (lechon kawali), which we ordered as an addition to the pakbet. Before you ask, pork and shrimp is actually a well-established food combination in the Philippines (you will see pork binagoongan i.e. pork cooked in bagoong on many a menu out there), and it’s a brilliant one. The lechon kawali was excellently crispy, providing a good and meaty texture to the stew in all the right ways.

Sizzling Pork Sisig: Ahh, sisig. How do we get the world to love you? After all, people readily eat ox cheek, they have crispy pig ears… so it’s really not that much of a leap to consider eating pig head, is it? Sisig is finely diced pig head – jowls, ears, snout and all – that is cooked with citrus, garlic and chilli, and often served very crispy on a sizzling platter. It is an unapologetic dish, packed full of flavour and texture. Kalesa had it all: the zing of the lemon, the piquancy of the chilli, the savoury depth of the pork, the crispy fried bits and the chewiness of the cartilage. Mix it all in with plain steamed rice, and what you have is good ol’ comfort food. However, I do prefer my sisig to be crispier (Kalesa falls short here), as I can understand how the cartilage can throw some people (myself included) off, but let me tell you: my friends LOVED it. Absolutely LOVED it. It was, in my friend’s softly-spoken and compellingly comforting Belfast brogue, “the best dish of the night”. I think that says it all, really.

Giving the sizzling pig head a good mix-mix

Giving the sizzling pig head a good mix-mix

Leche Flan: My friends may have spoken prematurely, for the leche flan of Kalesa was a brilliant way to end our gastronomic journey through the Philippines, which had so far taken in Bicol, Ilocos and Pampanga. For the uninitiated, leche flan is the Filipino take on Spanish crème caramels, except significantly richer – what, why wouldn’t you use condensed milk instead of regular milk or cream?? Kalesa’s version sat very prettily on its plate, the top that perfect caramelised amber colour and the rest a creamy yellow. Once that spoon went in, you could feel the dense creaminess of the flan, which just melted away in your mouth. It was delightful. It was rich. It was good.

Leche flan. Decadence!

Leche flan. Decadence!

 

And so we left Kalesa on good terms with the place; I felt pretty pleased with the restaurant’s efforts to provide a good introduction to the dishes (the menu descriptions read very well, and even indicate which part of the Philippines the dishes come from), and my friends were glad that I had brought a potential new ‘local’ to their attention.

 

VERDICT – A good place. With a cheery neighbourhood vibe and, most importantly, hearty and fulfilling dishes that are actually well-executed, Kalesa has propelled itself to the top of my list of Filipino restaurants to eat out at in London. Shame it’s not the best-located place; it is, however, definitely worth the visit.

Currently listening to: Protest the Hero – Mist

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Categories: Filipino | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lunchtime fun time in Croydon: Part 1

Nearest Station: East Croydon/West Croydon

My team got moved down to Croydon in January this year – let me tell you this, it is a very different place from Canary Wharf. But whilst there aren’t that many suits and ties down there, there is still a Waitrose!!

Image

This isn’t Croydon…

However, unlike a few of my colleagues, I was rather okay with the transition: I was rather familiar with shopping and eating in Croydon from my days living in Surrey, and my commute is now hella easy and crowd-free… and I suppose I was getting a bit tired of the samey-chainey food options in the Wharf (WASABI I HATE YOU SO MUCH).

Sure, I would miss the lunchtime window-shopping, the glass-steel-marble skyscrapers, the preppy hot girls in their finest office wear, the… erm, prestige I guess of working in Canary Wharf? But hey, I love (re)discovering different parts of London; Croydon lunchtimes would therefore be fun times.

Over the past few months I have therefore taken it upon myself to discover the best in lunchtime dining in Croydon – not just for my stomach’s sake, but also maybe for my career’s sake: I think I’m well on my way to becoming my team’s (hopefully indispensable) Food Guy. See below for the results of my exhaustive, scientific and completely objective study.

 

Uncle Lim’s Malaysian Kitchen

Cuisine: Malaysian

Address: Whitgift Centre, CR0 1RZ

Tel.: 020 8688 8378

Website: N/A

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Filling meal

Ah yes, good old Uncle Lim’s; I’ve known you for a long time.

Cheap and cheerful Malaysian canteen that can whip up dishes fresh from the kitchen or, the more usual option for me, a selection of food from their hot counter, packaged into a Medium Meal Deal (rice/noodles, one meat, one veg, one drink) or their Large Meal Deal (rice/noodles, two meat, one veg, one drink).

Portions are hearty (the Large will put you into a food coma. You have been warned), the prices are cheap, the turnover of the food is fast enough, and the quality itself decent for what it is.

The Malaysian lamb curry may be a bit too bony and the salt and pepper squid a bit chewy, so I would go for the beef rendang (rich and flavourful but not too spicy) and the sambal aubergines – they are both delightful. The rice is soft and fluffy, whilst the noodles are a bit plain but more-ish in that “fried food tastes so good” way.

I also recently had the char kway teow; very generous portion and again very tasty. Rather surprisingly, the prawns were not the piddly kind you get in the supermarket, but more properly-sized beasts. Not bad for a canteen in Croydon!

Char kway teow = warmth in my belly

Char kway teow = warmth in my belly

It certainly does not stack up against Satay House or Melur, my two favourite Malaysian restaurants in London, but then again Uncle Lim’s has no pretensions (and certainly not the prices) to be like them. This is a place for a filling and hearty lunch that delivers flavour, if not sophistication.

I took my team’s business analysts here for lunch once; several have been back, including very recently for a colleague’s leaving lunch. If it’s good enough for them, surely it’s good enough for you?

VERDICT – A good place. Let me make clear that this is not the height of fine Malaysian dining in the capital, but it’s not trying to be like that, and so cannot be rated in the same way. You want something different in Croydon? You want teh tarik? You want a hearty meal that delivers on flavour for a good price? Then Uncle Lim can feed you, and he will feed you well.

 

Chai Corner and Chilli Chutney

Copyright of Chai Corner. Sourced from Chai Corner website

Copyright of Chai Corner. Sourced from Chai Corner website

Cuisine: Indian/Pakistani

Address: North End Mall, CR0 1UB

Tel.: 020 8633 1779

Website: http://www.chai-corner.com/

Pricing: Cheap

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Takeaway

I was rather surprised to spot these guys in the Allders mall: Indian street food in Croydon? Seems a bit too hipster for the area… but the more important question is – how do they square off against the currently on-trend Dosa Deli and Everybody Lovelove Jhal Muri Express (as if that’s even a legitimate question)?

The reason I group Chai Corner and Chilli Chutney together is because a cursory internet search and first-hand experience shows them to be owned by the same people – and funnily enough, they do seem to cook each other’s food, with the ladies at Chilli Chutney producing the wraps for the lads at Chai Corner. Interesting business plan…

Regardless of who is making the wraps, they are tasty enough for lunch. The first time I went, I had the paneer tikka wrap: adequate amount of paneer filling bulked out by salad and a flavourful if mild tikka marinade/sauce/spice. I have since followed this up with other wraps, but the meat options present a rather unremarkable dining experience.

I hid away in the corner to eat this. THE SHAME (or rather the smell)

I hid away in the corner to eat this. THE SHAME (or rather the smell)

The pakora were good and crisp and nicely savoury, if rather oily, but the samosa is a nice and fresh little parcel of deep-fried goodness (just about superseding my love of cold 85p samosas from the corner shops, the height of gastronomic experience). A further visit for a sit-down meal with mia madre saw us having the tandoori chicken – a succulent and juicy affair – whilst the lamb seekh kebab salad was… interesting in its combination of olives and sun-dried tomatoes with lamb seekh.

At least the tikka was the right colour

At least the tandoori was the right colour

Are those... sun-dried tomatoes and olives? YES :-(

Are those… sun-dried tomatoes and olives in an ‘Indian’ salad? YES 😦

The output is quick, the prices are low and the food is adequate. It certainly makes for a change from the normal wrap experience, not that there are many in Croydon.

VERDICT – An okay experience. Dished out from the rough-and-ready stalls lining the passageway in the rather tired Allders mall, Chai Corner and Chilli Chutney’s food do an admirable job of bringing a different kind of Indian experience to town. It’s not particularly polished, but it ticks all the boxes for a decent and quick lunch.

 

Roti Masters

Copyright of Roti Masters. Sourced from Roti Masters website

Copyright of Roti Masters. Sourced from Roti Masters website

Cuisine: Caribbean

Address: 26a St George’s Walk, CR0 1YG

Tel.: 020 8760 0999

Website: http://rotimasters.com/

Pricing: Cheap

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Filling meal, Friendly conversation, Spice

We’re getting into some serious lunch territory here. I’d initially spotted this little bad boy of a café back in December, on our team away day and Christmas lunch outing, and made a mental note to myself to check it out. Further research revealed some very promising reviews; Roti Masters moved high up my hit list.

And who wouldn’t want to try a bit of Trinidadian roti wrap? For the uninitiated, these are a true fusion food from the Caribbean: Indian-inspired flatbreads (roti) filled with Indian-inspired curries using Caribbean meats, spices and ingredients… it’s a recipe for success, one that I hoped that Roti Masters would, well, have mastered (ha!).

The proof of their ability is clear in the number of times I’ve been back: the man with the plan behind the counter now recognises me and has met my colleagues and even my dad and my mum – he now asks how the parents are doing! This is certainly one friendship I am happy to cultivate.

The Curry Goat Roti is a delight – succulent and tender pieces of goat in a highly-spiced and rich sauce, packed into a light and fluffy roti along with a myriad of other delicious fillings inside the light and chewy roti skin. Although it looks small on the plate, first impressions can be deceptive; this bad boy will fill you up.

It may not be the prettiest thing to look at it, but just remember: it used to look like a goat

It may not be the prettiest thing to look at it, but just remember: it used to look like a goat

The saltfish version of the roti is also very tasty and savoury, but I do understand that saltfish can be divisive – however, this is not too salty, so it’s definitely worth a spin.

The least comfortable lunch I had there was when I rather stupidly ordered the Buss Up Shot (the roti skins by themselves – oh so very more-ish in their fluffy doughiness) alongside a Hot Double (roti filled with mushy and hot chana chickpeas) and some palori (chickpea fritters that are ever-so-slightly crunchy on the outside but all chewiness on the inside) – as you can imagine, I ate myself into a food coma, albeit a delicious one. Have those things on separate occasions, not at the same time, or you’ll be falling asleep at work, as I did. But was it worth it? Oh yes…

VERDICT – A good place. Friendly, delicious, wholesome and tasty, Roti Masters is a no-frills café with some banging food at affordable prices. Not sure there’s much more to say oth- oh wait: “Suck it Canary Wharf!! You may have Roka and Le Relais de Venise, but Croydon has Roti Masters! BOOM”

Currently listening to: Sonic Boom Six – For the Kids of the Multiculture

Categories: Caribbean, Indian, Malaysian | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What does the fox say? Not much – it’s too busy eating at Foxlow

Copyright of Foxlow. Sourced from Foxlow website

Copyright of Foxlow. Sourced from Foxlow website

Cuisine: European

Address: 69-73 St John Street, EC1M 4AN

Area: Smithfield

Nearest Station: Farringdon

Tel.: 020 7014 8070

Website: http://foxlow.co.uk/

Pricing: High

Good For: Carnivorous eating, Umami, Friendly conversation, Smart-casual dining, Filling meal, Quality ingredients

Want to know what sort of texts I like to get?

“Dude, I’ve got a booking for Foxlow next Wednesday for 4. You in??”

This one came from my brother. As the booking also came during Foxlow’s soft opening, it also included a complimentary drink. I therefore do not hesitate to say: I love you man, you mah BRO (more specifically, my ADOBRO – cheeky plug for our Filipino supper club right there!!).

A smart but casual diner feel, with *gasp* matching furniture! Cheers to BarChick's website for the photo

A smart but casual diner feel, with *gasp* matching furniture! Cheers to BarChick’s website for the photo

Billed as the more casual sister restaurant to Hawksmoor, that esteemed temple of steaks, Foxlow’s offering of charcoal-grilled and slow-cooked meats automatically appeals to the carnivore inside of us all – hence all the excitement that I’ve seen bandied around online.

However, judging from the menu we were presented with that night, I would say that Foxlow is more an ode to all things umami – there are various ingredients in use there, like beef dripping, anchovies, meat stock, Gubbeen cheese, capers, kimchi and others, that suggest that those guys just want to make sure you get your savoury fix, whether it come in meat, vegetable or fish form.

And let me tell you – we chowed down and got our savouriness on. Guided by our helpful and chatty waitress, who tried to ensure that our order included all of the big-hitters from the menu (e.g. “I would say the monkfish is pretty nice and a must, but since you’re after meat, I wouldn’t bother”), we managed to get ourselves a good spread.

Anchovies on goat's butter crisps. NOM

Anchovies on goat’s butter crisps. NOM

First to come along were the anchovy and goat’s butter crisps. This consisted of a very thin crisp wafer flavoured with goat’s butter, topped with freshly chopped shallots and a piece of anchovy. Our waitress stressed the quality of the anchovy, with the chefs aspiring to provide a healthy balance of salt and fresh fish flavours; once you pop one of these into your mouth, you can see what she means. It was packed so full of flavour and savouriness, you were left craving for more, in spite of how rich they were.

Brixham crab with devilled mayonnaise. Get some crabs!

Brixham crab with devilled mayonnaise. Get some crabs!

Then came our starters, which we dished out amongst the four of us: Crispy Five Pepper squid, Brixham crab with devilled mayonnaise, Baby back Iberico ribs and Smokehouse rillettes. The squid had a hint of smokiness to it, but otherwise I felt them to be rather unremarkable. Good – not greasy, not salty, suitably tasty – but unremarkable. As for the Brixham crab, it was served shredded on green leaves, which I felt made it a bit more difficult to appreciate it fully. Still, it was refreshing and beautifully flavoured, with the devilled mayonnaise adding interesting but not overpowering bite. The ribs, as expected, were very tender and full of barbecue flavour. The smokehouse rillettes, on the other hand, were not as smoky as suggested by the name, but were brilliant in texture and taste. The winning starter, I felt.

Baby back Iberico ribs. Not going to quote Fat Bastard for this one

Baby back Iberico ribs. Not going to quote Fat Bastard for this one

So far, so good. By this point, we’d finished our complimentary drinks (my Tom Ford – a twist on the Tom Collins with gin, Benedictine, lemon and soda – was well-received for its light and herbal touch) and I made a move for the wine, selecting a very smooth and medium-bodied rioja crianza from the decently-sized wine list.

I’d originally earmarked the Ten-hour beef shortrib with kimchi for myself, but seeing as two of the group were also going to order it, I made the adventurous choice and went with the charcoal-grilled Iberico pork ‘pluma’. As our waitress explained, pluma is a type of cut from the loin, and given where it comes from in the pig and the quality of the meat itself, it can be served medium. And oh man was it tasty. It was tender, had a brilliant charcoaled crust to it and just packed an absolute savoury punch, almost akin to a well-flavoured steak. I have never had a cut of pork loin that tasted like this, and the next time I find myself in Foxlow I will definitely order it again.

Iberico pork pluma, in all its glory as captured by my brilliant smartphone

Iberico pork pluma, in all its glory as captured by my brilliant smartphone

The other dishes, in comparison, fell by the wayside. It feels bad to denigrate the other meats on offer, but this is more a tribute to the surprising delights of the Iberico pork pluma than a comment on any form of substandard quality on the parts of the other dishes. The beef was amazingly tender and was also beautifully-flavoured, but after the pluma it tasted rather pedestrian – it was like “Yeah, I’ve had shortrib before, so what?” The Eight-hour bacon rib with maple chilli also suffered a similar fate: again, slow-cooking it for that long produced meat that you could cut like you had a hot knife going through butter, and the flavours of maple and chilli produced something rather special – but hey, bacon rib tastes of bacon and we all know what that is like, right?

Ten-hour beef shortrib with kimchi. One of these things does not belong...

Ten-hour beef shortrib with kimchi. One of these things does not belong…

Before I do any more disservice to the other mains, let’s talk about the sides that we shared. The Beef-dripping potatoes with Gubbeen and capers provided us with very crispy and more-ish potatoes that were a very good accompaniment to our meals; the Broccoli with chilli and anchovy were crisp very well-appreciated, although the chilli was almost undistinguishable beneath the savouriness of the anchovy; the Sausage-stuffed onion was a slightly-caramelised onion in a thick and tasty gravy filled with substantial and nicely seasoned sausage meat – a good combination, but as a side dish it seemed rather overbearing, with the sausage meat competing too much against the main courses.

That rather unappetising lump in the foreground is a sausage-stuffed onion, whilst those are potatoes behind. Not that you can tell

That rather unappetising lump in the foreground is a sausage-stuffed onion, whilst those are potatoes behind. Not that you can tell

So, you’d think that by now we’d be done, right? Think again. Dessert was dangled in front of us, and we just had to take a bite. My Peanutella & Sweet Toast was a crushing blow to any semblance of healthiness I retained: here we had a Nutella jar filled with layers of, er, Nutella, caramel, peanut butter and peanuts, served with lightly-fried sweetened toast batons and – in case you thought Foxlow forgot the savouriness – a sprinkling of sea salt. It was perhaps a bit overwhelming, but in some instances that’s okay. Such as when you are chowing down with your bros, homes.

The photo is so dark because the evilness of this Peanutella and Sweet Toast sucked the light into it

The photo is so dark because the evilness of this Peanutella and Sweet Toast sucked the light into it

And thus our meal was complete. It provided enough sustenance to last us for a leisurely walk down to St Paul’s, across the Millennium Bridge and all the way to London Bridge (one of us is still new to London *cough* tourist *cough*) – and you know what? I’d happily walk that distance again just for a bit more of that Iberico pork pluma. Mmmmmm.

VERDICT – A good place. The dishes we chose were all good and decent, but there were certain highlights that really wowed, like the Iberico pork pluma – and unfortunately that did rather unceremoniously shove the other meats into the shade. But we can overlook that, for Foxlow was a very friendly and cheery place for us, and that’s already a very big plus for the place. Oh, and did I say that I liked the Iberico pork pluma?

Currently listening to: Fun. – At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I Used to be)

Categories: European | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After-work Pubs: Part 1

More fun at More London

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Elephant-tastic

Elephant-tastic

Everyone enjoys a cheeky pint or a flirty glass of wine after work, no? You know how it is: you get a group of you from work, you head down to your usual post-work watering hole (“the meeting room downstairs”, as my current company calls it), and you all have a natter and a couple of drinks and then head on your merry ways – unless, of course, it’s a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday night, or any other night of the working week, and things escalate and get messy, and you end up partying hard. Andrew WK HARD.

Thing is, that pub or wine bar you always head to every time someone proposes a drink? Unless you happen to work somewhere really cool and trendy, you would probably never, ever frequent your local watering hole in any other circumstances, because either a) it’s crap b) it’s where your colleagues/directors hang out c) it’s always crowded or d) it’s bloody pricey. No matter how much you avoid it otherwise, inevitably, you always find yourself there, putting up with it until that time when it’s safe to resume your life elsewhere.

BUT: what if you had a choice? What if you were able to propose another location, just to “mix things up a bit”, to “bring something new to the table”, to find somewhere else just that bit less odious etc. etc.? Well, this new series of reviews is just for you. It does not profess to be comprehensive – it is purely based on where I’ve had the chance to go to for my after-work drinks during my potted career around London. It does not profess to offer magical places of alcoholic delight – some locations are just lacking  in good choices, but we just have to shut up and put up with what we have.

So, first off, we’re going to that God-forsaken No Man’s Land: south of the river (I jest, but only because I’m a south Londoner now). More specifically, I’m talking about that stretch between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, including the More London development.

Now, my office and team were pretty small, so I did not necessarily drink with my colleagues as such, but I still arranged to meet with friends and my girlfriend at the time at some of the local establishments for a refreshing, winding down/pumping up drink. Here are some of the places I used to hit up:

Horniman at Hays

Hays Galleria, SE1 2HD, 020 7407 1991, http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/thehornimanathayslondonbridge/

Dark woods, chandeliers and ales. Sourced from Horniman at Hays website

Dark woods, chandeliers and ales. Sourced from Horniman at Hays website

This Nicholson’s pub has quite a few great things going for it: riverside location with a sizeable terrace, a rather large and characterful interior, an excellent and ever-changing range of guest ales and, previously, not bad prices. It’s great for sipping a pint of ale by the river, watching the sun set over the City, and having a natter with friends. The food’s pretty decent too, if you’re looking for something British and hearty.

Unfortunately, all of these positives do mean that the place can get horrifically busy in the immediate post-work crush. As in, elbows-out-sorry-don’t-mind-me-as-I-slip-and-slide-my-way-across-your-chest/back-and-inadvertently-fondle-you-with-my-beverage busy. Service does tend to be brisk at the bar though, seeing as they’re mainly pouring pints or glasses of wine, meaning you never have to wait too long.

On the flipside, the crowd does mean that it can be quite a lively place, good enough for getting you buzzing again after a hard day at the office. This is especially true in summer, when the crowds can comfortably spill out to the riverside and enjoy the fresh air.

Typical riverside views from the Horniman at Hays

Typical riverside views from the Horniman at Hays

I do miss being able to go to this pub more frequently. I am just about due a free pint from their discontinued loyalty card scheme – maybe I should see if I can go claim it.

VERDICT – A good place. Decent pub in a great setting. Sort yourself out with a pint of one of their guest ales, grab a table outside and enjoy the view over the Thames. Just bear in mind that everyone else is probably thinking the same thing.

The Mudlark

Montague Close, SE1 9DA, 020 7403 7364, http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/themudlarklondonbridge/

Traditional beers on offer, as the ceiling goes. Ha! Sourced from Mudlark website

Traditional beers on offer, as the ceiling goes. Ha! Sourced from Mudlark website

A mudlark is someone who goes scavenging in river mud for any items of value – which, if you strike lucky, can be quite lucrative sometimes – but you certainly won’t find any in this pub, especially not of the traditional type. It’d be a bit smelly if you did get them coming in, so it’s no big loss.

What you get instead is another Nicholson’s pub with lots of character (imparted by heavy wooden beams and pillars supporting a white-washed brick ceiling) and a decent range of guest ales. Nicholson’s seem to do pretty well on guest ales and on ensuring their pubs look like they have lots of tradition and history behind them which, as far as pubs go, is quite a good thing. You expect a pub to have some history and character, otherwise what’s the point? Especially in an area as historic as Southwark, you want something that’s reflective of the surroundings.

But enough on that. What’s it like to drink at the Mudlark? I’ve always managed to find space to sit down, no matter how busy it got – either in the rather cosy interior or in the equally cosy courtyard outside. Cosy it may have been, but it’s not cheek-by-jowl cosy, so you can still have those intimate conversations. However, it can get a bit loud inside, but not deafeningly so, allowing for you to sit/stand around with colleagues in awkward silence not because you can’t hear them but because you don’t have anything in common with them.

So what I quite enjoyed doing with friends was coming here, having a pint and then following it up with a pie. The pies at the Mudlark are pretty decent and substantial for what they are, and will give you that wonderful warming feeling that is vital for survival in these cold winter months.

Pies, pies and more pies

Pies, pies and more pies

I still pop here if I am meeting with a friend in the London Bridge area – as it’s just around the corner from the station, it’s a perfect meeting spot before heading on home to New Cross.

VERDICT – A good place. Another characterful pub set in decent environs, with a good selection of ales and food that does satisfy. Despite its small size, there always seems to be enough space to squeeze a group in, which just adds to the busy and buzzing atmosphere. And as a stopping point before the rest of the evening, it’s perfect – down your pint, and away you go through London Bridge station.

 

The Shipwrights Arms

88 Tooley Street, SE1 2TF, 020 7378 1486, http://www.shipwrightsarms.co.uk/

Just so you know what it looks like from the outside. Sourced from The Shipwrights Arms website

Just so you know what it looks like from the outside. Sourced from The Shipwrights Arms website

Now this is a pub I did not frequent as often as the Horniman or the Mudlark, even though it was closer to the office.

According to their website, the pub was built in 1884 and still maintains its original tiled murals (ahh see, there we go – the history). Another feature which they’re quite proud of, and which does distinguish it from other bars and pubs in the area, is the high-ceilinged, cavernous space inside, within which the island bar in the middle seems rather dwarfed. It makes it feel rather roomier than it actually is – the place does get busy, presumably from the More London crowd situated just across the road.

The only times I’ve been have been during summer, so standing outside on the pavement in the sunshine has been pretty alright and certainly much more preferable to staying indoors.

So what is it about the Shipwrights Arms that meant I did not go there that frequently? There was no real particular reason, but perhaps there was a first impression that was formed in a very superficial fashion: the clientele there seems to be very male-dominated. Speaking as someone who has worked in the City and now Canary Wharf, to criticise a place for being male-dominated now sounds a bit rich of me… but I guess I like places that seem to offer a wide appeal, not that there’s anything particularly about The Shipwrights Arms itself that necessarily disadvantages itself in that manner any more than the other places. And certainly, the crowd doesn’t seem intimidating whatsoever. It’s just a, you know, standard pub.

Ah well. If you do find yourself at The Shipwrights Arms, you’re not doing too badly. There are far, far worse places to find yourself for a cheeky pint after work.

VERDICT – An okay experience. It’s a standard pub that has some distinctive features. It never struck me as being the most attractive and appealing place to go to, but that hasn’t stopped me from popping in there every now and then. And that’s probably what it’s good for – an occasional change from the usual watering hole. Certainly doesn’t do any harm.

Currently listening to: Andrew WK – Party Hard

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A View to Kill For: A Chinese Soirée at Hutong

Copyright of Hutong. Sourced from Hutong website

Copyright of Hutong. Sourced from Hutong website

Cuisine: Chinese

Address: Level 33, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY

Area: London Bridge

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Tel.: 020 7478 0540

Website: http://www.aquahutong.co.uk/

Pricing: High

Good For: Views to die for, Atmospheric soirée, Feasting with friends, Place for romance, Smart-casual dining, Efficient service

I can’t quite remember the circumstances under which it happened, but at some point during my birthday drinks I was assigned the task of booking a table at Hutong for my group of friends. We were all given such tasks during a fit of merry proactivity; it was universally decided that Hutong would come first. Hardly fair for the birthday boy, I thought, considering I had just organised a killer night at Little Nan’s Bar (still riding that train).

Since this evening was my baby as well as the first event of what I guess we can now call our Dinner Club, I was a bit nervous as to whether Hutong could deliver the quality experience we were hoping for – after all, some of the reviews I’d read decried the prices charged for mediocre food, along with the ridiculous waiting time to make a reservation (I found that around about 5pm seemed to be the best time to call their reservation hotline). Additionally, if any of the other twelve Dinner Club members flaked out at the last minute, it would have left me being charged £20 per head for their absence, and I’m not sure I really am that generous.

Naturally, such mishaps would have left me feeling just a bit embarrassed, something my friends probably would have constantly reminded me of, because they’re nice like that.

I needn’t have worried. From the moment we arrived, just in time for sunset, we had a great evening. Firstly, you are most definitely paying for the setting: there are some outstanding views across the City, made more exciting by the new generation of skyscrapers rising up in the Bishopsgate/Gracechurch areas. Being up on the 33rd floor certainly offers a different perspective on how London looks – and having our own private room in the northwest corner certainly helped.

Sunset over London

Sunset over London

Staring down my nose at those in the City. Ha!

Staring down my nose at those in the City. Ha!

This enjoyment was further enhanced by the staff, who were very unobtrusive in letting us chat and mingle as we admired the views and waited for everyone to arrive – quite a nice and delicate touch.

Blazing orange over London

Blazing orange over London

Once we were all settled, it was decided that as the token ‘Chinese’ person in the group, my friend (check out her blog here, it’s rather lovely) would do the ordering for us. She was suitably helped by our waiter, who advised fairly accurately how much we would need to feed a whole table of 13 – we hit the mark of satisfied-but-not-stuffed pretty well.

And so the cavalcade of food began, each dish arriving in very quick succession, ensuring that our table – and our stomachs – was never empty.

We had quite a range of dishes – the benefits of being a large group and able to order huge amounts – that included pork dumplings (a suitable start to the night), Chinkiang pork ribs (succulent and extremely tasty), crispy de-boned lamb ribs (could not get enough of this) and Sichuan chilli chicken (these were an astonishing savoury delight), amongst many others.

Duck sliced at the table, as it should be

Duck sliced at the table, as it should be

One highlight of the evening was of course Peking duck. Carved at the table, as it should be, the duck that gave its life for us tonight blessed us with superbly crispy skin and such delicious and soft fat – the least you’d expect for £58 a duck. The second serving of the duck, once we were done with the skin, was stir-fried mince with onions and spices, a wonderful thing to mix in with plain rice. We all hankered after the duck, but alas one duck just about squeezes out enough meat for 13 people. Would it have been extravagant for us to order one more? Maybe. But it would have been tasteful extravagance, I think.

Spotlight on the night's champion

Spotlight on the night’s champion

Another highlight was the signature Red Lantern – a basket full of Sichuan dried chillis, Sichuan peppercorns, and crispy-fried soft shell crab. Aesthetically, it is very eye-catching, all reds and golds mixed together very auspiciously. Gastronomically, the crab was all perfect crunchiness and flavour, and the mix of the numbing peppercorns with the fieriness of the chillis was just about right. Again, it was a tight squeeze for nearly all of us (nearly – one of us has an unfortunately fatal relationship with shellfish) to get some crab.

Auspicious golds and red

Auspicious golds and red

Well-satisfied with what we ordered, we were rather pleased that there was space for dessert: crispy red bean cake (earthy sweetness in lightly crunchy pastry sheets), sticky sesame balls (gooey and not too sweet) and the cutest sweet thing I have seen yet this year: hedgehog-inspired steamed custard buns.

Edible pygmy hedgehogs - living the dream!!

Edible pygmy hedgehogs – living the dream!!

We’d been talking earlier about having pygmy hedgehogs frolicking in my garden (a serious and mature conversation, I assure you), so to have a tray of custard buns arrayed before us, with hedgehog spikiness and little black eyes was good fun. I’m still unsure as to whether it’s pure coincidence or whether they overheard our conversation (if so, for their reaction to involve hedgehog desserts as opposed to slowly walking away is a credit to them), but it filled us with endless delight. It also gave us the opportunity to play with our food. Eeeee!

Hungry hungry hedgehog

Hungry hungry hedgehog

All in all, it was a very pleasant and leisurely evening: a perfect setting, unobtrusive but helpful service and well-presented and flavourful food – the inaugural night of our Dinner Club had been quite the enjoyable success.

St Paul's in light and shadow

St Paul’s in light and shadow

And the best part? Our wallets were spared a massive hit. Sure, you could get just as filling and delightful a meal elsewhere for cheaper, but you wouldn’t have the service, view or the setting. At about £39 per head (sans alcohol, mind), we were able to enjoy all that as well as treat ourselves to a veritable feast, with space to order more if we wanted without seeming extravagant (still could have done with another Peking duck though). It certainly pays to have lots of friends to share food and bills with – as they say, a burden shared is a burden halved.

VERDICT – A good place. Overall, a memorable and enjoyable experience. You could go for the setting alone and be satisfied, but thankfully the food and service were also up to scratch. I’ve always readily enjoyed Chinese food as a banquet for many, and I would heartily recommend that you go to Hutong for the same. Though I’m sure as a romantic setting for your significant other, it would also be very impressive, you big spender you…

Currently listening to: Our Lady Peace – All My Friends

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