Posts Tagged With: Highly Recommended

Getting some TLC from your granny: Little Nan’s Bar loves you

Copyright of Little Nan's Bar. Sourced from Little' Nan's Bar website

Copyright of Little Nan’s Bar. Sourced from Little’ Nan’s Bar website

Cuisine: Cocktail bar

Address: 46 Deptford Broadway, SE8 4PH

Area: Deptford

Nearest Station: Deptford Bridge / Deptford

Tel.: 07792 205 375

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

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Good cocktails, Friendly conversation, Chilled evening, Eccentric night, Nostalgia, Party times

If you were planning a birthday party, what would you do? Bear in mind that the previous year, you’d thrown a pretty banging house party with a whole roast lechon as its centrepiece (naturally, that part was amazing; I’ll just give myself a pat on the back), and you were thinking that you wanted something a little bit different.

Stanley the lechon pig made a special guest appearance at my birthday, 2012. Life hasn't been the same since

Stanley the lechon pig made a special guest appearance at my birthday, 2012. Life hasn’t been the same since

If you live in Southeast London, more specifically the golden, er, diamond that is New CrossBrockley-Lewisham-GreenwichDeptford (okay it may not be a diamond), you should check out Little Nan’s Bar on Deptford Broadway.

Many are the times I’ve walked past a non-descript door with an old balloon-bedecked chair standing watch outside, wandering what pleasures/terrors lurked down that dark corridor to Little Nan’s Bar. It was just begging me to find out.

"You want us to go in there...? Are you sure...?"

“You want us to go in there…? Are you sure…?”

A dark, foreboding room that says "Open". What could possibly go wrong?

A dark, foreboding room that says “Open”. What could possibly go wrong?

And so I did.

The concept, from what I saw, experienced, and gleaned (and liberally interpreted) from top grandson Tristan, is that Little Nan’s Bar can sort of be summarised as the result of an alcoholic grandmother deciding that she wanted to open up a speakeasy in her twee living room. Really.

A little glimpe of the bar in Little Nan's living room

A little glimpe of the bar in Little Nan’s living room

You have rickety coffee tables covered in porcelain tat and old magazines, battered arm chairs and musty sofas, vintage pieces and art hanging from the walls, and giant teddy bears propped up and looking for some hugs; cover up the exposed brickwork with some heavily-patterned wallpaper and maybe freshen the air and smell a bit, and you could be back in my gran’s front room in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tristan had a good rustle through Abstracticus next door, in the Deptford flea market or in Aladdin’s Cave on Lewisham Way (big up Southeast London yo) to get all these items – they all add up to make quite the atmosphere.

THUG LIFE

THUG LIFE – photo courtesy of a friend!

To top it all off, cocktails are served in mugs, porcelain cups and even teapots – yes, teapots. And with names like Queen Victoria, The Queen Mum and even Princess Eugenie of York (“I’ll have a little bit of Princess Eugenie, ooh err”), Little Nan’s Bar has one foot firmly planted in old-fashioned monarchist granny territory.

High Tea, anyone?

High Tea, anyone? – photo courtesy of a friend!

That’s not to say that Little Nan is not open to new things and experimentation (oooh errr): as I made a booking for my birthday, I was offered to have a cocktail made in my honour. My exact instructions were, “I’m a fan of gin-based or rum-based cocktails – something a bit zingy and fresh and crisp but not overly-sweet (think Tom Collins or Dark and Stormy)”, and the resulting concoction was the Lord Mark. Dark rum laced with ginger beer, and topped off with fresh lime wedges, fresh mints and a hefty handful of blueberries; that sounds pretty spot-on, no? Chilled with ice and served in a teapot, it made for a very welcome birthday drink.

Cocktails in a teapot. Something for all the family (granny included)

Cocktails in a teapot. Something for all the family (granny included)

Indeed, all of the cocktails I was able to sample were lovely – though as I was exercising my birthday rights by stealing/accepting offers of drinks from different, unlabelled (as far as I could see… perhaps some tags would be a good thing to use in future?) teapots, I am unable to offer any good opinion on specific Little Nan creations. I do wish I was able to try the signature cocktail of the bar, the appropriately-named Little Nan Loves You, but alas it was not available that night.

It was a very fun evening overall, with me and my friends making a raucous racket of ourselves (we were not the ones who knocked over the cabinet, I hasten to add!) as we soaked up the eccentric atmosphere. They’ve done a thorough job in creating a unique and fun space and in coming up with a drink offering that is both cheap and cheerful and good quality too – and as Little’s Nan grandchildren are on hand all the time, it’s very easy to build those relationships and connections that make you feel a part of something special that you won’t find elsewhere.

Fun and games to be had at Little Nan's

Fun and games to be had at Little Nan’s

Places like Little Nan’s Bar are why I’ve come to quite like living in New Cross and Southeast London in general – we’ve got cafés with well-made food, pubs with character and good taste in beer, cheap and cheerful Vietnamese without the crush, apparently one of the best Turkish restaurants in London (and other really decent offerings too), food and produce markets that still feel like your local neighbourhood affair, Filipino supper clubs offering something tastily different (did I just big up mine and my brother’s venture? I think I just did!) and now bars that offer up something fun in an eccentrically inventive manner. AND there’s enough exposed brickwork for all who want it.

Who needs East London, eh? It’s all about SE postcodes, babeh!

VERDICT – Highly recommended. I had a spiffing good time for my birthday, and I’m sure others would too. It would certainly add a touch of something unique and different to any proceedings taking place there. With a creative mix of cocktails and a rather fun vibe to it, all packed into a very ‘cosy’ environment, it’s definitely a place to party on with friends. Stay a while for the drinks and the atmosphere, and then come back again because, quite simply, it was fun.

Currently listening to: Open Hand – Tough Girl

Categories: Cocktail Bar | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A brush with tiger’s milk: Having ceviche at, er, Ceviche

Copyright of Ceviche. Sourced from Ceviche website

Copyright of Ceviche. Sourced from Ceviche website

Cuisine: Peruvian

Address: 17 Frith Street, W1D 4RG

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Leicester Square/Tottenham Court Road

Tel.: 020 7292 2040

Website: http://cevicheuk.com/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Sharing many dishes, Introduction to new foods, Efficient service, Good cocktails, Zing, Buzzing atmosphere

Wow. I’d never tried octopus that good before. Seriously. The texture, the taste, the marinade… I would decimate the world’s population of octopus if I could guarantee that they would end up as this dish.

Let’s rewind a few hours. I was feeling rather sluggish after helping get a birthday girl absolutely hammered the night before (she’d boldly claimed that she was “remarkably sober” after dinner. Was that the reddest flag you’ve ever seen?), and was in need of a hearty meal, for I can assure you that thin, cold pizza, no matter how tasty, does not quite cut it.

I was therefore a bit concerned that my suggestion of Ceviche for dinner that night with a friend was a bit ill-thought through – they specialise in small Peruvian dishes, which to my mind did not quite scream, “I am a meal that will kick your hangover’s arse”.

I need not have worried though. Through a skilful and deft selection process (me and my friend are naturals at this, obviously), we managed to secure for ourselves some pretty amazing dishes.

And what was very surprising was the speed at which these things arrived at our bar-side perches. The place was full and they were only able to give us stools at the bar – not too cramped, not too uncomfortable, but all just a bit high to be good for normal-sized *cough* people like my good self – but that did not seem to get in the way of swift service: I hadn’t even had time to decide what my back-up cocktail would be (my original non-alcoholic choice not being available) when BOOM, the first dishes arrived.

To start with, we had the Don Ceviche (fresh sea bass ceviche in Amarillo chilli tiger’s milk, limo chilli, sweet potato and red onions) to enliven our taste buds and whet our appetites. For those not in the know, ceviche is essentially good cuts of raw fish, usually sea bass, marinated in a flavoured and spiced citrus mix that is often known as tiger’s milk. A very tantalising dish, of which we hoped the Don Ceviche would be an apt introduction.

The sea bass was chunky and soft, with a great texture in each bite. The marinade was zingy and crisp, with the chilli working together with the citrus/vinegar to really sting your mouth (note to self: do not have acidic dishes when you have a mouth ulcer… ouch). It was flavourful and rather more-ish.

The Lomo Saltado (beef fillet, sliced, flame cooked with red onions, tomatoes and proper chips) was ordered under stern instructions from my brother, Mr Beef Man himself, and it did not disappoint. The strips of beef were rare and tender (a bit too rare for my friend), and had a delicious umami feel about them, encased in a slightly smoky grill flavour. The oily marinade was good for dipping the chips into, but maybe if it had been made a bit saucier, we would have something more substantial to work with.

Don Ceviche and his companions, Pulpo y Chorizo

Don Ceviche and his companions, Pulpo y Chorizo

But the stand-out dish, as you’ve probably guessed (if you were paying attention earlier on), was the pulpo y chorizo (marinated and braised octopus and chorizo skewer, with a samphire and black quinoa salad). I will admit that the chorizo was the main draw for us, but woah – that octopus made a name for itself. ‘Succulent’ is definitely the word that springs to mind: juicy and tender with real substance to it, it was the texture of the octopus that really won me over. And it was a perfect match with the chorizo and the samphire salad (and I guess the quinoa too…? Slightly superfluous though). We both enjoyed this so much that we had a second portion sent over straight from the kitchen to satisfy our salivating appetites.

As a bit of an after-thought, we thought that the second order of pulpo y chorizo would benefit from being accompanied by some chicken saltado tequeños (wanton [sic] fritters filled with cheese, chard and Botija olives), primarily because we were intrigued to find out what wanton food was like. It was rather restrained; tasty and chunky filling, crispy and thin skin… a good fried dumpling, but disappointingly not excessive or gratuitous or even faintly promiscuous.

This was all a good spread for two people (if perhaps a bit pricier than expected… curse our hungry stomachs and their desire for a second wave of food), and most certainly met the criteria of being a hearty, fulfilling meal. Furthermore, although I was a bit wary of hair of the dog, my El Beso cocktail (lemongrass infused pisco, fresh lemongrass, lime, ginger and guanabana juice) was an excellent pick-me-up, keeping with the zingy feel of the evening – a kiss, if you will, to rekindle the life in my hangover-ridden body (eerruugh cheeeesy).

As the service was quick and efficient, and the food was swiftly delivered to our perches, we were in, fed and out all in just over an hour – and that only because we decided to skip dessert and go to Haagen Dazs in Leicester Square in order to develop diabetes.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. It has a fun and fresh atmosphere, which when teamed up with quick service and some killer dishes makes this a properly good dinner outing. Ceviche did a good job in introducing me and my friend to Peruvian food, and did so in an unashamed and bold manner which fits in with the rather vibrant and lively feel they’ve got going there. But less talk, more pulpo y chorizo, mmkay?

Currently listening to: Chthonic – Kaoru

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

It’s time to get to know your neighbours: getting local at the Royal Albert

Cuisine: British

Address: 460 New Cross Road, SE14 6TJ

Area: New Cross

Nearest Station: New Cross

Tel.: 020 8692 3737

Website: http://www.royalalbertpub.com/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Friendly conversation, Beer selection, Fresh ingredients, Loitering over drinks

It was Star Wars Day recently, if you were unaware – “May the Fourth be with you” and all that – and for some people it was quite a big deal.

My brother told me that he found this awesome pub in our neighbourhood, and that they had been hosting a Star Wars party to celebrate the day.

“How come we’ve never been to The Royal Albert before??”

“Well, truth be told, I have been there a couple of times, and have told you about it before…”

“Oh, really?”

It’s funny how information, no matter how many times shared, is often passed over and only becomes important to you when it becomes relevant. I’ve been exploring around New Cross and Deptford a fair bit, but when I tell my friends and my brother about the places I’ve been to, I can see it doesn’t really register – they don’t have a particular need to come to New Cross and go to these places because, well, they probably have their own favourite locals and when they do come to New Cross they usually just hang out at ours.

The mean streets of New Cross, as seen from the Royal Albert's terrace out front

The mean streets of New Cross/Deptford, as seen from the Royal Albert’s terrace out front

But we had some friends over that day for a chilled (and chilly) barbecue; as the evening wore on we decided to mix things up a bit by heading on over to The Royal Albert for a nightcap (and a listen to their folk music evening).

It’s a very atmospheric pub with many what seem to be original Victorian fittings around, giving the place an eclectic and busy character. The mood lighting was just a bit dim, but we were still able to navigate our way safely through the comfy chairs to a table in the corner which had its own jungle surrounding it. By the looks of it, this was also the setting for Yoda’s Love Den the night of the Star Wars party; who knows what happened here then…

"Come into my den you will, mmmm"

“Come into my den you will, mmmm”

The folk music and other ambient sounds were not too loud, allowing for some good ol’ chattage to take place.

Anyway, the selection of beer that they have is pretty extensive and constantly rotating – it was a completely different line up to what I had had previously with other friends. So, this is definitely a place for ale experimentation, something of which I am a big fan of. Unfortunately, it being somewhat late in the evening, my memory of which pints I had is somewhat hazy…

I did get a chance to go again the very next day with my brother and some others, for our very first Royal Albert Monday night pub quiz. As far as quizzes go, it was a rather ‘eccentric’ one – with a paper airplane round, a drawing round, a first-up-with-the-answer round – and quite fun. The questions were a good mix of straightforward and challenging; it was just a shame that there was another team that was smashing those questions (grrr).

But now to food. In the run-up to the quiz, I was feeling just a bit peckish and so elected for something off their starters menu. The dish lucky enough to be chosen by my good self was a potato salad with spring lamb belly and mango salsa – something seasonal and something a bit different, no? And as luck would have it, I chose very well that day, for not only was it a very sizeable meal but it was also an extremely well-thought out and creative dish.

Spring lamb belly - spring is in the air!

Spring lamb belly – spring is in the air!

Crisp potato pieces paired up with tender and meltingly-soft lamb belly pieces were flavoured with a none-too-sweet mango sauce, which worked surprisingly well together; here was a good balance of flavours and textures that spoke well of the kitchen’s skill here. To further validate this opinion, our friend asked for her tuna steak to be just simply seared – and it was done as requested, leaving the steak pink on the inside.

Unsurprisingly, The Royal Albert is now my brother’s favourite pub in the area. I’m glad he’s finally come on board to the idea.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. The Royal Albert is a great local pub, but it also transcends that and could even be regarded as a destination pub in its own right. With real charm, great food and a dazzling selection of beers on offer, it really should get a bit more attention. It shouldn’t just have to wait for someone to walk by it in order for it to be noticed. Will you be heading to New Cross any time soon?

Currently listening to: Our Lady Peace – Middle of Yesterday

Categories: British, Pub | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Find the Jade Door: Chilling out in Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour

Copyright of Opium. Sourced from Opium website

Copyright of Opium. Sourced from Opium website

Cuisine: Cocktail bar

Address: 15-16 Gerrard Street

Area: Chinatown

Nearest Station: Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus

Tel.: 020 7734 7276

Website: http://opiumchinatown.com/

Pricing: High

Good For: Showpiece cocktails, Good cocktails, Friendly conversation, Place for romance, Chic night

“Am having a drink in an opium den”. Not the sort of thing that my mum was expecting when she texted me, asking me to call her regarding Easter Sunday plans the next day… but, well, it was the truth. Sort of.

My friend and I were feeling on a bit of a roll after having dined out in Flat Iron: the night was still young, there was still a lot to catch up on, we weren’t drunk yet… we needed a suitable venue in which to continue the evening’s pleasantries.

And so, upon her recommendation, we decided to check out Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour. It’s located up some stairs behind a plain jade door on Gerrard Street, right in the middle of Chinatown, so I’m sure the various tourists milling around were somewhat bemused to see us meet-and-greeted by the imposing bouncer, and then let into a secret and exclusive world of Chinoiserie and Orientalism.

As befitting a den of iniquity (the dim sum’s influence, obviously), the lighting was dim and moody, but the décor was cleanly presented and well-executed, giving a real ambience of fun Eastern ‘exotica’.

Sourced from Opium website. I felt too shy to take photos when I was there *blushes*

Sourced from Opium website. I felt too shy to take photos when I was there *blushes*

We had some seats by the bar in the Apothecary, facing the mystery bottles lined up along the back, distinguished by the Chinese numbers adorning them. Sitting at the bar afforded us great views of the show that the mixologists were putting on. So, what did we have to drink?

She had the Year of the Snakebite & Blackcurrant, which was rather sweet, masking the potency of the alcohol. With the lemon sorbet whisked in, there was a lovely smoothness to it. Alongside that, I had the Flying Firecracker, a refreshing and slightly tart concoction that came with complimentary gunpowder balls. “What do we do with these?” I asked, wondering whether we really were allowed to throw them around with reckless abandon. The barman proceeded to show us that, yes, we could just lob these around – his fellow barstaff, the waitresses, even some other customers, were victims to the little pop these balls made. Now if only it were a free flow service…

A witch's cauldron of cocktail goodness. Sourced from www.whattickles.com

A witch’s cauldron of cocktail goodness. No way my camera phone will take as good a photo as this. Sourced from whattickles.com

Later on, after having watched several being made and being extremely intrigued, I succumbed to the pressure and had the Opium Cocktail No. 2 as, well, my number two cocktail. This came in a little, smoking cauldron and was accompanied by a tiny bottle of ginseng which would act as a chaser. It was a fascinating sight to see it placed before me, and my friend and I ooh-ed and ahh-ed as we explored every aspect of it. Alas, they did not have guava jam at the time, but I was assured that the next time I came here, I could use it to offset the bitterness of the ginseng chaser.

Overall, it was good evening of convivial conversation and fun drinks in a rather relaxed and cool setting. We even got to try the crab and samphire dumplings (very tasty, slightly unusual because of the samphire, but you can get cheaper and just as good elsewhere), just so that we could say that we came to Opium and did BOTH cocktails and dim sum.

Cocktails and dim sum… it is a winning combination.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. As I was discussing with someone else recently, it is a bit hard to find a relaxed yet cool place where you can go for really good and interesting cocktails and not be drowned out by the loud music or other groups. The staff here were all really chatty and quite clearly enjoyed what they were doing. When you’ve got all those ingredients thrown into the mix, how can you not enjoy yourself?

Currently listening to: Coheed and Cambria – Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher

Categories: Chinese, Cocktail Bar | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parklife, Bermondsey-style: Caphe House

Copyright of Caphe House. Sourced from Caphe House website

Copyright of Caphe House. Sourced from Caphe House website

Cuisine: Vietnamese

Address: 114 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TX

Area: Bermondsey Street

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Tel. No.: 020 7403 3574

Website: http://www.caphehouse.com/

Pricing: Cheap

Good For: Lunchtime fix, Cheap and cheerful, Perfect for a summer’s days, Casual dining, Friendly conversation, Takeaway

I love to fill my lunch hour with exploratory walks, which is one of the perks of working in such a diverse city such as London. Whilst working at City Hall, on a whim, I decided to stroll down Bermondsey Street, completely unaware of what I would find down there. It was a warm summer’s day, and I desired to go sit in the park some way down the street. But what to do whilst there? Oh, what’s this? A Vietnamese café conveniently situated right across the road from it?? Happy days!

It’d been some time since I’d had Vietnamese, so I hastily barged my way in and scanned the menu hungrily: banh mi!

By now, I’m sure you must be very aware that banh mi are one of the supposed ‘trend’ foods of recent years (I say this because of the number of new places that have opened up, and the fact that I saw EAT, EAT of all places, selling their own version of banh mi…). But for the uninitiated, banh mi are essentially Vietnamese-style baguette sandwiches, a wonderful culinary marriage of French baguette and Vietnamese ingredients that originated from France’s colonial rule in Indochina.

I dare not offer myself as an expert on banh mi, but I would say that Caphe House has given me some of the best banh mi that I have had in London: excellent portions of crusty bread filled with generous amounts of fillings, with a pork pâté that is a bit stronger than the other banh mi establishments, which adds to the pleasing complexity of the sandwich. I may perhaps be romanticising them and tingeing them with the fond nostalgia that surrounds my City Hall days (and perhaps linking my memories with the rather cute girl who worked there…), but hey that’s still a valid part of the dining experience, isn’t it?

I’ve also had their rice dishes, on those days when I’ve been feeling rather peckish. These are assembled from a whopping great big rice cooker and a salad bar. You do wonder about the freshness of the salad ingredients that top the rice, but when the grilled pork is as wonderfully smokey as Caphe House’s, you don’t complain! I would say that for a lunchtime offering, the rice dishes are a bit overwhelming in terms of size, but at the same time you are probably getting good value for money.

But one should not worry about the risk of a food coma session wrecking an afternoon of work! I always finished my lunches off with a cup of strong Viet caphe. Coming as it does in a sizeable cup, you are certain that you are getting a full wallop of caffeine. And just imagine all that condensed milk lurking in there as well – enough to give anyone diabetes, no doubt.

It’s been some time since I’ve been there for lunch; many other Viet banh mi places have courted my favour, and many of them I would highly recommend too – but for some reason, I am always drawn back by my memories to Caphe House…

VERDICT – Highly recommended. A firm favourite of mine on Bermondsey Street, I got to know them and they got to know me. I still maintain that it dishes up some of the best banh mi I’ve had so far in London. I only wish that I still worked in the area… I hope that they don’t miss me too much.

Currently listening to: Axewound – Cold

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