Sunday, 19 October 2014

Typing Room at the Town Hall Hotel

Although it's only just up the road from me, I never made it to Viajante which was Nuno Mendes' restaurant located in the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green before he quit in February for Chiltern Firehouse. The space was opened up earlier this year as Typing Room with backing from Jason Atherton and with Lee Westcott as Executive Chef.

The restaurant itself is located in and derives its name from the old Town Hall's typing room. Even with its deep grey green walls, the place feels light and airy and there's a beautiful unfussy simplicity to the venue. After arriving and being relieved of our coats we were shown to our table and offered an aperitif menu. The kitchen is open and from where I was sat I could watch the chefs at work.

In addition to five course and seven course tasting menus (with optional wine pairings), they offer a lunch menu with two choices for each course. As it was only lunch time (had it been dinner, we might have chosen differently), we chose to order from the lunch menu. One thing I was particularly impressed with though was that they have vegetarian and pescetarian tasting menus available on request and so my boyfriend was quickly presented with a pescetarian menu. I know most places will substitute dishes on request but it was nice that those things had been thought of in advance.

Rather than have starters we chose two 'snacks' from a choice of three (I was slightly tempted to order all three but didn't in the end). These tiny little morsels came presented on a fairly large sharing board and when they arrived I did feel like I should have ordered all three to balance the board out a bit. The first were crispy fish skin, smoked cod, oyster and dill. Unbelievably pretty little things, the fish skin was like a thin rice cracker on which blobs of puree sat. This was fishy but well balanced and not overpowering, the textures worked well together.

Normally if I'm having profiteroles they are not especially high class affairs and generally come smothered in chocolate sauce but these savoury courgette and basil profiteroles with black olive savoury versions made for an interesting alternative.

Next up was a bit of a surprise in the form of  sourdough bread served with whipped Marmite butter and barley. Now I think my boyfriend and I, despite never having tried Marmite, had put ourselves firmly in the 'hate it' camp. However, we gamely tried it and either the Marmite butter has only the slightest hint of Marmite or we do actually like it. I suspect it's the former but either way, served with wonderfully warm sourdough bread this was delicious and we fought over who got the lion's share.

My boyfriend's main was the roast salt cod, octopus and ratatouille. He was particularly sceptical about the octopus when he read about it on the menu, apparently he was once in Spain or somewhere and somehow ended up with a dish which involved some sort of octopus and said it tasted exactly as you'd imagine it would - a bit like chewing a rubber band, a rubber band with suction cups. This octopus though was a beautiful soft cross-section and my boyfriend loved it. Curled ribbons of courgette lay next to a sort of ratatouille millefeuille. I was allowed a tiny bite of everything and it was light and delicious.

My choice of main was the lamb breast with squash and ginger. Lamb wouldn't usually be my first choice of meat but it just might be if done like this. Although I didn't get a hit of the ginger from the dish, the components came together in a wonderfully rich dish.

We'd opted for different desserts, my boyfriend's choice was the honey, yoghurt and cep. I'm not even sure that I can describe this. For a dessert it was earthy and fresh and natural. Very unusual.

For dessert I ordered the cheese selection which came with homemade chutney and a selection of bread and some crisp breads. Before bringing the cheese board, the waiter asked whether there was anything in particular that I wanted or whether I just wanted a selection. I told him that I liked blue cheese but that otherwise I was just happy with a selection. I can't remember now what each of them were but it was a great selection and reluctant as I was to share, we both tucked into this and loved the homemade chutney.

Following our meal we headed across the corridor to enjoy a post-dinner drink at Peg and Patriot (more on which here).

A two course lunch at the Typing Room comes to £24 and a three course lunch, £29. Tasting menus start from £60. You can make a reservation here. I'd thoroughly recommend you do!

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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

London Cocktail Week 2014

London Cocktail Week 2014 returned for a fifth year and ran from 6 - 12 October 2014 and over the course of the week, 200 partnering bars across the city created one special cocktail each to offer to wristband wearers for only £4. There were also masterclasses and special events running across the city.

Well, you don't have to convince to me to drink cocktails (especially cheap ones). So, we purchased wristbands (£10 if bought early and £15 normally) and examined the guidebook to pick out the bars we wanted to visit over the course of the week.

It was a great opportunity to discover some of the bars that have been on my radar for a while but hadn't yet had the chance to visit and also to revisit an old favourite. So here's my round up of the places we visited over the course of the week.

The Alchemist

Opened only this summer, London Cocktail Week was the perfect opportunity to visit The Alchemist for the first time. Located on Bevis Marks, it's the perfect venue for after work drinks for city workers. Based around a central bar area (there's a restaurant area in the back of the venue), the bar is full of big Chesterfields and also lots of standing space, which was less important on the Tuesday night we visited but would have been great on a busier night (although they could have done with a few more spaces to set drinks down on).

The cocktail on offer at the Alchemist was the Loire Lady which was Chambord blended with grapefruit vodka, dry and sweet vermouths and citrus bitters.

They were all heated over little bunsen burners before being poured into conical flasks and over dry ice which had a phenomenal effect and which made me wish that school science had been as fun.

When some of the wonderful dry ice fog (which had a great sweet aroma) subsided, we were ready to pour it into your glass and over cubed ice where it continued to mist in a slightly spooky way. It would be the perfect Halloween cocktail.

A complete showstopper of a cocktail and definitely the kind of drink that would impress!

Discount Suit Company

An old favourite which I wrote about here, Discount Suit Company is a wonderful subterranean bar hidden in the midst of streets which, whilst bustling with market stalls by day, are quiet and abandoned by night. It's also on my way home from work (how lucky am I?).

The London Cocktail Week cocktail at Discount Suit Company was the Pan-American Clipper (Calvados, fresh lime juice, fresh grenadine with an Absinthe rinse), a classic dating back from at least 1939. My boyfriend declared this the best cocktail he'd ever had. To be fair, I knew even before we tasted it that he'd like it as it contained his sort of ingredients. Personally I prefer a sweeter, fruitier cocktail and so whilst he had a second, I chose a Have a Heart which was gin, Swedish punsch, grenadine and lime, much more to my taste (although very similar in appearance).

Discount Suit Company is the sort of place you descend into on a cold and wet winter afternoon before spending the afternoon getting comfy and steadily warm and tipsy.


I first heard about Cecil's through the Nudge (seriously, if you're in London and not signed up for the Nudge, do it now!) and have been looking for a reason or occasion to visit ever since. When their website describes them as being tucked away in the back alleys of London Bridge, they mean it. As I dragged my boyfriend down a dark and rather empty back street he looked slightly apprehensive about where we were going and to be honest, there was a moment when I doubted where we were going myself, it was only the sight of two people lurking at a door that gave my confidence and we were reassured to discover that we had found Cecil's. We were led down candle-lit stairs by someone professing to be Cecil and headed to the bar to order the Vintage Breakfast Cocktail (Grand Marnier, vodka, freshly squeezed pink grapefruit and lemon juices and a dollop of orange and tangerine marmalade shaken with fresh egg white and a spritz of peach bitters).

All of the tables were taken or were reserved but we found ourselves a space and enjoyed our drinks. There was a DJ the night we went but the place is set up for live music too. The whole place definitely had a proper speakeasy feel, I felt like at any moment the place could be raided and we'd all have to scatter for the exits. Every Saturday night they run Uff Tea experiences where they bring 1930s Shanghai to London (with an appropriate dress code) which just sounds like so much fun. 

Call Me Mr Lucky

Everyone raves about The Breakfast Club but I'm really not happy about ever being awake in the morning, let alone wanting to queue for food before I've even had a cup of tea. Of greater appeal are their hidden underground bars, although, for my shame, I've never made it to one of those either.

Recently The Breakfast Club opened in London Bridge, within easy proximity of work and so after dinner in Southwark we headed to The Breakfast Club. We turned up, explained we were there for London Cocktail Week and uttered the magic words to get us access to the bar downstairs - 'I'm here to get lucky'. Apparently we were the first London Cocktail Weekers to actually know the password (although the waitress might have just been flattering us), a more common response to the hint of 'I'm here to get...' being 'drunk'.

We were ushered through the restaurant, down some stairs, past the kitchen and into an underground bar (the theme for the week was clearly underground bars) lit by strings of fairy lights. We went on a Thursday night and although the place had a nice busy vibe, we got a seat at the bar and ordered drinks.

Our cocktail at Call Me Mr Lucky was the appropriately named Lucky Ducky which was Bathtub Gin, pear, blackberries, coconut water and fresh grapefruit and apple juices. The Guide described it as being served from a punch bowl, which it wasn't but it was still good. It was deep and heavy and wintery and perfect for the cold damp night we'd chosen for our exploits.

Half an hour in Call Me Mr Lucky and I was ready to go out dancing. Sadly with work the next day and definitely unprepared, it was not a night for dancing, so we called it a night and headed home. It's on my list of places to start a night south of the river though.

Peg and Patriot

I've been meaning to visit the Peg and Patriot, located in the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green for a while and so what better idea than combining it with lunch at the Typing Room (a restaurant I've been dying to visit for a while as well)?

After a wonderful lunch (more on that soon), we headed across the hall to the Peg and Patriot. Predictably for early on a Saturday afternoon, the place was fairly quiet, although it did start to get busier and the afternoon wore on.

We settled down and order the special, the Cocchi Rhyming Slang (Americano, Tio Pepe, Maraschino liquor and orange bitters).

I ordered a second, whereas my boyfriend (apparently in a nod to his family's mining heritage) ordered a Doncaster Miners Club Cocktail which came in a little Yorkshire glass with a sprig attached to the rim by a mini peg. Both were delicious. It was also a nice touch that we were also served water without asking and in those little glasses that I haven't seen anywhere other than primary school.

They were the perfect after dinner drinks and it's definitely somewhere I'll be visiting again for a drink at some point to try out some more of their menu.

East London Liquor Company

Rather than head straight home after our lunch at the Typing Room and drinks at Peg and Patriot we decided to take the scenic route and stop by the East London Liquor Company on the way. Located only a stone's throw from Victoria Park, this bar is located rather oddly on a little industrial estate. Spacious and open, the back of the bar houses a distillery which produces a variety of spirits.

It's a much lighter and airy venue than Peg and Patriot and so I became very conscious that it was late afternoon on a Sunday and I was already slightly tipsy and about to order another cocktail. But, I didn't dwell on it too much as the bartender whipped up two Darjeeling Sours which used their own gin.

They were the perfect light and summery end to our Saturday afternoon and we strolled home in the gorgeous afternoon sun to have a little nap.

So that was my rather cocktail-fuelled week. I wish that the whole thing could have lasted longer as there were a whole load of places I wanted to try out but there's only so much bar-hopping you can do over the course of one week and still be a productive human being at work.

Although, of course, there's nothing stopping me from going and trying out those bars, I just need to make some time to do it. I'd love to hear about your favourite bars and cocktail spots in London, let me know if there's somewhere I should definitely be trying out!

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Saturday, 11 October 2014

One Lovely Blog

I don't often do tags as I often find that they're very restrictive and just a bit of blog filler really, but when Suze from Luxury Columnist got in touch to ask whether I'd previously been nominated to take part in the One Lovely Blog Award tag I was excited because I think it's a lovely tag and a great way to get to know the bloggers behind blogs in a slightly more personal way. I met Suze back in August on the Best LDN Walks Naughty London blogger tour and was so impressed that she had only started her blog a few weeks before that and yet it was so polished and so professional, I was very impressed,  plus she was lovely to boot. So thank you for the nomination Suze (you can see Suze's One Lovely Blog Award post here)!

The rules of the award are:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and include a link to their blog 
2. List the rules 
3. Add 7 facts about yourself 
4. Nominate some other deserving bloggers and comment on one of their posts to let them know they have been nominated 
5. Display the award logo and follow the blogger who nominated you. 

So, here are seven facts about me: 

1. I am pretty much accent deaf. I can tell that people have accents but I am woefully bad at identifying what the accent is. You might think that I mean subtle accents, but I really don't, I mean Geordie, Scottish and Irish. I've been getting slightly better since I started with my current employer as there's a whole range of accents and so now when I meet someone with an accent, they often sound like someone I know. I still worry though that people think I'm taking the mick when I ask them where they're from.

2. I lived in Hamburg for four months about eight years ago and I love the city and now revisit it every few years. It's not somewhere that I think that people would necessarily think of for a city break as they generally head to Berlin if they're going to Germany but Hamburg, as Germany's second largest city is definitely worth a visit. Located on the banks of the Elbe, it's a port city and with a huge lake in the middle of the city and canals running through it, water is very much at its heart.

I remember arriving into Hamburg at night and being completely apprehensive about the fact that this new city was going to be my home for four months and as I sat in the taxi as we zipped through the dark streets I remember getting a good feeling about the place, a feeling which turned out to be very well founded. As John Lennon put it "I grew up in Hamburg".

And if you go, go at Christmas - it's magical.

3. I don't want children (and no, I won't change my mind when I get older) but I do want a guinea pig. I had a very vivid dream a few months ago where I had a guinea pig and I woke up desperately sad that I didn't have one. There's a quote by J. K. Rowling which is something to the effect of the fact that Harry Potter came to her fully formed, that's how I feel about my guinea pig. His name was Scott Bains (similar to Sat Bains the chef) and he was a fluffy (I'm not sure if there is a proper name for being fluffier than normal) tortoiseshell. Unfortunately my flat isn't really big enough for Scott Bains and a friend right now, maybe one day I'll have a bigger flat with some outside space and then I can have a guinea pig.

4. Like most children I took dancing lessons - tap and ballet until I was probably about 12 years old. I am not naturally graceful but years of lessons will instil a certain ability to follow choreography without looking like someone with two left feet. However, whilst I can follow basic steps and enjoy learning routines, I will never be a dancer, not least because I don't possess a dancer's body. A few years ago I took classes in burlesque with a friend and the course of lessons culminated in a showcase which involved routines performed in full on frilly knickers, corset, suspenders, etc. It's maybe the scariest thing that I've ever done but I loved it. In fact the only thing that puts me off finding somewhere in London is the fact that my job often prevents me from leaving at a certain time and so it's hard to commit to regular evening activities.

5. Before I started my current job I spent over three years working in white collar criminal defence and predictably (and annoyingly) got asked no end of times 'but, how can you defend someone you know is guilty?'. Well, firstly I strongly believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and also that everyone accused of a crime has the right to choose and appoint their own legal representation, I believe these are both utterly fundamental to a fair and just society. Secondly, I should point out that, contrary to popular belief, lawyers are held to super strict codes of ethics and ultimately, contravention of those codes can lead to solicitors being struck off or barristers being debarred. The code of conduct for solicitors includes duties to not mislead the court and to act in the best interests of their client.

The thing is, that you only 'know' that a client is guilty if they tell you that they are and if a client maintains that they wish to plead not guilty (however strong the evidence against them may be), this is their right and their instructions must be followed. If they do admit their guilt then there are two options to continue to represent them; (1) they plead guilty (obviously, in which case you can still act to try and mitigate their actions and try and reduce the sentence); or (2) test the prosecution's case. The second is maybe less obvious but the burden is on the prosecution to convince a jury to a standard that allows them to reach a guilty verdict (innocent until proven guilty, remember), if the prosecution can't do that then a defendant should not be convicted. However, this means that the defence is limited to challenging prosecution evidence and the defendant cannot be put forward to give an untrue positive defence (as this would be allowing the court to be misled).

For the most part, at least in white collar crime, even when there is evidence which points to the defendant having done something, what has been done is rarely everything that the defendant is accused of by the prosecution and so access to legal representation is vital for justice. Needless to say, I am very against the proposed changes and cutbacks to the legal aid regime.

6. On a slightly less serious note, whilst it might not be my favourite food in the world (although it's right up there in the top 10), if I had to pick only one food to eat for the rest of my life, pizza would be it.

7. I have one sibling, a sister who is 18 months younger than me and despite our closeness in age, we could not be more different. We look different, we have different builds, she's always wanting to do something active whereas I am more content curling up in a corner with a book, she's more creative and arty whereas I'm more wordy and academic (although we do both have a nice balance of both traits), she's a lark, I'm an owl and the TV programmes she loves are those I hate and vice versa. It's funny that two people who grew up together and are so close in age could be so different, but it's sort of nice that we're not trying to do the same things in life, that would be unbearable.

With those little facts about me, it's time to nominate some other bloggers:

Tamsin from A Certain Adventure - Londoner, recent Cambridge graduate and book and dinosaur lover, her blog is one of my latest obsessions.

Lucy from La Lingua - recently returned from a year living in Milan, her exploits frequently make me jealous of the fun she's been having and the food she's been eating!

Chloe from New Girl in Toon - ex-Londoner and now Newcastle resident, she grabs life by both hands and inspires me to do the same.

I don't want them to feel obliged to do this tag but I wanted to show some love to them, please go and check out their blogs.

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Saturday, 4 October 2014

A long weekend in Bruges - part 2

We woke up on the second proper day of our long weekend in Bruges to beautiful blue skies (you can read about our first day and a half here). It was typically my luck that the morning I'd woken early and gone for a wander was a day of relatively blank grey skies, whereas the day when we woke late and enjoyed a languid champagne breakfast was the day that there were beautiful blue skies and everything looked even more gorgeous than it had the day before.

My favourite horse and carriage in Bruges was definitely this one which always had a dog in the front seat - he looked very pleased with himself to seemingly be in charge.

As we'd spent the previous day in the centre of Bruges, we were keen to explore slightly further afield and also to avoid being caught up in groups of organised tours and so we decided to follow a walk in a guidebook we'd picked up. The walk would take us out of the centre, along the canal and out to North East Bruges where the self-guided tour would take us past four windmills before heading back into town. It was a nice easy route to follow and it meant that we saw a part of Bruges that I doubt many tourists visit, we mostly encountered locals going about their business as we went, admiring small peaceful streets and little churches and reading little historical facts from our guidebook to each other as we strolled. The walk was titled 'Strolling through silent Bruges' and it couldn't have been more right, it was the perfect way to spend our Sunday afternoon.

Sometimes in our wanderings around Bruges and through the streets we came across these scallop shells on the cobbles of the streets. Apparently there are 40 of them throughout the streets of Bruges which mark the Bruges section of the ancient pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. The shells are in homage to the pilgrims who walked the route.

Of course we couldn't not indulge in another box of chocolates, strictly to keep our strength up of course...

...what made them better though was that they had a chocolate called 'Lisa'. Obviously that one had to be mine!

Unfortunately, all too soon our Bruges weekend came to an end and we had to get the Eurostar back home to London and back to the reality of another week at work. I really need to make more of the fact that the Eurostar is right on my doorstep and so Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent are now on my list of places to visit in the near future.

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