26 May 2015

Polpo

A couple of weeks ago I took my dad to see The Book of Mormon. It was actually my anniversary present to S but we're sadly no longer together so I roped in the other man in my life to join me for some seriously brilliant satire. But, first came food and when Dad suggested Italian for lunch, I knew we had to head to Polpo in Beak Street. Part of Russell Norman's Spuntino, Mishkin's, Ape & Bird family, the Polpo and Polpetto restaurants dotted around town are Italian/Venetian dining at their best and I have been dying to try them since forever.

It was a beautiful day and we managed to grab the last two lunch seats on one of the high benches they have by the window with perfect people-watching opportunities and an excellent view of the bar. I started with an Aperol Spritz (channelling last year's holiday and my upcoming trip to Italy in the next couple of weeks) which was deliciously bitter and sweet, with juicy brined olives adding that extra bit of bite. Dad had a carafe (250ml) of house red which at £11 was a little pricy for lunch but pouring it in to small water tumblers made it last longer in the end, so no love lost there.
Eating Venetian at lunch is simple with the cicchetti approach - small tapas like plates that arrive whenever they're ready and you can dip into and share. We started with the warm, salty anchovy-stuffed fried olives that I fell in love with in Venice and quickly converted Dad to before the octopus and fennel carpaccio arrived. This completely turned Dad off but I wolfed this down with hunger as the meaty cephalopod was lifted by the sweeter, fresher fennel. A distinctive tasting dish, this was a nice twist on an old favourite of mine but I would have liked a little bit of lemon or seasoning on the top.
Next came the coppa, pepperonata and goats cheese bruschetta - lightly toasted but thickly loaded with toppings, this was a simple and effortless dish that instantly transported me to Italy. A classic, the combination of the salty meat, tangy cheese and sweet pepperonata is much-loved for a reason and although basic, definitely effective. 
We also had the bresaola and rocket pizzette - a thin and crispy bread base that shattered into scoopable pieces when attacked with the knife - and the meatballs 'alla Vedova'. Having visited the Ca D'Oro alla Vedova bacaro in Venice when I went a few years ago, I urged Dad to try the famous polpette that gondoliers and tourists alike come flocking for (and which were originally recommended to me by a former flame of the restaurant owner). Three large pork meatballs, breaded and fried, arrived at the table and were quickly devoured. First bites are deceiving as you almost feel you need a sauce but the seasoned meat itself is enough on second, third and fourth bite, and you can see why these are so popular. (Fun fact: when I first had these, I filled up on two of them and my previous ex had to eat both his dishes and mine of the ensuing three course meal. Well done, Becks.)

At this point we declared no more and rolled ourselves out on to the street, having been perfectly accommodated in our short window of an hour, despite a full restaurant. I'm so glad I finally made it to Polpo as it lived up to its huge reputation and I can't wait to go back during the evening for a lazy, lengthy languish. Four and a half out of five.
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23 May 2015

Chick 'n Sours

(via)

I'll put it out here right now, I'd never eaten fried chicken before Chick 'n Sours. I actively avoid KFC (I'm awfully snobby, I know) I never did the Dixie Chicken thing at university and if I'm honest, I don't like chicken on the bone. Setting myself up for a right failure from the get-go, surely?

So I was dubious when I headed over to this new opening in Dalston. But I'll be the first to admit, I was pleasantly surprised - this is no ordinary chicken shack. Forget the formica and dodgy uniforms, this is a snazzy place that pumps 90s music out and serves up their eponymous sours in half pint jugs with handles. Speaking of the sours, the House Sour's pretty damn good. Gin with raspberry and chilli vinegar for that sweet and sour kick topped with vermouth had me from the off whilst the Negroni Sour sounds right up my street.

We ordered some sticky disco wings to share (they also come hot and naked) and the Szechuan aubergine which was the surprise hit of the night. Lightly battered chunks of aubergine were in a heavy soy sauce with plenty of coriander and spring onion for added bite.

At this point (a Saturday night), they'd run out of thigh and bone chicken, were dangerously low on the Guest Fry and the buns for the Korean burger had proven too popular. Not to be deterred, we went ahead and ordered what we could and it turns out that all's well that ends well, anyway.

(via)
I went for the (boneless for one night only) Guest Fry. Compared to the anaemic batter I see in Bargain Bucket ads, this breaded breast was crispy and flavoursome, encasing the moist meat inside. Chili jam, crispy shallots, basil, mint and spring onion added extra dimensions to make it one seriously happy bowl.

We shared fries (of course) dunked in St Agur & buttermilk dip as well the house pickles which turned out to be pickled watermelon rind. Almost apple-like in flavour, we fought over these to the bitter end and I liked how they made the most of the fruit. The flesh also comes pickled with peanuts and coriander for a refreshing, zingy accompaniment to the fried chicken.

The only real disappointments of the evening were the bunless burgers which had been replaced by low-carb lettuce leaves so lost a bit of their charm, and we weren't totally convinced by the Weetabix soft-serve but you win some, you lose some, right?

So, all in all a great way to break me in to fried chicken. I won't be hitting up the old uni haunts of Mile End any time soon but I'm sure I'll be back to Chick 'n Sours for a fistful of their temporary tattoos too. Four out of five.
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22 May 2015

Original Sin



Sharing its name with a classic INXS song (sorry, had to slip that in), Original Sin is another blink-and-you'll-miss-it bar tucked off Stoke Newington High Street, beneath burger joint Stokey Bears. It opened at the beginning of the year but shamefully (because it's only a short walk from my flat) I only made it down a couple of weeks ago.

We sat at the bar and it was by far the best decision. Veteran frequenters Matt and Ella have already worked their way through the menu so our prime positions gave us the perfect opportunity to go off menu and leave it up the hugely knowledgeable and creative women behind the bar. Matt went for something involving cognac, rye and amontillado (sherry's the next big thing) while Ella and I each kicked off with twisted negronis - hers sprayed with Laphroaig, mine infused campari and vermouth with mescal and chocolate bitters, finished with a sprig of rosemary that was set alight, blown out and used as a stirrer. The oils in the herb complemented the smokiness of the mescal and the rich undertones of the cocoa - I think this may quite possibly be a new favourite cocktail.

Then things took a darker turn. I was presented with a glorious drink that combined tequila, orange rhum, coffee liqeur and St Elizabeth Allspice Dram. Deliciously rich, this is a drink that works on so many levels as each ingredient takes a turn at commanding the floor. The sweetness of the cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg were pleasantly dulled by the bitter coffee and I'm totally all over tequila in cocktails at the moment.

We finished the night with an unexpected shot of sazerac that they'd made for one the bar back's leaving party the next day. These guys sure know their way around a bottle or two.

This neighbourhood bar is a real find. From the friendliest faces to the civilised pool table in the corner, it's a dimly lit destination for dates and mates, whatever the motivation. Five out of five.

(Photo via)
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19 May 2015

Flower Power cocktails with Tozi: recipe

I've written before about my love for Tozi, a brilliant Italian tucked away in Victoria. Their friendly staff and brilliant cicchetti (small plates) have boosted it to a firm favourite and a definite recommendation in my repertoire. This spring, they've been seeing in the 70s trend with a range of Flower Power cocktails for a taste of Italy with a nostalgic floral twist.


A little bit brighter than your average, these cocktails are designed to whisk you away to a Mediterranean mirage (even if the blue one does look a bit scary!). The Italian in Brazil (the pink one in the back) was my favourite of the bunch as I'm going through a bit of a campari phase at the moment and it's super easy to make.

What you need
  • 30ml Campari
  • 25ml mango puree (Funkin do a great one)
  • 15ml lemon juice
  • 20ml simple syrup (it's really easy to make)
  • Soda water
  • And a flower for the garnish
  • A cocktail shaker
What you do
  1. Pour the campari, mango puree, lemon juice and simple syrup into the shaker.
  2. Shake for seven seconds.
  3. Strain it in a flute glass, top with soda water, add the flower and drink!

Super simple but if you fancy taking it easy and watching someone else make it for you, you can get with the groove and catch these cocktails at Tozi until June.
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8 May 2015

Tequila tasting with Herradura

Most people's experiences of tequila involve a questionable choice towards the latter part of the night, a wedge of lime and salt. It's not often anybody's first choice for a civilised drink when faced with an entire back bar of bottles.



This is something that Herradura is trying to change. Established in 1869, the Herradura hacienda sits within one of the four regions in Mexico that can distil tequila. It's a family business with the jimadors passing on their knowledge from father to son which can take a while as the particular type of agave (there are 150 different kinds) takes 8 years to grow.

We tried three different types of tequila last night - plata, reposado and anejo. All made from Blue Weber agave and aged in virgin American oak, it's the distillation and resting times that effects the taste, colour and alcoholic volume of the tequila.

Plata's a blanco and most commonly used in cocktails given its slightly sugary nature. Once picked, it's cooked for 24 hours, crushed and then fermented with airborne yeast for 5 days before being heated and distilled twice. Unlike other blancos, it's not mixed with sugar cane products so you get the clearer taste and a proof of around 40 to 50%. It's vanillay and doesn't pack that reeling punch that quick line tequilas so often do.

Next up was the reposado. There's no difference in the ageing process, it's just rested for longer and is the number one bestselling tequila in Mexico. It's more of a sipping than a shotting drink and is woody and peppery like a whisky.


Finally there was the anejo. It's aged for between 1 and 3 years to create a mellow, warm drink that's perfect in Old Fashioneds or on its own. Serving it with ice helps bring the flavours out and takes the edge off the ethanol hit. This is your premium tequila that's about £15-£20 a pop at a bar so probably not one you're going to rack up at the bar with your mates.

It was really interesting how the ageing process produced such a woody, whiskey type drink despite being in virgin barrels. As someone that's going through a huge whiskey phase, I'll definitely reconsider my options when faced with an anejo or two. And I'll definitely reorder a sangrita - a shot followed by a hugely spicy tomato based chaser. Perfect.

For the slightly more affordable end of the market, there's the El Jimador brand which is great when mixed in espresso martinis, Tommy's margaritas or Bloody Marys, if that's your kinda thing too.

Herradura is available in good bars and Selfridges but you should totally snap it up this week at Bourne & Hollingsworth Building's Last Libations Cinqo de Mayo event and make the most of their gorgeous outside in room.



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