26 March 2015

Cornish Grill at The Three Crowns, Stoke Newington

I moved to the Clapton/Stoke Newington area from Hackney/London Fields last September and it didn't take me long to find a new favourite local. Whilst it's not as awesome as the best pub in the world (The Duke of Cumberland in Sussex), The Three Crowns is a great place for whiling away a few too many hours and pints at the weekend. Think mismatched tables and chairs, shabby sofas, the occasional dog and a brilliant residency in the Cornish Grill. Rustling daily deliveries of fresh seafood and meat into simple yet moreish British dishes, this pop-up (which started off as suppliers to places like The Ledbury, The Clove Club and Pitt Cue) keeps me coming back for more.

S and I found ourselves ensconced in one of the many comfy leather sofas the other day and were aching for food so, naturally, we gave in and gorged. We shared pork crackling with thyme and apple sauce (big wedges of crispy crispy pig skin), potato crackling with smoked chilli mayo (more like potato skins but perfect for scooping the creamy condiment and grilled coleslaw (creamy with a bit of bite and smoke).

We then dove into the hog's pudding scotch egg with Cornish ale brown sauce; awarded the best in the UK, this had some serious living up to do - happily, it was dense and meaty (almost haggisy?) with the perfect yolk and a rich sauce to mop up every last bite. The house cured salmon with toasted rye bread and pickles was divine - thick rather than anaemic slabs of fish were lightly smoked with a flavour that was both smooth and deep. Finally we had goats cheese fritters - light bites of fried cheese matched with a honey dressing and candy striped beetroot - and I declared myself done.

The Cornish Grill serves larger plates for those on a mission, daily specials and enormous Sunday roasts for when that Bloody Mary just won't do. With it being a 10 minute walk from my house, I'm practically a resident - I'll even fight you for that corner sofa, just you watch.

18 March 2015

The Alchemist

Suits, skyscrapers and scandal is what most springs to mind when you think of the City. Buzzing during the week, deserted at the weekend and not always the cheapest place to wine and dine, London's Square Mile doesn't have quite the same pull as some of its more characterful counterparts. Which is perhaps why The Alchemist chose to set up shop in Bevis Marks, a former banking hall just round the corner from the Heron Tower, the Gherkin and 20 Fenchurch Street - to change the scenery of city socialising.

It's an impeccably finished location, complimenting the building's beautiful original features with strings of industrial style lighting and a gloriously polished bar front and back. Deep leather sofas frame the windows while high tables allow you to get intimate - there's a decadent atmosphere too, a warmth that encourages you to stay for just another round, surely. 

And talking of rounds, we were keen to put The Alchemist's cocktail menu through its paces. No ordinary cocktail menu this - as the name suggests, these concoctions aim to please with their signature, crafted 'Molecular Madness' drinks taking mixology to a whole other level. Forget about changing water into wine, the brilliant barmen use all sorts of secret tricks to conjure up new creations.

We started with the Dead Red Zombie - a fruity number with a rum base that came in a tall glass, topped with passionfruit, and bubbling and smoking like the mist in a horror movie. Our barman explained that they use a secret ingredient that reacts with the alcohol to produce this ghoulish effect, just perfect for Halloween, and incredibly moreish without being too sweet. 

Next up was the Maple Manhattan - a Wild Turkey bourbon with bitters, citrus and a fluffy maple syrup foam that added sweetness to the dry whiskey. Served in a martini coupe, this was a sultry, warm and yet not too heavy starter for ten that hit the sweet spot jackpot.

And, knowing that every barman has his favourite, we asked for a recommendation and were presented with the Mad Hatter's Tea Party to share. A chemistry set was brought to the table, herbs and fruits were placed in glass beakers and after some boiling and burning and more secret ingredient pouring, a fragrant steam was being poured into china tea cups as an interpretation of our little sumer picnic. With mint, strawberries and elderflower all in the mix, this tasted like a crazy professor had got his hands on a classic Pimm's recipe and used plenty of vodka and Cointreau for good measure.

The great thing about The Alchemist is how interactive the drinks feel; instead of the traditional transactional experience, the friendly and knowledgeable team here really go to great lengths to make you feel involved. If you prefer to err on the more familiar side of the menu, they have whole sections for classics, for sharing, for the abstainers and even for those wanting a commemorative hip flask. And if you're one of those people who like getting their hands dirty - there are even cocktail masterclasses where they walk you through making and drinking some of your favourites.

But it isn't all about the cocktails. The Alchemist's open all day, serving up breakfast for you early risers and ones for the road for you late leavers. The restaurant covers all bases so it's the ideal location for a lazy weekend when the thought of suits, skyscrapers and scandal can take a very definite backseat - let these sorcerers work their magic.


6 March 2015

New York, New York

Almost eight years to the day, I'm heading back to New York for a whistlestop two day client meeting extravaganza at the beginning of April. I'm already planning what I can cram into my day in the city - here's to transatlantic adventures.

5 March 2015

Creperie du Monde

I'm a pancake purist. A lemon and sugar crepe purist to be exact. I dabbled with Nutella and banana this Pancake Day but it just didn't hit the spot, and as much as I'd like to indulge in flaming Crepes Suzettes, they're not really an acceptable everyday affair. I'm yet to really get into my teeth into Scotch pancakes despite Instagrams all over proclaiming their love for rashers of bacon and plentiful maple syrup, and I usually leave savoury pancakes by the wayside too.

Until now. After a brisk walk that got me up and out of my sick bed this weekend, we ended up at Creperie du Monde on Chatsworth Road. It's a tiny corner cafe with a handful of seats upstairs, a slightly sweaty stone cellar and prime people-watching benches outside. We went subterranean and shared a tiny table.

The menu is, as you'd expect, relatively simple offering sweet and savoury crepes as well as omelettes if you're that way inclined. When I lived in Paris, I sometimes picked up a hot cheese and ham crepe on the way home from a night out (beats a kebab for sure) so of course, had to order the Parisienne - a goats cheese, pancetta and walnut stuffed pancake - that was a melty, oozy, salty and crispy delight. L went for a houmous, halloumi and pepper number while the boys went sweet with Nutella, strawberries and cream involved along the way.

It was a good little stop (if a little more expensive than the 2Euro crepes of my Parisian day) and worth checking out if you're getting stuck into Chatsworth Road Market for your non-flambe fix.

4 March 2015

The Stevedores

Some things are clear matches made in heaven: strawberries and cream, cheese and biscuits, chocolate and caramel... A less obvious combination is beer and whiskey. I'll admit that it's only in the last couple of years that I've actually enjoyed drinking either - whether it's a couple of pints after work or the automatic order of an Old Fashioned, you'd be hard pushed to find me drinking anything neon blue that comes served in a pitcher.

I'm not the only one, of course, and beer and whiskey are nothing new but a pop-up bar that just serves craft beer and Bulleit whiskey all the way from Brooklyn definitely is. Taking over a former pickle factory across the street from an old gas works, The Stevedores is a bluesy, industrial Prohibition style jaunt in its last of a six week run bringing some of the finest flavours together to killer tunes (think The Rolling Stones, T-Rex, The Doors).

The barrels are changed every Wednesday, with Tuesdays being happy hour prices until the keg kicks. First up, we started with the Buxton Living End, an Imperial Stout IPA that's aged in bourbon barrels for a hoppy, malty yet smooth taste. Once empty, the beer barrels are then filled with Jiminez scotch leading to craft bourbons with that warm beer finish.

Then we moved on to food from Pull & Punch. Unlike most restaurants where food and drink are at opposite ends of the scale, chef Rich has deliberately created menus that are influenced by the flavours of the beer on the bar. Take the Sorportel pork bun (a pulled pork burger brought to life with cumin, cloves and turmeric) that went down swimmingly with the whiskey sour made from Session IPA gomme. Or the Issan carbs (Thai style potatoes with coconut and basil) that work brilliantly with lighter pale ales such as the Brew By Numbers IPA (think grapefruit, lemon and mango).

We finished up with a couple of stouts (I like the peanut buttery Yankee Sandwich), some smooth shots of the Bulleit Rye and Bullet Whiskey as well as the best Old Fashioned I've tried yet. A tantalisingly silky take on the classic with an unbeatable stout gomme chocolatiness that I think mixologists will be hard-pressed to surpass.

The Stevedores run is ending this week so catch it while you can. The brains behind it are back later this year with a craft beer festival and I'll be first in line for a pint or two of the good stuff.

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