28 April 2016

& other places: Opium, Vagabond Wines & Champagne + Fromage

Three bars to whet your appetite.

This late night drinking den is found (where else?) in Chinatown. Like the Experimental Cocktail Club, Opium is tucked behind a nondescript door, marked only by the bouncer waiting outside. A quick nod and a climb up two or three flights of stairs and we found our place at the bar for post The Book of Mormon drinks, a couple of Wednesdays ago. The drinks menu sounds delicious - the Opium #6 with tequila, ginger, oolong tea for example, or the Golden Lotus with its Remy Martin, rye whisky and banana - but we continued our love affair with Kummel and ordered first a Silver Bullet, and then the much tastier and smoother (and papa-patented) Silver Streak with gin. We couldn't resist the excellent dim sum, so much so that we had to order more to sate our craving for the delicious dumplings. My favourites? The classic pork and prawn, the crab and samphire and the lobster, naturally.

Vagabond Wines
Vagabond Wines are making the art of drinking the grape a more casual affair. No lengthy list to wade through, just a few machines to hover in front of, deciding which to try first. They profess to having over 100 bottles by the glass - just load up your wine card with money, slide it into the slot, press for a sample (25ml) or a glass (125ml) and bottoms up. It's a great way of discovering new wines without committing to a bottle (although you can buy any you like) and with the prices ranging from 'impressively cheap' to 'impressively not so cheap', there's something for everyone. We headed to the Spitalfields one and while I think it's a little smaller than the others, it makes for a cosy post-work stop off. Bucket of wine optional.

Champagne + Fromage
Lovely. A place that does what it says on the tin. A tiny little space across two floors a stone's throw from Covent Garden, Champagne + Fromage is a great place to dip into mid-afternoon for a pick me up. We went for a flight of champagne each - three glasses of different grapes (who doesn't love a selection?) - and shared a cheeseboard - choose three from a range (something old, something new, something fruity and something blue...)  - and would have declared ourselves done, considering we had dinner at St John booked for later that evening. But, of course, we couldn't resist and had stayed for another bottle of bubbly. Sitting downstairs, the atmosphere's a bit lacking but nothing that the fizz couldn't combat.

25 April 2016

Maltby Street Market

You've exhausted Borough Market, right? And you fancy somewhere other than Broadway Market, yes? Time to get on down to Maltby Street Market.

A short walk from Tower Bridge, Maltby Street Market's set into the railway arches and bursting to the seams with the newest street food on the scene. We headed down a Sunday or so ago, chasing the sun as it attempted to break through the April clouds. It's a little shady down the Ropewalk at times but the warmth of the stalls and the bustle of people will keep you from getting too cold.

First off, make sure you take a stroll along the entire length of the market before making up your mind on what to try first. There's everything from scotch eggs and sausage rolls, Greek pittas and Indian wraps and even raclette on offer and you'll be hard pressed to make a decision.

We kicked off with grilled cheese sandwiches from the guys at The Cheese Truck. The three-strong team were the image of efficiency as the orders came thick and fast - supply somehow always kept up with demand, and boy were these boys in demand. We went for the goats cheese with honey, walnuts and rosemary butter - a sweet and savoury melt-in-the-mouth sensation with the rich flavours tripping over each other brilliantly in the mouth and squidging deliciously out between the toast - and the Cropwell Bishop stilton with bacon and pear chutney. This one was salty with a real bite from the blue, added meatiness from the pig and a little sugar to round it all off. The Metro called them the 'best street food truck ever'. An accolade I could get on board with.

We ate our grilled cheese perched on empty barrels between old planks and railway sleepers stacked high at Maltby & Greek, a tiny little shop who find the best food and drink from Greece. We didn't sample any of their cured meats but the glass of red wine was, naturally, delicious.

From there, we couldn't resist the call of the king crab mac & cheese toasted brioche sandwich from DoYouCrab. Piled high with pasta, sprinkled with parmesan and topped with chilli and coriander, this oozing delight was a riot of flavours and by far one of the best things I've ever parted money with at a market.

Of course, we couldn't resist having something to wash them down with and snapped up a highly coveted spot at Little Bird Gin, a craft gin distillery. We kicked off with two Red Snappers each which came in weighty jugs with lashings of horseradish and spice, much to the envy of practically everyone who walked past.

Then, we tried the 'Perfect G&T' - their gin with Fever Tree tonic with a large slice of pink grapefruit (not too base), the Early Bird Martini - gin, cointreau, marmalade and pink grapefruit juice (tangy and fruity), the Barrel Aged Negroni - gin, Martini Rosso and oak barrel aged Campari (deliciously naughty and complete with a Little Bird) and the Whoops-A-Daisy - gin & orange liqueur, pomegranate, lemon and soda water (sweet and sherbety). So, essentially the entire menu plus another G&T each. Not bad going for the two of us, of course.

Places like Maltby Street Market remind me of the sheer creativity of street food and stalls. There's a hell of lot of passion put into these tiny pop-up places and whatever you're in the mood for, there's always something new to fall in love with.

Maltby Street Market's open 9am to 4pm on Saturdays & 11am to 4pm Sundays. You'll find it at SE1 3PA.
(top photo via as too busy munching again)

22 April 2016

Foxlow, Stoke Newington

It was the morning after the night before. I had mainlined espresso martinis at my colleague's wedding and it was safe to say I was not feeling my best. But! It was finally a sunny Sunday and there was no way I was going to let the hangover get the better of me.

So P and I tottered to everyone's favourite neighbourhood spot, Foxlow in Stoke Newington. It was almost warm enough to sit outside but instead we ensconced ourselves in a corner table right at the back of the restaurant, perfect for people watching.

Straight up, we ordered Bottomless Bloody Marys at £14 a pop. Served long, tall and spicy (like all the best ones are), they came thick and fast and did wonders at soothing my fragile head. And kept us going until the burrata with homemade sorrel salsa verde arrived. I liked the different dimension that the addition of sorrel brought to the plate and we practically fought over the last bits until the Cobble Lane charcuterie arrived (coppa, saucisson and chilli salami) along with the sauteed portobello mushrooms that were juicy, citrusy and scattered with plenty of tarragon. We also ordered the pablano macaroni cheese because nothing is better than carbs on a hangover. Juice diet? What juice diet? Plus, any place that puts a million types of cheese into their giant dish is my kinda place.

A small but perfectly formed brunch that banished the post-espresso martini blues. Bingo.

20 April 2016

Bistrotheque, Bethnal Green

Bistrotheque's a perennial favourite in our house. Sarah and Russell used to go when they were living in a tiny flat next door, splashing their graduate wages on fine food. Ashley always takes his parents there whenever they visit, and I have a thing for steak tartare.

So it seemed only fair to take P there as a further introduction to the culinary delights of Bethnal Green. We stopped off at Sager + Wilde Restaurant for drinks beforehand and then, three whisky cocktails down, tottered up the road to Wadeson Street. Bistrotheque is tucked away down a small road in a non-descript warehouse that you'll probably walk past the first time you go. Enter the unmarked door and turn straight up the concrete stairs, push through the industrial double doors and bask in the chaotic calm that is the all white and windows restaurant.

Bistrotheque feels how I imagine a Brooklyn loft restaurant to feel. It's a sizeable open space but it feels intimate as tables are close together, the atmosphere buzzy. Sit up at the square bar while waiting for your table, martini made with Hackney gin or vodka in hand. Then pass by the open kitchen where the industrious chefs plate up dish after dish and the friendliest, smiliest waiters (also in whites) bustle back and forth with a practised calm.

The food's 'Modern European' which I feel can cover a multitude of sins but here, there are few. The still-warm bread and butter while you're mulling over the wine menu (Old and New World, naturally) is a good start. As were the large grilled prawns in garlic butter with bone marrow which I managed to devour in double quick time - the sweet meat of the shellfish rounded up by the richness of the marrow. Plenty of sauce for dipping, too. P had the crab - a glorious combination of brown and white meat with ample citrusy bite.

For mains, my ever-predictable order of steak tartare was no surprise. Well-prepared with the fresh zing of the mustard, the salt of the capers and no need for the Tabasco on the table, it was served classic with frites. P didn't order so well this time, choosing the burrata, truffle and shallot tart which sounded promising but only delivered on the onion and nothing else. Thank goodness for generous girlfriends sharing.

Then came cheese - Riseley, Turnworth and Cashel Blue served with quince jelly oatcakes (discarded) and smothered onto more bread from the kitchen. As a massive cheese fiend, these were all delicious (predictably) and P was impressed (big thumbs up from the resident Frenchie).

We finished the night with an espresso martini for me and the cognac for P before heading for nightcaps at Peg + Patriot. Another night at Bistrotheque well spent. Four and a half out of five.

(photo via)

12 April 2016

Sager + Wilde Restaurant, Bethnal Green

Sticking with Paradise Row, we headed back to Bethnal Green last Friday night for what turned out to be a very boozy evening. First up, were pre-dinner drinks and we decided to head to Sager + Wilde, the restaurant version of the brilliant wine bar in Hoxton where we'd had our second date.

It was just warm enough to sit outside - although the bar inside was very inviting - and soak up the music from Mother Kelly's next door. Any place that plays The Rolling Stones followed by Jimi Hendrix gets in my good books. Although when the sun went down, the heaters came on and there are plenty of blankets to wrap up in.

Whilst Sager + Wilde are praised for their brilliant wine list, we couldn't resist the cocktails which are divided into 'Long drinks', 'Burnt', 'Rocks', 'Fizz' and 'Straight up'. Of course, we were instantly drawn in by the promises of mescal and whisky and could look no further for the next forty five minutes.

For him, the Olive Oil Old Fashioned with a clear, slick and smooth lasting finish. For me, the Burnt Milk with burnt clarified milk, bay leaf, mescal, burnt caramel syrup, cassia and clarified lemon - an alcoholic creme caramel that I could have drank for days. And did, seeing as between us we ordered another two. Along with the Grand Cru - burnt lactic syrup and cognac that, when drank after the accompanying sparkling wine, left an intense, rich flavour in the mouth. And also the Burnt Maple which brought together burnt maple syrup, rye whisky, mescal and walnut bitters. All but one served in beautifully heavy tumblers with a single, thick ice cube. No fripperies, no flounce - just pure unadulterated alcohol.

Had we not been skipping down to Bistrotheque for dinner, we would have stayed all night and washed down this cracking sounding bar menu.

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