Friday, 22 May 2015

Darwin Brasserie @ Sky Garden

Bottomless Brunching

There's another carriage to add to the brunch train but this one is 36 floors up, resting high above the city amongst a garden in the sky. Darwin at the aptly named Sky Garden couldn't be better placed for when you want to escape the ground below and disappear for a while.
 


After our trip through airport security, we hopped into the lift and up, up and away we went. The views of London are spectacular so keep your fingers crossed for bright skies and leave plenty of time to stop on your way up through the gardens at the various viewpoints which provide unparalleled people watching spots!

 

Sundays are brunch days and for £38 pp, Darwin has it totally covered. From 11.30 - 4.30 you'll find yourself seriously spoilt for choice with a breakfast buffet overflowing with sweet and savoury treats alongside a Bloody Mary bar, a milkshake station, and a menu packed full of eggs, pancakes, roasts and salads to choose from.
 
 
Pace yourself, you've a lot to get through!
 
We attacked the bottomless Bloody Mary station with an enthusiasm that the idea will always inspire. 'Bottomless' you say? Well that's just made my day. Take your pick from a fishy, beefy, spicy or virgin option and get creative with all the traditional added extras.
 
 
 
 
After over indulging in tomato town and planning our second mission of attack, it was time to even further indulge,(although technically it's all savoury at this point so it doesn't count at all). To the buffet for potato salads, cured meats, lemons in bags (love those pip avoiding guys), salmon and feta sprinkled asparagus.
 
 
 
Back between two ferns (couldn't help myself), we ​sat down to peruse the menu. The next stage was 'brunch' in the loosest term of the word, with options ranging from your traditional eggs royale (my mind was already made up), to ravioli, to a huge roast (more 'unch' than 'br'). There is pretty much something for everyone, just make sure you don't fill up on all of the salads because it's three meals in one here!
 
 
Gauzy lemon admired, it was onto the eggs royale. A perfect squelch of runny yolk oozed from the centre as the fork went in. God forbid a poached egg that fails the ooze test! My partner in crime approached the roast and valiantly began polishing the plate. Excellently cooked beef with a melt in the mouth monster Yorkshire ensured that we were in it for the long haul.
 
 
Taking a breather before we plunged into the dessert buffet should have been a necessity, but we couldn't handle it. The temptation was just too much and the waffles, tarts, crème brulee, fruit smoothies were calmly beckoning (prepare for drooltown).
 
 
 
 
 
Somehow I managed to regain some self control and went for a more minimalist approach (as minimalistic as one can hope for when presented with such a selection). Don't try and stop me taking the little tiny melon balls, those are just too much fun!



 And brunch was over, we were well and truly stuffed. A little tribute must go out to our cheery waiter Ismail, who, with his cheeky grin made the whole experience that extra bit more special. Hunt him down and say hello!
 
Darwin Brasserie on Urbanspoon
 
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Friday, 8 May 2015

Bull in a China Shop

A Whisky Chicken Affair

My life long companionship with chicken has been a committed, steady and beautiful one. Whisky on the other hand is a lustful, steamy relationship that swept me off my feet relatively recently. In charges Bull in a China Shop, and combines the two under one oriental themed roof. A happy marriage I'd say.
 


If you manage to open the door (I had a brief but intense battle with a dodgy handle), you will find yourself inside a beautiful all-day restaurant and whisky bar. Give a nod to the guard-bull and sidle up to the shining copper-topped bar.
 
 
 
You have 30 expertly selected Japanese and Scotch whiskies to choose from and it is immediately obvious that many hours have been spent ensuring that only the best reach the shelves. While the whisky appreciation society of our table enjoyed tastes of the (not-arriving-in-the-UK-until-October) Nikka 12 yr and the smoothly blended and also hard-to-come-by Hibiki Suntory Japanese Harmony, the cocktail menu provided delicious whisky based concoctions that even the most tentative to whisky will enjoy.
 
 
The interior is immediately appealing. Oriental trinkets at every glance, with teapots, parasols, chess pieces and brass bulls adorning the walls. A polished bar stretches along to the open kitchen where you can watch the rotisserie chickens turn on their spits and dishes await their departure to the tables. The restaurant section is tucked around the corner away from the bar, and is equally appropriate for mate dates, date dates and solo dining.



Back on the booze, we chose:
The Apricot High Ball (Nikka whisky from the barrel, apricot jam, apricot brandy and soda),
The Amaterasu (Nikka whisky from the barrel, Cocchi vermouth di Torino, Chamomile syrup, orange bitters and orgeat), and
The Wabi/Sabi (Hakushu Single malt distiller's reserver, Cocchi vermouth di Torino, Matcha green tea syrup, black walnut bitters).
All dangerously drinkable, so at £10 a pop, I'd keep a serious eye on your wallet, especially when the charcoal old fashioned is on offer (when we went, the charcoal hadn't quite finished charcoaling but I have it on good authority that this drink is a winner).



Enter the sticky wings, with a spicy dipping sauce for all you chilli enthusiasts. I'm not one for even attempting to maintain a ladylike self composure when wings are on the table, it's all about grab and go, ignoring the lack of asbestos fingers and enjoying the burning stickiness.
 

The signature charcoal chicken burger was delicious. Succulent with a crispy panko crusted coating and shredded vegetables. While I'm not sure that the charcoal bun was hugely dissimilar in taste from a regularly coloured brioche bun, that didn't pose a problem and it certainly provided instagram with something to get its teeth into! 
 
 
 
​Unfortunately, the other mains didn't quite hit the spot, with the halloumi & red pepper and the fish burgers not quite creating the hoped-for waves of excitement. The salad combinations, though extensive (six packed together in two dishes), were rather bizarre and too dry to compliment the burgers. I'd stick with the coleslaw if you want a little more saucy accompaniment. However, there were resounding groans of enjoyment for the deep fried cauliflower cheese bites which were indulgently moreish.


Dessert arrived in the form of their signature whisky smoked bread and butter pudding. One of the most un-photogenic dishes I've come across in a while, but don't judge a book by its cover and all that, because this pud is a comforting delight. The charcoal bun was soaked in whisky, butter and apricot, surrounded by a sweet, cinnamony custard. Bingo.


The whisky was unanimously the winner of the evening for all involved, and I'd happily return to pull up a seat at the bar, order some of the smaller offerings (chicken wings and cauliflower cheese bites) then get my whisky on! So, Bull in a China Shop, stick a flag in me, for I am err conquered (?) ..

Square Meal

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Bao

Bow to Bao

Imagine it's a Monday evening, you've actually had a great day at work (social media would you please stop fuelling the Monday dread). The sun has decided to shine and it's time to take a trip to Soho in search of an adventure. What do you stumble across? Bao. Lucky for you, this might just be the tastiest place in town right now, and you haven't really stumbled across it, you've made a bloody great beeline!



Now, I must make a teeny little confession. I knew I was going to love it before I'd even left the office. Many of my favourite writers, bloggers, pals etc have camped (queued) outside since it opened a couple of weeks ago to be first in line for the fluffy wonders inside and (quite rightfully) were unable to contain their excitement. 


Bao, the Taiwanese triumph has found itself a permanent location, tucked into a shop on Lexington St in Soho. Having previously held spots as a street food vendor at Netil Market and Kerb, they know their buns are brill and so do many others (the demand is still going strong, so expect queues). This also might have something to do with the miniature space, but I am a big promoter of 'the best things come in small packages' - being a mini thing myself, it's very important that we have excellent PR!


For those of you who haven't tried out the gua bao or hirata bun (also found at Flesh & Buns, Beer & Buns and Yum Bun - see a theme here?), Bao is next in line to rock the boat, and that it definitely does. I would choose these pillowy mouthfuls of wonder over a burger (or actually most things) any day!


Hold your horses, there's more. On our little trip, we decided against ordering everything (perfect excuse to return time and time again), and strayed off the beaten track, away from the bao and towards the Trotter Nuggets (£4) .. mouthfuls of stringy, melt in the mouth meaty goodness.


Back on the (soon to be) well trodden path, we turned our attention to the bao's. The Fried Chicken Bao (£5) with soy milk marinated chicken, Sichuan mayo and golden kimchi was my winner, just superb.


I have another confession to make. This was our second dinner. Talk about indulgent, but we were on an adventure! After a brief stop-off at Shakafuyu to fill half our stomachs .. yes, I shall definitely need to return for absolutely everything else on the menu there, we made it over to Bao to complete the route (this should explain our miniature selection and speedy route to dessert).

And off it was to the Fried Horlicks Ice Cream Bao (£4). Wow. This is a messy affair and don't hang around letting it melt. Although exactly the same dough is used, the frying and condensed milk adds a sweetness which transforms the savoury bun into something not unlike a doughnut filled with the creamy, Horlicks (don't be put off, this is a great alternative to vanilla) ice cream.


As usual, the dining equipment caught my eye, just look at these delightful pouring devices (otherwise known as jugs), containing Ancient Mountain Sake (£6) (you can't really come here and neglect it). Also on offer is Oolong tea which shall also be on my list for the inevitable return.



It is wonderfully refreshing to find an interior so simply effective with its total lack of distressed brick work, distracting antiques and exposed piping, (shock horror, I might have jumped on the anti-exposed band wagon I've been resisting for so long). Bao eludes a sense of calm, where the staff don slick white jackets and the entire room feels moulded from a soft wooden box. Even within the buzzing atmosphere, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

Bao on Urbanspoon

Square Meal
 

Monday, 27 April 2015

Joe's Southern Kitchen & Bar

A cluck and a half 

Kentish Town just gets better and better. In a matter of months, KT has thrown its proverbial hat into the proverbial ring and tempted Londoners up from far and wide. With Nowhere Special and Ladies & Gents literally a stones throw away, enter Joe's Southern Kitchen & Bar to fulfil all your southern fried needs. Don't go here on a full stomach, or even a half full stomach. In fact, you might want to not eat for a couple of days before hand .. in true American style, these guys know how to eat!

On offer is a menu bursting with 'southern fried bird' (I'm going to take a wild guess and say chicken), mac 'n' cheese, ribs, burgers, a ton of twisty fun sides and a cocktail overflowing bar.


 
Buns for the table (ehem, scones) were first to arrive, with clotted cream and red Leicester cheese. An interesting twist on the bread offering presented pre-feast. Tasty but very filling and perhaps better suited half the size and accompanying an earl grey martini?!


We settled down to a particularly insane table of food. Insane, mostly because of the gargantuan proportions. Time to loosen the belt and unbutton the jeans, walking out of the place was looking less and less likely as more and more plates wedged themselves in.


'Devilled Eggs' with chicken skin mayonnaise were a new experience for me and the playful yolk reworking was a great way of transforming an egg.


'Deep Fried Short Rib Meat Loaf' arrived piled with red onion jam, a poached egg and 'dijonnaise'.


Four cheese mac 'n' cheese with curly whirly pasta - with a bit more biscuity crust, this one would be a winner.


The 'Southern Fried Bird' was a lovely combination of tender and crispiness with a lemony tang and arrived with waffles and maple syrup to drench. Hotbox convinced me of the pairing but as yet, still remains unbeaten in my waffle league. Joe's is hot on it's heels but need a little more pillowy action to the waffle.



The interior stays true to the American South theme (and their sister restaurant over in Covent garden). Red leather, booths, neon Cola signage, lively atmosphere but with the addition of chickens. Lots and lots of chickens. Oh and this guy!




My dessert winner of the night was the nostalgic crunchie bar honeycomb and chocolate triangles (although I had totally misjudged the size of my stomach (usually pretty reliable) and only managed a taste as opposed to an inhalation of the dish).


Joe's is a great spot to head with a gang of friends before rolling yourselves over to one of the superb bars nearby. It has 90 covers but will be buzzing and busy so book yourself a long table and get feasting!

Square Meal
 
Joe's Southern Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon