Monday, 27 February 2012

Pitt Cue Co.

Another no bookings, queue out the door, reasonably priced (for London) restaurant. Go on a Saturday and it is hard to believe a recession ever occurred, so bustling and busy is the small interior. None of this is foot traffic – the place is easy to miss (we did) and unassuming, tucked away on a side road halfway down Carnaby Street. Everyone here has heard about it on a blog, or on twitter, or actually visited the pop-up parent, a small van under Hungerford Bridge.  Upstairs in the bar every surface that it is possible to squeeze a tray onto has food on it, and once downstairs it is easy to see why – little more than a closet greets you down the narrow staircase, which seats about 25, and clearly some are not prepared to wait.
        The bar is small but functional, with friendly and effective staff mixing bourbon centric cocktails with the occasional meaty flair (bacon infused vodka in the bloody Marys) and opening beers from the amusing list – Pabst Blue Ribbon and Moosehead alongside Kernel pale ales and a house lager. The lager is dull and chalky (and oddly served only in half’s) the Kernels were rich and fruity and a much better match with barbecue.
         The list of options is basic, short, and irresistible. Nightmarishly, they ran out of my desired meats, the pork ribs and the brisket. In most places this would have me in a dark mood for the duration but once the food arrived I became forgiving very quickly. In a place where it seems as if they have given you a table, chair and cutlery because of some archaic EU regulation and not because they want to, the camping-holiday tin trays and rustic food within them make perfect sense. Piles of charred, long cooked meat arrive with dainty sides of pickles and bread to emphasise their presence. Beef ribs are glorious, colossal chunks of sticky, juicy, deep red flesh and charred bone, rich in flavour and the right balance between chewy and melting. Pulled pork is very good – moist and soft, with singed, dry gnarly bits to get you excited. Onglet is cooked to rare, and has all the flavour that a proper cut of steak should. Meat this good, at £9 for a tray with sides included, is a mighty bargain - if you speak to your dining companion before finishing, you should be ashamed - that is not a good use of your time when important things need to be eaten. In fact the only disappointment was when the meat was not given centre stage. Baked beans with an indistinct meat in amongst the sauce were fine but unmemorable, and the burnt end mash just didn’t work – the overly sauced chunks blended with the mash to give an unsatisfactory soup of sweet, gloopy potato.
       The wait for a table is annoying (some apparently refer to it as Pitt Queue) but at least here, unlike some places, there is a reasonably comfortable place to get drunk while you hang around. Less than £20 a head for drinks and a memorable lunch – that’s pretty good going anywhere, but a few yards from Oxford Circus it is much appreciated. Expect the queues to last and go anyway, it’s worth it.                      

Monday, 20 February 2012

Burger Crawl - Spuntino & Mishkin's

Saturday evening, me and the missus have not had a burger in a while. We could make our own, but we are lazy. We go into central London for a burger crawl.
        Spuntino, Soho. Its busy, cool, loud, dark. And fun. A queue forms behind us after we are seated – we judge them. They are have-nots, we are haves. We are better, if only for a moment. The bar is sleek and appealing. There are jugs of water, and lots of bourbon. 4 sliders from the short, stylish menu, with fries on the side and some fried chicken. The food is great – crispy chicken, salty fries, good burgers. I want to order more things but no, this is a burger crawl. Burger 1 is smoked mackerel. It’s decent but too firm, and underwhelming 6/10. Burger 2 is pulled pork. It’s very good, rich, chewy and meaty 7.5/10. Burger 3 is spiced lamb and cucumber relish. It is well seasoned and soft 7/10. Burger 4 is beef and bone marrow. Yum 8/10. Everything is seasoned heavily and served quickly. The brown paper menus are ruined with oil and mustard. I like it here. My gin and tonic is better than any of the beers on offer, but has a cucumber in it. Bastards. We leave before anyone notices we aren’t wearing skinny jeans and don’t know who Jessie J is.
       Mishkins is owned by the same people. We go there to finish our ‘crawl’. It claims to be a Jewish deli, so we order one of several non-kosher items on the menu. Burger 5 is lamb and pistachio. It is under-seasoned and does not taste of pistachios 5/10. Burgers 6 & 7 are steamed patties with onion and cheese. They are delicious, soft and sweet 8.5/10. Onion rings are crisp and light, the fries lack texture and are dull. The cocktails are expensive and all contain gin. My missus has gin. They put cucumber in it. Bastards.
The place is odd, I’m not sure I get it. The gin list has Tesco Value as an option. This is funny. The beer list is canned Carlsberg, at £3.50. This is abhorrent. People involved in this decision should be made to wear signs with rude words on. The staff is friendly and prices are reasonable. We sat, ordered, ate and drank at the bar and were charged 12.5% service. Hmm.
    Seven burgers and gin on the breath. We stumble to a Tesco and buy easter eggs for desert. I wait for the missus to fall asleep and watch highlights of the FA cup. I love Saturdays.
More Burgers

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Second Chances

With the wealth of new breweries and beer bars in London it is easy to dismiss those which do not impress you right from the off. When faced with a bar full of choices, in excess of £3 a pint, it is perfectly understandable to classify the beers into good and bad, boring and exciting, and order accordingly. There is simply not enough time or money to continually revisit breweries and beers which failed to impress you the first time. This makes it pretty tough for new breweries, as first impressions are very important, and if they are going to make mistakes it is likely to be early on.
         After trying a few beers form Redchurch brewery, I had largely written them off. The beers were not good, and at £2.50 odd a bottle I could just not envisage buying them again with so many others on offer. But walking home on a Friday evening to be spent alone eating pizza, I thought I would give them a second chance, not least because they had released a new addition to the range, their 7.5% Great Eastern IPA.
First up was their Shoreditch Blonde, a 4.5% pale ale. I like the way their bottles look – simple, colourful, to the point, with an East London theme to let you know what they are all about. The beer was decent, a pleasing pale yellow and a thin white head, aromas of lemon and sweet bread which were reminiscent of a wit. Very gentle, light flavours of citrus and kiwi, with a crisp, metallic, bitter finish. Not amazing, but drinkable and pretty.
         The Great Eastern IPA is what second chances are made for. It looks great – rich, orangey brown, like autumnal leaves, with a big, beautiful thick head which stays right to the end of the beer. It smells fantastic – pick and mix sweets, candy sugar, caramel, toffee, and vaguely tropical. It is stunningly conditioned, lively and fresh but also smooth and full bodied. The flavour is dominated by big, tropical fruit, super juicy orange and grapefruit, almost sticky, balanced by the bitterness which is not huge and rasping, but assertive and constant. Dangerously sessionable, this was so easy to drink, so rewarding, so delicious. It’s early days, but this was my favourite bottled beer this year. I’m glad I gave Redchurch a second chance – are there any beers/breweries which you didn’t initially like and then changed your mind?

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Bear Necessities

The off-licence opposite my office, City Wines on Old Street, is always worth popping into. They have a small but well selected collection of goodies from the UK, US and further afield, including some local breweries like Kernel and Redchurch. I go in about twice a week to check on fresh deliveries of Kernel and see if they have made any good purchases from abroad, which they usually have, but none more so than last week. Seeing 3 Bear Republic beers, including Racer 5 at £2.50, is about the best thing one can do upon leaving work. One of my favourite beers in the world, this is well worth the money and I urge anyone in the area to go get some. There will almost certainly be none left though, as despite the store’s insistence on 2 per customer, my cunning disguises have allowed me to break this rule several times over.
         Racer pours pale gold, with a thin foamy head which comes and goes throughout the beer. The aroma is slightly diminished after the long journey from California, but still offers a sweet shop scent, floral and sherberty with mango and strawberry jam hiding in the background. Taste wise it delivers all the things I want from a 7% IPA - sweet with ripe orange and tangerine, a bit of mango, and chewy, indulgent caramel up front. It moves to pithy, lemon, lime and grapefruit, and then into piney, resinous depth. A herbal, flinty character bridges the gap from this into creeping, intense bitterness which envelops the palate and grips all the way to the teeth, leaving you no choice but to delve back for the sweet fruit you were wallowing in seconds ago but which seems a distant memory now. It is utterly drinkable and retains a fresh, clean and lively quality throughout which belies its high strength and dictates that one is not enough.
        Red Rocket Ale had me in less of a love struck daze but was still good. Reddy brown, almost purple in colour, it smells of citrus, red fruit, sugar and booze, like crepes Suzette and a cherry pie. It tastes big, boozy and sweet, with biscuits, caramel, and nutty the most prominent words in my notebook. Surprisingly, it was refreshing and easy to drink, the sugar balanced by an aggressively bitter finish.
        Then Hop Rod Rye appeared, chocolate brown and a big lush head, an alluring perfume of sweet tea and sherry - a good finish to the night. Candy sugar, slightly tart raisins, lemony tea, a depth that reminded me of nutty Oloroso sherry, and a barrel load of hops. It rarely happens, but it was a bit too bitter for me.  
       10 quid’s worth of drinking and worth every penny – I’m going back tomorrow and I hope the girl behind the counter doesn’t recognise me.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Powder Keg Diplomacy

There are many landlords out there working extremely hard to maintain pubs and bars that were actually serving customers in the Victorian era, over a century ago. Several of these are in London, and are wonderful places to visit, a sense of history pervading through the clatter of glasses and merry chatter, as you wonder who may have had a few too many in the same spot all that time ago. They are relatively rare though, and as such a few clever chaps have skipped this process altogether and just opened bars from scratch and pimped them up, Victorian style.
        There appears to be a fair amount of desire to drink old school, as it were, as plenty of cocktail bars in Shoreditch and other trendy spots have gone with the theme, to varying degrees of success. The cavernous, gorgeous Booking Office bar in the new Renaissance Hotel has old fashioned punches mulling away on the bar, and a cocktail list full of imperial pleasures. The Worship Street Whistling Shop, a tiny lair aging cocktails in their own wood barrels behind the bar is fun without being pretentious.
        Another to try its hand is Powder Keg Diplomacy, located in the quiet bit of Battersea, a few minutes’ walk from Clapham Junction, and despite this handicap (everywhere in Clapham being terrible of course) I actually quite liked it. If this is how the well-off lived a century ago, we have pretty much wasted the last hundred years. Lots of highly polished wood and dark leather makes the world outside seem lurid and unrefined, a world away from the upper class comfort within, the dimmed lighting and shiny cocktail mixers eliciting an air of decadence. This is a place where the smoking ban is a crying shame – a haze of silky smoke would complete the desired effect.
            It is not particularly attached to tradition though – you are still afforded all the alcoholic mod cons that are a must in any cool bar - wines from the New World, American craft beers, triple cooked chips. I was there primarily for the beers, which are a pretty mixed bag. The bottle list has some interesting stuff from at home and abroad, with some rarely seen breweries, but was a bit incoherent and lacked many affordable stand-out options. Windsor & Eton Republika was sublime and well worth the £3.75 I paid, but prices in the double figures for many bottles that I wouldn’t buy at half the price was disconcerting.
                 On tap, the 5 keg lines also felt oddly selected (3 British lagers on keg along with Anchor Steam and a cranberry stout) but the cask beers made more sense with Oakhams and Dark Star providing quality options. A house lager from Lost Brewing was slightly uninspiring but good enough to interest me in more of their beers. As with all pubs in London these days, they have scotch eggs, which we tried and enjoyed, the piccalilli making up for its diminutive size. There is a restaurant somewhere in the back, and the cocktails looked amazing, but we left after a couple of beers because we had to, it was simply too expensive. My £3.90 pint of lager was the cheapest thing available on draft, and everything else felt largely out of our price range for a January night out. This place would be good for a large group of friends, where the varied drinks and comfortable surrounds would entertain a range of tastes – although probably best to wait until pay day.