Archive for ‘diaries’

February 1, 2011

#Meateasy, Goldsmiths Tavern, 316 New Cross Road, London SE14

I’ve come to the Meatwagon late. In fact so late that it’s been stolen. The South London burger wagon that became a food cult was stolen in December and it looked like I’d never get to taste the meaty goodness I’d heard so much about. I was just going to have to live with it. At least until the birth of the #Meateasy. This pop up venture above the Goldsmiths Tavern in New Cross is looking to raise funds for a new Meatwagon. This is their second chance and my meaty redemption.

It’s just English who responds to my #Meateasy invitation and like me I think he’s considering his choice days in advance. As we arrive at Goldsmiths Tavern we know we’re in the right place but all the same its not giving us any clues. The barmaid, looking the two suits up and down, has the answer: Meateasy? Thru-the-back-turn left-thru-the-door-up-the-fire-escape. She’s obviously said this a few times over the last few weeks. Peering into the back and a darkened dancefloor it looks unlikely to lead anywhere but we obediently make our way to the back. And this is how I find myself stood on a dark dancefloor in New Cross, with English; as Rhythm is a Dancer pumps through the speakers. It’s a bizarre moment to say the least. Then to the left, a chink of light and we’ve either found it, or the bogs. It’s raining as we ascend the fire escape from the beer garden. A family pass us on the stairs and straight faced tell us that it’s not too busy. I don’t get my hopes up as the meatwagon queues were legendary. My caution is well placed as we are greeted with a smile, given a raffle ticket and told that we will order in around two hours. There’s no question of leaving – we have tickets and we have a bar – what else do we need?

The room is busy with expectant punters sat, stood and perched; the kitchen looks to be working at full capacity and the front of house staff are screaming. Raffle ticket numbers to call people into the order queue and names for those about to be served. As time passes voices start to strain and the loud hailer comes out. At the bar its as hectic with a choice of cocktails and Meantime London Lager and Union. At £3.50 a bottle its not going to be the cheapest of nights but then they hardly need to push cheap beer to pull the punters and to be fair the atmosphere is better than any bar in Central London which would charge the same or more.

As food leaves the open kitchen necks are strained, usually followed by ohhh I might have that, or that, ohh no that. We hardly notice the wait, which is pretty much the 2 hours predicted, though coming later seems to be the best tactic for a shorter wait. Before long our numbers are called and we are in the queue having to make choices. Not everything at the #Meateasy is easy! With the French Dip and Philly Cheese Steak sold out I opt for the Dead Hippy as much for the name as for the fact that it’s what Big Macs should taste like with its double patty and special sauce. Onion Rings, Fries and Buffalo wings accompany – I mean it would be wrong not to wouldn’t it. I can honestly say that I could have closed my eyes and been in Brooklyn. Its the best burger experience i’ve had in the UK and perhaps anywhere.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The Goldsmith Tavern is due a Capital Pub Company makover shortly and #Meateasy is open now until March. My advice is to get in while you can. When the Meatwagon returns a fleet may be needed to satisfy fans old and new.

Pics courtesy of Tehbus

#Meateasy, Goldsmiths Tavern 316 New Cross Rd,  London SE14 6AF

January 12, 2011

Mason & Taylor, Bethnal Green Road, E1

I have eagerly awaited a visit to Mason & Taylor since hearing that the folks behind The Duke of Wellington were opening on Bethnal Green Road. The Duke in Dalston was at one time just around the corner and quickly became a firm favourite. It has it all. Great staff, great beer, great food. It is as you may have guessed Great.

I was willing Mason & Taylor to be on a par with the Duke as I don’t live around the corner from the latter anymore but I do work nearby Bethnal Green Road. A first attempted visit had been thwrated by their Christmas Party but undetered and in fact more eager I headed to Mason & Taylor the next day. I won’t leave you hanging. It is in fact also… Great. The décor is stripped back concrete and canteen chairs. It bucks the trend of filling the space with kitch which more often than not looks like an explosion in an Oxfam shop. The staff are, as with The Duke, efficient, friendly and knowledgeable. The food is small plates for sharing; a British tapas I suppose. The York ham with poached duck egg and parsley sauce and a rarebit were my particular favourites. As for the beer there is a wide choice with around 12 ales and beers on draught as well as a seasonal bottled list. I had my first pint of Brodies, Redemption and Wandle at The Duke and Mason & Taylor continue the trend with an introduction to the Camden Town Brewery and their American style, Camden Pale Ale and the helles style Camden Hells Lager. Judging by the empties which soon pile up you can say it went down well.

In my post on the Owl and the Pussycat I pondered if it would only ever be a fallback. On the form of Mason & Taylor I don’t see that a fallback would even be needed.

Mason & Taylor, 51-55 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6LA

December 31, 2010

Tournee Generale: Why can’t we be more like the Belgians!

After a Christmas where any TV choice was dictated by a Ben 10 obsessed 3 year old it was a welcome change to return home and see what the V+ box had in store.  Oz and Hugh Raise the Bar seemed like the most appealing offering but in televisual terms proves that the bar tends to be quite low these days. The format is the well worn travel mission where our hosts supposedly showcase the best of what’s on offer with a challenge in the last programme of running their own bars: for one night only that is. It’s laboured, gimmicky TV which relies on stereotypes and a scattergun approach to content. It leaves me asking: why can’t we be more like the Belgians! Yes that’s right the Belgians. Stay with me.

Such was my despair I went to the fridge, reached into the bottom shelf and cracked open a bottle of  Tournee Generale. Quite possibly the only beer created as part of a TV show (of the same name) and sold commercially? Now i’m sure I may be corrected at this point, but its the only one I know of. And yes you guessed it. It’s Belgian. The result is Tournee Generale (6.5%). It’s a cloudy, amber beer, with a creamy head and a definite  Coriander taste and smell. It’s not a classic but is more than drinkable. In some ways, the fact that its brewed (by Duvel Moortgat) as a result of a TV show is its most interesting characteristic  

For those who remember MTV in the 90s, when it was about the music and not awful teen reality,  you’d recognise the shows co-host, Ray Cokes who is paired with Jean Blaute who you probably don’t.  As the name suggests the series is a tour of brewers in search of  the countries best with the objective of brewing a Speciale Belge. From what I’ve viewed so far it’s not the scattergun approach of our BBC equivalents; crediting the viewer with a little intelligence and as and added bonus there are no shots of a hungover Oz Clarke in his pants!

Here’s a taster! Interested to know what your views are on the treatment of beer in the mainstream media.

April 27, 2010

The Warwick (The Gastro Half Marathon)

The Warwick in Pimlico was the venue for a Sunday lunch which will not soon be forgotten for food and service which were poles apart.

As Lou and I arrived at 1pm to meet O and Meister there were only a handful of tables occupied. Designed from the gastro pub by numbers manual it’s a mix of mismatched tables and chairs, benches on stripped floors. Asking for a pint of Royal London, one of only three Ales (Green King IPA and Abbot Ale being the others) the barman seemed confused by my choice. Repeating my choice again I pointed at the pump. This first sign of the trend for the afternoon barely registered.
As the bar filled over the next 2 hours a definte division formed with a Nappy Valley developing in the lowered area. Getting from the table to the toilet became a mission, weaving round strollers, toddlers and their parents all blocking the passageway to the toilets.

The pace of the 3 staff increased with every new table, dashing from one side of the bar to another, in and out of the kitchen, nerves fraying, a scene of inefficient fire fighting. Plates were stacked at either end of the bar, constantly fed by annoyed diners clearing their own tables. The pile closest to Nappy Valley looking as if there could be a cascade of knives, forks and gravy at any second. Although this should have been our cue to leave the food looked and smelt great and watching what would unfold next was like strange voyeuristic theatre.
The danger to Nappy Valley is cleared by one of the kitchen staff, or perhaps even the chef, which could go some way to explain the near 60 minute wait for food. There are no thoughts of the chaos around us as we ravenously attack the Soft Shell Crab, Pan Fried Scallop and Seared Foie Gras. If the kitchen is at boiling point at this point it doesn’t show as each dish cannot fail to impress, from good produce to presentation. The scallop and foie gras dishes while pan fried or seared are crisp from the pan but not overcooked, as is often be the case when diverting from normal pub menus. The accompanying carrot puree with the latter dish adds a subtle sweet edge to the richness of the main element. Its safe to say that appetites are sated and we are ready for the main courses.

We prise another bottle of Malbec (Mendoza 2007) from the bar after pointing it out on a stained and sodden wine list, an early casualty of the plate mountain. This sustains us for the 35 minute wait for three mains, the fourth coming 15 minutes afterward having been left off the order. All I can do is drool at the plates as the other three tuck in. The roasted cod looks good, though there seems to be a shortage of puy lentils. My roast pork belly arrives without any word of apology. Its at this point that my nerves start to fray slightly and I ask if they expect me to pay. The manager waves his hands around and mutters for me not to worry. He’s probably contemplating that there are many hours of this left; with a group of weary London Marathon runners limping in medals round their necks. I’m thinking we deserve one at this point for the Nappy Valley Slalom and the Freestyle Drink Pointing. Despite all the grief it’s certainly worth the wait. It has a thin scored crackling which delivers the required sweet fatty hit without picking it from the molars for the next week. The pork is moist, the accompanying veg, apple sauce and Yorkshire Pudding are all to a good standard.
Our own half gastro Marathon complete consensus at the table is that dessert may be a dish too far. Meister and myself leave quickly for a pint at Cask while the ladies settle the bill. We are seated and served when we receive a call to say that we need to guess the bill. They sound please with themselves. We have a little time to think before they arrive. Knowing that it should be in the region of £150 we are dumbfounded with the final bill after an expert complaint. £55. Was it the right bill that they discounted? How did they reach that amount? I’ll probably never know if this was an isolated incident for The Warwick, as despite the fact it was hugely discounted and the food was superb there are plenty of places that can get both right. So, Gold medal for Lou and O for world class complaining, Silver to myself for the Slalom, Bronze to Meister for his choice and a wooden spoon to The Warwick.

April 20, 2010

Steins (what’s the Wurst that could happen)

The skies over London have been quiet and free of emission trails for a few days now. Berlin was the weekend destination for Captain Engish and Hadedar but short of braving trains, ferries and buses they had no alternative but to concede to the volcanic ash cloud and recreate the German experience in London.

Saturday morning, the sun was shining and I one foot in the doghouse following a later than planned Friday night. The text came suggesting Katzenjammers and as much as I felt like sitting in a windowless cellar having hair of the dog (possible its entire back), a walk in the park was the order of the day. Late afternoon and an update. Common sense has prevailed (also known as Hadedar) and the trip to the cellar has been shelved in favour of Zeitgeist. The text simply read “In Zeitgeist, eating curry wurst and chips”. At this point although the park and the Vitamin D had done me a world of good the thought of curry wurst was appealing, not to mention the prospect of a pint of Paulaner. I wouldn’t have to wait too long as a further text suggested a Sunday afternoon at Steins in Richmond.  The prospect of an afternoon by the river and a few beers was a promising one.

Set off the towpath close to Richmond Bridge, Steins offers a Bavarian al fresco experience, serving traditional dishes and beer by the pint and stein. All seating is outdoors, the only indoors being a wood cabin housing the kitchen and the toilets.

As I arrive I find a English and Hadedar have found a table and guarding the extra place. I am handed a menu and told to take my place in the queue, order my food and beer, pay, collect my beer at a seperate queue and that the meal will be delivered to the table. The queue moves at a crawl with one person operating the till; slowly. What happened to German efficiency, or is that just a lazy stereotype?

Mission accomplished and stein of Paulaner Munchner in hand I return to the table, weaving through buggies and tightly pack tables. Within minutes my food arrives. Perhaps the system does work. The sausage is tasty as are the spicy potatoes (albeit over seasoned). There is an absence of sauerkraut which was part of the description and in its place a limp salad. I consider asking for it be added but expecting that there would be a queue for this I finish my meal and head to the bar for another Paulaner Munchner; ensuring my food receipt is at the ready. No beer is served without having ordered food, perhaps due to licence or to keep firmly focus on the family market.

On a warm day by the river in Richmond you cannot fail to have an enjoyable experience but still Steins didn’t quite live up to the promise.  Ideal for families, the owners target market it benefits from not being overrun by loud groups interested only in drinking as many steins as possible, but could deliver more in terms of the food and the experience. For me it needs to be less works canteen and deliver more on its prime riverside spot. That said it was busy and doubtless will continue to be so. In short, enjoyable, not a destination in itself but they’re are wurst places to spend a day by the river (sorry couldn’t resist).

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