Friday, 27 February 2009

The Old Red Cow, Smithfield Market

The newly, beautifully refurbished Old Red Cow in Smithfield Market was not the place I would have expected The Quiff to choose for his birthday drinks. But then again, he didn't, I did. And if I say so myself, what a great little venue. With it being on the city side of Smithfields it runs the risk of being over-run by lawyers, bankers and their bretheren from the suited profession. Instead it was packed to its admittedly rather small rafters with graphic designers, film makers, printers and other creatives all of which served to further emphasise how deeply uncool the Quiff and me are.

Despite it being over two floors, everyone seemed to migrate upstairs where a free jukebox encouraged a random selection of Phil Collins, Elton John and David Bowie, which was a lot better then it might sound. The Thursday night crowd were definitely in preclub mode, or perhaps pre-payday suggested the Northerner, as impromptu singing , dancing and hugging broke out in the groups of pretty young things that surrounded us.

Apparently they do a superb Bloody Mary but technical glitches and an overrun bar staff meant I settled for the beers which were fine. The Northerner rated the house red as very quaffable, which was obvious given the way her and Big D demolished the bottle.

They also do great food according to a couple of people I spoke to, but no-one seemed to be in the mood for eating. The Old Red Cow is a place for drinking and unwinding and the couple who run it have the charm of old school Rovers Return landlords with the coolness and style to match the clientele. A good combination, and a good boozer.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Market Coffee House, Spitalfields

So how about a big bold claim - the Market Coffee House in Spitalfields is the best cafe in London. Not convinced? Well over the last year or so it's become a regular – i.e. daily - haunt for me and my good buddy, AKA the Rock Star. We've become genuine fan and the Rock Star knows a thing or two about fandom. Here are some of the reasons why we are so keen on the place.

Reason One - great coffee. Obvious I know, but it’s surprising how many cafes serve bitter, weak or what I personally regard as the cardinal sin of coffee - lukewarm. Not so the Market.

Reason Two - Great food. The ham and cheese toasted sandwiches are the heartiest and best in London; the cakes, simply to die for.

Reason Three – the staff. Everything that is good about London service is represented by this multicultural (English, European, Antipodean) team of hipsters who prove that being cool and friendly can co-exist. Oh and they are very good at their job. And they are very good looking. Or so the Rock Star says.

Reason Four – the management. I don’t know the owner’s name but she is the personification of charm and serenity. She also comes with the cutest Jack Russell.

Reason Five – the customers. Besides the Rock Star and me you have your mix of East London hipsters; fashion conscious European tourists; Americans on gap year both MacBooked and TimeOut’ed; and the odd stray from the City to provide the pantomime hate figures.

The Rock Star and I have been there today. We will go again tomorrow. I suggest you drop by sometime.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

The best Sunday roast in South London - The Florence in Herne Hill

For many years quaint Herne Hill in south London was a social wasteland devoid of a strong identity. Was it a posh person's Brixton or a poor person's Dulwich? I know this because for the last ten years I've lived here. In the early noughties a revolution of sorts began with the launch of the revamped Commercial pub, quickly followed by the opening of a late night bar / club Escape, and then a remarkable revamp of the former Prince Regent on Dulwich Road.

However it was the opening of The Florence, also on Dulwich Road in 2008 that truly announced Herne Hill as a social destination. The combination of a great selection of wine and beers (including the Weasel brand brewed on the premises), a lateish licence, and Absolute radio friendly music has provided a magnetic pull to the local pretty young things, and midlife crisis oldsters looking to 'hang with the youth'. Friday and Saturday nights have become party nights that compare favorably with anything you might find in nearby Clapham, or Clapham wannabe aka East Dulwich. In fact in December I spent the best New Years Eve I have ever had in London at the Florence, which is testimony as to how well the place is working. But that's a story for another day. And in case you're wondering why I don't mention Dulwich ... lets just say if that's your idea of a night out, then this is not the blog site for you.
Today I wandered down to the Florence not for a party session but to take advantage of what is probably the best roast in South London. Goodness, some might even say the whole damned city.
And clearly I'm not the only person who thinks that, as upon arrival there was barely a table to spare. 'Quite quiet actually' informs the pretty young Australian who took our order. Well quiet comes in different guises then as with the front half of this massive pub overflowing with hungover hipsters, and the rear half suffering the new blight of good pubs that is pram congestion , the Northerner and I took up a perch near the large vat, that is responsible for the wonderful Weasel. So, what to drink? What else but a Bloody Mary to get things going while we decided which of the three roasts we would order. I went for chicken while the Northerner, for the third time in a row opted for beef. Why beef again? I enquire. You don't mess with a winning formula she replied. Touche.
Bloody Mary's are flowing and our roasts quickly follow. Arguably a little too quickly, but there are no complaints from the Northerner and I once they arrive. To say that the portions are massive is an understatement. But the half chicken resembles what I can only imagine an ostrich on a plate would look like with crisp roast skin and subtly seasoned. Meanwhile the Northerner's beef is cooked to perfection at just on the bloody side. Both meats are accompanied by a meaty, yeasty gravy, three pitch perfect roast potatoes, veg, and a Yorkshire pudding the size of a Mini Cooper.
The roasts are simply delicious - the Northerner, who is as discerning a roast connoisseur as you are ever likely to find in the fashion industry states unequivocally that they are the best she has experienced south of the Tees and something that more of our friends simply must experience. When by pleasant coincidence we do bump into a bunch of friends celebrating an upcoming 40th, we invite ourselves to their table. They are all similarly satisfied with their Sunday roasting and are settling into an afternoon of drinking. Did we stay around? Well it wouldn't be right for the Northerner and I to have left straight away but needless to say we exercised some discipline, and managed to leave before darkness kicked in.
No doubt there are many contenders for this coveted title. And as a criticism the oversized Yorkshire puddings were slightly chewy when we were looking for crispness. But those are mere quibbles. And the Bloody Mary's? Pretty damned fine actually. Perhaps not as spicy as I would have liked nor with the vodka kick my hungover body craved, but very palatable nevertheless. So lets declare the Florence the champion of the South and the social saviour of Herne Hill.

In search of the Perfect Bloody Mary

What is the perfect Bloody Mary? Why would anyone write about it? Does it matter? Well the answers to these would be a) it tastes great when you're hungover b) It would be fun finding out and c) of course it doesn't.
But since drinking my first Bloody Mary at the ripe old age of 41 (last year in the Rivington Bar and Grill) I thought how much fun would it be to do all the things that I love - drinking,checking out club, barhopping under the guise of searching for the perfect BM. So here we go. Welcome to my funny little world. I'll keep updating you on my many 'adventures' through bars, pubs, cafes and clubs in London around the world, and occasionally, just occasionally I'll buy and review a Bloody Mary.

That's it.... I'll keep you posted