Flat Iron

Sense of direction has never been my forte, but getting lost, well that I can do. Put me in a car and remove the Sat Nav, I’m a gonner. Once it took me three hours to get from Hertfordshire to Highgate. What’s more, I’m not a ‘oh I’m late, it doesn’t matter’ type of gal. I’m painfully punctual. Being late stresses me out, being lost stresses me out – the combination of the two; well it’s a dire formula. On the aforementioned occasion – a friend’s parents’ Bollywood-themed 25th wedding anniversary – my fake tanned face looked like a marble cake; such were the extent of my tears.

Anyway, I digress. Back to being lost, which is precisely where I found (ironically) myself last week: lost in the Autumnal rain mid-way down Carnaby Street. I’d looked at the map before I left; I’d marked out which roads I needed to go down, but to no avail. I must be genetically predisposed to be anti-directionally brained (not anti One Direction, no, I love them) and there I was, looking left and right with absolutely no clue. If I were pre 90s, I’d have been properly stuffed. But, as it was, I (embarrassingly) resorted to whipping out my Ipad and using the Sat Nav – to walk. I mean honestly.

But it worked…I followed the dotted technological equivalent to the yellow brick road and found myself (and my dining companion (already waiting)) outside the night’s eatery: Flat Iron. Another steak joint in Soho, my sister had recommended it a while back, but things had been (and still are) so hectic (and I mean B-U-S-Y) that there had just been no time. But, sometimes the schedule needs to be cleared for a special occasion. Sometimes you need to take a couple of hours’ breather, sink a good bottle of red and relax. This was my reasoning, well that and the fact that I was being treated. Turn down a free meal on the town? Rare. Turn down a free meal with the fantastic company that is Tom? Never.

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My good friend – another Tom – was taking me out as a belated thank you for the South of France trip. He’d asked where I wanted to go and I’d given him the following options: Lima, Hawksmoor, Goodman or Flat Iron. In the mood for steak, but having frequented Hawksmoor and Goodman regularly with work, he opted for my last suggestion. And though last, it was by no means least.

And so it was that we arrived at Flat Iron last Tuesday. The restaurant was, surprise, surprise, a no-book (and small) so we had a 45-minute wait. That was on a Tuesday, I dread to think what it would be like later on in the week. But, with a bar next door, this went quickly and soon we were nestled into our seats. Well as much as one can nestle into seats at Flat Iron. They’re more seesaws than chairs. Luckily Tom is a 6ft-odd rugby player, so my side of the playground staple was up. But bear in mind, if your date is smaller than you…well it could be embarrassing. Fortunately it would take a fair few steaks to change the gravitational pull in our case, so I had no hesitation in tucking in.

meat cleaver

Much like Entrecôte before it, Flat Iron has few menu choices, but what it does serve, it serves well. And unlike Entrecôte (and indeed Hawksmoor and Goodman) it doesn’t burst the bank: £10 for a steak, £2.50 – £3 for sides, and £1 a pot of sauce. This wondrous news for the frugals among us, stems from the quality of meat; it’s not great. But Flat Iron masks this brilliantly through the ingenious mechanism of the pre-slice. What would be difficult to cut with knife, comes already chopped – and finely chopped meat is, well, very chewable – as in, easy to chew.

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Tom and I partnered our steaks with a selection of sides…okay all of the sides: dripping cooked chips, creamed spinach, today’s market greens, Sophie’s salad (blue cheese, candied pecans, lemon dressing), and roast aubergine with tomato, basil and Parmesan. Then, after a few token pics with the meat cleavers, we attacked.

sides flat iron

The dripping chips tasted uncannily like McDonald’s french fries, which though unexpected, both tasted nice and were a pleasant nostalgic reminder of the journey back to school (past the Peterborough service station). Quite the feat for a bit of cooked potato.

The aubergine mix tasted like Moussaka, the Sophie’s salad moreish, but not enough blue cheese (I’m a blue cheese fiend), the market greens were true to their name – green beans, and the creamed spinach was definitely creamed. Creamed to smitherines. Why blend spinach? It’s so delicious in its entirety. I wanted a side, not soup.

But back to the main event – the steak. As touched upon, it was not the best quality, but it was cooked very well and amply seasoned (rocks of salt…yummy). The chef/s had tenderised the flesh brilliantly (a good battering with rolling-pin perhaps?) and made a weak cut, a good eat. Hats off to them!  (Go for the béarnaise).

flat iron everything

Would I return? For that price – most definitely.

 

Flat Iron, 17 Beak St, London, Greater London W1F 9RW

Burger & Lobster

On February 1st 1996, an episode of Friends aired on NBC entitled The One with the Prom Video. Please find synopsis (courtesy of Wikipedia) below:

After getting his big break with Days of Our Lives, Joey pays Chandler back with $812 and an extremely tacky engraved gold bracelet. Also, an unemployed Monica is hard up for money. A home video from Monica and Rachel’s prom night reveals that Monica was previously overweight, and that Rachel had a large nose. Rachel seemed to have been stood up by her prom date, so Ross puts on his father’s tuxedo to take her to prom himself, but Rachel’s date shows up and they leave before she learns of Ross’s plans. The video then shows a speechless and devastated Ross standing at the top of the stairs. The candor of Ross’s heartbreak compels Rachel to kiss Ross.

A well-rounded overview, yes, but it fails to mention that this is also the episode in which Phoebe has some of her most famous lines. You know the ones? They’ve been quoted time and time again. No? These ones:

Phoebe: Hang in there, it’s gonna happen.
Ross: What? Okay, now how do you know that?
Phoebe: Because she’s your lobster.
Chandler: Oh, she’s goin’ somewhere.
Phoebe: Come on, you guys. It’s a known fact that lobsters fall in love and mate for life. You know what? You can actually see old lobster couples walkin’ around their tank, you know, holding claws like…

How is this relevant you ask? How is this related to a restaurant review? It’s three-fold. Firstly, like Phoebe advises, I have hung in there when it comes to dining at Burger & Lobster. Not once, not twice, but three times have I been turned away from the non-book restaurant due to over-booking on the night (ironic, I know), but I kept returning, knowing that at some point there would be a break in the crowd. This has felt like a ‘life-time’ (point two), and finally, well Phoebe is talking about Lobsters, and that – as the restaurants name suggests – is what we’d be eating. Tah da! Tenuous, I think not.

At 9.45pm on Tuesday, two companions and I voyaged from Victoria into the heart of Soho. Even at this hour we faced a 40-minute wait, but already fuelled by a bottle of Balls Brothers’s wine this passed by without complaint. Indeed, spent at the restaurant’s bar drinking a thick green Thai cocktail, and two beers for the boys, it positively flew by.

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Before I knew it, we were led around a series of bustling tables to our own. This was situated just by the serving area of the kitchen, which though was great for perving on the food, was not so great for maintaining a pleasant body temperature. At points the heat from the have-to-squint-it’s-so-bright kitchen lamp verged on uncomfortable. And there’s really only so much food perving one can do on three dishes:

1) Burger – served in a bun, add bacon and/or cheese.

2) Lobster – Half a lobster served with butter and choose either steamed or finished off on the charcoal grill.

3) Lobster Roll – Lobster meat served in a soft brioche roll with a Japanese mayonnaise.

Each are sold at £20, which though makes it easy for splitting a bill, does seem a bit skewed in terms of value. I mean we all know that Lobster is expensive; for me it was always the item on the menu that my frugal father urged me to steer clear of while growing up. The costly crustacean was to be avoided at all, well…costs. I’d never come across one of these decadent sea-dwellers for under 40 smackers, so at 20, it was an absolute steal. On the other side, in the blue corner (lobster must be red), was the burger and polar opposite; from a bargain and a steal came an extortionate meal – £20 for a burger, are you being for real?

Needless to say, none of us went for the burger. My companions tucked into the lobster, and I opted for the lobster roll. A friendly waitress speedily delivered our dishes (benefits of being so close to the kitchen – they didn’t have far to travel) and handed over three bibs. Almost always a spiller, this was decidedly useful, not to mention the perfect accessory to a series of token photos.

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As the boys battled with nut-cracker-eque devices and sturdy claws, I happily used a fork to remove chunks of lobster from inside my roll.

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Fleshy yet tender, and delightfully swaddled in a thick layer of wasabi-laced mayonnaise, I realised that it was probably a good job for my father’s bank balance that he’d banned this crustacean from my childhood. Wow it’s good. Sadly, however, its plate fellows weren’t up to scratch. The brioche was under-toasted, the chips not fried quite long enough and the salad a bit too balsamic vinegared.

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In terms of photos, atmosphere and arthropods, Burger & Lobster excelled and is worth hanging in for, but the meal of a ‘life-time?’ I think not.

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NB: In researching this piece, I sadly discovered that the concept of lobsters mating for life is a myth. According to scientist G Anderton: “Lobsters have a very tender mating ritual, in which the female is very vulnerable after shedding her exoskeleton, but after the deed is done she leaves and they never see each other again, and in fact, the male (usually being the alpha and dominant male in the area) will go on to mate with almost every other female in the area.”

The Chicken or the Egg complex

Sometimes in life we have to adjust our priorities and give up the old for the new. But sometimes it’s not quite that clear-cut: what if the new was conceived as a plan before the old, wouldn’t the new become the old? And the old the new? Something happening now, but that was planned before the previous plan? Even though the plan, planned after the plan of the new, would make it the new, because the new is happening makes it old, no?

A mind tangler, a brain boggler, a scabrous task if ever there was one – what to do? where to go? how to act? …Where does the loyalty lie…
I was in this predicament yesterday, circumstances led me to a modern-day Hamletian dilemma, ‘to blog, or not to blog,’ that was my question. Distraught at the thought of losing ‘The Audley Chronicle’; my favourite hobby, my online diary, part of my soul (oh a bit of hyperbole never hurt anyone), I sank into a melancholy state of deep thought. I knew what I had to do, but it conflicted with what I wanted to do.
I met a friend and together we roamed the streets of central London. We conversed lightly; the heat, plans, upcoming events. But ‘to blog or not to blog’, well that couldn’t be done without the ever-soothing glass(es) of wine. The dulcet tones if glorious grape being poured into a cooled drinking vessel – what sound is more mellifluous than that?
So we turned down Carnaby Street in search of an outside area to quench our thirst, and take respite from the still abrasive evening heat. Pubs bustled, jovial shouts of after work rendevous(s) wafted through the sticky air, “No, no, no; too loud, too full, look at that one it’s packed” I fussed. But then I spied it, an oasis of calm in loutish London – Kingly Court.

In we went, and as if Fate were there himself, we found ourselves (both food writers) not only at a new restaurant (just 6 days old), but at a new restaurant based entirely on the concept of chicken and eggs – which considering my dilemma on which part of my life really came first, well it couldn’t have been a more apt place to dine.
Welcome to Whyte and Brown an eggciting new eatery perfect for anyone feeling peckish, or anyone in need a place to carry out some free-range thinking…Sorry, I’m done, that’s the last gag I’ll crack…
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Though cooped upstairs (here we go again!), outside was battery packed, our area was delightfully cool; a feat which most restaurants are struggling to master this summer. A friendly, supermodel-figured, auburn-haired waitress seated us, gave our table an extra wipe down and handed us a laminated A3 menu, which we instantly started clucking over. Who knew chicken and eggs could be so versatile? Mains swayed from Light Chicken & Langoustine Pie, Hanoi Chicken Noodle Soup and Twisted Chicken Caesar Salad to Wild Mushroom Tagliatelle (fresh egg tagliatelle), Pollo-Porno Pasta, and even a Lemon Leek Risotto Scotch Egg.
Ever the eggsperimentors we felt lost…not for long though, a new plan was hatched: we’d miss the mains and order an array of starters instead – half a dozen to be precise.
We plucked these from the menu:
Polenta-Crumb Chicken Strips 5.25
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Best thigh meat in golden polenta crumb, with our mellow Garlic Mayonnaise made fresh for dipping. (F)

Half a Dozen Croquette Balls 5.45

croquette balls

Shredded chicken & pancetta, speckled with chives, lemon & melty béchamel. Served with our own Smoky Tomato sauce. (F)

Bangkok-Scotch Egg on Pickled Cucumber Salad 6.25

scotch egg

Minced chicken thigh-meat mixed with lime leaf, coriander, mint, lemon grass, chilli & ginger. A wild soft-boiled centre.

Chicken Liver Paté, Grilled Sourdough & Sprightly Salad 5.75

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Big scoop of smooth paté sitting on a board with toast & salad of capers, shallots & parsley.

Pea & Ricotta Poached Egg Bruschetta (V) 5.45

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Crunchy-soft stack of smashed garden peas, ricotta, lemon zest, Parmesan shavings, mint tips & pea shoots. Egg like a sunny cloud on top.

Harissa Hot Wings 5.95

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Baked chilli chicken wings served with caramelised orange wedges, coriander & minty yoghurt dressing. (F)

Well done Whyte and Brown, well done. Everything but the bruschetta was absolutely fantastic, and that was by no means fowl, just a tad bland. The harissa wings fell off the bone with sticky delight, the scotch egg was gooey-centred bliss, and the croquette balls crunchy wonders. This restaurant pulled off the inventive; it took the simple and made the complex, and it did it well – and not too expensively either:

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So gather your brood and get down to Carnaby Street because once this restaurant gets the press it deserves people will flock in…
Kingly Court  Carnaby St, London W1B 5PW
020 3747 9820
Oh and the blog, well sometimes forces above take pity and you don’t have to peck, sorry pick, one or the other after all!
Happy Friday!

Bone Daddies

Throw me a bone fellow bloggers…don’t rant and rave in superlatives about restaurants when there is absolutely no way that they are, or ever could be, ‘the best’. Don’t allure me with edited snaps, don’t tease my palate with delectable turns of phrase, stop duping me.

These internet gobbets, these fantastical notions of culinary expertise, did just this last night; they duped me. A red herring of a bone if ever there was one, in fact, a multitude of red herrings masquerading as bones, led me, ironically, to Bone Daddies.

Leaving work at the pinnacle of rush hour – which in Victoria translates as a ferocious battle to get to the tube (we fight to clamber into sweaty carriages underground, while the sun shines above), a commuters’ mosh-pit – I shoved myself into the crowd of irritated workers, surrendered my freshly applied face of make-up to sweat and made my way north to Soho.

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Now before I take you through the swishy black drapes and into the heart of the restaurant, I should make it clear that despite my vehement annoyance at being duped into expecting Bone Daddies to be ‘the best’, this doesn’t mean that I think it is ‘the worst’.

So now that’s clarified, welcome in. Bone Daddies is a self-professed ‘Rock n Roll Ramen Bar,’ which is ‘headed up’ by ex-Zuma and ex-Nobu head chef Ross Shonhan.

If you’re wondering what Ramen is, of which I confess I wasn’t 100% sure, here is the ever trustworthy Wikipedia definition: “Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish” which “consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat- or (occasionally) fish-based broth, often flavoured with soy sauce.” Considering I was served this (see below), I assume it to be spot on.

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Before I was served this, however, I had to get a seat. This was pleasantly easier than anticipated; the restaurant’s (which was all the rage a couple of months ago) popularity seems to have dwindled. Good news for me, I thought. Yes, I was behind the curve, yes I wasn’t going to unveil a new restaurant, nor tell you all about one that you haven’t heard of before, but I would get a seat. I wouldn’t have to deal with a Bubbledogs incident.

Indeed, after a mere 10 minutes my companion and I were seated. Five minutes after that we’d had drinks – and two visits from a petite waitress to inquire what we’d like. I say inquiries, but they were more like clutches…she wasn’t really interested in what we wanted, but how quickly we would be wanting it. Alas, the inevitability of the non-book restaurant, another in and out job where we’re treated as cash cows rather than diners.

“Which is the most popular ramen?” I asked.

“This one,” she replied and tapped the clipboard.

“The Tonkotsu Ramen?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, I’ll go for that one then.”

She turned to my dining companion.

“I’ll have the soft-shelled crab and then a side of pulled chicken with the…”

“What wait,” I interjected. “I didn’t realise there were sides.”

The whole thing had been so rushed that I hadn’t scoured the bottom part of the menu, and I most certainly hadn’t been asked if I’d want any by this harlot.

“Oooh, I’ll have the (always a sucker for a douse of crude humour)…cock scratchings.”

She didn’t smile, or even give so much as a happy twinge of facial muscle. She wrote it down, got the remainder of my dinner date’s order and sauntered off.

She and the food returned, predictably, uber fast. The starter of soft-shelled crab accompanied the mains.

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The food wasn’t horrendous, it wasn’t bad, to call it mediocre would probably verge on harsh; it was somewhere on the scale between satisfactory and good. Indeed, bits of it were good (the soft boiled egg), and bits of it were satisfactory (cock scratchings). It is also, I found, quite difficult, nay impossible to eat ramen elegantly…bending down so low a head rush is on the cards while chop-sticking cock into your mouth, well it’s not very lady-like.

To conclude, it’s not ‘the best’, it’s not ‘the worst’; I wouldn’t go for supper, or on a date. I’d consider it for a quick lunch with the ladies…if pushed – that’s the bone I’ll throw to you.

31 Peter St  London, Greater London W1F 0AR
020 7287 8581

Megan’s

Considering its length, it’s no wonder that people spend so much time talking about the King’s Road. There’s a lot to talk about.

On Wednesday night, nestled on a number 22 bus, my mother, sisters and I got to see a lot of it – for it turned out, that the restaurant we were dining at, number 571, was at the opposite end than Sloane Square tube. In fact, in terms of TFL guide lines, we probably would have been better off getting off at Fulham Broadway. Our bus voyage, however, was actually rather pleasant.

Perched on the top deck, we picked out the restaurants we wanted to dine – and had dined – at, and peered at copious window displays, which were filled with beautifully dressed skeletal plastic mannequins –  clothes which, visiting the aforementioned restaurants would mean, we’d never fit into. One pair of hot pants and strapless bikini later and we found ourselves outside number 571, Megan’s.

We were shown to our table, sadly the quaintly decorated terrace was fully booked, but our cubicle upstairs was, nonetheless, decidedly agreeable. A level up to the rest of the restaurant, it gave us a great panoramic and seated seven comfortably. Seven? Yes, in addition to the four Audley girls, there would be three Mintos – and both of these families descended from the Shores. In simplified terms, we were out to supper with our cousins. Some of you may remember my post on Made in Italy. Well after the success of our shindig at this King’s Road pizzeria, we decided that another sister/cousin, female family, extravaganza was a must. So, three months and a dozen emails later, we finally made the rendevous, and I’m happy to report that it was just as great as the first. Company was first-rate, food was – though overwhelming in portion size – very agreeable and service came with a smile – if a little slow. Here are some snaps of the evening.

female familyThe female family

Megan's
Megan’s

IMG_2305Coarse chicken liver pâté

Fish soup (soupe de poisson)
Fish soup (soupe de poisson)
Chargrilled Salmon, chips, salad and a parsley & butter sauce
Chargrilled salmon, chips, salad and a parsley & butter sauce
Côte de boeuf, salad and béarnaise sauce
Côte de boeuf, salad and béarnaise sauce
571 King’s Rd  London SW6 2EB 020 7371 7837

A Wednesday in Westminster

This time last week, I was preparing for my first trip to Parliament, well to Portcullis House. I accompanied my boss, Peter Oborne – me name dropping? never – to the Hansard Society’s 10th annual audit of political engagement within the UK; a survey funded by the House of Commons.

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I’m writing about it now, because it has taken me a while to ‘engage’ with how the evening really left me feeling, or indeed not feeling, feeling no feeling, but that’s still feeling? Anyway, back to last Wednesday.

Suited and booted, I made my way to Westminster and, typically early, found myself waiting for 45-minutes outside the newly named Thatcher room. This eager time-keeping, however, allowed me to squeeze in a quick re-read of the society’s book, which had been posted to the office earlier in the week.

Wow, this is dull,’ I thought as I turned to find yet another page of percentages, graphs, and ‘Microsoft paint’ arrows. I shut it and looked at the works of art decking the corridor, reasoning that things are always more interesting when you have an actual human being to engage with. After looking at the Thatcher portrait for the third time, I found that a queue was forming outside the namesake’s room. A queue in which 90% (there’s a percentage for you) of the members would have been privy to a discount on the bus.

At Zimmer frame speed, we entered the conference room and took to our seats. Here, I spied a handful of – what I would later learn should be referred to as – youths. The youth. Youths. Peter took up his seat on the panel next to Matt Korris (co-author Audit of Political Engagement; Senior Researcher, Hansard Society). Also on the VIP desk were the other co-author, Dr Ruth Fox, and two MPs; Natascha Engel and Chloe Smith, Labour and Conservative respectively.

After a brief introduction by Dr Fox, Korris took to his projector and proudly started his power-point presentation. At this point, I would like to state, I was open-minded. However, as this self-important, sarcastic for-want-of-a-character-trait individual, repeatedly patronised the politically uneducated, I started to feel rather unfavourably toward him, and indeed to the audit as a whole.

Infuriating man, standing there with his data, ridiculing the ‘youth’ for how little they know about Parliament and the Government – that some think they are the same thing. How “shocking” that only 47% of this generation could, if asked, name their local MP.

‘This and you, my smarmy friend, is exactly the problem’ I thought from the back row. People don’t want to be patronised about what they don’t know, they don’t want to be ridiculed for thinking that the public votes members into the House of Lords, or for not knowing that British members of the European Parliament are directly elected by British voters. Making people feel stupid does not encourage a desire to learn.

People gain knowledge when they are encouraged, and when something is made interesting to them. What have MPs done to encourage our interest in them? The occasional affair, or expenses scandal, it’s like a bad soap, our interest piques for a while – the Christmas special as it were – and then we return to not caring. But moreover, it is their lack of interest in us, which peters out our interest in them. When someone ignores you, you work harder to vie for their attention, when they continue to ignore you, (if you care) you try even harder to get their attention, and if they still ignore you,  you become despondent and just give up. If they’re not interested in you, why should you be so interested in them?

This view was reiterated when Chloe Smith took to the floor and gave one of the weakest speeches I’ve heard. “To make change we must approach the individual” “It’s the individual we need to think about” “Once we tackle the individual” “It’s the individual that matters” – the irony being that she made the individual anything but individual. She wasn’t talking about one person; she was talking about lots of ones – aka people.

Natascha Engels, with her wide-eyed, pleading demeanour, gave some personal stories – washing up, and someone saying ‘good to see an MP doing some work,’ the changes that MPs need to make to be seen in a different light. But we’ve heard it all before; saying, saying, saying – never doing. As she flicked her long blonde bob and cooled the back of her neck, my thoughts wandered to another blonde – Nadine Dorries. Now, slate her as much as you like, but this woman is a doer. And Hansard, if you took to the street and asked how many people knew who Nadine Dorries is; I think your percentages would sky-rocket.

Nadine Dorries, Observer Profile

Interested in the public, and of public interest, and with the return of her whip, an interview with Dorries is the hottest ticket in town. She didn’t sit down and rant about how little people knew her; she went out and made sure that people knew her. The press is dying, the number of people reading papers rapidly declining. As an MP you need to be where your people are – and if that means being on the reality television programme that they’re watching then so be it.

Peter? He was great. Taking questions from the floor and weaving them into beautiful, articulate responses – ‘Ukip is to the Conservative party what the Prince is to Hamlet’. He made his points with humour and eloquence, and the room ‘engaged’ with him. In fact, my overriding conclusion of the hour and a half conference was just how important journalists are to keeping the public interested in politics. God knows how many people would care about, or have the time (even if they did care) to try to work out, what the hell these survey-bearing political passionates were waffling on about – certainly not the ‘youth.’

Not having a deep and passionate interest in MPs, the running of Parliament and the Government doesn’t mean that you have the IQ of an amoeba; it means that you are a 2013 norm. So, House of Commons, instead of funding research telling you how thick your populace is, perhaps you should throw a bit of cash at researching what you can do to get people interested in you. Because at the moment, I’m afraid, Nadine Dorries is leaps and bounds ahead of you.

Fish Market

At last I was back in my own territory, back in the comfort zone – reviewing a restaurant! Or, at least, I thought I was reviewing a restaurant, but on arrival to EC2 last night with younger sister in tow, I discovered that I was in actual fact reviewing a party. A restaurant’s party. More specifically, Fish Market‘s ‘we’ve opened a terrace’ party.

The review of the shindig is written, but it’s currently in the claws of one of The Upcoming‘s sub-editors, so until it is published there, I can’t publish it here. But what I can do, is to give you a sneak peek at some of the seaside snacks we munched upon.

Feast your eyes on these:

fish market - scotch eggScotch Egg

fish market - goujonsMini Fish & Chips

scallops fish marketScallops

IMG_2191Calamari

IMG_2210Crab Pasty

IMG_2218Pea & Broad Bean Risotto

claudYounger sis tucking into some red

Make sure to get down to:

Fish Market Photo

16 New St, London, EC2M 4TR

020 3503 0790

The Audience

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I’d been seeking a ticket for this West End show since January. Yes, before the curtains of this play had even drawn. Alas, the press night was on the 4th March – when I was slicing through the snow in St Anton – so, I couldn’t make it. By the time I returned, the new show on the block had been reviewed and a press ticket was no longer available.

Why not buy a ticket? Well, this is where the show returned to the news, for (running neck and neck with The Book of Mormon) The Audience is the most expensive ticket in town; with a dress circle seat setting you back a whopping £124. An Intern at The Daily Telegraph, shelling out over a week’s allowance for one night was sadly out of the question. I tried to stave my desires; voyaging to other parts of town with The Upcoming and sinking my journalistic claws into as many productions as possible.

Still my thirst for the Mirren-led performance was not slaked. Still I concocted plans to slip in through the wings and gain access; it was a far-fetched mission, but that was how desperate I had become. Then, just as I was going to give up hope, I received a text message from, let’s call him the Other (as in the other journalist), which read: ‘What are you doing on Monday night? Have been offered tickets for Helen Mirren in The Audience. Thought you would enjoy seeing it, and I’d enjoy reading your review!’

The Other didn’t realise how right he was. Enjoy seeing it – what an understatement, I would love to see it, and indeed I loved seeing it. Last night, at precisely 7.13 p.m, I met the Other outside the Geilgud Theatre (35 Shaftesbury Avenue), for the 7.30 p.m performance of Peter Morgan’s The Audience. The play (as mentioned) stars Helen Mirren, who has returned to the role that won her the Oscar, as Queen Elizabeth II. The plot is based on the traditional Tuesday evening meeting that our Monarch has with our Prime Minister, and has had with Prime Ministers before him. Indeed, in just 2 hrs 20 mins we were given an insight into what the weekly meetings – spanning over 60 years – might have been like.

A superb script by Morgan (Frost/Nixon) sewed together a Diamond Jubilee’s worth of history seamlessly. Opting out of a chronological order format, shifts between leaders – Wilson to Thatcher, Cameron to Callaghan, Major to Eden – were both cleverly crafted and smoothly executed under the eye of Director Stephen Daldry.

What perhaps stood out the most, aside from mega-superstar Dame Helen, was the degree of humour and wit the plot carried. I hadn’t expected a play about the Queen and Prime Ministers to be so funny. Mirren’s exceptional performance of our Monarch copyright’s itself  (no-one can own the role now, and who would want, or dare attempt to recreate it?); from her pursed lips, her perfectly timed pauses, to her subtle leg-crosses and even the delicate fiddling of fingers, she was uncanny in her resemblance. It was the turn-of-the-head pauses, almost Pinter-esque, that brought the most laughter and really captured the ‘not saying anything, yet saying everything look’ that has been asserted about the Queen.

A notable absence was that of Tony Blair who, though mentioned, didn’t make the cut for character – one supposes this is due to the large air-time that the former Labour leader received in the 2006 film, and that there wasn’t enough time within the show to appropriately cover the death of Princess Diana. Or perhaps his scene was cut to make way for a new addition between Cameron and the Queen about the death of Margaret Thatcher, in which, Cameron expresses his support for the Queen to attend the longest ever serving Prime Minister’s funeral tomorrow.

Aside from the marvellous Mirren, it was Richard McCabe, who played Harold Wilson, that stole the show. His portrayal of the Huddersfield-born Labour Leader, who served as Prime Minister from 1964 to 1970 and 1974 to 1976, was absolutely fantastic. Gait, accent, tone and aura were captured faultlessly and he was undoubtedly the audience’s – of The Audience – favourite.

In conclusion, if you are willing to break the piggy bank then I would highly recommend going to see The Audience. Interesting, topical, well-written and highly amusing, this play is a wonderful opportunity to see a stellar cast in action.

*****

For tickets visit: http://www.theaudienceplay.com/home/

A new place for drinks in Sloane Square

When you work in Victoria and have a dinner party in Putney, but are meeting friends for drinks after the former and before the latter, it makes sense to meet at Sloane Square. Everyone knows where it is, you walk straight out of the tube to the square, rather than getting confused with the circle of options that meets you at South Ken. It’s got a lot of selling points.

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This is what I decided on Friday night, when I was doing the aforementioned (drinks before dinner party) – I suggested going to Sloane Square. The problem was, I wasn’t the only one that had decided to go for drinks there. Oh no, what seemed like half of London had, had the same brain wave, and even arriving at 6 p.m, I was faced with a queue to rival Disneyland’s when trying to get into The Botanist. It was absolutely jammed, to the point where not only was getting a seat not a possibility, but the odds of getting a drink within half an hour were not worth a flutter.

Now not being able to get drinks, when going for drinks, obviously posed a problem, but a greater issue for me was the fact that even if we did manage to lure the barman into serving us, we would still be hovering by the bar, squished between the rest of London. When I go for drinks, I don’t want to hold my handbag, hold my drink, be pushed left and right by a jostling crowd, no, when I go for drinks,  I want to sit down, put my drink of a table and have room to gesticulate. So after battling to get into the Botanist, I turned promptly around and left.

I was the first there; I wanted to stay in Sloane Square near the tube (and the District line to Putney), hmmn, what should I do? Where could I go? I looked around and tried to rack my brain – where had I been around here – Barts, not that close and too spenny, the Duke of Wellington, no don’t fancy it. I turned and the red lights of the Royal Court Theatre caught my gaze, I’d reviewed The Low Road there a couple of weeks before…and I’d had a drink there, I’d had a drink in The Royal Court Theatre’s bar and restaurant. YES! A big room, with lots of tables and not over-priced – FABULOUS.

I went, there was a table, the other two met me and we had a jostle free catch up. So, if you are in the vicinity and want a drink without excess human company, head to The Royal Court Theatre Bar – a hidden gem of  space, in an overcrowded square.

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Sketch

If the best bit about the restaurant are the loos; then surely the restaurant must be awful? Normally, I would agree with this principle, but that was before I embarked upon a voyage last week to Oxford Circus, to 9 Conduit Street and to a lunch date at Sketch.

With a snowy slush leaking from the sky and a bitterly cold wind causing a break-out of goosebumps, it was with a sigh of relief that I entered the warm hall-way of this establishment and found my companion waiting in the Parlour. We had opted for this territory to dine in as our finances didn’t quite entertain a dalliance with the two Michelin star restaurant that rests at the back of the building (The Lecture Room), where one course can set you back as much as £55.

The Parlour came with a rather less extravagantly priced menu, with the most expensive main coming in at a more modest £19. With the weather outside giving no signs of letting up, we decided to stage a sit-in – and to have a long lunch. Three courses long. The setting made this decision all the more easy – velvet sofas, arty lamps, colourful contemporary artwork and antique tables surround you in an Alice in Wonderland-esque design.

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The Parlour

Sadly, this decision was made progressively less easy due to the brash, stand-offish and pretentious waitresses. Specifically the bra-less, shaved head, front of house female, who constantly looked as if she’d just trodden in dog excrement. Yes, I’m in my 20s, yes I was wearing Topshop, not vintage, but that doesn’t entitle you to treat me like you’d rather I wasn’t there, Alright?

“Excuse me,” she drawled and pointed to our table, “this is a table for four people not two, can you move.” This, I accept, would have been a fair point – if, if the place was busy. As it was, there were four, I repeat four other diners – and it was 1.30 p.m.

If she had been more becoming then I wouldn’t have had an issue with her request, but she hadn’t, so I did. I told her that we would when it filled up. She stalked off.

A waitress came over, and was slightly less rude, please don’t misinterpret me to mean polite, oh no, she wasn’t polite, but she wasn’t, like her predecessor, unbearable. We ordered. My companion went for the Haddock  Soufflé (Twice baked haddock soufflé, crunchy white cabbage salad), followed by the Beef tartare (Beef fillet with mustard, spring onion, capers, egg mollet, potato “fondant”) and I decided upon the – surprise, surprise – Foie Gras (Foie gras terrine, girolles in vinegar, cranberry chutney, quince paste and pistachio), followed by the Burger (Beef burger, sketchup sauce, red cabbage and Xeres jelly).    

A different waitress returned, with the wrong dishes. She left. Another waitress approached with the right dishes, hurrah! At this point of proceedings, I had made up my mind that I didn’t like the place, I didn’t like it one bit. But then, then I tried my foie gras, followed by a bite of the souffle – and all my anger subsided as I was lifted onto a foody cloud of ecstasy. Wow, it was good – especially the Haddock (no foie gras terrine, pate or mousse can stand a chance to overly impress me after Balthazar).

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 Haddock Soufflé

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And again…

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Foie Gras

Next came the mains (served correctly first time). The presentation of both dishes were carefully crafted by what can only be attributed to a true artists’ eye. What’s more, it too, was delectable. The beef tartare was soft, rich and seasoned with just the right amount of horseradish – so that it gave a kick, but didn’t render you a weeping wreck. It was also accompanied by a small tumbler of Bloody Mary – a thumb’s up here for attention to detail.
My burger – its bap was crisp and the meat medium rare (as I’d requested), and among its garnishes was a particularly tasty spinach mayonnaise. It also wasn’t too large; no Big Mac-esque montrosity – you know the ones that soared to popularity last year (2012 seemed the year for grease) – the ones that had your gut trailing on the floor by the time you left the restaurant – those ones.

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Beef tartare

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Bloody Mary

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Burger

I licked the plate clean, and polished off the Bloody Mary, before heading to the loo. Now, the loo isn’t normally a staple to my reviews. But these, well these weren’t ordinary loos. Oh no, these loos were extraordinary – the loos I imagine that, if Lady Gaga went into the Water Closet industry, would design. They were individual eggs! About 8ft tall and peppered around a massive white-washed room, I had to take a double take – was my drink spiked with LSD? They were bizarre, beautiful and uber, uber cool. I don’t think I’ve ever come back from the bathroom with a bigger grin on my face!

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The Eggs (loos)

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And a close up…

In conclusion, though it frustrates me to say it, the food at Sketch is very good; very good indeed. But with two Michelin stars, the chefs aren’t going to be bad, are they? The point is, if the service had matched the quality of food, I would have given this restaurant my highest recommendation. As it is, there are other places that serve just as good a quality of food, but without the snooty staff. The only reason I do suggest going, is to check out the loos – they are awesome.

Food: **** Wine: ** Experience: * Price (The Parlour): £££
9 Conduit St
London
020 7659 4500