Monday, 28 October 2013

STRIPPED BACK

It's been a while since I last went to a pop-up, so I once again went with my gut feeling and booked a couple of tickets to Chef Ben Spalding's Stripped Back at Redhook Restaurant.
 The concept began 15 months ago in Broadway Market in Hackney, and has supposedly been 'hugely' successful.
The meal was described as to 'consist of breads, butter, eight servings of balanced, creative & delicious food, along with a few unexpected twists in between'.
My instinct chose to take their word for it.

The last few dinner and pop-up experiences that I selected for us have been good, so Mr D let me take the lead in the decision-making for this...

It was a Sunday evening, which we later realized was not quite an ideal day:

1. Not many places are open on a Sunday, including Redhook - we got to Farringdon earlier than expected and did a little stopover at Zetter Townhouse for some drinks instead.

2. Apparently a 'storm' was coming that very day, and it was overly-dramatized all over the news and Twitter - I brought my new WINDPROOF DOUBLE-CANOPY umbrella just in case... 

 

The selection of wine was very limited, with rather extortionate prices, in my opinion.
I frowned in disapproval as Mr D ordered an average bottle of Shiraz that cost £18.00.


The first dish that was placed in front of us had a few spicy rice crackers in it.

Me: 'This looks like the ones you get out of the packet at the Japan Centre or Chinatown.'
Mr D: 'Maybe it is...'

Anyway, we assumed that it was just some nibbles to 'whet out appetites'...

 

Next, we were served some crackers (or rather 'A' cracker, broken in half) with Viking(?) butter, sprinkled with some muscovado sugar, on a piece of metal. A waiter also come round with a platter of rice-cakes for us to pick off. 

Mr D: "It feels like I'm eating the ingredients of a cake mix."
Me: (ignores Mr D and curiously inspects the piece of metal) "Maybe we could break some plates and use the pieces to serve food in our kitchen next time."

I'm pretty sure in the 'key details' we were supposed to be served bread...
Maybe the shops ran out of bread as everyone was frantically hoarding food in preparation for 'the end of the world'. A.k.a. rain.


Crabmeat with grapes and parmesan. And I think there were some chopped almonds in it as well. Finally a substantial looking dish - things were starting to look up.
We did like this dish, nice different flavours in each mouthful, and a decent portion too.

 

And then we were faced with this...

It was some salmon belly dish with slices of guava, cucumber, onion and vermicelli.

There was a moment that both of us looked at it, speechless...

Me: "It looks like someone's leftovers."
Mr D: "It looks like a salad."
Me: "Maybe it IS a salad." (watches as Mr D picks out the cucumber slices and drops them in my already sad-looking plate)

By this time we were both trying to guess how many 'servings' we had actually been given - and whether those rice crackers should be included in the count...


Before our next dish arrived, we were handed a sheet of paper which read 'Here are the cuts of cow that are in your next dish...'
This got us a bit more excited again, as we eagerly anticipated what our next dish would be.

And then THIS came out...

A bowl of mushed up meat, with a piece of VERY hard bread on the side - even 6ft 7" Mr D struggled to break it apart.
We each had different visualizations of the dish - this was definitely not one of them.

 

And as if the previous dishes weren't already disappointing enough...this was dessert.

White chocolate, peanut butter, and jam.

Even more silence as we started at the disaster that was laid in front of us.

Me: "What IS this?!"
Mr D: "White chocolate."
Me: "It looks like someone attempted to make a cake and then ran out of time to leave it in the fridge for it to set." (Spoons up the distasteful-looking puddle and shoves it into mouth) 

Now, I've eaten deconstructed desserts before, like the delicious cheesecake at Parlour. But never have any of those looked as abysmal as this.

Alongside that, we were served cups of malt milkshake...

Me: "This tastes like Ovaltine."
Mr D: (takes a sip, and face scrunches up in disgust)

I mean, who makes MALT MILKSHAKE. Sometimes sticking to basics works out better, like chocolate or strawberry, maybe? 
Even the funky looking straws could not salvage it.

 One of my favourite courses of a meal - RUINED.


 

This is probably the first time that I can admit that I made the wrong choice - it's usually Mr D that makes the bad decisions. I think it's starting to rub off on me.

 Considering we paid £34.00 (+£1.50) per person (excluding drinks), maybe not quite our money's worth. In terms of food that is. Although we did get a good dose of humour from it...
The entire meal felt more like a roller-coaster ride - with more downs than ups.

I don't usually like writing negative posts, but looking back at the whole experience, this was just too disastrous to miss out in my archive...
I'm sure Chef Ben Spalding is a very talented (and good looking) man - but maybe he just took the twists a bit too far... 

This post will clearly make mum and dad question about their dear daughter's spending and choice of food. They will be visiting soon - I better choose wisely this time.

I also should start cooking again at home more often. 
And I am even tempted to bake a white chocolate and peanut butter cake of some sort this weekend - just so I can wipe out the horrid nightmares and rekindle my love for them again.

The Cheekster, signing out x

Sunday, 20 October 2013

CHAMBORD COCKTAIL CHALLENGE

So I was lucky enough to be selected to be part of the decadent Chambord Challenge Experience, courtesy of Square Meal and Chambord.
With this stroke of luck, I was given a passport to eight cocktail bars that were participating in the Chambord Challenge, entitling me to sample 2 complimentary Chambord cocktails in each bar, between 1st-30th September. The samples included one Chambord Glamour, the new signature serve by Chambord, and a bespoke cocktail designed by each bar.

I didn't start til mid-September, but I finally managed to complete all 8 bars just in time - quite evenly spread as I preferred to take my time to enjoy each experience as opposed to going on a binge. Company is always welcomed, so I brought along Mr D who is clearly a seasoned drinker of all things alcoholic...

So let's see how each cocktail bar fared...

Covent Garden Cocktail Club

This was the first bar we visited, and our first time trying the Chambord Gl'amour - it tasted quite sharp and strong (in a good way), but would have been great with a layer of froth, which we noticed that the majority of the other bars had implemented. There was also a bit of a spicy aftertaste.

The signature cocktail was served in a tall glass, topped off with a strawberry and some rosemary. It looked bright and summer-y, and tasted quite sweet and fruity, although we felt that there was a bit too much crushed ice that made the drink quite diluted towards the end. 
Presentation was good, and I personally like sweet and fruity cocktails, so this refreshing cocktail gets a nod of approval from me.

There were some problems with the lighting so the place was quite dark, but the staff were generally friendly despite it being quite busy at the bar.

 

The Crazy Bear

The Chambord Glamour was served in a martini glass - it had a nice layer of foam.

The signature cocktail was served in a tall, long glass, and topped with a pretty viola. It was gin-based, mixed with pineapple bitters, marmalade and agave, which gave it a sweet and fruity tropical taste. Nice layer of froth at the top.
Yet another tasty summer cocktail that I really liked. And cocktails with pretty flowers and presentation always get a plus from me - I'm just such a girly girl. Lady, I mean.

Service and waiting time wasn't too bad as the bartender gave a clear explanation of the drinks.

 

The London Cocktail Club

The night started off pretty well as we were greeted by the friendly guys behind the bar. 
What confused me at this place was that we were served two of the same cocktails - none of which were the Chambord Glamour, that I thought was a standard sample to be judged in this competition.

Anyway, the signature cocktail consisted of chilli, Licor 43, lemon, egg white, vanilla, creme de cacao blanc, Chambord. This was topped off with a chocolate bourbon biscuit, which I'm guessing was to compliment the chocolate liqueur. A pleasant sweet citrus flavour, with a nice layer of froth from the egg white that gave it a silky creamy texture that worked well with the drink.


The Lucky Pig

There was an event going on but we were lucky to be let in to try out the cocktails. The place was busy as expected, but the barman was still quite attentive - he gave us a couple of shots and refreshments to make up for the lack of available seating space and the wait, which wasn't too long.

The Chambord Gl'amour was nice and strong, with a smooth layer of froth.

We were given a selection of four to choose from for our second cocktail - we went for the Isadora Belle, made with Belvedere Raspberry Vodka, Chambord, raspberry puree & pineapple juice and topped with prosecco. A good, thick layer of froth topped with a cute raspberry.

An obvious raspberry theme going on there, not that I'm complaining as I love fruity flavours...


Long Bar at The Sanderson Hotel

After having some pretty good Chambord Glamour cocktails at other venues, I was pretty let down by the one served here. It looked and tasted pretty average.

The second cocktail was the Limited Edition - Imperial Vodka, Chambord, Grand Marnier, strawberries, lemon juice and orange bitters.

 The bar staff weren't very friendly nor attentive considering it was a quiet evening - they looked like they were more focused on packing up...
Definitely one of the least memorable in terms of drinks and service, which is a shame as I had pretty high hopes on this place.

 

London Cocktail Club, Shaftesbury Avenue

After two failed visit attempts (once we were put off by some pretty drunk people outside, and the second time it was closed...), we finally made it in and got some seats at a high table.

The Chambord Glamour was sweeter than some others, and easy to drink. It had a thin layer of froth at the top, but it was not quite as smooth and creamy as some of the other cocktails.

Their signature cocktail was served in a long glass, made up of vodka, hibiscus, lemon juice, sours, Chambord, and topped up with soda water.
It wasn't very strong, but very fruity and fresh. Maybe a tad bit diluted as it would have been nice to have some stronger flavours coming through. Overall a very summer-y cocktail.

 

Salon Bar de Joel Robuchon

This was probably the prettiest looking Chambord Glamour that we tried - it had a much lighter colour to it, a nice balance of sweetness, and lovely creamy froth.

Their signature cocktail was made with homemade thyme syrup, lime, 3 dashes of whisky, Bacardi 8 rum and Chambord. A rather complex concoction which was quite strong with a smokey aftertaste. Also very interesting herb-y taste.

Also the most chilled out and comfortable place amongst the rest, with good attentive service.

 

Oskar's Bar, Dabbous

 The 8th and final place on the list...after three failed attempts.

The Chambord Gl'amour was served in a different looking goblet glass - a bit sweeter than average and easy to drink, though the froth not quite as smooth.

The signature cocktail was served in a more unique manner, where I constructed my drink with the ingredients - well the drink was already mixed in the bottle so it was just a matter of applying my artistic skills!
Made with American whisky, fresh orange, lemon juice and Chambord - sweet and fruity, and also very pretty and colourful, which was appealing to the eye.





And that brings an end to my journey through the Chambord Challenge.  

Another perk of completing the reviews the chance of winning a pair of tickets to the OhLaLa-Macarons Cocktails and Macaroon Masterclass.

Clearly, it doesn't look like I've won, but nonetheless it has been an enjoyable experience!

And you also may have noticed I have a slight obsession with silky smooth froth...
 
At least there was another fun week of cocktails that we took advantage of during London Cocktail Week. 
Everyday should be a cocktail day...

Looking forward to more exciting wins!

The Cheekster, signing out x

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

URBAN WOOT FOUR FRIDAYS

Finally a supper night that's being hosted in my area! - it would have been wrong not to go...
The Four Fridays supper night started on Friday 13th September, which was a collaboration with Jesse Dunford Wood and Parlour. Each supper night was based on a different theme - 'Lucky For Some', 'Humour', 'Pot Luck', and 'Four Friday's Finale'!

The concept involved sharing two courses of sharing plates with your fellow diners - sharing great food with great company with a touch of Urban Woot crafted entertainment during the evening.

I have passed by Urban Woot numerous times over the past year and a half, yet have never stepped foot inside...
Upon entering, we were warmly greeted by Urban Woot navigator Majella - we'd recently became acquainted on Twitter, and it was good to finally meet in person. 

 

 


The interior was really colourful and quirky, but I especially LOVED the table arrangements. I always feel that scattered rose petals have a nicer and softer touch as opposed to flower arrangements which can sometimes be quite obstructive.  
Unless of course you're sitting opposite someone you detest, in which case it might work in your favour...

Nevertheless, I digress...



Knowing how much I LOVE food (eating and taking photos!), lovely Majella brought me round to the kitchen prep area to have a little sneak peek, where Jesse and JP were hard at work. 
I've eaten at Parlour a couple of times before, so I had no doubt that the food was going to be good - apparently Jesse refers to me as the 'Twitter Girl' or 'Miss Cheekster' :p

 



| Freshly Baked Soda Bread with Whipped Butter |

 

| Ravioli of Raw Vegetables, Goat's Cheese & Golden Raisins |

 

| Cold Roast Beef with Grilled Broccoli |



| Chestnut Hummus with Rosemary Pitta Bread |



We then went to seat ourselves down - we picked the table with the sofa at the end because it looked the comfiest, and the light from the lamp would also help with the photos in the dimly-lit room...
Whilst waiting for the rest of the guests to arrive, we got ourselves some drink tokens and raffle tickets for the lucky draw!





Not long after, other guests came over to join our table, and we became acquainted with the lovely Shirley and Sherry.

Now on to the food...

| Egg Drop Soup |

Majella gave us a demonstration on how we should eat this. Each of us were provided with a bread stick which we used to stir the egg yolk with the mushroom consomme, which we were then instructed to down it like a shot. 
I don't really eat raw egg yolks, but the heat from the mushroom consomme and the stirring helped to cook it a little. A different variation to the Chinese version of Egg Drop Soup - a tasty mouthful of egg-y goodness.

 

| 'Late Summer Celebration' Salad with Tomato Dressing |

I've had this dish before at Parlour, which I loved - pleasing to the eye, and a good mix of greens with light dressing.
I will eat anything with pretty flowers. Unless it's poisonous...like the...Rhododendron. Because then I would die. 



| Pork & Peanut Rolls with Basil & Tiny Mint |

 This had a bit of an Asian feel to it, kind of like Vietnamese rolls, probably because of the skin.



| 'Back Door' Smoked Salmon |
 


| Chicken Liver Pate with Yesterday's Bread |

Some of us originally thought it was pate served on a slice of toast, before realizing that it was a whole chunk of pate - it was huge. Our half of the table managed to eat up quite a bit, whilst the other portion at the other end was hardly touched. Not that many pate enthusiasts I suppose!



There was still quite a lot of food left at the end of our first course, but I managed to control myself to save some space for the second course - DESSERT!

Whilst our stomachs were resting in between courses, the quiz commenced - the questions based on great last performances, films and stars. General knowledge quizzes are clearly not my forte, so I just left it to my fellow group mates to lead us through. 

When it was finally time for the second course, a long sheet of aluminium foil was rolled across the length of our tables. 
And then it began. THAT BENNY HILL song...

JP and the rest of the Urban Woot gang started scattering, or should I say, artistically placing, individual elements of the dessert on top of the foil.  
Each time when we thought that it was over, MORE dessert was brought out. We eyed other people at the other tables already greedily attacking their food, but we remained patient and controlled until the very end - well, almost.



The end result was this...



The desserts included

| Blackberry & Apple Cheesecake |
| Toasted Marshmallow Wagon Wheels |
| Orange & Polenta Cake with Lingonberry Cream |
| White Chocolate Mousses with Peanuts & Caramel |
| 'Lil Meringues with added Sprinkles | 
| Double Battenburg Cake |
| Salted Caramel Chocolate Rolos |

As well as lots more that were off-menu!

A huge sharing platter of sugar madness. It reminded us of the time we went to Bar Chocolat and experienced the food prepared by the experimental group Blanch & Shock.
Eating food off tables must be the 'IN' thing these days...not that I'm complaining.
My favourite was definitely the popping candy! And not forgetting the BeeGees honey, which is also currently on the menu at Parlour.
 If you ever stop by Parlour, I would highly recommend the cheesecake...



 At the end of the meal, entertainment was provided by Harriet Starling, with her pop and folk songs.
And not long after that, it was time for the raffle draw, where Jesse made it back just in time to select the lucky winners.



Other guests were starting to leave, but we stayed on long enough to find out that we had (unexpectedly) won the first prize...(?!) - a private super session workshop with the sweet Majella, for myself and 7 friends. 
My lucky bunny streak never fails to work its magic at unexpected times.
Syncing schedules isn't going to be easy though!

Overall, it was an enjoyable and fun night - great vibes, food and company. 

Already excited and looking forward to the next #FourFridays event.

The Cheekster, signing out x