Bubbledogs – Champagne and Hot Dogs

Posted by Ruth

Where: Charlotte Street, W1T
Cost: Hot Dogs approx £7
Website: http://www.bubbledogs.co.uk
Twitter: @bubbledogsuk
Rating:

I like hot dogs, and I like champagne (a lot). So when a friend suggested a pre-Christmas get together at Bubbledogs, a restaurant serving just that, I was instantly sold.

As you can only reserve a table for 6 people or more, we expected a small queue on arrival. However, having arrived at 6pm to find we were just second in the queue, we did not expect to wait for an hour.

After finally getting into the warm our expectations were high. The excellent champagne absolutely hit the mark. Unfortunately, the food was very mixed. I had the Buffalo Dog (served with spicy sauce, blue cheese and pickled celery), along with sides of potato tots and coleslaw.

While the toppings were delicious the actual hot dog and bun were quite low quality. This was disappointing given that the prices are not cheap (our bill came to £40 pp for hotdogs, sides and 2 glasses of champagne). Conversely the coleslaw was the best I’ve ever eaten, with a perfect balance of creaminess, crunch and zing.

The decor – with high tables, stools and exposed bricks – accompanies the food well and helps to create an NYC atmosphere. The toilets, adjourned with vintage menus from classic establishments such as the Fat Duck and Le Gavroche are a nice touch.

Verdict:
I have mixed feelings about bubbledogs. On the one hand the food is tasty, the champagne delicious, and the atmosphere is fun. However, the prices are a little steep for the quality on offer and the queues are prohibitive. Overall, I’m not sure I would visit again. It feels a little like style over substance, and I wonder how long the hype and crowds will last.

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Feeling Gloomy

Posted by Ruth

Where: The Phoenix, Oxford Circus, W1G
When: 2nd Friday of the month
Cost: £5 entry
Website: http://feelinggloomy.com
Twitter: @FeelingGloomy
Rating:

Going to the basement of a London pub to spend the night listening to sad songs about lost love and misery might not immediately appeal, especially in this time of Christmas cheer. However, Feeling Gloomy – a monthly club night held at the Phoenix – defies its name to be one of the most enjoyable nights out in London.

doomedlargeportrait

The ‘club that brings a tear to your eye’ has recently relocated from its original home in Islington, and has lost none of the magic. Created by the infamous Leonard and Cliff, the night celebrates angst ridden indies tunes, and has established a cult following of regulars.

Far from being morose, Feeling Gloomy, is a fantastic place to dance stupidly to great music, from Belle and Sebastian and Pulp, to Wuthering Heights and Bright Eyes.

Not only is the music great, there’s also a really friendly atmosphere and complete lack of pretension.

By the end of the night you’re guaranteed to be dancing with a big group of strangers to ‘There is a light that never goes out’, singing at the top of your voice. If it’s your birthday you’ll even be treated to a chorus of ‘unhappy birthday’ and a slice of Tesco Value cake.

Verdict:
Feeling gloomy is completely unique and has a wonderfully nostalgic feel. Whether happy or sad, if you like indie music, you’re guaranteed to leave with a big smile on your smile (and slightly sore feet!).

Indian Fine Dining at Tamarind

Posted by Ruth

Where: 20 Queen Street, Mayfair, W1J
Cost: Mains approx £20 per person (pre/post theatre set menu £28.50)
Website: http://www.tamarindrestaurant.com/
Rating:

Michelin stars and Indian food don’t often go together in most people’s minds. Often going for a curry is more of a guilty pleasure where we all order, and eat, too much. Tamarind, a Michelin starred Indian restaurant, seeks to challenge those perceptions. Keen to test out the reality, we took advantage of a London Restaurant Festival menu deal in October.

On arrival at this beautiful, but understated, restaurant, we were treated exceptionally well (often not the case when having pre-booked with a cheaper menu), and the great service continued throughout. After selecting our dishes we were quickly brought delicious poppadoms with an array of chutneys. A regular start to an Indian meal you might think – but this was on a different plane to the norm. The poppadoms were light and fresh, while the chutneys were enthralling – particularly the date and ginger variety.

Each dish that followed lived up to this high standard. Our starters of spiced chickpeas and chicken kebab sounded simple, but actually delivered complex flavours and techniques.

The mains (paneer and lamb curries) were beautifully spiced, and served with freshly made Indian breads and pilau rice. The lentil side dish was probably the least exiting aspect of the meal, but still tasty.

The deserts (never traditionally a high point of an Indian meal) were sublime. Cinnamon and pistachio rice pudding was creamy and sweet. Carrot fudge was inspired, a simple dish that enveloped the taste-buds.

Verdict:

A fantastic restaurant, and a must for fans of Indian food. It may not offer the levels of presentation found in many Michelin starred restaurants, but this is appropriate for the cuisine, and in no way detracts from the quality of the dishes. There are also affordable lunch and evening set menus available.

How I took a self portrait with an air rifle

Posted by Colin

Where: Shoot! Existential Photography, Photographers’ Gallery, Ramillies Street, W1
When: 10/11/12 (runs until 6th January 2013)
Cost: £2 entry, plus £3 for 4 air rifle pellets (optional)
Website: www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk
Twitter: @TPGallery
Rating:

It is not everyday that you can take a photographic self portrait using an air rifle – but that’s exactly what I did last Saturday. I was following in the footsteps of those who indulged in the popular early 20th century fairground attraction of the photographic shooting gallery. Successfully hit the bullseye of the target and the impact triggers a camera to capture you in your shooting pose.

Me shooting at the target

This is the premise for the latest exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery round the corner from Oxford Circus. It traces the story of the activity from its origin in fairgrounds through to professional artists deliberately using the technique to create their work. The story includes such famous names as Jean-Paul Sartre.

However, the highlight of the exhibition is a set of sixty images all taken at fairground shooting galleries by Ria van Dijk. Starting in 1936, she took an image of herself in this novel way every year right through to her eighties. It was fascinating to see this study of how one person changes year by year.

My target card showing my two shots

What was particularly cool was that I was able to follow in Ria’s footsteps by trying to take a similar picture of myself – the corner of the top floor of the exhibition had been turned into a mini rifle range.

For £3 I had the chance to fire up to four pellets at the target, with a bullseye winning me a photo of my efforts. So popular was the idea that there was a large queue to try it out.

Having seen half a dozen people miss the bullseye, the gentleman before me hit it with his first shot. No pressure then. My first shot just missed the bullseye but I hit with my second, and I got my photographic memento.

Verdict:
A great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The Gallery is a sanctuary away from the hurly burly of Oxford Street and, with its cafe, it would a great place to grab a coffee. At £2 entry to the exhibition (and free entry to the rest of the gallery) it is fantastic value. The bookshop in the basement is also worth a look with a great selection of coffee table tomes and photographic gadgetry.

Having never heard of photographic shooting galleries, it was fascinating to learn about their history. It was even better that you could do it for yourself. A rifle range in a photographic gallery – a brilliant touch.

Bi Bim Bap – A great Korean restaurant

Posted by Ruth

Where: Soho, W1D
Cost: Under £10 per person
Website: http://bibimbapsoho.com
Twitter: @bibimbapsoho
Rating:

Searching for a good value meal in theatre land can be a tricky task. When you’re short on time and looking for something to eat, there can be a temptation to go for instantly regrettable fast food. This is where Bi Bim Bap comes in to save the day. Specialising in its namesake Bimibap, this Korean restaurant provides a tasty meal at a very good price.

Bimibap – a dish of meat, rice and vegetables, served in a scorching hot bowl with various marinades and sauces – is quickly becoming one of our favourites. It’s warming and hearty, and the perfect antidote to a cold London night.

Bi Bim Bap delivers a faultless example of the dish. It’s a simple and unassuming place, and while the decor does not excite the senses, the restaurant can be relied upon to consistently deliver. If you’re not keen on Bimibap, Korean starters, salads and noodle dishes are also served.

Verdict:
If you’re going for a pre-theatre meal, or just grabbing some food with friends after work, Bi Bim Bap is a great choice. If you haven’t sampled Korean food before, start here – it’s delicious.

Gauthier

Where: Soho, W1D
When: 10/11/12 (open for lunch/dinner Mon – Sat)
Cost: £70 per person (tasting menu)
Website: www.gauthiersoho.co.uk
Rating:

Sometimes a little indulgence is exactly what’s needed, particularly when it’s been a tough week. It was definitely with this in mind that we set off for an extravagant meal at Gauthier in Soho, a French restaurant devised by head chef Alexis Gauthier.

Upon entering the restaurant (located in a Regency townhouse) we felt immediately cared for by the considerable staff, who led us into an intimate dining room.

With sweet autumnal pumpkins dotted around the tables, and an original fireplace, the room avoided typical fine dining sterility. The staff were constantly attentive, without being overbearing, and we felt completely at ease to enjoy our evening, without a care in the world.

Having salivated over the menu online in advance, we both decided to go for the 8 course tasting menu (after sampling delicious aperitifs). What followed was an exceptional gastronomic journey with delightful dishes ranging from foie gras to monkfish and venison. The star of the menu was the risotto, with creamy rice and significant shavings of black truffle delivered at the table; this really was wonderful. The two deserts were also delicious, especially the Mandarin dish, which delivered the flavour equivalent of a piano, with each note singing.

Slight downsides to the night were a draft from the cold night outside, and a noisy hen party in one of the fine dining rooms upstairs which spoilt the ambiance somewhat. We also felt the service was a little slow towards the end of the night – we arrived at 7.30 and didn’t leave until 11pm. However, these are minor quibbles about an otherwise wonderful meal.

Verdict:

The restaurant is beautiful and the cooking sublime. Having recently heard that Gauthier has lost its Michelin star we can’t understand why, as it equally compares (if not surpasses) many of the best restaurants in London. Don’t let that put you off booking.

Bratwurst Gourmet Sausages

Where: 35 Berwick Street, Soho, W1F
When: 29/10/12
Website: www.the-bratwurst.com
Rating:

On Monday some friends and I spent most of the day in Yumchaa Tea Shop in Soho putting the finishing touches to a book plan. At lunchtime, we popped down the road to have lunch at Bratwurst – an American style diner serving Gourmet German sausages.

Not quite in the mood for sausages, I went for the schnitzel and chips instead (menu). Served up in a cast iron pot on a wooden base, I liked the feel of the place and the way the food was served. We could sit on high stools and watch the lunchtime throngs march through the streets of Soho.

However, the schnitzel itself was pretty average. The chicken wasn’t as moist as it could be and it lacked the morishness of a schnitzel I recently had from Maltby Street market. The place was busy though and so it is obviously popular – maybe I made a mistake in not going for the house speciality. If you’ve been, let me know what the sausages are like!

The Bratwurst website has a short promo video showing you the food and layout of the place.


Verdict:

Whilst the schnitzel filled a space, I have had better in London. But it is a cool idea and the popularity of the place suggests that the sausages might be the way to go. Not adverse to the idea of a return trip.

Yumchaa Tea Shop

Where: 45 Berwick street, Soho, W1F
When: 29/10/12
Website: www.yumchaa.com
Rating:

A planning meeting for a book some friends and I have been commissioned to write took us to Yumchaa in Soho for a day of brainstorming. Very much in keeping with modern trends, this lovely little café has sanded floorboards, exposed brickwork and its fair share of vintage looking paraphernalia. It does, however, strike the right balance and manages to stay on the right side of the overly hipster line. Throw in free wi-fi, great coffee and delicious baked treats and you have a winning combination. I can heartily recommend the supremely tasty white chocolate and raspberry muffin, whilst others partook in the fruit breads and were equally impressed.

If you are looking for a quiet place to work then upstairs can get a little busy in the afternoon as waves of workers seeking refuge from their desks descend on Yumchaa. It also attracts its fair share of trendy Soho types looking to sample their large and varied range of teas, bags of which are available to take away (you can also purchase them from the stalls they have at some of London’s biggest markets). For more tranquillity, head downstairs and sit back in one of the armchairs.

Verdict:

A great find in the hectic, bohemian part of town. Will definitely be going back with my laptop when I need strong coffee and delicious cake to fight through an episode of writer’s block. The only down side was the small problem they have with little fruit flies. Seems to be a bigger problem upstairs than downstairs though.

Vapiano Pizza Restaurant

Where: Great Portland Street, W1
When: 22/02/12 (open everyday)
Website: http://www.vapiano.de/frame.php?lang=uk
Price: £6 – £9 for a pizza.
Rating:

As you enter Vapiano it’s a busy, noisy, bustling space, not unlike nearby Oxford Street , and very befitting of its location. For confused newcomers a member of staff will quickly spot you and explain the unusual ordering process. You are given a card which you use to order your drinks and food and then pay for everything at the end on your way out. On placing your order at either the pasta or pizza bar, your meal is prepared fresh. You can either stay and wait or return to your table to be buzzed when the food is ready for you to collect. The lack of at table service may be off-putting for some, and those looking for a formal dining experience are unlikely to be wowed. However, the informality creates a fun atmosphere and rather than feeling like a gimmick it actually helps speed up the ordering process, leaving you to enjoy your meal.

The menu has a variety of interesting dishes, including my favourite- the parma ham, honey and fig pizza, with a thin, crisp base and high quality fresh ingredients. Each table has a middle section with chilli oil and basil and rosemary plants so you can customise your dish to your liking. These little touches are great, and contribute to a far superior experience than other generic pizza places. In fact, the pizzas are the best I’ve had in London, and so despite having visited a couple of times I’m still to try the pasta. The desserts are also delicious with rich chocolate cake, tiramisu and cheesecake to temp you. The house wine, at just £11.95 is surprisingly good.

Verdict:

If you are looking for an informal place to meet friends for lunch or dinner, after shopping or at the start of the night, Vapiano is perfect. Great food, a relaxed atmosphere and fantastic value for money; what’s not to like?

Hide Bar

Where: Bermondsey Street, SE1
When: 14/02/12
Website: http://www.thehidebar.com/
Price: £7 – £8 a cocktail
Rating:

Hide by name, hide by nature – at least that’s what our drinks did for nearly half an hour at this Bermondsey Street cocktail bar. Having just moved into the area, Ruth and I were keen to explore “The Street” and took the opportunity to pop round the corner for a cocktail after our Valentine’s meal in.

Upon arrival we were shown to a table towards the butterfly wallpapered back area of the bar. After a few minutes of deliberation, I went up to the bar to order our cocktails. I was asked where I was sitting and told that the drinks would be brought over. Almost fifteen drinkless minutes later, we grabbed a waiter and said our drinks hadn’t arrived yet. He went to look into it. Ten minutes later, still no drinks (or waiter). Ruth went to see what was happening and a few minutes later a third waiter returned to our table to inform us our drink order had been lost and we were asked to order again. No apology – just a matter-of-fact sense of ambivalence towards us.

When the drinks finally arrived, around half an hour after we’d initially ordered them, they came without any kind of regret or apology for the wait. I’d love to say that it was because it was Valentine’s and they were heaving, but the bar wasn’t overly crowded – they must see more people on a Friday night.

The sorry state of the service was a shame because the belated drinks were actually pretty good. I had the Eagle Sling – Eagle Rare single barrel Kentucky Bourbon, Galliano Authentico, orange and lemon zests, stirred and topped with Canada Dry ginger ale. Ruth plumped for the Passionate Englishman – Hendrick’s Gin stirred with passion fruit purée, lemon and sugar. But by that time the shine had been taken off the experience and, rather than try something else from the extensive menu, we went home. On asking for the bill at the bar it came back with someone else’s drinks on, just to compound our sense of their incompetence. We got them removed, settled the bill and left.

Verdict:

Nice drinks, shocking service. Perhaps they were having an off night. We were really excited about having such an extensive menu of cocktails – some of which are Hide originals – a five minute walk from our new front door. With it being so close, we’ll probably try it again and report back. But don’t hold your breath.