Friday, 28 January 2011

Views This Grand Shouldn’t Really Be Free

By Christian Rose-Day.

I’ll admit, my guest and I both felt rather guilty. Sausage on a stick: free. Scotch quail eggs: free. Hare blinis: free. Talisker Single Malt cocktails; free. Haggis, neeps and tatties: free. Raspberries: free. Comedy: free. Warm scarves: free. Traditional Scottish bagpipes; free. Whisky appreciation class: free. Gorgeous panoramic views of Tower Bridge: free. Tales of daring rescues on the high seas from inspirational yachtsman and all-round hard-as-nails bloke, Pete Goss MBE: free.

It was Burns Night in London - the night usually devoted to the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns - and we were at The River Lounge in St Katherine’s Dock. The event was being held for three reasons:

1) to celebrate Burns Night in proper Scottish style;
2) to raise money for a worthy cause (in this case the RNLI);
3) to get people talking about Talisker Single Malt whisky.

The only trouble was, neither my guest and I could find a cash machine on the way to The River Lounge. We arrived at the event with a combined total of £4.83 in our pockets. Hardly enough to save hundreds of lives.
Address To A Haggis - Robert Burns

Various luxury gifts were being auctioned off and we thought about putting in a cheeky £4.83 bid for the England Vs Scotland rugby tickets. Those tickets eventual went for £305. Hmmm. The highest auction bid of the night was £805, for a Scottish castle!! The total amount raised for the RNLI from the event was a commendable £2924 (it could’ve been £2928.83 had there been a few collection receptacles available).

Oddly enough, we found a cash machine only when we were leaving. It’s right near the Starbucks, in case you’re wondering.

So, yeh, we felt bad. We enjoyed so much and yet gave so little. We have since rectified that situation and gone to the RNLI website to donate. I encourage you to do the same. Those guys really do some amazing stuff.

Whilst at the event, we were quietly enamoured by the dramatic setting of The River Lounge. Who knew all this was here (aside from the staff at The River Lounge, obviously)? This would make a great venue for an event, clearly, and I shall definitely be going back to St Katherine's Dock to take a closer look. I urge you to do the same. The balconies overlooking St Katherine's Dock give a beautiful vantage point from which to observe the super yachts.

One last comment: no matter how bad I felt for not being able to donate on the night, I certainly feel glad I’m not the kind of person who believes it’s good form to talk loudly at the bar during performances of the ‘Address to a Haggis’, through entertaining (and under-appreciated) comedy, and, most remarkably, through interesting story renditions from RNLI volunteers and national heroes like Pete Goss MBE. I only hope people that like have enough chatter in their lungs when they need to shout for help if they find themselves drowning out at sea some day. Rude idiots should not be allowed into free events.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A Mouthful Of Zebra, Ostrich & Springbok; A Cultural Divide?

By Philippa Morton.

Once upon a time all we knew was what we knew. We also knew what we didn’t know. Then, as life went on, we found out there were things we never knew we didn’t know. And with that said, did you know that the one thing we can be sure of is that life changes and if one cannot accept change, then perhaps we cannot accept our life and live it.

As a food writer, at times, there may be foods I do not particularly want to swallow. But I am wanting and willing to take a chance for the rest of us who won’t! I love what I do and feel scorn for those of us who are unable to wrap our tongue around a new flavour or unusual morsel. Scorn yes, but also sadness for you schmucks! You provide me with a great job that I enjoy. I can’t complain about going to high-end restaurants and stuffing my chewer in the name of making sure you lot are not going to keel over from pathetic, untrained taste buds.

Yeah, you figured, I care not for those who are picky and who don’t eat this and who won’t eat that! If it wasn’t for the adventurous amongst us, perhaps we would not have the pleasures of seaweed salad, sushi, and squid rings today. Indeed, it occurs to me that a portion among us would want to turn our nose up at scrumptious African foods, so carefully prepared at Camden’s Shaka Zulu bar and restaurant.

So screw up your faces, and eat your heart out friends, cos if you want to be picky, you should know, that you are a sad case. Chef Barry Vera knows his work. Biltong (dried meat) is made to perfection and not a scrap was left on anyone of my counterparts’ plates when I went for a recent tasting. Now, THERE is something for you, my Neanderthal meat-eating friends. My crew and I were highly impressed with mighty spreads of Kudu, Springbok, Lamb, Boerewors and Ostrich.

Together we made a powerful foray into the spread, leaving a whimpering land of devastation on our platter. Not for long though, as service is part of the hospitable African culture, (and yes Shaka Zulu makes every effort to employ Africans – from kitchen to bar) we were soon served with traditional mince Baboti which I enjoyed more than the version I’d eaten in South Africa. Chef Vera understands well, that to cater for the citizens of the UK there are some special adjustments to make to suit our palates. Little tweaks, great peaks.

And there is even something more to look forward to: in amongst all this - Shaka Zulu does not cease to surprise; a joker in (hardly) a pack of cards – zebra will be gracing the tables of the restaurant in the coming months. A colleague likened it to eating horse “Well I wouldn’t eat a horse”. Stop making such a hullabaloo for goodness sake, 50 years ago we weren’t even eating pizza and now we would never question eating something like veal. Zebra are a wild animal that are not endangered. It’s simply black or white my friends.

Soft, sweet, gooey and well, just ambrosia; the KoekSisters that is. Plaited ropes of dough deep fried and doused in thick sticky syrup to mute even the chattiest amongst us. While you come to terms with how utterly angelic these plaited dough things are, you’ll go from mute to moans as you cry out for more. Once again, Vera has listened and learned; listening to a South African customer who knows how to cook them.

Shaka Zulu is a unique concept, that I believe pushes the boundaries of food. Why has it taken so damn long, though? It’s about time someone picked up African cuisine, brought it to the people, who need to get over their pathetic concepts of what food should be. In reality, how does it differ to Asian or Thai cuisine? Only in the way that as a culture, we have embraced and accepted it. So plainly said, it’s time you know what the world is about. It’s time you know African food.

Trust me, I really do not believe African cuisine is too hard to swallow! So before I give you another mouthful, just eat it why don’t you!

Friday, 21 January 2011

A Brand New Bar & Grill With View Of The Old Vic

By Rebecca Brett.

Time for a confession: when I visit Waterloo I don’t tend to stick around for long. A short sharp scamper through the concourse to catch a train, a quick exit on the west side to get the bus, or a trot over the walkway to get to the Southbank’s culinary, and boozy, delights.

I’ve never before exited on to Waterloo Road, so imagine my surprise when I did and found a haven of restaurants, bars and, most impressively, The Old Vic, all glowing in the dark of the night. Who knew that was there? Not me.

Some 88 million passengers pass through Waterloo every year; I can’t be the only one who’s been missing out? Perhaps I am the only idiot that’s never stepped foot out of the east side before, as among those shiny lights and dinner destinations were a scurry of people making their way into the night.

The reason for my new discovery was that I had been invited to the re-launch of Waterloo Bar and Grill. Just opposite the underground - you know, where you go down to get the Jubilee line or stop at McDonalds on the way home - is the place with a brand new look.

Where a black awning once covered the dark interior is now the proud home of shiny new red awnings with welcoming lights and windows looking into the bright and airy inside, with bauble lights directing customers off the street and straight into the bar.

We made our way into a huge bar area, certainly large enough for a jolly old knees up with your pals. Red and white wine was making its way around the room, so we were sure to follow the waiter until he gave us one. Even though the restaurant wasn’t open for our trip, the lovely lady at the cloakroom took our coats before we entered the dining area.

To me, it had the feeling of a fine dining restaurant. Exposed brick walls emphasised with spotlights, cream walls embellished with contemporary artwork, dark tables accentuated with big, comfortable cream chairs and. the piece de resistance, a central table in a semi-enclosed area for 10 diners for those lucky enough to have nine friends.

Cathy, the general manager, was there to tell me that the refurbishment was much needed. It got rid of the dark and dated restaurant and brought in a fresh new look. Now, as I say, it looks like a fine dining restaurant, but without the price tag or the pretentious menu. She also mentioned that it was not only the restaurant that needed an overhaul, the lacklustre menu had a re-fit too.

If the canap├ęs were anything to go by, the menu - featuring pan-roasted halibut, char-grilled ribeye, and confit of duck leg - will taste supreme. If the thick cuts of chocolate brownie that we feasted on are a prerequisite to the dessert menu, then the blueberry cheesecake or pear and frangipane tart will be melt-in-the-mouth delicious.

A lot of the clientele visiting Waterloo Bar and Grill will no doubt be pre-theatre diners, with grand views of the Old Vic through the window, a tasty supper before a show is what the restaurant is ideal for. After a show, more drinks in the bar before crawling the short distance to get the last train home.

I’ll definitely be sure to spend more time around Waterloo now that I know what’s available. Who wants to come and see a play at the Old Vic with me?