Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Discovering The Meaning Of ‘Boutique’ In West London

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

Nina went to cherryjam
And drank an Apple Crumble
She sipped an Amore Vietato
Then polished off a Bramble.

Apologies for my childishness; I simply had to get that little rhyme out of my head. Hey, at least it’s been useful as it’s allowed me to mention the three must-taste shaken, stirred and strained cocktails served at cherryjam in west London.

There seems to be an obsession going around at the mo in the entertainment and hospitality sectors to put the word ‘boutique’ in front of everything. Go in to central London and the word has been used to promote venues and events of designed exclusivity and character; something more highbrow. You’ve got your boutique hotels, boutique cottages, and boutique spas. I have a friend who recently announced with glee that she’s bought a ticket to attend a boutique festival next month. You can look at this in two ways: (1) either she’s going to have a wonderful time at a festival that’s smaller in size but higher in quality, or (2) she’s basically going ‘glamping’ in a Zandra Rhodes tent using loos that flush and dining on overpriced food cooked by Michelin star chefs and served by stewards wearing Jimmy Choo for Hunter wellies. No doubt about it, going boutique is expensive.

I live in a little suburban village on the edge of London - if there’s a tube station then it’s still London! - and around the area a boutique is a small shop that primarily sells specialised clothing, gifts or food. They’re primarily the haunting ground for the more mature madams who delight in tottering up the village high street to pop in to these shops which are always named after pretty girls names like ‘Jennifer’ or ‘Angelique’. Often, gin-soaked ladies or bubbly Pollyanna types run these establishments.

So I’m in two minds when it comes to going to cherryjam, especially as it boasts being the only boutique bar and club in west London. West London = expensive. Is this why it’s a boutique bar, I wonder?

The name is cool enough; put a ‘cherry’ in front of anything and you instantly improve it 100 times over: cherry lips; cherry brandy; Cherry Garcia (memo to Ben & Jerry: don’t you dare send that flavour to the graveyard, and I’ve still not forgiven you for getting rid of Dublin Mudslide!). Cherry can also be a girl’s name as you may well know if you watched ‘Cherry has a Baby’ on BBC3 where journalist Cherry Healy embarks on a mission to rid her phobia of giving birth as she’s only weeks away from her due date. She now has a daughter who she named Coco (in case you were wondering).

I detect a sense of exclusivity as I enter cherryjam. The door opens to a pitch-black foyer and I have to follow the sound of the host’s voice to eventually find the stairs leading down to what’s essentially the basement and heart of the venue. I feel like I’ve unearthed a small, hidden cave, super stylish with crimson walls and booths decorated in cow prints and velvet around the perimeters. There’s a psychedelic sexiness to the whole place which is a tad disturbing, but I like it. Sitting in the booths it’s like Santa’s grotto only far more glamorous (there’s no likelihood of sitting on a red suited fat man’s knee, but there is a man wearing Toms shoes and a waistcoat). Platters loaded with a variety of Spanish tapas (£30 per platter) and you’ve got your own little private party going on.

Heart FM’s Nick Snaith owns cherryjam. He drunkenly bought the place from Ben Watt (of Everything But The Girl fame). Spookily, as I’m being told this piece of information, a remix of ‘Missing’ starts blaring out of the speakers getting the Friday night revelers jamming on the dance floor (such an awesome tune). I’ve never been a dancer but after a flute of Cherry Royale and a tall glass of a Ginger Puss and I’m boogeying on down with my newfound booth buddies.

Cocktails range from the classic (Cosmopolitan) to the crazy (Chocolate Squirrel). Each cocktail is around £9, and with a Happy Hour – 2 for 1 on Friday nights - running on way past 10pm, the whole evening turns into a buzzing basement of bliss. My winner is the Apple Crumble. I swear, Andre, cherryjam’s Bar Manager, and his staff are the Willy Wonka and Oompa Loompas of the Cocktail industry, and I’m Charlie Bucket slurping up their delicious delights.

I find a cherry at the bottom of one cocktail, and I declare it the cherry on top of the whole evening. I know thousands of people have found a cherry like my one but I can’t help feeling I’ve discovered something special. The whole evening, in fact, has been special, and I come to the decision that yes, cherryjam is indeed a boutique bar and club. On my way home I step off the tube and walk down my suburban street and already I miss cherryjam ‘like the deserts miss the rain’. Such an awesome tune!

Cocktail images courtesy of Rich Hendry - www.richhendry.com.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Fear And A Vast Cellar Of Wine

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

Most fears are irrational; spiders, the dark, I even have a friend with a phobia of fish. I found out about it when I introduced her to my pet goldfish, Clementine. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for the three of us. I still think my friend shudders when I talk about my orange pet, and I swear Clementine has a tendency to start swimming out of her fish bowl when anyone new comes near.

I’ll admit, I'm scared of weird things too. My main phobia is mannequins. In all seriousness, I had a traumatic experience with a mannequin (three in fact!) when I was young. I have two more very odd fears, one is doing any sort of Maths whatsoever - I hate the subject - and men in pinstriped suits. There's just something a bit 'urgh' about them, and I don’t know why but I always get the distinct impression that a man wearing a pinstriped suit is a pathologically posh liar. Sorry to those of you who like Maths and wear pinstriped suits (especially if you’re a mannequin too). It’s ridiculous, I know, but like I said, fears are irrational, and I’m taking steps to overcome mine.

So when I stepped out of Bank tube station (Exit 7) and emerged on the doorstep of 1 Lombard Street brasserie and fine dining restaurant, amid a mob of men in those dreaded suits chattering into their Blackberry's about number crunching and 'getting that merger going’ I took a deep breath, resisted the urge to frown at a suit that was made all the worse by a matching waistcoat, and hopped (really I did, it was that close) into the foyer of the restaurant.

I handed my bags to the hostess and was ushered in to the main hall of the venue to the brasserie and bar. Thank goodness there were no mannequins about! With a flute of Mumm Cuvee Lalou (1998) and a canapé in each hand I had already sparked up a conversation with a wine blogger from North West London, and a fellow food reviewer who looked so much like Woody Allen I felt almost inclined to ask him about his mother. I didn’t, as the hostess kindly ushered the group of about 40 to follow her downstairs.

Now, I just want to digress a bit and admit that the last time I went to a wine tasting session it was at a rather prestigious wine venue. I'd only eaten a salad for lunch as I naively thought that wine tasting consisted of sipping, sloshing and spitting the liquid out. Apparently, not so nowadays. The more favoured option is to taste wine and spirits the Irish way (i.e. by swallowing it). I ended up, that night, stumbling home, falling in to bed to the Land of Nod without removing the day's make-up which any self respecting girl will tell you is a huge beauty error, unless you're Kate Moss of course, which none of us are, except Kate Moss. The evening at 1 Lombard Street Brasserie and fine dining restaurant was different as dinner was being served (to be on the safe side, though, I added a jacket potato with beans and cheese to my lunchtime salad).

Fluid has reviewed the brasserie before, but the impression I got was that it was primarily a place of fine dining for the Financial Times reader. I didn’t have a copy with me but I did have The Evening Standard in my bag. Reviews of 1 Lombard Street Brasserie and fine dining restaurant have been positive; stunning service and top notch nosh appear in comment threads. That's all very well, but what about the wine? That's what I was here to find out.

What's the Wine Society all about then? Well, the recently launched society offers the opportunity for Lombardian lovers and tipple tasters to test and learn more about some of the world's greatest wines, and to meet many people that produce them. With one of the largest and most prestigious cellars in London at his disposal, the sommelier, Matthew Mawtus, must feel like a kid in a candy shop. You could tell from his face how delighted he was that the evening had sold out. He worked closely with chef patron Herbert Berger and his team to create a perfect menu to match some of the cellar's great vintages.

So the room was hidden at the far end of the restaurant on the ground floor. It was dimly lit, the walls were red and there was a huge deer head protruding out of one side. The sheer redness of the room and the four big round tables set a bizarre fantasy in my head of all of us embarking on a mass séance or a rather filthy game of Bridge. I sat myself in between to the lovely wine blogging lady and Woody Allen. We’ve perched ourselves on a table with the restaurant owner, his colleague, his colleague’s sister and a trio of very posh but quite lovely friends of the owner. Us outsiders were welcomed rather than ignored. The setup of the tables was perfect for getting to know strangers. We didn’t know each other, but were all there for the same purpose, to learn about and appreciate wine. Mr. Matthew Mawtus emerged like a magician from the side of the room to commence with the wining and dining.

Before each dish or wine, Matthew related a detailed history of each wine – its provenance, regional description, what the weather was like during the particular year the grapes were picked – and he used some interesting words to describe the wine, such as ‘tempestuous…cool…lean…a late budder of a wine…nutty…honest’. To Matthew, these wines are individual characters that deserve to be noticed. And all of us in the room could see his passion, which made us passionate too.

Here’s what was on the menu, all of it delicious:

Starter: Fricassee of Calf's sweetbreads and langoustines, peas, broad beans and tarragon veloute with a glass of Chassagne Montrachet, Domaine Louis Carillon

Main: Noisettes of new season lamb, ragout of wild mushrooms with speck and herbs, vegetable fondants with a glass of Chateau Leoville Barton 2004

Dessert: Apple Tart Tatin, vanilla ice cream, balsamic caramel with a glass of Tokaji Aszu, 5 Puttonyos, Diznoko 1993

A selection of cheeses were served with a ten year old Marsala by Marco di Bartoli

The ‘honest’ wines came with the starter and main course. I’m guessing dessert wines don’t have that quality, which makes sense; whoever heard of ‘honest’ ice-cream?

Although we were given a glass of each wine, if you liked a particular wine, or you simply drank like a fish (goldfish or otherwise), the waiters duly noted this and your glass was filled. As the wine flowed so did the conversation. Subjects covered during the dishes included the London North/South divide, how some wines can smell like a tramp’s trousers and yet still be drinkable, the perils of wind surfing, and how we all love watching Christmas episodes of favourite programmes in August. Everything about the evening, the food, the company, the talks was just so…honest. But then there were no men in pinstriped suits in attendance.

The prices of a wine dinner at 1 Lombard Street is £85pp. Numbers are limited to 40 so early booking is definitely advised.

Forthcoming wine dinner events:

Friday 19 September – ‘Burgundy Wines’

Monday 17 October – ‘Italian Wines’

If you’d like skip the lesson and just book a table at the brasserie for dinner, use this clever booking form below.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Summer of Six Senses in Soho

By Philippa Morton.

I have a new favourite restaurant, a peaceful retreat away from the buzzing streets of Soho, where soft voices chatter between mouthfuls of food, and a few comforting noises from the kitchen remind me of Mum serving dinner. Sound.

I touch the little moss in the centre of our table. It’s so soft I want to cover my bed in it. I feel the ice-cold sensation of my glass soak into my hand. Touch.

A model of a Buddhist temple takes centre stage, and its golden glow catches my eye, but not as much as the sculptured artwork on the walls. I discover they’re original pieces from a temple in Thailand that was pulled down. Deep reds are set off with flickering tea lights in the walls. When I my first course of Chicken and Banana Blossom Salad (Yam huaplee gai) arrives, I am intrigued at how the salad is served: cupped in a banana leaf, with banana blossoms frilled around it like wings. My mango cocktail is set off with a brooch of star fruit kissing the mouth of the glass. A purple blossom is pinned onto my dessert of coconut ice cream with tropical fruit. Sight.

As if on the tropical shores of Africa, coconut and banana tickle my sense of smell with each exotic bite of my Yam huaplee gai. But tonight I am in Patara, a little taste of Thailand, in Soho, London. Nothing could bring this sensation home more than spicy mango and passion fruit aromas mixed with the roasted fragrance of king prawns in the Goong yai op. Smell

The fishy flavours - prawns, mussels and squid - in the Seafood Boullabaisse infuse with the Thai herbs and coconut to exude a little creamy luxury. These distinct flavours blend perfectly with zesty chilli to form trinity of a perfect whole! Scrumptious king prawns bedded in bok-choi remind me of a charcoal BBQ in my main meal of Goong yai op. Dustings of ginger make my palate tingle while I drink Patara’s signature ginger tea. I am not afraid to say, I am now addicted. Taste.

Our 5 senses are not lacking for sustenance thanks to Patara’s Six Senses menu this summer; an ultimate luxury, for an ultimate bargain. Two courses £19.80 or three for £28. Ingredients are sustainable, local, organic and wholesome. A stunning pick-me-up for the mind, body and soul.

And the 6th sense? That my friends, is something for me to know, and you to find out! And there is only one way to do so.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Worth Its Weight In Michelin Stars?

By Sophie Atkinson.

Can't. Write. Blog. Must. Eat. More. High-end. Indian. Cuisine.

As I type this, I'm dreaming of peshwari naan; of monkfish marinated in ginger; of spiced chickpeas and chutney; tender lamb cutlets; and slow-cooked black lentils. The thing is, I can't decide if my cravings have more to do with the research I've been doing on Tamarind’s website (reading the a la carte menu, the pre/post-theate menu, the lunch menu, the Sunday lunch menu, the dessert menu...), or the actual dining experience I had there last week.

Since its inception in 2005, Tamarind - the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant in Mayfair - has been lauded for its authentic Indian haute cuisine. Gordon Ramsay once even named this surreptitious basement restaurant as his favourite place to eat. But Tamarind’s Michelin star was earned for its authenticity and inventiveness in its early days, back when Indian restaurants of such a high standard were still a rarity in London. Things have moved on a lot since then (including superstar Head Chef Atul Kochhar who upped and left to set up on his own in the nearby - and frankly outstanding - Benares). And although Executive Chef Alfred Prasad's cooking is still excellent, some of Tamarind’s novelty has worn off. In fact, there is some debate whether it is still worthy of the aforementioned star. The restaurant's lavish decor alone - all dark wood, gold hues, oversized flower displays and white tablecloths - sets it miles apart from its cheap and cheerful counterparts over in Brick Lane. But the prices are also very high, which may lead to unrealistic expectations.

Now, don't get me wrong, with its chic-chi location, underground glamour and discrete but highly attentive service, Tamarind is still a restaurant that packs a punch. The luxurious, seasonal menus feature dishes which are an eclectic mix of breads, meats, game, fish and shellfish; all cooked in a North West Indian style, centred around the native tandoor ovens.

Alfred Prasad – originally from Chennai (formerly Madras) and the youngest Indian chef to receive a Michelin star – ran a series of five-star hotels in southern India before moving to the UK in 2000 and he and his team take regular trips back to the sub-continent to source
new and exciting ingredients and research cooking-techniques. The passionate chef - who has remained loyal to Tamarind, having cooked here for almost a decade - puts a contemporary spin on traditional dishes, such as his spiced chickpeas served with whole-wheat crisps and sweetened yoghurt topped with blueberries, or the carrot fudge and mango and basil sorbet.

On the night that I visited, we feasted on the sumptuous lunch menu which included potato cakes and lamb cutlets; tiger prawns, monkfish, chicken tikka, lamb masala, smoked aubergine pulp, slow cooked black lentils and divine date and toasted almond naan. All of the dishes were delicious, well-flavoured and delicately presented. And had I been served these dishes at my local curry house, I'd have been rather impressed.

But having returned home to peruse the menu online, I personally deduced that Tamarind is a tad on the pricey side. A winner, I'm sure, if you are looking to impress with a glamorous setting in an even more glamorous location and overall a very enjoyable experience. But, in my humble opinion, the food at Tamarind is a little more impressive to read on the menu than it is to actually eat.

If you’re ready to splash the cash on a visit Tamarind, book yourself a table right now using this handy widget thingiemabob

Thursday, 18 August 2011

How The Blues Helps Those In The Carnivorous Club

By Rebecca Brett.

I’m sitting in Camden’s Blues Kitchen bar on a Tuesday night with a pal and there’s not one empty table. As the live act is gearing up for her set there’s a buzz in the air that makes this mundane midweek day feel more like a Friday night. The huge space in which Blues Kitchen is set is dimly lit and the mixed crowd of arty types and music aficionados are supping on cocktails and beers.

I turn to my friend and say “You’d never get this in Battersea”, talking about my quiet part of SW London that’s more yummy mummy than Blues Kitchen cool. Then we go on to discuss the possibility of moving somewhere much trendier and less middle aged than Battersea, and the reasons why so many people head to this particular venue in Camden over anywhere else.

Here are our findings:
Reason 1) The live music. Perhaps the chaps and chapesses filling the room are fans of the lovely Bex Marshall who is strumming away on her guitar on the stage and saturating the room with her soulful tones.

Reason 2) The massive selection of bourbon available. It is, after all, what Blues Kitchen is most famous for; they’ve got over 50 on their list and there’s a bartender behind the bar stirring and shaking away to his heart’s content making concoctions for the gathering crowds.

Reason 3) The hot waiter, Charlie. I’d probably go back to see the charmer every night, what a lovely chap with a cracking smile and some steely biceps. Perhaps that’s why the ladies make their way here anyway.

Reason 4) To spy on celebs. It was reported that Pete Doherty played his first gig here after he recently left prison and the likes of Seasick Steve and The Mystery Jets have also had sets at the venue. I’m no muso but I’m sure that’s pretty darn cool (I would say that, I wear a twin set and live in Battersea…)

[What’s a twin set? - Ed]

And reason 5) the reason why we’re here tonight, to eat kudu. After all, it’s carnivore club Tuesday! It’s not something you’d usually associate with the music destination of choice but every Tuesday in August the restaurant and bar are serving the likes of crocodile, zebra, kudu and bison to anyone who’s brave enough to try it.

My friend and I are brave, not that you really need to be. It’s not like we’re eating anything gross like pig’s brain or cow’s heart. All you need to do is love meat and I can certainly do just that.

To start the night I had a Dark and Stormy, the only one I’ve ever tried before was at the Oxo Tower Brasserie and I loved it, so this bartender had a lot to live up. He did a good job, for sure. Slurped within about three minutes I had to order another drink. Had to. So this time a full bodied glass of Chilean cabernet sauvignon was deemed a good choice to accompany our gamey treat to follow.

I’m not quite sure why, but I expected the meat of a kudu - which is an antelope from Africa (Wikipedia told me) - to be a white meat but it was actually more like venison and cooked medium. It was juicy and full of flavour. We shared the huge sweet potato wedges, coleslaw and a mixed leaf salad as side orders but the star of the show to me was the peppercorn sauce. It was incredible. I’m not sure what they put in it or how they make it but it really was delicious. Dear Mr Blues Kitchen, please may I have the recipe for that?

Even though the meat from kudu is very lean and with hardly any fat on it, it was still very filling. Not filling enough for us to skip dessert and head off on our merry way.

Aside from the Bourbon, Blues Kitchen is also a milkshake destination and after the lovely Charlie twisted our arm (I would have done anything he said really) we shared a vanilla and peanut butter shake and a warm chocolate brownie with vanilla ice-cream. We couldn’t finish the shake, which, by the way, comes with so much extra it’s definitely worth sharing. We asked our dishy waiter to join us to help us out but with the place so packed he kindly refused (clearly thinking we were mental) and scurried off to the next table.

Now we were full and, as Bex got on with her set, we did have to leave NW London and head home to the quieter climates down the Northern Line. After all, we’re not used to the late nights that these Camdenites are clearly down with, especially not on school nights.

But I’ll certainly be going back to Blues Kitchen, whether it’s on ‘kiss the waiter Fridays’,‘See Pete play Saturdays’, or ‘hair of the dog Bourbon Sundays’, all of which I have made up but here’s hoping.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

One Of London’s Trendiest Restaurants? It's Better Than That

By Claire Roberts

I don’t like the word ‘trendy’. I really don’t like the word ‘trendy’. I have this involuntarily reaction to it which involves a slightly curled lip and a feeling of minor dread. Public Enemy said ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’ and I’ve stuck with that ever since. Yes I know it betrays my age, but I don’t care.

See, for me, trendy suggests disposable. A passing fad, something that’s not very good, something which lasts for the bit (because everyone believes the hype) and then disappears (because it’s not worth keeping). Not for me I’m afraid, I’m into timeless quality. If something’s great, it’s gonna stick around and if it’s not, it’s gonna disappear. Simple.

The Great Eastern Dining Room describes itself on its website as ‘one of London’s trendiest restaurants’. Yes, I do have the momentary physical reaction as described above.

Now I do realise that my firmly entrenched thoughts on this subject mean that sometimes I miss out on a real treat, but please don’t give me a root vegetable cocktail with shavings of bark from the Amazonian rainforest containing life lengthening quantities of vitamin C.

But I don’t get that. What I do get is a large glass of home-made lemonade with elderflower cordial and loads of ice. Perfect; it’s very hot and humid outside. The restaurant is comfortable and airy and it’s busy. I’m tempted to go and sit on one of the very appealing sofas in the bar area by the entrance but I stay put; food first, I’m starving.

With the elderflower lemonade, comes edamame beans. Salty, tender and perfect to take the edge off my appetite. The first course: cucumber and red pepper uramaki, chilli salt squid, beef san choi bau and duck, watermelon and cashew nut salad. The uramaki is as good as veggie sushi can be; snippets of the chilli salt squid are crispy and light with a subtle chilli dipping sauce; the gently spiced beef dish is fun finger food (you have to wrap the beef up in lettuce leaves); and the duck salad, this is some of the best duck I’ve ever had and I love cashew nuts, a gorgeous combo with the watermelon and fresh coriander.

Main courses are (and I’m nearly full): prawn pad Thai (humongous prawns amid egg fried rice noodles); butternut squash & aubergine green curry (wow that is a seriously clever coconut sauce); blackened salmon and sweet miso (fish as tender and moist as fish can be); and chicken, coconut & peanut sambal (tender, fragrant and juicy).

OK, I’m seriously full now. There is some food left, however, and it seems a sin to leave it but really, enough is enough. That is until, of course, after a short break, the chocolate fondue appears. Now for some reason, I thought it was going to be one of those spongy chocolate puddings with a liquid middle but it turns out to be liquefied chocolate in a Swiss-style fondue dish with large chunks of strawberries, pineapple, banana and marshmallows to dip in. Sorry tum, you’re going to have to expand on this one, I am not leaving this.

Good smooth coffee next. Those sofas next door are definitely calling out for my lower end but we go downstairs to sneak a peak at the bar in the basement instead. I say bar in the basement rather than basement bar because this is no dingy basement bar. I like this bar in a basement; stylish, great contemporary design, great seating, great cocktails (so I hear), late closing and DJs. And a ceiling of many colours when it gets going in the evening.

I say my farewells and reluctantly go out into the humidity. My thoughts afterwards? Sorry Great Eastern Dining Room, but I don’t agree with you. The Great Eastern Dining Room is not ‘one of London’s trendiest restaurants’.

What it is is a stylish, well designed and well thought out restaurant that makes seriously good, conscientiously done pan-Asian food served by warm and obliging staff. This isn’t a trendy restaurant; this is simply a great restaurant. And I guess that’s the reason why it hasn’t fallen from fashion. See, I’m just not into ‘trendy’ but trend or no trend, this is one of my locals now. No question. Shame I didn’t believe the hype.

Book a table at the Great Eastern Dining Room by using this clever little widget below

Monday, 15 August 2011

Snake Charming & Belly Dancing in Soho

By Nathalie Bonney.

Maison Touareg – the Moroccan and Lebanese restaurant in Soho, celebrated a quasi-birthday/relaunch the other week. The Greek Street restaurant has been around for 25 years and wanted to acknowledge this landmark, plus Maison Touareg also had a bit of a rejig 18 months ago and so what better way to celebrate than by throwing a North African and Middle Eastern feast?

The restaurant was packed, with people pouring onto the streets, sitting at the outdoor tables and overflowing into the downstairs bar area. Champagne was served with a rose petal in each flute and more petals were scattered across the tables. Beautiful black and white photographs of minarets, the Atlas mountains, and markets reminded diners of Touareg’s roots – as did the hanging lanterns and the rugs covering the black and white tiled floor. As my friend and I sat down with our champagne, the red walls and red and gold hand-embroidered cushions oozed Aladdin meets Arabian Nights meets ‘book me a ticket to Marrakech!’

Although Maison Touareg describes itself as a Lebanese and Moroccan restaurant, aside from shisha pipes outside and meze - including baba ganoush, halloumi, merguez sausages and falafel – the feel of the restaurant and the dishes is distinctly more Moroccan. But hey, if calling Maison Touareg Lebanese means houmous stays on the menu, why not?

Not wanting to leave its customers hungry, the restaurant then served up a gourmet buffet of Meshwi, a whole shoulder of lamb slow-cooked with apricots and figs so that it had a sticky pull-apart texture, plus, not one, but three tagines; chicken with preserved lemons, beef and a fantastic fresh fish tagine, which was my favourite dish of the eve. By this point my friend and I felt like our bellies had been inflated with a tyre pump. It was therefore a little disconcerting to see that, beneath her wrap-around dress/dressing gown, the lady behind me in the queue for food was in full belly dancing regalia. Moments after chowing down on Meshwi, she was baring her abs to the whole restaurant floor. Time to go back to aerobatone, thought I.

Another belly dancer arrived with a pale yellow-skinned snake draped across her shoulders. Apparently, the restaurant rolls out this act on a regular basis and while it gathered a crowd, for me, it’s a bit gimmicky, a la Greek plate smashing. My friend, on the other hand, displayed no such snobbery. She used to have a pet snake and helpfully informed me that it’s a constrictor snake because it was fat and therefore able to stop its prey breathing with its strength.

Said friend also convinced me a snake’s skin feels nice and encouraged me to touch it. I did for a nanosecond, and promptly decided it really didn’t. This discovery means that, alongside my fear of fish and dislike of pigeons, I now hate snakes. Although on a perverse plus note, at least they are dangerous. James Herriott, I am not.

After thoroughly washing my hands with a dash of belai black soap - a Moroccan soap with the texture of butter and beautifully infused - I gained enough composure to finish off the night with some baclava. My friend and I are even thinking of grabbing a cheap deal to Marrakech. Failing that, a night at Maison Touareg Restaurant will satisfy the desire for the exotic.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Wednesday Night Is Small, Sexy & Sparkly Night

By Faye Armstrong.

Wednesday nights in London beg the question: what is there to do? I could wash my undies; heaven knows that my once-white delicates could never have too much Persil attacking their muted colour. I could catch up on soap operas; but the characters’ lives – whilst ever so depressing – only remind me that nothing TV worthy happens in my own mundane existence. I could sort out the mountain of papers threatening to break free of the bottom cupboard draw where they are so very cleverly hidden; but scrutinising my disastrous finances will only send me into a spiral of depression and angst, forcing me to acknowledge how I have no money, no credit, no equity, no stocks, no bonds, no savings, no property, no hope of an easy future. I could always ignore all the above (something I am so very good at) and pop along to Floridita for some food, some drinks, some cabaret and some laughs. Yea, that sounds like something I could do.

On cabaret night at Floridita there are delicates, but not the pathetic, well-worn, limp things you’d find in my underwear draw. These delicates are small, sexy, and sparkly. They cling to the skin of the beautiful sirens wearing them like infants to their mother. These sirens are the long-haired, long-legged, long-eyelashed sort, with bosoms high and firm and bums pert and round. These sirens are drag queens; three to be exact, headlining under the name The Globe Girls.

The Globe Girls perform mimed routines to another type of queen: the pop queen. Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)’ is a crowd pleaser, and is performed with more attitude and more rhythm than the American Diva herself. But The Globe Girls’ talent is no secret, it’s known worldwide and they have performed for the likes of Sir Elton John, Eric Clapton, HRH Prince Edward and even Beyonce herself (a performance at which we hear Beyonce allegedly broke down, questioning her talent and dance ability, and the admittance to a mental health clinic ensued). The rousing threesome do have to break for breath and cocktails, however, at which point numerous other acts - including burlesque, singers, and live bands - entertain, getting the movers and shakers in the joint to their feet and working it on the dance floor.

On cabaret night at Floridita there are scenes which rival a late-night Hollyoaks episode. The backdrop is a vision of floor-to-ceiling mirrors, grand chandeliers, and a pallet of blacks, silvers and reds. The crowd are slick; shirts and shoes for the men, skirts and stilettoes for the ladies. Waiting staff are kitted out only in what Anne Summers would sell and the men are not objecting. This real life soap plays out significantly better however than its box counterpart; if only I could record it and re-watch over and over.

On cabaret night at Floridita there are papers, but not the sort that leave you with your head in your hands, questioning how you’re going to pay next month’s rent and afford the milk that will go in your tea that apparently ‘makes it all better’ (how’s that for irony?). These papers show delectable delights, like salmon and tiger prawn ceviche, spit roast suckling pig, and a pudding of banana and acai sorbet, poached pineapple and lemon shortbread. 3 courses and the 4 and a half hour show (7.30pm – midnight with a DJ until 2am) for only £35. Screw the milk, I don’t like tea anyway.

On cabaret night at Floridita there is no depression or angst; no thought of the future that earlier seemed so bleak. There is just the then and now, and the elated feeling of bliss that of all the things you could be doing on a Wednesday night you chose right, you chose fun, you chose Floridita.

So what are you waiting for? Book yourself a table right away!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Fish & Chips & Nipple Tassel Babes

By Rebecca Brett.

It’s not that dining out ever gets boring for me but sometimes it’s good to get a little more than a three-course meal and a bottle of wine. Some twirling nipple action with a veggie lasagne, you say? A little bit of juggling over a glass of red? An acrobat hovering over my strawberry mousse? Why not.

Welcome to Proud Kitchen, where I went with some friends on a Wednesday night after work for a little more than just dinner. Already packed out with the voyeurs of the journalism world, the small room was treated to delicious strawberry caipirinhas and a variety of acts, a smorgasbord of talent: a juggler using his mouth while club juggling; bendy women serving wine and handing out menus; and acrobats stopping mid somersault (sort of) to hand out delicious canapes, which were more like dinners in themselves than petit mouthfuls. Racks of ribs, not-so-mini burgers, and Caesar salad tarts were all delivered by the truckload.

With the post-work hunger pangs kicking in, we more than over indulged in the enormous canapes, grabbing every finger-licking morsel that came within a metre radius and every glass of wine that was within sniffing distance. [Greedy! - Ed]

After an hour or so, the dimly lit room was buzzing with guests sat on the long trestle tables and waiting for the main acts to take to the stage.

Dinner time came after I’d had more than my fair share of canapes; perhaps this was the reason why I thought our fish and chips and veggie lasagne were bland and nowhere near as good as their predecessors. Or, perhaps, it was the fact that the acts on the stage were much more appealing than the tired looking plates of food in front of us.

On stage, the sexy Kiki Kaboom and delightful Beatrix Von Bourbon were much more pleasant on the eye and it was easier to watch them instead of tucking in to dinner, so I did just that.

The sexy burlesque ladies wowed the audience with their cheeky acts of geek-to-freak and bellboy-to-nipple-tassel babe. It was a little weird tucking in to a chip while a lady on stage undressed, but different all the same; not your usual dinner, that's for sure.

After the performances were over, we were invited to go next door to the live music area at Proud Camden, but after the night of boobs and bending, we were pooped and so tootled off in to the Camden night.