Category Archives: Food/Drink

The Rosslyn Arms pub, Hampstead

Rosslyn ArmsThis pub is just down the hill from Hampstead Tube. Or just up the hill from Belsize Park tube. Take your pick. I think it is slightly nearer Hampstead though and you can walk down the hill rather than up. Which is a plus. Hampstead is always nice too and you might see a celeb.

This is a nice enough pub and one of the few places I regularly visit in Hampstead. The others are the Hollybush (which I will review one day) and the Flask. If it’s a nice day, which is rare is this soggy country, there are a couple of pleasant tables out front for superb people watching. There’s also a smallish beer garden out back which tends to be full of smokers. The main room is slightly odd in that it is split into two areas. The bar faces the window in a D shape. Behind the D is a seating area. Both areas have a slightly different feel to them but both are pleasant.

The main draw for me are the friendly staff and the food. Plus there’s a bus from in front of my house that stops in front of the pub 5 minutes later, but that might not be the case with everyone.

We normally go there on a Monday or Tuesday. For pizza. The pub has decided to not bother with a lot of different gastropub foodstuffs. They do primarily wraps and awesome pizzas. The wraps may be awesome too but I’ve never had one. On a Monday and Tuesday they do a two for one pizza deal, so you can get one of these bad boys for £5. Which is a bargain. The £20 I always subsequently spend on beer balances things out I guess.

Even without the pizzas, if you are in the neighbourhood, it’s a nice stop off. They have great music (Hendrix, Zeppelin), good beers (try the Sagres lager), friendly staff, and a unique chandelier made out of kitchenware. Enjoy.

(There’s also a Giraffe restaurant next door that does half price cocktails from 5-7pm Sunday to Thursday as well, if you want to start early. Just FYI.)

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Hakkasan London

Hakkasan

As part of my wife’s 30th birthday bonanza, I promised her some of the finest Chinese food outside of Asia. She has a lot of Chinese blood coursing through her veins so I knew I had to pick something good. Hakkasan is definitely known for being one of the best. It even has a Michelin star. I’d been wanting to eat here for ages, so this seemed like a good excuse.

The entrance is down a slightly grotty backstreet/alley just off Tottenham Court that is full of slightly dingy late night bars and illegal drinking establishments. Fortunately, I’ve been drinking in these establishments for almost two decades, so had no problem finding it.

The entrance is pretty muted.  As you can see. There was a lady with a clipboard and a large man in a suit at the entrance. It felt like we were entering a club. She checked we had reservations and we were shown down the stairs. There were several smiley staff waiting to take our coats. Then another lady took us to the bar. The bar is pretty cool – long, dark, nice lighting, a bit futuristic mixed with the Orient. It is like a swanky place in Hong Kong or Blade Runner. We had a couple of cocktails which were £10 each (plus 13% service charge). A bit pricey but they were incredible and unique. Our cocktails were really different but both were some of the finest we had ever had. We were then shown to our seats.

The restaurant is divided into various rooms separated by woodwork lattices. The table have lamps hanging down low over the tables making it feel more intimate. There was staff everywhere, which made me a bit worried that they might be a bit overzealous but actually they got it just right. I hate when you are in a swanky place and feel like the staff are staring at you for the whole meal in case you might need something, it’s very off-putting. Anyway, they seemed ubiquitous but unobtrusive. I did feel it a bit unnecessary that there was a girl whose sole job seemed to just be opening the door to the bogs but maybe I’m being picky.

So, the food. I spent 21 years of my life in Hong Kong and I love dimsum. We ordered the dimsum platter to start and it was awesome. Truly, truly awesome! Each piece was bigger than normal dimsum but they were so well prepared and cooked, I was blown away.

Amazing dimsum!For our mains Nim had the Sho Chu Atlantic stir fried scallops which were huge and tasty and came in a really nice sauce with mushrooms and onions. I had the unbelievably incredible Spicy Mongolian venison. Which was one of the best things I have ever eaten. I challenge you to find a better Mongolian venison – even in Mongolia. We also had jasmine rice and another couple of cocktails. Plus some morning glory which was fantastic but at £9.50 was £9 more than I used to pay when I lived in Bangkok. Which is not surprising I guess.

By this point we were stuffed to the gills so ended the meal with a couple of lattes.

Here’s how the bill panned out:

Dim sum platter – £11.50

Jasmine rice – £2.50

Morning glory – £9.50

Mongolian venison – £23

Sho chu scallops – £26

2 Caffe lattes – £6

4 cocktails – £40

Total: £118.50

With service charge: £133.9

Given that this is a top class restaurant with a Michelin star, superb food (really superb), impeccable service, and an amazing decor, the bill seemed about right.

I would highly recommend this place. I will be going back once my bank account recovers. It shows you just how good oriental food can be. And I have spent over half my life in the orient. Save up and go!

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The Loft restaurant St Ives

The Loft Restaurant

We went here for my wife’s birthday because I’m so damn classy. And it is the classiest place we found in St Ives. As we entered up the stairs (above), we were greeted by a very nice lady who offered us cocktails on the balcony. It seemed impolite to refuse and I am a paragon of politeness. So we perused the menu  and sipped champagne cocktails. How bloody pleasant is that?

The restaurant itself is a long room, tastefully decorated, and a bit like a converted loft. Unsurprisingly I guess. I had booked us a seat by the window, so we had nice, if slightly obstructed view of the rainy bay.

Nim had the scallops which were large and tasty. I went for the squid salad. I love good squid and this was good, if slightly too sweet for my liking.

For the main I wanted steak but so did my wife and it was her birthday and we wanted to try different things. So I the haddock steak wrapped in local ham with a lovely mash. It was superb, even though I was getting a bit bored of seafood by this point in the holiday.

Nim got the steak in a black pepper sauce. Which was annoying as it was incredible. Cornish cows are very happy indeed and it was some of the finest beef either of us had ever tasted.

The roast veggies were perfect. And I don’t really care about vegetables much unless they are from a street stall in South East Asia and covered in chilli.

We had a red wine and a white wine which were both satisfactory.

Finally we had ice-cream – again from happy Cornish cows. This was followed by a double expresso and an Irish coffee.

Unfortunately the vegetables arrived a couple of minutes after the main, which wasn’t much of a problem but the staff were so nice, we got them for free.

The bill came to £74. Which was pretty good considered what we had and the classy surroundings. I’d highly recommend the place. Great ingredients, very nice staff, very nice ambience and surroundings. I was even allowed to have a cigarette on the balcony.

The terrace bit.

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The Saltwater Cafe St Ives

The Saltwater Cafe

We loved this place. Possibly our favourite dinner in St Ives. Through the window you might think to yourself: ‘What a charming little place, the front area looks quite cosy.’ When you enter you realize that this is all there is. One small room with about 10 tables. Booking a table is therefore pretty damn essential.

There seemed to be three people running the whole operation. Very well. A guy in the kitchen and two ladies serving. They were unbelievably efficient and friendly. It is a massive cliche but we really felt like we were dining in their house as a guest. Except for all the cash at the end.

For starters we had the garlic bread – because I love garlic bread!

Then squid with chilli and garlic. Which was astounding! The best dish of the entire trip through Cornwall. Incredible. I dribbled slightly when I wrote that.

Nim had the crab linguine which was very nice but was not quite as good as a place down the road. My pollack steak was fantastic though.

This was pleasantly washed down by a bottle of Pino Grigio followed by a couple of lattes.

The total bill was £55 which was a bargain quite frankly.

I really couldn’t recommend this tiny place enough. I suspect that in the summer you should probably book a table when you book your hotel. Or possibly even before.

Have the squid – if you don’t like it, there’s something very wrong with you.

Almost all of the cafe.

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The Mermaid restaurant St Ives

The Mermaid exterior

The Mermaid exterior

When we walked in I was immediately impressed. “This is what Cornwall should be like,” I thought to myself. The place was covered in bric’n’brac’n’nic’n’nac’n’tat. And so forth. Everywhere were photos of salty fishermen, nautical memorabilia, fishing nets, statuettes, bottles in wicker baskets. The only thing I would have added would have been a few of those mermaids sailors brought back from the Orient in Victorian times. You know, the ones where they sewed a monkey’s upper body to a fish. I can’t believe the oversight.

A very nice lady showed us to our table and took our coats. Our table had a Thai flag hanging over it for some reason. That must have just been a crazy coincidence. I ordered a bottle of very nice Pinot Grigio and we looked through the menu while listening to Billie Holiday. All pretty damn pleasant and Cornish. Of course my entire experience of Cornwall comes from movies and vague assumptions I’ve just made up.

Charming little booths

We shared a starter of Scallops which were awesome. Nice and big and in a tasty sauce. Being a glutton, I also ordered some garlic toast which mopped up the scallop sauce nicely.

For our mains – Nim opted for a dish that had three fish on it: John Dory, lemon sole, and seabass. They were all tasty and well cooked but I get bored of fish pretty quick unless it is done Asian style with a spicy sauce. Because I’m an oik and fish are just fish.

I had a monkfish and tiger-prawn crepe. Which was fantastic. Nice big chunks of monkfish and fairly big tiger-prawns for England. (In Asia they’d just call them prawns but that’s another issue.)

The meal came with side-dishes of new potatoes, mange tout, and two large cauliflowers in batter. All of which were nice, although the cauliflower got to be a bit much with all my cheese sauce from my crepe. Even I have limits on batter and cheese.

After this, we had two lattes. Which were like, you know, lattes.

The bill came to exactly sixty quid. So thirty a head. Which is fairly good value I guess, although better deals can be found elsewhere.  I’ll get back to you on that.

My only real gripe with the whole evening was that after Billie Holiday they played a boy-band album. I think it may even have been Take That. I mean, for fuck’s sake. When the song ‘let it shine’ came on, I kept thinking of budget supermarket adverts and it made the food taste slightly cheaper. I suddenly felt like I was eating in a Harvester or something.

I suppose I could have got the music changed but it’s not my restaurant and I shouldn’t have to. Nowhere should play this kind of music in public unless they are catering for teenage girls or twats who think a big gold chain looks good.

Other than that. A very pleasant experience indeed! Good food, nice ambience, great staff. A bit cheaper and better music and it would be superb. There is better food to be found in St Ives but the Mermaid has a atmosphere of its own.

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Shunt at London Bridge.

Last night I went to a bar/club/theatre/art/performance/thing called Shunt with my wife and some creative friends. It’s a very difficult place to categorize except to say that it’s fucking brilliant. Shunt are a ‘performance collective’ which sounds a bit arty or indeed wanky but it is truly a superb idea and I’m mildly annoyed that no-one has told me about this place before.

Beyond this innocent door lies untold wonders. Plus beer.

Beyond this innocent door lies untold wonders. Plus beer.

I have walked past the entrance a thousand times and never knew what it was. This website now gets over 100 people a day looking at it and I’m not even that sure I want to let you all know where it is but as you can look it up yourself, I suppose I might as well. At least then you can buy me a beer if I’m there. When you come out of London Bridge tube and start walking toward the escalators that lead up to the overland trains, you will see this door. Plus a small queue. There are no signs.

You WILL be asked for ID, which was actually pretty cool as that hasn’t happened to me since I was 17. It costs £10. Once you walk through the unassuming entrance you suddenly find yourself in a colossal underground vault. It is huge and sphincter-tighteningly impressive. From this point, a lot of it is hard to review because here lies the genius of Shunt. Every night different stuff happens in various rooms. First let me describe the space a bit. On entering, you will be faced with a long vaulting corridor with huge, high-ceilinged rooms branching off at either side. Sometimes it looks like this:

photo001

Sometimes like this:

1_400x300Last night it was dark and lit entirely by candles.

In the rooms there can be anything. Bars selling beers and other bars selling cocktails are dotted around, as are cosy corners with small tables or couches or recliner chairs or anything. There is artwork in odd places and random performances from actors or artists or musicians or people who are a bit mental. When we entered we came across a room where a creative looking lady was doing a book/poetry reading to creative looking people. In another room there were comfy chairs and a cinema screen playing old black and white sci fi movies. And they weren’t all Metropolis.

One room held a theatre and there were loads of others with shows going on and interactive arty things.

A bar in one of many cavernous rooms.

A bar in one of many cavernous rooms.

Every night something different and interesting and random happens here. If you just want to have a quiet drink and soak up the huge cavernous atmosphere there’s plenty of hidey-holes for that too. At one point a guy appeared near us and started performing brilliant songs under a spotlight on his keyboard. He appeared like magic.

This guy appeared from nowhere. Sorry about the quality but my phone doesn't have a flash.

This guy appeared from nowhere. Sorry about the quality but my phone doesn't have a flash.

Here are some random pictures ruthlessly stolen from the internet of things that have gone on here in the past:

No idea what's happening but you can see the size and atmosphere

No idea what's happening but you can see the size and atmosphere

Another bar but with ladies dancing. Marvellous!

Another bar but with ladies dancing. Marvellous!

A band. Obviously.

A band. Obviously.

Another random section of the HUGE Shunt bar/club/thing

Another random section of the HUGE Shunt bar/club/thing

Ok that’s enough. You get the idea. Shunt is a truly unique experience. A good and exciting one. It’s one of those places I always envisioned myself in. On drugs. With Jagger and Bowie.

It got shut down in November so that it could be turned into a load of shops. I hope the tedious peon that came up with that idea died in an hilarious accident worthy of a Darwin Award. Thankfully, it has now opened again but no one seems to know how long for. Hopefully at least another year. So check it out.

Here is a video that shows yet more stuff that has happened in the past. Some of it looks a bit mental but remember you only have to get as involved as you want to. There is a lot of room.

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The Garden Gate Pub – South End Green

garden gate exterior

The marvellous Garden Gate

If you sat down and totalled the amount of hours I have spent in this pub, then you have way too much time on your hands. In my defense, I used to live quite near. See the picture above? On the left hand side of the photo , just past where the tree is providing shade on the footpath, you can see the beginnings of a road that goes behind the pub. I used to live down there with two friends who liked a drink. So it wasn’t really my fault.

Anyway, the pub. It is situated in South End Green, which is an area down the hill past the Royal Free Hospital. The pub itself is really near the overland train stop for Hampstead Heath. Which means I have to walk past it every time I go to work, which can be pretty painful!

In the summer, it has one of the nicest beer gardens in London. In the winter it can be really warm and cosy with candles and couches and games and hot wine and so on.

The clientele is pretty mixed but tends towards well to do 20 – 30 somethings. But not always. Very nice atmosphere generally.

The food isn’t specular, no matter how many succulent sounding adjectives they chuck in the menu descriptions but the beer and wine come in wide varieties and are cheap. So who cares about the food. The staff are very friendly and efficient but if you get a sudden influx of people a queue for a drink can form alarmingly quickly. I have frequently switched from Guinness to lager purely because I’ve gotten bored waiting and can get a lager a minute or two quicker.

I once stood at the bar next to Simon Pegg in this pub and later had a piss at the urinal next to Chris Martin from Coldplay. So it’s clearly an exciting venue.

I would highly recommend this place. It’s a friendly local with a lot going for it. If you’re lucky you will meet the three legged dog that makes an appearance at the end of an evening too. I assume it’s with a human but never really noticed.

UPDATE: I went here last night and have to say that the food has massively improved. The burger I ate was top notch! My wife’s pork belly was pretty damn good too.

interior garden gate

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The Flask Hampstead

The Flask. Doesn't it look nice?

The Flask. Doesn’t it look nice?

Address: Flask Walk, Hampstead
Directions: Come out of Hampstead tube and turn left down the hill. Flask walk is a pedestrian road on your left between a bakery and a North African restaurant. You should also pop into the 2nd hand bookshop on this ‘walk’ as it is really cool. (Narrow passages, piles of old books, eccentric but helpful owner, loads of great stuff.)

I decided to write this one first as I happen to be sitting in it right now. So it’s obviously pretty good.

The Flask is a pretty decent pub and probably my main drinking spot if I happen to be on Hampstead high street. It is divided into two sections in an old school kind of way. As you face it, there is a public bar on the left and a saloon bar on the right. The public bar is where the locals hang out and there is a flat-screen tv playing sport or news or something. But silently, which is a bonus. The saloon bar is where you would take a lady-friend and is bigger with lots of seats.

It is a Youngs pub and slightly pricey but you’re in Hampstead for christ’s sake. Everything is more expensive.

The Flask is an old pub and therefore has character and everything. It has a lot of old pictures of Hampstead and Victorian drawings and that old style of opaque glass. It even has a fireplace. As atmospheres go, it is usually quite quiet and feels a teeny bit artificially old – like an O’Neil’s feels artificially Irish. That said, it is actually pretty old, 200 years in fact, but it has obviously been refurbished a bit. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair as it is nice, steeped in history, and nicely done out. Especially if you are near the front.

I’d recommend coming here if you happen to be out in Hampstead and the other half is shopping and you feel like a quiet pint. It is pricey but nice. Cosy-ish but a bit sterile. If you want an older more intimate atmosphere, I’d thoroughly recommend the Hollybush up the steep road opposite the tube.

The Flask is a decent place. I’m drinking there right now. Nothing more needs to be said.

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