Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Date night in Catford: Sapporo Ichiban and Kaspas Dessert Bar, Catford

Chicken gyoza
Last summer when I was coming home from an Assembly League race, the crowds spilling out of Kaspas in Catford caught my eye. Where could be so pumping on a Thursday night in Catford that there were queues out of the door?

A little bit of research and I discovered that it was a dessert bar / ice cream parlour. I joked with Becks that we should go on a date night to Catford and have a Nando's over the road before we hit up the dessert bar. Six months later and the jokes had turned into reality, it was time for date night in Catford!

I met Becks at Catford Brdige station and as we were walking towards Nando's, Sapporo Ichiban caught our eye. I had a vague memory of hearing there was a good Japanese near Catford station so we decided to go in. It wouldn't be a real South London date night without the chicken shop, but we were prepared to live on the edge....
Sushi platter
I've got mixed feelings about dinner at Sapporo Ichiban. The food was all really enjoyable and tasted fresh. The chicken gyoza came served steaming hot. The freshly rolled soft shell crab, asparagus tempura and tofu sushi rolls all came with fillings that had obviously been cooked to order. The salmon and avocado rolls were good too.

However, the service really let the place down. All of the staff were very friendly, but it was hard to attract their attention. Front of house seemed to be be organised chaos and at the end of the night we got the wrong bill because the person who took our order had written the wrong table number down. The kitchen didn't seem much better with our sushi rolls taking nearly an hour to arrive. I was still hungry when we finished, but didn't dare order any more as I wouldn't have been able to stand the wait.

I don't think their problems are anything an experienced restaurant manager couldn't fix very quickly, they just need to find one. I'd happily go back for the food, but it could be a frustrating experience service wise.

The bill came to a very reasonable £28 including drinks. Being very British we still gave a small tip, although I don't know why.

Inside Kaspas!
And then it was onto Kaspas! The place is bling with sparkly lights, pink high back chairs, a pink metallic wallpaper type arrangement and a Disney movie being projected onto the wall! The crowd was an eclectic mix of families with young kids, teenagers and couples on dates.

I went for the M&M waffle with vanilla ice cream on the side. The waffles were lighter and less greasy compared to some that you get, but didn't have a lot of flavour. I was quite surprised that the ice cream was of the soft serve variety as they also advertise their wide range of gelato.

I also ordered an extra scoop of lemon sorbet which came served in a separate glass. The sorbet had a very sharp taste of lemon and helped cut through the richness of the waffle. I enjoyed the sorbet and it made me think that their range of gelati might be pretty good.

The bill came to under £14 for two waffles, the lemon sorbet and a tea. Again great value.

M&M waffle
Date night in Catford. It certainly was an experience!

Sapporo Ichiban
13 Catford Broadway

Sapporo Ichiban on Urbanspoon

97 Rushney Green

Monday, 19 January 2015

Hanging out at The Speakers House in Parliament

On the green benches (trust me, it was dark)
On Wednesday night I was lucky enough to be invited to an event at The Speakers House inside ParliamentSadiq Khan, MP for Tooting, was holding an event for 'Community Heroes', celebrating the work of charities and community groups in his constituency.

I was there in my capacity as 'official photographer' for the hyperlocal social network Go Earlsfield.

It turned out to be an excellent evening. The Speaker has some beautiful official apartments which John Bercow has actively opened up for such events. The highlights of the apartment had to be the grand staircase and the Monarch's bed (below). Apparently the Monarch used to stay in Westminster the night before the State Opening of Parliament.

I got the impression that John Bercow is the first speaker to open up the apartments to public events. It was mentioned a couple of times that he felt it was his duty to allow us tax payers in.

The Monarch's bed
The evening was designed as a networking event for local community activists, culminating in speeches and a short awards ceremony. I really enjoyed John Bercow's speech. He and Sadiq clearly get on well and their was quite a few jokes around who was the shortest of the pair.

There were also some presentations and inspiring stories of what some people are doing in the community. 'Official Photographer' for Go Earlsfield really doesn't take up much time and I felt challenged to do more.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Happy Mondays @ Amersham Arms, New Cross

After years of seeing the Happy Mondays comedy night plugged on Brockley Central, I finally summoned up the energy to go out on a school night and booked tickets.

The gigs take place in the old school venue at the back of the pub. The room was bigger than I expected and filled with folding chairs for the audience to sit on. Some of the rows had less legroom than Ryanair, but we managed to get a couple of more spacious seats near the back of the room. A good move unless you want to be picked on! I couldn't help notice the original parquet floors that are in pretty good nick considering the hammering they must have taken over the years.

Local Brockley resident Holly Walsh organises and compares the night. She started the evening with some audience interaction and a few local jokes. Thankfully she didn't bring up the shipping containers which have just landed in the Conservation area...

There were four acts during the night, who were progressively more experienced and amusing. The main draw was Josh Widdicombe from one of Becks' favourite shows, The Last Leg on Channel 4. I was wondering how New Cross could attract such a big star on a Monday night and Josh answered the question when he said he was practising new material for a tour he's doing later in the year. Despite Josh having notes with him on stage, and referring to them between gags, he was still the funniest performer of the night. If you've got it, you've got it I guess.

A good fun and relaxed night for a Monday and at the end of the night we were able to easily stroll home. Most civilised!

Tip for Josh's gigs, don't go if you are under 30. There were quite a few 80s references in his routine that you might not get if you are any younger!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Madrid Food Tour: Tapas, Taverns & History Tour

Team food tour in the back streets of the Hapsburg district
This is the final post from my trip to Spain earlier in the year. It's taken  me a while to get round to this one, but it was a great night bar hoping in Madrid.

After the epic food tour I went on in Istanbul last year, I was keen to take another food tour while in Spain. I found the tour in Turkey, not only a great way to try some of the city's best food, but also an excellent way to get orientated and pick up lots of tips about the local customs and culture.

We booked on the Madrid Food Tour: Tapas, Taverns & History Tour and after a long day visiting the Reina Sofia we headed to the meeting at the specified meeting Opera.

Having jokingly been building it up the chances of getting Kiwi James as our guide (after some YouTube stalking and spotting him the night before), it frankly would have been a disappointment if we'd got anyone else. James duly arrived and after introductions, and Becks disclosing she was also a Kiwi, we were underway.

The rest of our group was made of a lovely American couple who were on their honeymoon and a group of American women who worked for Pepsi and were in town for a conference. The four women from Pepsi were fussy eaters and drinkers. Why do you go on a food tour if you aren't open minded and want to try everything? Most odd.
Jamón ibérico de bellota at Taberna Real
Being in the tourist heart of the city was expecting a walk to our first location, assuming that anywhere close by wouldn't be authentic. However, we headed into the closest bar to our meeting point the Taberna Real.

James ordered us glasses of sweet red vermouth and a plate of jamón ibérico de bellota. A number of complimentary tapas hit the bar including olives, roasted almonds and the ubiquitous patatas fritas. As we drank and ate James explained some of the customs of eating tapas in Madrid and when it is perfectly acceptable to throw your olive pips on the floor (as it was in Taberna Real).

I enjoyed the vermouth a lot more than I was expecting to. It was the first time that we'd eaten the highest grade of jamón on our trip and it was fantastic.
Statue of Felipe IV
When we left Taberna we headed to Plaza de Oriente in front of the Royal Place where James told us a little about the history of Madrid. He also pointed out the statue of Felipe IV which was the first statue ever made where the horse is raised on its hind legs. Apparently Galileo was consulted on the maths.

We wound our way through the Hapsburg district, to Plaza Villa which contains a statue of Don Alvaro de Bazán one of the architects of the Spanish Armada. We headed past two more small squares before arriving at the second stop of our evening Bodegas Ricla, a small family run bar.
Outside our second stop at Bodegas Ricla
Inside the bar James ordered a bottle of white wine for us and sardines, cabresse cheese whipped with cider and meatballs arrived on the bar for us to taste. The meatballs are cooked by the owners mother (if I remember correctly) and were my favouite and mopped up with the bread which came served with them.

Leaving the bar we headed into Plaza Mayor where rehearsals for a show the next night were taking place. Inexplicably the grand Plaza wasn't called out as one of the highlights of Madrid in my guide book, so I was pleased that we passed through on the food tour. I was beginning to feel that I was getting my bearings in central madrid.
Meatballs in Bodegas Ricla
The final three stops of the night were very close to where we were staying and perfect for stumbling back to apartment afterwards. Casa del Abuelo was our first stop. They have two branches close together and we went for the less crowded bar on Calle Núñez de Arce.

We tried the sweet and plump prawns cooked in garlic oil with a hint of chilli and parsley and washed down with a glass of the house sweet tempranillo wine.
Prawns at La Casa del Abuelo
Our penultimate stop was a sherry bar called La Valnecia. Known as a bar where the resistance met during the Franco era, one of the house rules is no photographs. Probably less necessary now that Spain is a democracy, but the rule still remains.

Sherry comes from barrel and we had two carafes to share amongst our table; a white sherry followed by a red. Just like the vermouth at the start of the night, if you'd asked me, I would have said I didn't like sherry. However, they were both enjoyable, with the white being my preference. I remember a tapa of hard cheese that went down well too.
A top bottle of red. We saw it for sale in El Corte Ingles
After bar hoping and snacking we head to our final venue of the night to fill any remaining space that was left in our bellies. El Lacon that Becks and I had visited on our first night was to be our final stop.

We kicked the evening off with a bottle of Spanish red wine (above) that was fantastic. Even though we had it late in the evening and I'd consumed a fair bit before then, trust me on this one and seek out a bottle for yourself next time you are in Spain. They sell it in El Corte Inglés.

Knowing that we'd already visited previously, James made sure he ordered different dishes with grilled asparagus, fried shark with cumin and lemon and tender grilled pork some of the dishes arriving at our table.
Fried shark
Overall the food tour was a great experience. It was a good way to get orientated in Madrid (even though we'd been there for a couple of days already), understand more about the culture and importantly the customs in the local bars. It was a different beast the to Instanbul Food Tour that I had previously been on, I left this one in less of a food coma but more tipsy, but they are both experiences I'd happily repeat.

All of the places we visited during the food tour have been added to my European map.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Maddy's Fish Bar, New Cross

Ling and chips
Nine months after the part kickstarter funded chippy opened, I finally made it to Maddy's Fish Bar in New Cross on Saturday night. After a hard run session in Greenwich park that morning I was up for some guilt free indulgence and keen to sample as much of the menu as I could fit in.

I've heard good things about the chicken nuggets, but we both went for the classic fish and chips. Their suppliers catch dictates the menu and on Saturday night there was ling and whiting on the menu both came in a fresh dill and gluten free batter, served with chips and slaw (£9 each).
Whiting and chips
We both agreed that the whiting was the catch of the day having a thinner skin and a slightly firmer flesh. The homemade tartare sauce was great, although the chips could have been crispier.
I couldn't resist the large jar of gherkins (£1) sitting on the bar and had to order one. While Becks selected the minted mushy peas (£2.50). I'm not usually a fan of mushy peas, but really enjoyed this version with a mixture of crushed and whole peas with plenty of mint.
Minted mushy peas
Totally unnecessary, but we also ordered the pumpkin tempura (£3.50) from the specials board. Despite us not getting to the tempura until we had finished our fish, the batter had remained impressively crispy. Although professing to be stuffed, I nearly polished off the whole pate of tempura single handedly.

We had our eyes on the sourdough donuts, also on the specials board, but the food coma had descended and there is no way we could fit in anything else.
Pumpkin tempura
With the London Particular next door this corner of New Cross feels in safe hands with two young female entrepreneurs leading the revival. The drinks were a little on the expensive side at £3 for a half, but the rest of the food was great value and a cut above your regular fish and chips.

Maddy's Fish Bar
397 New Cross Road
SE14 6LA
Maddy's Fish Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, 8 December 2014

Capernaum, Brampton, Cumbria

Bacon, chorizo and black pudding salad with a poached egg 
While we were up in Brampton a couple of weeks ago a new restaurant, Capernaum, opened in the market place and we went to check it out on their opening night. Run by a Yorkshireman who has moved into the area, it is located in what was Huntingtons a couple of incarnations ago.

While we were waiting for our starters to arrive we were sent an appetiser of mini fish and chips to share. The fish and chips were a welcome little treat as we had to wait around forty minutes for our starters to arrive.

I kicked things off with the bacon, chorizo and black pudding salad with a poached egg (£5.50). The chorizo was the dominant flavour and rather over shadowed the black pudding. It felt like less could have been more with the salad and it didn't need quite so much going on. Becks' grilled haloumi (£5.50) was the favourite starter at our table.
Boeuf bourguinon
In between courses we were brought a shot of apple sorbet which was a nice touch and not something you usually get in a neighbourhood restaurant.

I chose the boeuf bourguignon (£12) and Becks the lamb tagine (£11.50) as our main courses. Both of our dishes were generous in size and I had three large pieces of tender and tasty beef. Personally I think they could get away with smaller portions of protein and include some vegetables or reduce their prices a little.
Lamb tagine
As we were finishing our dessert the chef / owner came round to chat with the opening night customers. It sounds like he and his family have jumped into Cumbrian life since moving up from Yorkshire. Competition has probably never been higher in Brampton with Brambles and Mr Elephant also recently opened. The owner was receptive to feedback and hopefully they will find the formula which works for them.

Chocolate and pecan pie


Monday, 1 December 2014

The Smoking Goat, Thai food in Soho

Fish sauce chicken wings
The Friday before last Becks, Ed and I headed over to the The Smoking Goat in Soho, a Thai BBQ restaurant I'd discovered via Instagram. I was hoping for the authentic Thai flavours I crave and haven't had since Chat Thai which was four years ago now!

I wasn't sure what sort of setup to expect from The Smoking Goat. It turned out to be a lively and crowded small bar, with people packed in tightly, either at small tables or on stools at the bar. It's the type of place that could have been chaos, but the on the ball waiters had everything under control.

The three of us were able to give the compact menu a good working over, ordering everything except the crab. First up were the fish sauce chicken wings (£6) which were crispy from being deep fried and the fish sauce glaze had a finish that was punchy enough without being overpoweringly fishy.

The most popular starter at the table were the scallops (£6 each). The scallops came served in their shells and had a lovely nam jim sauce that I couldn't help slurping out of the shells. We were grateful that a fourth scallop arrived by mistake at our table and the waiter allowed us to keep it on the house.

We ordered both of the BBQ plates on the menu, the smoked lamb ribs and slow roast duck legs (£15 each). The mains come served with som dtum and sticky rice. Som dtum is my favourite Thai dish and this was a pretty good version. I couldn't see the traditional pounded red scud chillies in the salad, but it definitely had some kick.

The BBQ meats weren't the stars I was hoping for. Our duck was dry and lamb ribs are a bit of a faff to share. However, I did appreciate the Thai flavours, liking the tamarind on the duck and the accompanying nam prik chilli sauce.

I was pleasantly surprised when the bill only came in at £32 per head as we had a fair amount of booze and 'small plate sharing' as a habit of racking up the bill.

I enjoyed our night at The Smoking Goat. When I need a hit of authentic Thai flavours to remind myself of my time in Bangkok I'll know where to go.

The Smoking Goat
7 Denmark Street
Smoking Goat on Urbanspoon