Whenever I turn down Gerrard Place, left after the fire station on Shaftsbury Avenue, I brace myself. The smells of Chinatown hit you in a sickly, sweet wave – it is the aroma of sticky ribs, crispy-skinned duck and plum sauce. It is all at once too much and not enough, often overwhelming, especially on the tender stomach of a hangover which hasn’t yet been fed. The boy and I have two favourite places in Chinatown – Lido (one of my very first reviews) and Golden Dragon.
Lido evokes childhood memories for the boy, long distant weekend lunches with his father, but Golden Dragon is all our own. It’s huge, and all the waiters are in formal attire. The man at the front wears a hands free kit and conducts himself as if this were a couture fashion show – military precision and little mirth. We are seated without a smile and delivered our plates, saucers and green tea. Something about this kind of service makes me profusely polite and thankful for every little bit thrown my way – which eventually seems to rub off on the waiters, who thank you back as they clean plate after plate from our burgeoning table.
Usually, because good Dim Sum is a treat deigned only for those who get off their arses early afternoon and make the trip to Chinatown, we order about ten dishes (too many) and induce a Dim Sum coma that can only be relieved by sitting down with the top button of your jeans undone, and a promise not to overdo it so much next time – which we never keep.
The thing that nobody tells you about Duck & Waffle – well, nobody told me at least – is that the lift is made of glass. Completely see-through, 100% transparent, crystal-clear glass. Which means having to travel some forty floors, stomach-lurchingly fast, in a diaphanous death box.
I wasn’t prepared for this fact and only discovered it as I was roughly shoved into the damn thing by six squealing women (my friends), whizzing upwards in a terrifying trajectory of doom – and by then it was all too late. I stood with my face pressed up against the doors and my eyes squeezed shut until the horrific ordeal was over, ignoring the shoulder pulls and taunts of “look, Izzy, look, it’s beautiful!” while silently screaming GET YOUR GODDAMN HANDS OFF ME AND DO NOT SPEAK ONE MORE WORD UNTIL WE’RE ON SOLID GROUND.
So this was how I made my entrance to Duck & Waffle, shaking and limping thanks to jelly legs and an unrelated incident from earlier that day – something to do with a fitness DVD and overzealous burpees (damn you, Jillian Michaels).
So a few weeks ago I was randomly invited to a healthy cooking master class on Twitter by Simplyhealth, an insurance company looking to promote – you guessed it – a long life through diet and healthy living. Despite not blogging about either I thought – fuck it, I’ll go. This is the closest I’ve ever got to my food blogging dream – getting shit for free in return for writing about it. Even if I was selling myself out to the man, man. I like free shit.
I turned up on the day late, apprehensive and disheveled after sleeping in (an 11am start on a Sunday, I mean really). The class was being held at The Underground Cookery School near Old Street – no I’ve never heard of it either but it’s awfully nice. Stairs take you down to a long room, book ended by two kitchens and divided by sliding doors. Plus there was a ladies loo – which I ducked into to fill in my eyebrows because I hadn’t had time to put ANY face on. I simply MUST have eyebrows when meeting strangers I might have to impress.
I have so many reviews backed up that I’ve started to feel a little panicky. It was the boy’s birthday last month, which naturally meant at least two expensive meals out – the first of these being Flesh & Buns on Earlham Street, Covent Garden. I agonised over whether to take him here or Clove Club for weeks – but in the end the F&B menu just looked more exciting. And a little bit faddy. I’m a sucker for a fad, me. And we’re going to Clove Club for our Christmas presents to one another (aren’t we sweet) so stay posted on that front, foodies.
Firstly, Flesh & Buns is a massive big basement in Covent Garden occupying an old bar I remember drinking aged sixteen. Weird. We were seated on a long communal table in the middle of the room, on stools – which made me quite anxious. Especially considering how much food we were about to order. Gurl needs to spread out, know what I’m saying.
Right, so I’m totally drunk, sitting on the train from the arse end of nowhere home after work drinks so NATURALLY this is the best time to write a review. Tonight it’s the turn of Bouchon Fourchette on Mare Street.
I have eaten at Bouchon Fourchette twice now. Once with the boy, natch, and it was great. We had three courses, four glasses of wine and two coffees all for a very reasonable £80. It was awesome. Then I said I am totally taking my pain in the arse fucking family here for my Dad’s birthday, all five of us Gill twats who complain about everything and point our fingers at waiters and probably get all our food spat in (not me. I’ve worked in the service industry and I don’t point my finger at anyone with access to my food).
Seven of us braved the Stoke Newington side of Kingsland Road last night. I say braved, but a gaggle of seven screeching women was probably a far more terrifying prospect than anything else down the high street. Kingsland Road always scares me a little bit, despite growing up around the corner, and nearly moving off Ridley Road Market a couple of years ago (rat burger reviews ahoy!).
But every time I go back – when I’m sober enough to notice at least – it seems to have got more and more gentrified. I don’t know if this is a good thing for everyone – I’ve watched Top Boy, ‘kay. But what I do know is that there has been a damn fine spate of restaurants and bars cropping up, especially towards Stoke Newington. And that’s a good thing for me, at least.
Has anyone else noticed that Mare Street has gotten all trendy and village-y. A bit like the Stoke Newington end of Kingsland Road. I’ve spent years travelling down Mare Street onto somewhere else and have generally always considered it a right shithole. Then, Hackney Picturehouse opened a year or so ago, and it got a bit better. But you still couldn’t get a 2-4-1 Pizza Express anywhere near on an Orange Wednesday.
But more recently, there has been a spat of new restaurants opening up along this grotty thoroughfare and the truth is, they’re quite good. And then, when I was walking down to one of said restaurants from Hackney Central – The Advisory, which is opposite that massive Iceland on the corner – I noticed that, actually, Mare Street was quite nice. Hardly anyone tried to stab me. There were quite a lot of people eating in quite a lot of the restaurants – even in all of the Vietnamese’s, which usually look dead empty. The weather was nice, but not too nice, and it was a Thursday, and generally everyone looked like they were in a good mood. It was all very pleasant. I was surprised.