I don’t have many New Year’s Resolutions, but one of them is not letting this blog slip. I have a huge backlog of posts from over the Christmas period (I got impatient and have already put up most of it up on Instagram). Rather than letting that happen again, I’ll be cheating ever so slightly and writing a quick and dirty post about my experience last night (nothing like that, you reprobates).
Firstly – my friend is moving to South Africa. Secondly, she only went and blagged herself her a huge promotion and is now Head of Sales at a new company (if you knew her, you’d know she was a wreckhead, and this makes it doubly impressive). I’m missing her leaving do so mini-celebrations were in order. She wanted red wine, I wanted pizza (after sacking off yoga). Central was the chosen location. There was only one thing for it – Homeslice in Covent Garden.
Homeslice has been one of my favourite pizza joints on and off for years, jostling for place with Yardsale and Franco Manca’s (FM, you my number one, boo). I LOVE the dough at Homeslice – it’s salty, with a squidgy crust and firm centre. I also love that they used to serve you a litre of wine (house only, no choice) and measure how much you’ve drunk with a yardstick. Which means you end up drinking a shit load and get horribly drunk, but hey. It’s FUN. Although that’s all changed – the waiter very mysteriously wouldn’t tell us why, but you can only buy by the litre or a carafe, now. Something about them ‘never really being allowed’ to do the whole yardstick approach. Shame.
The first time we went to the Marksman pub, we were shouted at. They were under different management then, and our hostess was ired because we had turned up at the end of Sunday dinner and asked for mussels. NOBODY who knows ANYTHING about food asked for mussels late on a Sunday, she told us. Sheepishly, we had them anyway, and they were very good. So good, I took my family back for my birthday lunch months later, which was also very good. But it’s always a mistake taking my family anywhere I’d like to go again – she berated them for different things on different dishes, and they gave as good as they got. Probably worse. After that, I didn’t go again, bar for a quiet drink, in the corner, out of sight.
Then, we moved away from Hackney Road (all the way to Dalston!) just as the pub changed management and got a brand spanking shiny new menu. Sigh! Then, it won the Michelin pub of the year. We decided it was worth the trek. We would go for a Sunday roast.
We booked a 12.15 slot – it was either that or 6pm onwards, so you know there were going to be busy. It also meant we were the first to arrive, and sat awkwardly in an empty room with more wait staff than customers, which always makes me PARTICULARLY squirmish. However, the room started to fill up within the first half hour, and by the time we left there was barely space to move.
I have a confession to make, dear reader. I went for a very expensive meal last week, with the good intentions of writing a review for it. It was Rök Smokehouse in Islington, and the bill came to around £100 for two people. *Just* about justifiable if it had produced a blog post. Only problem is, I drank far too much red wine prior, and maybe an espresso martini, and I actually can’t remember it all that well.
But, foodie foot soldier that I am – I’ve cobbled together some blurry photos, badgered my (equally tipsy, but less forgetful) friend S, and I will do my best. Just know – if I can’t remember it, or S can’t remember it, I haven’t written it. None of this is made up – merely, told through the hazy blur of alcohol – which makes everything better anyway, right?
We started with a scallop each. Repeat: SCALLOP. Singular. For £8. It came in the shell, dressed with ‘nduga and and seaweed. It was great. Slightly charred on the outside, snowflake soft on the inside (a bit like all of us, eh?). There was scallop roe too, which freaked me out. I haven’t had that before, although it was lovely. I’m used to roe bursting in your mouth – saucy – like those little plastic pearls they’re trying to ban in face wash (I don’t put those in my mouth. That’s what I imagine they’d taste like, though).
The Bonneville Tavern is not what it seems. Set behind a heavy black door and a thick dark curtain, it sits incongruously on the corner where Mare Street meets Lower Clapton Road, more thorough-fare than destination. Only the black chalkboard outside betrays the smoky interior (literally, there’s a smoke machine by the toilets). If there were ever a time to step into the unknown, this would be it.
Once inside, you’re hit with the unmistakable smell of must, of old spaces crammed with new people. It’s not unpleasant – it just sets the scene. Walls are flayed plaster (aforementioned must culprit) and adorned with dead animal heads. The floors are dark wood, and so is the bar, with back-lit glass bottles lining the shelves. Seating is wood and leather, with a stained-glass skylight barely punctured by sunlight (I’ve been here during the day, in the height of summer).
Because it’s not just the Ripper-esque atmosphere that brings you back here, it’s the food. This Sunday visit was my third, and not to be my last. Disappointed by a missed opportunity for a roast earlier that day, the boy and I set out in search of some savoury European fare to fill that Yorkshire-pudding-shaped hole. Off to the Bonneville we set. Another brilliant bonus – this place is never packed. I’ve been here twice on a Sunday and once on a Thursday night – no need for booking, no need for queuing. There is always a buzz – a gentle, sonorous hum that fills the room but not the space between you and your dinner mate. Low lighting and candles encourage proximity – the perfect date spot.
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.
Something GLORIOUS happened tonight. I helped get my friend a date. On Tinder. What began as a casual scroll, delete, scroll, delete, LOL, like him he has cat, became something much more serious – it became REAL. She’s just come out of a long-term relationship and it’s her first official date since then. And I helped it happen. I feel proud, like nudging the co-dependent chick leaving the long-term nest. Go forth my little one, and fly.
Ashamedly, we didn’t do much else but scroll through Tinder all evening and message randomers randomly on her behalf – I can’t believe how rubbish at flirting the majority of British men are. If only they knew they had five screeching women ghost writing every line back. They’d probably run for the hills.
When we did take a brief moment to look up from my friend’s phone, I noticed that we were sitting in the rather lovely Summer Tales in Red Market, just off Old Street roundabout.
I am in a JOYOUS mood. When I first sat down to write this review, it was simply because I was drunk. I’m not talking about tipsy – I’m talking about that listening-to-loud_music-and-snarling-along-to-the-lyrics-like-your-Mrs-Beyonce-Swift-in-a-music-video drunk. The pure, virginal kind of drunk where the night is full of possibilities but it’s a weekday so you decide to call it a night while lamenting the more innocent times when such insignificant details as weekdays had no impact on your social life.
And I have not written a drunk review in FOREVER and as a friend kindly pointed our recently, ‘that was kind of my thing’. Ouch.
BUT THEN, oh dear readers, things got WAY better.