Sunday, October 31, 2010


Entertainment with food isn't a new concept, but the packaging and execution can always be reworked in numerous ways. Circus is amongst many venues in London offering quirky, humorous and off-piste entertainment whilst you wine and dine.

Located on Endell Street in Covent Garden, one could easily miss the entrance, owing to the clandestine iron shutter that only opens every so often. Enter, and it's a glittery sea of pretty people all bobbing to the beat. There is a well-stocked and run bar, with sufficient cocktail shaking to convey they have that part of the place in control. 

It's a true melange of decor. Silver balls and tinsel flash from the bar, there are lounge-y pockets of space to have a drink, and each wall has a different but equally loud and attention-seeking print. Well done though, and    in the middle of the room is the main table where we were seated for our friend's J's super fun birthday dinner!  With a contemporary banquet feel, it also serves as the stage where various entertainers prance, whirl and perform in between courses...

What were we treated to? As the name suggests, there were the artistic and precise trapeze acts, and the more comical, modern "freaks". 

First act in between courses were two trapeze artists who mirrored each others movements around the hoop. Their ghostly shapes created delicate and luminous patterns with the light effects as well.

The second was a twist on the striptease - a forlorn Japanese bride walks down the "aisle", threatening suicide and self-harm, when suddenly she sees hope ahead! Off comes the hideous wedding gown to reveal a flambouyant feather cape and diamante encrusted corset. The actress had the most comical expressions, it was hard not to giggle. What is entertaining is her stripping down to reveal silver nipple tassles which she jiggled to the beat of the music!

My favourite - a man with a glass ball body-popped and moved the ball through the air as if it weighed nothing. Done to a remixed version of Sway, it's a clever balancing act.

And how about the food? Whilst I love the vibe and the upbeat atmosphere of the whole place, I find it's not so much about delivering awesome food. One has to count this as whole nocturnal entertainment venue rather than a restaurant per se. Sadly I couldn't take good photos due to the blue tinged lighting, but here's my try..

For large parties, a party menu can be organised along with the booze. The menu is Pan-American, not a phrase I've heard before, but in keeping with the eclectic theme. We started with Chicken Skewers, Chilli Squid salad, Sweetcorn fritters and a Beef salad. All were tasty and wholesome, with a more home-cooked style rather than avant-garde, which would have been more suited to the up-scale setting.

Crab Cakes with tortilla chips: Aside from the colourful chips, this dish was actually rather unexciting and lacked seasoning and zing.

Now it's all a bit of a haze here. Yes there were copious amounts of wine, and there was also dance music blasting and general socialising amongst our party. Platters of pre-ordered food kept arriving, providing a magnanimous array of choice. Here were some I remembered..

Josper Beef Fillet Steak: A good onion ring is always memorable. Crunchy batter covering a juicy onion was a nice partner to the juicy steak.

Cajun Sea Bass: Well cooked, but again lacking in seasoning. Came with a nice yoghurt dressing though.

Vegetable Roti Parcels: Reminiscent of a Morrocan pastry, it was filling and rather tasty. I couldn't really tell what vegetables went inside, but I could hazard a guess of courgettes, corn and coconut.

Sticky Pork Belly: Probably the best dish of the night. A loin of pork was chopped up and still retained alot of juiciness.

There is a lot of variety and for £70 a head, drinks and acts included, there is more than enough food and fun to keep you going through the night. It's perfect for a big group, and I did have an excellent Orange Espresso Martini which I rate the bar for. However, call me the bearded woman if you must, the food was rather more a supporting character rather than the headline act itself. That being said, I'd still recommend it for a different and enjoyable night on the town. 


Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Alliance

I hate to blog-and-run, but my dear ol' Dad has just arrived at Heathrow from Kuala Lumpur and I'm off to pick him up! And just before, I have a small minute to report back on a notable Sunday Roast I had at The Alliance, one of our many locals in West Hampstead..

With blatant outrightness, The Alliance is an Old Man's Pub with no frills or thrills. The only reason the Boy frequents this blast from the past is because they show the footie on Sky.


The above picture is my witness to a very decent Roast Leg of Lamb, accompanied by parsnips, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, carrot puree (bonus!), all crowned with a homemade Yorkshire Pudding. Oh my!

Succulent lamb, and deep gravy. Could it be bordering gastro-pub?! Gasp, what a thought. I certainly rate the carrot puree on gastro standards for it's sweet, buttery and mash-potato-consistency. Potatoes have crunchy skin and yield nicely with a soft nudge. And that Yorkshire is rather passable, with a crackly top and soft inside.

Don't judge a pub by it's cover. For £9.90 on average for a well-cooked and handsome looking roast, I can deal with the grandpa sweaters. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Trendoids ahoy! I know where you all gather and nurse those Saturday night hangovers!

Towpath has been a long exalted mecca for brunch-lovers who flock to the East for a bit of Sunday relaxation. Located on the side of Regent's Canal, in Dalston, it is practically a hole in the wall. OK, ok, a very painfully fashionable hole in the wall, I hear you wayfarer-wearers cry. Between the yummy mummys, the boys with the half-shaven-half-quiffed hair and the girls with bright red lipstick a la Dita Von Teese, is a slick little operation that doesn't offer the most extensive menu, but definitely a very good one. Best friend M and I explored this joint...

 Distressed, eclectic, and with a vintage wash: the East End look du jour that gets punters from neighbouring areas to spend their Sunday morning watching the world go by...

 Here, here, a bit of inspiration on a blackboard is always welcome.

Nice to know what's always on the "menu"!

 Exercise? What's that?

And smell the coffee. It was rich, slightly foamy and had that much welcomed caffeine hit. 

Now here was me thinking that Towpath was all style and no substance, until this beauty comes along. It just went by the name of "Cheese Toastie" but was so much more. Sandwiched between two heavily buttered slices of sourdough, was a nutty cheese (perhaps gruyere or emmenthal?), dotted with spring onion. Who can resist a bit of melt with a pungent hit of onion? Certainly not me.

And to quench our thirst (toasties can be salty!), we decided on a lemonade and rice cake. I'm a big fan of juice with pulp, "chewing" on a drink is a small quirk of mine! The rice cake was very much rice pudding in muffin format - falling apart upon first bite, and delicately sweet and custardy.

Some rules to observe when visiting Towpath: 1) Vintage/street/designer-that-doesn't-look-designer is the name of the fashion game here. And you have to have an iPhone. Otherwise you can't possibly send GPS directions asking your other impeccably dressed friends to come. 2) Whilst the food is very good, we're talking fashionable prices too. It was £10 a head for a cheese toastie, coffee, lemonade and half a rice cake each. 3) When it's a fab day, you could spend all day there. Bring the Sunday papers, and catch up amidst canal life. Now pass me those Ray-Bans.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

An Ode to Toad in the Hole

As a non-native to London or indeed the UK, these recent wet and darker days don't do alot for the morale. I trawl the wardrobe for tights, scarves, waterproofs and jumpers whilst sniffling slightly as I say goodbye to those bright blue Havaianas that took me through this tremendous summer. Oh woe!

But when one season closes, another one opens. My silver lining to umbrella season is it's time for Sunday Roasts, hefty lasagnes, wholesome curries and all those comfort foods that distract from the cold outside. I don't necessarily eat out less, I just savour the time even more when I can stay indoors and pour my efforts into chunky, autumnal dishes.

So here's the scene. Saturday night in with the boy and we've already cracked open a bottle of red. Cue the bottle of Greek (yes Greek!) red...

We had bought this heady, spicy and smoky Gerovassiliou about 3 years ago and decided the time had come to honour it. It required a food partner that was equally voluptuous and perhaps slightly salty to meet the spice. Something to soak in the punch. It could only be something wanton like a Toad in the Hole!

Toad in the Hole is one of those quintessentially humble English dishes that has recently been blessed with some reinvention. Though considered rather stodgy and cursed with a completely uncharismatic name, this classic is one which can be pleasantly gentrified when given the right touch. Rather easy to make, the dish is assembled by placing sausages in batter, and whacked into a hot oven. The batter then swells and rises like a mighty Yorkshire Pudding. Armed with a Nigel Slater recipe, I was determined to take this baby to great heights!

And did this baby rise to the occasion! Puffalicious perfection, if I do say do myself! The secret in getting those cavernous highs is the age-old one, make sure the tray in which the batter will go into has smoking hot oil. When the batter hits the oil, you should hear a gentle sizzle and the edges should start bubbling.

I imagine being a little ant climbing up and down those savoury undulations!

And tumbling into squidgy pockets where the batter is still a soft and welcome casing to the hearty sausages..

Add a bold, dark green vegetable like cavolo nero for contrast, drown with lots of gravy and this is bliss!

I know this post sounds incredibly narcissistic, me going on about my own cookery; it's really a tribute to this underdog of British cuisine. And I would be nowhere without Nigel's trusted recipe. If I may offer some of my own tips: 1) Smoking Hot. I can't say it enough for the oil. Goose fat with it's high smoking point will get you there. 2) You don't have to use bacon to wrap the sausages like Nigel does, but it does pay to take off the skins. This means the batter doesn't slip off those lovelies. 3) Brown the sausages and use it's juices to make the gravy. If you saute some onions in the same pan as the sausages, when soft, add some diced cox apple. Play off the pork-and-apple partnership and add stock, reduce and voila you'll have a delicious gravy. Boo to the upcoming winter blues!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

La Smorfia - Takeout!

We all know those days. A late work night, awful weather and feeling devoid of any culinary imagination. So take-out it is. Let's not get up on a high-ground now, you know who you are if you've dialled for take-away pizza!

I've not been reduced to the lowest of the foodie castes just yet. I have been eyeing local Italian La Smorfia in West Hampstead who offer a take-away service, with pizza ready in a mere 10 minutes! I don the waterproof trench and out into the damp night I go to pick up my Fiorentina. It's there ready and waiting, served by a smiling pizza-maker.

Gorgeously thin crust, topped with a fine smattering of ingredients. Spinach was just wilted, the mozzarella was still stringy and a partially poached, soft-boiled yolk made this one a clear winner. The pizza came already seasoned, I'm always partial to a bit of cracked black pepper. A refreshing glass of white wine, and it's happy days.

Pizza and wine is exactly the refuge one needs when battling the pangs of mid-week food guilt. My Fiorentina was a modest £9 and just perfect for one. La Smorfia is a worthy resident in the assortment of Italian bistro and eateries that line West End Lane (the West Hampstead high street), and I'm keen to return to try the pasta dishes. Va Bene!

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