Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Loves Company

A Tipple & A Toastie

Blink and you'll miss it. Actually, don't blink, Loves Company is a bar you really can't afford to miss. Nestled on the corner of City Road, just by Old Street Station sits a concoction of cocktail mastery, crazy hats, cheeky chaps and cheesy toasties which make for an evening of fun and giggles and of course, all of the cheese.

Casting a crimson glow across the pavement, the neon strip lighting welcomes you inside the not as red light districty as it looks interior.

Glance over at the wall to get a taste of the cocktail menu. If there was ever a reason to judge a book by its cover, this is it .. I mean come on now, you'd be an idiot to resist a blossoming kiss with purple passion potion and hold your horses .. Powdered Libido? Established on Wednesday? I think I'll have some of that too please!

The dons of the den whisk up their love potions with the care and attention required of any aspiring cupid and the results are spectacular, not to mention having the ability to pull off a bowler hat, (a skill indeed)!  

The parallel reason why you absolutely must take a trip to Loves Company, is their ingenious decision to serve cheese toasties. Yes, you heard me .. CHEESE TOASTIES! Be it Cheesus of Nazareth or Bare Grillz, get involved with the nostalgia and comfort of tucking into melted, stringy, drippy grilled cheese. If you can't handle a pun or two then it might be the time to take a good, hard look in the mirror. Puns are great and they are in abundance here at Loves Company.

Bow ties are also brilliant. Fact. Also golden toilet roll holders. Well, anything gold is good, but unexpected gold is the best. And tea cups. God forbid a bar in East London not investing in some classic china tea ware! 

Oo I do love random oddities. Now, to more serious business .. 10 points to Griffindor for spotting the monster! 

A hot buttered rum and apple creation was of the melt in the mouth and don't ever end variety. Sadly, and as is the way with so many of my favourite drinks, I behave quite atrociously and finish them. Honestly, how could I be so careless?!

 A lavender-garnished gin based number made its way over and sat as pretty as a picture awaiting its fate.  

It wasn't long before a tropical fruity extravaganza joined us, all beach shack rum punchy with a citrus twist.

And then suddenly we had been in (at) the bar for four hours. While I'm still baffled as to where that time vanished to at such speed, I shall add it to one of life's many unsolvable conundrums ... speaking of which ... any guesses? 

The conversational, sartorial and dreadlockary excellence of the chaps at this establishment is reason to head straight to the bar and pull up a chair. Secrets were divulged, tales told and toastie filled and totally tipsy, we said our goodbyes and skipped homewards. I have a feeling it won't be long before we return!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Chotto Matte


Chotto Matte, a Peruvian-Japanese explosion of colours, flavours and spectacular smells has won me over in a heartbeat. From Chef Jordan Sclare and Michael Paul’s intensly mouth-watering Nikkei cuisine to Tom Blackford (Ink Fetish’s) graffiti covered walls, I was in creative heaven upon arrival. 

The ever-generous Zomato had invited a group of us food fanatic types along for a pisco cocktail master-class in the slick lava-stone bar on the ground floor of the restaurant and a chance to sample some Nikkei cuisine and get our taste-buds tingling. 

Tumbling in from the revoltingly wet weather, we were welcomed with a glass of champagne and the outside world couldn't have felt further away.  

Pisco, a grape based brandy has been produced in Chile and Peru for hundreds of years but has only recently hit London in a big way. Chotto Matte had the bar well stocked and shining with varieties of pisco bottles awaiting their fate. 

We watched as Pisco Sours were whisked up in front of us by this poncho donned fellow .. (pisco, lime, sugar, egg white and Peruvian bitters for those of you who (like me) are new recruits to the pisco revolution).

Chotto Matte's signature pisco bottles stood to attention atop the bar.

Tuna sashimi tostaditas were prepared in front of us against the backdrop of the colourfully explosive graffiti, a perfect match for the bold, modern tastes of this new fusion cooking.

Sweet potato and cassava chips were served in sake boxes and came accompanied by the most incredible guacamole I have ever tasted. Will need to make that a more permanent feature in my life. I think an entire tub of the stuff would just about do it!

Chef Michael Paul worked his magic mid-demo, explaining the components of each dish and leaving us drooling over his every word. 

The gorgeous Sato Maki consisted of sea bass, salmon, asparagus, marinated peppers, courgette and shiitake mushroom and we were all but ready to reach out and grab them until the blow torch was produced and flames got involved. Not just for show however, the caramelised smokey flavour created from the torching gave the sushi that extra edge which has catapulted Chotto Matte to the forefront of London's Nikkei restaurant scene.

Cuatro Uvas cocktails were made from pisco, sake, elderflower, lime and celery bitters and garnished with red grapes and some expressive hands of head barman Fabiano Latham.

My winner of the evening was the aubergine nigri, topped with den miso and flamed to create a mouthful of chargrilled sweetness. I'll be having me a whole plate of those please!

Teriyaki chicken skewers with spicy mayo were handed around between pisco hits and gave us a teaser as to what we can expect from the grill upstairs. Not to be missed that's for sure!

The sneaky among us slipped away from the pisco shaking, ice-saw wielding cocktail creators at the bar and were given a cheeky tour through the hustle and bustle of excited diners and teriyaki aromas in the main restaurant upstairs.

The place was full to the brim with mates on dates, dates on dates and everyone enjoying their sushi, ceviche and meat from the open grill. Even as I write, I'm wondering why I haven't booked a table already.. straight onto the to-do list I think.

The incredible exposed Robata grill had movable tiers to regulate how much heat reached the smokey Nikkei barbecued meat and I found the whole thing captivating. I was also a little distracted by this rather delightful chap ... just look at that smile! 

Ceviche and soft shell crab sushi were plated up on the long sushi bar and were instantly whisked off to their tables. The colours of the dishes were insanely tempting and it was a good thing my camera was clutched in my hands because those fingers might not have been able to help themselves!  Everything was a hive of activity and the buzz was completely infectious.

Watching chefs at work is a (not so) guilty pleasure of mine, so I was in my absolute element at Chotto Matte with such a variety of open bars to oggle at. The intensity and concentration of the sushi masters was captivating and their attention to detail was unwavering. We were also given a whistle stop trip through the main kitchen, which although fascinating, was probably incredibly irritating for all the chefs who were busy enough as it was without having extra bodies getting in the way! Thank you for being so patient Chotto Matte chefs!

All I can do now is to implore you to grab a date (after a meal here, a second one shouldn't be far off) or book a table for you and your mates because this is food to be experienced and shared. I certainly can't wait to hop back Soho way and relive the fun all over again!

Thanks must go to everyone at Zomato and Chotto Matte for this fabulous treat and to all the lovely writers and bloggers who made the experience that extra bit special.

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Square Meal

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Notes Coffee

Cheese and coffee tasting

So, thanks to Notes, I've had a mini revelation. While it is a universally acknowledged that the greatest pairing on the planet is between cheese and wine, a partnership that is almost unheard of, is coffee and cheese. Time for all you skeptics out there to put your doubts to one side and listen up!

Notes have a few branches dotted about town but unlike many other coffee shops out there, it has its own roastery where it can produce the coffee they serve. Fabio Ferreira, our coffee and cheese connoisseur has a family run coffee plantation in Brazil which provides Notes with each and every bean. 

Growing up surrounded by coffee, it wasn't until many years later when he was travelling in Italy that Fabio discovered his love for the Italian way of drinking coffee. Unlike Brazil, where it is drunk primarily in the home, in Italy coffee forms a core part of social activity, lounging in cafes, or a quick sip to catch up with friends.

First up, we tasted Finca Pantanal Coffee from La Paz in Honduras, paired with a Cotherstone Cheese from Durham. The slightly sour lemony flavour of this cheese complimented the sweeter apple undertones of the coffee. Here we had our initial taste of the art of matching. Your instant Nescafe and whatever cheese you have in the fridge probably won't hit the spot. It takes a little more attention to detail to make sure the pairings go together

Don Mayo coffee from Tarrazu in Costa Rica was next on our caffeinated journey with a generous slice of Cornish Yaaaaaaaaaarg. (Or Yarg, but who doesn't love a bit of word elongation)! This was a much milder cheese and I could have sat there nibbling away all evening. The coffee had an intense and deep flavour to it, the sort that makes you want to bury your head in the bag ..

The lovely Maria had the same feelings and her nose was quite rightly deep in the Don Mayo coffee bag, inhaling the vanilla and pineapple aromas just about noticeable among the beans.

So, as it turns out, coffee and cheese actually do go rather well together. Perfect for that after dinner chill out time. The bitterness of black coffee is offset by the creaminess of the cheese which combines in your mouth to give a taste not hugely dissimilar to a milky latte but with oodles more intensity. So there you have it, try the sour with the sweet, the fruity with the creamy and the bitter sweet with the strong. It’s all about finding the combination that brings out the best in each. 

Last but certainly not least came the espresso. This certainly packed a punch but when teamed with a hard Parmesan dipped in chestnut honey (flowery acacia just won’t do it), the taste sensation you’ll discover is quite unlike anything I’ve had before. Your eyes pop from the coffee hit, your tongue tingles from the sweet nutty honey and then the cheese swirls its way amongst it all. Yikes!   

After all the coffee, I was positively buzzing. Unsurprisingly, sleep was a total no-go but hey, at least I didn’t experience any cheese provoked nightmares. Instead, I lay in bed creating an imaginary cheese board and dreaming of winter evenings cuddled up next to my imaginary fire. My super strong cup of imaginary black coffee would be made from my not so imaginary bag of Don Mayo beans, but using my very imaginary coffee grinder.

If you fancy getting on board the choffee/ Coffeese train, pop over to Notes for a class. There is certainly an art to it, so a little nudge in the right direction won't go amiss! You can also purchase your very own bag of beans, and they'll happily grind them for you if a coffee grinder hasn't yet made it onto your list of essential items .. but hey, Christmas is just around the corner!

And one last thing .. Notes is open until 10pm where you can also find a great selection of food and wine if you've had enough of coffee for the day!