Monday 8 December 2014

Dram & Smoke

It's been a while since I've been to a good pop-up restaurant, so I was very happy to dine at Dram & Smoke on Friday night. What a slick operation with its hidden warehouse location; cockle-warming arrival cocktail; fun Monkey Shoulder bar complete with log fire projection, and the main attraction, an excellent 5 course Scottish-inspired dinner.

My friend and I found our chilly way to Black Swan Yard and behind the large black doors, walked into a warm oasis of candle-lit calm. Monkey Shoulder whiskey is the name of the game at Dram & Smoke and if like me, you're not much of a whiskey fan, then you'll no doubt think again, as it featured in all the cocktails and was surprisingly delicious. Especially the welcome one which was a true Hot Toddy! We popped to the bar to order our wine for dinner, then took our seats at a shared table with a friendly bunch, and dinner was served.

Our Scottish feast kicked off with Haggis Bonbons and a homemade Dram & Smoke ketchup. Totally amazing! Followed by a Smoked Coley & Beetroot Salad which was also great. Then came the Smoked Bacon & Blue Cheese Porridge which I was quite hesitant about, as I really don't like blue cheese. But this was like nothing I've ever tasted and didn't touch the sides. The main course was a magnificent Venison Wellington which was cooked to perfection and served with a load of roast veg, but sadly no potatoes. For pudding, we tucked into a heavenly Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Mousse served with a slab of homemade, melt-in-the-mouth Scottish shortbread. And not forgetting the miniature bottle of Monkey Shoulder 'going home' present.

I was completely impressed with the entire evening. Great location, great ambience and terrific food. Dram & Smoke have got it totally sussed and I hope this won't be their last venture. They hosted a pop-up at a steelworks in Vauxhall last summer (which I sadly missed), so fingers crossed they've got a few more lined up for 2015. Their current pop up runs until 20th December, but I've an inkling they've probably sold out already. Which is very understandable. Maybe they'll be doing something epic for Burns Night!

Dram & Smoke
Black Swan Yard, SE1
(this is probably a temporary location, so check website for upcoming pop-up venues)

Approx £40 for a 5 course dinner including cocktail

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Charlotte's Bistro, W4

There's only one thing to do when the days and nights are dark and chilly. Eat good food and drink fine wine! It's time to indulge in some serious bistro action, and whether it's a long, relaxed lunch or a cosy, candlelit dinner, Charlotte's Bistro in Chiswick hits the spot. This is a proper neighbourhood local, and I was lucky enough to try it out last weekend for lunch with some friends. The vibe at Charlotte's is very chic and modern European with a menu to match. There's a separate cocktail bar at the front with a few dining booths, then steps up to a large, bright dining room with a glass atrium which must be lovely when the sun shines.

The a la carte menu at Charlotte's Bistro is well thought out, and Head Chef, Lee Cadden has clearly put a lot of time and effort into creating an interesting and varied autumn/winter menu, using hearty, seasonal ingredients. We opted for the Market Menu which offers a very reasonable 2 courses for £16.50 or 3 courses for £19.50 and includes a glass of wine, beer or something soft.  We shared some Parmesan & Sage Beignets to nibble on which were so moorish, we could have demolished a few bowlfuls. I had the cod goujons to start which were a generous portion and tasty enough on their own, but a slice of lemon on the side wouldn't have gone amiss as the accompanying sauce was very bland and lacking in 'tang'. For the main courses, we tried the Corn Fed Chicken Breast with Jerusalem Artichoke & Braised Bacon, and the Gilt Head Sea Bream with Crab & Cauliflower Cassoulet and Curry Oil. Both dishes were excellent and perfectly cooked. But being a Market Menu, there were no side dishes included which meant the meal was slightly meagre. In hindsight, I would definitely have ordered a couple of additional side dishes to share. 

We were given a complimentary blackberry sorbet after our main course, which was really delicious and went down a treat, especially with my little boy! Finally, we indulged in a couple of puddings. The Brioche Doughnut with Apple Compote, Salted Caramel & Calvados Cream was apparently amazing and demolished before I could take a photo. I had the Dark Chocolate Delice with Toasted Hazelnut Cream which was exquisite. All the dishes were very well presented and the service was friendly and fast. I also like the fact that children are welcome and high chairs are provided (although there are no baby-changing facilities). And if you're into oysters, then why not perch at the bar and treat yourself to some, supplied by the Wright Brothers, purveyors of first class oysters. With a cocktail or two.

As well as a huge array of cocktails, Charlotte's also pride themselves on good wine, and recently invited top notch Wine Sommelier, Matthew Mawtus back to help create their impressive new wine list. We were offered the 2009 Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 'Sausto' which was so good, and perfect for a chilly November lunchtime, that we opted for another carafe. On a warmer day, I would definitely have been tempted to try the Viognier 'Les Contours Deponcins', or Albarino 'La Mar'. As for gin, I do enjoy a tipple, but I would struggle to name more than 5 gin brands. However, at Charlotte's there are at least 30 different gins available! So if you're a fan of gin 'n juniper, then you must attend their Gin School on a Monday evening (until 1st December). So, with all that excellent food, oysters, wine, gin and cocktail action going on, it's easy to get a bit hooked on bistro life. And why not!

Miss Immy was a guest of Charlotte's Bistro

Charlotte's Bistro
6 Turnham Green
London W4 1QP
020 8742 3590


Open 7 days a week
Nearest station: Turnham Green

Tuesday 28 October 2014

All Aboard The Ghost Bus

As Halloween is almost upon us, here's something which may appeal to the gory-loving, ghost hunters out there. There are a whole load of London bus tours offering various trips around the City by day. But if you fancy exploring London by night, then look no further as there's a big black, slightly sinister old 1960's route-master bus raring to take you through the ghost-ridden streets of London. It's time to hop aboard The London Necrobus aka The Ghost Bus.

You board the Ghost Bus at a stop just off Trafalgar Square and instead of a regular, bright red bus, this eerie big black route-master creeps though the dark, and is suddenly there behind you, virtually tapping you on your unexpecting shoulder, saying 'Boo! Climb aboard. If you dare..' Okay, I'm getting a bit carried away now, but you get the picture.

I was kindly invited to give this haunted joy ride a whirl, so I took my brother along and have to say it was a highly entertaining and spooktacular experience! I wasn't sure what to expect and to be honest, was worried it might be a bit cheesy and cringeworthy. But it wasn't at all. The 75 minute Ghost Bus trip was a theatrical, informative, scary and comedic ride to remember. London is steeped in dark history involving toe-curling executions and eye-watering murders which understandably means there must be an abundance of tortured ghostly souls lurking out there. Some fictional. Most of them, very real...

We and our fellow passengers took our seats aboard this rather fabulous bus where the interior retains its old charm, classic blood-red leather seats and additional velvet curtains and dimly-lit table lamps. The atmosphere was perfect as the Necrobus Conductor gave us a brilliant running commentary infused with grisly, yet fascinating tales of historical gruesome deaths. There are a couple of screens on the bus so you can keep an eye on the CCTV footage which is very reassuring. Or is it? Your eyes may deceive you. Not to mention the rats. Oh, and we had another passenger on board our bus. A strange character by the name of Mr Hinge, who appeared quite unhinged in my opinion. Especially when he discovered traces of blood on the bus...

There were plenty of ghoulish innuendos from the Conductor which added to the nervous laughter - my favourite being about people 'tossing themselves off the top of The Monument' (snigger). In fact, I was fascinated to learn that only 6 people died in the Great Fire of London, yet there have ironically been 12 deaths associated with The Monument which was built to commemorate the Great Fire. Some died building it, whilst others decided it was an ideal suicide venue.

The Ghost Bus took us on our merry (I mean scary) way, twisting and turning past so many well known streets and landmarks including Whitehall, Downing Street, Fleet Street (with that demon barber), St Paul's Cathedral, Smithfield (renown for boiling people to death in oil), the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and London Bridge. Finally winding up safely back where we started. Phew! As we disembarked, there was a collective sigh of relief as spooked passengers hurriedly tipped the Conductor, then scurried away into the night, and the warm safe haven of a nearby eaterie, of which there are many, should you fancy a pre or post tour bowl of spookhetti.

Oh, and before I go, why are ghosts so bad at lying?

Because you can see right through them! 

(Okay, okay, I'm gone...)

The Ghost Bus Tour
Starts & ends from Northumberland Ave (off Trafalgar Square)
7.30pm & 9.00pm daily

Tour lasts 75 mins

Book tickets online or by phone 0844 5678 666
Twitter: @GhostBusTours
Adults: £21 
Children/Students: £15 
(Tips welcome!)

Ghost Bus Tour also operate in Edinburgh and York
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