Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Super-cool Shacklewell: Dalston

For every book that closes, another one opens, or so the old adage goes. A few months ago saw London's dining scene bid farewell to its much-loved Green Onion Supper Club. All was not lost - rather this was an opportunity for Claire, co-founder of Green Onions to stretch her fingers and try out something new.

And so Shacklewell Nights was born. A supper club / pop up restaurant in an old factory in Dalston, myself and Farzana popped down for the inaugural night. Summarising thoughts: What a Treat.

There's something enticingly elusive about popping into an unmarked doorway in the street, climbing four (or eight) flights of stairs and then finding yourself in the midst of London's rather eclectic social milieu. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, these restaurants are generally a step into the unknown, which is half of their appeal.

Taking a brief peek at the menu before I headed down, I must admit that I was curious as to which way it would swing.

Brown Shrimp, Potato and Samphire or Fennel, Potato and Samphire for vegetarian Option
Braised Duck Legs, Bacon and White Beans or Lentils and Goats Curd for vegetarian Option
Sorbet and Vodka
Blackberry Fool

Obviously the dishes were appealing but would rely very heavily on the brilliance of the produce and quite precise execution to really stand out. Luckily for us, this is exactly what we encountered on the night.

The shrimp, potato and samphire salad was undeniably moreish - with strongly flavoured shrimps contrasting nicely with the samphire.

The braised duck leg was another winner; after I'd munched down the saucily tender leg I was left longingly glancing at those who had exercised slightly more restraint with the pace of their eating.

While the sorbet fulfilled its function in refreshing the palate, it was let down by a lacklustre vodka, the only disappointment of the night. Still, we all brightened up as we dipped into the Blackberry Fool, which trod the fine line between creaminess, sweetness and tartness with the enviable grace of a primadonna ballerina.

Food aside - I do have one question, why go to this kind of thing if you don't want to speak to anyone new? While one of the couples on the table were pretty friendly and incredibly interesting, some of the others were a little difficult to talk to, seemingly preferring to talk to each other (shock horror)and making very little effort with other people on the table. Personally I'm of the opinion that it's a little rude - what's the general take on this?

For more information, see Shacklewell Nights

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ahoy Sailor: The Ship

The glaring differences between a pub that serves food and a 'gastropub' are hard to miss. Irrespective of whether the pub would rate itself in the former or latter category, only the food can tell.

Some pubs have that special something, that magic touch that differentiates a microwaved pile of slop from a plate of flavoursome goodness. And some pubs dont. The Flora Sandes Weatherspoons in Thornton Heath for example, where I found a rotting bluebottle in my lasagne, is, unsurprisingly, a pub that doesn't have it.

The Ship, on the other hand, is an excellent example of a pub that does. I've been to this wonderfully eclectic find on the river three times now and each time has cemented my belief that this is a pub that has the gastro touch, and has gained my eternal devotion for it.

The first time was a beautifully sunny day where we lounged on the tucked away restaurant patio whilst sipping on thirst-quenching Pimms and embarking on an epicurean adventure that left us popping out our bikinis for the pool party later that day (rah rah rah).

I can't think of many pubs more suited to summer days, when the sun is shining and you're ensconsed in one of their several outdoor areas, if you're lucky looking over the Thames. But even on those oh-to-frequent gloomy days, there's ample seating space inside for a cosy night.

The second time, well, they adventurously invited a rabble of bloggers to try a few new dishes soon to debut on their ever-changing seasonal menu. I don't want to give the whole game away, but think rather exciting appearances from dishes including carpaccio of Mackerel with Anchovy fritter, basil sorbet and tomato foam. Initially slightly sceptical about the suitability of mackerel for the task, it was to become one of my favourite dishes of the evening - a bud-awakening combination of light but punchy flavours.

Other personal favourites included the Seared Scallops with Black Pudding, Citrus Braised Baby Gem, Hazlenut and Courgette Salad for starters.

Mains wise it was a tie-break between the Loin of Rabbit with Dublin Bay Prawns, Tarragon Mousse, Creamed Leeks and Peas with Sauteed Girolle Mushrooms and the Cornfed Chicken and Crimini Mushroom Pie with a truffled celeriac puree. Memories of the plump, moist hunks of chicken submerged in the mushroom sauce is enough to make my mouth water. And yes, it's every bit as porno as it sounds.

Desserts ranged from the unusual (Lime pannacotta) to time-old favourites (sticky toffee pudding) with a few interesting stops in between (pineapple tart tatin with star anise).

But it didn't stop there. One of the beauties about The Ship is that yes, it's a pub and it's a restaurant but essentially it's also a very friendly local where there's always something going on, the people working there are friendly and you're never short of a few people to chat to (track down Oisin, Emma and Charlie for some quality banter). Live Irish music on a Tuesday night - hell yes. In fact, that pretty much sums up my attitude to this fantastic find where I anticipate I'll spend far too much time in the coming months....