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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

2015 ends and modern Jerusalem trends at The Palomar

Do you ever have those moments when you realise that you have utterly lost any semblance of balance?! Apparently there are 8,760 hours in the average year and on the eve of Christmas Eve, as I stare at my uncharacteristically empty inbox and minimal to-do list in bewilderment, I surmise that the vast majority of these hours have, to a frighteningly significant degree, been spent either working or sleeping…yet again! As if we didn’t already know it, New Year’s resolutions are THE most pointless of ambitions, doomed only to failure unless yours was to wisely accept their futility and not bother.

This year, I have travelled to 23 cities across 12 countries, I’ve given up at least 10 whole weekends to celebrate other peoples life choices (you’re welcome, by the way!), I’ve barely missed any birthday bashes (again, you’re welcome!), I’ve smashed 3 long weekends away (though I’m still not sure if Liverpool and Manchester count!), I’ve napped my way through 2 holidays and thoroughly enjoyed 1 staycation; and in between all of this, I’ve somehow managed to squeeze in a little (not enough) time with the dear family. In order to achieve all of the aforementioned, I’ve endured cramped planes and chaotic airports full of folk who still don’t seem to understand the concept of a security check; I’ve nursed a gin-in-a-tin on the floor of countless delayed and/or overcrowded trains (often with my face pressed up against the toilet door), I’ve lived by the rules of our sweaty tubes (and tube strikes), I’ve borne the brunt of inexplicably expensive taxis (Uber just doesn’t quite stretch to the shires!), and I’ve raved like a lunatic to the lyrics to Reel 2 Real’s “I Like To Move It” in a fit of bored delirium on the M25 (enough said!). I suppose then, that with an average 6 hours of sleep on a school night, plus 7 – 9 hours on a weekend (4 - 5 hours if working abroad and seemingly the same at the parental gaff if my mother and her hoover have anything to do with it!), I’ve spent a smidgen under 60% of my year working and sleeping (approximately 5,184 hours if you want to get scientific about it!).

To follow this train of thought, if 60% of 2015 has been work and sleep, then I’m almost certain that I could justify the remaining 40% of the year on eating. OK, OK, perhaps this is closer to 25% once I also take into account the 7% of time spent quaffing of beer or bubbles about town, 5% loafing around my flat with abysmal hair and smelly breath, and 3% on sundry chores including washing, shopping, and cooking etc. One of the eateries that has made it onto my culinary map this year and is certainly a worthy contributor to my 25% activity share (unlike those few who achieve nothing more than to steal my time and money), is The Palomar.

When it opened in May 2014, the inevitable hype was a little too much for me to bear, so I aimed to put it off for at least 6 months – unfortunately for me, I let this slip to over a year though, which meant that I allowed over 8,760 hours disappear without ever experiencing the somewhat hidden delights of modern Jewish food! This place is not all hummus and matzah balls – you will find a Pork Belly Tajine with Res el Hanout, dried apricots and Israeli cous cous for £16 and Seared Scallops with a cured lemon beurre blanc, Swiss chard, Jerusalem artichoke and a hazelnut tuille for £14.50, both with unmistakably Middle Eastern flavours and both certainly not kosher! The Corn-Fed Chicken Two Ways (buttermilk fried and stroganoffed) for £15 was right up my strasse and if I might I say so, the Yiddish Bruschetta with chicken liver pate (£6) was to die for. The bijou menu is all served up as a series of small dishes on crockery that could have come from your Grandmothers cupboard, and to dine at the counter is both vibrant and voyeuristic – the chefs cook in complete calm as they swiftly create mini masterpieces in between taking a shot with you and generally enjoying your presence! It's not the cheapest culinary discovery, especially when you consider the tapas style dining, but believe me, it's ethnic fine dining at its best.

I should confess at this point, that Middle Eastern food is not traditionally a cuisine I would fight you for. All those tajines are too stewy for me, cous cous is just neither here nor there (flavourless and bitty), aubergine should be banished to the fiery swamps of death, and does hummus really have to be everywhere?! How wrong I was in this instance though! The plating was contemporary, the flavours were fused, cohesive and vibrant in a way that truly represents a global cuisine; and the experience was impeccable. Now, I am no expert on Jewish food, but I genuinely walk out the door feeling a newfound desire to explore Sephardic fine dining – I guess in London, Yotam Ottolenghi is the closest thing for me to hit up next! Watch this space, I am quickly becoming a convert. 

The morals of today's story then:
  • Soho triumphs yet again!
  • Modern Sephardic food is so much more than you imagine or expect it to be, I promise
  • Next time you complain at me for not making enough effort, remember that I only achieved 5% relaxation time this year!
  • Perhaps I should spend more than 3% of 2016 on washing!

Beef Tartare (hand chopped rump steak, burnt aubergine cream, josperized tomato viniagrette, toasted almonds and crispy Jerusalem artichoke (£9.00)
Yiddish Bruschetta with chicken liver pate (£6.00)
A Date with Endive & Chicory with blue stilton, walnuts and apples (£8.00)

Shakshukit (de-constructed kebab, minced meat, yoghurt, tahini, "The Four Tops" and Yaeli's pita (£11.00)
Corn Fed Chicken Two Ways (buttermilk fried and stroganoffed, mixed spice and tenderstem broccoli with freekeh (£15.00) 

Square Meal  The Palomar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Why Jackson & Rye...

Formally THE gritty sex pit of London, famed for its backdoor parties and sideshow debauchery, this city enclave may have swallowed a little too much mouthwash in recent years, but it's still a murky mecca for the masses! Soho covers an area no more than one square mile in the heart of the West End, south of Oxford Street mayhem, east of Mayfair sensibility, west of Covent Garden theatrics and north of Leicester Square insanity - there is debate as to whether Chinatown falls within the Soho borders of curiosity, but with such a similar tapestry of colourful soul and hardened charm, who am I deny its automatic in with the cool kids?!

Hot totty, tourists, tramps and trendy tribes all flock to the streets of Soho in search of their own personal brand of hedonism. Artisan chocolate shops, elite private members clubs and Michelin starred restaurants all co-exist in complete harmony with the sex shops, fag stained historic boozers and pokey street cafes; similarly, vintage vinyl outlets, bespoke milliners and vibrant fabric emporiums clutter the same postcode with pumping gay clubs, pop up dive bars and ever popular no-bookings eateries. Roads close to pedestrians on occasional weekends, bijou festivals attract a specific kind of hipster (not to be confused with the Shoreditch toff, you understand!), and every night positively buzzes in a haze of cigarette smoke, noisy revellers, disorientated theatregoers and experimental diners. For the gin guzzling gluttonous foodie such as myself, Soho offers the perfect balance between salubrious quaffing, boisterous jubilation and insatiable scoffing (it's also close enough to my office to also be a shining beacon of après work frolicking).

Try as I might, not even I can keep up with the flood of new openings in this, the other square mile, especially while also trying to conquer Greater London; infact, one could spend a lifetime gallivanting and gorging around this metropolis without ever fully keeping up with the ever changing social scene. As I wade through my carefully considered hit list, ruthlessly avoiding all chain restaurants and homogenous conglomerates as I go, I arrive for the third time at Jackson & Rye on Wardour Street.

Opened way back now in December 2013, I have eased into this American inspired brasserie by way of a pitstop snack, breakfast grits and a proper dinner (not all on the same day or in that particular order, I hasten to add!). I fear it's about time then, that I weighed in with my thoughts, starting very sensibly, with breakfast.

GRITS! Need I say any more, except that they're sweet and only £4.50?!

OK, I guess I should also say that the Buttermilk Pancakes (£5.95) are suitably decadent while the range of eggs is enviable, paying perfect homage to the New York roots that inspired this particular brand of Manhattan speakeasy (incidentally, it's not just the menu that tells you a story, but also the interior that has been carefully executed by Martin Brudnizki, with a minimalist and masculine art deco vibe). Designed perfectly, with a huge glass window pane at street level allowing passers by to have a nosey, this brasserie is as equally inviting for breakfast as it is for light bites and bar snacks, but also dinner. Up front is a café style dining room, with a variety of twosome tables and comfy leather bar stools that really encourage people to sit. Out back and downstairs, you will find the larger more intimate brasserie dining rooms.

In my humble opinion, snacks and dinner cannot really be written about as one here because the appetizers, sides and extras here are far superior to the mains. Now, the grill is good, but when  standing next to the likes of Pan Fried Scallops (£8.95), Truffled Mac & Cheese (£6.95), Ham Hock & Pea Terrine (£5.95) and Crunchy Chorizo Prawns (£7.50), nothing else can quite compete. I want to stop there, but I just can't! The Grilled Shrimp & Grits (£7.25) are outstanding enough to warrant subtle dribbling, the Cajun Spiced Sweet Potato Fries (£3.95) are sublime simplicity in a bowl, and the Truffle Arancini (£3.95) sits on the most superb parmesan cream cheese.

It really doesn't help me that I'm starving as I write this...

Love Soho! Eat Soho!

PS. Jackson & Rye opened in Richmond in October 2014, so if the West End is not west enough for you, why not head to TW9.

Square Meal Jackson + Rye Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Hush(sshhhhh, it's a hidden Mayfair gem!)

I suspect that in any given week, I recommend Lancashire Court to at least five people, whether this be to colleagues, associates, acquaintances or friends, either by email, social media or my big mouth! I absolutely love it, with all it's cobbled glory, tucked away off New Bond Street (or Brook Street if you're coming in from the other direction!), crammed inbetween buildings on all sides and almost entirely immune to the hapless foot traffic of the average tourist. It's never anything less than a hive of apres workers, seated comfortably and happy to be sinking into whatever boozy potion takes their fancy...

If you're coming in from New Bond Street, you will turn right into an alley alive with the sound of diners from both Mews of Mayfair (left) and Mayfair Pizza Co. (right), which offer fine brasserie dining and a superb wine list or mezze sharing plates and plush pizza respectively. Formally Rocket, Mayfair Pizza Co. was opened by Mews of Mayfair, so this alley quite literally represents different sides of the same coin! Adding to the party, Mews also has a bijou art gallery and a tiny private dining room in a wine cellar, aptly named le Cave; for the more discerning hob nobber, there is also tiny basement club downstairs, open until late and free-flowing with Champagne usually (being bubble drunk allows one to forget how sweaty basements always are when dancing, regardless of how posh the establishment!). Quite honestly, Mews is a triumphant brasserie, paying homage to British fare and rejoicing in simplicity, executed perfectly. Well worth a visit if you're willing to splash the cash a little (not Nobu, Fera at Claridges or Helene Darroze at The Connaught sort of cash, rather more Holborn Dining Room, Chotto Matte and Berners Tavern type of respectable spend!).

If you can wade through the narrow impasse between the aforementioned hoards of diners and apres work drinkers, you will reach Hush Mayfair. Similarly, if you enter Lancashire Court from Brook Street, you will avoid said gulley negotiations and reach the same spot - unlike Mews of Mayfair or Mayfair Pizza Co., which both share the alley, Hush occupies the entire open courtyard. Guarded from any roaming or transient diners sauntering between three eateries, the majority is laden with astroturf and a white picket fence, not to mention huge canopies (yes, it rains a lot here even when it's summer and even when it's hot!). Alfresco dining is emblematic of this location, with all three restaurants offering multiple spaces to suit your every whim - cocktail lounges and private rooms included.

As a food blogger, I would ordinarily like to start with a rant about the food, but on this occasion, I must first stop at the drinks...well, one drink in particular! The Chenin Blanc & Elderflower Spritzer is unequivocally the best drink I may have ever had - who knew that violet liqueur is such a extraordinarily good thing?! I appreciate that this is a bold statement, but I'm wholeheartedly willing to stand by it, just so long as the lemonade is replaced with soda water (lemonade makes it all far too sweet for my taste!). I've tried others and while my friends thoroughly enjoyed them, I now cannot deviate from this perfect combination of liquids in a giant goblet sized wine glass. Stop me now, for I need not go on and you really don't need any more information...

For the sake of all you folk who may also be interested in eating though, I shall pay brief homage to the thoughtful European selection of dishes, presented well and cooked very nicely. I really enjoyed the Lobster Macaroni, but at £16.50 for a small copper pot of it, this is an expensive starter priced like a main course, and for the love of gluttony, far too undersized to pretend to be your main dish (unless you are Kate Moss of course, who believes that skinny tastes better!). The Wild Mushroom Arancini + Truffle Mayonnaise (£4.50) was much more sensibly priced and very tasty indeed - the fact that the mushroom was a little overpowered by the dominant truffle is absolutely a very first world problem and one that I was very happy with as a fan of truffle! Aspen Fries tossed in parmesan and truffle oil (£5.75) tasted thrice cooked, crispy and full of flavour - win! Similarly the Rare Tuna was delicate and fresh, tossed in a soy & ginger dressing with greens - exactly what it said on the tin!

I cannot alude too far to the main courses because every time I visit Hush, I find myself covering every inch of my table in appetizers to share! All the while inhaling the delights of my ultimately divine Chenin Blanc and Elderflower Spritzer...sheer perfection and worth every penny of my £8, though I'm sure they were only £5.95 last year! Competing with Mews of Mayfair next door, no doubt...

I'll be in again w/c 1 September and am already counting down the days! Thanks, you're epic!

Rare tuna with soy & ginger dressing (£13.50 / £19.50)
Wild mushroom arancini with truffle mayonnaise (£4.50)
Parmesan fried courgette with herb mayonnaise (£4.50)
Aspen fries (£5.95)
Lobster macaroni (£16.50)
Courtyard - Lancashire Court
Ladies lav!

Click to add a blog post for Hush on Zomato Square Meal

Friday, 14 August 2015

From Camden to Springfield by way of Bayou Soul!

Now, despite living around the corner from Camden (5 minutes by tube obviously now equates to around the corner because I've been living in London for too long and compared to the average 40 - 60 minute trek, this is but a stones throw away from my bed!), I rarely get too excited about the culinary scene outside of the plentiful, varied and colourful grab and go grub around Stables Markets, Camden Lock and inbetween! Thus far too, this has been entirely acceptable because there are many other weird and wonderful delights worth hitting up here, namely a sand filled, deck chair clad, container chic city beach at Camden Beach on the mezzanine roof of the Roundhouse; outdoor movies at Back Yard Cinema tucked up a side street off Camden Lock, and vintage hair styling at Dappa Boutique to name but a few!

More recently, edible treats have gotten a little more exciting and atop of the pizza slice, chow mein and fajita classics, emblematic of the markets, you can now explore liquid nitro ice cream at Chin Chin Labs, and gorge on some of the nicest burgers outside of the otherwise superior MEATliquor empire at the ever wonderful Hache, hiding discretely up Inverness Street. Hell, even Gordon Ramsey has opened a beach hut at the York & Albany! I've also had a pretty superb night eating crocodile, boar, ostrich, springbok, boerwors and zebra, beating my way through a drum workshop at Shaka Zulu (while this particular restaurant is dark and atmospheric, it's absolutely huge by cavernous proportions and may lack vibes if it's not a busy night, so be warned!). I was most recently in search of soul food though, inspired by an earlier trip to America (see next para), so off I trotted, back to Inverness Street to a self-proclaimed mecca for all things southern comfort. Bayou Soul opened in June last year (2014) as an all-day Creole bar serving up a variety of Southern American chow, tipples and live tunes.

To set the scene and give some context to this craving: in March of 2014, I found myself in the buttsend of Springfield, Massachusetts (don't ask!), and despite the resounding loss of social stability in a town once famed for many an innovation, invention or creation (the first American musket was made here, if you're interested!), there were still a few morsels of sheer joy to be found. GRITS! Yes, you heard me...Double Cheese Grits & Cornmeal Coated Catfish in particular ($12.95). What an unbridled pleasure and how pleased I was to add to the already bulging catalogue of most loved foodstuffs - evidently, it seems that peasant food from around the world is most frequently what I rave about the most and now, who would've thought that mushy cornmeal could taste so good?! British pies, Caribbean plantain, Polish pierogi, Spanish omelette, Italian pasta, French cheese, Canadian poutine, Swedish meatballs, Indian paratha, Nepali momo, and now grits! The list just relentlessly keeps growing! Thank you Big Mamou for broadening my horizons in the least anticipated city I've ever visited!

Incidentally, if you ever happen to very randomly find yourself passing through Springfield, MA, it just so happens to be the national home of basketball, so you might want to visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; it's also the home of Dr. Suess, so a visit around the Springfield Museums would'nt be the worst thing in the world to do either. Suffice it to say though, a culinary hotpot this was not, so the search for anything edible was a challenge. Aside from Big MamouThe Federal in Agawam had the largest dishes of supremely delicious and finely cooked ingredients in the area [that I found], so if Mamou is where you have brunch, this should be where you should eat ALL your dinners!

Back to Camden then, I spied grits in a variety of forms at Bayou, so I was excited to be reminded of my American food porn find! The overall menu is a grand old thing here, oozing with jambalya, gumbo, Creole chicken and crawfish to name but a few delights. The website also screams authentic southern soul, with live blues and Mardri Gras jazz performances throughout the week, so what could possibly go wrong?!

What is going on with the décor please, kind sir?! I had hoped to be transported into a Creole creation in the heart of Cajun country. Instead, what I got, was one part dodge furniture store + two parts "what were you thinking?!" Not at all offensive you understand, but absolutely not what I had expected from one of the very few London-based US-of-A deep south inspired kitchens. Outside was great and promising, but inside was a little confused with a gold Baroque mirror, deep mauve walls, IKEA light fittings and contemporary striped upholstered seating. I'm frowning as I write this...

Décor aside, the cocktail menu was heavy on the Bourbon and suitably awesome! The gin-based Mardi Gras (£7.50) was a mouthwatering combination of gin, sake, grapes, lychee, lime and sugar (delicious, truly), and the New Orleans Fizz was superb (also £7.50). If I liked dark spirits, I would have gone mad for the Bacon & Maple Syrup Old Fashioned, Bayou Julep, New Orleans Dirty Mule and Sazerac. Quite frankly, the booze menu is brimming with enough subliminal perfection to keep you suitably inebriated in a haze of saxophone and piano tones for a week!

Spinach Madeleine (£7)
Spinach, cheese & grits + tomato & parmesan croutons
This may sound ridiculous, but the BBQ Shrimps (£7.50) were a little too fishy for my taste and the biscuits were a too hard compared to others I've tasted in the past, but might I say, everything else I shoved my face into was a delight! Spinach Madeleine (£7) was an epic way to serve cheesy and rich grits, while the Shrimp & Chicken Gumbo (£13 / £24) was wholesome, tasty and supremely comforting; and the Creole Chicken Burger (£11) was generous and succulent - it could've maybe had a little more flavour in the marinade and I wish the fries were either skin-on or sweet potato to add to the theme, but I'm remain relatively ambivalent. As an aside (quite literally!), all side dishes were a triumph at only £3 a pop...Mississippi Coleslaw, Creole Potatoes, Dirty Rice and Gritcakes. Super! The jeans that used to be loose on me can no longer be zipped up (much to my intense horror!), so it would've been one step too far to also try the Lobster & Crawfish Mac n Cheese (£16), but this doesn't stop the immense regret I continue to feel!

Overall, I love the concept of this place and I wish we could see more of it in London! I will be back for the live music, cocktails and aforementioned mac & cheese, but for pity's sake, can you please do something with the interior design?!

BBQ Shrimps & Biscuit (£7.50)
King prawns + garlic, white wine & chilli's + biscuits
Chicken Creole (£11)
Grilled Creole chicken fillet + chipotle mayonnaise + cheese
Vegetable Gumbo (£13 / £24)
Slow cooked casserole Louisana style + dirty rice
Creole Potatoes (£3)
Click to add a blog post for The Bayou Soul on ZomatoSquare Meal

Monday, 22 June 2015

Popping up at The Dukes Head!

Between peak wedding season, birthday frolicking, the pub and party hustling prescribed by fine weather, and a perversely overloaded inbox at work, I have managed to entirely neglect my blog, almost altogether abandon social media and without reservation, taken a break from being that person who takes photos of food! In the hours before yet more pending nuptials though (first and only one of six this year that is local to London...hip hip hooray!), I find myself sitting here, getting lost in prose, nibbling on some homemade prawn har gau, waiting for the creases to fall out of my now already thrice worn matrimonial dress (no, I still don't own an iron and yes, I know I'm 33), and daydreaming about a newly discovered Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Satisfy My Bowl incase you're wondering - it's a heavenly combination of banana ice cream with caramel & cookie dough swirls and dark chocolate discs!). Where then, do I begin and which eatery do I write about today, with so much to catch you up on?! Closest to home first seems like a safe bet, so please walk with me to the The Dukes Head in Highgate for a craft beer, real ale and a revolving door of pop up kitchens...

A relatively small pub on Highgate High Street, my Saturday night is set to be a pretty chilled one and I find myself rather enjoying the inadvertent escapism from city hullabaloo. I'm drinking with locals again, where the staff are friendly, the bar stools are worn by the same asses from week to week, and there's at least one person propping up the bar, popping peanuts. It is infact exactly what a pub should be from the moment you walk in. So, why then do I only now realise how much I've missed it?! Why has it taken me nearly five years of gallivanting the finery's, dives, basements and penthouses in this fine town to feel at home in a regular boozer again!? Aside from the blatant endorsement of trendy craft beers and real ale du jour, not to mention the shrine to the local Scared Gin behind the bar (let's face it though, gin that is distilled in Highgate should be boasted about!), grabbing a drink at this pub was like putting an old pair of comfy socks on after your folks have lit the fire and baked cake!

The bar staff indulged my lack of beer knowledge with glee by offering me a taste of my top three very random picks, which was greatly appreciated because when I say that my picks were random, I mean to clarify that I select craft beer like I do horses at the Grand National: by pretty colours and quirky names alone (surely I'm not the only one who does this?!). So happy I was with my final choice though, that before I knew it, I was on my fifth pint and feeling like a party would be an excellent idea. What happened next was not my fault and the last thing I recall before crawling into bed past 3am, was bobbing at a bus stop outside Boogaloo, probably dancing to my iPod and definitely boring the nuts off a complete stranger, all while halfheartedly dodging the rain!

As much as I appreciate a craft beer, spiffing pubs and accidental dancing though, I can't deny that the real reason I sought out this pub in the first place, was to get my chops around some juicy Colombian food on the final day of the Colombian Street Kitchen pop up. I do not lie to you when I say that I traipse around town in search of great plantain, and ecstatic I am to report then, that these are the best Plantain Soldiers I've tasted since being introduced to the humble fried foodstuff in Cuba back in 2011 - they were soft but, retained their bite; not too sweet nor starchy, not greasy and altogether perfect for only £3.50. I opted for the very traditional Paisa Pie (£9.50), which was a rich stew of beans, pork belly and beef, topped with arepa (ground maize dough and cooked flour) - it was delicious and substantial but I'm afraid that it paled into insignificance next to the Cariminolas (£12.50), which were the most expensive thing on the menu, but good sweet Jesus, they were lighter-than-air torpedoes of fried yuka, stuffed with creamy coconut chicken and fresh coriander. I do not much care for coconut dishes either (I overdosed on Thai food and subsequently can't eat it since my travelling days), but in this instance, I had the worst dose of food envy I'd experienced in a while. Perfection in a bamboo bowl I tell you! Service was pretty slow unfortunately, but since I was in no rush and the beer was going down so smoothly, I was in no mood to grumble!

You've missed Colombia Street Kitchen at The Dukes Head now, but if you're keen to sample their delights, you should head down to the State of Independence Market in Hackney this weekend (27 - 28 June 2015!). If however, you want to reacquaint yourself with a good and proper local watering hole and enjoy the next pop up kitchen, Howard's Meat Co. is a Texan BBQ and inhouse right now!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Duck & Rice Advice

Sometimes it can feel as though a new place to eat opens every day in this town and it's not as if these new additions are the flat-packed cloned siblings of Pizza Express, Bella Italia, T.G.I. Fridays and MacDonalds; we are getting some seriously clever and innovative heavyweights pitching in all the most discerning of urban hotspots. We have street traders finding fixed premises' and Michelin starred chefs diving balls deep into culinary creations for the masses. I can barely keep up with it all, but I also know that I'd rather run a marathon uphill with no bra than give up trying!

Recently then, when one of my favourite people interrupted a somewhat busy Saturday morning of loafing around my shoebox of a flat (or should I say, festering in my colossal bed?!), with the curtains drawn and my hair stuck to my face (mildly hungover, you see!), I felt somewhat confused, entirely unpresentable and definitely unable to master the art of socialising! Unfortunately for me though, this very same friend knows all my weak spots, so when she brought up the idea of grabbing a lunch that would almost certainly make us feel superior to She-Ra (the Princess of Power....feminist He-Man...'80's classic...if you have to ask, you're far too young!), then told me I could choose, it was enough to have me surreptitiously climb out of bed, into the shower and onto the tube. I had almost forgotten though, what it felt like to be greeted by Leicester Square at lunchtime on a weekend. Hoards of hapless backpack-clad tourists, all elbow to elbow and shuffling their merry way between low-cost theatre ticket booths, Burger King and the dodgy chippy that someone must've told them would be accurate representation of a British fish 'n' chip. For the record, greasy fries from a polystyrene basket in theatreland does not a good chippy make - you must go to the suburbs where real people actually live; you must sit on a park bench, by the sea, on a street corner or on your sofa, with a wooden spork as the vinegar soaks through the paper and everything turns soggy (even amongst good chippies, there is a hierarchy!). Anyway, I digress...

Scrumming my way off Leicester Square, through Chinatown (carefully avoiding my favourite char siu bao pitstop), and into Soho, I realise I've walked straight into an entirely different calamity. It's 18 April and a sea of moustache-twiddling craft ale supping hipsters have descended upon Berwick Street and are seeping through the arteries of Soho for Record Store Day 2015. It may well have been the worst day to visit the newly opened Duck & Rice then, but I was committed now and I'm no quitter!

Char Shui Bun (£4.50)
Brought to us by the stick of dynamite underneath modern Japanese monster-chain, Wagamama and Thai demi-giant, Busaba Eathai, Alan Yau is a London-based restaurateur extraordinaire from Hong Kong who didn't stop there - he also built a Michelin starred empire with dim sum house Yauatcha and upscale Cantonese Hakkasan, setting up in some of the most prestigious locations and 5* luxury hotels around the world. Lucky for us then, that this Pan-Asian virtuoso has struck out again on Broadwick Street, just next door to his Michelin accredited Yauatcha!

In my head, Duck & Rice combines all the best elements of a traditional pub and Chinese parlour, and the result is quite triumphant - from the giant copper beer tanks and cosy fireplaces to the asymmetric patterns and sharp clean lines, everything appears to be in its place and very well considered. The bar pays ample homage to the hop with Czech Pilsner Urquell (stored in those shiny tanks as you enter past the affable doorman), London-based London Pride, Cornish Tribute, Scottish Schiehallion, Kentish Bath Ales, and Irish Guiness; not forgetting our friends across the pond either, who are increasingly jumping onto the craft brew wagon, with Samual Adams from Boston and Magic Rock's High Wire from the West Coast. The snack menu looks good too, so we were off to a striding start, I'd say.

Har Gau (£6.90)
Upstairs is a formal restaurant, with a menu of epic proportions, while downstairs is more of a snack menu, but amply staged to satisfy my [still] fragile appetite. Now, I don't know about you, but a menu gets my taste buds going like no other and not only do I start imagining what it looks like, but I can almost smell it and I definitely have a gluttonous imagination powerful enough to taste it. So, when I get to the bar to order, I could handle one item being sold out (fine, it's new, the place is popular and I like to think I'm a reasonable human being), but when two items are sold out, I start to visibly twitch and by the third sold out foodstuff, I'm holding my head in my hands in despair as the waitress adopts that awkward grimace of shame at having to deliver the bad news yet again to a hungry, hungover and [by now] clearly tense me. The aforementioned teeming Record Store Day almost certainly didn't help with menu availability and perhaps there were still some teething problems in the [almost] new kitchen, but Christ on a dry cracker, why me, why today, and why now?!

When our food did arrive, service was super friendly, the mini plates were delicious, and might I say, it was all a rather splendid break from the universally accepted British beer soaker - Boiled Salted Peanuts (£4.00) are served alongside Prawn Crackers (£2.00), tomato soup has been replaced by Crabmeat & Sweetcorn [soup] (£9.00) and Spicy Kimchi & Tofu [soup] (£7.80), and Venison Puff's (£4.80) are accompanied by Har Gau (£6.90), Char Shui Buns (£4.50) and Chicken Feet (£3.50). The prices are little disparate though, and I find it difficult to understand the upstairs/downstairs syndrome here. Downstairs is the pub side of the operation, oozing mini snacks that were, for the most part, all rather reasonably and proportionately priced (that said, I'm still not sure how nuts can cost £4.00 or spring rolls a whopping £7.80...huh?!). Upstairs though, a Five Spiced Fried Chicken is £30.00, Cantonese Roast Duck is £38.00 (even for the whole bird, that's pricey), and Lobster Cantonese is a gargantuan £48.00. I understand that these are all very nice ingredients and almost surely, cooked very well, but really, isn't this supposed to be a pub?! At these prices, I may as well have a blow out at China Tang in 5* luxury hotel, The Dorchester.

Beer Battered Scampi with chilli wasabi mayo (£11.50)
Prawn Crackers (£2.00)
Square Meal Duck and Rice on Urbanspoon