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Monday, 21 March 2016

An affair with Mele e Pere

Do you ever have those moments when you genuinely consider making a den under your desk, complete with cushions and an oversized fluffy duvet, just to save yourself the bother of yet another morning rush hour commute?! You know, those days when you’re either still in the office at 21:00 or still drinking in some Soho dive at midnight (just long enough to miss the last tube, naturally!), but you have to be back in le office again in just a few short hours and the only thing happening between those times is a mildly restless sleep (my mandated 09:00 start has over the years, somehow morphed into a silently tolerated 09:30, not because I’m a hip corporate dissident you see, but because at 33 years old, I still cannot drag my burger-encrusted rump out of bed at an hour that seems altogether socially unacceptable, especially in dark winter months). Anyways, tonight was yet another of those nights. I finished work late and conveniently baited a friend into a wanky cocktail before journeying home. The cocktail never happened (too late for BOGOF at B@1 it would seem!), but we did stumble upon Mele e Pere neatly blushing on Brewer Street.

Designed to mimic a traditional neighbourhood trattoria as best it can do on the urban streets of Soho (not so much, by the way!), it appears to be a tiny bolthole on first impression, quietly humming with folk occupying the window seats with small plates and vino. But of course though, because this is London, there is a staircase leading to an intimate basement that positively buzzes with occasional diners and peppy workers; so peppy infact, that I'm pretty sure our waiter offered himself on a plate at least twice! I forget his name now, but whoever you are treasure, long live your opportunistic table manner and I hope you are by now philandering as frequently as your Latino pants can carry you!

Tagliatelle with beef ragu (£8.00 / £15.00)
Leading with drinks, I realise all is not what it seems! Yes, I can get some pretty decent Italian wine and of course, I can bathe in Prosecco (which I did!), but first and foremost, this is a vermouth bar. Who knew such a thing existed?! Not I, it would seem! Are we staring down the barrel of a new trend, set to usurp the resurgence of gin in the capital?! I thought vermouth was just an odd tasting liquor that gets splashed into a martini and fondue – evidently though, as I have since learned, this stuff is a type of Italian fortified wine, flavoured with various botanicals that comes in white, red, amber and rose varieties, and is either sweet or dry (sometimes extra dry). I bow to the concept and wholeheartedly applaud the extensive choice on offer, but I'm afraid that since my very subjective palate tells me I don’t like its medicinal tones, I must stick with my bubbles.

Black ink orecchiette, parlourde clams,
courgettes and chilli
Moving onto the food then, bubbles in tow, I am drawn to the small plates because the main meat and fish options seem rather overpriced for the unfussy trattoria concept I've been thus far sold on. After the obligatory Bread and Focaccia (£3.00), I reverted to my default plea when I can’t decide between two dishes – can I have a small version of both please, kind sir?! Thankfully, the Tagliatelle with Beef Ragu (£8.00 / £15.00) was already offered in little or large portions, but our frisky waiter also gracefully allowed me to sample the Black Ink Orecchiette, parlourde clams, courgettes and chilli (price unknown!) in a beautiful miniature bowl. My only regret is that I didn't also get the Potato Gnocchi with Umbria Black Truffle (£11.00 / £20.00). Incidentally, this is precisely why you can’t tear me away from a buffet and why a tasting menu is the superior choice in the more upmarket of eateries – one must try a little of everything!

Italians may all be as crazy as a box of frogs, but they do know how to create sublime perfection out of gastronomic simplicity. I loved that our frolicsome waiter was in tune with the bijou but confident menu, that the chefs plated up some delightful food (not earth shattering, but very pleasing nevertheless), and that the vermouth bar is an innovative idea, setting them aside from the pack. Mele e Pere is not mind-blowingly sensational, but it certainly has enough of the good stuff for a very cheerful shout out! 


Square Meal  Mele e Pere Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Does "Billy & The Chicks" do the trick?

What do you tend to think of first when you see chicken on the menu? 

  • Rubber chicken dinners – yawn
  • Sunday roast at home – would rather have lamb
  • Dodgy KFC when you know you shouldn't – oops! 
  • Nandos – someone still needs to tell me what all the fuss is all about with that one. 

It’s all a little bit average, don’t you think?! 

It’s nice then, to see that the humble chicken has been getting a bit of a makeover lately, with the likes of CHICKENliquor in Brixton, Chooks in Muswell Hill, and Chick nSours in Dalston (Mother Cluckers and The Orange Buffalo are also pretty big on the food truck side of things, roaming about various London hotspots). Until recently though, there was nothing much on offer centrally…that is until Billy & The Chicks opened its doors in Soho in December.

Tucked discretely down St Anne’s Court, a narrow through-way between Dean Street and Wardour Street, I was somewhat intrigued to see what was on offer. I absolutely love a good fried chicken, but have not yet found anything to rival our American friends’ efforts on home soil. I could also die happy in a well-made vat of buffalo sauce, so a bucket of tasty wings also make for a worthy scavenger hunt (the best I've found so far are from Blues Kitchen in Camden, rivalled only by MEATliqor, but I hear that Sticky Wings on Brick Lane is superb – I fear that further investigation on the topic is much overdue!). And who doesn't love a succulent chicken burger eh?! I foresee a win win culinary experience this evening…

The joint was empty when we walked in, not even anyone manning the well-adorned DJ decks, but we were hungry and committed, and the décor was funky with its exposed brick, window seats and urban vibes. We assumed a prime window licking position at around 18:00 on a pretty dank Tuesday evening, then somehow the place filled up around us without us even noticing – by 19:00 it was buzzing with the hum of fellow après work diners and the music was delivering some retro triumphs! By 20:30 though, it has mostly cleared out again, which reminds me that this is more of a pitstop diner akin to its peers – absolutely not a bad thing!

On first impressions, the menu is a winner and the cocktail menu is not over-engineered or exhaustive. The choice of eat-in or take away is great and more places should take heed of this flexi approach to grab food – let’s face it, there are plenty of whopping burger joints these days, but very few that actually allow you to order and run with your gastronomic spoils (MEATmarket has been my juicy saviour until this point because Five Guys and Shake Shack fall short every time!). I'm afraid to say though, that the best thing I ate by a long country mile, was the side of Mac n Cheese (£3.50)…it was so good that we ordered a second portion and I could've/would've comfortably eaten a third portion if I thought I could have gotten away with it…infact, who am I kidding?! Just bring me the whole pot and I will sit in it with a spoon!

Stinger Burger with cheese (£13.00)
The Stinger Burger with cheese (£12.00) was succulent and amply plump, but I found myself rather ambivalent towards the spice mix covering the meat that wasn't quite right (burnt maybe?! Not sure. Can't put my finger on it, sorry), the cheese that I couldn't much taste, the bun that was not nearly as soft or interesting as I wanted it to be, and the accompaniments that didn't really add anything whatsoever. One of the chums ordered a Veggie Burger (£9.00), which to be honest, also fell a bit flat on the eager palate. The chips on the side were all a little withered and insipid too. Humph!

The prices are good, the service was on point, the beats were a sensation (not too loud either, which pleases my old soul!), and despite my distinctly average food choices, I still really rather liked this place. Perhaps if there is a next time, I will dive balls deep into the side dishes only though – Buffalo Wings (4 for £6.00 / 12 for £7.00), Chicken Pieces (£2.50 per item) and of course, a double helping of the Mac n Cheese (sorry, I meant triple helping!). 

Wish you could've been a little better, but thanks for having us, we had a sterling evening… 

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