Friday, 24 January 2014

Chicken Shop Tooting

Chicken Shop, Tooting

A lot of people have been muttering recently about Tooting being the next Dalston or similar and, as much as this seems like a stretch for Tooting at the moment, there is definitely change afoot. Whilst he didn't mention Tooting by name,  Alex Proud summed this London phenomenon up in his Telegraph article last week on the "Shoreditichification" of other London boroughs.  Emerging from Tooting Broadway tube you carry on down the road passing all the lovely Southern Indian and Sri Lankan curry houses - which are well worth a visit another time- for a few more minutes in the direction of Colliers Wood.  Its further than you expect. 

Let's be upfront about this. Chicken Shop is the Soho House group jumping on a surfboard and the joining a tide of other street-food-gets-a-home outlets ebbing their way across London on the crest of a casual dining wave. Chicken Shop is a massive cliche of all the current "must haves" of the London restaurant scene at the moment. No reservations? Tick!  Carefully decorated then deconstructed industrial decor? Tick! So dark you can't properly see what you are eating? Tick! Only offering one main foodstuff in a small range of permutations? Tick! How can it fail?

In addition to the Tooting branch, the first opening still resides in Kentish Town. Expect many more to roll out in a neighbourhood somewhere near you soon.

Yes, its all rather painfully hipsterish from the chipped blue rimmed white enamel plates to the carefully distressed furniture you snag your tights on, to being served wine in the glass tumblers that you used to get water in for school lunches. So why did I like it so much? The chicken is fundamentally just really good. I've never been a chicken person. People will regale you endlessly about the joys of the perfect roast chicken on a Sunday and whenever man flu strikes its all about the chicken soup. I've always been a bit baffled. The humble chook had never hit that comfort food spot for me. Chicken Shop's offering was therefore something of a revelation. Succulent, tender chunks of a chicken infused with an intense, savoury, lightly spicy rub that permeates the flesh and makes it impossible to leave any of the skin despite your best intentions.  To steal a rather more insalubrious chicken outlet's slogan; "Its finger lickin' good". Only here it really is. 

It is also something of a dream for the indecisive. Decision one; quarter, half or whole. Decision two; smokey or spicy sauce. My experience was that both are on the hot side, the deceptively named "smokey" packed a whopper of a punch that had my eyes watering a little so go sparingly if you're not a chilli monster. 

All side orders are £4 each and served in those enamelled bowls. Corn on the cob was a real highlight. Lightly chargrilled and shiny you then have the option of adding lashings of garlic butter poured over the top. Of course you do, as if you wouldn't. You get three half pieces of corn which, if you're sharing, leads to an almighty battle over who gets the last bit. Crinkle cut fries are good and coleslaw not too heavy with a sweet bite.  The only thing I didn't try was the butter lettuce and avocado salad. 

So what do you wash all this comfort food down with? On the wine front there are three options each for red, white and rose listed on the menu as House, Decent and Good. This is the first indicator of how unimportant is to the Chicken Shop offering. The second was upon asking the waitress what the wines were I was told only a grape. It took some more digging to find out which particular corner of the planet grew the grape in question. The "Good" red was an Argentian Malbec and the white an Australian Chardonnay. The others were neither memorable nor things that I would contemplate trying. We opted for Malbec and it was a pretty standard offering. Big red fruits, bit of pepper, pretty easy drinking. I can't  give you any more detail than that though as  I have no idea what sort of Malbec or from exactly where within the country in question as it was served in an enamelled jug . This is more my problem as a wine obsessive than it is their issue, perhaps sticking to a bottle of beer is the best plan.  I did spy a ginger beer flying past my corner on a tray so I'd be tempted by that next time.

In some ways we did rather regret getting a whole chicken between two (I think that its ideal for three) as it meant not enough tummy space for dessert. This was a travesty since, although its a quite basic list of options, they do look good. Apple pie was served to people from an enormous pie dish at the table and you could pick how much you wanted. Lemon cheesecake or chocolate brownie were the other two temptations so in effect all popular bases are covered. 

My main complaint is the fact that it is so dark. Unnecessarily so I thought. No photos for that very reason other than of a beer mat that A thoughtfully half hitched from the bar "so you can at least take a picture of something later". Even the outside isn't illuminated so you haven't even got a shot of that. In fact the people walking down the road behind me assumed it was closed it was so dark. 

Reading back over everything I've written it would be easy to think that I really didn't like the place. Sure, there were plenty of things that meant it wasn't a perfect experience but I will be going again and would definitely also be getting regular take out if I lived a little closer. The fat. juicy, flavoursome chicken makes it all worthwhile. 

Chicken Shop
141 Tooting High Street.

Chicken Shop on Urbanspoon
Square Meal


Graveney & Meadow

There is only so long that you can eat chicken for, especially when a ravenous queue is filling the standing space around your stool hovering like vultures waiting for you to wipe your mouth with a napkin and sit back with a sigh before performing the international signal summoning the bill. We therefore found ourselves back out in the cold night air at only 8.15pm so cocktails were required. Although Tooting is changing its ways there still aren't that many places offering decent cocktails so we headed to Graveney & Meadow.

G&M used to be A Bar 2 Far which was an apt name on the basis that it was rough as hell and a night out would definitely have gone too far if you ended up there which thankfully I never did. What Bar 2 Far's former inebriates and ne'er do wells think of Graveney & Meadow is unclear as they are were not around on the Friday night that I visited. You can create a trendy looking London bar anywhere it seems but you can't quite take the Tooting out of it as we still had to have our bags searched for concealed weapons (I felt for the poor chap as I think my gym kit probably ought to classified as a weapon). 

The standard mismatching furniture is everywhere to be seen and there is something of a sewing theme going on; some of the tables actually are vintage sewing machines. In fact "vintage" was probably the key word at the top of the mood board when the Antic Pubs designers went to town on this one. plenty of exposed brick and antiqued metal ceilings with the remaining walls covered in flowery Cath Kidstonesque fabric which I think had been painted with tea to give it that oldy worldy 'people smoked lots in here for years before the smoking ban' look. Sure enough at the corners you could see the bright white fabric poking through from underneath where the decorator's tea brush had not reached.  The walls to the loos are covered in shoe moulds and bits of tailors pattern's and equipment and a hotch potch of anything vaguely "East London tailor circa turn of the 20th century".

G&M isn't only a pub, its also a tapas restaurant at night (not tried the food yet, I was too stuffed with chicken) and a bakery too. The baked goods are all displayed on a table and you pay for them at the bar. It was quite WI market but is very appealing to the daytime Mum's coffee morning crowd I expect. After a couple of cocktails I did get tempted by an Ottolenghi style giant meringue. I tried to buy one to take home but it turned out they are "for display only". That summed things up pretty well for me. 

It is worth a visit if you are in the area though as the cocktails are well made. A black cherry old fashioned was excellent as was a lemony-tart gin and cucumber confection.  Not worth travelling for but a decent pit stop if you are in the area. 

Graveney & Meadow
Mitcham Road.

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Monday, 20 January 2014

Sager & Wilde

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have what could be described as a 'slightly' irrational fear of East London. It all stems back to two incidents almost a decade ago, one where I was stupid enough to wear heels on New Year's Eve in Hoxton, sprained my ankle on the way there and spent the evening sat with my foot in a bucket of ice whilst people talked over my head and the second being a rather nasty "you're not cool enough to be here" type slur in a bar that shall remain nameless. The upshot was that I was left thinking, sod you East London, you're a devil to get to from South West London anyway and London's a big old place with plenty to do and see. 

It is therefore a rare gem that can attract me across the threshold of the Borough of Tower Hamlets and Sager & Wilde is that gem. Following a former acclaimed pop-up site,  Charlotte and Michael Sager- Wilde opened their eponymous wine bar in late August 2013 to a steady flow of positive press. Wine tasting buddies S, Z & A have been waxing lyrical about it for so long that I finally took a deep breath and headed East. 

Food is not the primary focus here but that didn't stop all the morsels that crossed our table from being excellent. It is more about the wine though. I would challenge anyone to find a more well rounded list of wines by the glass in London. Yes, there are places that do lots by the glass but you are usually fighting your way through a tide of mediocrity to dig out a winner. Here they are all good.  It is evident that each one has been selected with such care and attention that you're unlikely to ever pick a dud. The four of us decided early on that a definite strategy was required in working our way through the list without falling over.

I kicked off with a fizzy number. A sparkling Surrey Brut Sugrue Pierre 2010 was an experience. It definitely lived up to its "Brut" label being mouth numbingly dry before bursting into ripe citrus juiciness. All in all not dissimilar to sherbet and a palate enlivening start to proceedings. Considering that Swig are currently retailing it for a rather hefty £49 a bottle, £8.50 a glass seemed very reasonable indeed and you can take all wines away from S&W for a tenner less than the bar price so in this case I could have taken it home for £37. Decanter gave it 97/100 if that's your preferred yardstick. 

The best adjective I could find to describe the Viognier from Francois Villard (Contours de Deponcins 2011) was 'pretty'. That doesn't seem like anywhere near an adequate enough description so I will try and elaborate. So fragrant with a nose and palate of white peaches and a little citrus zing followed by a  fairly lengthy aftertaste reminiscent of jasmine tea. There, is that better? It was a true glugger and on a summer's afternoon a bottle could easily disappear without pause for thought. 

Willi Schaefer's 2009 Riseling Kabinett from Graacher Himmelreich was a model of a beautifully made German Riesling. The classic, tell tale - petrol/vinyl/new carpet aroma was all there (it is a good thing honestly, just go with me on this one!) and the off dry sweetness partnered with a refreshing acidity just left you wanting more, and more, and more ad infinitum

The 2008 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru from Domaine de Montille was sumptuous in its creaminess but boasted a chilled, refined, purity of fruit. A sure fire indicator of how much I like a wine in a restaurant is whether I try and buy it for myself and a quick scan of Wine Searcher left me disappointed as I couldn't find anywhere in the world stocking this in and only somewhere in France with the 2007 so if I want any I'm going to have to hot foot it back to S&W. 

Picture borrowed from S&W website as my pic was awful so copyright is theirs. Its usually lots more full. I'm at the table bottom right. Can't see me? I'm there!

Wines that I didn't have a glass of but stole a gulp of included a very good indeed a 2004 Swartland GSM from Sequillo by Eben Sadie, a 2012 Macon from Uchizy Talmard and a 2005 Volnay from Domaine des Comtes Lafon. All were highly praised. 

The peak of my aforementioned 'strategy' was going to be a glass of 1998 Chateau d'Yquem, a snip at £14.50. Unfortunately the bottle was a bit of a dud (I felt just as bad for them as I did for me, how annoying to waste what should be such a lovely bottle) so I swapped my Yquem for a glass of Rioja Gran Reserva '890' by La Rioja Alta (1998).  Tasting very developed, it had moved distinctly through to secondary characters of leather and a lot of meat influences but there was certainly some life in the old dog yet and the classic characteristics of some dark cherries with a little spice thrown in were all still present. Smooth drinking but with elegant tannins, the Rioja turned out to be an excellent foil for a cheese board of Reblochon, Shropshire Blue and Comte all served with some surprising sweet but yummy cauliflower flatbreads and quince jelly.

By the way, I'm absolutely NOT allowed to mention that the grilled cheese sandwiches are really both very gooey and delicious and very reasonably priced, apparently it would be best kept a secret so shhhhhhhhh! (sorry S).  Also on offer are various sliced charcuterie bits and bobs and olives/nuts etc. 

My only criticism of the whole place would be that the red list was quite Pinot Noir heavy on the day that I went but then again I'm totally aware that I'm a minority in not appreciating its subtle charms.   Oh, that and the hipster chap sat in the corner wearing a woollen, yellow hat that looked like a giant prophylactic which was a little disarming but that's East London for you....

Look, I was even sober enough to take an in-focus photo on the way out (even if there is a weird blue bit in the shot.....)

Will I go back? Wild horses couldn't stop me and I'm maybe even not scared of East London any more. I'm a little bit devastated that I didn't try the n'duja on toast though but all the more reason for an imminent return. 

193 Hackney Road, London. E2 8JL

Sager and Wilde on Urbanspoon  Square Meal

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Zeal Two Step Waiter's Friend Corkscrew

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to take the time to resolve the small, seemingly insignificant obstacles in life that annoy me to an unnecessary degree but ought not to. You know the sort of things I mean, those loops they put in clothes to 'help' hang them up but which stick out when you're wearing them- snip them out. Never having a friend's address to hand when you need it because you haven't saved it into your phone and its on a bit of paper at home - spend an hour programming them all in. Small changes that make every day life a little easier.

It's not often that I post on here about gadgets and home ware but one little wine gadget has made such a New Year's change to my wine drinking that I thought I'd share.

People have always (rather unreasonably in my opinion) scoffed at my complete inability to use a waiter's friend to open wine. I could never quite get the leverage or the strength to pull the cork all the way out without using a big double armed creation and I always ended up feeling like a lemon having to ask a 'big strong man' to do it for me. No more, my friends, no more…..

Some little genius has come up with the Two Stepped Waiter's Friend Corkscrew  so that the levery bit (that's a technical term by the way) which you lean on the glass bottle rim is stepped. You use the longer one whilst the cork is further in and then switch to the shorter one once its half way out. For around seven pounds its a game changer. 

 I realise there's a significant chance that I may be coming to the party rather late on this one and preaching to the converted as since I bought mine I have seen others on offer (from Le Creuset and Vacuvin although at well over double the price) but it was a complete revelation to me. Add to the fact that mine is pink and I'm very happy indeed (you don't have to have a pink one by the way!)

The people ("The Hardware Place") that I bought it from via Amazon were also utterly lovely, I ordered it on Boxing Day and received a personal email confirming my colour choice and that it would be posted the following day, now that is service! 
So, who's for wine?
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