Wednesday, 24 August 2016

RESTAURANT REVIEW: The Refinery, Bankside

As a huge fan of cocktails I'm always on the lookout for new spots to try new drinks. So when I was given the opportunity to sample a few drinks from the new pop up Bacardi Bar at The Refinery, I was more than a little keen.

The Refinery is popular with the after work crowd, there's a huge indoor area with plenty of seating options and the outdoor terrace, which is in close proximity to the Thames and has a great al fresco vibe. The atmosphere is relaxed, making it a great option for a casual night out.

I sampled a couple of different drinks, the first being the most deliciously fresh Bacardi cocktail. I'm not normally a rum drinker, my tipple of choice is gin or vodka, but I was blown away by this. I like my cocktail to pack a punch and whilst the rum was distinctly present this was easy to drink thanks to citrus flavours and fresh cucumber. It almost reminded me of a gin sour, with slightly less sourness and a hint of sweetness. Unfortunately I can't remember the name but I imagine it's easy enough to spot on the menu.

The second drink I tried was the Garden Collins, a gin based long drink with fresh raspberry, lemon sugar and soda. This was a little like a mojito but with a lot more fruit. This was extremely tasty and the perfect summery drink. Steve had the Hummingbird which is also gin and raspberry based with added lime and elderflower. This cocktail has a nice tartness to it and most definitely a sour edge, I loved it as well.

The Refinery also offers food and whilst it isn't a foodie destination in itself, there are some nice plates on the menu to help line your stomach. I loved the scotch egg with its perfectly runny yolk and crispy breadcrumb batter. The chicken burger wasn't bad either, the meat was succulent and even though it was fried it didn't feel greasy.

There's a few sharing plates including a mezze that comes with a lovely bulgar wheat and feta salad. This is a great option if you're with a group and fancy a little snack without going for a full blown meal. I also enjoyed the trio of chips (sweet potato, BBQ, and parmesan with truffle) something I haven't seen before and think is a great idea.

The Refinery is a great spot to enjoy a few drinks, especially in the summer. The cocktails are strong, reasonably priced, and a little different from your average cosmopolitan. The food menu has some good options and makes for a nice, casual spot for an after work social outing.

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Monday, 22 August 2016

BURGER REVIEW: Burger Shack and Bar

As nice as Wimbledon Village may look to a non-locals, SW19 isn't the most exciting place to live. The restaurants are mainly high street chains and the local 'bistros' have a price tag to match the multi million pound mansions found around the common. When I was invited to Young's Burger Shack & Bar to sample the menu I was most definitely intrigued. The bar may not be part of a new, independent business but it is a welcome change from another wise mundane stretch of road.

The bar itself is lovely, decorated with bright pops of colour and mid century furniture designs. It reminds me of English country home meets Scandinavian chic. The sliding doors open up all the way which is ideal come sunnier weather when the bar fills with natural light and you 'almost' feel like you're sitting outside.

The drinks list has a nice selection of cocktails and local brews so we settled down with a couple of tasty gins and a dish of popcorn.

We ordered the chicken wings to start which were nice. The meat was succulent and the coating had a nice hint of heat to it.

Steve ordered the pork belly burger which was absolutely enormous. The pork belly was deep fried in breadcrumbs and whilst the meat was very succulent it became a little too much after while. The blue cheese dressing was a nice addition to this burger as it helped cut through the heaviness of the meat.

I ordered 'The Streaky' which is a bacon cheeseburger. I like my burgers quite pink in the middle but the kitchen had to cook the meat through so it was unfortunately a little on the tough side for me. Saying that the burger tasted nice enough thanks to the crispy bacon, oozing cheese an ale cooked onions.

To accompany our burgers we ordered curly fries, rosemary chips and mac n cheese. The fries were great but I found the mac a little on the bland side.

To finish, we ordered the key lime pie cheesecake which was lovely. The portion was generously sized by thanks to the citrus taste it acted like a nice palette cleanser after a rather heavy meal.

Burgershack & Bar might not be the best burger I've ever tried but the venue itself has a nice atmosphere that I'm sure I'll be back to visit for a drink and snack. The food is generously sized and the menu is full of classic pub options. It's the sort of place to go for a casual meal or a snack if you're out with friends for a few drinks.

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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

LONDON LOVES: Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall is an iconic London venue. I've been to so many gigs here and the sound and atmosphere is always perfection. There's something special about watching your favourite bands in a 150 year old, opulent concert hall, so much in fact that I will continue to return to the hall again and again. In fact, I've already been here five times since the beginning of this year alone, and each gig has been incredible.

The year started with New Order who did a charity concert in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. New Order are Steve's favourite band and this was the first time we'd seen the band together. We were sat quite high in the upper circle but despite the height the stage still looked amazing and the sound was crisp and clear. The band were still touring their latest, critically acclaimed album, Music Complete, so it was great to hear some of my favourite tracks live (Singularity, Tutti Frutti). I'd only seen New Order once before, way back in 2012 and I wasn't really a huge fan (despite being quite fond of Joy Division) so didn't appreciate many of the songs. Now, with Steve by my side, I am extremely familiar with their back catalogue and very much enjoyed hearing the old hits. Temptation is my favourite and when played live it really is a phenomenal performance. I'm sad they don't play Ceremony any more as it's a great Joy Division / New Order cross over but I got to hear it live back in 2012 so all is not lost. 

Anyway, it was a wonderful gig and whilst New Order's stage shows are a very much a rehearsed affair compared to their ramshackled shows of the 80s, they put on a very enjoyable live performance.

A week or so later we were back at the hall to see the Manic Street Preachers celebrate 20 years of their hit album, Everything Must Go. We were standing in the pit this time and the atmosphere was electric. The gig was split into two parts, the bands played Everything Thing Must Go in it's entirety first and after a brief interval they played a greatest hits set. The gig was excellent and due to the anthemic nature of the songs there was an awful lot of mass singalongs, something I absolutely love. It was nice to get so close to the stage this time as the atmosphere really helps make the gig feel more special. I've seen the bands live quite a few times now and this performance was definitely one of their best.

A few months away from the hall saw us return to see the mighty John Grant. I adore John Grant, he is quite the enigma, creating sublime music and his captivating live performances are beyond enjoyable. There was no standing area this time but we had seat in the pit with a great view of the stage. It had been a good while since I'd last seen John Grant live and his performance at the Royal Festival Hall with the Royal Northern Sinfonia is was one of the best gigs I've ever been too. This time saw his perform a full on rock show which sounded and looked magnificent. He had a few special guests perform with him throughout the night; the lovely Welsh singer-song writer Cate le Bon, the legendary Richard Hawley, and, no-one could quite believe it, the astounding Kylie freaking Minogue. I think I screamed when Kylie came on the stage, I wouldn't even call myself a huge fan but it was the sort of pairing that is hard to understand. How on earth did Kylie and John become friends? I didn't think John Grant could top the Royal Festival Hall gig but he more than blew it out of the court this time. I am forever impressed by his incredible talent!

Our last visit to the hall, for now, was to see one of my all time favourite bands perform two night on the trot. Belle and Sebastian celebrated the 20th anniversary of their incredible debut and follow up albums, Tigermilk and If You're Feeling Sinister. Their shows are always sweet, twee and full of nostalgia. They don't have many special effects but that doesn't stop them from being entertaining, especially as Stuart Murdoch is extremely charismatic. We were standing for both nights but due to Belle and Sebastian's hard core fan base we weren't able to get super close to the front which is mainly our own fault for turning up just before the band were due on stage. Alas, both evenings were lovely and fun plus it was great to hear some songs live that aren't played very often.

I was able to visit the hall another time this year, for a completely non music related event, and that was to try the new afternoon tea menu, created in collaboration with the East India Company.

The tea is served in the Verdi restaurant and has an innovative spin on otherwise traditional afternoon tea choices. The sandwiches are lovely and included personal favourites like ham and mustard and smoked salmon and crème fraîche. The homemade scones (plain and sultana) with clotted cream and strawberry jam were absolutely delicious as well.

The selection of cakes and sweet treats was impressive to say the least. From white chocolate, mint and rum macarons, mango, passion fruit and Jivara éclairs, strawberry and rhubarb custard tarts, raspberry almond cake with a tonka bean meringues, dark chocolate mousse with salted caramel, and Grand Marnier infused carrot cupcakes served with extra injectable Grand Marnier there is an awful lot of choice. I enjoyed the macaron which tasted not too dissimilar from a mojito and the custard tart which exploded into a fruity mess once bitten in to. The chocolate mouse was extremely indulgent tasting and whilst I don't normally like éclairs, these were quite enjoyable thanks to the fruitiness.

East India Company offer 11 different teas and whilst I'm not a big tea drinker myself I did loved the Blend 68 White Tea which had touches of hibiscus, rosehip and orange peel. I also drank a (few) very delicious Staunton Earl Grey Martini which I highly recommend if you like a strong cocktail.

Afternoon tea at the Royal Albert Hall is £25 per person which is extremely reasonable for similar venues in London. The selection of sweets is especially impressive and the venue itself if beautiful. You can pop in even if you're not attending a concert but for an extra special treat whilst seeing your favourite band, why not make an afternoon of it and have an afternoon tea before hand.

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