Sunday, 16 June 2013

Rotary Bar and Diner: bad, really bad

It was always going to happen. Such is the proliferation of American BBQ diner food in London, one bad egg was always going to get through. A cynical attempt to jump on the band wagon, to cash in without putting in the hard yards. I just didn't expect it to be now, here, at the Rotary Bar and Diner. This place has pedigree. It's owned by the Rushmore Group, the same people as Giant Robot and the Player Bar, both of which are great. Rotary Bar and Diner is not. In fact it's not just not good. Its really, really bad.

The bar itself is fine, good place for a few drinks. The menu looks enticing - everything seems to be in the right place. There are wings, devilled pig skin, burgers and ribs. What could go wrong.

We started with the chicken wings. They were cooked. But that is about the extent of the positives I can muster. Greasy, they tasted like they had been slathered in butter. And not in a good way. Even worse were the pork scratchings (sorry, devilled pig skin) - they tasted only of old oil. And finally, the smoked chicken salad.  I think they may have popped out to Subway for the sauce, the chicken was barely smoked. Worst of all, in the midst of it all was chicken skin. Not lovely, crispy, salty chicken skin. No, a slimy, limp dishcloth of a piece of skin. Horrible.

After being all smiles and sunshine to start, our waitress turned sour when we said that we had not wholly enjoyed our starter. And we were still on our best behavior at that point. I mean yes the starters were awful, but we still had chicken, ribs and steak to come, things were about to look up. Right?

The chicken and ribs came covered in "BBQ sauce". Sickly sweet, this was everything BBQ sauce should not be. Here is my plate when I started.

Here is where I finished.

I couldn't eat it.  That is not like me, as my friends and waistline will attest. I love food, I never leave things. I have been brought up on "waste not, want not". But I just couldn't eat it. Neither could the Brand JD manage the dry chicken, again covered in that sauce. But wait, there was a corn muffin. Surely that must have been good. Well, it might have been a corn muffin at one point, but by the time it made it onto my tray it would have been better used as a cricket ball. One bite was all I could manage.

The steak at least did not come drenched in sauce. It had been well-aged and reasonably cooked. But it looked lonely on the plate with only a side of over-cooked and over-buttered cabbage to accompany it.

By this point our waitress was steadfastly ignoring us and a young Parisian took over. We were being less well behaved by then. The complaints rained down on him. I felt a little sorry, it wasn't his fault and, as he rightly pointed out, he had not cooked any of it.

I really hate writing negative reviews, you've had a bad meal and now you need to relive it. Often I don't bother, why go through it again. But in this case it was so bad I felt I had to. In fairness they did give us 25% off the price. But then, if I had paid full price for what I had just eaten, I would have been upset, really upset. It would have been over £25 a head with one beer. For that money you can eat seriously well in London. Just not at Rotary Bar and Diner.  Don't go.
The Rotary Bar & Diner on Urbanspoon

BBQ Whisky Beer: A Ronseal Moment

You'd never guess what the lovely people behind London's latest pop-up do. Well okay you might. Its not all that subtle. Its called BBQ Whisky Beer. And that is exactly what it does. Very well indeed.

Set in a Young's pub called the Lord Wargrave near Edgware Road, I wasn't holding out for much.  Apart from being able to transport myself to the karaoke bars of Thailand down the narrow stairs at the Heron Pub nearby, Edgware Road doesn't normally feature as a destination.

Hardly unique, the Wargrave is an identikit London boozer. That is until you look at the back wall. Thereon lies the first difference. Row upon row of neatly written names. Like a roll call of former club captains, their ages written neatly alongside. Mr Laphroaig, 18 years. Mr Glenrothes, 21 years. Mr Talisker 25 years. It goes on, I need not. You get the picture. This place is serious about its whisky, so am I. Suddenly I feel like we could become friends. (On Saturdays they do "Flight Club" - there are even rules - various flights of whisky with ever increasing ages (and prices), well that's at least one Saturday night spoken for in the next few weeks!).

On to the second limb of this triumvirate. The beer. Reasonable selection, nothing to get excited over. It's tied to Youngs. Would love to see a few more of the smaller London breweries included, London Fields, Hackney Brewery, Redchurch Brewery, all great and all local.  Still, not bad.

Now the real reason I was here. The BBQ. While it is easy (relatively speaking) to become London's whisky bar, to top its BBQ leader-board is a taller task. Places like Pitt Cue Co, and more recently Climpsons Arch have really taken BBQ up a notch.

We started with a couple of things from the snack menu. A plate of Chip Bits (you know those little crispy things at the bottom of the chips, the best bits) with Pulled Pork. This took "dirty" to a whole new level. It may have taken at least a couple of minutes off my life, but it was good, really good. Excellent pork, tart BBQ sauce, crispy chips. Like chips and gravy, but much much better. This should become Scotland's national dish - perfect alongside the whiskies.

 We also had chicken wings - sticky, with blue cheese dipping sauce. Like the Monkey Fingers at Meat Mission, although maybe slightly better, bold.

Given that the "snacks" were larger than most main meals (think American-sized), we were struggling a little.  A short break then some ribs and the "Beef Royal" burger. The ribs were spot on - tender meat, great sauce.

The burger itself was great: loosely-packed, well-aged meat, seeded bun.  But it was just too big - burger plus onion rings plus beef rib meat plus mushrooms.  There was no way of getting your mouth round it - I took the onion rings out.  That aside, very good indeed - and in fairness they do do a burger without all the toppings, so maybe that will just teach me. Special mention should be made of the short rib off cuts - these deserved to be more than a topping - they should be a dish in their own right. Celebrated. That good.

The market for American BBQ in London is keen, as is London it appears. Burgers are debated, I wouldn't be surprised if someone has come to blows over whether Pitt Cue or Duke's Brew and Cue serves up the best ribs. So where does BBQ Whisky Beer fit into this. On the whisky front they are so far out ahead there is no competition. On the beer, a little behind the pack. So by all accounts the BBQ should be smack bang in the middle. But it is a little better than that. Those ribs were as good as anywhere, with a little tweaking the burger could be too. The perfect accompaniments for my induction to Flight Club.

Follow them on twitter @BBQWhiskyBeer

*All drinks and food were provided courtesy of BBQ Whisky Beer, thanks guys.


Sunday, 2 June 2013

East London in the Summer: a veritable posse of pop-ups

Cometh the sun, cometh the pop-up.  Places, which only weeks before would have seemed highly improbable locations for restaurants, are transformed - abandoned rooftops reworked, work yards receive a makeover. And the arches by London Fields station, it appears, is the epicenter of this culinary explosion. Not a bad place for food at the worst of times (think Broadway Market, E5 Bakehouse, Buen Ayre), come summer your options multiply.

On the rooftop of Emigre Studios is Coppa, the new outpost of Lardo (a great little Italian round the corner serving up seriously good pizza from their disco ball oven).  Serving cicchetti - Italian tapas - the menu is concise, we ordered at least one of everything.  There are fresh chickpea and celery salads, unctuous nduja-laden arancini and rich caponata.  Less impressive were the spiedini - little skewers of tough lamb, grilled bread with cheese or prawn (note the singular - for £4!).  There were various other fried things - zucchini chips, proscuitto tomato and mozarella calzone fritte (and to think people scorn the Scots for deep fried pizza, although that's maybe because we add a healthy dollop of HP sauce!). All perfectly fine, but not really worth searching out.  Great place for a beer and arancini, but would stick to that.

Literally round the corner (it was one of those kind of days) is a collaboration between Climpsons Coffee and Lucky Chip (here, Licky Chop - see what they did here) - Climpsons Arch.  Housed in the arch used to roast coffee beans, most of the place is outside, a yard surrounded by a couple of meters high metal fence.  Not the most inviting of spaces you might imagine. But, as with another newly opened railway arch restaurant, Beagle, Climpsons and Lucky Chip have made the most of what they've got. 

The menu is made up of my kind of things - oysters (the ones with tapioca pearls are quite possibly the best I have ever had), bone marrow on toast with a smoked anchovy spread, onglet steak (there it is again!) and even a whole roasted pigs head, medieval! We opted for the bone marrow - roasted hunks of bone with sourdough, could have done with an extra slice of toast though.  The hake with cocoa was also good.

A sun trap (well at least on the day we visited) serving interesting food and great drinks (you've got to try the bottled rhubarb cocktail) - I think I can forgive them that fence.

Climpson & Sons on Urbanspoon Lardo on Urbanspoon
Foodies100 Index of UK Food Blogs
Morphy Richards