So here’s the thing: You move to one of the supposedly greatest cities in the world. It’s a smorgasbord of art, culture, cuisine. There’s a buzz, always something to see, corners to investigate at every turn. A usual night out, y’know, you’ve just been to see a band, you’d catch every 18 months in Glasgow, for the third time in 6. When changing from tube to mainline, you realise you’re peckish. Time to go look for grub. You don’t feel like chicken, and god knows there’s no bloody fish and chip shops (seriously, WTF?). Guess its got to be deadly. Yum!
Except, they don’t know how to make a kebab in this town.
Let’s take a donner at the meat. Assuming whatever weird process the rotisserie trunk is produced is the same – and as, hopefully, unsavoury – the world over, so it should taste the same. Not for Londoners the layers of thinly shaved slices. You get near bloomin’ steak-thick slices that, frankly, look like it was my carving technique hacking at the great elephant leg. No matter how much you’ve ever wished you had chunks of this to eat, trust me you don’t. Grease filled sponge that it is
Yes, some iceberg, and a few slices of cucumber and tomato can pass as ‘salad’ in any child friendly pub or corner caff, but not in a kebab shop! Back when I worked in Pollokshields, it was a joy to wait for a hungover lunch treat in the Lahore kebab house and watch the owner prepare the massive bowls of salad. Finely shredding white cabbage and onion. Tossed with mint, coriander and lemon juice (always from a bottle). Stuff so awesome vegetarians would gladly come to the kebab shop after the pub because pitta stuffed with it and smothered in sauce was good enough on its own.
The sauce. Ah yes. Y’know that first time in an Edinburgh chippy when you automatically just say yes because what else would they be asking you if you wanted hem on you chips than salt & vinegar? It’s like that. Nod for sauce and your kebab is smothered in an unconscionable garlic mayo mix. Even if you’re quick enough to specify the chilli sauce, he’ll just reach for another plastic bottle and squit out a trail of spicy ketchup. To be fair, there are a few places with proper kebab sauce. It seems to go mostly on chips and cheese, and anyway is too little too late after the poor salad and cribriform meat based substances.
Hopefully someone will set me straight. Tell me I need to venture to Poplar or similar for a proper kebab. If so, I promise to verify.
Don’t even get me started on how the dearth if decent curry down here….
In the middle of last week, the sad news came through that the Catford Bridge Tavern had closed it’s doors and returned it’s keys to it’s owners. Barely a week goes by without there being some story about x number of pubs a week closing. And, while there may be a panic in the industry, it seems more that the market has changed and those that innovate and can change to meet demands will out. Were it not always thus? The CBT, did not close due to plummeting sales and empty tills, but was the victim of a moneygrabbing landlord (in the property sense, not the Al Murray one) looking for a quick buck*.
While the vertical drinking establishments and Punch carveries may be struggling, a new breed of independent pubs are opening. Pubs where the focus is on quality rather than quantity. And, they seem to be thriving. It’s a new business model. Destination pubs rather than just the local. I’m reminded of record labels itching about falling sales, while releasing less titles and ignoring the new technology that is not going to go away. Some (admittedly small) real ale brewers are seeing the possibilities and embracing the change (stand tall Brodies).
So, say what you like about Fuller’s, and god knows I have – boom-tsch! – they have an interesting place in this new drink market. If the Craft Beer Revolution(© some cocknocker) is driving these changes, it is generally accepted that their ESB was a spur for small american brewers to try to make something a little bit more interesting. So, a big influence if not ally a player. Yet, despite the occasional good pub (hello The Ship, on Wardour Street – I stick to the cider), they are almost archetypal in their old-fashioned unchanging tied-pub format. They seem strangely above criticism too, I’m told by a few proper beer writers this is because they throw the best junkets and no-one wants to be excluded from the invite list.**
But, now we have the Union Tavern (past Westbourne Park just under the Westway) up the wrong end of Notting Hill. A it is these days, word had passed own through the digital grapevine that a pub, not close but close enough to my work, was getting a very nice reputation. For as hipster as it may seem round them parts ,you’re still lucky to find somewhere with a couple of bottles of Sierra Nevada in the fridge. The Union Tavern does not disappoint. A set of well conditioned casks showcase some fine London ales, a couple of ciders and some Fuller’s ones. Keg taps carry offerings from some of the best brewers in the uk, with an understandable London slant (again, when this means two Kernel beers on, I say slant more). It’s the usual junkshop chic, but done with a proper eye. The place is comfortable and cosy where it needs to be. But, big (stripped, of course) tables mean a decent sized party can eat in comfort. (Amazing how few places consider that.) And, what food they could eat, a small menu offers fantastic American-styled offerings. It’s all whiskey glazed ribs, brisket sandwiches and the chefs secret baked beans recipe. Add to that friendly, informed staff and we’re rocking. Top it with a pub quiz matched with £5 burger night.
One of the regular events they have is We Need To Talk About Beer pretty self explanatory. Following a tweet about not enjoying the landlords beer (among man I did) one night I found myself crowbarred into the remaining empty place on the Thanksgiving night celebration of american beers.
Writers Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham in addition to writing books on pretty much everything quaffable, have made the book signing into an art form as Thinking Drinkers. Tonight, they are our hosts, drawing heavily on their book Good Beer Guide West Coast USA, and what’s in the cupboard here.
[See photo for full beer listing ==>] I was familiar with most of the beweries lined up for the tasting, if not the beers. Brooklyn‘s special Local beers have never really sparked my interest enough for me to fork out for them. TBH, I’ve been probably more underwhelmed by this brewery than any other. Even sat at that table in Katz’s Deli I could only muster a ‘meh’ for the ale specially brewed for them. So, their special Belgian style beers are probably as far from something I’d want to try as you can get. Still underwhelmed. If pushed, I’d sat the No 2 had more substance than the No 1. (Oh, yes I did!) I have drank the excellent Flying Dog‘s Kujo plenty of times, but never has it been as good as tonight. Wracking my brains, I come to the conclusion that it’s the first time I’ve had it bottled. Possibly a bit older than usual too. All I know is it’s a fantastic coffee stout, as style very easy to make a dog’s dinner of (ok, that I apologise for).
There is food laid on; smoked turkey (amazing) with thanksgiving wings and stuffing balls, served with cranberry sauce, corn on the cob, and sweet potato with marshmallow. The latter, nowhere near as appalling as you would imagine, but something I have no intention of ever eating again.
New beer and brewery to me was the final Unita Brewing XVI. Interesting because, well, it’s from Utah which is home to good friends of mine, and largely Mormon. Again, we’ve got them sneaky yanks taking our tired old heritage ales and returning them back to us bigger an better. This time the barley wine. I’s good enough to get me thinking “If I could only drink one style of beer for the rest of my days…”
And, all in a Fuller’s pub. I hope this is an experiment. Testing the waters. Should they be giving their bar managers the discretion and freedom to do things like this (the whole place, not just the excellent event). Yes, yes, and again yes
*As far as I can make out, the council listened to the complaints and put a block on the change of purpose. The CBT folk say this is very much not over. Fingers crossed.
**I do, of course, appreciate the irony in making that allegation
Wow. It’s big. And, my first visit was to see something with cinematography by Roger Deakins. Which had Javier Bardem and Albert Finney in it! If you squinted you could kid on it was a Coens movie. OK, if you squinted a lot.
There’s some really good set pieces… The one decent scene Bardem gets is hilaiously homoerotic… Erm…
Maybe it was too big. Maybe Bond should be on the telly at xmas. Maybe it was too late. Maybe I’d drank too much beforehand. Maybe I’d believed the hype…
Or, maybe it‘s just not that good.
I’m fooling no-one with my claims to some sort of authenticity living in the heart of Lewisham. It may have only been this century that I started coming to London on a regular basis, but even in this much neglected corner of the south-east, can I see the creeping hand of gentrification. Not only am I living right on a visible crest of it, I’m very probably one of the indicators too.
On as Saturday, it’s just as easy for me to take a walk up the ‘proper’ market for sacksful of cheap veg as it is to go get some brunch at Brockley Market in the other direction. And, if I’m honest, that really suits me.
Pubs round here can be a bit hairy. While I love that my local is populated by old Jamaican guys in pork-pie hats, drinking Guinness, playing poker and getting locked in until I’m leaving for work; it’s not really somewhere I frequent. Mostly this is down to the poor beer selection. There is, of course, a Wetherspoons but it’s one of those ones; fine for a passing pint (always has Old Rosie) but not really a destination. There’s a couple of places that carry premium lager and the occasional decent guest ale. At least they’re trying.
So, thank the Lord for Antic, more a pub collective than chain. Any interesting pub, slightly off the obvious beaten track, in south London (and increasingly elsewhere) has about a 75% chance of being affiliated to them. I’m pleased to have three within what I could call (but would rather not) staggering distance from the flat. First, furthest and foremost of these is The Catford Bridge Tavern.
Nestled between the Catford stations (bridge and plain old – it confused me), the CBT is big traditional English pub straight out of central casting, all beams and red brick. Al that’s missing is the thatch, really. Inside its junk shop chic, and deceptively cosy. It uses multiple rooms to provide a ‘proper’ bar, lounge area and larger surprisingly bright and airy dining space. Which is a good thing, as the food is excellent. Or, let me be more specific, the starters are excellent. TBH, every time I’ve eaten there we’ve ended up grabbing a bunch of smaller plates (cod cheeks, Spanish cured meats platter – with accompanying sherry, potted duck/crab, and so on) and sharing them. And, as yet, not one of them has been duff. I’m willing to do the research to find out though. Yup, I’ll take one for the team.
But, of course, most importantly, the beer is excellent. A good mix of cask and ciders, excellent local ales and the occasional special from further afield. Excellent selection of bottles and some hipper kegs. There’s a near permanent Kernel tap. What more do you need know? Must check out their wine list some day.
But, all is not well. The owners of the building the CBT is in have applied for planning permission to change the building to a supermarket. Like the one next door. To put this in some sort of perspective, Google maps reckons it is 2 miles from my gaff (as we Londoners call our pied-à-terre) to the bar. Over that distance, I can think of 6 variations on major chainstores. Not even considering the independent traders. Needless to say, the pub has started a campaign. If you live in the borough of Lewisham, please take a look, and take 10 minutes to contact your councilor.
CBT, has always been a welcoming place for me. I’m looking forward to long winter nights gathered round the fire in there. With the regularly quoted stats of x number of pubs closing a week, lets not force those that want to keep trading to become another statistic. Or, worse, another bloody Tesco Metro.
The apotheosis of the animated gif!
Once again, I find that I am being required to provide more documentation at work. But, I’m totally out of practise. I’ve written pages to say ‘yes’ and simply ‘no’ when a fuller explanation has been needed. So, it’s hello again blog. Lets see if I can get back into good habits.
There are certain acts that I would crawl over broken glass to see live, but who’s records never really excite me quite so much. In some cases (naming no names), this is because the records don’t measure up. Others (hello Electric Eel Shock – where you hiding?) always deliver a pleasant surprise when you do actually listen to them. Sid Griffin‘s The Coal Porters fall very firmly into the latter camp. And, so it is, with a sense of duty more than excitement, that I pick up a couple of copies (yeah, they make excellent gifts) of the latest album Find The One. Gotta let them know there’s an audience out here, so they’ll keep on playing*
AS I’ve mentioned before, Griffin’s path to acoustic bluegrass has been a twisty-turny one, but one that makes perfect sense. Being the go-to encyclopedia of an entire swathe of american popular music (it can sometimes seem like he lives on BBC4 – although, I’m gonna guess there’s not much of a living to be made there), it seems logical that he should make a home in it’s roots. And, it’s moving in those circles that can get Richard Thompson pitching in, or bring John Wood out of retirement to produce.
Opener Barefoot On The Courthouse Lawn sets the tone well, something evocative of a different time, of summers days, but still with the faint whiff of hippy rebellion to it. We get songs that could be as old as the earth, or written last week. Glorious instrumental The Betsey Trotwood starts like a scots reel and finishes like a hoedown hat would bring the barn down.
Biggest talking point was always going to be the courageous/cavalier take on the Bowie‘s Heroes. Faint heart etc, but, my god, they pull it off. There’s an affinity to the epic plaintiveness of the song. A wonderful counterpoint to pretty much every attempt to bludgeon it to death before.
Storming jigs, portentous gospel stomps. They’re all in there. All topped off with Neal Robert Herd’s Farmers’ Hands which cleverly manages to sum up the whole enterprise in paying tribute to your heritage, while knowing there was really no option but to get out of there and – ahem – plough your own furrow. Proper gritty scots song, y’know as in “I’ve got a bit of grit in my eye”.
OK, there’s another track; an alright, but pointless, stab at Paint It Black (where’s that eightsome reel of Looking for Lewis & Clarke?). Maybe it suffers from comparison to the earlier cover. Or maybe that’s just an example of the goodwill this band can engender.
An excellent record, but one where the band are practically shooting themselves in the foot: This is music meant to be heard in the live forum. Make sure you do. Until then, you could do worse than pick up a copy of this; or more if you have the means to play them. (That line doesn’t work so well when you can’t use the term ‘record player’)
* I’m not sure what would actually stop Mr G and friends from playing, TBH
So it’s that time of year again. Well, it’s that time of year again, for the first time. For me at least. I’ve moved to London and Edinburgh is just round the corner, so to speak. You can barely nip into the pub
for a refreshing summer beverage to shelter from the rain without someone harassing you to come to a comedy show. This is what known as the preview. While it offers plenty opportunity for the come-to-my-show type bothering that’s the main activity of the Scotland’s premier comedy festival (might as well call itself that), it also offers what most folk call rehearsal for the primary reason for being there. Gone are the days of the well honed act making it’s way to North Athens, these days it’s where the work is debuted and fine tuned before the ‘proper’ gigs. Before this it is the preview. Where the comedian tries the show out on a crowd and ascertains what works and not, before the long schlep to Reekie. So, a work in progress. It’s be unfair to be overly critical, wouldn’t it? Well it might if we weren’t asked to pay or the privilege of being guinea pigs. You take our money, we become a paying audience. Of course, these shows are usually buttons to get into, and we know that what’s on offer is not being presented as a complete show. So, baring that in mind…
Susan Calman would’ve first come to my attention back in the day when Radio Scotland‘s morning line-up was pretty much unmissable. A mixture of my changing work practices and some dreadful, dreadful ideas from the schedulers changed this. But, not to worry as La Calman has been going from strength to strength. Pretty much a regular on the News Quiz, and appearing more and more on the tellybox. Definitely a name in the ascendance.
This Lady’s Not for Turning Either deals with her recent marriage, sorry, civil partnership. Covering everything from the massive disappointment of coming out to her parents, through getting the right bridesmaids dresses for your cats, to the ultimate souring of the wedding by the legal definition that they are not actually married. All with The Proclaimers running through your head via a Derren Brown style jedi trick.
If I’m honest, I’d have to say that the show kicked the ass of many a ‘complete’ one I’ve caught even in the later stages o the Fringe. Some serious belly laughs, balance wonderfully with the right level of emotion and just indignity. All delivered in a brilliantly casual and deceptively beguiling manner. I might even try and fit this in if I manage it up the road at all this year. And, not just because she offered us all a ticket to the full show.
Canadian Phil Nichol played Terry Gilliam in Holy Flying Circus. WE WILL NOT HOLD THIS AGAINST HIM! Rants is pretty well titled. It is a series of diatribes presented in flowing crescendos of spleen. Nichol suffers from still being on the book. I ind myself turning from the stage slightly in the hope of forgetting this. And, yes, it helps. (I am remembering it’s a preview.)
This is a much more ‘written’ piece. And, when it flies it reminds me very much of Denis Leary*. As it proceeds there are coughs, splutters and the odd hiccup – as can be expected. Some of the on stage editing begins to wear as he seems to be telling us he’s skipping the darker hard stuff because there wasn’t a big enough laugh for something else. It’s all part of the nature of these type of performances, I suppose. But, for the one that would benefit most by just barraging us, it begins to grate.
Enough fantastic stuff to have me looking forward to seeing the razor sharp version when it tours.
I know Chris McCausland‘s name. Can’t quite place why. Turns out he’s blind. Even when I factor that in, I can’t remember (if anyone can, let me know). Although, he’s never really made much of a song and dance about his handicap. Which is the starting point of his first show to address it; Not Blind Enough.
The title is from a comment the producer of a ‘popular panel show’ had made regarding a previous show. And, things have been on his mind ever since. From being offered a role in an all-handicapped sketch show through to whether or not there really is anything to celebrate in the Paralympics (just because I’m the world’s greatest blind driver, doesn’t mean we should be cheering whenever I get behind the wheel). It’s uncomfortable at times, thought-provoking and damned, damned funny.
In the preview mode, he bemoans it not coming to a conclusion. But, i felt it was there. Maybe it just needs pinned down. Again, I’ll be trying to see this show again.
With Talking Cock: The Second Coming, Richard Herring gives us as close to the full experience of his Edinburgh show by desperately trying to squeeze an old ninety minute show into an hour. This time, having unearthed his Jesus show last year, it’s the willy show this time. Billed as the male version of the Vagina Monologues, or a salute to the honourable member for Fuckinghamshire, Herring mixes a survey he has carried out with some worryingly in-depth research into the male penis (specifically – see the show if you need that explained).
There is a point where – when dealing with penis injuries – where Herring tells us about someone fainting when he got to this point the first time round. He REALLY HOPES THERE’S NO-ONE THAT SENSITIVE IN TONIGHT. Wink, wink. Cue a stooge in the audience slumping off their chair followed by some clumsy slapstick business of dubious taste. Kinda like the “Talking Cock around the world” parody section in the programme it an attempt at post-modernism just doesn’t seem to work.
Seriously, I don’t think there’s not enough euphemisms in there tonight. OK, it is very funny. And, I”ll probably catch it in Edinburgh. I still feel kinda beholding for all the free stuff this idiot produces throughout the year. And probably his Edinburgh Festival Podcast too.
*Anyone unfortunate enough to have spent time in the pub with me will know that I saw both No Cure For Cancer and Bill Hicks in Edinburgh. Until my dying day, I will insist the former was the better show.