Eating Around, Dirty Bones, Carnaby Street, London

American burger joints are forever having a modern makeover in a bid to convince Londoners that it’s classy fodder really. Whether that’s by creating at atmospheric ambience or transforming burgers into unrecognisable relations, traditional burger restaurants can be a bit hit or miss. However, when my good friend Charlotte recommended that we check out casual American inspired restaurant Dirty Bones, I was definitely up for some investigating, especially since their Carnaby Street venue is mere minutes away from my central London office.

Although we visited on a weekday, the very small size of the restaurant meant that we had a 45-minute wait before we would be able to get a table. Eyeing up the food through the windows, we surmised that the wait would most likely be worth it, so we went on a hunt for some pit stop wine clutching our bleeper that would alert us when our table was ready. When we finally made it in to the restaurant, I wouldn’t say the décor was anything unusual or special; plenty of dark wood, clashing coloured ceiling lights casting glows of light into the dimly lit ambience, duck egg grey adorning the walls. We were shown to a row of tables for two, were Charlotte took the wooden bench seat, and I sat in the dining chair opposite, just enough space between us and the tables either side of us so that it didn’t feel invasive.

We decided to start as we meant to go on by ordering a cocktail, and since we are both coffee-lovers, we had to sample Dirty Bones’ spiked iced coffee, an intriguing mixture of Courvoisier VS cognac, Mozart dark chocolate liqueur, triple espresso and cream, served in a long glass and topped with chocolate shavings. The alcohol hit was quite subtle for me, but it was certainly enjoyable and far too easy to gulp down in happy slurps, the coffee  and chocolate combo a clear winner in my book.

While we enjoyed our first round of cocktails, we perused the food menu. We opted to share a starter of cheeseburger dumplings as they just sounded so different and fantastic. Traditional Chinese-style gyoza dumplings, that were soft and pliable as you picked them up but had a slight crisp on the outside, were stuffed with your typical burger mince and melted cheese for an American- oriental cuisine fusion. Presented with Dirty Bones’ signature burger relish as a dipping sauce, I loved the originality of this dish – I had not seen anything like it before and I haven’t since. The homemade dumplings were really tasty, and had obviously been fried a little on the outside to give them a slightly different texture to the occasionally soggy typical gyoza. The mince inside was a tasty little meaty morsel, the melted cheese helping to combine the filling. The burger relish dip gave that accent of slightly spiced tomato to the whole dish, which helped to pep up the dumpling shells. These were light to eat and a unique way to whet the appetite.

For my main course, I couldn’t resist diving in and ordering The Mac Daddy. It was certainly a case of go big or go home with this bad boy, as the brisket and dry-aged steak burger was piled with pulled beef short rib and lashings of luridly hued mac and cheese, BBQ sauce oozing around every edge and the sesame seed-adorned brioche bun top balancing very delicately atop the meat and cheese mountain. Served on a small, round grey plate, the burger looked delicious as the mac and cheese run gooeily down the sides of the meat. The mini pasta tubes were cooked perfectly – I don’t really do al dente – and the cheese sauce was strong and flavourful; I imagine typical American cheese was used to get the more vibrant orange-yellow hue. The cheese doused meat was also lovely and really thick and decadent. It was juicy, tender and made me feel like a complete carnivore.

The one thing that I feel is a bit of a con here, is that no sides are included with any of the main dishes. The main dishes are literally just the meat. So the plate with my burger, and just my burger, was the main meal. A burger main meal in the majority of other restaurants would include at least chips, and then perhaps you would order additional sides, for example some onion rings. However, Dirty Bones are cheeky here, slapping London’s premium prices on all of their side dishes, knowing you have to order one so that you can actually have a full meal. Despite my raised eyebrow at this rather underhand tactic, I order the cheesy truffle fries. These were basically French fries that were covered in a cheese sauce, which featured cheddar, aged parmesan and white truffle oil. Undoubtedly, the truffle was the star of the show here. I absolutely love truffle, and will pretty much order anything with truffle included. Luckily for me, truffle was the predominant flavour here, the cheeses merely acting as a gooey and creamy conduit and background flavour to the lovely, yummy truffle. I daydreamed about this truffle-centric sauce for days after my visit. No lie.

Since Charlotte was a smidge too full for a proper dessert course, we settled on another round of cocktails instead. This time I selected the grown-ups jaffa, which combined two of my favourite flavours of chocolate and orange and paired it with alcohol. #Winning! Featuring tequila, dark chocolate liqueur, orange syrup, chocolate bitters and a marmalade ice cube to top it off, this short drink was served in a tumbler, which to be honest, I always find a bit too small for cocktails. Nevertheless, I loved the flavours, which slowly got punchier the more I drank! Both the chocolate and orange flavours came through really nicely in the smooth liqueur style beverage, and I have to say the marmalade ice cube was a stroke of genius. It helped slowly add a sticky sweetness to the drink to counterbalance the chocolate and meant that drink constantly had an undulating flavour, which I quite liked. To be honest, I rather like jam in cocktails anyway as I find it really intensifies the flavour and adds a different tone.

I enjoyed my evening at Dirty Bones and would recommend it as a venue for the hard-core burger lovers among you. It wasn’t the most affordable of venues, although that might be down to the cocktails, however I thought the non-inclusion of sides with something as traditional as a burger meal was just a shade too underhand. The cocktail menu was very extensive and literally had something for everyone, with some very unique combinations. The atmosphere is perfect for hooking up with friends and having a natter, as it is very relaxed, comfortable and casual. The service was also good and the waiting staff were very friendly and chatty.

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Eating Around: Duck and Waffle, Bishopsgate, London

Standing at the bottom of Bishopgate’s Heron Tower, staring awkwardly up at 42 floors of sheer, streamlined glass, it is easy to see why Duck and Waffle has been escalated up the ranks when it comes to fine dining and being a tourist must-see, yet all the while still nabbing an elusive spot in the heart of Londoners. Since its introduction to London’s elite restaurant roster, I have literally been gagging to eat at Duck and Waffle. Although its prices are as sky-high as the venue itself, my sister Jess and I had carefully squirreled away our birthday money, in order to award ourselves a proper foodie treat and finally quench our curiosity thirst regarding the imposingly awe-inspiring restaurant.

As soon as we arrived outside the Heron Tower, I could barely contain my excitement as we hot-footed it down a red-roped off queue, my heels tucking tidily into a pathway of red carpet. Once inside, we were immediately greeted with a foyer of lifts, all busily zooming hungry diners up and down to either Duck and Waffle on the 42nd floor, or to Japanese restaurant Sushi Samba, or its bar area, on floors 41 and 43. Entering the lift, the iconic Duck and Waffle emblem indicated the button for the 42nd floor, so we eagerly watched as the doorman pushed the button and sent us on our way. One side of the lift was completely clear, thick glass, affording the most magical views of London falling away at your feet as you rose higher and higher into the skyline of the capital. Tearing your view left and right, there was so much to see, especially as we visited in August, so the dusky summer evening light seemed to paint the city a rosy gold just for our special twin date.

Emerging on the 42nd floor, we were shown into the bar area to wait until our table was ready. All of the external walls were floor to ceiling and completely clear, enabling those stunning cityscape views to simply flood every nook and granny of the interior. The décor of the bar was so simplistic – very city chic – however it really didn’t need anything else. Even one hint of obtrusive decoration would have clashed with the sheer grandeur of having the sky of London at what feels like touching distance.  I loved the collection of empty jam jars hanging in a circular ornament from the ceiling, while the white and blue patterned floor reminded me of fancy china. Splashes of deep red paint added to the oriental vibe, while the completely open bar area, that saw waiters make and serve drinks from the outside of the stainless steel bar rather than behind it,  only added to the immense feelings of spaciousness.

The restaurant itself was again very simple, but with every wall a sheer showcase from which to view London, the décor had to be minimal. Mustard yellow waves covered the ceiling in a woven effect, while simple wooden tables and rustic painted wooden chairs helped to tone down the drama of the cityscape. Our table was incredible; we were pocketed in an alcove right in the corner of the room, so right next to the window-wall. We had vast views to my left, and behind me, I could even spot the spear of the BT tower piercing the clouds. It was simply sensational and very literally took my breath away. My eyes hungrily gnawed at every view and every angle I could consume, my fingers flicking rapidly to take photos. Everything was just so beautiful and just really slammed home to me why I love my capital as much as I do.

As if the stunning scenery wasn’t enough to compel a visit, we were then given the menu. We started by picking a wine, settling on a sweet and fruity Portuguese white wine. We chose this partly because it sounded lovely, and partly because it was the cheapest wine on the menu at £32 a bottle. At Duck and Waffle, service is everything, so we were greeted by our personal sommelier for the evening, who was in charge of ensuring our glasses stayed topped up at all times. He offered advice on what the Portuguese wine tasted like when we asked, and I think I accidentally gave the man a heart attack when I attempted to refill my wine glass myself later on in the evening. Rookie error on my part to be fair. The wine was slipping down very nicely, so we then turned out attention to the food.

We decided to order a few small plates to share as a starter. We kicked this off with a spicy ox cheek doughnut, which came to the table as a large circular doughnut that looked more like a scotch egg, sitting in a pool of pale brown sauce. Cutting it open however, revealed its true magic. The bulging centre of the doughnut was filled with masses of pulled ox cheek that had been cooked in a collection of Indian or Moroccan style spices to give it a wonderfully warming and rich flavour. The dark meat was delicious and enhanced by the addition of a lovely apricot jam that helped marry the spices together with a lovely sweetness. The dough of the doughnut, so to speak, was thick, soft and divine; it was even coated in a smoked paprika sugar for that traditional doughnut finish. The sauce mirrored the spices used with the ox cheek to produce something sweet and spicy. I loved dunking chunks of the bare edge of doughnut into the sauce, the sugar crunching and the doughnut absorbing the yummy sauce. A very decent size portion too.

The next starter to be ready and therefore presented to the table tapas-style, was yellowfin tuna. The small, raw pink cubes of fish were tossed together with picked watermelon, mustard, olive and basil for something incredibly light and zingy; a complete contrast to the depth of the doughnut before it. I’m not usually a fish fan, especially when it comes to raw fish, however this tuna was so smooth, so soft and so delicate, I couldn’t believe what I was eating. It felt and tasted like very tender cooked meat, but fresher. Surprisingly lovely this one for me.

For our third sharing plate, we chose the nduja and gruyere bread. Wowsers, this was impressive when it arrived at the table, sat atop a big wooden chopping board that was armed with a decent bread knife. The bread itself was a round cottage-style loaf; rustic and crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy whiteness on the inside. However, melted on top of the bread was a generous layer of diced spicy salami, with sheets of the gruyere cheese melted over the top to stick it to the bread. Jess cut the loaf into chunky quarters and we dove in. It was great that the salami flavour inundated the bread so much flavour wise, and the topping also added another texture to the bread to really give it punch. The nduja is notoriously spicy, so it was hot, but paired with the bread, it worked really well together. So soft and yummy.

Coming to Duck and Waffle, it was pretty much a given that our main course would be, yep you guessed it, the restaurant’s trademark duck and waffle dish. This included a gorgeously crispy-skinned confit duck leg, sat atop half of a round waffle. A fried duck egg sprinkled with rock salt perched on top of the duck meat, while a small jug next to the waffle held a mustard flavoured maple syrup. This dish is so elegant, yet homely and just was heaven to eat, it really was. The yolk of my egg burst merrily and continued to flood seductively across my plate, while I poured the syrup carefully over my waffle, its indents rapidly filling with the sweet yet fiery nectar. Every element of the dish was sheer perfection alone; combined it had my tastebuds celebrating with fireworks and shaking hands in congratulations. The duck was superb with tender, dark meat and a crunchy crisp skin, while the waffle was soft and sweet by comparison. The gooey egg was a great addition to help combine the flavours, and the syrup gave a nod to waffle’s sweeter, breakfast like past. What a dish. We also ordered a side of sweet potatoes, which were served with a crème fraiche sauce peppered with fermented black chilli, mint and capers. Yummy and something very different too.

Reclining in a very happy food coma state, we still had room to order dessert, and there was no way I was passing up the chance to chow down on the salted caramel choux bun, which featured a smoked hazelnut cream. The choux bun was stunning when it arrived at the table; a decadent dome covered in dark chocolate and topped with a luscious swirl of caramel cream that was studding with crispy caramel wafers. Served alongside a scoop of caramel ice cream, I dug in to the bun, and was delighted to find hiding inside the chocolate a delicious choux and a very luxurious and almost running salted caramel sauce along with the cream. It was traditional sweet flavours but they had been combined in a slightly differently way for an upmarket take on a classic dessert. I loved it and polished off my plate easily.

With some of our second bottle of wine left to drink, we were asked to leave our table for the next diners. The waiting staff informed us they had reserved us seats in the bar, so we headed back there. Turns out the seats that had been saved for us were bar stools perched next to a bar style ledge that was against one of the glass walls. As we sat down, we could see the Gherkin directly opposite us, and it was great seeing a slightly different view to the ones we had enjoyed over our dinner.

We decided that after our wine we should certainly sample a cocktail before we headed home, especially as Duck and Waffle has a very unique ‘origins’ cocktail menu, where each drink is focused around a predominant flavour. I decided to try the ‘lime’ cocktail; this was served long and included lime leaf Bombay Sapphire gin, discarded lime husk cordial, lime juice, egg white and lime ash. It was so lovely, the lime was fresh and tangy yet not really in your face or harsh in any way. It was an elegant celebration of the little green citrus fruit, the egg whites softening the edges of lime that could potentially have been too bitter. Very classy.

For me, Duck and Waffle is without a doubt my favourite restaurant that I have ever been to so far. Not only is its food creative yet simple, and executed perfectly to deliver the ultimate in flavour and taste, the whole experience of Duck and Waffle is just sensational. Its escapism yet reality; quality and luxury and opulence a stone’s throw from the commuter babble. It was prestigious, oozing that snazzy London class that encompasses elegance emulated but with a jaunty chip on its shoulder too. It was just a wonderful, wonderful evening that I will never forget.

A word to the wise though, I’m very glad I saved my birthday money for this super special outing. Splitting the bill, Jess and I paid £90 each for our treat, and although I would say it is worth every single penny, it’s certainly not something the majority of us can look to do regularly.

Homeward Bound: Osteria Due Fratelli, Hornchurch, Essex

I’d been meaning to visit Osteria Due Fratelli for quite a while before I finally got around to booking a table. It always looked so welcoming, the family-run restaurant painted an alluringly inviting shade of post box red. As an independent Italian restaurant amidst the sea of nearby chain eateries such as Ask, Wildwood and Prezzo, I was also interested to see what Osteria Due Fratelli could possibly bring to the plate that could successfully hold up against these big, pizza-swinging rivals.

Inside, Osteria Due Fratelli continues the family-run vibe, with the décor reminding me of a country style kitchen. The bold splashes of iconic red were still present and correct, paired with a bright white, and finished with photographs in both black and white as well as colour, the frames eclectic and in different shapes and sizes.  The chairs had a worn and rustic look with a muted whitewash, paired against a hodgepodge of different sized tables in a variety of shapes and wood shades. My friends from my badminton club and I visited on a Saturday evening, so the atmosphere was bustling with the majority of the tables taken, however there wasn’t a rushed feel at all. It had the ambience of enjoyment, of friends relaxing together and revelling in each other’s company, of stretching a meal out because conversation is flowing.

We sat down at a rectangular table for four and ordered a bottle of house red to share. Despite just being the house beverage, it was a lovely red wine with a smooth consistency and a medium body that was fruity and not too heavy to drink. While we were musing the menu, a basket of rustic ciabatta style bread was brought to the table, the loaf cut into medium thick slices. With olive oil and balsamic vinegar already sitting on our table with the other condiments, I saw it as very necessary to pool first the oil and then the vinegar on top on my bread plate, before dunking my slice decadently in the slick on my side plate. This is one of my favourite things to do so having the bread brought to the table without prompting or asking was a nice added extra. The bread itself was very Italian, with a dark, chewy crust and a spongey, hole-filled centre – perfect for absorbing all the lovely oil.

Having loaded up on bread, I decided to skip starter, and focus my attention instead on main courses. Feeling in a pasta mood, I opted for the rigatoni amatriciana, which featured wide, cylindrical white pasta in a tomato, Napoli based sauce, finished off with pancetta, onions, red wine, basil, parmesan and pecorino cheeses.

Firstly I was pleased by the portion size; sometimes pasta plates come up minutely small for a main meal and it can be very frustrating to fish around for your pieces of pasta while your companions are spearing a gutsy steak. So tick there for portion size. Next up, I liked the fact that the pancetta was cut into chunky cube-like strips. Pancetta can be served in niggly little cubes that aren’t worth the chasing in pasta sauces, however the pancetta in this meal was really something you could get your teeth stuck in to and enjoy. It was also nice and lean with a real gammon flavour, so that’s a thumbs up for me. The tomato sauce was pretty standard to be honest with you, and I wouldn’t say it had anything majorly different to traditional tomato sauces from other Italian restaurants. Combined, it was a really lovely pasta dish and I it certainly hit my pasta craving nicely.

Dessert couldn’t be anything else other than tiramisu to be honest with you. As we ordered more red wine, I got stuck in to my large, rectangular portion. Tiramisu is one of those desserts that will be completely different in every, single restaurant that you eat it in, and Osteria Due Fratelli’s version was very cakey, with the creamy mascarpone being quite dense. Sprinkled with cocoa powder and drizzled with a sticky, dark chocolate sauce, this coffee dessert is always a nice conclusion to a meal, especially when you get a generous portion like this one.

Now, since I was out for a birthday meal with friends from my badminton club, we may have been a bit looser with the alcohol than normal. We completely indulged, ordering expresso martinis that arrived in unusually shaped cocktail glasses, the hard-hitting coffee flavoured cocktail delivering on expectations there. Furthermore, we also ordered liquor coffees, the rich black coffee underneath steeped in our alcohol of choice before being topped with a silky, flat layer of cold cream. I continued my coffee theme and opted for Tia Maria in mine. After another round of wine, the restaurant brought us over limoncello shots, this feisty, firepowered lemon flavoured liquor succeeding once more to blow my socks off!

As we continued the evening drinking in the restaurant rather than moving on to a bar, our bill was obviously more expensive as a result. We ended up paying around £45 per person, which I don’t think was too bad in the grand scheme of things bearing in mind how much we had to drink overall! The food itself was very reasonably priced; one member of our group had a ribeye steak main course which was £16. After arriving at 7pm, we were the last to leave the restaurant at nearly midnight, almost being kicked out by staff as they finished stacking seats and taking off aprons. For a relaxed and uncomplicated evening out, give Osteria Due Fratelli a go. The food wasn’t mind-blowing and the service was patchy due to the restaurant being busy, however the food was nice and the atmosphere is really relaxed.

Eating Around: Banana Tree, Soho, London

Mulling over where to take my mum for her birthday dinner before visiting the theatre in London, my sister and I decided we had to pick somewhere with an Asian cuisine style feel, as this is her favourite type of food. We also wanted to pick somewhere quirky, that none of us had been to before and that wouldn’t take too long as we had to be at the theatre for a set time. When I spotted Indonesian venue Banana Tree near my office in Soho, it pretty much hit the nail on the head. I was really intrigued to see whether we would enjoy the food and whether it would match up to our expectations.

img_0373Firstly, the restaurant had a really great atmosphere to it, although that could have had something to do with happy hour. Selected cocktails were included, so when I arrived at the table, my sister had already generous ordered me two tequila sunrises, straws pointedly waving in my direction. What can I say, I just can’t resist that lovely orange to red gradient of the orange juice combined with the berry flavoured grenadine. Oh and I like the tequila too… The cocktails that were included in the happy hour offer were your standard choices and there wasn’t anything unusual or out there on the cocktail menu. It was all about making diners happy with old, faithful favourites that you can come back to, time and time again.

Thinking I should probably have some food with the lashings of alcohol, I decided to go for something that was hailed the ‘king of curries’ on the menu, the legendary rending, made using beef. This slow cooked dish is an Indonesian speciality and I have to say, it knocked my socks off. The large beef chunks were well cooked and so tender that they flaked easily, almost as if you were preparing pulled beef. The sauce was a sticky and plentiful pile of dark brown that had a much spicier kick than you would imagine, especially considering that the sauce has a coconut base! It was fragrant and nutty with a warm kick, the wonderful aromatic flavours fully infusing the beef for a well-rounded and moreish flavour.

img_0374I decided to ‘combo’ my main course which meant that it came with an array of sides rather than me just picking one side. This included a crunchy house salad, complete with roasted nuts for extra flavour as well as sweet corn cakes, which I absolutely loved. They reminded me a bit of an onion bharji, as they had that same crispy, fried exterior, yet the inside was wonderfully soft and also sweet because of the vegetables used. These were a lot tastier than I imagined, although the large prawn cracker that also came with the dish was really nice too and very helpful for dunking in my curry sauce. The final side included in the combo was aromatic spiced rice, which was basically a plain white rice that didn’t compete too much with the strong flavours of my curry.

Although it doesn’t look like a massive portion, this meal was very filling. The curry was the star of the show with big, bold and powerful flavours, that wiped the floor of my sides. The different components of the side dishes worked really well with the main meat dish and acted as the perfect accompaniments to really bring out and accentuate the flavour combinations. It was a well thought out and creative dish. I have never really dabbled in Indonesian food before, but this has definitely whet my appetite to try some more. I loved the presentation of the dish too – it reminded me of sunshine and beaches with the big palm fronds and mounds of crushed nuts.

The modern interior of the restaurant made an average Wednesday feel like the weekend, and although the décor wasn’t really that memorable, the menu and cocktails certainly were. The staff were lovely and although the prices are a little expensive for my taste, I still really enjoyed the food on offer.

Eating Around: Roadhouse, Covent Garden, London

Strawberry Daiquiri and Mojito

Strawberry Daiquiri and Mojito

Covent Garden on a Saturday night is a complete hive of excitable and anticipatory energy; al fresco diners sipping large wine glasses, groups of girls tip toeing in their heels across the uneven cobbled square, the night young and full of the promise of fun. My destination was the versatile bar, club and restaurant Roadhouse, almost snuggled in an unobtrusive corner of the plaza, the gothic grey stone entrance leading downwards into a basement, the neon flashing red ‘Roadhouse’ juxtaposing with the Notre Dame-esque outer structure.

Heading down the stairs, my first thought when I looked up was wow. Firstly, Roadhouse is massive and really nicely laid out. From my vantage point on the bottom stair, I could see across the whole floor plan. A square bar area sat on a platform in the middle of the room, easily accessible for all. Around the raised bar area where typical American diner style seating, plush red stools tucked neatly under high rounded red tables, more of this style of seating clustered around the edge of the gleaming wooden floors. A DJ booth was in the far left, next to the group eating area, where long rectangular tables were decked out in child- like red paper tablecloths, with simple fold up chairs provided.

Potato Skins

Potato Skins

The décor was really striking, bringing a slice of retro America slap bang into the middle of a pulsing London atmosphere. Light up pin ball machines rattled energetically by the bar, whilst iconic American logos hung from the walls and ceiling, for example, a glowing ‘Route 66’ sign and neon slogan signs with rock and roll statements such as ‘Drugs’. The lighting was dim and tinged with red, the constant American references consistent and incredibly stylish. The whole vibe of Roadhouse was completely addictive, every aspect of the venue seemed well thought out and compiled and you couldn’t help but look around with awe, almost like Charlie when first seeing the chocolate factory. Roadhouse oozed fun, so it was very apt that we were attending a friend’s birthday bash there.

Outside Roadhouse

Outside Roadhouse

Our friend had booked a table for about 13 people, so we headed towards the back of the room to find the table and took up seats near the end. The party food offer is actually a complete bargain in my book. You could nab yourself a starter, a main course and a cocktail for a mere £18.95, and with cocktails priced at £7 each, this seemed more than reasonable to me. The food was all classic American fodder, so suitable for every style of taste bud, even with a few healthier options thrown in too for good measure. Although toying with the breadcrumbed and baked camembert, I settled on the loaded potato skins in the end for my starter and I am so glad that I did as it was probably the best potato skins I have ever had. Cut into quirky triangles, the three pieces of potato were heavily loaded with melting and oozing cheddar and formed attractive strings as I attempted to cut into it. Scattered with decent sized cubes of bacon, and dunked in the sour cream provided, it was really delicious. The cheese was wonderful and soft, the potato perfectly cooked and the skins not too crunchy, so just how I like it. I nicked a bite of Jess’s calamari which was also tasty, although I preferred my choice.

The Works Burger

The Works Burger

Main course had me mulling for a bit longer. I couldn’t decide whether to sample salmon for the first time with their Cajun style offering served with mash, or whether to go healthy with the Louisiana style hot grilled chicken breast. However, there was one item on the menu that was simply calling me, so there was nothing for it but to go for The Works Burger, served with chips and a side salad garnish. As the name suggests, this was no ordinary burger. The prime steak burger was stacked with a huge slice of smoked bacon, an accompanying slice of cheddar cheese, sautéed mushrooms as well as caramelised onion. Served in a glazed sesame seed dusted bun my mouth literally watered when I saw this bad boy. The beef of the burger was scrumptious – it was so juicy and natural, you could tell the quality by the first bite as the rich juices ran messily down your fingers. The bacon added an extra hit of meaty flavour to enhance the beef, whilst the mushroom and onion both add depth to the beef. Lettuce and tomato zinged up the heavy burger to refresh it and I will admit that I had to cut it in half so that I could tackle it easily. The chips were also yummy, medium in size with a crunchy, vaguely oily exterior that hinted that they had been freshly fried. Soft on the inside with an attractive golden crunch on the outside – you can’t ask for more when it comes to a decent chip. The side salad was also nice, just simple with some lettuce, tomato and cucumber with a drizzle of some sort of Caesar or French dressing. Cracking open the ketchup, I heartily got stuck in to my main course, and I absolutely loved every mouthful that I devoured greedily. Definitely the right choice by far. Jess opted for the salmon, which did look smaller than my portion, although it was well cooked and she enjoyed her choice.

Screaming Orgasm and Raspberry Daiquiri

Screaming Orgasm and Raspberry Daiquiri

The cocktails at Roadhouse are quite simply legendary, and I think I sampled the majority before the night was out. Roadhouse uniquely have some form of happy hour every evening between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, so with an eye on the time, we swiftly ordered as many drinks as we could. When we first arrived and before ordering food, Jess and I decided to start the night off with a Porn Storm, a vanilla vodka concoction, with passion fruit liqueur and juice as well as some Cava. Served in a tall glass with a decorative wedge of passion fruit, this definitely set the right tone for the evening. With our food, I chose the Raspberrylicious, which was refreshing raspberry vodka paired with fresh raspberries, Chambord, lemon juice, sugar syrup and lemonade. Nice and light to have over food so I enjoyed that one. Next I went for one decidedly more decadent – the Cookies ‘n’ Cream. I really enjoy a creamy, chocolate cocktail so when I saw the ingredients that compromised this cocktail, my eyes lit up. Luckily for me it didn’t disappoint, being a lovely silky texture full of a subtle punchy back note whilst being soft and easy to drink. This one contained Brugal Blanco and dark cacao with cookie syrup and chocolate sauce. I also managed to sneak in two types of Daiquiri – both the strawberry and raspberry versions, which were both divine and I am almost tempted to say my favourite choices of the night. These frozen cocktails would have given an amateur brain freeze but I handled the Brugal Blanco rum nicely as it was blended with the fresh fruit.

Inside Roadhouse

Inside Roadhouse

Once we moved from the eating table to the dance table, I went for another creamy choice – sniggering as Jess went to order me a Screaming Orgasm, containing vodka, Disaronno amaretto, Kahlua, Baileys and cream. Served in a tall glass with a suggestive swirl of whipped cream topped with a cheeky cherry, this one was another of my favourites as it was so lovely. It had a seductive nutty vibe and an almost dessert, sundae-like feel to it that felt very indulgent. It contained pretty much all of my favourite luxury boozes, so this one was definite winner for me as well.

Raspberrylicious

Raspberrylicious

I have to confess I was very impressed by Roadhouse, and even now Jess and I are stroking our chins contemplatively about whether or not to have our birthday shindig come March here. It is fabulously all inclusive with something for everyone. Guys will be more than happy with the simplistic and high quality all American food, with burgers, hot dogs, chicken and ribs galore. Your girlfriends on the other hand will be super impressed with the high calibre cocktail menu, offering a bedazzling choice of some of the delicious cocktails I have ever sampled in my life. All beautifully presented, and actually tasting of alcohol instead of fruit juice, they seriously were the best cocktails I have had, and at £7 a pop, really reasonable for central London, especially in such a social hive such as Covent Garden. The party deal is a bargain, and the music was awesome too, with some throwback 80’s and 90’s soft rock mixed with modern tunes to provide the perfect sing-a-long soundtrack for a good night out. Come 10.00pm, they even introduce a live band on to the stage to perform cover tracks, keeping the theme of the music so you can’t help but have your toes tapping and your head bopping. Fantastically electric yet comfortable atmosphere, with every aspect ticking my boxes. Probably the best venue I have come across for a group gathering where everyone can enjoy the night out, so that is a massive advantage. I’m looking forward to returning!

Porn Storm

Porn Storm

Cajun Salmon

Cajun Salmon

Hidden Extra: East Coast Social, Southend, Essex

Inside East Coast Social

Inside East Coast Social

When my fiancé and I visited my sister in popular seaside town Southend, I knew that a mere change of location would not dampen her fervour for finding swanky and intriguing venues to indulge in her cocktail cravings – you could take the girl out of London, but she was going to drag her London lifestyle with her. Having discovered a bar come restaurant that oozed casual class she was eager to take us there, so we entered East Coast Social all anticipation, as we went for cocktails before our dinner at Maya’s World Buffet.

Upon entering, I completely agreed with Jess that East Coast Social took the swagger from the city and slapped it centrally in Southend, on the beginning stretch of the high street. Really roomy on the inside, the layout is cleverly done, with long picnic bench style seating suitable for larger groups, whilst trios of art deco bucket chairs clustered decoratively around circular hammered metal bistro tables for smaller parties wishing to sip wine. Alcoves were well used with sofa and table seating accompanied by cow pattern cube seats, whilst tall tables with matching high chairs framed the windows looking out onto the pavement.

The bar

The bar

While presenting an eclectic mismatch of pretty much everything, East Coast Social had the appearance of one of those innately stylish people, who can just throw anything together and still look pretty damn awesome. Bare brickwork was juxtaposed with large old fashioned seaside scenes of ladies in tasteful one pieces, the random splashes of colour popping out of the predominantly black and white art work. A vibrant red telephone box stood proudly by our small table, next to a flight of stairs which led to a quieter dining area. The wood panelled bar took up a large portion of the back wall, red neon scrawled lettering illuminating the venue’s name against more dusky brickwork. East Coast Social was distinctive and stylish; your head constantly switching round trying to take everything in. Suitably impressed by both the cool atmosphere and the city styling, it was time to see if the drinks menu was up to snuff.

Although they offered a delicious mix of foods, including a classic burger, we were strictly there for drinks only. The happy hour offer on cocktails was three for £15, which was quite a good price considering the normal charge was just under the £8 mark. Three is a bit of an awkward number though, so Jess ordered her two choices, whilst I put in my request. Designated driver Dan had to stick with the soft stuff, opting for his favoured coke.

l-r: Mojito, Purple Rain and White Russian

l-r: Mojito, Purple Rain and White Russian

The cocktail selection was nice and varied, with a mix of traditional favourites such as cosmos and mojitos as well as more unusual ones that you don’t always see as often – for example Jess’s first choice Purple Rain, which seemed to be a vodka, lychee and cherry like concoction that came up a suave mauve in colour, served in a tall glass with summer berries balanced delicately against the rim. I also went for something that you don’t always see on the menu, a white Russian – a rather decadent drink featuring coffee liqueur Kahlua, vodka and luxurious lashings of cream. Jess’s second cocktail choice was the minty mojito, a refreshing favourite of hers.

The bartender painstakingly created our cocktails with such tender love and attention to detail it almost seemed a shame to guzzle them. The alcoholic mix of punchy espresso coffee tones paired with the deep smack of vodka sunk straight to the bottom of my glass, ice cubes in the centre acting as a dam to the pure white cream on top of the wide tumbler. Crunchy coffee beans were scattered thoughtfully on top, providing a great colour contrast against the pale white with their rich brown hues. Carefully reminding me to mix it together before sipping, the bartender promptly moved on to his next piece of alcohol laden artwork, the mojito. Stacks of mashed up ice formed the base, the liquid laced with whole mint leaves, although the crowning glory was undoubtedly the ice basket on the top, which held a generous wedge of lime as well as a bunch of the potent mint. More lime was squished inside the packed ice, adding extra zest. The purple rain was probably the most standard appearance wise, doing the usual fruit on the rim of the glass thing, however the loud and unusual colour gave it some extra va va voom.

Jess and Dan by the telephone box

Jess and Dan by the telephone box

I must say, I adored the white Russian. I am quite a fan of coffee or chocolate based cocktails, often favouring creamy flavours, much to the frustration of my waistline. I really loved the way the cream provided a silky and thick base for the expensive and alluring Kahlua, which came across strongly due to the undertone of vodka. I couldn’t help but eat most of my ice cubes too, as I couldn’t stand to see them coated in the white of the leftover cream and to have that tiny bit wasted! It was almost dessert like in it yumminess as well as being filling, acting like an appetiser for my main meal. It was delicious and on the whole, East Coast Social has a fantastic vibe for being one of the best cocktail bars. It may be out in the sticks slightly but it is well worth a visit, although you may want to check your bank balance beforehand, as they have mimicked London prices as well the city’s trademark retro cool.