Monday, 24 November 2014

Tequila; It Makes Me Happy

I'm willing to admit that I much prefer going out to quieter places these days. I've never had amazing hearing but shouting "pardon" over and over again or pretending that I'd heard what a person had said when I hadn't became rather tiresome. When I meet up with friends, I like to be able to have a proper conversation and catch up with all the gossip. Well, at least for the first few hours...I'm not adverse to moving on to somewhere a little more lively later on when a few drinks have been enjoyed and everyone's voices have got naturally louder! But before that time, it's all about those great venues that can capture atmosphere without the ridiculously loud music. 

Yes I know I sound old.

  I had a feeling I was going to love Mexican bar and restaurant El Nivel before I'd even arrived. It looked the real deal from what I'd seen online; authentic, intimate but trendy. Based on the amazing reviews, they would definitely know what they were talking about when it came to all things tequila and tequila is a drink I've recently grown a bit of a fancy for.

My friend Alexa was running late because of disruption on the tubes but luckily for me, El Nivel was an ideal place to be left on my own with a forty minute wait on my hands. It was lively but not noisy and I was given a nice little candle-lit table right next to a window where I could merrily peer into the flats opposite. Nosey neighbour - maybe - but it passed some of the time!

 I also poked my nose into the corporate tequila tasting lesson going on at the table next to me.

Alexa told me to order myself a drink on her while I waited so that I did. I decided upon the 'Lost Steps' - a blend of Ocho Blanco tequila, sweet cardamom tea cordial and Chartreuse Elixir (a vegetal liqueur). 

Many write-off tequila as almost a dangerous drink associated with falling over, crying and awful hangovers; just a shot you down with salt and lemon on a inevitably messy night out. This delicate concoction showed that the above doesn't have to be the case at all. It was sweet, light and easy to drink. 

So easy to drink in fact that I had another soon after Alexa arrived!

Another fantastic tequila drink I tried was the sangrita. Not to be confused with the Spanish wine-and-fruit based drink sangria, a sangrita (meaning "little blood") is a traditional accompaniment to a neat shot of tequila; a non-alcoholic tomato and orange juice sipper that cleanses the palate between each fiery dose of agave.

If you enjoy a Bloody Mary and getting tipsy quickly, you'll definitely enjoy a sangrita! 

There are also long drinks on the menu if that's more your thing. Alexa - who's not usually a tequila fan - loved the colourful El Furibundo; a herbaceous sipper of winter berries, pomegranate and hibiscus. 

After a couple of hours chatting and sipping, we decided to turn our attention to the tapas menu; small plates inspired by Latin cuisine, especially Mexican. 

We chose the deliciously naughty Pork Belly Chicharones (pork crackling with teriyaki, sambal & sesame seed sauce), Tres Chiles Colorados (beef cubes in a three chilli sauce, huitlacoche cream & mezcal on the side) and the Portobello Road Mushrooms (baked mushrooms, sun-dried tomato sauce with Portobello Road gin & topped with Taleggio cheese). 

Fiery, flavorsome and each dish wonderfully unique. The food was almost as good as the drinks! I particularly enjoyed the mushroom dish which tasted like a smaller, spicier veggie lasagne. That melted cheese on top was heavenly. 

We ended up staying in El Nivel much longer than originally planned but we just didn't want to leave! The service was great and the barman was so informative when helping us choose our drinks. There really is something for everyone, even if you think you don't like tequila.

 Eventually, we tore ourselves away and headed across the road to the Covent Garden institution that is The Porterhouse pub. Happily for me, it was pretty lively but quiet enough for me to hear everything that was being said.

Or after all that tequila, had our voices just got louder...?

Friday, 21 November 2014

A Cool New Way To Pre-Theatre: Marcus Wareing's Tredwell's

Tredwell's is a new Marcus Wareing restaurant that's recently opened in the heart of London's Theatreland. I had tickets booked to see Neville's Island at the Duke of York's Theatre so my invitation to give this stylish new eatery a go couldn't have been more perfect as they're about a one minute's walk away from each other. I'd seen lots of positive chatter and mouth-watering food pics on social media in the lead up to my visit so I arrived feeling positive for a very decent meal.

Seven Dials looked so pretty lit up with colourful Christmas lights. Just under five weeks to go!!

We were greeted warmly on arrival and taken to a table at the front of the restaurant. Inside it's sleek and modern with a nicely relaxed atmosphere. 

Regular readers of mine might be aware that Mary and I will soon be jetting off to Las Vegas. As each of our livers and sleeping patterns will no doubt take something of a battering for those five days, we are being extra good in the lead up to our departure. My favourite alternative to having wine with dinner is sparkling water with loads of ice and a wedge of lemon in a wine glass - the wine glass being the most vital aspect. As you sip those bubbles you could almost forget that no alcohol is passing your lips. A placebo of sorts.


We took more time than usual mulling over the menu. I don't think there was one dish on there that I wouldn't have enjoyed. 

We decided to share some dishes to start off, choosing the chargrilled chicken with peanut sauce & cucumber chutney, harissa glazed aubergine with peanuts, coriander & chilli and - from the snacks - the courgette fritters with pine nut butter.

Look how wonderfully presented and colourful the dishes were

They tasted as good as they looked too. There were so many vibrant flavours and I loved the contrast of textures in all three dishes. The chef's generosity with the deliciously creamy peanut sauce was particularly appreciated! 

For main course, Mary chose the succulent-looking rib eye steak with pepper sauce and I went for confit duck with buttered cabbage. Our side dishes were the grilled broccoli with almond butter & anchovies and the kale slaw. Protein heaven and pleasingly low carb for me!

I can't remember the last time I had duck that was quite so tender; the meat was like silk! The cabbage was lovely too although I probably would have felt that my plate was missing something without the accompanying side dishes. I adored the perfectly cooked broccoli served on the bed of the creamy almond butter. 

Predictably, us good girls passed on dessert (which wasn't easy considering what was on offer) but did decide to sample a little cheese. Yummy, yummy cheese. We didn't have the bread, of course...

We won't be this boring in Vegas, promise!!

We both had a delicious meal at Tredwell's and it exceeded my expectations. Exciting food and a cool new venue for a night out with mates, a hot date or a pre-theatre meal like ours. We experienced lovely service too. Not much to fault really! 

Mary and I managed to have our three courses from the a la carte menu comfortably in an hour and fifteen minutes although the restaurant has just launched a special 'speedy menu' for those who have to dash off for a show. 

We set off for our lengthy one minute walk to the theatre. 

We liked Neville's Island. Ok, so it wasn't a spell-bounding piece of theatre but as you would expect with such an impressive comedy cast of Ade Edmondson, Neil Morrissey and Robert Webb, it had many laughs throughout and was really quite enjoyable!

I do love a good theatre night!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Hangover Night

As documented in my blog over the past year and a half, together, Mary and I have done our fair share of eating in restaurants and sampling cocktails in hip new bars. What a fabulous time we've had! But for my best buddy's birthday, I wanted to do something a little different. With another of our Vegas visits on the horizon (two weeks to go!), I pondered over a way of bringing together Mary's birthday with our mad excitement about our holiday.

Enter Everyman; the London cinemas with the big comfy sofas and irresistible snack menu. I'd noted that their Hampstead venue had a little private screening room. Big enough for fifteen people but small enough that hiring it out for two fun-seeking girls would not be deemed ridiculous! I made my booking.

The movie of choice? The Hangover. A film we both love and have watched probably around fifty times combined. It got us in the mood for our very first visit to Las Vegas and continues to do so five amazing visits on! Armed with a little bag of pressies and my pink high heels, I headed off to Hampstead to surprise Mary with her birthday night out!

I had somehow managed to keep the evening a secret since I booked it back in August. I arranged to meet Mary for a glass of champagne in the Gaucho up the road before walking us to Everyman to claim our private room!

Despite knowing what was in store I think I was just as excited as Mary when we walked in! Two bottles of Prosecco were waiting for us on ice along with copious yummy snacks.

We cracked open the bubbles and were ready to go!

The food at Everyman is delicious and notoriously moreish. I'd pre-ordered corn chips with guacamole, an antipasti platter, nuts and olives as well as a selection of cakes.

We were also able to order food from Spielburger next door. I went for the naked pulled pork burger with jerk sauce, slaw and chicken wings. 

The evening was as enjoyable as I'd hoped it would be. We'd seen the movie so many times before that chatting and giggling our way through it was completely acceptable! 


We weren't rushed off by the Everyman staff afterwards either; we could stay as long as we liked and enjoy our room. They were so friendly and made sure Mary's birthday night ran perfectly smoothly. Two bottles of Prosecco plus a private viewing of The Hangover down and we were bursting with excitement for our holiday!

We walked round the corner to a very cute little neighbourhood pub called The Holly Bush. One more for the road!

This time in two weeks we'll be on that flight to Sin City! We cannot wait!