Tag Archives: london

Le Comptoir – a restaurant to count on

Le Comptoir: 65 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 1JT

Le Comptoir is a pastry-wrapped pocket of Lebanon serving up punches of flavour in five locations across London. The Wigmore Street restaurant is fresh and funky: wide wooden planks on the floor and rough, rustic tables keep the place feeling relaxed and casual, while the exotic tea-pots and gemstone braided bags (which you can buy!) provide both a talking point as well as showing you more of Lebanon than their food can.

Their food shows a lot, however. To start, a platter of hommos and pitta bread baked on the premises. Served traditionally with a pool of oil and whole chickepeas surrounded by the mashed form of the peas. The lemon and garlic came through lightly in a beautifully thick blend and, unlike many supermarket forms, there was no sweet, sticky aftertaste.

Next up, a warm chicken taouk wrap. Authentic again, served with a garlic paste, pickles and a fresh salad in a warm toasted wrap. The chicken was tender, with a slight spice while the whole wrap was bursting with a juicy yogurt and tomato sauce. There is no better feeling than scooping up the leftovers with that sweet, spicy sauce dribbling down your chin. There’s a choice of dips available: the garlic sauce packs such a punch it tastes like pure blended garlic cloves but with a sweetness that makes you want to dip everything in it. The harissa sauce is a warming chilli sauce, much thinner than the garlic sauce, but beware the hot kick as you swallow: it’s surprising and powerful!

To finish, there are many tasty treats to choose from, from yogurt with traditional Lebanese toppings to the well-known Baklawas. A selection of five baklawas varied from sweet flaky pastry stuffed with date semolina to a triangular layered pastry neatly filled with ground mixed nuts. While the taste didn’t vary widely between the walnut-filled, cashew-flavoured and other sweet delicacies, it was a great authentic touch and delicious all-round. The Comptoir frozen yogurt was very soft and unsweetened but this was lifted by a topping of halva and roasted pistachios. Halva is a nougat-type sweet made from flour or nut-butter. This one was very sweet and quite sticky but also crumbly and worked wonderfully with the pistachios both texturally and on taste.

The service was very helpful, swift and friendly and a takeaway service is also available. You can see some of the food been prepared behind the counter and lots is laid out around the restaurant, if only to make you hungrier while you wait! A definite must-visit for a chilled out sharing-meal with friends or an intimate meal to try something new. Le Comptoir is definitely “the counter” with something worth serving.

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It certainly is a “Savage playground” when CrashDiet hits London

CrashDiet + Jettblack – O2 Islington Academy – 27/04/13

Jettblack are what you might call the perfect support band. They’re modern,  bring along a host of their own fans and their hard rock genre means that you can place them with pretty much any other rock band. This, however, was more of a co-headline tour. With album no.2 under their belts, you’d expect the boys to be building up experience and honing their craft. And they are, just in a slightly regrettable direction.

                The set list was predictable but very well received, running through a host of their hits including the Two Hot Girls and Slip It On as well as the newer Prison of Love, Less Torque More Thrust and In Between Lovers. The gritty ballad Black Gold was less expected due to its slower nature and length but the band played it well, living up to the song’s emotion. Their performance was tighter than I’ve seen it before, the sound balanced and rough, just like their studio work. The vocals, however, were less than perfect at times with a few clashes erring on the wrong side of harmony between singer/guitarists Jon Dow and Will Stapleton.

                The crowd were mostly receptive and enthusiastic though in places the band became a little boring, as if the same visual show had been rewound and replayed with the soundtrack of a different song. The lights and constant guitar soloing on podiums of amplifiers detracted from the show; if you’re a band that can play, you don’t need to hold yourself up for this sort of attention.

                A mixed, not exactly thrilling set, which was disappointing, especially since the songs were played, on the whole, pretty well.

 

CrashDiet had a welcome of their own. It’s time to expect more from this band and justifiably so too. This is the tour for the 2nd album with singer, Simon Cruz, and a UK show like last time, with rather shambolic vocals and apathetic stagecraft at best, might cut it with the 15-year-old Crash cult hogging the front two rows, but the band should be pushing for more.

                Luckily, to some extent, they are. Bouncing out to Change the World, Cruz’s vocals were on top form, guttural howls matched only by the backing vocals provided more by the crowd than Martin Sweet and Peter London.  I was sceptically impressed by how much these two have improved their harmonies, especially when singing so far away from their microphones…

                Nevertheless, Sweet and London were interactive, visibly enjoying the show which always makes the crowd enjoy it more. Cruz jittered around the stage like an electrocuted jelly bean, racing through Anarchy, California, Snakes in Paradise and Generation Wild to name but a few. The performance as a band was certainly much tighter and the contrast in attitude to Jettblack, especially concerning Sweet’s solos was welcome, with minimal fuss made over Sweet’s handiwork. London received his own roar for an average bass solo and the “instrumental”, if that’s what it was meant to be, three-quarters of the way through the set was a strange and redundant mash up of acoustic guitar, harmonica, bass and drums.

                For some reason the set seemed extraordinarily short, despite being an hour and I felt more older hits wouldn’t have gone amiss given the crowd’s reaction to Queen Obscene/69 Shots and Riot in Everyone. Cruz’s stage dive at the end was an entertaining stunt, not least because he only got across about 4 people before security dragged him out and then a girl wouldn’t let him go. Still, it added to the atmosphere of rebellion, anarchy and chaos.

                Condolences, of course, go out to CrashDiet at this time for the loss of their manager, Michael Sundén, who tragically passed away in Nottingham earlier this week. For a band to commit to a show like this so soon after is impressive and professional and I don’t think their fans would have thought any less of them had they postponed it.

                While they may not match the solidarity and sheer performance of some other bands, CrashDiet are undoubtedly impressive in their ability to create an atmosphere and to drive a crowd. Remarkably vivid and entertaining.

 

 

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Skid Row: maybe older but certainly no less spirited

Skid Row: 02 Islington Academy, 16 Parkfield Street, Islington, London

13th April 2013

They’ve been around since 1986 and within 10 years they’d sold 20 million albums worldwide. They are, however, still going strong, with 3 original (roughly) members, a bold and charismatic singer and an album due out in the UK on the 27th May (North America, you can get yours now!) When a band that old produces a show like this, no matter how big or small, it epitomizes the point of music: for expression, for colour of life and for fun.

OK, so their United World Rebellion tour wasn’t exactly covering stadiums of 20,000 like back in the days of vocalist Sebastian Bach of 1989-1990. But the fact is that they came to the UK and who would say no to an intimate gig at the likes of the 02 Islington with a deliciously close atmosphere of 800 people. And there were 800 too, it was sold out.

So there’s the first success. A sold out London show. And the band showed their thanks. Singer Johnny Solinger gave embellished throaty performances of the old favourites Piece of Me, 18 & Life and Big Guns and put Bach partly to shame with his still-strong voice and lack of arrogance on stage. There was attitude and meanness but certainly no lack of care.

The 90 minute set (shame about the 10pm curfew Islington!) thundered through tracks of the popular self-titled album as well as hits from Slave to the Grind and Thickskin. Dave Sabo and Scotti Hill’s guitar work had a deep and decent sound, perfectly akin to the albums and their stagecraft was indeed engaging and tailored towards the crowd, never forgetting the people up on the balcony watching down also. The encore, if you can call them that nowadays seeing as they’re more 5-minute breaks for both the band and crowd, consisted mostly of Solinger’s regret about the curfew. Still, Youth Gone Wild closed the show with a bang, though inviting the supporting UK bands back onstage was a little amateurish and made the whole ending messy and without impact.

Rachel Bolan, certainly the key creative mind in the band as well as the bass player, gave a passionate performance of Pyscho Love as well as providing the most interesting part of Sabo and Hill’s instrumental intermission – they both got a bit “guitarist in their bedroom.” Both Sabo and Bolan talked of their happiness to be in the UK and it truly was heartfelt, none of this triumphalist crap that they had a sold out show.

There were smiles on stage, smiles in the crowd, and these rockers have lost nothing of their style, dedication or skill for their music, not even their long hair (with the exception of Bolan, who was always more of the punk genre anyway!) They promised to be back and I advise you to get your ticket early. Thanks to this show, I think there will be many disenchanted fans who will check out the new album that promises to be an ecelectic mix of old and new.

It was rock’n’roll, but this time, for the fun and love of it. If Skid Row are right and “Park Avenue leads to Skid Row!” then that’s the Park Avenue I’m looking for.

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What’s Mexican slang for someone looking for fun in the bright lights of Mexico?

Chilango: 27 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 0PN

There’s lots of Mexican places in London, from the trendy burrito shacks to the market stalls and from the slap-up chains to the more costly dine-in restaurants. Well, many there may be, but there’s a reason that Chilango was voted No 1. Mexican restaurant in 2011 and 2012. And you know, these surveys aren’t always right.

Squashed into Upper Street in Islington, amidst Starbucks’, H&Ms and even a Jack Wills, Chilango offers a spot of colour where others are going for the professional commercial boredom. That’s not to say that Chilango’s isn’t professional. It’s just different, you’ll see.

The restaurant, if you would call it that, more of a paint-splattered, endearing shed, is narrow but two-storey with plenty of seats up and downstairs. Go along to the end and you’ll be faced with the simple menu of salads, burritos, tacos etc with pork, chicken, beef and all the beans, guacamole and peppers you should want in a Mexican.

The staff are efficient but by no means hurried and, as a minimum, walk along the rows of food opposite you following your directions of whatever you want on your burrito or choice of base. As if that wasn’t enough, all the food is freshly prepared adjacent to the service area so even if the menu isn’t quite convincing enough, the smells certainly will be. I wasn’t so enticed by the bagged nachos, though they had been bagged in-store as opposed to say, Tesco’s nachos, and I suppose to some extent it stops the chips from drying out. Otherwise, there are no starters/desserts or hot drinks though cold ones are available. The interior is awash with colour, one wall plastered head-to-toe with old record covers, while seats are available as bar stools, cosy benches or more intimate booths. It’s laid-back, funky and really welcoming.

The special Pirito Chicken Burrito came stuffed with coriander rice, fried peppers and onions, mild salsa, sour cream, cheese and guacamole. The tortilla was huge and light, supple enough for our waitress to masterfully fold everything inside to form a handy wrap-type meal in foil! The pirito chicken was succulent, not too spicy, and, while some may find the mix of hot and cold a little odd, the components of the dish blend wonderfully. The coriander rice wasn’t particularly prominent, but a nice filler.

Chicken Salad is a great choice for smaller bellies, those watching the calories or even for someone who wants to taste a little more as sometimes the ingredients shine out a little better. The grilled chicken was chargrilled and juicy, freshly cubed, while the salad was bright and fresh. The mild salsa was thick and chunky and added just enough heat. Sour cream and guacamole were both fantastically thick, the sour cream smooth and moreish, while the guacamole was a little grainier, as it should be, but rich and fatty. Fried peppers and onions were recognisable, so not overdone, and the black beans were fat little spheres of goodness.

Chilango may look like just another burrito bar, or even like someone’s home improvement project in a lean-to, but I can guarantee that you won’t be needing to go to Mexico for fun and adventure.

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Tinderbox: a bit of fire for your coffee break

Tinderbox: 7 Parkfield St  London, Greater London N1 0PS

A quiet, unassuming shop front can be really quite deceptive. The downstairs entrance to Tinderbox seconds as the takeaway counter, topped with muffins, pastries the size of a small frisbee and a short sweet drinks menu. Head upstairs, however…

and you’re greeted with a chic, alternative coffee shop. Seating ranges from sleek wooden benches to leather sofa-style car seats or dark alcoves with mirrors and padded benches. The staff are friendly and fresh in their service, happy to talk you through the many different types of loose tea or to spare a few more seconds for the regulars.

You’ll find any coffee you want as well as an impressive arrary of teas. Surprises for the sweet-toothed amongst us include everything from proper French custard tarts, stuffed biscotti or slabs of mocha cake. An almond latte was a velvety smooth mix of dark, rich coffee and fluffy frothed milk, heavy with almond from the syrup. A regular was also ample size and good value. Want to match it? Try the carrot cake muffin: moist and sweet, without being overpowering as chocolate sometimes can be and the dollop of cream cheese in the middle was a wonderful innovation on the classic carrot cake.

Staying off the caffeine? Darjeeling was fantastic, though bought from another company but a good match would be the banana cake. Pale yellow flecked with dark seeds, it was the size of a brick made from the density of air. It was moist, suitably sweet and the plain icing topped it off nicely.

Tinderbox is open long hours and has Wi-fi too as well as serving sandwiches during the day. So why not add a bit of spark to your coffee today?

 

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a foodie house that feels like home

Spaghetti House: 5 Argyll Street, London, W1F 7TD

Despite being a  chain, Spaghetti House feels like a family-run restaurant. The interior is plush with rich-patterns and simple but eye-catching photographs, while the staff are friendly, warm and knowledgeable.

We were seated straight away in the already fairly busy restaurant for 5.15pm and menus soon followed. The two courses for £9.95 is exceptional value and we quickly opted for starters and mains from the 4 on offer in each section. The name may give you a clue as to this brand’s speciality, but there are also many other types of pasta, salads, pizza and fish and meat dishes.

We were pressed for garlic bread or olives while we waited for our starter and gosh am I happy that we said yes to the garlic bread! Served in a rustic bucket, the four slices of gently toasted ciabatta were soft with a slight crunch, oozing with a melted concoction of butter and strong garlic. A must for garlic, butter and bread-lovers! Everyone then!

The staff flow on their smiles and charm, always keen to ask if you’re enjoying your meal and ready to rectify any sort of problem or request, no matter how small. The starters, despite us being told they may take a while, came relatively quickly. Alette di Pollo were two hunks of chicken wings, smothered in a rich and spicy tomato sauce, infused with oregano and studded with flavours of honey and chilli. The earthenware-style pots for the food added to the whole experience and made the small (but adequate) portions look much bigger. A side dish of lemon water allowed us to dive right in with our hands – thoughtful, we decided. Arancini, or rice balls, were stuffed with mushrooms and gorgonzola cheese, encircled by an arrabiata sauce. Again, nothing overly spicy that ruined the flavour, but managed to deliver a hot kick the roof of your mouth without burning anything.

The main dish was Orecchiette ai Broccoli. Orecchiette is known also as pasta shells and these were cooked perfectly al dente, with that slight bite before giving way to silky smooth starch. I like the description of the dishes on the menu because they are in no way misleading: every flavour can be tasted in the dish. Golden sultanas were fat and juicily sweet, matched by the crunchiness of tenderstem broccoli and the earthiness of pine nuts. Flakes of chilli scattered the bowl with toasted breadcrumbs and a dash of virgin olive oil was enough to lick your lips without needing to down your drink. Again, the portion size was perfect and nothing to resemble the often cauldron-like portions of many Italian restaurants.

Dessert, we were assured, would be the ultimate ending to an already fantastic meal. For only £3.00 more you can add tiramisu, apple strudel, profiteroles and many others. Strudel Di Mele sounded too good to leave without trying it. Served in a neat, generous slice, the layers of pastry, apple and raisins clearly rolled together and fresh, steaming even! The plate focused on presentation: drizzled with dark caramel sauce and finished off with a scoop of toffee ice cream. No, it wasn’t brown. It was pale cream, studded with cubes of crunchy toffee – wonderful. The strudel itself was cooked well and brought back all the warming flavours, including cinnamon. The pastry was delicate and flaky but held the filling together easily.

An all-round success and we’ll definitely be back! With 11 other locations to London to choose from, we’re spoilt for choice! A Spaghetti House that knows what it can do, and truly owns it’s spot on the dining scene.

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King Lizard show why they’re the slippery sleaze kings of London

King Lizard – November 2012 – A Nightmare Livin’ The Dream

Track List

  1. Come Get Some
  2. Kneel To The King
  3. I Can’t Be Your Lover
  4. Hair Of The Dog
  5. I Want You To Want Me
  6. If It’s A Sin
  7. A Nightmare Livin’ The Dream
  8. Just To Hear You Say It
  9. This Ain’t Love
  10. Hard To Get
  11. Down
  12. Waterloo Ratz

Band:

  • Flash Roxx Sawyer – Vocals
  • Niro Knox – Guitars
  • Lee Benz – Bass
  • Moyano El Buffalo – Drums

My how they’ve grown. This is not the same party we heard on Viva La Decadence back in 2010. Kneel To The King is dark and gritty, filled with the rough gutter riffs you might expect from a modern sleaze rock band. Sawyer’s voice is a little scratchy in places but clears up in I Can’t Be Your Lover, a bouncy but surefooted bitter love song. The rhythm section has a tendency to fall into a rather lax and predictive sequence although it never lasts long so can be forgiven. You can be forgiven for thinking Hair Of The Dog walked right off a Dirty Penny  album; again there’s that irritating grind of the vocals and the production could be cleaner but it’s a fun, fast song. And the bad-boy charm only cranks up on I Want You To Want Me and it’s certainly an offensive dripping in sleaze. The performance should be tighter in places I think, especially on the likes of If It’s A Sin and I expected the title-track to be stronger; it was disappointedly similar to the prior tracks. Just To Hear You Say It is an interestingly mellow track which slows the album without bogging it down. Hard To Get is back on the bite after the over-lengthy This Ain’t Love while Down has a great balance of attitude and melody. Waterloo Ratz closes the album with a strong punch, rounding up the best features of the band; wild vocals, choruses of backing and layers of diving guitars. No, they’re not the tightest or the most competent of bands but hey, the album’s a hell of a lot of fun.

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Camden Barfly: melting pot of glam Finns, hard-eyed French rockers and young Bucks

18/10/2012: Reckless Love, BlackRain + The Wild Lies – Camden Barfly, London

Reckless Love to take over the Barfly for October 2012. The announcement was met with, dare I say it: cynicism and a few hidden smiles. Would they really? Play 4 Thursdays in the hope that fans, preferably different ones each time, would sell the show out every week while they filled in time trawling from Glasgow to Reading and back again? Whether they hoped or not, those hidden smiles turned from mockery to, a sort of pride almost.

But let’s start at the beginning, where it didn’t start so well. The Wild Lies are an up-and-coming rock band from High Wycombe, Bucks; the first similarity to older counterparts Jettblack. The second? They act like them; they sound like them; they even look like them to some extent, but The Wild Lies just don’t seem to have grown up yet. There’s a sad element of puppy fat about them and while they held the stage with drive and enthusiasm, there wasn’t that command or quirky arrogance that can work a crowd. Of course, it’s all down to experience; in their favour, the sound was tight throughout and, among the medley of songs, there were some like Heartbreaker, Stone Cold Love and Angels that were catchy enough to engage the first-time listener.

French rockers BlackRain have been a little quiet on the scene recently. It turns out they’ve been recording their third album while dabbling in live performances here and there across Europe. Singer Swan wild-eyed the audience while delivering blisteringly high-vocals akin to those on the albums. No airs or graces here, just good rock’n’roll played to entertain and to please. The fact that all the band members have their own unique style, threaded loosely together by the glam-punk theme, made it even more appealing and diverse to watch. The set list was well-rehearsed but appeared a little formulaic at times, almost boredom for a couple of the band members; I won’t name names. A solid performance however and a band who can live up to their albums, if not out-perform them slightly in the enjoyment sense.

And onto the main event. Reckless Love have a special place in their hearts for the Barfly, it being one of their first shows in the UK for their self-titled debut. Apparently now confident of their spirited live show and passionate stage-craft, this time they were here to show the UK fans something really special. And they did, too. After seeing them a few times I was starting to get bored but singer Olli Herman cranked up his smile and, less enchantingly, his hip gyrations. Grinning, punching, chanting, laughing; we saw it all as the band ran through hits from both of their albums. Notable performances were those on Sex where Olli’s voice rang clear of coarseness, Dance and the more up-beat One More Time; an effortless crowd-pleaser.

Ok, so Olli beamed a little too much and the dancing can make you cringe, but at least you have no doubt that this band are desperate to provide you with a spectacle. Olli is a showman and while I berate the vanity in him, where would he be without it? I suppose the one downside was that at times it came across as a little false; as if they flicked the switch and the lights went down, their smiles lit up and they played out of habit while careering around the stage. The songs were tight yes but sometimes they need just a bit more straight solid playing and fewer enhancements. The vocals were ridiculously over-effected; just because it’s on the album does not mean we need it live. On the upside, they were more manipulative with their sound too; Jalle’s bass at a fantastically heart-jumping boom while Hessu pounded out his bass drum until he was happy with the level. Yes, I expect to see musicians in control like this, but you’d be surprised at how many who aren’t.

The set list was roughly just over an hour, including the sensual Push – a track recently released on the mini Animal Attraction album; this catchy, glammed up tune just goes to show that this band can still write original material. The band never failed to interact with the crowd, grouping together at the end for a final bow. They promised something special and that’s what the Barfly crowd got; who can say whether the two previous Thursdays were better, or even if the next one will be? It doesn’t matter, because while Reckless Love may, to quote Olli “wear a bit of make-up and look like girls,” if you like fist-pumping rock and a passably solid performance you will never fail to have a good time at a Reckless Love gig.

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what i’m listening to: September 2012

there’s gigs, albums and interviews galore! Firefest 2012 in Nottingham and Shout it out Loud in Germany. here’s the September shake-up:

  1. Ratt – Shame, Shame, Shame – it’s Stephen Pearcy’s voice; so raw, gritty and sexy. A cracking tune.
  2. Buckcherry – Everything – a softer side of the blaring hard-rock Americans but a good start to get you tuned in by December for their London gig. Oh, and a new album in 2013 too!
  3. Kiss – Good Girl Gone Bad – Thickly layered and with Gene Simmons purring away, it’s an Autumn song to warm up those cold nights.
  4. White Lion – Love Don’t Come Easy – ah, if there was one band that hadn’t broken up! Still, a beautiful song and something softer if that’s your taste. Great vocals, thumping bass and heart-throb lyrics.
  5. Casanova – Back To The Wall – ballsy, gutsy and with such talent, Casanova dive from the deep and sensual to all guns blazing. King of backing vocals too.

Album of the month: it’s going to have to be Ratt – Out of the Cellar. Yep, they’ve got a track AND album of the month, they’re just that good. You may have heard them in the film, The Wrestler, or you’ve got good taste and have the vinyl. This takes you back to the original Ratt with raunchy lyrics, dirty guitars and hits like Round and Round and Back For More. A classic.
things for your diary:

  • Reckless Love – well, the band at least. UK tour and “residency” at the Barfly, London this October. Supports include the likes of French rockers BlackRain. Watch this space for reviews and exclusive interviews.
  • Firefest – the home of AOR. Taking place at Rock City in Nottingham from 19th-21st October, you can catch exclusive UK performances of bands such as XYZ (original line-up), Gotthard, Slaughter and Danger Danger. Hurry, tickets sell out nearly six months in advance but you might be lucky!
  • Shout it out Loud – heading Germany way? Stick around for the 3rd October to see Crashdiet, Dangerous Toys, Hardcore Superstar, Sister, Vain, Tuff and more. An amazing line up.
  • Sister Sin – Now and Forever due out 23rd October after a 3-month delay. They’ve set the bar high after declaring they weren’t happy with the original record. Check out the single: End of The Line.

i think that’s enough for you to be getting on with ticket ordering and diary re-shuffling, no? If not, keep an eye out here for more sound bites on the latest sleaze and rock news.

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eat your food KERBside

KERB: Opening Launch

If you’re looking for somewhere to go next Thursday then look no further.

KERB your excitement (sorry) and head down to the launch of the much-anticipated street food crew KERB. It’s taking place on Thursday 4th October from 6-10pm next to King’s Cross under the West Handyside Canopy.

From 1pm there’ll be a food van parade up King’s Boulevard or drop by in the evening for street classics from the likes of You Doughnut, Sorbitum Ices, Bhangra Burger and sput and roast spinning records from the Chicken Van to boot.

Links:

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