Dinner at the OXO Tower, Sneaking up the Shard and Drinks on the Upper Deck

The OXO Tower

The OXO Tower

It used to be the fancy face of the Liebig Extract of Meat Company’s cold store, but like many of the buildings on London’s South Bank the Oxo Tower, named after the manufacturer’s stock cubes, had a bit of makeover and is now home to a bunch of trendy shops and galleries. The Art Deco tower dates to 1929 and was designed by Albert Moore. On the 8th floor of the building there is a rather swish and expensive restaurant, the Oxo Tower Brasserie. Normally its a bit out of our price range, but we got one of those Booktable deals with three courses and a cocktail, that they use to fill the joint in the early evening and at £30 each we thought let’s treat ourselves.

The thames from the Oxo Tower

The Thames from the Oxo Tower

Sadly we could not get an outside table to enjoy the great outdoors, but you can still enjoy the full panorama of London’s riverside through the fully glazed wall. Our table was situated next to the open plan kitchen so we got tantalising glimpses of every tempting  morsel that was passed over to the waiting staff. Our seasonal cocktail, the Sherry Collins arrived as we perused the ‘deal menu’. A blend of lemon vodka, elderflower syrup with a dash of fino sherry and garnished with a sprig of herbs it was very refreshing. I started with the Stilton salad which was a jolly nice confection of cheese, chervil and sultanas, while Mab had the battered Thai chicken. I tried a bit of her ‘posh chicken nugget’, the batter was really crisp and crunchy. For our main we had the comfit of duck, which was served with green lentils and a really nice onion jam. It was very good although it could have been a touch crisper. To finish we both plumped for the Eton Mess with strawberry, meringue and real fruit jam in cream lovely. To drink we had a bottle of the painfully overpriced house white a real rip at £25, but then you are paying for the view.

The Shard

The Shard

Speaking of paying for the view we decided to try the Shangri La Hotel’s cocktail bar in the Shard on the way home. Having sized up the cost of going to the observation deck at  the top for £25 and thought better of it, the Shangri La initially looked better value until we were told that there was a £35 minimum spend. To be honest for £35 I ‘d expect to get totally sloshed,  so we declined, however I did get a picture from the 32nd floor lobby area, so mission accomplished I say, take that forces of international capitalism.

view from the 32nd floor of the Shard

View from the 32nd floor of the Shard

Still fancying a drink on our way back to Tower Gateway Station we popped into the Upper Deck at HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast

Just so that you are nice and confused the Upper Deck isn’t on the old battleship itself, but on a platform above the ticket office on the riverbank.

Tower Bridghe from the Upper Deck

Tower Bridge from the Upper Deck

Drinks are a bit pricey, but not unreasonable given that it’s a rather cool place to watch the sunset over London.


Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact simon.ball3@btopenworld.com for commercial reuse


Our Edinburgh Fringe Weekend

As usual our Edinburgh Fringe weekend started with breakfast at London Kings Cross Station. We’d heard about a new fast food joint in the refurbished station called Kiosk and the idea of a breakfast roll made with Gloucester Old Spots bacon, Portobello mushroom, Cumberland sausage and black pudding (£5.75) to kick off a weekend of comedy, beer and decadent grub in our favourite European city  sounded too good to miss. As it happens it was pretty good, but next time I have one I will ask for it without the grilled tomato, since it makes the bread soggy and eventually fall apart.

It didn’t come as any surprise to discover that our train was delayed arriving because of ongoing engineering works over the weekend, but to give East Coast trains credit, they suspended the normal irrelevant ticket checks and just opened the automatic barriers so when it arrived at 10.20 the passengers were disembarked and we were in our reserved seats and off by 10.29. I suspect that in the twisted world of lies and privatised railway statistics this meant that our departure fell inside the window of being close enough to the advertised schedule to count as not being late.

Aside from an obnoxious stag party who boarded the train at Doncaster and got off at Newcastle it was a fairly unremarkable journey. People often remark about how as you get older time seems to fly past ever quicker, but the hour and half we spent in the company of those idiots ably demonstrated to me how to drag time out to the extent that immortality could come within humanity’s grasp.

Somehow East Coast managed to make up the time lost on the journey and we got into Edinburgh early. Amazingly when we got to Dr Caligari’s Travelprison

they let us book in early and we didn’t have to ask for towels, mugs or toilet paper, although judging from the massive great crack in wall by the bed the previous guest had been Wolverine.

So on to the shows. we kicked off with Ed Byrne’s Roaring Forties. As the title suggests Byrne turned forty this year, but the show also includes some wry observations on politics. I particularly liked the notion of how following Scottish independence Ireland, Portugal and Greece would have to club together to buy an embassy in Edinburgh and then let it out to Jason Manford for the festival. Here’s the bit about Ski holidays.

The following Sunday we woke up to find Edinburgh swathed in mist, a bit like a Hammer Horror movie. After a good breakfast at the Circus bistro in Mary Street,

Circus bistro

Circus Bistro

we took the free gallery bus from outside the Scottish National Gallery in Princes street to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art which is on the west side of the city in Belford Road. It was the first time we had been to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and we had been drawn in by the Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibition (£7.00) that was running there. Sadly no photos were allowed inside the exhibition but some interesting material by artists ranging from Durer and Goya to William Blake, Frederick Sandys and Paula Rego.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

We’d only found out about the exhibition because of an article in the Fortean Times that one of us was reading on the train on the way up and now we have discovered that free bus I think we will pay another visit to the Gallery to see some of the regular exhibits over the two buildings on either side of Belford Road. I did get a sneaky peak at the reconstruction of Eduardo Paolozzi’s Sci Fi collection on the ground floor before we left, it’s always good to discover that someone famous is a bigger nerd than you are!

Earth and water ground sculpture, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Edinburgh

Earth and water ground sculpture, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Edinburgh

Back in town we had lunch at the Auld Hoose in St Leonard’s Street, This is a great little boozer if you like punk, metal or goth (there were some confused looking tourists amongst the regulars), it has real ales, Czech lager and a great value menu.

Monster Chicken Burrito at the Auld Hoose

Monster Chicken Burrito at the Auld Hoose

My chicken burrito (£7.50) was massive and packed with good-sized chunks of chicken while the tower of onion rings (£5.00, including dips) was huge,

The Onion Rings of the Auld Hoose

The towering Onion Rings of the Auld Hoose

so it’s just as well we had a brisk walk across town before taking in some more comedy.

First off was Stewart Lee at the Stand Comedy Club. Unlike Ed Byrne’s stadium gig at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre the Stand was a sweaty little room below a hotel, ideal for Lee’s observations on the Torys and UKIP. sure they were easy targets, but still very funny.

following Lee’s gig we traipsed back out into the street to queue in the sunshine for Alexie Sayle in the precise same sweaty little room. Sayle was brilliant, the 17 years between this and his last stand up gigs have not mellowed his material, brutally funny stuff about Alastair Campbell, the Millibands, Ben Elton and a wicked parody of Michael MacIntyre. I couldn’t find a recent clip of Alexie’s stand-up so here’s the pet Bishop sketch from his TV show

Leaving the show the daughter says to me ‘he’s just like you’

As an old sweary fat bloke with a beard I took that as a compliment!

Final gig was Omid Djalili at the Assembly Rooms.

Another very funny show from the British-Iranian comic with plenty of  gags about cross-cultural misunderstanding which rounded the weekend off perfectly.

Tenerife 2013 – Food, Drink, Golf and Fountains in Los Christianos

Maybe not quite as memorable a title as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but you have got to do at least two of them. One of the problems with any place that does the mass tourism thing is finding a place to eat that isn’t trying to cater to absolutely everybody and the resort area of Los Christianos is full of places knocking out burgers, steak, pizza and pasta, plus Indian, Chinese and Mexican themed joints, but very little in the way of authentic Spanish cuisine

Fountains at the Safari Centre Los christianos

Fountains at the Safari Centre Los Christianos

Now I’m not knocking burgers and pizza etc, because when they are good they really hit the spot as was the case at the Country Bar Caribe on our first night. One place we had tried before was the Restaurante Tapas and Wine  in the Avda Santiago Puig. The quality of the food was really good, particularly the sizzling hot plate of spicy chorizo sausages (€7.50), but I thought the portion sizes of the tortilla (€3.25), bacalao (salt cod balls €4.75) and the pimento de padron (€4.75) were a bit stingy for the price we paid. With wine and water our bill came to €75.44 for four people.

Further down the Avda Santiago Puig was Linares IV. Again we had eaten in here before and found it to be quite good. Linares does a good paella at €19.05 for two persons, but they now have an entertainer and we found ourselves squeezed into a table beside his electric organ. Resident entertainers of variable talent knocking out rock ‘n’ roll classics, C & W murder ballads and Irish drinking songs are now endemic in most restaurants and bars on the island and the fellow in Linares put me in mind of the Vic Reeves pub singer as he proceeded to murder Route 66 and I Can’t Help Falling in Love Again.

Oh no, it's Michael Buble tribute time

Oh no, it’s Michael Buble tribute time

And not just in the restaurants, when we stopped off at the Cafeteria Plaza in the main drag of Los Christianos for a nightcap we were confronted with a nightly tribute act that included Mickey Bubble, Tom Jones and Vegas Elvis complete with red jumpsuit, shades and Mancunian accent! However their Lubumba (hot chocolate with lots of rum) is very good, which of course it should be for €8.

Cactus Garden a haven away from Elvis

Cactus Garden a haven away from Elvis even if it involved crazy golf

Some respite from the pub singer could be had in the Cactus Garden behind the Cafeteria. If you have ever wondered what would happen if Antonio Gaudi had been asked to design a crazy golf course you will find the answer here with the mosaic bordered cactus beds separating the windmills and rockeries. It has a bar too.

The Safari Centre is the place to go to catch the free nightly fountain and light shows, nestled amongst the expensive designer shops and international restaurants. Avoid at all costs watching it from Harry’s Bar, which of course is no relation to Hemingway’s Parisian hangout. It is the place to go if you fancy an expensive watery cocktail served by a miserable waitress while listening to a pretty dire sax player though.

Sadly the Mojo Picon family restaurant that we enjoyed so much back in 2009 seems to have gone, but we did find this fantastic little place El Paladar (C/ Noella Alfonso Cabrera) just around the corner from the Columbus.

El Paladar

El Paladar

It was not really on any of the main tourist drags and it didn’t look much from the outside, but we did notice the area under the green awning was always full of middle aged Spanish men watching football, smoking, arguing, drinking beer and generally having a good time. Well that looks like the sort of place that will do decent tapas I thought . I wasn’t wrong either.

Inside El Paladar

Inside El Paladar

We liked this place so much that we ate here three times during the week. Stand out items were the fresh tuna steak, the sizzling prawns, the Russian salad, the Canarian baked potatoes and the battered squid rings which were seasoned to perfection. There is no entertainer and the proprietor also insists on that old-fashioned nicety the complementary digestif. For a meal with wine, beer and water we paid between €55 and €80 depending upon how greedy the four of us were. It was also one of the cheapest places to get a pint of beer in resort at €2.20, no wonder so many old Spaniards hung out there.

Tenerife 2013 – The Return to Los Christianos

The small hours of Good Friday morning found us bleary eyed at London’s Stansted Airport waiting to check in to our Thomson Airways flight to Tenerife. Baggage dumped we headed for security, which despite the early hour was really busy. I suspect this was because the security goons have recently been given some of those total body scanners to harass every fourth traveller passing through, in their efforts to prevent any liquid being taken into that huge shop full of big bottles of inflammable liquid beyond.

Beach at Los Christianos

Beach at Los Christianos

As flights go our outward journey was very pleasant. It made a big difference having an early flight this time, most of our previous trips had arrived around 11pm, effectively losing us a day and delivering us into the resort far too late to get a decent evening meal. This time we arrived at the Aparthotel Columbus at around 1pm, ready to slip into some shorts and hit the beach bar for lunch. Or rather we would have had our room had been ready. No, despite knowing when we would turn up, we were told that we’d have to wait an hour for it to be done, so we took the baggage to the bar for some beer and chips (well we had the chips and beer not the baggage ,that was heavy enough already). Worse than that we could not have a safe deposit box key until 3pm, when the cashier was supposed to turn up, not a good idea on an island that certainly used to have a big problem with both hotel room burglaries and street crime.

We’d stayed at the Columbus a couple of times before, but despite an ‘all guilt and flash’ (as Keith Moon said in Bellboy) tart up of the reception area, the apartments themselves were starting to look a bit shabby. Mab and I nabbed the bedroom which had just about enough room to circumnavigate the bed, while Nick and the Powder Monkey were in the living area/kitchenette. I wasn’t very happy with the cooker, where the worn away numbers on the dials had been replaced by daubs of magic marker or the broken soap dispenser in the bathroom. When I reported the broken dispenser, the hotel’s genius technician turned the broken part to the wall by way of a repair, unsurprisingly it still didn’t work so I gave up and just unscrewed the nozzle, who says we Brits can’t innovate!

On the plus side it was cheap, so once we were settled in we set off to explore our surroundings.

Feral Parrot Tenerife

Feral Parrot Tenerife

From the Columbus it’s a short walk down to the beach, not much had changed in the four years since our last visit, although I did notice that there do seem to be a lot more feral parrots around the town.

Feral Parrot

Feral Parrot

Being a bit of a bird nerd, I’d love to know what species these birds are, they are obviously not the ring-necked parakeets that are so common back in London (and Amsterdam and New York etc.), so if anyone has any idea comments are most welcome below.

After a couple of beers at the beachside kiosk it was time to head back to get ready for our first evening out. Not wishing to waste any time while our travelling companions had the first showers Mab and I went in search of the travel agency where we’d booked trips on previous visits. It had gone, but in a little street called Caribe down by the seafront we found the Ticketbox where the helpful Rab sold us trips to Loro Parque and Siam Park and a day out whale watching on a catamaran. We’d already checked the package tour operator prices and Rab’s deals with fully licensed and insured tour companies saved us quite a considerable amount of cash proving that it’s always a good idea to shop around.

Surfs Up Los Christianos

Surfs Up Los Christianos

Rab also recommended the restaurant next door to the Ticket Box The Country Grill Karibe. Now this had been an Italian place with decent enough pasta and pizza last time we visited the island, but the menu has now been expanded under the new management to include meat and fish dishes and even goulash for eastern European guests, so we thought we’d give it a go after taking a bracing walk west along the seafront towards Veronicas to watch the surfers crash out.

Mixed Grill more like a mixed gorilla!

Mixed Grill so big it was more like a mixed gorilla!

Rab’s recommendation was pretty much spot on. I’m not ashamed to admit that I like a good hamburger and the Karina’s did not disappoint leaving me well stuffed, although I could not resist a scrap of the Powder Monkey’s bacon pizza after she said it was the best pizza she’d ever had. She wasn’t wrong either, it was delicious. Her dad’s mixed grill was huge with chicken, pork, steak, sausage and a mountain of chips soaked in tasty meat juices, while Mab had to admit defeat with her pepper steak, it was just too big!

We liked the place so much that we ate there once more during our stay average price for four with a couple of beers wine water and soft drinks was about €63.


Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact simon.ball3@btopenworld.com for commercial reuse

Emanuel Peruvian Restaurant – South East London

There’s nothing Shipscook’s Stuff likes better than a food adventure and Saturday night saw us venture into London’s south-east in search of a little piece of Peru. Peruvian food was supposed to be the new big thing last year and although it didn’t quite catch on in the way that Mexican has, London now has a number of Peruvian restaurants. Most of the ones in town are pretty expensive, but when we got a recommendation from a Peruvian pal about a little place in Elephant and Castle with the best roast chicken in town we just had to investigate.

Finding the place was the first part of the adventure, since living north of the river Elephant and Castle is somewhere we’d rarely ventured to before. (The name is derived from an old coaching inn mentioned in Shakespeare. It had a sign with an elephant and howdah, which was the emblem of the cutlers who used elephant ivory for the handles of knives and spoons. So sadly it isn’t a corruption of The Infanta de Castile the name reputably given to a another boozer founded by a returning Peninsula War veteran by local residents). However once we’d orientated ourselves at the roundabout we soon found Amelia Street just off the Walworth Road.

Emanuel is situated in the basement of a budget hotel. Once inside we shown to our table by a very pretty waitress and using our rubbish fractured Spanish explained that we had phoned through earlier in the week to book a roast chicken dinner for four, although only three of us could make it (If you want the chicken it’s essential to give them notice). She then explained that no we would not need any starters (although from the menu they did look intriguing) presented us with a bottle of alarming coloured Inca Kola which was included in the £25.99 price.

Inca Kola

Inca Kola

It looked even more radioactive in the glass.

glowy fizzy goodness

glowy fizzy goodness

but it tasted great. I haven’t a clue what its supposed to be flavoured with, but the taste reminded me of the pineapple cube sweets I used to buy on the way home from school back in the 1960s and Juicy Fruit chewing gum. Anyhing that tastes this good is probably very bad for you!

Complete with a huge salad, three sauces and a mountain of chips the chicken finally arrived.

Best chicken and chips ever

Best chicken and chips ever

The four chicken quarters were perfectly cooked with the naturally secret blend of herbs and spices imparting a really wonderful flavour, the blend certainly included chili. As if there wasn’t enough chili in the spice rub the chili sauce was almost thermonuclear and as for the chips, they were delicious especially the ones at the bottom of the plate that had steeped in the chicken juices.

To be honest the meal would easily have done four people (as it is indeed intended for), but the three of us ate every scrap, it was fabulous.

So what’s the damage? Complete with a bottle of Spanish white, a whopping bargain £40.45!

Emanuel is at 18 Amelia Street, London SE17, nearest tube Elephant and Castle or catch the 35 from Liverpool Street or London Bridge mainline. To book a chicken dinner call 020 3556 0670. Cash only no credit cards!

Lisbon – We get Hammered and Ride the Tram Cars

From the Restauradores area of Lisbon there are two funiculars that you can take up the hillside. On day one of our Lisbon adventure we took the Elevador da Gloria up to the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, so after our trip to Belem on day two, we decided to cross the Avenida da Liberdade and ride the Elevador  do Lavra up to the Jardim do Torel.

Elevador do Lavra

Elevador do Lavra

This is the oldest of Lisbon’s funiculars having been built in 1884. The area at the top was a bit run down, but we found the Jardim and enjoyed a few beers watching the storm clouds gathering over the Lisbon skyline as the night drew in.

View from the Jardim do Torel

View from the Jardim do Torel

Personally I don’t think the view from this side is a pretty as that from the top of the Elevador da Gloria, however man can not live by beer alone so we jumped back on the funicular to look for somewhere to eat back in Restauradores. The previous night while we were still pretty knackered from travelling we had eaten in the very nice, but hardly Portuguese , Italy Cafe (Avenida Duque D’Aila 26B), but tonight we fancied something local. Finding somewhere with Portuguese cuisine wasn’t as easy as we expected, but eventually we discoved the Restaurant do Calcada (Calcada do Carmo, 35) behind Rossio Station.

After the obligatory starters of olives, bacalhau (salt cod) fritters and bread I tucked into a hunter’s sausage with a fried egg, rice and chips.

Hunter's game sausage with egg

Hunter’s game sausage with egg

Although it might not sound very exotic, it was delicious, the pork in the sausage could hold its head up to any barbecued pulled pork I have ever tasted. Nick’s mixed grill looked pretty good too.

Mixed Grill Restaurant do Calcada

Mixed Grill Restaurant do Calcada

Complete with starters, beers, water and a litre of house Vinho Verde the bill only came to about €70 for all four of us and we got a free aguadente to aid the digestion  from the waiter who proudly told us that he used to live in Canning Town!

Hunger satisfied the night was still young and since the rain was holding off we decided to go for a drink at the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara.

Elevador do Gloria

Elevador da Gloria

There’s something very Jules Verne about the solid engineering of these Victorian funiculars that makes me think of films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Ruler of the World. It would have been so cool to have found the tramcar driven by James Mason or Vincent Price!

Where's Catain Nemo?

Where’s Captain Nemo?

By the time we got to the top of the Elevador it had started to rain, by the time we settled under the umbrella at the kiosk in the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara it was bucketing down. In the vague hope that the weather would ease off we stayed for a couple of drinks before braving the downpour back to the funicular and dashing to the Metro to get back to our hotel.

Elevador do Gloria

Elevador da Gloria

The Hallowe’en Sessions

‘Yes the apostrophe is important’ as Dr Myra Lark (Sarah Douglas) put it, to distinguish between the very British evening before ‘Goody Goody Day’ and the American festival of begging for sweets.

Hallowe’en Sessions Programme

Just before our weekend visit to Edinburgh (more on that soon) we went to see the Hallowe’en Sessions at the Leicester Square theatre in London’s west end on Hallowe’en night no less! The play is based upon those Amicus portmanteau horror films of the 1960s and 70s such as Tales From the Crypt or Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, where a series of short tales are linked by a overaching narrative set within a railway journey, an antique shop or some other suitable establishment.

In this case the linking narrative is a group therapy session within a secure mental hospital and downstairs at the theatre we were ushered into a tiny, dark room where five chairs and a desk were set up before the audience. A creepy nurse stood by as the five patients were ushered in to reveal just how they ended up wearing a dressing gown with no cord. A visit to cartoon theme park leaves a corpse with the impressions of Three Fingers, One Thumb on the throat, the mysterious Dr Babu proves that every favour given must be passed on no matter how gruesome, the furies of The Night-Born Sisters exact a terrible revenge, Case Study: Richard Gill results in murder when a spurned lover’s practical joke goes a bit too far and a family curse is the basis for the rhyme Marry in May, Rue the Day.

Each story was penned by a different author with the linking structure by Kim Newman

Kim Newman fortunately not signing in his life’s blood

and just like the Amicus Horrors, some stories were really quite chilling like Billy Clarke’s powerful monologue in Three Fingers, One Thumb, while others were played more for laughs like Dr Babu. Each of the seven cast members took on more that one role each with all coming together for the ensemble finale of Marry in May, Rue the Day. Sets were pretty basic, just furniture moved around by the cast whenever the lights dimmed, but that was all that was needed for some very effective storytelling. All of the cast were very good and unlike the Amicus movies none of the stories were real clunkers.

The bad news is that the West end run has ended the good news is Dr Myra Lark will return.

I’d really like to see what would happen if some serious money were thrown at The Hallowe’en Sessions for a TV special, come on BBC it would be brilliant programming for next Hallowe’en.

Soho – Coffee, a Shot of Garlic and some Pastis

Having a child free weekend it was off to Soho on Saturday night for a bit of adult time.

After a bit of booze shopping at Gerry’s we had a mooch in the Algerian Coffee Stores (52 Old Comption Street). Established in 1887 this has to be one of the best smelling shops in London with 80 fragrant coffees and 120 different teas on sale. You can even get a coffee to go at a bargain £1 for an espresso, beats Starbucks into a cocked hat in my opinion.

Best Little Coffee Shop in London, the Algerian Coffee Stores

Shopping done it was time for a drink so we went to the French House in search of some pastis. It’s not a big boozer and the downstairs was absolutely rammed, but one of London’s best kept secrets is the new upstairs bar where the restaurant used to be.

View from the top, upstairs at the French House

Just like downstairs you can only have beer in halfs, but you can generally get somewhere to sit down. There are some pretty groovy prints on the purple painted walls, featuring some of the French’s illustrious former patrons, like Aleister Crowley, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, which are available to purchase. We settled down at the bar and spent an hour or so chatting with the barmaid over a couple of Henri Bardouins, while waiting for Mr Wolfe to turn up. The French has an interesting history which you can read here

Our dinner date for the evening was at Garlic and Shots (14 Frith Street).

Garlic and Shots

We hadn’t eaten in Garlic and Shots for ages and some of the reviews I had seen on-line recently were pretty rough, but I suspect they must have been by people who hate heavy rock music and just don’t get the Swedish restaurant’s point. There are 50 shots on the menu and garlic comes with everything! It’s in the beer, the starters, main course and desert (garlic and honey ice cream is surprisingly good) . A round of garlic beers ordered we hit the menu. I ordered a crayfish starter which was delicious followed by the enormous garlic burger.

Garlic Burger

It was heavenly. We shared sides of baked whole heads of garlic and the most gigantic slabs of tasty garlic bread ever. I even forced down some of that legendary garlic ice cream. considering that there were four of us and we had three rounds of garlic beer, starters, mains, sides, water and desert I thought the final reckoning of £200 including service wasn’t bad.

Edinburgh – Bring on the Jubilee with Hawkwind, Curry and Beer

While most of the UK seemed to be drowning over the Jubilee weekend we were enjoying the sunshine in Edinburgh. After checking in to Dr Jekyll’s Travelodge (Dr Caligari’s was booked out) it was off to the Mosque Kitchen for their amazing £10 all you can eat buffet before the evening’s main event.

I first saw Hawkwind at the Reading Festival in 1975, when they played to 50,000 people. Queen’s Hall Edinburgh on Saturday night was a bit more intimate, in fact it must be the smallest venue I have ever seen the band play in. It was built as Hope Park Chapel in 1823, but converted to a music venue in 1979. We nabbed a position on the raised seating area to the left of the stage and settled in for the night.

Syren, a predominantly female band that had its origins in Rockbitch opened the evening. They held their own, but it was Hawkwind’s primal trance inducing beat the audience was waiting for. I honestly can’t remember how many times I have seen this band and while they did have a bit of an off moment in the mid to late 70s, they have seldom failed to to provide anything less than a great night out with their lightshow and dancers. Saturday was no exception.

Opening with You’d Better Believe It, it was almost as if they had read my mind as to what I’d like to hear them perform, Assault and Battery/the Golden Void, Sonic Attack and a ripping Assassins of Allah were all trotted out before closing the set with Damnation Alley

An encore of Psychedelic Warlords and Silver Machine finished things off nicely.

Now despite it being 10.30, it still wasn’t completely dark out on Edinburgh’s streets as we headed for the Auld Hoose in St Leonard’s Street, for a few beers over a discussion on the most pressing item of the day. Namely what instrument should a T.Rex play? Given his stubby little arms’ it was agreed that a trombone would be out of the question and that he could never emulate Lemmy on bass. Perhaps a ukulele? I like the Auld Hoose, it has a Goth, Rock and Metal jukebox and Staropramen on draft.

I liked the Queen’s Hall too. It’s a nice venue, the people who work there are very friendly and the bar is very reasonable, in fact with lager at £3 a pint it’s cheaper than most local pubs. The videos of Hawkwind are not the present line up.

More Curry and Beer – A Return to Theydon Bois

We had originally intended to go into London this weekend, but good old London Transport had decided to close most of the Central Line into town down. However we were not going to let a little thing like that get in the way of a bit of fun, so we took the tube outward to the Essex town of Theydon Bois again.

The Bull as seen from the Green, Theydon Bois

Arriving in the daylight we went for a walk on the Green where we met some very chatty ducks by the pond, before decamping to the Victoria for a pint of AK Bitter and then to the Bull where to my delight Young’s Special was the guest ale.

Theydon Bois has three Indian restaurants and we had already tried the Indian Ocean, which was a bit variable on the quality of the food and a bit flashy of decor. The Theydon Bois Balti House (Station Approach) on the other hand from the outside looks as if it has been caught in time warp. Black glass windows behind twisted columns, very old school curry palace, but it had been given a glowing recommendation by my physio who has her practice in the town.

Stepping inside we found a light green interior, fresh white table linen and a very well-kept tropical fish tank. The staff were very welcoming and there was that really great Indian food smell wafting from the kitchen. It was also rammed solid with other diners, so it was just as well we had booked a table.

For starters Mab had the Mulligatawny soup,

Mulligatawny Soup

Mab slipped me a taste and it was very good, obviously homemade with a fresh coriander garnish, I had the Seekh kebab,

Seekh kebab

while Nick had the Shammi kebab, both of which were delightfully spiced.

Shammi kebab

The main courses consisted of a Chicken Jalfrezi Balti for me, Mab’s Chicken Vindaloo and Nick’s Lamb Jalfrezi, along with Tadka Dahl (lentils), Motor Panir (cheesy peas), Sag Aloo (potatoes with spinach), onion rice and a Keema (spicy lamb mince) stuffed Naan.

Lamb Jalfrezi, Sag Aloo and Motor Panir, Keema Naan and chapati in the background

The food was really excellent and really well presented. The curries were garnished with fresh chili and coriander, the meat tender and well-flavoured. The Vindaloo was particularly good with a subtle heat, that gradually increased in intensity rather than blowing your head off. All in all top quality traditional Indian restaurant cuisine

Tadka Dahl, Chicken Jalfrezi Balti and Chicken Vindaloo

Needless to say that there was far more than we could eat, but we made a valiant effort. Over some very welcome complementary digestifs the manager came over to talk to us. We mentioned how much we had enjoyed our meal and he explained how he had chosen to stick with the original menu of basic Indian favourites like Vindaloo, Balti, Persian and Madras curries with either chicken, lamb or prawns, since opening the restaurant in the early 90s. No fancy new dishes with duck or fish for example. It’s obviously paid off for him, as the place was stuffed with happy eaters and we shall certainly be visiting again.

So what’s the damage? For three with papadoms, starters, mains, three vegetable dishes, two portions of rice, Naan bread, chapati, one bottle of Chilean white, two pints of Cobra, and water £76. Pretty good for three stuffed and happy diners.