Tallinn Tales – Ice, Beer and Ear of Pig

As you will have gathered from the previous Tallinn Tales it was pretty cold. It got down to -17 degrees. One of the first things I did when we arrived was to slip on the compacted ice and fall flat on my backside getting out of the cab at our hotel.

Frozen mid flow

Mind you not all of the ice was on the streets. Just off the town square and up the street called Dunkri is the Merchant’s House Hotel. In the basement you will find the very trendy Ice Bar.

Very icy vodka

Yes those vodka shot glasses are ice, but there are also cocktails served in traditional glasses, like the Kill Bill (Absinthe, Galliano and Jagermeister) or the quite extraordinary Green Fairy (Absinthe and Triple Sec), which is set alight, the vapour trapped within a glass and inhaled through a straw up the nose. Cocktails are about €5.

Still enough of such hedonistic pursuits, over the road is the Beer House (Dunkri 5). This is a German style brau haus that brews its own beer on the premises using Austrian yeast and German malt. Once you get past the extremely rude doorkeeper, the interior is very much as you would expect it to be, long benches, a stage for an Om Pah band and waiting staff in lederhosen and drindls. Then through the back there are a series of booths and small private dining cabins. We ate there on the second night and the food was quite good if mostly pork based.

Yes it's deep fried crunchy pigs ears#The deep fried crunchy pigs ears

The deep fried crunchy pigs ears were surprisingly tasty is a bit chewy, but I prefered my herrings with potato as a starter. I chose steak as a main, which was OK, but there seemed to be no difference between medium and rare as they both  seeped blood onto the plate. the most curious thing on the menu was the potato sausage which came with one of my companions pork knuckle. It was exactly that a sausage skin stuffed with mash!

This is quite a fun place for a night out, but it does get a bit boisterous and some of the staff are a bit sour. Home brew is about €4 a pint.

Here’s my top traveller tip for the Beer House: If you are in Tallinn for a couple of days with a few friends, pop in on your first day and buy a Beer House card for €10. This is activated the following day and will get you a 10% discount off your bill. We saved €18 on a meal for four with (lots of) drinks the following evening.

For a cheaper drink head back into the main square, where in the bowels of the Town Hall,

Tallinn's Town Hall

you will find the Dragon. That’s the name of this medieval themed pub, not the proprietor!  Here all the drinks are all €2 and served in a variety of chipped ceramic pots. Not that you can see what you are drinking as the Dragon is lit by candles.

Prepare to enter the Dragon, is Bruce Lee about?

As you leave you are asked to deposit any pots that you are not intending to steal in the basket by the door, according to our hostess, that’s where her dog comes to lick them clean!

Tallinn Tales – We get Medieval in the Evening at Olde Hansa

Right in the heart of Tallinn’s medieval old town is Olde Hansa a candle lit restaurant with a minstrel’s gallery and bear on the menu.


Olde Hansa

We’d eaten here on our last visit to Tallinn and enjoyed the food very much, so we’d already made a reservation before leaving the UK. The three floors of the restaurant have been fitted out with period look dark wood furniture, while the walls have been decorated with medieval maps and coats of arms. All the waiting staff wear medieval costume and most of the lighting is by candle, so the little torch concealed in Mab’s handbag came in handy for a bunch of 50 somethings trying to read the menu.

Where's the torch? downstairs at Olde Hansa

Honey ale was ordered and we ruminated over the menu with some dried elk while the band struck up a medieval tune.

The minstrels crank it up

I started with the Hansa Herring, which came with spelt bread, cream cheese, salad leaves and berry. It was very tasty. Then most of us had the the Himalayan lamb, a sort of curry of lamb with some eastern spice. This was served with a spelt porridge, lentils, turnip, pickled vegetables and a bean bag. The bean bag is a small pasty filled with bean puree and thankfully the pastry has got quite a lot lighter since our previous visit in 2008, when you could have built a wall with it!. My lamb was deliciously tender, it must have been stewing for ages and the pickled garlic was delighfully crunchy.

Himalayan lamb

Having polished off our second courses we were all too stuffed for any dessert!

While a lot of places offer what they call medieval feasts, the proprietor of Olde Hansa has really done his homework to create an authentic medieval menu, as would have been enjoyed by the Hanseatic merchants of old Tallinn. You will not find later additions to European cuisine like potatoes or tomatoes in any of the dishes. Wild boar is one of the most popular meats, but you can, should you wish, also sample bear. However the bear is quite expensive, unless you make do with the boar, bear and elk sausages (also very tasty) that I tried on our second visit.

Complete with quite a lot of beer the bill came to a bout €130 for four people.

My top traveller tip for Old Hansa is watch out for complimentary drinks vouchers in the English language shopping guides that you find in hotel lobby areas.

Beer and Curry in Theydon Bois

Even though it’s just two stops east on the Central Line from where we live, I had never been to the Essex village of Theydon Bois until about a month ago. Until recently it was just another point on the London tube map, but thanks to my elbow injury I was refered to see a physiotherapist there. Now being the sort of person who likes to make the best of any new situation I thought I’d see what else Theydon Bois had to offer and discovered two pubs and three Indian restaurants all within five minutes walk of the station. This bears future investigation I thought.

Before we go any further here’s a wee bit of history. the second part of the name is generally pronounced ‘boys’ and is derived from the Norman French de Bosco family who held the local manor in the 12th and 13th centuries. The spelling was only standardised as Bois in the 19th century when the Great Eastern Railway needed it for the station signs.

So where to eat? Well The Indian Ocean (Coppice Row) seemed to top the local recommendations, so reservations made we headed to the tube station. On arrival the first thing that struck me was that it was very dark. This is because the local villagers have consistently voted against street lighting  to maintain the local ambience and keep their council tax bills down. Whether this leads to more accidents and burglaries I don’t know, but it does mean that the night sky is very clear, so you can see plenty of stars.

The Bull, Theydon Bois

Our first stop was The Bull (Station Approach, Coppice Row). The building dates back to the 17th century when it used to be a private residence, but today it’s a fairly large and traditional village pub. Just the sort of pub we like really, music not too loud and a happy atmosphere, mind you any pub that does not need to have a goon on the door on a Saturday is alright by me.  It’s a Charles Wells brewery pub and the real ales on tap on Saturday, included Bombardier and The Governor. I had a pint of the latter and very pleasant it was. The food looked good, with generous sized portions too.

Next stop was The Queen Victoria (Coppice Row). This is a McMullen’s pub serving AK and Country bitter from the hand pumps. We opted for the cosy Victoria Room, much favoured by the local dog owners, rather than the bar,

The portal to the Victoria Room

where I enjoyed a pint of Country in front of the blazing log fire before the main event.

Now we had heard a lot of good things about the Indian Ocean and getting a table had been quite difficult. The restaurant is very contemporary in design and features a huge set of screens where air is pumped through water to constantly changing coloured light. I made a mental note not to sit facing them ever again as it was a bit like  watching the opening credits to a 1970s edition of Dr Who for the duration of our visit.

Dr Who Screen

So what was the food like. A bit mixed really Mab and I stated with the Harryali Kebab, tender char grilled chicken breast dusted with mint, coriander, garlic and chili which was delicious, but Nick’s Shami kebab was tasteless and bland. For a main I had the Rajeshwari chicken. Consisting of chicken cooked in tomato, peppers, coriander and garlic it was very good, Mab’s Dalcha Gosth (shredded lamb cooked with green chilis and coriander) was also a success, but Nick’s Duck e Roshidi (tomato, garlic, green pepper, coriander and onions) was again a bit bland in flavour. The side dishes Tadka Dahl, Aloo Gobi, Keema Naan and Sag Paneer were all excellent especially the Sag Paneer, which can often be a disaster in the wrong hands.

With wine beer and water the whole meal came to around £76 which I thought was pretty good value, despite the disappointment over some of the dishes selected.

Madeira – Casa Portuguesa

Since most of the restaurants we had sampled in Funchal’s Old Town had so far been so reasonable, we thought it was time to try one of the posh ones.

Casa Portuguesa

Casa Portuguesa, on the steep Travessa das Torres, has a reputation for high quality traditional Portuguese cuisine. Inside the whitewashed walls are punctuated with traditional blue tile panels, while shelves and other surfaces are adorned with the predictable rustic items bought as an auction job lot. On the crisp white table linen silver rests are provided for the cutlery and the staff are OCD attentive to your needs.

Me with soup at Casa Portuguesa

On opening the menu though, my hackles rose when I spied the €2.50 cover charge. Personally I think that’s a bit stiff for supplying bread rolls that people don’t always eat, it’s the culinary equivalent of Ryanair’s credit card surcharge. However to start there was choice of soups. I went for the tomato and onion which was quite good, but not anywhere in the same league as the one from the Donna Maria Restaurant  and horror! no poached egg.

Fish Soup

Mab and Nick had the fish soup, which was made with the ubiquitous Black Scabbard Fish. From the spoonful I tried it was certainly very tasty.

On to the mains, and I plumped for the chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce.

Chicken with Creamy Mushroom Sauce

Like all the dishes, this was very nicely presented,and came with potatoes, sweet potato and the local Madeira Marrow. This vegetable is also known as Chayote Squash or vegetable pear. The chicken breast had been butterflied and beaten almost micron thin, consequently the meat was a bit dry, but the sauce was very pleasant.

Mab had the steak with peppercorn sauce.

Chicken in Creamy Mushroom Sauce

While the carnivorous Nick had a mixed grill of chicken, bacon, beef and sausage.

Mixed Grill

Now this little lot came to nearly €100 with a bottle of local rose. While the food was OK I didn’t think the dishes showed any real flair or originality that justified the 33% extra price tag over the Donna Maria, so I was a little disappointed. However if you don’t have the odd bum experience you can’t appreciate the good ones. We took a look at the desert menu, there was nothing that special on it, decided to spend the money on beer instead and scarpered off into the night.

Madeira – Donna Maria Restaurant

“No honestly I can’t eat anything else, I will explode if I do!” was the response when desert was offered.

Rustic Interior of the Donna Maria

And it wasn’t too far from the truth, I was having a real Mr Creosote moment, because the first time we set foot in the Donna Maria Restaurant (Rua Santa Maria 51), we had seriously underestimated the generosity of the portions.

The Donna Maria used to be some kind of grocery store and it still retains elements of that in the interior decor, like the set of scales on the counter and the mocked up shelves of provisions. The food is basic Madeiran dishes and very good they are too.

Bread Soup

This bread soup that Mab had is, we were told, a good hangover cure. Made from stale bread and other leftovers, it’s also delicious and a bowl of it is a meal in itself. What you can’t see in the photo is the massive tureen of it, that our pork-pie hatted waiter left on the table just in case anyone fancied a top up.

Nick and I had gone for the lentils with spicy sausage as a starter.

Lentils with Spicy Sausage

It was enormous! Personally I would have liked it a bit spicier, compared to a Spanish chorizo, the Portuguese sausage was a little bland, but it was our first taste of local food after a very long day traveling and it certainly filled a hole.

Then this arrived.

Espetada on Laurelbay Skewers.

It’s the local specialty,Espetada, massive cuts of beef marinated in red wine, bay and garlic and roasted on a skewer of the local laurelbay wood. Yes that is blood on my plate, but the rare meat just melts in the mouth. I have to admit that I am just not used to eating such vast quantities of meat, but I valiantly struggled through it, along with the cubes of deep fried maize and salty smashed potatoes that kept it company. It was carnivour heaven.

That night’s meal only set us back about €60 complete with a bottle of wine, which I though was pretty good value. Needless to say we ate there again a couple of times. On our second visit we tried the special of the day, a mixed grill of beef, chicken, two different kinds of sausage, bacon and a lamb chop. I can’t remember seeing so many species all together on a plate since we ate in a Brazilian restaurant.

More meat

The specials were great value for around €9 per person, and left room to sample the deserts. I had the passion fruit pudding which was heavenly.

In fact I liked it so much that on our third visit I played safe with the starters and had the tomato and onion soup in the hope that I would not be to stuffed to enjoy the desert again.

Tomato and onion soup, octopus in vinegar beyond,

This had an egg poached in it and a really rich tomato flavour, It’s quite probably the best tomato soup I have ever had.

If you ever visit Funchal Old Town do try this place out. You won’t be disappointed, not only is the food good, the portions are vast and the bill will be surprisingly modest. On average with drinks expect to pay €20 each.

Sisters of Mercy – London Roundhouse

We just went to see the Sisters (honest we are not a Goth band) at the Roundhouse in London’s Chalk Farm. Last time we saw them I was a bit disappointed, but they played well tonight.

Opening with First and Last and Always a selection of songs including Alice, Marian, A Rock and Hard Place followed, before things went a bit mad with Dominion and This Corrosion from the Floodland album. There was also some newer stuff (well post 1990’s Vision Thing anyway) , that I’m not so familiar with as it has never been released.

The first encore included predictably More, while the second hit us with Lucretia and a storming full on metal Vision Thing before closing with Temple of Love.

One thing that does bother me about the present line up is that they rely too much on computers for backing the guitars and Andrew Eldritch’s voice, I’d like to see a proper bass player back in the band. I’d also like to see some new material officially released too.

Anyhow here they are from the good old days when nobody minded being a Goth with Wayne Hussey and the underrated guitarist Gary Marx, who went on to form Ghostdance with Anne Marie Hurst from the Skeletal Family.

And a nice one from the Patricia Morrison days shot in Jordan’s fantastic lost city of  Petra

So are they Goths, well a lot of their fans are and I don’t understand why Andrew Eldritch seems so bothered by the label.

Now while I enjoyed the gig it’s a shame the same can’t be said for the audience, while many were just out for a fun night and they were absolutely fine, some of them were right wankers, thinking nothing of pushing people about with no regard for their size or age, just so they could to get to the front, what a bunch of twats. And the Roundhouse seriously needs to sort out the problems with its exits before they end up with mass fatalities on the stairs.

Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls

You can tell it’s not a normal night out when you look round and the bloke standing next to you in the toilet has six extra arms. Yes it’s Alice Cooper’s Halloween Night of Fear at north London’s Alexandra Palace.

We got there just in time to catch the end of the New York Dolls set. Let’s face it the Dolls were always a triumph of image over content so I wasn’t unhappy that we got Trash, Jet Boy Jet Girl and an encore of Personality Crisis without any of the other old rubbish. Have to say that they looked business even if David Johansen did look as if he had been embalmed.

Cooper was in command of the audience from the moment the lights came up. Black Widow kicked off a set that ran through mostly hits from the early seventies like I’m Eighteen, Under my Wheels, Billion Dollar Babies and No More Mr Nice Guy, along with some recent stuff like Hey Stupid and Poison. Here’s some classic Cooper from the Killer album.

This was the sixth I have seen Alice (the first was in 1975 on The Welcome to My Nightmare Show) , each show has been different, but tonight was by far the best. The band were smoking hot with three guitarist including the lovely Orianthi who all got a chance for an extended work out with Halo of Flies even if it did include the dreaded drum and bass solo (time to go for a pee). Schools Out closed the set and was neatly segued with a call and response Another Brick in the Wall.

Cooper really knows how to work his audience returning to the stage for Elected, waving a Union flag and wearing an England shirt, but the best was yet to come as the show closed with the legendary Arthur Brown taking over vocal duties for his classic Fire complete with burning helmet.

So big thank you to Cooper and his band, the Dolls and especially Arthur Brown for a brilliant night out.

PR Week Awards

Last night I was lucky enough to attend the PR Week Awards at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel. The Stamps go Social project I had been working on with Onlinefire and PR agency Eulogy, just before I left Royal Mail was up for the Digital and Social Media Award, and the agency had very kindly invited me to the awards ceremony. Sadly it wasn’t to be our night as the category was won  by the RAF Benevolent Fund, but having said that getting as far as the shortlist was nothing to be ashamed of.

It was a pretty good night out, with a far too short opening set from Tim Minchin and the awards presented by Tony Blair’s spin doctor Alastair Campbell. I was delighted to see my pal Carol Barbone clinch the Public Affairs gong for her No Second Runway at Stansted Airport campaign, although it was a shame that she wasn’t there, so I could congratulate her in person.Well done Carol.

It was also good to run into and chat with my mate Matt Stokoe, now a Senior Director at Clarion Communications.

I like to think I taught you everything I knew back at Comms Services all those years ago Matt, must have taken all of an afternoon!

The food was pretty good too, I’m definitely going to try to replicate the goat’s cheese, beetroot and orange salad we had too start. The guinea fowl was delicious, even if it could have done with a little more green veg and the Grand Mariner creme brulee with orange sorbet was just divine.

Big thank you to the boys and girls from Eulogy and Onlinefire for a great night out.

Mission to Brixton

Last night we crossed the border into south London to catch the Goth triple bill at the Brixton Academy. Getting there was an adventure in itself as London Transport had closed the Victoria Line for ‘essential maintenance’ , so we had to catch one of the two trains every hour from Victoria main line station. It had been a long time since we had last been to the Academy, so we followed some Goths until we found the end of the queue snaking two sides around the block from the venue.

By the time we got inside Gene Loves Jezebel had almost finished their set. I had only a passing acquaintance with the band in the mid eighties and never got to see them live. Still sharp of cheekbones if not as luxuriant of hair , Jay Aston and crew knocked out a few familiar numbers before finishing on Desire, mine and the gradually increasing crowd’s favourite number.

Dry ice, stetsons, dust coats and guitars, it could only be The Fields of the Nephilim. I always thought they were one of the more interesting goth bands with their Sergio Leone derived image and the Morricone  inspired music. More ugly prog goth than pretty boy wasted goth. By Preacher Man the crowd were going nuts, forming human pyramids and idiot dancing as the bass notes reverberated up my spine. I like to say it took me back to my misspent youth, only I was about 30 when this came round the first time!

The mayhem continued with Moonchild, Psychonaut and a Last Exit for the Lost that would have rivaled peak period Hawkwind for its hypnotic trance like intensity. Guitars bass and drums with Carl McCoy swinging the mike stand and shouting over the top, it was rock music as it’s meant to be that still stands up pretty well twenty odd years later on.

I wish it could have been the same for The Mission. Two numbers from their crap (post the Children album) period was not the best way to start the set. Things got a momentarily better with The Serpent’s Kiss,

which still sounded fab, but a lot of the material hadn’t dated well. Don’t get me wrong it was still good to hear Wasteland, Severina and Garden of Delight, but whereas the Nephilim were as good, if not better than I have ever seen them before, the Mission were not a patch on what they were like in those heady days of 1987-88. Maybe things got better with the encore, but we had to leave to catch our train, how very un Rock’n’Roll.

The Brixton Academy is an interesting building. It was built in 1929 as a theatre and cinema, The Astoria and it still retains much of its Art Deco interior and a sumptuous Moorish proscenium arch. As the Brixton Sundown it was where Hawkwind recorded part of the classic Space Ritual set in 1972. Shame it has such an expensive bar and woefully inadequate and quite disgusting toilets though.

Het Elfde Gebod – Thou Shalt not get Found Out? – Amsterdam

This was a new place to us at the top of Amsterdam’s Red Light district. Slap bang next to t’Apjen is Het Elfde Gebod. Translated literally Elfde Gebod means the Eleventh Commandment, so I guess that makes it Thou Shalt Not Get Found Out.

The Eleventh Commandment

It’s a lovely little wood paneled boozer with about eight draft and hundreds of bottled Belgian beers.

“We only serve Belgian beer in here” said the bar keeper proudly as if “none of that Dutch muck” was about to follow.

Author growing head out of a bottle at Elfde Gebod.

It didn’t and fortunately the prohibition of Dutch beverages did not apply to oude Jenever, although Belgium along with two provinces of France and two German federal states are allowed by the EU to produce the distinctive ancestor of gin which must contain at least 15% malt wine. Jonge (young) Jenever may only have up to 15% malt wine.

At the rear of the pub is this rather nice leaded light.

Spot the Penguin

Blow the picture up and see if you can find the penguin.

Pint of draft beer about €5 upwards.