Working all week and doing a very physically exhausting job can sometimes (always!) knock the stuffing out of me, so much so that I find that weekday evenings for an old codger like me tend to be quite chilled and quiet. I am often guilty of nesting…with a pack of hobnobs and the latest series I’m currently into…wild, I know. See, the thing with me is that I live for the weekends and find that most of my ‘fun times’ take place on a Saturday or Sunday when I have more time to get ‘stuck into’ things and quite frankly, have more energy! Oh to be young and carefree again eh…
But, and it’s a big but, I recently had an epiphany of sorts and realised that at the mere age of 31 the world is still my oyster and I really ought to be getting out and about more during the week. After all, you can sleep when you’re dead right? With that in mind, I decided to throw caution to the wind and have a night on the town on a TUESDAY… yep, you read that right, a Tuesday of all days. Wild or what??? I must be out of my almost middle-aged mind…
Having done a little reading online, I had decided that there were two things I wanted out of this wild, debauched Tuesday night – they were…. Good cocktails and good food! So, doing what I do best, I ventured online to read up reviews and recommendations for anything happening in and around Soho… a lively place to start my search, I thought. As it turned out, I was right and the choice was inexhaustible. There seemed to be a plethora of things going on and all I had to do was take my pick… easy! That morning, I rang ahead and made two reservations – one for an exclusive cocktail bar in central Soho – reservation time 6pm -8pm (2 solid hours of drinking time, plenty I’m sure!), followed by a scrumptious dinner at Temper – run by the charming owner that is Neil Rankin. The second reservation was booked for 8.30pm meaning I had time to make it (or indeed stumble) from one location to the other with ease.
Having arrived in the area slightly earlier than anticipated and definitely too early for my first reservation, I decided to have a wander around and see if anything would pique my interest and help me time-fill. Unsurprisingly, considering the bustling nature of the city, there was a multitude of things going on.
People watching is one of my favourite pastimes and Soho provides the perfect backdrop for some very eclectic, eccentric and fashionable types. Just take a look at this pampered pooch I happened to stumble across… best dressed dog in town, I’d say.
There was so much going on at that time of the evening that my time very quickly sped past and before I knew it I was off to Poland Street for pit stop number 1 – Milk & Honey – a prestigious cocktail bar and member’s only club. How very decadent for a midweek outing eh!
The first problem I encountered was actually finding the entrance. Such a den of iniquity it was, I couldn’t for the life of me, find the way in! The address stipulates that the bar is situated on 61 Poland Street (and, indeed it is) but it took me a good five minutes of grappling with google maps to actually find the sodding door. Interestingly, the bar itself was located exactly where it specifies – 61 Poland Street – but the entranceway is as innocuous as can be and one could easily wander past several times without ever really noticing it. The outer façade really doesn’t look like much and one could be forgiven for thinking that it’s the entrance way to an office block of some kind. Looking back, I think that the entrance way is designed to be ever so subtle and congruent to the rest of the surroundings on purpose – to remain exclusive and secret – a hidden gem shrouded in a cloak of normality. After all, that’s what you’d want as a member right… an air of disguise, not just a doorway for any waifs and strays ha!
Having finally found my destination (phew! Not too late for my 6pm slot) I ventured into what can only be described as a dimly lit, intoxicatingly scented vestibule area where we were greeted by a charmingly polite and enormously attractive hostess. She inquired as to our names and reservation times and took any bags or coats we wished to proffer. The entrance way felt swish and luxuriant and as silly as it sounds, smelt of wealth and class. The heady aromas of incense filled my nose and excitement flooded my veins. I knew I was to be in for a good time…
Being lead through a cascading curtain of black velvet, we were at once ensconced in a room that could only be described as an alluring darkness- the lack of any natural light tantalising the senses and transporting you back in time to prohibition America and the illicit moonshine liquor parlours. The interior is stunningly simple and in keeping with old Manhattan vibes – the tiles that surround the walls and ceiling are metallic – perhaps brass – and emit an almost golden glow from the candle lights which flicker around the room.
The room itself is small, intimate and laced in a darkness that pervades a blanket of privacy. It looks and feels classy and sophisticated without having to try too hard.
The cocktailers stand at a small corner bar at the back of the room and work tirelessly to create exquisitely delicious cocktails. Through the dense darkness of this ‘speakeasy’ setting, you can barely see them work, but to be frank, you don’t need to. Conversations flow, drinks are freely ordered and the cocktails that arrive at the table are simply stunning and slip down a treat – some so ridiculously strong that you have to gently sip to truly appreciate the fullness of the flavours at work. Legend has it that each fruit juice has been lovingly squeezed by hand and that the ice is chipped away from a twice-frozen block of mineral water, using only an ice-pick – now if that’s not dedication to cocktail making – what is?
The cocktails when they arrive are not fancy affairs adorned with all manner of lurid decorations that we so often see – there were no glace cherries and no sparkly straws – the drinks, though simplistically presented, are still beautiful nonetheless, however the beauty lies in the flavours rather than the aesthetics. The cocktails I sampled (and I sampled a fair few!) were moreish, tantalising and flavoursome and every sip made me feel as though some Willy Wonka-esque magician was behind the scenes concocting these incredible flavours….cocktail making as an art form I would say.
The drinks are suitably priced and all drinks cost approximately £10. The menu is extensive but not overwhelmingly so and the waitresses who meticulously attend the tables are extremely knowledgeable and conversant with all the drinks on offer. On asking for a recommendation and explaining that I liked fruity/citrusy drinks, I was directed towards a Florodora or a Twinkle – both of which were juicy, fruity, sweet and intoxicating and so very very drinkable. Needless to say, I indulged in a fair few. The waitresses were impeccable and their knowledge was second to none. At one point, noticing that a particular drink was not the one for me, our lovely hostess whipped away the glass and came back with an alternative for me to try – attention to details such as this made me realise that this place was a cut above your normal cocktail joint.
Having sampled at least four cocktails from the menu, I felt that I needed to make haste for my next slot at Temper – if only to eat all the meat to soak up the copious amounts of alcohol that was swishing around inside of me! As I left Milk & Honey, I promised myself that I would make time to return and savour even more of their delectable menu.
Having walked past Temper a number of times, I was only too keen to try it out. I’m a real foodie and love meat – the idea of BBQ meat and fire-pit cooking excited me beyond all possible belief.
Our reservation was for half eight and we arrived on the dot at 8pm. We were shown downstairs to the lounge area where we sampled two of the house cocktails – the Irn Bru Spritz and the Du Peche Mode.Both were delicious and fragrant and beautifully presented – much like the restaurant itself. The lounge area was cool, chic and modern with accents of light wood, blush pink and cool blues – the area was comfortable and unpretentious and it made for a pleasant half hour of chitchat and laughter before we were shown to our table.
The restaurant area itself is just insane. Straight away I realised it was my kind of vibe. It’s classy and cool but everyone’s welcome and there’s a palpable sense of energy in the air. The ambience plays with your senses – your nose detects the earthy, heady scents of the meat cooking in the fire pits and your mouth salivates over the dishes being brought to the neighbouring tables. The place is dimly-lit and evocative and you can’t help but look around at adjoining tables and have a nose at what’s going on. The place is literally teeming with people – those who are seated around the bar looking into the pit and those who are seated at the many number of tables surrounding it. The place is a hustle and bustle of excitement and the music- very carefully curated – is buzzing! Not a single song played that I didn’t love. The atmosphere is quite literally electric! I love restaurants with that kind of energy and life. It makes dining out seem all the more exciting.
The menu is small but tantalising brilliant – everything being cooked right before your eyes in the wood and charcoal fire pits. This isn’t a place for the feint-hearted as the menu appeals to the most carnivorous of us all – the meat- eaters galore, who like to feast upon good quality, finest cut meats.
I opted for the aged cheeseburger tacos and the lamb flatbreads with a side of beef fat potatoes and grilled corn. My stomach was quite literally doing flips with the anticipation of what was to come…
The aged cheeseburger tacos were divine – small but meaty, succulent and bursting with flavour.
When they arrived, the greedy glut side of me was left disappointed by the portion size – I felt like the dish wasn’t going to be sufficient to satiate my hunger cravings, but I was wrong, completely wrong! The small meaty mouthfuls were a taste sensation and every forkful that went into my mouth yielded different flavours. This amuse-bouche has stimulated my senses and whet my appetite for what was to come. Simply delicious and surprisingly filling – though I still retain that I could have eaten another portion with ease.
The flatbread with the lamb was another corker and quelled my meat cravings to an even greater extent. The lamb was tender and fall from the fork kind of cooked – it was succulent and scented and made the perfect pairing with the roti flatbreads which had been roasted to perfection. The doughy-ness of the bread coupled with the rich flavour of the meat was divine. The sides of corn and potatoes were the literal icing on the cake – the corn (which I’m not usually a fan of) was so minty and fresh and provided the perfect crunch to go alongside the main. The tastes and textures worked perfectly together and made for a delightful combination.
The potatoes were my favourite dish and I could quite happily have polished off another portion all by myself. The ooziness of the melted cheese was to die for and the creamy, butteryness of the dish was just exquisite. The whole thing ladled onto one plate was just heaven with every forkful. The tastes melting and melding together to create culinary perfection! Talk about a cave man diet!
Having polished off the main, I wasn’t sure whether I had room left for the desert, but I was determined to give it a good go… On a recommendation from the waitress, I opted for the pan fried cookie with ice-cream and boy, was I glad I did. It was the perfect end to an already fabulous dining experience. The cookie was doughy and chocolatey and mixed beautiful with the melting vanilla ice-cream ladled on top. The ‘batter’ of the cookie almost resembled – both in looks and taste – that of a sweet Yorkshire pudding. It was phenomenal.
Neil Rankin, I salute you and your concept. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of your restaurant experience and I say experience because the outing was more than just the food. It was the ambience, the excitement, the fervour and everything else that made this night a good one!
With my belly full and my heart content, I left the restaurant with a grin that stretched from ear to ear. What a pleasant midweek outing, I thought to myself.Glancing at my watch I noticed that the time was close to 11pm… my heart did a little leap knowing that I had a super long journey home and a 5.45am start the following day, but you know what, sometimes a little midweek mischief is just what we need… a Tuesday well spent I’d say.