Opium Dim Sum & Cocktail Parlour

Yes you read the blog title correctly, “Fermented Pandas” are indeed on the menu in Chinatown. They’re delectable, addicting and dangerous. Once you’ve had one, you will want to indulge in more, until you arrive at the realisation that they are indeed quite potent, and maybe you should have called it a day whilst on the third fermented panda!

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Fermented Panda in the blue and white china cup

I hope by now you have realised that I am not talking about some form of inhumane animal cruelty and that I am in fact talking about one of the many glorious cocktails you can enjoy at ‘Opium Cocktail Bar & Dim Sum Parlour’ on Gerrard Street.

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Opium

‘Fermented Pandas’ wont be on the bar menu you are given, however, if you make a request to one of the bar staff then they should be able to whip one up for you, I would recommend doing so. The cocktails at Opium are concocted in such a way that they are refreshing and palatable, whilst slowly creeping up on you until you realise you are definitely receiving your money’s worth.

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Once the night starts to reach this point, there is a further room that you can move to (away from the main room and bar) that includes a more comfortable seating area, befitting for relaxing with your cocktail.

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A selection of wine, ‘Mysterious Yam Sing’ shots & ‘Devil Doctors’ at Opium

Whilst serving many “oriental” themed cocktails (£11-£15), unique to Opium, they also serve the classics (starting at £10.50). I would recommend The Devil Doctor (£13.50) if you’re feeling adventurous and fancy your chances with absinthe!

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The Devil Doctor

Take a peak at the website www.opiumchinatown.com

If you want to visit: 16 Gerrard St, London W1D 6JE (look out for the hidden door, a friendly bouncer should be there to greet you)

Every time I’ve ventured to Chinatown, I’ve ended up succumbing to the alluring atmosphere, where sometimes you actually feel like you’re in your own little world, full of low-lit hidden bars and cheap & appetising restaurants that stay open very late. If you’re wondering what to do on a Friday or Saturday, I would recommend heading over to Chinatown for early evening drinks, working up an appetite and then gorging on mouthwatering oriental cuisine. Chinatown is undeniably more worth a visit on a bustling weekend, rather than a quiet week-day night. If you’re on a budget, then on top of the cocktail bars such as Opium or Experimental Cocktail Club, there are also many pub’s (such as O’Neil’s) that can get incredibly lively.

Old Town 97

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As you may have guessed from my previous description of an ideal night in Chinatown, I have usually headed for food (bar a few occasions) in the very late hours of the evening after finishing off a few cocktails first. Old Town 97 is one restaurant that does stay open very late (opening hours are 10am-4am) The menu at Old Town 97 is extensive, you may find yourself debating over dishes for a very long time if you’re a Chinese food fanatic like myself. However, if you’re heading here with one other person I would highly recommend Set Menu B (£16.80 for 2 people) that includes dishes such as peking duck, crispy shredded beef, gyoza, stir fried chicken, stir fried pak choi and egg fried rice. I used to be incredibly apprehensive when it came to set menu’s, however this food has left me incredibly tempted to ask for a doggy bag to take home every time – it’s just delicious.

The full menu can be seen here on Zomato

If you are a wine lover and this habitually determines which restaurant you choose I wouldn’t hold your hopes up in that department as the choice is slightly limited, not a Sauvignon Blanc or Malbec in sight. However, if you’re happy to settle for the house wine then this won’t be a problem.

I headed here for a casual and fun evening after a day of traipsing around London with my parents when they came to visit. The service has always been friendly and fast. However, my Dad sparked up a conversation with a member of staff and he received some slightly special treatment. The friendly waiter offered to make up a Sambal for our main course, on the house. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Sambal, it’s an Indonesian sauce that traditionally includes ingredients such as; chilli peppers, shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar, lime and vinegar, amongst others. Beware, it’s usually incredibly spicy. The Sambal that was prepared for us was to die for, especially if you’re a lover of flavour. All in all, Old Town 97 has consistently provided me with one of the tastiest and most generous Chinese meals I have eaten, trust me I’ve eaten some bad ones (slimy chicken, greasy spring rolls and over-battered beef are not to be found in Old Town 97).

If you want to visit: 19 Wardour Street, Chinatown, London, W1D 6PN

 

If you live in or near London and you have never been to a speakeasy, you are well and truly missing out! Low lighting, delectable cocktails and early 1900’s decor make speakeasy’s like nothing else you could imagine. They’re often bustling, with many establishments taking reservations beforehand so it’s useful to check out if your speakeasy is by appointment only.

Here are three speakeasy’s in West London that you MUST check out.

Cahoots

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The Entrance

‘Cahoots’ in Kingly Court is not one that needs a reservation, however on a busy Friday or Saturday night it may be wise, if you don’t want to queue. You will be transported into a 1940’s tube station built in an abandoned air raid shelter from World War II. Cahoots greets you with a uniformed train guard and a vintage style ticket booth.

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All of the female staff are also dressed in character, red lipstick and hair rollers galore! To make the experience as authentic as possible, the seat’s have been recreated using real fabric from the London Underground.

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There is complimentary popcorn upon arrival and you will find yourself constantly looking around the room at the interior design and vintage style posters covering the walls, it is exactly how you would expect a 1940’s & 50’s tube station to appear. You may find your drink being served to you in an ‘old-school’ style glass milk bottle, a “rations” tin or a china tea cup. Most of the cocktails on the extensive cocktail menu range between £8-£10, which many would agree is a good price for a speakeasy in Soho.

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However, for the more discerning customers there are cocktails ranging between £11-£25. Cahoots bar menu offers ‘ration style’ light bites and bar snacks that echo 1940’s cuisine, ‘with a twist.’ Cahoots is a lively and loud atmosphere on a Friday or Saturday night, perfect with a group of friends.

If you want to visit: 13 Kingly St, London W1B 5PG

Take a peak at the website: http://cahoots-london.com

Evans and Peel Detective Agency

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Photo courtesy of www.evansandpeel.com

Probably one of the most fun and quirky procedures you will encounter in order to access a speakeasy in London. Away from the hustle and bustle of Soho, Evans and Peel is hidden amongst residential streets, just off of Earl’s Court Road.

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The entrance

If you’re looking to confuse and bewilder your friends then book this on your own and take them here by disguising it with another name so they can’t research it beforehand. You must book an appointment before arrival by calling this number 020 7373 3573 or on the website, www.evansandpeel.com. You will be asked to leave your name and “state a case,” in which you will have to make up a fake case such as your dog being stolen or a friend being kidnapped.

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The entrance and exterior of the building is quite easy to miss so make sure you have your maps to hand! Upon finding Evans & Peel you will ring the bell and be buzzed in, you will then be greeted by an actor posing as a “detective,” his outfit is fully reminiscent of the speakeasy era. The detective will ask you to state your case, followed further by some questions upon you will have to play along (you can have a lot of fun here!). Then finally, you will be allowed in via a secret bookcase.

Once inside you can order food and drink. “Sliders” range from £5-£8, they are more on the side of snacking food and smaller than most would expect, so if you’re heading here for a more substantial fill, be prepared to order about 6, which they do for £25. The food is an eclectic mix of mini versions of burgers, pulled pork buns and cheese based dishes amongst other things.

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The cocktail menu is less extensive that Cahoots and the cocktails range from £10-£11. We felt slightly rushed to finish by the staff due to it being such a busy attraction with reservations obviously being in demand, however it is definitely worth a visit.

If you want to visit: 310c Earls Ct Rd, London SW5 9BA

Take a peak at the website: www.evansandpeel.com

The Vault (Milroy’s of Soho)

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Behind the bookcase – The Vault

This is one for the whisky lovers! The Vault is an underground speakeasy hidden gem concealed by a bookcase (much like Evans and Peel). You may be more familiar with Milroy’s of Soho, London’s oldest whisky bar. However, if you enter Milroy’s (no reservation needed) and advance straight past the bar and towards the bookshelf at the back, give it a gentle push, walk down the stairs and you will find yourself in an intimate speakeasy. I found myself relaxing on the sofa with a cocktail, and I never wanted to leave.

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The staff were attentive, approaching us to take more orders once we had finished our drinks, meaning we didn’t even have to order at the bar or search for a member of staff – total relaxation. Cocktails range between £9.5-£11.5. Even though it is a whisky shop, there are still gin, vodka and rum based cocktails to tickle your tastebuds if whisky doesn’t take your fancy.

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Relaxing in The Vault

I have discovered from speakeasy bar hopping around London that many of the cocktails contain egg white, this is actually a tradition that dates back further than a century! Don’t be afraid to try, the egg white gives the cocktail a rich, creamy texture and can also provide a frothy topping. I would recommend “Apple of My Eye” if you’re an egg white virgin and looking for a new experience.

If you want to visit: 3 Greek St, London W1D 4NX

Take a peak at the website: http://thevaultsoho.co.uk

My exciting first blog post will be about the best steaks I have enjoyed in London! Here are my top 3 restaurant’s based on service, food and atmosphere…

3. SOPHIE’S STEAKHOUSE 311-313 Fulham Road, London, SW10 9QH

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In third place is Sophie’s Steakhouse in Chelsea. In terms of service, Sophie’s Steakhouse was down-to-earth and positive. It was very busy and buzzing in here, meaning our waiter was slightly frantic, definitely more of a young person’s restaurant. The fillet steak (£30) was cooked well, very rare yet very very tender and incredibly generous with the portion – the phrase “melt in the mouth” has never been more relevant. The Rib eye comes in at £25 and the sirloin at £29. The creamed spinach side (£4.50) works stunningly with the steak. The steak also come with a bernaise sauce (in a separate pot), dripping fries and a house salad, so it is the best value for money out of of my top 3 restaurants. Sophie’s Steakhouse is great for a mid-week dinner outing with friends if you want to wine & dine in Chelsea.

I would also recommend:

The thick cut onion rings (£4), if you’re in the mood for pigging out with your meal then definitely get these as an added side to your steak.

2. HAWKSMOOR SPITALFIELDS 157A Commercial St, London, E1 6BJ

In second place is Hawksmoor Spitalfields, self proclaimed as “the best steak restaurant in the UK,” the fillet comes in at £34 which again I had, the ribeye is £30 and the Sirloin is £27.50. The creamed spinach (£5) is incredible here, by far the best side I have ever had! Once again it was very busy and loud in here due to the tables being relatively close together, that’s the reason why it has come in 2nd place (the steak was just as mouth-watering as 1st place). However, the service was amazing. My boyfriend and I were offered a free starter due to our main only being slightly delayed (it was hardly delayed). I would definitely recommend Hawksmoor if you don’t mind the noise. It’s a thriving and buzzing atmosphere on a Friday night, so head here with some friends or maybe an exciting date if you want a lively atmosphere!

I would also recommend:

Puddings: The Peanut Butter shortbread (£7.50) and Salted Caramel Rolo’s (£4), both to die for if you have a sweet tooth.

2. MAZE GRILL 10-13 Grovesnor Square, London, WIK 6JP

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Maze Grill, Mayfair

The winner has to be Maze Grill in Mayfair. The fillet steak (rare breed) comes in at an eye watering £40, but it is worth every penny, I have accompanied it with the blue cheese sauce for an extra £2.50 both of the times I have been (yes, I had to go again!). In terms of flavour, texture and size, Maze Grill ticks all three boxes.

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Medium rare fillet steak with peppercorn sauce and garlic

If you opt for the Mac & Cheese, be warned it is a little on the salty side but still incredibly delectable. The service was attentive and polite, and it wasn’t too noisy as the tables were spaced well apart. We were given iPad’s in which to choose our wine, wine boff’s like my father could sit there for hours trying to choose a suitable bottle. I would recommend a Malbec with the steak as it compliments it beautifully, a bold Syrah also hit’s the spot. If you fancy a cocktail before you dine then enjoy one (£13-£15) in Maze Restaurant, (not to be confused with Maze grill) which is in the same building but on the left, rather than the right, as you enter. Maze Grill has been filled with an eclectic crowd both of the times I went; tourists, families, young couples, old couples and groups of friends. It seems like a wonderful setting for a birthday or for a special occasion. The restaurant is also notorious for its sushi and sashimi so if you’re more of a fish lover then Maze Grill can accommodate you too.

I also recommend:

Small Plates – Buffalo Chicken Fillets (£5)

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Buffalo chicken fillets

If you’re into bold, spicy, punchy flavours then this is the perfect starter for you, I could eat this all day, it also comes as a main course and it is exactly the same in terms of flavour.

One other restaurant that I would recommend is Flat Iron (9 Denmark St, Soho, WC2H 8LS). If you’re on a budget in Soho and want a steak night then this is the place to go! The only steak they serve is a “flat iron” steak for £10, also known as the “butler steak” or “oyster blade steak.”

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Flat Iron steak

The cut is from the shoulder of the animal and it is slightly tougher than the average fillet or rib eye, however it is packed full of flavour and the sides are marvellous. I had creamed spinach (£3) and dripping cooked fries (£2.50), all sides are between maybe £2.50-£3.50. The atmosphere in Flat Iron is great for a date night, the lighting is slightly darker and it’s a rather small area, however if the tables are full then you could be seated at the bar which actually makes for a very intimate and fun dining experience. Be warned it is an incredibly popular restaurant and they don’t take reservation’s so you could have to wait upto over an hour on a Friday or Saturday night.

I would also recommend: The salted caramel sundae (£3.50) is deceivingly delicious,  it erupts from what appears to be a whipped cream dispenser into a small cup, however once the mousse is sprinkled with sea salt it becomes a scrumptious, light dessert. If you’re with a partner who has a big appetite I would recommend getting two as they can disappear incredibly quickly.

If you want to “do it yourself” with steak then Wholefoods (Piccadilly Circus, Camden, Kensington, Fulham & Clapham Junction) do an incredible Wagyu steak for £10.

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Wagyu Beef

Simply season with salt, pepper and garlic paste and cook on an incredibly high heat in a pan full of melted butter for 2 & a half minutes on each side to accomplish a medium rare steak. Beautiful!