Sunday, 21 May 2017

#AllGunsBlazing with Ben Spalding and Arnaud Bignon

Consider this a serious food-porn alert. I am about to walk you, dish by dish, through the most recent of Ben Spalding's #AllGunsBlazing events.

If you've never been to one of these, it works like this: Ben is joined by a fellow chef (usually Michelin-starred, always extraordinary) and they work together to produce a twelve-course menu. Some dishes are from Ben, some from the guest chef and some are cooked collaboratively. Previous luminaries have included JP McMahon (Aniar), Adam Handling (The Frog) and Calum Franklin (Holborn Dining Room), creator not only of legendary pies but also of the world's best Twitter hashtag. (No, I'm not telling you, go and look.)

In the interests of transparency — about which I have pretty strong views — it's worth mentioning here that I've been lucky enough to have been invited as a guest to several of Ben's dining events recently (although not this one; I bought these tickets, back in February after blogging the Meat Lust bus tour). I will remain, as always, fully open and honest about my opinions - I have long thought him an extraordinary talent, and the evidence is only building — but this has given me a little more insight into what motivates and drives him as a professional, which has been fascinating.

Anyway, back to #AllGunsBlazing; this time, in partnership with Arnaud Bignon of two Michelin-starred The Greenhouse restaurant in Mayfair.
The event hit the ground running with a selection of Table Nibbles, waiting for us as we were shown to our seats by the lovely Sarah. Arnaud contributed the spelt crisp with soft cheese and smoked duck along with the liquid Greek salad, which not only looked beautiful but was one of my favourite dishes of the evening. A perfectly bite-sized, glistening red globe with a tiny basil leaf garnish, this bursts in your mouth to release a flood of fresh, complex Greek salad flavours — an experience not unlike the tomato sphere in the Prairie Oyster at The Bar with No Name (in other words, wonderful).

Ben provided a varied range of nibbles, my favourite of which I think was the caramelised kohlrabi, buttermilk jelly and white chocolate skewer. Characteristically inventive, this might sound like an unlikely combination of flavours but it was marvellous — as was the roasted pickled onion in chicken butter and spicy ginger wrapped in nori. Spalding's dishes are regularly outside-the-box creative, but never for novelty's sake; every single component adds to the flavour and balance of the final dish.

We officially started with B&B; Hackney Wild sourdough bread served with Grant Harrington's gorgeous cultured butter, sprinkled with brown sugar and mushroom powder, lightly blowtorched and served on a board with smoking spruce twigs.

One of the fabulous things about the #AllGunsBlazing dinners is that it removes the barrier between chef and diner. Ben and Arnaud were not hidden away in a high-tech kitchen but mere feet away, preparing and plating everything right in front of us, introducing the dishes and interacting with guests throughout the evening. I can't help thinking that this must be a welcome change for the chefs as well as extremely cool for the guests. I should probably point out here that all this is being prepared and served in an event space above a corner shop in Hackney, with very few of the standard toys and equipment which chefs at this level are used to. I have huge respect for professionals willing to step so far outside of their comfort zone.

First up from Arnaud was this dish, Hemoglobin;  vividly-coloured, elegant and stylishly presented, with the bold, earthy flavour of beetroot balanced with the tang and acidity of yoghurt, smoked eel, pumpernickel and dill.

Then came Tomato Vs Tomato Vs Tomato, Ben's delicate and delicious salad of late spring tomatoes prepared in different ways — including an intensely-flavoured, almost jammy, dried version — with radicchio, sour cream, pomegranate molasses, grapes, ripped mint and iced basil in a spruce bark honey dressing.

The bar set high by both chefs, we moved on to Arnaud's next dish, Iodine, which was preceded by a flurry of activity on the part of the chefs and a waft of woodsmoke. Little Kilner jars arrived at the table, containing a cold jellied dish of cockles, mussels, calamari, dashi and basmati rice; when opened, a fragrant wisp of smoke drifted up towards each guest.

Here, opinion on the table was divided. I really liked this dish; for me, this was the closest thing to eating an oyster without actually eating an oyster — cool, briny, slippery, tasting of the sea. One of my companions however was not a fan of the texture. (I ate hers. I'm not too proud to admit it).

Ben's next dish, Mr Mung, characterises his love of taking a Cinderella ingredient and transforming it into the belle of the ball. Here, the humble mung bean is fermented with over thirty different flavourings and served with tom yum mayonnaise topped with MSG chicken skin and pork skin, creating a delicious houmous-type dip with contrasting crispy nuggets of crackling.

The next item on the menu, simply entitled Cauliflower, was the first collaboration dish. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the #AllGunsBlazing dinners; two incredibly talented chefs with very different styles, not only delivering their own dishes but working with each other to create one savoury and one sweet dish for the evening. (It was particularly fascinating this evening as they were so very different; Ben positively fizzes with energy, whereas Arnaud has an almost yogi-like zen calm about everything he does.)

This dish was another of my favourites: cauliflower, slow-roasted in beurre noisette with garam masala, shaved almonds, yoghurt, black garlic crumble, marmite cream cheese and grated bitter dark chocolate. Every component intensified and enhanced the flavour of the cauliflower, bringing out an extraordinary, unexpected, satisfying depth. You know when you bump into the unattractive kid you went to school with and they're now unbelievably hot? The Neville Longbottom thing? Brad Pitt in Friends? That.

On to a dish created by Ben, which the menu informed us is called Piggy Cheesy Cheesy Piggy; this typifies not only the quirky and playful aspect of his cooking but also his guiding principle that exceptional food doesn't have to be formal and priced beyond the reach of most — as evidenced by his frequent and absolute willingness to dispense with cutlery of any kind. This was a delicious shot of Italian prawn, Iberico pork and warm Parmigiano Reggiano broth with raw peas and chilli oil, in a glass.

I'm going to mention here the hand model for this particular shot; my neighbour for the evening, Head Chef Asimakis Chaniotis of L'Autre Pied. Another thing that makes these evenings such fun is that the vibe is so buzzy and relaxed (Ben also curates a playlist of rare funk, groove and classic disco from the music side of his business) you end up brazenly chatting to the perfect strangers sitting next to you — and no, this time its's actually not just me.

Asimakis was there with restaurateur and founding Director of Pied à Terre and L'Autre Pied, David Moore (pictured, left, with Arnaud Bignon). I have to say, they were the perfect dinner companions: interesting, great fun and utterly charming both. Just as well really, as the friend sitting next to me was deep in conversation with the person to her right, chef James Wilson, getting an insider tip on seasoning steak.

Next up was another cutlery-free dish that really makes you get up close and personal with your food — a warm malt loaf and butter mousse that is squirted onto the back of your hand in a picturesque rosette for you to lick off.

Confession time; my camera skills may have been deteriorating slightly at this point and, by the time much faffing had been done, the mousse had melted into a rather unphotogenic blob. It was great fun though, and utterly delicious.
Did I mention there is a cash bar providing cocktails and a brief but carefully selected wine list, including a sprightly Sauvignon Blanc and a hefty, full-bodied, spicy Château Musar 2009 that went very nicely with Arnaud's next dish?

This was Black is Back, a visually dramatic and intriguing dish of meltingly tender lamb neck with aubergine and harissa providing a wonderful, deep smokiness.

And so on to desserts, the first of which was another collaborative dish, Liquorice: toasted liquorice marshmallow with sweet potato ice cream, blueberries dressed in tonka bean caramel, crispy artichoke and young lemon balm. I'm not a huge liquorice fan but this was really good; the sweet potato ice cream in particular was a revelation. The guests also had a front row seat for the theatre of top chefs toasting marshmallows over a blazing fire - indoors. As you do.

Arnaud's sweet dish, Tagada, was a light dessert of strawberry, basil and popcorn with a delicate freshness and an accomplished mix of textures. I loved the note of basil lifting the sweetness.

Our final dish was Aromatic Fudge, from Ben: a trio of chocolate fudges made with dark, milk and white chocolate, all flavoured with cardamom and served with whipped maple cheese, iced lemon thyme, crispy pea shards, toasted pecans and dusted with raspberry powder.

The intensity of the fudge was beautifully balanced by the accompaniments and it was so interesting to see how the aromatic warmth of the cardamom came out differently in each of the three chocolate fudges.

The #AllGunsBlazing dinners are a steal for both the quality and quantity of food, even without meeting the chefs and seeing them at work. If you haven't been, I highly recommend it - I think there is one more booked (with Jonathan Tam of Relæ) and, at least at time of writing, there were tickets available. It is so chilled, so much fun, and the food is awesome. And, please, go hungry.

Yours, in foodie heaven,

London Girl About Town xx

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Hai Cenato & the Drunken Oyster

Hai Cenato, as pretty much everyone in London now knows, translates as 'Have you had dinner?' and is Jason Atherton's latest venture. Situated in the increasingly interesting Nova food centre in Victoria and launched in collaboration with Social Eating House Chef Patron Paul Hood, the focus is on New York/Italian food: small plates, sourdough pizza, pasta, risotto and grills in relaxed surroundings and at accessible prices. So far, so good.

There is a deli on the ground floor (which we didn't visit) for those after a quick breakfast/brunch, or perhaps stocking up for some al desko dining. Entrance to the restaurant is through giant tinted glass doors opened for you by sharp-suited staff who wouldn't look out of place hustling a president into a black limo. Inside, the ambiance is quite intimate for a large-ish space, with low lighting (hence, apologies for the quality of the photographs) and a mixture of seating. Caricatures of Atherton's fellow chefs adorn the walls (sparking much competitive muttering at nearby foodie tables) and there is a monthly 'guest chef' pizza from one of the greats.

We visited when the pizza was courtesy of Tom Kerridge; the signature sourdough base came topped with ground spiced venison, Milano salami, Gorgonzola dolcelatte, sorrel and lemon zest. Clearly we couldn't eat here without trying this - and I'm very glad we did. The buzz about the pizza here is entirely justified; the huge domed pizza ovens that dominate the counter area like 1950s sci-fi robots really deliver.

I've eaten an awful lot of pizza in my time, but this was one of the best. Distinctive but balanced flavours in the topping (although, note to self - grated lemon zest is really hard to distribute evenly over anything) and an absolutely first-class base. Thin, crispy, chewy, with a tangy, sourdough kick, this was seriously impressive.
To go with, we were recommended a light and very drinkable Villa Mura Malvasia Veneto, pretty reasonably-priced at £25. There are five reds and five whites available by the glass too, if you prefer.

We also ordered the confit guinea fowl risotto and some satisfyingly crunchy cracked potato with garlic aioli, rosemary and sea salt; imagine serving up the roasties and then scraping the bits from the bottom of the tray. Wonderful.

By now I was so carbed-out by my holy trinity of bread, rice and potatoes that I didn't have room for the planned mini gelato cones that you can get from the deli, so it was straight off upstairs to the in-house cocktail bar, 'The Drunken Oyster'.

The bar is dimly-lit and cosy in a members' club kind of way. We could have sat and reminisced about the pizza with the 'taptails' - a range of prosecco-based cocktails literally on tap - but, though tempting, we decided to hit the main list.

The Cosa Nostra was one of my favourites: a sophisticated mix of Havana 3yr rum, Amaro Montenegro, Palo Cortado and blood orange sherbert. The seasonal bellinis are a refreshing, lighter alternative and the affable staff are happy to make your favourite to order if it's not on the list (as witnessed by my companion, for whom an evening is just not complete without at least one espresso martini).

I'm going back. I'm having the grilled octopus starter. I'm having the gelato. I'm having taptails. And I'm always, always having the pizza.

Yours, with a new pizza pitstop,

London Girl About Town xx

Friday, 10 March 2017

teamLab: Transcending Boundaries at the Pace Gallery

Formed in 2001, teamLab is a Japanese collaborative group of digital experts from a number of different disciplines including art, programming, animation, mathematics and design. Preferring the term 'ultratechnologists' they aim to transcend the traditional boundaries between these fields, with influences ranging from pre-modern art and ancient calligraphy to contemporary anime.

In this exhibition at the Pace Gallery in Mayfair the worlds of art, technology and nature blur around you and blend into a fascinating new landscape.

We were first shown into a small side-room where we were able to leave our coats and were swathed in white shawls. Our guide then led us into Flowers Bloom on People, a completely dark room, and instructed us to keep as still as possible (FYI, sitting down with your legs outstretched gives you the best balance between comfort, effect and viewing options).

What happened next was captivating. Slowly, gradually, on us (hence the shawls) and on the floor beneath us, flowers started to bud, blossom and - if you moved, or touched them - disappear in a flurry of scattered petals. My companion and I changed positions at one point and the flowers gradually regrew and, rather wonderfully, formed a bridge between us.

I can see why there are strictly controlled time slots for visitors; it was so absorbing that not only did the time fly by ridiculously quickly but we could both have stayed in there for hours, enthralled. Courteously, firmly, we were ushered out and into the main room.

This was equally magical. Universe of Water Particles, Transcending Boundaries is basically a virtual waterfall that streams down the entire far wall and then along the floor, flowing around the feet and hands of the viewers as it comes into 'contact' with them. What is particularly cool is that, like the flower room, this is not a pre-recorded or looped video; the installations react to you, to the other people in the room and even to each other, meaning that what you are looking at has never been seen before - and will never be seen again.

In Flutter of Butterflies Beyond Borders, Ephemeral Life, a cloud of butterflies appears from wherever you are standing and flutters around, heading off into the other artworks and interacting with them; for example the butterflies will gravitate towards the flowers generated by Flowers and People, Transcending Boundaries - A Whole Year per Hour which sees a seasonal year of different flowers bloom and die over one hour.

Enso is a work in progress for teamLab, who have been working on 'spatial calligraphy' since the collective first formed. Enso is the Zen discipline of drawing a circle with a single stroke, either as a written brushstroke or drawn in mid-air using a stick or cane, representing enlightenment, truth and unity. This three-dimensional version encompasses the speed, direction and pressure of the brush stroke as well as the visual aspects of the ink mark, so you are caught up in the process of creation as well as the finished result.

We left, reluctantly, feeling as refreshed and uplifted as if we had just finished a yoga class or spent half the day in a spa. When I grow up I want this in a dedicated relaxation room in my house (I read somewhere that the Spellings had three separate gift-wrapping rooms in their Los Angeles mansion, so hey, why not?). The only way it could potentially be any better would be the addition of some kind of subtle fragrance to make it even more immersively sensory — a series of different florals for the flower room? Something fresh and ozone-y for the waterfall? (Oh, and perhaps an ice bucket tucked away in the corner for some fizz . . .)

This exhibition transcends boundaries of many kinds: those between art and technology, technology and nature, between art and the gallery space and between art and the viewer. It achieved all you can ask of art; it provoked an immediate emotional reaction and raised questions we were still debating for days afterwards. Come on, teamLab; this needs to be a permanent installation somewhere in London. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Yours, creating flowers from darkness,

London Girl About Town xx

Friday, 17 February 2017

Bone Daddies, James Street

I first started this blog in the summer of 2012. My aim then was exactly the same as it is today; to shout about London's amazing food, cool bars, thought-provoking art and random eccentricities from her lofty rooftops, to light a path and entice both newcomers and world-weary locals along it with me. In December of that year, I blogged a newcomer to the noodle scene in Soho, a rockin' ramen bar called Bone Daddies. We've both moved on a bit since then.

Ex-Zuma and Nobu chef Ross Shonhan seems to be a bit of a trailblazer. Bone Daddies was soon regularly bursting at the seams (reading back through the blog it did make me smile - those were the days when a 'no-reservation' policy was actually worth mentioning!) and the following summer saw the arrival of Flesh & Buns, the original steamed bao 'beer and buns' joint, in the style of an Izakaya - a kind of casual restaurant/local bar hybrid that is a common and popular post-work pitstop in Japan. I probably don't need to tell you that the concept was a hit.

Shackfuyu opened early in 2015 serving Western-inspired Japanese dishes. By the end of the year it had turned into the Pinocchio of pop-ups and become a real-life permanent bricks-and-mortar restaurant, alongside an ever-growing brood of Bone Daddies: Kensington, Bermondsey, Old Street and now James Street. There's even a little sibling on the way, planned for the new NOVA development in Victoria later this year. So, full circle, I find myself once again queueing on a bitingly cold London evening (so cold, in fact, that the staff came out with shots of warm sake to keep us going - much appreciated, thank you!) to see what's new.

First impressions: it's bigger than the original (James Street has an additional downstairs dining area) with a lower-volume version of their classic rock soundtrack and consequently has a slightly more grown-up feel. It's as if the experience has been dialled down just a notch from the full-on Soho version: roomier, lighter, quieter. This may not last, of course, as this was only day two of opening (and I confess I love the unapologetic in-your-face energy of the Soho bar) but it's good to have the choice.

The industrial-chic interior has a couple of seats at the bar (which has a small but perfectly-formed sake and whisky selection) and communal wooden tables with stools. If the madness of a first-come, first-served soft launch is anything to go by, the front of house staff will cope admirably with anything you can throw at them (props to the lovely Noemie and Julius, who got the whole thing bang on).

So, on to the food. We had starved ourselves in preparation (the sacrifices I make for you, dear reader) and so hit the bar snacks hard. First to arrive was the wild soft-shell crab with green chilli ginger sauce, and a dish of smashed cucumber. My initially cautious companion was converted by the tempura-style crab and the well-balanced spicy dip.

As we were seated at the bar, it seemed impolite not to order a cocktail or two to go with. We went for a Gini Hendrix (long and refreshing, with yuzu sake, gin, cucumber and oolong syrup) and a moreish lychee and pomegranate martini. A plate of the sweet and spicy edamame went down well; wonderfully messy to eat (you get a little wipe each with the bowl for empties) and more interesting than the usual salt or chilli options.

We then went for a prawn nama harumaki - a fresh spring roll (similar to the Vietnamese version but with pickles as well as the fresh vegetables) and a wasabi mayo dip. I really liked this; it was super-fresh, as it absolutely has to be for this to work, and the individual flavours all came through well.

I could happily have worked my way through the rest of the snacks menu (sweet spicy pig bones! Korean chicken wings!) but we wanted to try the offerings from the James Street site's new toy - a robata grill. Robata means 'fireside cooking' in Japanese and is a barbecue-style cooking method similar to an Argentinian asado, where food is placed at different heights over different sections of the grill to control heat and timings.

First was the chicken yakitori with shichimi pepper, well-flavoured and with just the right amount of crispy char-grill on the edges. If I sound as if I am damning this with faint praise, it's only because it arrived with the ox cheek kushiyaki (i.e. grilled skewer), which is like turning up to a party with Scarlett Johansson. This was my stand-out dish of the day, really showcasing the intense smoky flavour imparted by the grill. Padron peppers and kimchee butter were inspired companions and the soft, tender meat was utterly delicious.

We also tried the pork belly kushiyaki, which was my companion's favourite and really good in both texture and flavour; the fierce heat of the robata suits pork well, producing both juicy meat and crispy skin. If I hadn't already had the ox cheek I would probably be raving about this too.

It's kind of obligatory to order ramen at a classic ramen bar, so we did. It was everything we have come to expect from Bone Daddies: warming, soothing, tasty, with perfect Clarence Court eggs and a rich, creamy broth - 'a warm hug in a bowl' as my companion put it - and reassuringly, just as good as I remember. I notice that the 'cock scratchings' which caused such social media mirth nearly five years ago are now trademarked. How times change.

It occurs to me that I have only ever visited Bone Daddies in the depths of winter, when a big bowl of hot, comforting spicy noodles is a welcome escape from the icy streets. As I wandered off home, I found myself planning a summer trip for snacks, skewers and an ice-cold Asahi beer.

Yours, loving that robata grill,

London Girl About Town xx

Square Meal

Bone Daddies, James Street Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Meat Lust Bare Bones tour with Chef Ben Spalding

So - here we are wandering the backstreets of Hackney Wick on an ominously overcast Saturday afternoon, looking for the venue of choice for our Meat Lust Bare Bones tour. As it turns out, this isn't too difficult, as said venue is a London double-decker bus, painted bright pink and pimped into a mobile barbecue shack/ bar/party venue/kitchen. As you do, right?

The key themes of the day are meat and flavour: big, bold, inventive, uncompromising, assertive. For those of you unfamiliar with Meat Lust (at least in the culinary sense) they produce a range of street-food inspired sauces with, as they say, 'thug flavours that punch hard and don't apologise', including a Buffalo sauce with a smooth buttery flavour and a big cayenne kick, and a rather moreish fruity Chinese BBQ.

To showcase these they have assembled a seriously strong team, headed up by acclaimed chef Ben Spalding (ex Fat Duck, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Le Manoir, Roganic and John Salt to name but a few) and friends cooking on-board dishes on the top deck and each of the featured foodie stops creating a taster dish for the tour.

The Gipsy Hill Brewing Co. manned the downstairs bar, providing four beers apiece from a selection of six; after all, who doesn't love beer and barbecue? (In a fabulous touch, the labels on the beers feature staff members, with charming co-founder Sam McMeekin, left, in a starring role on the Beatnik beer.) A neon-lit interior and cool soundtrack set the mood and we were ready to go.

First stop, The Ribman. A street-food stalwart at Brick Lane, The Ribman is also well-known to hungry West Ham fans as he serves up his amazing ribs and rolls outside the Boleyn Tavern whenever they play at home. The Ribman has a pretty strong hot sauce game himself, with his Holy F**k sauce heading up a range of freshly-made (and similarly-named) sauces. We started off here with with some meltingly soft rib meat rolls - though smart money was already on going the bun-free route to leave room for later. If you are one of the lucky few to get a ticket for this, I strongly advise this option.

Back on the bus and off along the streets of East London to our next stop, and time for our first dish from Chef Ben Spalding. This extraordinarily talented young chef has a touch of the maverick about him; he is driven, knowledgeable, passionate and uncompromisingly creative. If you were trying to find a critically-lauded chef trained in a series of Michelin-starred kitchens willing to freeze his bits off on the top deck of an open-topped bright pink bus in February and prepare bespoke dishes in a six-foot-square space on a barbecue on a moving vehicle, he would be your guy. And boy, did he deliver.

Dish one was Bingo Wings - brined, poached and caramelised turkey and chicken wings in ML Buffalo sauce with apricot, blue cheese popcorn and creamed Blacksticks blue cheese. This balance of textures and bold, punchy flavours set the bar high for the rest of the day.

Our next stop was Clutch chicken and on came a tray of 'chicken lollipops' - succulent chicken with a satisfyingly crisp, crunchy coating flavoured with soy and garlic. We paired this with a Gipsy Hill Beatnik beer, a light and very drinkable pale ale with only 3.8% abv - perfect for pacing yourself without sacrificing taste.

But that wasn't all. The Clutch team came back with yet more goodies - trays of spicy wings and 'Love Me Tenders' - juicy chicken breast strips with a zingy parmesan and lemon coating. I'm planning a trip to nearby Columbia Road flower market in the spring and have earmarked this for a proper visit to check out their cocktails.

Back on the bus, our next dish from the chef was New Kid on the Block - one of the candidates for my standout dish of the day. Rack of kid was blasted on the barbecue and lightly flambéed in smoked black rum. A tartare was layered with crispy chicken skin and a delicate kid chop, served very rare, wobbly and delicious. The chicken skin was a perfect scoop for the wonderful tartare, lightened with a trace of pineapple and lemon thyme.

As if this wasn't enough, it was served on a block covered with set caramel, to be licked clean. I confess now that this has been my foodie equivalent of 'the one that got away'. I was one of the hordes that had booked months in advance for a chance to try Spalding's 'Chicken on a Brick' at John Salt several years ago before creative differences led to an early exit. It was everything I had hoped it would be. Closure feels so good.

Next stop, Foxlow. Head chef Jon Stewart arrived on the bus for a quick Q&A and bearing gifts - his favourite cut, Hanger steak, cooked medium-rare with shiitake mushrooms, whipped bone marrow and fried shallots. I was a particular fan of the bone marrow as this is such a rich and strongly-flavoured ingredient that I sometimes find it a little overpowering but this was beautifully balanced. By this time we had moved on to Gipsy Hill's Belgian dubbel, Les Gilles, a malt-based beer with a sour cherry finish (and weighing in at a hefty 6.5%) - our new favourite from the crew and a good match for the robust flavours of the steak.

By now the temperature was seriously dropping and I felt for the chefs upstairs. Our next dish to arrive was #Smokinduck - Gressingham duck leg brined and slow-cooked, served on a pancake topped with a barbecued cabbage leaf, creme fraiche, red plum, ML Chinese BBQ sauce and a velvet slap of flavour from umami king MSG. Again, the expert balance of flavours was incredible; each note distinct and at the same time a crucial part of the whole. On a more prosaic note, we were all grateful that this was small in size if not flavour, as we had all pretty much eaten our own bodyweight in meat.

Our final stop was Bleecker Burger; I love burgers as much as the next guy - more, probably - but its not the kind of thing you generally choose to eat when you are already full. Happy days, then, when we opened the full-sized carton to find a slider-sized burger - and testament to Bleecker and their delicious dry-aged beef that we all finished every bite, despite having just announced that we couldn't possibly eat another thing. (By we, I mean the entire lower deck of the bus, as we had by now all got to know each other and were having the best time. Fun events attract fun people, clearly.)

Homeward bound, but still two dishes to come from the chef and his hardworking team of two upstairs. The next was This Little Piggy - pig cheeks brined, grilled, braised and then glazed with ML sweet green chilli sauce, served with a smoked lychee, cream cheese, crispy rice and sour pomegranate. This was served on a swirl of crisp, puffy crackling and though I was about to slip into a meat coma, it was irresistible.

Last, but definitely not least - and my other contender for stand-out dish of the day - was Crack Rib. Before the major player arrived it was already a winner, courtesy of these highly addictive little numbers here. They were basically a kind of crack crouton infused with (I think) garlic and blue cheese. The incredible thing was the explosion of flavour when you put just one tiny cube in your mouth - I'm totally hooked! Ben gave these out in advance so we could taste a few and sprinkle the rest over the beef.

The main dish was aged Longhorn beef short rib, served on the bone, glazed in ML BBQ mop sauce, seasoned with smoked sel gris salt with Bramley apple, tom yum and crack crumbs. I cannot tell you how unbelievably good this was - silky-textured, incredible depth of flavour, with the intense apple tang to cut through it - it was perhaps a shame that it didn't get an earlier billing. I totally get that it is a real 'drop the mic' dish but we had all eaten so much we were struggling to breathe and couldn't do it anything like the justice it deserved.

We agreed that we would have been pretty happy to pay the ticket price for this alone and rolled off the bus feeling vaguely guilty at the quality and quantity of food and booze we had got for the money. (And on top of this, I won a selection of beers in the social media comp, so walked away with those too!) So, thank you Meat Lust, thank you Gipsy Hill Brewery, and most of all thank you chef Ben Spalding and the guys for a truly unforgettable dining experience. To create those dishes in a restaurant kitchen would have been impressive, but in those conditions - I humbly salute you all.

Yours, finally ticking off the brick licking,

London Girl About Town xx