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Below are the 8 most recent journal entries recorded in the_square_mile's LiveJournal:

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007
12:12 pm
A big fat "Chuh!" to Chez Gerard
Chez Gerard in Watling Street is about to receive a very, very mixed review from me. And a stern look.

I don't know if they were breaking in some wild waiters (you know - they go out and capture them on the Pampas and basically have to break their spirits and teach them to fake a good French accent before they graduate from black shirts to white, right? That's how it works, right?); but we had a good waiter/bad waiter thing going on.

First the guy in the white shirt turns up. Obviously French. He knows the specials, he smiles, he is charming and pours the water. Then the guy in the black shirt turns up. He's gruff, doesn't make eye contact and one of my colleagues had to virtually climb up him and give him a good slap before she got her green beans and fries (by which point she had finished her main course). Then the guy in the white shirt turns up to apologise for the guy in the black shirt. Then the guy in the black shirt turns up to grudgingly pony up the fries and beans. My verdict on the staff: maybe decent enough three-day-eventers, but SO not ready for dressage at competition standard, you know?

I had snails to start and they were perfect (the others had asparagus and some gigantic prawns, which also looked very good - in fact the asparagus looked wonderful). For a main course I tucked into steak tartare, and was disappointed to find it over-seasoned. Now, ordinarily I don't mind seasoning. But when you're tucking into what basically amounts to an animal that has been slightly stunned and laid on your plate without further human intervention, I become slightly suspicious of excessive seasoning. And this thing was seasoned out of the range of human tastebuds. A shame. But you never know what you're going to get with steak tartare, do you? Some are plain and lovely, some are subtle and lovely, some give you dysentery and leave you weeping in a darkened room for two months, begging the clemency of your own bowels.

The entrecôtes looked nice. But I'll be frank, the sauce Béarnaise that came with them looked as if it had been sitting around for a while. You know the way English mustard goes in cafs? Yeah. Not a lot. But slightly. And slightly is enough.

However the sea bass looked GORGE.

Desserts: eh, rather bland and forgettable, with the exception of my colleague's pear and chocolate thing, which looked fab, but she refused to share.

Current Mood: working
Thursday, February 9th, 2006
11:34 am
The Place Below, darkest December 2005
Cast your minds back to the dark days of December 2005. Do you remember? Frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow?

During the early part of the month, my companions chiller and cornfedpig made an agreeable proposition: that we three should come together and huddle in the warmth and light of St Mary-Le-Bow church in Cheapside, partaking of such physical and spiritual refreshment as the good vicar and his matrons could offer in that place, so that we might step out into the darkness of the wintry city streets carrying with us our own light--a light inside our souls--and perpetuate that light within all our further undertakings.

The Place Below, located in the crypt of that goodly house, is a vegetarian restaurant, and its menus change daily. However, on any day you are sure to find a hot soup, a casserole, a selection of salads, and perhaps even what the fashionable persons of the day are calling a Quishe, or Quich (although it is whispered that only bachelor men eat Quishe, and so perhaps it is best avoided for those gentlemen who tend toward too much grace).

Upon our arrival I was surprized by the vastness of such a menu! in such a small space! and was quite overwhelmed and had to allow the fine gentlemen following me in the queue to go ahead of me until such time as I was able to gather my wits and make a decision. In my lingering stupor, I opted for an aubergine and lentil casserole. I must admit that I was secretly taken slightly aback when the matron requested that I complete the transaction by giving her Seven Pounds and Some Pence, but the portion was large, and as a Lady of no meagre income (at least five thousand a year, not to boast!) I have a duty never to be seen to be mean in polite company. However, I did not opt to purchase a pudding.

The casserole proved to be a delight to the senses, and to the soul, and I felt most satisfied with my choise. chiller took to table in posession of the Soup of the Day, the Flavour of which I cannot remember, but which appeared to please my good friend, and she remained in high spirits throughout the meal. cornfedpig not only purchased a main course, but also purchased a pudding, which was a fruit crumble, and which he ate in front of my good lady friend and myself without even a thought of offering us a taste. I confess that I secretly thought his manner most extravagant and his behaviour most boorish, but as he is a Fine gentleman and still quite eligible, I believe it behooves me to remain in his good graces, and so I did not make my displeasure known.

And we did step into the darkness filled with light and, of course, soup and aubergines (and one filled with crumble), and it is my firm Belief that we were all three the better for having conspired to visit St Mary-Le-Bow and its delightful Place Below. I entreat you all to visit for yourself--and if you go, to share your crumble with the Ladies.
Monday, December 5th, 2005
2:47 pm
The Lloyd's Building Cafeteria
Thrusting bizarrely from the corner of Lime Street and Leadenhall Street is one of the most love-it-or-hate-it pieces of architecure in London. The Lloyds Building, built to house Lloyds Underwriters in the 1980s is a gleaming Gigeresque piece of work, resembling a segment of a giant Terminator-style robot snake, dropped by passing aliens. No, really. That's exactly what it looks like. So little wonder, then, that your intrepid review team (in the form of me, offensive_mango and cornfedpig), decided it was a must-have for the_square_mile. Ok, ok. It was all cornfedpig's idea.

The Underwriters have come up in the world. Back in the late 1600s they were originally housed in Edward Lloyd's coffee house where they underwrote the risk of buns going stale, or possibly the jam not turning up in time for afternoon scones, before moving on to the fabulous Royal Exchange in Cornhill in the late 1700s, (it burnt down, but was rebuilt, again fabulously); thence to Leadenhall Street, then Lime Street, and finally they sorted themselves out and had a place built.

Now, obviously they don't just let any fool wander in there - security's tight. Given the high fool-rating each of us presents to the world (and cube it, when we're together), I can hardly blame you if you harbour the suspicion that we were less likely to get in than most.

Thank heaven, then, for friends in low places - this time in the form of cornfedpig, who rolled offensive_mango and me into a tool-bag and used his credentials as a photocopy repair-man to sneak us into the building. Once inside, he let us out, and proceeded to show us the floors where people scurry about with armloads of risks, trying to persuade the corpulent and slightly smug-looking underwriters to cover their arses. I mean the arses of the risk-bearers. The underwriters don't bear arses, they bear risks. Oh dear, this has become very complicated. I shall move on.

Cries of "dance for me, little puppy!" rang out, as the Underwriters took full advantage of their positions of power.

In the centre of the room where all the scurrying happens is the Lutine Bell, which rings whenever a ship sinks. Beside it, on large lecterns, are the books detailing the losses (ie: ships sunk). They're absolutely vast and are maintained in a flawless caligraphic hand. Today's book stands open beside the book from 100 years ago. We were hungry and may have drooled on them a little.

After scampering about the place for some time we followed cornfedpig to the cafeteria, which regaled us with its many delights: pasta; roast beast; salads and drinks and CAKE - all manner of things were available and to obtain them one need only run the gauntlet of slightly vile tempered Underwriters, who are used to being treated like god and don't hold kindly with the notion of someone in a skirt being ahead of them in the queue, much less so if she's offensive_mangodawdling with the gravy. Of the choices available, Sausage and mash won out for all three of us (are we sensing a theme to these reviews?); and we repaired to a table, whereupon I noted that everyone around us was very serious and all of them were doubtless talking about work; and furthermore it was entirely likely that nobody had ever laughed in this cafeteria.

We proceeded to have one of those lunchtime conversations which results in each of you slumping, red faced, teary of eye and snotty of nose, into your mashed potato, undone by silent mirth. (Why is silent mirth so much more painful than the normal variety? And so much funnier). It was contagious and after a while I could see that one or two tables around us - doubtless also hosting photocopy repairmen - had started having fun too. Marvellous. They're probably still trying to get the last vestiges of joy out of the carpet even now.

[1]After lunch we did the only sensible thing and played for some time in the glass lifts, which soar gut-stoppingly up - or indeed down - the outside of the building and onto the heads of those walking in the street below. Well, it looks that way until you get to ground level and discover that you have miraculously missed all of them by scant inches.

Then we felt sick and went home.

If you have a yen to see the inside of the Lloyd's Building without tucking yourself into one of cornfedpig's roomy toolbags (although I can't recommend the experience of the toolbag highly enough); you can actually book a tour here. Although I doubt very much that they will let you titter in the canteen.

[1] The pic is St. cornfedpig and offensive_mango playing with my knitted telephone sock outside the lift doors. I am pretty sure nobody has ever salaciously fingered a telephone sock at that altitude before. It should be noted that any right-thinking adult would have been too busy appreciating the amazing view to have bothered with a phone-sock. But ... well, I think this photograph allows you, the reader, a valuable insight into the frightening carnival that IS the_square_mile.
12:15 pm
K-10, 20 Copthall Avenue, EC2R 7DN
You'll hear K-10 commonly reviewed as "one of the City's best Japanese conveyer-belt resturants". I harbour a suspicion that this might be because there aren't any others (I can't think of any), but the fact is the food's very good and the sushi very fresh, prepared in front of you by a team of industrious chefs working inside the conveyor loop. How do they get in there? I have no idea. I assume they pole-vault in before any of the customers arrive. Or perhaps they're actually imprisoned inside the loop and never leave. In which case: lucky them.

The resturant provides take-away sushi upstairs with the dining room tucked away below, down a curved staircase. It's bright and clean-looking, with a selection of pop playing in the background at a volume sufficiently discrete to not be a distraction (pop's essential cheese for a kaiten restaurant, as I'm sure you'll agree). The counters have little recesses in them which harbour the usual condiments - soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger, as well as napkins and chopsticks. Still and sparkling water are on tap, which means you can potantially have a very cheap meal indeed.

If you haven't been to a kaiten ("conveyor belt") restaurant before, here's how it works: each plate cruising past you on the belt is colour-coded. A menu on the counter tells you the price of each colour - all you do is pick whatever you like off the belt as it passes, hang onto your plates, and at the end of the meal someone comes and tots it up.

The only problem I've ever had in K-10 is that the atmosphere's so laid back and the staff so unobtrusive, it's sometimes hard to grab someone's attention to get a drink. The raised finger and vague waggle of brows which works so well in most City joints doesn't wash here and on my first trip I eventually found myself pouncing on a passing member of staff like some sort of dehydrated praying mantis. It's a minor complaint though, and certainly hasn't deterred me from going back there regularly.

As with all good things, there's a knack to successful dining at K-10: arrive bloody early. Any later than 12.05 and you'll find yourself in the queue - which extends from the dining room on the basement floor, up the stairs and out onto the street, such is Londoners' craving for raw swordfish, green tea custard and california rolls (not all together, obviously). My own recommendation is that little thing with the light green seaweedy stuff on top. It's so good it may eventually be criminalised.

K-10 is open from 11:30am to 3pm.

Average Price: £20
Telephone: 0207 562 8510
Friday, November 25th, 2005
10:49 am
Friday, November 18th, 2005
3:46 pm
Arkansas what you've done there
Yes, I am catching up on my backlog of reviews. offensive_mango is a hard task mistress.

So today it was off to the Arkansas Cafe in Spitalfields. With the romantic memories of Las Vegas nuptials fading into the distance offensive_mango was after a taste of home, and Bubba* did not disappoint. El Mango had also taken the wise step of reserving a table, which didn't seem necessary when we turned up at 12:15 but when we left just after 1:30 it was pretty full with a number of large parties, so would seem advisable.

It was a bitterly cold day (for those of you who have forgotten what it was like 3 hours ago), so we were more than happy when we were escorted in the back dining room and proferred the table directly in front of the open fire. chiller and offensive_mango were able to discard a couple of layers of their fine attire and we sat down to warm ourselves up.

Our surroundings were enlivened by signs such as "No Spitting", "Save the Food" and other assorted humorous remarks, along with a box for a James Brown doll (complete with green/orange colouring) and a fake mounted pigs head. It all suited the general atmosphere of the place, and the staff were prompt in offering to take our order.

The food is pretty no nonsense, the offerings being BARBECUED MEAT, with either BREAD or VEGETABLES. Plus BOOZE. I ordered duck with veg, Ms Mango ordered beef brisket (what the hell is that?) with veg and chilly ordered duck. No veg. No bread. Weirdo. She did at least order booze, albeit cider, whereas Mango had coke. I had beer. Foreign beer at that. I am known for my willingness to try new things.

The food came, and simple as it was, it was also very tasty. The duck that I had was succulent and tasty, and cooked rare was full of juice and flavour. Mmm. Actually I could eat it again now. The veg were some delicious mashed potatos, which for me is like, just brilliant, along with the odd combo of baked beans, rad cabbage and coleslaw. Hell, it probably fulfilled my "5 a day" requirement, and it was all tasty.

offensive_mango's beef was good, and chiller finished her duck, but I can't remember if she liked it or not. Oi, chiller, did you like it?

Conversation flowed, and all too soon it was back to my non-meeting and an afternoon of restaurant reviews. The beer was tasty too. If only I could have had a couple more.

Summary: definitely one to go back to again, but next time I want more beer and a pudding ok? And no meetings in the afternoon, dammit.

*Bubba is the chef at the Arkansas Cafe, this isn't a pet name for anything.
3:28 pm
Wag ya mama's
The first lunch time meeting of the Square Mile reviewers club was less well attended than was to become usual due to offensive_mango's absence, which if memory serves was due to getting married in Las Vegas.

The glamorous chiller and I therefore set out to a) meet for the first time and b) have a spot to eat at the Moorgate branch of Wagamama.

Noodles. Rice. Meat. Veg. It's not hard is it? Well that's what you may think, but the success of the Wagamama chain has been in no small part due to the fact that they do the simple things well, and so my regular order of the Yasai Katsu curry was well cooked, well presented and as tasty as it always is. chiller had some sort of soup which she seemed to enjoy, but as I had never met her before I just had to take her word for it that she normally went that colour.

Our meeting proceeded to contain fainting goats, tiny horses and assorted other background trivia that you are probably not interested in, and fun was had by all/both/whatever.

One thing that regular bargain hunter pipistrellus had put me onto before our visit was the Wagamama website, which regularly contains offers for various branches, and as the food is of a consistent good quality across the chain all you need to do is make your way to a nearby branch to take advantage. chiller and I enjoyed a free side dish (chicken, I think), and pipistrellus and I downed a free bottle of wine on our visit to the Soho branch a couple of days later.

In summary, Wagamama's produces food of a consistent good quality that, if not exactly exciting, is excellent value for money.

chiller on the other hand offers excellent company, but I cannot comment on her value for money.
Friday, November 11th, 2005
5:06 pm
S&M Cafe reviewed
Today we indulged in a spot of S&M. No, the S&M Cafe, silly, where S stands for Sausages and M stands for Mash! Being the_square_mile, of course we chose the branch on 48 Brushfield Street, just round the corner from Liverpool Street Station and Spitalfields Market.

I arrived first, at 12 noon sharp, and asked for a table for three. SOME places in the city won't let you do that for lunch *coughK10cough*; they make you wait until your whole party has turned up, but the cheerful, friendly S&M service came through and even let me choose the table.

cornfedpig and chiller arrived very shortly afterward, and we got down to the pleasant business of choosing which type of sausages, which type of mash, and which type of gravy to have! You see, at the S&M cafe you get to mix and match your meal to suit your preferences. With about 15 kinds of sausages (including three vegetarian types), 4 kinds of mash, and 3 kinds of gravy, mathematics tells me that you can eat a typical two-sausage combo 543950844 times and never repeat the same meal twice! (Ok, I made that up.)

They also have other things on the menu, including black pudding fritters (cornfedpig made me taste some, and I'll admit it was tasty, but HELLO, blood!) and all-day breakfasts, and there are salads and sandwiches and burgers and so on too, but why not experience the S&M the cafe was named for? That's what I say, anyway.

I had two vegetarian sausages (Glamorgan and Spicy Tunisian), bubble and squeak mash, and port and redcurrant gravy. Aside from the Tunisian sausage being slightly dry (which was easily fixed by smothering it in gravy!), the meal was really tasty--exactly what I wanted from my midday comfort food.

cornfedpig had the aforementioned black pudding fritters in addition to his S&M. I can't remember the combinations of gravy/mash/sausages he and chiller had, so I'll let them comment for themselves, but I believe the overall consensus was that the S&M was of good quality, and the experience should be repeated.

I also must admit to something that is apparently shameful. I ordered the mushy peas. My companions looked at me in horror. Apparently mushy peas are disgusting. Well, chiller and cornfedpig, let me tell you something: I'm an American, and where I come from we have the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness engraved right in our Declaration of Independence, and if you welfare-state Euroliberals don't like it, you can
. . . wait, sorry, I thought this was http://www.rightwingnews.com for a second. Anyway, even though only one of us wanted mushy peas, we were presented with a giant bowl of the stuff. Tasty as (a quarter of) it was, I wish I had asked if just a spoonful was available!

We ended our repast with dessert. chiller and I indulged in golden syrup sponge, which came with some of the best custard I've ever had (of course, I'm American, with little custard experience, so I could be wrong). cornfedpig opted for the apple crumble. Again, we agreed that our desserts were delicious!

Lucky us again--cornfedpig had a 25% off voucher! So we got away with it all for a tenner each (plus tip), and we went and walked around the market, and we talked about shoes and shopping (poor cornfedpig), and then we went (boooo) back to work.

OH--by the time we left, there was a queue out the door, and that was the case pretty much from 12:30 onward, so if you're dining in, get there early to ensure you get a table.

All in all, it was an excellent extended Friday lunch, and I recommend the experience highly to all of you.
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