The Social Life ‘Sixty-One Restaurant’ – The Simple Things

The Social Life ‘Sixty-One Restaurant’… The Simple Things

It was always going to prove a little harsh, but as a child who travelled all around London in a sixteen tonne lorry ( see previous post for details ), I had always discarded Marylebone as a bit of a faded state. Very similar to Shoreditch actually, ( again see previous post ). I remember my dad bombing up the A501 ( or Euston road, whichever you prefer ) taking no prisoners. When he was behind the wheel he was king of the road ( or the devil in disguise) (1) and if you got in his way.. To use the words of Mr. T from the A -Team, ” I pity the fool “.

We used to play a game, well, it seemed like a game at the time. Now I look back it was just a parent doing his upmost to keep his child occupied, while taking his and probably a few other people’s lives in his hands. I loved watching “The Sweeney” as a kid, ( come on, who didn’t? )… I adored the swagger of Jack Reegan, played by John Thaw. The Sweeney, or The Flying Squad were proper old school. Hard as nails, Jack Reegan would spend his time thrashing around in his 3.0 litre Granada chasing baddies with sidekick George Carter ( Dennis Waterman ). So cool in his brown suit was Reegan. The first real icon in my life along with Elvis Presley. Elvis wasn’t a choice though. Like some are forced to pick a specific team because of family loyalty, for the Rollos it was Elvis or you were out of the door…hmm, I wonder how many Elvis songs I can fit into my blog!

Our game consisted of me shouting “Get him Guv’nor” and then my dad driving like a deranged lunatic to try and catch the car in front, that had unwillingly and unknowingly become our highly sought after criminal of the underworld. It was fine and good fun when dad was in his car, coincidentally a two tone 3.0 litre Ford Granada, but when he was in his truck it was sometimes a bit, let’s call it nervy. He was an excellent driver don’t get me wrong, but there were times when I shut my eyes and hoped for the best. It wouldn’t be too far off the mark to think he did too. Always know the width of your car my uncle Ged would say. In my old mans case it was the same but with a… “And if you don’t, make sure the kerb doesn’t damage your tyres”. I remember that game very well, in fact it’s always on my mind. (2).

Heading out from East London we would have passed through Kings Cross, onto Euston, across Baker Street heading towards Edgware. I personally must have undertaken that journey with him at least a hundred times. I’d always pick out Madame Tussauds, and for some strange reason Warren Street tube. I never really took any notice of Marylebone though. It just seemed a bit, well dull I suppose. My cousin actually got married at the Marylebone registry Office not that long ago. I never even knew it was there. Lovely old building.

Having said all that I found myself thinking isn’t Marylebone High Street lovely!… Those were my thoughts as we, ( GB and myself ), coasted along the busy pavement looking for the newly opened Oliver Sweeney shop. I wanted to buy a pair of their blue suede shoes. (3). Sorry, promise – ish that’s the last one, and in fairness they did have a cracking pair of said Rebecca’s ( see below if puzzled ). I can see you lot ( all 6 of you….I’m being optimistic aren’t I ) thinking he is definitely going to put more Elvis songs in. I’ve said I won’t and I mean it. So dismiss your Suspicious Minds…. ( couldn’t resist that one )…We were actually taking a pair of shoes back. With Christmas decorations still up and the sun fading into night, the area had a real village feel to it.

We had a quick beverage in a pub next to the shop to get warmed up and then popped next door into Sweeneys. It’s an extremely tidy little shop. The staff are so helpful and friendly. It’s not like popping into Shoe-zone where a 17yr old, chewing gum and listening to his or her iPad greets you with a ‘What d’ya want?, I’m here because I have to be ‘ attitude.

I briefly met the manager of the Oliver Sweeney shop, Ian, at “Off The Rails” last year. OTR was a collaboration of various brands/designers brought together to showcase the best of what London could offer the discerning gentleman, and me. It was from what I saw of it an overwhelming success, with the biggest names such as Lyle & Scott, to the designers that are maybe still awaiting their mainstream breakthrough, for instance Marcus Lupfer. My apologies to Marcus if I am doing him a disservice. If it’s any consolation Mr. Lupfer, your dartboard jumper was my favourite item at the show over the three days.

They say the devil is in the detail. Having met Ian in October you can imagine my surprise that he actually remembered me when I got to the counter. I may have a memorable boat but it’s not that inspiring. Put it this way, I wouldn’t want to remember it!… I’m joking. I’m lovely really. After having a brief chat about the newly opened shop, shoes and football, ( I love the fact that they take time to stop and talk as opposed to treating you like a number, workers at Office take note! ), the shoes were refunded and handed back. Purely for service alone though I will be shopping for shoes at OS for the foreseeable. In fairness they don’t knock up a bad pair Rebecca’s either. My own interpretation of rhyming slang. Rebecca Loos = shoes.

GB loves a pair of pumps. I tried to get her a pair of Sweeney’s for Christmas but alas she has quite wide feet so they were just too tight. They aren’t wide like a duck has feet. She doesn’t waddle everywhere with her bright orange flippers shining in the sun. Neither is GB known for her capability of doing a 100 metre burst in a park pond at the first sight of stale bread. They were just uncomfortable. Talking of which what is a ducks stroke called?.. Im not asking about if they have a seizure, I mean when they swim. Dogs paddle, what do ducks do?

During our time in the pub both GB and me were starting to get hungry. Purely by luck and Twitter reference I knew we were close to a restaurant that I wanted to try out. Using my ‘now regularly advertised’ favourite current app OpenTable, I went straight on and within a minute, had booked a table at Sixty-One Restaurant for 17:30. Easy as skinning a cat, not that I’ve ever skinned a cat, or a rabbit. I would go as far as to say the closest I’ve come to doing either is opening a tin of salmon, once. I broke out in a sweat doing that!

Now, the restaurant. Sixty-One. Part of the Searcys Group (which owns London’s Gherkin amongst other things), it’s a beautiful looking restaurant tucked out of the way around by Portman Square. Might I add with its Christmas lights the square looked rather spectacular. We entered via a few steps into a very light and relaxing restaurant. Loved the first impressions.  Definitely a place for Valentines day, this will be a hit for anyone wanting a romantic dinner or lunch.  It was early doors but I was going to enjoy this. Ashamedly I didn’t get to try out the Champagne Bar of which I have heard wonderful things, mainly from The Foodaholic, who is worth looking up for a ‘proper restaurant review’, but that’ll have to wait for another day.

We were seated by the window. In fairness we had the choice of any table as I think we were the only ones dining. Not a bad thing sometimes but it can also lead to the diners being rushed. I’m pleased to say this wasn’t the case. Marion, our waitress was extremely attentive without being in your face. Glasses were filled as and when necessary and it was very hospitable. I know it should be but in my experience it doesn’t always work out like that.

Food was ordered and a glass of sparkling English rosé was very welcoming. The Balfour rosé was just about as dandy as they come as liquid refreshments go. With those put away we started on a Winchester Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Is it just me that thinks that all the best Sauvignon Blancs tend to come from our Southern Hemisphere compatriots. Is there anywhere to rival it?… It certainly hit a notable spot and as Marion appeared with the starters I was feeling rather cosy. It could have been the alcohol though.

i should also mention the Sixty-One breads placed on the table. If it’s not available to buy at this moment in time I’m positive that it will be in the near future. Marmite butter. I do love a bit of bread, but this wasn’t just your run of the mill Hovis. This was bread made by the hands of a bread architect. If there isn’t such a thing there should be. Married with THAT butter. Ooooh – Weeeee. Warm bread and Marmite butter is the very best thing in the world. Slightly exaggerated possibly I grant you but you get my point. Just thinking about it is making me hungry. Lets move on…

Beetroot Salad for GB, Pig on Toast for yours truly. If you read the info on the website it states clearly, no smudges or foams, just big bold flavours and sumptuous indulgence. As GB’s plate was set in front of her it certainly said WOW! It looked very impressive. It also ate as per the description above. Clean and simple flavours put together with a deft and subtle touch. I did love the fact the she claimed to be able to ‘knock this up’. It is true that it was salad leaves, beetroot and Cashel Blue cheese, no-one was denying that, but what the chef does with it separates the very good from the ‘Amazon prime’ of chefery. My Pig on Toast was pretty near the top end of the tree as well.

The mains consisted of Braised Beef Shoulder for little old me, and wifey heading straight for the ‘Last Turkey of Christmas’ option. We were eating from the festive season menu and she was determined to make the most of every last drop of Crimbo cheer. I have to say, all equals being equal, that the Beef was out of this world. Serious melt in your mouth stuff. It fell apart as your fork struck it. Not that I was at any time welding a baseball bat at the slab in front of me. I can only emphasise what I said earlier. The simplest of ingredients can have such intense flavours. If I didn’t say that earlier, just pretend I did!.. The party had arrived and the Beef was the DJ. if it was a boxer it would have knocked me senseless.

The turkey was in comparison ‘lovely’, really good, but not in the same class. I’m not a great lover of Turkey. It irritates me that they pester you on the streets to buy Turins for a few shekels. ( Turin Brakes, both the creators of the song ‘Emergency 72’ , and a handy rhyming match for fakes ). We gobbled ( boom boom ) up our mains, and set fair for our desserts. I thought the little taster of GB’s main course I tried was quality cooking. For GB though it just lacked a little something. Tasty yes, front cover of Food Monthly would be pushing it.

That left the desserts. I’m definitely more sweet than savoury. GB is the opposite. She will definitely come back as a mouse, if we do come back that is. Loves her cheese. Having had enough food and wine though GB decided to swerve the sweets. That left the door open for me to dive headfirst straight into a Chestnut Bomb. In plain speak, chocolate, chestnut and orange, but let’s face it, it’s so much more than that. Exquisite springs to mind. It’s difficult to explain without pictures but I’m not a great lover of pictures of food. I understand the necessity but it always reminds me of a cafe in Magaluf or Benidorm.

With every bite another enthusiastic flavour jumped out shouting ‘IM HERE’. Bonkers cooking. Now there’s an expression you don’t hear everyday, ( unless of course you know a chef called Bonkers and he is cooking you up a little cheese soufflé ). I would suggest going to Sixty-One for the dessert alone.

A couple of extra things, if you are still here. I do like the fact that on the back of the menu, there is a list of where the food is sourced from. Secondly, the menu is small. It’s refreshing not to have a choice of twenty eight dishes spread over ten pages. Simplicity being a key word, and there is no doubt it works. I’ve decided against giving scores for the food, service etc anymore. It feels like I’m comparing restaurants which is genuinely not the case. I don’t intend to be harsh or unfair, just give an honest opinion.

The name and number Sixty-One. Now it straightforwardly to most relates to the number of the restaurant in the street. To some football fans though in North London it means something completely different. The blue and white half would relate it affectionately to their greatest ever team, ( in 1961 Tottenham Hotspurs won the League and FA Cup double ). Across the Seven Sisters Road at their bitter rivals Arsenal however it is a mocking reference to Tottenham’s lack of league titles since then. “61, NEVER AGAIN” is a chant quite often heard at The Emirates Stadium.

I will hold my hands up, I belong to the Red and White half. I’m an Arsenal fan through and through. I have two or three friends who have season tickets at White Hart Lane and we appreciate that we will never see eye to eye on some things footy, but honestly I don’t really care a jot for that mob down the road. it’s a horrible place as an Arsenal fan to go and watch football, but then I guess inside the ground that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. Outside isn’t exactly all hugs and kisses either, but that’s another story.

As much as I dislike our local rivals, I will find it quite difficult to sing that song again now. 61 – never again, I don’t think so. The truth of the matter is I can’t wait to go back!.

Did I mention my friend that moved to the states and took over the helm of a fast food outlet?.. Sadly he didn’t last long. That was the end of his Kentucky Reign…. Sorry! 🙂

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The Social Life : “Merchants Tavern”

The Social Life : Merchants Tavern.

First off, before anything, allow me to wish everyone (anyone) reading this a happy new year, and thanks for taking the time to shuffle through the content of my latest review, of which I’m sure some is good, and some bits should never have seen the light of day.. Practice makes perfect though right?… Or if not perfect then maybe above average, I will happily settle for that at this moment in time, but who knows….. one day hopefully .

There are things in life I just don’t understand. Quantum physics, the Hadron Collider ( if that’s it’s proper name ), the TV programme The Big Bang Theory, to name but a few. Another one that always confuses the hell out of me is Shoreditch, East London. Don’t misunderstand me, The Light Bar in Shoreditch is where my brother met his future wife, though obviously he didn’t know it at the time. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the problem and its nothing to do with EC2.

Twenty, thirty years ago even ( showing my age ), I would travel down Commercial Street as a passenger in my fathers lorry watching the madness that consumed the area as people went about their daily business.
Quite often we would be delivering to a large textile company just opposite the old Spitalfields market. There was also a fruit and veg market. Maybe that’s what I’m thinking of. The thriving nature of the area was contagious. Everything was done at one hundred miles per hour. There were no parking restrictions, no red route or bus lanes. If there was restrictions, they were old school. A cheeky wink and a quid in the traffic wardens hand. The wardens, (mostly), understood a crust had to be earned. You did get the odd jobsworth, basically someone who actually couldn’t wait to give you a ticket, but the majority, seeing a twelve year old slogging his nuts off with his dad would be quite forgiving. Allow you an hour or so.

Now around the time I’m talking about we would duck in and out of Hoxton’s tiny streets to a multitude of small companies. That was Spoken like I was a main component, as opposed to a feeble but young and eager addition to Patrol Freight, which was my parents small, but highly regarded haulage company. Modern times dictate the word haulage has been knocked out of the baseball park like an unwanted orange, and has been replaced by logistics, or if you are a multi-national company like Eddie Stobart, you term it logistical solutions, but the bottom line is that it’s all just haulage No matter how much you dress it up with bells and whistles.

The old man would chuck his sixteen tonne lorry around those narrow terraces as easy as peeling a banana, ( I’ve got a fruit thing going on here. Three more and that’s my 5 a day! ). Even walking around some of them old roads nowadays is tight. I’ve no idea how he managed it. It was no big deal then, all just in a days work. Maybe I didn’t appreciate how good a driver the old “pot n pan” was, ( throw in a bit of Cockney rhyming slang for atmosphere ). I loved going out in his old Fords. KME 794P and before that NOG 187M affectionately known as “NOGGY”. Vehicles that will remain fondly with me forever. His customers would always look after me. A quid here, can of coke there. They were lovely people in the majority. I didn’t necessarily enjoy going into that area though. Back then, and I still don’t see that much difference now if I’m brutally honest, from Aldgate East onwards, the borough resembled a bit of a slum.

I don’t understand why the “Shoreditch” vicinity is all of a sudden a hotbed of cool. Maybe it always has been. There seems to be a restaurant opening everyday. How good it is doesn’t seem to be important. If it’s in this fashionable post code then “pot pourri”… How many of these places survive after the wind has blown we will see. One that caught my eye though was Merchants Tavern. Down a side road off of Commercial Street, it is a relatively new joint venture from Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick. My admiration for Angela Hartnett runs deep and is based on a visit to her own flagship restaurant many moons ago.

Our 7th wedding anniversary in 2009. GB (short for Gel-Belle , that’s her indoors in case you didn’t know), and myself made Murano the destination of choice for our romantic, Ramsay linked restaurant of that year. As is typical of our luck, on the particular night that we went, Angela was not on service. She was out on the tiles having a few sherbets after Murano was awarded its first Michelin star. Granted it was a long time ago but, I’m pretty sure that we both ( GB and moi ), spoke of how deserving the accolade was. I could be talking rubbish but green and white comes to mind decor wise. Very bright inside. Massive velvet curtain to get through to the dining room. I remember it being quite elegant..I could be talking cobblers though as according to the missus she seems to think it was quite dark. If you are able to provide answers, please do so on a postcard!

It may be a bit sad but being run of the mill folk we didn’t, ( and still don’t ) get to go to fine dining restaurants often. So we used to get a keepsake of some kind. mostly wherever we found ourselves we would ask the waiter or sommelier to sign and date a copy of the menu. A little privileged at the luxury and a tad in awe of where we were. At Murano the chap in question was the sommelier Marc Andrea Levy. It was only a business card but as i said earlier, it was literally just something to remember the evening by. We still have the card now, tucked away with various menus signed by random strangers.

I’ve no idea what we ate but I think Murano would have been the first place to move me from my comfort zone into the world of Scallops. No big deal I know but for someone who didn’t even touch Scampi Fries WAHEY!… I certainly don’t think we had any complaints, and left determined to at some point to visit Cielo in Boca Raton, another of Mrs. Hartnett’s projects. Disappointingly we never made it but that’s the way life is.

Back to the present day and having once again booked through OpenTable. GB and I had arranged a Sunday lunch with two friends to discuss a forthcoming trip. I was quite excited at visiting Merchants Tavern. Even if it was in toe tickling trendy Shoreditch.

I had no idea what to expect. Plush or homely, fine dining or pub grub. I do like the name but is it just a trend thing to call places taverns at the mo? I’m just asking. Set in an old warehouse and former pharmacy ( or apothecary to give it its proper name, if there is a difference my apologies to you all ) I have to say from the outside it looks superb. It certainly does justice to its setting looking cooler than a cucumber that’s just done an ice bucket challenge. The bar is to the right as you go in with space to gather if a few friends were out for go-go juice. First impressions from me got a big thumbs up. Very cool.

We arrived in good time and the four of us were greeted by a smiling lady. coats were taken and we were shown to a table just inside the door where we were told someone would be with us shortly. Spiritland were just a month into a three month residency at Merchants and it seemed there were two chaps setting up the sound system for the day as we arrived. In no way did they interfere with our foursome. Loving my music as I do it was quite interesting for me to watch them. The background music was of my personal taste and was bloody awesome to be honest.

No point telling porkies. Before I had booked it and looked up Merchants properly I had never heard of Spiritland. They play an eclectic mix of music to the extreme. If you haven’t heard of it, there is a flipping good chance they play it.. More importantly for me being an old vinyl junkie, it was all ( or mostly ) original black stuff. On this particular day it was perfect seventies lounge music at a not to over bearing noise level.

My only real criticism of Merchants on our visit comes now. After being shown to the table, and it should be pointed out that it wasn’t what I would call a cauldron of bustleness ( a new word? ), we found ourselves fifteen minutes on, still chatting with throats dryer than ghandi’s flip – flop. There were a couple of people sitting at the bar and one couple eating within the bar area. I tried catching someone’s eye , and I’m not suggesting that someone had a disruptive glass pupil on the loose, more that I was trying to grab the attention of a staff member but it was all to no avail.

In the end having made a paper plane, a rabbit, and a cricket bat from beer mats I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and so took the horn by the bulls. I went to the bar. It was only lunchtime but having waited so long I felt in need of a cocktail. “Just what the doctor ordered “. That’s not what I thought, that was my choice of cocktail. A bourbon based drink which also includes Courvoisier, Mint and Lime Sherbet amongst others. A friend joined me in having “The Prescription”. Crystalhead Vodka, Dry Curaçao, and Lime are the main ingredients just in case you wanted to try and knock one up. Good luck with that!

I’d never really gone along with the whole mixologist thing. Then wifey and I spent new year with friends in Edinburgh. We stayed at a place called Ricks. That was my first real experience of what people are capable of conjuring up. The bloke behind the ramp in Ricks explained it ( while mixing up cocktails of course), with such passion. He took it to a whole new level for me. He was so determined to create the best cocktail. It was enlightening, engaging and enthralling.

In Merchants I believe they have a mixologist to stand alongside some of the best. The drinks ( when they finally arrived ) were sumptuous. The lack of service forgiven in an instant, or for an instant. They really were right out of the top rack of cocktail racks. I now know that I would love to be a mixologist and Make drinks from nettles, coco pops milk, and dehydrated guava. I’m not sure if there is such a thing as dehydrated guava but I’m sure it’s counting towards my 5 a day fruit intake!

After our drinks were finished we took ourselves over to the entrance of the restaurant. Amazing green banquettes surrounded the room with an open kitchen near to the back of a snugly lit area. A quality setting for a Sunday lunch. It was a very comfortable space. The four of us were placed in a banquette opposite the chefs at work. One of my fellow diners is also a chef. I was looking forward to his opinions. My good lady can cook a mean roast as well so comparisons were bound for inclusion.

Our starters arrived. A Swiss Chard Salad and Sardines for the ladies respectively. Slim ( neither Fatboy, shady, or my pals real name ), and myself both opted for the Pigs Trotters on Toast. We agreed that while not setting the world alight the PTOT hit enough high notes to be given the thumbs up. The ladies also complimented the first dishes as the plates went back to the kitchen devoid of leftover food.

The second course was much more straight forward. Four Sunday Roasts. I would in all honesty never compare my wife’s cooking to a professional chef. Not even as a joke. As much as I love her she knows her limitations in the kitchen, although I would probably make her look like the aforementioned Mrs. Hartnett. I wouldn’t go as far as to say she would be able to speak fluent Italian and cook Jerusalem Artichoke three ways on Masterchef but you get my point. I can hand on heart declare I struggle making anything other than fajitas.

I’ve eaten loads of Sunday lunches in my time. Some have been very good and some off the scale of bad. The Merchants Tavern roast dinner I will concede, when dining out is the finest I’ve come across. It was delicious. Chef Slim concurred and none of us diners left a morsel. We were in total agreeance , both there is no such word as agreeance , and that the quality of the mains were outstanding.

Desserts were always going to struggle after such a high point. The females deciding to go down the savoury route of a cheese board to share. Again Slim and I opted for the same choice. Vanilla Creme Brûlée, although I was seriously tempted to go for the Pear and Melon Ensemble. ( Ok I’m lying there was no pear and melon ensemble but it was the only way to get my last two fruits in ).

The shared plethora of cheeses were well received and were subsequently devoured. My nearest and dearest does love a cheese board. It’s her secret guilty pleasure ( or not so secret now ). The brûlée looked divine, the smell of vanilla arriving two minutes before it, and the taste was excellent. It was a great way to finish off the meal.

Between courses we split a bottle of Merchants house red which was lovely. I don’t know enough about wine to start detailing its depth of flavour or robust peppery notes, but it really suited the roast dinner. My sharer of said bottle openly admitted to knowing even less but she did declare it to taste ( and I quote ) “winey”. She was happy, and I was happy. We were the only two drinking and therefore we proclaimed both food and the “winey” wine a triumph. I should also add that the bill was very reasonable coming in at around two hundred shekels including the tip.

There you have it. My take on Merchants Tavern. Which just leaves the following.

Verdict:

Atmosphere: without a doubt 9.5. The decor and relaxed tone plus the background music was what Sunday’s should be about. The music alone might have smuggled a 7.5.

Service: Bar side – 4 restaurant side – 8.5 No complaints once seated in the dining room. Serious misgivings on arriving.

Food: Overall I’m going to go with an 8.8. It was a Sunday lunch, but a highly recommended one. The starter didn’t match the main or dessert but wasn’t far behind.

Overall: 26.8
Would I go back? Yes. Would I go back for Sunday lunch? Most definitely. I do need to work out what’s needed for a 10 though. Mrs. Hartnett has a winner on her rubber bands. Just a shame it’s in blinkin’ Shoreditch really, or maybe it’s time I gave in and embraced the “Artistry” of EC2a.