Ben Howard and Roller Trio, Mercury Prize Concert, St Luke’s

Ben Howard is not an artist I have ever been crazy about but I was very excited about visiting the impressive St Luke’s venue, which didn’t disappoint. Steeped in vibrant blue light, this huge building in East London has the ideal acoustics for musical performance. I didn’t know what to expect at the Barclaycard Mercury Prize concert of Ben Howard and Roller Trio but it turned out to be a very enjoyable night.

We began the evening downstairs indulging in endless salty nibbles and glasses of champagne. The ticket marked a 7pm start time, but in fact the music didn’t kick off until 8 which gave us a whole hour to polish off the wasabi peanuts, cheese straws and mixed nuts. Bellies heavy, we followed the crowd up to the stage where we managed to find a good viewing position. The room is grand, tall and spacious, ideal for loud resonating bands and hordes of people.

The Roller Trio are a purely instrumental outfit. I would describe them as experimental jazz funk although I’m not sure that’s how they would define themselves. The sound is bold and powerful, impressive for such a small group. Aside from the erratic compositions, I immediately noticed the talent of these three young men, and in particular saxophonist, James Mainwairing. They bear little relation to Ben Howard’s music but the Mercury shortlist is known for its eclecticism.

At 8.30 ish Ben Howard casually strode onto the platform, band in tow. The group seemed more mature in the flesh and strummed through the first few numbers thoughtfully. Ben soon relaxed and became rather less tame, bouncing around, head dropped and hands strumming furiously. Suddenly there was passion. The male band members seemed less bothered going through the motions of each song (let’s be honest they are all quite similar) and at times looked a little bored. The lone female was the most enthusiastic of the bunch and played with intense concentration and dedication at all times. The music produced was balanced and together with some beautiful playing of Ben’s varied melodies. The set came to an abrupt end after only four or five songs, unfortunate as they seemed to really be on the up.

If I’m honest Ben Howard still wouldn’t win my vote for the prize but after witnessing his passionate set I may put a few of his songs on my iPod. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and excitement at the Mercury Awards gig and loved being involved in the run up to this prestigious award. Congratulations to winners Alt-J who took home the prize a few nights ago.

http://www.mercuryprize.com/

 

Floripa, Shoreditch

Of all the hot, hip and happening places to hang out in Old Street it seems that Floripa is the most happening. Conveniently close to the tube station, this Brazilian restaurant-bar is spacious, colourful and characterful with a buzzy atmosphere. The venue has such an exotic beachy vibe, it is easy to forget you are in London.

“Floripa is the nickname of a Balearic style city-island off the coast of Brazil, the short form of the beautiful and unique flower of Ipanema and a brand new venue in Shoreditch where Brazil and London come together in a hedonistic bohemian cultural fusion. The aim is to take the classic elements of Brazilian cuisine and remix them, take the best of London’s incredible music scene and re-cook it and take a South American beach bar and re-present cocktails sipped on the cabanas of Ipanema and Florianopolis.”

Our waitress was absolutely lovely and very chatty, she helpfully explained the whole menu and advised us on her favourites. We followed her instructions almost exactly and ordered all the ‘must try’ dishes. A meal of authentic Brazilian recipes followed. Pao de Queijo (The King of Brazilian cheese breads) and Coxinha Tamales (a chicken appetiser in a samosa style crispy pastry) were filling starters. The bread arrived as doughy balls filled with a cheesy centre, they were a little too heavy for me, but for hungry diners these are perfect for pre-supper grazing. The chicken pastries were well seasoned, appetising crunchy parcels.

For main my well-travelled guest convinced me that the Picanha was worth sharing… this superior cut of sirloin meat is very popular in Brazil and is rarely found in London restaurants, making it a very special choice. The slabs of premium meat arrived on a rustic wooden board along with soft seasoned potato wedges and dressed green salad. I was alarmed initially by how rare the meat was, if you’ve read other steak reviews you’ll know I prefer my meat medium-well done… but knowing that the restaurant would cook it to its optimum, I ignored my girly pathetic tendencies and ate the rare cooked picanha. I was surprised to find I really enjoyed the lesser cooked meat – it had such a wonderful flavour it needed very little else, but if you do like spice try the red sauces that arrive alongside your steak.

There was very little room left for dessert but we just about managed to fit in a mouthful of Chocolate Brownie and Portugese Custard Tart, both delicious and suitably sweet. The warm hazelnut brownie is served with a contrasting dulce de leche ice cream and the traditional custard tart comes warm with summer berries … if I were to advise one, I’d say go for the tart.

I’m embarrassed to admit to the amount of cocktails we tried, each and every one was entirely different and unique. And I know I will be visiting in future just to sip these exquisite Brazilian cocktails again. Our absolute favourite was the Batilda de Salto, a coconut cauldron of sweet fruity cocktail that is shared between two people. I particularly enjoyed this drink as it tasted so unlike any cocktail I’ve had before, and was utterly drinkable and delicious. The inventive Gatinha cocktail with Ypioca Cachaca and a scoop of melting sorbet was also divine, very smooth and refreshing. The mixologists here are experienced and creative and seem happy to adapt and create whatever you desire, so don’t be afraid to go and chat to them about your preferences.

Floripa is an idyllic sunset circus of fabulous food and drink and is a must-try Shoreditch venue. There are so many niche bars and cafes in this area but to find an eatery which excels equally in both cocktails and food is a rare discovery. I will be revisiting to try the rest of the drinks list…

More information here: http://floripalondon.com/

Nightjar, Shoreditch

Nightjar is surreptitiously squeezed in between two greasy spoons on City Road, near Old Street Station. This bar is a hidden gem filled with an air of desire and attraction, a cabaret den for music and magic.

Once allowed in, you follow the steps downstairs and are greeted by a sultry hostess and taken to your seats. The interior is typical speakeasy: velvet sofas, dimmed lighting and a low ceiling. If you can, try to sit at the bar where you can see the mixologists at work and challenge them to create you a bespoke drink. It is a stylish venue and guests often dress up for the occasion. Dressed in drab work clothes, I felt painfully low-key so trotted off to the loo before my friend arrived to doll myself up a bit and apply a bit of much needed lippy. This is the kind of place where lipstick is a must.

Nightjar offers my two favourite things: cocktails (obviously) and tapas… authentic small plates of yummy treats for peckish visitors. In need of something to nibble, we ordered a Charcuterie plate and a Manchego cheese board, a substantial snack which was perfect for picking. They arrived promptly, rustically presented on artisan wooden boards with olive oil and cornichons. The food was delicious, the kind of meat and cheese you would find in a top deli.

Cocktails arrived with little amuse-bouche snackettes and glasses of water. The choice is dazzling, there are too many weird, wild and wonderful creations to choose from, I felt overwhelmed and a little sad that I would miss out on so many. Explaining our preferences for rum and gin, the coquettish waitress advised us on suitable combinations and I was too weary to challenge her suggestions. Beachcomber’s Punch (buttered Bacardi 8 year rum, mamajuana cordial, splash absinthe, fresh pineapple juice, mastiha honey, fresh squeezed lime, chia tea and soda) for me and the Kama Aina (G’vine Floreaison gin, elderberry infusion, triple sec, mastiha honey, fresh squeezed lime and sparkling coconut water) for my friend. They were both spectacular, each presented beautifully. Mine was served in an exotic towering high cup with crushed ice toppling over the brim, burnt coconut, a carved cyclinder of pineapple, and a cherry, dusted with a mysterious spice. The drink was strong but soothing, a fruity concoction with a softness from the honey and tangy twist from the lime and absinthe. The gin drink was enchanting, arriving on fire – we knew at once the taste would be equally dramatic! It is a summery cocktail, perfect for the beach with a wonderful hint of elderflower and coconut, an innovative combination of flavours.

The prices at Nightjar are high, especially for Shoreditch, with most drinks costing around £10. However as soon as you have seen the stunning concoctions and the flair and attention given to each and every glass they seem worth the expense. Suddenly supper doesn’t seem so important, when the money could be spent on another masterpiece drink.

We were tempted to stay for the musical entertainment, but the start time was just a little too late, especially for a school night. So wandered out woozy and jolly into the night. Nightjar offers some of the most glamorous cocktails in town, I’m already planning my return visit.

Visit the website here for more information.

http://www.barnightjar.com/