Bar Review: The Elephant’s Head, Camden

The Elephant’s Head – Victorian Camden

The Elephant’s Head pub is bang in the middle of  Camden Town, a simulacrum of whatever it used to be or thought it was. This one-time home of John Lennon, Charles Dickens and Sir Ambrose Fleming, saw a heroin-chic renascence in the early naughties. The skinny-limbed antics of Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty preceded Noel Fielding and Russell Brand entertaining audiences by competing to have the silliest hair. Today, Camden’s biggest export is Dappy from N-Dubz.

Others disagree, of course. Alex Proud at The Telegraph is a fan: “Camden was cool in 1994 (and even 1984) and it’s still cool in 2014. It has, dare I say it, sustainable coolness. True, at no point in time will be it be as achingly “now” as a speakeasy in a repurposed public loo in Camberwell selling dirty cocktails in jam jars, but that’s the point”.

For me, Camden falls over itself screaming how alternative it is while trying as hard as possible not to care, as carefully as possible. Camden is a hangout for biker gangs without motorbikes, the worst cocaine in Europe, and enjoys a working-class brashness despite one bedroom flats renting at £3,000 a month.

I’m ranting, because I really wanted to like The Elephant’s Head pub. It’s a scruffy, characterful pub full of scruffy characters, the kind that makes the past-time of London boozing a uniquely British pleasure. I love dark Victorian London Pubs; I like to imagine Jack the Ripper sitting at the bar, nursing a pint of mild, fiddling with a Soduku. The Elephant’s Head dates to 1832, being once part of the famous Camden Town Brewery, producers of ‘Elephant Ale’ in the 1800’s. Feeling like Julian Barrat in Nathan Barley, I sought refuge in something genuine – something with more purpose and age than me – away from the surrounding nonsense. The classic checkered floor, dark wooden bar and low ceilings filled me with hope.

The pub was teaming with leather clad punters, holding what I assumed was a piercing convention. The standard issue Full English and a pint of bitter both did the job and weren’t unreasonably priced, given the fiscal hell-hole that is Zone 1. Unfortunately, members of The Elephant’s Head staff were the sourest, patronising and most abrasive as I’ve come across.

The Elephant’s Head Pub
Review Summary

Atmosphere 6  Cost 6  Quality 5  Service 2

Elephants Head Camden Pub Review
Camden Street Artist (Of Sorts)

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Head Pub Camden

Restaurant Review: London Fish & Chips, Covent Garden

London Fish & Chips –  First Plaice For Awkwardness

It would have been less awkward if Basil Fawlty was serving exclusively German customers. Three tables – six diners – everything went tits up. No pair received their food together; how can two ingredients go that wrong? As the restaurant is called London Fish & Chips, I expected them to have this bass base covered.

As a Lancastrian living near London, I physically can’t pay more than £10 for takeaway fish and chips. I didn’t care it was Covent Garden, even in Buckingham Palace, I couldn’t justify it. Fortunately, London Fish & Chips was available through a thrifty Groupon voucher, which made this transaction morally comprehensible to my northern sensibilities.

Despite London Fish & Chips having zero queue, it took thirty minutes to produce two of the eponymous meals. A meal, to clarify which was 50% potato. I assumed this was from a standing start of peeling the spuds and turning the fryer on. While waiting, I scanned London Fish & Chips promotional placards proudly proclaiming their fish was ethically and sustainably sourced; excellent, and was warmly advised all their meat was Halal. What a comfort knowing their “Signature Taste of Britain”, was barbarically butchered purely for Allah’s gratification.

Redeemabley, their glorious fish and chips were as good as any I can remember. Likewise, the accompanying succulent prawns induced a deluge of saliva. I deemed it a national disgrace all chip shops didn’t also serve these muscular crustaceans. It was all golden, piping-hot goodness: the batter was crunchier than a Crunchie and the haddock was a hulking athlete of a sea-monster. The steaming, salty chips were piled high, and I got happier and happier, getting fatter and fatter. It was all so jolly good I belted out the national anthem.

Despite London Fish & Chips’ interior feeling like an eleven-year old’s bedroom, Covent Garden produced a serious rival to the fish and chip heavyweight Whitby – I even forgave the lack of gravy.

London Fish & Chips
Review Summary

Atmosphere 1/10    Cost 3/10   Quality 10/10    Service 1/10*

*Score is based on the general price, not the temporary discount

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Restaurant Review: Yu and You, Blackburn

Yu and You Restaurant – Tso Tso Chinese

Blackburn’s curiously named Yu and You restaurant was intriguingly Gordon Ramsay’s best UK Chinese Restaurant in 2010. Perhaps I fell prey to overly high expectations, but this accolade now seems outlandish.

Despite a rural Blackburn location, a bouncer worryingly patrolled Yu and You’s door. Guests are invited to have a drink prepared by a ‘cocktail mixologist’, begging the question – what other kinds of mixologists exist? The Yu and You Cocktail Menu was apparently a product of six years of creativity; concerning, as the vast majority were long-established classics. The only ‘Oriental’ element of ‘Yu and You Oriental Old Fashioned’ was the barman.

Moving passed the stylish, polished black bar, the restaurant atmosphere became non-existent with a sterile, silent dining room. Harsh, stark lighting shined directly on our faces rather than the table. Chairs awkwardly cramped back against each other, while swathes of space to the side remained unused.

Yu & You started promisingly with the Hot & Sour Soup – the benchmark of any Chinese restaurant. It was certainly hot, but also comforting and complex. The sound of the sizzling dipped prawn cracker greatly lifted my spirits. The Char Siu pork element was eye-wateringly sweet, but certainly enjoyable.

Charlie Yu’s Chicken Curry followed, being indistinguishable from chip shop curry sauce. Considering this was the house speciality, it was genuinely shocking. My partner’s ‘Tai Po Crispy Chicken’ was the kind of fatty, salty dish my partner was trying to avoid.

Dessert at Yu and You produced the novel Strawberry Samosas. Presumably not particularly Chinese, but intriguing against an otherwise barren list. This delightful dish had a pleasing contrast of temperatures, with light, golden, crispy pastry – it provided a fun, novel talking point, while delivering on flavour.

Service by Yu & You’s manager Victoria was warm and welcoming. After my partner spilt a drink, she graciously cleaned it up, generously providing a replacement. The rest of the young team were polite but often distracted and unintuitive: although Victoria graciously commanded the dining room, it was otherwise difficult to attract attention.

Yu and You beat Mayfair’s Kai Restaurant, winning Gordon Ramsay’s approval, with ‘Wok seared 8oz Wagyu beef with sweet soya, lime, garlic and ginger’ at £65. Similarly, I can only assume Yu and You’s rave TripAdvisor reviews followed their premium duck, seafood and beef dishes – around £27 each (inc the required sides). They could well be stunning but seems expensive given the location and environment.

Yu and You
Review Summary

Atmosphere 3/10    Cost 3/10    Quality 5/10   Service 6/10

Yu and You Restaurant Blackburn Review
Excellent hot & sour soup

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Yu and You