Wednesday 21 January 2015

Smithfield London, Watling Street, central London

With a meaty menu and diner-style decor, Smithfield London is targeted at the legions of local office workers looking for a substantial change from Pret or Eat. You can get a decent (spicy or herby) chicken salad sandwich for £6. A topping of melted cheese costs another quid. There is also a steak sandwich for £7, plus a range of carnivorous salads and soups. But breakfast here may be the best option. You can get a truly memorable and mouthwatering bacon sandwich, packed with delicious smoked meat, for about three quid. Unfortunately, the coffee is less exciting, the rock music a bit loud and there can be a disconcerting shortage of punters. Still, the staff make you welcome and you would be hard-pressed to find a better bacon sarnie. 7/10

Saturday 17 January 2015

Brawn, Columbia Road, east London

A rustic French restaurant in a fashionable part of London, Brawn tends to easily fill all its tables, particularly at weekends. With whitewashed brick walls, battered Gallic posters, bare wooden tables and a wine list as long as your leg, Brawn is one of a small chain of earthy eateries renown for interesting victuals and vino. If you don't want a full bottle, you can get a 500ml carafe of Bellotti Rosso, which is billed as spicy, for £18.50. But it isn't great. The menu changes daily, but you can count on Brawn serving rich, rich food. The rillette (£6) is delicious, but is so fatty, you might see your life flash before you. The balls of mozzarella (£7), served on a smoked aubergine base, are less appealing. For a main course, the oxtail with polenta (£16) has a good, salty flavour, but it isn't special enough or large enough for the price tag. The pork sausage (£14), served with some carbs, also feels like poor value. Much better is the baked vacherin (£36 for two) - a warm camembert-style cheese, served with potatoes, bread and cold meats.  If you want something lighter, there may be a seafood option, such as five fat king prawns for £11, and you can get a green side salad for £4.  The service is pretty good, justifying the optional service charge of about 12%. But Brawn's kitchen may be at the top of a slippery slope. It feels like this neighbourhood restaurant may have gained too many pretensions. 6/10

Friday 2 January 2015

The Trek District 2010 Single Speed Hybrid - Four Years On

A customised and revitalised four year old Trek District

After 5,000 miles plus on the road, the 2010 model of the Trek District Single Speed carbon may need a replacement belt. If you get in touch with the belt manufacturer Gates, it can point you to a local dealer. It is tempting to upgrade the original CDC system to the newer CDX system, which is supposed to be stronger, lighter and more reliable. Crucially, you can also speed the bike up by 10% by installing a 20 tooth rear sprocket, in place of the original 22 tooth sprocket. Note, you can't change the size of the front sprocket (which has 55 teeth) because there isn't enough clearance.

The Art of the Brick Exhibition, Old Truman Brewery, Loading Bay, Ely’s Yard, Hanbury Street, East London

Featuring more than one hundred sculptures made from more than one million Lego bricks, the Art of the Brick Exhibition (adult tickets start at £14.60) will captivate grown-ups and kids alike. Nathan Sawaya’s first wave of sculptures are inspired by works of art. He has used tens of thousands of grey bricks to painstakingly reproduce everything from Roman statues to contemporary paintings, such as The Scream, which is represented by a kaleidoscope of brightly colour tiles in both 2D and 3D. The next set of exhibits are models of seemingly random objects, such as a massive pencil writing the word "yes", giant chess pieces, a surprisingly curvaceous red apple, the planets of the solar system balanced on top of each other and even a cello, which looks like it could play a tune. The third phase of the exhibition turns a little darker, with a series of angst-ridden monochrome sculptures examining the human condition. These models include a very blue swimmer with limbs and lego water protruding from a piece of glass and the widely-advertised statute of a yellow man ripping his chest open. Many of these psychoanalytical  sculptures are either cracking up or missing key body parts, neatly capturing the modern-day struggle to hold it all together in an increasingly frantic world.