I usually find family occasions fraught with difficulty. Not, as you may think, because I don't like my my relatives - in fact, quite the contrary, I love spending time with them - but more the difficulty in finding things that are going to please everyone, with ages ranging from six months to sixty something, especially when it comes to eating.
A case in point came recently when I found everyone would be descending on East London for a mini reunion. My first thoughts, after the excitement of seeing everyone, of course - turned to Tayyabs lamb chops, Beigel bake's hand carved salt beef and Orange Buffalo's spicy wings. Well, at least until I heard my cousin - a former globetrotter who now has two young children under five - suggesting to my aunt 'chain restaurants are good, all children like chips'.
He's right of course, chains can be great and there's plenty of examples where I'd be more than happy to eat fried potatoes with the young ones (sadly not me anymore). So when my aunt sent me the details to our reservation at Moo Cantina - a mini chain with a branch on Brick Lane and a meat-centric menu - for our family lunch, the steaks were high (boom, boom).
Things got off to a good start with a large bottle of Quilmes, a popular (a pretty much the only) Argentinian beer. As with a few weeks ago, when I was chugging cans of PBR along side my fried chicken, it's sweet, malty beer that doesn't have much going for it on its own, but when served cold slips down deceptively well alongside grilled meats and salty foods.
The sharing starter board, given an atmospherically fuzzy glow through my grease-speckled camera phone lens - was a tasty and interesting assortment of Argentinian chorizo sausage with roasted peppers and onion, lightly battered fingers of fried squid with garlicky mayo, hunks of baguette with a punchy chimichurri sauce and disc that resembled a pancake, but was comprised of gooey, grilled provolone cheese.
It was nice to see chancho, a hunk of grilled pork collar, on the menu, and it didn't disappoint. Served simply with a sauce criolla - a fresh onion, pepper and tomato salsa - a rocket salad, and a side of excellent sweet potato fries, and all with change from a tenner.
We also sampled couple of incarnations of the eponymous 'free range beef sourced from lush grass fed cattle'. Firstly a flank steak - 200g, grilled and served with a salad and fries for £12 at lunchtime, which proved a well-flavoured strip of meat, served with charred edges and a nicely pink centre. There was also the Lomito Porteno a rib eye sandwich with roasted peppers and provolone cheese advertised on the menu as 'one of the top ten sandwiches in the UK'. While I'm not sure who made the pronouncement, I'm pretty sure my cousin Will was in agreement.
While tempted by the smoke sausage platter, served with the curious addition of guacamole, in the end the Ewing attempted to compensate from the previous night's excess with the 'seasonal' salad. Thankfully chunks of avocado meant she didn't miss out on her vitamin E, alongside flame grilled peppers and fresh peppers, and crisp chicken strips, all nestled on a bed of well-dressed leaves (insert joke about East London fashion here).
The younger contingent were also well catered for with a very good grilled chicken sandwich, stuffed with mozzarella and tomato; Moo burgers and chips; and a big platter of nachos to share. We also shared some interesting sides including the Salad Olivier, a kind of ensalada russa of diced boiled potato, carrot and peas, dressed with mayo; and a Revuelto Gramajo, a dish of scrambled eggs with 'onion, ham, peas and fries'.
Who could resist the lure of a desert named Sweet Tony, a toffee and chocolate mousse with cream and strawberries. Certainly not the Ewing, who enjoyed it, although not as much as my Uncle enjoyed his carajillo (coffee with cognac, or in his case, amaretto) the beloved beverage of Spanish bin men, served here in wine glasses and a steal at only four pounds.
From being somewhere central, where we could all get together and eat chips and drink wine, Moo ended up exceeding all our expectations. While the food was decent, and decently priced, where they really impressed was with the charming service. From stowing our assorted luggage, to re-configuring the furniture, to expertly dividing sandwiches to stop pre-teenage squabbles, and being delightful with baby Louis, nothing was too much trouble.
While the rest of the family rolled, contentedly, back towards Stoke Newington, we took the opportunity to chalk off stop three of the Brutal Tour with a visit to One Moorgate Place, home of Institute of Chartered Accountants' Hall. More accurately we where here to see William Whitfield's 60's extension, constructed in a Modernist style that's quite at odds with the Victorian neo-Baroque styling of the original building.
When I was growing up our neighbours, who lived directly opposite, decided to paint the front of their garage with large colourful blocks that resembled a Mondrian painting. Which might have looked pretty incongruous on a warehouse door in backstreet in Whitechapel, but rather less so when attached to a house in leafy Buckinghamshire.
While I’m not sure their impressionist recreation was quite to my parent’s more modest (not modernist) tastes, I was rather a fan of the bold colours that brightened up my dreary provincial view; which is exactly how I felt when I saw the Brutalist extension to the Hall. The incongruousness of the addition is, for me, the epitome of what makes the juxtaposition of London’s architecture – this time as part of the very same building - so thrilling.
You can read more about the whole building here. I'm just waiting for the currant refurbishment works to take place so I can go for lunch at One Moorgate Place, the restaurant found in the basement of the hall. I wonder if they serve chips...