Honest Don reviews the Slug & Lettuce

Welcome to the first of our ‘Honest Don’ reviews. In this series we share our honest, everyday experiences as patrons of Doncaster’s cafes, bars and restaurants. First up, the Slug & Lettuce, 53-54 Hall Gate, Doncaster DN1 3BP.

Words: the Donco Don

Photography: the Donco Don

The first thing which strikes you when you enter the Slug & Lettuce on Hall Gate is what a great job the interior designers have done. The high-street chain has invested £460,000 in its Doncaster venue and it looks like £794,405… i.e. a million dollars (given today’s exchange rate).

There is a gorgeous new bar with a raised chequerboard floor which perfectly defines the space, so that even if the venue is busy – and, given that it was a Saturday afternoon in the run up to Christmas, it was very busy indeed when we visited! – the surrounding dining and relaxation areas never feel too crowded.

Layout and décor create further defined spaces for dining and drinking throughout the venue, offering different ‘feels’ and varying degrees of privacy. The décor itself is bold and punchy, while maintaining a high standard; never once venturing toward tacky. Bird cage seating areas and pre-bookable bespoke party spaces mean that you and your friends can enjoy intimate spaces whilst still bathing in the wider atmosphere of a lively venue… and today it was very lively indeed.

The food menu is very good, with plenty of healthy – and calorie controlled – options. Nationally Slug & Lettuce have a very good vegan menu, but for some reason they’re not offering the full selection in Doncaster yet. Doncaster is changing rapidly, and this gives me some concern that Slug & Lettuce are not yet fully aware of our town’s changing tastes. As things stand, if I were taking vegan friends out, I would probably be tempted to go next door to The Greenhouse Eatery (which we will feature in a future review). While we don’t yet enjoy the full big-city vegan menu, S&L do seem happy to charge big-city prices for their beers, being above average for Doncaster. This isn’t a game-changer, we’re used to paying a bit more if the venue is right, and they do have regular offers such as their ‘Wine Down Wednesdays’.

If truth be told I don’t mind paying a bit more for my tipple as long as the atmosphere is right… I just make it last a bit longer 😉 The ambience of the Slug & Lettuce is warm, inviting and lively. But this time around I was there for business rather than pleasure, so I decided to give the beers a miss and order coffee instead. Unfortunately, the aforementioned Christmas liveliness did lead to one of the only negative experiences of the afternoon. When I placed my order the attendant asked several times what I wanted, pressing keys on the till and saying: “Sorry, what was it you wanted again?” For the record, I only drink virgin espresso or Americano, the rest of that milky froth they laughingly sell as ‘coffee’ should be seen as an afront to any connoisseur of the magic bean. They gave me a cappuccino. My heart sank.

The food however was a different story. I ordered a Sautéed Pepper & Grilled Halloumi Feel Good Flatbread and it felt very good indeed. The meal was served within 15 minutes of placing the order. Unfortunately, the cutlery took a few minutes longer to arrive so we did have a little bit of a wait before we got the chance to tuck-in. This meant the food was a little bit on the cool side when we took our first bite… but the bite itself was well worth the wait. Very fresh. Very tasty. And at £7.29 it wasn’t too much more than your average Macky D meal… which is always very, very average – and that’s being generous.

Great atmosphere. Great food. Crap cappuccino (all cappuccinos are crap), but all-in-all a good place to spend time with friends and loved ones… and it’s always good to enjoy a national high-street name when you have the added bonus of  knowing that Sheffield doesn’t have one yet 😉

The Hoosiers @ Diamond Live Lounge

I have seen a bunch of great bands play at Live Lounge to small crowds and this is a real shame as it suggests that the people of Doncaster don’t care about live music. Those reading this know that isn’t true however so it was refreshing to see the Hoosiers drawing a decent sized crowd.

Crazy Town @ Woolpack Live

There is a disappointing tendency in Doncaster for people to get a little sniffy about events that people have worked really hard to organise. Comments like ‘Are they still going?’ are wilfully negative and help to contribute to the reputation of Doncaster as a cultural wasteland. If these people actually attended any of the numerous venues that make up Doncaster’s live music scene, they would realise they are being grossly unfair.
Let’s get something straight first of all. Crazy Town are a million selling artist who have had a number of top 40 hits in both the UK and in their home country of America. It is a massive coup for the Woolpack to bag such a well known band and everyone involved should be proud of all their good work.
After an interesting but slightly repetitive set from Tokyo metal band Loka, Crazy Town took to the stage with little fanfare and started playing. It took the band a couple of songs to sort the sound out but by the time they belted out ‘Toxic’ they sounded in good voice.
Band leader Shifty Shellshock has been through a lot since the bands worldwide smash ‘Butterfly’ topped the US charts. Bereavement and addiction have taken their toll on the rapper and he is no longer the fresh faced front man who dominated MTV for a while there in the 00’s. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t still have the fight as he spends the full gig jumping around the stage and interacting with the crowd. He clearly still loves the music and he has assembled a talented band with bassist Hasma Angeleno particularly impressing.
As much as the crowd were enthusiastic throughout, realistically most people were waiting for ‘Butterfly’. I’ve always been of the mind that your best song should be embraced rather than shunned. A band should be proud to have written a song that has resonated with so many, rather than being ashamed that magic didn’t strike twice. The opening bars of the Red Hot Chili Peppers sampling track raised a huge cheer from the rowdy crowd and Shifty put in his best vocal performance of the evening.
The LA band still had a couple of aces up their sleeve however, the single ‘Drowning’ still sounds great. After leaving the stage, chants of ‘Crazy Town’ bring Shifty and co back on stage for a seemingly impromptu run through of ‘Butterfly’ follow up ‘Revolving Door’. It is nice to see a band and audience in symbiosis and everyone goes away from the gig happy.
One hit wonder? For tonight at least, Crazy Town have so much more about them than that.
Rob Johnson – www.robwatchesmovies.com

Tom Stade @ Doncaster Dome

‘What else is there to do in Doncaster on a Thursday night?’

It’s great going to see your favourite acts live and all but sometimes it is alluring to go in blind. I knew next to nothing about Canadian comedian Tom Stade before his show at the Dome but I can definitely say I am a convert now…
Before Stade took to the stage however, he treated us to a hilarious support act in the shape of fellow Canadian comedian Nigel Lawrence. The Santa Monica resident spent the first third of his act riffing on the ridiculously oversized stage in the middle of the cavernous Dome gymnasium, while also commenting on the fact that the venue had failed to provide him with a table for his beer, ‘I always find drinking a beer off the floor is the best way to drink a beer’ he sarcastically intoned. There was a wonderful moment part way through the set when a table was stealthily produced behind Lawrence resulting in a massive cheer from the crowd and an incredibly confused comic wondering why the audience had randomly started yelling in the middle of a bit. All in all Lawrence helped to set the tone for the evening, true pro’s on stage but adorably amateur off it.
Tom Stade waltzed out to rapturous applause only to find that there was no microphone in the microphone stand. As he correctly pointed out, this is really the only thing a comedian needs for his craft… bit of a fail then! Stade took the lack of organisation in good humour however and the minor failings of the Dome as a venue actually added to the show as a comedy spectacle. Stade has been a comic since 1989 and his gravelly voiced delivery recalls singer/song writer Tom Waits rather than any other comics. He combines his dulcet tones with a light and breezy persona. Imagine all the grime of Doug Stanhope without the anger or the politics. Indeed, I rolled my eyes at an early joke about Donald Trump, simply because making fun of Donald Trump is like shooting fish in a barrel (to paraphrase the Simpsons), but that one throw away comment was about as political as it got. Instead, the rest of the show was taken up with candid meditations on relationships, family and getting older. While this is well trodden ground in stand up comedy, Stade brings a personal touch that ensures the set is fresh and exciting throughout. Audience participation is constant but shared only between three members of the crowd who Tom constantly refers to. This lends the whole set a peculiar intimacy, a feeling of eavesdropping on a private conversation, and it is these interactions that lead to the funniest moments.
At one point Stade ruminates on the fact that he could afford a nice car ‘with all his sweet Doncaster money’ but he doesn’t because he is a boring old fuck. He laments the fact that technology has began to leave him behind and teases similar confessions out of the two middle aged men he has discovered in the audience. When one crowd member admits he doesn’t have Facebook, Stade asks ‘how do you send people pictures of your breakfast?’ before imagining said member of the audience emailing out pictures of sausages to his bewildered friends.
As Tom Stade leaves the stage in metaphorical tatters following a blistering set, he politely asks the sound guy to play a little music to see him off. A stony silence follows as chaos rules once again. In a way though, this is the perfect end to a shambolic but utterly mesmerising live performance. If you ever get the chance to see Stade live, and he does tour the UK extensively, then I urge you to do so.
Rob Johnson – www.robwatchesmovies.com

Placebo @ Doncaster Dome

“I know, you love the song but not the singer…”
There is a temptation when covering local music to just declare everything brilliant and be done with it. I mean, nobody wants to lose those sweet press passes after all. For me, this culminated in an overwhelmingly positive review for a decidedly average show from Sheffield band the Sherlocks and a feeling of soul destroying shame for having been such a sell out. After that abomination was published, I vowed to be more honest, as seen in this review of a bizarre day in the heart of Askern.
It is that spirit then, and not just plain grumpiness, that informs the start of this review. Let’s talk about all the things that were wrong with Placebo’s set before we get to the good stuff. First off, the band came out to a video celebrating their 20th year. This is all well and good except it had a backing track of ‘Every You Every Me’ which meant they didn’t actually play the song live during their set.
Everything from third album Black Market Music onward sounded thrilling but the limp performances of their earlier songs left an indelible stain on an otherwise brilliant night. While opener ‘Pure Morning’ sounded OK, we had a seven song wait for the band to play another song from their early career. ‘I Know’ is a blistering and visceral track on record but tonight it sounds turgid and uninspired with frontman Brian Molko constantly out of tune and disinterested. Even worse is a dire run through of a slowed down ’36 Degrees’. It is genuinely baffling that the band could take such an exciting song and turn it into this plodding and tedious mess and even crowd favourite ‘Nancy Boy’ feels rushed and aloof. Aside from a forgettable trudge through ‘Without You I’m Nothing’ that’s it for the first two albums.
Admittedly, I feel more affronted by this than I probably should. I lost interest in Placebo somewhere around the time of Sleeping With Ghosts and that is hardly the bands fault. That doesn’t excuse such a lazy butchering of their own back catalogue however. If they can’t be arsed to play those songs properly it would be better for them to drop them from the set completely.
With that out of the way, what of the rest of the night? The opening salvo of ‘Loud Like Love’ and ‘Jesus’ Son’ acts as a blistering template for the rest of the night with the band attacking their instruments to provide a more fleshed out live sound.
‘Special Needs’ takes a gawky song title and turns it into something beautiful before an incendiary rendition of set highlight ‘Twenty Years’. The latter is an example of just how impressive a live spectacle the band can provide when they put their mind to it.
Brian Molko and co bring out all the hits to end the first part of the evening with ‘Special K’ receiving possibly the biggest crowd response of the night before the unmistakable opening riff from ‘The Bitter End’ pierces the Doncaster air.
The band end their set with a show stopping performance of their beloved cover of the Kate Bush classic ‘Running up that Hill’. It’s weird that Placebo are such an excellent covers band when they have so little respect for their own back catalogue…
Overall, Placebo just about did enough to justify the ticket price but if the back slappery and self congratulation of local music is to be condemned, then it must also be censored in the mainstream. This was a good performance but one plagued with poor decision making and a lack of effort.
Rob Johnson – www.robwatchesmovies.com