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Friday, 11 September 2015

Threadneedle, The City

The first floor gallery hush bar - away from the hubbub of the Grand Cafe below - at imposing Victorian former City bourse, The Royal Exchange, has been rebranded, cosmetically retouched and relaunched by owners D&D as a discreet 
‘new’ cocktail bar. The emphasis is on drinks inspired by the father of modern American mixology Jerry Thomas in his indispensable 1862 tome, Bar-tenders Guide. Savvy £12 signatures include a refreshing eucalyptus and kaffir lime Collins; Mexican Couperee ( a tart light vanilla foamed Patrón Añejo, Citronge and Falernum sour), and smoky brass teapot serve, Sauterelle - a vanilla-infused port and cherry liqueur Gin Mare Martini inspired by the Martinez rather than the crème de menthe-based Grasshopper its French name implies. Champagne (from £69 a bottle) and wine by the glass (from £5) are what to order with open sandwiches and small plates such as velvety tuna tartare (£9.50) and juicy Aberdeen Angus beef sliders that work well, where insipid frazzled fried squid (buried under a mound of toasted flakey pointlessness) fails when we visit during Threadneedle's soft launch.   
Royal Exchange, EC3V 3LR 7618 2480 

My original review at

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Redemption, Notting Hill

The fates once conspired to land me a stretch in Los Angeles. That's 'stretch' as in incarceration, not limo. Having not yet learned to drive, too poor to afford a chauffeur, marooned in a city where wheels were an essential and public transport was for bums, bag ladies, rapists, axe-murderers, I'd spend my days trapped indoors with All My Children (ABC's now-defunct super-silly-soap) before the adults came home to liberate me, ferrying me along forever freeways to the latest 'happening' hangout in Brentwood, Burbank or Beverley Hills aka Millionheirhead Central. To a liquor-lovin' London lad, LA bar-hopping was a bore for, aeons before the mucky trend jumped the pond, Californian locals had gone loco for lo-Cal no-alc' cocktails: "mocktails." A tiki colada made with Malibu in Malibu was no longer the thing. Having, overnight, ditched his martini habit, my American born-again fitness freak friend (who would later, ironically, end up at both A.A. and N.A.) was a convert to Spirulina and Wheatgrass, a combo even less entertaining than ITV's Rosemary And Thyme. 
Fast forward to August 2015: having trialled the concept at pop-ups in Hackney and Holborn, Redemption's owner Catherine Salway has launched the country's 'first alcohol-free bar' (didn't they say say that about Saf in Shoreditch amongst others?), bringing the likes of ‘Apple mock-jito’ and ‘Beet-o-tini’ to Bayswater. Purely in the interests of research, I  try 'Lettuce Spray' (pulped iceberg leaves, wasabi, lime, cucumber and aloe vera juice) from her list of just six mocks. Problemo: they are fresh out of fresh aloe vera which, I recall from my LA sojourn, guards against gout, gastritis, gangrene and every grim condition goingHaving specifically said how much I LOATHE coconut water, the bar's Dutch manager insists a green staffer, still in his salad days, fix my liquidised green salad using er, coconut water. "Don't worry! It'll be delicious." It is... in the same way the leftover contents of my fridge's 'Sta-Krisp' salad drawer are delicious after losing a fight with a NUTRIBULLET ®. "It's got absolutely no kick" I protest. "It needs more wasabi" opines Herr Holland, tasting it, not offering to make another, and charging me full whack for his wack, bastard imposter. Amsterdam Man's glowing pink skin - Clarins campaign-worthy - is surely down to his strict veggie diet? "No, I love meat."  Mmm me too.... and booze! Add a double slug of tequila to mask the taste of coconut water, his 'Coco-rita' could be a half-decent margarita. As the late-great Dean Martin said, 'I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they are going to feel all day.' That said, Salway's baby will fly: God knows there are enough gullible Gwynnie-Goop-swallowing bikram yoga-buff breadsticks in Notting Hill to support her mission to 'spoil yourself without spoiling yourself.' Me? Spoiled for choice in terms of nearby liquor lounges, I am, alas, beyond Redemption. 
6 Chepstow Road W2 5BH 07500 745 684

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Little Drury, Covent Garden

An adjunct to The Drury Club downstairs, you need neither that nightspot’s £350 membership card nor guest-list guile to pass Little Drury’s portals. Billed as an ‘exclusive New York speakeasy-style cocktail bar’, its exposed brick ‘shabby chic’ interior design-on-a-tight-budget (I'm guessing) feels like the stuff of any $5 martini joint in Queens. Simpatico Italian staff mix punch bowls to share and £9.50 cocktails that , competently dispatghed, aren’t necessarily as ‘wildly creative’ as LD’s marketing spiel fancies: the likes of strawberry mojito and Drunken Avocado (a lychee and avo’ vodkatini) push no envelopes. When I visit, the promised ‘extensive’ selection of Italo-bites consists of: prawn and courgette, crab, or seaweed fritters (£4.50); bresaola stuffed with ricotta; caprese (mozzarella, basil and tomato) and Parma ham skewers; and cannoli… or all of the above for £21. A small slightly claustrophobic, mezzanine area with a table football is available for hire at this soul-soundtracked ‘haven of hedonism’.
167 Drury Lane WC2B 5PG 7831 9399

Above review for

Seymour's Parlour at Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone

(Step in! You'll like it.)

West End-based fans of The Zetter Townhouse need no longer cross town to enjoy its recherché rinses, as conceived by donnish walking cocktail compendium Tony Conigliaro (of 69 Colebrooke Row and Bar Termini Like the Clerkenwell original, the new Zetter Townhouse Marylebone boasts a likeable lounge bar. Gussied up as the Victorian parlour of the eponymous ‘wicked Uncle Seymour’ (a fictional adventurer whose convoluted backstory is as fanciful as Russell Sage’s knowingly twee décor), the double-sized drawing room is inspired by Sir John Soane’s Museum in Holborn. Appealingly presented - some in custom-made opaque ground glass stemware - the dozen house signatures here are the result of a collaboration between Conigliaro and head barman Claudio Perinelli, a loquacious Gentleman of Verona, voted Italy’s best barman at Daigeo’s 2014 World Class Awards. On my preview visit, six were available to sample including Turf Club, a grass-imbued Beefeater gin and Dubonnet martini, which also adds grape reduction and Peruvian bitters to the mix. Two-Penny Trash (powdered malts, rye whiskey and treacle) was a mildly medicinal mouthful, as challenging and and opinion-dividing as any similarly esoteric Conigliaro concoction. Bar bites include confit cherry tomatoes stuffed with cod brandade (a salt cod and olive oil emulsion), and wild mushroom raviolo with celeriac and a whiskey butter sauce. The food is all the work of Bruno Loubet, who has consulted on the menu, so expect full-on gastro fireworks when this Zetter launches fully in September.
28 - 30 Seymour Street W1H 7JB
Taken from my August 2015 preview for

Friday, 7 August 2015

Turntable, Holborn


Sazeracs and old soul sounds: Turntable should be up my street. BITD when I used to DJ, nipping off to New York on Friday and returning to London on the Sunday night red-eye from JFK with a suitcase full of pre-release 12-inch discs was a monthly routine. I'm thinking of taking to the decks again: like the Valentine Brothers say, Money's Too Tight To Mention (he says, before HMRC gets any ideas ) and at various hip launches where the client has coughed up serious dough and booked a rare groover - as opposed to some celebrity's brat offspring/ precocious 'model', paid £10K just to press 'play' on an iPad  - I frequently find myself thinking "'Useless'" (Kym Mazelle) and how my record collection is stuffed with way better "Stuff Like That" (Quincy Jones ft Chaka)  So, I'm keen to visit this new vinyl-only DJ bar whose playlist is collated by Jazzi Q of Soul II Soul, big in the 90s. The sort of tracks I'm hearing Phyllis Hyman, Linda Clifford, Gwen Guthrie, Cheryl Lynn, Shalamar, and a sprinkling of Motown - are guaranteed floor-fillers so It's A Shame (as The Detroit Spinners sang it)  that I don't want to "do a little dance, Get Down Tonight". Clearly, I've picked the wrong evening; it's not exactly heaving like Paradise Garage in its prime or about to wrest the disco crown from Studio 54. Maybe there's a secret door to a VIP lounge where Liza, Jerry, Bianca, Andy, Calvin, Halston, Grace, Divine and the gang are partying like it's 1979? Named after classic soul cuts of that decade, Turntable's street level bar's £8 cocktails  - Jungle Boogie (rum, Mandarine Napoléon and kumquat) and Ain’t No Sunshine (Aperol, grapefruit, rosé wine and blood orange)... but no Evelyn 'Champagne' King cocktail - are fair enough but the austere, claustrophobic, downstairs dance bar is way too (Barry) white; stark and boxy, unlike the late great growler's loin-locking smoochers, it's neither sexy nor Chic -  more joyless Norwich nightclub circa Joy Division tonight. Will I come back and order South Asian street food staples - Malay chicken, hot and sour fish, or lentil and aubergine curry -  to eat to the beat? Tempus fugit! I'm off home to mix Manhattans, Boogie Oogie Oogie round my sitting room, and hatch my big comeback plan.
7 - 9 Norwich Street EC4A 1EJ 7112 9179

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Smith and Wollensky, Strand

Almost forty years after serving its first customers in Manhattan, this solidly conservative American surf and turf restaurant chain has chosen London for its maiden overseas outpost. Occupying two floors of the art deco Adelphi building off The Strand, its interior looks to have been installed around the time Hoover won the White House. Cocktail fanciers have a choice of two substantial bars in the familiar handwriting of the daddy of upscale rooms, Martin Brudnizki (The Ivy, Scott’s, Scarfes Bar, Jackson and Rye etc). On balance I prefer the downstairs bar; taking up one end of a vast art nouveau / Tiffany-inspired gleaming, expensively-upholstered expanse. In the braggart US of A, things are done on a much bigger scale; hence, 100 ml spirit measures in mighty Manhattans and martinis at £16. Notable American classics include sazerac and aviation, while kirsch Cosmopolitan; Breakfast At Tiffany’s (a Chase marmalade vodka Champagne cocktail) and Ready Aim Fire (a tequila and mezcal pineapple sour) are not exactly a snip at £13 -that's around $20 - a price that would buy you  a large prawn cocktail at their Midtown Manhattan restaurant. Around 30 wines by the glass include Smith and Wollensky’s own label Napa red blend - a rampaging beast that comes in at a head-bludgeoning 14.5% abv. Bar menu standouts include yellowfin tuna tartare; sirloin carpaccio and Cajun gorgonzola burger. It's all very grown-up and corporate. Brooks Brothers suits will dig..preferably on company expenses. It feels like the sort of place US presidential candidate/ chump, Donald Trump, would have treated the winning task team on The Apprentice USA to a blow-out banquet; but will Smith and W's Yankee swagger wow discerning, spoilt-for-choice Londoners? Let's ask Jay Rayner. 'The latest big-name steakhouse to cross the pond. Pity it didn't sink on the way' mutters grouchy of The Guardian, contemplating 'an insipid Moscow Mule served in a stupid brass mug with a thin plastic straw.' Ouch!
The Adelphi Building, 1 - 11 John Adam Street WC2N 6HT 7321 6007

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Vindinista, Acton

Acton has a reputation as one of London's less interesting 'burbs. Don't be fooled by the pedestrian retail opps of its forlorn main drag; villagey Churchfield Road has options that would have Notting Hill nouveaux in a lather. Well worth the detour, is oenophile blogger Paola Tich's commendable neighbourhood wine and cheese shop, Park+Bridge. Parked diagonally opposite is her latest venture, Vindinista - an engaging new wee wine bar aimed at Acton’s ABC demographic (as in “anything but Chardonnay!”) Like Sager+Wilde (Hackney), Humble Grape (Battersea) and other new wave wine bars, Vindinista focusses on small artisan producers, many of whom specialise in unsung appellations available here at retail price plus a £10 corkage fee. Suertes del Marqués 7 Fuentes -  an aromatic, white peppery, perky red blend from Tenerife - bears no relation to your average Playa de las Americas supermercado swill. Made from grapes from Puglian vines first planted by ancient Greeks, Li Velli Askos Susumaniello (£28.50) - one of around 20 wines also available by the glass - is a leathery, liquorice-y, red berry blast. Hungarian Tornai Zenit is punted as an alternative to the now-ubiquitous Picpoul de Pinet and pride of Haywards Heath, sparkling Bolney Rosé Brut, could see off many French rivals. Bar food includes duck rillettes, Italian organic meats, Upton Smokery trout paté and potted shrimps, or cheese and truffle toastie (£7.95) 
74 Churchfield Road W3 6DH