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Saturday, 1 August 2015

one two two, Mayfair


Will one two two be filled with filles de joie, I wonder? For wasn't Le Chabanais - the name of Inaki Aizpitarte’s bistro whose basement this new Mayfair bar inhabits - one of the most notorious of Parisian beau monde bordellos until 1946, when a sanctimonious, spoilsport, French government outlawed 'maisons closes', branding them cesspits for bourgeois degenerates? Artists, poets, politicians, vaudeville vedettes, gangsters, dandies, barons and cunt-sniffing counts - not to mention visiting Hollywood stars who dared to swing bi' (bonjour Marlene Dietrich!) - had frequented the original Le Chab'. Grainy photos show its decor to be as outrageously baroque as the appetites of its roué fans. By contrast, one two two is an austere and fearsomely chic Bauhaus-inspired bunker. Darkly lit, all streamlined Art Deco, its focal point is a handsome, jutting, V-shaped counter, its back bar's sleek steel shelves stacked with high-end hooch and classic French aperitifs Byrrh, Picon, Lillet, Dolin and Gentiane. Run by the restaurant's co-owner, concombre-cool, (or gratingly Gallic, depending on your take on strutting French coqs) Franck Audoux, the bar majors on retro rinses that reference recipes popularised by big-shot bartenders of the 1920’s and 30’s - e.g Frank Meier whose tenure at The Paris Ritz lasted over 25 years. Try Tunnel, a negroni made with No.3 gin and both French and Italian vermouths; pineapple-infused Mezan rum sour, Barbaresque or La Vie En Rose - a tequila and cherry liqueur fix named after the evergreen chanson by Edith Piaf whose grand-mère, like nine out of ten of her female compatriots, it seems, also ran a knocking shop. £14.50 - a price that could buy a blow-job in a cold Calais alley - secures cider brandy and Bénédictine Champagne cocktail, Bertie - a reference to the future Edward VII who, as Prince of Wales, reportedly had a penchant for bathing in Champagne in Le Chabanais owner Madame Kelly's copper tub, a fantastical vision in the form of a sphinx (pictured). As a young innocent abroad, some of my most educative soirées began at a Montparnasse zinc, over kir royale paid for by friendly off-duty grandes horizontales, Brassaï-esque brasses keen to corrupt a pretty boy à Paris. Given the parade of high class hoops-for-hire (or 'celebrities' as some glossy mags insist on euphemistically referring to some of their number) that splash their sugar daddies' cash at the appropriately named Mount Street's designer boutiques, I'd hoped to be in debauched good company tonight. Alas, my fellow tipplers appear to be of good moral character. One two two? Tasty 'tails, but un peu trop tame if you're drawn to wanton women and walks on the wild side.
 8 Mount Street, W1 7491 7078


Friday, 31 July 2015

The Chesham Arms, Homerton

Three cheers for Andy Bird! Why? Because the co-owner of two of London's key cocktail bars  - Original Sin and Happiness Forgets - has only gone and prised an endangered taphouse from the snapping jaws of voracious predators. Bewitching clueless councillors with their promise of 'elegant urban village living', Public (house) Enemy No.1, the evil property developers, contrive to knock down London's built heritage faster than I can knock back No 3. gin martinis - (i.e. alarmingly quick). I weep buckets for the thousands of London boozers lost to these sharks and scheisters. In a small victory for Canute against the cnuts, in Mehetabel Road E9, the developers' loss is this close-knit enclave's gain. With its replanted lawned beer garden, The Chesham is now a fine community asset, the focal point of a handsome grid of chocolate box-perfect Victorian terraces. Bird's painstakingly collated salvaged furnishings - the bar's polished ash counter found on Gumtree and shipped from a defunct Derbyshire tavern; tuffet stools last produced circa Lonnie Donegan; an old Joanna for Mehetabel's answer to Mrs. Mills  - restores the Arms to how it probably looked around the same time Ena Sharples and Elsie Tanner first traded port and lemon-fuelled insults in another wee local up North. My nostalgia for pubs past doesn't, of course, extend to a fondness for warm Watney's beer, sickly Spanish Sauternes or luncheon meat slapped between two stale slices of Mother's Pride - standard issue in 1960 when God help the boy that dared to order a Babycham in any East End tavern...unless his name was Ronnie, the gay Kray. The born-again Chesham's pours include sterling stuff from Dark Star and Five Points; Salopian’s award-winning bitter, Darwin’s Original; classy, affordable, French vino and a great G and T or a Bloody Mary that's bigged up by Bird, not at all subjectively, as “London’s best.” Ditto, pork pie and other trad bar snacks, the only food on offer pending the autumn addition of a kitchen. “I loathe ‘gastropubs’ that flog bought-in lamb shank for £15 a pop” rails an angry Bird, promising a from-scratch plat du jour, quality charcuterie and cold cuts. Atta boy, Andy! Now, go support your local... while you still can!
15 Mehetabel Road E9 6DU 0793 695517 


Sunday, 7 June 2015

Terrace Bar at The Chesterfield, Mayfair

Being asked to list my top 10 London hotel bars is a challenge I find almost as impossible as declaring my favourite Sinatra tracks; there are just so many classics to choose from. I love hotel bars. Old and new. Odd, then, that despite The Chesterfield Hotel having been around for longer than that other old Mayfair fixture, Nancy Dell Olio, I'd never set foot in it until the other week when its PR invited me to its Gin and Tonic Experience. I'm not a massive G and T man - better Tanqueray 10, No.3 or (if I'm lucky) Beefeater Crown Jewel (a no-longer produced, rare red letter day treat) in a bone dry martini - but the Terrace Bar's table-side tasting / tutorial has to be one of London's best value deals, a steal at £22. Knowledgable staff suggest a flight of three top notch gins, picked according to the guest’s palate, each paired with its ideal tonic water and a sprinkle of its key botanicals and spices to accentuate the gin’s DNA: Martin Miller’s and Mediterranean Fever Tree, served with strawberry and crushed black pepper,one particularly harmonious marriage. Moreover, the Gin and Tonic Experience's custom-made presentation set (pictured above) is exquisite. As for the room the tasting takes place in, The Terrace Bar is the sort of place I imagine Lucky Lucan might haunt had Scotland Yard's most wanted Lord not vanished without trace on a murky November night in 1974, wanted for murder. All forest greens, froufrou swags, butch dark woods and tobacco leather and polished barmen, suave in crisp white tuxes, The Terrace Bar epitomises Establishment elegance; its style harking back to The Chesterfield's creation after WWII, when the hotel was formed from three town houses, each rich in history. Sir William Harcourt, The (Liberal) Chancellor of the Exchequer that, in 1894, introduced death duties ("boo!") was one former inhabitant, as was William IV's bit-on-the-side, the actress Dorothea Jordan, who bore him ten illegitimate sprogs in as many years; one of whom was the great-great-great-great-grandmother of the current MP for Witney - David William Donald "Call me Dave" Cameron. (Insert your own joke about Tory bastards). When the miserly monarch had the cheek to suggest a reduction in his brood mare's allowance, the exasperated luvvie handed the tight git a playbill on which her caustic scribble: 'no refunds after the rising of the curtain.' Far from fuddy-duddy, the Terrace Bar's cracking cocktail list mixes modern innovation and reasonably priced classics in equal measure. Served in a jolly yellow earthenware ‘hive’ over honeycomb ice (pictured below), the latest buzz is a summery vodka, limoncello and lavender flower sour, sweetened with honey gathered from the hotel's rooftop apiary’s 40,000 bumblebees.  Snacks - crab cakes and piquant welsh rarebit (offered gratis) - are on-the-money. Silver service is slick; efficient staff super-sweet and attentive. A pianist at a baby grand plays standards. "There's A Small Hotel"....and it's just "Too Marvellous For Words" as Sinatra sang it.
35 Charles Street W1J 5EB 7491 2622

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Harlesden Picture Palace, Harlesden

Opened in 1912 when the year's silent movies included The Conquest Of The Pole; The Musketeers Of Pig Alley; and The Water Nymph, by the 1980s, The Harlesden Picture Palace was reduced to screening blue movies - Musketeer Pigs' Poles' Conquest Of The Water Nympho's Alley among them, no doubt. Latterly, the old flea pit's fate was to host a Wetherspoon's pub. Fortunately, the curtain has fallen on that turkey and The Picture Palace can once again expect a full house in its new incarnation as funky bar, a feature attraction in up-and-coming (I'm told) Harlesden. Owners Antic - whose stable of quirky suburban socials include Deptford Job Centre, Balham Bowls and Farr’s School of Dancing in Dalston - have restored the place to something like its Edwardian prime, with a liberal sprinkle of 50s styling and fascinating film memorabilia. Set under the original balcony, lit by art nouveau crystal chandeliers, a long rosewood bar’s hand-pulls dispense Ladbroke Grove microbrewer Moncada’s Notting Hill Amber, great stuff from from Redemption and the owners’ own craft beer, The Full Monty Volden. Democratically priced wine includes the ubiquitous Picpoul de Pinet at just shy of £20. DJs play until 1.30 am at weekends when funk, jazz, ska, soul and popcorn (obscure, cult 1960s pop as played in Belgian dance-halls) are in the mix. Burgers and sandwiches will be served whilst a full kitchen is installed, planned for autumn 2015. Another silver screen star idolised by the flea pits original customers was Mary Pickford who starred in over 30 films in 1912 alone. No sign here of the classic rum and pineapple cocktail created for her when she visited the Hotel Nacional in Havana with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, sadly
26 Manor Park Road NW10 4JJ 8965

adapted from my review for

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Made In Brasil Boteco, Chalk Farm

I have never been to Brazil. Odd, given that any native I have met has invariably been sunny delight - no more so than the fun-lovin' trannies that hung out in a club I DJ'd in Paris when the weren't floggin' their fake fannies in the Bois de Boulogne. Another salad days stint, slinging hash in Downtown Manhattan's Sounds of Brasil, left me with a taste for feijoada, caipirinhas.... and the music. To Jorge Ben, a regular performer at the NYC diner/ dancehall, I learned to bossa and samba like a carioca; although some heavy lubin' of dem done-in lower limbs will be needed should you demand a demo. While carnival in Rio, and Niemeyer's modernist architectural gem Brasilia, are on my bucket list, for now, there's this new NW1 'boteco', a sister to Camden's original Made In Brasil. With over 12,000 found in Belo Horizonte alone, the boteco is a bar where street food is usually also served. Here, lurid airbrushed street art in a series of steamy saloons, and an all-weather verandah, provide a convincing backdrop for live bands and DJs spinning samba, bossa and mod beats Brazilian. The main draw? Juicy Rio-style rinses - tropical fruit-flavoured caipirinhas, all the more rewarding when offered at £4.50 on happy hour. With over 250 different brands, the bar boasts the biggest display of cachaça in Europe, I'm told. Discover Brazil’s national spirit in martinis such as Acai Berry or Cafezhino (£7.25) Made with juniper berries, crème de violette and maraschino -  Santos Dumont, named after the Brazilian flying machine inventor who astonished Parisians by looping the Eiffel Tower in 1901, is the bar's take on the Aviation. Order share platters from £15 and tuck into ‘petiscos' (tapas) such as cassava and salt beef balls, palm heart salad, peppered squid with aïoli, salt cod cakes, grilled halloumi and vegetable skewers that, fortunately, I am no longer forced to serve, to pay the rent on a cockroach-infested walk-up in Manhattan's Avenue A and 1st, a no-go, crack-fuelled, violent slum as dangerous as any Rio favela back in the day.
48 Chalk Farm Road NW1 8AJ 7267 4868 
(adapted from my review at ) 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Jailbird, Kentish Town

Set in the bowels of its new Kentish Town branch, Joe’s Southern Kitchen's bar ‘makes the most of its history as a police station’s cells.’ A bare, bland, boring, blood-red, windowless box; hatch bar aside, ugly, backlit swing doors, the room's main feature; tinny-sounding 80s hairbrush diva pop instead of the promised Northern soul, blues and rockabilly: you reckon, guys? One staff member claims they ‘are working on the decor.’ Hmm. Work also needs to be done on a cocktail list that our perplexed waitress admits is “very girly.” Judging by joyless jam jar serve Maple Pie (Jim Beam Maple, lemon, apple juice and ‘apple pie syrup’), cloyingly sweet julep, Kentucky Cousin, and an £8.50 Bulleit ‘Bullish Negroni’ that left us distinctly bearish, the girl that inspired it is sad-arse Southern twerker, Miley Cyrus. Picklebacks, Brooklyn lager and £5 margaritas may keep some boys happy but this boy can't help thinking this soulless pit is no improvement on poitin-serving Irish speakeasy Shebeen, Jailbird's predecessor. We pass on wings, hot dogs, mac’n’cheese and pulled pork bun on the basis that the popcorn shrimp we do order has somehow morphed into chewy Chinese-style fish balls by the time it reaches us. "That is how popcorn shrimp should be" imagines our server. Yeh, and my name's Aileen Wournos! Before my inner serial killer is unleashed, we bust loose: a night in a real slammer could be no worse than my brief incarceration at long as a bent bobby slipped me a bottle of JB, a bacon butty and a cashmere blanket. 

300 Kentish Town Road NW5 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Demon And Wise/ The Arbitrager, The City

Hiding behind The Old Lady Of Threadneedle Street's skirts, new bar The Arbitrager is considerably smaller than I imagine the average oligarch's bank vault or Tom Cruise's closet to be. An arbitrager is traditionally a bod who deals in bonds, shares, commodities and the likes. The stock to buy into at this Square Mile bar-ette is liquid gold, as in a dozen or so doable London brews from the likes of Beavertown, Crate and Brixton to slake parched traders' thirsts. "Sold to the man in the bowler hat" for around the price of two shares in Barclays Plc (263p a piece as markets stand today). I'm more interested in investing in what lies below, however. Demon and Wise, the Arb's sister bar in the next door basement specialises in cocktails. When I visit at 9.30pm-ish, 95% of its demob-happy punters have pushed off, probably pished, to catch trains home to Hemel, Horsham, Hatfield and Hell, leaving this steamy (as in overheated) Steampunk Barbarella basement to me, an even older old soak (yes, such vampires do exist) and two simpatico Italian barkeeps - one of whom is clearly barking, having relocated to Barking or some such sad slum from Sardinia, such is Londra's lure in the eyes of the sort of young EUers UKIP would rather we not host. D+W is owned by The Hide, that useful hoochy hole-up in SE1. Prices, however, are more mohair and silk pinstripe than Bermondsey barrow boy at £11 (plus service) for my Monkey Shoulder-based Blood and Sand or a Tapatio Blanco-informed Flamingo from a list that is big on London gin: Portobello Road No.171 the preferred pour in Champagne-informed twisted G and T, Market Maker. Other recipes rope in rare and vintage Armagnac, malt whisky and the likes of Martini Gran Lusso; but at £16 +, such exotica will leave me in the red at Barclays. If only I'd stuck to my first ever job - something in the City - I could have bought this bar fifty times over by now or, like old boy on the next school, be hanging on in there for a gold-plated carriage clock before retiring to watch reruns of Four In A Bed, permanently bladdered in a Broadstairs bungalow.

27A Throgmorton Street, EC2N 2AN 3774 7654