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Thursday, 13 November 2014

Ognisko, Kensington

This timewarp-y joy is located around the corner from a Kensington dungeon I regularly frequent. Next time I'm about to submit to untold torture there, I intend to, first, hit the bar at Ognisko and steel myself with a brace of its stiffeners. Two brain-blaster drinks down the hatch; even the worst punishment a psycho sadist can mete out - root canal at the hands of my dear dentist, Brian, directly across the leafy garden square from Jan Woriniecki's Polish restaurant - should be a doddle. A year after it became possible for Joe Public to access the grand stuccoed townhouse members of The Polish Hearth Club have monopolised since the 1940s, I'm finally here. Poland's cuisine - with apologies to any of that land's 39 million populations or whichever one of its 37 million ex-pat plumbers may, in future, tend to my U-bend - ain't top of my list. But its best vodkas very much are. Monumental martinis enlist some of the country's finest rye and potato distillations: Chopin; Sobieski; Belvedere; Potocki et al. Served in chilled coupettes, they are text-book perfect. And lethal as a KGB agent's bullet. On which note, the formal room, charmingly old school in a sort of frumpy 1950s Poznan matron way, is the sort of place wherein Cold War gay spy Guy Burgess might have convened with that equally traitorous c***, Anthony Blunt, after being taken up the bandstand by an obliging off-duty guardsman, in exchange for a fiver, in nearby Kensington Gardens, I imagine. For double that amount or less per drink here,  you can get buggered senseless on Ruski Standard Vesper, beetroot martini, Potocki gimlet and Tough Love (rye, Davna red vodka, vin d'orange and Martini Rosso) and a range of classics that includes side car and Copenhagen, snips at £8.50. My Christine Keeler-esque arm candy for the evening is particularly taken with her prosecco-topped martini - blood orange liqueur, lime, grapefruit and Wyborowa - from a list of ladylike libations. Bar snacks, elegantly served and blissfully ignorant of the term 'portion control', are the sort of Herculean fuel that could sustain you through the worst winter Warsaw can throw at you. Blinis; pelmeni; pierogi; grilled sausage; peasant soups; potato pancakes and puddings that read like the Polish entry to next year's Eurovision Song Contest. Sliwka w Czekoladzie, anyone? Me? I'm laying into homemade flavoured shots. So strong is Ognisko's horseradish vodka, gimme three shots of this liquid novocain and Brian can skip the injections and yank out my molars with his bare mitts, for all I'll care.
55 Prince's Gate SW7 2PN 7589 0101 

I spy Guy (right)

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

64 Degrees Bar, Pimlico

Seemingly forever stuck in 1962, Wilton Street fixture Le Monde menswear boutique (pictured below) - with its jaunty Jamaican rudeboy hats, and knits last seen on Val Doonican - embodies Pimlico's eccentricity. It belongs in spirit to a London that's now largely vanished, much to my chagrin. If you haven't seen Ealing Studios' classic screwball post-War comedy, in which its kooky residents break away from the UK and declare themselves part of Burgundy, download Passport To Pimlico immediately. The film's title appears on the cocktail list at the nonconformist faubourg's newest drinking den, a warm, cosy, brick cellar hung with Warhol, Basquiat and Banksy-ness. You'll find it downstairs at 64 Degrees, the restaurant at quirky boutique hotel Artist Residence. It's the first London venture for a suitably oddball couple whose similarly whimsical postmodern Penzance hotel featured on cult TV bitchfest Four In A Bed - losing out to two clenched queens whose naff-looking Blackpool Bed and Breakfast had been voted the world's 5th best (by guests who had visited no more than five others, I like to imagine) Whilst time-warpy Pimlico ticks many boxes, its boring bar scene is also resolutely stuck in the past. So anywhere that punts Bourbon praline sour; gin, Tokaji and Aperol 'negroni'; tequila, mezcal, beetroot, cayenne and carrot fix, Acapulco (£10) and the aforementioned Passport (a gin, Syrah and forest fruit sour), should pull in the Pimlico punters. There again, as the locals are just as likely to be stopping indoors, happy at home, necking Blue Nun and Babycham, watching Dixon of Dock Green and Juke Box Jury on black and white television sets hired for half a crown a week at Radio Rentals, or eating powdered egg and snook and listening to The Goon Show on the wireless - good luck with that guys!
Artist Residence, 52 Cambridge Street SW1V 4QQ 7828 6684 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Spiaggia, Fulham

Fulham's grimy, traffic-clogged, North End Road is a grim parade of pound shops, bookies, cash convertors and Kathy Burquas prodding market stall mangos , hoping to buy them for buttons, while the stallholders shoot them the BNP death stare. Now It's feared more locals will soon be reduced to haggling over the price of bruised fruit when better Dead Than Ed's bananas tax hits their 'mansions' - aka poky terraced houses. Bang goes the family holiday in Tuscany! Fulham's soon-to-be-more-squeezed-middle will have to make do with a little corner of Italy in the shape of a cutesy, white-washed, wood panelled shack opposite Waitrose (where they used to shop before their 4 x 4s satnavs were set to Lidl SW11). Tricked out in candy stripes and pastel gelati tones, Spiaggia is jolly as lolly-lickin' starlet La Lollobrigida (pictured) at a swingin' San Remo beach party not long after Mussolini was swinging in Milano - on a meat hook dangled from the roof of a petrol station. With impeccable timing, I Raggazzi della Spiaggia  (as the Beach Boys would have been called if they'd come from Cattolica not California) can look forward to sunshiny staff serving spritzes, negroni, rossini, bellini, vodka-limone sorbet and all manner of I-Ti tipples currently fashionable a Londra. Order an £8 cocktail (or vino and spumante from £19) and, at the appropriate hour, you'll be served aperitivi - free, not cheekily, sneakily slapped on your bill as at some greedy West End gaffs. Snackage includes tutti the usual suspects - crostini, piadini, arancini, Henry Mancini  - and trad grub like nonna knocked out in her Parma prime. Downstairs, in a dark kitsch playroom, there's big screen La Liga action featuring the peninsula's poutiest prima donnas, and a baby foot table for any budding Balotelli on your squad. Worryingly for mamma, there's also an inscrutable curtained cabana, wherein a large mattress: Randy di Rimini's office, the sort of horizontal accommodation nice Catholic girls should steer well clear of. I hope Spiaggia does well and doesn't end up as empty as Worthing beach on a wet bank holiday weekend: this tricky site has washed away a slew of bar/ diners in quick succession. Give it a go, Fulham! Fun, camp, kitsch, bonkers: it's gotta be a cheaper date than that other eccentric Italian import, Nancy dell'Olio.
461 - 465 North End Road SW6 1NZ 7610 2278 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Lounge Bar at The Hoxton Holborn, Holborn

I've gravitated towards hotel bars since I was persuasive enough to convince their barmen to serve me. As an easy-on-the-eye, precocious 15-year-old, I'd loiter in the better ones, sipping tequila sunrises. Fancying myself the height of sophistication, I'd put the make on  hot older guests flying solo. After an educational field trip upstairs, randy on Ruinart from my prey's minibar, I'd expect to be gifted something by Saint Laurent or Gucci the next day for having been a gold star student. Populated by good-looking fash-caj types - to the point that two lone businessmen in grey suits stick out like pork pies at a bar mitzvah -The Lounge Bar at The Hoxton Holborn would have once been fertile cruising ground for me. Given my current dishevelment, I'd be lucky to attract a ten-bob-the-job, tired old tart from Talinn. Not that I'm suggesting the oldest profession stalks the Hoxton Holborn's corridors. At 8.30 am, fragile, pale and clammy, I'm beginning to regret last night's orgy. A "FOUR IN A BED ROMP" as The Sun would have it? Sadly, Four In A Bed on Channel 4 is of more interest to  me these days...but never say "never", for hope springs eternal. After barely three hours' kip in one of the hotel's 'cosy' rooms (and an argument with the shower), I'm suffering the hangover of the far. Mixing Champagne, Palomas, Tommy's margaritas, espresso martinis, corpse revivers, rhubarb bitter-tinged Brooklyn cocktails - and Midori and methadone mojitos for all I can remember - seemed like a good idea at 2 am as the hotel's epic launch party raged on. I do recall that the event kicked off with an inspired immersive production that saw the whole place turned into one big film shoot, with guests roped in as extras (not, on paper, my cup of tea but great fun as it transpired). My only hope of salvation lies in the full English I've ordered in the busy lobby downstairs - assessing that the concierge's contacts don't stretch to organising an emergency blood transfusion  in situ. Of scant consolation, is the prospect of last night's host, the hotel's PR, across the table. A fellow renegade half my age, she looks twice as rough. (Dem yoot? Lightweights!) Made of stronger stuff, another party survivor looks more chipper. "Apparently, all the alcohol in the lobby's fridges can be purchased by guests at near enough retail prices," he tells me. "Can't wait to rock up with the boys at 2am, check into a room and cane it all night. Cheaper than taxis back to mine." he says, already there. There was a time when I'd have found such a proposition irresistible. As it is, future evenings at the Hox Hobe's slouchy 50s-revisted bar, will be restricted to civilised tippling, rabbit on toast, steak and chips, patty melts or super healthy salads from in-house Brooklyn-style grill Hubbard and Bell... and taxis before midnight. At least, that's what I tell myself this morning.
199 - 206 High Holborn WC1V 7BD  7661 3000 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

American Bar at the Beaumont, Mayfair

(fantasy becomes reality at The Beaumont )

I occasionally fantasise about being alive in London of the 1920s and 30s (Oi, missus! I may look ancient and decrepit but.....) Decked out by Savile Row's finest tailors; nightingales singing in Berkeley Square; bowling along a traffic-free Piccadilly, gay flappers and squiffy slappers in tow: I'm off to get royally rinsed in the American Bar at The Savoy and trip the light fantastic to Carroll Gibbons and his Orpheans in what is now that hotel's Beaufort Bar. Of course, the grim reality was much more likely to be a life of empty-bellied drudgery on the dole in Deptford, the occasional half of bitter, incurable clap and the only foreign holiday I'd ever take, a future day trip to a beach in France - no arguments - where I'd promptly have my dancing feet blown off by a Nazi mine. My reveries are likely to be further indulged - and frequently, I'm thinking - at Corbin and King's latest lounge, the devastatingly handsome, walnut-tone art deco American Bar at the Beaumont Hotel. The pile may look as if was around long before Vera dreamed of bluebirds over Dover but, back in the day, the 30s cream building it inhabits is where imaginary Me's chauffeur would park the Roller while sir rolled into Selfridges - whose garage this then was - to purchase a new Rolex oyster for his fine-boned wrist. As with other Corbin and King venues, (Wolseley, Delaunay, Colbert, Fischer's) here's a persuasive pastiche of past times where the white tux-totin' staff's drinks are similarly period and convincing: boulevardier, Brooklyn, Martinez, aviation and remember the Maine very much what Lord Barker-Main would sink back in the day. Nostalgic film set; impeccable service; modern-trad bar bites; champagne at under £50 and all the scofflaws I can scoff ? "Heaven, I'm in heaven," as my fantasy friend Fred sings it.
Beaumont Hotel, Brown Hart Gardens, W1K 6TF 7499 1001 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Three Eight Four, Brixton

The buzz is intoxicating. Caribbean carnival colour-clash; the aroma of jerked chicken frying; unfathomable fish and strange fruit; Rusty Lee lookalikes rocking diamond inset Jamaican flag nail extensions and wild weaves; banji girls in wine ya body batty riders: in downtown Brixton, you find everything from breadfruit, bilimibi and bush meat to scratchy 45s by Beres Hammond, Black Uhuru and alleged strange fruit-hater Buju "boom bye bye inna batty bwoy head" Banton (and a bag of something for a truly wired weekend). The old market booth with its Catholic geegaws was a firm favourite of mine back in my Buffalo Boy days, when the late-great stylist Ray Petri decreed Virgin Mary key-rings and souvenirs of Lourdes dangling from your regulation MA-1 jacket were quite the ting for Uptown Top Ranking. The arrival of Franca Manca and Foxtons, of course, spelt the Beginning of The End. But for now, cherish what could be a corner of Funky Nassau before the social cleansing is complete and rudeboy Brixton's balls are chopped off. Having said this, it's rich of me to recommend still-cruddy Coldharbour Lane's latest lounge. 384 is not aimed at the area's piss-poor natty dreads. But if no neighbourhood is immune to change, then let it be populated with places like this. From the guys at Seven in Brixton Market, this raw-edged post-Apocalypse hole-up is a lesson in cool interior design on a budget (dig the old bulb bin wall lights!). At its salvaged metal bar, £6 or so buys finessed fixes such as Bombay kitchen (Ophir gin, rum, coriander, mango, mint and Tabasco served with popadom and chutney), and four in the pink - a swinging ménage that hooks up Campari and Cointreau with Amaretto and peach bitters to sexy effect. Tart’n’tide - Auchentoshan, Licor 43, Cointreau, honey and lemon served over seaweed-infused ice - drinks like a crisp autumn day by the Bute briny. Ceviche: chilli calamari; bruschetta; brisket en brioche: it's a far cry from the Brixton of my yoot. Back in the day, if someone ordered "shooters" in a bar, you'd leg it.
384 Coldharbour Lane SW9 8LF 3417 7309

Adapted from my review for Square Meal Lifestyle Autumn Issue - out now.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Basement Sate, Soho

Around the time Teflon Tony hijacked Britpop for his own propagandist ends (and musos that should have known better were lured to smarmy Blair's lair for THAT Downing Street photo op), The Player was the Soho Oasis where Boys and Girls partied. Fast forward a decade and half: those giddy times are a distant Blur; Blair is (gasp!) GQ's philanthropist of the year - as opposed to 'lying warmonger of the century' - and, with most of the Britpop bands long since gone to the (wonder)wall, The Player closed. Into the void, hot on the heels of her hit bar Sherry Butt, a beau monde magnet in Le Marais, comes Basement Sate, a new drinking den from Irish coleen, Cathleen McGarry. Some of my friends are creaming themselves about the so-now, so-posh-Parisienne concept: cocktails et désserts. This old pudding? Not so much. The sweetest thing I'll brook when mainlining Manhattans, is the requisite maraschino cherry. Not, please, as a rookie JJ Goodman once served me, a glacé cherry - the petard by which the poor chap is forever hoist in my mind. Thank God I don't go a bundle on brandy snaps, blancmange ( whatever became of them?) Battenberg, Black Forest gat-o, Paris-Brest and the likes: Kim Kardashian's saddle bags in my slimline Slimane strides? Kanye imagine? But if mini vacherin (lime meringue and basil and raspberry cream) does it for you, try it here with vodka, beetroot, ginger and Moscato d'Asti coupette, beet me up. "Am-AZ-ing" coos one girly guest, enraptured. "Got any Twiglets?" I grumble - peckish, after my second martini. What other drinks I do try - eagle in the tub (gin, white port, Fernet Branca and ginger ale), for example - are just fine...sans puds. Basement's Sate's decor, however, is - in parts - a bit of a sunken soufflé. Hefty high chairs block access to the bar as effectively as Nazi tank traps on a 1940's Normandy beach; the prospect from the bar into an open kitchen is ugly and the Mulligatawny-tone den's soupy gloaming drains the barmen's boats of all life. Right the wrongs; pull in the pudding and prosecco massive and "Things Can Only Get Better" - as phoney Tony promised before that D-Ream turned sour.
8 Broadwick Street W1F 8HN 7287 3412