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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 

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Dundee Arms, Bethnal Green

I'd often passed by The Dundee Arms without ever setting foot inside. Why would I? I don't fantasise about chavs as championed by porno peddlers, Triga; nor am I a pitbull fancier. That's as in your average EDL voter's canine chum, by the way; the Florida rapper is pretty Bon Bon in my book. Any trackie bottoms and shell suit tops spotted at The Dundee today are likely to be worn by the fiercely fashionable; 80s Brookside Scally is a hawt Hackney look reckons a stylist friend. Saved from the clutches of greedy property developers (praise be!), this Victorian boozer has got its mojo back, rescued by the peeps behind The Empress at Victoria Park and the Crooked Billet in Clapton. Original wooden bar counter, glorious glazed tiles and remnants of old wallpapers retained, lit by Eames era ceiling lights, moody and macho in cerulean blue and Bovril tones, the deconstructed, downplayed Dundee is a Cockney looker. Craft beers on tap represent the new East End. Expect the likes of Truman's Zephyr and Redchurch Shoreditch Blonde plus tasty stuff from Redwell of Norwich and Dulwich micro', Clouded Minds. Wines come in four colours: red, white or rosé at £16 and 'orange' (upmarket white rioja, more 'straw' in colour, at £28). Behind his counter, a Tales of the Riverbank-ish mustachioed magnificent - hot of the boat from Brooklyn by the sound of him -  talks me through the food. Dundee's most famous son is hirsute hipster Desperate Dan. The cow pie-scoffing cartoon hero might not go a bundle on the sole hot option, but raclette, spring onion and truffle oil toastie is fine and Dandy by me.
339 Cambridge Heath Road E2 9LH 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Natural Philosopher, Hackney

It would be easy to walk past The Natural Philosopher, mistaking its shop window for another East End bric-a-brac emporium peddling retro tat aimed at London Fields poseurs' postmodernist pads. Downstairs, beyond a reception area's rococo geegaws and avian taxidermy - Corrie Steve's Street Cars office as imagined by Tim Burton - lies Dalston members club Manero's new liquor lounge. First however, I'm urged to inspect an anteroom that houses what must be The East End's smallest "museum." Piled on shelves, ten-feet high, is owner/ curator James Manero's collection of computers, myriad Macs dating back to the earliest commercially available examples. Apple anoraks will be fascinated. Anyone under the age of 30 might wonder how we managed in our jobs pre-Jobs. (Search 'IBM Selectric' 'carbon paper' 'jammed keys' and 'abacus'). Me? I'm instantly stressed out by the prospect of the very same Performas and Power Macs that, for all their shiny, sophisticated Californian state-of-the-art promise, would end in hissy fits as two weeks worth of work - my relationship with the floppy notoriously sloppy - were lost as 'bombs' that were definitely not "da bomb" appeared and the dreaded Sad Mac Face (pictured) indicated my much admired hardware was now about as useful as a five year-old Big Mac®. Talk about expensive landfill! Downstairs, the laid-back Natural Philosopher's living room-sized cocktail lounge is served by a funky, deep, sunken bar to one end, its tenders' heads barely visible above the surround that separates it from their customers. Step away from the ledge, Squiffy McGee! Falling face down into a mixologists' mosh pit is a social fail. Such shame should be rare: the house has a table-service only policy. A launch night menu, limited to a quartet of cocktails (normally £9), throws up a couple of hits: summery gin sour, Lord Kelvin and Zabarella, a cardamom-infused Ocho tequila and pomegranate margarita. The house signature is the Parmenides. Well-executed and attractively presented perhaps, but the lure of brandy, yellow Chartreuse, absinthe bitters and white wine is all Greek to me. There again, when I was at school in the first century AD, my favourite tutor was another ancient Athenian philosopher, Agrippa The Skeptic.
489 Hackney Road E2

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Blue Boat, Hammersmith

I despise the profit-driven developers that are wrecking London's riverside with their gauche gulagsSt. George, patron saint of postmodernist pony and trap architecture was the company responsible for throwing up, inter alia, the hideous high-rise hive (pictured below) whose grotesque bulk, looming like the gates to Hades on the southwest side of Vauxhall Bridge, still makes me gasp, appalled and incredulous. Too bad the bloody dragon didn't burn old George to a crisp. The holy sainted builder's latest designer dwellings/ aspirational bollocks  - at Fulham Reach - are, by comparison, relatively innocuous. At the brand new Fuller's pub and dining rooms that sits at Fulham Reach's cynical new-build heart, mollified by a bottle of house white (£19), by the misty moonlight of a spring evening by the Thames, pastiche Victorian warehouse - all luxe loft living upholstered chez Roche Bobois and Smegs stashed with Waitrose tiramisu and Taittinger - almost begins to look like an attractive lifestyle option. Its name inspired by the annual varsity waterborne grudge match that will presently flash by, in a blink, en route from Putney Bridge to its Mortlake conclusion. The Blue Boat is sure to prove popular then and, especially, come summer. For that's when its vast sun-trap belvedere terrace, far-removed from all traffic, will be chocca with Chukka Umunna and James Cracknell lookalikes who can well afford pads priced up to £2 million+. Indoors, Oxbridge circa Brideshead Revisited, all natty nautical styling, sets the not unappealing scene for an all-day menu of decent modern Brit-Med pub grub. Jerusalem artichoke soup and cod loin, chorizo and tomato stew will do nicely at £22 for both. All told, with local brewer Fuller's ales, Frontier, ESB and London Pride on tap, there's much to put a smile on my boat race here. But not a word to George!
Distillery Road, W6 9RU 3092 2090 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Cahoots, Soho

Duncan Stirling and Charlie Gilkes do love a theme bar. The pair owns Made In Chelsea magnets such as Bunga Bunga (bottom-pincher-plagued cheesy Neapolitan 1950s pizza parlour), Bart's (Val de Sloane Square après-ski chalet shindig) and Mr. Fogg's (Victorian voyager's Mayfair town 'hice' or tweedy 30s-throwback MP Jacob Rees-Mogg's gaff, I can never quite decide). Their latest wheeze replaces what was the no-less heavily staged DISCO (Cahoots' self-explanatory 70s-style predecessor, sadly, nowhere near as dangerously debauched as Studio 54, as this tearaway teen remembers it). So convincing is the mise-en-scène that is the venue's entrance - flagged up by a sign that says "To The Trains", accessed via a wooden escalator that leads to a ticket office manned by the first of various period-piece extras straight out of Foyle's War - foreign tourists are convinced Kingly Court Station is actually part of the London Underground network. If it were a station, it would be on the Party Line; for here's a morale-boosting knees-up in a full-blown recreation of a Tube station (complete with old Bakerloo line carriage) circa Biggin Hill and Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs Of Dover. Van-loads of vintage props set the scene and, when I drop in, some game birds have gaily entered into the spirit by dressing in 40s mufti, presumably in the hope of attracting a GI who will cover them with Hershey's kisses, shower them with cologne, Helena Rubenstein rouge and Nylons and whisk them away from bombed-out London to a lovely new life as a Housewife of New Jersey. My gimlet eyes, of course, see this barmy bunker for the charade it is. Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr. Stirling? In wartime Blighty, you'd be lucky to find Camp coffee - as in sickly sweet ersatz alternative, not espresso served by some queer bugger debarred from service lest he become the barrack-room bike. Here, you're on for cracking classic and contemporary cocktails billed as 'starlets and sirens' and 'wide-boys and good-time girls, all served - neat touch! - with free rations of ham and pickle cut-up sarnies in army issue tins. What's more, the two brooding Continental chaps charged with martini-making would certainly not be employed behind Cahoots' bar, rather charged and slung behind a POW camp's bars; "Wops" - "Italians" to you - being shamefully allied to those spiffingly attired but thoroughly beastly Nazis back in 1941. Any internment in this camp caper is no hardship, what with decent drinks and jitterbugging to Glenn Miller's In The Mood with hunky Hank from Hoboken NJ to keep you amused. Welcome to The Blitz... if not quite as the late lamented Steve Strange imagined it! 
13 Kingly Court W1B 5PW

Monday, 16 March 2015

The Vault at Milroy's, Soho

Like The Gay Hussar - a stagnant old Hungarian restaurant that seems stuck in the same year Soviet tanks crushed the fledgeling revolution in Budapest, 1956 - whisky merchants Milroy's, next door, is a Soho institution - albeit a less senior one, opened in 1964. With closure looming, the Hussar's campaign look to be over. Not so Milroy's. Now in the hands of Simo, its 20-something rapscallion new owner who previously ran the short-lived Coal Vaults on Wardour Street, Milroy's 2015 offers a reinvigorated vision of what went before. Sample some of the 250+ whiskies stocked at the stripped-back Georgian shop's ground floor bar's copper counter and then penetrate deeper. For what is brand new here, is The Vault. Follow resident mutt Chester through a door in a fake bookcase, downstairs to a converted stockroom, now a rough-around-the-edges liquor lair with a small bar, leather chesterfields and the Barrel Room (pictured below), a handsome piratical salon privé lined in warm wood. Folderol-free fixes include a Dutch whiskey old fashioned and Smoking Gun (pictured above), a lethal mix of corn whiskey, Oloroso and Earl Grey tincture in a wood chip-smoked martini glass. For uisge beatha avoiders, my top tips are a Mezcalito served over a blood orange ice cube, in a black sea salt-rimmed glass, and vodka, port, Campari berry and pomegranate sour, Tutti Frutti (£9.50). Cold cuts and cheese platters are available and a 60s Brit-beat, bubblegum, Northern and Tamla playlist could have been filched from my iPad. Raw, honest and with on-the-money mixes, Milroy's is a Soho whisky seller/ soul cellar to savour.    
3 Greek Street W1D 4NX 7734 2277 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Fontaine's, Stoke Newington

"You look like an old man cut-down!" My father's withering assessment of my attempt at a young Frank Sinatra hits Havana. To his Austin Reed-attuned eyes, dressing in some Yank's cast-off 1940s cream tux, midnight blue Oxford bags and jazzy rayon palm print shirt was anathema - no matter that, days before, L'Uomo Vogue had snapped me in said look for a 'Londra Trend' feature. Hard to imagine now, but wearing "smelly", "old", second-hand clothes, some from an Edinburgh junk shop run by Mrs Doubtfire (yes, she inspired Robin William's character), as I first did in my student days, was then considered downright weird. 'Vintage' is, of course, big business today, but where to show off when you're channelling Ava Gardner as Gilda, if you get it right or Father Ted's Mrs Doyle if you don't? Try Fontaine's, a new retro-styled bar whose unofficial PR is, tellingly, 's Fleur McGerr. All 1930s cream upholstery, Odeon foyer art deco with bronze Egyptian palms, here's a film set for a duet featuring Fred and Ginger. Appropriately period cocktails include Aviation, Clover Club and Singapore Sling. Hollywood Hills silver screen era, silver tray staples include oysters Kilpatrick, smoked salmon and caviar blinis and Bellinis. In a tiki bar downstairs, the vibe is more Marlene Dietrich sings Hot Voodoo - hers, a lurid look that will get you odd looks at your local All Bar One. Vamping up, vintage-style, for cocktail hour is to be encouraged in these super-dull Superdry days. Choosing an appropriate backdrop is key. This Stokey belter fits the bill.
176 Stoke Newington High Road N16 7UY