Friday, 13 December 2013
Had I been of an even earlier vintage, I might have ended up on Fleet Street. By the time I took to reporting on London's bar scene, the old gutter press pack's dipso hacks had long since hopped off elsewhere. Some fled to other parts of town, others ended up in their own obit columns, felled by cirrhosis, and for one former red top editor, if it all goes pear shaped at the Bailey, a cell at her Majesty's pleasure could soon be the ‘hold-the-front-page!’ story. For any modern City wage slave whose liver craves a bit of light lunchtime abuse or a well-earned post-work half pint, this understated reboot of a moribund boozer, new from the gang behind The Old Red Cow in Smithfield, is worth a punt. Framed epoch-defining splashes à la Man Walks On The Moon/ Jimmy Savile Molested My Hamster aren’t the real scoop here. No, that’ll be fine British craft brews from the likes of Weird Beard, Beavertown Pressure Drop and Manx indie, Okell’s supported by a slew of punchy imports on tap. Alternatively, order pukka wine with ham croquettes, cocktail sausages or mod-Brit pub grub - confit pork belly, pear and braised endive in a red wine jus/ boeuf bourgignon and mash/ butternut squash risotto et al - at newsworthy low prices. That's about it in a nutshell, guys. Print it!
35 Whitefriars Street, EC4y 8BH 7583 8117 www.thehackandhop.com
Wednesday, 11 December 2013
From the owners of Copita and Barrica, this off-Charlotte Street tabanco - a style of tavern dedicated to Jerez de la Frontera’s native drink - should prosper. A cosy bar - a tight squeeze with high stools - will suit those popping in for post-work snacks of olives and nuts, rillettes, terrines or various sharing boards (from £12) with a glass of chilled dry fino. Prices start at £2.90 for a range produced by internationally acclaimed Bodegas Rey Fernando De Castilla served from the barrel using a traditional cup. Beyond the bar, Drakes opens up into an authentically austere Andalucian-style room with banquette and, to one corner, a second bar with high stools for more casual dining. Top notch, limited release fino en rama works well with a fair seafood platter that has cured sardines, cockles, prawns, slightly soapy salt-cured air-dried tuna loin (mojama), mackerel paté and gravadlax. Rich aged oloroso, the owner’s recommendation, is served with both braised pig cheeks, hazelnuts and potato puree, and rolled lamb breast, lentils and salsa verde from a choice of 6 rustic mains (from £9.50) that also includes octopus chikpea and chorizo, and a white bean veggie stew. Full-on fruity rare old India 20+ years is pudding in its own right but was served here with apple crumble, nuts and hazelnut ice cream, a combo so over-rich, it could sink the eponymous Drake’s Golden Hind - the ship on which the seafaring Elizabethan brought sherry in butts, introducing the tipple to England.
3 Windmill Street W1T 2HY 7637 9388 www.drakestabanco.com
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Before Madeleine Lim - former food and drink editor on the Indy magazine - opened its door in summer 2013, I imagine a branding guru and numerous focus groups were consulted before nailing down at this venture's name. "It’s a bar." (tick) "It’s little." (tick). "How about , oh I dunno; help me out here!" This bijou neighbourhood watering hole shoe-horned into converted retail premises comes with high stools at its pristine counter and more seating in a dinky courtyard . Essentially it's The Little Wine Bar - with a concise range of good vino from boutique producers available by the glass from £4. But if you've got uptown ideas, they’ll fix you various takes on the classic kir, Italian spritzes, numerous negroni variants (in SW17, sloe gin is in), a mean martini and picklebacks. Otherwise, try Julian Temperley’s méthode champenoise Somerset cider, and - harking back to Tooting’s days as a hot-bed of revolution (led by Citizen Smith, aka Robert Lindsay, in a 1970s sitcom) - locally brewed Wolfie Smith brown ale. Factor in boquerones, terrines and charcuterie and cheese plates on the cheap; you’ll be glad you were tempted even further down the Northern Line to Tooting - the new Balham or - with more than a little leap of the imagination - the new Shoreditch according to some. What next? Colliers Wood the new Côte d'Azur?
145 Mitcham Road SW17 9PE 8672 7317 Twitter @LittleBarSW17
Taken from my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk
Friday, 6 December 2013
The spacious ground floor bar at The Don’s smart new bistro is a cosy cork-walled charmer, suitable for City chinwags over a glass of finest Fino. The black-cloaked hombre depicted in the bar's branding has, for centuries, been synonymous with Sandeman, purveyors of award-winning sherries and port. Served comme il faut (unlike your nan's Christmas Emva Cream), wrap your laughing gear around various styles with shaved Bellota ham off the bone for an authentic taste of Spain. From a list of sherry-laced cocktails, I like flamenco (Woodford Reserve bourbon, Manzanilla, peach liqueur, mint, lime and barley syrup), and torero (loosely, a sherry Americano). The Don is also big on gin, stocked in numbers and used in sophisticated sours such as the Londoner (Adnams First Rate, Noilly Prat, apricot liqueur and lime with egg white). Nutty symphony (a cognac, fig, chestnut honey and butterscotch liqueur fix) is one of various £13 digestifs that promise ‘a surprising journey of flavours’ - albeit not a journey my palate cares to undertake. Three dozen wines come by the glass. Ask to visit The Don's fascinating 18th century cellars, where the restaurant’s stellar cast of 400 global hotties has top notch Tempranillo and Pena das Donas Almalarga, an elegant mineral-rich white produced from Galicia’s godello grapes. Quality hams and crispy pork crackling aside, there's Manchego and sobrassada piquant sausage toastie (£7), various croquettes, deep-fried olives with goats curd, and smoked prawns. Service is slick and although, to the average St Paul's wage slave, prices may err on the steep side, off Cheapside, the Don is definitely your man.
Thursday, 5 December 2013
"'Kench' is a little-used term for a fish salting bin as well as the olde English equivalent of that current online überacronym, LOL. 'Bibesy', on the other hand, is an archaic term for an excessive desire to drink." So says the owner of this new Smithfield gaff, a man whose Nottingham childhood must have been so uneventful, he can still recall every round of Call My Bluff. The likeable linguist is keen to point out the thinking behind the name of his new dining room (Kench) and bar (Bibesy), lest I imagine it's in the same vein as his other premises. Chris Peel, you see, is also the man behind cod-1920's Chicago Mobster's speakeasy Evans and Peel - a quirky hole-up that would doubtless be fun-lovin' Diana Spencer's local had she not kissed a Greco-German frog, become a princess, left her pad in Earls Court for an even more louche Court, and died after the impossible dream turned more sour than her sister-in-law Anne's equine fizog. Whether Diana, smudged panda eyed patron saint of TV confessionals, would have enjoyed Kench's modern Brit tapas, who can say? She was a finicky eater, one of her friends tells me. I enjoy them.. in part. Pulled oxtail with red cabbage and pork 'bellypops' are fair while chewy, flavourless, salt-cured flank steak tartare might be described as like the cause of Diana's Parisian demise on a plate. But as I'm more of a bibsey boy than a grub-ey guy, it's the downstairs drinking den here that interests me more. As at Evans and Peel, part of the fun is divining its entrance. If you're not thick as a brick, you'll discover a rough-hewn pine-clad blue collar cabin possibly modelled on a shady Adirondacks shack circa Hank Williams, where 5th generation inbreds convene to drink doctored hooch after shootin' skwirls - Tufty taxidermy, a bit of a theme at Bibesy. Made from the contents of a back bar stacked high with sexy spirits, tonight's 'tails are miles removed from moonshine. Campari eggnog aside - an ill-advised experiment that surely tastes like the poo of an alkie Italian mama's breast-fed jaundiced baby - the menu is packed with must-try material. Despite its naff name, Beyond Epale ('the bastard lovechild of a martinez and a presidente') is totally acceptable. So too, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Bibesy's Kinks-y Boulevardier built on Calvados. With several more still to try after a Redemption Rye and Arran and Islay whisky-based Salt and Malt Sazerac, Hank Williams old chestnut 'I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive' springs to mind. I almost don't. I could swear there's a mean squirrel on my shoulder and it's after my nuts - a sign you're two drinks away from a paramedic's intervention. It's testament to this luxe liquor pit's pull that I'm still here, howling for more, at 3 a.m on a school night. OK, I'll level. It helps that the owner insists we stay past closing time, drinks on him. As I, too, am keen to revive obscure old English words, let me add that if you can corrade the cost of an Oenological Manhattan (11 gold bits), freck hither, twitter-light, and deliciate at a brannigan within.
50 - 52 Long Lane EC1A 9EJ 7796 3631 www.kenchandbibesy.com
Friday, 29 November 2013
("oops!")Like arriving at a house party your antennae has assessed as a dreary dud, even before its host has finished air-kissing you at the front door, beating an inconspicuous retreat when you don't fancy what you find at any unfamiliar bar, hidden from view in a basement, can be 'hashtag-awkward' as people say (annoyingly). No more so, than when the place is empty save for three punters and two members of staff who look genuinely thrilled to greet you. That's the scenario tonight at a peculiar new cocktail and cake lounge beneath long-running, not-half-bad pub, Somers Town Coffee House. Quick as a flash, I've decided the decor doesn't do it for me. An inchoate mishmash of homespun ideas, twee recycled 60s gubbins, stage set doors, kitsch seats even Steve at Corrie's Street Cars office mightn't fancy; it reminds me of when some of my classmates, aged 11, did up Malcolm MacKenzie's old man's garage as a nightclub. Using stuff found in local skips, Malc and his equally moronic muckers fancied it looked like somewhere cool where Tony Blackburn might DJ, while my innate superior imagination was getting 'dump in Blackburn, Lancs.' For a cocktail lounge, this garish gaff's back bar's scant gins, vodkas and Bells whisky - presumably for wee hard man drinkers fresh off the Glasgow train at nearby Euston - don't exactly augur well - but reinforcements are apparently on the way. Thank God I'm not out on the pull (assuming there was anyone to pull): it's very bright for a bar. How many staff does it take to unscrew a few lightbulbs? Still, I'm here; the barman (pictured) looks the part and the menu promises he'll mix something else if I don't fancy the likes of Lynchburg lemonade, gin fizz or margarita on the rocks from a terse list of unambitious ‘cocktaails’ (sic). "How about a Boulevardier?" Negative. This, despite a Diffordsguide, an informative tome that includes its recipe, in clear view. "Er, OK. I'll have a sweet Manhattan," I say, now back on-menu. After what seems like an age, it is ready. Served not sweet, not perfect, but dry, it is also wrong. "Dry: that's the way I tend to make things" its maker's wet explanation for this disappointing £9.80 effort. Word up, fella! If I ask a bespoke tailor for a silk mohair suit, I won't wear tweed because that's the way he tends to make things. Gitme? If you, however, fancy trying on his French martinis for size at 1.30am, dive in; it's open until 2am. Only don't expect to cosy up to me at this queer Kettle. I've got bigger and better fish to fry.
60 Chalton Street, NW1 1HS 7387 7377 www.thesomerstowncoffeehouse.co.uk
Thursday, 28 November 2013
(Been there, got the t-shirt)
104 City Road EC1V 2NR 7253 https://www.facebook.com/pages/Loves-Company
adapted from reviews fro Metro and Square Meal.