Follow by Email

Popular Posts

Friday, 3 June 2016

Smith and Whistle, Mayfair

Here’s yet another bar with yet another tall tale to tell about heroes and villains a twee theme that’s much more imaginatively executed at the likes of Evans & Peel, Mr. Fogg's and Uncle Seymour’s Parlour than at this glitzy, soulless take on a Jazz Age cocktail lounge. Apparently, inspired by fictitious 1920s sleuth Smith - a poor man’s Poirot - and gentleman/ vagabond Whistle, it’s the first of the hotel’s public spaces to be refurbished. Let’s hope owners Starwood/ Sheraton Hotels make a better fist of the potentially glorious Palm Court Bar than they have here. Bar food includes devilled whitebait; pork brawn and piccalilli and beer-battered fish fingers, chips and mushy peas (£10.50). Chapel Down vineyard’s Curious Brew ales on tap, plus a selection of good Scottish beers, will give tourists a flavour of Britain’s craft ale revolution. Jotted down on gumshoe Smith’s leather-bound notepad, £10 cocktails include Mayfair Mystery (Absolut, Jägermeister, Sezchuan pepper honey, elderflower and chilli). Apparently, Smith and Whistle would occasionally meet up here on the sly and trade tip-offs. With 1920s gin, lemon and honey classic, Bee’s Knees, incorrectly listed as 'tequila, goats cheese, pork crackling syrup and plum wine’  it looks like the crim' gave the cop a bum steer! Maybe it should be renamed Smith & Wesson, a reference to the weapon used to put the joker that dreamed up this trite tosh out of his misery.
The Park Lane Hotel Piccadilly W1J 7BX

Sunday, 10 April 2016

By Appointment Only, Liverpool Street

Dwarfed by Bishopsgate's rampaging glass towers, all ornate Ottoman tiling and Moorish styling with additional help from Russell Sage Studios, I'm told, By Appointment Only is set in a rare beauty I'm keen to revisit - The Victorian Bath House. Previously a nightclub, after a prolonged dry spell, the heavenly hammam has reopened as a bar-cum-events space. Tonight, the only soaks in evidence are fellow hooch Hoovers, ministered to by a liveried 'butler' in a make-believe Belle Époque gentlemen's club. It's a hackneyed theme that's elswhere been done well - at Mr. Fogg's of Mayfair - and badly... at far too many others... like the ludicrous lair that was House of Wolf on Islington's Upper Street. I invite a PR/ event organiser chum along for an evening that should be more full of Eastern promise than a box of Fry's Turkish Delight. On arrival, we're offered complimentary coupes of fancy fizz. Nice touch. Sadly, it's as watery and flat as The Fens and is to Champagne, what some hopeless howler on Britain's Got F***-All Talent,  is to Aretha Franklin. Alarm bells ring. Unfazed, our butler scuttles off and reappears with what I take to be Prosecco. "Are you ready for your cocktail adventure?' he beams. We are. Problem is, nothing on a fanciful list floats our boats. Peanut butter rum and berry juice mix? Nope! Wash, Rinse Repeat? Sounds like a root canal session at the dentist's. Classic Shambles? (I quote) 'A couple of apple pies from our neighbours at McDonalds, dropped into a vat of Somerset Brandy.' Well, would YOU? Nothing is winking at me. I'll have to go off menu.

Me: "Might I try your home-infused quince and blue cheese gin... in a dry martini, please?" 
Butler: "urm....gin in a martini glass? I don't think we can do that. But we can make you a classic cocktail if you prefer." 
Me (discombobulated): "What could be more classic than a classic gin martini?"
Butler: "Vodka and lemonade? Whisky and Coke?"

Well that's sure to stretch those 'expert mixologists' here to 'delight your palate with largesse and liberation' (sic). At their lightly stocked, panto set bar that recalls a display fixture at the Cowdenbeath Co-Op circa the Coronation and rationing books, the experts are at work. PR pal settles for rosemary and lavender-infused gin and tonic. Poured from a Tanqueray bottle, served With Fever-Tree tonic water, it's overpoweringly perfumed and strident on the nose.

 "I'd rather drink gin and Vim!" she grimaces. 

I opt for the 'modern sophistication' that is the STFH - aka 'Salted Toffee From Hipflask' (sic). Pre-made, served from a hot water bottle-sized silver flask, it is presented with something lumpy, brown and wrinkly on a glass plate (pictured).  

"Eeew! That looks like a specimen diseased adenoid" announces my date just as I'm on the point of popping into my gob what turns out to be a dried date, the ideal partner to my drink..apparently. Having spent the previous two hours sampling great single malt cocktails at excellent nearby new whisky bar, Black Rock, this recherché rinse is, to put it mildly, a bit of a let-down. To my tastes, STFH is Simply Too F****** Horrid for words. But I'll try. Imagine scotch infused with Werther's Originals and the melted contents of the not-so-select selection box your great-auntie Marjorie gave you for Christmas 1969! 'So good, it's probably illegal' trumpets the menu. 'Should be!' tut tuts date reaching for her coat. Not keen to prolong our 'by appointment' disappointment at The Bath House, she's after an early bath at home. The following day, I scrutinise the menu's florid small print. "All our house infusions are presided over by Mr. PJ Hobbs who tinkers and plays as our 'Booze Mechanic'". On last night's showing, they might as well have hired Kevin Webster, Coronation Street's resident boozy mechanic. Unless new owners Camm and Hooper - the brains also behind Tanner and Co of Bermondsey Street - up their game dramatically, I won't be diving in again any time soon.

7 Bishopsgate EC2M 3TJ  3813 7114

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

K Bar at The Kensington, South Kensington

It may be of London’s most desirable districts (unless Dalston is your natural home) but South Kensington is curiously low on swanky hotel lounges with sufficient clout to pull in well-heeled cosmopolitan locals. Opulently revamped, the rebranded K Bar at the SW7 flagship of Irish hoteliers, The Doyle Collection, fills the void. All honey tone woods, copper shimmer, grouse moor greens and divine art deco bronze doors - salvaged from Dublin’s GPO and riddled with bullet marks from the 1916 Easter Uprising according to one of the bar's Blarney-kissed boys' spiel - K Bar is a luxe looker, high on charm, comfort and cracking cocktails. Highlights include a Trois Rivières sweet daiquiri (£10) and a Knob Creek rye, Cherry Heering and Applejack-based tribute to the Singapore Sling. Calvados and rhubarb bitters inform K Bar’s twist on a classic Champagne Cocktail. Créme Brûlée Martini is sheer liquid sin. Order wine from £5.50 with suitably Kensington snacks from the hotel's grown-up restaurant, adjacent and, held hostage by emerald plush upholstery, stay for ‘classic or healthy’ afternoon tea served until 5pm. 
109 - 113 Queen’s Gate SW7 5LT 7589 6300

Gallery Bar at Ace Hotel, Shoreditch

OFF übercool Ace Hotel’s vlogger-magnet lobby - ‘a place to congregate, socialise, work or wind down’ (while you wait to be spotted by an Italian photographer casting the next big budget  campaign to feature Made in Londra 'real people') your inner hipster will gravitate towards its Gallery Bar; a post-nuclear cubbyhole in which to spend ‘a long afternoon of lap-topping', sipping cocktails until well past midnight and ‘noshing snacks.’ Buttermilk fried chicken burger, and crispy fried cauliflower are the sort of stomach liners to load up on before ripping into a 100-strong whisky range that ain't for wusses that buy into Davy Boy Beckham-for-hire's Haig-Club nonsense. Scandinavian, Indian, Japanese and Australian single malts and Taiwanese cask strength rarities take on the tartan army; Tomatin 30 one among  a selection of Scotland’s finest on a list that’s also big on premium gin, rum and Tequila. ‘Rogue afternoon’ drinks involve Aussie Regal Rogue vermouth served (white) with yellow Chartreuse and tonic, say, at £6.50. A seasonally evolving selection of after-dark vamps might include Sucker Punch (Bulleit, Benedictine, lemon, pineapple and kombucha tea) or Simply Red (pictured),  a Glenmorangie and balsamic strawberry old fashioned that’s decidedly more current than Mike Hucknall. And this being Ace Hotel, you're a sashay away from another ace spot with a decent bar: Hoi Polloi, David Waddington's 1950's American-style dining room that is as sleek and well put-together as Eve Marie-Saint and as camp as Cary Grant in North By Northwest.

100 Shoreditch High Street E1 6JQ 7613 9800 

Friday, 11 March 2016

The Prince Alfred, Little Venice

When its original elaborate plasterwork ceiling caved in, the historic Alfred’s Grade II listed status obliged it be painstakingly restored. Taking this misfortune as their cue, owners Young’s treated their 160-year-old working museum to a major refurbishment. This, the handsomest of pub’s former Formosa Dining Room has been transformed into a convivial haute Victorian English brasserie; its coal cellars imaginatively transformed into plushly appointed vaults for cosy private dining. Fluted iron columns; Venetian windows; frosted glass a gogo; stunning ornate tiles; a dramatic mahogany horseshoe bar; Lilliputian saloons; snob screens; dentilled cornices: there’s so much to admire at this bobby dazzler of a boozer, the food and drink almost plays second fiddle. Order Young’s and Camden ales on draught; Beavertown and Hammerton among the craft bottled beers; sloe gin negroni, Chivas sour, spritzes and old fashioneds, and familiar wine appellations from £20 - £40. Sandwiches and salads are available during the day along with sharing boards, trad bar snacks and a classic British menu that’s served until late in the evening. A typical meal might start with ham hock, wild mushroom and truffle terrine or a hearty winter soup followed by  crabmeat-encrusted salmon in a mussel broth, beef and bone marrow pie with buttered greens, or kale, squash, fig and goat’s curd and quinoa salad and sticky toffee pudding or a peach, berries and lemon and coriander meringue mess to finish. Rock up for Sunday roast but be sure to book ahead!
5A Formosa Street W9 1EE  7286 3287 

From my review for

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Leman Street Tavern, Aldgate

In what was once the colourful heart of the old Jewish East End, the pogrom continues unchecked. Championed by a megalomaniac Mayor who has the interests of Brexit Boris, not London or Britain, at the heart of his cold calculating heart; Goodman’s Fields is yet another shining example of the shiny boxy bland ghettoes to greed that are disfiguring our city, robbing it of all originality and charm. At the entrance to this new 'luxury' slum, Geronimo Inns has splashed out a tidy sum on its latest trough and watering hole, Leman Street Tavern. The same £1.5 million would just about buy a banker a pad here - although possibly not one with a view of the equine civic 'art' that announces it. This is a blessing in disguise: two bronze stallions frolicking in a stream are the sort of trashy 70s sculptures only Beverley from Abigail's Party or deranged deceased dictators, the Caesescus, would brook in their front yard's brook. Geronimo Inns' ('a group of proper pubs with an eye for the different and the delicious’) newbie is comfy, colourful and serviceable… but for ‘different’ read 'design-by-numbers after various punchier postmodern bar-brasserie-gastropubs.' ‘Delicious’? That'll be Macon-Lugny on a list that largely sits south of £30 and offers two dozen choices by the glass for sunny day stragglers drawn to a generic pavement terrace  onto a chronically congested A-road. Fill up on bar snacks of black pudding sausage roll, baked Camembert with buttered soldiers, and potato and leek hotpot. Dine on crab gratin followed by pork faggot, greens and mash, with fried milk and poached rhubarb for afters at  LST, the sort of mid-market one-size-fits-all gaff I imagine morning TV Haribore eye candy Susanna Reid might fancy. Me? I'm off to grittier gaffs on nearby polyglot Brick Lane...before the Curse of the Developer destroys it too. 
Goodman’s Fields, Leman Street, E1 8EY 3437 

Paper, Dress, Vintage: Hackney

In Hackney, rummage for 60s frocks, 50s fun furs, flouncy frilly blouses, fawn felt fedoras and fuchsia feather boas and - since there's no way you're ever going to squeeze into those hot heliotrope Biba hot-pants circa Thin Lizzy you just spotted; you might as well squeeze in afternoon tea and cake served on colourful mismatched china that last saw action back in the Black and White Minstrels' black and white telly days. Anytime I revisit retro threads, I'm struck by how skinny we were back in the day before my one-time 27-inch waist was hit by rampant inflation. By night, at this Second-Hand Rose's delight  - recently relocated from Shoreditch - pull on your glad-rags as a funky preloved clothes shop transforms into a bar and social open until 1am at weekends. Her dress rails tidied away, stylish owner Hannah serves classic pre-batched gin, rum, whiskey and vodka cocktails courtesy of Bethnal Green bar, Craft Cocktail Co, as well as a selection of beers by Crate, Hackney and Pressure Drop. Served by a second (microscopic) bar, the upstairs men’s department morphs seamlessly into a live lounge. A small stage hosts rockabilly, soul, blues and swing artistes when the room is not otherwise given over to jive classes, comedy, burlesque, cabaret and drawing classes. There’s even a wee garden in which to model the King's Road dolly bird @ Chelsea Girl halter-dress, serape, sun hat and cats eye shades Ms Moss would kill for. Like serial party animal Kate, Paper, Dress, Vintage has got the London Look.

352A Mare Street E8 1HR 8510 0520