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Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Doll's House, Islington

(scarier still than talking waxwork Sharon Osbourne)

London is being sucked dry by vampires; spivs who would bury their own mother under the foundations of their designer developments if it'd secure planning permission (invariably granted by craven councils). The latest victims of this greedy builder breed are Adam and Katy - the sweet young owners of The Doll's House. Unceremoniously turfed out of their HQ to make way for more of the ticky-tacky £1.5 million + boxes that will ultimately rid Hoxton of what little edge it still retains, the couple have wasted no time in securing a new billet in the champagne-swigging socialist republic of Islington. Its bare bones still recognisable, they've titivated what was the House of Wolf - a bar that was about as entertaining as Wolf Hall, the BBC's turgid Tudor yawn. Whether Henry VIII, played unconvincingly by local-ish lad Damien Lewis, will drop in for wenching, wine and winin' the royal rump to rare groove, soul and live jazz until cock crow remains to be seen. If he does, and brings along cast member Claire Foy (aka Anne Boleyn), they'll find generously poured classics that include espresso martini and a good whisky sour. Getting off your head on old fashioneds beats the old fashioned fate that awaits poor Claire/ Anne back on set where, I can exclusively reveal, she's about to be axed. A boyhood fling with Action Man and a brief flirtation with voodoo figurines and pins before I grasped the concept of karma (apolz to you - now obese, bald, bankrupt and still looking for Mr Right! LOL), I'm not the sort of big girl's blouse that's big into Fashion Barbie. Indeed, since unwisely watching The Twilight Zone in a cockroachy New York hovel, off my tits and on my tod one night, I've been deeply dubious about all dolls' intentions. See Talky Tina in action here and tremble as she tops Telly Savalas. Clearly, that doll is no Pussycat.  Thankfully, Tina the tormentor allows me safe passage on steep stairs from the Doll's House's attic bar (the cutest of three on offer). I waltz off into the night leaving her posse to party until 4am while Sindy and Tressy bitch about how Ken is way too kool for that Botoxed plastic American tramp he's dating.
181 Upper Street N1 1RQ

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Italian Job, Chiswick

Order a machete in London's grittier faubourgs; they'll bring you a bad ass blade. But in bucolic, bourgeois Chiswick, chances are the locals will recognise Machete as the dreamy pint they sank last summer on that perfect day in Parma, whence this punchy 7.5% abv American-style IPA hails. One of the four co-owners of 'London's first Italian craft beer bar' - a dozen regularly rotated ales on tap and countless bottles from Europe's boot - is a certain Signor Campari who doubles, ironically, not as a maker of red bitters but of rather fine beers at Birrificio del Ducato, his microbrewery in Emilia-Romagna. The four raggazzi behind this interesting venture, launched with love on Valentine's Day 2015, have remodelled what used to be Pickwick's wine bar. If the new interior is Italian in style, it sure as hell wasn't put together by rococo leather bag/ designer Donatella Turtle. All bare brick and barrels, it looks like the sort of howf used for sheltering sheep in the Sienna hinterland's hills. Also worth noting, is New Morning -  Campari's bottle-fermented Belgian-style beer with its distinctive ginger, camomile, coriander and green peppercorn nose. If you're looking for beers to "blow the bloody doors off" as Charlie Croker puts it in the cult flick that inspired the bar's handle, this Italian may be just the job!
13 Devonshire Road W4 2EU

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Sky Pod, The City

Towering egotist Boris Johnson's architectural legacy will be a London skyline raped willy nilly by the filthy erections of willy-waving  'starchitects.' Could-be-anywhere skyscrapers thrown up by spivvy developers and financed by tin-pot despots from the Gulf to Guangzhou, these shameless shrines to Mammon are a depressingly familiar sight today. I don't dig Victorian pastiche. I'm no fan of mock-Georgian. I am not Prince Charles. Modern buildings per se are not my enemy: hello Hadid, Zaha; F off Farrell, Terry and take your tawdry towers with you! "But, hey! The little people will love any sub-Dubai crap outcrop as long as it comes with a cute nickname" reason the urban planners that have the ear of the mop-top Eton Mess in charge at City Hall. Today, I've scaled the 37-storey 'Walkie Talkie' (more of a 'molar implant' to my mind), a grim grey Goliath whose daft design meant the summer sun, reflected in and magnified by its concave curves, melted Mondeos parked outside. Nor is Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian's architecture critic, smitten: 'As a literal diagram of developers' greed, it provides painful proof that form follows not function but finance..poking its unwelcome bulk into the skyline from almost every possible vista." Like Kim Kardashian, only in concrete and glass, then? On the plus side, I suppose, the building's upper levels host a leafy new London belvedere; an indoor sky garden consisting of two vast banked swathes of sub-tropical foliage. Serving it, is an island cafe-bar run - like restaurants Darwin and Fenchurch on levels 36 and 37 above (both of which are blessed with more intimate bars, nota bene) - by caterers Rhubarb. In addition to those armed with bar or restaurant reservations, the aerial arboretum is open daily to the public; cue queues at the lobby level airport-style check-in. Order an £11.50 cocktail - Thyme For Tea, Chelsea Garden; or Autumn Breeze (vodka, pinot noir, falernum, beetroot and apple juices) - and the sort of snacks you'd expect of posh wedding canapé slingers such as Rhubarb as you watch the tourists coo over the "Oooh, aaah, Barb-a-ra!" wraparound views . Open until 2am, Sky Pod is undeniably cool ... as in, climate- controlled to the point where wooly blankets and hot water bottles are provided gratis. Cool in the other sense? Only if you're a fan Center Parcs and crass glass carbuncles.
20 Fenchurch Street EC3M 3BY

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Cocktail Trading Co. Development Bar and Table, Soho

The name is a mouthful. So too, in a tastier way, this new dive's dandy drinks. Crammed to capacity, just days after opening - "That's because they've got a great PR" quips the bar's star media massager, Anne Kapranos - tonight, the basement's 50-strong crowd of self-evidently satisfied soaks does not include Ed Burstell, MD of Liberty across the street. Phew! The main turn in Channel 4's highly watchable fly-on-the-wall TV series/ extended advertisement for the creaky old pile may be an affable sort, but the spindly American Mister Ed (the Talking Clothes Horse) gives me the pure heebie-jeebies. A modern-day Childcatcher, camp and slightly creepy in black duds by Dior, he loomed large in a particularly disturbing nightmare I once had that also involved Gok Wan and Mary Portas, and saw me wake up, gasping, convinced I was being strangled by a Paisley-print silk scarf. (Make of this what you will, Dr. Freud!) Cocktail Trading Co, on the other hand, is a discerning drinker's wet dream. Run as an 'ethical co-operative' by a trio of joshing patter merchants - friendly faces you'll likely recognise from London Cocktail Club and Steam and Rye is likely to succeed where others such as its immediate predecessor - the conceited 'no-brands' concept that was "And Co" - failed. Why? Because the raffish, retro wood-panelled pit is "Ding Dong" as Leslie Phillips would put it and £8 is a steal for real-deal drinks such as my deftly dispatched boulevardier or the solid gold sazerac that follows it. Fresh ingredients and attention to detail are part of the package. And while I'm more likely to snog not-half-as-sharp-as-she-thinks, oboxious ogre in a Worzel Gummidge wig, Katie Hopkins, than lock lips with jokey ideas such as Tu-Whit-Tu-Whoo-Woo - vodka, lemon, peach, sage, cranberry and prosecco served, tiki-style, in a red owl mug coiffed with pink candy floss - if wacky is your bag, it's done here with wit, style and substance. No more so, than in the guise of a Jim Beam, yuzu, ginger, plum and matcha tea Shanghai sour (pictured). Sipped through straws disguised as chopsticks, served in a waxed noodle container, garnished with a mound of the sort of Chinese chow Nancy Lam would wham bam your way, it's doable as well as dippy. Dippy, Cocktail Trading Co's sussed owners are decidedly not but you'd be daft to miss a production that will hopefully outrun Cats, Lord Wibbly-Wobbly's steaming pile of caterwauling crap that is, unfathomably, still pulling them in by the charabanc-load at The Palladium next door.
22 Great Marlborough Street W1F 7HG 7427 6097

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen, Kentish Town

In the grim, grey, not-so-gay days of the 1970s, any unfortunate bent gent caught hanging out in the gents risked being felt up...only, not in the way he'd hoped for. For Lily Law, loitering lads were an all-too-easy cop. Nowadays, 'cottaging' (ask your grandpa') has been rendered redundant by Gaydar, Grindr and, if you like it rough, Recon. As for those caught short, after the old public conveniences became an inconvenient drain on councils' resources and shut, McDonalds finally had a purpose. Squatting every high street in the land, the ubiquitous Yankee burger chain is a blessing to bladders about to burst (Purchase, neither necessary nor advised). Lately, however, London's long-abandoned privvies are being snapped up by shrewd bar owners. Where once randy buggers' cocks cruised tail, cocktails are now being served. Bermondsey Arts; The Convenience in Homerton; WC at Clapham Common: the latest reconfigured loos to add to a growing list are in Kentish Town where William Borrell, owner of Vestal Vodka, has done a decent job (enough with the puny puns!) with his own khazi conversion. A mix of original Edwardian gubbins, jumble store jollies and paperbacks by the yard (something to read on the throne?) set the scene for a short list that will be regularly refreshed. Spend a penny (800 pennies, to be precise) on china teacup serve El Dorado 12 hot buttered rum; Portobello Road gin sour, Rhubarb and Custard, served in a Bird’s tin; or a Bulleit-based Gentlemen’s Old-Fashioned that bungs butterscotch and Werther’s Originals into the mix. Launched in December 2014, a steady trickle through Borrell's bogs' doors suggests this will be no flash in the pan. I arrived late, so I can't report whether they do 2-4-1 happy hour cocktails, known in such establishments as a BOGOF deal, natch.
2 Highgate Road NW5 1JY @ladyandgentsbar 

Friday, 16 January 2015

Lima Floral, Covent Garden

My list of famous Peruvian exports is short. There's my childhood chum Paddington; my mate Deborah's ex-lodger, a snapper called Mario (who could now buy up all of Peru, never mind afford a London pad of his own) and operatic loungecore diva Yma Sumac (who some argue was born Amy Camus in Brooklyn and, so, doesn't qualify). Them, and pisco. Distilled from grapes, Peru's brandy-like national spirit has become increasingly popular in London's bars, as fickle trend-chasers trade mojitos and caipirinhas ("too TOWIE for words, hon") for pisco sours. The classic lime-laced recipe (£8.50) is present and correct in this new Peruvian restaurant's buzzy dark cellar bar, run - somewhat implausibly - by a jolly brave, jolly Estonian couple who had never ventured much beyond Tallinn before taking on the gig, they tell me. Other ideas tend towards the sweet and fruity: an orange and lemon-infused pisco, watermelon and apple Collins and Casi Peruano, a perfectly doable pisco slant on a negroni. The only drinks downer is when Mr Tallinn commends me his finest chilli pepper-infused pisco and strawberry martini (pictured). If my name was Chelseigh (20, nail technician from Charlton) and I was handed one to get me in the mood to splash out on a puce Rabbit, crotchless panties and nipple tassels at my first ever Ann Summers-at-home party, I'd probably rate this syrupy, cloying chilli horn-garnished sinner "lush." To my taste, it is more Lush as in high street purveyors of not-dope soap. Noticing I've left it left untouched, a dried-down, better, version presently appears. “Pisco" translates as “little bird”: bird-like appetites will make do with just one dish from a selection of muckle piqueos - Peru’s answer to tapas  Escabeche of paiche (an Amazon freshwater fish); zingy, fresh and flavoursome tuna and ginger ceviche in tiger’s milk, and anticucho - velvety, tender rare beef loin with chilli and corn puree (£10) - are hits. Roasted baby aubergine with cashew, cheese, coriander and cress might look pretty on the plate but, en la boca, suggests being a veggie may not be much fun in Lima, old bean. 
14 Garrick Street WC2E 9BJ 7240 5778 

adapted from my review for

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Original Sin, Stoke Newington

Happiness Forgets regularly appears high on those ubiquitous year-end Best Bars lists. Quite right too! No arsey doorwhores. No narcissistic nobs punting molecular fanny. No cringeworthy concept (PR imagines "pre-Revolutionary Romanov luxe in Fabergé jewel brights infused with the decadent spirit of Studio 54" while I imagine Boney M tribute band in traj tin-foil outfits murders Ra-Ra-Rasputin at a Hornchurch hen night. No Cristal-fuelled Kanye and Kim klones. No £25-plus anodyne Asian share boards as flogged for a quid -with free Peter Andre CD - at Iceland. No! Just delightful down-played decor and damn fine drinks. I too am all Happiness to be at owners Alastair Burgess and Andy Bird's Hoxton Square dive whenever I'm not feigning interest in launch night bourbon and butterscotch slush puppies at some Shepherd's Bush shithole (you know who you are!) or the likes. In the quiet downtime of the first week of 2015, I make it to Burgess's Christmas present to London nightlife; his second sexy saloon, a lo-fi linear cellar that has me from hello. Butch brick and wood panelling, convivial booths, perch-perfect bar stools and a brown baize pool table at which to unleash your inner Eddie Felsen (pictured) sett the scene for spot-on fixes that look to old school (vieille école?) tipples for inspiration. Served by enthusiastic, attitude-free, all-female bar staff, classic French red wine-based apéritif Byrrh (plus Kamm and Sons and aquavit) informs Penfold Sour, while Belle Époque Parisian favourite Suze (gentian root, its bittersweet base), white rye and Lillet blanc makes for a top-notch tart Diamond Manhattan. Original Sin could easily be the downfall of this man. My only beef? Bleary-eyed on a night bus, it's a long schlep back to my K + C crib from the cold, windswept steppes of Siberia... aka Stoke Newington. Time to dig out the fur and ring Foxtons!
129 Stoke Newington High Street N16 0PH