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Friday, 26 September 2014

Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, Clerkenwell

Two Fitzrovia bars to the good, the owners of Bourne & Hollingsworth and Reverend J.Simpson have added a bigger, more ambitious, third off Exmouth Market. Like Derry and Toms, and Swan and Edgar, Bourne and Hollingsworth was originally the name of one of London's many double-barrelled department stores that in the latter's case, was on its last legs around the same period as this bar's mismatched skip-refugee furniture was fashionable: the mid-1970s. BHB is done out like the sort of Surrey wine bar one of that decade's great TV fixtures might have hung out in with her Rotary Club cronies, sipping Cherry Heering and sneering about a neighbour's ghastly common baby blue Ford Capri. That's no bad thing: The Good Life's Margo Leadbetter's style is bang on the current fashion zeitgeist. There's much else to like here; not least a handsome sit-up, cocktail bar, a chintzy Homebase pot plant-heavy conservatory/ dining area and floorboards painted light-bouncing white, always flattering to the sort of London bar flies whose complexions are a touch Gak Wan. The opening party cocktails we are served are fair-to-girly: port flower stinger; cider rose (apple and blackberry shrub stirred with cider brandy, charged with prosecco). Blokier stuff to try next time - for, unlike some recent lame launches I've attended, there will be a next time -  includes rum and plum (Santa Theresa 1796, prune vermouth and bitters). A posh pubby menu that has mint crusted cannon of lamb with ratatouille (not exactly 1970s pricing at £20), and Caribbean pork belly, sweet potato puree and plantain beignets bears investigation. The bar snacks we try are hit and miss: crispy bacon and potato maki rolls with horseradish cream strange, but strangely addictive; red bell pepper and thyme cake, whatever!; coronation chicken wrap with avocado relish the sort of outré buffet one-upmanship your aunt in Esher might have once served to a soundtrack of Demis Roussos.  
42 Northampton Road EC1R 0HU 3174 1156

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Alchemist, The City

Terry Christian-esque robotic drone aside, I like Mancunians. They're earthy, warm, funny and generous. However, if the London launch party for The Alchemist - a hit Manchester bar - is "owt to go by, cocker," as Bet Lynch would say, the last of those qualities is up for discussion. If you were introducing a new space specialising in (groan) 'molecular madness,' inviting London's most high-profile blasé bloggers, website editors and hard-to-impress hacks (count me in!), what would you serve? Let's see? Cocktails? So what Cheshire cheapskate imagined laying on free wine and lager, while expecting guests to pay for white martinez, chilli and mint daiquiri et al at the bar, was a smart move? I'm alright Jack. I identify an in-house marketing maven and tap her for a gin, rose and violette flower sour. Clocking this, some of London's less assertive pro barflies chew my ear: "Gonna sort out these tight Northern gits?" they plead. "Er...I'm not the PR!"...but I know a woman who is; and fortunately, the poor love cools my coterie's ire by the power of the bar tab... and the tongue-lashing she gave her recalcitrant client, I like to think. Alchemists turned base metal into gold, did they not? Tonight's faux pas is more a case of King Midas in reverse. TBH, I'm not fussed. I'd only dropped in en route to try Richard Woods' (more sophisticated) mixes at Duck & Waffle. From the Alkie's 50-strong (way too long) list, both smokey old fashioned  and smokey paloma are fair at £7.50 although I could live without the glass flask they come in - Croydon clap clinic connotations. Having visited The Alchemist a second time, I'll point you in the direction of chocolate orange sazerac and, if you are keen on cocktails as chemistry class, the Reyka vodka-based colour changing one (does as it says). Design-wise, a gargantuan eau de nil rococo cabinet as back bar is fun: the rest - high ceilings, neon, Chesterfields - is bog standard warehouse-cum-bar issue. The faffy approach to drinks might impress Manchester A-listers such as The Rooneys but the launch night bar food? Let's just say what did get reach us ( chicken nuggety things, mostly) would have made the Rovers' Liz McDonald blush. Where's Betty's hotpot when you most need it?
6 Bevis Marks EC3A 7BA 7283 8800

Friday, 29 August 2014

Canvas, Shoreditch

“We are cocktails and art" proclaims new DJ-lates bar Canvas, hoping to explain what sets it apart from the herd. Let's see: "Whether it's through paint, print, interior design, or even our cocktail menu created by Jumbles St. Pierre, everyone and everything in Canvas laments (sic) the importance of passion, art and creativity within our unique and ground-breaking concept." By the look of the art on Canvas's blank canvas tonight, I'm not sure the acquisitive Mr. Jopling will in the  long-term lament not opening his cheque book to its young creators. There again, I'm more  Corot and Courbet than White Cube contemporary; so WTF do I know? What I can spot, is a decent cocktail. And what Jumbles St. Pierre (oh how I love a good Jackie Collins' read) has come up with is more persuasive than rough and ready decor that lies somewhere between Warhol's Factory and a Wild West saloon; Canvas's barmen in black, more Milky Bar Kid than Johnny Cash. Three to try, are dark diplomat (a chocolate-orange twisted 'Diplomatico rum Manhattan’), banana cabana (if you're sweet on sweet), and Wild Turkey and Frangelico, fruit-flavaoured slug, wild angel. Canvas sits midway between Hoxton Square and the lurid late-night chicken cottages of Old Street Roundabout. If the area's pallid peculiars are to adopt Canvas, its 'greeters' will have their work cut out, repelling repellant boozed-up oiks looking for the grotty cheap pub it replaces and visitations from plagues of Hummer-borne Billericay Fake Bake Biancas out on Saturday's rapacious razzle. However tasty ‘upcyled’ (sic) Patrón Silver, mango and lime, chilli-frosted punch, this weary old banging DJ bar-avoider would rather drop £12 at nice Nightjar, Loves Company or Happiness Forgets around the corner. 
235 Old Street EC1V 9HE 7336 0275

Monday, 25 August 2014

PimpShuei, Farringdon

While I was entering the world of French art-house films, pretending to understand and like pretentious 60s glossy toss - bonjour, Alain Resnais' Last Year At Marienbad! - my unsophisticated classmates were happy to Enter The Dragon. Confession: I have never watched a Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee film. Ever. My grasp of this popular niche genre - cue howls of derision - is limited to Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting ( ), a 1974 UK/ US chart-topper by Jamaican cod-karate chopper Carl Douglas whose interest in Chinese culture, I imagine, nowadays extends to Char Siu Chow Mein, a portion of number 14 and free prawn crackers and a Coke from Der Kung Fu Kottage in his adopted Hamburg. Squirrelled away off Gray's Inn Road, is PimpShuei - a 'one-of-a-kind dive bar with a 70's-80's chop-socky vibe.' I drop in more out of curiosity than in expectation. Set in a basement rented off the 'sensational dinning (sic) experience' that is hot stone steak house, Rango's, above, the enthusiastic new lessees have turned what, as The Blue Bar, was billed as a 'classy yet casual cocktail lounge', into a New York hustler-style hangout that grooves to Blaxplotation flick soundtracks à la Cleopatra Jones. All martial arts murals, tawdry Guangzhou geegaws, retro arcade games, Kung fu film posters, a cinema-sized projection screen, and converted ghetto-blasters showing sock-it-to-him Shaolin nonsense on their inset tellys, the Look is Cantonese Kelly Hoppen karate choppin' kitsch. Tsingtao, Asahi and a rudimentary wine selection apart, the focus is on cocktails. Cheery Chinese co-owner 'Slash' says these will eventually number two dozen but tonight, days after its launch, there are only four on offer. Wong Island and Bangkok Dangerous discounted, my Pat mojito - Kraken rum, aloe vera juice, lemongrass and maraschino - is tangy and  fair at £8. The chum's gimlet - not exactly the most taxing of off-menu calls - is competently executed. Amateurish and raw perhaps, but put together (on the cheap) with soul and passion, PimpShuei feels a lot more authentic than the corny karate kid pulp shown on its screens.

58 Mount Pleasant WC1X 0AY

Friday, 22 August 2014

Soho Grind, Soho

I'm at the launch party for this Soho cellar-ette, a cocktail bar on a coffee theme from Silicone Roundabout's mocha pimps, Shoreditch Grind. The PR chick - whom I've never met before - is on fire. Even after sixty shots of her client's richest ristretto coffee, I'd be lucky to be a tenth as bouncy, bright-eyed and upbeat as this beaming bird. If she ever jacks in the day job, she'd be a natural in Tenerife - selling time-shares by the dozen to even the most recalcitrant of tourists. An evenings-only funky white retro styled squeeze box, the basement shakes to banging beats. Cue He's The Greatest Dancer. PR girl, seemingly incapable of standing still, is down with the Sisters Sledge; throwing disco shapes, and Soho grinding like a dervish rubber dolly. Alt career plan C: pole dancer? Through a hatch, an ex-Tramshed shaker slings espresso martinis and flat white Russians (Chase vodka, espresso, Kahlúa and microfoam steamed milk), Tommy’s margarita, barrel-aged ideas and gin-out the jams - a smart way to use up your Mum’s Tiptree rhubarb and ginger jam, combined here with gin and Antica Formula. Beginning to feel hyper, I'm off. Is my edginess down to the caffeine or PR prancer who reminds me of a brunette Michaela Strachan, pasty Pete Waterman's partner in perpetual motion on essential 90's kitsch late night viewing for wired clubbers, The Hitman and Her. As I exit, I offer a parting shot. In the gay heart of W1, they've missed a trick: why no cocktail called Soho Grindr? 
19 Beak Street W1F 9RP 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Bleach Bar, Dalston

Happy in what she does for a living now, my pal Sheridan once aspired to be an actress. Unlike her namesake, Ms Smith, her career never really took off. Still, her CV does run to a scene with a massive Hollywood star - Leonardo DiCaprio. Flown to a That island paradise for weeks on end, she was part of Leo's gang in Danny Boyle-directed Year 2K flick, The Beach. Cast as 'Beach Community Member' - according to her only entry on IMBD dotcom, the industry database - she was clearly too charismatic to be a mere extra. So, Sher was given a script to learn for her big scene with DiCaprio. When Leo leaves the beach for the mainland, he asks what goods his posse wants brought back. The camera homes in on Sheridan for the chemically-assisted faded blonde's immortal words, "A bucket of bleach!" - a line that crops up whenever her joshing chums sort out a round in a bar. "Don't ask Sheridan; hers is............" Bleach and drinks by the bucket? This new pop-up bar, open until15th October, has her name on it. Purveyors of those Haribo-tone dye jobs currently sported by Hoxton's hipper heads, Alex Brownsell and Sam Teasdale of Dalston salon Bleach have taken over a former Chinese takeaway. Run in conjunction with high-end fashion-shoot caterers TART, the Bladerunner-esque joint is set to be Style Central, with the achingly cool venture's starry chums doing stints behind the bar, I hear. Expect lurid goss and matching cocktails  - rat-milk and wonky direction, for instance, and alco-lollipops and frozen margaritas. A few of those to the good, take the plunge! Inspired by another fine actress, Mollie Sugden and her greatest comic invention, Mrs Slocombe, all it takes to achieve Autumn 2014's hawt hair, is a shocking pink dye...and a bucket of bleach.
428 Kingsland Rd E8 4AA (open 6pm - 2am)  

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Chelsea Pensioner, Chelsea

Technically speaking, I live in Chelsea. To all you incredulous East Londoners, here's 'WHY?!!!' 1. Hard to believe now, but once upon a time, King's Road was the Dalston de ses jours 2. Unlike Poplar or Peckham, an explicit condition of residency is that you take a minimum of two showers daily... using products not available in Poundland. 3. Surrounding myself with Made In Chelsea's (fragrant) heirheads and chinless chumps, as opposed to Homerton hipsters, allows me to perpetuate the self-delusion that I'm still 18 and edgy. Technically speaking, I am also now grown closer to getting my free bus pass than to passing out, pished, after free love upstairs on a night bus. Some aspects of my wasted youth, I REALLY do miss. So, just a short stagger away from my now ludicrously unattainable nano-pad, bought for buttons back in the day at a price that would not secure a Clapton closet in today's febrile hyper-inflated market ( #pension #poolinprovence #funded #smugbastard), The Chelsea Pensioner has my name on it. Once The Black Bull pub, like so many other locals, it too seemed destined to end up as a Metro/ Local/ Little Waitrose flogging truffle oil, beluga, Bollinger and all life's other necessities to the filthy rich foodies that have overrun my manor. Opened by the stylish cove who owns Simmons, King's Cross and Camden cocktail lounges, a neon sign in its window promises “cold beer and a warm heart” - the latter, a rare find in mercenary SW3/5/7/10 these days. If the Royal Hospital's red-coated old soldiers' mobility scooters manage to propel them to the Royal Borough’s western boundary,  they’ll find jokey, retro, pick’n’mix decor, Meantime and Camden on tap, Prosecco at £15, Rob Roy and daiquiri cocktails, flatbread pizzas, a pool table, a cute patio yard and, quite possibly, yours truly propping up the bar, reminiscing about Chelsea's golden age when home-grown punks and peacocks, not minted Muscovite trash and Euro hedge funders' frosty-faced salon-blonde bitches, paraded its main drag.
358 Fulham Road SW10 9UU