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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 www.theblueboat.co.uk 

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 www.facebook.com/cahootslondon





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 http://www.milroys.co.uk 

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, http://www.diaryofavintagegirl.com '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 https://www.facebook.com/fontaineslondon 


Monday, 9 March 2015

Sovereign Loss, Brixton

After The Dance - torrid sessions at The Fridge, a full-on anything-goes nightclub - we'd limbo low under a metal roll-down shutter on Railton Road. Granted access - God knows why - by a couple of grim Yardie guardians to a secret scene that recreated the cover of Marvin Gaye's sexy seminal album, I Want You, we'd crub with the best of them to Gregory Issacs, Shabba Ranks and other reggae ragamuffins. Back in the day, Brixton was peppered with West Indian-run illegal drinking dens (known as ‘shebeens’ from the Irish term for moonshine whiskey). This was long before today's London's groove-jets fell for the more vanilla thrill of drinking in pastiche Prohibition-era speakeasies - pretty much the vibe at Sovereign Loss. Moody, penumbral and affectedly louche, welcome to an Edward Hopper-esque gin joint to be found behind a door marked ‘trade entrance’ round the back of The Prince of Wales pub. Journalist, Corpse Reviver, El Presidente and Metropole cocktail (a brandy-based Manhattan named after a notorious 1900s Times Square hotel frequented by scarlet women), co-owner Chris Dennis (ex-ZTH, Clerkenwell) and his enthusiastic young team are happy to mix reasonably priced martinis, old fashioneds and revisited classics until daybreak: a covetable 24-hour licence allows the Art Deco-inspired saloon to stay open until as late as 5am at weekends; ideal for nightcaps after a bar crawl on Brixton’s increasingly interesting cocktail scene. 
467 - 469 Brixton Road SW9 8HH sovereignloss.com  

(adapted from my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk )

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 http://tinyurl.com/ljmchcf 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 www.thedollshouse.org

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 http://www.theitalianjobpub.co.uk