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Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Aviary, Finsbury

Brought to you by ETM group - whose other venues include The Botanist at Broadgate Circle, One Canada Square, The Well and the Jugged Hare - Aviary boasts a south-facing terrace with City skyline views. Set with sofas and high tables the (heated) sun-trap bar atop The Montcalm Hotel is an all-seasons shoo-in for demob-happy Square Mile folk - and a blessed escape from The Birds. On a Thursday night, a party of hoochy hens, clucked up on cocktails, shots and revelations about the groom's cock, like King Kong's dong sez she who will presently waltz down the aisle, a shameless schlong-sucking sinner, all butter-wouldn't-melt virgin in white, sends me scurrying outdoors, muttering darkly in my native Edimbra brogue "Goanna no zip it, hen?" In the clattery clamour of Aviary's retro New York penthouse-style bar, steamboats on Jennings Steam Boat and ‘Deep and Dirty’ Roy and his Mango - sounds like a stripper but turns out to be a Johnnie Walker Black Manhattan - the boozy birds'  tinnitus-inducing trill is so shrill, it manages to drown out the DJ's 70s disco hairbrush diva mix. On a subsequent visit,  mo calm e at The Montcalm, we go for Jeff Goes South - an absinthe-rinsed tequila and beetroot blast - and Cherry Bomb Sour which my skybar sidekick likes but I'm less sweet on. Prices ain't steep by 5 star (it says) hotel standards but the Coravin system packs plenty of big ticket Bordeaux for those with pink banknotes to burn on a glass of vintage Margaux or Pauillac. Peckish? Go for salmon shish and scallop dogs at this new perch.
10th Floor, Montcalm Hotel, 22 - 25 Finsbury Square EC2A  1DX 3873 4060 

Birds on a mission

Monday, 20 February 2017

Martello Hall, Hackney

Replacing seen-better-days pub, The London Fields, this cafe/ breakfast/ diner spot aimed at hot-deskers and E8 slackers morphs into a party bar as the day wears on. Strategically distressed decor suggests a low-heeled hostelry circa Queen of the Hackney Empire,  Edwardian songbird Marie Lloyd. What’s to sing about at this mooted template for similar venues across the capital, are its local beers, Italian artisan wines on tap and a louche upstairs cocktail lounge. Many fixes depend on East London-produced booze, doctored with homemade tinctures, sherbets and cordials. Distilled on-site in small batches, Martello gin underpins a Bramble (£11) and a twisted G&T. We’re more for Mexican Negroni, Ginger Caipirinha Royale and miniatures to share - Punchy Cosmo for four at £20, for instance. Dissolute dandies drawn to disco DJ lates and live up and coming bands will flirt with the green fairy; absinthe from various producers drawn from Belle Époque fountains. Served in a groovy Brooklyn-style diner out back and in the ground floor bar, chow down on ‘humble comfort food’: Bologna-style dumplings (torta fritta); roasted squash and beetroot, ricotta, hazelnuts, beetroot pesto, mint and kale among ten edgy wood oven-fired pizza toppings, and meatballs, coppa, tomato, taleggio and oregano, king of the weekday po’boys. Weekend scran includes set £20 Sunday lunches and a £40 ‘Festa Italiana' blow-out.   
137 Mare Street E8 3RH 3889 6173

Ritorno, Chelsea

There are over 40 cicchetti to choose from at this sophisticated King’s Road aperitivo bar, but the cocktail, with Paolo Viola (ex The Rivoli Bar at The Ritz) as kingmaker, is the undisputed ‘capo.’ Made with passion and flair, using Italian ingredients wherever possible - an interesting range of local gins has Dolomites-distilled Ginpilz, big on juniper, citrus and alpine herbals - local liqueurs and homemade tinctures, the range covers classics (barrel-aged Negroni); Milan’s current fetish, a vodka mule made with clementine and cinnamon and Campari bitters, and signatures designed to evoke various regions. At £13.50 for Liguria, - Caribbean rhum, Mediterranean falernum and lemon verbena liqueur - prices are more Sloane Square than World’s End (Ritorno’s locale) but all the ingredients are here to pull in the minted Made In Chelsea mafia: sleek design, Ibiza beats, a private dining room, super-sweet staff and, all-importantly, killer hot date lighting! Suggested food pairings include octopus carpaccio, pomegranate and mint sauce with Lady Giulia (Sabatini gin, raspberry shrub, green tea and mint air twist, one of many modern Bellini). Homemade tagliolini with mini meatballs; vitello tonnato; cream of broccoli soup with Sicilian anchovies on fried bread; crispy pork belly with basil oil; deep-fried dumpling with Culaccia ham (£5.50), and citrus strudel are other highlights. and at the risk of sounding like an old Dean Martin song, lunchtime panini and Italian brunch served each Sunday are further reason return to Ritorno.
422 Kings Road SW10 0LQ 3301 6333

Ralph's Bar and Coffee, Mayfair

At his carefully stage-managed store on Regent Street, get sucked into Ralph Lauren’s universe of old money New England, More classy Kennedy clan Connecticut mansion than Trump Tower trashy, this equine-themed, deep tan leathery luxe presidential snug replicates The Polo Bar at RL's 5th Avenue Manhattan flagship. Post chukka chic sets the scene for all-day light breakfast - smoked salmon bagel, avocado toast etc; latte, cortado, macchiato, flat white et al; pastries and cold-pressed juices. Order any of a dozen wines by the glass with homemade soups, club sandwiches, salads, oysters, tuna tartare, crudités with ranch dressing, and meat and cheese platters followed by classic New York-style desserts. Well-tailored cocktails are always in fashion. We are drawn to a Gimlet made with Dorothy Parker gin that has ginger as well as the traditional recipe’s lime cordial. Despite its designer price tag, The Chairman - an absinthe rinsed tumblerful of WhistlePig rye, Cointreau Noir, maple syrup and, pomegranate - gets our vote. Itching to live the Lauren lifestyle? Ralph’s stemware and barware are all up for grabs, so long as you have the best part of £700 to splash on half a dozen lead crystal ‘Broughton’ martini glasses, that is.

Alpha Beta Bar, Finsbury

"SAS flight 1974 to Stockholm now boarding at (Moor)gate 1"

When he’s not tending at, and to, his other bars (White Lyan, Dandelyan, The Fount at Selfridges), esteemed champion of cerebral, experimental peculiars, Ryan Chetyawardana (aka “Mr. Lyan”), is likely to be found at the standalone bar at chef Anna Hansen’s Modern Pantry off Moorgate. Brightly lit, all Scandi-style blonde woods with pressed flora, pine cones and other forest-foraged finds masquerading as art, its peninsular bar’s stools the only seating, the room suggests a Nordic airport bar circa early ABBA. What Alpha Beta (the name sounds like one of the group’s songs but relates to the title of the building it inhabits) lacks in louche lounge lizard appeal, however, is compensated by Mr L’s high flying botanical-inspired fixes that harness spices and ingredients integral to Hansen’s cooking; the subtle kick of a dhansak masala minced veal-filled omelette a highlight of a menu of appealing, affordable bar snacks. Killer combos include mini brioche buns stacked with smoked mussel, crab and guacamole paired with Iranian Gimlet - both ideas flavoured with dried down Iranian lime;  and crab rarebit doughnut with squid ink and the same Urfa chilli salt used in homemade bitters that inform Hellfire, a sophisticated Wild Turkey bourbon old fashioned sweetened with honey. Twisted aperitivo hour classics - an Aperol spritz prepared with black moscato and hibiscus - and interesting hi-balls - Byrrh with San Pellegrino’s  bittersweet orange cola-esque soft, Chinotto, and Amer Picon mixed with Meantime Pale Ale, an Anglo take on the French farmer’s vieille école fave - are further reason to head tot Hansen and Lyan’s commendable collaboration.
at The Modern Pantry, 14 Finsbury Square  EC2A  1AH 3696 6965

Bobby Fitzpatrick, West Hampstead

Cheesier than Laughing Cow cubes and pineapple pieces on cocktail sticks served at Abigail’s Party, the new gaff from the guys at Coin Laundry is stuck in the same Formica and shag pile bad taste time-warp as Mike Leigh’s iconic play, the mid-70s. In a lurid lounge and downstairs living room furnished in the sort of curated kitsch Corrie’s Jack and Vera Duckworth coveted, or In a tacky full-scale kitchenette ripped out of a ghastly Grimsby granny flat circa Little Jimmy Osmond, rip into rum-laced rinses. Bobby’s first love is Alison Mahoney (a spicy Havana 3-y-o lime and ginger tease) and on a Tequila tip, we’re torn between tropical fruity Michelle Ma Belle or Caribbean carnival crush, Sexy Ting. Club together for gin and pisco puncheons to share, shooters and hoochy slushies from a tacky bar straight out of a Willesden working mens club from back when real men wore Brut and Bri-Nylon briefs. Snack on prawn cocktail, deep-fried garlic mushrooms, chicken nuggets or potato skins loaded with bacon and sour creams. More filling still, there’s pizza topped with lamb doner and garlic sauce,  chicken tikka, or ‘the full English’; Red Leicester cheeseburger, and rum baba or banana pie with a side of Barry White and The Bee Gees.
273 West End Lane NW6 1QS 7433 1989

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Spiritland, King's Cross

Following an initial residency at Angela Hartnett’s Merchants Tavern, Paul Noble, Patrick Clayton-Malone and Dominic Lake take their music appreciation concept to the next level with this classy King’s Cross audio and record store/ listening lounge/ cafe/ bar/ chill-out. With the drop-dead cred' likes of Severino, Andy Weatherall, Patrick Forge, Ian Dewhirst and Jarvis Cocker playing vinyl on its peerless bespoke-built analogue system, Spiritland is manna to music lovers whose lugs and frontal lobes embrace all genres and eras. Food is overseen by Owen Kenworthy (Blueprint Cafe, ex-Brawn). Go early for morning coffee and pastries and NYC-London brunch staples followed by an all day menu that might typically offer chicken soup with matzo balls, salt beef or pesto caprese sandwich, aubergine parmigiana, a  daily pasta dish, salads, sausage roll, charcuterie and cheeses. Choose from three dozen wines from £25 (Southern Rhône red)  and Thornbridge Chiron on tap among other local and imported craft beers. £10 cocktails include Sakamoto Sorbet (Brooklyn Gin, limoncello, basil and Belsazar white vermouth) and Deez Nuts, a Ron Abuelo 7, smoked rosemary, toasted pecan and bitter chocolate jazzy old fashioned to accompany Ella, Billie, Dinah and the Blue Note boys.
Granary Square, 9 - 10 Stable Street N1C 4AB