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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Starland Social Club, Bayswater (NOW CLOSED)

Dine at Johnathon (Milk & Honey) Downey’s Bayswater baby bro’ to Clerkenwell diner Giant Robot and, if you ask nicely, chances are you’ll be admitted to the clubby pre-Profumo-style drinking den below, an intentionally shabby throwback to the 1950s - only with way better cocktails. Old record sleeves contain a list of £9 suggestions that include gin swizzle, grasshopper, penicillin and final word (gin maraschino, green Charteuse and lime). In the gloom and without my Mad Men bins, I have difficulty making out a hand-written list and ask my date if the recipe for coffee cocktail really does involve brandy, egg white and 'dirt'. 'It says port you prat.' she laughs. Dirt/ port, it's the only bum note to report. Off-menu requests are capably handled by staff that are up to any challenge - an accurate history of the drink’s origins eagerly volunteered when I request espresso martini. 'That's an original Dick Bradsell recipe' offers young Aussie 'tender by way of a history lesson. 'Really?' I say, not wishing to burst his bubble by telling him I was present at The Atlantic when Dick invented it back in 1998 (I seem to recall). Wines start at £4.50 and a fiver for fizz, and there’s Hogsback T.E.A, Little Creatures pale ale as well as bottles, juices and mixers from a not unreasonable £90. Milk & Honey members are guaranteed entry while 'local membership' (advisable) works out at around £3 a week: makes sense when repeat visits are a cert. 



78 Westbourne Grove W2 7065 6805 Wed - Sun only www.strlnd.com

For more reviews , visit www.squaremeal.co.uk

The Euston Tap, Euston

Investigate one of the listed stone lodges that formed part of the original Euston station's grand Victorian buildings and discover ETa microbrewery fan's delight  from the people behind Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes. Although the prosaic standing room only, split-level box may not win any design awards, aficionado Jamie Hawksworth’s range of twenty-plus draught craft beers from small producers and over 150 speciality bottleds from around the world provides reason for ale fanciers to delay their departure to the sticks from platform 6.  Thornbridge Kipling, Marble Dobber, Saranac Black Forest, Fyne Ales Jarl, Dobransky Dragoun and Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter - names that may not register with your average Joe Kro’ - are typical of the reasonably-priced, recherché quaffs on offer: the emphasis is on quality rather than beer belly swill. To eat, try snacks from the Fleet River Bakery and Inter City 125 wheel-sized pizzas. As off-sales are also available, there will be no need to resort to the local 7/11  for something much less interesting when commuters eventually reach their destination - weather gods willing. 

West Lodge, 190 Euston Rd NW1 2EF 3137 8837  www.eustontap.com 




For more reviews visit www.squaremeal.co.uk

The Butterfly Bar, Notting Hill Gate


A branch of Itsu might not be the first place you'd automatically think of for cocktails. But above the chain's Notting Hill premises, in a postmodern Madam Butterfly-ish lounge (think Corrie's Carla Connor goes mad at Matalan)  in lurid rhubarb and lime jelly tones (think Su Pollard goes mad at Primark), you might be in luck: never more so than between  6-8pm, or all night on Thursday, when 'butterfly sips' are 2 for 1 at £7.85. Choose from painted lady (basically, a vodka and lime mule) or swallow tail (basically, a mojito but why call a spade a spade if you can fanny it up in fancy schmancy-ness?) or, if you're particularly daring, go à la carte with lychee martini, Itsu Collins or geisha’s passion (vodka, green grape, passion fruit and ginger at £7.95). Of course, if you're after more sophisticated hooch, you'll head off down Kensington Park Road for Montgomery Place or Lonsdale. But for junior Foxtons estate agents, this is the butterfly's balls (No doubt some lepidopterist loon will e-mail me to say the species doesn't have testicles)  'Look there’s Asahi and Bud and something called sake.' trills one of their number (estate agents, not butterflies, that is). Actually, its pronounced 'sa-kay', Melissa: it's Japanese and you won't like it. sio stick to the Clare's Accessories coloured stuff, sweedie.  As well as a limited range of wines from £18  to £30 (Aussie shiraz/ cab sauv) and 'zingers' for alco-avoiders, there's sushi, sashimi and bento box staples all served under the watchful eye of resident love birds tweeting ( in under 140 characters)...wish this lot would eff off so they can put the covers over our ruddy cage #thoughtlessbastards.

100 Notting Hill Gate W11 3QA 7229 4016  http://www.itsu.com/restaurants/nottinghill 



Modified from my review at www.squaremeal.co.uk

The Grazing Goat, Marylebone

The latest addition to the family that includes The Orange, The Pantechnicon and The Thomas Cubitt, all in SW1, is  ‘Portman Village’s new neighbourhood public house and hotel.’ Portman Village, the ludicrous handle conceived by those who would land ancient London districts (Marylebone)  with names more appropriate to mock Georgian housing estates on the outskirts of some dreary Surrey bourg.  Kerbside, TGG looks not unlike the sort of establishment you’d find on a small French town’s rue principale, but the bleached wood, bourgeois countrified interior - roomy enough for a herd of grazing goats - looks more like something in Canada circa 2000, perfecto for Mr. Smallbone of Devizes, a commuting accountant who secretly harbours a desire to break free of his Wiltshire 7 to 7 and become a lumberjack. It's the sort of 'funky' place Zoe Wanamaker might take her TV family when they hit the John Lewis sale in search of new goose down duvets and  an-teak coffee table for the home extension..sorry, I mean 'conservatory'.  Zo/ Susan could choose from two dozen doable wines by the glass from a strong list from £18, or if she's feeling bold,  £8.50 cocktails daiquiri royale and billy goat (vodka, grapefruit juice, basil & raspberry puree). Robert Lindsay/ Ben gets a superior beer offer that includes Badger Dandelion organic (pricey at £7.50).The food offer runs to bistrot staples such as steak tartare, potted crab, oysters, burger (£13.50), a range of surf and trurf from the rotisserie and grill and crumble, tarts and cheesecake after which, one of the Goat’s eight ensuite rooms, scheduled for Feb 2011, might seem like a good move. 





6 New Quebec Street W1H 7RQ 7724 7243 www.cubitthouse.co.uk

Adapted from my review at www.squaremeal.co.uk  

Sunday, 26 December 2010

2010: The Good. The Bad. The Ugly

In 2010, while bankers anticipated big fat bonuses as the FTSE hit near pre-Lehman levels,  the jeunesse not-so-doree worried about how they would pay for the education they would need just to secure a job as a traffic warden. Although some had predicted mass closures, new bars opened more regularly than Tesco Metro or Starbucks as London continued to party like a gin-swilling good-time girl. Here's my entirely subjective best and worst of the year.


THE GOOD














1. Nightjar EC1
With superb cocktails and great attention to small detail, husband and wife-to-be team Roisin and Edmund's Old Street 1920s speakeasy dive/ music bar (pictured, above) got it right on every level  


2. Experimental Cocktail Club W1
With 3 hip bars in Paris,  this boho French invader in a Chinatownhouse late show might top my list - if only the cracking drinks were un peu moins cher, cheris.

3. Hawksmoor, Seven Dials WC2
Utterly compelling dark, clubby, butch zinc with big boy appeal and great 'tails spells Covent Garden 'classic'

4. Viajante E2
Portugeezer Nuno Mendes's grown-up Bethnal bar with killer snacks and excellent cocktails at Petticoat Lane prices. 


5. Beaufort Bar at the Savoy WC2
Somewhere between Dubai and Ralph Lauren, The new look Savoy comes on like a vulgar arriviste. The lighting in the American Bar turns cuties into corpses but Black Magic box, the Beaufort (pictured, right) rescues a bad design situation. Impeccable service alone justifies cripplingly high hotel prices.


6. Pepito N1
Jerez's finest; tasty tapas and an atmospheric approximation of a tiny back street Burgos bodega: y viva Espana!

7. Drink Shop and Do N1
It's not so much the limited cocktail range that impresses, more the quirky, fun and funky vibe at this old bathhouse/ brothel turned 1950s-style social club/ bring and buy sale (pictured, below).

8. Lonsdale W11
Its reinvention as 1961 Tiger Bay lounge a la Shirley Bassey was a welcome discovery. So too, competent mixology. If only Notting Hill would lose the self-absorbed, cokey mavens in regulation raven.

9. The Euston Tap WC1
Reason for Birmingham-bound beer bellies to delay their departure. It's all about the ale at this microscopic curio.


10. Purl W1
Many booze-hounds' first choice, although not necessarily mine. Trying-too-hard? Still, it would be churlish not to have included this fine establishment  in my top 10




THE BAD


1.Shaka Zulu NW1
I Shaka Khan't  believe the khantin' hideousness. Justin and Collin's idea for Soweto week at Matalan? (pictured, right) The vuvuzela is not the worst thing to emerge from Africa this year, oh no!


2.Roots and Kultured W14
Kultured...as in a petri dish? Not that you'd ever hang out in West Kensington anyway, but............


3.Eastside Inn EC1
Did introducing a last gasp bar that appeared to have been bought at the Crossroads Motel closing down sale help hasten this Clerkenwell gaffe's (sic) demise?


THE UGLY


1. Moose W1
Moose by name......................


2. Minako at The Met W2
Pan Asian sophistication as imagined by Aneka (Japanese Boy)? http://tinyurl.com/6sx6qb


3. (Name of the actual bar within escapes me and as I'll never return, that's not hugely important) at the Hotel Rafayel on the Left Bank SW11
A crash landing next to Battersea heliport. Left Bank rhymes with right ****


4. Longitude 0.8
The Meridien Piccadilly's stab at classy hotel bar boasts decor that might be a visual merchandiser, sacked by Ikea's, idea of cool.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

London Cocktail Club, Fitzrovia

Remember cherubic blonde JJ and his sweaty-under-pressure co-competitor James, the unlikely winners of Raymond Blanc’s 2010 TV gameshow, The Restaurant? While there’s no sign of the much-trumpeted prize, a restaurant to call their own, what you do get at their latest gig, The London Cocktail Club, are tricksy bar snacks: popcorn chicken; stuff on slates; penny chews for a pound; that sort of thing. Given the way the boys winged it when it came to full-blown cheffin' throughout the TV show's run, I'm guessing this will be it in terms of  culinary highs. Fair enough: the lads never claimed to be Marco-Pierre Turban or Vanity Ramsay. This, their second string operation, has been launched in tandem with Blanc and his on-screen sidekick, David Moore, baldy besuited boss of Pied a Terre, while the original similarly styled dive bar in Great Newport Street  trades on under a new monicker, The Covent Garden Cocktail Club.  Punky low-lit’n’loud, this narrow Fitzrovia basement rocks to a mix of classic hip hop, The Doors,  Springsteen and similar blue collar rock, the bartender correctly assessing that boy band-diggin' JJ should not be let loose on the bar's iPod. As 'bacon and egg martini' or 'squid ink sour' (no, really!) aren't exactly my usual tickets, I wuss out and go off-menu. There’s no faulting the liquid in my glass - a sexy Sazerac - but classics deserve better than a tumbler that might be called Krjap, were a certain Swedish store to stock such a nasty, flimsy item. Nor, will I tolerate an evil cake-mix glacé cherry masquerading as its maraschino bro’ in my Manhattan. I’m fond of the affable JJ - his commitment to cocktails is laudable and, largely, he gets it right - but as I've put it to him in the past, attention to small detail is what makes a good bar great. Tonight, JJ is neglecting his new baby for dinner with with some other baby, I'm told, but partner David Moore is in the house. Oozing professional bonhomie and inviting comment from this seemingly casual punter, he seems momentarily taken aback when the anticipated 'fabulous, darling!' fails to materialise. Recovering fast, he  breezily bats my quibbles into the long grass. To paraphrase: ‘What do you expect at £7.50? These drinks would set you back a bundle at the nearby Charlotte Street Hotel but, all the same, I’ll see what I can do, guv.’ Imagine Blanc’s face were one of his TV hopefuls as cavalier. Swing by JJ's joint by all means but, until further notice, BYO glass and cherries! 
61 Goodge St W1 7836 9553 http://www.londoncocktailclub.co.uk

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Nightjar, Shoreditch

Best new bar of 2010: Purl? The Beaufort at The Savoy? Hawksmoor, Seven Dials? ECC? Contenders all. To that notable quartet, add a surprising diamond in the fast-food-joint rough of City Road. For my money which, as a canny Scot, I’m loathe to part with, £8.50 invested at Nightjar nets impressive returns. Order Deep Sea and dive into the divine: a Sazerac-y muddle of Jensen’s Old Tom Gin, sweet vermouth, absinthe and home infused orange bitters, this wonderful wet suits those who crave consistently superior cocktails. Elegantly presented in antique stemware, everything this seductive subterranean charmer’s dapper drinksmiths turn their capable hands to impresses. Remember The Maine? Few will forget Nightjar’s flawless version of the film noir-era classic. Islands In The Stream? Well, hello Dolly! This rum-based highball is a flirty little belter. Live at the mic, foxy dames coat the walls in honey, otherwise a ragtime, jazz and big band swing soundtrack sets the sepia tone at this fair approximation of a Chicago blind pig, Prohibition era code for a speakeasy. Al Capone? I didn’t order one but, undoubtedly, the bar’s savvy shakers could oblige. If you plan to get massacred on St. Valentine’s day, step inside! But by February, expect lengthy queues; Nightjar is that good.    
129 -131 City Rd EC1 7253 4101www.barnightjar.com

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Bar at Oxo Tower

Switching the bar at OXO Tower from the back to the front of the iconic building means that where once perfect Manhattans came with less than perfect views of drab inner city London sprawl, (aka, the arse end of Southwark), you now get historic London's spectacular riverside panorama from the art deco tower's modern, glass-fronted, eight floor, belvedere. Come Spring, outside tables will be at a premium but in tonight’s blizzard conditions, the effect is akin to drinking inside one of those tacky touristy plastic snow domes of St.Paul’s. Magical! While clumpy citron tub chairs and a mirror mosaic back bar (why am I thinking Topps Tiles?) don't impress, drinks do: tequila new fashioned and ‘a most unusual cucumber sour’ are typically well-executed calls at £9.95. But while I appreciate London Calling (a twin gin martini with orange bitters), the question is Should I Stay, Or Should I Go? It’s a crush and unless you’ve booked, courteous staff show you to stools at a glass and steel partition that screams ‘display fixture at a dull German airport's duty free shop’. Otherwise, expect standing room only. Points off too for no free nibbles; £4.50 for a bowl of caper berries? Are things really so tight at owners Harvey Nics’ hallowed food halls? As for negotiating discarded backpacks and an occupied buggy that clutter an already crowded room? Wailing babies might work at aperitivo hour - served on skewers and with free dip.

OXO Tower Wharf, Barge House Street, South Bank 7803 3888 www.harveynichols.com

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Jalouse, Mayfair : Ultimat Launch

So insatiable are clubbers’ for the stuff, Vodka Idol ought to be Simon Cowell’s next project. In its groovy cobalt blue decanter, Ultimat - a smooth Polish vodka distilled from potato, rye and wheat -  has the X-Factor in spades. To my taste, "it nails it" as the TV talentless show's resident Irish whelk , the bell-end on the end of the judges' table, might say. To celebrate a new UK distribution deal, the premium brand is throwing a bash in the 'VIP' section at Jalouse, a spendy nightclub popular with those who one day hope to infest magazines you might flick through without buying at Tesco's tills. Here, blonde Barbies cosy up to their by-the-£180-bottle enablers while one ropey old soak who really should know better is falling for the chicken fillet charms of korma-tone tan promotions girls whose sequined minis are so short, they remind me of another London club....Tramp. Their brief? To pour as much of the stuff down willing necks as is humanly possible. The verdict? Ultimat tastes even better after the first litre and delivers a punch worthy of fellow partygoer,  David Haye...a champion boxer, I'm told. A welcome side effect of such heroic consumption is that, through voddie goggles,  Jalouse's gyrating girls, giggly on alcohol - and the fumes from the cloud of Angel by Mugler that envelops them - grow almost attractive. Inhibitions nuked, I flail around on the dance-floor. Understandably startled by my impression of lascivious thigh rubber Vic Reeves on Shooting Stars, a sea of Lipsy dresses parts and their owners' escorts - who knew Jack Tweed was a major style icon? -  eyeball me as if to say 'wanna take this outside, perv?' Bored by my study of the mating rituals of Essex birds up-West - and the sting of acrylic extensions flicked in my face - I'm suddenly over it. Pas du tout jaloux of the Jalouse lifestyle, all swilly and swaying, I stumble out into the square where the November night chill hits me. Splat! My coupon connects with concrete. The result of my unplanned encounter with Hanover Square's pavement - a look a friend will later dub Bloody Mary -  sends salvation in the shape of taxi drivers speeding off in search of less potentially problematic fares. In truth, even the Council refuse lorry would think twice about picking me up. But there's a silver lining to my trashy tale. So pure is this luxury hooch, I'm spared the humiliation of puking into the porcelain, even after ingesting enough of the stuff to tranquilise a rampaging rhino. On this basis alone, I commend velvety smooth Ultimat, a class act that's wasted on one whose behaviour, tonight, is ultimately as classy as a dose of chlamydia .
Jalouse, 17 Hanover Square www.jalouse.co.uk

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Baranis, Chancery Lane

For a taste of Provence, try Baranis, a new wine bar below sister restaurant, Cigalon. A chic brick-lined cellar with jolly retro seating, it punts pastis, the love it/ loathe it aniseed spirit which, taken with water or in syrupy alco-squash concoctions, Mauresque and Perroquet, lubricates creaky French joints: that’s joints as in louche old bars du port and as in replacement, on which lizard-skin locals’ mobility invariably hinges. Warning! Never drink pastis neat (le throat stripper) unless matched shot for shot by absinthe - and only then if you are a syphilitic dipso Impressionist painter. Other rare swallows include Gentiane Champagne Cocktail (£9) and Thyme Daiquiri with its whiff of la garrigue, the Med’s wild herby hinterland. Regional wines by the glass, carafe or bottle include rare Corsicans including, to the astonishment of mon ami from Sartène, the island’s rough-house capital, local red, Saparale. At £39 a bottle, his commercial antenna is a-twitch, having spotted an opportunity. Bar food includes generally well-executed regional raves: pan bagna, (basically, salade niçoise in a bun); chunky, basil-laced, soupe au pistou -under-seasoned and served tepid; onion and anchoy pizz-ette, pissaladière; generous charcuterie plates and a rich Corsican sausage/ black puddingy hybrid. I'm a sucker for a kitsch pop soundtrack that includes the likes of Sylvie Vartan covering Sheena Easton's Morning Train and Dick Rivers massacring Roy Orbison, while the cellar's pièce de résitance is Britain’s only indoor boules piste. Here, Daily Mayle readers can perfect their pétanque throws ahead of a rheumatic-free retirement in Ramatuelle.  

115 Chancery Lane 7242 8373 http://www.baranis.co.uk/

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Folly, City

As its Southwark sister bar, The Refinery, didn’t exactly blow me away, my expectations of new City bar/ diner/ deli/ shop, The Folly, are low. At 500 covers, could it be folly to launch against the backdrop of ‘The Cuts? Perhaps, fingers crossed, the FTSE’s phoenix-like recovery explains why, on a bleak Tuesday night, it’s heaving with about-to-be-bonused-up middle management suits and suitesses. They lay into seafood platters and £7.50 ‘skinny’ cocktails like my Winter Negroni or Russian rose martini, at 80 Kcals, a gastric band-wearer’s prayer, answered. Arranged over two floors, this bar behemoth benefits from an intelligent lay-out, cosy seating groups, cacophony-reducing acoustics, smart use of texture and flattering lighting, pockets of gloom downstairs excepted. Mixing cute 1958 Californian motel with the sort of sub-Heals furnishings favoured by small town Come Dine With Me contestants with big city aspirations helps warm up two potentially cold, concrete hangars, although the wind whistling in through the front door needs to be sorted: one diner even wraps up in her pashmina - a pashmina, imagine! The 1990s back so soon!  Wines include much quaffable interest at sub- £20 and as well as daily specials (gurnard and linguine with pesto) dishes such as Asian(-ish) style crispy squid, boeuf bourguignon and steak sandwich from an over-extended global hits menu out-point a certain upmarket supermarket’s gourmet range, even if my bourguignon tasted more a la mode d'Oxford school run Mum than authentically Auxerre grande-mère. Says one manager, ‘What The Folly doesn’t want to be, is like one of our rivals' City venues Abacus, Agenda and Alibi.’ Happily, for the suits, it aint and if you're in the Square Mile, it would be folly not to drop in.
The Folly, 41 Gracechurch St EC3 0845 468 0102  www.thefollybar.co.uk 

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Rhodes Patrón Bar at the Cumberland, Marble Arch

With its conceptual art and a distinct night-clubby feel to its stark colour-washed main lobby, The Guoman group’s Cumberland Hotel feels more like it belongs in Miami than Marble Arch. Con-joined with Rhodes Brasserie is this new tequila bar, Patrón’s first in Europe. As you’d expect, the entire agave clan is there including ultra-premium Gran Burdeos at a stratospheric price that will elicit the same sort of yelp as if your arse had accidentally impaled itself on a grande cactus. 'I'd like to try some of that, please', I say, not unreasonably, given I'm at a press launch - the Burdeos, not the cactus shagging you understand. 'We're not opening the good stuff tonight.' comes the response. 'What am I? Chopped liver?' I wonder aloud, noting that this never happened a casa Jose Cuervo. The more accessible (read much cheaper) Silver Patrón is produced - nice enough, but a bit like making do with Margarita Pracatan when you know damn fine Shakira is backstage. Silver forms the base of £10.50 calls such as maple margarita, Mexican border (with almonds, cactus juice mint and kiwi fruit) and apple mojito, while the brand’s XO Café adds kick to an espresso martini. Non-tequila-based cocktails are also available but that’s to miss the point of a sleek, airy, contemporary space that, when less busy, has the feel of an airport; the one where everyone has flown off and left you behind because you were too busy fannying around trying the offers in Duty Free when they put out the last call for all passengers to Cancun.

Cumberland Hotel, Great Cumberland Place, W1H 7Dl 0845 305 8314 http://www.rhodesw1.com/

(Adapted from my review at www.squaremeal.co.uk )

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Nest, Stoke Newington

Salvaged from the shell of cult classic DJ bar/ club/ live music venue Barden’s Boudoir, comes more of the same in the  shape of The Nest. It's the latest thing from the guys at Paradise By Way Of Kensal Green and The Old Queen’s Head, Islington so expect post-industrial house and deconstructed building site chic (see right)  - as opposed to Village People construction worker camp, that is. The beats brief is electro, chuggy disco, deep house, wired techno, freakbeat - and feckin' Val Doonican for all I know - with live gigs from new rather than established acts at a shoe box whose lid comes off at 8pm.  No frills, dark and buzzy - that’s the space and the crowd - The Nest’s nocturnal hardliners rock on through 'til 4 am at hook-ups such as The Kool Kids Club. Poseur beers include Sagres and Sol and there’s a fair range of high end call brands, cocktails at £7, wine from £3.50 and Bolly at £67.50 for any budding Miss Dynamite or Mr. Mark Ronson who, according to Mr Holy Moly, will let you know if he's in the house by having one of his crew grab a mic and announce it, as he reportedly did in Glasgow recently to a chorus of 'beat it ya English bass!', no doubt. Expect a door charge (and queues) after 10 pm and a surreal ride home on da nite bus with similar wide-eyed freaks and a kebab down your front afore dawn

36 Stoke Newington Rd N16 7XJ 7354 9993   http://ilovethenest.com 

adapted from my original review at www.squaremeal.co.uk  

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Beaufort Bar at the Savoy, Strand

                                             Folly


After three years and a mega-makeover, The Savoy is back in business... big time! The queue for its classic American Bar is worthy of the Harrods sale and stars are piling in: Bon Jovi, Take That and Jude Law have all been spotted, I hear. Was the squillion pound makeover worth it? Judging by the public areas, they could have saved themselves a few bob and hired Justin and Colin. As evidence, I offer you the Savoy Tea gift shop - more suited to a Harry Potter theme park than a chic hotel - cheap chocolate box lid 'art' and piss-poor portraits of old Hollywood stars, or the frowsy Thames Foyer with its ugly patterned carpet and gauche focal metal centrepiece (above) wherein a grand piano and two vast Ming(in') vases are imprisoned. Birdcage? Recycled park bandstand? A Wendy House in which to park your silver-spooned brats while you take afternoon tea and talk through whether to ship the little angels 'orff' to Eton or Fettes? Al Fayed’s froufrou Paris Ritz seems chic compared to some of the ghastly gubbins dumped on the poor old new Savoy. But avert your gaze, swing left... et voilà! Tricked out in black and shimmering golds, seductively lit, its tables sensibly spaced, the hotel's brand new Beaufort Bar stacks up as one of London’s great rooms. Its focal point, a theatrical bar - set on the stage where musicians in tails once played Stompin’ At The Savoy as bobbed flappers shimmied below - turns out cracking cocktails: Sugar Strut, Patience (Gary Barlow’s fave tipple?), The Real McCoy (bourbon, ginger wine and sherry over ice) and The Savoy’s signature White Lady are all dandy. 'Ouch!' expensive, they come with free nibbles and nightly cabaret. Service is suitably five star. "Will you be dining with us?" asks the maitre d' as we make to leave. "No, I have a reservation at Tinello and I'm running late." "No problem. We'll ring them and let them know you'll be with them presently." Classy! Designery friends rate the Beaufort' Bar's decor ‘tacky.’ I hear them but I can't help but love its OTT Gulf States glam aesthetic and the waitresses' flouncy dresses - think woeful wannabe chanteuse Edith in Allo Allo - never fail to amuse. If Dolce and Gabbana designed a salon for my wake, this would be it. That, or a set for a Ferrero Rocher commercial. 
The Savoy, Strand, WC2 7836 4343 http://www.fairmont.com/Savoy


                                                          Jolly

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Chinawhite, Oxford Circus CLOSED see REASON AND MANKIND)

I can think of many things to do with a spare £650: a down-payment on a Kilgour French whistle; roughing it for a fortnight on the Plage de Rocapine in Corsica; Botox vouchers for my old mucker Sharon Osborne (she of Cowley Avenue, Tring, not plate face's Mum) or, more prosaically, white Frette sheets. For some strange reason, membership of Chinawhite doesn't figure high on the list but if, like me, you're the wrong side of thirty (snigger), that's the tidy sum such a thing will set you back.  Yes, for an amount it will take a Chinese cockleshell gatherer up Morecambe way two lifetimes to earn, you can hang out with Now magazine fixtures to your heart's content.  I took up a (free) invitation to check it out and attend Rick Parfitt Jnr's birthday party: don't ask! Friend to the A-list stars, that's me and, as it happens, the lad's a sweetheart... if not exactly Jermyn Street. The whole reccie could have taken no more than six minutes in total - not least because my (genuine A-list) big-in-Anna-Wintour-Wonderland-date, T, was worried about being papped at such a place - but what I can reveal is that if you're drawn to hanging out with what appears to be the entire cast of The Only Way Is Essex on what would make a fabulous set for a commercial for Amoy Straight To Wok Noodles, or for that fetchingly styled Asian soft drink, Pocari Sweat, fire on down, pronto! Cocktails such as Porcelane Putih - or was it putain porcelaine? - and Creme de la Creme for the cream of Croydon cost £11 and, for the Waynes of this world, there are countless ways to blow 100 times the cost of this coveted membership in the course of your night: 'Oi, you! Krug Clos d'Ambonay '95 (£6,000) and Richard Hennessey (£4,000) for me and my mates and drag that old boiler in the corner over to my table while you're at it!' The music? No, not a clue. Sorry I never managed to find you on your big day Rick PJ  but next time, celebrate by hiring your local scout hall, get in a few cases of Co-op Cava and ask your old man's band to jam. Way cooler and much cheaper!


4 Winsley St W1 7290 0580
www.chinawhite.com


 CLOSED- Venue is now LIBERTINE  www.libertineclublondon.com/  See Reason and Mankind review (March 2013)

Friday, 5 November 2010

Ninetyeight Bar and Lounge, Shoreditch

For two decades, this Shoreditch vault has been members-only. But, pass muster - i.e. look sufficiently decorous or intriguing - and Ninetyeight, Kath Morrell’s quaint speakeasy is now open to all. A series of white rooms gussied up in glitzy pantomime baroque favours garish gee-gaws, jars stuffed with candy and fun-fair prizes - cloth monkeys with light-up eyes, anyone? If Willie Wonka got with My Little Pony, they’d be regulars. In contrast to the heroically whimsical decor, 98’s bartenders are serious about their craft, described to me as ‘molecular mixology.’ It’s a term that makes me shudder, too often translating as contrived conceits courtesy of hopeful Hestons: high on theatre, the result is invariably less Blumenthal, more Blumenoffal - tripe in a glass. Kath’s signatures include Off In The Clouds, a sky-blue Vesper for blue-sky drinkers served over fluffy candy floss. Good Old Fashioned Sunday Roast (Karlsson’s Gold vodka infused with rosemary, oregano and orange) recalls a herbal liqueur that seemed like a good idea in Menorca but now lurks unloved in your drinks cupboard. I’d sooner spend £9 on a non-nonsense Negroni. Thankfully, the classics are also available at this agreeably bonkers basement where Sunday afternoons are given over to ‘vintage’ tea parties and every visit will yield a tale of the unexpected. Did I really witness fully-grown man spend an entire evening folded up in a claustrophobic box, charged with the specific task of animating a disco midget DJ doll that was too Don't Look Now for comfort?  Or was my strange brew stronger than I initially thought? 

98 Curtain Rd EC2 7729 0087 www.ninetyeight-bar-lounge.com

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Berry Bar, Mayfair

If you ever find yourself in Half Moon Street (although why you would, I'm at a loss to understand) you have two drinking options. There's the rather splendid Flemings Hotel bar, camp, quirky and inviting, and then there's the 'new' Berry Bar & Lounge at the Hilton London Green Park (mouthful or what?) I enter something that's part pub, part hotel bar moderne -well moderne back when John Major was fighting for his political life, perhaps. If you dropped me , blindfolded, through its ceiling, I'd think 'somewhere off the A42' - the type of depressing Crossroads clone where sad stationery reps book in and entertain hopes of picking up the bit of skirt they just spotted having second helpings in the adjacent carvery. A home from home for Alan Partridge, then? There's a selection of quality gin (Williams Chase, No.3, Sipsmith) as bases for cocktails such as negroni, Earl Grey tea martini and house creation ginger fizz (Plymouth, fresh ginger and bitters) at £7.95. Fizz, from £8.35 for a flute of Piper, an octet of wines from £20.35 (Sicilian white), afternoon teas from £14.50 and bites such as chilli squid, lamb kebabs and smoked salmon crostini sound commendable, but overcome by the sheer ennui of the room, I  call my soon-to-arrive date and suggest we convene at Flemings. If you've been in, Alan, let me know what you thought. On second thoughts....
Half Moon St W1J 7BN 7629 7522  www.hilton.co.uk/greenpark  

Friday, 29 October 2010

Le Bistrot at L'Institut Francais , South Kensington


In an area not blessed with great hang-outs, Le Bistrot - the bar/ cafe at this cinema/ library/ cultural centre - is open to even les rosbifs. In the heart of Little Paris (i.e. South Kensington ) where shop keepers routinely address you in French and stare uncomprehendingly when you reply in English, this is something of a find. Recently reconfigured in nouvelle vague black and white, it's the kind of smart, middle class space demanded by the sort of bon chic, bon genre bitches who always appear immaculate, head to toe in Dior, on the beach in Sainte Maxime while you look like a dishevelled pink shrimp, colour matched to a swimming costume that fitted when you bought it in 2005.  A central self-service buffet boasts fifteen different salads, traiteur tasties, charcuterie, quiches, soups, patisseries and viennoiseries charged at £4.95, £8 or £10 according to plate size. To drink, there’s a selection of by-the-glass wine from Pays d’Oc (£4) to superior Chablis (£10); Kronenbourg and Peroni and a selection of spirits and aperitifs that, naturellement, includes the fuel on which all Provence runs, Ricard. Le bistrot opens at 11 am for strong café and stays open until 8.30 pm by which time, it’s assumed debate and discussion surrounding matters existential will be moved on elsewhere. The bar monsieur was atypically charming for a grenouille but his pantalon looked like une petite visite to the nettoyage a sec shop was long overdue. Les Frenchies, superchic? Pas toujours!



Blind Tiger, Battersea

Arrivals are scrutinised through an anonymous door's sliding grille. Pass the test (feel free to dress up as Spats Colombo or Sugar Kawalczyk although, as nobody else has bothered, reservations will presumably swing it) and enter Blind Tiger a semi-clandestine Roaring Twenties experience; that's as in Prohibition, the era when ‘blind tiger’ was code for an American speakeasy. In this candle-lit honytonk parlour cocktails, chow and chin-wagging are the thing. Lemongrass and lychee daiquiri, rhubarb and honey Bellini and Georgia mint julep - from a list of 'prescriptions' contained in gold envelopes handed to guests - live up to their raffish surroundings and an interesting selection of Stateside beers includes Kelham Island Pale Rider. Bistro-gastro best describes the generously apportioned food: with starters and franglais puds from £5 and mains of pork loin in pancetta with a mustard sauce, artichoke, runner beans and new potatoes (£14.95); pan-fried halibut, samphire, radicchio and gamey-good pheasant (complete with shot) on creamed mash all well received, murmerings of 'too many things on the plate' aside. There’s live juke joint music on Wednesdays, rat pack swing on Thursdays and Sunday tea parties with illicit hooch. At weekends, the venue reverts to being an annexe of Lost Society but for an alternative week night jaunt or a novel Christmas party, this Tiger lost in the back woods of Battersea could turn out to be a blinding idea.




697A Wandsworth Road SW8 7652 6526
(adapted from my review for Square Meal) 




Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Betsy Smith, Kilburn

I’m keen to sample outlandish cocktails at a new brekkie-to-late DJ bar. Will Relish The Thought - tequila, rhubarb liqueur, lemon, apple, roast parsnip, caramelised red onion relish and dolcelatte - be the dog’s nuts or just cheesy boll****? Who knows? ‘Ve do not hav’ ingri-juntz,’ offers Olga from the Volga in that matter-of-fact tone adopted by hard-faced Soviet era cabin crew. Instead, I try Quincy, a gin, quince and rose petal martini. It’s punchy enough as, gauging by the way two girlies are weaving through the long bar, are £12 cocktails served in teapots. The Betsy Smith, from the guys behind The Winchester in Islington, is already pulling Kilburn's burghers in numbers. Prices are fair; there’s a reasonable grub offer that includes a Sunday roast for £8.95 and staff are generally sweet, if a bit ditzy. The locals - from not the most fashion savvy postcode in London, I swiftly conclude -  seem particularly taken with the decor: think Artful Dodger does Victorian Poundland. Perhaps they’ve never experienced this jumbly Narnia/ Alice In Wonderland trip done miles better at Shoreditch’s Callooh Callay and Loungelover? Talking of trippy, having been shown the door, a dolally old cove in a camel coat is ranting outside as we arrive. Waving a plastic tote emblazoned with an ac-ieeed smiley at Betsy bar-bloke, he insists his drink has been spiked with LSD. Smirking, the accused motions him away  ‘I hope your insanity keeps you warm.’ On Kilburn’s chaotic pavements, such street theatre passes unnoticed. "He's a regular' confides another staffer. Charming!
77 Kilburn High Road NW6 7624 5793

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Minako at The Met, Marylebone

If you don't fancy Minako, there's always this lovely. On second thoughts, maybe not!

On the Park Lane Hilton’s 28th floor, velvet rope-keeper orders ‘No coats in the bar!’ ‘What? Not even Dior couture?’ We’re expected to queue with plastic thickos that look like the cast of The Only Way Is Essex dressed for the TVChoice Awards in association with Daz. Tonight, the portals to Galvin At Windows - that’s WAG backwards - are besieged by backwards Wag-wannabes and mouthy chavs, sample comment: ‘These new ’eels are proper raping my feet.’ Classy! We leave. Soon after, WAG’s PR contacts me. A ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ is to be held there. So, here’s to flammable acrylic extensions going up with the bonfire. This is my second recent Hilton encounter, both duff. The bar at the chain’s new pan-Asian joint, Minako, twenty-three floors above Marylebone flyover, also boasts great views but, tonight, its guests are less fake Gucci gutter-glam, more how I imagine people who are big in Inkjet Toner World might look. We sip fair-ish Thai Bellinis but give up on banal bar bites. This was formerly Nippon Tuk whose tired 1970’s decor has been dragged into a new decade... the ‘80s; nice in a Krystle Carrington way. Presently, a Minako minion corners me to explain ‘the concept’: like I’m 17 and just off the bus from Clueless? I’m rapidly going off Hiltons, guilty pleasure, Paris, notwithstanding.  


Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Jam Tree, Olympia

Worth a detour for those attending nearby Olympia or even Westfield with its predictable high street chains, this handsome corner tavern conversion set deep in a residential enclave ticks all the prevailing foodie pub design boxes. Two floors are given over to meeting rooms for hire and private dining and there's a cellar bar too but the building's heart is an airy ground floor lounge kitted out in 21st Century old-booza-moderne hung with bright Warholesque foodie 'art'. In addition to a range of tap ales, an interesting list offers ten wines by the glass with Aussie shiraz and chardonnay at £14.50 and Picpoul de Pinet - a luscious Languedoc fruit orchard in a bottle - right at £23.50. Burgundy at either side of £50 hints at some ambition. Apparently owner Sam Riordan is a nephew of Rick Stein. A quick lesson from him on how long NOT to cook fish for might be in order, based on my main. Moister, was chicken jalfrezi, one of various ‘colonial’ dishes that were attractively presented - although nasi goreng may  be more representative of another European neighbour's past overseas adventures. Sam's brother, DJ Judge Jules might want to suggest the staff change the CD occasionally; the Troggs’s Wild Thing x 4, anyone? Sunday lunch at £12.50 is a steal and a discount voucher offering 20% off, available via the website, stack up to a not-much-money tree for those jammy enough to cotton on.
(adapted from my Square Meal review) 


58 Milson Rd W14  07905 975 123   http://www.thejamtree.com


Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Flowerpot, Kentish Town (CLOSED)

Reviewing bars, I get to visit all sorts. From the sublime - The Connaught whose twenty quid killer martinis I'd never have afforded as a student, to The Flowerpot in Kentish Town whose £2 Sambuca shots, I could have, had I ever actually wanted to. On balance, even back in those impecunious days, I’d probably have elected to neck neat turps with the local bums than frequent what is essentially a retread of grungy, junior muso joint, Bullet. Bleach? Mr Muscle? Whatever they swab the place down with, it smells like a spotty-rashy, trainer-trashy, teenage oik’s pit. Fragrant date winces and demands we leave - immediately! Made of sterner stuff, I insist on at least one drink - industrial strength cider. Suddenly, I’m all nostalgic for patchouli oil, Pot Noodle, Che Guevara posters, lava lamps, Hendrix and that other student bedsit sine qua non, the liberated rubber traffic cone. We park up on shonky, wipe-down banquette that’s in danger of self-destructing whenever either of us moves. The alternative is a grubby armchair, its foam guts spewing out like some fat sleb's during liposuction. The mere prospect of it sets me off on a different (bad) nostalgia trip: the night I caught crabs down Dover docks way. Behind the bar, skinny-jean Flowerpot man (more of a little weed) chomps cheesy crisps and scratches his armpits. Nice one petal!  On-stage, tonight’s ’free live music’, Natalie Macool, wails like a bereaved wifey at an Irish wake. Suddenly, I hate my job.
147 Kentish Town Rd NW1 7485 6040 http://flowerpotlondon.com  

Monday, 11 October 2010

Cigar and Cognac Garden at Duke's Hotel, St James's

I'm not much into brandy: fine name for a Playboy bunny but generally, I prefer my native Caledonia's McEau de vie. And, I stopped smoking some time ago. So brandy and cigars - Wot.Evah! Gardens, however, I do dig (if pottering around with terracotta pots and a rusting trowel on my sun-trap city balcon counts) and Duke's Hotel, I like because  a) it does a stellar martini b) it's not the effin' Ritz  and c) I was once entertained there by two mad old society bints, gin- raddled 60s chicks who made a bee-line for a younger, svelte me, fancying I was available for hire for the sort of afternoon romp Dempster's column thrived on. At Duke's new C and CG  there are hydrangea and potted shrubs, but ‘garden’ is pushing it. A tented, heated space for twenty intimates feels more like a hospitality lounge at a corporate summer bash- Henley, The Open or Wimbledon. That, or the patio furniture section at Homebase. Its finest Cubans cost more than a night with a Havana hoor and for £340, the price of  Bignon 1800 from a range of VIP cognacs and armagnacs, she'd throw in her kid sisters and the old man's 1957 Chevrolet convertible for good measure. In truth, it all looks a bit Hyacinth Bucket and some of its punters look like they are about to kick her namesake. That's bucket not bouquet by the way. Stick to Duke's main bar or sashay round to The Stafford, I say.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Melanzana, Battersea

 Is it a bar? is it a trattoria? Is it a deli? Well, it’s all three... and it’s also a find. I'm told there used to be a mad disco called Bennet's on Battersea Square. Under its glass dance floor, it boasted piranha fish ready to chew to stumps the feet of anyone who flunked the Noo Yawk Hustle. By the time I moved to SW11 (quickly realising my grave mistake and legging it back over the river, pronto) the hood was devoid of any interest beyond Ransome's Dock. But then came Montevetro with its millionnaire pads. Now, SW11's wadded new homies have various noshing ops on Battersea Square of which, Melenzana is by far their best option. This cute, rustic affair - formerly the dire Raven pub before it shot the crow - offers draught Peroni at £3.60 and a fair selection of Italian vino to drink in or to go.  Apperitivo hour -  that's around 7 pm local time - is when to rock up for an Americano. Otherwise, order oaky Sardinian red, Cannonau (£25.80); Nosiola, a fruit and nutty white from Italy’s alpine slopes; or crisp Prosecco at £5.50 per glass. Charming service delivers a range of honestly-priced, mostly well-executed simple recipes: strozzapreti with mussels and courgettes; rich gnocchi with Italian sausage in a tomato, spinach and mascarpone sauce; beef carpaccio and a dozen top notch pizzas. Only troppo al dente aubergine in a mixed grilled veg salad struck a bum note. An affordable range of antipasti, meats, cheeses and sauces from the deli counter is another magnet for busy Battersea bachelors and yummy mummys in a hurry.  
(adapted from my Square Meal review)

140 Westbridge Rd SW11 7228 5420 

Flemings, Mayfair


Whether for afternoon tea with cupcakes in its cosy-cute library, or a tête-à-tête over Taittinger - from a selection of fizz from £10 a flute - in its semi-secret intimate basement bar, splashy boutique hotel Flemings is a Mayfair address to know. With its seductively-lit, mirrored overwrought interior in lurid cerise and jade, we're in 1950's kitschy pot-boiler territory - the sort of film set you half expect Bette Davis to waft onto in a cloud of Sobranie smoke, wearing a beaded shantung silk number and an eye-patch and dripping diamonds and vitriol. Unflappable, twinkly-eyed service is part of the appeal; camp staff entertain us over knockout martinis and pink fizz fit for bubblehead blondes. Go ‘long and luscious’ with Eau de Poire (a pear Collins) or demand a ‘glamourous treat’, a Precious Jewel, perhaps (Tanqueray 10, fig liqueur, lavender bitters and lemon) from a drinks list that includes various martinis at £12 and pinot grigio at £22.50. Canapes of mini fishcakes, pea and mint risotto balls, bresaola wraps andveggie options encourage lingering in a clandestine, subterranean speakeasy that's far removed from the West End hustle (Up until the mid-1970s, Half Moon Street was home to Mayfair's rent boys).  Just don't tell the suits! (Abridged from my Square Meal review) 

8 -12 Half Moon St 7499 000 http://www.flemings-mayfair.co.uk/