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Thursday, 25 March 2010

Pepito, King's Cross

To some, sherry is useful only as a liquid cosh, a couple of schooners guaranteed to knock nattering Nana out whenever a bit of peace is required. With Pepito, London’s first dedicated sherry bar, Hispanophile, Richard Bigg, aims to convert sceptics to Jerez’s finest. Located opposite his King’s Cross pile Camino, in an outbuilding no bigger than a garden shed, it’s a joint venture with über-brand Tio Pepe. Bare brick, trad floor tiles, barrels as tables and a dark butch bar overhung with hulking jamons, this is no bullfight poster and souvenir sombrero pastiche. Lob in a few leathery peasants who honk of Ducados, bung Paco de Lucía on the gramophone and this might be a backstreet bodega in Andalucia circa General Franco. Fine Iberian cheeses and tapas such as jellied duck liver pâté or pickled white asparagus are suggested as ideal partners to individual quaffs. Bigg bigs up the wisdom of the Enomatic dispense system in maintaining his babies in perfect nick. Its decision not to work tonight merely underlines the authentic Spanish vibe: ‘mañana’, maybe? Prices at Mr Bigg’s little gem are universally affordable and for philistines that believe sherry is only for trifles, the quasi-religious experience derived from sipping González Byass Apóstoles, a 30 year-old palo cortado, could provide their epiphany.
Varnishers Yard, Regent Quarter, N1 7841 7331

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Hackney Pearl, Hackney Wick

Hello! What’s this? Negroni, Whisky Sour and pukka Pouilly Fuissé on offer in a menacing locale that is just a disemboweled corpse away from being a set from Jack The Ripper?  For that’s the spooky crepuscular vibe abroad when, eventually, I track down The Hackney Pearl to a prosaic industrial estate, eerily deserted at weekends. Worth the effort? Deffo! For their chutzpah, I applaud both this new café-bar - and next-door neighbour Martabelle-K, a funky French traiteur-cum-café - pioneers in a bleak hinterland. Simple as you like - painted breeze block walls, wooden packing crates as shelving and a skip-load of seen-better-days dining suites - the joint is a cut-price cutie. To a sultry Etta James-y soundtrack, sweethearts knock out plausible cocktails, uncork - or rather, ‘unscrew’ - better-than-gut-rot bargains  and prepare highly affordable and consistently  edible all-day scran: zingy bacon green bean and boiled egg salad, panini, grown-up comfort food and ‘more tea vicar?’ cakes with served on someone’s Auntie Beryl’s mismatched china.  So who frequents this lovely wee local? If the gaggles either side of us are representative, smug, thirty-something, organic granola-crunching, self-congratulatory, PC peabrains; their cultural references lifted, wholesale, from the Guardian. Not so much engaged in conversation, as in loud competition - ‘Did I read you my mission statement, Hattie? It’s fantastic!’ - they contrive to get on my (Hackney) Wick. Faux-ney Eastenders aside, the Pearl is the nuts. 
11 Prince Edward Rd E9. Tel 8510 3605 

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Canton Arms, Stockwell

The burghers of St. Ockwell - salt of the earth indigenous and upwardly mobile incomer alike - have reason to rejoice; the scruffy Canton Arms has gone upmarket - revivified and handsome in its spruced-up Victorian duds -  it shouldn’t alienate the old faithful in seek of a decent pint -St Austell Tribute or Old Hooky, say - and a meaty Scotch pie in a quality local.  The pub’s renaissance comes courtesy of owner/ chef Trish Hilferty, with a helping hand from  the peeps at seminal Southwark hero, the Anchor and Hope. Go if only for her range of upper crust sarnies and toasties that introduce foie gras and haggis to the Breville. Old school starters such as oxtail and split pea soup, rillette, smoked cod’s roe red cabbage and crème fraîche or Arbroath smokie are well judged; so too, mains that typically include vegetarian-friendly risotto, cassoulet to share (£28), pork loin with fennel and olives, or wild rabbit, bacon, mustard and mash with a rich chocolate pot to follow. Old world wines from £12.50 offer great value so it makes sense to trade up to some fabulous Frenchies.

177 South Lambeth Rd SW8 7582 8710

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Dick's Bar at El Camino, Soho (NOW called Pink Chihuahua)

I was gutted when Soho’s Green Fingernail closed having lasted less time than a coat of cheap red varnish. The exotic she-males d’un certain age that congregated within notwithstanding, reason to mourn its demise was that the legendary Dick Bradsell regularly plied his trade behind its bar. After a brief hiatus, the inventor of now universal cocktails such as Plymouth gin-based delights, The Bramble and The Wibble, is once again refreshing the parts lesser mixmeisters can’t reach with his latest residency, downstairs at El Camino. What was formerly Enclave and way before that, Abigail’s Party, is now a lair for foxy dames, toothpick-thin honchos in spivvy tailoring and droll meejah monkeys; hudded in its alcove booths, they dish the dirt then loon around to swinging bachelor pad beats and arch pop as the late-late party cranks up. Spartan design that echoes the Soho beat cellars of the 1950s shifts the focus on to Bradsell’s craft, here, favouring Latino drenches such as £7.50 fruit batidas, daquiris and margaritas that harness premium agave tequilas - Patrón, Tapatío, 7 Leguas et al - to devastating effect. Follow these up with lime-in-the-neck Mexican lagers and you’ll soon be in it’s-a-long-fall-from-a-tall-bar-stool territory. Tequila, as Terrorvision said, makes me happy. Fortunately, after a fourth, it also makes you numb.    
Dick’s Bar at El Camino, 25 -27 Brewer St, W1 7734 7711        

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Slim Jim's Liquor Stores, Islington

If you do just one bar on Upper Street, make it this darkly-lit speakeasy.  Slim Jim’s is the sort of bar you’d normally need to cross the Atlantic to experience. With its butch brick walls, ruby neon signage, 1950’s soda fountain bar stools and conspiratorial booths, the diminutive SJ’s is blue collar LA circa JFK. Tear into quality Irish whiskey (e.g Powars & Tyrconnel); single malts; rum (Zacapa) ; bourbon and anejo and reposado tequilas. Cocktails are cheap and fine;  get ripped on Rusty Nails and suffer an existential hangover tomorrow. Bergamot-infused vodka or fancy Asian nibbles  are not what you're here for. You’ll get peanuts if you ask politely. Musically, it's live acoustic sets or DJs spinning  50’s rock’n’roll and air guitar heroes  via swampy blues and country rock. Just-back-from-Woodstock barmen and cool lanks necking Elijah Craig and beer backs and looking like members of the Black Crowes? This rebel will also appeal to The Byrds.  

112 Upper St N1 7354 4364

Casita, Shoreditch

This  box of a bar - about the same size as a suburban semi's garage and barely big enough for Kaka and ten of his team mates to squeeze into -  looks like it belongs in the ramshackle shanty towns that encircle the cities in the land of Pele . Abuzz with chatter and SOB - that's sounds of Brazil as any SOB from Sao Paulo will tell you - its beer crates, stacked high, are  filled with Quilmes, Cristal and other bottles. There's Sagres on tap and a selection of Latin American wines too. The decor - favela chic, to borrow from another nearby bar’s name - is as studiedly casual as any Brazilian beach bum in a pair of Havaianas flip-flops, so park your uptown attitude at the front door!  Small is not only beautiful but also friendly; enthusiastic owner William knocks out excellent £7 caipirinhas, mojitos, batidas, margaritas, fruity daiquiris, Kismet and other deceptively potent smoothies from all points south of Surinam. What the hell goes into Casita's Swine Flu cocktail? No idea, but it sounds catchy.  
5 A Ravey St EC2 7729 7230

Hola! This is  not what i had in mind when I said 'Rio'

Attic, Docklands

London’s highest bar (beating the City’s Vertigo 42 by a whole six floors) is in a residential tower that is a stone's throw from Canary Wharf.  Run by the Greenwich based Inc group and nominally reserved for the building's residents, Austin Powers wannabe swankers who fancy a swingin' private penthouse pad can access it by pre-booking. The bar accepts parties of up to four from Thursday to Saturday evening inclusive. The effort is rewarded with the sort of  jet marble, chrome and leathery luxe lounge that would have wowed me circa 1992. Did I mention the panoramic views?  Sadly, that ain't Manhattan twinkling below. it's Docklands. Home to thousands of slick suits - and none of them with much taste if they're prepared to live in hellish glass and steel monstrosities that look like rejects from dismal Dubai - the architecture outside is more Haribo pick'n'mix  than Candy brothers.  How come old Charlie Jug Ears Windsor never piped up about this particular carbuncle? Let's see? Because it isn't in K&C and one's Roller is rarely called upon to venture beyond the Limehouse Link?  Obviously you’ll drink champagne (from £45) and cocktails such as Rusty Nail and Penthouse, what else? (a Russian Standard and raspberry mule - £8.50). Beers (Bud, Old Speckled Hen) - not exactly Gordon Gekko - cost around a fiver, wines from £17.50. It’s swish in a kinda Donald Trump way -blingy, glitzy, spendy, well-upholstered - but would you want to be on top of it? Oh and step outside onto its small balcony and your wig'll blow off. Wouldn't worry the Donald, obviously.  

48th Floor, 3 Pan Peninsula Sq. E14 8858 2437

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Marvel, Chelsea (NOW CLOSED)

At new Chelsea hole-up, Marvel, my neighbours’ conversation includes this revealing snippet: Blonde A, ‘yah, but I’ve got to do Easter with Ludo’s parents at their chalet in Switzerland.’ Identikit blonde B, ‘no way, that's sooo f****** s***, yah? Totaaaaal Klosters-phobia!’ This, then, is the sort of dilemma that exercises the trust fund twigs-in-Uggs  - aka Twuggs - on that recession-proof strip of Fulham Road known as ‘ the beach’.  Formerly Bartique, Marvel is the lovechild of quartet of well-connected blades-around-town that includes DJ Sam Young - son of super-paparazzo, Richard - who spins at Amex Centurion-magnet boîtes such as Boujis and Bungalow 8 when he’s not DJ’ing for Donatella Versace or Justin Timberlake. An entrée to the ‘if-it’s-May-it-must-be-the-Monaco-grand-prix’ lifestyle is yours for the surprisingly democratic price of a Barista - a generous £6.50 cocktail of vodka, coffee, vanilla and ice cream. Otherwise trade up to Zei Zei, a Beefeater 24, sweet and sour martini that rocks at £8.50. Marvel’s soundtrack screams ‘Ibiza’, or given the up-market clientele, a house party in way classier Formentera. The room - with its pop art mural and louche ‘private’ den attached - is dark and conspiratorially clubby yet refreshingly un-cliquey; a relief to anyone whose concept of après-Ski is what to eat next after a strawberry yogurt, yah?     
196- 198 Fulham Rd SW10 7351 1711 

Barre Noire, Marylebone

If you're headed to nearby Locanda Locatelli , or should you otherwise inexplicably find yourself at Marble Arch, the oddly named Barre - as in French for helm, rod, witness box, or anything but ‘bar’ - is worth a detour for as good a cocktail as you’ll find in the vicinity. A clichéd, Noughties-style, ‘noir’ oval lounge dominated by a resinous back-lit bar/ barre plays host to groups of dazed and confused (as opposed to Dazed and Confused ) middle age Japanese salarymen, sons of The Emirates (as in Gucci-clad Arabs, not Arsenal players) and bored business people wishing they were anywhere else except stuck listening to fat Fritz from Freibourg droning on about the Geneva office while the perch uncomfortably on a squidgy leather cube north of Oxfordstrasse. The overall effect feels like cocktail hour inside a hollow Easter egg. Drinks acquit themselves - a Manhattan, perfect at £9.50 - and sweetly efficient staff know their onions enough to apologise for a lack of same when we order an off-menu Gibson. The suggested alternative, a Tanqueray Ten dry martini served with a twist, comes with a bowl of nuts and wasabi peas that is diligently replenished throughout our stay.
The Montcalm Hotel Nikko, 34 Gt Cumberland St. W1 7402 4288

The Rose, Fulham

What was once the less-than-tip-top Fulham Tup is on the up and hopefully, not a trace of local tabloid titillating tosser Terry. Re-branded, revamped & reinvigorated under new management, it’s crying out to be discovered by well-heeled locals - note to Chelsea FC, money can't buy you class - and shoppers checking out the antiques of the lower end of Kings Road - that's furniture, not Vivienne Westwood What they'll find just off the main drag is a relaxed, deliberately antiquated affair that’s almost Georgian in its woody austerity. Global grazing takes centre stage on the menu: rillettes with cornichons, crab on toast, moules marinière, aubergine & sweet potato curry, chilli tiger prawn with noodles, pannacotta & berries are typical dishes that leave change from £10. A dozen wines (from £3.50 a glass) include a plump Languedoc Viognier at £21, while an elegant Margaux is the priciest bin at £32.50 – a trio of Champagnes excepted. Enjoy a pint of draught Sharp's Doom Bar in the walled garden when this Rose blossoms fully come the spring.
1 Harwood Terrace, SW6 7731 1832

Akbar, Soho

A major fire in 2009 nearly did for the Red Fort but thanks to the efforts of the London Fire Brigade, the upmarket Indian is now back in business after a complete refurb. In March 2010, what's firing its punters is the outcome of the too-close-to-call looming general election. True to their colours, New Labour siblings, the Millibands -aka Dedward -  have been spotted at the (New) Red Fort as have their boss's missus and the Rev Jesse Jackson. What they got in its destination DJ cocktail cellar, now tricked out in kingfisher blue with a metallic mosaic bar, were reasonably-priced quaffs such as Gemali (a Mandarine Napoléon and date-infused rum champagne cocktail). For that all-important photo op, a (red) Khoony Mary- a twist on the Bloody version using Absolut Peppar vodka and chilli-infused balsamic vinegar - is what to go for. As well as Kingfisher beer and wine from £6, champagne socialists can tuck into nibbles that include battered king prawn, spinach cheese and fenugreek patties and roasted spiced kingfish - just  don't tell notorious trougher, Prezza.

77 Dean St W1 7437 2525