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Thursday, 26 August 2010

Parlour at Sketch , Mayfair

Mourad (Momo) Mazouz’s Sketch is a Mayfair classic and cool as you like. The restaurant-cum-art gallery's twinkly Glade bar and UFO-like East bar are heavenly but, for me, the Parlour is still one of London's sexiest rooms, a wittily curated postmodern des res capably staffed by stylish lookers. A trip to the venue’s spookily-lit, surreal 'egg' loos is an adventure that always gives me goose pimples: intent on ‘the old ultra-violence’, will the droogs from A Clockwork Orange beat me to a bloody pulp against the pristine white expanse of Sketch's sinister sweeping staircase (left)? Or will I inflict that on myself, keeling over, face first, pie-eyed on the bar’s cracking new cocktails? Fields of Joy, an inspired muddle of Smirny Black, pear purée, vin blanc, grapes and Kasteel Cru rosé; Rosemary Martini, an acquired taste, admittedly, that could double as alco-marinade for a joint of lamb; and Bagheera, a Snow Leopard, lemon, lime, ginger and basil Collins that is so damned attractive, I may just marry it. At £13, these babes ain't cheap but compared to overpriced slurry peddled in numerous ‘destination’ bars in W1, I call it investment drinking. Arrive pre-9 pm to ensure entry and don’t wear a white shirt, Sta-Prest, DMs, braces, bowler hat, codpiece and a cosh please. 
9 Conduit St. W1 7659 4500

Friday, 20 August 2010

Cristal or Pomagne? You decide.

Paris Hiton could soon be feeling the pinch.  A hair-raising $39 million lawsuit has been filed against her for allegedly wearing a rival’s blonde extensions while apparently contracted to promote another brand Weird, that; surely there's nothing remotely fake about the American er, hair-brained heiress? Anyway, the litigants reportedly view her party lifestyle as ‘public debauchery’ and, by extension, contrary to their agreement. That’s rich! Who did they think they were hiring? Mother Theresa? Surely every girl has the right to let her hair down - her own or acrylic- outside the privacy of her own Beverley Hills pink palace now and again? So I’m pleased to hear Paris is not taking it lying down - unlike in that dodgy video a man in Stepney tried to flog me off the back of a lorry claiming it was her 'getting a well good seein' to' - industriously promoting other business ventures, presumably to stave off potential financial armageddon. There’s her second album ($30 dollars or so in royalties, there, surely?), her tenth perfume, ‘Tease’,  and a new shoe collection which, given the size of her boats, should guarantee the drag queen dollar. But it may be too little, so perhaps her official BBFF (British Best Friend, Forever) could organise a whip round: Pakistan’s plight pales into insignificance when Paris faces partying on Pomagne, too poor to pop Cristal.  Donate wisely! 

Thursday, 19 August 2010

New Bloomsbury Set, Fitzrovia

It’s a fallacy that all gay men are inherently stylish: Graham Norton; Gok Wan; David Furnish; cool? And, having marveled at their makeovers, what mentalist would let Justin and Colin loose on their living room? Are Glasgow’s MDF queens behind New Bloomsbury Set, London’s latest gay bar, I wonder? Owners Tom & Jerry (yes, really!) are old drinking partners (but not 'partner' partners, they tell me, should anyone fancy having a crack) who decided one night to open their own bar rather than subsidise somebody else's business, despite having no background in the industry. (Free tip: don't drink the profits, guys!) They claim its amateurish Victoriana/ 80s hi-tech/ 60’s repro randomness is the creation of a mate. Who knew Helen Keller was still alive? What does impress is the absence of the chippy gymbo attitude that mars some cruisy joints; NBS could be a by-word-of-mouth house party, the sort of impromptu evening where you end up thinking ‘Who are these people? How did I get here?’ And, given its suburban vibe, ‘Help! How do I get home from Uxbridge at 4 am?’ Without advertising, Tom, or is it Jerry, says early adopters have cottoned on via Facebook, adding ‘don’t tell anyone, but Wednesdays are “unofficial lesbian night”’ So, of course, I won’t. Drinks are fair at £3.50 for Budvar and £7.50 for a Bloomsbury Sidecar - a ginny twist on the original and the music is, well, like nothing you’ll find on my iPod. Feel-real hands-in-the-air shake-ya-disco-tits house and some Israeli punter doing covers of the Carpenters, as I recall it. The boys aspire to match Friendly Society, Soho’s most stylish gay bar owned and designed by...Michael and the divine Maria, a straight couple!

76 Marchmont Street WC1 7383

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Giant Robot, Clerkenwell

Having lost The East Rooms to an inferno in March, Jonathon (Milk & Honey) Downey replicates his deceased dining club’s quirky 1950’s/ post industrial interior at buzzy new all-day bar/ deli/ diner, at summer 2010 hit, Giant Robot. The sharply-executed Kennedy-era, downtown Brooklyn tribute is pulling local creatives in numbers with its Italo-American cooking a list of punchy cocktails that reference Madison Ave (New York sour) & Rome’s via Veneto (piazza limonata, one of several Martini coolers). The kitchen’s ‘obsession’ with fresh quality ingredients pays off in crisp crostini topped with goat's cheese, anchovy & ‘eggplant’, eccentrically priced at 94p each; crunchy red chicory, walnut & gorgonzola salad; glistening ruby red seared tuna medallions on a pillow of fennel & coriander; fresh grilled sardines with authentic gremolata. Tony Soprano might prefer more muscular grub: guanciale (pig’s cheek bacon) on olive & spring onion mash; salt beef with beetroot & poached egg; winter warmer cotechino (Modena pork sausage), pancetta, lentils, onion, carrots & salsa verde or a selection of pasta dishes & meatballs either as a main served with spaghetti, or as so-now bite-sized ‘sliders’ in mini buns. Puds are gelataria joy: affogato, flaming baked Alaska & ice cream sandwich. Arrive between 5 &  7pm & enjoy the ‘staff meal’ for a fiver, one of several cute touches. Wines are mostly Italian:  Frascati, by the carafe, about right at £13.50. Dishes arrive simultaneously - cue an irksome table ballet to be choreographed. A slightly too tricksy format proves initially discombobulating. This aside, fresh food & funky ambience justify Robot’s giant following .  
45 Clerkenwell Rd EC1 7065 6810

Get The F*** Outta My Face!

Time was, the only blackberry to bother a restaurant table was in a bowl of crumble. Suddenly, it seems, you can’t visit your new local bistro, brasserie or Japanese joint without snap-happy food bloggers papping pappardelle, pissaladière or wagyu no sumibiyaki on their smartphone’s cam to ram in fellow foodies’ faces. You WILL Come Dine With Me.  Just get the food outta my face, fellas! I’ve recently been bombarded by pics of ‘the best Bánh canh in Vietnam’, jerk snapper from some jerk in Jamaica, tartar of musk ox from a (pretentious) acquaintance showboating live from Noma in Copenhagen, the world’s ‘premier must-do eaterie’ (he says) and, from a pal, giddy with excitement to be in Edinburgh, an image of a pile of ‘stovies’: gussied up potato, gravy, fat and more fat, it looked like the residue from a porker’s posterior, post-emergency liposuction (see above left). Cocktails are considered fair game too but do I really need to see the (so infra-dig it may be the next big thing) sex on the beach you grubby package dealers had last night on Lesbos? I know Britain’s gone cuisine crazy, but enough already! You’re putting me off my dinner.      


Monday, 16 August 2010


High street boozers are disappearing faster than boozy Lindsay Lohan’s career: Britain loses six historic alehouses a day, no thanks to a combination of greedy lessors, cheap supermarket alcohol, the smoking ban and past-their sell by pork scratchings. So why not provide your community with a valuable service and earn a few quid in the process?  You may have seen’s  Hogshead BYO PUB - that’s blow up your own BTW - at beer festivals. At  8 metres tall and 5 metres wide and capable of accommodating up to fifty punters, they can be up and serving in under thirty minutes. Graphics run to a tiled roof, chimney pots, a fireplace and a dart board - although missing a double top could leave you deflated and with a nasty sinking feeling in this case. Lay on your own home brew at £2 a pint and you’ll soon recoup ye not-so-olde worlde cost of this inflatable tavern. Get yours for a sobering £27,815. Still, if trade is slow, you can always move it to another location. 

Can The Canned Cocktail?

Trending now, alco-juggernaut Diageo’s ready-to-serve cocktails aim to cash in on cash-strapped lushes' move away from hanging out in bars to tippling at home. New, in Spain and Greece (whose natives could both use a stiff drink since their economies are even more f***ed than our own), is a pre-mixed Manhattan, one of various 'cocktails' in a can. Not yet available here, the Smirnoff's press office sent me over their cosmopolitan and 'vodka mojito' pre-mixes, sold in silver shaker-style bottles, to road test in their absence. Apparently these are already available in UK supermarkets; not something I'd know about as the staff take on Tesco in the trenches on my behalf. It beats me how a product that, by necessity, must have a long shelf life can hope to capture the transience of freshly muddled mint, key to a decent mojito - whose base ingredient ain't, in any case, vodka - let alone the notoriously volatile zing of newly squeezed citrus fruits  essential to other classics. The Smirnoff cosmo was just about bearable in a kind of adult alco-poppy way but their other effort was pure Vomjito, synthetic and horribly reminiscent of the sort of flavoured rinse my dentist would try out on me after root canal work. Still, anything that promotes cocktailing in general has to be a positive. As Hirondelle and Le Piat d’Or were stepping stones that led baby boomers towards more sophisticated vino, perhaps Diageo’s tipples will spawn a generation obsessed with tracking down the perfect Perfect Manhattan. Roll on the day every village boasts its own Callooh Callay, eh?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Vista, St James's

On the one night when the heavens elect to open, weeping buckets like Lindsay Lohan in an orange jumpsuit, which eejit is marooned on a rooftop, exposed to the snarling elements? That’ll be me. Fortunately, the staff at Vista at The Trafalgar Hotel, magic up umbrellas and, as it turns chilly, blankets too. Teeth chittering,  ‘drookit’- as they say in Scotland where such inclement weather qualifies as ‘a bonnie summer nicht’ - and swaddled in our hastily styled, impromptu ponchos of scratchy greige wool, the date and I are one set of pan pipes short of channeling the Peruvian entry at The Pan-American Song Contest, our damp dishevelment in stark contrast to our chic surroundings. Newly enlarged and reconfigured with lounging areas, a smart alfresco bar and parasols (are they having a laugh?), this five star eyrie is, on any other night, one of London’s best legal highs. Even if I begrudge the fiver cover charge punters must fork out before being allowed to spend a further £14 on a flute of Pommery, the views are ace and the tapas and  ‘herb garden ‘ cocktails - an Absolut Vanilla-based-based Watermelon Cooler (£10) - not too shabby either. Its clever PR lady even manages to lay on dual rainbows, perfectly synchronised against the glowering night sky.  I'm told that the terrace is set to expand even further next spring and that a ‘winter dome’ will turn Vista into an all-year round gig. As London’s weather turns ever more capricious, hopefully they’ll provide beach towels, a pool and Piz Buin Factor 30 at Christmas. 

Trafalgar Hotel, 2 Spring Gardens SW1 7870 2900

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Hemingway, Hackney

The decor at The Hemingway looks much as at similar refurbished boozers; all antiqued leather, flea market finds, statuesque art deco bronze lady-lamp and obligatory stuffed animal heads in a vaguely Victorian neocolonial-style parlour. The pub’s co-owners also seem familiar: did they once serve me at Quo Vadis? The Groucho? Soho House? Newly established in Victoria Park, their baby’s pumps dispense Deuchars and Broadside and there's merlot from £3.25 per (small) glass. An open kitchen does - whisper it! - gastropubby food. If these guys did work at swanky Soho gaffs, they've imported five star pricing. Moules (marinière...ish) and burger and industrial chips - done better and cheaper at nouveaux chains like Byron - are audacious at £13.50, no matter how well-heeled the locals. Rumbling us as away-dayers from ‘up-West, a loquacious Cockney salt claims 'yuppies' have pushed up house prices here.  ‘We’re the Highgate of Hackney, now,’ he says, managing to sound simultaneously pleased and regretful - nostalgic for the Krays, outside karseys and rickets. ‘In Queen Victoria’s day, the park was full of deer. Now it’s full of them festival lot from Lovebox what p***es in your doorway and nicks the guvnors’ brass companion set.’ he muses, motioning to the boozer’s salvaged fireplace. Can't tell you what he said about performer Grace Jones...lawyers and all...but I soooo don't believe it.    
84 Victoria Park Road E9 8510 0215

Eastside Inn, Clerkenwell (CLOSED)

As a snail-bothering Francophile who’s convinced fictional hell-raising alkie, Roger Sterling, is his daddy, the new bar at Bjorn van der Horst’s Clerkenwell nosherie, Eastside Inn - described as ‘Mad Men with a twist of Parisian understatement’ - should be right up my boulevard. Hmm. Negroni, that summery Italo-classic, acquits itself but Butterfly Martini is the Kelly Brook of cocktails: not up to the Cipriani (as in luxury Venetian hotel, not ball-boy, Danny). The Amélie, apparently, is the hottest thing since the Sex and the City girls ‘revamped’ the Cosmo. Note to PR lady: post-SATC 2, any association with those desiccated Dior bags spells ‘kiss of death’. ‘Death by dull decor’ is my verdict on a room that suggests a frequent flyer’s lounge circa Pan Am’s collapse. Fidgeting on a mean velvet tub chair, the only reason I’d ‘while away a lot of hours’ here - more PR fantasy - would be if fog shut the airport. Snacks, such as duck rillettes and roasted bone marrow, deserve better than their gratingly twee title, ‘appe”teasers”’ and as for the promised people watching... Boden bores and a Botoxy blonde? Through floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s the passers-by who are watching us. Martini whore I may be, but ogled like some 30 euro Amsterdam hooker? No sale!
40 St. John St EC1 7490 9230 

Playtime, Islington (CLOSED)

The PR for new N1 club-bar-gallery-performance space, Playtime, suggests I visit on a weekend night. Rocking up on a Thursday mid-evening, I can see why. Marie. Celeste. Not the names of the only two punters present; no, that’ll be me and the mate. Playtime is from the same peeps as society mag-hag boîte, Boujis, and by the look of it - a jokey/ arty/ retro-y superficial rehash of OQO - they’re not exactly putting their money where their mouth is. The barman hopes the Boujis crowd will adopt it. ‘Because Chelsea girls are hot?’ I wonder. ‘Because they spend.’ he sighs. Dream on! To the SW7/ St Tropez set, N1 is somewhere north of Norway. What they’re missing is pink sangria, Belvedere at £100 a bottle and nicely ponced-up mojitos and margaritas - at £4 on happy hour, worth travelling for. Is the club any good? My target-age (25) coolhunter local spy rates Friday nights ‘interesting’ and tonight’s mashy soundtrack suggests she’s right. The interior will be given over to various artists to reinterpret as they will. Current chou chou is Robert Gordon Mcharg III (see pic). Plomnked in one corner, a open pine coffin - ‘Art’? - bears a Hank Williams quote. ‘No matter how I struggle and strive, I’ll never get out of this world alive.’ On a slow night, that’s how I feel about Islington: fortunately, a hot date with Beth Ditto at jeweler Thomas Sabo’s Mayfair launch provides my exit visa.
4 Islington Green N1