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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

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 

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

(Adapted from my review at )

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 

adapted from my original review at  

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Beaufort Bar at the Savoy, Strand


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


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

 CLOSED- Venue is now LIBERTINE  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

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