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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