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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Primo, Waterloo

Stuck in traffic jams on the roads that encircled it, I often pondered how such an ugly concrete carbuncle could ever have been allowed to be built on the roundabout at the southern end of Westminster Bridge. Then, a couple of years ago, this Soviet-style monstrosity was razed overnight... only to replaced by something equally ghastly that resembles one of those pop-up pissoirs Westminster Council installed in a vain attempt to prevent drunks from peeing in Pret's doorways, or having a slash outside Starbucks - the chain whose warm brown liquid tastes like pish to me. Caught short, I pop into said pissoir-like erection (aka the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London) Well, why else would I be visiting a mid-market hotel chain? Themed shiny-sleek oriental-intercontinentale, it could be a new airport terminal in Seoul or Guangzhou. Guests are encouraged to marvel at the view of Big Ben - note to tourists: the view as you exit Westminster Underground station is the photo op you want. But it's the hotel's Tokyopolitan-style bar, Primo, that will impress blasé Londoners. Who knew this even existed? Split into two distinct lounges, the larger  - all low-lit, low-slung, blocky black and white 60’s moderne  -  is where to score wine from £19, house champagne (£47), Eurasian bites  (frittata, meatballs, chicken satay) and patisseries. In the dramatic black and red live music lounge, a small stage host jazz, swing and samba musicians and Sinatra wannabes most nights.  Asian-slanted cocktails match the space for drama. Try Cavallo or Nashi Eyes (rum, nashi pear, peach liqeur, guava juice and oolong tea). Primo would not be primo on my list of  hotel bars in which to get bladdered, but  for weak bladders in an emergency, here's a fine place to spend a penny or two.
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London, 200 Westminster Bridge Road SE1 7620 7282

Friday, 23 December 2011

Drink Shop and Dance, King's Cross

Drink Shop and Dance? Sounds like a plan for the next fortnight! Get into the Christmas spirit - in this case, Mother’s Ruin - at this new dive from the eminently doable Drink Shop and Do. The juvenile delinquents behind this King’s Cross charmer, accessed via the sweetest sweetie shop East of Willie Wonka, have a 'dirty little secret', a dinky playpen for similarly insane insomniacs.  From its launch in 2010, I took to childhood friends Coralie and Kristie’s original kooky alt social club/ tea rooms (located in a former Victorian bordello directly above this latest venture) from the off. I've even managed to show my face within on several occasions since. Given the number of nightspots I have to reccie for those I manage to pimp myself out to, this fact speaks volumes.  Now that there’s gin and joined-up disco dancing to a mashy mental soundtrack until late down below, here’s to many more funny, slurry-blurry N1 nights to come. Set in a simple grey bunker - although, given the girls’ magpie tendencies, I expect that to soon change - the DJ bar's presence is announced by a large garish neon sign which, I hazily recall, says 'Sex Dwarf For Hire' or something equally louche and intriguing. What The Butler Saw-style peep-holes drilled into  walls hint at the space’s past as a seedy shop aimed at dirty mac owners. Note to younger readers: that doesn't mean someone who needs to wipe off smears on their iBook's screen, although, that said................. 
As for 'Drink': they'll fluff you with Fifty Pounds martinis, drip feed you Zuidam Genever gimlets through a gimp mask, tease you with a Tanqueray Hanky Panky and handcuff you to 209 or Death’s Door, two Yankee swingers worth knowing. If it's something even more recherché you crave, wrap your laughing gear around the barman's Crown Jewels. No longer widely available since Beefeater discontinued it; at £13 a pop, this super super-premium gin always guarantees a happy finish. 

9 Caledonian Road, N1 9DX 3343 9138

image : the

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Met Bar, Mayfair

At the time of this bar's original launch, New Labour's PRs were spinning Things Can Only Get Better. When Cherie was photographed looking dog rough at her front door on that momentous May morn, she looked pretty much like those prone to partying all night at the Met, the Mayfair hotel's private bar that quickly became one of the default late night hang-outs for the Cosmo-swilling fashion and muso cheerleaders of Saint Tony's Cool Nu-Britannia. Once, harder to crash than a Windsor's 21st birthday bash - is  'comedy terrorist' Aaron Baarshack, still locked up in The Tower, does anyone know? - The Met's brief reign was long over by the time Lehman Bros and the ensuing crash finally buried phoney Tony's successor's 'no more boom and bust' hubris in an avalanche of quantitative easing. Nineties party fixtures Meg Mathews, Fran Cutler and Ms Moss had taken their hubble bubble toil and trouble to steamier cauldrons, or in Kate's case, morphed into Gillian Taylforth and got married. Cue a rethink/ total refurb for the Met, which reopened this autumn. A sign of how 'over' it was, I'd twice walked past it before finally bothering to look in on the place. All black lava bar and bright banoffee and butterscotch swish, the old room is now open to non-members. 'Exclusive'? That's more The Box and The Rose, these days isn't it? Homage to its brief moment in the limelight, perhaps, Storm in a Tea Cup (Tanqueray, Aperol, orgéat, cacao and lime) is served to 32 B cups in a ...go on, guess!.... with a side of Turkish delight. Root Down (a Chase vodka mule) comes with beetroot purée;  so that's one of your 5-a-day sorted right there. There’s wine from £27 and Glaswegian lager, St. Mungo. Small plates include kedgeree cakes and ham hock terrine with beet and pickled walnut salad.  A daytime menu runs to posh fish and chips and Allen’s of Mayfair wild boar sausages and mustard mash. Glossy, polished and smart, somehow it feels like its soul was sold alongwith its old red interior, auctioned off for charity, on eBay. File under 'seemed like a good idea at the time' A bit like Meg's ex, Noel, and his Manc monobrow brother's band,  I suppose.
1 Park Lane W1 7447 1000 

The Half Moon, Putney

Aeons ago, I reluctantly schlepped down the District Line to witness an obscure new Country & Western act play a scruffy old Putney alehouse. In its small barn-like live music lounge, a high cheek-boned 1950s be-quiffed creature presently ambled out to total silence. Picked out by the beam of a solitary spotlight, in kick-ass cowboy boots, canary yellow yee-haw waistcoat and garish petrol blue dirndl skirt accessorised with plastic farm animals, was this Oklahoma's answer to Morrissey in drag, I wondered? Falling to the floor, laying flat on her back, and without any instrumental backing, the curious vision proceeded to out-Patsy Patsy Cline with a sublime pitch-perfect rendition of Willie Nelson's Crazy - the most-played song of all time on US jukeboxes, should the question ever come up in a pub quiz. From that hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-raising moment on, I have admired K D Lang and retained a soft spot for a boozer that, since launching in 1963, has hosted everyone from The Stones and The Who to Kate Bush, Elvis Costello and The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Its future was under threat, but thanks to new backers, Geronimo Inns, the venue should now even outlast the career of one set of previous Half Moon minstrels. Fronted by the smug Irish git in the tinted glasses, I'm talking about that unfathomably popular band that unites all people of good taste - as in 'Hurrah! U2 can't stand them?' Fast forward to 2011, the atmospheric live gig room's bijou stage hosts an eclectic mix of Joe strummers, nightly. But if you're a prog rock or psych folk avoider, the saloon bar functions as a separate space, so no need to ask for ear plugs with your pint of local microbrewer Sambrook’s finest. The fading boozer has been subjected to Geronimo's signature scalping. The group's Slightly overstuffed, quirky vision of trad pub nouveau - with a gallery of signed portraits of familiar faces that have played Putney - will chime with the area’s Cath Kidston classes for whom, back-to-basics comfort food: cured meats and pickles, eggs and bacon, fish and chips and apple pie and custard at high street prices. In terms of rock'n'roll attitude, the new Half Moon may be more Mick Hucknall now than Mick Jagger then, but at least the old place hasn't been converted into fancy flats.
93 Lower Richmond Road SW15 1EU 8780 9383 

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Lucky Pig, Fitzrovia

Last time I visited this Fitzrovia basement, a lesbian Northern Soul night was in full swing within. It seems that concept was just too niche; hence the premises’ reinvention as metrosexual cocktail bar. That said, Lucky Pig's owners should invite the old DJ back. A strap-on figure of a woman in the same mould as ballsy blues-y Big Mama Thornton (see ), she'd synch seamlessly with an attractive space got up as a Scott Joplin-era Louisiana juke joint. Moreover, her Wigan Casino vintage vinyl would be a vast improvement on the Pig’s jarring soundtrack, the only duff note tonight. Hed Kandi house doesn't work in such a sultry sepia tint space. This aside, we’re happy as pigs in clover: Clover Club, Aviation, Whiskey Daisy, Silk Stocking and Martinez. Period-correct cocktails served by Bonnie dames -  that’s as in hoodlum Clyde’s sidekick, not comely Clydesiders - are a cut above your average swill. From a reasonably-priced list, modernités such as Apples & Pears - a Grey Goose Poire coupe topped with more froth than a Mississippi showboat dancing girl's frilly petticoats - are also worth a butcher’s. Set behind scarlet velvet curtains, intimate cellar booths encourage a bit of the old ‘ooh la la’ -or opium taking, had killjoy westminster Council not banned it -  and there’s Mercier at £42 to keep you in the Pinky and Perky. I’d be telling a slight porky if I said this new trough was my absolute favourite opening of the year, but he who drinks here is a lucky pig indeed.
5 Clipstone St W1 7436 0035

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Fourth Wall, London (Somewhere in)

‘Tried the cocktails yet? Best in London!’ shouts a blonde sylph, dirty-dancing on a high bar stool to a full-on DJ soundtrack. I hope to, courtesy of a chiselled English bartender, Ralph-Lauren-model-material for sure. He’s studiously stirring a Miller’s martini when, ‘Thwack!’; egged on by a similarly wild and suspiciously bright-eyed Pete Doherty tribute in a naff pork pie hat, Blondie’s OTT gyrations send her crashing against the makeshift bar, and my much anticipated drink crashing to the floor. Model barman shrugs sanguinely and starts again, while I fantasise about having done to the bouncing bimbo what Jeremy Clarkson envisaged as a fate for striking public sector workers. This then, is midnight at The Fourth Wall - the name refers to the imaginary wall through which theatre audiences observe the action onstage. The pop-upl is an ad-hoc shebang where jinx are high and martinis - when we finally get ‘em - correctly dry. Tonight, the party is in a secret location down a dark, dank tunnel behind an unmarked door off Brick Lane. The room is a full-scale, flat-pack replica of its creator's Fitzrovia gaff Bourne and Hollingsworth, gussied up as somebody's Peckham parlour circa Neville Chamberlain. After a two-week residency in situ, the weekends-only wingding is folded away and driven off to a new clandestine location. To find out where this bar-in-a-box will materialise next, visit its website and follow instructions. Blondie’s claim for the cocktails -decent enough at seven quid - is slightly fanciful but she and fellow (Fourth) Wall pork pie Pete aside, this itinerant sweatbox cooks on full gas 

Friday, 2 December 2011

Archer Street, Soho

One visit is usually all I need to rate a new bar Snog, Marry or Avoid. Thanks to universally improving standards, in 2011, I’ve done more snogging than TOWIE’s Mark Wright. Marry? I’m polygamous, currently happily shacked up with ZTH, The Gilbert Scott and Happiness Forgets. Avoid? Well, a gentleman doesn’t spill. Oh, very well - The Piccadilly Institute was a bit of a munter. What to make of Archer Street, tired old gay hole Barcode’s replacement as envisaged by the owners of the O Bar on Wardour Street? Hmm. I’m like The Bachelor’s Gavin Henson - albeit less buff but, hopefully, more articulate - unsure of my feelings towards this pretty little thing...even after three dates. Of its two lounges, I prefer the members club-y, après-ski-y basement; all cosy cubby-holes and jewel bright velvet stools at a capably tended butch bar whose Liverpudlian mixmaster in residence was happy to build us bespoke drinks on my chosen theme - Laphroaig - one evening. From the bar's usual menu, top ‘tails, chilli and passion fruit martini and Bulleit in the Afternoon (Bourbon, pomegranate juice, Lapsang Souchong syrup and cucumber), are well snoggable, even at £10.50. The street-level lounge, where champagne (Billecart-Salmon’s range) starts at a giddy £14, is sophisticated in a neo-Georgian Guildford gated complex townhouse way. Although I’ve yet to witness such a spectacle, I hear theatrical staff occasionally go all Broadway tunes and jazz hands. Eureka! Archer Street feels like somewhere John Barrowman might appear - the shiny-smiley hoofer is a deffo double-avoid in my book. I'll ring ahead to check he's not in the house ahead of date number 4.
3-4 Archer Street W1 7734 3342

Friday, 25 November 2011

Dirty Martini, Mayfair

Regular readers will know I’m a bit of a martini-Hoover, a regular Don Draper de nos jours...minus The Betty Ford Clinic season ticket, hopefully. To find a well-made martini is manna. To find a well-made one off Bond Street for a paltry sum that wouldn’t buy the fine twine handle off a designer carrier bag, is downright dangerous. But from 4 pm to 10 pm weekdays (8 pm on weekends and all day Sunday), a measly four of your English pounds - or Scottish ones for that matter, so long as the auld nation is still part of the Union - secures a dirty, verging-on-pornographic, Plymouth martini accessorised with a Kalamata olive and thyme sprig fascinator at this new W1  branch of the Covent Garden original. A similar happy hour spend gets lychee, passion fruit or chocolate martini - wuss juice for junior suits which, tonight, look to come mostly from Debenhams. Yes, Dirty Martini is a mid-market gaff but at these prices, who expects fancy schmancy David Collins interiors? Actually, I quite like the decor, chic in a kind of Carrie Bradshaw circa 2001 way,  and the tricky space - think tunnel! - is intelligently utilised. What I don’t dig, are the constantly prowling high-profile black suits. Most unnerving! Is security anticipating a ruck between Tatleristas and Voguettes - both magazines share premises across the square - over whether, at £4 - a sum that buys the waifs a whole month’s groceries - Margiela or Miu Miu martini is the hip sip this season, supposing such items exist?
10c Hanover Square W1

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Caxton Bar, Westminster

Strange synergy. On the day I meet Brian Paddick, the ex-policeman turned London mayoral hopeful (read, no hope at all; he's batting for the Lib-Dems),  to take part in a photo opportunity (don't ask!), I later find myself clambering over piles of coppers in SW1. That's as in plods, not  loose change, you understand. The rozzers are changing out of riot gear on the pavement outside my destination, a hotel bar directly opposite New Scotland Yard. Well, at least the staff doesn't have far to look if their punters kick off and need a good coshing that isn't strictly liquid. Fisticuffs seem far from likely here, however: the well-dressed middle-aged imbibers look like the sort of people who mow their Middlesex semi-detacheds' lawns on Sundays, are kind to animals, shop at House of Fraser and model themselves on Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams. The decor - pleasant enough, and expensive-ish in warm tobacco and toffee tones, could be a set from a Penelope Keith vehicle. Cocktails from upwards of £9 are fair. From the ‘Empire’ selection, we dig ginny Earl Grey Ceylon Ice Tea; from the ‘Americas’ Three Saints (£11) with a trio of rums in the mix. Ulstermen will be miffed not to be represented under ‘Britain’- a few ideas themed on headgear, from which Welsh Hat, using vodka distilled in Cymru’s valleys, comes out on top. There's a pretty terrace for summer drinking but keep the noise down or the old Bill (and not as in newscaster Mr Turnbull) will 'ave ya. Got it?
St Ermin’s Hotel, 2 Caxton Street SW1H 0QW 0800 652 1498  

Read more reviews  at 

Friday, 18 November 2011

Waterline, De Beauvoir Town

Situated twixt N1 and E8, it’s G2-reading Islingtonians, not hirsute Haggerston hipsters, that have colonised this new indie venue. Smart move! The industrial-style ex-warehouse with its Bash Street Kids furniture and desirable Slovakian ex-armament factory lights is a handsome hangout whose towpath tables afford a fine view of the jetsam-blighted Regent’s Canal. Bathed in watery November light through double-height windows, wan faces sip draught Adnams or good Sicilian peasant plonk at £15, worried that spending double that on plummy patrician claret, a Mahon-Laville Graves, constitutes a grave social error now that austerity is the requisite accessory to be worn with their up-the-workers Carrhart clobber by Concerned of Canonbury and co. Could any cloth cap canteen better Waterline’s miniscule open kitchen for good grub at pub prices? It's doubtful. For lunch - or dinner - pig out on pigs cheeks, snoggably tender in a punchy red wine reduction; fine flaky roast cod with al dente samphire and avocado, brandy and cream sauce (£13.95);  and slim boy fat puds. Adjourn to Waterline’s back room, a jazz piano lounge/ cinema where bean bags, floor cushions and drinks service encourage post-prandial lolling. A library of cult films hopefully excludes Marcello Mastrioanni and similarly suicidal foodies in 1973 death-by-overeating satire, La Grande Bouffe. 
46 De Beauvoir Crescent N1 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Funky Asia, Shoreditch (NOW CLOSED)

A gay display of pastel pendant lamps dangling in a picture window signals this new cocktail lounge-cum-pan-Asian diner. Inside, the theme - Shoreditch loft meets Suzie Wong - goes woefully wong in places: random jumble and horribly mismatched furnishings vie for attention with vintage retread stools that should be donated to a museum or consigned to a skip. My eye is drawn to bizarre fade-to-grey serge staff uniforms seemingly seamed up on a Singer  by a London College of Fashion fresher circa similarly cod-Asian Aneka's Japanese Boy (take a trip down Memory lane here ). It's a measure of the resident, mostly Italian, mixologists' sunny nature that they haven't revolted at being forced into revolting clobber. The brave souls dispense passable cocktails at an ugly bar that, lit paraffin blue, also recalls shonky 1980s design. Still, £6.50 per cocktail is a retro detail I do dig. We try shochu and green tea-infused Shibuya and Takeshita street, a cucumber and sake vodkatini - cucumber traditionally combined with wasabi paste as a Shogun-era cure for those too bunged-up to Takeshita. Soi Cowboy, a Bulldog gin and basil martini said to be a tribute to a Bangkok red-light porn star of yore, is no fluffer at £7 while both lemongrass, lychee, sake and grapefruit combo, 798 District, and Shanghai bund have Harajuku girl appeal. There’s a fair selection of wines, lad lagers, sushi rolls and oriental street food, none of which I try. I've got other fish to have fried elsewhere and reviewers whose opinion I'm inclined to trust have roundly panned the pan-Asian grub. Alerted to the presence of a 'crazy barman called Ginger', I'm keen to encounter what sounds like a colourful character but "she" is now in the kitchen and won't come out.' Mortified to be caught in those (Steve) strange uniforms, no doubt.  I'll be back to reappraise sweet FA and hopefully catch sight of the retiring Ginger. Thankfully, it's directly across the street from a regular haunt of mine, that equally heroically eccentric watering hole, The Commercial Tavern. 
159 Commercial Street, E1 6BJ 7247 0072  

Check more late summer 2011 openings in the Autumn edition of Square Meal magazine.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Azulito, Soho

I really dig Thomasina Miers’s Wahaca. Champion cheap Mexicano eats? The man from Del Monte, he say ‘Yes!’ Now, there’s even more reason to mosey along to the former Masterchef winner’s buzzy Soho cantina. New graffiti tags and gaudy supermercado-style kitsch aside, its folksy sky-blue basement  play-pit - all Babyfoot tables and shack-y bar cobbled together from salvaged wood - looks much as before, but what to raise a sombrero to at Azulito - the re-styled den's new handle - is its beefed-up range of 100% agave tequilas. If your view of this much-maligned spirit has been jaundiced by the liver-bothering swill pimped by tacky taco joints' slammer girls, apply within! With around eighty of the finest examples collated by hot shot bar consultant Nick Strangeway, this is as good as it gets east of Guadalajara, the state capital of Jalisco whose red volcanic soil nurtures Mexico’s choicest blue agave plants. Tequila purists take theirs neat like malt whisky, but for agave virgins, I recommend Azulito’s subtle El Tesoro de Don Felipe-based bloody Maria and margaritas - classic lime, tamarind or mandarin-flavoured - by the tumbler from £5.95. Punchy fresh,, flavoursome street food - smoked herring tacos, pulled pork, fondant quesadillas, et al - acts as damage limitation, while DJs spin low rider barrio blasts until midnight. And, if you’re on a hot date, señores; remember the wisdom of Joe Nichols’s country smash - Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off. 
80 Wardour Street W1 7734 0195 

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Boyd's Bar, Charing Cross

The first time I visited Boyd's, it was a fairly lonely experience. 'Pas un chat,' as they say south of Calais. Tonight, I'm back to reccie what's new. In a major push to pull in the cocktail crowd, the place has been re-modelled, the bar and restaurant's focus now as much skewed towards what is dispensed from its silvered shakers as its kitchens. Repositioned, pushed back deeper into the airy triple-height space it inhabits, its island bar is flanked by Philippe Starck 'ghost' stools that match tonight's ghostly ambience. The place is 'Here's Johnny' Shining- empty aside from me, my two French chums and a pair of intrepid drinkers dressed in the style of the Romanian entry in the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest. Boyd's sweet new barman, himself from Romania, shows us cocktail ideas written in his very best longhand in a bound notebook. 'I'll try one of those,' I say, pointing to one of his unique creations, its Santa-themed title never likely to make it on to the Connaught's list, no matter how successful his recipe. Alas, it's not to be. 'I haven't been allowed to buy the ingredients yet.' What's Romanian for 'you naughty little tease' and 'how come'? The Frenchies contemplate the decor, all garish blocky colours, 1950s styling and jangly patterns that contrive to clash with the palatial venue’s height-of-Empire caramel-tone marble grandeur. They pull that peculiarly French face that can best be approximated by a Brit by placing dog poo under one's nez. What cocktails (from £8) we do get - fruity rummy slings and Tanqueray 10 dry martini - are perfectly sinkable and generously poured. The French faces are back on as the Parisians are introduced to the concept of 'British tapas' served on slates at 2 for £7.90. Crab macaroni gratin, smoked haddock scotch egg, pork rillettes with savoury croutons and eggs mimosa are how I imagine food might have been in business  comradski class on Tarom, the Bucharest-based state airline, around the same time the Romanian punters stumbled through their Sandie Shaw oom-pah-pah tribute to an underwhelmed watching world. Guys, I dearly want to give Boyd's douze points, but on this performance, quatre...tops.
8 Northumberland Avenue WC2N 5BY 
7808 3344
Based on a review for www, 

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Shaker & Company, Euston

In Euston, The Times They Are A-Changing. Replacing Bob Dylan-themed flop Positively 4th Street, is Adam Freeth’s Shaker & Company. That’s Shaker as in high-end consultant mixologists to the likes of Tatler, Cartier Polo and excellent Shoreditch lounge, Nightjar, not cheapo MDF kitchen units in the style of an abstemious American sect. America’s Deep South is the theme at Freeth’s maiden venture - a butch, woody, Woodrow Wilson-era tavern, minus the Prohibition. At tonight’s launch, liquor flows like it’s December 5th 1933 (the day Prohibition was repealed) and although Brother Griswald (Johnny Walker Black, 'blue' Chartreuse and ‘Christmas cake reduction’) and Breakfast with Obama (tequila, ginger and grapefruit liqueur, bitters, honey lime, sea salt and watercress) are well executed, they’re also overly contrived. Tricksiness is a current bar land willy-waving tendency I can live without: classic cocktails become classics for a reason. Happily, Tanqueray dry martini, my must-pass liquid litmus test, is not flunked. Expect a different theme at a dimly-lit conspiratorial downstairs den that will play host to a different cocktail base each month; tonight’s hero pour, Bénédictine, appearing alongside Aperol, stone fruit, bitters and lemon in another  slightly over-ambitious cocktail, Tanqueray gin flip, Potato Sack Sour. All-in-all, Freeth's vision gets the thumbs up and although its hinterland location might be an issue for some, honest pricing will not.  Shake out the minor shortcomings, as in funk up the flava on jambalaya, veggie gumbo and hush puppies;  soul food that needs to be less Joss Stone more Sly & The Family Stone, and London just got itself a swell new sauce saloon.
19 Hampstead Road, NW1 7060 6877

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Palm Beach Casino, Mayfair

Like my local dry-cleaners, casinos are best avoided if you don’t want to risk losing your shirt. The only chips I should ever handle are fried. As as nightcap opportunities, however, casinos clean up: their bartenders still shaking long after others have shut up shop. At the new DJ lounge at the Palm Beach Casino, ‘one of Mayfair’s most glamourous gaming spots’, they’ll mix you a martini until 5 am. Take a punt on lemongrass, espresso agave, chilli tarragon and pomegranate, toffee apple or even a Shropshire blue cheese martini: served with fresh dates, not the smartest call if you’re hoping to get fresh with a date. My gamble - Lime Marmalade Gimlet, badass liquid breakfast at £11 - pays off and, if Smokey Old Fashioned and a crafty fag sounds like you, there’s a heated snout-out  terrace-cum-Wendy House. £24 is cheap for Chablis by any West End standards and, if luck be a lady tonight, as Sky Masterson sings it, there’s Ace of Spades rosé at a bank-breaking £711 a bottle. The casino itself, divine art deco crystal palm chandeliers aside, could be a beige Home Counties hotel circa early Lorraine Chase. On which note, the lovely lady herself, wafted here, not from Luton Airport, but Camberwell. And no, she doesn’t order Campari and lemonade. 
30 Berkeley St W1 7493 6585

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Electric Social, Brixton

On Electric Social’s unremarkable terrace, drinkers enjoy autumn’s last hurrah. That, and a fetching view of a wall of bins massed outside Tesco, opposite.  My date suggests recycling our grub within. Salty, sloppy macaroni cheese with ham is NHS awful. At £11.80, burger  and ‘triple-cooked’ chips  nudge Hawksmoor prices - there, alas, any comparison ends. Aside from being cussed - who knows why? -  by a shambolic old rasta bloke shuffling along Acre Lane as we arrive, our evening had started well enough thanks to chipper staff and jovial Italian Merlot at just £13.50 a bottle. We prefer Tanqueray dry martini (£7.50) to anything on Electric Social’s cocktail list. According to our waiter - channelling a slippery estate agent, keen to gloss over his bar’s gritty urban location - the likes of Cider House Rules and Black Forest Gateux (sic) are aimed at ‘a more Clapham clientele’. I'm not feeling the love for the room, but early-adopter Brixtonians seem happy enough with decor that pits clichéd Cool Britannia - Union Jack chesterfields, tear-drop chandeliers, trompe l’oeil bookcases, pop art mural etc - against clunky tables and a wood-panelled sunken den possibly salvaged from a 1950s magistrates' court. We’re told nightly ‘mash-ups’ such as Kung Fu Disco, held in a club lounge above, 'aren't necessarily aimed at the riddim rider massive'. Am I being taken for a Coldplay-lovin’ Clapham casual? I crubbed away my yoot in steamy Railton Road shebeens, I'll have you know.
40 Acre Lane, SW2 3588

Friday, 14 October 2011

Laylina Privée, Knightsbridge

Beauchamp Place is a strange place. Its main function in life, so far as I can discern, is to accommodate bonkers boutiques whose glitzy gear and froufrou frocks await the approval of a Petr Petrogarch's daughter or a Nancy Dell'Olio who'll parade them in Hello! when the magazine calls to photograph them in their gracious Central London home. At the thoroughfare's heart, lies San Lorenzo, an Italian restaurant perennially popular with the sort of stars (and/ or ex-girlfriends of Rod Stewart) who were popular when Nancy was a nipper (1971, she reckons). Into this Eurotrash timewarp mix, chuck paint-it-black basement bar-cum-nightclub Laylina Privée. Its look - dig the fish tank -  reminds me of the sort of dive girls in hot pants would lure punters into in Cattolica, circa early Easyjet, with the promise of a free bottle of what would transpire to be gut rot fizz. Nasti Spewmante indeed! But this is no clip joint. No siree! Laylina P sets its (Chanel) cap at a niche, riche clientele. That will be the Sunseeker set - as in habitués of high-end floating gin palaces (of one’s own or daddy’s), not the Falaraki massive. Why stoop to entry-level champagne (Moët) at £75 when there's Krug at £965 per magnum to be had?  Spirits by the bottle (obviously) range from £100 for Hennessey to a cool £550 for Chivas 25-year-old. 25-year-old willowy blondes in spray-on dresses, out hunting in pairs, might try lychee martini, tropic breeze or Layalina delight (Bulleit, Southern Comfort, Cointreau, peach purée and lemon). Busting moves to Beyoncé, I imagine their heads dream of attracting the attention of the sort of chap who will whisk them back to his Candy Brother penthouse pad opposite Harvey Nics for Krug, cocaine and carpet burns and treat them to a Beauchamp breakfast at Maroush Juice and a new frock come the morning. 
2 Beauchamp Place SW3 7581 4296

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Thursday, 13 October 2011

Senkai, Mayfair (Now HAWKSMOOR AIR STREET)

The first section of a long snaking room, otherwise given over to Japanese-influenced dining, is allocated to Senkai’s lounge bar. I'm thinking 'Zen Week at Ikea' enlivened by a mural of what I take to be a Kyoto garden by way of colour. There is, disconcertingly, a back bar but no actual counter to dangle at. Still, working in Japan, I learned to expect the unexpected.  But this Honshu pretender, the replacement for the late unlamented Cocoon, is owned by the peeps behind Boujiis and Bumpkin, its stance more Made In Chelsea than Chiba Prefecture. Our Eurasian cocktails are pretty impressive all round...if somewhat ambitiously priced. £14 gets Senkai Manhattan with its maraschino and whiskey jelly globule lurking unnervingly in the glass like a blood clot on a killer mission. Szechuanita (£12) - a pomegranate margarita turbo-charged with Szechuan pepper-infused syrup - is a tasty blast and mingmei martini - Whitley Neil gin, cherry heering, raspberries and organic apple juice - garnished with a red chilli sliver on a floating basil leaf (for all the world, like something in the lady garden-like as drawn by a Magna porn cartoonist) gets the yin-yang balance right. For the intrepid, parsnip cup vodka (parsnip purée, coconut, vanilla, lemon and ginger in an absinthe rinsed glass) is an inscrutable adventure. There’s half a dozen shochu, wines by the glass from £7 and Champagne from everyday Möet to red letter day Dom P rosé at £420. From a selection of pricey bar bites, try pork and Jerusalem artichoke gyoza, rock shrimp tempura with red chilli mayo (£9.50) and pepper squid. The vast room is empty all bar six other punters. 'Senkai' in Japanese might translate as 'pure land away from the world.' Tonight, it's a land the world has pure failed to locate. 'People are all out on terraces  enjoying the Indian summer,' sighs one hopeful, smiley staffer by way of an apology. This begs the question; will Senkai be as sunk as a leaky junk with no clientele to speak of from May to September? 65 Regent Street, W1 7494 7600

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Powder Keg Diplomacy, Wandsworth

Powder Keg Diplomacy: the name conjures up a governor keeping a troublesome colony in check. Sporadic summer rioting aside, are St John's Hill natives really so volatile? New from SW4’s Lost Society/ Lost Angel boys, two south London bars I dig, there’s a distinct 1900’s revisited feel to their new sister; no more so, than in a handsome wrought iron-framed Edwardian conservatory-cum-dining room. Flatteringly lit, with wind-up gramophone speakers suspended upside-down as witty trumpet lily lampshades, it's lined in period-correct frondy kentia palms. Cutting the mustard in their Phileas Fogg attire, our waiters might be out of a Hovis ad, or staff from  Downton Abbey moonlighting in the Big Smoke. Mirroring a trend at other fine bars such as Worship Street Whistling Shop and ZTH, accomplished mixology served in vintage stemware also references a time when Britannia ruled the waves and a gin and milk was yours for a penny three farthings, guv. Fine East India and Empire cocktails, and whiskey and gunpowder green tea-based Chatham Artillery Punch are the sort of superior libations the Earl of Grantham could be quaffing if he’d only bin stuffed shirt Carson for a more clued-up flunky. Good too, is the autumnal Granddad's Allotment - your five a day in a glass plus a slug of hooch for being such a good boy. Powder Keg D is also strong on British cask ales (Oakham Citra/ Innis and Gunn Oaked et al), stout and porter, 'colonial' beers and wines from £17. Delve into some good stickies such as a Canadian 'ice' dessert wine made from frozen-on-the-vine grapes. Well-judged nosh covers anything from ‘tiffin’ (game pie/ kedgeree/ Scotch egg with hollandaise) to Mrs. Beaton-style blow-outs (pork belly, celeriac mash and savoury dumplings/ roasted venison parsnip puree and stout sauce/ pan-fried gurnard, capers, cockles and spinach mash).  Prices heed the bar's station in life (that'll be Clapham Junction) and for pudding, I’m urged to try a ginger three-way.  Supply your own punchline!
147 St.John’s Hill SW11 7450 6457

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Bar 45 at CUT, Mayfair

I’m predisposed to like anywhere that serves martinis until the wee small hours. You’ll get a fine one as late as 3 am at Bar 45, the watering hole above Wolfgang Puck’s starry Mayfair steakhouse CUT. This smart mezzanine screams (new) ‘moolah!’ All tasteful, tonal toffee leathery luxe and American Psycho staff (as in Patrick Bateman-esque suits, not dangerous New York nutters), this foxy faux art deco den feels like the sort of VIP late night lounge wherein a Vuittoned-up vulgar Rooney might try to order vodka and Vimto, that or your dream cross-Channel ferry access-by-swipe-card Club Lounge; strictly off-limits to sad shellsuit-clad day-trippers trailing twenty crates of cut-price Kronenbourg in their wake. Sharp intake of breath: Aviation Violette (however well-executed)  at £16.50? Hello hedge fund high rollers! Similarly expensive is (Duke, Duke, Duke) Duke of Earl - a reference to a sour’s Earl Grey tea-infused Tanqueray base, not the Gene Chandler soul number - and the Hibiki Japanese whiskey and Aperol-based Rolling Fog Over Mount Fuji. If you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of blowing the cost of a flight to Faro on one fogging drink, Bar 45 ain’t for you.  Perhaps early adopters Brangelina, Kate ‘Get The London Look’ Moss and Tom - ‘a grand for a pair of loafers like the ones my Dad donated to Oxfam?’- Ford imagine civilians routinely blow such loose change on Grey Goose martinis ‘dahn’ the Dog and Dosshouse? I wager Bar 45’s gilded guests even wipe their bling bahookeys on Balenciaga bog roll...if such quilted luxury exists.
 45 Park Lane, W1 7493 4545

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

St. Ali, Clerkenwell

The initial hit, the toasty feelgood aroma of coffee beans, fresh ground in a gargantuan mill, lifts the senses the minute you fall into this daytime cafe/ canteen/ wine bar a few doors down from Giant Robot at what was once a proto-Clerkenwell bar before it bit the Dust.  I'm also liking its casual pine and brick refectory-style pose and a feature living garden wall. Easy-drinking pocket-money-priced wines include  frisky summer berry Californian merlot (£16), spunky  Aussie pinot grigio and, from  by the glass offer of ten, a patrician rioja crianza at £7.10 a pop. Packing a punch at 7.3% ABV, Southwark-brewed Kernel IPA is one of various ales to try. Gwynnie Paltrow-friendly cereals and fruit-based items are part of an impressive build-your-own all-day brekkie offer that includes kippers, French toast and corn fritters with eggs, spinach, halloumi and kasundi. Fresh grilled sardines, caramelised sweet potato tart with herb salad and rib-eye toasted sourdough sandwich with aïoli (£12.50) are part of the lunchtime offer for peripatetic iPads, tablets, MacBook Pros and old school types with their noses buried in The Guardian. In Clerkenwell, that's standard issue.  
27 Clerkenwell Rd EC1

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Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Cow, Stratford

Root canal work; Ryanair; Jennifer Aniston films: some of life’s possibilities I’d rather avoid. Ditto indoor shopping centres like the teeming new Mother of them (m)all, Westfield Stratford. Brandroid heaven to many, to me it's the seventh circle of Hell. There's a Westfield within ten minutes of my home: number of times visited? Two, and only then because I was press-ganged into it. On a Saturday afternoon in Stratford, jostled into submission by JLS and Jordan clones, I concede defeat after just twenty minutes and seek sanctuary at The Cow. Was this pub and kitchen named after a fake baked female in Uggs outside who demands of her truculent toddler what ‘his ‘f***ing problem’ is? Erm, being dragged screaming round Westfield by a hatchet-faced horror  from an episode of Shameless? Like much else here, the Cow is part of a large chain: in this case, Geronimo Inns’ portfolio of nearly thirty. I quite like some of their venues - The Surprise in Chelsea,for example -  but this baby - Desperate Dan’s gaff as imagined by a Swedish flatpack merchant - surprises for all the wrong reasons. Geronimo’s usually watertight operation is skewered by inane service and an inept kitchen: some advertised items are missing; replaced, in the case of sourdough, by a stale toasted roll. Plates are delivered to the wrong tables;  my omelette reminds me of a charter flight to Alicante's rubbery breakfast offer: should I continue? Fortunately, sweetheart managers Lara and Leslie take charge, gamely attempting (but ultimately still failing)  to rectify their charges’ howlers. A substitute medium rare cheese burger is sent out overdone and with bacon but no cheese but by now I'm past caring and would eat a scabby dog, never mind charred cow. To be fair,  Lara does alter the bill to reflect our poor, protracted lunch experience - did I mention the 45 minute wait for a table? It’s early days and hopefully, The Cow will improve. As it stands, its draught  Redemption Pale Ale and Sharp’s Cornish Coaster  aren't enough to draw me back to Westfield East any time soon. If you - for some inexplicable reason - find yourself in this new retail nirvana, check out my idea of a good pub out E20 way, The King Edward VII on nearby Stratford Broadway.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Pix, Soho

As well as the bit about getting paid to neck free cocktails, a chunk of my schizophrenic CV details long champagne-fuelled paid-for days spent hanging out with guys in their pants. Well, that’s the rag trade for you, sweetie. But for every Scott Maslen, Charley Speed and Vernon Kay, male models that graduated from the Keith Barker-Main Academy of Catwalk Shufflers  to TV, there are ninety-seven others 'resting', tending bar or slinging hash in two-bit gin joints. Two of their number high five me at Pix, new in W1. 'We worked together in Milan?' says Greg. No offence hon, but I've become so fashion-showed out over the years, the only member of that mental industry I still recognise on sight is bobbed-breadstick-in- Balenciaga Anna Wintour; and only then because I have a photo of Ms Faceache Frigidaire pinned to my dart board. Thing is, I’m here for the mojitos and pinxtos, the Basques’ take on tapas, not the talent.  My pal, however, is more interested in the dishes behind the counter than on it; particularly when I tell her that, as with most male models, contrary to folklore, they’re straight so far as I can recall. Eye candy aside, branch número dos de Pix - their Notting Hill gig has closed but the Covent Garden operation remains open - is a useful Soho fall-back. It may not be quite up there with the likes of Salt Yard and Fino a few blocks north, but with two dozen Spanish wines including organic Campo Verdejo sauvignon at £19.50, Cava from £5, dirty martinis (£9.50), a cosy interior and groovy rare groove i-Podery (Lonnie Liston-Smith, Ronnie Laws, Brother to Brother, Jean Carn - yay!) what’s not to dig? A less than model selection of sherries with neither available by the glass, maybe? What’s that about, amigos?
16 Bateman Street W1 7937 0377

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Sky Lounge at Nido, Spittalfields (CLOSED)

Observed through panoramic windows from the 32nd floor, incoming aircraft looming towards us are a disquieting prospect  on this the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I've been security checked and whisked up to the top of of Spittalfields’s gleaming new ‘Nido’ tower, one of numerous less than impressive erections the poor old City has been stiffed with lately. Decanted into a suite of rooms with a view, my attack of jelly leg syndrome is compounded by a door flapping open in the breeze to reveal a thin grille, the only thing keeping me from becoming abstract art on Petticoat Lane’s pavement miles below. This then, is Sky Lounge E1 - as opposed to the similarly unimaginatively-named eyrie at the nearby Mint Hotel - a boxy, stark white duplex whose vista of the City and ‘burbs beyond is undeniably impressive. Conceived in pre-Lehman Brothers days as a fabulous penthouse  for some bonus happy banker; unsold, it ‘s been identified by an eagle-eyed promoter as a perfect pop-up bar opportunity. That it will only trade on Tuesday to Friday evenings until April 2012, helps explain the cheapo David Brent office interior punctuated by the occasional white stool, potted plant and tacky ‘art.’ Luxurious and pretty, it’s not. But when there’s Pommery at £9.50 and flat stuff from £5.75 to be had, am I complaining? Of course I am. A tenner for a mojito is a tad too elevated, nice view or not and in the absence of sushi, sashimi and other menu items not present, we get olives and breadsticks. Still, this is as close as you’ll get to the Twin Towers’ Windows on the World in east London, more my idea of a sky lounge to write home about. As I leave, the lift attendant, an inquisitive chap of Slavic origin, asks me how much I think such a penthouse might fetch. 'Dunno. £4 million?' I guesstimate. 'English people are nuts,' he observes, not unreasonably. 
Nido Spittalfields, 32nd Floor, 9 Frying Pan Alley, E1. 3137 3938

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Bunga Bunga, Battersea

If you’re not mates with Charlie Gilkes and Duncan Stirling, owners of Bart’s bar and Maggie’s club, you’re just not Made in Chelsea. I join the show’s cast, along with Beatrice and Eugenie (sans Fergie/ sans hats, sadly) and Pippa Posterior's pin-up bro' James Middleton, slumming it on the Tijuana side of Battersea Bridge at the chaps’ new baby, Bunga Bunga. Described, not unreasonably, as ‘an Englishman’s Italian bar, pizzeria and karaoke’, its lurid O Sole Mio interior, festooned in holiday souvenir kitsch, is hammier than Parma. While tonight’s launch lacks the putanesca spread reportedly laid on thick at bona fide Berlusconi bashes, we’re treated to a right royal Carry On Up The Coliseum. A plumed centurion spins cheesy pop while ‘gondoliers’ frantically struggle to keep up with the cut-glass accents' insatiable thirst for Campari, Martini, Aperol and prosecco-laced Roman rinses . Cocktails to share (from £28) come in Fiat 500 and Leaning Tower of Pisa tiki mugs or are served, Cosa Nostra capo stylee, in a horse’s head - not your genuine Shergar, obviously. Masterstroke! Weighty X-Factor warbler Wagner - thankfully not in a toga - is to be our cabaret. His version of Livin' La Vida Loca sends the room into 'yah' orgiastic rapture. Obviously totally unfairly accused in the infamous Cash for Questions scandal of being being a bit too Bung-ho, Bunga guest Neil Hamilton and his formidable 'friend of Charlie's' missus add to the surreal social Caesar salad. ‘We’re off to Pizza Express,’ brays Signora Battleaxe posing like a one-trick show pony for a loitering pap out front. Judging by the thin crust minis I manage to grab, wrong move, Christine! Islington lefties would happily pay Rentokil to exterminate the punters herein, but Bunga B is not aimed at Guardianistas, its capodimonte set squarely at a SW3, 10 & 7 clientele. Gauging by the bar's early doors popularity and its hooray fan base - Harry Windsor has been in da house, should yo be tilting at a title - it looks like the guys’ gamble will (Pom)peii off (groan!)

37 Battersea Bridge Rd SW11

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Roux at the Pembury, Westminster

When their lengthy recess is not being interrupted by revolting peasants, our overlords are off poncing around villas in Chiantishire, building duck houses, or doing whatever MPs do in summer. Where they’re not, tonight, is at the new upstairs bar at Michel Roux Jnr’s restaurant opposite the Foreign Office. We drink alone, attentively ministered to by Liam, a Mark Ronson manqué in sharp black Mod whistle teamed, oddly, with bmi-baby-blue socks. Liam shakes sexy swallows from a list gratingly broken down into  ‘hors d’œuvres, plats principaux and désert.’ For around the cost of a bath plug and a two XXX movie rentals, how about  a ‘hang the calories!’ fit for our former gormless Labour Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith?  Bristol Million (Cuervo blanco tequila, spiced syrup, lime, banana and chocolate truffles) costs  £9.25. Me, I’m more of a William’s Tipple man (a Tanqueray 10, ginseng and bitters martini) served tonight with pork scratching popcorn (£2), char-grilled mini chorizo, and feta-stuffed peppers. I recall Marina O'Loughlin, in her METRO review of Rou,x describing its new bar as 'personality-free.'  She's not wrong. My date, a designer routinely consulted by smart money out to open starry watering holes, doesn't fancy it much either. We agree that top ‘tails deserve better than a palette of deep vein thrombosis tones, lumpen seating groups, flat lighting, naff vases, stereo Ikea-esque paper floor lamps, and tacky globe drinks cabinets. Is it an attempt at postmodern irony, or just rubbish taste? If Margaret Beckett did interior design…. or, come to that, David Blunkett and his guide dog. Either way, nice drinks, shame about the Shire Counties MP shite drawing room chic. But my readers must ultimately judge for themselves. To which end, a pic. 

Roux at the Pembury, RICS Great George Street, SW1P 3AD 7334 3737

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Salvatore's at The Playboy Club, Mayfair

As with Hai Karate, cream shag pile rugs and gold Ford Capris - that's a car not cropped lamé trousers by designer Tom, the sort of chap whom I suspect may own a pair for pool-side lounging - the idea of attending The Playboy Club appeals to me in a post-modern kind of way. I'm to be admitted, exceptionally, as a guest: I have more pressing need of the £1,200 annual membership and £1,000 joining fee that is otherwise required to enter its portals. Best 1977 vintage Halston tux dry-cleaned and pressed, I'm joined by the fashion stylist. She is similarly eager to investigate, having not even been born when the old London Playboy Club folded. It's been thirty years since the bunnies disappeared from Mayfair but now they're back, much to the annoyance of those camped outside when we rock up. We're harangued by a raggedy assortment of dreich Germaine Greer-y Greenham Common wimmen opposed to this venture. What's the grumpy old cows real beef ? Underneath the shouty sloganeering, I'm sensing low self-esteem issues. How else to explain going out dressed as Olive from On The Buses? Short on sisterly solidarity, the date claims the saggy haggy bra-burners could use a little help from Playtex. Negotiating their ring of ire, dodging flour bombs and sweaty fake Birkenstocks hurled in our direction, we make it into Hef's new London HQ. The bunnies I talk to see their new employment as a smart career move. Exploited bimbos? Empowered, savvy young women, more like. As for the 'degrading' costumes: flatteringly-cut boned satin looks positively coy compared to what is worn by today's average Saturday night city centre slapper. We get the grand tour. There's a sterile white casino, hilariously 1970’s-style night-club,  a grooming zone (as in moisturiser not Gary Glitteresque impropriety) and a charmless makeshift-looking dining area that offers, inter alia, wagyu burger at £42. As if! I'm way more interested in the bar, obviously. That'll be Salvatore’s, as in overseen by Signor Calabrese. Late of the late 50 St James, he's a sharp shaker for any aspiring Don Draper de nos jours to know. Yes, it's a cliché but this lounge really could be straight out of Mad Men. For rich Arab scions, ostentatious oligarchs, dictators-in-exile and people who can afford to wipe their privileged posteriors on $100 bills, it boasts a wall of extremely rare spirits. A glass of Macallan Lalique 57-years-old will lighten your bank balance by £2,000 while vintage cocktails such as White Lady, built on Gordon’s gin and Cointreau bottled in the 1930s, are slightly more affordable at £350. Rein in your inner off-duty Formula 1 driver and settle for Garlic Affair (Courvoisier, apricot brandy, lemon juice, garlic and ginger beer), modestly priced (by Playboy standards) at £16. Not so modest, Salvatore claims to make ‘the best martini in the world - ours, served by an Immodesty Blaize clone who has perfected the famous bunny dip. As we leave, the cranky crones are still ranting outside. 'Go do something picketing a brothel where trafficked 14-year-old Albanians are handcuffed to bedsteads' yells the stylist as another barrage of flour bombs rains down on us.

14 Old Park Lane , W1K 1 ND 7491 8586 

Friday, 26 August 2011

Carnival Bars 2011, Notting Hill

If you're going to Carnival, good luck! Can't say I'll see you there but check out these if you're stuck for an idea.
The Shop, the funky new Queen’s Park bijou bar-cum-erm, shop (all its artworks and furniture are for sale) has rum punch, Red Stripe and a sunshine mix on its decks in a twelve hour session from 2 pm on Sunday. Tickets, £5, are available on the door. From 3pm - 2am on both Sunday and Monday, The Mason’s Arms, Kensal Rise with its three terraces, hosts the foodie pub’s annual Snowbombing party. This year, Monkey Mafia, Jon Carter, Cut la Roc, The 2 Bears and Plump DJs are all in the mix. Tickets (£15) on door or at early-bird prices from The Mason's sister pub, The Metropolitan next to Westbourne P ark Tube, has a similarly lively line-up each day  Million Dollar Mojitos, art installations, London’s ‘most hyped’ up-and-coming artists, dub, reggae and hip hop are promised at Le Scratch’s ‘pop-up rave’ at boho baroque mansion, Beach Blanket Babylon on Monday from 7 pm to 1 am; (£5) or via guest list at  while each Holiday weekend night features a road block at Paradise by way of Kensal Green:  Sunday’s session (noon - 3 am, tickets £15) includes live performances fro Ms Dynamite, Ayah Marar and Clapham legends, Stereo MCs.

Dalston Junction Room, Dalston

Tube meltdown survivors, we finally arrive - sweaty, prickly, hungry. Very hungry.  Menu quickly eyeballed, we order. 'The kitchen closes at 9 pm.' says bar honcho. It is 9.03 and 14 seconds according to my not always Rolex-reliable retro timepiece. Honcho is not for turning. It's a fine welcome to this social space/ art gallery at the heart of Dalston, that most happening of 'hoods where hoodies have rioted over less. 'A dry martini?' smiles tag-along guinea pig, hopefully. ‘We don’t really make those. And, it wouldn’t be any good, anyway.' says Honest of Hackney. But there's strawberry mojito, orange caipirovska, Dalston bramble and rum’n’Ting, if that's your ting. (It's not). G Pig goes for Chilean sauvignon blanc. I sulk into a beer - never a good look. The place's look is salvage chic. That's the room and the punters by the way. This is what I imagine bars must have looked like circa Demis Roussos in Commie Albania, the only nation that ever found Norman Wisdom remotely funny. On an adjacent table, his doppelganger, a sallow beanpole in too short comedy trousers and boiled wool jacket, discusses what I take to be the latest underground ukulele band. Norm looks like the sort of cove who'd play such an instrument. I head downstairs to reccie a recently opened dance bar - Josef Fritzl's ideal discotheque? Suddenly, a door opens and a plate of hot food is wafted under my nose en route to a table upstairs. It is 9.19 pm. I swear its recipients - locals I'm guessing - weren't there at 9 pm. Maybe they phoned their order in ahead?
578 Kingsland Road E8 4AH 7241 5755