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Thursday, 24 February 2011

Zenna, Soho

Time was when, clocking a sleb - as at pukka Indian, The Red Fort, tonight - I’d insinuate myself into their presence, ply them with cocktails until we became newest bestest friends, then sneak in a sly ‘so, Sandra Bernhard, did you and Madge really tip the velvet?’ But nowadays, no star’s CV is complete without some rumoured girl-on-girl action, so why bother? Hence, Sandra dines, unprobed, oblivious to the gossip ferret in the room. Urging me visit The Fort’s new downstairs bar, Zenna, its persuasive PR mermaids lure me onto the rocks. Numerous icy libations launch what will become a fatal Titanic bender. I can’t determine what’s actually ‘new’ here; Zenna seems a carbon copy of what was previously Akbar - give or take a few (apparently expensive), camp metallic leather tuffets that suggest the sort of pew Paris Hilton’s Pomeranian might park its pampered posterior on. What has changed, is the cocktail offer. Adroitly assembled by Dan (ex-Nobu) Thomson, chai tea martini, pineapple and sage mojito and Indian whisky sour are Soho basement bargains at £6. Don’t fall for Dan’s ‘fancy a spicy mai tai alternative?’ line. For that’ll be Illiana, served with a ‘fire extinguisher’ (a gin cooler) on the side - and then, only if you sign an indemnity waiver. Delhi belly? Chilli willy! You do well to avoid, Sandra. 
77 Dean Street W1 7437 2525

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Wyld at the W Hotel, Leicester Square

In a sleek lobby, next to an extraordinary sculpture, a vast cluster of glitterballs I dub ‘disco haemmorrhoids’, I’m greeted by a gym-buffed faun in fawn. The boy with the come-slither-stare's too-tight waistcoat and bum-accentuating strides are less Tom Ford more Tom of Finland  (whadya mean, is there a difference?) He escorts me along crepuscular jet marbled halls to my semi-clandestine destination. As the door whore/quality controller at her Anne Robinson-esque lectern rates me not the weakest link, I’m shown into Wyld. One of two bars at the bling-tastic new W hotel, it’s touted as London’s next late-late lair for urban foxes such as Kate Moss who partied here with Primal Scream, Jade Jagger and Liam Gallagher ahead of its official launch. You’ll get the general vibe from its American owners’ promo movie ( ) Entitled Away We Stay, it's an homage to Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Razzie-worthy performances from high cheek-boned high-roller target W guests, David Gandy and Helena Christensen, demonstrate why models should stick to just looking pretty. The mother of all glitterballs spins in what feels like the VIP room at a Miami nightclub circa Crockett & Tubbs. I sink serviceable cocktails: El Chapo, no cheapo at £12.65 (inc service). Wyld, you see, ‘pays tribute to the liquid soul of Mexico, Tequila.’ The lounge’s dominant red tone, however, pays tribute to The Aberdeen Angus Steak House’s illuminated sign on Leicester Square below. Post-modern irony? Coincidence? It only opened on Monday but, already, I can feel myself growing curiously wild about Wyld.
10 Wardour St. W1D 6QF 7758 1000

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Hawksmoor, Covent Garden

The Hogarthian mien - all toffee-tone wood, polished leather, Fanny by Gaslight gloaming and total lack of frill or folderol - suggests Hawksmoor Seven Dials remains unchanged since gouty Georgian gents in garters and powdered wigs convened within. In truth, the whole kit and recycled caboodle is but months old, a smart reconstruction of that epoch’s covert ‘steak clubs’, all popeseye, pies, porter and potent punch for beefy brethren. They’re big on punches here: bag a stool at the basement restaurant's Brontë-esque bar - solid, dignified and Heathcliff handsome - and let the knowledgeable chaps behind the (reclaimed) zinc acquaint you with Hannah Wooley’s Punch, a claret and cognac recipe dating to 1672, or various julep jars as enthusiastically emptied by her contemporary, Samuel Pepys. Served in covetable period stemware, rare retro revivals include Silver Bullet (a gin, lemon juice and caraway/cumin-y Kummel opinion polariser alleged to be Churchill’s killer slug); 1920s Parisian pash, Boulevardier (a Negroni built on bourbon, not gin) and, as well-presented as designer Tom himself, The Ford Cocktail, a Benedictine and orange bitters be-knighted antecedent of the modern martini. Trad English bar food has meaty man appeal and at around £8 a throw, I’ll be back to work through Hawksmoor’s hooch historians’ chronology of the cocktail, a fascinating read that invites repeated study.

11 Langley St WC2 7856 2154

Thursday, 3 February 2011

QV Bar, Soho

Gossip girl has the dish on an American pin-up whose love life, unlike his clean-cut hetero hero screen image, tends more towards dirty low-life. I need a seat and a stiffener: scandal is such thirsty work. Sipping a Harvard, a cognac-based Old Fashioned, I settle into a comfy, maple leather banquette for a Perez Hilton-style precis. We’re at QV, the smart new bar at 1920s Soho doyenne, Quo Vadis, nowadays in the capable hands of Sam & Eddie Hart also of Fino and Barrafina renown. The brothers have transformed ‘the bit of the restaurant nobody wanted to sit in’ into a timeless chic salon away from the hubbub of the main act. For bitchy têtes-à-têtes, it’s perfect. Seamless, discreet service delivers faultless cocktails - at £8, cheaper than at most glossy West End rivals and within reach of any Tom, Dick or Harry. Correctly prepared steak tartar, black pudding and duck egg, snails au gratin and a shoal of crispy baby squid are the type of bar food I crave: ‘trendy’ joints can shove their ‘pan-Asian tapas share-platter slates’ where the sun don’t shine. Which brings me back to Mr. Seedy. Lawyers are listening, so even after a carafe of lip-loosening Loire lovely Menetou Salon (£21), my cakehole remains zipped . What I can say is that with its walk-ins only policy, you’ll likely frequently find me at QV. Stand me a Manhattan: there’s every chance I’ll blab.     
26 - 29 Dean Street W1  7437 9585