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Thursday, 26 May 2011

Booking Office Bar, St Pancras

Restored to its original 1870s splendour, Gilbert Scott’s gothic fantasy, St. Pancras, is a triumph. Occupying the cathedral-like booking hall, its new hotel bar - in the hands of Marriott - is, in parts, a visual TRAIN CRASH. Was the room stylists' inspiration an ailing Derby department store's sale brochure? From a catalogue of ugliness, I give you: bland shelving units to better display mimsy glassware as collected by OAPs in mock-Tudor bungalows; dullsville leather seating groups even Crossroads Motel mightn’t fancy; boxy metal fixtures to scar the beauteous face of the original ornate ticket office; portraits of what I take to be the cast of Downton Abbey. Hid-y-us! Staff uniforms? Hello, InterCity circa Callaghan’s Winter of Discontent! Stevie Wonder, frankly, could do better on a budget at BHS. Cocktails? Oh yes, those. Our scatty, uninformed waitress delivers creamy Soyer au Champagne, an interesting one-off never-to-be-repeaterd experience and Morning Glory, fair whisky fizz at £8. The bar champions an ambitious list of high-Victorian recipes. But will modern palates reconnect with arcane sugary punches, quaint cups and a load of old cobblers - the phrase on my lips as we escape to Marcus Wareing’s superior David Collins'designed bar at the Gilbert Scott next door. Thank God I didn't book a return ticket, is all I have to add about this missed opportunity to showcase British design brilliance.

Booking Office Bar, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Rd London NW1 7841 3540

Friday, 20 May 2011

Equus, Whitehall


Set in what was the Secret Service’s WWII HQ, we only espied two other guests when we staked out this five star hotel's new bar, Equus. The title refers to cavalrymen  - as evidenced in various heroic wall-hangings of the sort you'd expect in Tory MP Sir Hangeman-Flogem's  constituency surgery - as opposed to Peter Shaffer’s dark play about a deeply troubled horse bothering naked Daniel Radcliffe. A trio of 'meh' rooms includes a curious overflow space-cum-corridor with a piano that’s ‘just for show’, Comfortable enough, their post-modern decor with its military tunic scarlet accents is not particularly memorable. An affable (Canadian?) barman shakes out £12.95 cocktails. Served with....just salted nuts (At this level? Are you sure?)...  several are named after past hotel guests: The Gladstone, a premier mix of Rittenhouse rye, Carpano Antica vermouth and bitters, is served Manhattan style while The George Bernard Shaw is basically a tweaked negroni with Cherry Heering preferred to sweet vermouth. Both pass muster. Patriotically, a portion of the cost of the brandy and burgundy-based Cavalry Cocktail goes to charities that support wounded soldiers.  Champagne (Lanson, £60), wine from £8 per glass (Costières de Nîmes) and Harviestoun Ola Dubh are also available at a bar that might not ultimately prove to be quite the ‘stylish destination’ it reckons it should be. 

The Royal Horseguards Hotel, 2 Whitehall Court, SW1A 2EJ 0845 305 8332
 http://tinyurl.com/6h73pok


Based on a review for Square Meal online

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Dishoom Chowpatty Beach, Waterloo (CLOSED)

Clever Covent Garden chapatis, Dishoom, have set up camp - and I do mean ‘camp’ - by the river, where their Chowpatty Beach pop-up café/ bar is set to shine until Autumn rains spoil the party. Juxtaposed with Southbank’s Brutalist blocks, their folksy homage to Mumbai-sur-mer is as garish as a 20-rupee poster of Ganesh, the elephant god revered as the Remover of Obstacles. What’s been removed in the creation of Chowpatty B, are tonnes of sand to form a cute beach-ette, and half of some municipal tip’s debris. Imaginatively recycled, it provides the witty decor in a wooden shack that shakes to 60’s Bombay beats. Cute staff sport lurid slogan t-shirts: ‘Life’s a Beach and Then You Fry’ I think I recall in the case of a smiley chef slinging spicy street snacks in our direction. Thirst quenchers include wines (disappointingly, none Indian); Kingfisher; Thums Up cola and Limca lemon soda in their iconic bottles and authentic Gola Ices such as Kala Khatta (£6) - basically, a Tanqueray slush puppy. Also popular; some rummy liquid, served in a fresh coconut, whose taste reminds me that I need to top up the windscreen washing liquid in the old Beamer. The punters seem equally keen on fruity alco-’Tipples’ as sugary sweet as Bollywood babe Anushka Sharma’s smile but, as with the films, I’m not entirely sure what all the song and dance is about. Whatever. As a hip hangout, The Beach is a blast. Check out the talent: you might just pull the next David Gandhi.
Southbank, Belvedere Rd SE1 http://tinyurl.com/3hhymwa

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Worship Street Whistling Shop, Shoreditch

Marylebone’s much-admired Purl has a new gaff in Shoreditch. In what was once The Pulpit, converts to the owners’ mission for molecular mixology are already worshipping at the whimsically-titled Worship Street Whistling Shop: in Georgian times, a Whistling Shop was a euphemism for an illicit still-cum-speakeasy. Leftfield libations such as Exploded Vodka Martini and Radiation Aged Cocktail include arcana produced in a working lab, open to view; ‘chip pan bitters’ and ‘removed cream’ used to soften the juniper attack of a Black Cat gin martini, for example. Such experiments mostly pay off although virgin olive oil in my date’s lemony gin fizz is declared ‘pointless and salad dressing-y.' Adding an adult dimension to the ‘bottle v breast’ debate, baby’s formula milk appears in a (Substitute) Bosom Caresser: mixed with fine de Cognac, dry Madeira, echt grenadine and salt and pepper bitters, this better-than-Baileys balsam is suitably yummy mummy on the lash. Shades of Empire eats are provided by the bar’s catering partners, Temple and Shian, and enthusiastic staff are kitted out in suitably Downstairs duds to greet their Upstairs guests - City mouse manipulators, mostly, when I drop in.  As for TWSWS’s decor, I’m signing off a different hymn sheet to its growing band of devoted disciples. Give me dirty-sexy-louche or Sinatra suave: an austere Dickensian brick bunker in cough linctus browns that’s three amputee dragoons short of Flo Nightingale’s Crimean hospital ward isn’t my idea of seductive. Nor do I fancy a poky private room to hire for up to ten. Its focal grimy bathtub suggests murderous Chamber of Horrors psycho John George Haigh who dissolved his victims’ bodies in acid in his. Perhaps this too is a crucible for more experimental cocktail outlandishness?
63 Worship St EC2 www.whistlingshop.com 

Thursday, 5 May 2011

ZTH, Clerkenwell

Designer Russell Sage’s mise-en-scène at the inviting lounge bar at the new Zetter Townhouse Hotel is a triumph: a doolally punked-up parlour - think Miss Havisham meets Siouxsie Sioux  - furnished in a raid on Steptoe and Son’s yard. Behind stereo converted Clerkenwell townhouses’ powder blue door, lies a seduction that’s only a few good-time girls short of the bawdyhouse you frequented in another life as a debauched pre-Raphaelite painter. In their natty neckerchiefs, the uniformed barmen belong in a Millais portrait; that, or on Dries Van Noten’s catwalk. Also referencing bygone times with a decidedly contemporary twist, the £8.50 house specials, courtesy of Tony (69 Colebrooke Row) Conigliaro, are cocktail alchemy to write home about. I say ‘write home’ because, once you chuck in reasonably-priced nibbles from Bruno Loubet's bistro kitchen  - zingy Vietnamese squid salad, melty beef daube on mash, properly al dente pea and loveage risotto and generous charcuterie boards - and I’m tempted to make ZTH my permanent address. Top of Tony’s quaint quality quaffs are The Master At Arms, an updated rummy revenant for sophisticated sea dogs that incorporates a port reduction to mellow effect ; The Flintlock - Beefeater 24, gunpowder tea tincture, dandelion and burdock bitters and Fernet Branca; who’d have thought that lot would work well together? - and Les Fleurs Du Mal; a sherbet lemony absinthe grenade that sends my Parisian date into Baudelairean rapture, lauding London's 'fabuleux' cocktail joints. Thank fuck I chose ZTH,  not TGIF!
49-50 St John’s Square EC1V 4JJ 7324 4444