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Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Drift, City

Costa; Nando's; Gallo blush wine; Hotel Chocolat; CK One; Hollyoaks; Barratt Homes: I bet the clientele at The Drift, a mahooosive new bar/diner in the ginormous new plate glass slab of real estate that is Heron Tower, buys into them all. As with those brands, the aspirational lifestyle peddled by The Drift - and its successful City sisters The Folly and The Anthologist - isn’t aimed at this maverick old soak. My mid-20’s fashion-forward date ain’t wearing it either. Her assessment? ‘Thinks it’s Paul Smith. Feels like Ted Baker.’ Miaow! Tonight, the joint is jumping: above the hard-edged duplex space’s echoey airport terminal-like cacophony, I bark my order from a list that includes Crème Brulée Martini, Lime and Coriander Splendito (no, me neither) and bog standard Smirnoff-laced Homemade Ginger Lemonade, pricey at £8.95. Our drinks are how I imagine Tesco Finest cocktails might taste if such things existed. A table of demob-happy suits and suitesses - the next series of The Apprentice cast at a stroke? - are loving it. So too, an injection-moulded Joey Essex girl in a too short prom dress, too high tramp platforms and a 'why?' white sailor's cap - who rates the place ‘reem.’ A positive, I believe. I totally get The Drift’s drift but my date hates its contrived quirkiness - battered old trunks filled with random period crockery, pearls and God knows what else isn't stylish; it's tat, guys. Above the shrieking drunk girls, the music is also grating on the date's lugs. ‘That’s Plan B,’ I say. ‘Yeh? What’s yours?’ she hisses. ‘Jubjub on Rivington Street?’ We exit, her too sweet daiquiri left barely half drunk. Her thunderous face turns all sunshiny again.
Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2 

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Absinthe Bar at BB&G, Knighstbridge

Distilled from wormwood and brutally alcoholic, absinthe was banned in 1914 by a French government fearful for its citoyens’ health and sanity - shortly before it shipped them off them to die or go mad in the trenches. Artists, rakes and roués coveted the spirit - it tastes like neat Pernod mixed with Night Nurse - for its trippy qualities while in Belle Époque bordellos, ugly old creeps favoured it for loosening up recalcitrant filles de joie: hence the maxim ‘absinthe makes the tart grow fonder.’ Newly legalised in France and never banned in Britain, it's enjoying a renaissance, at least in the eyes of ‘London’s first absinthe bar’ which hopes to convert Generation Aftershock to this antique, alternative head-bender. An early encounter with the stuff led me to wake up in a Gorbals high-rise, in bed with a German shepherd - as in big dug, not the Deutsche equivalent of Big Doug - and zero recall. Tonight , I’m hoping for a similarly dark decadent adventure but Brompton Bar and Grill’s basement lounge is less Serge Gainsbourg debauched, more Christine Lagarde buttoned-up chic. A list of just three cocktails (why no Sazerac or Remember the Maine?) hardly invites a Rimbaud gets wrecked in Rouen sesh. Hoping for a glimpse of la fée verte - the poetic French see green fairies; we see pink Dumbos - I persevere and work my way through all three cocktails: a daiquiri, summat else I didn't care for, and Death in the Afternoon - good Champagne spoiled by its wormwood slug. ‘Look! It’s (Moulin Rouge’s fée verte) Kylie Minogue,’ slurs my date, an absinthe virgin, indicating a miniscule Knightsbridge matron with a Botox-frozen dial. He’s only had two shots. Absinthe is not for lightweights. 
Brompton Bar & Grill, 243 Brompton Rd SW3 7589 8005

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Planet of the Grapes, City

By a fluke of nature, I discover a new City wine cellar. Leaving the launch party at Madison, we're suddenly engulfed in a monsoon that's whipped in from nowhere. Stranded on taxi-free City streets, my date spots a sign for somewhere called Planet of the Grapes. I’m sceptical: sounds like the wine bar equivalent of Curl Up and Dye or Tan-a-Reef. Will there be Blue Nun, Black Tower and pink Lambrini? As the alternative is sodden duds clinging to my contours  - Nigella in her burkini not the look I go for - I'll risk it. And..happy boy am I! Naffissimo name aside, these guys take their vino seriously. The deal? Pick any bottle off well-stocked shelves and pay £10 corkage on top of retail. £18 bags ballsy Chilean Merlot, but trade up and snog big sexy buggers on the cheap. Intense Californian old vines Mourvedre, complex Kiwi Syrahs and pudding-y top notch Tokaji, a hot Hungarian to know. At £35, Olivier Leflaive’s Saint Aubin 1er cru Dents de Chien is les couilles du chien; as classy a white Burgundy as you’ll drink all summer without spending silly money. POTG turns out to be POTG: The Sequel - the original is showing at Leadenhall Market and there's a POTG retail unit in New Oxford Street too (*makes note to reccie*). Understated decor is enlivened by a gallery of ‘dead drunks’ - Hank Williams, Truman Capote, Billie Holiday and what I take to be the little singer from The Monkees. The date corrects me:  It transpires it's Jack Wild (pictured above, as the Artful Dodger) years before he pegged it . The departed boozers are a sobering prospect.  As damage limitation, there's share platters, pork pie, mussels and steaks. Sweet staff comp us a bowl of goose fat chips with aioli and, had it not stopped raining, would’ve proffered umbrellas too, I imagine. 
74-82  Queen Victoria St. EC4 7248 1892 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Peacock Alley at The Waldorf Astoria, Syon Park

The Duke of Northumberland’s estate is home to the new London Syon Park Waldorf Astoria. This, according to my date who knows her way around the sticks, is in somewhere called Isleworth... or was it Iowa? I forget. Perched high at the handsome art deco style bar in the hotel's ‘destination’ lounge, Peacock Alley, we agree that fine cocktails make tonight’s mini-safari to the Wild West worthwhile. Crafted with skill, using freshly picked leaves to order from the hotel herb garden, Basil Martini bears investigation. I prefer a Manhattan built on Pappy Van Winkle 10-year-old. So generous and potent are our cocktails, three will leave you all shook up, like Fay Wray up the Empire State, only in a worse state. My date’s Duchess (£14) is a strawberry accessorised pink Champagne coupe so pretty, the Duchess’s sister, P Middy, might wear it to the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. ‘Chapeau!’ - as they say - to its maker, a young Frenchwoman who also introduces me to Brewers Feast (Bulleit bourbon, eau de vie and ale syrup). It’s a sensation. As for the Waldorf A itself, the sensation I feel is disbelief. Housed in an ugly brick barn, it suggests a battery farm or a retail park on the outskirts of Utrecht. Staff introduce us to a courtyard garden laid with an ancient bonsai tree, Moroccan lanterns, Thai gubbins and the sort of 'noir' cane furniture found on a million Home Counties patios. What this has to do with Capability Brown, in whose honour the hotel restaurant - nice enough dinner, dull guests, vanilla room - is named, beats me.  As for the hotel's public areas and Peacock Alley itself, their pick’n’mix interiors are not for the chicken. More design dodo than peacock, here’s queasy colour clash, putrid patterns, garish gee-gaws, gaudy chinoiserie, ghastly silver and white thrones, gibbering Andy Warhol quotations as art, trompe l’oeil bookcases and butterflies in a glass tank (Oh no! ‘They died’). Need a venue for a big fat gipsy wedding? Hit the A4 westbound!
London Syon Park Waldorf Astoria Hotel,  Syon Park, Middlesex TW7 6AZ 020 7870 7777