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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