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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

based on a review for

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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