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Friday, 25 November 2011

Dirty Martini, Mayfair

Regular readers will know I’m a bit of a martini-Hoover, a regular Don Draper de nos jours...minus The Betty Ford Clinic season ticket, hopefully. To find a well-made martini is manna. To find a well-made one off Bond Street for a paltry sum that wouldn’t buy the fine twine handle off a designer carrier bag, is downright dangerous. But from 4 pm to 10 pm weekdays (8 pm on weekends and all day Sunday), a measly four of your English pounds - or Scottish ones for that matter, so long as the auld nation is still part of the Union - secures a dirty, verging-on-pornographic, Plymouth martini accessorised with a Kalamata olive and thyme sprig fascinator at this new W1  branch of the Covent Garden original. A similar happy hour spend gets lychee, passion fruit or chocolate martini - wuss juice for junior suits which, tonight, look to come mostly from Debenhams. Yes, Dirty Martini is a mid-market gaff but at these prices, who expects fancy schmancy David Collins interiors? Actually, I quite like the decor, chic in a kind of Carrie Bradshaw circa 2001 way,  and the tricky space - think tunnel! - is intelligently utilised. What I don’t dig, are the constantly prowling high-profile black suits. Most unnerving! Is security anticipating a ruck between Tatleristas and Voguettes - both magazines share premises across the square - over whether, at £4 - a sum that buys the waifs a whole month’s groceries - Margiela or Miu Miu martini is the hip sip this season, supposing such items exist?
10c Hanover Square W1 www.dirtymartini.uk.com


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Caxton Bar, Westminster

Strange synergy. On the day I meet Brian Paddick, the ex-policeman turned London mayoral hopeful (read, no hope at all; he's batting for the Lib-Dems),  to take part in a photo opportunity (don't ask!), I later find myself clambering over piles of coppers in SW1. That's as in plods, not  loose change, you understand. The rozzers are changing out of riot gear on the pavement outside my destination, a hotel bar directly opposite New Scotland Yard. Well, at least the staff doesn't have far to look if their punters kick off and need a good coshing that isn't strictly liquid. Fisticuffs seem far from likely here, however: the well-dressed middle-aged imbibers look like the sort of people who mow their Middlesex semi-detacheds' lawns on Sundays, are kind to animals, shop at House of Fraser and model themselves on Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams. The decor - pleasant enough, and expensive-ish in warm tobacco and toffee tones, could be a set from a Penelope Keith vehicle. Cocktails from upwards of £9 are fair. From the ‘Empire’ selection, we dig ginny Earl Grey Ceylon Ice Tea; from the ‘Americas’ Three Saints (£11) with a trio of rums in the mix. Ulstermen will be miffed not to be represented under ‘Britain’- a few ideas themed on headgear, from which Welsh Hat, using vodka distilled in Cymru’s valleys, comes out on top. There's a pretty terrace for summer drinking but keep the noise down or the old Bill (and not as in newscaster Mr Turnbull) will 'ave ya. Got it?
St Ermin’s Hotel, 2 Caxton Street SW1H 0QW 0800 652 1498  www.caxtongrill.co.uk/Caxton-Bar  


Read more reviews  at www.squaremeal.co.uk 

Friday, 18 November 2011

Waterline, De Beauvoir Town

Situated twixt N1 and E8, it’s G2-reading Islingtonians, not hirsute Haggerston hipsters, that have colonised this new indie venue. Smart move! The industrial-style ex-warehouse with its Bash Street Kids furniture and desirable Slovakian ex-armament factory lights is a handsome hangout whose towpath tables afford a fine view of the jetsam-blighted Regent’s Canal. Bathed in watery November light through double-height windows, wan faces sip draught Adnams or good Sicilian peasant plonk at £15, worried that spending double that on plummy patrician claret, a Mahon-Laville Graves, constitutes a grave social error now that austerity is the requisite accessory to be worn with their up-the-workers Carrhart clobber by Concerned of Canonbury and co. Could any cloth cap canteen better Waterline’s miniscule open kitchen for good grub at pub prices? It's doubtful. For lunch - or dinner - pig out on pigs cheeks, snoggably tender in a punchy red wine reduction; fine flaky roast cod with al dente samphire and avocado, brandy and cream sauce (£13.95);  and slim boy fat puds. Adjourn to Waterline’s back room, a jazz piano lounge/ cinema where bean bags, floor cushions and drinks service encourage post-prandial lolling. A library of cult films hopefully excludes Marcello Mastrioanni and similarly suicidal foodies in 1973 death-by-overeating satire, La Grande Bouffe. 
46 De Beauvoir Crescent N1  www.waterlinebar.com 



Friday, 11 November 2011

Funky Asia, Shoreditch (NOW CLOSED)

A gay display of pastel pendant lamps dangling in a picture window signals this new cocktail lounge-cum-pan-Asian diner. Inside, the theme - Shoreditch loft meets Suzie Wong - goes woefully wong in places: random jumble and horribly mismatched furnishings vie for attention with vintage retread stools that should be donated to a museum or consigned to a skip. My eye is drawn to bizarre fade-to-grey serge staff uniforms seemingly seamed up on a Singer  by a London College of Fashion fresher circa similarly cod-Asian Aneka's Japanese Boy (take a trip down Memory lane here http://tinyurl.com/ca4k42 ). It's a measure of the resident, mostly Italian, mixologists' sunny nature that they haven't revolted at being forced into revolting clobber. The brave souls dispense passable cocktails at an ugly bar that, lit paraffin blue, also recalls shonky 1980s design. Still, £6.50 per cocktail is a retro detail I do dig. We try shochu and green tea-infused Shibuya and Takeshita street, a cucumber and sake vodkatini - cucumber traditionally combined with wasabi paste as a Shogun-era cure for those too bunged-up to Takeshita. Soi Cowboy, a Bulldog gin and basil martini said to be a tribute to a Bangkok red-light porn star of yore, is no fluffer at £7 while both lemongrass, lychee, sake and grapefruit combo, 798 District, and Shanghai bund have Harajuku girl appeal. There’s a fair selection of wines, lad lagers, sushi rolls and oriental street food, none of which I try. I've got other fish to have fried elsewhere and reviewers whose opinion I'm inclined to trust have roundly panned the pan-Asian grub. Alerted to the presence of a 'crazy barman called Ginger', I'm keen to encounter what sounds like a colourful character but "she" is now in the kitchen and won't come out.' Mortified to be caught in those (Steve) strange uniforms, no doubt.  I'll be back to reappraise sweet FA and hopefully catch sight of the retiring Ginger. Thankfully, it's directly across the street from a regular haunt of mine, that equally heroically eccentric watering hole, The Commercial Tavern. 
159 Commercial Street, E1 6BJ 7247 0072 www.funkyasia.co.uk  

Check more late summer 2011 openings in the Autumn edition of Square Meal magazine.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Azulito, Soho

I really dig Thomasina Miers’s Wahaca. Champion cheap Mexicano eats? The man from Del Monte, he say ‘Yes!’ Now, there’s even more reason to mosey along to the former Masterchef winner’s buzzy Soho cantina. New graffiti tags and gaudy supermercado-style kitsch aside, its folksy sky-blue basement  play-pit - all Babyfoot tables and shack-y bar cobbled together from salvaged wood - looks much as before, but what to raise a sombrero to at Azulito - the re-styled den's new handle - is its beefed-up range of 100% agave tequilas. If your view of this much-maligned spirit has been jaundiced by the liver-bothering swill pimped by tacky taco joints' slammer girls, apply within! With around eighty of the finest examples collated by hot shot bar consultant Nick Strangeway, this is as good as it gets east of Guadalajara, the state capital of Jalisco whose red volcanic soil nurtures Mexico’s choicest blue agave plants. Tequila purists take theirs neat like malt whisky, but for agave virgins, I recommend Azulito’s subtle El Tesoro de Don Felipe-based bloody Maria and margaritas - classic lime, tamarind or mandarin-flavoured - by the tumbler from £5.95. Punchy fresh,, flavoursome street food - smoked herring tacos, pulled pork, fondant quesadillas, et al - acts as damage limitation, while DJs spin low rider barrio blasts until midnight. And, if you’re on a hot date, señores; remember the wisdom of Joe Nichols’s country smash - Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off. 
80 Wardour Street W1 7734 0195 www.wahaca.co.uk 

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Boyd's Bar, Charing Cross

The first time I visited Boyd's, it was a fairly lonely experience. 'Pas un chat,' as they say south of Calais. Tonight, I'm back to reccie what's new. In a major push to pull in the cocktail crowd, the place has been re-modelled, the bar and restaurant's focus now as much skewed towards what is dispensed from its silvered shakers as its kitchens. Repositioned, pushed back deeper into the airy triple-height space it inhabits, its island bar is flanked by Philippe Starck 'ghost' stools that match tonight's ghostly ambience. The place is 'Here's Johnny' Shining- empty aside from me, my two French chums and a pair of intrepid drinkers dressed in the style of the Romanian entry in the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest. Boyd's sweet new barman, himself from Romania, shows us cocktail ideas written in his very best longhand in a bound notebook. 'I'll try one of those,' I say, pointing to one of his unique creations, its Santa-themed title never likely to make it on to the Connaught's list, no matter how successful his recipe. Alas, it's not to be. 'I haven't been allowed to buy the ingredients yet.' What's Romanian for 'you naughty little tease' and 'how come'? The Frenchies contemplate the decor, all garish blocky colours, 1950s styling and jangly patterns that contrive to clash with the palatial venue’s height-of-Empire caramel-tone marble grandeur. They pull that peculiarly French face that can best be approximated by a Brit by placing dog poo under one's nez. What cocktails (from £8) we do get - fruity rummy slings and Tanqueray 10 dry martini - are perfectly sinkable and generously poured. The French faces are back on as the Parisians are introduced to the concept of 'British tapas' served on slates at 2 for £7.90. Crab macaroni gratin, smoked haddock scotch egg, pork rillettes with savoury croutons and eggs mimosa are how I imagine food might have been in business  comradski class on Tarom, the Bucharest-based state airline, around the same time the Romanian punters stumbled through their Sandie Shaw oom-pah-pah tribute to an underwhelmed watching world. Guys, I dearly want to give Boyd's douze points, but on this performance, quatre...tops.
8 Northumberland Avenue WC2N 5BY 
7808 3344 www.boydsbrasserie.co.uk/
Based on a review for www,squaremeal.co.uk 

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Shaker & Company, Euston

In Euston, The Times They Are A-Changing. Replacing Bob Dylan-themed flop Positively 4th Street, is Adam Freeth’s Shaker & Company. That’s Shaker as in high-end consultant mixologists to the likes of Tatler, Cartier Polo and excellent Shoreditch lounge, Nightjar, not cheapo MDF kitchen units in the style of an abstemious American sect. America’s Deep South is the theme at Freeth’s maiden venture - a butch, woody, Woodrow Wilson-era tavern, minus the Prohibition. At tonight’s launch, liquor flows like it’s December 5th 1933 (the day Prohibition was repealed) and although Brother Griswald (Johnny Walker Black, 'blue' Chartreuse and ‘Christmas cake reduction’) and Breakfast with Obama (tequila, ginger and grapefruit liqueur, bitters, honey lime, sea salt and watercress) are well executed, they’re also overly contrived. Tricksiness is a current bar land willy-waving tendency I can live without: classic cocktails become classics for a reason. Happily, Tanqueray dry martini, my must-pass liquid litmus test, is not flunked. Expect a different theme at a dimly-lit conspiratorial downstairs den that will play host to a different cocktail base each month; tonight’s hero pour, Bénédictine, appearing alongside Aperol, stone fruit, bitters and lemon in another  slightly over-ambitious cocktail, Tanqueray gin flip, Potato Sack Sour. All-in-all, Freeth's vision gets the thumbs up and although its hinterland location might be an issue for some, honest pricing will not.  Shake out the minor shortcomings, as in funk up the flava on jambalaya, veggie gumbo and hush puppies;  soul food that needs to be less Joss Stone more Sly & The Family Stone, and London just got itself a swell new sauce saloon.
19 Hampstead Road, NW1 7060 6877 www.shakerandcompany.co.uk