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Friday, 21 December 2012

Opium, Chinatown

Eric Yu (Punk, The Social, Salvador and Amanda) and drinks industry guru Dré Masso's joint new cocktail joint/ dim sum parlour, Opium, invites comparison with that other talked-up late-night Chinatown noodle,The Experimental Cocktail Club. Both bars inhabit the upper floors of creaky old townhouses, their unmarked doors designed to foil all but those in the loop. Although it's possible to simply rock up at either, advance reservations are a better bet; while another trait shared by both bars, is pricing as steep as the staircases that lead to them - an ascent perfumed by joss sticks as cloying as YSL's Opium at Opium. The rarified cocktails at ECC are arguably worth their 'ouch!' cost but my date, a bar world bigwig, is agog at Opium's ambitiously priced menu.  My first choice, gin and blood orange cooler Laughing Buddha, is a fine sundowner, and attractively garnished too; even if with Bombay Sapphire sold at £21 a litre at the end of my street as its base, Buddha should be laughing all the way to the bank. My date is not so lucky with Kung Fu Whizz. Served in a prosaic Chinese teacup, he's not keen on its mix of flat-ish Champagne, parsnip puree, black malt vinegar and honey, claiming it has all the appeal of the old Chinese Commie Party Chairman's Maoth-rinse. I try it. Bleurgh! The last time I tasted anything this peculiar, didn't I come round, dazed, in a Bucharest gutter, minus both my kidneys? For this liquid experiment, dispensed from Opium's apothecary, a Hong Kong Heston-style lab complete with chef/ mixologist's table, you'll pay around £15 - amateurish service from a sweet French chap who mightn't cut la moutarde chez ECC - included. While ECC favours Rive Gauche boho chic, the decor in the section of the sprawling pile we are shown to suggests a 1930s drug-fug knocking shop crossed with the waiting room of the Kowloon clap clinic you'd subsequently need to attend. That's not necessarily an unflattering comparison; you'll meet all sorts of lovely, interesting people (albeit possibly, temporarily, off-limits if you're in the mood for romance) at your local STD lounge. As for Opium's lounges,  I rather like this funky Shanghai shonkytonk's various quaint charms - viz its surreal loo experience (and, no; I'm not telling). Steaming, plump, reasonably priced at around £7 for four, dim sum presently appear - delivered, according to Frenchy (and sundry media), via dumb waiter from Dumplings Legend directly below. Ho Lee Fook! Would that be Dumplings Legend as featured in yesterday's Evening Standard? I'll draw a veil over the reported matter, but if you're squeamish, best not visit . All I can usefully add is, whatever our dim sum's provenance, they were tasty enough and my guts suffered absolutely no ill-effects: the only slight sickener, the bill. Drinks industry legend date got landed with that one, poor dumpling. Some are raving about the place; others point to another of Masso's cocktails, The Emperor's New Clothes. Put on your cheongsam and decide for yourself, me old China.
15 Gerrard Street W1 7734 7276

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Luggage Room, Mayfair

Grosvenor Square doesn't figure much in my life: I've no desire to queue again outside Fortress America in the hope of landing a work permit (been there; done that; bought the t-shirt), and my chauffeur has never been instructed to programme the co-ordinates of gobby Gordon's Maze into my Bentley's in-car Bardar (been there; done that; wouldn't buy the t-shirt). Actually, I made up the bit about the Bentley. I'm a Beemer drop-top bloke (it fits more with my sad fantasy of myself as Frank Sinatra as Pal Joey, running around in an expensive trinket gratefully gifted for services rendered, singing The Lady Is A Tramp ). According to tonight's destination's PRs, The Bentley Boys are the inspiration for this brand new Grosvenor Square bar, The Luggage Room. Apparently, the Bentley Boys were car-crazy Mayfair socialites - forerunners of today's Made In Chelsea chumps, out to impress the 1920s equivalents of Milly, Silly, Caggy and Slaggy with acts of derring-do on the Great West Road. Some of the drinks - such as gin, grapefruit bitters and absinthe martini, Baron André d’Erlanger, are named after members of their set - the Baron, a banker at £14.50. Otherwise, try Hanky Panky, Penicillin and Aviation, similarly on-the-money retro rinses in  served in vintage stemware with complimentary salted snacks that verge on the addictive. I'm less hooked on a salmon caviar and sour cream scotch egg hybrid -  too cold, curiously bland, no improvement on the bog standard job, and too steep at £15 - from a range of trying-too-hard faffy-fiddly ideas presented in twiddly twee containers. The basement suite occupied by The Luggage Room was ("no shit, Sherlock?") once the temporary resting place for monogrammed valises belonging to grand old baggages in residence at the Marriott Hotel above. The rooms' tiramisu-tone art deco-inspired decor - think drinking inside a Vuitton steamer trunk lined in ivory silk grosgrain - is sophisticated and easy-on-the-eye. So too, its staff. I'm not generally much of a Marriott man - their Kensington gaff as soulless as any you'll find - but I know a good bar when I see one.Tweak the food offer, dim the lights, and I might just join the Bentley Boys' gang. 
London Marriott Grosvenor Square, W1K 6JP 7514 1679

Post-script: on a subsequent visit , the lighting had been so successfully tweaked, even those faces sporting the afterglow of Harley Street chemical peel will look as blemish-free as an airbrushed Kate Moss.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Craft Beer Co, Islington

A sympathetic refurb in scarlet and forest green breathes new life into this backstreet boozer; but its the fantastic range of craft beers that turns this charming local into a destination for hop-heads. As with the business’s other outlets in Clerkenwell and Brixton, there’s hundreds of bottled ales and a serious set of taps to tempt - we counted 24. Both native and imported artisanal beers demand serious attention. Bermondsey’s Kernel and a host of new wave native microbreweries go into bat for Britain, while Belgium is represented by a strong showing of Lambic, Geuze and Trappiste beers from the likes of Westmalle Abbey. There’s a strong Scandinavian team and America plays a blinder: Hoppin’ Frog’s 9.4% abv B.O.R.I.S The Crusher (‘bodacious oatmeal Russian imperial stout) and Anchorage’s The Tide and its Taker (a rarity at a sobering £29.95) among the folksy standouts. Wines from £15.95, scotch egg, epic meat pies - try the chorizo version - twinkly-eyed service and a patio garden complete the attractive offer.   
55 White Lion Street N1 9PP 7278 0318

Visit Square Meal for my review of Craft Beer Co Brixton

BrewDog, UK-wide

Scotland’s Top Dog Gets Its Teeth Into England

Londoners are used to successful launches in the capital being rolled-out nationwide; but for BrewDog, the phenomenon has worked in reverse. Founded in 2006 and now the largest independent brewery north of the border, BrewDog has established a London foothold - and a growing band of admirers - at its bars in Camden Town and Shoreditch. December 12th saw Scotland’s top dog get its teeth into Birmingham. The city’s John Bright Street hosts BrewDog’s tenth venue, part of a burgeoning chain that includes quirky premises in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle and Bristol. 

Responding to the growing demand for great British microbrews from drinkers ‘fed up having the wool pulled over their eyes, told by conglomerates their beer is from Australia when it’s really from Burton-on-Trent’, co-founder James Watt, along with some second hand brewing equipment and Bracken his dog as supervisor, has increased turnover to £12 million in just five years. So successful did Watt’s ‘punk’ brews - currently sold in 27 countries -  become, he was unable to satisfy demand. The solution: a second brewery near the Aberdeenshire origina financed by an ‘Equity For Punks’ scheme whereby 6,000 ‘fanvestors’ snapped up shares, enabling BrewDog to become a great Scottish export story - beery pun intended! 

Three braw brews to try

5A.M.SAINT - accurately described as an ‘iconoclastic, über-hoppy red ale.’

HARDCORE IPA -  this distinguished pale ale ‘gets the adrenalin pumping like a 400 volt shot in a copper bathtub.’

SINK THE BISMARCK - handle with care! At a ridiculous 41% abv (the same strength as whisky) three swigs can torpedo your night! 

Underdog, Shoreditch

For its first stab at a cocktail bar, Scottish indie craft brewing success story BrewDog has created a moody speakeasy in the basement of its second London premises - at what used to be Mason & Taylor and, before that, Green and Red. Figure out how to get in -  having Marvel Comics mutant Kitty Pryde's special powers will help - and you'll enter a dimly lit, atmospheric, post-punk take on a Deep South juke joint circa Calvin Coolidge - complete with a gutsy growling rhythm n'blues soundtrack, occasional live music and bartenders straight out of a Walker Evans portrait. Are the drinks as downbeat as their Great Depression-era surroundings? Not a bit of it! Any joint whose head honcho, lightly probed as to what bar he rates in London (his excepted), cites Happiness Forgets is playing my tune. Priced between £8 and £9, ideas such as Boil Your Maker (Glen Garioch Highland single malt or Buffalo Trace with a choice of floral, rich or bittersweet home-made vermouths) are top dog. As in an Ardbeg-based julep and The Beer Meeting (Diplomatico Anejo, Dead Pony and Libertin Black ales, verveine cordial and orange bitters) BrewDog brews inevitably sneak into the mix wherever practicable -but the guys aren't beer zealots to the extent that they won't knock out a Negroni..or Dead Pony-Groni if you let them have their way.  Underdog has the makings of a great Shoreditch bar. So what if only popcorn is available to eat? There's a Depression going on out there, don't ya know? Two 'Snakebiteritas' to the good; like you care?
51 - 55 Bethnal Green Road E1 6LA 7729 8476 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

House of Wolf, Islington

Previously, it housed Albert and Pearl, a swine among bars with ideas above its station (that's Highbury and Islington if you are tubing it); if you were part of (cringe!) 'Cool Britannia', you'll have fond memories of the place as The Medicine Bar; and if, like me, you used to ride a penny-farthing, you'll have enjoyed it as a Victorian music hall. Now this rickety ramble is in the clutches of the crew behind Brighton venue Madame Geisha who have transformed the Islington jumble into an ‘experimental pleasure palace’ that comes on like a Jack The Ripper era cocktail bar as imagined by Tim Burton. Tweedy young fogeys and vintage-clad chapesses who frequent postmodern gin joints such as The Worship Street Whistling Shop and Purl will adore it. Overwhelmed, minimalists may need smelling salts and a period of repose in the secret Victorian ‘fainting room’ while they recover from House of Wolf's ‘multi-sensory’ overload. I popped in for a tequila at a Patron pop-up, and I'm still reeling from an encounter with a fortune teller who tells me I'm about to father a set of triplets who will be born hideously deformed. Ah well, I can always pimp them out to a future House of Wolf freak show; for Gothic divertissements are very much in the spirit of the entertainment provided in the venue's ground floor main bar-cum-performance space.  Expect live sets from name-to-drop musicians, off-the-wall bingo, quizzes, cabaret and Saturday late The Burning Beat - billed as ‘wild-eyed-gypsy carnival rock n’roll'. This room's bar does a range of a dozen cocktails at around £8.50, but the intrepid will fancy an adventure in the Phileas Fogg-esque Apothecary upstairs. Here, lab-coat-clad professors (resting actors?) prepare arcana such as a black pudding-infused rum libation served in a Lyle’s treacle tin; a doctored knickerbocker glory unsuited to any child except The Omen's Damien; and the vodka peculiar that is popcorn-flavoured sour, Over The Pop. Over the top? Exciting innovation or pretentious tosh? Online reviews have been rapturous... and damning in equal measure - particularly in respect of the restaurant's outlandish 'experimental' food. But don't shoot the Wolf until you've checked out its den for yourself. Beast/ beauty? Either way, you won't be indifferent.
181 Upper Street N1 1RQ 7288 1470 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Snacks That Ate Britain

Crisps, nuts, chips and olives aside; what were your favourite bar snacks of 2012? My nationwide (cheese) straw poll for METRO finds out.  

1 Scotch egg  - best served warm with a squidgy yolk, your top bar snack again... 274 years after it was invented at London’s Fortnum & Mason
2 Hot dog - and champagne - as at Bubbledogs, London W1- so very 2012, darling! 
3 Pork pie and piccalilli - nearly as old as scotch egg. In 1799, The Times carried adverts for the Indian style pickle that is great with Melton Mowbray pie. 
4 Beef sliders - Invented in 1916 in Kansas; all the fun of a burger at ¼ of its calories
5 Cheese-stuffed Padrón peppers - and chorizo, calamari, patatas bravas, etc, etc. Does Britain have more tapas bars than Spain these days?
6 Nachos - the Tex-Mex mushy mound that refuses to die.
7 Pint of prawns. Another heritage snack still going strong.
8 Fish finger sarnie - with tartar sauce. Down a few places on last year’s chart position but still yummy.
9 Buffalo chicken wings - one word. ‘Really?’
10 Homemade sausage roll- staging a comeback after years in the foodie wilderness.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The 3 Monkeys, Balham

My first primary school teacher - yes I was formally educated despite all evidence the contrary - was called Mrs Wilson. Astute soul she, I became soon established myself as teacher's pet - or at least that's what I thought her constant refrain directed at me implied: 'go sit in the corner  thi instance, you cheeky wee monkey.' My first childhood toy - brought from New York by a friend of the family, was Mickey the Monkey - a delightful chap in denim dungarees, red gingham check shirt and straw hat. He's still around albeit, these days, with not a stitch of clothing to his name, a triple amputee in need of more facial help than Cher has ever had. Anyone know a good doll's hospital? Do such places still exist? Anyway, I'm drawn to monkeys - even those that inhabit Balham, a locale that has a curious effect on me: 'I'm Not A Celebrity But Get Me Out Of Here Anyway' my usual call after an hour in this suburban jungle, cheap cocktails or not. For that's what these 3 furry fellas have to offer: cheap cocktails and karaoke (Hey Hey We're The Monkees; We Are The Chimpions, and anything by the Stone Roses' Ian Brown for obvious reasons.) Everything on the 70-strong menu is available on a 2-for-1 happy hour deal between 4 and 8pm. Scoop up the likes of Aviation, Blood and Sand, Bramble, Tom Collins and their ‘dangerous’ Long Island Ice Tea, or try Paradise Martini (Hendricks gin, coconut water and ginger syrup). Hazlenut liqueur  and Monkey Shoulder stirred with lemon juice and sugar goes by the name of The Monkey’s Nuts: the dog's bollocks if you like Frangelico, I imagine. 

5 Fernlea Road SW12 8673 4447 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Bodo's Schloss, Kensington

As 'with-it' teenagers, my sister and I were condemned to draw lots to decide our holiday school  reciprocal visit destinations. She was dispatched to rural Austria; I to Sainte Maxime, just across the bay from swinging Saint Tropez. Hanging out with Johnny Hallyday and Bardot at Les Caves du Roy, aged 14? Bring it on! So began my love affair with France. My sibling's tales of her host, frosty Frau Frumpenlumpen (think Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love), mandatory cold showers, not so hot local talent, and dumplings and schlag (cream) for breakfast, put me right off the first nation to sign up to Herr Hitler's world vision. Consequently, I have never set foot in the land of the Edelweiss - as immortalised by Vince Hill through the hi-fidelity speakers of my grandmother's Grundig gramophone, granted pride-of-place in its polished teak flip-top cabinet. Sloaney ponies, however, adore Austria - regularly bunking off to Kitzbuhel where, shickered on schnapps at chalet parties, they hope to do Udo the randy ski-instructor. This then, explains the decor at Bodo's Schloss, the new adventure playground from the chaps behind Mahiki - another magnet for misbehaving toff-totty and their public school boy admirers; the elite heirs to Osborne and Cameron who will one day be in charge of running (down) what's left our once great nation. Cheesier than fondue, this ersatz chalet bar/ club/ diner - all pine cladding, kitsch gingham checks and hunting lodge gubbins - is straight out of Maplin's circa Gladys Pugh. 'Tonight, campers, we'll be getting you all Matterhorny when we crown Miss Lovely Legs and Alpine Twin Peaks of 1960 in the Heidi Hi bar... located to the right of the Olympic-sized swimming pooo-ul.' The place is rammed. The boys preen, giving off that inbred air of entitlement that says they will never know the price of a pint of milk, or what it is to have to struggle to find the down-payment on a modest two-bed starter flat in the sticks ('You expect me to live in FULHAM? No way, man!') Shark-eyed trust fund Tarquins encircle the bait - lissom lasses presumably shipped in by charabanc for 'model night', as our waiter describes it. My date, a bona fide glossy mag cover girl, looks unconvinced. 'There is a big market for hand models, I suppose.' But let's not be sniffy, here. The vibe is electric - free shots every time a cowbell clangs see to that - and everyone is having a ball on a dance-floor at the back of Lonely Goatherd's cabin. I'm in no shape to throw shapes: full of strudel, und schnitzel mit noodles served by Hansel and Gretel in lederhosen and dirndls, I'm gluhweined to my chair. No matter; the party comes to me in the form of the Von Trapp Family Players' deranged cousins who dementedly bash out Village People hits on their glockenspiels and oompah band horns. Cover girl, whose mascara is running, 'hasn't laughed this much in ages.' At £8.50, cocktails are fair, but avoid the Saint Bernard, a bit of a dog if you're not big on sickly-sweet. Instead, order Ice Castle - ‘a never ending supply of our signature (vodka, peach and passion fruit) cocktail topped with up to 10 bottles of Dom Pérignon’ - sold to the coot with the Coutt's card at £5,000!  If I were him, I'd love this joint too. Bodo's is wunderbar if you’re Made In Chelsea out to get schlossed. Hip Dalston Guardianisti, however, might pray for an avalanche to hit Kensington. 

2A Kensington High Street, W8

Friday, 16 November 2012

Barrio East, Shoreditch

I once shared an apartment with two Latinos in downtown Manhattan. Boy, when one hot-tempered Puerto Rican falls out with his even more volatile lover over over a hickey he's attempting to pass off as hives caused by a fiery Scotch bonnet pepper, the collateral damage makes Hurricane Sandy look like a storm in a teacup. Furniture trashed; clothes shredded; but more distressingly, a hail of broken black vinyl raining down on Broadway twenty floors below, chucked from our windows.  Hector Lavoe; Ralfi Pagan; Willie Colon; Celia Cruz; Orchestra Harlow; The Fania All-Stars: all were smashed to smithereens on the sidewalk as Romeo the Ricky Martin lookalike set about cheating Chico's prized record collection with a vengeance. Such a waste. I owe my great interest in all musica latina to those rowing roomies. In underground dance clubs in unfashionable Zip codes, they really got me into it those Nu Yorican beats, patiently teaching me how to dance salsa like I was raised in San Juan (from the knees down and with clenched butt cheeks). That I heard the DJ drop some of those old skool beats is reason enough for me to commend Barrio East  - numero tres from the hombres behind Islington and Soho’s smaller Barrios.  I dig this cool cantina's dime store plastic kitsch and zingy fiesta colours. Me gusto mucho its glass pineapple scone lights - I want, I want, I want!  Holed up in an old caravan, we load up on street food and £8.50 tropi-cocktails - Gingerbread Colada and The Hoodrat (vodka, chill, red pepper vanilla and apple). On the Boom Boom Room’s busy dance-floor, Shoreditch scenesters attempt (and fail miserably) to shake it like J-Lo and Marc Anthony back in the day. I'd have paid good money to witness that barney - and the shredded clothes from Barney's -when those two firecrackers were splitting up. 
141 Shoreditch High Street E1

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Thatched House, Hammersmith

This updated, historic boozer targets upmarket Brackenbury Village, as estate agents (and locals) like to style this patch of Hammersmith. Run by the same team as riverside pub The Ship in Wandsworth, the Young’s house offers a comfy-cosy nu-Victorian-style lounge and sun-trap patio garden. Lunch and dinner (with specials for a fiver for children) might typically include soup and pie of the day, mac’n’cheese, Wiener schnitzel with fries and pickles (£10); Mediterranean vegetables on Parmesan polenta; burger;  fat fill sandwiches and Sunday roasts served until as late as 8 pm. Bar snacks encompass that current sine qua non of snacks,  pork pie (moist and meaty) and the similarly ubiquitous scotch egg, as well as eggs Benedict; anchovy toast; and sloe-gin cured smoked salmon from local boys Sipsmith who also supply the base for a good G&T. Sambrook’s ales - brewed in Wandsworth - join Young’s special (£3.60), Aperol spritz and a sensible wine list at either side of £20. £21.95 gets Aussie Crystal Brook shiraz and chardonnay. For good craic, turn up for Sunday evenings’  live trad Irish music sessions - a feature introduced by hail-fellow-well-met manager Oisin, happy to charm customers with a bit of the old blarney. 
115 Dalling Road W6 0ET 8748 6174

see this and other reviews at

The Pig and Butcher, Islington

Success with The Princess (EC2) and The Lady Ottoline (WC1) has paved the way for their owners’ 3rd gastropub, located in prime grand stuccoed celeb studded Islington. Various TV, music and film stars live in the Pig's precise postcode and had Marmite hack Liz Jones not sold her elegant terraced house across the street, it would have been her local, conjuring up the possibility of a fascinating floor show of an evening. Eat in the bar or reserve space in the smaller cosy dining room. The perma-packed venue’s name sets the tone for a sensibly concise menu using locally sourced meats wherever possible.  Choose from a list of six starters that might typically include blood pudding with red and white endive and orange. Pork rillettes are a well-judged balance of silken fat to flavoursome flesh. Smoky lardons add interest to Shetlands mussels steamed in cider. Portions are hearty to daunting,  so losing one ingredient from mains such as velvety, pink duck breast on beetroot, cabbage borlotti beans, tomato and kumquat  might be an idea. Similarly, slightly overpowering goats cheese would not be missed in fondant Kentish leg of lamb with lentils and baby turnip. If you can manage one, puds include Eton mess and tangy lemon posset topped with fresh peach (again one ingredient de trop) served with shortbread. Vivacious fruity Pays ‘d’Oc red (by the glass, carafe or bottle) kicks off an approachable wine list, and a good range of craft beers and cider includes Bath Gem on tap, Kernel Chinook, Hackney Brewery’s excellent Golden Ale and Hogan Perry. Service is brisk and amiable but would Liz have run staff ragged?
80 Hackney Road N1 0QD 7226

Based on my review for

Reverend JW Simpson, Fitzrovia

When I drop in briefly at this new bar, en route to Michelin-starred scran in starrier surroundings, I feel slightly over-dressed. My formal suit is at odds with such dilapidated decor. The former basement  flat’s original tatty peeling wallpapers and tacky pastel tiles suggest a 10-bob-the-job walk-in knocking shop (knob rinse and rubber included);  my poncey attire suggests a heartless pimp here to extract his outrageous cut of some hapless old hoor's back-breaking daily grind. In such tawdry surrounds, once lived not a lady of the night but a man of the cloth - the eponymous vicar who has unwittingly given his name, if not his blessing (he's long gone to meet his maker), to this devil's playground. It's new from the Bourne and Hollingsworth boys  whose other Fitzrovia bar, all great-great Aunt Mabel's parlour, lies within staggering distance and wherein the fragrant Mary Queen of Shops once enquired of me 'Keith, why are so many lesbians so fat?' 'Eating out too often? A Dunkin' Donuts fetish? Sloth?' I mused. After a hard night  on the batter, I occasionally look like K D Lang might, found drowned in the Saskatchewan River, her floating waterlogged corpse undiscovered for a fortnight,  but I would have thought  Ms Portas better placed than I to answer her own question. Anyhow, I digress. Greek (via Glasgow) barman Dino knows his stuff: from a hatch in his claustrophobic cubby hole under the pavement above, he dispenses quality stirs and shakes in retro cut glass stemware, served, with comped snacks, by a towering Tilda Swinton-esque brunette with to-kill-for cheekbones. Try Prune Manhattan (£9.50), Rebourne Royale ('gin, lime and elderflower, but livened with fizz') and Tequila and Sherry Cobbler. Less appealing to this brothel creeper's tastes - not  being big on  Ribena-y rinses, pimped-up or not - is Port-Berry Stinger. If you fancy a grungy alternative to fancier Fitzrovia dives - Shochu Lounge, London Cocktail Club and Lucky Pig are all on my go-to list - come on down, but avoid Sundays: the Rev is busy worshipping with his flock elsewhere.
32 Goodge Street W1T 2QJ 3174 1155

Friday, 2 November 2012

Bounce, Holborn

Bounce: is this new £2.5 million basement named after fabric conditioner or dog food? Either way, odd choice of monicker  - but what do I know? Adam Breeden, one of the young blades behind it must be a marketing genius as he tells me his business interests enable him to run a glam house in Italy as a getaway. It transpires his new baby is 'Bounce' as in ping-pong balls. Now, my only direct experience of those is summed up in that well-known limerick that begins 'The buxom Bangkok bar hostess's ultimate stunt, was to shoot ten ping pong balls out of her....' but I digress. I'm at  Britain's first dedicated table-tennis social club/ bar/ diner opened by the peeps who also gave us All Star Lanes bowling alleys.  By sheer fluke, they have located it in the very building  where ping-pong (aka wiff-waff) was trademarked by games manufacturers Jacques and Sons in 1901. Big on the Manhattan nightlife scene, the game is increasingly featuring in bars here such a Ping in Earls Court. Bounce takes the phenomenon to a whole new level, thanks to a dozen and a half competition tables including the one used to decide the medals at London 2012. Get in practice for Rio 2016: Britain has yet to win an Olympic medal of any shade for table tennis. As I'm not much into the idea of having my balls whacked by over-competitive, gimlet-eyed Chinese midgets, I'll not be in training at Bounce; but sportier types will want to get stuck in on a regular basis. Table hire is £10 per 30 minute session.  For that, I'd rather have a Match Point Margarita, Winning Smash or Wiff-Waff (Beefeater 24, Earl Grey, tonic, lemon & cucumber). Antipasti, tasty thin crust pizza such as caramelised onion and goat's cheese  from £4 a strip, and Eton mess are probably best left until after your game. 
121 Holborn EC1N 2TD

Friday, 26 October 2012

Qui Qui Ri Qui, Hoxton (Now CLOSED)

I'm not happy. It's chucking it down. I'm out East, and I'm being dissed by a lump of lard parked up in his fart-filled white van. 'Oi darling, ' he sneers, perving over my Glamazonian blonde date, 6ft tall in this season's Marc Jacobs heels and hot pants. 'What you doing with a fat old bastard like 'im, when you could 'ave me' - not to mention the chlamydia, crack habit, spent Stella cans, takeaway containers and skid-marked rancid baby-batter-stained Primark trackie bottoms strewn on the floor of a fetid pit on BNP Avenue E29 that accompany his gracious offer? His type, and the waaaaay scarier wankers who held me up there at knifepoint, aeons ago, are why I largely avoid Hackney Road by night. I have also largely avoided mescal since I holed-up in Mexico - shaking, sobbing and quasi-sectionable - after over-enthusiastic youthful experimentation with tequila’s turbo-charged sister convinced me I was being stalked by a giant sombrero-wearing Technicolor killer banana called Hector. (Me, paranoid... much?) Tonight, I’m back in mescal's Hackney a louche David Lynch-esque basement, its walls plastered with brash 1960s Mexican cartoon porn depicting pneumatic bimbos pursued by ’El Afeitador’ (the shaver) ‘de Pubis’ (guess!). What could possibly go wrong? Ominious as it seems on paper, this sexy/sleazy (legal) late-late-night shebeen - located beneath a kebab shop, for added glamour - is all good. The rare spirits sold at London’s first dedicated mezcaleria, QuiQuiRiQui - that’s cock-a-doodle-do in Spanish to you - really are worth crowing about. After £8 Mescal Negroni and Pink Taco cocktails, mine (Danish) hippy host - who is happily ‘living the mescal lifestyle, man’ - introduces me to the hard stuff. Subtle Santa Domingo Albarradas - all pear drops, pepper, chilli and turmeric notes - for example, would hold its own against many a malt whisky. As, at £10.95 per double, it bloody well should. Presently, Mistress Mescal’s magical fuzzy buzz kicks in, so too does a familiar track, and I'm rendered Comfortably Numb. Have I really spotted Jake Shears dressed as a Day of the Dead skeleton by the tiny bar, or am I hallucinating again? Hackney Road: guaranteed walk on the wild side
184 Hackney Road E2 7QL

Purple Bar at the Sanderson, Fitzrovia

I've never been a fan of purple - the go-to hue for the mentally disturbed and midget US pop stars inter alia. Nor  did I go a bundle on The Purple Bar any time I visited it. 'Up its own arse' - the phrase that springs to mind when it was THE place to go. Its PR invites me back. All designer goth Twilight zone, it is the sort of dark, discrete, high-end, hole-up where RPatz, dumped by Kirsten, might woo her understudy. Previously accessible only to resident hotel guests, any Joe Schmo with the cost of its upmarket cocktails is welcome, so long as he's phoned ahead to make a reservation. That cost - £21.27 for a Sipsmith martini - is higher than a Ryanair flight to Warsaw but on balance, I'd still rather have the drink, steep as it may be.  A menu will be produced on request, but head barman Michelangelo prefers to offer a bespoke service. After an extensive at-table consultation, his suggestions - a vodka and rhubarb sour and an aged version of a classic Boulevardier (bourbon, Campari and vermouth) - are given the thumbs up; but a sherry-based alternative to a Martinez is less successful. Back on-menu, I like a selection of martinis that includes Franklin Roosevelt (a mildly dirty, dirty martini) and Eddie Brown (made with a dash of apricot brandy). Ultimat Kir (Dom P, Desbons cassis and gold flake) and  B&B King - vintage 1940 Martell and similarly aged Bénédictine at £490 - are perhaps best left to stars of Mr Pattinson’s wattage at a hotel that still attracts a fair few visiting A-Listers. That only six punters are in when I pitch up, mid-evening, says something about its current hot draw status in the eyes of resident Londoners.
The Sanderson, 50 Berners Street W1T 3NG

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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Bittersweet, Soho

Open to random lushes until 10pm, Bittersweet then morphs into a members-only DJ lounge. Sign up for free membership online if you plan to enjoy late-night cocktails in West Soho and can't crash Milk and Honey, The Player, The Groucho etc, etc, etc, etc. Set in a slightly claustrophobic submarine-like basement, as the Pinstripe Club, this was where Christine Keeler and Profumo trysted in a 1960s scandal that ultimately brought the government down. Latterly, it was the Kingly Club, whose cool cream leather Bond villain lair look has been ousted in favour of new pinky white decor that's sophisticated in a kind of early 90s Essex wine bar way - or like a 'Chicken Cottage's lavs' according to my date who clearly gets around more than I do. From a range of £9 classics that includes Aviation, Martininez (sic) and Sazerac, Negroni is fair, but  served over too many ice cubes, Vieux Carré quickly becomes too dilute.  Signatures include Vanilla Monk - vodka, Frangelico, Kahlua and cream; spirits by the bottle start at £120 (for Grey Goose/ Tanqueray/ ); and early-bird deals include £10 off champagne and half price wine and cocktails. Bittersweet’s sister is Dirty Martini whose two West End bars, on balance, I prefer.
4 Kingly Court W1B 5PW 0844 371 2550 

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Friday, 19 October 2012

Shebeen, Kentish Town

Shebeens were clandestine drinking premises where illicit whiskey was flogged to cloth capped Paddys in the Emerald Isle of yore. From there, the phenomenon spread first to Scotland, then to the USA and South Africa. Populated by loose-limbed, dope-head West Indians (and their white English posh girl admirers), shebeens became a fixture of Notting Hill in the 1950s. Fast forward 60-odd years and a legal tribute to the species has turned up in London NW5, the latest addition to this popular local Brit/Med bistro. In a downstairs dive that looks like a cross between a 20s speakeasy and a 70s Northern working man’s club, pimped hooch includes a range of classic cocktails at £6.50 (or 241 on 5.30 pm - 7.30 pm happy hour each night). Pile into the ‘snug’ ‘nook’ or ‘cranny’ - former police holding cells - and try Singapore Sling, Elderberry Collins, Mai Tai English Julep and Dark and Stormy - the dark rum and ginger beer mule popularised by Jamaicans in London circa The Profumo Affair (Christine Keeler and Lucky Gordon hung out in a shebeen that is now the venue for Tom Conran's Chamucos Clubhouse in Westbourne Park). Authentic Irish poitin - once banned due to its high alcoholic content - adds a frisson of excitement and there's beer from local lads, Camden Town Brewery. 
Kentish Canteen 300 Kentish Town Rd NW5 2TG 7485 7331

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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Duck and Waffle, City

Insomniacs with an interest in molecular mixology, apply within. Long after other watering holes have closed, Duck and Waffle’s lights (and creative cocktail-shakers) remain switched on, forty floors above the slumbering City below. Whether it’s for a wee small hours one-for-the-road Monkey Shoulder Whisky Sour (with rosemary and truffle foam), a G and T ponced up with rose petal and yuzu spume, or a bespoke breakfast Bloody Mary, D and W’s inside-out bar - think Garfunkel’s salad bar geared to adventurous drinkers with the £13 price of Dark and Stormy ‘bottled and bagged’ Bowery bum-style for modern-day Marie-Antoinettes’ amusement - is a fun, if slightly pretentious experience. Open 24/7 - although no hard liquor is available between 3 am and 8am  - its ‘iconoclastic’ cocktails are often prepared using unexpected ingredients: Sarson’s malt vinegar in your margarita? Why didn't I think of that? Staff, happy to waffle on about their ‘craft’, will not duck out of a challenge to ‘make mine a Mescal and Marmite martini, garçon!’ But like Marmite, opinion is split 50/50 on some of the smoke and mirrors mixology the date and I sampled:  A blow-torched barrel stave provided the smoke, lots of it, for a house Manhattan adjudged ‘complex and interesting’ or ‘like being at a party and accidentally drinking bourbon from the glass into which someone dropped a cigarette butt.’ Either way, you’ll find plenty to entertain you until the sun comes up. 
Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate EC2N 4AY 3640 7310 

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Old Bengal Warehouse, City

Many of D and D's numerous London’s restaurants also include worthwhile bars. Each in its own way, the likes of Le Coq d’Argent (chic roof garden); Floridita (Mad Men-era Havana supper club); and Skylon (postcard-perfect vista and matching cocktails) make my ‘old standby’ list. To this, add the bar at the Old Bengal Warehouse, the group’s autumn City launch. Set in a simpatico conversion of grade II-listed premises in which the East India Company once stored Georgian-day necessities - tea, silks, opium - this seductive, low-lit, tobacco-tone lounge works beautifully. Its focus, a butch bar with high stools, is staffed by on-the-ball blokes who might double as Hugo Boss models. At around £9.50, rinses such as Pisco and Aperol sour, Martini with a Spot (of absinthe), Cider House Rules and Tequila New Fashion are top drawer. I don’t know about Damson In Distress (a whisky and damson liquor flip); but after a potent Martinez (and sundry similar ingestions), this old Bengal lancer (as in Cockney for ‘chancer’) is in barfly-on-a-bender territory. Fortunately, pukka snacks, ‘tiffin’ boxes, lobster cocktail and burger with dopiaza onions and tamarind chutney act as damage limitation. I also hazily recall a smart all-weather courtyard. Well, that’s my excuse for a repeat reccie.
16 New Street EC2M 4TR 3503 0780 

Friday, 12 October 2012

KCz ( formerly SofaKingCool), Soho

‘Have you tried Sofa King Cool?’ asks a pal. I’m affronted. Do I look like I'm in the market for a leatherette three-piece suite and matching pouffe from some DFS-clone off the North Circular? Sofa King Cool - say it quickly if, like me, you’re a bit slow on the uptake - is Soho's 'modern newest gay concept venue', it transpires. It promises a ‘cosy setting for wanna-be-lovers to fawn over each other’ and a ‘trendy retro feel.’ That'll be 1990 revisited, when, If easyJet did VIP lounges, I imagine they’d have looked like this. All orange, black and shiny with ‘high poseur tables’, stylistically, it's a bit ‘gay’... in the Peckham patois sense of the word. All shiny sculpted cheekbones and matching hair, does our retro-tastic bartender moonlight in a New Kids on the Block tribute band when not making margaritas, I wonder? Served with £4-a-pop bites -  calamari with spicy mayo, fish goujons with chilli mayo and food last deemed 'fancy' when Simon Mayo was still a rookie DJ - ‘professionally prepared cocktails’ include Manhattan, Million Dollar Mojito (£8) and Lavender Martini. Sex on the Beach, also appears: the déclassé Benidorm binge-drinker’s favourite might help lubricate Leroy, a junior crimper at suburban salon Curl Up and Dye - the ‘wanna-be-lover’ some dodgy sugar daddy aims to have his wicked way with, rating him ‘sofa king horny.’ 
23 Frith Street, W1D 4RR 7734 3268 

Postscript: a mere three months after launching, it seems SofaKingCool has singularly failed to pull the Soho Cool. How else to explain its transformation, according to its female CEO, into a "womens only resteraunt (sic) and bar." She tells the Standard newspaper the new venture is to be 'a place .. by women for women...(but) not just for gay women. Networking is the main thing.”  Hmmm why am I thinking Candy Bar crossed with spendy dames-only members club Grace (yours to access for £5,500 pa) in Belgravia? This niche market is notoriously tricky to call. As a DJ in my 20s, I laughed in the face of a straight Northern male club owner who planned to cash in, launching 'Lez Dawson's' - a putative Pimlico gay club for big girls and their fanciers. The sisterhood was not amused: Lez's lasted two weeks. In December, the Canadian rugby-playing female CEO of NotSofaKingCool's replacement canvassed the Twitterati for suggestions as to what sort of bar/ restaurant 'da girls' might be currently hankering after. Given the CEO's idea of a 'yummy meal' (see pic right and at @KCGATES ) coupled with the new venue's  handle "KC'z", what modern wimmin want now, presumably, is something that sounds like a Doncaster dykes disko circa The Hitman and Her.

Post-postscript: 9.15 pm, a wet Thursday night in February 2013: an animated KC is out on Old Compton Street pressing 2-4-1 promo flyers on passers-by like a desperate Playa del Ingles tout. We take one and venture into her kingdom (queendom?). The place looks much the same as before only with even less punters. We leave. Where is the Sunshine Band when KC needs you most?

Post-post-postscript: March 2013. News reaches me that KC'z latest guise is to be as a restaurant called LABELS - which sounds more like a naff designer boutique in Burnley circa Hazell Dean. Apparently, one of its dishes is to be breaded mushrooms with garlic mayo. make that circa early Helen Shapiro....the sort of nice young girl KC'z older target audience might remember fondly. 

Friday, 5 October 2012

London Cocktail Week 2012

London bosses can expect mass absenteeism next week as morning-after casualties of London Cocktail Week conveniently throw ‘sickies'. Readers (who all only ever drink in moderation, natch) can snap up discounted access-all-areas wristbands, available today at the pre-event-only price of £4 (see below). These entitle the holders to £4 cocktails - that’s less than half price - at over 100 of the city’s best bars from 8th - 14th October inclusive. Many of my favourite gin joints - e.g Callooh Callay (EC2), Lucky Pig (W1), the bar at hot-ticket resto Dabbous, and Salvatore Calabrese’s Mad Men-tastic lounge at The Playboy Club - have signed up, and sexy Soho members club, Quo Vadis, will also be welcoming wristband holders. This year, much of the action centres on Seven Dials. Hit the event’s HQ, The Ketel One Hub Bar at 15 Shorts Gardens WC2 (from 10 am to 8 pm daily) for details of  free tastings, cocktail bootcamps, distil-your-own gin sessions and lots of crazy hoochy happenings. Top of the many pop-ups include Smatt’s Jamaica rum and ice cream shack, and free Cointreau ‘tails at Coco de Mer (respectively, at 53 and 23 Monmouth Street WC2), while splendid Edinburgh bar, Bon Vivant, will be doing interesting things with Monkey Shoulder blended malt whisky at 51 Neal St WC2. Frankly, if Berroca, Irn Bru and Alka Seltzer haven’t planned heal-your-hangover pop-ups too, more fool them! 
For full event details and to purchase discounted wristbands, go to

Friday, 28 September 2012

Sushisamba, The City

Acrophobics will not relish the 38-second rocket ride in a glass-sided lift up the face of the Heron Tower to its 38th floor. Thankfully, stiffeners for jelly legs are dispensed upon reaching Sushisamba. The first overseas outpost of a Yankee chain-ette punting Peruvian, Brazilian and Japanese nosh; it's bold, blingy, bright and brash in a kind of Vegasy/ Rihanna way. Higher than the nearby Gherkin, its views of London-by-night from an alfresco belvedere terrace provide the real ‘wow’ factor - its focal point,  a circular bar built around a gorgeous coppery ‘tree’ whose reinforced trunk and metal branches looks capable of withstanding Hurricane Hermione. Harmony hairspray (three cans) is advised for strategically-styled barnets, however and. given London's all-too-preditably unpredictable autumn weather, you'd do well to also pack Havaianas and Ambre Solaire plus Moon Boots and one of  Sir Edmund Hilary's old cagoules. From an interesting list, Pablo Piscobar (a yuzu-flavoured pisco sour) and Kaffirinha (using kaffir leaf-infused cachaca) work well enough at £9.50. I’m old-fashioned about Old-Fashioneds; so Tonka Bean Old-Fashioned’s queer menage-à-quatre - Bajan rum, tonka beans, star anise and Benedictine - fails to convert me to drinks 'Ja-per-zilian’ - as I christen Sushi-S’s fusion cocktails. I’m fine with Shiso Fine, though, until a barman drily suggests  this sweet and sour sling is ‘one for the ladies.’ Blown-out by the chill wind, the open gas coal-effect fire pit cannot be re-lit no matter how desperately staff strives. Shirt tails flapping like the clappers, this big girl’s blouse has had enough and scuttles indoors to a second, Manga-style, DJ bar. Corridor-like, garish, too brightly lit, and patrolled by security guards; it could be in an underground Shinjuku shopping mall. (Sushi) 'samba rolls’ are fun; our neighbours - sloshed suits, rolling drunk on the floor and snogging secretaries (tongues drilling as if for oil down Iain from I.T's grateful neck) ...not so much. Beery Loadsamoney boors excepted, (quote 'I don't want no attitude off no f**kin' barman; not when I've just dropped £400 on drinks') aside, it's a definite case of altitude slickness in the City.  110 Bishopsgate, EC2M 4HX 3640 7330

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Holborn Whippet, Bloomsbury

Brought to you by the people behind The Euston Tap and its sister cider bar, the Whippet is a retread of a defunct Italian restaurant on Sicilian Avenue, that cute little passagio that's a colonnaded corner of Palermo in hum-drum Holborn. The clunky wooden interior brings to mind a below stairs room in Dumbdown Abbey. That, or a 1930s bookies office: 'I'll 'ave half a crown each way on Wallis Simpson, trap 5, in the 6.30 at Catford Dogs, guv.' Apparently, this new craft beer bar's name stems from Georgian times when there was whippet racing to be had in these parts... 'before the chains started to move in.' That'd be Mrs Beaton's Ultimate Burgers; Snuff-a-Snorter; Sweeney TGIF et al? Tonight, the crowd is a mix of whippet-thin office workers and scruffy mongrels who have let themselves go to the dogs. Why do so many craft ale fans imagine Stig of the Dump crossed with a 'before' off The Biggest Loser is a hot look? Fill your boots, boys, at a bar built around a brick ‘beer wall’ whose 20 taps sensibly eschew global big brand swill in favour of sterling stuff from Thornbridge, Black Isle, Dark Star, Magic Rock and Essex brewer Mighty Oak. For hop haters, there's a selection of cider, wines and Gosset champagne. Hungry? Pile on even more calories with chargrilled steak sandwich, chicken club and burgers. The bar recently tweeted that a customer asked if its 'Whippet burger' was made from real whippet? Why not? The flesh of any well-looked-after creature that spends its life racing is bound to be lean and lovely. As my regular boucher chevaline in the Pas-de-Calais claims all his steaks come from ex-Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winners;  what's so odd about chowing down on the winner of the 7.45 at Walthamstow slathered in onions?
25 - 29 Sicilian Avenue WC1A 2QH  3137 9937

Friday, 21 September 2012

Heliot at The Hippodrome, West End

When I was a yoof, Peter Stringfellow ran discos at The Hippodrome. One night, with an exotic tableau vivant as backdrop, we were in full ‘le freak, c’est chic’ mode when, quite without warning, the tableau's star turn, Queen Bluey, leapt into the audience. Cue pandemonium and a Daily Mail headline: ‘lioness scatters nightclub dancers.’ I survived unscathed; so too, Boy George, I recall. Now a Vegas style casino, the venue’s restaurant and red and black Tom Dixon-designed cocktail bar has been branded Heliot at the Hippodrome, after Claire Heliot, an Edwardian lady lion tamer who appeared here - albeit, not on the one night when they needed her most. Served by wenches in Moulin Rouge-lite costumes - why am I thinking ‘Ann Summers sale rail’? - Vesper, Gibson and brandy-based martini Delmonico are fair at £9.50; and bespoke cocktails by Tony Conigliaro, I’m told, will soon also appear. But Heliot’s USP is that it stays open 24/7 every day (except December 25th). After a night out, hole up here until the first Tube, spending the cab fare to Zone 5 you just saved on bubbly (from £25), hot dogs, sliders and croques (although perhaps not rubbery scotch eggs) and puff away, happy as Larry the lab beagle, on a terrace open to the night sky. I’m told there’s also a cabaret lounge where Dionne Warwick recently played and Suzi Quatro is to appear. Or did I hallucinate that? Anyway, Bluey was real: wanna come back to mine and see my Press clippings?
Cranbourn St WC2H 7JH  7769 8888

Friday, 14 September 2012

Negroni Bar, Smithfield

Owner Russell Norman has made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear at Polpo Smithfield, his latest Venetian bàcaro a Londra. He's turned an old meat market storage facility - where sow, cow and sundry bloody carcasses once dangled forlornly - into a bijou bar. Don’t be squeamish: Mr Muscle has wiped all trace of Miss Piggy from the room’s original Victorian glazed white tiles. That said, I’m not much for getting slaughtered in a windowless cellar whose main feature - dinky antique carved wood bar aside - is a slightly menacing door leading to what I pray is only a kitchen beyond. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre springs to mind and, unless your father’s name is Josef Fritzl, it’s unlikely you’d linger long in such poky surroundings. Still, for an evening ‘ombra’ (glass of vino) or a Negroni before dining upstairs, I commend it. The Negroni was born in 1919, when the eponymous Florentine count asked a barman to pimp up his usual Americano cocktail, replacing its soda with gin. Here, Sipsmith or Beefeater 24 are deemed the perfect partner to Campari and red vermouth - specify Carpano Antica Formula for optimum enjoyment - in Polpo’s £7 version of the classic. Other Italian jobs available include Aperol spritz, Henderson (white wine and Campari), and Negroni Sbagliato. Literally, a ‘wrong’ Negroni; prosecco replaces gin in this currently molto a la moda alternative aperitif.   
Polpo, 2 Cowcross Street, EC1M 6D 7250 0034 

Friday, 7 September 2012

And Co, Soho

A poster above the entrance to this new quasi-clandestine cellar says ‘I LIKE IT. WHAT IS IT?’ London’s newest 'drinking experience', ‘And Co’; that’s what. I’m seated at a granite-topped island counter. Behind its basin and taps, whatever spirits contained within known only to staff, myriad decanters and bottled potions are neatly stacked on shelves in wood and glass display cabinets. Mine host/ resident barman/ professor expounds ‘the concept.’ Suddenly, I’m 12 again, in chemistry class - only, this time, held in what feels like a display kitchen at  Magnet's Kensington High Street showroom. In this boffin's dark subterranean lab (the latest wheeze from the chaps who own Soho's Graphic bar) , brand identity is taboo. Strategic advertising and cunning marketing are the enemies of individual choice - or sum such cant, is the message being preached here, I think. In truth, I've zoned out, transfixed by my guru's strange Scouse/Indonesian accent and uncanny resemblance to a Thunderbirds puppet. Together, hand-in-hand, we're on a quest. Tonight, I am to be introduced to my own personal gin Jesus. But first there's a Ron L. Hubbard-esque multiple choice quiz to wade through. I’m left to ponder a lengthy list of tasting notes grouped by spirit, flavour and style: ‘complex and oaky; ‘fresh and zesty’; hmm, pretentious and poncey? Wearying of Prof’s protracted probing, I’m fast becoming one V restless paying guinea pig. ‘Tanqueray 10, Beefeater 24 and Berry Brothers No.3 all work for me,’ I say, growing desperate. I'm now so gagging for a drink, neat turps would do. Patience, child! Presently, an utterly exquisite dry martini, all ‘weighty viscous mouth feel, liquorice, slight stone fruit sweetness’ and yadda yadda yadda-ness is delivered in exchange for £13 (well, £6.50 actually; there's 50% during & Co's soft opening period). ‘I LIKE IT. WHAT IS IT?’ Prof’ won’t say; presumably, lest I cheat on him and order similar elsewhere. Thus, I am forever his. Cunning marketing, indeed.
22 Great Marlborough Street, W1F 7HU 7437 4106

Friday, 31 August 2012

The North Pole, De Beauvoir Town

It’s been a treasured pub/ community hub since 1840; but, will the North Pole in W10 now be allowed to quietly melt away? Note to Kensington & Chelsea Council planning wonks: don't imagine what we really really want to spice up our lives is another ruddy Tesco mini-mart! Across town, after a Northern Line journey as arduous as any expedition Shackleton ever undertook, I discover another North Pole pub. Unrelated to the former, it battles on valiantly. Spruced up nu-Victorian stylee, what intrepid explorers will discover at this off-piste boozer, are honestly priced craft beers from £1.60, scrummy scrumpy, decent vino and good grub. On a sun-trap patio, slake your thirst on two dozen or so hand-pulled ales from the likes of London Fields, Redemption, Innis & Gunn and Cornwall’s Harbour Brewing. Bottled amber includes numerous Yanks, Mexicanos and Continentals. Try Norwegian brewer Nøgne Ø’s porter and IPA or Germany’s Schneider Aventinus, a doppelbock ruby Rottweiler at 8.2% abv. Eats encompass anything from pint of prawns, pizzas, mac’n’cheese or jerk chicken with ‘slaw rice and peas (£11) to snarfable sliders and burgers. Exile fidgety kidults to a play den that offers  Pac-Man, Space Invaders, pinball and - yay, baby - a vintage juke box. Reinvigorated under new landlords, N1’s North Pole looks good for decades...or at least until it shows up on the radar of some colonising retail juggernaut that spreads like the pox.
188 -190 New North Road N1 7BJ  7354 5400 

Friday, 24 August 2012

Crate Brewery, Hackney

On a steamy August night, Hackney Wick’s gritty industrial estates recall a 70’s Blaxploitation flick set in The Bronx circa Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto. In E9, it’s estate agents who are cleaning up, marketing this ‘urban village's’ desirable designer pads to young professionals. East London's shiny new middle class is out in force tonight, crowding onto tables on the canal towpath at Crate Brewery, the latest microbrewery/ bar combo catering to our new-found thirst for artisanal craft ales. Available on tap in its adjacent bar-cum-canteen, intense, hoppy, nutty Golden Ale - one of  three house draughts - is as good as I’ve tasted lately. Equally intriguing, is Brewfist Space Man: a notable Italian from a range of imported bottled beers that includes Bear Republic’s California-brewed Red Rocket. Crate’s owners have imaginatively kitted out the brewery's taphouse-cum-canteen, warming up an austere breeze block shell with a bar made from old railway sleepers. A mishmash of furniture is wittily fashioned on the cheap from what looks like Eddie Stobart’s cast-offs: crates, pallets, trolleys, heavy duty webbing and the likes. Dominating one wall, a humungous pizza oven takes pride of place.  ‘Yum’ I say, contemplating my (£8) red onion, courgette, feta and gremolata thin crust. ‘Double yum!’ says my date, clocking ' a 'spicy salami' and the exotic waiter who serves us: in a T-shirt bearing Jim Morrison’s image,  he makes The Doors’s smouldering late frontman look plain by comparison.
Unit 7, White Building, Queens Yard, E9 5EN 

Friday, 17 August 2012

Ping, Earl's Court

65 Olympic medals? Wow! But as Britain has never won one at table tennis, now is the time to get into training for Rio. Conveniently, the sport is currently trending in London’s bars. Pending Bounce, All-Star Lanes’ £2.5 million customised Holborn pile, perfect your best pen-hold grip at new late-night lounge Ping’s three tables. Witty street art from I Love Dust (of MEATliquor renown), and deep sofas for critical time-outs set the scene for Ping's not-so-punishing boot camp. Body fluids re-balanced on isotonic rhubarb Aperol spritz, reflexes razor-sharp on £7.70 espresso martini, muscles energised by carb-rush pukka pizza - blue cheese, walnut and pear, perhaps- spank the competition at wiff-waff, table tennis’s original name, or get involved in a beer pong tournament, the get-messy drinking games enthusiast’s ultimate marathon. With rhythmic gymnastics courtesy of DJs such as Radio 1 Xtra’s Sarah-Jane Crawford, parallel bars to take to, and male Tatler totty to be ogled: Olivers Proudlock and Cheshire (Pixie Lott’s model squeeze), cricketing hunk Rory Hamilton-Brown and Daniel Radcliffe - the boy that cast a spell over a nation's children, and now that he's fully grown and prone to whipping his man-child kit off on stage, Mums too, creepy as that is -  have all been in. At weekends, Ping is fast becoming posh mosh pit central. ‘Earl’s Court just got edgy’ tweets one fan of a venue whose guest-list boasts more double-barrels than a Chelsea locksmith. Made In Hackney, may wish to avoid.
180 Earl’s Court Road SW5 9QG