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Friday, 27 January 2012

2011 London's Best New Bars (or not)

Yes, it's almost Spring 2012 already and you've been  impatiently asking (well, all seven of you anyway) for my list of London loves/loathes 2011. Sorry guys,  I've been  a) fighting off the January lurgy b) attempting to file my tax return c) busy checking out this year's early crop of contenders and d) against all expectations, been captivated by Celebrity Big Brother and its mesmersingly awful, Borgia-esque twins, the Playboy Piranhas. Apologies for such tardiness but this is what my two brain cells remember of last year.

Bar of the year: ZTH http://tinyurl.com/672h67d

Picture perfect: Gilbert Scott http://tinyurl.com/3v4q5ak

Sexiest swallows: Happiness Forgets http://tinyurl.com/6hlaaq7

Coolest cocktail menu: St James Bar, SW1 (review pending)

Most ridiculous decor: Amaranto http://tinyurl.com/65rrxjo

Most fun with your clothes on: Drink Shop and Dance http://tinyurl.com/6tz8pvj

Most disppointing: BOB http://tinyurl.com/4xtr8pp

Best alfresco: Vista http://tinyurl.com/6256yve

One to watch: Lucky Pig http://tinyurl.com/7gvs4ag

Great happy hour deals: DM2 http://tinyurl.com/c6hvfo7

Burgers and cocktails: nope, not THAT one. I preferred this http://tinyurl.com/7tt97kf

Best local: get ye Up The Junction http://tinyurl.com/3ze7utz

Best for beer bellies: Craft Beer Co http://tinyurl.com/3qxtay8

Funkiest pop-up: Dishoom Chowpatty Beach http://tinyurl.com/5wgzz2b

Most Mad Men-tastic: Salvatore's at The Playboy http://tinyurl.com/3gjdb7e

The one I feel I should love but somehow don't: TWSWS http://tinyurl.com/6he37my

Never again! (Not even if you slipped me Fred The Shred's bonus): Piccadilly Minger http://tinyurl.com/3kgmjg2


Yes, I know some of these are technically late 2010 openings.  2 many bars 2 little time. I am working on cloning myself in 2012. 
  LOVE LOVE LOVE ZTH (above)  Picture: Square Meal

London Cocktail Club, Shaftesbury Avenue

Camouflaging jovial JJ Goodman’s culinary shortcomings, cherubic charm and killer cocktails with an apparent in-built ability to  anaesthetise any doubting critics, saw the blond likely lad emerge as the unlikely winner of Raymond Blanc’s The Restaurant in 2009. His prize? A partnership with the chef that spawned not a restaurant per se (praise be!) but The London Cocktail Club, a rocking dive bar on Goodge Street. Building on its success, JJ has just launched son of LCC1 in WC1. In a dark, vibey den that’s a little rough around the edges, the pose is Jack Sparrow versus Captain Pugwash’s crew in a Tiger Bay tattoo parlour. Punk up in vintage Westwood pirate threads and lay into Army & Navy, one of several Seaman Staines-friendly tots, tipples and grogs served in tin mugs. Nelson’s Blood - champagne, port and lemon - hits you between the eyes while, going off-theme, LCC’s signature bacon & egg (white) martini, like Marmite, divides opinion. Me? I’d sooner spend £8 on a sweet Manhattan - even one garnished with an actual sweet (a wretched Haribo blob replacing the proscribed maraschino cherry) and too heavy on bitters to technically qualify as ‘sweet.’ Other gripes: no silverskin onions for a Gibson; utensils steeping in dirty water-filled pot plonked under our noses; an Irish barman’s iPod self-indulgence (a 30-minute Van Morrison medley). There's already a buzz about the place and I’ll grow to love the place, I expect, warts and all but as ever, JJ, the devil is in the details.
224A Shaftesbury Avenue WC2 7580 1960 www.londoncocktailclub.co.uk 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Circa, Soho

There was a time - twixt Yazz and Yazoo - when every second new watering hole that opened was a gay bar. Now, such launches are as rare as a hair on a gym-buffed Kylie worshiper's waxed back sack and crack. Bucking the trend, is Circa whose presence in what was formerly Jrink - a name so naff, it deserved to go bust - I had missed. Note to self: must get out more - limiting it to six nights a week has left me so out of the fruit loop. Nailing the myth that 'benders' are innately more stylish than 'breeders' - terms borrowed from a gay hairdresser of my acquaintance, may I add, before the green ink brigade starts accusing me of homophobia - Circa's curious design is more Justin and Colin than David Collins. Was signing off on a mood board that apparently included 60’s discotheque, Downton Abbey, Miami Vice ‘style’ bar and folksy Greenwich Village tavern really such a good idea?  Circa's mish-mashy-meh interior echoes its diverse range of punters: PC slaves; S&M slaves in M&S suiting; slaves to fashion as dictated by mypartnerDavidFurnish, TOWIE Harry clones, caustic Lauren Harries tribute acts and Superdry guys fresh from the gym, pre-loading on shots  ahead of some action. Bar staff, friendly enough souls unlike at various rival gay holes I could mention (drop the attitude, girlfriend!) have possibly been picked more for their torsos than any ability to mix a top drawer Vieux Carré (cocktails are available). The boyz do their best, doling out draught Kro’, wines from £11 and bubbles from around £20 until 1 am - by which time, any sausage in serious need of some schlong, will have long since logged onto Gaydar - the reason gay bars seem to be losing their pulling power of yore, I suspect.
62 Frith St. W1 7734 6826 www.circasoho.com 


(find more reviews at www.squaremeal.co.uk)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Printers & Stationers, Bethnal Green

Don’t be fooled by the name, you'll find no photocopying paper or Pritt sticks for sale here. But if your mouth feels like you just licked a stack of gummed envelopes, there’s plenty to wet your whistle at the bijou bar at this cute wine and food shop set in a converted Victorian workshop off Columbia Road market. Marché aux puces styling, St Germain beatnik soundtrack, dinky city garden and retro packaging on comestibles last seen in a 1950s épicerie somewhere south of Saint Omer are lovely,  but nous sommes ici pour vos vins, Jean-Pierre, innit? A regularly re-stocked selection of reasonably priced goodies, mostly from small independent growers, reflect the owner’s French roots. Pay corkage (£9) on any of the bottles’ retail price tags (there’s plenty to like at around a tenner) or enjoy a limited selection offered by the glass. Sip organic vins de pays, full-bodied Burgundy, a Beajoulais with belles jambes or, perhaps, Cahors with couilles over a plate of charcuterie or cheese with crusty artisan breads. Cidre, bloody Mary, croques and sandwiches complete the Clochemerle vibe. 
21a Ezra Road E2 7RH 7729 9496 www.printersandstationers.co.uk   See web for limited opening times

For more of my reviews go to  www.squaremeal.co.uk

Friday, 20 January 2012

BrewDog, Camden

Mr. Salmond will be delighted: English pounds are flying over the counter in droves, lining the tills of a new pub selling Scots ales to Sassenachs. Bolstering the Caledonian economy, this reconfigured Camden boozer is a first foray south of Hadrian’s Wall for Aberdeenshire indie craft beer maestros, BrewDog. Its pared down interior, all post-punk hard-edged industrial, doesn’t suggest the sort of posh boy establishment where Scotland’s First Minister need fear running into his nemesis, the pro-Unionist, Old Etonian, British PM. ‘Trashy Blonde; Hardcore; Punk IPA; Nanny State: this isn't the sort of place for nice Notting Hill people like us, SamCam, darling.’  Despite the daft lads-on-the-lash names, these brews are no dogs. Draught ales, including curios such as a wasabi stout, are available in small sampling measures and enthusiastic staff soon hook me up with sophisticated, complex and rewarding stuff, not least celestial red, 5am Saint (£3.95). Tonight, Sink The Bismark - possibly the world’s strongest beer at an insane 41% abv (as strong as whisky) - is off, so I sink Tactical Nuclear Penguin instead. Intense, dense, smoky, treacly stout: it tastes like barbecue sauce laced with whisky and asphalt. Bizarre. At 32% abv, it could also nuke a hungry predatory killer whale . Smart tactic indeed, Pingu!
113 Bayham St NW1 7284 0453 www.brewdog.com 

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Kinbaku, Soho (CLOSED see THE BLIND PIG)

Whenever I’ve worked in Japan over the years, I’ve always found its idyosyncratic mix of starchy respectability and out-there sexual practices as compelling as its ‘what the fuck?’ food menus. I’m hopeful that the upstairs cocktail bar at sushi mini-chain Ukai’s Poland Street premises will turn out to be an education.  For, as themes go, Kinbaku - a Japanese SM bondage technique based on knotted jute rope once used to restrain prisoners - intrigues me more than the currently ubiquitous ‘Prohibition-era speakeasy’ concept. Alas, on inspection, the scene is about as vanilla as Ben & Jerry: that’s ice cream, not a dreary suburban gay couple. Risqué fetishistic behaviour? The only thing vibrating in here, are hi-fi speakers pumping out  'meh' house. Still, there’s a sexy enough saké/ shochu list to push your boundaries plus Sapporo and Asahi, wines from £16.50 and house bubbles (Jacquart) at £8 a flute. A similar sum bags cocktails from masterly mixologists. Try saké san (Tanqueray, Kuboto Senju saké, lemon and minty shiso leaf liqueur, sweetened); apple and lychee martini or a plum mojito. I should also add that the Ginger Sling is a drink, not a contraption that facilitates transforming a suspended redhead into your own personal glove puppet for your mutual pleasure.
58 Poland Street W1 7734 1444 www.kinbaku.me.uk


The Euston Cider Tap, Euston

Such has been the success of craft beer pimps The Euston Tap, they've turned the second of the grand gate-houses to the  original Euston Station (sadly long-demolished) into its beery bar's cider-shifting twin sister. Cider used to suffer a bit of an image problem in this country: on the one hand, mixed with lager in a snakebite, it was seen as wreck-the-hoose-juice fit only for students and NEETS; on the other - supped by smug fogeys in blue and white striped matelot tops the tedious gits had bought on gÎte holidays in Brittany - it was considered mimsy middle class. Then the marketing men - and a great Zombies track - cleverly persuaded peeps to mix the stuff (the not very good stuff, I say) with ice. Sales soared and cider became the apple of our eyes. Hell, even Gwynnie Paltrow named her kid Cox's Pippin or some such nonsense and the drink replaced Stella as the top guzzle for the larger London lesbianPriced from just over £3, choose here from fifteen traditionally-fermented draught ciders and perrys representing over 100 artisanal growers in the UK, Ireland and further afield. Are you hard enough for American ‘hard’ ciders?  A staggering range of bottles runs into the hundreds and there’s Calvados too which, Norman wisdom has it, will help you live to be 100. That's good to know, because In much of Normandy, you'd die of boredom unless you were permanently pissed. Try Upper House Farm, Horgans from Alcester, farm-pressed Somerset Orchard Pig and Original Sin from New York State. The bar's presence is announced by hay bales outside. Who knew the Wurzels would ever become the height of urban sophistication?
East Lodge, 188 Euston Road NW1 2EF 020 3137 8837 www.eustontap.com

Read more London bar reviews at www.squaremeal.co.uk 

Friday, 13 January 2012

Chino Latino, Vauxhall

'Chino Latino' might sound like a shonky salsa band on Shanghai’s Got Talent, but it's the name of the Park Plaza Riverside's Latin bar/ Asian restaurant, a joint that has somehow escaped my attention until tonight. I'm at a loose end and its PR has invited me along to try the £50 tasting menu - so, why not? The nine-course pig-out is better than anticipated: 'Pan-Asian' too often equals 'con-fusion'. Facing an extreme eating challenge of sadistic Japanese game show proportions, I soon regret snarfing kilos of salty nibbles over pre-dinner drinks at the bar. Set in a low-lit nightclubby lounge that would have looked on-the-money circa The Chemical Brothers’ Block Rockin’ Beats, this could be a handy hook-up ahead of a night on Vauxhall'’s gay dancefloors. Perhaps it’s time for the chemical brothers that frequent such dens to ditch illegal cocktails in favour of less hardcore disco jollies before they wake up one day and find It’'s All Gone Pear Shaped, the name, as it happens, of a Chivas and butterscotch concoction sold here. To each his own, I say. I bring this up only because one disco bunny I knew, mixed so many Class ABandC's, he ended up being sectioned, convinced he was Cindy Crawford, only filthy and smelly -  too scared to turn on any taps, lest little green men emerge and cut him open in an attempt to discover the physiology of  perfect humanoid beauty (he's still not fully recovered 15 years on, I hear).  At £9, Educated Gringo - a bourbon and port muddle - might not be liquid ecstasy but it's good enough for me in terms of getting that warm, fuzzy glow. Despite doubts about combining creamy saké, Beefeater 24, plum wine and Asahi lager, I’m loved-up with a Geisha. Among the wines, a ballsy Mexican shiraz promises ‘a spicy mouthful'. ‘Like 4 am in a Vauxhall back room’ quips my date.
 18 Albert Embankment SE1 7769 2500 www.chinolatino.eu

Friday, 6 January 2012

Flûte , Fitzrovia (August 2013 - LONDON COCKTAIL CLUB #3 launches here))

Austere times or not, in London's champagne bars, expensive French bubbles’ bubble shows no sign of bursting. But if posturing Parisian politicos continue goading les rosbifs, a mass boycott could be sarky Napoleon Sarko’s economic Waterloo. New Fitzrovia lounge Flute rides the bubbles bandwagon, offering numerous familiars - M and C, P-J and L-P and co - alongside less ubiquitous but good-to-find houses, many by the glass. Depending on your wallet, order Chartogne-Taillet (Switch), Deutz 2005 (Visa), or 2002 Bollinger old vines (at £1,000, your sugar daddy’s Amex). ‘Award-winning’ Flûte gaffs already exist in Manhattan and off les Champs-Elysées. No awards for Flûte London’s twin gaffes: flat decor and a less-than-sparkling soundtrack. New York? Paris? I’m getting (olde) York wine bar circa Bonnie Tyler’s Lost in France.  Drinks industry high-flier date is unimpressed. Why call somewhere ‘Flûte’ then ruin pricy Ruinart blanc de blancs by serving it in cheap, flimsy flutes fit to hold nasty spumante at a tacky bridezilla's low-scoring  reception on Sky Living’s Four Weddings? To eat, there’s caviar, ‘Helsinki spring rolls’ (huh?) and chocolate cake on a disparate list I'm not desperate to try. Flûte’s friendly French franchisee - a retired semi-pro tennis player with no previous form in running bars, we're told - reckons his insightful Polish barman can create a bespoke cocktail that will reflect my character. A sour?  No: after some light probing, he rustles up what I will christen a Gdansk Harbour martini. Our itemised bill, however, describes his £12 fizzy bourbon and Grand Marnier-based brute as a ‘Lady Killer’. As in Jack Tweed or Jack the Ripper? Either way, fail!  
4 Gt Portland St W1 www.flutebar.com