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Friday, 30 March 2012

Cable, Kennington

Describing himself as an ‘accidental entrepreneur’, Craig O'Dwyer, the jocular owner of Waterloo Lambretta lad hangout, Scootercaffè, devoted six months and much imagination to his second pet project - transforming a once decrepit Lambeth greasy spoon into a funky neighbourhood café/bar that oozes charm from its dark timbered walls. Found in French flea markets, car boots and bankrupt 1950s espresso joints in Trieste, the seemingly random recycled components of Cable’s witty magpie decor include a covetable Nouvelle Vague red Moka sign, gleaming 1961 Faema coffee machine and a distressed old mural - a reproduction of William Powell Frith’s satirical 1850’s panorama of Derby Day that hangs in Tate Britain. These combine to quirkily atmospheric effect creating a vibe that is part Old John Bull, part The Talented Mr Ripley, all set to live jazz swing from The King’s Cross Hot Club each Tuesday from 7pm. Kir and ‘Breton’ (cider and crème de Cassis) appear alongside classic cocktails such as Rob Roy, Negroni and Whisky Sour (£7), and there’s Ricard, Picon, vino, cake, coffee, free newspapers and flavoured sheesha to smoke on a teeny rear patio. Female staff are friendly, cool and very, very cute. A small cinema is planned in the basement and nu-London-on-Sea (aka Hastings) is next in Kiwi Craig’s sights for a third such bar. Lucky them.
8 Brixton Rd SW9 6BU 8617 9629

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker, Clerkenwell

Named after an old Jake Thackray ditty (ask your grandad), what was formerly the Queen Boadicea gets one of its two stars for ‘exquisitely lovely golden ale’ Thwaites Wainwright - one of four on tap - as well as fair everyday-drinking plonk, a dozen malt whiskies including various Dalmore, quality gins and a passable stab at currently modish retro home-made pub grub. Thumbs up for quail egg encased in moist black pudding, macaroni cheese, and a rogerable rabbit ‘pie’ (a pasty, actually) with buttered greens (£8.50). Thumbs down for a limp burger bun on the wrong side of fresh. The reinvented Clerkenwell boozer owes its second star to the English rose who serves us. Charm personified, the Goldsmith’s art student is the girlfriend of one of owners, it transpires - more of a toffeemaker than a blacksmith judging by her fella’s gangly physique, I'd say. Beyond this, I struggle to feel the love - much as I want to, if only for her sake.  But the decor! To original Edwardian cough lozenge brown glazed tiles, add phlegm grey paint, grim grubby utilitarian 1950s furnishings, banquette that looks to have been savaged from the canteen in On The Buses, random tat, a dull poster showing the bar's location that's slipped in its frame and Ceausescu-era wallpaper at 3 Romanian leu the lot. Taken together, I'm reminded of the sort of ten grand Bucharest bungalows featured on the one episode of the property show that does not make you long for A Place In The Sun. Maybe Rom-commie chic is big at Goldsmith’s this year? Maybe Friday’s ‘Glue’ DJ sessions, when the place is ‘buzzing with journalism and music students’, will inject some oomph? Maybe.
 294 John Street EC1V 4A

Friday, 16 March 2012

Hawksmoor, Spitalfields

Told that chicken burger comes topped with an egg, I revise my order. The idea of A Mother and Child Reunion, as Paul Simon sang, ruffles my sensitive feathers. That this is my only grouse of the evening is testament to how enamoured I am of the original Hawksmoor’s new cellar bar,  a handsome nu-Dickensian dandy in recycled wood, copper and peacock-tone glazed tiles. Killer cocktails and man-sized melty meat patties - to my mind, London’s best -  without the queues at non-bookable hip West End rivals? Bring it on! I’m back tonight to slug it out with Hawksmoor’s punchy Italian ‘tenders, having lost Round 1 to Davide  behind the bar on a TKO. In the ninety minute slot I set aside for its launch party, even this veteran campaigner couldn’t soak up champagne and all ten ‘tails on offer. From a selection called Desert Island Drinks - chosen monthly by a different mixologist - smart is the castaway who picks as his luxury The Puritan - a Plymouth gin, Chartreuse, orange bitters and vermouth martini for which I’d sell my soul to Satan, if I still had one left to sell, obviously. Hawksmoor will flog you this delight for a mere £8.50. Drop in too for a smoking Tobacco Old Fashioned, dogs, wings, burgers, beers and various other oral stimulation at a former strip-joint whose libations deliver the sexiest lip dance in E1.  
157 Commercial Street E1 7426 4856 

Friday, 9 March 2012

Mark's Bar at Belgraves, Belgravia

You know the score: on paper, someone ticks most boxes, yet you just can’t find it in yourself to fancy them? That’s me on my second date with Mark Hix’s new mezzanine bar at boutique hotel Belgraves. Spiritually, we’re suited: premium hooch informs cocktails by Rabelesian rinse jockey Nick Strangeway - he of historically hep hostelries The Atlantic, Che, Loungelover and, currently, of chef Hix’s clubbier, sexier Britart-peppered basement at the chef's fashionable Soho gaff. Quince gin concoction, Bride’s Kiss (£10.50); cider brandy-laced Temperley Sour; Monstrous Blood and Sand: Strangeway’s drinks take no prisoners, although my pal, Bradford Bob, a chip off Oliver Reid’s old block, claims his delicate gin fizz ‘wouldn’t get auntie Bella bladdered.’ Despite the ‘witty’ (read gratingly affected) monicker, Hix's 'snax’ and 'super snax' stack up, even if satisfying my blokeish appetite might max out the Amex. Eyeing a mini-pail of crispy squid (squidily diddly squat for £6.25) B.Bob sighs ‘no wonder London birds are such scrawny bints.’ What stops me from feeling the love here, is Tara Bernerd’s interior design: 60’s Mad Men; Patty Hewes-chic (Glenn Close's gimlet-eyed legal eagle in Damages); cool Britannia; chinoiserie; ethnic; yadda, yadda. Eclectic? Yes. Contrived, clenched, anal? Sexy? More beige, really.  I’m so superficial; I'd bin the potential love-of-my-life  simply for wearing questionable shoes. By this measure, I'd say a third date with Mark - in Belgravia, at least - is looking unlikely. 
Pont Street SW1 3189 4850 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Blitz, Covent Garden (Now CLOSED)

(We could be Heroes: the original BLITZ)

Wait long enough - until uninterested staff quit gossiping among themselves  -  and a lucky lad might eventually cop a French Kiss. That’s a cognac, lime and champagne cocktail. But at this new Covent Garden bar/ restaurant/ nightclub, it might equally imply locking lips with a customer - hopefully, not herpes-prone Hervé from Le Havre. Haunting the same street as a statue of Oscar Wilde in repose, this site’s previous occupant, Kudos, was wowing lavenders back when Gina G was still in the charts. Fast forward two decades: as go-go boys gyrate  downstairs, the small dance floor rocks to commercial and hard house spun by current star boystown DJs such as Brent Nichols and Paul Heron. Sadly, the new decor seems Oooh Aah...Just a Little Bit stuck in the same decade as Gina and her camp contemporaries: gauche red and black punctuated by unintentionally hilarious ‘art’ of uncommon ugliness? Not quite Right Said Fred! Woo Woo, Kee-Wee and Blue Lagoon - postmodern irony or more evidence of a troubled time-warped mind at large? - cost £7.95, less on happy hour until 8pm or... 7pm depending on which chalk board you believe. (We'd have asked, but didn't think it polite to interrupt two staffers smoking and chatting outside)  Challenging house red wine causes my chum’s lips to pucker... and not in anticipation of a snog from any horny admirer. Tables are set for dinner. Soup of the day ('with bread'!); chicken breast, new potatoes and greens; ice cream or sorbet: I'm thinking boarding school dinners circa Thatcher the Milk Snatcher. Around the same time as Oscar-winner Meryl's study material was starting out as PM, another Covent Garden dive was being feted as the planet’s hippest nightclub. In their  floppy fringes and frilly blouses, Norf London fauxmosexuals, Spandau Ballet, were cutting long stories short on its stage, while its lippy hat check girl, Boy George, hung up coats and dreamed of the big time.  Those were the original Blitz kids, the seminal club, the brainchild of new romantic movement doyen, Steve Strange. Fast forward to 2012, and it's a case of Fade to Gay... mediocrity at its new namesake. 
10 Adelaide Street WC2 7240 1818