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Friday, 29 June 2012

The Tokenhouse, The City

It's one of the City’s bigger watering holes, and under Fuller’s - whose Honey Dew and ESB are among the draughts on offer - what was once Bluu has had a major rethink . The building was once used as a repository for farthing coins before they were put into circulation, hence the new post-industrial Edwardian counting house chic theme in the main bar. I'm more inclined to a warmer loungey 1850s meets 1950s second bar that delivers on its promise of ‘comfy seating.’ Open early each weekday morning - for the power breakfast and recalcitrant deskbound alkie trade, presumably - Tokenhouse is an all-day trough for T.M Lewin shirts. Fill up on morning nosh - eggs Florentine, porridge or full English (£8). Lunch on mussels, langoustine risotto,veggie tarts or warm coronation chicken (£13) and come back after knocking-off time for a selection of 3 for £11 small plates and sharing platters and you'll be a proper fat bastard by Christmas time.  Wines include everyday red teeth stainers and a patrician Côte Rotie (£82.50). Cocktails such as pineapple punch and oriental martini (gin, lychee and cranberry) don't not exactly push any envelopes. There again, neither does the clientele on tonight's evidence. What is pushing it, is  £8.50 for a mojito in what’s basically a pub, albeit a tarted-up one. 

4 Moorgate EC2R 6DA 7600 6569

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Friday, 22 June 2012

The Parcel Yard, King's Cross

The architects of King’s Cross station have made a great job of retaining its old character while updating it for today’s travellers' needs. This is particularly evident at The Parcel Yard, a former goods depot whose listed atrium and glass ceiling have been incorporated into a space handsomely done out in salvaged woods, brick, glazed tiles, battered furniture and railway memorabilia. The place would still look familiar to the guard on the Flying Scotsman to Edinburgh Waverley circa the young Winston Churchill. Well-kept draught ales such as Discovery are by owners Fuller’s (and guests). The Chiswick brewer also does decent vino from under £4 a glass (for South African merlot) plus Picpoul de Pinet, reasonable at £17.50 a bottle.  Said to be Britain’s biggest railway station pub, I’d rather breakfast here on bacon butties (£3.95), duck eggs and soldiers or kedgeree and dine on potted shrimp, roast artichoke tart, grilled plaice samphire and cockle and mussel dressing followed by Cambridge burnt cream or fruit crumble with golden syrup than entrust myself to East Coast Mainline’s caterers - even if brown Windsor soup is a Brief Encounter buffet staple too far.    
King’s Cross Station N1C 4AH  7713 7258

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Piccolino Cicchetti Bar, Mayfair

Nowadays, everyone and his nonna is pimping cicchetti; savoury bites served with your traditional ‘ombra’ (a glass of local vino bianco) in Venetian bàcari bars. High street pizza peddlars Zizzi  tried it and now Piccolino in Heddon Street has jumped on the bandwagon with their new stand-alone basement cicchetti bar. God knows how many £4 arancini rice balls and £7.50 negronis they’ll need to shift before making a return on their outlay. For this flashy lounge feels less humble bàcaro, more Baccarat - as in poncey, pricey French crystal beloved of Arabic sultans of bling. Did its owners dine at Mayfair posho nosho, Cecconi’s, and post-post-prandial grappa, advise their designer ‘this’ll do nicely’? Marble-topped, mirrored Mussolini chic and bar stools toting enough pea green leather to keep a WAG in bags until Doomsday: the look seems strangely familiar. Shaken by Filippo, dapper in white tux, will £9 pear martini, served with fresh pear and Parma ham, be equally sharp? Sadly, no: cloyingly sweet, this one’s strictly for Haribo fans. Stick with Americano, Bellini, fine dry martini and top-notch Tuscan vino with your upmarket nibbles at this glitzy dame - think Nancy dell’ Olio via Ilkely and Clitheroe, two hotspots that host branches of this Made-in-Manchester Italianate chain.  21 Heddon Street 7287 4029   

Friday, 15 June 2012

Chamucos Clubhouse, Notting Hill

Years ago, my evenings were spent shuttling between Tom Conran’s Notting Hill holy trinity of The Cow - a cool cod-Irish pub - Lucky 7 burger joint and Crazy Homies, a kitschy cantina peddling on-the-money Mexican peasant nosh - zingy ceviche, taquitos and mule-kick hot quesadillas. Nowadays, my Metro bar gig propels me to far-flung ‘hoods hitherto only familiar from bus route maps: Homerton Baths; Highbury Barn; Hell. Late-night London has all gone East, innit? Tonight, however, I’m back on my old stomping ground, scoping out Conran’s latest wheeze. We’re necking no-next-day-hangover (£11) toreador margaritas made with Conran’s own label premium agave Tequila Chamucos Añejo when, not missing a trick, Sir Terence’s boy-done-good pops up to say ’you can buy it at Selfridges.’ Tom’s inspiration for his the recent redesign of his hip wee hideout, deep in Homies’ basement, came from weeks spent contemplating Mexico’s night skies, apparently. All inky blue and black Day of The Dead grungey gothic, it feels more like the feverish vision of a Chicano Wes Craven high on peyote to me: either way, me gusta mucho. That this dark den was the 1960s shebeen where, bustin' moves to early ska beat, Christine Keeler and her stylish Jamaican admirer Lucky Gordon (pictured) holed up during the notorious Profumo Affair that was to ultimately bring down a sitting Tory government, only ups its louche appeal. Notting Hill Sam and Dave will be praying history doesn’t repeat itself. 
127 Westbourne Park Road 

Friday, 8 June 2012

Propstore, Southbank

Packed with props from recent NT productions, last year’s South Bank summer essential p(r)op-up is back for another sell-out season that will last until the sun sets on September. As locations go, postcard-perfect views of the Thames and a ringside seat for the Southbank’s always entertaining passagiata are hard to trump and this year, the astro-turfed terrace is larger than before for maximum posing/ people-watching. Sip Sipsmith gin coolers, cups and cocktails, draught Meantime lager and various London-brewed artisan bottled beers, English wines, and order street grub - fish finger sandwich, steak and ale rissoles, sweet potato and chickpea falafel, scotch egg, and boxed salads - at resting actor prices. There's live music on Saturdays at 9 pm, and a special late licence means DJs can play until 2 am at weekends - cue late-night luvvies on the lash, sozzled on the South Bank claiming they're method actors in preparation for a production of The Days Of Wine And Roses, a play and a film starring Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon as a pair of  alcoholic lovers.  If you spot one familiar luvvie face ahem, 'propping' up the bar, for Pete's sake don’t mention Vicious: the ITV sitcom Frances de la Tour appears opposite Serena McKellan and Derek Jacobi (channeling John Inman in Are You Being Served) is more ‘Gordon Bennet!’ than Alan Bennett - whose new play, People, de la Tour  starred in at The Lyttelton this Spring.   
National Theatre, Southbank SE1