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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