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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 www.the3monkeysbar.co.uk 

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 www.bodosschloss.com


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 www.welovebarrio.com

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 www.thatchedhouse.com

see this and other reviews at www.squaremeal.co.uk

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 8301www.facebook.com/ThePigAndButcher

Based on my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk



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 info@revjwsimpson.com

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 www.bouncelondon.com