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Friday, 20 December 2013

Satan's Whiskers, Bethnal Green

Satan is an anagram of Santa - from whom comes an early Christmas present in the shape of this devilishly handsome new American neighbourhood-style cocktail joint. Great name! An inspired choice for a gaff aimed at Bethnal Green's hirsute hipsters, nu-Edwardian gay boys and their beards. Tonight, however, the table next to mine is populated by hardcore indiginous Bethnal birds - think Eastenders' Big Mo Harris (played by Laila Morse) with the foghorn voice of late Eastender Frank Butcher (Mike Reid) after he'd chain-smoked 20 packs of Embassy Regal. Vintage French advertising posters and tongue-in-cheek taxidermy - gangsta squirrels, unicorn skeletons, a fish called Rhonda, I reckon  - set the scene for deadly serious drinks. Satan's Whiskers is by the people behind The Hemingway in Victoria Park and Hunter S - a De Beauvoir Town pub I didn't fall for TBH. (see http://tinyurl.com/lonxqly ) Here, I'm a lot happier. £8.50 (including service) gets classic cocktails brandy Alexander, penicillin, clover club, and (prosecco-based) French 75. Less familiar suggestions at this hip E2 hole-up include E8 hold-up (vodka pineapple, lime and Aperol) and joint venture (rum, Campari, passion fruit and limonata). Lager and wines appear to be included as after-thoughts on a menu that also offers classic weekend brunch of eggs Florentine, royale or Benedict (annoyingly fiddly arranged on faffy wee black plates); brisket sweetcorn and coconut slaw, or scallop and bacon roll; Thai style moules frites (£7.50), and Bethnal breakfast of black pudding, bacon, sausage, poached egg and toast.
343 Cambridge Heath Road E2 7739 8362 Facebook: satanswhiskers



"Oi! Who are you calling a 'ipster?"

(image by www.evi.com) 

Laila Morse is an anagram of mia sorella - Italian for my sister. The name was given to the actress by her brother Gary Oldman's one-time squeeze Isabella Rossellini. (Wikipedia) Cor blimey! Who knew?



Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Steam and Rye, The City


Facebook recently introduced another typically daft gizmo. Like so many others, it's presumably aimed at disaffected youth festering in Nowhere Nebraska, stroking their father's rifle collection as they plan their bloody revenge on those classmates that dared mock their Justin Bieber be-stickered lunch box. Based on past posts, Facebook's feature fancies it can select your personal top 10 moments of the year. In 2014, as well as buying a new loo seat, one of mine was attending a preview of The Great Gatsby in nausea-inducing 3D, apparently. Is my life really that dull? Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby was a frenetic, over-styled marshmallow - shallow, vapid and unrewarding. I mention this, not because I've fancy a gig as a film critic - although I'll happily give you a pithy précis of Behind The Candelabra if you like - rather that Luhrmann's lurid Gatsby evidently inspires Nick House's new City restaurant and bar behemoth, Steam and Rye. As at his other venues Mahiki and Bodo’s Schloss, this perma-House party, set in the former Bank of New York's august marbled halls, is crammed chock-full of gimmicks - a 20's gangsters and molls theme park for cocktail-crazy kidult bankers and their 20-something staff: Basildon blondes, Billericay bean counters and Southend secretaries that fancy themselves Essex's answer to Daisy Buchanan. Steam and Rye has been designed in conjunction with a model/ presenter/ serial red carpet-hogger whose clothing range, Kelly Brook at New Look, is sure to appeal to those that imagine ersatz glam the height of big city sophistication. As I'm unlikely VIP lounge material (I'm not dating a West Ham player and I'd refuse to give a K***ing Kardashian my contact details, even supposing it wanted them), I head downstairs to one of various spaces accessible to paying punters. Here, a passable rendition of an antiquated Eastern Pacific Railway dining carriage doubles as a cocktail lounge - New York's Grand Central Station another design influence I'm told. All aboard a cheesy choo-choo to Yonkers for a bonkers range of hooch served by flappers in shimmy shifts. Ignoring classic calls vieux carré and prescription julep (£12.50), tonight's throng is sold on tricks such as sticks of rock in soda fountain alco-pops, moonshine served in oil can mugs...or in faux footwear in the case of dead man’s boot (tequila, lemon and marshmallow). A Monica Lewinsky cocktail is a creamy rum and amaretto affair - fit for a president, no doubt. Be careful he doesn't splash it on your dress, love: people will talk. ‘Maize balls,' meanwhile, may well make Made In Chelsea fans miss the last train back to Basildon. Steaming at 2 am? I don't hang around to find out. I've got better, if not bigger, speakeasies in mind. 
147 Leadenhall Street, EC3V 4QT 37018793 www.steamandrye.com  

Great Gatsby outfit (pictured) available via www.joke.co.uk

Friday, 13 December 2013

Hack and Hop, The City

Had I been of an even earlier vintage, I might have ended up on Fleet Street. By the time I took to reporting on London's bar scene, the old gutter press pack's dipso hacks had long since hopped off elsewhere. Some fled to other parts of town, others ended up in their own obit columns, felled by cirrhosis, and for one former red top editor, if it all goes pear shaped at the Bailey, a cell at her Majesty's pleasure could soon be the ‘hold-the-front-page!’ story. For any modern City wage slave whose liver craves a bit of light lunchtime abuse or a well-earned post-work half pint, this understated reboot of a moribund boozer, new from the gang behind The Old Red Cow in Smithfield, is worth a punt. Framed epoch-defining splashes à la Man Walks On The Moon/ Jimmy Savile Molested My Hamster aren’t the real scoop here. No, that’ll be fine British craft brews from the likes of Weird Beard, Beavertown Pressure Drop and Manx indie, Okell’s supported by a slew of punchy imports on tap. Alternatively, order pukka wine with ham croquettes, cocktail sausages or mod-Brit pub grub - confit pork belly, pear and braised endive in a red wine jus/ boeuf bourgignon and mash/ butternut squash risotto et al - at newsworthy low prices. That's about it in a nutshell, guys. Print it!  
35 Whitefriars Street, EC4y 8BH  7583 8117 www.thehackandhop.com 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Drake's Tabanco, Fitzrovia

From the owners of Copita and Barrica, this off-Charlotte Street tabanco - a style of tavern dedicated to Jerez de la Frontera’s native drink  - should prosper. A cosy bar - a tight squeeze with high stools - will suit those popping in for post-work snacks of olives and nuts, rillettes, terrines or various sharing boards (from £12) with a glass of chilled dry fino. Prices start at £2.90 for a range produced by internationally acclaimed Bodegas Rey Fernando De Castilla served from the barrel using a traditional cup. Beyond the bar, Drakes opens up into an authentically austere Andalucian-style room with banquette and, to one corner, a second bar with high stools for more casual dining. Top notch, limited release fino en rama works well with a fair seafood platter that has cured sardines, cockles, prawns, slightly soapy salt-cured air-dried tuna loin (mojama), mackerel paté and gravadlax. Rich aged oloroso, the owner’s recommendation, is served with both braised pig cheeks, hazelnuts and potato puree, and rolled lamb breast, lentils and salsa verde from a choice of 6 rustic mains (from £9.50) that also includes octopus chikpea and chorizo, and a white bean veggie stew. Full-on fruity rare old India 20+ years is pudding in its own right but was served here with apple crumble, nuts and hazelnut ice cream, a combo so over-rich, it could sink the eponymous Drake’s Golden Hind - the ship on which the seafaring Elizabethan brought sherry in butts, introducing the tipple to England.
3 Windmill Street W1T 2HY 7637 9388  www.drakestabanco.com

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Little Bar, Tooting


Before Madeleine Lim - former food and drink editor on the Indy magazine - opened its doors in summer 2013, I imagine a branding guru and numerous focus groups were consulted before nailing down this venture's name. "It’s a bar" (tick). "It’s little" (tick). "How about, oh I dunno; help me out here!" This bijou neighbourhood watering hole, shoe-horned into converted retail premises, comes with high stools at its pristine counter and more seating in a dinky courtyard. Essentially, it's The Little WINE Bar - with a concise range of good vino from boutique producers available by the glass from £4. But if you've got more uptown ideas, they’ll fix you various takes on the classic kir, Italian spritzes, numerous negroni variants (in SW17, sloe gin is in), a mean martini and picklebacks. Otherwise, try Julian Temperley’s méthode champenoise Somerset cider, and  - referencing Tooting’s  days as a hot-bed of revolution - led Robert Lindsay, aka Citizen Smith, in the grimly unfunny eponymous 1970s sitcom - local brew, Wolfie Smith brown ale. Factor in boquerones, terrines and charcuterie and cheese plates on the cheap and you’ll be glad you were tempted even further down the Northern Line  to Tooting - the new Balham; or - with more than a little leap of the imagination - the new Shoreditch according to some. What next? Colliers Wood is the new Côte d'Azur?
145 Mitcham Road SW17 9PE 8672 7317 Twitter @LittleBarSW17

Taken from my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk

Friday, 6 December 2013

The Sign of the Don, The City

The spacious ground floor bar at The Don’s smart new bistro is a cosy cork-walled charmer, suitable for City chinwags over a glass of finest Fino. The black-cloaked hombre depicted in the bar's branding has, for centuries, been synonymous with Sandeman, purveyors of award-winning sherries and port. Served comme il faut (unlike your nan's Christmas Emva Cream), wrap your laughing gear around various styles with shaved Bellota ham off the bone for an authentic taste of Spain. From a list of sherry-laced cocktails, I like flamenco (Woodford Reserve bourbon, Manzanilla, peach liqueur, mint, lime and barley syrup), and torero (loosely, a sherry Americano). The Don is also big on gin, stocked in numbers and used in sophisticated sours such as the Londoner (Adnams First Rate, Noilly Prat, apricot liqueur and lime with egg white). Nutty symphony (a cognac, fig, chestnut honey and butterscotch liqueur fix) is one of various £13 digestifs that promise ‘a surprising journey of flavours’ - albeit not a journey my palate cares to undertake. Three dozen wines come by the glass. Ask to visit The Don's fascinating 18th century cellars, where the restaurant’s stellar cast of 400 global hotties  has top notch Tempranillo and Pena das Donas Almalarga, an elegant mineral-rich white produced from Galicia’s godello grapes. Quality hams and crispy pork crackling aside, there's Manchego and sobrassada piquant sausage toastie (£7), various croquettes, deep-fried olives with goats curd, and smoked prawns. Service is slick and although, to the average St Paul's wage slave, prices may err on the steep side, off Cheapside, the Don is definitely your man.   
St Swithins Lane, EC4N 8AD 7626 2606 http://www.thedonrestaurant.com

adapted from my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Kench and Bibesy, Smithfield


"'Kench' is a little-used term for a fish salting bin, as well as the olde English equivalent of that current online überacronym, LOL. 'Bibesy' is an archaic term for an excessive desire to drink." So says the owner of this new Smithfield gaff, a man whose Nottingham childhood must have been so uneventful, he can still recall every round of Call My Bluff. Mine host, the linguist Chris Peel, is keen to point out the thinking behind the name of his new dining room (Kench) and bar (Bibesy), lest I imagine it's in the same vein as his other premises. Chris, you see, is also the man behind cod-1920's Chicago Mobster's speakeasy Evans and Peel - a quirky hole-up that would doubtless be fun-lovin' Diana Spencer's local had she not kissed a Greco-German frog, become a princess, left her pad in Earl's Court for an even more louche Court, and died after the dream turned as sour as her sister-in-law Anne's equine fizog. Whether Diana, smudged panda eyed patron saint of TV confessionals, would have enjoyed Kench's modern Brit tapas, who can say? She was a finicky eater, one of her friends tells me. I enjoy K and B's..... in part. Pulled oxtail with red cabbage, and pork 'bellypops' are fair but chewy, flavourless, salt-cured flank steak tartare echoes Diana's demise: a car crash. Wotevah!  I'm feeling more bibsey boy than kenchy tonight, so it's the downstairs drinking den here that interests me more. As at Evans and Peel, part of the fun is divining its entrance. If you're not thick as a brick, you'll discover a rough-hewn pine-clad blue-collar cabin that has presumably been modelled on a shady Adirondacks shack circa Hank Williams - the sort of dive where rednecks drink doctored hooch and eye up their cousins' beavers after a day spent shootin' squirrels in the woods - Tufty taxidermy is a bit of a theme at Bibesy. From a back bar stacked high with premium spirits, Bibsey's cocktails are no hokey moonshine. Campari eggnog aside - an ill-advised experiment that tastes like the poo of a jaundiced alkie Milanese mama's breast-fed baby - the menu is packed with must-try stuff. Despite its crap name, Beyond Epale ('the bastard lovechild of a martinez and a presidente') is a winner. So too, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Bibesy's Kinky Boulevardier built on Calvados. The drinks keep coming faster than a horny hillbilly in a $10 parking lot whore. By the time I get to Redemption rye and Arran and Islay whisky-based Salt and Malt Sazerac, Hank Williams'  'I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive' is playing in my head. At one point, I swear  there's a mean squirrel on my shoulder and it's after my nuts - always a bad sign that you're one more drink away from a paramedic's intervention. It's testament to this luxe liquor pit's pull that I'm still here, howling for more, at 3 a.m on a school night. OK, I'll level. It helps that Peel lures us into a lock-in, the tab on him. As I, too, am keen to revive obscure old English words, let me add that if you can corrade the cost of an Oenological Manhattan (11 gold bits), freck hither, twitter-light, and deliciate at a brannigan within.
50 - 52 Long Lane EC1A 9EJ 7796 3631 www.kenchandbibesy.com

Friday, 29 November 2013

Cosy Kettle, Euston


("oops!")
Like arriving at a house party your antennae has assessed as a dreary dud, even before its host has finished air-kissing you at the front door, beating an inconspicuous retreat when you don't fancy what you find at any unfamiliar bar, hidden from view in a basement, can be  'hashtag-awkward' as people say (annoyingly). No more so, than when the place is empty save for three punters and two members of staff who look genuinely thrilled to greet you. That's the scenario tonight at a peculiar new cocktail and cake lounge beneath long-running, not-half-bad pub, Somers Town Coffee House. Quick as a flash, I've decided the decor doesn't do it for me. An inchoate mishmash of homespun ideas, twee recycled 60s gubbins, stage set doors, kitsch seats even Steve at Corrie's Street Cars office mightn't fancy; it reminds me of when some of my classmates, aged 11, did up Malcolm MacKenzie's old man's garage as a nightclub. Using stuff found in local skips, Malc and his equally moronic muckers fancied it looked like somewhere cool where Tony Blackburn might DJ, while my innate superior imagination was getting 'dump in Blackburn, Lancs.' For a cocktail lounge, this garish gaff's back bar's scant gins, vodkas and Bells whisky - presumably for wee hard man drinkers fresh off the Glasgow train at nearby Euston - don't exactly augur well - but reinforcements are apparently on the way. Thank God I'm not out on the pull (assuming there was anyone to pull): it's very bright for a bar. How many staff does it take to unscrew a few lightbulbs? Still, I'm here; the barman (pictured) looks the part and the menu promises he'll mix something else if I don't fancy the likes of Lynchburg lemonade, gin fizz or margarita on the rocks from a terse list of unambitious ‘cocktaails’ (sic). "How about a Boulevardier?" Negative. This, despite a Diffordsguide, an informative tome that includes its recipe, in clear view. "Er, OK. I'll have a sweet Manhattan," I say, now back on-menu. After what seems like an age, it is ready. Served not sweet, not perfect, but dry, it is also wrong. "Dry: that's the way I tend to make things" its maker's wet explanation for this disappointing £9.80 effort. Word up, fella! If I ask a bespoke tailor for a silk mohair suit, I won't wear tweed because that's the way he tends to make things. Gitme? If you, however, fancy trying on his French martinis for size at 1.30am, dive in; it's open until 2am. Only don't expect to cosy up to me at this queer Kettle. I've got bigger and better fish to fry. 
60 Chalton Street, NW1 1HS  7387 7377 www.thesomerstowncoffeehouse.co.uk 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Loves Company, Shoreditch


(Been there, got the t-shirt) 

In the classic bittersweet ballad "I Wanna Be Around', performed by everybody from Tony Bennett to Edyie Gorme http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNpb8WsF6bc ), it's said ‘misery loves company.’ Based on the self-pitying crap I've endured over the years, cornered by maudlin drunk acquaintances in bars, and too nice to hand them the number for a decent counsellor then walk away, it's a spot-on observation. Despite duller-than-Doncaster-in-December decor, new dive bar Loves Company’s drinks are anything but miserable. If you’re not drawn to its ungainly muddy brown street level lounge served by a tiny bar, head downstairs to its much bigger basement. Rudimentary furniture that might have been assembled by rookies studying for O-level carpentry and, bizarrely, a white porcelain pedestal washbasin that looks incongruous, to the point of disturbing, behind the bar, do not augur well. See past this and you will be amply rewarded by a range of deeply doable drinks. Typical calls on a menu that would hold its own in Williamsburg - this new duplex dive’s spiritual home? - include a fiery mezcal bloody Maria with a bacon salt rim; chilled flame (a pisco, Pedro Ximinez and grapes sour); a house martini that introduces lemon (in both marmalade and juice form) and olive brine to Jake Burger’s Portobello Road gin; and a rum-bunctious zombie ‘you know is going to kill you.’ Prices certainly won’t: drinks are not deadly at just £7.80 for most. If you can’t face the full-on Shoxditch stramash or you don’t have reservations at Nightjar (directly opposite), these boys would love your company. Give them a spin.

adapted from reviews fro Metro and Square Meal.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Earlham Street Clubhouse, Covent Garden


(Yeh, I reckon!)

It's unfair to judge a bar by its Press launch. God knows I've organised enough live events in my time to know that last-minute hiccups beyond your control come with the gig. Take the nerve-jangling men's Autumn/Winter fashion show I produced for a big name British  designer in Milan. While the notoriously bitchy style mag monsieurs queened and preened front row, 15 minutes and ticking 'til lights down, the designer's entire shoe collection languished, uncleared, in a customs warehouse at Linate airport. Would bare feet in winter be the season's instant hot trend? No! The show must go on, on-time (i.e no more than an hour late); so we improvised. I sent the stylist's 'Eureka!' plan B, a last-minute job lot of grubby Italian army boots bought from a shop around the corner, down the runway to rapturous applause from an audience of gullible himbos. To this day, I believe the collection is still referred to as The Emperor's New Shoes. Opening night nerves and glitches are evident at Earlham Street Clubhouse, new on the site of Detroit - a basement bar that, like its currently clapped-out Motor City namesake, the wheels finally came off. It seems the Seven Dials juice pit's new owners have looked east of Michigan, to the Jersey shores' boardwalk bars of the '50s, for inspiration. Vintage jukebox, old metal burger bar signs, table side telephones for booth-to- booth flirting (not yet installed, ergo glitch #1): I half expect to clock The Fonz on holz. Happy Daze? That'll be down to ESC's slugger cocktails. Listed on snap-sprung menus dangled from the ceiling, they include berry-sweet Ketel 1-laced Prom Queen, Beauty School Drop-out and Power Ranger (a Bulleit, red wine and apricot jam sour). I'm offered a rocks margarita: way too stringent, it drinks like lemon Cif. Its replacement, College Rules is a Pampero mule whose murderous chipotle element comes on like a kick to the windpipe - this to the clear chagrin of consultant mixologists Soul Shakers whose head honcho tastes it, blushes, and promises to finesse his babies at an ASAP staff snagging session. There are more opening night wobbles but by and large, the Press pack is upbeat, the launch deemed a success - not least due to great thin-crust, sourdough pizza by the slice that's as good as anything you'll find in Frank Sinatra's pizza-mad hometown, Hoboken NJ. Unlike fashion show producers, bar owners get a second chance to make a first impression. My impression is it'll all turn out alright tomorrow night at the cute Clubhouse. 
35 Earlham Street  WC2H 9LD  7240 5142 http://www.esclubhouse.com 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Simmons, Camden

Simmons is the sort of late-night bar I occasionally fall into when I've been slung out of somewhere else - whether that's down to its early closing or to my bad behaviour.  Fans of the original wee King’s Cross original will dig Son of Simmons in NW1. Here's a similarly dippy den done out in 50s kitsch under a skull mirrorball that, if it were a genuine Damien Hirst, could buy several houses hereabouts and still leave loose change for the bar's affordable signature drinks. Better still, on 3pm - 9pm happy 'hour', cocktails are just £10 for 2, so jump in for jamble, bramble and doctored ‘tea’ in china pots, or go pot luck and let the bar’s one-armed bandit randomly decide your next drink. A winning line of 7-7-7 scores a jackpot fishbowl - but Malibu Chambord and Coke? I’ll stick with your French martini when I pop in to pretox next time I'm about to enjoy Guilty Pleasures, Sean Rowley's retrotastic disco party at what used to be the Camden Palace. And as for any cocktail called 'tastes like Elliot' (the bar's owner) and advertised as 'this could possibly be the best drink you’ll ever have. We’ve literally had people licking out Elliot, er I mean their teacup with this one,' I should ahem, KOKO!
 7 Camden High Street NW1 7JE 7383 5595 http://www.simmonsbar.co.uk/

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Shenkman Bar at The Keeper's House, Mayfair


Culture and cocktails? That's the deal at this new Piccadilly arrival. Named after the late Belle Shenkman, a London-based Canadian patron of the arts and member of the RA, this urbane basement bar at Peyton and Byrne's The Keeper’s House restaurant opens onto a cute palm-stippled courtyard garden designed by landscaper Tom Stuart Smith - whose green-fingered prowess will be known to visitors to past Chelsea Flower Shows. Open from 11.30am to 11pm, except on Sunday when it closes at 6 pm, cocktails (from £8.50) are prepared using seasonal ingredients wherever practicable. Among the pick of the autumn crop, for example, expect to find the likes of rye, blackcurrant vermouth, beetroot and blackcurrant and rosemary vinegar; a chestnut scotch honied brose; and a tequila and mezcal fix with agave syrup, crab apple and cider vinegar. Snacks such as piquant potato beignets, hot and cold buttered cod, and savoury vegetable crunch are also available. 
Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House W1J 0BD 7747 5942 http://www.peytonandbyrne.co.uk 

See more reviews of new London bars at www.squaremeal.co.uk

Purl at The Bedford, Balham

Nicknamed 'Planet Janet' by Andy Warhol, my ex-landlady is a confidante to the famous and a dog-walker-to-the-stars. She also has the uncanny knack of honing in on unloved 'hoods, buying a property there for buttons, "making the area fashionable, darling" then selling out when it inevitably goes supernova. Decades ago, I'm told, her coterie was incredulous when she vacated a swish Kensington mansion beside Biba and set up camp (in every sense of the phrase) just off Notting Hill no-go zone, All Saints Road. "Stroll on, white trash" growled baseball bat-wielding Yardies, loitering with intent to supply, outside the boarded-up mini-mart; as she went in search of weed no stronger than Silk Cut before settling for 10 Embassy Regal. Well, W11 was no Knightsbridge back in the day. After another astute move -  to Battersea's Shaftesbury Estate, now laughably rebranded South Chelsea by some - she identified boring Balham as 'worth a look.' I was aghast. "Balham? As in, lampooned by Peter Sellars as 'the gateway to the South?' Do cabs even go there?'' Planet Janet's Midas touch did not desert her. Where once were takeaways guaranteed to give you the trots, locals can now trot along to swish brasseries or fill up on Franca Manca's pizzas. Shonky shops have rapidly been replaced by artisan bakers, twee gift emporia, cocktail bars and those twin barometers of any 'burb's kudos, Waitrose and Foxton's. The arrival of splendiferous Marylebone molecular magicians Purl at local landmark boozer The Bedford, speaks volumes about Balham's new status. Watch its young City workers go bonkers for bubblegum martini (grape bubblegum-infused vodka, egg white and popping candy) and café creamer (an espresso martini topped with condensed milk foam) at around £9 a pop. Purl aims to reprise ‘forgotten classics no longer available at HQ, as voted by our followers on Twitter'. i.e people with way too much time on their hands. This will surely mean the reappearance of the W1 bar’s  rummy smoke-billowing prestidigitation, Mr Hyde’s fixer upper.  What does need to be fixed up here, however, is the room's gloomy lighting and decor. 1930s film projections aside, on launch night, it felt more Greater Grimsby working man's club than Great Gatsby glam With a little tweaking, it should shape up us SW12's sauciest speakeasy. Will Planet Janet be in for a green fairy - a Dalmore 10 sazerac caressed by a wispy absinthe air cloud? No chance! She recently sold up and shipped out. If you too want to make a mint, follow the van, old man, and don't dilly dally on the way to up-and-coming St Leonard's-on-Sea where the clever cow has bought a des res for less than the price of a Balham bedsit.
77 Bedford Hill, SW12 9HD 8682 8940 www.purl-london.com 

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Cricketers, Kew


Warm beer and cricket on the village green: it was John Major's English idyll - only, here, my beer's not warm and a storm has caught out the would-be willow whackers of Kew. What to do when rain stops play? Doubling as unofficial clubhouse, the old Rose and Crown is the place to shelter. Following a major makeover, re-branded under new management as The Cricketers, its smart terrace is ideal for armchair umpires when the weather behaves itself. Indoors, the low-beamed old girl has been gussied up. Cosy postmodern pink and mink tweeds tie in with a string and dead salmon paint job that will appeal to Farrow and Ball snobs (note to young homemakers: Leyland will mix a-near-as-damn-it alternative for pounds less.)  Ales include Portobello pilsner, Sambrook’s, Eton and Windsor, London Black Cab and Innis and Gunn. Wine from £15 includes Chablis at £25 and food prices are not OTT. Expect to stump up £12.50 for confit duck leg, sweet potato and red cabbage on a lunch and dinner menu that also has Portobello mushroom, tomato and feta in filo; share platters from £10; and old school puds. The only downer, is the out-of-place coffin dodger couple on the next table. She, of the Torremolinos tomato tan on skin the texture of Dunlop tyre tread, does not seem like someone who would take an interest in the government's energy policy. "Fracking this and fracking that' as the soundtrack to my lazy lunch? It's just not cricket! 

79 Kew Green Richmond, Surrey 8940 2078 http://www.thecricketers-kewgreen.co.uk

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Rosewood, Holborn

As the heavens open and the storm rages, I'm alright Jack! An early adopter, I'm sitting it out  - happy as a sand-boy in a squishy sink-in sofa by a roaring fire - at Rosewood's rather gorge bar. The haute hotel chain’s maiden European venture harks back to the days of Britain as a global superpower. Set in a palatial pillared marble hall of the Pearl Assurance Co’s former showpiece HQ, Martin (Scott’s/ 34/ The Ivy Club) Brudnizki’s candied fruits-tone updated take on Edwardian pomp is a triumph that, at a stroke, creates a classic new luxurious London space. Better still, one with great cocktails on tap. Classy calls, prepped at an imposing L-shaped bar, include humidor (Chivas 18-y-o, white port and absinthe); hats off (mezcal, Aperol and agave-sweetened citrus fruit juices); Connemara peated single malt and cherry liqueur fix, Irish mermaid (£12); fish house punch, and pith helmet - a reference to Britain’s colonial adventures in India, the inspiration for various items of old Delhi tiffin on a menu that also includes attractively presented smoked salmon or chicken liver pot, merguez pizzette, and cheese and onion sourdough toasties (£7) - the latter so addictive, I'm beginning to regret binning my Breville. For now though, there is liveried staff to cater to my fat neck's new-found need. I may be down on the dumbest TV costume drama of all time, but when I say this deeply doable drawing room-cum-library-cum-home-from-home feels like a set from Downton Abbey, it's meant as a compliment. I sit totally alone, like The Dowager Countess of Grantham spoiling for a sparring partner who'll wither under my vinegary sarcasm. Nobody comes. Not  a single sausage. Heaven on Holborn! Don't tell another living soul! 

252 High Holborn WC1V 7EN 7781 8888 http://www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/london

Adapted from my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Momentus, Marble Arch


If you've never been to The Cumberland, do please go...if only for the hotel's lobby - a vast plain that could be a public square in Pyongyang populated by sculptures inspired by those wretched human statues that litter Covent Garden Piazza. After scant cosmetic tweaking, the pile’s Patrón bar - nice tequila shame about the room - has morphed into Momentus, a hard-edged lounge that imagines itself ‘the place to be in W1.’ It might be the place to be on the M1 - if motorway service stations did bars and this were Leicester not London. Where it sees ‘laid-back, sultry, stylish and full of colour,’ I see clattery, impersonal, dated and bland. Billing itself a champagne bar, you might reasonably expect its list to offer more than three types by the glass - Moët and Chandon Impérial, entry level bubbles, fair at £8.50 and champagne cocktails (£11) that include Bellini and Buck (sic) Fizz. At the bar's lame launch - a less than Momentus occasion - I'm expected to wear a name tag. Have I wandered, in error, into a conference break-out for Ukranian combine harvester salesmen? I manage to grab two canapes: a smoked salmon pagoda thingy, and a sliver of pork pie. Neither inspires further investigation of the bar food menu. The highlight of my visit is a magnificent MILF, more of a MI-wouldn't-LF - a brave bingo-winged big bird that, despite being the size and the age of
 the Rock of Gibraltar, has somehow filled herself into a canned red salmon-tone flared mini-dress that would be the envy of her doppelgänger, mature tranny waiter Leslie off ITV 1's camp comedy, Benidorm. Her foul frock is fabulously mismatched to a Sharon Osbourne-esque flaming bob (Bob?),  teamed with hooker heels and black shites (i.e shit tights). For her, seebreeze (sic) or sex on the beach from a list that reminds you this is The Cumberland not The Connaught?
The Cumberland Hotel, Great Cumberland Pl. W1 0871 376 9014   http://www.guoman.com

Adapted from my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk


Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Earl Derby, Kilburn

As they say in Latin, "Cave decor dullicus! "


It's fair to say Kilburn High Road is a thoroughly grim thoroughfare. Being marched away from lovely Londinium along this chronically clogged artery - know as Watling Street in Roman times - must have depressed Caesar's legionnaires only marginally less than realising they were bound for Miltonus Keynicum and other naffissimae points North. Is it any wonder the street is so peppered with boozers, fonts at which to fortify sagging spirits? New among them, is the Earl Derby. Previously the not-so Golden Egg, this local landmark, solid 19th century roadhouse, has now been returned to its original name and has been totally overhauled. Modish(-ish) design ticks - cliched stag head and tacky glass chandeliers - hang together awkwardly under high ceilings painted jet black paint. Fake vines trail across the back bar - presumably to remind Roman generals of the bucolic joys of their estates in Latium - and the huge fireplace will host no working fire says the pub's manager. Why? Lest the generals have Kilburn crones accused of infecting the troops with clappicus incurabilis burned alive? At the ED, you’ll find English cask ales, Californian, Bavarian and Czech beers, and fancy bottles from Belgium, Mexico and Italy. Curiously, what you won’t find - slap bang in the heart of Kilburn - is a pint of Guinness. As a new army - the M and S £10 Dine-in for Two tribe - colonises this gritty North London faubourg, it seems the luck of the Irish has finally run out. Food is a fairly predictable please-all mix. There's gnocchi for Latin conquerors,  cod and chips, pies, sarnies, and sausage and mash for woad-daubed locals, and roast lunch is available on Sunday should you ever venture out Kilburn way for some unforeseeable reason. For around the same price as a meal and a bottle of vino, an Easyjet flight home to Rome may have more appeal to Antonius, Alexandrus Attilius et al. 

155 Kilburn High Road NW6 7HU 7625 2618 http://www.theearlderbykilburn.co.uk

Friday, 25 October 2013

Far Rockaway, Shoreditch


When I lived in New York,  reliant on the kindness of strangers, my Brooks Brothers shorts and Sebago deck shoes' days were spent at East Hampton or Fire Island Pines...the latter, as close as I ever got to Queens...as in the borough that's home to that big-in-the-1960s pleasure beach at Far Rockaway (the inspiration for this vast new Shoreditch bar/ diner on the site of the old Elbow Rooms) as opposed to the Greenwich Village People variety. Here, in eye-bleedingly busy Slush Puppy-tone colour-clash, it's the New York scene circa Basquiat, Keith Haring, Shannon's Let The Music Play, Flashdance and neon-lovin' fashion designer Stephen Sprouse that is referenced. Welcome to 1983 - complete with skateboard sculptures, album sleeve collages, a library of 4,000 Marvel comics and a DJ booth made from old ghetto blasters. To my been-there-got-the-t-shirt-and-framed-it eyes, it's all a bit ersatz - like that other 1983 NY phenomenon, Madonna - but although this is not, by some stretch, my idea of the coolest Shoreditch bar, I like its pose and swagger immensely. It's full-on, frenetic and fun (and not aimed at me, doh!) For the weekend TOWIEs that pour into the 'Ditch from London's equivalents of Far Rockaway (Southend/ Clacton/ Canvey Island), however, I'm guessing this big brash commercial brute, open until 2 am, will become the go-to DJ party shack, fuelled by lemon meringue pie, peanut butter cup, and purple haze cocktails, frozen margaritas (how very 1980s!) crack baby shooters and hot bitches (Babicka vodka, passion fruit, peppers, vanilla sugar and black pepper) at £7. In the diner - think post-disco Happy Days - pizza, franks, clubs, mac'n'cheese, meatball hero, wings, ribs, cheesecakes and brownies are the sort of eats avaialble 24/7 Stateside that remind me how, had I stayed in America for good, I'd be the size of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island too by now.
97 - 113 Curtain Road EC2A 3BS 8305 3090 http://www.farrockaway.co.uk

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Upstairs At Nancy's, Shoreditch

En route to tonight's Plan A (see following review), I squeeze in the Press launch of this new wee upstairs hang-out, away from the fray, at the packed Crown and Shuttle - a low rent strip joint turned groovy distressed pub - below (see http://tinyurl.com/bn9k3aj ). A room that would, by oily London estate agent standards, constitute 'a generous space for entertaining' (or in my native Edinburgh New Town, 'a walk-in wardrobe) has been got up like a film set. Full-scale shopfronts - their window displays packed with retro wares - describe a Spitalfields square circa Poirot. Theres even a Victorian gas lamp under which to loiter, should the local tart wish to spotlight her display rack. Cute, but I am reminded of a similar set-up I've seen before -  a cod-Oirish village square, deep in the bowels of Waxy O'Connor's in W1 (Not so cute). A tiny candlelit bar dispenses London gins and craft beers (Partizan, Redchurch and Five Points), wine from the barrel, and a couple of cocktails such as Nancy's signature - La Penca mezcal, Kamm and Sons and Sacred vermouth (£8). With food from downstairs' kitchens available, this would make a great party space for up to 30. (Private hire is available) I forget to ask who Nancy is but presently I spot, and join, some familiar faces outside the village apothecary. The conversation turns to Naomi Campbell's witchy barbs on The Face; Madonna hits; David Beckham's pants; Tess Daly's Strictly awful frocks; Selfridges' discount cards; and moisturiser - as it inevitable does when you join a table of tweeting Nancy boys and their female admirers. 
226 Shoreditch High Street  E1 6PJ 7375 2905   www.upstairsatnancys.co.uk

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hoi Polloi, Shoreditch


Hoi Polloi, the latest on-the-moolah beaux peeps magnet from Bistrotheque / Shrimpy’s Pablo Flack and David Waddington, has a wee cocktail bar in one corner for those not booking into the all day-brasserie. Tasty Festival of Britain decor suggests a1950s holiday camp; while the drinks menu references another strand of camp also prevalent in that decade: ‘polari.' A rich patois that appropriated many Yiddish terms, polari was used in public by gay men. Impenetrable to others, it was necessary lest their saltier observations betray their sexuality, leaving them open to attack, blackmail or arrest in the days before homosexuality was decriminalised.The old loingo has been enjoying a bit of a revival while other polari words have entered our language. 'Naff', for example, is an acronym that originally stood for 'not available for fucking', as in 'straight, ergo undesirable. Examples here include ‘omi-polone’(an effeminate man) - a Buffalo Trace and port sour (£9); ‘riah shusher’ (hairdresser) - a rhubarb and vanilla Tapatio blanco mule; and Sipsmith sloe gin and ginger wine fix, 'bijou basket' - tasty tackle to wrap your laughing gear around. I suggest a new cocktail called 'a cottage loaf'. Co-owner Dolly Waders, salty stick that he is, instantly catches on, where others are bamboozled. "Cottage loaf as in bread, or hair buns?" asks my 30-something friend Laura. "No dear" I say, in my best Kenneth Williams nasal whine, "more bread for hairy buns - as offered up by dolly Dilly boys to johns cruising in Soho khazis... vada?" Laura the innocent is still none the wiser. Not-so-queer beers include two from Beavertown (that’s not a polari term, rather the Hackney microbrewer); there's wine from £4, and snacks of pickled onion rings and salt cod paste, chickpea fritters with tarragon yoghurt dip, or ‘puffy scratchings.' The latter may or may not be code for risky risqué retro couplings. Either way, Hoi Polloi is a Round The Horney hang-out, and a club bar due to launch downstairs is to be 'a bit like the Joiners Arms' ( a nearby Hackney homo haunt) Oooh, er! 
100 Shoreditch High Street E1 6JQ 8880 6100 www.hoi-polloi.co.uk  

Image: vada the bona showgirls on the old Queen Mary (via www.cruiselinehistory.com )

See also http://www.polarimagazine.com


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

Friday, 18 October 2013

Ruski's Tavern, Kensington

The first time I visited Russia, it was still part of the dreaded Soviet Union. Head-to-toe in my Yohji/ Comme cod-Stalin comrade look that cost more than a red army of grain-harvesting Volgograd gummy grannies would earn in a lifetime, how I pitied the stern-faced matrons jostling 10-deep, hell-bent on securing the latest (only) thing to hit the shelves that week at Moscow's appalling State-owned department storeski GUM -  ludicrously expensive, revolting crude red lippy that any self-respecting 6-year-old London fashionista who found such a joke item attached, free, to a kiddies magazine at WH Smith would jettison pronto. The only other items for sale were gas stoves, toothpicks, rat-traps and nasty Nylon Romanian track suits in vilest vanilla and mauve hoops. Nowadays, it's Russian nouveaux riches' turn to pity Brit paupers, packing out Primark while they drop thousands on Vuitton, Versace, Gucci and Louboutin - yet somehow contrive to still look like Red Square hookers circa Letter To Brezhnev. Will homesick Russians dig Ruski's Tavern, new in Kensington opposite Embassy Row? Who knows? But for anyone who fancies a life of caviar and chips washed down with 6 litre bottles of Cristal that, at £25,950, cost more than a brand new BMW 120i ES Coupé (or a terraced house in Burnley - twinned with Chernobyl), this mock Cold War-era Muscovite bar/ club pastiche with its daft cosmonaut 'art' is the place to hang out. It's opposite, and run by two escapees from, that other themed posho playground, the hilariously tacky Bodo's Schloss; a Heidi Hi I secretly enjoyed (see http://tinyurl.com/mx64oa2 ) For the price of a Red Army, or Kremlin, cocktail (a tenner), perhaps you can reel in the sort of jammy basturt that can afford to keep you in the manner to which you want to become accustomed. Hedge fund Hugos; Made In Chelsea chumps; junior oligarchs; Monaco and Marbs-trash; football club owners et al.
1 Kensington High Street  W8 5NP 3747 6919 http://www.ruskis.com

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Union Street Cafe Bar : Southwark

'Gordon would like to personally invite you and a guest to celebrate the opening of Union Street café' (note the oh-so quirky lower case 'c'). This sounds ominous. I fear if I show up at Ramsay's latest launch (given my often barbed comments about the world's greatest living chefebrity that stretch back to my first less-than-ideal experience at Aubergine, some 20 years ago) I'll be toast - as in skewered, basted, griddled and served up on it as an amuse-bouche. Compounding matters, the guest I invite claims to have once had a run-in with he who bestrides continents, rescuing other people's Mickey Mouse catering establishments, when he's not in his whites, effin' and cheffin' in one of his own successes. This could be hashtag-awkward as they say. Fortunately, the downstairs bar at USc is overseen by a friendly face - perennially chipper chappy, Abdulai Kpekawa (pictured), lately of the lovely Luggage Room (see http://tinyurl.com/mbwujoq) next door to el Gordo's not-particularly amazing Maze bar. If things turn nasty and knives (Gordon Ramsay by Royal Doulton, available online) fly, I'll use him as a human shield. In mitigation, may I say, I have already visited USc's bar ahead of tonight's official launch stramash and, to paraphrase Big Sweary himself, thought, ''F*** me! Here's one of his gaffs I'm finally able to enthuse about' (if not now hang out in, on the grounds I have likely just got myself barred for my cheek). Cocktails, from £8.50, include sophisticated calls Camino de Agricultores (cognac, Pedro Ximinez, chocolate bitters and lemon juice), and the Duke Meets the Queen (a Rinquinquin, Gewürtztraminer, white grappa, and porter syrup Collins). But before you make a mental note to try 'em, please also note that the list is to be changed weekly, I'm told. On past form, for Kepkawa, who also did a stint at ECC, that will be a doddle. The room, a post-nuclear concrete bunker, has been gussied up by Russell Sage Studio  in one of those overnight miracles performed on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares to universal adoration, I like to imagine. The style is postmodern London loft lite: deep sofas for slouchy posing, large leather ottoman stools reminiscent of an SM club's ahem, workbenches (I'm told), and the sort of graffiti/ urban wall-hangings that a first year art student at Kingston or Epsom would be proud of. Innovative? Hmm. But it hangs together well and, for the sort of awed rubberneckers drawn to Ramsay's joints, it will no doubt represent the height of urban cool. So, does Ramsay rip off my cojones when I show up at the party? His mate Jonathon Ross in tow, the great man strides in, as megastars do, hours late for his own gig, and is instantly swamped by beaming hem-touchers. He turns his head. I wince. He looks straight through me. 'Personally invited?' Gordon clearly doesn't know me from a gourd. Let's keep it that way, eh?    
Union Street Cafe, 47 -51 Great Suffolk Street SE1 0BS 7592 7997   

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Red Bar at Bam-Bou, Fitzrovia


It's London Cocktail week and the city is 'pure hoaching', as they say in Glasgow. The appetite for  bargain £4 cocktails at over 150 fine participating bars is positively Hogarthian. And why not? To show willing, I join the merry melee and hit Bam-Bou, that Fitzrovia shrine to Indochine. So popular is it tonight, there's a 1-in-1-out  door drama to deal with. Queue to get in? I don't think so. This calls for cunning. Spotting the metrosexual manager's obvious interest in my date's designer man bag (which I haven't previously clocked, so fashion-blind am I these days), I tell him about a website I've read about where boys can bag such upscale bags on a weekly hire basis. He's astonished...and grateful....and more importantly, I'm in like Flynn, courtesy of my totes bag-envious NBF. The climb, up flights of sloping stairs, to the top floor of this rickety-rackety old townhouse is a long but ultimately rewarding one. Bam-Bou’s Red Bar warrants repeat visits. As its reputation grows outside its native islands, Japanese whisky has become the latest string to the Bam-Bou bow. Bourbon barrel Yamazaki; distinguished Suntory blends; complex Hakushu whisky from sherry casks, and peaty Nikka single malts from the northern island of Hokkaido - sure to enthral Laphroaig fanciers - are among 60-odd possibilities. The Red Room’s other claim to fame is its reliable range of cocktails from £8.50. Highlights include a Japanese slant on a Robbie Burns; a Ginza julep; Ford cocktail; and and rum and ale flip - a tasty buccaneer brew that has Zacapa 23,  ruby port, spices, pimento and black lager. I'd happily stay for a few rounds but man bag man is itching to try somewhere new. The moral of this vignette being; if you prefer to park your harris more than 10 minutes at a time, never drink with an Aries.

1 Percy Street W1T 1DB 7323 9130 www.bam-bou.co.uk

For a version of this and similar reviews of all London's best bars, visit www.squaremeal.co.uk



Hayman's Gin Palace at The Langham, Oxford Circus



London’s better hotels such as Claridge’s, The Savoy and the Connaught often boast at least two great bars, each with separate identities. The similarly luxurious Langham has a bar to be proud of,  Artesian - a divine amethyst-tone chinoiserie shrine to its late creator David Collins. Until the end of November 2013, it also has a second bar -  Hayman's ‘gin palace’ in its Palm Court. It is billed as 'an enchanting evening venue' open from Thursday to Saturday inclusive. Quite how Count Basie-era live jazz and a grandiose Art Deco room, lit sex shop red, ‘evokes the glamour of the mid-1800’s’ is anybody’s guess. Humdrum furnishings, odd lamp groupings, and two monumental funeral black plinths topped by red floral displays suggest that the palm-free Palm Court’s designers are stuck in another century -  the mid 20th  - and not in a way I need to see revived. Pretty as they look, prepped at a penumbral bar devoid of interest, Alex Kratena's (£16) cocktails are similarly disappointing: yuza and cedarwood using Hayman’s 1850, suggests a new addition to the Berocca range. 'Kombucha and sloe' comes on like one of those strident fruit flavoured ciders from Sweden that are doing the student festival rounds. Tasting dishes (£7) are suggested for each cocktail. Our gin and tonic gravadlax with nashi pear is duly tasted... and left unfinished. Accompanying cocktail? I've switched to champagne by now. My date tweets a picture of some sort of cinnamon and apple crumble arrangement in what looks like a new jar from Bonne Maman. We move on to Edition London, a hotel possessed of three bars I'd much rather be in. The Palm Court is a potentially truly great space. Not tonight. 
The Langham London, 1c Portland Place W1B 1JA 7636 1000 



See a version of this and simailar reviews at www.squaremeal.co.uk


Thursday, 10 October 2013

White Lyan, Hoxton

Hoxton Market is a gritty strip that, 15 minutes hence, will inevitably host Byron, SpaceNK and Little Waitrose. The catalyst for its poncification may prove to be the arrival of White Lyan, a liquid lounge anybody remotely interested in the art of the cocktail will beat a path to, as sure as 85% of Ireland legs it  to Lourdes (or is pushed there in a chair, that is, as I witnessed on my recent reccie). The cure-all waters dispensed at this shrine are courtesy of Ryan Chetiyawardana, something of a saint in the spirits world. After stints at Bramble in Edinburgh, Purl and Worship Street Whistling Shop in London, this award-winning cocktail barman, and consultant to numerous high-end clients, has opened his own place with fellow ex-Brambler Iain Griffiths - a chap who has come a long way from the sheep-shearer/shagger bars of his native Australian Outback. Replacing what was until recently the old Hoxton White Horse pub, White Lyan's interior is all Bauhaus black no-nonsense minimalism, putting the focus on its owners' craft. 'We've done away with ice and lemon' (or words to that effect) says Griffiths reaching for one of various small batch pre-mixes, hidden from view, in stark temperature controlled cabinets. No stirring, no shaking and, it goes without saying, definitely no flairing: the ethos here is closer to the intellectual approach of Tony Conigliaro, at whose 69 Colebrooke Row temple Ryan also once served. Reasonably priced drinks - such as  the house old fashioned (using scotch from a bottle whose interior has been pre-coated with layered beeswax), and 'white Guinness' (whisky, coconut, almond and ash from a syphon) are, in terms of content, unimpeachable. So why am I not gushing about this gaff like a girl giddy on gimlets? Call me old fashioned, but I want my old fashioned bespoke-made to order. As a piece of theatre, a pre-mixed pour - current industry in-thing or not - can't provide the frisson of excitement watching a sazerac created from scratch provides. White Lyan's pre-batched Moby Dick sazerac - the name refers to the spot of ambergris it contains - is a well-balanced kick ass beast - its garnish, limp. A rice paper strip float turned aqua from absinthe dripped onto it clings to the wall of a rocks glass like loo roll stuck to a toilet bowl. Cue flashback to  nightmarish past humiliation: the time two spiteful, deeply uncool school prefects - insanely jealous of my innate metrosexyfabulousness - jumped me in the bogs, washing out my immaculate Bryan Ferry brilliantined black quiff in one of the stinky pit's Armitage Shanks porcelain pans. My glittering career would go on to include styling Roxy Music for NME but one of my assailants, karma being karma, ended up a plumber, minted but up to his elbows in shite, I hear.  

153 Hoxton Street N1 6PJ 3011 1153 http://whitelyan.com 

Friday, 4 October 2013

Whisky Lounge at Hilton London Metropole, Marylebone



Hands up how many Londoners have ever visited the Hilton London Metropole....excluding the time you picked up a tourist from Toledo Ohio and were talked into testing its mattresses after you'd emptied the mini-bar? Thought not! Anyway, the hotel is most excited about the £6 million transformation of its lobby. About time too. Last time I looked, a display case next to the main door housed what looked like a faded celebration of Harvest Festival 1954, as arranged by the local Women's Institute. (I'd been there in my professional capacity, not bonking a Belgian chocolate rep...honest!) The term ‘intimate whisky lounge’ - part of the big makeover - conjures up Caledonian cosiness à la Boisdale, or the postmodern luxe of the Athenaeum’s bijou temple to uisge beathe. But at the Hilton by the Flyover, the concept translates as a boxy, deeply dull room. A chandelier fashioned from glass decanters, and jarringly lit display walls housing some of the six dozen available pours, make for a too-bright space populated by ‘meh’ oatmeal armchairs. The corporate vibe is more big drinks brand showroom than a seductive space in which to savour some of Scotland’s finest - or their Irish, Welsh, American, Indian and Japanese cousins along for the ride. Blends from £5.50, and tasting flights of 3 malts from £12, are a useful introduction but will those serious about their drams choose to splash out £110 on rare Johnnie Walker Odyssey triple malt in such frigid surroundings? Blood and Sand and Rob Roy are among a selection of whisky cocktails, and bar snacks include Welsh rarebit, savoury macaroons and smoked salmon. You'll find the lounge to one side of 'EDG' - a spanking new lobby bar that has all the EDG of a put-together boy bland on X-Factor. The whisky lounge's PRs imagine it a new ‘destination bar.’ Me? I'm destined for The Savoy, Claridge's or The Goring: classic trumps EDGy I'm afraid. 
Hilton London Metropole, 225 Edgware Road W2 1JU 7402 4141http://londonmet.hilton.com


(Adapted from my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk )

Thursday, 3 October 2013

London Cocktail Week 2013


It’s back! From 7th - 13th October LCW celebrates the city’s status as World Cocktail Capital with a week of masterclasses, cool events, pop-ups and samplings. What’s more London’s best bars will be offering selected cocktails for just £4 to those with an LCW official wristband. For full details of what’s on and to get your wristband (priced £10) visit http://www.diffordsguide.com/london-cocktail-week and collect it at the LCW Ketel One  hub in WC2 

With 160 + bars taking part, you’re spoilt for choice but you’ll find me snarfing £4 ‘tails at these fine watering holes: Nola, Callooh Callay EC2; 5CC E2; Dabbous, Purl, London Cocktail Club, The Player, The Pink Chihuahua,The Blind Pig all in W1; Trailer Happiness, Lonsdale W11; Bunga Bunga SW11; Christopher’s, Dirty Martini WC2; Village East, Aqua Shard SE1; The Gilbert Scott,  Shaker and Co NW1; Barrio North N1; The Loft SW4; Eclipse SW5; House of Tippler SE 22. 

Friday, 27 September 2013

INK, Leicester Square


What to think about INK, Professor Green’s funky, kitsch new late-bar/ club? I reckon it would have been right up the 19 year-old me's street. In fact, I'd recommend it to all ages. I'd argue you're never to old to take your hip hop replacement out for a spin on the floor - in this case overseen by a light-up plastic Madonna. That's as in Jesus's old lady, not the put-it-away-love-we've-seen-it-a-million-times-and-we-ain't-interested po-faced pop star, still shaking her auld hoop like her life depends on it.  Word up, laydeez! If you're not flush, spend the £20 cover charge you’ll save by rocking up before 10pm on drinks, then tap some obliging geezer for your next ten. Cocktails are by co-owner Gerry Calabrese of Hoxton Pony renown whose love it/hate it coconut and lemon Hoxton gin appears in a Collins. Otherwise, try Good Times, Doctor Bird and West End Cooler at a party room that’s set to pull a cooler crowd than the West End’s glamma girl/ tea bag tan TOWIE wannabe haunts. If you're peckish, there's a hit'n'miss pick'n'mix selection of 'British tapas' to dribble down the front of your expensive silk frock. Ham hock topped by poached duck egg (£9.50), cod - battered in Professor G’s own-brew ale, Remedy - with chips, and foraged mushroom tortellini are fair. Tarted-up baked beans on toast, steep at £8.50, and over-salted braised beef and gloopy garlic potato puree in a ‘pie and mash’ assembly what I'd expect on an economy class airline tray, only here presented in a tricksy mini copper pot. Music, I'm utterly amazed to say, sounded 75% familiar to my lugholes. Old Heaven/ Hacienda boys can and will still live it large on Leicester Square
1 Leicester Square WC2H 7NA 7287 015https://www.facebook.com/INKLDN



image metro.co.uk

The Punch Room and The Bar at Berners Tavern , Fitzrovia



'We have a nightclub too,' says a chap who introduces himself as the Edition London's 'human traffic manager,' conjuring up all sorts of disturbing images. He promptly sets about trafficking us to the basement of Ian Schrager's new project, a reboot of the old Berners Street Hotel. There was a time when any mention of  Schrager would have had me peeing my pants - assuming I'd been wearing any under vintage 501s, which nobody did, back in my youth. Call me blasé, but no nightclub will ever compare to Schrager's right-place-right-people-right-decade temple to hedonism, Studio 54. The Box? Cirque le Soir? Not.Even.Close. Nowadays, sadly, I'm less interested in what the DJ is playing (funky soul I actually recognise, since you ask), more intrigued by the club's acoustic glass; a product so effective, it totally isolates all bump and thump. In any other area of Edition London, no one can hear you scream "Le Freak, c'est Chic!" Trafficked back upstairs, we investigate the hotel's buzzy lobby bar and the bar at Berners Tavern (pictured). A handsome beast set in a vast baroque ballroom, it suggests a grand brasserie on les grands boulevards de Paree. Well-meaning but sluggish service allows us time to contemplate walls hung with acres of artworks that are, by turns, cool and edgy, or so howlingly naff they might be a job lot liberated from the railings of Kensington Gardens last Sunday. Drinks - similar to what you'll find at Berners Tavern's executive chef Jason Atherton's Blind Pig bar in Soho - get equally mixed reviews. Absolutely smashing (a cider brandy and peach liqueur cup) absolutely is but, served in a metal julep cup, corn on the cobbler (whiskey, orange Curacao, Oloroso sherry and sweetcorn syrup) could be iced Lemsip. When I discover there's a Vogue party going on in a more intimate bar off the lobby (VIP room whore, moi?), I abandon plans to sample Tanqueray-based Dill or No Dill and a fix called Mead Myself and Aye - ludicrously noncey libations no bloke who is serious about his image should be caught dead with. By the time we locate The Punch Room, the Vogue birds have flown the coop. The connoisseur’s choice, this chic, fumed oak-panelled hush bar is almost Calvinist in its simplicity (that's Calvin as in 16th century Proddy, but it could equally be as in Schrager's old pal, Mr Klein). The vibe reminds me of an airport VIP lounge (And no, I haven't always flown scum class, you cheeky git!) 
Killer cups to share include Oxford sherbet punch laced with autumnal dark spirits; and a silky, clear milk number that borrows from American barkeep legend Jerry Thomas’s original 19th century recipe (combining arrack, Somerset cider, cognac, rum, green tea, lemon, pineapple and spices). Service is seamless as you'd expect of any gaff run by Davide Segat, formerly at The Bulgari. Embarrasingly, at first, I do not recognise him despite having met him several times. No offence signor; I'm notoriously rubbish when it comes to faces. I'm the numpty, after all, who, as a precocious child at Schrager's 54, asked someone vaguely familiar if she was the hat check girl at a West Village bar I had been to a couple of nights previously. 'No, honey' said Miss Donna Summer, smiling sweetly. London Edition? Oo--oooo-oooh, I Feel Love!
London Edition Hotel, 10 Berners Street, W1T 3LF 7781 0000 http://edition-hotels.marriott.com/london