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Thursday, 31 January 2013

Smith's, Hammersmith

Hammersmith Broadway is physical proof of why town planners should be lined up and shot; the clueless clowns' cadavers used as landfill for Boris's estuary airport's main runway. If the RAF needs target practice, let them reduce to rubble the buildings on the traffic-clogged roundabout underneath the traffic-clogged flyover that blights this foulest of faubourgs. Any local building that had an iota of character or charm - The Palais and The Clarendon ballroom, say - have been demolished, replaced by the sort of concrete and glass ghastliness that has blighted Dresden since Churchill unleashed the Lancasters. I'd as soon drink bleach as drink cocktails in downtown W6, and the entrance to tonight's destination doesn't augur well, looking as does it like the sort of basement dossers might adopt for the drinking of meths. We push on through anonymous double doors behind which I half expect to run into wheelie bins full to the brim with festering trash discarded from the hotel above. Thankfully, what lurks beyond comes as a pleasant surprise. Here's a fair approximation of a Louisiana juke joint circa Tennessee Williams;  where Tennessee Smash awaits latter-day vintage chicks channeling deluded Southern soak, Blanche Dubois. Washed brick walls; bordello plush; a skip load of the sort of decorative tat once found in Carnaby Street  boutiques circa Sgt Pepper's: original its magpie mix is not,  but it's a perfectly fine place to fritter away an hour or so over a £7.50 Blood'n'Sand, Monkey Gland or what turns out to be a rather horny Dark'n'Stormy. Less sexy, is our £15 assembly of vegetarian dips, the Katy Perry of the share platter world- cleverly styled but ultimately bland and forgettable. On the table opposite, a couple discusses their future private party with a manager who says proudly 'We want to keep the place a speakeasy.' With few punters to speak of in the house on a Friday evening at 9pm, his reverse sales psychology is apparently working. How come? W6 is not blessed with good bars. And although it's hardly Nightjar or Hix Soho, If I were forced to dwell hereabouts (not that I could afford one of its unfathomably popular terraces), I'd be at Smith's every night, drowning my sorrows on the rum punch cocktail for two they call the Gustav Holst. Hammersmith - a far-flung Planet I'm not Suite on. 

The Brook Green Hotel,170  Shepherd's Bush Road W6 7371 1361

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Cafe Royal, Soho

I'm at the Café Royal - back in biz as a 5-star hotel after a squazillion pound makeover by David Chipperfield Architects who are, according to the venue's website, 'world famous for radical and sympathetic design.' My first glimpse of their bold vision is the new 10 Room restaurant - a Germanic greige galleried hall that feels instantly moribund. At its core, a reluctant battalion of tomato-tone chairs at white linen-decked tables -  empty at 7.30 pm - scans the horizon for an invasion of diners. As if to repel them, a palisade of brutal marble pillars that could double as an anti-tank defence turns the space into a forbidding stockade. If the PR for Heinz 57 Varieties had organised a Press lunch on a Normandy beach in 1944, it would it have looked like this. 'Sympathetic design'? Wilkommen to London's ugliest, dining room, mein Liebchen. In the all-new designer cocktail bar next door, another WWII reference springs to mind. As dark as a cliff-top pill-box occupied by an Axis of Evil machine-gunner taking pot shots at harrying Spitfires, its rounded gunmetal bar - got up in the heroic neoclassical/art deco style favoured by 1930s Fascists - recalls the bow of a frigate of Herr Hitler's fleet. The room feels so chilly; my hosts aren't for stopping. Drat! There's an interesting cocktail list to explore that's big on absinthe ideas; but at £20 a pop, I'd not only want to see the green fairy, I'd expect her to lap-dance me too. At my insistence, we decamp to the Louis XVI Versailles fantasy that is the Grade I-listed Grill Room (pictured above). Preserved in all its mirroired gilded gloire, it's now the CR's champagne and caviar bar - dress code 'celebratory and sophisticated.' By the look our fellow thrill-seekers, that'll be Next Sale mixed with Boden, then? Thank God my hosts are in the chair (that tedious tomato-tone upholstery again), for bottled French joie de vivre doesn't exactly come cheap in an historic salon that has seen its fair share of trysts. It was here that Oscar Wilde wooed Bosie until the latter's old man, the Marquis of Queensberry, showed up and boxed his boy's ears. Outraged by the pair's queer shenanigans, he was to become Wilde's nemesis.  What could prove to be the Grill Room's undoing, are its wild prices. Were I forced to endure an evening handcuffed to one of London's drearier PR mavens, I'd have stung her for Krug Collection 85 at £2.150 but because I like them, I suggest tonight's PR poppets go for one of the menu's entry-level options, Taittinger Prelude. Second cheapest at £120, it's the sort of fizz I'd expect at a Daihatsu dealer's daughter's wedding in Woking. On the subject of weddings; if you like drinking in what feels like an overspill room at a nob's nuptials in a rented castle, you'll get off on the Grill Room. Amused by a tuna amuse presented in what looks like a doll's bed-pan - less so by a curious lack of any discernible ambience - we leg it as soon as we finish off the bottle. In Bosie and Osky's day, the Café Royal was the place to be. As it is, Chipperfield's Piccadilly circus would not be my first choice for a gay old night on the town.
68 Regent Street, W1B 4DY 7406 3333 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Il Tempo, Covent Garden

"Prendiamo un aperitivo!" Well, why not? But I'm cheesed off with bars that promote the noble northern Italian tradition, only to stiff you for the desiccated bruschetta and shotgun pellets masquerading as olives left largely untouched on your plate. Times are tough, but that's really not how it should work, ragazzi! At this wine bar/ cafe off St. Martin's Lane, the concept is properly upheld between 6pm and 8.30 pm when you order a birra, limonata, (£6) glass of Primitivo or a cocktail. On one end of a counter in a very well-lit room - a Milanese mate once told me his compatriots are deeply suspicious of any food served in the kind of mole-in-a-hole gloaming fashionable in London dining rooms - dishes arrive thick and fast as if to feed an army; an army that has failed to turn up (another Italian custom) by the time we leave, however. Perhaps it'S a slow night? Now, I was never much good at recalling what appeared on the Generation Game's conveyor belt - mostly because my fantasy 70's wish-list featured a gold Ford Capri and a £10,000 voucher to spend chez Yves Saint Laurent, not Carmen rollers, a hostess trolley and a Strimmer - but I do remember complimentary home-made gnocchi slathered in good pesto, swordfish and  tuna carpaccio, pumpkin puree bruschetta, spicy salami, addictive cheese puffs, breaded mushrooms, plump artichoke hearts and the sort of cuddly toy - in the form of Il Tempo's young owner - girls who have outgrown Ken might fancy playing with. Frustratingly, bell'uomo's promised classic Italian cocktails were limited: a wholesale absence of red vermouth preventing la famiglia Negroni from putting in an appearance. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (check out Twitpics @IlTempoCovent for inspiration), this blink-and-you'll-miss-it ‘little taste of Italy’ needs explanatory signage to help pull in locals unfamiliar with the notion of il aperitivo as it is understood south of Ascona. 
48 Chandos Place WC2 7240 4179

adapted from my review for

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Longroom, Clerkenwell

It must have taken them all of 5 seconds to come up with the name, but 'The Longroom' succintly sums up this new Smithfield pub. All sepia tone butch wood and tiles, its  Victorian warehouse vibe would work well as a location for a Whitechapel-esque whodunnit. Marooned in acres of space, the only punter in the place on a Sunday afternoon, I'd be spooked if the bartender were the spit of Jack The Ripper or Sweeney Todd. Reassuringly, the closest fictional reference I have for the small friendly Spanish chappie behind the counter is Manuel from Fawlty Towers. I can almost see the 'Que?" thought bubble form, cartoon comic book-like above his head, when I ask for a Virgin Mary - a January de-tox  must.  After a protracted pasa doble that is going nowhere, I finally seize the bull by the horns, suggesting I make the bloody thing myself. Smithfield's meat market (plus a quick raid on Gail's Bakery) is the larder for the principal ingredients of a terse menu's mainstay, salt beef on sourdough. Moist, tender, flaky, if slightly overpriced at £7.50, it's better than beer rarebit - more of an upmarket cheese toastie, of the sort whipped up by posh pished students around midnight. Soups - tomato or leek and potato- are similarly prosaic. No; the real stars here are the beers. Draughts include Meantime’s Yakima Red and ruby rich Highlands hottie, Black Isle Organic Porter. There's an interesting range of bottled brews  - Red Church Hackney Gold and Orchard Pig Charmer cider - and decent enough wines at won't-break-the-bank prices. Would I go back? If I lived or worked locally, yes...whenever I felt a sudden urge for a salt beef or Rubens sandwich. Having existed entirely on those - or pastrami offcuts when I was down to my last dollar as a sofa-surfing youth, living in squalor opposite Katz's Deli in Manhattan's then filthy-funky East Village, let me tell you; such occasions are few and far between.  

18- 20 John Street EC1M 7336 6099

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Blue Boar, Westminster

The last time the Intercontinental group opened a new hotel in London, the Sex Pistols' puerile profanities were about to cost TV host Bill Grundy his job, Sir Chris Hoy was in nappies, and an unpopular government was propelling us towards the Winter of Discontent. 36 years on, it's the same old song at Westminster. That's the location for this new hotel whose bar, The Blue Boar, takes its decorative cues from its proximity to the nearby pile currently presided over by tweety t*** Sally Bercow's heinous little hubby - that's John, not gypsy Paddy; let's be clear.  Wood panelling and mock baronial upholstery suggests a Commons bar, while Scarfe cartoons and puppets of political big wigs -  Tony Blair grinning like a mad man, flanked by his imaginary friends, Saddam's weapons of mass destruction -  are witty ornament.  Mezcal Mule (£10), Aviation (using eucalyptus-infused gin), Tequila Martinez and Paddington (rum, Lillet blanc, pink grapefruit, lemon, absinthe and the eponymous Peruvian fur ball’s beloved orange marmalade) are vote winners - as is a beer offer that includes draught Black Isle Porter and Meantime’s Yakima Red.  As well as the sort of bar food you'd expect of most high-end intercontinental hotels (small or capital I) -  burger, Caesar salad, share platters et al - there's pork belly bites, deep fill cheese baps and baked or pastrami-spiced oysters at £14 for six. Cosy conspiratorial private snugs are where to plot to bring the Coalition down, while afternoon tea is served in in Emmeline’s, the adjacent ‘ethereal retreat’ (read over-styled, twiggy and twee )- the sort of place I imagine Brummie Baroness Warsi might rate 'groovy.' Should anyone other than Westminster wonks bother to  file through the Intercontinental's lobby? On balance, the 'ayes' have it - but please, guys, ditch the overpowering pervasive perfume that hangs heavy in the air. I should also add that, in order not to display any political bias, I propose the bar's name be regularly alternated between The Blue Boar and The Red Bore - homage to Ed Milibland. 
(Spot the difference: The Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition and The Goon Show's resident eejit, Eccles - pictured above left) 

Intercontinental Westminster, 45 Tothill Street SW1H 9LQ 3301 1400

adapted from this venue's review at

Thursday, 10 January 2013

City Of London Distillery (C.O.L.D), Blackfriars

Gin-soaked journalists? Shame I wasn't around back in the day to join caustic copper-top Anne Robinson on her legendary Fleet Street benders. I'm a bit of a closet fan of the ex-dypso dominatrix, you see. Another red top  - in charge of the News of the Screws before it was brought to its knees like some MP's cock-sucker whore exposed in one of its salacious stings - might fancy a few Fleet Street gin stiffeners when she comes up before the beak at the Bailey. The old bathtub brew - albeit cleanly and professionally produced - is the stock-in-trade of a new working distillery there; the only one to open in aeons in a City once awash with the stuff. Try the still's own label spirit for a fiver per large measure: master distiller Jamie Baxter (who has previous form at Chase) will talk you through the process.  But this juniper junkie's peepers were jeepered at the sheer scope of C.O.L.D’s blistering back bar offer. I lost count at brand #100. Try little-known local heroes such as Langton’s No 1 from  the Lake District or, produced in small batches on a Northamptonshire farm, Warner Edwards Harrington Dry Gin that's high on lavender and orange notes. Among an army of Johnny Foreigners, Death’s Door is the spirit guide I hope to meet at Death's door. Mainlining martinis in heaven -sans hangovers -  is my idea of bliss. Distilled from potatoes in Maine, Cold River is not your average gin joint pour. There again, nor are Clover Club and Corpse Reviver #2 - two 'tails from a small range of (not exclusively) gin-based joys at £8. Less impressive, is the basement lounge's inherited decor. The amiable Baxter is contemplating paint swatches when I descend on him: 'step away from the greens,'I say - never a good idea to colour match a room to the shade of one's gills after a heavy session on Broker's, Bulldog, Beefeater, Berkeley Square and all those other dangerous Bs
22 - 24 Bride Lane EC4Y 8DT 7936 3636

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


London does this kind of bar best (and yes, I know one of its owners is Scandinavian). Fabulous freaks in a stripped-back, trippy Tarantino-esque Mexican porno basement beneath a kebab shop; Tom Jones on the jukebox; messy early morning mash-ups on rare weapon of mass destruction grade super-premium mezcal =  no hangover? Bring it on!

Favourite new uptown girl
The Luggage Room
You'll need the cash equivalent of a pile of LVs (as in Luncheon Vouchers; ask your granny) to get steaming at this luxury LV (Louis Vuitton) walk-in steamer trunk: quality never comes cheap.

The trend that refuses to die
But these clandestine cuties are more than forgiven
Evans and Peel  Underdog:  Flat P

Dishiest Dalston dive
Ruby (don't take your love to town)

Biggest anti-climax
Opium (should have guessed: never liked Yves' perfume much either)

Hugest erection of the year
The Heron Tower, home to Sushisamba and its 'OMG!' (said the gobsmacky girl standing next to me) views of Lilliputian London below

Worst-dressed crowd of the year
Loadsamoney lads are not-so-City-slickers after ten too many 'tails. Yep, it's Sushisamba again.

The if-it's-good-enough-for-Michael-Fassbinder pub of the year award:
The Sebright Arms

Gay shame of the year

Wow... or wank? Decide for yourself
And Co

Most unlikely (anthropological) fun night out:
Bodo's Schloss

Most memorable cocktail:
If I liked it, I ordered ten - ergo, I can't remember it...or anything, come to that, until the ambulance showed up. Pretty much everything on the Gorgeous boys' menu at St James floated my boat. This much, I do remember.

Most asked question of the year:
 'What's your favourite bar?' If I really must spend my own money, let it be at
Happiness Forgets

Enough already
cocktails and burger/hotdog joint overkill; faffy molecular mixology; bubble tea; scotch eggs; door whores with more attitude than at Studio 54'- despite standing guard over a not-all-that Soho sweat-BOX; pop-ups - all pooped out now; charcuterie share platters; palate-cleanser flavoured water; cocktail lists that are a longer read than Doctor Zhivago; elderflower anything; who-cares Foursquare; edible gold flake; shampagne cocktails: prosecco ain't Pommery;  Aperol spritz; Hendrick's gin; twee, tweedy Chap Olympiad types; pork scratchings -  the ultimate dental damn!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Baroque, Mayfair

I dig the Playboy Club. I refer to its stereo ground floor bars, not what lurks upstairs. These days, down to my last (Turnbull and Asser) shirt, I'm not about to lose it in the company of sheiks and scheisters in the deadly dull gambling den on Level 1. No, I recommend it for its main bar where dapper, diminutive, cocktail maestro Salvatore Calabrese mixes mean martinis and Mai Tais in  his 1960's-style Mad Mental lounge. More recently,  Sal's son Gerry's high octane revamp of the venue's formerly forlorn Cottontail discotheque, now re-imagined as a cool cabaret lounge, has been luring me back to the bunny hutch. Rebranded Baroque, it's gussied up in pink and gold froufrou. Might 50's brassy blonde bombshell Diana Dors presently sashay through its swinging doors, trailing mink and men in her pneumatic wake? Gerry's goal is to create a vibey, rinky-dink destination to rival the Playboy's near-neighbour, once- buzzy-now-not Mayfair Cool Britannia magnet The Met Bar. To this end, Calabrese Jnr (whose Hoxton Pony is still a good bet down Shoreditch way) has set his cap at spendy Westenders,  encouraging top drawer turns such as Mark Ronson and The Kills to provide any thrills not otherwise supplied by damn fine cocktails and London's most outré champagne list - 'I'll have the  £27,000 (and then some) 1990 Bollinger Vieilles Vignes if you're buying, thanks.' Tonight, the joint is jumping as we pull up to Ms Jones's bumper when the magnificent ebony goddess graces its bijou stage. Teetering in Shard-esque f***-me pumps, all gyrating pelvis, India rubber legs and gravity-defying cleavage (poured into a black velvet boned corset), the bonkers bouncing-off-the-wall diva -  a poster girl for pensioners everywhere -  treats us to her greatest hits and Philip Treacy's greatest hats. We are in the presence of a Living Legend - although I could live without the incessant prattle of my inescapable neighbour (Baroque is by now a sardine can slam) Paloma Faith: muttering about mushy oysters over Grace's My Jamaican Guy, the pop pygmy reminds me of a Brick Lane version of Geri Halliwell. Thankfully, eye-balling Grace's fabulously freaky pick-n-mix public distracts me from the gingerminge's whinges. A rumour spreads: Cher is expected at any moment. So febrile is the atmosphere, I worry she'll melt, leaving only a pool of liquid wax, a showgirl wig, and a pile of Bob Mackie sequins as evidence of her coming. Among the couture car crash victims present, I'm impressed by the sheer chutzpah of one punter - a beefy black bird bustin' out of a seriously ill-advised, fluted gold foil, Space Age fantasy frock. She's imagining Patti Labelle circa Lady Marmalade. I'm imagining 'two pounds of Paxo orange stuffing shoved up that ginormous jacksy; roast at 230 degrees for, oh, two to three weeks, et voilà! Christmas lunch sorted.' Some of the punters look sensational; others tacky - but a night out here doesn't come as cheap as they look. Go armed with your best black Amex...or a sugar daddy. Let's just say, for the suggested minimum table spend, you could get a designer dining table and six chairs chez Selfridges. If the PR doesn't pick up my tab, looks like I'll have to risk my shirt on the roulette wheel after all. 

14 Old Park Lane W1