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Sunday, 31 March 2013

3 Cromwell, South Kensington




I have been to so many different incarnations of this townhouse bar/ members club/ restaurant, they blur into one largely because they were universally dire - Dorsia the latest dud to exit the building. My pal Auntie Lynne - a seminal 60's dolly bird - says this pile was a 'with it' scenek in its heyday as The Cromwellian when everyone who was anyone - from the Stones to those too stoned to remember - partied at this stucco-pillared pile. Hendrix played his first London gig here and Elton (before he was even 'Elton') gigged in its basement discotheque. (Fun history lesson here thecromwellian.wordpress.com/ )  What Mick , Marianne and their Swing 60s gang would make of  3 Cromwell - new from posh party organiser Howard Spooner - is anybody's guess. Cool London has swings out East, leaving SW7 to the Made In Chelsea set - those toffy twats that make me glad I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth...or up my nose, more likely. Tonight's shindig is fuelled by nothing more sinister than booze - big spender bubbles, doable mojitos and a gum-botheringly astringent gin punch. Served gratis, it's saying something that it's left unfinished by my three hooch Hoover homies, none of whom rate 3 C... although junior sports journo from Croydon is hardly the gaff's target demographic, to be fair. The main bar and (steak/frites/salad-only) restaurant's punked-up jokey country '"hice" decor doesn't look much different from Dorsia, as I recall it. Garish neon lighting in the Stygian disco (do something about the hellish pong from the loos, guys) suggests a Hamburg porn video arcade - wipe-clean padded walls, a private booth. The sort of wankers who'll dig the new Cromwellian are quite possibly among those on Tatler's list of London's most eligible bachelors under 30 whose most attractive feature is their impending inheritance. As ’a tongue in cheek nod to aristocratic service of yesteryear,' I'm told, staff sports tweed and flat caps. In another nod to yesteryear, the soundtrack lurches chaotically from Bob Marley to Elvis with a bit of 70s jazz funk thrown in. It's as if someone hit the iPod shuffle button. Did the DJ spin the old regulars' discs - The Animals, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder or The Hollies, one of whom, 60's chick Lynne knocked back the first night she came here? I can't say. After barely 20 minutes, I'm at the bus stop. Bus Stop? The Hollies? See what I did there?  http://tinyurl.com/ccd83gt
3 Cromwell Rd SW7 3397 7838 www.3cromwell.com 


Thursday, 28 March 2013

Reason and Mankind, Fitzrovia


My favourite part about new after-work-late lounge, Reason and Mankind - named after Restoration poet John Wilmot's satirical critique of rationalism (says Wikipedia) - was its PR's filthy anecdote about Bette Davis and a vicious vagina. That's 'a' not 'her' to be clear. Coming at me conveyor belt-stylee, theatrical cocktails also keep me amused. Produced in a puff of smoke from under a top hat, a smoky rum and tea-infused port job is well, 'top hat' according to a fellow guest. I never get round to this one, too busy am I grappling with Salt of the Earth - a tequila, palo cortado and salted caramel tea fancy served with an edible 'snuff box'. The worst of the evening's hit'n'miss efforts (ratio 3:1), it's not one you really need to taste before you snuff it, I say. Much MUCH better is mezcal negroni, Rosita's Fire: smoky, sexy, butch - like 'Daniel Craig' says another guest - although I'd only rate the current 007 a 002.5. I mean, how could anyone look THAT bad in a Tom Ford tux?  From the sublime back to the ridiculous: Silver Needle a creamy gin martini - served with tea and fuck-knows-what in a fat syringe that, otherwise filled, would Smack Your Bitch Up...big time...as another Keith sang it back in the day. Who would want to drink such madcap mixes? Well, Reason and Mankind is the cocktail lounge attached to Libertine, a rock'n'roll-ified reboot of what was previously Chinawhite. I haven't been to the new club per se, yet. And by the way she is eyeing me up and down, I'm not entirely sure Mr Libertine's wife would want me there. My best vest is no match for Calum Best, the sort of  guest I guess would bowl in, no problem.  My previous visit to Vaginawhite - my soubriquet for the old boite -  lasted all of 3 minutes: radioactive orange slap on slappers not so much my bag. Another soiree in the club's original Soho home was even more unbearable. I was lured to a press dinner there a decade ago with the promise of  a 'supermodel' as my dining companion. Linda, Stella, Eva even Croydon Kate - no conversationalist  but fun, I hear - or Elle - she may be ' the body' but in my book she sure ain't 'the face' -  would do, I thought. But that was before I realised the term 'supermodel' was elastic enough to include Caprice Bourret. The snooty mare showed me her back throughout all 5 courses. Listen love. I cast Naomi for her first ever catwalk (FACT!). Your composite card would have been an instant 'recycle.'

4 Winsley Street W1W 8HF 7291 1480 www.libertineclublondon.com/ 

Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Dead Dolls Club, Dalston


(dead dolls?) 

Any latter day Barbie and Ken is sure to dig this hip-as-hell Haggerston doll where it's anything but dead in the club, come the midnight hour (or 3 am on weekends). Quirky post-punk decor, cute staff and eclectic tunesmiths set the scene for drinks from a list that reads like the cast of Downtown Abbey. Order Lady of the Manor (a vodka, peach apple and prosecco twinkler),  fire into The Butler (a Bourbon and bitter apricot jam flip) or try a ‘hangover-curing’ Dead Mary. From Wednesday to Friday - with lunch also offered at weekends -  dine on seasonal modern British food using ingredients foraged in Hertfordshire. Resident chefs The Foragers offer a menu that might typically include pigeon kebab with stick rosehip sauce; hake, sorrel, kale and anchovy oil (£7.50), or filo parcels stuffed with nettles, dandy lion (sic) leaves, chickweed, goats cheese and hedge garlic mayo - a dish that sounds like something Wurzel G would knock up to impress Aunt Sally. Sunday roasts- served at four sittings from 2pm  - 8pm are deservedly popular. Expect pheasant, with crabapple jelly and game jus (£11.50); nut roast with creamy mushroom sauce;  haunch of venison with horseradish, Brussels sprout tops, carrot and turnip mash and Yorkshire puds.
428 Kingsland Road E8 4AA www.thedeaddollsclub.com

from my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk


Perkin Reveller, The City


Escape the milling throng at the Tower of London for informal canteen Perkin Reveller. In its cosy lounge bar with its handsome ancient stained glass window, you’ll find quaffs not aimed at your typical snap-happy matron from Minneapolis. Although given the drinks on Perkin Reveller's list - Smoked Clover Club, Bronx,  Martini, Aviation (£7.50), Martinez - you'd be forgiven for thinking London dry gin was an American invention. For an authentic taste of Hogarthian London, order Noggin or Somerset Flag Punch (Chase apple gin, lemon. spices and beetroot juice) -  one of various punchbowls to share (from £8.50 per person) that also include The Siege of Thebes and The Wife of Bath’s Tale. Non-juniper-based ideas include Mint Julep and Bloody Mary - the latter, an entirely appropriate call given the enemies of the Tudor queen, a notorious hot head, frequently lost theirs hereabouts. In the absence of potted head, or 'hough' as we Scots know it, order quail scotch egg, smoked eel fish cakes, and pork crackling (£3) with a pint of Meantime brewed down river in Greenwich. The view of London olde (the Tower) and new (the shitty Shard) from the venue's belvedere terrace is picture postcard perfect. Now, if only the clamouring hordes would bugger off back to Bangkok, Brisbane, Berlin, Beijing, Bolton, Birmingham Alabama or wherever they bloody well belong, this would be riverbank bliss.
The Wharf at The Tower of London, EC3 3166 6949 www.perkinreveller.co.uk

Read more reviews at www.squaremeal.co.uk    Image. Metro


Rum Kitchen/ Rum Cellar, Notting Hill



(above: the way we were. Police vans blockade the 'Front Line') 

From the same people as Ping in SW5, and seemingly assembled from packing crates and sundry jetsam and flotsam, Rum Kitchen is a fair representation of a gaily painted Caribbean beach. 'Gay' would have been a dirty word to the sort of teeth-suckin' Caribbeans who once colonised this street when it was the 'Front Line' - skanky, skunky Yardies who bleated about how discriminated against they were in Thatcher's 'racist Britain', whenever the poor souls weren't busy burning 'batty boys', or planning to. Tonight, I've invited along MsMarmiteLover, queen of the London supperclub scene who agrees with my assessment of the Kitchen's rummy cocktails as 'patchy.'  Mama’s Guinness Punch works well but a daiquiri is as cloying as any alcopop I've tasted. Starters and mains are similarly hit and miss: the seasoning on jerk chicken, and a chilli jam served with crisp-coated salt fish fitters, both lack kick. Ms M's 'Carib veg rundown - leafy green callaloo stew served with rice - wouldn't be much missed if it were run down by a passing police van, while heat trumps flavour in seafood gumbo served in a bland broth with cold cornbread. Diners get to access late-night members club Rum Cellar, a funky dark shebeen downstairs. Decorated with battered luggage of the type carried by the area’s original West Indian emigrants aboard steamships conveying them to the promised land - in reality, a life of poverty, menial labour and grim lodgings in reviled  landlord Peter Rachman's squalid Notting Hill rookeries. Nowadays, W11's trustafarians and royals - rum bugger Prince Harry, a fan, not in da house tonight - slum it in style here to calypso, reggae, afro and low rider soul sounds spun by dexsmiths such as Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ DJ Fast. Choose from over 100 fine rums served straight up or, in tin mugs, with mixers‘n'Ting, as in Jamaica’s national grapefruity fizzy pop.   
6 -8  All Saints Rd. W11 7920 6479 www.therumkitchen.com

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



Thursday, 21 March 2013

Well and Bucket/ 5cc, Shoreditch


Reversing an invidious trend, here's an old boozer that, having kicked the bucket, has come back from the dead as the Well and Bucket. Presumed lost when the previous pub shut in the 1980s, the place was until recently a rag trader's shonky showroom. That was before the Barworks team (Electricity Showrooms, The Slaughtered Lamb, etc, etc)  got to work on it. As part of its inspired nu-Edwardian steampunk makeover, the old Shoreditch boozer's original (listed) glazed wall tiles have been uncovered, much to the delight of ossified Jack The Ripper era dandies, captured in creepy Gothic portraits, that oversee the buzzy brasserie-style ground floor space. At its copper-topped island bar, choose from a dozen draughts such as Old Dominion Double D from the USA and Ink by Camden - stout and porters a perfect match for oysters presented, comme il faut,  on ice-laden vintage stands, or wrapped in bacon with crushed hazelnuts and creamed leeks (£14). Bivalve avoiders might prefer memorable 3 for £7.50 sliders filled with lamb shank pomegranate yoghurt and walnuts, ginger beer chicken and spicy slaw, or a cracking chilli and cheese dog (don't be deterred by its scary Alien-like assembly). If I admire the main room (and I do), then W and B's downstairs drinking den, 5cc has got me all loved up. Done out with flair, care (and a lot of spare cash), its butch captain's cabin pose recalls another East End gig I dig - Hawksmoor's cellar bar. As chez Will Beckett, the Bucket's cocktails are the biz: call a creamy Vesper using Black Cow vodka made from Dorset moos' milk or try colonial old fashioned, cosmo daisy (£9), honey sour and boulevardier - like this gorgeous gaff, another rave from the grave I'm mad keen on.
143 Bethnal Green Road E2 7DG 3664 6454 https://www.facebook.com/WellAndBucket 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Old Mary's, Bayswater


'Have you heard of a Bayswater bar called "Old Marys?"' asks a colleague. I have not. The name conjures up a last chance saloon for prune-skinned Paddington bears. That's not ' bear' as in MIchael Bond's creation, rather the grizzly clientele of The Old Quebec. Popular with gay bears, I visit from time to time for no other reason than its ossified punters make me look like Justin Bieber's younger bro' by comparison. (Such morale boosters are important now that I have reached an age where policeman do indeed 'look like children,' as my father long ago predicted they one day would.) 'Old Mary's'  (singular), as it happens, is a new space in a handsome old Young’s house, The Mitre Tavern. Its website reckons it's 'a speakeasy.' I disagree. But these days, isn't that the boast of just about any bar that offers any drink more complicated  than whisky and Coke? When I drop by on a Saturday evening, the place technically qualifies as a speak easy: I don't need to shout to make myself heard - another constant irritation once one's age exceeds their chest measurement - above its handful of (seemingly straight) customers. Whatever ambience there is in this semi-deserted flagstone floored cellar feels more Charles I than Chicago 1931. Apt, given the pile's spooky back story. Said to haunt the Mitre, the eponymous Mary was a Jacobean scullery maid who embarked on an upstairs-downstairs fling that ended in a bloodbath. When M'Lady discovered M'Lord Craven giving the Maidenhead - as the custom was known in Mary's native Berkshire - she plunged a knife into the hired help's hussy heart. Cue Bloody Mary on a list of drinks that also has mai tai, espresso martini and Aperol spritz (£8.25), draught ale from Meantime and Camden, and a selection of bottled craft beers. Franks and chilli dogs are also available: easy for any passing gummy old Marys to masticate, I imagine.  
 24 Craven Terrace W2 3QH 7262 5240 www.mitrelancastergate.com/ 

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

Voltaire, Blackfriars

Located in the bowels of the Crowne Plaza hotel, this new City cocktail and champagne lounge's glitzy decor, oversized furniture and the sort of baroque scatter cushions I imagine are strewn around the Upper Class cabins on Air Dubai, strike me as the sort of thing the Crown Prince of Takijstan might fancy. He'll definitely fancy Volatire's selection of Pommery - the most comprehensive in London, I'm told - and a range of hand-rolled Cubans to be enjoyed on a smoking terrace that turns out to be more of an alleyway that ain't strictly palatial. Off it, kitted out with throne-sized armchairs, day beds, faux fur throws and iPod docking systems, a series of individual converted cellars carry names such 'the Wit', 'the Aphorist' and 'the Host'- the latter aimed at 'social butterflies and gentry with entourage in tow...' or was that 'entourage in TOWIE'? Welcome to Voltaire's USP - 'the vaults.'  Accommodating between 4 and 20 guests, these private cubby holes are 'ideal for fashion shows and hen parties', I learn. Importantly, 'what goes on in the vaults' - anything from City boys getting messy to somebody messing around with somebody else’s missus, I imagine - 'stays in the vaults' claims Voltaire's manager with a knowing wink. I'm squiring somebody else's missus tonight but any hanky panky, in our case, is limited to swapping salacious details of what a gold- digging tramp of our acquaintance has been getting up to with a (happily married) TV show host (whose name must also stay in the vaults, say my lawyers). Cocktails are hit and miss. File a basil and cucumber Hendricks sour (garnished with a trial size face mask from the hotel's spa!) under 'hit'; a chilli and parsley martini, subjectively described as 'All Things Nice, under 'miss.' Attractively presented bar snacks might best be filed under 'comme ci, comme ça.'  As far as cocktail bars within a two minute walk of Blackfriars station go, this one is a must; but to paraphrase Voltaire's great creation Candide, if this is truly 'le meilleur des mondes possibles', then I'm Baudelaire. 
19 New Bridge Street EC4 6DB 7438 8054 www.voltairebar.co.uk

Friday, 8 March 2013

Mansion, Earl's Court


(Pilgrims flock to Freddie's Earl's Court mansion but 
will punters flock to Mansion in Earl's Court?)


Are the Lib-Dems in control here? Am I to assume their mansion tax, a wheeze to milk cash cow Londoners,  is already in force down Chelsea way? For how else to explain the price of cocktails at Mansion? Sure, the spirits used are far from being Tesco Value range, but £13.50 for a 'carbonized' (sic) Negroni built on Plymouth gin is what I'd expect to pay at 'upscale boutique hotel' bars that are way more 'destination' than just across from Boots, off the Earls Court Road. Outside, two hulking security men guard Mansion's front door. In genteel SW5, why? In case a mob of Man U fans, angry after losing to Chelsea at nearby Stamford Bridge (unlikely as this currently is) rock up and riot when they discover a Mint Julep costs the equivalent of a week's rent in Lancashire? Mansion's cocktail list commemorates long-dead locals. Hence, Sazerac - that famous New Orleans classic - for er, Irishman Oscar Wilde,  'a regular frequenter of the Earl's Court nightlife' (i.e. cruised for runty rent boys). Brandy Crusta is among the ideas that represent Freddie Mercury where a new recipe called Big Girl's Blouse would be nearer the mark. Poor Freddie: he too was a frequenter of the local nightlife. This I know. While still a slenda yoof, I ran into the old poof one night at a club called the Copacabana, (nowadays Ping http://tinyurl.com/cbneem9 ). Mr. Queen engaged me in conversation, asking if 'I'd........' But that's a tale for my autobiography. Exploding the myth that gay men have great taste, Freddie's outfits often teetered towards the terminally traj. Clearly, dead Fred can have had no hand in Mansion's ahem, witty nu-Edwardian decor. Bowler hats as lamps; panto baroque; blue fabric roses; ghastly gilt frames: if Changing Rooms' Glaswegian makeover molls, Justin and Colin,  had been given free rein at Matalan, could Mansion look any more nelly? Ironically, bar designer extraordinaire David Collins is, (as of July 2013 - read his obituary here http://tinyurl.com/l4qrnob ), another late local: his pad was just opposite Mansion. Sadly, London's greatest bar designer was not consulted before he left for the big Blue Bar in the sky. If you find yourself in Earl's Court; have a look - then leg it to the infinitely more stylish, highly affordable, Evans and Peel ( http://goo.gl/gfp4D )
Hotel Indigo, 34 Barkston Gardens SW5 www.mansionbar.co.uk

Thursday, 7 March 2013

House of Roxy, Putney

Hauling my carcass halfway down the District Line to its official press launch, I'm intrigued by this new bar's handle: House of Roxy. I envisage rubbing shoulders with 1970s lounge lizard Bryan Ferry - all trademark brilliantined black quiff, white tux and winklepickers - and drawling doll Jerry Hall slithering around in a gold Antony Price gown creating, what stylistas refer to as, 'a fashion moment' (relive it here http://tinyurl.com/6zeo7x3 ). Not quite! This wee DJ dive bar looks like the sort of place developers might incorporate into an edge-of-town neo-Georgian 'lifestyle village' - alongside Zizzi, Costa Coffee and Karen Millen - hoping to persuade Brian and Geri, priced out of London, to relocate to Harlow or some other Home Counties heaven-on-earth. Don't get me wrong, boxy Roxy is perfectly pleasant; its £8(ish) cocktails - French Martini, Grasshopper and Screaming Orgasm (how very Harlow New Town!) - competently executed. It's just that I'm out of my comfort zone. I like to think I'm not IKEA man, preferring my martinis served with a twist of louche; hence, the reason why Kinleigh Folkard and Hayward have yet to show me around any des res pads in suburban SW15. If, however, you live near this green and genteel place, House of R is deffo worth a punt. Fire in and share a frozen bottle of Xero vodka (£35) and a couple of Jammy Doughnuts (Chambord and Baileys; who knew?) with the Putney 'In' Crowd. 'In' Crowd? Bryan Ferry? 1974 Dobie Gray cover? Keep up at the back! 
141 Upper Richmond Road SW15 8785 9203 www.houseofroxy.com 

Friday, 1 March 2013

Radio/ Marconi, Covent Garden

In my troubled mind, the name ME Hotel conjures up various possibilities. ME, as in a place for chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers to get some shut-eye?  Or, like the FROW cows at London Fashion Week who were herded here en masse during its soft opening - presumably to give the place the Anna Wintour seal of approval - because 'it's all about ME ME ME?' What London's first ME Hotel is not, however, is MEH. Witness its slick sleek lobby bar, Marconi, named after the father of the tranny... as in what peeps used to listen to Dusty Springfield on in 1963, not blokes dragged up as the magnificent beehived panda-eyed one, or off-duty cops that secretly want to be Bobby's Girl (get your nostalgia hit here http://tinyurl.com/cb5m6kf ) All jet, chrome and cream geometric shapes, Marconi looks like the inside of the TARDIS as designed by Pierre Cardin, or some other Parisian poodle in thrall to a brilliant Space Age future as imagined circa Telstar. You'll get a decent cocktail chez Marconi but, for my money, the money shot is to be had at Radio, the hi-tech, glass-walled, swinging 60's bachelor pad on the top floor of what used to be the BBC's Bush House. (Marconi. Radio. See what they did there? ) Cocktails such as Opera House (Ketel One, pretty pink juices and edible flowers) are fine if your name is Araminta; ME, I'll stick to my usual dry martini, thanks - or champagne, not deadly, by hotel standards, at £53. What I'm really up here for, is the heated wraparound terrace decked out in show home patio chic. For, in terms of 'wow!' London views, Radio is FM..feckin' magical! Tower Bridge; St Paul's; The Shard twinkling like a giant Swarovski-encrusted pepper mill on the horizon: we're talking postcard perfection. Directly below, tail lights speed across the bridge as we're treated to a spectacular Waterloo Sunset. Coincidentally, that's also the name of a Zapaca, lime and coffee bean cocktail here, as well as a Kinks track I'd listen to as a kid, long after lights-out, curled up in bed, glued to my lovely tranny, dreaming of living the high life in London.
336 Strand WC2 7395 3400 www.melondonuk.com