Follow by Email

Popular Posts

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Carriage Bar at The Grain Store, King's Cross

Set in a former Victorian warehouse where "acieeeed!" warehouse parties were once the thing, the arrival of Bruno Loubet's Grain Store underscores the hood's relentless upward trajectory. From the haunt of shady old pimps and leathery prozzies, to Proenza Schouler bags and Prada shades drawn to Bruno's artfully arranged modern veggie mouthfuls on pristine white plates; that's King's Cross 2013. With dancing fountains outside, and an over-designed tricksy interior that is somewhere between a (very big branch) of Carluccio's and a Jamie's Italian speaking with a Gallic accent, The Grain Store is pure theatre. So too, the star of the show's supporting cast: a good-looking/quirky chorus line in jaunty neckerchiefs à la Pirates of Penzance;  a quaint German receptionist/ MC who is Joel Grey in Cabaret, the remake; a colourful camp maître d' who acts like he'll presently do a razzle dazzle 'em soft-shoe shuffle on the bar top; and the Carriage Bar's philosophical, phlegmatic Galician manager who rightly belongs in an old Buñuel film. As with some of that director's work, I'm not quite sure what to make of drinks directed by Loubet's consultant shaker, Tony Conigliaro. Several ideas have been designed with a specific dish in mind. Partnering courgette broad bean and prawn falafel, for example, is a singular sinus-tingling vodka mustard martini a must, or a must to avoid as Herman's Hermits sang it? I initially like it. After swig two, I'm less sure. As the novelty wears off, I grow more inclined towards my date's take:  "Ugh! Like swigging Colman's." Another sip and I'm in love again. Blowing hot and cold (literally in this case) about people is my default position. Cocktails? Rarely. I am, however, decidedly down with Tone's Beefeater ‘green’ martini. But pumpkin and maple syrup Bellini? Smoked paprika white wine? Butter and hay Champagne? Silver tip tea with a hint of cassis, meanwhile, comes on like the sort of mouthwash you'd be given at the dentist's were goody gum drops Gywnnie Paltrow minsitering to your molars. Presently, the penny drops. Could Bruno's brief have stipulated devising drinks so leftfield, a punter needs to try them several times over in order to form an opinion? If so, you've sure succeeded, Signor Conigliaro.
The Grain Store, Granary Square, 1-3 Stable Street N1C 4AB

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Stories, Hackney

London Fields' latest bar/ cafe/ gallery/ social hub (origami classes, anyone?) is from the crew behind The Book Club and The Queen of Hoxton - venues synonymous with the sort of  nu-hippies, style bloggers, Guardian-reading geeks, bohos and lazy bozos you can also expect to find here. In fact, the only demographic you'll have trouble locating dahn Broadway Market these days, are the indigenous Cockney sparras flushed out their natural habitat by smug sHabitat-chic colonisers priced out of the leafier parts of Islington.  Brunch, from 10am until mid-afternoon, and bar food that includes wild mushroom and mozzarella arancini, beef and chorizo burger with peppers, pigs in blankets, squid and prawns piri piri (£5), are served in a postmodern space that feels like the canteen / chill-out zone / hot-desking area (or whatever the current buzzword is) at some achingly cool Shoreditch brand agency. Network and bounce around ideas for your new viral ad campaign/ indispensable app over a pint of draught London Fields ale, wine from £4 a glass, or various ‘stories’ cocktails from £6.80. Try ‘sob’ ‘adventure’ (rum, orgeat, apple juice and lime), ‘likely’, ‘shaggy dog’ or for the likely lad on his laptop who claims Google is about to snap up his big idea as the next Tumblr, ‘cock’n’bull (Four Roses bourbon, lemon juice, Cointreau and lemonade)

30 Broadway Market E8 4QJ 7254 6898

This, and similar reviews, appear at

Sylvan Post, Forest Hill

It was a red letter day in disguise for Forest Hill when this bar opened in the old post office there. Postman Pat-erpernalia harks back to the premises past life and, at £3.70 or thereabouts for draft Sagres, Meantime IPA, Krusovice or Devon Red cider, how long before a pint here costs less than an actual first-class stamp? Craft beers are also popular: look out for casks from East London Brewing, Windsor & Eton and others. Tempranillo blends and Airén wine from Galicia come at the distinctly suburban price of £13.75 and there’s Chablis at around twice that in a list that offers many by the carafe and glass. Food,  served in the evening and at the weekend from noon, might typically include baked Camembert with chutney, potted duck rillettes, grilled halloumi salad with roasted summer vegetables and salsa verde (£7.50), Barnsley chop with Jersey royals and anchovy and caper dressing, smoked fishcakes, beef-burger, cheesecake and  Eton Mess.
24 - 28 Dartmouth Road SE23 3XU 8291 5712

This review and others like it appear at

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Joe's Bar, Covent Garden

(Sue the bastard!)

Covent Garden Piazza? AVOID! AVOID! Too many resting actors playing living statues, dead-eyed tourists in sawn-off shorts and Union flag velvet jester hats from its shite souvenir shacks. No tables at Balthazar? Whatever! And as for my initial samplings at Shake Shack and Five Guys, I'm burgered if I'll by queuing up any time...ever. For a fiver more, I'd rather shag Hawksmoor Seven Dials' buns ( Away from the fray, Joe's - a dive bar that should not be confused with the Joe Allen, to which I am forever drawn for nostalgic reasons (I held  my 21st birthday B-List party there) - is worth a butcher's at the thinly disguised reboot of what was formerly Navajo Joe's on rapidly improving King Street. Set to a pre-Motown r’n’b soundtrack, lit brothel-red, this Tabasco-tone joint comes on like a downbeat off-Route 66 dive circa early Mad Men. Rocking rum and bourbon rinses spell danger for dipso Don Drapers de nos jours. Try red or dead or 1 night in jail, the sort of butch bastards I imagine Johnny Cash downing in one before knocking ten bells out of the man that called him "Sue." (re-live that pearl at ) With an impressive range of range over 100 suave agaves to choose from, tequila cocktails are worth making out with. I'm halfway through smokin’ sazerac-alike, Mexican put-down,  shooting the breeze with the bar's mile-a-minute Scouse-mouth manager, when tonight's sidekick, Mr. Attention-Span-of-a-Gnat, demands that I drink up and we take the evening on to Rules. Now if ever there is a reason to hit Covent G, Rules is it (earlier love letter here: ) but as with other bars Joe's reminds me of - Slim Jim's and Aces and Eights for example - I'd have been perfectly happy to linger here. Looks like I'll have to negotiate the Garden's freaky fruits again 'ere long.

34 King Street WC2E 8JD 7240 4008 

Image Tumblr

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

David Collins: obituary reproduced from SQUARE MEAL

Restaurant designer David Collins dies

restdesign3 - david_collins_10.jpg
David Collins – undoubtedly the biggest name in the restaurant design world – has died after a short illness. The 54-year-old had been diagnosed with skin cancer three weeks ago; his death, which took place in the early hours of this morning, was due to complications caused by the cancer.
Collins’ signature dining rooms are some of the most well-known and luxurious destinations in the capital, and include The WolseleyClaridge’s Bar and The Blue Bar at The Berkeley. His style was opulent, rich in colour and glamour, and famous for its attention to detail: for The Blue Bar, Collins commissioned pieces in a unique shade of periwinkle blue – one of his favourite colours.
Collins trained as an architect in his native Dublin, but moved into interior design after graduating. In 1985, he founded David Collins Studio, which established itself as the go-to agency for projects throughout London and globally, including Bob Bob RicardJ Sheekey andRestaurant Gordon Ramsay and, more recently,Bassoon bar at The CorinthiaThe Diamond Jubilee Tea Rooms at Fortnum & Mason, and Brasserie Zédel.
Both the studio and the man behind it have won countless awards, including designer of the year accolades fromHouse & Garden, Elle Decoration and Wallpaper magazines. Madonna was a huge fan of The Blue Bar (pictured, below left) – so much so that she reputedly had Collins design a version of the bar for her own house.
blue bar at the berkeley 2012 - The-Berkeley_TheBlue-Bar_2012_resized.jpg

Keith Barker-Main, Square Meal contributor andMetro columnist, was a friend of Collins.
‘I first met David when he was a student,’ he told Square Meal. ‘Here was clearly a kind, reflective, stylish lad with a cheeky glint in his eyes and a stream of delightfully dry observations to share. As to his prodigious design talent, the fine London interiors he leaves behind – The Connaught BarArtesian and The Blue Bar are among my favourites – speak volumes. David was a class act with a wickedly witty edge.’
Square Meal editor Ben McCormack paid tribute to Collins and the legacy he has left behind.
‘David Collins deserves to be remembered as being as much of a key figure in the transformation of London’s restaurant scene over the last 20 years as Terence Conran and Gordon Ramsay,’ he said. ‘His memorable designs for restaurants including Nobu Berkeley StCecconi’s and, recently, Colbert put him at the vanguard of the restaurant world and played a central part in making eating out in London as much about enjoying a glamorous night out in cool surroundings as eating fine food. Our condolences go to his family, and all those who worked with him at his design studio.’
Collins leaves behind his mother, two sisters and one brother.

This story was published in July 2013. ©SquareMeal

This article was first published on

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

#R3D Market, Shoreditch

Milkshakes brought the boys to Kelis’s yard, but at this Shoreditch vacant lot,  £7.50 cocktails such as rum, lychee, lime and Ting, and gin and strawberry prosecco twinklers courtesy of Background Bars, are what to expect. In this built-up 'hood, any summer pop-up in a disused space is a handy City escape; but this is a really good 'un. Chill on sofas under a large canvas marquee - an insurance policy lest our current Saharan spell revert to the sadistic Jet Stream-inflicted norm - and groove to live bands and DJs spinning a chunky boogaloo stew. Enjoy a good goss - this week's topic: which major UK rock star/ responsible father reportedly fears he'll be dumped by his wife in the daddy of all lawsuits after allegedly spawning an extra-curricular sprog in the US? - and fire into good grub from a street food market on-site. There's meaty patties flipped by Burger Bear, Fishdog (‘the Rolls Royce of fish finger sandwiches’), pizza, Chinese comfort food from MeiMei’s cart, and a Caribbean BBQ at this fun free hang-out, open on Thursday and Friday evenings only until midnight. The backlot party is set to run until the end of August at which point, the space will be covered in naturally formed ice, most likely. Anticipate a pop-up skating rink with glühwein, pretzel and oompah bands in lederhosen come the first week in September, and enjoy this hottie while you can 
5 - 7 Rivington Street EC2A 3DT

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Bingham, Richmond

We are having what passes, in the rest of Europe, as 'a normal summer'. As 30º+ day follows  30º+ day, how package holiday oiks'  haemmorhoid-red hungover faces must rage as they contemplate The Sun in not-so-sunny Santa Maria di Horrea: "I told you we shouldav stuck wiv effin' Pontins in Prestatyn, Leigh-Anne." But for all London's upmarket spots' fancy air-con systems, the Lovin' Spoonful's line - 'cool town, evening in the city; dressing so fine and looking pretty' doesn't resonate with me when a Summer in the City evening involves the furnace that is the Tube and conditions that would not be tolerated by the EU were the Central Line conveying swines to slaughter not peeps to St. Paul's.  Endure the District Line travelling in the opposite direction, however, and in 30 minutes, you're in bucolic Richmond. All breathable air and languid lawns, here's a world away from sweltering West End streets. Richmond is the sort of gilded time-warp town where you might reasonably expect to bump into 70s TV fixture Margo Leadbetter, looking pristine in Aquascutum, terrorising slovenly boutique assistants, and drinking G and Ts with a bridge club crony. Margo and her ilk, present-day stockbrokers' wives and ladies who lunch, will love The Bingham. Removed from the perma-thronged, rumbustious,  riverfront bars of central Richmond, this elegant, genteel Georgian hotel made over in Homes and Garden designery moderne epitomises The Good Life, Home Counties-style. Who wouldn't dig a glorious English walled garden and high-ceilinged handsome lounge bar? A summer breeze wafts in through French windows overlooking chocolate box-perfection -  a sun-dappled stretch of the Thames whose coots and moorhens are only occasionally disturbed by bronzed Oxbridge Aryan brawn propelling fast-moving rowing boats. We're offered cooling Singapore slings, elegant Bellinis, fig martini, pisco sour, negroni, summer punch and the sort of food bowls you get at the sort of wedding receptions, the Bingham's stock-in-trade, Hugh Grant's screen character Charles was perpetually late for. I'd forgotten about the place, but The Bingham's lawn beats any crowded London bier-garten, hands down. My previous visit, for dinner, some 7 years ago, is a total blur until the Bingham's owner reminds me my date,  restaurant reviewer Marina O'Loughlin, described the place as "all fur coat and no knickers." Ooops! 'Hashtag (slightly) awkward', as they say. Not that Margo would have any truck with a spiky wee Glaswegian wifey abroad.
61 - 53 Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey 8940 0902

Friday, 12 July 2013

Pelt Trader, The CIty

Retro pub mirrors last fashionable circa The Onedin Line grace walls that might have been better been left bare. Presumably a survivor of trading missions up Injun-infested American rivers, a lone Davy Crockett-style canoe dangles above this windowless boxy City vault located deep under the railway platforms of Cannon Street station above: you’re sure not here for the decor. When I add that Pelt Trader is the latest in a chain that includes Euston Tap and Holborn Whippet, this new bar’s raison d’être becomes clear: beer!  Hopheads are flocking to this City venture in numbers. And why not?  Know anywhere else in this parish that let's you choose from 30 regularly rotated craft keg and cask brews hidden behind a big 'beer wall.' No? Thought not! Prices start at £3 and sampling is positively encouraged.  So popular were Kernel Pale Simcoe -"one for the ladies" - and Buxton Wild Boar, they had sold out before I could sample them, leaving the likes of Buxton Imp, Tiny Rebel Billabong and Benedictiner weissbier to try. No hardship!  There’s a dozen wines from £16- £30 and thin crust pizza and charcuterie. Mutton, venison, goat and boar meatballs from Borough Market are set to be added in July 2013. The bar is shut at weekends, when Cannon Street's suits are consigned to Kent commuter-belt heaven, dreaming of Monday lunchtime at Pelt Trader as they sup swill at their local carvery, I imagine

Arch 3 Dowgate Hill EC4N 6NJ 3137 1872 @PeltTrader

Related Bars

Holborn Whippet REVIEW :
Euston Tap REVIEW:
Euston Cider tap: REVIEW

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Miller, Borough

This  Beezer of a lounge in The Borough looks to have been done out by The Bash Street Kids - yes, I know they belong in the Beano, you pub quiz anorak! But it's all the work of the gang behind  Bethnal Green's wonderful Sebright Arms. The sort of pub that makes me regret living among the mustard corduroy jeans and ribbed red socks with Lobbs loafers classes of K&C, The Sebright is one I'll happily cross town for. The same goes for its equally interesting attitude-free wee sister, a top gaff that's a whole mind-set away from the expensive corporate slick suit-magnets at its near neighbour, The Shard. You’ll find craft beers, artisan perry and ciders and lots of pocket-friendly vino,  and scran courtesy of Jun Tanaka’s Street Kitchen, purveyors of pimped-up provenance-assured gourmet/ gourmand hot dogs such as Boston hound and American pit-bull, its bite as good as its bark. Don't dig dogs? There's wings an' ting. Live music from emerging talent is a regular draw upstairs, and - budding Brandon Flowers nota bene - there’s even a rehearsal studio in the basement. Rockaoke-style singalongs, indie dance DJ sets, comedy nights, theatre, and ping pong are further reason to make for The Miller if you reckon Bermondsey Street is a bit up itself these days.

96 Snowsfields SE1 3SS 7560 6640 

Original SEBRIGHT ARMS review here:

Adapted from my review at

Aqua Shard, London Bridge

(Huh? You want to see pictures? Go buy a drink and see for yourself, cheapskate!) 

"EEEEH! I can't wait for you to take me up the Shard" squeals excited highest-high-rise-in-town virgin. "That could be a line from Carry on Cruising had that camp caper been set in a Vauxhall orgy room," I say. But 31 stories up, across the lobby from Oblix - "the restaurant that nobody is raving about" as ES mag's restaurant critic assassinated it - assassins and orgy rooms are the vibe I'm getting at Aqua Shard - all 1990s Manhattan power-tower, hard-edged, shiny-sleek-and-angular. So darkly lit is it by night, I expect to rub Armani shoulders with Patrick Bateman among the assembled suits . "The barmen have complained they can't see properly" says a staffer peering at me in the gloaming. "Pay them in carrots? Issue Davy lamps?" I offer, helpfully. Of course, what Patrick really came for, is a vista that reminds him of his old stomping ground. Londoners haven't yet grown as blasé as New Yorkers about  ogling their city, spread out like Toytown, from on high. I still get a thrill seeing London from its new breed of  sky-lounges. I do, however manage to keep my cool and not  point excitedly and whoop, as one Shardy novice does tonight, "Look! I can just about make out my Nan's street in West Ham." Not that I had a 'Nan', let alone one unfortunate enough to live in that exotic burb. I am marvelling at a Lilliputian Tower Bridge far below, all the while being schmoozed in one ear by Aqua S's chatty Neapolitan bar manager, a simpatico sort who can shoot the breeze about shit other than drinks, thankfully. But after 30 minutes, my throat now as dry as manager Manuel's hometown in July, I'm going American Psycho for a drink. Fortunately, I have no axe to grind with Signor Chattisimo's martinis. These killers are well worth the wait. Aztec Tinez, despite its dubious name, is a fine Olmeco blanco and chocolate tea bitters twist on a martinez. Top call at £14, old times revival, works too - unlikely as Tanqueray 10, olive grappa, green walnut liqueur, Benedictine, Kümmel, Tio Pepe and artichoke sound as glass-mates.  I'd unreservedly urge you to take yourself  yourself up The Shard - I imagine Ann Summers has a suitable toy - if only for a rinse and a butcher's. As for a loo with a view; pointing Percy at the porcelain and peeing on Peckham? Talk about piss elegance! That's a term I'd also apply to our patchy Mod Brit dinner. Let's just leave it at... tricksy....and too many ingredients fighting for attention on one plate, maybe?   
Level 31The Shard, St.Thomas St SE1 9RY 7478 0540 www.aquashard   

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Mr. Fogg's, Mayfair

Flustered by my temporary DISCO malaise (see previous review), I am escorted to the relative calm of a new bar to help me come down. On paper, ‘Phileas Fogg’s Mayfair mansion’ is theme bar hell, but the latest jape from Charlie Gilkes and Co is not as arch as it sounds. In a witty cod-Victorian drawing room stuffed with exotica from the fictional traveller’s foreign adventures, staff, lookers all - Old Etonian Gilkes's ex-fags? - appear in duds from Flashman's days. Dapper chaps who might otherwise have become estate agents in Fulham, mix seriously pukka cocktails - Brooklyn, blinker, sazerac and whisky snapper (£10). Served on vintage cake stands, we eat toasted sandwiches of the type I'd theoretically rustle up - coming home late, squiffy and famished - on my Breville toaster, if only the bloody thing hadn't gone the same way as my George Forman Grill after gathering dust in a cupboard for years. Spookily, a footman appears with a drink before I can order one. "I thought Sir would appreciate a vieux carré?" Either he's psychic, or he's been reading my reviews: here's a New Orleans classic  Sir does very much appreciate. Should I poach Mr Flogg's flunky for my personal Passepartout? My drinking companion, editor of an in-flight mag aimed at Euro-yoof, is also down with his drink, a Bobby Burns, if not the company - decidedly straight and mainstream. "We're in Mayfair not Dalston, Dorothy!" Mr Fogg's, and its owners' other bars Bunga Bunga, Maggie's and Bart’s aren't aimed at me even if  I do (technically) live in Chelsea. Merchant banker-infested Earls Court is no longer the louche locale I was originally drawn to. Gilkes has the toff market all taped up, and (top) hats off to him for that. At least  Made In Chelsea dry cleans its clobber and washes under its oxters -  not something that can be said of the cruddy Clapton contingent.  Ollie and Millie's silly vanilli sort notwithstanding, this Mayfair blast is totes Fogg-horny.

15 Bruton Lane, W1J 6JD 7299 1200 

Disco, Soho Part 2

Whenever I hear its unmistakable opening bars, Van McCoy's 70's classic The Hustle still thrills me to the core.  The Whispers; The Chi-Lites; George McRae; Teddy Pendergrass; The Hues Corporation: such was the diet of a 4-to-the-floor fan kid in his bedroom, dreaming of strutting far-off Manhattan's seemingly unattainable light-up dance floors. It was a fantasy that would presently come true, however. Clocking the bold slogan I'd had printed in white on a black t-shirt,  Steve Rubell, co-owner of the world's most notorious night club... EVER, spots this precocious wee Scot, not yet legally old enough to drink,  chancing his luck at the Big Apple’s most hard to crash door.  picking me out from among the clamouring hordes of hopefuls in their thousands at his venue’s besieged portals, he beckons me to come forward "FUCK STUDIO 54?" - for such was the message of my gamble in  reverse psychology - "You got some nerve, kid!’ Fearing the worst, the cocky kid is quaking inside, all yellow Jello in 501 jeans. After what seemed like at least a decade…..he smiles and pulls back the velvet rope that separates mere mortals from disco heaven. "Welcome to Studio 54. Enjoy!" says God, handing me a 54-embossed lifetime VIP membership for my chutzpah; this, to the utter incredulity of my hard-bitten Manhattan leather queen roomie who had warned such impudence would see us both permanently banished to Brooklyn or some other bridge and tunnel hell. Fast forward to 2013. If - as Charlie  Gilkes just has  - you are going to open a London club that aims to recreate NYC's glory days (i.e circa Shalamar), expect me to be your pickiest critic. Accomplished international Hustler; DJ; Fire Island tea dance fixture:  DISCO is in my DNA. Well, perhaps not quite all things. What was consumed in 54's inner sanctum, vintage Dom P aside, never really interested me.  Fly Robin Fly by Silver Convention, not a silver spoon at my nose, was all I needed to get high. But as I head towards the party Charlie (ironic name for a nightclub owner, no?) is throwing for DISCO Soho's launch, I am coming over all queer - and not in a YMCA way. You See The Trouble With Me (as big old Bazza White sang it) is the hash brown I ate at a party I attended earlier was exactly what it said on the tin and its key ingredient’s woozy warpy ways  are kicking in. And not in a good way. As fake hair-flicky drag queens camp it up and DISCO's waiters in gold shorts and muscle vests take to the floor for their well-choreographed routine to The Fatback Band's Bus Stop,  I'm becoming increasingly claustrophobic, panicked by flashbacks. Fraying around the edges, I am beginning to Freak, and not in a Chic way. How come? Because DISCO, entered via a mocked-up door to a Pan-Am 747, feels Mighty Real (RIP Sylvester). Not up there with 54 of course, but it could be a dive in downtown Hoboken circa Boogie Ooogie Oogie. What's really upsetting me though, is a mural in the style of Keith Haring - imagery that I will forever associate with New York in those dark days when the perma-party turned to carnage. Suddenly, they are all back in the room. Warren; Steve; Angel; Karl; Calvin; Lloyd: gym buff blokes in their prime turned overnight into sarcoma-riddled, zombie-eyed cadavers as the Big A felled 50% of my disco buds. Add to this, a worrying-looking go-go dancer that, in my current altered state, I take to be a short-arse London society queen with her head stuck inside a glitter ball. "Wow! Is that really Fran Cutler?" I say. "Not with that body" quips catty person unknown. Or have I hallucinated that too? Sweaty, clammy, breathless,  I flee Gilkes's undoubtedly fine and fun vision of 1979 before I can critique DISCO's disco drinks - tequila sunrise, Harvey Wallbanger, blue lagoon. Based on his other venue's cocktails (Bunga Bunga, Maggie's Bart's), I imagine they are all perfectly acceptable. “ Take deep breaths and repeat ten times "I Will Survive" I say to myself as Gilke's PR leads me up towards fresh air and spirits me off to the relative sanity of his other new gaff, Mr. Fogg's (see next review). Music was always my party drug of choice. The same can’t be said of so many Studio54  regulars that have long since joined Steve Rubell, partying on at the greatest disco the skies have ever seen, no doubt.  
DISCO, 13 Kingly Court W1 7299 1222