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Saturday, 24 August 2013

Simmons, King's Cross


It has been a while since I last hung out here, but where else to go when Drink Shop and Dance closes? (http://tinyurl.com/kffgxhl ) Recently refurbished, here's a cross between a Beckenham bungalow's front parlour circa Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep - dig the coal flame effect brass fire -  and a set for a CBeebies show decorated courtesy of Steptoe and Son’s yard. Simmons opens around 4 pm when cheap deals spell danger as a happy hour that actually runs for 300 minutes kicks in. Served in car boot booty (?) - china tea cups at £6.50, or in teapots to share (from £15) - not-half-bad cocktails are a large part of this cheeky charmer’s appeal. Fire into French Martini, Long Island Iced Tea, White Russian or Jamble (gin, Chambord, raspberry jam and cranberry juice). By 2.30 am on weekends, it's jammed and jumping as DJs spin mashed-up tracks to the similarly mashed-upand mad-for-it  at what feels like an impromptu house party after the pub closes, held in someone's nan's front parlour while the old dear - ignorance is bliss - is in the hozzie having a hip replacement. Just don't break any of her kitsch ornaments. OK? And, after last week's shenanigans at Simmons, I'd say King's Cross to Notting Hill at around 4am must be the best value you can get for £1.40 in London...if you pick the right night bus (he says, cryptically).
32 Caledonian Rd, N1 7278 5851 www.simmonsbar.co.uk 


Tweaked from my review at www.squaremeal.co.uk

Mash, Mayfair


Even if you’re not intent on sinking your gnashers into half a dead cow MASH (the Modern American Steakhouse...only, via Denmark in this case) is a good spot for a drink. Bag a high stool and lock lips with well-made cocktails at its stand-alone bar whose old Yankee Art Deco grand hotel pose suggests a fantasy lounge Jack Nicholson’s character discovers in The Shining. Here's Johnnie Walker!  What to try? I'll go with Gottlieb’s favourite (rye, cherry wine, maple syrup, chocolate bitters and Anchor Steam ale, £9.75) if not popcorn alco-milkshakes. Try on a Caracas blazer for size (Diplomatico Reserva, apple liqueur, Galliano, caramelised pineapple and bitters) or enjoy MASH’s interpretation of the all-American (vodka) martini served with blue cheese-stuffed olives. Fine drinks, and the bar’s wide range of bourbon and whiskeys - many, such as opinion-dividing Buffalo Trace Experimental Oat Bourbon, unusual, controversial or rare - make it tempting to settle in for a session. Word up! The theme tune to 1970s TV sitcom M*A*S*H  may have held that suicide is painless; but rein in on killer New York sours. MASHed in Mayfair is a lousy look.
77 Brewer Street W1F 9ZN 7734 2608 www.mashsteak.dk

Based on my review from Square Meal. For more like it, visit www.squaremeal.co.uk

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Peckham Pelican, Peckham

When I used to spend time in San Diego (bored rigid by its plastic people and sunshiny superficiality), my idea of a fun day out was to slum it over the border in  Tijuana. Tequila, tacos and more soul than glossy California could shake a stick at: me gusto! BUT... I would not want to live there. I feel much the same way about Peckham, aka the Dalston of the Sarf. I love its exotic food stalls; rudeboy fashions; "Praise the Lordy" old West Indian dames in their mad mother of the bride hats and Sunday best floral prints; not to mention Frank's rooftop Campari bar, Peckham Springs art gallery (ahem, and bar), and those fascinating lurid beauty parlours wherein, there's so much acrylic weave going down, one carelessly misplaced Marlboro and the whole damn neighbourhood will become an inferno. On my latest awayday, I discover a new bar. All squat party decor, council refuse tip-dodging 1960s furniture, and DIY art - a surrealist spinning wheel after Marcel Duchamp, that's virtually identical to the original. Set in a concrete wing of a peeling Art Deco building, the ultra lo-fi Peckham Pelican is set to take off; located, as it is, away from the main ragga drag, towards arty Camberwell College. From a short list of cocktails, I ask for a bloody Mary. The manager smiles, ‘We’re out of Worcester sauce but I’ll cycle down to Tesco and find some.” £20 million pads or not, don't expect that level of service in Chelsea. While Bradley Wiggins sets off on Le Tour de SE15, his sweet female charges (so green, I wonder if their parents realise they are not upstairs in their bedrooms drooling over camp Justine Bieber posters) set about pizza making. My 3-toppings-for-8-quid special isn't particularly special, but as it's edible and made with love and isn't from Jamie's Italian; I'm happy as Larry - whoever Larry was. ( Grayson? Olivier? The Lamb?) To smoove 70s soul, I pore over a fascinating pile of ancient top shelf magazines found among the random junk dotted around the joint. Take Parade. Price, one shilling. Sample article: "Don't believe the current health scares. If  you ONLY smoke 25 cigarettes a day, your only worry should be the expense.' Life in 1964 was so simple. I could happily stay in my Peckham time warp forever.
92 Peckham Road SE15 5PY 7701 0225  https://www.facebook.com/thepeckhampelican?fref=ts

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Xenia, Earls Court

Enjoy a brandy, with a cigar from the humidor, in the compact courtyard herb garden off the cocktail bar at new Kensington independent boutique hotel, Xenia. Renovated in spring 2013, the swish pile is also conveniently located for those stuck in the Cromwell Hospital, but not so wired up to BUPA machines they can't pop out for a martini to swallow their meds with ("totes not recommended" I hear health czars holler). The list is inversely proportionate to the bijou absinthe and truffle-tone lounge itself. Kiwi and lychee martini, elderflower cosmo, lavender margarita and cucumber dream are among various fixes from £8. Butch-er options include a trio of hooch-heavy tiki ideas and a smokin’ Tanqueray and Lagavulin smoky martini. Served from 10 am to 10 pm, bar food includes burgers, various Mediterranean-style salads, charcuterie and cheese platter (£15), fish and chips (£18), Parmesan tomato and aubergine soufflé and sandwiches. There’s a conservatory, a terrace and a wine bar/ restaurant that feels jolly and light - in direct contrast to Alfred Hitchcock’s glowering dark former townhouse home directly opposite. Is that somebody's Mummy I can see through its attic window? 

Xenia Hotel, 160 Cromwell Road SW5 OTL 7442 4242        www.hotelxenia.co.uk

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

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Toy Shop Bar, Putney


As a nipper, I loathed toy shops. They were strictly for sissies. Places where our neighbours' brat  Pamela 'Princess-in-pink' Prentiss could indulge her serious horse habit. Me? I'd have happily made mincemeat of My Little Pony. Why, even today, I'm still partial to the occasional horse burger and frites whenever I'm en Belgique. Christmas? Ritual humiliation. Had I known about Esther Rantzen's Childline; I'd have shopped dandruffy Donald from Dundee, employed at one of Edinburgh's grand department stores throughout December. Back in Jimmy Savile's heyday, it was deemed absolutely fine that a grubby old man, who normally spent his days hanging around the bus station bogs, be given carte blanche to stroke infant flesh right under its blissfully innocent mother's' nose. "If you promise to be a good boy, you'll get a nice a surprise from Santa's sack" - the 'surprise', under his grubby red frock coat,  the now rock hard tumescence protruding from said sack. Had he been hot, like Billy Bob Thornton, the Bad Santa experience might have been acceptable.  A Spacehopper? Subutteo? A Hornby Inter City train set in my Christmas stocking? Not interested. I wanted to be boarding the real thing, King's Cross-bound, for a King's Road boutique adventure where I'd surely bump into George Best and supercool Sandie Shaw. So, the prospect of schlepping to a bar called The Toy Shop, over the bridge at the arse end of King's Road, doesn't exactly have me bouncing off the walls like wee Harry high on Haribo. Fortunately, any Hamley's hamminess is reined in at the new Putney kidult's playpen, decked out in acid drop brights like a psychedelic soda fountain. "Fun and Thrills" shouts a lurid neon above a back bar jammed with retro robots...at least, I think they were robots; I was too busy laughing at the staff uniform. Cool dudes in navy Oompa-Loompa-style aprons? More toy shop humiliation. Despite their daft names and Willie Wonka garnishes, cocktails such as clubland à la Polly Pocket, one typically jokey Jackanory wheeze that counts ‘sweets-infused sherry’, chocolate cigarettes and lemon sherbet amongst its ingredients, are pretty good. After a quick briefing,  Action Man behind the bar has got my number. His suggestions - professor’s negroni using artichoke aperitif Cynar rather than Campari (it's a trend), and a bee pollen margarita. Potent fig-infused whisky old fashioned (£9) is the sort of plaything I'd have had in mind, aged 5, if only I'd known that Compass Box is not in fact, a totally pointless compass in a boring box. 
32 Putney High Street SW15 1SQ 8704 1188  www.thetoyshopbar.com

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Glenn Miller Bar, Marylebone


On the hottest night of the year,  sweating like a glass blower's arse as Lily Savage would say, I am not a happy bunny to be on Oxford Street, squaring up to pro-Palestine protestors besieging Marks and Spencer and competing for pavement space with the locust-like swarms of rich Chinese out to strip Selfridges bare of Balenciaga, Gucci and Vuitton. I'm headed to what has been sold to me by its PRs as 'an evening of cocktail decadence for modern gents and glam girls.' It's in aid of the 'newly revamped' (as in 3 years ago, a staff member will subsequently tell me) Glenn Miller Bar, 'named after the famous American jazz "singer."' Glenn sang? Who knew? The bar is in the Thistle Marble Arch, a hotel I have never set foot in, but have heard talk of from my (glam girl) godmother who would rendezvous here, in shantung silk gown and matching shoes, for a cocktail soirée with her West End stagey mates in the place's 60s prime as The Mount Royal. The old dame - the hotel and, indeed, my late-godmother - was clearly a looker in her day: inlaid marble floors and Art Deco styling hint at a grand past. Alas, like Glenn in his plane en route to Paris in 1944, this pile mysteriously disappeared off fashionable London's radar around the same time Vera Lynn did. Tacky floral arrangement, tedious muzak that sure ain't Glenn's swinging big band, hideous lilac overhead lighting, and motley Millerabilia aside (I've seen better at car boot sales); I rather like this retro-style watering hole away from the crazy fray of Primark, opposite. Cocktails from its new list - the revamp in question? - are being mixed for the half dozen invited hacks that have bothered to pitch up by the personable Andy Pearson who, I'm told, often appears on Something For The Weekend -  a BBC 2 programme that's not something that figures in my idea of an ideal weekend. Aviation (an ironic choice, given Glenn's fate); Clover Club; White Lady; Vesper: what's not to like about a list of classics that replaces a menu that imagined Sex On The Beach and Jack Rogers (Jack Daniel’s grenadine and Coke) would lure sophisticates in? So, if you are ahem, In The Mood for a Manhattan and a club sandwich up Marble Arch way, put on your finest String Of Pearls and pop in. But guys, the clue is in the name; so stick some orchestral class on your stereo system - this, par exemple:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3hsVrGr5Dw
Thistle Marble Arch, Bryanston Street W1H 7EH www.thistle.com/marblearch

Thursday, 8 August 2013

#R3D Market, Shoreditch and Camden Beach, Camden



If the July heatwave decides to head back our way, there’s still time to catch some rays at two of this year's cool crop of summer pop-ups. Set in a disused lot in Shoreditch, the sun will finally set on #R3D Market on 16th August. Until then, it's open on Thursday and Friday evenings when DJs and live music, strawberry and prosecco cocktails and rum lychee and Ting are the ting. Slinging good grub to grab, there's Mark Hix’s FishDog, Burger Bear and Mei Mei’s Street Cart. For Slim Shady, sofas under a giant awning are where to shelter from the sun (or the rain).  Meanwhile, over in NW1, if you can’t afford the crazy cost of a high season villa on Ibiza or, cooler still, Formentera; there's the Costa del Camden by way of a stay-cation. Its palm-fringed sandy beach comes with cabanas, deckchairs and crowds only otherwise experienced at a free fishbowl and foam party in Faliraki. The entertainment here runs to retro arcade games, ping pong and free live gigs on Fridays. Drink Pusser’s rum punch and 2-4-1 cocktails weekdays from 5pm -7 pm from its tiki bar and feed your face fish and chips, burgers, wings, ices and candy floss  Come 24th August, that's your lot as this lot is cleared and your Mum whips you off to be kitted out, to your undying embarrassment, in a grim grey uniform from George at Asda as the school bell beckons.

#R3D Market:  5 - 7 Rivington Street EC2A 3DT http://www.redgallerylondon.com

Camden Beach: Roundhouse Chalk Farm Road NW1 8EH 0844 482 8008 www.roundhouse.org.uk

Monday, 5 August 2013

Little Nan's, Deptford


Helping establish cocktail culture in SE8, is a pop-up that's now become a permanent fixture much to the delight of the 20-something charity shop-scourer groovejets who are turning New Cross/ Deptford into the new Dalston. 1970s decor includes pre-loved chairs with antimacassars - the sort of furniture you won't find in Heal's but might just find half a crown, a custard cream and a bottom set of false teeth down the back of - as well as soft toys and all manner of china and geegaws that might have graced owner / local geezer Tristan Scutt’s 103-year-old late Nan’s parlour. La-di-dah gin sips come in vintage teacups (£6) or teapots (£14). Lock lips with The Countess of Cork, Zara Philips, or Princess Eugenie - a hoity-toity royal rinse that combines limoncello with (gasp!) Babycham. Otherwise, there's wine from £11, lager and cider at under £3 a pint, cheese straws, and cream teas with Victoria sponge and millionaire’s shortbread. Millionaires may currently be thin on the ground in SE8, but it's only a matter of time; so enjoy table-top bric-à-brac sales and jiggle your Pat Butcher heritage placcy earrings - the garnish to a cocktail inspired by the old Eastenders' tart with a heart -  to disco anthems and cheesy listening before the priced-out-of-East- Dulwich mob descends and the place becomes a branch of Carluccio's.
46 Deptford Broadway SE8 4PH 07792 205375 https://www.facebook.com/LittleNansBar

Friday, 2 August 2013

Field's Bar and Kitchen, Holborn

Resolutions: where January is all about diets that won't last, post-Wimbledon, July is when couch potatoes suddenly decide they could rival Andy Murray by October,  if only they book a court in the park each Thursday after work. On a balmy July evening, I'm at Lincoln's Inn Fields, aperitif in hand, being entertained by two deadly serious chaps locked in a tie-break on a court adjacent to the terrace at Benugo's latest venture, Field's Bar and Kitchen. They're thinking "Djokovic v Nadal"; I'm seeing Jabba The Hut v Billy Bunter as the latter's 2nd, 3rd and 20th serves find the net. Amateurs! It's the same word I'd apply to this evening's service. Sweet but hardly likely to land a gig at Field's near neighbour, The Delaunay, perhaps the young staff here are also recent converts to their game and in need of a few more warm-up sessions?  But this is casual dining and, as such, it works well enough for less picky souls who are clearly taken with a chalet-style refectory that feels like a smart roadside diner in the mountains of Slovenia, or Norway - not that I've actually visited either. From a snappy menu that does breakfasts for briefs off to work in the square's crusty legal chambers, and lunch dishes such as sea bass fillet and courgettes al forno or steak sandwich, we order pizza ortolana - a fair if not memorable £10.50 chargrilled veg, mozarella and rocket 12-inch -  and burrata with 'heritage' red and green tomatoes. It looks tastier than it eats. Sparkling wines to enjoy on a sunny summer evening include pink pinot, Nyetimber and prosecco, and there's a limited range cocktails. Before I can get a proper negroni Blur on, Parklife is brought to an abrupt end. At 8.30 sharp, a waitress begins to bus tables while another folds up chairs with such haste, I fear the Germans are coming. We're more or less shooed away like irksome pigeons, motioned towards the garden square's about-to-shut gates. As John McEnroe was wont to erupt, "You cannot be serious!"
Lincoln’s inn Fields, WC2A 3LH 7242 5351 www.benugo.com 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

3 Crowns, Old Street


Were it in Silicon Valley USA,  rather than off Silicon Roundabout (that unlovely junction that blights old Old Street ), The 3 Crowns would be a very different local for the web designers, game developers and app-y hour geeks that will inevitably make up this new indie food pub's clientele. Where Californians demand spirulina smoothies and quinoa cosmopolitans,"No vodka! Hold the triple sec!" and the sort of macrobiotic organic edamame-based baloney Gwynnie and Madge might fancy, the London IT massive will be happily shooting out their brain cells, retro arcade game-stylee, doing serious damage to the 3 Crowns' kegs of American pale ale (via Hackney Brewery) and Czech-style pilsner from Norwich micro, Redwell. Behind its original green glazed tiled exterior, the 3C's stripped back nu-Edwardian pose is low on folderol, shifting the focus on to the open kitchen that flanks the rear dining room. Pile in for bar food, dinner, or an £18 three-course lunch. Trad Brit with a slight Gallic accent is the sort of grub that talks to me: rustic terrines; guanciale with avocado and tomato; Middle White roast pork with celeriac remoulade and capers; hake, mussels and samphire; onglet in a bun; spiced oxtail and sweet potato mash; possets, fools, or walnut tart with strawberries and cream. A reasonably priced, interesting wine list has big juicy Chablis, doable Pays d'Oc rouge at £16, Txakoli - an effervescent Basque white that got the thumbs up when I tried it for the first time recently on a hot afternoon on a beach near Bilbao - and Ambriel Classic Cuvée, a brand new sparkling chardonnay / pinot blend from West Sussex producers Outhwaite that's making waves. At the 3Crowns, I find myself thinking "sometimes, all you want is a decent local. Shame I'm not a local."
 8 East Road, N1 6AD 7842 8516   www.the3crowns.co.uk