Thursday, 31 October 2013
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
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
As they say in Latin, "Cave decor dullicus! "
155 Kilburn High Road NW6 7HU 7625 2618 http://www.theearlderbykilburn.co.uk
Friday, 25 October 2013
97 - 113 Curtain Road EC2A 3BS 8305 3090 http://www.farrockaway.co.uk
Thursday, 24 October 2013
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
226 Shoreditch High Street E1 6PJ 7375 2905 www.upstairsatnancys.co.uk
Wednesday, 23 October 2013
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!
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
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
1 Kensington High Street W8 5NP 3747 6919 http://www.ruskis.com
Thursday, 17 October 2013
Union Street Cafe, 47 -51 Great Suffolk Street SE1 0BS 7592 7997
Tuesday, 15 October 2013
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
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.
See a version of this and simailar reviews at www.squaremeal.co.uk
Thursday, 10 October 2013
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
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.
(Adapted from my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk )
Thursday, 3 October 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.