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Friday, 29 November 2013

Cosy Kettle, Euston

Like arriving at a house party your antennae has assessed as a dreary dud, even before its host has finished air-kissing you at the front door, beating an inconspicuous retreat when you don't fancy what you find at any unfamiliar bar, hidden from view in a basement, can be  'hashtag-awkward' as people say (annoyingly). No more so, than when the place is empty save for three punters and two members of staff who look genuinely thrilled to greet you. That's the scenario tonight at a peculiar new cocktail and cake lounge beneath long-running, not-half-bad pub, Somers Town Coffee House. Quick as a flash, I've decided the decor doesn't do it for me. An inchoate mishmash of homespun ideas, twee recycled 60s gubbins, stage set doors, kitsch seats even Steve at Corrie's Street Cars office mightn't fancy; it reminds me of when some of my classmates, aged 11, did up Malcolm MacKenzie's old man's garage as a nightclub. Using stuff found in local skips, Malc and his equally moronic muckers fancied it looked like somewhere cool where Tony Blackburn might DJ, while my innate superior imagination was getting 'dump in Blackburn, Lancs.' For a cocktail lounge, this garish gaff's back bar's scant gins, vodkas and Bells whisky - presumably for wee hard man drinkers fresh off the Glasgow train at nearby Euston - don't exactly augur well - but reinforcements are apparently on the way. Thank God I'm not out on the pull (assuming there was anyone to pull): it's very bright for a bar. How many staff does it take to unscrew a few lightbulbs? Still, I'm here; the barman (pictured) looks the part and the menu promises he'll mix something else if I don't fancy the likes of Lynchburg lemonade, gin fizz or margarita on the rocks from a terse list of unambitious ‘cocktaails’ (sic). "How about a Boulevardier?" Negative. This, despite a Diffordsguide, an informative tome that includes its recipe, in clear view. "Er, OK. I'll have a sweet Manhattan," I say, now back on-menu. After what seems like an age, it is ready. Served not sweet, not perfect, but dry, it is also wrong. "Dry: that's the way I tend to make things" its maker's wet explanation for this disappointing £9.80 effort. Word up, fella! If I ask a bespoke tailor for a silk mohair suit, I won't wear tweed because that's the way he tends to make things. Gitme? If you, however, fancy trying on his French martinis for size at 1.30am, dive in; it's open until 2am. Only don't expect to cosy up to me at this queer Kettle. I've got bigger and better fish to fry. 
60 Chalton Street, NW1 1HS  7387 7377 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Loves Company, Shoreditch

(Been there, got the t-shirt) 

In the classic bittersweet ballad "I Wanna Be Around', performed by everybody from Tony Bennett to Edyie Gorme ), it's said ‘misery loves company.’ Based on the self-pitying crap I've endured over the years, cornered by maudlin drunk acquaintances in bars, and too nice to hand them the number for a decent counsellor then walk away, it's a spot-on observation. Despite duller-than-Doncaster-in-December decor, new dive bar Loves Company’s drinks are anything but miserable. If you’re not drawn to its ungainly muddy brown street level lounge served by a tiny bar, head downstairs to its much bigger basement. Rudimentary furniture that might have been assembled by rookies studying for O-level carpentry and, bizarrely, a white porcelain pedestal washbasin that looks incongruous, to the point of disturbing, behind the bar, do not augur well. See past this and you will be amply rewarded by a range of deeply doable drinks. Typical calls on a menu that would hold its own in Williamsburg - this new duplex dive’s spiritual home? - include a fiery mezcal bloody Maria with a bacon salt rim; chilled flame (a pisco, Pedro Ximinez and grapes sour); a house martini that introduces lemon (in both marmalade and juice form) and olive brine to Jake Burger’s Portobello Road gin; and a rum-bunctious zombie ‘you know is going to kill you.’ Prices certainly won’t: drinks are not deadly at just £7.80 for most. If you can’t face the full-on Shoxditch stramash or you don’t have reservations at Nightjar (directly opposite), these boys would love your company. Give them a spin.

adapted from reviews fro Metro and Square Meal.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Earlham Street Clubhouse, Covent Garden

(Yeh, I reckon!)

It's unfair to judge a bar by its Press launch. God knows I've organised enough live events in my time to know that last-minute hiccups beyond your control come with the gig. Take the nerve-jangling men's Autumn/Winter fashion show I produced for a big name British  designer in Milan. While the notoriously bitchy style mag monsieurs queened and preened front row, 15 minutes and ticking 'til lights down, the designer's entire shoe collection languished, uncleared, in a customs warehouse at Linate airport. Would bare feet in winter be the season's instant hot trend? No! The show must go on, on-time (i.e no more than an hour late); so we improvised. I sent the stylist's 'Eureka!' plan B, a last-minute job lot of grubby Italian army boots bought from a shop around the corner, down the runway to rapturous applause from an audience of gullible himbos. To this day, I believe the collection is still referred to as The Emperor's New Shoes. Opening night nerves and glitches are evident at Earlham Street Clubhouse, new on the site of Detroit - a basement bar that, like its currently clapped-out Motor City namesake, the wheels finally came off. It seems the Seven Dials juice pit's new owners have looked east of Michigan, to the Jersey shores' boardwalk bars of the '50s, for inspiration. Vintage jukebox, old metal burger bar signs, table side telephones for booth-to- booth flirting (not yet installed, ergo glitch #1): I half expect to clock The Fonz on holz. Happy Daze? That'll be down to ESC's slugger cocktails. Listed on snap-sprung menus dangled from the ceiling, they include berry-sweet Ketel 1-laced Prom Queen, Beauty School Drop-out and Power Ranger (a Bulleit, red wine and apricot jam sour). I'm offered a rocks margarita: way too stringent, it drinks like lemon Cif. Its replacement, College Rules is a Pampero mule whose murderous chipotle element comes on like a kick to the windpipe - this to the clear chagrin of consultant mixologists Soul Shakers whose head honcho tastes it, blushes, and promises to finesse his babies at an ASAP staff snagging session. There are more opening night wobbles but by and large, the Press pack is upbeat, the launch deemed a success - not least due to great thin-crust, sourdough pizza by the slice that's as good as anything you'll find in Frank Sinatra's pizza-mad hometown, Hoboken NJ. Unlike fashion show producers, bar owners get a second chance to make a first impression. My impression is it'll all turn out alright tomorrow night at the cute Clubhouse. 
35 Earlham Street  WC2H 9LD  7240 5142 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Simmons, Camden

Simmons is the sort of late-night bar I occasionally fall into when I've been slung out of somewhere else - whether that's down to its early closing or to my bad behaviour.  Fans of the original wee King’s Cross original will dig Son of Simmons in NW1. Here's a similarly dippy den done out in 50s kitsch under a skull mirrorball that, if it were a genuine Damien Hirst, could buy several houses hereabouts and still leave loose change for the bar's affordable signature drinks. Better still, on 3pm - 9pm happy 'hour', cocktails are just £10 for 2, so jump in for jamble, bramble and doctored ‘tea’ in china pots, or go pot luck and let the bar’s one-armed bandit randomly decide your next drink. A winning line of 7-7-7 scores a jackpot fishbowl - but Malibu Chambord and Coke? I’ll stick with your French martini when I pop in to pretox next time I'm about to enjoy Guilty Pleasures, Sean Rowley's retrotastic disco party at what used to be the Camden Palace. And as for any cocktail called 'tastes like Elliot' (the bar's owner) and advertised as 'this could possibly be the best drink you’ll ever have. We’ve literally had people licking out Elliot, er I mean their teacup with this one,' I should ahem, KOKO!
 7 Camden High Street NW1 7JE 7383 5595

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Shenkman Bar at The Keeper's House, Mayfair

Culture and cocktails? That's the deal at this new Piccadilly arrival. Named after the late Belle Shenkman, a London-based Canadian patron of the arts and member of the RA, this urbane basement bar at Peyton and Byrne's The Keeper’s House restaurant opens onto a cute palm-stippled courtyard garden designed by landscaper Tom Stuart Smith - whose green-fingered prowess will be known to visitors to past Chelsea Flower Shows. Open from 11.30am to 11pm, except on Sunday when it closes at 6 pm, cocktails (from £8.50) are prepared using seasonal ingredients wherever practicable. Among the pick of the autumn crop, for example, expect to find the likes of rye, blackcurrant vermouth, beetroot and blackcurrant and rosemary vinegar; a chestnut scotch honied brose; and a tequila and mezcal fix with agave syrup, crab apple and cider vinegar. Snacks such as piquant potato beignets, hot and cold buttered cod, and savoury vegetable crunch are also available. 
Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House W1J 0BD 7747 5942 

See more reviews of new London bars at

Purl at The Bedford, Balham

Nicknamed 'Planet Janet' by Andy Warhol, my ex-landlady is a confidante to the famous and a dog-walker-to-the-stars. She also has the uncanny knack of honing in on unloved 'hoods, buying a property there for buttons, "making the area fashionable, darling" then selling out when it inevitably goes supernova. Decades ago, I'm told, her coterie was incredulous when she vacated a swish Kensington mansion beside Biba and set up camp (in every sense of the phrase) just off Notting Hill no-go zone, All Saints Road. "Stroll on, white trash" growled baseball bat-wielding Yardies, loitering with intent to supply, outside the boarded-up mini-mart; as she went in search of weed no stronger than Silk Cut before settling for 10 Embassy Regal. Well, W11 was no Knightsbridge back in the day. After another astute move -  to Battersea's Shaftesbury Estate, now laughably rebranded South Chelsea by some - she identified boring Balham as 'worth a look.' I was aghast. "Balham? As in, lampooned by Peter Sellars as 'the gateway to the South?' Do cabs even go there?'' Planet Janet's Midas touch did not desert her. Where once were takeaways guaranteed to give you the trots, locals can now trot along to swish brasseries or fill up on Franca Manca's pizzas. Shonky shops have rapidly been replaced by artisan bakers, twee gift emporia, cocktail bars and those twin barometers of any 'burb's kudos, Waitrose and Foxton's. The arrival of splendiferous Marylebone molecular magicians Purl at local landmark boozer The Bedford, speaks volumes about Balham's new status. Watch its young City workers go bonkers for bubblegum martini (grape bubblegum-infused vodka, egg white and popping candy) and cafĂ© creamer (an espresso martini topped with condensed milk foam) at around £9 a pop. Purl aims to reprise ‘forgotten classics no longer available at HQ, as voted by our followers on Twitter'. i.e people with way too much time on their hands. This will surely mean the reappearance of the W1 bar’s  rummy smoke-billowing prestidigitation, Mr Hyde’s fixer upper.  What does need to be fixed up here, however, is the room's gloomy lighting and decor. 1930s film projections aside, on launch night, it felt more Greater Grimsby working man's club than Great Gatsby glam With a little tweaking, it should shape up us SW12's sauciest speakeasy. Will Planet Janet be in for a green fairy - a Dalmore 10 sazerac caressed by a wispy absinthe air cloud? No chance! She recently sold up and shipped out. If you too want to make a mint, follow the van, old man, and don't dilly dally on the way to up-and-coming St Leonard's-on-Sea where the clever cow has bought a des res for less than the price of a Balham bedsit.
77 Bedford Hill, SW12 9HD 8682 8940 

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Cricketers, Kew

Warm beer and cricket on the village green: it was John Major's English idyll - only, here, my beer's not warm and a storm has caught out the would-be willow whackers of Kew. What to do when rain stops play? Doubling as unofficial clubhouse, the old Rose and Crown is the place to shelter. Following a major makeover, re-branded under new management as The Cricketers, its smart terrace is ideal for armchair umpires when the weather behaves itself. Indoors, the low-beamed old girl has been gussied up. Cosy postmodern pink and mink tweeds tie in with a string and dead salmon paint job that will appeal to Farrow and Ball snobs (note to young homemakers: Leyland will mix a-near-as-damn-it alternative for pounds less.)  Ales include Portobello pilsner, Sambrook’s, Eton and Windsor, London Black Cab and Innis and Gunn. Wine from £15 includes Chablis at £25 and food prices are not OTT. Expect to stump up £12.50 for confit duck leg, sweet potato and red cabbage on a lunch and dinner menu that also has Portobello mushroom, tomato and feta in filo; share platters from £10; and old school puds. The only downer, is the out-of-place coffin dodger couple on the next table. She, of the Torremolinos tomato tan on skin the texture of Dunlop tyre tread, does not seem like someone who would take an interest in the government's energy policy. "Fracking this and fracking that' as the soundtrack to my lazy lunch? It's just not cricket! 

79 Kew Green Richmond, Surrey 8940 2078