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Friday, 20 December 2013

Satan's Whiskers, Bethnal Green

Satan is an anagram of Santa - from whom comes an early Christmas present in the shape of this devilishly handsome new American neighbourhood-style cocktail joint. Great name! An inspired choice for a gaff aimed at Bethnal Green's hirsute hipsters, nu-Edwardian gay boys and their beards. Tonight, however, the table next to mine is populated by hardcore indiginous Bethnal birds - think Eastenders' Big Mo Harris (played by Laila Morse) with the foghorn voice of late Eastender Frank Butcher (Mike Reid) after he'd chain-smoked 20 packs of Embassy Regal. Vintage French advertising posters and tongue-in-cheek taxidermy - gangsta squirrels, unicorn skeletons, a fish called Rhonda, I reckon  - set the scene for deadly serious drinks. Satan's Whiskers is by the people behind The Hemingway in Victoria Park and Hunter S - a De Beauvoir Town pub I didn't fall for TBH. (see http://tinyurl.com/lonxqly ) Here, I'm a lot happier. £8.50 (including service) gets classic cocktails brandy Alexander, penicillin, clover club, and (prosecco-based) French 75. Less familiar suggestions at this hip E2 hole-up include E8 hold-up (vodka pineapple, lime and Aperol) and joint venture (rum, Campari, passion fruit and limonata). Lager and wines appear to be included as after-thoughts on a menu that also offers classic weekend brunch of eggs Florentine, royale or Benedict (annoyingly fiddly arranged on faffy wee black plates); brisket sweetcorn and coconut slaw, or scallop and bacon roll; Thai style moules frites (£7.50), and Bethnal breakfast of black pudding, bacon, sausage, poached egg and toast.
343 Cambridge Heath Road E2 7739 8362 Facebook: satanswhiskers



"Oi! Who are you calling a 'ipster?"

(image by www.evi.com) 

Laila Morse is an anagram of mia sorella - Italian for my sister. The name was given to the actress by her brother Gary Oldman's one-time squeeze Isabella Rossellini. (Wikipedia) Cor blimey! Who knew?



Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Steam and Rye, The City


Facebook recently introduced another typically daft gizmo. Like so many others, it's presumably aimed at disaffected youth festering in Nowhere Nebraska, stroking their father's rifle collection as they plan their bloody revenge on those classmates that dared mock their Justin Bieber be-stickered lunch box. Based on past posts, Facebook's feature fancies it can select your personal top 10 moments of the year. In 2014, as well as buying a new loo seat, one of mine was attending a preview of The Great Gatsby in nausea-inducing 3D, apparently. Is my life really that dull? Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby was a frenetic, over-styled marshmallow - shallow, vapid and unrewarding. I mention this, not because I've fancy a gig as a film critic - although I'll happily give you a pithy précis of Behind The Candelabra if you like - rather that Luhrmann's lurid Gatsby evidently inspires Nick House's new City restaurant and bar behemoth, Steam and Rye. As at his other venues Mahiki and Bodo’s Schloss, this perma-House party, set in the former Bank of New York's august marbled halls, is crammed chock-full of gimmicks - a 20's gangsters and molls theme park for cocktail-crazy kidult bankers and their 20-something staff: Basildon blondes, Billericay bean counters and Southend secretaries that fancy themselves Essex's answer to Daisy Buchanan. Steam and Rye has been designed in conjunction with a model/ presenter/ serial red carpet-hogger whose clothing range, Kelly Brook at New Look, is sure to appeal to those that imagine ersatz glam the height of big city sophistication. As I'm unlikely VIP lounge material (I'm not dating a West Ham player and I'd refuse to give a K***ing Kardashian my contact details, even supposing it wanted them), I head downstairs to one of various spaces accessible to paying punters. Here, a passable rendition of an antiquated Eastern Pacific Railway dining carriage doubles as a cocktail lounge - New York's Grand Central Station another design influence I'm told. All aboard a cheesy choo-choo to Yonkers for a bonkers range of hooch served by flappers in shimmy shifts. Ignoring classic calls vieux carré and prescription julep (£12.50), tonight's throng is sold on tricks such as sticks of rock in soda fountain alco-pops, moonshine served in oil can mugs...or in faux footwear in the case of dead man’s boot (tequila, lemon and marshmallow). A Monica Lewinsky cocktail is a creamy rum and amaretto affair - fit for a president, no doubt. Be careful he doesn't splash it on your dress, love: people will talk. ‘Maize balls,' meanwhile, may well make Made In Chelsea fans miss the last train back to Basildon. Steaming at 2 am? I don't hang around to find out. I've got better, if not bigger, speakeasies in mind. 
147 Leadenhall Street, EC3V 4QT 37018793 www.steamandrye.com  

Great Gatsby outfit (pictured) available via www.joke.co.uk

Friday, 13 December 2013

Hack and Hop, The City

Had I been of an even earlier vintage, I might have ended up on Fleet Street. By the time I took to reporting on London's bar scene, the old gutter press pack's dipso hacks had long since hopped off elsewhere. Some fled to other parts of town, others ended up in their own obit columns, felled by cirrhosis, and for one former red top editor, if it all goes pear shaped at the Bailey, a cell at her Majesty's pleasure could soon be the ‘hold-the-front-page!’ story. For any modern City wage slave whose liver craves a bit of light lunchtime abuse or a well-earned post-work half pint, this understated reboot of a moribund boozer, new from the gang behind The Old Red Cow in Smithfield, is worth a punt. Framed epoch-defining splashes à la Man Walks On The Moon/ Jimmy Savile Molested My Hamster aren’t the real scoop here. No, that’ll be fine British craft brews from the likes of Weird Beard, Beavertown Pressure Drop and Manx indie, Okell’s supported by a slew of punchy imports on tap. Alternatively, order pukka wine with ham croquettes, cocktail sausages or mod-Brit pub grub - confit pork belly, pear and braised endive in a red wine jus/ boeuf bourgignon and mash/ butternut squash risotto et al - at newsworthy low prices. That's about it in a nutshell, guys. Print it!  
35 Whitefriars Street, EC4y 8BH  7583 8117 www.thehackandhop.com 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Drake's Tabanco, Fitzrovia

From the owners of Copita and Barrica, this off-Charlotte Street tabanco - a style of tavern dedicated to Jerez de la Frontera’s native drink  - should prosper. A cosy bar - a tight squeeze with high stools - will suit those popping in for post-work snacks of olives and nuts, rillettes, terrines or various sharing boards (from £12) with a glass of chilled dry fino. Prices start at £2.90 for a range produced by internationally acclaimed Bodegas Rey Fernando De Castilla served from the barrel using a traditional cup. Beyond the bar, Drakes opens up into an authentically austere Andalucian-style room with banquette and, to one corner, a second bar with high stools for more casual dining. Top notch, limited release fino en rama works well with a fair seafood platter that has cured sardines, cockles, prawns, slightly soapy salt-cured air-dried tuna loin (mojama), mackerel paté and gravadlax. Rich aged oloroso, the owner’s recommendation, is served with both braised pig cheeks, hazelnuts and potato puree, and rolled lamb breast, lentils and salsa verde from a choice of 6 rustic mains (from £9.50) that also includes octopus chikpea and chorizo, and a white bean veggie stew. Full-on fruity rare old India 20+ years is pudding in its own right but was served here with apple crumble, nuts and hazelnut ice cream, a combo so over-rich, it could sink the eponymous Drake’s Golden Hind - the ship on which the seafaring Elizabethan brought sherry in butts, introducing the tipple to England.
3 Windmill Street W1T 2HY 7637 9388  www.drakestabanco.com

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Little Bar, Tooting


Before Madeleine Lim - former food and drink editor on the Indy magazine - opened its doors in summer 2013, I imagine a branding guru and numerous focus groups were consulted before nailing down this venture's name. "It’s a bar" (tick). "It’s little" (tick). "How about, oh I dunno; help me out here!" This bijou neighbourhood watering hole, shoe-horned into converted retail premises, comes with high stools at its pristine counter and more seating in a dinky courtyard. Essentially, it's The Little WINE Bar - with a concise range of good vino from boutique producers available by the glass from £4. But if you've got more uptown ideas, they’ll fix you various takes on the classic kir, Italian spritzes, numerous negroni variants (in SW17, sloe gin is in), a mean martini and picklebacks. Otherwise, try Julian Temperley’s méthode champenoise Somerset cider, and  - referencing Tooting’s  days as a hot-bed of revolution - led Robert Lindsay, aka Citizen Smith, in the grimly unfunny eponymous 1970s sitcom - local brew, Wolfie Smith brown ale. Factor in boquerones, terrines and charcuterie and cheese plates on the cheap and you’ll be glad you were tempted even further down the Northern Line  to Tooting - the new Balham; or - with more than a little leap of the imagination - the new Shoreditch according to some. What next? Colliers Wood is the new Côte d'Azur?
145 Mitcham Road SW17 9PE 8672 7317 Twitter @LittleBarSW17

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

Friday, 6 December 2013

The Sign of the Don, The City

The spacious ground floor bar at The Don’s smart new bistro is a cosy cork-walled charmer, suitable for City chinwags over a glass of finest Fino. The black-cloaked hombre depicted in the bar's branding has, for centuries, been synonymous with Sandeman, purveyors of award-winning sherries and port. Served comme il faut (unlike your nan's Christmas Emva Cream), wrap your laughing gear around various styles with shaved Bellota ham off the bone for an authentic taste of Spain. From a list of sherry-laced cocktails, I like flamenco (Woodford Reserve bourbon, Manzanilla, peach liqueur, mint, lime and barley syrup), and torero (loosely, a sherry Americano). The Don is also big on gin, stocked in numbers and used in sophisticated sours such as the Londoner (Adnams First Rate, Noilly Prat, apricot liqueur and lime with egg white). Nutty symphony (a cognac, fig, chestnut honey and butterscotch liqueur fix) is one of various £13 digestifs that promise ‘a surprising journey of flavours’ - albeit not a journey my palate cares to undertake. Three dozen wines come by the glass. Ask to visit The Don's fascinating 18th century cellars, where the restaurant’s stellar cast of 400 global hotties  has top notch Tempranillo and Pena das Donas Almalarga, an elegant mineral-rich white produced from Galicia’s godello grapes. Quality hams and crispy pork crackling aside, there's Manchego and sobrassada piquant sausage toastie (£7), various croquettes, deep-fried olives with goats curd, and smoked prawns. Service is slick and although, to the average St Paul's wage slave, prices may err on the steep side, off Cheapside, the Don is definitely your man.   
St Swithins Lane, EC4N 8AD 7626 2606 http://www.thedonrestaurant.com

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

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Kench and Bibesy, Smithfield


"'Kench' is a little-used term for a fish salting bin, as well as the olde English equivalent of that current online überacronym, LOL. 'Bibesy' is an archaic term for an excessive desire to drink." So says the owner of this new Smithfield gaff, a man whose Nottingham childhood must have been so uneventful, he can still recall every round of Call My Bluff. Mine host, the linguist Chris Peel, is keen to point out the thinking behind the name of his new dining room (Kench) and bar (Bibesy), lest I imagine it's in the same vein as his other premises. Chris, you see, is also the man behind cod-1920's Chicago Mobster's speakeasy Evans and Peel - a quirky hole-up that would doubtless be fun-lovin' Diana Spencer's local had she not kissed a Greco-German frog, become a princess, left her pad in Earl's Court for an even more louche Court, and died after the dream turned as sour as her sister-in-law Anne's equine fizog. Whether Diana, smudged panda eyed patron saint of TV confessionals, would have enjoyed Kench's modern Brit tapas, who can say? She was a finicky eater, one of her friends tells me. I enjoy K and B's..... in part. Pulled oxtail with red cabbage, and pork 'bellypops' are fair but chewy, flavourless, salt-cured flank steak tartare echoes Diana's demise: a car crash. Wotevah!  I'm feeling more bibsey boy than kenchy tonight, so it's the downstairs drinking den here that interests me more. As at Evans and Peel, part of the fun is divining its entrance. If you're not thick as a brick, you'll discover a rough-hewn pine-clad blue-collar cabin that has presumably been modelled on a shady Adirondacks shack circa Hank Williams - the sort of dive where rednecks drink doctored hooch and eye up their cousins' beavers after a day spent shootin' squirrels in the woods - Tufty taxidermy is a bit of a theme at Bibesy. From a back bar stacked high with premium spirits, Bibsey's cocktails are no hokey moonshine. Campari eggnog aside - an ill-advised experiment that tastes like the poo of a jaundiced alkie Milanese mama's breast-fed baby - the menu is packed with must-try stuff. Despite its crap name, Beyond Epale ('the bastard lovechild of a martinez and a presidente') is a winner. So too, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Bibesy's Kinky Boulevardier built on Calvados. The drinks keep coming faster than a horny hillbilly in a $10 parking lot whore. By the time I get to Redemption rye and Arran and Islay whisky-based Salt and Malt Sazerac, Hank Williams'  'I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive' is playing in my head. At one point, I swear  there's a mean squirrel on my shoulder and it's after my nuts - always a bad sign that you're one more drink away from a paramedic's intervention. It's testament to this luxe liquor pit's pull that I'm still here, howling for more, at 3 a.m on a school night. OK, I'll level. It helps that Peel lures us into a lock-in, the tab on him. As I, too, am keen to revive obscure old English words, let me add that if you can corrade the cost of an Oenological Manhattan (11 gold bits), freck hither, twitter-light, and deliciate at a brannigan within.
50 - 52 Long Lane EC1A 9EJ 7796 3631 www.kenchandbibesy.com