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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Peony, Chinatown

As a smoker, I vowed I'd give up when Marlboro Lites hit a fiver per pack. They soon did and I quit; although that was less down to price, all to Allen in fag-aversion therapy clinic. Any aversion to the TV fag of that ilk is easily addressed: zap Chatty Man with your remote! I do. Similarly, I've vowed to give up cocktails when the benchmark for a boulevardier hits £20. Based on prices at Peony, a brand new space at  dimly lit pseudo-1930s-Shanghai den of debauchery, Opium, my drinking days are nigh over. Optional 12.5% gratuity included, prices zap from £15+ to a ceiling-busting £20.25 for Dragon Bite (El Dorado 5 rum, Benedictine, Xilli liqueur, lime, papaya and coriander). Yes, I have been known to shell out as much at Artesian or other starry lounges now and then, but all cheap 'n' cheerful chinoiserie, Peony ain't exactly The Connaught. Furthermore, at haute hotels, exotic snackage is often included in the price and smiling doormen invariably greet you as a long-lost friend. Tonight, despite coming armed with a reservation, I'm left outside, shivering in a biting wet wind for a full ten minutes while an impassive, impassable greeter attempts, FBI security-stylee, to communicate my presence to a front-of-house that's presumably pre-occupied, tending to other guests (all two of them, it transpires, when I do make it upstairs). The new inscrutable sepia tone saloon (its view, the sort of alley behind whose rubbish bins a vengeful triad member would carve a Shanghai smile into your boat race) is the domain of Rasa Gaidelyte, an enthusiastic Lithuanian blonde whose concise East-meets-West list is a work in progress. Served in patterned teapots, punches include a Chivas 12 whisky and green tea hot toddy - good with dim sum, seafood or vegetable platters from £15. Rasa's signature rinses include Mexican in China (Herradura tequila, Xilli pepper and maraschino liqueurs, grapefruit juice and lime) and a lemongrass-smoked Sazerac presented with goji berries and, wrapped in an exotic leaf, a gold coin for good luck. At this rate, a great deal of good fortune - i.e six numbers on tomorrow's Lotto - is required if this cookie is continue to afford to drink at London's more expensive lounges.
15 -16 Gerrard Street W1D 6JE

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Ivy Market Grill, Covent Garden

The trouble with reviewing London's latest bars, is that they roll of the production line faster than Ford Mustangs did in Detroit's heyday. This inevitably means I spend evenings in places I'd often rather not, speculating what drug the PR was on when penning a press release that bears no relation to reality. Flash-in-the-pan turds such as Senkai Lounge, W1; Blitz, now Barafina in Adelaide Street, and SofaKingCool which, now mercifully departed, nevertheless remains this blog's most visited regularly by masochists in need of a vicarious thrill, I imagine...spring to mind. Post-launch, that I have three times revisited Ivy Market Grill in as many weeks, speaks volumes. Like the original Ivy, here's somewhere that had me from hello. The all-purpose breakfast-to-one-for-the-road retro-fied room is a pitch-perfect pastiche of the sort of vielle école bar-brasserie you'd be lucky to say "Allo, Allo" to on a stop-over in an obscure backwater - Bar-le-Duc, Bourg-en-Bresse or the intriguingly-named Nancy, its boys more gay than Paris itself, par exemple. Unlike France's zincs - too often the domain of Surly, Snappy, Sneery and other similarly disagreeable Sarkozy-esque dwarves - service and presentation here are as polished as the butch bar's elegantly set zinc counter, at whose teal leather stools, afternoon tea at £8.75 (includes pots and pots of finest Ceylon), is a bonny cream scone steal. At around the same cost, house cocktails such as My Fair Lady - Ivy gin, Belle de Brillet, lemon and orange blossom (pictured) - and tin cup-serve Henrietta Maria Treacle are top notch, while classics such as a No 3 gin martini are executed with élan. All-day eats are of the type, post-Euromillions jackpot, my personal Mrs Patmore will rustle up on command: shepherd's pie; crispy duck salad (£7.75); steak, egg and chips; creamed mushrooms on toast; lobster thermidor; tuna carpaccio et al. IMG is VG indeed. If, in 2015, I'm not perma-present within, it's because I'm enduring some shonky Shoxditch scenester saloon in the name of research, dreaming of a civilised supper and cocktails in Covent Garden.
1 Henrietta Street, WC2E 8PS 3301 0200

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Ognisko, Kensington

This timewarp-y joy is located around the corner from a Kensington dungeon I regularly frequent. Next time I'm about to submit to untold torture there, I intend to, first, hit the bar at Ognisko and steel myself with a brace of its stiffeners. Two brain-blaster drinks down the hatch; even the worst punishment a psycho sadist can mete out - root canal at the hands of my dear dentist, Brian, directly across the leafy garden square from Jan Woriniecki's Polish restaurant - should be a doddle. A year after it became possible for Joe Public to access the grand stuccoed townhouse members of The Polish Hearth Club have monopolised since the 1940s, I'm finally here. Poland's cuisine - with apologies to any of that land's 39 million populations or whichever one of its 37 million ex-pat plumbers may, in future, tend to my U-bend - ain't top of my list. But its best vodkas very much are. Monumental martinis enlist some of the country's finest rye and potato distillations: Chopin; Sobieski; Belvedere; Potocki et al. Served in chilled coupettes, they are text-book perfect. And lethal as a KGB agent's bullet. On which note, the formal room, charmingly old school in a sort of frumpy 1950s Poznan matron way, is the sort of place wherein Cold War gay spy Guy Burgess might have convened with that equally traitorous c***, Anthony Blunt, after being taken up the bandstand by an obliging off-duty guardsman, in exchange for a fiver, in nearby Kensington Gardens, I imagine. For double that amount or less per drink here,  you can get buggered senseless on Ruski Standard Vesper, beetroot martini, Potocki gimlet and Tough Love (rye, Davna red vodka, vin d'orange and Martini Rosso) and a range of classics that includes side car and Copenhagen, snips at £8.50. My Christine Keeler-esque arm candy for the evening is particularly taken with her prosecco-topped martini - blood orange liqueur, lime, grapefruit and Wyborowa - from a list of ladylike libations. Bar snacks, elegantly served and blissfully ignorant of the term 'portion control', are the sort of Herculean fuel that could sustain you through the worst winter Warsaw can throw at you. Blinis; pelmeni; pierogi; grilled sausage; peasant soups; potato pancakes and puddings that read like the Polish entry to next year's Eurovision Song Contest. Sliwka w Czekoladzie, anyone? Me? I'm laying into homemade flavoured shots. So strong is Ognisko's horseradish vodka, gimme three shots of this liquid novocain and Brian can skip the injections and yank out my molars with his bare mitts, for all I'll care.
55 Prince's Gate SW7 2PN 7589 0101 

I spy Guy (right)

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

64 Degrees Bar, Pimlico

Seemingly forever stuck in 1962, Wilton Street fixture Le Monde menswear boutique (pictured below) - with its jaunty Jamaican rudeboy hats, and knits last seen on Val Doonican - embodies Pimlico's eccentricity. It belongs in spirit to a London that's now largely vanished, much to my chagrin. If you haven't seen Ealing Studios' classic screwball post-War comedy, in which its kooky residents break away from the UK and declare themselves part of Burgundy, download Passport To Pimlico immediately. The film's title appears on the cocktail list at the nonconformist faubourg's newest drinking den, a warm, cosy, brick cellar hung with Warhol, Basquiat and Banksy-ness. You'll find it downstairs at 64 Degrees, the restaurant at quirky boutique hotel Artist Residence. It's the first London venture for a suitably oddball couple whose similarly whimsical postmodern Penzance hotel featured on cult TV bitchfest Four In A Bed - losing out to two clenched queens whose naff-looking Blackpool Bed and Breakfast had been voted the world's 5th best (by guests who had visited no more than five others, I like to imagine) Whilst time-warpy Pimlico ticks many boxes, its boring bar scene is also resolutely stuck in the past. So anywhere that punts Bourbon praline sour; gin, Tokaji and Aperol 'negroni'; tequila, mezcal, beetroot, cayenne and carrot fix, Acapulco (£10) and the aforementioned Passport (a gin, Syrah and forest fruit sour), should pull in the Pimlico punters. There again, as the locals are just as likely to be stopping indoors, happy at home, necking Blue Nun and Babycham, watching Dixon of Dock Green and Juke Box Jury on black and white television sets hired for half a crown a week at Radio Rentals, or eating powdered egg and snook and listening to The Goon Show on the wireless - good luck with that guys!
Artist Residence, 52 Cambridge Street SW1V 4QQ 7828 6684 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Spiaggia, Fulham

Fulham's grimy, traffic-clogged, North End Road is a grim parade of pound shops, bookies, cash convertors and Kathy Burquas prodding market stall mangos , hoping to buy them for buttons, while the stallholders shoot them the BNP death stare. Now It's feared more locals will soon be reduced to haggling over the price of bruised fruit when better Dead Than Ed's bananas tax hits their 'mansions' - aka poky terraced houses. Bang goes the family holiday in Tuscany! Fulham's soon-to-be-more-squeezed-middle will have to make do with a little corner of Italy in the shape of a cutesy, white-washed, wood panelled shack opposite Waitrose (where they used to shop before their 4 x 4s satnavs were set to Lidl SW11). Tricked out in candy stripes and pastel gelati tones, Spiaggia is jolly as lolly-lickin' starlet La Lollobrigida (pictured) at a swingin' San Remo beach party not long after Mussolini was swinging in Milano - on a meat hook dangled from the roof of a petrol station. With impeccable timing, I Raggazzi della Spiaggia  (as the Beach Boys would have been called if they'd come from Cattolica not California) can look forward to sunshiny staff serving spritzes, negroni, rossini, bellini, vodka-limone sorbet and all manner of I-Ti tipples currently fashionable a Londra. Order an £8 cocktail (or vino and spumante from £19) and, at the appropriate hour, you'll be served aperitivi - free, not cheekily, sneakily slapped on your bill as at some greedy West End gaffs. Snackage includes tutti the usual suspects - crostini, piadini, arancini, Henry Mancini  - and trad grub like nonna knocked out in her Parma prime. Downstairs, in a dark kitsch playroom, there's big screen La Liga action featuring the peninsula's poutiest prima donnas, and a baby foot table for any budding Balotelli on your squad. Worryingly for mamma, there's also an inscrutable curtained cabana, wherein a large mattress: Randy di Rimini's office, the sort of horizontal accommodation nice Catholic girls should steer well clear of. I hope Spiaggia does well and doesn't end up as empty as Worthing beach on a wet bank holiday weekend: this tricky site has washed away a slew of bar/ diners in quick succession. Give it a go, Fulham! Fun, camp, kitsch, bonkers: it's gotta be a cheaper date than that other eccentric Italian import, Nancy dell'Olio.
461 - 465 North End Road SW6 1NZ 7610 2278 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Lounge Bar at The Hoxton Holborn, Holborn

I've gravitated towards hotel bars since I was persuasive enough to convince their barmen to serve me. As an easy-on-the-eye, precocious 15-year-old, I'd loiter in the better ones, sipping tequila sunrises. Fancying myself the height of sophistication, I'd put the make on  hot older guests flying solo. After an educational field trip upstairs, randy on Ruinart from my prey's minibar, I'd expect to be gifted something by Saint Laurent or Gucci the next day for having been a gold star student. Populated by good-looking fash-caj types - to the point that two lone businessmen in grey suits stick out like pork pies at a bar mitzvah -The Lounge Bar at The Hoxton Holborn would have once been fertile cruising ground for me. Given my current dishevelment, I'd be lucky to attract a ten-bob-the-job, tired old tart from Talinn. Not that I'm suggesting the oldest profession stalks the Hoxton Holborn's corridors. At 8.30 am, fragile, pale and clammy, I'm beginning to regret last night's orgy. A "FOUR IN A BED ROMP" as The Sun would have it? Sadly, Four In A Bed on Channel 4 is of more interest to  me these days...but never say "never", for hope springs eternal. After barely three hours' kip in one of the hotel's 'cosy' rooms (and an argument with the shower), I'm suffering the hangover of the far. Mixing Champagne, Palomas, Tommy's margaritas, espresso martinis, corpse revivers, rhubarb bitter-tinged Brooklyn cocktails - and Midori and methadone mojitos for all I can remember - seemed like a good idea at 2 am as the hotel's epic launch party raged on. I do recall that the event kicked off with an inspired immersive production that saw the whole place turned into one big film shoot, with guests roped in as extras (not, on paper, my cup of tea but great fun as it transpired). My only hope of salvation lies in the full English I've ordered in the busy lobby downstairs - assessing that the concierge's contacts don't stretch to organising an emergency blood transfusion  in situ. Of scant consolation, is the prospect of last night's host, the hotel's PR, across the table. A fellow renegade half my age, she looks twice as rough. (Dem yoot? Lightweights!) Made of stronger stuff, another party survivor looks more chipper. "Apparently, all the alcohol in the lobby's fridges can be purchased by guests at near enough retail prices," he tells me. "Can't wait to rock up with the boys at 2am, check into a room and cane it all night. Cheaper than taxis back to mine." he says, already there. There was a time when I'd have found such a proposition irresistible. As it is, future evenings at the Hox Hobe's slouchy 50s-revisted bar, will be restricted to civilised tippling, rabbit on toast, steak and chips, patty melts or super healthy salads from in-house Brooklyn-style grill Hubbard and Bell... and taxis before midnight. At least, that's what I tell myself this morning.
199 - 206 High Holborn WC1V 7BD  7661 3000 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

American Bar at the Beaumont, Mayfair

(fantasy becomes reality at The Beaumont )

I occasionally fantasise about being alive in London of the 1920s and 30s (Oi, missus! I may look ancient and decrepit but.....) Decked out by Savile Row's finest tailors; nightingales singing in Berkeley Square; bowling along a traffic-free Piccadilly, gay flappers and squiffy slappers in tow: I'm off to get royally rinsed in the American Bar at The Savoy and trip the light fantastic to Carroll Gibbons and his Orpheans in what is now that hotel's Beaufort Bar. Of course, the grim reality was much more likely to be a life of empty-bellied drudgery on the dole in Deptford, the occasional half of bitter, incurable clap and the only foreign holiday I'd ever take, a future day trip to a beach in France - no arguments - where I'd promptly have my dancing feet blown off by a Nazi mine. My reveries are likely to be further indulged - and frequently, I'm thinking - at Corbin and King's latest lounge, the devastatingly handsome, walnut-tone art deco American Bar at the Beaumont Hotel. The pile may look as if was around long before Vera dreamed of bluebirds over Dover but, back in the day, the 30s cream building it inhabits is where imaginary Me's chauffeur would park the Roller while sir rolled into Selfridges - whose garage this then was - to purchase a new Rolex oyster for his fine-boned wrist. As with other Corbin and King venues, (Wolseley, Delaunay, Colbert, Fischer's) here's a persuasive pastiche of past times where the white tux-totin' staff's drinks are similarly period and convincing: boulevardier, Brooklyn, Martinez, aviation and remember the Maine very much what Lord Barker-Main would sink back in the day. Nostalgic film set; impeccable service; modern-trad bar bites; champagne at under £50 and all the scofflaws I can scoff ? "Heaven, I'm in heaven," as my fantasy friend Fred sings it.
Beaumont Hotel, Brown Hart Gardens, W1K 6TF 7499 1001 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Three Eight Four, Brixton

The buzz is intoxicating. Caribbean carnival colour-clash; the aroma of jerked chicken frying; unfathomable fish and strange fruit; Rusty Lee lookalikes rocking diamond inset Jamaican flag nail extensions and wild weaves; banji girls in wine ya body batty riders: in downtown Brixton, you find everything from breadfruit, bilimibi and bush meat to scratchy 45s by Beres Hammond, Black Uhuru and alleged strange fruit-hater Buju "boom bye bye inna batty bwoy head" Banton (and a bag of something for a truly wired weekend). The old market booth with its Catholic geegaws was a firm favourite of mine back in my Buffalo Boy days, when the late-great stylist Ray Petri decreed Virgin Mary key-rings and souvenirs of Lourdes dangling from your regulation MA-1 jacket were quite the ting for Uptown Top Ranking. The arrival of Franca Manca and Foxtons, of course, spelt the Beginning of The End. But for now, cherish what could be a corner of Funky Nassau before the social cleansing is complete and rudeboy Brixton's balls are chopped off. Having said this, it's rich of me to recommend still-cruddy Coldharbour Lane's latest lounge. 384 is not aimed at the area's piss-poor natty dreads. But if no neighbourhood is immune to change, then let it be populated with places like this. From the guys at Seven in Brixton Market, this raw-edged post-Apocalypse hole-up is a lesson in cool interior design on a budget (dig the old bulb bin wall lights!). At its salvaged metal bar, £6 or so buys finessed fixes such as Bombay kitchen (Ophir gin, rum, coriander, mango, mint and Tabasco served with popadom and chutney), and four in the pink - a swinging ménage that hooks up Campari and Cointreau with Amaretto and peach bitters to sexy effect. Tart’n’tide - Auchentoshan, Licor 43, Cointreau, honey and lemon served over seaweed-infused ice - drinks like a crisp autumn day by the Bute briny. Ceviche: chilli calamari; bruschetta; brisket en brioche: it's a far cry from the Brixton of my yoot. Back in the day, if someone ordered "shooters" in a bar, you'd leg it.
384 Coldharbour Lane SW9 8LF 3417 7309

Adapted from my review for Square Meal Lifestyle Autumn Issue - out now.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Basement Sate, Soho

Around the time Teflon Tony hijacked Britpop for his own propagandist ends (and musos that should have known better were lured to smarmy Blair's lair for THAT Downing Street photo op), The Player was the Soho Oasis where Boys and Girls partied. Fast forward a decade and half: those giddy times are a distant Blur; Blair is (gasp!) GQ's philanthropist of the year - as opposed to 'lying warmonger of the century' - and, with most of the Britpop bands long since gone to the (wonder)wall, The Player closed. Into the void, hot on the heels of her hit bar Sherry Butt, a beau monde magnet in Le Marais, comes Basement Sate, a new drinking den from Irish coleen, Cathleen McGarry. Some of my friends are creaming themselves about the so-now, so-posh-Parisienne concept: cocktails et désserts. This old pudding? Not so much. The sweetest thing I'll brook when mainlining Manhattans, is the requisite maraschino cherry. Not, please, as a rookie JJ Goodman once served me, a glacé cherry - the petard by which the poor chap is forever hoist in my mind. Thank God I don't go a bundle on brandy snaps, blancmange ( whatever became of them?) Battenberg, Black Forest gat-o, Paris-Brest and the likes: Kim Kardashian's saddle bags in my slimline Slimane strides? Kanye imagine? But if mini vacherin (lime meringue and basil and raspberry cream) does it for you, try it here with vodka, beetroot, ginger and Moscato d'Asti coupette, beet me up. "Am-AZ-ing" coos one girly guest, enraptured. "Got any Twiglets?" I grumble - peckish, after my second martini. What other drinks I do try - eagle in the tub (gin, white port, Fernet Branca and ginger ale), for example - are just fine...sans puds. Basement's Sate's decor, however, is - in parts - a bit of a sunken soufflé. Hefty high chairs block access to the bar as effectively as Nazi tank traps on a 1940's Normandy beach; the prospect from the bar into an open kitchen is ugly and the Mulligatawny-tone den's soupy gloaming drains the barmen's boats of all life. Right the wrongs; pull in the pudding and prosecco massive and "Things Can Only Get Better" - as phoney Tony promised before that D-Ream turned sour.
8 Broadwick Street W1F 8HN 7287 3412

Friday, 3 October 2014

Dandelyan, South Bank

One of the most anticipated openings of Autumn 2014; that's Ryan Chetiyawardana's new gig at the Mondrian. His second bar (following White Lyan ) is at the London incarnation of the LA hotel that garners more column inches than many of the so-called celebs that squat it. Set in the old Sea Containers building, a sister to The Sanderson and The St.Martin's Lane hotels, this shiny new beau monde magnet aims to replicate the glamour of transatlantic liner travel of yore. No, not the one that sinks under the schmaltz of Leo and Kate's ludicrous love story, silly! Think the art deco glam of the SS Normandie as reinterpreted by designer Tom Dixon. To my eyes, this pile's public areas are also in danger of capsizing...under the weight of so much beaten copper, outsized sculptures and knowing objets d'art - the brand's signature look. This is how I imagine chez The Beckhams to look; the sort of glossy tosh ol' Space Hopper-arse Kim Kardashian - a couture-clad style vacuum who has somehow convinced hitherto famously fussy fashion folk that a krass kow should be FROW - might imagine to be the height of sophistication. There's some thought provoking stuff here, to be fair. Take, for example, a statement piece in the foyer that I christen "millionaire midget's sex swing". WHY? What might a ginormous tubular arrangement in Tinky Winky blue be? A teaching model for myopic medical students hoping to find the cure for Teletubby IBS? My date, meanwhile, ponders "Matalan mound"; velours scatter cushions heaped in one corner as at a Swansea swingers party (she claims). The studiedly casual lobby staff are a study in what not to wear. Presumably sponsored by West End theatres guests might like to visit, the guys are got up as extras from Grease, the girls from Glee. Despite a dull back bar that would not look out of place in a Holiday Inn Express (in Hull), Ryan's room, with its stunning Thames-by-night backdrop, is more my bag. Again, art deco-inspired, it's all drapey-loungey luxe in damped down brights. I'm getting Jerry Hall in Halston shimmying to Love Is The Drug at Le Jardin - 'the' New York nightclub pre-Studio 54. God knows which big girl's blouse wrote Ryan's menu notes. Next time, ask me, petal! Just because his inspiration is early 20th century botanists and fruit hunters, do we really need flowery fart such as 'seasonal field guides lead you on a journey of spirit experimentation and taste amalgamation'? Fortunately, the drinks are a whole heap better than this botany bollocks. Try divine Dandelyan sour (pictured); 'concrete' Sazerac or Southbank (Bacardi Heritage Edition rum, lemon verbena, lemon, grapefruit and honey bitters, and pink salt soda). Made with botanical beer 'vermouth', Rittenhouse rye and bitters, Evil Manhattan (£12.50) is responsible for tomorrow's evil hangover. It's testament to Ryan's recipes that I get rinsed on at least ten at his launch; my screaming face ultimately more Munch than Mondrian.
Mondrian Hotel, 20 Upper Ground, SE1 9PD 82345 9523

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Sun Tavern, Bethnal Green

I rather like the cut of the Discount Suit Co geezers' cloth - So, I'm in like Flynn to try on their new outfit for size. That'll be an old cloth cap Bethnal Green boozer re-tailored to suit that faubourg's inky, beardy, Brylcreem-y boys - indistinguishable from the original Sun's patrons, back in the day when local songbird, Marie Lloyd (pictured), was wowing them in the cheap seats at nearby Sebright Music Hall with a rousing chorus of Roll Out The Barrel. The barrels rolled out here are local-ish...and deeply drinkable. Crate. Partizan. Pressure Drop. Beavertown. Talking of Beavertown, the bar's Peaky Blinder interior - dark, deconstructed, dissolute - recalls the sort of louche East End taproom where muffs and molly boys for hire would give it up for a port and lemon and a shilling, "kind sir", up the back to speak. Port (white) and lemon appear here in shippers pie plant (along with gin, pink grapefruit and rhubarb cordial), one of various fixes, fine at £7.50. Served in pewter tankards, ideas such as apricot brandy grog, the bogcutter, contain Paddy moonshine; the bar being big on poitin. (Question for the PC police? Can I still say "Paddy"? As I'm 100% Jock, I'll risk it). Adroitly dispatched off-menu requests - negroni/ old fashioned - confirm the boys behind the bar aren't merely decorative. "Check out the talent!" beams a blonde bird waiting for Jacques de Sores to appear (rums from Cuba and Martinique, Velvet Falernum, lime, honey water and Angostura charged with prosecco, £8). Welcome to The Sun, a Page 3 stunner! 
441 Bethnal Green Road E2 0AN

Friday, 26 September 2014

Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, Clerkenwell

Two Fitzrovia bars to the good, the owners of Bourne & Hollingsworth and Reverend J.Simpson have added a bigger, more ambitious, third off Exmouth Market. Like Derry and Toms, and Swan and Edgar, Bourne and Hollingsworth was originally the name of one of London's many double-barrelled department stores that in the latter's case, was on its last legs around the same period as this bar's mismatched skip-refugee furniture was fashionable: the mid-1970s. BHB is done out like the sort of Surrey wine bar one of that decade's great TV fixtures might have hung out in with her Rotary Club cronies, sipping Cherry Heering and sneering about a neighbour's ghastly common baby blue Ford Capri. That's no bad thing: The Good Life's Margo Leadbetter's style is bang on the current fashion zeitgeist. There's much else to like here; not least a handsome sit-up, cocktail bar, a chintzy Homebase pot plant-heavy conservatory/ dining area and floorboards painted light-bouncing white, always flattering to the sort of London bar flies whose complexions are a touch Gak Wan. The opening party cocktails we are served are fair-to-girly: port flower stinger; cider rose (apple and blackberry shrub stirred with cider brandy, charged with prosecco). Blokier stuff to try next time - for, unlike some recent lame launches I've attended, there will be a next time -  includes rum and plum (Santa Theresa 1796, prune vermouth and bitters). A posh pubby menu that has mint crusted cannon of lamb with ratatouille (not exactly 1970s pricing at £20), and Caribbean pork belly, sweet potato puree and plantain beignets bears investigation. The bar snacks we try are hit and miss: crispy bacon and potato maki rolls with horseradish cream strange, but strangely addictive; red bell pepper and thyme cake, whatever!; coronation chicken wrap with avocado relish the sort of outré buffet one-upmanship your aunt in Esher might have once served to a soundtrack of Demis Roussos.  
42 Northampton Road EC1R 0HU 3174 1156

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Alchemist, The City

Terry Christian-esque robotic drone aside, I like Mancunians. They're earthy, warm, funny and generous. However, if the London launch party for The Alchemist - a hit Manchester bar - is "owt to go by, cocker," as Bet Lynch would say, the last of those qualities is up for discussion. If you were introducing a new space specialising in (groan) 'molecular madness,' inviting London's most high-profile blasé bloggers, website editors and hard-to-impress hacks (count me in!), what would you serve? Let's see? Cocktails? So what Cheshire cheapskate imagined laying on free wine and lager, while expecting guests to pay for white martinez, chilli and mint daiquiri et al at the bar, was a smart move? I'm alright Jack. I identify an in-house marketing maven and tap her for a gin, rose and violette flower sour. Clocking this, some of London's less assertive pro barflies chew my ear: "Gonna sort out these tight Northern gits?" they plead. "Er...I'm not the PR!"...but I know a woman who is; and fortunately, the poor love cools my coterie's ire by the power of the bar tab... and the tongue-lashing she gave her recalcitrant client, I like to think. Alchemists turned base metal into gold, did they not? Tonight's faux pas is more a case of King Midas in reverse. TBH, I'm not fussed. I'd only dropped in en route to try Richard Woods' (more sophisticated) mixes at Duck & Waffle. From the Alkie's 50-strong (way too long) list, both smokey old fashioned  and smokey paloma are fair at £7.50 although I could live without the glass flask they come in - Croydon clap clinic connotations. Having visited The Alchemist a second time, I'll point you in the direction of chocolate orange sazerac and, if you are keen on cocktails as chemistry class, the Reyka vodka-based colour changing one (does as it says). Design-wise, a gargantuan eau de nil rococo cabinet as back bar is fun: the rest - high ceilings, neon, Chesterfields - is bog standard warehouse-cum-bar issue. The faffy approach to drinks might impress Manchester A-listers such as The Rooneys but the launch night bar food? Let's just say what did get reach us ( chicken nuggety things, mostly) would have made the Rovers' Liz McDonald blush. Where's Betty's hotpot when you most need it?
6 Bevis Marks EC3A 7BA 7283 8800

Friday, 29 August 2014

Canvas, Shoreditch

“We are cocktails and art" proclaims new DJ-lates bar Canvas, hoping to explain what sets it apart from the herd. Let's see: "Whether it's through paint, print, interior design, or even our cocktail menu created by Jumbles St. Pierre, everyone and everything in Canvas laments (sic) the importance of passion, art and creativity within our unique and ground-breaking concept." By the look of the art on Canvas's blank canvas tonight, I'm not sure the acquisitive Mr. Jopling will in the  long-term lament not opening his cheque book to its young creators. There again, I'm more  Corot and Courbet than White Cube contemporary; so WTF do I know? What I can spot, is a decent cocktail. And what Jumbles St. Pierre (oh how I love a good Jackie Collins' read) has come up with is more persuasive than rough and ready decor that lies somewhere between Warhol's Factory and a Wild West saloon; Canvas's barmen in black, more Milky Bar Kid than Johnny Cash. Three to try, are dark diplomat (a chocolate-orange twisted 'Diplomatico rum Manhattan’), banana cabana (if you're sweet on sweet), and Wild Turkey and Frangelico, fruit-flavaoured slug, wild angel. Canvas sits midway between Hoxton Square and the lurid late-night chicken cottages of Old Street Roundabout. If the area's pallid peculiars are to adopt Canvas, its 'greeters' will have their work cut out, repelling repellant boozed-up oiks looking for the grotty cheap pub it replaces and visitations from plagues of Hummer-borne Billericay Fake Bake Biancas out on Saturday's rapacious razzle. However tasty ‘upcyled’ (sic) Patrón Silver, mango and lime, chilli-frosted punch, this weary old banging DJ bar-avoider would rather drop £12 at nice Nightjar, Loves Company or Happiness Forgets around the corner. 
235 Old Street EC1V 9HE 7336 0275

Monday, 25 August 2014

PimpShuei, Farringdon

While I was entering the world of French art-house films, pretending to understand and like pretentious 60s glossy toss - bonjour, Alain Resnais' Last Year At Marienbad! - my unsophisticated classmates were happy to Enter The Dragon. Confession: I have never watched a Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee film. Ever. My grasp of this popular niche genre - cue howls of derision - is limited to Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting ( ), a 1974 UK/ US chart-topper by Jamaican cod-karate chopper Carl Douglas whose interest in Chinese culture, I imagine, nowadays extends to Char Siu Chow Mein, a portion of number 14 and free prawn crackers and a Coke from Der Kung Fu Kottage in his adopted Hamburg. Squirrelled away off Gray's Inn Road, is PimpShuei - a 'one-of-a-kind dive bar with a 70's-80's chop-socky vibe.' I drop in more out of curiosity than in expectation. Set in a basement rented off the 'sensational dinning (sic) experience' that is hot stone steak house, Rango's, above, the enthusiastic new lessees have turned what, as The Blue Bar, was billed as a 'classy yet casual cocktail lounge', into a New York hustler-style hangout that grooves to Blaxplotation flick soundtracks à la Cleopatra Jones. All martial arts murals, tawdry Guangzhou geegaws, retro arcade games, Kung fu film posters, a cinema-sized projection screen, and converted ghetto-blasters showing sock-it-to-him Shaolin nonsense on their inset tellys, the Look is Cantonese Kelly Hoppen karate choppin' kitsch. Tsingtao, Asahi and a rudimentary wine selection apart, the focus is on cocktails. Cheery Chinese co-owner 'Slash' says these will eventually number two dozen but tonight, days after its launch, there are only four on offer. Wong Island and Bangkok Dangerous discounted, my Pat mojito - Kraken rum, aloe vera juice, lemongrass and maraschino - is tangy and  fair at £8. The chum's gimlet - not exactly the most taxing of off-menu calls - is competently executed. Amateurish and raw perhaps, but put together (on the cheap) with soul and passion, PimpShuei feels a lot more authentic than the corny karate kid pulp shown on its screens.

58 Mount Pleasant WC1X 0AY

Friday, 22 August 2014

Soho Grind, Soho

I'm at the launch party for this Soho cellar-ette, a cocktail bar on a coffee theme from Silicone Roundabout's mocha pimps, Shoreditch Grind. The PR chick - whom I've never met before - is on fire. Even after sixty shots of her client's richest ristretto coffee, I'd be lucky to be a tenth as bouncy, bright-eyed and upbeat as this beaming bird. If she ever jacks in the day job, she'd be a natural in Tenerife - selling time-shares by the dozen to even the most recalcitrant of tourists. An evenings-only funky white retro styled squeeze box, the basement shakes to banging beats. Cue He's The Greatest Dancer. PR girl, seemingly incapable of standing still, is down with the Sisters Sledge; throwing disco shapes, and Soho grinding like a dervish rubber dolly. Alt career plan C: pole dancer? Through a hatch, an ex-Tramshed shaker slings espresso martinis and flat white Russians (Chase vodka, espresso, Kahlúa and microfoam steamed milk), Tommy’s margarita, barrel-aged ideas and gin-out the jams - a smart way to use up your Mum’s Tiptree rhubarb and ginger jam, combined here with gin and Antica Formula. Beginning to feel hyper, I'm off. Is my edginess down to the caffeine or PR prancer who reminds me of a brunette Michaela Strachan, pasty Pete Waterman's partner in perpetual motion on essential 90's kitsch late night viewing for wired clubbers, The Hitman and Her. As I exit, I offer a parting shot. In the gay heart of W1, they've missed a trick: why no cocktail called Soho Grindr? 
19 Beak Street W1F 9RP 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Bleach Bar, Dalston

Happy in what she does for a living now, my pal Sheridan once aspired to be an actress. Unlike her namesake, Ms Smith, her career never really took off. Still, her CV does run to a scene with a massive Hollywood star - Leonardo DiCaprio. Flown to a That island paradise for weeks on end, she was part of Leo's gang in Danny Boyle-directed Year 2K flick, The Beach. Cast as 'Beach Community Member' - according to her only entry on IMBD dotcom, the industry database - she was clearly too charismatic to be a mere extra. So, Sher was given a script to learn for her big scene with DiCaprio. When Leo leaves the beach for the mainland, he asks what goods his posse wants brought back. The camera homes in on Sheridan for the chemically-assisted faded blonde's immortal words, "A bucket of bleach!" - a line that crops up whenever her joshing chums sort out a round in a bar. "Don't ask Sheridan; hers is............" Bleach and drinks by the bucket? This new pop-up bar, open until15th October, has her name on it. Purveyors of those Haribo-tone dye jobs currently sported by Hoxton's hipper heads, Alex Brownsell and Sam Teasdale of Dalston salon Bleach have taken over a former Chinese takeaway. Run in conjunction with high-end fashion-shoot caterers TART, the Bladerunner-esque joint is set to be Style Central, with the achingly cool venture's starry chums doing stints behind the bar, I hear. Expect lurid goss and matching cocktails  - rat-milk and wonky direction, for instance, and alco-lollipops and frozen margaritas. A few of those to the good, take the plunge! Inspired by another fine actress, Mollie Sugden and her greatest comic invention, Mrs Slocombe, all it takes to achieve Autumn 2014's hawt hair, is a shocking pink dye...and a bucket of bleach.
428 Kingsland Rd E8 4AA (open 6pm - 2am)  

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Chelsea Pensioner, Chelsea

Technically speaking, I live in Chelsea. To all you incredulous East Londoners, here's 'WHY?!!!' 1. Hard to believe now, but once upon a time, King's Road was the Dalston de ses jours 2. Unlike Poplar or Peckham, an explicit condition of residency is that you take a minimum of two showers daily... using products not available in Poundland. 3. Surrounding myself with Made In Chelsea's (fragrant) heirheads and chinless chumps, as opposed to Homerton hipsters, allows me to perpetuate the self-delusion that I'm still 18 and edgy. Technically speaking, I am also now grown closer to getting my free bus pass than to passing out, pished, after free love upstairs on a night bus. Some aspects of my wasted youth, I REALLY do miss. So, just a short stagger away from my now ludicrously unattainable nano-pad, bought for buttons back in the day at a price that would not secure a Clapton closet in today's febrile hyper-inflated market ( #pension #poolinprovence #funded #smugbastard), The Chelsea Pensioner has my name on it. Once The Black Bull pub, like so many other locals, it too seemed destined to end up as a Metro/ Local/ Little Waitrose flogging truffle oil, beluga, Bollinger and all life's other necessities to the filthy rich foodies that have overrun my manor. Opened by the stylish cove who owns Simmons, King's Cross and Camden cocktail lounges, a neon sign in its window promises “cold beer and a warm heart” - the latter, a rare find in mercenary SW3/5/7/10 these days. If the Royal Hospital's red-coated old soldiers' mobility scooters manage to propel them to the Royal Borough’s western boundary,  they’ll find jokey, retro, pick’n’mix decor, Meantime and Camden on tap, Prosecco at £15, Rob Roy and daiquiri cocktails, flatbread pizzas, a pool table, a cute patio yard and, quite possibly, yours truly propping up the bar, reminiscing about Chelsea's golden age when home-grown punks and peacocks, not minted Muscovite trash and Euro hedge funders' frosty-faced salon-blonde bitches, paraded its main drag.
358 Fulham Road SW10 9UU

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Call Me Mr. Lucky: Borough

The bartender spins the arrow on a wheel of fortune. Fired-up punters scream and yell like pussy down the well. Such is the hubbub, you'd imagine at stake was a free Bankside loft, not a tequila shot (numero 3 of more to follow). I'm being pestered by a wee Glaswegian blonde. Claws dug in, she's all over me, trying to budge stubborn stool pigeon from his perch. "Aaaaw cum-oan! Dance wi' me, ya big basturt!" she slurs, imploringly, perhaps taking me for Strictly's Slovenian stud-muffin, Aljaz Skorjanec - an easy mistake to make when you're 'miroculous' as they say in Govan. So infectious is the piss-up party mood at The Breakfast Club's latest 'secret squirrel' hole-up, I would be indeed up for a jig, if only they hadn't dropped Sting's "Don't Stand So Close To Me!" (Capisce, blondie from Buchanan Street?) Happily, Trudie's tantric tosser and the Brummie nasal whine of UB40's Red Red Wine are the only two duds on a retro soundtrack that covers everything from The Archies' Sugar Sugar to The Average White Band... if not the O Jay's '72 track the bar shares a name with. I'm also sold on £8 cocktails such as lucky rostini (a tequila and plum liqueur relation of the negroni) and Ruby Murray (a tandoori-infused bourbon and Cointreau sour), while my brave drinking buddy declares himself a fan of pea diddy (rum, pea puree, horseradish, lime and pineapple J). We're given a trio of nips to knock back in quick succession. Sadly, 'salud, amor, dinero' - i.e. 1.tequila 2. jalapeño-gazpacho-ish gubbins 3. c***ing coconut water (the Devil's semen) and mint - ain't my definition of 'mint.' But then, I'm not a Mexican masochist. Shonky shots aside, I'm with the The Breakfast Club's owner who he tells me "We just wanted to do a damned good dive bar." Mission accomplished! And, by the looks of it, on a Poundland budget: my kitchen once wore the same garish paper lanterns strung across Lucky's u-shaped bar; until my father sniffily suggested he buy me something "more suitable from Heal's." The lounge's low-rent look - somewhere between Phoenix Arizona and Phoenix Nights - works for me. If you do manage to crack the 'open sesame!' code here, like 'Lucky' Lucan - the notorious Lord who's been AWOL since 1974, accused of murdering the family nanny - you may never be seen again. Call Me Mr. Lucky is the sort of den you won't want to leave. 
11 Southwark Street SE11RQ

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Communion, Camberwell

I recall my maiden trip down South. We visited family friends in London. "Mummy! Mummy! Look! Real gollywogs!" I yelled, pointing at West Indian elders got up in their best suits. Away for the very first time from the genteel confines of my white sliced bread Edinburgh crib, Camberwell came on like the Congo. In monotone Scotland, the only black dials I'd yet clocked were on a Robertson's jam jar or singing Mammy! on the Minstrel Show. (Readers under the age of 30, watch and weep at what topped TV schedules back in the day ) To me, Camberwell - with its Little Richard and Cliff Richard lookalikes riding in chrome-finned ice-cream-coloured Ford Zodiacs - was colourful, strange, exciting and deeply exotic. Nowadays, I'm scared to go there. Knife crime? Muggings? Too many fire hazard acrylic weaves and wigs? The latter, possibly - but it's also home to Labour big(bad)wig Harriet Harman, a po-faced PC puritan who would surely have me up before the beak for my unintended racial slur - no matter that I was 4 and it took place back when TV was still segregated into black and white. Tonight, I've been commissioned to review Communion, a live music bar beneath the Church Street Hotel's Hispanic restaurant Angels and Gypsies. Some "Jesus!" stained glass- effect windows aside, the room stylist has mercifully not gone into Hail Mary overload. But the owners have carried the theme through, with wafers and communion wine offered on each table. Musty and astringent, the mass murderous vino might as well be Pope Pius VII's piss. Thank Christ I don't follow Rome! Or wear a yellow hankie in my back pocket. Fortunately, divine intervention presently appears in the form of praiseworthy cocktails from a list that's strong on rum. Shanty town (£8, pictured) is a standout: Gosling’s, Velvet Falernum, ginger, lime, orange bitters and a gloop of molasses in a tiki mug garnished with candied orange wheels and honeycomb. Anointed by the juice of grilled Sicilian lemons, a mezcal and Cherry Marnier martini is a quasi-religious experience and my chum's choices are no less revelatory at around £9. Top tapas and perky tortillas, bussed in from upstairs, are unimpeachable. Not so, another idea that comes in a stoppered vintage lemonade bottle. Grass Arena (after the John Healy novel about alcoholism) mixes whisky, Special Brew and Buckfast tonic wine as drunk by brain-damaged Glasgow NEDs frae Drumchapel. This liquid unholy trinity aside, Communion could yet convert me to the Camberwell credo.
Church Street Hotel 29 - 33 Camberwell Church Street SE5 8TR 7703 5984

Thursday, 12 June 2014

El Nivel, Covent Garden

 (Easy Rider!)

Mezcal is having a moment in London's better bars. Deservedly so. It may still be a niche product in the UK today, but long ago and far away, tequila's sexy sister had me from hello. On a wild night south of El Paso, we first locked lips in a backstreet bodega. What drew the 20-year-old me to Mistress Mezcal was her ability to render me para' without the usual loss of speech, use of limbs and the inevitable chucking-out time up-chuck shame. Hers was a more subtle, cerebral high; comfortably numb, as if shot full of peyote, quaaludes and stardust to a damped-down trippy soundtrack of Santana, The Doors, Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield,  America's A Horse With No Name and a dose of dirty dancing salsa. Like the best burlesque artistes, mezcal sheds her layers slowly, reeling you in, intriguing, tantalising and, ultimately, leaving you begging for more. If your experience of mezcal is of the worm-infested acid touted by tacky tramps in stetsons variety, get yourself an education at El Nivel, a pared-down 30's Latino-style bar, lurking, unannounced, behind what looks like a cupboard door to the left of the entrance to La Perla restaurant. Named after the Mexico City cantina wherein renegades Che Guevara and Castro conspired, la Perla (an upscale departure from its Café Pacifico group siblings' format) aims to revolutionise attitudes to Mexico's oft-maligned national spirits - mezcal and tequila. Collated by the Café Pacific head honcho/ Jack Kerouac manqué, Tomas Estes (pictured) - an authority on all things agave (see ) - they are served here with top notch antojitos, or "little cravings" as the the collective noun for Mexican street food translates. Purists sip theirs neat, but mezcal is magic in cocktails too. Ease yourself in with La Poderosa (Vida mezcal, agave nectar, lime, cardamom and lavender bitters and fizz). Follow that with a mezcal fix made with QuiQuiRiQui, roasted pineapple syrup, lime, Cynar and saltwater spray - smokey, complex and rewarding at £9. Now, you're ready to go all the way, naked. See? You're hooked! When it comes to mainlining mezcal, like Curtis sang it, "I'm your pusherman."

26 Maiden Lane WC2E 7JS 7240 7400 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

City Social, The City

Room with a view: Jason's latest gaff's cocktails come with a Gherkin garnish.

Spikey-top chefebrity Gary Rhodes once cooked breakfast of bacon and chipolatas for me at Margaret Thatcher's daughter Carole's Bankside loft. Before you jump to any erroneous conclusion ("exactly how pissed were you the night before?"), let me stress that I was there on a (very) slow news day, snouting for a scoop at a PR bash to launch some initiative by a pork-pimping bureau called Ladies In Pigs to which I'd been invited. Initially, I'd misread the event as 'Pigs in Ladies ' - a title that conjured up a tacky 50 Shades of Grey-style porno flick wherein various pot ugly footballer lookalikes - one, a Scouser with a penchant for grannies on the game - would 'pleasure' posh old birds. Also present at this surreal meal? Tory/ indie/ UKIP battle-axe Christine Hamilton. Point being, whilst I found old bangers Christine and Carole mildly entertaining in a kind of la-di-da Loose Women way, Gary appeared to have all the synthetic charm of one of the Ladies' see-through sausage skins. The bar at his Rhodes 24 restaurant at Tower 42 in the CIty always struck me in much the same way. 'Meh' to the max. Chef du jour Jason Atherton has never cooked breakfast for me - it can only be a matter of time - but he strikes me as an altogether more interesting sort. So too, his new sky lounge where once stood Gary's gaffe (sic). More sophisticated, more stylish, slicker, less frenetic or gimmicky than other Square Mile get-high-in-the-sky opportunities - hello Heron Tower! - City Social is a blue-chip banker. The busy room - think Wall Street boardroom pre-the '29 Crash - has a bullish confidence about it. It's like 2008 never happened. The views are an obvious draw but best go at sundown; butch brown-on-brown Art Deco-styling, and London below, both look better by night as - moving away from some unfortunate downlighting - do I in Atherton's otherwise seductively-lit space. Order bar snacks - boqueronnes, crab and avocado salad, or goat’s cheese churros with truffle honey - or more substantial dishes off the restaurant menu, also served in the bar. Innovative cocktails include It’s the British whey (brown butter-washed Johnnie Walker Black, PG Tips syrup, split milk whey, bitters, lemon juice and nutmeg, £11.50) - a fine example of why London's stock is riding high. The root of all evil, they say, is money and you'll do well to shell out yours on a walnut rum, Bramley apple syrup, poire William and root beer cooler of that ilk. I'm more circumspect about City Social's resident booze brokers' hot tip, tolero; worried that a Tapatio blanco, Tabasco, piquillo pepper and apricot brandy firecracker might leave me whistling Johnny Cash's Ring Of Fire, confined in City Social's comfy, comely khazi.
Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street EC2N 1HQ 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Portside Parlour, Shoreditch

Originally a pop-up, in Spring 2014, the good ship PP set sail from Broadway Market, docking in Shoreditch, its new permanent mooring. Formerly a hairdresser's, the new premises' Grace Brothers'-style window display appears to have been salvaged from a Chatham chandler's yard circa the sinking of The Titanic. Mercifully, there's so far been no sighting of old gushy gusset, Kate Winslet, a ludic' luvvie so full of hot air, it's little wonder she floated while others sank like stones to Davy Jones' Locker. Inside, all darkly-lit metals and black leather booths, the mood is v Querelle - benders on a bender as imagined by Fassbinder (only not so gay, or at all threatening) - with gallons of good-times grog housed in mesh-fronted lockers. Get off your rocker on autopilot, an absinthe-laced triple rum punch as lethal as any U-boat torpedo, or sink a poet - Johnnie Walker Black ‘re-blended’ with Talisker single malt, sherry and bitters in a Chartreuse-rinsed glass - a dark destroyer to wax lyrical about at £9.50. Non-rum recipes such as Hendricks, nettle, elderflower, orange blossom water and mezcal long drink, lawnmower sling, are similarly ship-shape. ‘Private dining curated by Sager and Wilde’ is set to come on board soon and, served until 11pm (with wine from £20) a selection of piscine tapas includes baby octopus terrine, seafood croquettes, and devilled whitebait. Portside Parlour is a sophisticated cocktail cabin: more Otis Ferry than Calais ferry, it floats my boat.

14 Rivington Street EC2A 3DU 3662 6381