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Friday, 31 January 2014

The Whip, Mayfair

("Whip it! Whip it good.") 

The theme at this new cocktail spot above The Running Horse, a handsome Georgian tavern in Mayfair, is the Kentucky Derby circa that State’s most famous racehorse, Seabiscuit. Yes, I do know Seabiscuit never ran in America's most prestigious race: having once correctly answered 19 out of 20 pub quiz questions about horse races - much to the incredulity of Frank Skinner and Jonathon Ross on an opposing team - I'm a bit of a gee-gee fancier - and not in a Catherine The Great kind of way. A past relationship with a native Kentuckian also left me with a taste for the South's signature drink, the julep - as sipped by Scarlett O'Hara, if not Rhett Butler, a straight whiskey fan and a man after my own heart who was prone to declare 'I'm very drunk and I intend on getting still drunker before this evening's over.' Of the seven advertised juleps here - whipped up by Peaky Blinder bartenders and served, comme il faut, through strainers in pewter cups - the bookies’ favourite is rye and raspberry. The rhubarb vodka version is a good each-way bet, but I'm not about to stake £10 stake on gin julep. Having had a sip of my mate's, I conclude it's lame. TBH I'd rather snog Clare Balding - not that she'd be up for it, I imagine. If your two lips don't do juleps, there's sours, fizzes, flips slings and tings built on a savvily edited range of premium spirits that includes citrussexy Navy Strength gin, Perry’s Tot. The Whip - like the Running Horse below, since autumn 2013 - is owned by James Chase of Chase Distillery and  Dominic Jacobs, a former bar director at Sketch. In a slow week for launches, it's my favourite newbie and although it's early doors, expect to find yourself jockeying for position at its bar by Grand National day.  
The Running Horse, 50 Davies Street, W1K 5JE 7493 1275

Lanes (of London), Mayfair

 (Doh! Hard to miss really) 

I'm invited to road test the lounge bar at refurbed restaurant Lanes (of London). We meet at The Dorchester - handily located next door, I seem to recall from the deets I've stupidly left at home. "Eurr Eurr' as the buzzer noise goes when some fool on Family Fortunes is asked to 'name a famous Arthur.' "Shakespeare." (That's a 'true say', as they say down Essex way, by the way). Stymied by a new mobile whose internet settings my Luddite mojo can't master and, with my chum's Blackberry's battery deader than a Monday night in Dartford, I'm in and out Park Lane's hotel doors like a £90-a-pop whore. "Do you know where Lanes (of London) is?" Nobody does. 20 minutes later, at Grosvenor House, a breakthrough. It's part of the same Marriott group apparently, only 'with not as many stars.' claims a staff member. This does not bode well. If the hotels of Mayfair were Premiership footie teams, I imagine Grosvenor House as Aston Villa - mid-table and a bit too full of Brummie businessmen in flammable tuxes for my comfort. Presently, we discover Lanes at the wrong end of Park Lane - the Primark end as I refer to it. All toffee tone, candlelit, leathery luxe (as a DFS customer unused to edgier five star sleepovers might put it), its drinks are more interesting than the decor. The big 'concept' is a selection of cocktails that introduce buzzier quarters such as Hackney and Dalston to tourists (although perhaps not the dozen Romanians we've just negotiated, begging in doorways outside). For Mayfair types whose idea of slumming it is W10, that postcode inspires amaretto, apple brandy and chai syrup idea, Portobello champagne punch (£13), and beetroot and gin West London ‘gimlet.’ Another success, if not an improvement on a straight vodkatini, is Grey Goose tahini martini: a nod to Edgware Road, oddly. Surely the Muslim mile is not exactly awash with alcohol? Decent beef sliders, samosas and vada paav in a bap, ceremoniously presented on a platter as if they were the head of John The Baptist and my name is Salome (which it might be if I ever decide to do drag), is essentially Whitechapel street food tweaked for the second most expensive square on the Monopoly board. Is Lanes an address I'll enter in my new phone? If I ever figure how to, maybe.
London Marriott Park Lane, 140 Park Lane, W1K 7AA 7647 5664

Friday, 24 January 2014

The Convenience, Homerton

If only Homerton weren’t so inconveniently located (halfway to Hungary), West London luvvies could spend a penny or two at the Convenience, a former local lavvy. Tarted up 60s stylee, with Formica-topped tables and pastel tiles, it's run by sweet pee staff. There's nothing new about cottage loafing - the sort of pursuit that can get a boy arrested, as George Michael found out to his cost in LA: Cellar Door at The Aldwych, Ginglik on Shepherds Bush Green and The Attendant in Bloomsbury are all located in formerly louche loos, but this is no bog-standard conversion. Ginger beers will find quality East End brews, good grapeage on an honest mark-up, juniper-y London gins, a juicy jukebox and cooked-with-love scran from ‘the Nanas’ - no-nonsense graduates of the Dot Cotton Charm School. Expect soups and chowders, pie (steak and ale, chicken and tarragon, chestnut and mushroom) with creamy chive mash (£6.95), veggie ragouts, ‘proper’ sarnies and home baked cakes served with builders tea and a chinwag. Meanwhile, one menu item - London Glider cider - hails ‘from the orchards of suburbia’ (i.e Woodford Green) apparently. Next up, vin rosé de Roding Valley for springtime drinking on a decked roof terrace at this Toilet not to Duck.   
Brooksby’s Walk, Chatsworth Road E9 6DA 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Discount Suit Company, Whitechapel

(how to look like Dermot O'Leary, on the cheap?)
Fancy somewhere new to wet your whistle? Try this dishy wee dive bar located in the former stock room at Discount Suit Company (It does what it says). As suits go, this is more flea market find than The Kooples, the French chain that's suddenly all over our high streets like a bad rash? Who shops there? Stylists for bad boy bands? The chain's up-its-own-cul (that's "arse" in Parisian prick speak) 'we're-so-kool' kooply advertising campaign gives me 'the dry boak' - as a Sauchiehall Street tailor would put it (supposing that once great Glasgow shopping strasse still housed such chaps; bursting at the seams as it now is with similarly nantoise schmutter merchants.) What? Oh yes, I digress. Rant over. I'm back in the bar. To classic Wigan Casino sounds, hang out with cute Cockney sparras and buff boys that work Petticoat Lane's barras (you wish!). Knock yourself out on bargain-ish booze (or the cellar's low-slung beams - fatal for anyone who shops for suits at High and Mighty)  Try on the ‘tails for size. I like the look of the sours or sloe gin and apricot fix, Charlie Chaplin. Mezcal, velvet falernum, pineapple and lemon number Pina Fumada? ”Oooh, suits you sir!”
29 Wentworth Street E1 7TB 07887 560 421

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Mark's Bar at Selfridges, Marble Arch

(the height of vulgarity - NOT spotted at Selfridges) 

Selfridges sale: the entire population of Beijing appears to have invaded Oxford Street. Denied Western goods for decades, demob-happy ex-Commies are piling through the store's doors, besieging the women's shoe department where, bewitched by bling, lil' Shanghai Lils are frantically cramming their sweaty trotters into metallic bejewelled high heels so irredeemably vulgar and ostentatious, even a two-bit Vegas porno star would think twice about being filmed in them while a Mexican one-armed bandit plays her slot machine. The scene is repeated in the men's shoe department where wannabes and Rylan Clark lookalikes pounce on Jimmy Choos and Louboutins so ugly, I'd rather wear canary yellow Crocs, quite frankly. Fortunately, less foul footwear is also available - Selfridges caters for people of taste too. Caught up in the febrile feeding frenzy, I soon find myself accidentally shelling out on a pair of low-key luxe loafers that, even at 50 percent off, cost more than a month in India, where I could have these lush Hush Puppies copied in 50 shades of gay at ten bob a pop. Thankfully - not to mention cynically? - London’s littlest cocktail bar has been introduced next to the world’s largest and most dangerous men’s shoe department. After you've downed a stiff one, blowing your wad on Tom Ford (not my fantasy to be clear) is a temptation. Designed, art deco stylee, by Lee Broom and operated by Mark Hix, the bijou bar takes up about one hundreth of the floor space allocated chez stiletto-crazy heirhead Paris Hilton to her walk-in repository for puke-awful pumps - as raided by Sofia Coppola's (clearly blind) Bling Ring. The bar is scheduled to pop-up in other areas of the store, but for now, head to Level 1 for the likes of muddy wellie, Somerset cider brandy-based idea West Country winklepicker, and Hix kix (Morello cherry and eau de vie topped with Nyetimber), as well as smoked salmon on soda bread (£5.50) and coronation chicken ‘slipper’ from a range of well-heeled snacks.
1st Floor Selfridges, 400 Oxford St W1A 1AB 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Margaux, Earl's Court

English may no longer be the lingua franca in SW5. Other tongues nowadays increasingly dominate in Earl’s Court - which this address technically is, regardless of the Jo Hansford blonde estate agents' assurances that 'this is, like, super-prime South Ken, yah?' Thankfully, most resident Sloanes' French vocab runs to ‘encore du champagne, Chablis et Margaux old chap’ - all of which are available at this recently-opened dishy wee wine bar. Like the bulk of its clientele, the bar's well put-together wine list is a bon chic bon genre mix of French and Italians, with a smattering of New World and Eastern European interest. A 200-strong selection has Picpoul de Pinet, vieilles vignes Carignan, St. Chinian and Puglian Neprica all at either side of £30. Top drawer grapeage for hedge fund Henris, flush from a good week at le bureau include a 1999 Margaux at £750. A more accessible swallow from the same appellation appears at £8.50 among a range by the glass or carafe. For brunch, choose from a selection of eggy ideas - Benedict, Florentine, halloumi and heirloom tomato omelette (£11) - savoury tartines, and salad of salmon niçoise. Dishes for lunch or dinner might typically include foie gras and pear in a vanilla and port reduction en brioche (we'll brook no anti-Fortnum's bleatings here, you skanky sans culottes); porcini risotto (£13/ £18); sea bass ceviche; seared scallops with butternut squash and caramelised onion or boeuf bourgignon on creamy polenta. Over puds and Sauternes, play spot the Windsor: Harry, Wills and various court jesters cruise a strip that was also once home to Diana Spencer who resided at Coleherne Court. I blame the Versace-loving princess for the 'hood's slide from sedate Sloanedom towards something akin to Geneva-sur-Tamise. 
152 Old Brompton Road SW5 0BE 7373 5753 

Friday, 10 January 2014

Compagnie Des Vins Surnaturels, Covent Garden

When I worked in the fashion biz - long before 'designer' became a dirty word - faddy colleagues at Ab Fab PR guru Lynne Franks' office on Long Acre would hit Neal's Yard for whatever Vogue decreed was the on-trend lunch du jour. Macrobiotic mung bean curry and organic spirulina and shark sperm smoothies were not my bag: back when my liver was in its still-pink prime, lunch was invariably liquid, strong and Tanqueray flavoured. Well, if you faced long afternoon photo shoots blowing smoke up the scrawny arses of Naomi, Elle and Linda wannabes with the IQ of one alfalfa sprout between them, you'd mainline martinis at noon too. I've avoided Neal's Yard ever since - immune to its Goopy Gwynnie faux hippy appeal. The arrival of Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels could reverse that aversion. "Vins surnaturels?" I'll leave aside my Toulousain pal's diatribe about the term - dismissed by the no-taureau Gascon as 'un meaningless marketing mot' , a conceit dreamt up by pretentious Parisian coqs. If there's one thing that drives me nuts about my French chums, it's their endless après-diner polemic about matters that matter not a jot to me. So, moving swiftly along....smartly kitted out in regulation Elle Decoration St Germain chic, this dishy duplex (surnaturel/ fine) wine bar is the latest Left Bank import from l'équipe that brought you hip late-night Chinatown noodle, Experimental Cocktail Club. Experimentation does not come cheap here: we're talking Puligny-Montrachet not Piat d'Or budgets, mes amis. Fortunately, sommelier Julia Oudill’s savvy pairings - e.g. crispy peppery bébé squid with a stellar Furmint Tokaji (£63), or a sublime St. Joseph (£58) with quail egg and truffled ham ‘posh’ croque - preclude expensive mistakes. Piedmont ice cider with nicely ripe'n'whiffy Époisses is an inspired match, while crumbly Comté and a 2006 Arbois vin jaune en Spois - think Alpine sherry - from the Jura scores top marks from tonight's foodie-drinkie jury.
I spend much of my working hours necking cocktails (yeh, life's a bitch) but if my own moolah is to be parted with, I invariably prefer a bottle of best Bourgogne, Barolo or Bordeaux. As Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels' gorge' list of global grapeage is guaranteed to give any oenophile a Beauner, it ain't milkshakes that'll bring this boy back to the Yard.
8 - 10 Neal’s Yard WC2H 9DP 7734 7737