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Friday, 28 February 2014

London House, Battersea

I dug the dive bar at Ramsbo's Union Street Cafe. Will Gordon grab me again with his latest gaff, London House? Problemo: I'm not big on Battersea, on account of having been banished there - weeping, wailing, pilled-up to the pituitary gland on anti-depressants - when I couldn't afford the rent in Chelsea. That was back when the King's Road (hard as this is to believe to anyone under 30) was an eye-poppingly cool street style catwalk not yet overrun by Ollie, Golly, Binky, Stinky, Caggy, Slaggy and other scripted reality show Muppetry. Nowadays, once-grim Battersea is touted as South Chelsea, its cut glass accents as sharp as the blades toted by trouble on the notorious Winstanley Estate during my enforced exile. SW11's flush residents will be manna to Ramsay on a notoriously difficult site that has seen off others, most recently blink-and-you-missed-it Bennett's Oyster Bar and Brasserie. Problemo numero 2: I'm not big on drinking in rooms that look like the set for a remake of 80s OAP sitcom Waiting For God.The lounge - tasteful as it is in Prussian blue, cumin and ox-blood upholstery, warmed by a flame effect fire - is an ante room divorced from the out-of-shot bar's theatre. Make that a great-auntie room, given the age of some of the leather bags loitering after lunch when I drop in. Still, drinks such as Garden of Eden (Elmer T. Lee bourbon, apple and lavender shrub, Kummel and celery soda) and Flying Scotsman (Clynelish Distillers Edition malt, honey, bitters and lapsang souchon smoke) make the safari south worthwhile. Polished, enthusiastic service and realistic pricing - £8 for gin fizz - should also help assure its success. Me? I'm soon itching to get back to my reality, even if, priced out of prime Chelsea, the Spencer Matthew classes are encroaching on my manor now. Totes traj!

7 - 9  Battersea Square SW11 3RA 7592 8545

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Fable, Holborn. Rextail, Mayfair

(Park up at Rextail's bar) 

If Simon Cowell did bars, I imagine they’d be like Drake and Morgan’s. As slickly styled and packaged as One Direction, their latest shiny pleasure-dome, a sister to City behemoths The Folly and The Drift, will doubtless have the X Factor for a too-cool-for-Tiger Tiger crowd. For them, £9 mouth-tingler Marys and skinny mojitos and the chance to snog Prince Charming - a rum bugger from a list of ‘fairytale’ cocktails. If that sounds like your bag, book a table at The Fable immediately. 
No disrespect to D&M, who have clearly nailed a winning format, but it isn’t necessarily mine. This explains how after a record-quick in-out reccie, I find myself washing up at Rextail en route to plan B, one of my time-honoured fall-backs, The American Bar (at the Stafford, not The Savoy which I'm less keen on post-refit). On my 'to-do' list at number 45, or thereabouts, Rextail is Arkady Novikov’s Mayfair cantina for the kind of Saint Tropez tanned (as in, acquired there not from a SW3 pharmacy) Boxtoxy blondes whose blokes’ valet-parked wheels come with Monagasque or Dubai number plates. Like the Fable, Rextail isn't my natural habitat either. Pristine pair of Tod’s taupe suede loafers - tonight’s  footwear - notwithstanding, I'm not exactly Mr Monte Carlo material. Martinis, however, are very much my bag, and Rextail's Sardinian head honcho Paolo Farris’s babies pass would pass muster on any Sunseker yacht moored in the marina at some South of France multi-millionaire's playground, I imagine. Try his a Knob Creek bourbon take on a classic hanky panky, or a Scared gin, lavender and sage martini - his off-menu bespoke suggestion that hits my G-spot. (That’s ‘G’ as in gin: even Dyno-Rod couldn’t hit the other one, in my case, these days). I'm told the high maintenance blondes are apparently big on Paolo's summer berry, cachaca, Chambord, and Chardonnay cooler, Brazilian garden - maybe because it sounds like something they’d have done at a spa? Will Rextail be my new regular midday perch? At £15 plus a pop for a Sipsmith Cherry Herring negroni? Negative. In Mayfair, even a liquid-only lunch calls for Syco-deep pockets. 

(Fable's 'little touches - of which many!)

The Fable, 52 Holborn Viaduct EC1A 2FD 

Rextail, 13 Albemarle Street W1S 4HJ 

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Hand Of Glory, Shacklewell

The Shacklewell Arms has long been the sort of lo-fi music pub where you'll spot faces that grace - or create - the pages of edgy style mags with titles like Wound, Bruise and GBH. Now, thanks to The Shrubbery - a garden-themed cocktail bar at popular cafe/ social hub The Russet - and Hand of Glory - the latest gig from Shoreditch stalwarts DreambagsJaguarshoes - this pocket off Kingsland High Street just got even more interesting for the style barometrs, bloggers, club monkeys and skanky posh bird junkies whose habitat is deepest DalstonLatterly a dreary wine bar - and before that, the old Amhurst Arms - this rebooted boozer/ music venue's name describes the fate that befell the light-fingered back in the days before convicted thieves were given a conditional discharge, a team of social workers to help them resolve their issues, and group hug therapy on an adventure weekend in Dorset at the taxpayer's expense. JK Rowling fans will know the withered Hand of Glory, severed at the wrist, as Draco Malfoy’s pet talisman, while an older generation will recognise it as 'The Thing.' The bar's low-rent Gothic decor involves wiccan art, pagan trappings, a life-size fellow made out of straw, Morris dancing malarkey and, on the bar top, a petrified stone cat / gin dispenser (pictured) that cost £1,000, we're told. "More like a fiver at the Homebase garden centre sale," reckons my chum. I'm particularly drawn to a display case featuring esoteric avian taxidermy turned into the sort of millinery the late Isabella Blow would have teamed with a McQueen ballgown to go pick up a p-p-p-Penguin and a pint of milk at her local Spar. The overall vibe is cod-creepy: think The Wicker Man or the sort of in-breds' village pub John Steed and Emma Peel would be called on to investigate. Barrel-aged negroni and boulevardier, Thundering Molly cider and local Crate, Kernel and Five Points ales should help settle any nervousness. Rock up too for 'rural fare' from Austrian pop-up street foodies, Fleisch Mob - plus beer-sticks, pickled veg and sundry snacks in screw top jars that might stump any amputee tea-leaf looking for a fresh start behind the bar.

240 Amhurst Road E8 2BS 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Piano, Smithfield

Hoping to replicate the success of his effervescent piano bar on High Street Kensington, irrepressible crooner/ ivory tinkler Bazz Norton (the son Judy Garland and Liberace never had) has taken over what was previously Smithfield cabaret lounge Rouge. Rouge is the (inherited) colour in a dive that looks like somewhere Christine Keeler might have partied in her 1962 pre-Profumo Affair heyday. Listen to standards from back in the day mixed with more modern material played jazz hands-stylee until 2am at weekends (closed - Sundays). High-spirited, friendly and inclusive, even the biggest Glee-hating grouch is likely to be sucked in. With no cover charge to bump up prices, Piano is also an affordable night out: wine starts at £20.95 for Chilean sauvignon. But put on the Ritz and break open the Laurent Perrier (£62.50) as on The Night They Invented Champagne - one of the show tunes you’re likely to hear. If the Lady Is A Tramp and Krug Grande Année (£270) is your poison darling, let’s hope your pal Joey is picking up the tab. 
14 Long Lane EC1A 9PN 7796 9777
(Booking essential.) from my original review  at

Monday, 10 February 2014

The Golden Arrow, St Pancras

In my fluffier Mills and Boon moments, I imagine bars in railway stations to be high on romantic thrills. One last Belvedere martini at The Gilbert Scott or The Booking Office Bar before you French kiss your fantasy Parisian chaud-ie 'au revoir' at l'Eurostar terminal? Oui, oui, OUI! The reality: a swift can of Carlsberg at Liverpool Street before Anjii from accounts skulks back to her old boy and brats in Billericay? Not in my script! Conveniently located next to St Pancras and Euston, named after The Golden Arrow - that most glamorous of London-Paris pullman boat trains from an age when continental travel was not yet within reach of the sans culottes -  this 'premiere upscale' hotel lounge promises much. In the event, it reminds me more of another form of travel. Hard-edged, shiny, sleek, 60s postmodernist corporate canteen-like decor, I'm in an American airport circa late-TWA...and the vibe such as there is, is dull as Dulles International. A stellar range of 200 fine whiskies, Calvados and cognac such as Rémy Louis XIII (at £175 a shot) deserves more seductive surroundings. Ditto, classic cocktails (£9.50) and house ideas such as Appleton 12 chocolate mojito, or pullman connection (a Ketel One, Midori and lychee fix). The bar’s Enomatic system offers a useful range of wines by the glass, albeit none from England on the list we’re handed. Likewise, a selection of contemporary local beers might anchor the hotel to its host city - a trick attempted here by those ubiquitous flying top hat/ bowler hat lights. It's a lame attempt to get the London look. Pizzetti, Reuben sandwich, ham and cheese croquet (sic), tiramisu: you could be almost anywhere at an Arrow that fails to hit the bullseye.
Hotel Pullman London St. Pancras, 100 - 110 Euston Road NW1 2AJ 7666 9000

adapted from my review at

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Farr's School Of Dancing, Dalston

(Drinking From The Bottle? Tinie Tempah scrubs up nicely for an Esquire photo-shoot - Farr's Facebook page)

The latest addition to pub chain Antic’s burgeoning pan-London portfolio that includes Balham Bowls Club, Deptford Job Centre, and the one-time Catford Conservative Club, is another quirkily reinvented space given over to boozing. High-ceilinged Farr’s was Dalston’s académie de danse in the late 1930s; the depressive decade echoed in the venue’s recycled retro decor. The room stylists also plunder the 1960s in the shape of leatherette chairs with hood dryers salvaged, presumably, from an am-dram production of Hairspray.   Beats for dancing feet include 60s Northern soul and rock'n'roll nights and, at under £14 for serviceable rosé, prices verge on the retro too. I'm no fan of industrially-produced Euro-lagers: local craft beers, Adnams Single Shells, Californian Anchor Steam and Hogan’s Warwickshire cider (all on tap), London gins and mint julep or old fashioned at £7 are what to drink here. There’s talk of a basement speakeasy and an upstairs dining area and kitchen serving comfort food - a work in progress when I sashay in. Farr's is far better than many Dalston watering holes but, like Sophie Ellis Bextor and Brendan Cole's Strictly Come Dancing efforts, I score it an 8 rather than a 10. 
17 - 19 Dalston Lane E8 3DF 7923 4553 

Friday, 7 February 2014

Oslo, Hackney

I've never been to Norway. There was a near miss, aged 13, when I was invited to the land of the Ford Fjord by Jorgen from Bergen, a pen pal. (Note to dem yoot: that's the ancient equivalent of a Facebook friend.) As luck would have it, the parents of another pen pal, whose name was Yves, I vaguely recall, invited me to France that summer. Blackhead-plagued geek Yves may have been of zero interest - 'Experiment with your chemistry set?' Moi? At 13? 'Es-tu fou, matey?' - but his parents' villa, overlooking St Tropez, where I'd escape after lights out to cruise its cafe terraces, sure as hell was. Tonight, I finally make it to Oslo. That's Oslo as in the latest lounge to open in baradise aka East London, not as in Nordic nowheresville. Oslo occupies the Victorian pile that, until 1945, housed Hackney Central station's booking hall. Its handsomely conversion in the post-industrial bare washed brick stylee is just the ticket. Alight here for local microbrewers Crate and Five Points' ales at a butch bar flanking the dining room. Cocktails, if at all, are basic: no-nonsense Oslo is not your place for fancy Nancy molecular malarkey. Bar food includes 3 for £10 sexysloppysliders, oxtail poutine (£5) and chicken poppers in BBQ sauce. Two further bars inhabit a live music room/  electro club upstairs, open until as late as 3am at weekends. At the former station, hear tomorrow’s big tracks on a badass sound-system when grime MCs, garage. surf, nu-folk and grunge bands play. Norway, nul points? Not so at Oslo!

 1A Amhurst Road E8 1LL 3553 4831