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Friday, 21 March 2014

Dub Jam, Covent Garden

"My wife has gone to the Caribbean." "Jamaica?" "No, She went of her own accord.": so goes the old music hall joke. I've never seen Montego Bay nor eaten curried goat in Kingston - odd, given my penchant for 50s calypso, 60s ska and the sort of lover's rock played in Peckham nail parlours. Heavy heavy dub, I don't dig: living next to a North Kensington shebeen run by two misogynistic, homophobic, dole-cheatin', soap-dodgin' rank rasta drug dealers - not, perhaps, Jamaica's finest ambassadors - did my head in. Not much bigger than a bus shelter, clad in graffiti-daubed corrugated iron panels, decorated in lurid carnival colour-clash with furniture cleverly fashioned from jetsam and flotsam, I imagine raggamuffin chic hole-up Dub Jam is a fairly authentic approximation of the Negril beach shack not yet ticked off my bucket list. Thankfully, the soundtrack here  - played through speakers from which sweet rum punch is also dispensed - is totes top Trojan; no boom-skanga head-banga thuds when I drop in for full-flava BBQ street food. 28-day dry-aged burgers in flatbread; properly marinated jerk chicken; velvety pork belly; king prawns or haloumi and pepper skewers; “rice’n’ peace”; coconut and yoghurt-dressed slaw:  You Can Get It If You Really Want. Still on a reggae tip, there’s no Red Red Wine... or any other colour, for that matter. Alcohol is limited to Carib and Red Stripe lager, rums and a brace of cocktails. At the risk of being rude, boys, I’d like to see a dried-down rum fix in addition to (my boy) lollipop-sweet pina colada slush puppy and fruity Wray & Nephews rum punch (£6) served in tins at your Jammin’ joint.   
20 Bedford Street WC2E 9HP 7836 5876 

Munki, Putney

("Hey, hey we're the Munkis")

Journos get sent tons of stuff from PRs. Fashion hacks get this season's top teal trench and trilby combo they adored when it was sent down a Milan runway. Me? Branded beer mugs, baseball caps, hoodies, printed hessian bags, shonky cocktail shakers and other must-have items marketing men imagine I can't live without. Hopefully, Oxfam has fed fifty starving Africans thanks to my re-gifting largesse. Any biked-over booze and food, I keep. You never know when you might be in the mood for Madagascan firewater and - a particular favourite, this -  'vagitearian savoory trail mix, maid in Mumbai.' The other week, blow me i a year's supply of tea bags wasn't dumped on my doorstep; with it, the crochet toy monkey thingy that is Johnny Vegas's foil in the brand's pyramid selling TV commercials. Maybe I'll gift him to Putney's latest lounge, Munki? The knitted chimp, that is; the chunky Northern nit would not look half as cute on its back bar. Located next to another reasaon to hit SW15, Toy Shop Bar (,  'Munki' refers to its owner's childhood nickname. Had he been a classmate of mine at primary school, this gaff would be Giant Jobby Jobson's - not the sort of place to order Ruinart rosé and raspberry champagne cocktail. As the King of the (oldest) Swingers (in town), I'm drawn a selection of signature simian slugs. Maidstone Munki (a Monkey Shoulder sweetened sling served with rosemary, and sherry-marinaded sultanas) has my name on it, if not vodka-laced Munki that spilt the cream: I don't go ape over Kahlua, Frangelico, cream, honey and nutmeg in my martinis. TBH, why monkey around when the list includes classics such as aviation and sidecar? Tricked out in trompe l'oeil as a library-cum-study in a show home on a new neo-Georgian gated community in Surrey, limited space is maximised in the form of a mezzanine lounge above the bar. Any munki behaviour going down up there when I swing by? See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil; that's my motto - unless a gossip column editor is paying me.
12 Putney High Street, SW15 1SL 07455 084 052 

Friday, 14 March 2014

5CC at Harrild and Sons, Farringdon

Set in a handsomely converted Victorian printworks, Harrild and Sons echoes owners Barworks' hit E2 gaff, Well and Bucket. As at that Shoreditch marvel, the ground floor taproom is done out in Whitechapel Gothic with macabre portraits of dead gorgeous Victorians, skeletons in full period finery. In Farringdon,you'll find 100 craft beers (possibly more) such as Marble Brewery’s Earl Grey Manchester IPA , Danish Evil Twin Disco and, delivering what it promises, as it should do at £14 a swally, Oregon’s spicy-nutty Rogue Oregasmic IPA. Plâteau de fruits de mer (£35), lobster with Dijon mayo in brioche, sliders, hanger steak with dripping chips, and duck burger with Reblochon and forest mushrooms all appeal but for me, the real interest lies below. 5CC numero 3, the biggest yet among a trio of similarly monickered cocktail dens (the others are at the Well and Bucket and upstairs at The Exmouth Arms EC1, with a fourth soon to open in Hackney) is a bobby dazzler of a basement tricked out in Edwardian cough syrup tones. Park up at a butch zinc for classy scotch and rye fixes such as an Indian whiskey and spiced chai old fashioned, remember the Maine, caipercaillie, or big rye sazerac served to a soundtrack of 60s calypso, 50s hillbilly hell-raisers and 40s jazz and doo-wop. Flush (flash) nighthawks, with £150-plus to drop on a dram, should dip into 5CC's 'whisky porn' selection for some of Scotland's most shaggable exports since the young Sean Connery.
26 Farringdon Street EC4A 4AB 3714 2497

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Augustus Harris, Covent Garden

Named after Augustus Harris, 'father of modern pantomime' and one-time manager of The Theatre Royal Drury Lane directly opposite, this cute duplex wine bar deserves to be a West End hit. Feeling like, and not much bigger than, a cabin on a 17th Century galleon - of which three uninspiring framed prints, perhaps better suited to an OAP's Eastbourne bungalow, nailed to the wall by way of decoration... 'for no real reason' says our waitress. Why is this cosy spot is not busier on a night in an area that is crawling with potential punters? I can see that it's appeal might be lost on those here to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the bad perms and Evans Outsize coats who waddle off, en masse, to Hatfield, Harrow and Hell, post-performance. Their loss! As far as I'm concerned, you can keep your coach party musicals; easy drinking Primitivo, Pinot G; americano, negroni and basilico among a selection of fave Florentine cocktails; and a supporting cast of crostini, ciccheti, salumi and classic dolce (tiramisu in a demi-tasse) suit me just fine for light grazing: making a meal of it here could be tricky: a wider selection of assemblage plates would be welcome.  A grating random pop/rock soundtrack (Now That's What I Call Music Hell Vol 59) is made up for by super-cute staff. Creamy-skinned, perfectly-formed, polite, Lithuanian waiter boy should be on a model agency's books. Trust me! In another life, I cast faces/ bodies just like his for all manner of fashiony fabulousness. He'll make more for two walks down an Emporio Armani runway than he will in tips here in a year. Not that I'm out to poach Augustus Harris's staff, but Select's telephone number, if you are reading this, young man, is 7299 1322. Give them a bell and mention my name so I can tap them for a finder's fee.
33 Catherine Street WC2B 5JT 

Made in The Shade, Hoxton (NOW CLOSED)

For Shoxditch slackers, sipping cool cocktails in The Shade is set to be the thing this Spring. At Made In The Shade  - the name refers to a 1974 Lynyrd Skynryrd track, I'm told, not the Rolling Stones' first compilation album released the following year as I'd imagined - is located a few doors down from Ryan Chetiyawardana's liquid lab White Lyan (see review here ), but the approach to cocktail making is altogether less clenched; ice and fruity gubbins in drinks are not taboo here. In what was Bacchus Kitchen, still recognisable through a token makeover whose free-wheeling paint job and recycled furniture suggests a kooky Camberwell art student's bedsit circa Young Gifted and Black, head hooch honcho Jim Wrigley is on fire when we pitch up for the gaff's official launch. Dressed like a younger Sting, only cool and not precious with it, his opening gambit - a gin and cucumber lemonade cooler - is a picture; a stylish green swirly thing that recalls that 70s bedsit must, a lava lamp. Next cab off  the rank is a whiskey, ginseng and rum old fashioned. Garnished with plastic toy figurines of the type found in cereal boxes aimed at kids (the 70's influence again), Tony the Tiger's dypso brother would doubtless rate it 'G-R-R-REAT!'  I might not be fully on board with its hubristic title, UFC - as in the ultimate f****** cocktail - but it sure whets my appetite for more from where that f****** came from, signor!" Shame then, I'm booked in for dinner across town and will not, tonight, be wrapping my laughing gear around the likes of no sé - a mezcal espresso martini ‘on steroids.’ "Stay guys!" urges Jim,"have some soul food!" (The kitchen's speciality, and very good too, based on the canapes I try). "My mates are all rocking up around 9pm.. after the Press has gone." Hmm, shit-faced in the Shade at midnight? It's a look made for me; one I intend to acquire soon, @Drinksmithjim. 
177 Hoxton Street N16PJ 7613 0477

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Cecil's, London Bridge

The only problem with vintage clobber, is when one is of a certain vintage oneself. Dragging up as one of the Village People when you wore the entire construction worker kit and caboodle to disco down to YNCA at Studio 54 must be a depressing reminder of how quickly tempus fugit...I can but imagine. If you're sufficiently senior to have dressed, first time around,  in duds à la Downton Abbey or The Great Gatsby - the recommended attire for spiffing Saturday night shindigs at new cocktail lounge/ thé dansant Cecil's - good on ya for still being out on the razz' at your age, you sly centenarian (and-then-some) swinger!  Cecil's inhabits a crepuscular candlelit basement in an old dockside building where teas, fresh off clippers from the Orient, were once stored; hence, the World of Suzie Wong, cheaply but effectively implied, in its stagey makeover. As I wait at the bar for opium tears to materialise - a tart gin sour - I half expect a taxi dancer (a 1930's euphemism for a tart, the calling of girl-gone-wrong, Suzie Wong) to pop up and proposition me. But at around a tenner a pop for yuzu shu fizz, slings, Collinses, and ideas such as the Paris of the East,  Cecil's is no cheap clip joint - whatever hooch served in enamel mugs might sugest. Midweek, there's live jazz and soul and stand-up comedy and the space is fun. So rally the gang, old chap, and head down to Cecil's warehouse party events such as Chop Chop Club - 'a journey through international disco and other genres from 1930's Shanghai to the future and back' -  decked out in your best Cecil Gee; another label considered 'vintage' now that the famous clothier has disappeared from our high streets. 
8 Holyrood Street SE1 2EL 7403 8293

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Joker of Penton, Islington

(Fancy bungin' on Billie Jean, mate?)

Pointing to an oil portrait of a Regency gent on the wall, I ask, "Who's he?" The answer, from a staff member channeling Michael Jackson circa 1979, is suitably Off The Wall. "That's Eric Grimaldi, the joker of Penton Street," he reckons. "The twin brother of famous Sadler's Wells harlequin and Penton Street resident Joseph Grimaldi - he whose trademark white make-up launched the coulrophobia epidemic?" wonders my pal, along for a burger and banter - of which a steady stream from jokey Jacko. The Joker's go-with-the-flow bro' with a 'fro's cheeky chappie lines keep us amused in the absence of any tangible buzz. (It is, to be fair, lunchtime). I tell him I'm not over-keen on my nuclear Tabasco-primed Virgin Mary (Don't worry, guys! I haven't become a born again alco-virgin: I'm driving). It could do with (that key ingredient of a Virgin Mary), "a stick (sic) of basil" according to the daft stick trained up by Basil Fawlty I now like to imagine. My mood doesn't improve when his colleague - the flatmate The Young Ones never had? - pops a heavy metal album on the bar's vintage Dansette record player, where I'd have happily settled for The Jacksons Greatest Hits. ABC: Islington has an alphabet of boss boozers to choose from. My chum would much rather be at The New Rose, The Hops and Glory, The Charles Lamb or any of a dozen more N1 pubs he rates rather than at a thinly disguised reboot of Hundred Crows Rising, the site's previous occupant, a turkey that shot the crow without anybody much noticing. The Joker is the latest London opening from Laine's of Brighton whose ales, brewed at their Hackney acquisition People's Park Tavern, are what to drink here if you don't fancy American craft beers, Heartbreaker Welsh cider on tap, cocktail du jour marmalade gin fizz, or anything from a list of wines from £16. Pop-up outfit Tongue'n'cheek are on kitchen duty. Their scran may not be quite in the top flight of my London best beef patty league, but a moist cheddar, chimichurri sauce, watercress and sour cream-topped effort - served with good rosemary salt fries in a cute candy-strip paper bag - is no Brentford among burgers either. What new decor there is to report, includes outsized wooden comedy/tragedy masks, portraits of old vaudeville turns, and the clock featured on the cover of Oasis album, Be Here Now. Will I be back? Definitely Maybe...who knows? Like the crowd at the late Glasgow Empire that reduced countless English jokers to jelly, I'm tough to please.
58 Penton Street N1 9PZ 7837 3891