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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 Carr...as 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 www.peonychinatown.com

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 review...read 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 http://www.theivymarketgrill.com