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Friday, 4 December 2015

Knowles, West Norwood

If comfortably upholstered, throaty bellower Adele fancies furnishing her swanky Surrey mansion at This, That And The Other, the ‘sarf’ London discount megastore she previously lodged above, she’s in for a shock. Quirky pub operators Antic have nabbed the old place for their latest venue, tricking it out in rag and bone man chic, Edwardian hardware store gubbins, vintage wallpapers, workbenches and banquette. A grateful West Norwood’s punters have been rolling in, 21 deep at its bar, for pints from the London likes of Gipsy Hill, Brixton Brewery and Sambrook’s. In the spirit of the old place, wines start at a bargain £15 a bottle while a taste of the global megastar lifestyle is yours for £42 (for Haton champagne). Pending the opening of its kitchens - whose mainstays will be seasonal modern British pub grub, trad homemade bar snacks and Sunday roasts - there are franks and hot dogs to be had. Rumour Has It, Adele’s (one-time) Hometown Glory is presently to add a conservatory dining room and a landscaped family-friendly garden. West Norwood has arrived, clearly.
294 - 296 Norwood Road SE27 9AF 8670 0436 knowlesofnorwood.com


Review also appears online at www.squaremeal.co.uk




Friday, 11 September 2015

Threadneedle, The City














The first floor gallery hush bar - away from the hubbub of the Grand Cafe below - at imposing Victorian former City bourse, The Royal Exchange, has been rebranded, cosmetically retouched and relaunched by owners D&D as a discreet 
‘new’ cocktail bar. The emphasis is on drinks inspired by the father of modern American mixology Jerry Thomas in his indispensable 1862 tome, Bar-tenders Guide. Savvy £12 signatures include a refreshing eucalyptus and kaffir lime Collins; Mexican Couperee ( a tart light vanilla foamed Patrón Añejo, Citronge and Falernum sour), and smoky brass teapot serve, Sauterelle - a vanilla-infused port and cherry liqueur Gin Mare Martini inspired by the Martinez rather than the crème de menthe-based Grasshopper its French name implies. Champagne (from £69 a bottle) and wine by the glass (from £5) are what to order with open sandwiches and small plates such as velvety tuna tartare (£9.50) and juicy Aberdeen Angus beef sliders that work well, where insipid frazzled fried squid (buried under a mound of toasted flakey pointlessness) fails when we visit during Threadneedle's soft launch.   
Royal Exchange, EC3V 3LR 7618 2480   http://www.royalexchange-grandcafe.co.uk 

My original review at www.squaremeal.co.uk

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Redemption, Notting Hill

The fates once conspired to land me a stretch in Los Angeles. That's 'stretch' as in incarceration, not limo. Having not yet learned to drive, too poor to afford a chauffeur, marooned in a city where wheels were an essential and public transport was for bums, bag ladies, rapists, axe-murderers, I'd spend my days trapped indoors with All My Children (ABC's now-defunct super-silly-soap) before the adults came home to liberate me, ferrying me along forever freeways to the latest 'happening' hangout in Brentwood, Burbank or Beverley Hills aka Millionheirhead Central. To a liquor-lovin' London lad, LA bar-hopping was a bore for, aeons before the mucky trend jumped the pond, Californian locals had gone loco for lo-Cal no-alc' cocktails: "mocktails." A tiki colada made with Malibu in Malibu was no longer the thing. Having, overnight, ditched his martini habit, my American born-again fitness freak friend (who would later, ironically, end up at both A.A. and N.A.) was a convert to Spirulina and Wheatgrass, a combo even less entertaining than ITV's Rosemary And Thyme. 
Fast forward to August 2015: having trialled the concept at pop-ups in Hackney and Holborn, Redemption's owner Catherine Salway has launched the country's 'first alcohol-free bar' (didn't they say say that about Saf in Shoreditch amongst others?), bringing the likes of ‘Apple mock-jito’ and ‘Beet-o-tini’ to Bayswater. Purely in the interests of research, I  try 'Lettuce Spray' (pulped iceberg leaves, wasabi, lime, cucumber and aloe vera juice) from her list of just six mocks. Problemo: they are fresh out of fresh aloe vera which, I recall from my LA sojourn, guards against gout, gastritis, gangrene and every grim condition goingHaving specifically said how much I LOATHE coconut water, the bar's Dutch manager insists a green staffer, still in his salad days, fix my liquidised green salad using er, coconut water. "Don't worry! It'll be delicious." It is... in the same way the leftover contents of my fridge's 'Sta-Krisp' salad drawer are delicious after losing a fight with a NUTRIBULLET ®. "It's got absolutely no kick" I protest. "It needs more wasabi" opines Herr Holland, tasting it, not offering to make another, and charging me full whack for his wack, bastard imposter. Amsterdam Man's glowing pink skin - Clarins campaign-worthy - is surely down to his strict veggie diet? "No, I love meat."  Mmm me too.... and booze! Add a double slug of tequila to mask the taste of coconut water, his 'Coco-rita' could be a half-decent margarita. As the late-great Dean Martin said, 'I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they are going to feel all day.' That said, Salway's baby will fly: God knows there are enough gullible Gwynnie-Goop-swallowing bikram yoga-buff breadsticks in Notting Hill to support her mission to 'spoil yourself without spoiling yourself.' Me? Spoiled for choice in terms of nearby liquor lounges, I am, alas, beyond Redemption. 
6 Chepstow Road W2 5BH 07500 745 684 www.redemptionbar.co.uk

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Little Drury, Covent Garden


An adjunct to The Drury Club downstairs, you need neither that nightspot’s £350 membership card nor guest-list guile to pass Little Drury’s portals. Billed as an ‘exclusive New York speakeasy-style cocktail bar’, its exposed brick ‘shabby chic’ interior design-on-a-tight-budget (I'm guessing) feels like the stuff of any $5 martini joint in Queens. Simpatico Italian staff mix punch bowls to share and £9.50 cocktails that , competently dispatghed, aren’t necessarily as ‘wildly creative’ as LD’s marketing spiel fancies: the likes of strawberry mojito and Drunken Avocado (a lychee and avo’ vodkatini) push no envelopes. When I visit, the promised ‘extensive’ selection of Italo-bites consists of: prawn and courgette, crab, or seaweed fritters (£4.50); bresaola stuffed with ricotta; caprese (mozzarella, basil and tomato) and Parma ham skewers; and cannoli… or all of the above for £21. A small slightly claustrophobic, mezzanine area with a table football is available for hire at this soul-soundtracked ‘haven of hedonism’.
167 Drury Lane WC2B 5PG 7831 9399 www.littledrury.com


Above review for www.squaremeal.co.uk

Seymour's Parlour at Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone


(Step in! You'll like it.)

West End-based fans of The Zetter Townhouse need no longer cross town to enjoy its recherché rinses, as conceived by donnish walking cocktail compendium Tony Conigliaro (of 69 Colebrooke Row and Bar Termini http://tinyurl.com/nzkvwvb). Like the Clerkenwell original, the new Zetter Townhouse Marylebone boasts a likeable lounge bar. Gussied up as the Victorian parlour of the eponymous ‘wicked Uncle Seymour’ (a fictional adventurer whose convoluted backstory is as fanciful as Russell Sage’s knowingly twee décor), the double-sized drawing room is inspired by Sir John Soane’s Museum in Holborn. Appealingly presented - some in custom-made opaque ground glass stemware - the dozen house signatures here are the result of a collaboration between Conigliaro and head barman Claudio Perinelli, a loquacious Gentleman of Verona, voted Italy’s best barman at Daigeo’s 2014 World Class Awards. On my preview visit, six were available to sample including Turf Club, a grass-imbued Beefeater gin and Dubonnet martini, which also adds grape reduction and Peruvian bitters to the mix. Two-Penny Trash (powdered malts, rye whiskey and treacle) was a mildly medicinal mouthful, as challenging and and opinion-dividing as any similarly esoteric Conigliaro concoction. Bar bites include confit cherry tomatoes stuffed with cod brandade (a salt cod and olive oil emulsion), and wild mushroom raviolo with celeriac and a whiskey butter sauce. The food is all the work of Bruno Loubet, who has consulted on the menu, so expect full-on gastro fireworks when this Zetter launches fully in September.
28 - 30 Seymour Street W1H 7JB http://www.thezettertownhouse.com/marylebone
Taken from my August 2015 preview for www.squaremeal.co.uk


Friday, 7 August 2015

Turntable, Holborn


Studio!!! 

Sazeracs and old soul sounds: Turntable should be up my street. BITD when I used to DJ, nipping off to New York on Friday and returning to London on the Sunday night red-eye from JFK with a suitcase full of pre-release 12-inch discs was a monthly routine. I'm thinking of taking to the decks again: like the Valentine Brothers say, Money's Too Tight To Mention (he says, before HMRC gets any ideas ) and at various hip launches where the client has coughed up serious dough and booked a rare groover - as opposed to some celebrity's brat offspring/ precocious 'model', paid £10K just to press 'play' on an iPad  - I frequently find myself thinking "'Useless'" (Kym Mazelle) and how my record collection is stuffed with way better "Stuff Like That" (Quincy Jones ft Chaka)  So, I'm keen to visit this new vinyl-only DJ bar whose playlist is collated by Jazzi Q of Soul II Soul, big in the 90s. The sort of tracks I'm hearing Phyllis Hyman, Linda Clifford, Gwen Guthrie, Cheryl Lynn, Shalamar, and a sprinkling of Motown - are guaranteed floor-fillers so It's A Shame (as The Detroit Spinners sang it)  that I don't want to "do a little dance, Get Down Tonight". Clearly, I've picked the wrong evening; it's not exactly heaving like Paradise Garage in its prime or about to wrest the disco crown from Studio 54. Maybe there's a secret door to a VIP lounge where Liza, Jerry, Bianca, Andy, Calvin, Halston, Grace, Divine and the gang are partying like it's 1979? Named after classic soul cuts of that decade, Turntable's street level bar's £8 cocktails  - Jungle Boogie (rum, Mandarine Napoléon and kumquat) and Ain’t No Sunshine (Aperol, grapefruit, rosé wine and blood orange)... but no Evelyn 'Champagne' King cocktail - are fair enough but the austere, claustrophobic, downstairs dance bar is way too (Barry) white; stark and boxy, unlike the late great growler's loin-locking smoochers, it's neither sexy nor Chic -  more joyless Norwich nightclub circa Joy Division tonight. Will I come back and order South Asian street food staples - Malay chicken, hot and sour fish, or lentil and aubergine curry -  to eat to the beat? Tempus fugit! I'm off home to mix Manhattans, Boogie Oogie Oogie round my sitting room, and hatch my big comeback plan.
7 - 9 Norwich Street EC4A 1EJ 7112 9179  http://www.turntable.london

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Smith and Wollensky, Strand


Almost forty years after serving its first customers in Manhattan, this solidly conservative American surf and turf restaurant chain has chosen London for its maiden overseas outpost. Occupying two floors of the art deco Adelphi building off The Strand, its interior looks to have been installed around the time Hoover won the White House. Cocktail fanciers have a choice of two substantial bars in the familiar handwriting of the daddy of upscale rooms, Martin Brudnizki (The Ivy, Scott’s, Scarfes Bar, Jackson and Rye etc). On balance I prefer the downstairs bar; taking up one end of a vast art nouveau / Tiffany-inspired gleaming, expensively-upholstered expanse. In the braggart US of A, things are done on a much bigger scale; hence, 100 ml spirit measures in mighty Manhattans and martinis at £16. Notable American classics include sazerac and aviation, while kirsch Cosmopolitan; Breakfast At Tiffany’s (a Chase marmalade vodka Champagne cocktail) and Ready Aim Fire (a tequila and mezcal pineapple sour) are not exactly a snip at £13 -that's around $20 - a price that would buy you  a large prawn cocktail at their Midtown Manhattan restaurant. Around 30 wines by the glass include Smith and Wollensky’s own label Napa red blend - a rampaging beast that comes in at a head-bludgeoning 14.5% abv. Bar menu standouts include yellowfin tuna tartare; sirloin carpaccio and Cajun gorgonzola burger. It's all very grown-up and corporate. Brooks Brothers suits will dig..preferably on company expenses. It feels like the sort of place US presidential candidate/ chump, Donald Trump, would have treated the winning task team on The Apprentice USA to a blow-out banquet; but will Smith and W's Yankee swagger wow discerning, spoilt-for-choice Londoners? Let's ask Jay Rayner. 'The latest big-name steakhouse to cross the pond. Pity it didn't sink on the way' mutters grouchy of The Guardian, contemplating 'an insipid Moscow Mule served in a stupid brass mug with a thin plastic straw.' Ouch!
The Adelphi Building, 1 - 11 John Adam Street WC2N 6HT 7321 6007 http://www.smithandwollensky.co.uk

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Vindinista, Acton

Acton has a reputation as one of London's less interesting 'burbs. Don't be fooled by the pedestrian retail opps of its forlorn main drag; villagey Churchfield Road has options that would have Notting Hill nouveaux in a lather. Well worth the detour, is oenophile blogger Paola Tich's commendable neighbourhood wine and cheese shop, Park+Bridge. Parked diagonally opposite is her latest venture, Vindinista - an engaging new wee wine bar aimed at Acton’s ABC demographic (as in “anything but Chardonnay!”) Like Sager+Wilde (Hackney), Humble Grape (Battersea) and other new wave wine bars, Vindinista focusses on small artisan producers, many of whom specialise in unsung appellations available here at retail price plus a £10 corkage fee. Suertes del Marqués 7 Fuentes -  an aromatic, white peppery, perky red blend from Tenerife - bears no relation to your average Playa de las Americas supermercado swill. Made from grapes from Puglian vines first planted by ancient Greeks, Li Velli Askos Susumaniello (£28.50) - one of around 20 wines also available by the glass - is a leathery, liquorice-y, red berry blast. Hungarian Tornai Zenit is punted as an alternative to the now-ubiquitous Picpoul de Pinet and pride of Haywards Heath, sparkling Bolney Rosé Brut, could see off many French rivals. Bar food includes duck rillettes, Italian organic meats, Upton Smokery trout paté and potted shrimps, or cheese and truffle toastie (£7.95) 
74 Churchfield Road W3 6DH https://www.facebook.com/vindinista 

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Light Lounge, Soho

Andy Mil at hit Soho cellar, Cocktail Trading Company, has created the list for this new 'boutique cocktail bar', 'hidden' (that'll be upstairs past the greeter) in a dog-legged room that was previously home to the flat (as in ambience) Champagne Lounge at Ku, the gay bar below still going strong despite Grindr obviating the need for cruising Toms to trawl bars. A pineapple and  almond (rum) martini and a tequila coconut and caraway sour pass muster. I'd have gone for Highlander - here, twisted by adding  cherry liqueur - but its advertised base puts me off: himbo-billboard-for-hire Davy Beckham's limply disappointing Haig Club is to scotch what Hendrick's is to gin. Price-wise, £11.50 feels ambitious for violets are Bblue (a twisted aviation) and vodka, prosecco peach and raspberry fizz. Tiffany blue high stools juxtaposed with a jet bar is a classic Art Deco-inspired combo but other elements - crystal bead curtain chandeliers, 70s silvery glam rock portraits of Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie, and another particularly lurid abstract wall-hanging are all a bit too Corrie's Carla Connor goes catalogue shopping to my tastes. Drinks are by and large on-the-London-money but, set to soul and disco, The Light Lounge somehow feels light years away from how Soho drinks now - more Craig David in a Brum hotel lounge circa Dido, Whitney and Britney.
1 Newport Place WC2H 7JR 7734 8329 thelightloungelondon.com 




Sunday, 2 August 2015

Joyeux Bordel, Shoreditch

What's with the French? Sewer-minded Johhny Foreigner will insist on opening London joints named after knocking shops. If it's not Le Chabannais (see previous post), it's Joyeux Bordel. At the risk of sounding (heaven forbid!) like Shami Chakrabati, I doubt any emaciated, heroin-hooked hooker, trafficked from some former Balkan hellhole, held hostage by a psycho pimp, will find much 'joyeux' about her enslavement in a Berwick Street bordello. What's that? 'Joyeux bordel', in this context, roughly translates as 'a jolly old mess'? Ah, I see. Given the potency of this new bar's universally fine but fatal fixes, 'jolly old mess' might jolly well describe your demeanour after a serious session within. A dishy, dark Deco-inspired dive-deluxe, it's the latest from Pierre-Charles Cros and Co whose other high-end Gallic gaffs include Chinatown’s ECC http://tinyurl.com/oh98en2, Covent Garden’s Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels http://tinyurl.com/l7ubopu and a string of Parisian hotties such as Prescription, Beef Club and Hotel Grand Pigalle. Priced from £9, well turned-out temptation includes the likes of Suze and chilli-spiked gin martini; Black Beard (two rums, Aperol, Fernet Branca and custom-distilled falernum); a mezcal and pink grapefruit margarita; and the bar’s rye and pear liqueur, chocolately, bittersweet eponymous house signature.  Soundtracked by vintage vinyl, this sophisticated hole-up is aimed at discerning flâneurs, if not Shoreditch's weekend invasion of Joey Essex boys, Hummer-borne hens and Tango-tanned slappers - their screeching like, diplomatically dismissed by JB's Monsieur le doorman, s’il vous plaît!
147 Curtain Road EC2A 3QE http://www.joyeuxbordel.com

(adapted from my review for Square Meal) 

Saturday, 1 August 2015

one two two, Mayfair

(now)

Will new cocktail lounge, one two two, be overflowing with filles de joie, I wonder? For wasn't Le Chabanais - the name of the bistro above whose chef is Inaki Aizpitarte (or not, according to Twitter gossips a mere two weeks after I visit) - once  Paris's most infamous bordello? From his Pigalle garret, my ancient syphilitic artiste copain confirms it was...until spoilsport French politicians - many of whom had happily enthusiastically embraced its inmates - closed all 'maisons closes' in 1946, branding them cesspits of bourgeois degeneracy. Pre-War, Le Chab accommodated painters, poets, hommes d'affaires, vaudeville vedettes, gangsters, dandies, breast-fondling barons and c***-licking counts - not to mention the odd Hollywood star who dared to swing bi' (bonjour Marlene Dietrich!) Grainy photos reveal décor as outrageously baroque as the appetites of its roué regulars. Not so, one two two, a  ferociously chic, dark, Bauhaus-inspired bunker where streamlined Art Deco ousts frills and furbelows. Its handsome focal point is a priapic prow-like counter, its back bar's sleek metal shelves stacked with high-end hooch and classic French apéritifs Byrrh, Picon, Lillet, Dolin and Gentiane. Run by one of the restaurant's co-owners, Franck Audoux -  a concombre-cool, (or gratingly Gallic, depending on your take on cocky French coqs) beau gosse - the bar heroes retro rinses that reference recipes popularised by hot-shot bartenders of the 1920’s/ 30’s - e.g. Frank Meier, for over 25 years in charge at The Paris Ritz. Try Tunnel, a negroni made with No.3 gin and both French and Italian vermouths; pineapple-infused Mezan rum sour, Barbaresque; or La Vie En Rose - a tequila and cherry liqueur fix named after the Edith Piaf chanson, the angsty warbler whose grand'mère (like nine out of ten of her contemporaries, it seems) reportedly also ran a knocking shop. Here, £14.50 - a price that would get you a blow-job down a cold Calais alley - secures Bertie, a cider brandy and Bénédictine Champagne cocktail named after the future Edward VII who, as Prince of Wales, had a penchant for bathing in Champagne at Le Chab' owner Madame Kelly's tub, a fantastical vision in the form of a sphinx (pictured). As a teenager on the loose à Paris, some of my more educative soirées began over kirs royales paid for by kindly grandes horizontales, Brassaï-esque brasses off-duty in Montparnasse brasseries. Given the parade of high class hoops-for-hire (or 'celebrities' as some glossy mags euphemistically refer to some of their number) who feather their fannies at the appropriately named Mount Street's designer boutiques, I'd hoped to be in debauched good company tonight. Few in number, my fellow tipplers appear to be of upstanding moral character. One two two? Tasty 'tails, but tame if you're drawn to wanton women on the game.
 8 Mount Street, W1 7491 7078   http://www.lechabanaislondon.com/


(then)

Friday, 31 July 2015

The Chesham Arms, Homerton


Three cheers for Andy Bird! Why? Because the co-owner of two of London's key cocktail bars  - Original Sin http://tinyurl.com/qet3kwa and Happiness Forgets http://tinyurl.com/7pv65xk - has only gone and prised an endangered taphouse from the snapping jaws of voracious predators. Bewitching clueless councillors with their promise of 'elegant urban village living', Public (house) Enemy No.1, the evil property developers, contrive to knock down London's built heritage faster than I can knock back No 3. gin martinis - (i.e. alarmingly quick). I weep buckets for the thousands of London boozers lost to these sharks and scheisters. In a small victory for Canute against the cnuts, in Mehetabel Road E9, the developers' loss is this close-knit enclave's gain. With its replanted lawned beer garden, The Chesham is now a fine community asset, the focal point of a handsome grid of chocolate box-perfect Victorian terraces. Bird's painstakingly collated salvaged furnishings - the bar's polished ash counter found on Gumtree and shipped from a defunct Derbyshire tavern; tuffet stools last produced circa Lonnie Donegan; an old Joanna for Mehetabel's answer to Mrs. Mills  - restores the Arms to how it probably looked around the same time Ena Sharples and Elsie Tanner first traded port and lemon-fuelled insults in another wee local up North. My nostalgia for pubs past doesn't, of course, extend to a fondness for warm Watney's beer, sickly Spanish Sauternes or luncheon meat slapped between two stale slices of Mother's Pride - standard issue in 1960 when God help the boy that dared to order a Babycham in any East End tavern...unless his name was Ronnie, the gay Kray. The born-again Chesham's pours include sterling stuff from Dark Star and Five Points; Salopian’s award-winning bitter, Darwin’s Original; classy, affordable, French vino and a great G and T or a Bloody Mary that's bigged up by Bird, not at all subjectively, as “London’s best.” Ditto, pork pie and other trad bar snacks, the only food on offer pending the autumn addition of a kitchen. “I loathe ‘gastropubs’ that flog bought-in lamb shank for £15 a pop” rails an angry Bird, promising a from-scratch plat du jour, quality charcuterie and cold cuts. Atta boy, Andy! Now, go support your local... while you still can!
15 Mehetabel Road E9 6DU 0793 695517 cheshamarms.com/ 


 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Terrace Bar at The Chesterfield, Mayfair


Being asked to list my top 10 London hotel bars is a challenge I find almost as impossible as declaring my favourite Sinatra tracks; there are just so many classics to choose from. I love hotel bars. Old and new. Odd, then, that despite The Chesterfield Hotel having been around for longer than that other old Mayfair fixture, Nancy Dell Olio, I'd never set foot in it until the other week when its PR invited me to its Gin and Tonic Experience. I'm not a massive G and T man - better Tanqueray 10, No.3 or (if I'm lucky) Beefeater Crown Jewel (a no-longer produced, rare red letter day treat) in a bone dry martini - but the Terrace Bar's table-side tasting / tutorial has to be one of London's best value deals, a steal at £22. Knowledgable staff suggest a flight of three top notch gins, picked according to the guest’s palate, each paired with its ideal tonic water and a sprinkle of its key botanicals and spices to accentuate the gin’s DNA: Martin Miller’s and Mediterranean Fever Tree, served with strawberry and crushed black pepper,one particularly harmonious marriage. Moreover, the Gin and Tonic Experience's custom-made presentation set (pictured above) is exquisite. As for the room the tasting takes place in, The Terrace Bar is the sort of place I imagine Lucky Lucan might haunt had Scotland Yard's most wanted Lord not vanished without trace on a murky November night in 1974, wanted for murder. All forest greens, froufrou swags, butch dark woods and tobacco leather and polished barmen, suave in crisp white tuxes, The Terrace Bar epitomises Establishment elegance; its style harking back to The Chesterfield's creation after WWII, when the hotel was formed from three town houses, each rich in history. Sir William Harcourt, The (Liberal) Chancellor of the Exchequer that, in 1894, introduced death duties ("boo!") was one former inhabitant, as was William IV's bit-on-the-side, the actress Dorothea Jordan, who bore him ten illegitimate sprogs in as many years; one of whom was the great-great-great-great-grandmother of the current MP for Witney - David William Donald "Call me Dave" Cameron. (Insert your own joke about Tory bastards). When the miserly monarch had the cheek to suggest a reduction in his brood mare's allowance, the exasperated luvvie handed the tight git a playbill on which her caustic scribble: 'no refunds after the rising of the curtain.' Far from fuddy-duddy, the Terrace Bar's cracking cocktail list mixes modern innovation and reasonably priced classics in equal measure. Served in a jolly yellow earthenware ‘hive’ over honeycomb ice (pictured below), the latest buzz is a summery vodka, limoncello and lavender flower sour, sweetened with honey gathered from the hotel's rooftop apiary’s 40,000 bumblebees.  Snacks - crab cakes and piquant welsh rarebit (offered gratis) - are on-the-money. Silver service is slick; efficient staff super-sweet and attentive. A pianist at a baby grand plays standards. "There's A Small Hotel"....and it's just "Too Marvellous For Words" as Sinatra sang it.
35 Charles Street W1J 5EB 7491 2622 www.chesterfieldmayfair.com



Saturday, 6 June 2015

Harlesden Picture Palace, Harlesden


Opened in 1912 when the year's silent movies included The Conquest Of The Pole; The Musketeers Of Pig Alley; and The Water Nymph, by the 1980s, The Harlesden Picture Palace was reduced to screening blue movies - Musketeer Pigs' Poles' Conquest Of The Water Nympho's Alley among them, no doubt. Latterly, the old flea pit's fate was to host a Wetherspoon's pub. Fortunately, the curtain has fallen on that turkey and The Picture Palace can once again expect a full house in its new incarnation as funky bar, a feature attraction in up-and-coming (I'm told) Harlesden. Owners Antic - whose stable of quirky suburban socials include Deptford Job Centre, Balham Bowls and Farr’s School of Dancing in Dalston - have restored the place to something like its Edwardian prime, with a liberal sprinkle of 50s styling and fascinating film memorabilia. Set under the original balcony, lit by art nouveau crystal chandeliers, a long rosewood bar’s hand-pulls dispense Ladbroke Grove microbrewer Moncada’s Notting Hill Amber, great stuff from from Redemption and the owners’ own craft beer, The Full Monty Volden. Democratically priced wine includes the ubiquitous Picpoul de Pinet at just shy of £20. DJs play until 1.30 am at weekends when funk, jazz, ska, soul and popcorn (obscure, cult 1960s pop as played in Belgian dance-halls) are in the mix. Burgers and sandwiches will be served whilst a full kitchen is installed, planned for autumn 2015. Another silver screen star idolised by the flea pits original customers was Mary Pickford who starred in over 30 films in 1912 alone. No sign here of the classic rum and pineapple cocktail created for her when she visited the Hotel Nacional in Havana with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, sadly
26 Manor Park Road NW10 4JJ 8965 4410www.harlesdenpicturepalace.com

adapted from my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Made In Brasil Boteco, Chalk Farm

I have never been to Brazil. Odd, given that any native I have met has invariably been sunny delight - no more so than the fun-lovin' trannies that hung out in a club I DJ'd in Paris when the weren't floggin' their fake fannies in the Bois de Boulogne. Another salad days stint, slinging hash in Downtown Manhattan's Sounds of Brasil, left me with a taste for feijoada, caipirinhas.... and the music. To Jorge Ben, a regular performer at the NYC diner/ dancehall, I learned to bossa and samba like a carioca; although some heavy lubin' of dem done-in lower limbs will be needed should you demand a demo. While carnival in Rio, and Niemeyer's modernist architectural gem Brasilia, are on my bucket list, for now, there's this new NW1 'boteco', a sister to Camden's original Made In Brasil. With over 12,000 found in Belo Horizonte alone, the boteco is a bar where street food is usually also served. Here, lurid airbrushed street art in a series of steamy saloons, and an all-weather verandah, provide a convincing backdrop for live bands and DJs spinning samba, bossa and mod beats Brazilian. The main draw? Juicy Rio-style rinses - tropical fruit-flavoured caipirinhas, all the more rewarding when offered at £4.50 on happy hour. With over 250 different brands, the bar boasts the biggest display of cachaça in Europe, I'm told. Discover Brazil’s national spirit in martinis such as Acai Berry or Cafezhino (£7.25) Made with juniper berries, crème de violette and maraschino -  Santos Dumont, named after the Brazilian flying machine inventor who astonished Parisians by looping the Eiffel Tower in 1901, is the bar's take on the Aviation. Order share platters from £15 and tuck into ‘petiscos' (tapas) such as cassava and salt beef balls, palm heart salad, peppered squid with aïoli, salt cod cakes, grilled halloumi and vegetable skewers that, fortunately, I am no longer forced to serve, to pay the rent on a cockroach-infested walk-up in Manhattan's Avenue A and 1st, a no-go, crack-fuelled, violent slum as dangerous as any Rio favela back in the day.
48 Chalk Farm Road NW1 8AJ 7267 4868 
(adapted from my review at www.squaremeal.co.uk )

 http://madeinbrasilboteco.com 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Jailbird, Kentish Town


Set in the bowels of its new Kentish Town branch, Joe’s Southern Kitchen's bar ‘makes the most of its history as a police station’s cells.’ A bare, bland, boring, blood-red, windowless box; hatch bar aside, ugly, backlit swing doors, the room's main feature; tinny-sounding 80s hairbrush diva pop instead of the promised Northern soul, blues and rockabilly: you reckon, guys? One staff member claims they ‘are working on the decor.’ Hmm. Work also needs to be done on a cocktail list that our perplexed waitress admits is “very girly.” Judging by joyless jam jar serve Maple Pie (Jim Beam Maple, lemon, apple juice and ‘apple pie syrup’), cloyingly sweet julep, Kentucky Cousin, and an £8.50 Bulleit ‘Bullish Negroni’ that left us distinctly bearish, the girl that inspired it is sad-arse Southern twerker, Miley Cyrus. Picklebacks, Brooklyn lager and £5 margaritas may keep some boys happy but this boy can't help thinking this soulless pit is no improvement on poitin-serving Irish speakeasy Shebeen, Jailbird's predecessor. We pass on wings, hot dogs, mac’n’cheese and pulled pork bun on the basis that the popcorn shrimp we do order has somehow morphed into chewy Chinese-style fish balls by the time it reaches us. "That is how popcorn shrimp should be" imagines our server. Yeh, and my name's Aileen Wournos! Before my inner serial killer is unleashed, we bust loose: a night in a real slammer could be no worse than my brief incarceration at Jailbird...so long as a bent bobby slipped me a bottle of JB, a bacon butty and a cashmere blanket. 

300 Kentish Town Road NW5 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Demon And Wise/ The Arbitrager, The City


Hiding behind The Old Lady Of Threadneedle Street's skirts, new bar The Arbitrager is considerably smaller than I imagine the average oligarch's bank vault or Tom Cruise's closet to be. An arbitrager is traditionally a bod who deals in bonds, shares, commodities and the likes. The stock to buy into at this Square Mile bar-ette is liquid gold, as in a dozen or so doable London brews from the likes of Beavertown, Crate and Brixton to slake parched traders' thirsts. "Sold to the man in the bowler hat" for around the price of two shares in Barclays Plc (263p a piece as markets stand today). I'm more interested in investing in what lies below, however. Demon and Wise, the Arb's sister bar in the next door basement specialises in cocktails. When I visit at 9.30pm-ish, 95% of its demob-happy punters have pushed off, probably pished, to catch trains home to Hemel, Horsham, Hatfield and Hell, leaving this steamy (as in overheated) Steampunk Barbarella basement to me, an even older old soak (yes, such vampires do exist) and two simpatico Italian barkeeps - one of whom is clearly barking, having relocated to Barking or some such sad slum from Sardinia, such is Londra's lure in the eyes of the sort of young EUers UKIP would rather we not host. D+W is owned by The Hide, that useful hoochy hole-up in SE1. Prices, however, are more mohair and silk pinstripe than Bermondsey barrow boy at £11 (plus service) for my Monkey Shoulder-based Blood and Sand or a Tapatio Blanco-informed Flamingo from a list that is big on London gin: Portobello Road No.171 the preferred pour in Champagne-informed twisted G and T, Market Maker. Other recipes rope in rare and vintage Armagnac, malt whisky and the likes of Martini Gran Lusso; but at £16 +, such exotica will leave me in the red at Barclays. If only I'd stuck to my first ever job - something in the City - I could have bought this bar fifty times over by now or, like old boy on the next school, be hanging on in there for a gold-plated carriage clock before retiring to watch reruns of Four In A Bed, permanently bladdered in a Broadstairs bungalow.

27A Throgmorton Street, EC2N 2AN 3774 7654 www.demonandwise.co.uk 

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Dundee Arms, Bethnal Green


I'd often passed by The Dundee Arms without ever setting foot inside. Why would I? I don't fantasise about chavs as championed by porno peddlers, Triga; nor am I a pitbull fancier. That's as in your average EDL voter's canine chum, by the way; the Florida rapper is pretty Bon Bon in my book. Any trackie bottoms and shell suit tops spotted at The Dundee today are likely to be worn by the fiercely fashionable; 80s Brookside Scally is a hawt Hackney look reckons a stylist friend. Saved from the clutches of greedy property developers (praise be!), this Victorian boozer has got its mojo back, rescued by the peeps behind The Empress at Victoria Park and the Crooked Billet in Clapton. Original wooden bar counter, glorious glazed tiles and remnants of old wallpapers retained, lit by Eames era ceiling lights, moody and macho in cerulean blue and Bovril tones, the deconstructed, downplayed Dundee is a Cockney looker. Craft beers on tap represent the new East End. Expect the likes of Truman's Zephyr and Redchurch Shoreditch Blonde plus tasty stuff from Redwell of Norwich and Dulwich micro', Clouded Minds. Wines come in four colours: red, white or rosé at £16 and 'orange' (upmarket white rioja, more 'straw' in colour, at £28). Behind his counter, a Tales of the Riverbank-ish mustachioed magnificent - hot of the boat from Brooklyn by the sound of him -  talks me through the food. Dundee's most famous son is hirsute hipster Desperate Dan. The cow pie-scoffing cartoon hero might not go a bundle on the sole hot option, but raclette, spring onion and truffle oil toastie is fine and Dandy by me.
339 Cambridge Heath Road E2 9LH  https://www.facebook.com/e2dundeearms 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Natural Philosopher, Hackney


It would be easy to walk past The Natural Philosopher, mistaking its shop window for another East End bric-a-brac emporium peddling retro tat aimed at London Fields poseurs' postmodernist pads. Downstairs, beyond a reception area's rococo geegaws and avian taxidermy - Corrie Steve's Street Cars office as imagined by Tim Burton - lies Dalston members club Manero's new liquor lounge. First however, I'm urged to inspect an anteroom that houses what must be The East End's smallest "museum." Piled on shelves, ten-feet high, is owner/ curator James Manero's collection of computers, myriad Macs dating back to the earliest commercially available examples. Apple anoraks will be fascinated. Anyone under the age of 30 might wonder how we managed in our jobs pre-Jobs. (Search 'IBM Selectric' 'carbon paper' 'jammed keys' and 'abacus'). Me? I'm instantly stressed out by the prospect of the very same Performas and Power Macs that, for all their shiny, sophisticated Californian state-of-the-art promise, would end in hissy fits as two weeks worth of work - my relationship with the floppy notoriously sloppy - were lost as 'bombs' that were definitely not "da bomb" appeared and the dreaded Sad Mac Face (pictured) indicated my much admired hardware was now about as useful as a five year-old Big Mac®. Talk about expensive landfill! Downstairs, the laid-back Natural Philosopher's living room-sized cocktail lounge is served by a funky, deep, sunken bar to one end, its tenders' heads barely visible above the surround that separates it from their customers. Step away from the ledge, Squiffy McGee! Falling face down into a mixologists' mosh pit is a social fail. Such shame should be rare: the house has a table-service only policy. A launch night menu, limited to a quartet of cocktails (normally £9), throws up a couple of hits: summery gin sour, Lord Kelvin and Zabarella, a cardamom-infused Ocho tequila and pomegranate margarita. The house signature is the Parmenides. Well-executed and attractively presented perhaps, but the lure of brandy, yellow Chartreuse, absinthe bitters and white wine is all Greek to me. There again, when I was at school in the first century AD, my favourite tutor was another ancient Athenian philosopher, Agrippa The Skeptic.
489 Hackney Road E2

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Blue Boat, Hammersmith


I despise the profit-driven developers that are wrecking London's riverside with their gauche gulagsSt. George, patron saint of postmodernist pony and trap architecture was the company responsible for throwing up, inter alia, the hideous high-rise hive (pictured below) whose grotesque bulk, looming like the gates to Hades on the southwest side of Vauxhall Bridge, still makes me gasp, appalled and incredulous. Too bad the bloody dragon didn't burn old George to a crisp. The holy sainted builder's latest designer dwellings/ aspirational bollocks  - at Fulham Reach - are, by comparison, relatively innocuous. At the brand new Fuller's pub and dining rooms that sits at Fulham Reach's cynical new-build heart, mollified by a bottle of house white (£19), by the misty moonlight of a spring evening by the Thames, pastiche Victorian warehouse - all luxe loft living upholstered chez Roche Bobois and Smegs stashed with Waitrose tiramisu and Taittinger - almost begins to look like an attractive lifestyle option. Its name inspired by the annual varsity waterborne grudge match that will presently flash by, in a blink, en route from Putney Bridge to its Mortlake conclusion. The Blue Boat is sure to prove popular then and, especially, come summer. For that's when its vast sun-trap belvedere terrace, far-removed from all traffic, will be chocca with Chukka Umunna and James Cracknell lookalikes who can well afford pads priced up to £2 million+. Indoors, Oxbridge circa Brideshead Revisited, all natty nautical styling, sets the not unappealing scene for an all-day menu of decent modern Brit-Med pub grub. Jerusalem artichoke soup and cod loin, chorizo and tomato stew will do nicely at £22 for both. All told, with local brewer Fuller's ales, Frontier, ESB and London Pride on tap, there's much to put a smile on my boat race here. But not a word to George!
Distillery Road, W6 9RU 3092 2090 www.theblueboat.co.uk 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Cahoots, Soho

Duncan Stirling and Charlie Gilkes do love a theme bar. The pair owns Made In Chelsea magnets such as Bunga Bunga (bottom-pincher-plagued cheesy Neapolitan 1950s pizza parlour), Bart's (Val de Sloane Square après-ski chalet shindig) and Mr. Fogg's (Victorian voyager's Mayfair town 'hice' or tweedy 30s-throwback MP Jacob Rees-Mogg's gaff, I can never quite decide). Their latest wheeze replaces what was the no-less heavily staged DISCO (Cahoots' self-explanatory 70s-style predecessor, sadly, nowhere near as dangerously debauched as Studio 54, as this tearaway teen remembers it). So convincing is the mise-en-scène that is the venue's entrance - flagged up by a sign that says "To The Trains", accessed via a wooden escalator that leads to a ticket office manned by the first of various period-piece extras straight out of Foyle's War - foreign tourists are convinced Kingly Court Station is actually part of the London Underground network. If it were a station, it would be on the Party Line; for here's a morale-boosting knees-up in a full-blown recreation of a Tube station (complete with old Bakerloo line carriage) circa Biggin Hill and Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs Of Dover. Van-loads of vintage props set the scene and, when I drop in, some game birds have gaily entered into the spirit by dressing in 40s mufti, presumably in the hope of attracting a GI who will cover them with Hershey's kisses, shower them with cologne, Helena Rubenstein rouge and Nylons and whisk them away from bombed-out London to a lovely new life as a Housewife of New Jersey. My gimlet eyes, of course, see this barmy bunker for the charade it is. Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr. Stirling? In wartime Blighty, you'd be lucky to find Camp coffee - as in sickly sweet ersatz alternative, not espresso served by some queer bugger debarred from service lest he become the barrack-room bike. Here, you're on for cracking classic and contemporary cocktails billed as 'starlets and sirens' and 'wide-boys and good-time girls, all served - neat touch! - with free rations of ham and pickle cut-up sarnies in army issue tins. What's more, the two brooding Continental chaps charged with martini-making would certainly not be employed behind Cahoots' bar, rather charged and slung behind a POW camp's bars; "Wops" - "Italians" to you - being shamefully allied to those spiffingly attired but thoroughly beastly Nazis back in 1941. Any internment in this camp caper is no hardship, what with decent drinks and jitterbugging to Glenn Miller's In The Mood with hunky Hank from Hoboken NJ to keep you amused. Welcome to The Blitz... if not quite as the late lamented Steve Strange imagined it! 
13 Kingly Court W1B 5PW www.facebook.com/cahootslondon





Monday, 16 March 2015

The Vault at Milroy's, Soho


Like The Gay Hussar - a stagnant old Hungarian restaurant that seems stuck in the same year Soviet tanks crushed the fledgeling revolution in Budapest, 1956 - whisky merchants Milroy's, next door, is a Soho institution - albeit a less senior one, opened in 1964. With closure looming, the Hussar's campaign look to be over. Not so Milroy's. Now in the hands of Simo, its 20-something rapscallion new owner who previously ran the short-lived Coal Vaults on Wardour Street, Milroy's 2015 offers a reinvigorated vision of what went before. Sample some of the 250+ whiskies stocked at the stripped-back Georgian shop's ground floor bar's copper counter and then penetrate deeper. For what is brand new here, is The Vault. Follow resident mutt Chester through a door in a fake bookcase, downstairs to a converted stockroom, now a rough-around-the-edges liquor lair with a small bar, leather chesterfields and the Barrel Room (pictured below), a handsome piratical salon privé lined in warm wood. Folderol-free fixes include a Dutch whiskey old fashioned and Smoking Gun (pictured above), a lethal mix of corn whiskey, Oloroso and Earl Grey tincture in a wood chip-smoked martini glass. For uisge beatha avoiders, my top tips are a Mezcalito served over a blood orange ice cube, in a black sea salt-rimmed glass, and vodka, port, Campari berry and pomegranate sour, Tutti Frutti (£9.50). Cold cuts and cheese platters are available and a 60s Brit-beat, bubblegum, Northern and Tamla playlist could have been filched from my iPad. Raw, honest and with on-the-money mixes, Milroy's is a Soho whisky seller/ soul cellar to savour.    
3 Greek Street W1D 4NX 7734 2277 http://www.milroys.co.uk 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Fontaine's, Stoke Newington












"You look like an old man cut-down!" My father's withering assessment of my attempt at a young Frank Sinatra hits Havana. To his Austin Reed-attuned eyes, dressing in some Yank's cast-off 1940s cream tux, midnight blue Oxford bags and jazzy rayon palm print shirt was anathema - no matter that, days before, L'Uomo Vogue had snapped me in said look for a 'Londra Trend' feature. Hard to imagine now, but wearing "smelly", "old", second-hand clothes, some from an Edinburgh junk shop run by Mrs Doubtfire (yes, she inspired Robin William's character), as I first did in my student days, was then considered downright weird. 'Vintage' is, of course, big business today, but where to show off when you're channelling Ava Gardner as Gilda, if you get it right or Father Ted's Mrs Doyle if you don't? Try Fontaine's, a new retro-styled bar whose unofficial PR is, tellingly, http://www.diaryofavintagegirl.com 's Fleur McGerr. All 1930s cream upholstery, Odeon foyer art deco with bronze Egyptian palms, here's a film set for a duet featuring Fred and Ginger. Appropriately period cocktails include Aviation, Clover Club and Singapore Sling. Hollywood Hills silver screen era, silver tray staples include oysters Kilpatrick, smoked salmon and caviar blinis and Bellinis. In a tiki bar downstairs, the vibe is more Marlene Dietrich sings Hot Voodoo - hers, a lurid look that will get you odd looks at your local All Bar One. Vamping up, vintage-style, for cocktail hour is to be encouraged in these super-dull Superdry days. Choosing an appropriate backdrop is key. This Stokey belter fits the bill.
176 Stoke Newington High Road N16 7UY https://www.facebook.com/fontaineslondon 


Monday, 9 March 2015

Sovereign Loss, Brixton

After The Dance - torrid sessions at The Fridge, a full-on anything-goes nightclub - we'd limbo low under a metal roll-down shutter on Railton Road. Granted access - God knows why - by a couple of grim Yardie guardians to a secret scene that recreated the cover of Marvin Gaye's sexy seminal album, I Want You, we'd crub with the best of them to Gregory Issacs, Shabba Ranks and other reggae ragamuffins. Back in the day, Brixton was peppered with West Indian-run illegal drinking dens (known as ‘shebeens’ from the Irish term for moonshine whiskey). This was long before today's London's groove-jets fell for the more vanilla thrill of drinking in pastiche Prohibition-era speakeasies - pretty much the vibe at Sovereign Loss. Moody, penumbral and affectedly louche, welcome to an Edward Hopper-esque gin joint to be found behind a door marked ‘trade entrance’ round the back of The Prince of Wales pub. Journalist, Corpse Reviver, El Presidente and Metropole cocktail (a brandy-based Manhattan named after a notorious 1900s Times Square hotel frequented by scarlet women), co-owner Chris Dennis (ex-ZTH, Clerkenwell) and his enthusiastic young team are happy to mix reasonably priced martinis, old fashioneds and revisited classics until daybreak: a covetable 24-hour licence allows the Art Deco-inspired saloon to stay open until as late as 5am at weekends; ideal for nightcaps after a bar crawl on Brixton’s increasingly interesting cocktail scene. 
467 - 469 Brixton Road SW9 8HH sovereignloss.com  

(adapted from my review for www.squaremeal.co.uk )

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Doll's House, Islington

(scarier still than talking waxwork Sharon Osbourne)

London is being sucked dry by vampires; spivs who would bury their own mother under the foundations of their designer developments if it'd secure planning permission (invariably granted by craven councils). The latest victims of this greedy builder breed are Adam and Katy - the sweet young owners of The Doll's House. Unceremoniously turfed out of their HQ to make way for more of the ticky-tacky £1.5 million + boxes that will ultimately rid Hoxton of what little edge it still retains, the couple have wasted no time in securing a new billet in the champagne-swigging socialist republic of Islington. Its bare bones still recognisable, they've titivated what was the House of Wolf - a bar that was about as entertaining as Wolf Hall, the BBC's turgid Tudor yawn. Whether Henry VIII, played unconvincingly by local-ish lad Damien Lewis, will drop in for wenching, wine and winin' the royal rump to rare groove, soul and live jazz until cock crow remains to be seen. If he does, and brings along cast member Claire Foy (aka Anne Boleyn), they'll find generously poured classics that include espresso martini and a good whisky sour. Getting off your head on old fashioneds beats the old fashioned fate that awaits poor Claire/ Anne back on set where, I can exclusively reveal, she's about to be axed. A boyhood fling with Action Man and a brief flirtation with voodoo figurines and pins before I grasped the concept of karma (apolz to you - now obese, bald, bankrupt and still looking for Mr Right! LOL), I'm not the sort of big girl's blouse that's big into Fashion Barbie. Indeed, since unwisely watching The Twilight Zone in a cockroachy New York hovel, off my tits and on my tod one night, I've been deeply dubious about all dolls' intentions. See Talky Tina in action here http://tinyurl.com/ljmchcf and tremble as she tops Telly Savalas. Clearly, that doll is no Pussycat.  Thankfully, Tina the tormentor allows me safe passage on steep stairs from the Doll's House's attic bar (the cutest of three on offer). I waltz off into the night leaving her posse to party until 4am while Sindy and Tressy bitch about how Ken is way too kool for that Botoxed plastic American tramp he's dating.
181 Upper Street N1 1RQ www.thedollshouse.org