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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Ropewalk, Bermondsey

The dudes at Disappearing Dining Club have shoehorned a permanent cocktail bar into the Fagan-esque treasure trove that is the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Co in foodie enclave, Maltby Street. In artfully dodgy Dickensian surroundings where accents, tastes and, inevitably, prices are more New- than Old Bermondsey, settle in at a bar salvaged from a Victorian barge for the £8 likes of Diamond Black - a Rittenhouse rye, Calvados and Strega Manhattan and The Long Hello (a Cava cocktail made with apple brandy, elderflower liqueur and bitters) or a Plymouth sloe gin sour. There’s no food; customers are encouraged to bring in snacks (from any of the numerous stalls in the alleyway outside) to enjoy with Modus Hoperandi and Hiver Honey craft beer and Picpoul , Primitivo and similarly unpretentious vino by the glass and bottle. Parties can be accommodated in the atmospheric jumble of Ropewalk’s antiques-stuffed dining rooms, where the full Disappearing Dining Club experience is available both to customers who book in advance and at various ticketed events.
LASSCO, 41 Maltby Street SE1 3793 0202 

For more of my reviews, search 'bars' at 

Buster Mantis, Deptford

I'm with Simon Jenkins who, in the Evening Standard, regularly rails against the trashing of London's skyline. With that ugliest of blots on the landscape, Boris Johnson, as cheerleader-in-charge, tacky towers - 'planned' with no thought to scale, context or locality are - are going up faster than will the wall between Mexico and the USA should another greed-driven buffoon, Donald Trump, gain power. In which case... God bless America!  God save humankind! And "Allahu Akbar! At least those nukes Teheran and Daesh didn't have in their arsenal have turned those darned towers to dust!" Built not for the good of actual Londoners, the developers' odious erections are 'designed' for the enrichment of the spivs and money launderers (and complicit cash-guzzling councils) that are ripping the city's social fabric asunder with their state-sanctioned giant Ponzi scheme. Even gritty Deptford is not immune from the spread of cancerous concrete carbuncles. Gordon McGowan, phlegmatic Anglo-Jamaican owner of Buster Mantis (named after Sir Alex Bustamante, the British-born MP that became Jamaica’s first PM) worries about how the regeneration will impact his 'hood. Set in two previously derelict railway arches, his post-industrial, (late-night) DJ bar/ kitchen /arts and events space, unlike the 'luxury' apartments now rising in numbers around it, has both heart and soul, however. McGowan’s Caribbean upbringing is evident in his start-up's concise range of £7.50 cocktails that major on rum - Orange Dark and Stormy; Mama’s homemade punch; Lychee Mojito etc and Mad Ting, a gin, whisky and brandy island iced tea. A reasonable selection of wines, London craft beers (and Red Stripe, natch) work with pepper shrimp, wings or saltfish fritters with aïoli, followed by jerk chicken, rice and peas (£8.50), jackfruit burger or jerked pork belly, red bean puree and sweet potato mash all made with love. Film screenings and community-focussed events are set to follow. I pray there still is a community for Buster M to tap into once Deptford is re-populated with the kind of high-living clones that aspire to charmless chicken coops in grim gulags that recall 'a Moscow suburb' as Simon Jenkins rightly says. 
3 - 4 Resolution Way, SE8 4NT 8691 5191 

Friday, 22 January 2016

Caipirinha Bar at Cabana, Brixton

(one familiar face looks happy- Sandra from Gogglebox )

No sooner had the Champagne corks popped at midnight; 2016 began to shape up as an annus horribilis. "Serves you right for buying your Hogmanay fizz from The Co-Op, you cheapskate!" you snark. But at £16.99, or whatever its current offer price, Les Pionniers beats many a bigger Brut, I'll have you know. First upset: Michel Delpech, the French pop star that soundtracked my Blé En Herbe years, croaked his last. Next, the markets went into mega-meltdown mode; 'informed insider' punt on China as shonky as most everything those Asian a'holes mass produce; and then ..the unthinkable: BOWIE! Cue an emotional tsunami on a "Princess Di just died" scale; the slight difference being that Bowie's talent went far beyond rocking a frock and cleverly manipulating the media. Drawn or by coincidence; ostensibly to check out a new bar; I'm in Bowie's native Brixton, at the shrine to Ziggy (who'd surely scoff at such sentimentality) where a generation grieves the glue that held it together - the Thin White One's (truly) unique Sound and Vision. Can forty years really have passed - "sordid details following" - since this precocious show-off was excluded from prep school for showing up with a rainbow-died feather cut and a streaked face? My bronze shimmer, kingfisher blue and 'Flaming Flamingo" flash (courtesy of Miners and Rimmel from my sister's make-up bag) less The Prettiest Star, more a lad insane. The Golden Years - when I span the man at Boys Keep Swinging, a post-punk disco night I hosted at The Fridge, just yards from his makeshift memorial - dead and buried...or cremated, in his final brilliantly orchestrated act to prevent the mawkish media circus his funeral would have surely otherwise been. Tonight, I'll drown my Sorrow (his cover of The Merseys' hit, a personal favourite) and toast the Starman in caipirinhas in the Victorian bowels of Britain’s first purpose-built department store; the now-defunct  Bon Marché, the unlikely setting for a much needed blast of Brazilian sunshine in  sad SW9. At Cabana, surf boards as tables and Castrol oil drum as tub chairs - among the recycled furniture that benefits the poor of Brazil’s favelas - set the tropi-kitsch, beach bum scene for this mid-market chain’s standalone cocktail lounge. Here, the classic Rio cachaça cocktail comes in various fruity flavours along with Ipanema Iced Tea, boozy batidas, coladas and hurricanes such as Carmen Miranda and Red Parrot - juicy at £7.95 - and snacks of gloopy guacamole, salt and pepper squid, and crispy, melted cheese pastels. DJs spin electro-bossa and power samba and by 10pm, this Copacabana carnival is steaming. An excited girl is proudly showing off a selfie taken with Olly Murs. "Shame it wasn't Zayn!" sighs her friend. "Or Justin" adds another. In years to come, I imagine the girls will, like my chums, be just as inconsolable when the visionary, talented, truly original, not-at-all manufactured epoch-defining Messrs Malik and Bieber depart this mortal coil.
201 - 207 Ferndale Road SW9 8BE 7326 5760

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Ruby's Bar and Lounge, Dalston

Accessed down the same shonky staircase - as distinct from each other as the former premises they inhabit (a cheap chop suey joint and a naff Nigerian nightclub) - Tom Gibson’s conjoined dive bars are bang on the Dalston dollar. Turn left for anything from postmodern-ironic Snowballs (advocaat and lemonade with a maraschino cherry on top for 50s sophistication) to a spot-on Sipsmith Gibson in Gibson’s Peaky Blinders-era, peeling parlour; as sweet a snug as you’ll find in all N16. Turn right for a larger, booth-lined, party pit where the focus is on craft beers, European wines curated by Clapton oenophiles Verden, and street food residencies such as Hanoi Kitchen, purveyors of soft shell crab, maki rolls and chargrilled lemongrass grilled lamb chops. Launched in January 2016, the newer room’s low-rent 1960s working men’s club vibe - complete with bingo apparatus, a stage for live music, sundry turns, and DJs dropping retro rock and decent disco on a kick-ass system at weekends - pays homage to sadly no-more Mecca dance hall, The Tottenham Royal (pictured in its prime), where Gibson’s grandparents Twisted to The Dave Clark Five and to Beatles’ songs, he tells me. At their grandson's rebooted gaff, anticipate A Hard Day’s Night that will leave you in Bits And Pieces. 
72 - 76 Stoke Newington Road N16 7XB

Relive it here: 

original review at

Monday, 18 January 2016

House of Ho; Fitzrovia

Now v Then

The long ascent of this rickety Fitzrovia townhouse’s winding staircase used to be rewarded with drinks in what was the raffish Red Bar at Bam-Bou. So skew-whiff were the escalier's treads (they still are), the descent was (is) fraught with danger for the well-irrigated unwary. Not that I'll be hanging around long enough to get so tight as to risk such a downfall tonight at the Red Bar's successor: I don't dig this room. All bland woods and pear green upholstery, tthe attic lounge at House of Ho is less crop top and bronze spray-on batty rider-workin' Asian resort ho', more ho-hum Brum circa 1991. If this is a taste of Vietnam with a modern twist’, gimme the pre-75 look. If I were management, I'd Napalm the room and go for The Fall of Saigon. Fortunately, this Ho’s cocktails aren't as humdrum as her threads. Pick a base spirit and dive in! Whisky fanciers will do well to order Hibiki, Ardbeg, matcha tea, lemon and yuzu Cho Lon Sour. Tequila, infused with kaffir lime leaves, then bolstered with Czech herbal liqueur and lemongrass syrup makes for a similarly on-fleek (I'm down wit dem yoot, me!) East-West sour; while Ho La Da is a ho-li-day camp tropical muddle of mango, coconut, pineapple and Bacardi. Gin and sake with pineapple cordial informs a datable martini; at £16, it should also include a free lap-dance. Service is courteous and snacks of dumplings and spring rolls are fine with wines by the glass or Singha beer. In such a confined space, banging House music leaves me as shell-shocked as a GI at the height the Tet Offensive. 
1 Percy Street W1T 1DB 7323 9130

My original review is at 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

First Aid Box, Brixton

Unable to score a decent Dry Martini in Brixton in the 90s - although, Jah knows, you could score all other manner of skanky shit in Railton Road's shebeens BITD - so hacked off was my colonial friend Kitty, to London's shame, she upped sticks and fled back to South Africa where the bars were better, she said; opening her own on Jo'burg's Rocky Street, to prove a point. Thankfully, we've come a long long way since the Malibu and milk days (a 'cocktail' I was once offered on Coldharbour Lane) and Kitty's old crib is nowadays awash with great booze ops where the £9 price of a fix would fix you up with a rented flat for a month in Jo'Burg.
Not to be confused with Swedish songbirds First Aid Kit, First Aid Box - a similarly cool, indie outfit - is cocktail consultants Salts of The Earth’s kooky follow-up to Shrub and Shutter. As themes go, clinical (complete with syringes and plasma bags) is not entirely new; Damien Hirst got there first in the 90s. But FAB’s fab remedial rinses should ensure their little white box, unlike Hirst’s laughably hubristic, mercifully short-lived Pharmacy, does not also become a Sainsbury's Local. A selection called ‘Doctors Orders’ angles to offset the evils of alcohol with current health nut freak fave ingredients such as quinoa, royal honey and blueberries. Live dangerously with rococo rum’n’coco’ slurp, Jungle Fever or Campari-based smoking bittersweet sip, Coffee + Cigarettes, safe in the knowledge that classic cure-all, Penicillin is also available on prescription. In-patients’ diet sheet options include ceviche, beef carpaccio, superfood salads, quality charcuterie and artisan cheeses; not your NHS norm at this lovely lounge by Brockwell Park Lido
19 Dulwich Road SE24 0NG

Original review at

Friday, 8 January 2016

The City of Quebec, Marylebone

The Quebec first opened in the run-up to World War II. At the height of The Blitz (so, I'm reliably informed), "Hello sailor!" was a common greeting at this ancient queer beer bar, as one strand of London society cemented the Special Relationship with America - whose off-duty Marines and GIs had more to offer than chewing gum and silk stockings. Back in the day,  'gay' was an adjective restricted to describing the jaunty Jacqmar silk scarf Mrs. Miniver wore to jolly up her make-do-and-mend frock, fashioned from a pair of brown curtains. It looked like curtains too for The Quebec - threatened with a future as another faceless fast food joint - until owners Greene King stepped in and saved the old girl, splashing a six-figure sum on a make over that drags the Quebec's tired decor into the 21st Century (just).
 At a time when gay bars are going down faster than a fluffer on Sean Cody's porn star penis, it's a welcome reprieve for (Nelly) 'the elephant's graveyard' - as I've oft heard the place referred to on account of its core punters' seniority. Marvel, as mouthy slappers such as Lola Lasagne, Baga Chipz or Vanity Von Glow strut their stuff onstage. Still got it? Shake a leg to Dolly, Dusty, Donna and Madonna in the Quebec's downstairs disco, open until 3am at weekends. When I say 'shake a leg', I'm reminded of an evening - circa Kylie, Mel and Kim - when a forlorn Glaswegian pal asked me to escort him there. That's 'escort' as in chaperone; I don't accept Amex. Recently dumped (again), he was out on a bender, hoping to be under one before the night was through. A crinkly screamer hobbled over to chat up chuckee chum who, on a there-but-for-the- grace-of-God basis, decided to humour the poor thing. Motioning downwards, the gummy old queen piped up with “My strap-on is giving me gip. You won't mind if I take it off?” ...and duly does, propping  his prosthetic lower left limb up against our table. Chuckee (mortified): “Nae mair drink for you, hen! You’re fuckin' legless." By the time I took my leave of them, they looked mighty cosy but, to this day, Chuckee swears he did not fuck Legless. 
At the new old Quebec, butch it up with draught TT Landlord or try dolly cocktails shaken by 'Delicious Dave'' (pictured, below) - cheap by West End standards (the drinks, not Dave!)
 "You'll love the Dainty Damsel" (a Sipsmith damson vodka Bellini) maintains a bright-eyed staffer, mistaking me for TOWIE's Bobby Norris or Gok Wan ("Liberace, more like!" - Editor). She also reckons I'll like the "really good Prosecco." At £48 quid a pop, I should hope so. "Show me!" I say. She points to a bottle of Bollinger. OMG! Vada the dizzy polone! That's polari, by the way. "Polari?" you say. Ask Biggins, Barrymore, a retired Romford riah zhoosher, or some other gnarly ol' Nancy!
12 Old Quebec Street W1H 7AF
Photo: Greene King / Louise Jolley

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Libare Bar, Mayfair

Given the increasingly astronomical price of gent's tailoring, you'll need a stiff drink after a Savile Row suit fitting. Unless you are among the Kanye Wests of this world, in which case, the KarKrashian bling that nowadays infests once classy Bond Street (hello, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Dolce et al!) is more your style. Libare fits the bill. Part of D and D London’s major autumn 2015 refurbishment of Sartoria, the restaurant’s rebooted destination bar is as sharp as an Anderson and Sheppard whistle; albeit, its cut more Via Montenapoleane Milano than traditionally tweedy Mayfair. Park up on copper leather high stools at the marble-topped bar where Fellini-esque signori, sharp in Chartreuse velvet tuxedos, dispense aperitivo hour spritzes, seasonal Bellinis, twisted Negronis and liqueurs created by chef patron Francesco Mazzei. New room, new ideas: I like fennel-infused gin martini; a Mediterranean Mojito that adds basil and cherry tomato to the classic formula, and a deviant Smoked Bloody Mary that prefers Lagavulin 16 and Don Julio Blanco tequila to vodka, all good at £12. Order one of over a dozen by-the-glass wines from £5 with thinly sliced Italian hams and salumi. Bar food includes minestrone, veal in tuna sauce, anchovy and panzanella salad, Puglian barley bread with grilled vegetables plus sorbets, ices and pastries. ‘Libare’ translates as ‘to sip’. Sounds about right in such elegant surroundings.
Sartoria, 20 Savile Row W1S 3PR 7534 7000

Original review appears at

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Oriole, Smithfield

Oriole brings to mind a Beverley Hills supper club circa 1957. Set in a converted pub, deep under Smithfield meat market, here's the sort of rakish lounge wherein womanising louse Sinatra - as Pal Joey - would eye up his next piece of prime rump, all the while declaring unswerving commitment to his current filly mignonne. Raffish decor gets racy drinks to match…if you can discern the small print on Oriole’s fiddly, floridly descriptive, picture album menu: cue a Flashlight frenzy as phones are whipped out in unison at a table of my (ahem) peers. Inspired by the 7 Continents, served in quaint cups, strange bowls, potty pots, sea shells and glass toadstools, Oriole's out-there recipes rope in rogue ingredients. Iced Gouda, purple corn, shimeji crowns, damiana foam, green coffee dust and cork smoke? Good luck ordering that lot at Ocado, if you're keen to recreate 'em at home! Never less than intriguing, not all the bar's recherché rinses universally appeal to my picky posse. For every two hits - Cortez The Killer, a reposado tequila, balsamic vermouth and agave tonka syrup Manhattan, or tart gin job, Roman Holiday, (apricot and blood orange liqueurs, limoncello, tarragon, resin aperitif, plus ‘bamboo forest aroma’) - there’s Prairie Horn, a not-so-horny confusion of bourbon, Buffalo popcorn tea, prekese (a Ghanaian sweet medicinal syrup) and mustard foam. Served in a mental metal column (colon?) rimmed in hundreds and thousands, it’s a drinks blogger’s Instagram wet dream but, like another fix served in a cup daubed with sticky emulsion, it’s also a bastard to drink without resorting to a sooo not Sinatra straw! Asian-slanted bar food scores across-the-board high marks; top tuna tartare, sea bass and seared beef all good. Minor gripes aside - a LOUD blues combo more suited to a Camden boozer circa The Pogues, where an Earth Kitt-y cat would better suit the desired vibe - this follow-up to Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson’s award-winning Old Street speakeasy, Nightjar, by-and large lives up to pre-launch expectations. But rein in the trying-too-hard Lady Gaga garnishes, guys! As Coco Chanel said, "When accessorising, always take off the last thing you put on!" As the effortlessly stylish Sinatra demonstrated to perfection, "Nice and easy does it every time."
East Poultry Avenue EC1A 9LH 

The Gibson, Clerkenwell

Based on his wife and her equally comely sisters, published in Life magazine from the late 1890s onwards, artist Charles Dana Gibson’s iconic sketches of ‘The Gibson Girl’ defined America’s idealised vision of Belle Époque beauty. Around the same time - possibly in response to a challenge from the artist to improve on the traditional Dry Martini recipe - a New York barman substituted a pickled onion for the customary olive and The Gibson cocktail was born. You’ll find it (made with a selection of bespoke-pickled onions and pickles, no less!) and various classy twists on the same theme (such as legendary Scots-born barkeep Harry McElhone’s 1922 absinthe-laced Some Moth Cocktail) behind frosted glass windows, in the candlelit gloaming of this cute conversion of a Victorian corner tap-house from Marian Beke (previously at Nightjar) and Rusty Cerven (ditto The Connaught). An adventurous list has plenty of interest for gin refuseniks: Voodoo Rye, a pepper-infused Bulleit, Cajun BBQ syrup, melon puree, lemon and sweet basil, root beer mule, for instance. Monkey Kong (roast edamame-infused Monkey Shoulder whisky with mangosteen, rambutan and various sweet and sour flavourings is one of several complex and intriguing experiments that look to Asia now - as opposed to America, then - at this new Clerkenwell sweet spot, as good a gaff as any, hereabouts, in which to get nicely pickled.
44 Old Street EC1V 9AQ 7608 2774

Review first published on