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Saturday, 26 November 2016

Spiritland, King's Cross

Following an initial residency at Angela Hartnett’s Merchants Tavern, Paul Noble, Patrick Clayton-Malone and Dominic Lake take their music appreciation concept to the next level with this classy King’s Cross audio and record store/ listening lounge/ cafe/ bar/ chill-out. With the drop-dead cred' likes of Severino, Andy Weatherall, Patrick Forge, Ian Dewhirst and Jarvis Cocker playing vinyl on its peerless bespoke-built analogue system, Spiritland is manna to music lovers whose lugs and frontal lobes embrace all genres and eras. Food is overseen by Owen Kenworthy (Blueprint Cafe, ex-Brawn). Go early for morning coffee and pastries and NYC-London brunch staples followed by an all day menu that might typically offer chicken soup with matzo balls, salt beef or pesto caprese sandwich, aubergine parmigiana, a  daily pasta dish, salads, sausage roll, charcuterie and cheeses. Choose from three dozen wines from £25 (Southern Rhône red)  and Thornbridge Chiron on tap among other local and imported craft beers. £10 cocktails include Sakamoto Sorbet (Brooklyn Gin, limoncello, basil and Belsazar white vermouth) and Deez Nuts, a Ron Abuelo 7, smoked rosemary, toasted pecan and bitter chocolate jazzy old fashioned to accompany Ella, Billie, Dinah and the Blue Note boys.
Granary Square, 9 - 10 Stable Street N1C 4AB 

Zelman Drinks, Finsbury Park

Gagging for a gargle, stuck in cattle truck conditions on the Victoria Line? Alight at Finsbury Park where the crew behind Burger and Lobster, Goodman, Beast and Zelman Meats ( Soho and Harvey Nichols) have opened a lo-fi loafers’ lounge at what was The Silver Bullet (an indie music venue that, from December 2016, is set to rock Seven Sisters). Post-industrial distressed decor and an on-point mash-up of  rocky, retro, funk, electro and Balearic beats pumped through a kick-ass sound system set the scene for heritage cocktails such as Penicillin, Negroni Sbagliato and Southside Royal (£7.50) and East 8 Hold-Up; the latter, a vodka Aperol, pineapple and passion fruit modern London classic conceived by Kevin Armstrong (Satan’s Whiskers/ Silk Stockings) after his chum was mugged while in full flow, so to speak, late one night in Hackney! On a sweet tip, Dublin Brace Up calls for stout, whiskey, condensed milk and gingerbread syrup. Alternatively, order wines on tap and various Beavertown brews. Korean-style hot wings, mac’n’cheese, sliders, spit roasted pork belly with cheesy grits, or bitterballen (Dutch meatballs) with mustard are what to scoff as Finsbury Park parties until  as late as 4am at the weekend.
5 Station Place, N4 2DH 7842 8523

Friday, 25 November 2016

Sakagura, Mayfair

The Land of the Rising Sun’s national tipples of choice, saké - essentially wine made by fermenting polished rice - and its stronger cousin shochu - principally distilled from barley, buckwheat, sweet potato or sugar cane as well as from rice - are very much a niche taste among London drinkers. At this chic new Japanese restaurant, knowledgeable (Italian) staff enlighten you on the finer points of the drinks properties, heritage and culture. Sakagura (literally, ‘saké cellar’) stocks over 60 of the country’s finest saké, shochu and umeshu (plum wine) available by the glass, carafe or bottle at up to a sobering £1,000. Matured in cedar casks, creamy-sweet gekkeikan tarusaka, entry level at around £5.50 a glass, works well with assorted sahsimi, one of various bar snacks such as Wagyu beef, fresh velvety tuna tartare and tender chicken and burdock root skewers. Served with daikon (radish) and konbu dashi (savoury) dipping sauce, vegetable tempura that is dense and bland strikes the only dud note. The Japanese are also mad keen on whisky; a dozen or so indigenous distillations the base, here, for various highballs and well-balanced cocktails. At £13, Whisky Risky (Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve, saké, green Chartreuse, mint and yuzu bitters, pictured below) is a risk well worth taking. Saké, rather than gin, in a barrel-aged Nipppon-style Negroni makes for a lighter take on the Italian original. Japanese craft beers and spontaneous origami demonstrations are further reason to prop up Sakagura’s elegant destination bar.

8 Heddon Street W1B 4BS 3405 7230

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

I  first visited Moscow when it was the capital of The Soviet Union. A grey, grindingly grim gulag populated by surly, downtrodden paupers in naff Nylon tracksuits, it felt only marginally to the left of Jeremy Corbyn's vision for a more egalitarian Britain. In terms of diet (ubiquitous fried sturgeon  tougher even than Nicola, Tsarina of Scotland), for a foodie, Moscow's only saving grace was its limitless stock of precious foreign exchange-earning luxury vodkas. It was only heroic intake of said bad boys that stopped my balls falling off en route to the Bolshoi whose thieving cloakroom babushkas would have happily sent a mate and me, like Zhivago and Lara, back out into the frigid windswept wasteland without the designer coats we had consigned to their care - cue a Cold War stand-off that saw World War III only narrowly avoided. Lately, Eastern Europe's signature tipple has been marginalised in London bars. But as the capital reaches 'peak gin,' I increasingly crave the clean hit of a textbook vodka martini. At the mezzanine bar at Samarkand, billed as London’s only Uzbek destination restaurant, there are over 100 premium brands from either side of the old Iron Curtain. But it's Russia that runs the show (natch). Served on a silver platter with a spoonful of caviar, a squid ink vodkatini uses Beluga Noble - entry level among a sterling selection that Russia's chest-puffing potato-faced Prez, Putin, can be truly proud prices that would make Roman Abramovich wince. The mark of a killer martini, Samarkand's acts as liquid cocaine to the brain. Sipped neat from delicate porcelain cups as custom dictates, a cedar nut-enhanced Siberian winter wheat vodka called Mamont, poured from a bottle shaped as a mammoth’s tusk, is another horny beast. Less obvious vodka producer nations’ finest specimens also bear investigation, however: D1 English potato vodka; Chase Islay Whisky Cask Aged Vodka from Scotland's Laphroaig distillery, and American maize-based organic Prairie vodka, not least among them. Other bases are available across a range of cocktails and service is a sweet as Sauvelle Crafted; a creamy rich vanilla and cherry blossom French wheat vodka distilled in a microbrewery in Cognac at £119 per bottle. What snacks we try - smoked aubergine puree and skewers of yellow fin tuna and flaccid yellow courgette with a bland sour cream dip - don't have me rushing to add a trip to Tashkent to my bucket list, unfortunately. Might that be why, on a Thursday evening in busy Fitzrovia, Samarkand is as deserted as the Steppes in January?

33 Charlotte Street WT 3RR 3871 4969

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Fox Bar, Brixton

This new Brixton booze bunker is in Piano House, a creative hub in a converted Victorian warehouse. I remember this dive from my one previous visit when it was Substation South, owned by Erik Yu (Opium/ Burlock/ 68 and Boston). With my fashion show producers hat on, I'd hired its DJ, Martin Confusion, to develop a trip-hop soundtrack for a client - Katharine Hamnett, if my memory serves me well. What I do distinctly remember was rocking up at the club to discuss ideas, only to find his gig was a raunchy gay uniform night. Not much was achieved: well, you try concentrating, surrounded by 'squaddies' in the noddy, hard at it on manoeuvres that are far from Geneva conventional! Having been totally transformed (and doused in bleach, I trust), the sometime sex-pit now hosts Soho House’s latest whizz; a drinking den inspired by the old taverns of Chicago, in which city the same group’s original Fox Bar is based on traditional English taverns, I'm told. Confused? Here’s the 411. Fox Bar sits in a narrow arch next door to a branch of Soho House’s Chicken Shop roll-out. There’s barely room for thirty souls in what feels like a sanitised take on the sort of joint Frankie Machine - the fly by night hero of Chicago novelist Nelson Algren’s The Man with the Golden Arm - might have drunk at with his dissolute buds before graduating to injecting his veins with something a little stronger than Banana Penicillin, one of the drinks on a list worked up by Soho House’s global creative bar manager, Tom Kerr. Other classy £8 fixes (pun intended) that might have been less detrimental to Frankie’s health than his class A intake include Old Pal (a Rittenhouse rye Negroni), Southside Collins, Boulevardier and Nitro (espresso) Martini, the latter two on tap. Chuck in chicken bits and craft beers; Brixton’s baddest will be quickly hooked.

Piano House, 9 Brighton Terrace SW9 8DJ Facebook Fox-Bar-Brixton

Monday, 14 November 2016

Every Cloud, Hackney

The Manhattan Project, the cocktail consultants that recently made a splash at Hawaiian joint POND (before the restaurant's fortunes took a dive and its owners shut up shop), have taken the plunge, branching out on their own just off Hackney’s main drag, Mare Street. Head honcho Felix is all for “strong drinks, low lights and good times” at his sweet, wee pineapple-themed bar-ette where “creeps” are persona non grata he says. Every Cloud’s silver lining is a list of off-the-wall innovations from £8 such as a 'Champagne Daiquiri’ that contains no actual Champagne, preferring instead lab-created acidic fizz that tastes like the real thing to some.  A gin, strawberry and Bahamian bitter bark spirit twist on a classic Negroni is described as “somewhere between vanilla Coke and cough syrup” which sounds a bit too close for comfort to my tweenage attempts at cocktail-making when Night Nurse, Vimto and a miniature of vodka nicked from the local Co-Opleft me puking into the porcelain. Equally off the wall Irish poitín potion, Blue Bán Group, is touted as the liquid equivalent of Violet Beauregard, the obnoxious brat in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory who is juiced by oompa loompas after she morphs into a giant blueberry. Blimey!

11 Morning Lane E9 6ND 07843 613628  

Three Sheets, Dalston

Set up by Mancunian brothers Noel and Max Venning, the latter a protégé of Tony Conigliaro, this austerely decorated, pint-sized lounge reminds me of Edward Hopper’s 1942 oil, Nighthawks. A few stool pigeons and and a couple of love birds are all it takes to fill the place. The bros’ well-judged drinks rely on the contents of a solitary shelve’s dialled-down supply. Short but long on interesting ideas, the cocktail list is refreshed each month according to season. Autumn's glory ( £8) comes in the shape of lightly floral Foraged Martini (pictured below): served wet with a tart edge, it calls for Beefeater gin, home-infused ‘leaf vermouth’ and a sprig of gypsophila. Other hits include a light take on classic gin job, French 75; the Vennings' recipe made with verjus, Moscato wine and orange flower carbonated and pre-batched. Pear And Pastis (it is what it says) is helped along by a slug of Reyka vodka and a hint of lemon. Plans B & C, should you be remotely interested, are a trio of Italian wines and Wiper and True IPA or Harbour Pils. The lovely local micro-bar is open in the daytime for coffee and cake or a hair of the dog should you have found yourself three sheets to the wind last night.

510b Kingsland Road E8 4AE

MNKY HSE, Mayfair

For a taste of the Mayfair lifestyle at a fraction of the cost, book a space in the bar in the bowels of MNKY HSE (BYO vowels) -  a ‘new breed of dining experience’ that heroes modern Latin American cuisine. Set to a FNKY MNKY soundtrack that gets a lot lot louder as the evening progresses, this  glossy gaff recalls the sort of early Noughties NYC nightspot Naomi Campbell, trailing paparazzi in her wake, might have plagued while the Sex and the City ladies, mainlining martinis, held a wake for yet another failed relationship. Dress as Naomi or Carrie's mucker Samantha's MUCH younger sisters; MNKY HSE is a catwalk already strutted by 'porn heiress' India Rose James; Pips Taylor; Weegee wailer Talia Storm; Kyle De Vole (Rita Ora's stylist, apparently); Henry Conway (a party fixture dubbed "Mince Charming" by a sometime mate of mine) and male mannequin Harvey Newton-Hadyon - the sort of fluttery young things drawn, as moths to a Vapona Strip, to Mayfair boîtes such as this. Model muddles and mixes on a South of the Border tip include a coffee martini - made, Jalisco-style, with Jaral de Berrio Mezcal, mole bitters, dark chocolate and rose dust - and a fine £13 passion fruit spume-layered Negroni manqué that calls for Mezcal Gin Joven. Ron Millonario XO Reserva Especial fix, MNKY Business (top left) - a subtle, smoky rum old fashioned - is flamboyantly produced from a glass flask shrouded in mist and much hot air from its maker about “the concept.” Another signature is called Taking The Pisco: cue Ace of Spades Gold Brut Champagne, for those (rappers, footballers, hedgies, pretentious pricks) happy to drop £850 a bottle or £1,450 on a magnum of bling-bauble bubbles. For those with more sense than money, house (Argentine) white is yours for more modest £26. Baltic blondes with Rylan Clark glow-in-the-dark teeth -  veneereal disease is sweeping London - will be relieved: tasty, teeny taco-ettes and fiddly fishy bites won’t interfere with the contours of a body-con black dress... but they may batter a bloke's Barclaycard. 

10 Dover Street W1S 4LQ 3870 4880

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Burlock, Marylebone

This new basement rum room -previously naff nightspot Noir -  across the street from Selfridges back door was set to be called The Plantation. But that was before pressure groups piped up: "Commemorate places where slaves suffered? How very dare Yu? That's 'Yu' as in Eric, the bar's personable egalitarian owner whose other joints include inscrutable Chinatown den, Opium, and 68 and Boston on Greek Street. In our prescriptive PC world, must we now also boycott Plantation rum? for that's the base for Burlock’s creamy, white, minty Grasshopper, one of various cracking Caribbean and Creole classic cocktails whose names are - purely by coincidence rather than by some dark design, I wager - equally controversial. Take 'Rum-Ember' The Maine; a Mezan XO rum twist on the 1930s whiskey classic whose unbastardised title references the sinking of a ship, the USS Maine, that proved to be the flashpoint for the Spanish-American War in which thousands perished. Or Canchanchara, a white rum antecedent of 20s gin job Bee’s Knees, a drink invented to fortify locals throughout Cuba's Ten Year War with Spain. Whatever! In Yu's darkened 30s Havana parlour whose decor was presumably bought on E-Bay from Fidel Castro’s granny, lock, stock and ahem, 'plantation' shutters (as flogged in the Mail on Sunday magazine, so utterly PC clearly) punters, oblivious to such PC considerations, dive in to fishbowls and jiggle to fat funky beats played by DJs who will doubtless risk having that po-faced Dame, Chami Chakrabarti, and pontificating left-wing puffball Diane Abbott down on them like a ton of bricks if they so much as reach for a track by 70s soul brothers, Slave.

31 Duke Street W1U 1LG 7935 3303