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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Searcys Champagne Bar, Paddington

Catching the 4.50 from Paddington circa 1957, Miss Marple would have been lucky to secure Camp coffee and a stale Bath bun at the station buffet. Fast forward to 2011, at the new Paddington Champagne Bar, the tweedy sleuth could get slewed on a bottle of vintage Dom Perignon, foie gras and macaroons for £160; roughly the same cost as a standard return to Bristol Temple Meads. Buoyed by the success of their fizz fountain at St. Pancras, caterers Searcys have homed in on another iconic terminus. Champagne and trains? It’s a fit, if you believe the marketing hype; rail travel is seen as a glamourous alternative to flying by the Jimmy Choo-choo set...and my name’s Isambard Kingdom Brunel! Have you ever sat, fuming,  outside Doncaster station 'due to a broken down train ahead of us', sweating like a glass blower's arse in a fetid carriage with no air con, gripey babies puking up on the tables, random nutters in cagoules trying to engage you in conversation and lardy overpainted Beryl Cook women on mobiles hollering 'I'm stoook ont' train, Marjorie luuuuuuv?' All this and a fifteen minute assault course to get to a buffet car that's out of everything except shortbread and chippy attitude? No thanks! Fair dos to Searcys tho'; there’s over a dozen bubbles by the flute from a not-greedy £8.50 here, Paddington Bear cocktails - sadly, without the furry one’s fave ingredient, marmalade - and traiteur-style treats. The bar, a streamlined art deco-inspired enclosure not unlike Searcys’s perma-packed outlet at Westfield, is at odds with its location, ‘The Lawn’ - some marketing clown’s hilarious euphemism for food court/ shopping mall. Visually incoherent, clattery, nerve-jangling; this hellish revenue-generating box is buzzed by the occasional pigeon. Poop on my Prada, pal, and Ma Marple will have the case of The Bird With The Wrung Neck to investigate. 
The Lawn, Paddington Station, W2  7993 3279

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Hed Kandi, Clapham (NOW CLOSED)

Occupying the unit vacated by the late Rinky Dink  on Clapham’s Hedonism Boulevard (aka the High Street), this is the celebrated house music label’s premier venture into the bar scene. The 6pm- ‘til late venue’s Ibiza 60s moderne, neon-lit, night-clubby decor is as stylised as Hed Kandi’s instantly recognisable CD artwork, blown up and used here as art. A dress code that stipulates ‘no bling/ no baseball caps/ no loud sportswear’ speaks volumes about who they don’t want to entertain, although the sight of Bianca Gascoigne and that duck-faced bimbo from The Only Way Essex (who can tell them apart?) the night I attend, might deter fussier types. Bottle service (that night-club pose again) is  significantly cheaper than West End prices: £65 (includes mixers) for Buffalo Trace. Cocktails such as  Kandi colada, coco’licious and twisted disco (a citrus and dark rum mule) at £6.50 reflect the 20-something party crowd’s tastes. Wines start at £13.95, champagne from £8.95 (Mumm): Wave your hands in the air and p-aaaa-rty. It's Hed-y stuff. Oi! No shagging that bird from Billericay with the Battenberg tan you just met; you're in genteel Cla'am, not Benidorm I'll have you know.  

38 Clapham High Street SW4 7UR 7627 1036

Taken from my review at 

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Venn St. Records, Clapham

There’s a musical slant to two recent Clapham openings. Ousting what was Rinky Dink, purveyors of holiday-in-E-beefa house, Hed Kandi, have launched their first ever bar. All Barbarella 60’s moderne, it’s as slick as a Joey Negro MP3 download. But, having recently re-invested in a Technics turntable - David Guetta, beware! - I’m nowadays more inclined to vinyl, the old skool theme spun at Venn St. Records at the common end of the high street. Take Rob’s record shop from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, light it neon red, cover the walls in collages clipped from vintage issues of Sounds and NME, throw in a buzzy bar, et voilà! Unlike Si’s sorry karaoke shenanigans, VSR genuinely has the X-Factor. My instant crush on this little neighbourhood sweetheart may owe much to hit £7 cocktails served 2-4-1 before 7pm, except on Saturday: Spun Agave, AC/Daiquiri and Raisins’N’Apricots (an apricot-infused bourbon and sherry Old Fashioned) top my chart and, in at No. 4 with a Bulleit (well, Jack Daniel's, to be pedantic) is minty, peary, apple-y Stairs Julep. Open until 1 am, occasional live music is provided by local duo, Redgrave, whose Kylie and Oasis covers, although listenable enough, suggest any debut album will not bother Buddy, The Beatles or other legends whose LP sleeves are displayed within. A barman tells me the vinyl is for sale. £10 secures a pot luck pick. I'd be gutted to get the Jackie Genova Aerobic Workout LP, prominent above the bar: I picked that up at Oxfam for my aunt  a few years back. Cost, 5p. 
78 Venn St SW4  7738 8645 

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Mason & Taylor, Shoreditch (NOW BREWDOG)

Over a dozen draughts and forty bottled craft beers and ciders are the tempting offer at new Shoreditch shout, Mason & Taylor, sister to The Duke of Wellington, Dalston. Instinctively, I gravitate to a list of ‘oddities’: Fraoch Heather, amber contentment at £4, and Kelpie,  a treacly seaweed stew that hints at dark, stormy, winter nights in coastal bothies in the wilds of Argyllshire - both from Williams Brothers of Alloa. There’s more interesting froth from as far afield as Ukraine and Brooklyn, while Bermondsey’s Kernel Porter, based on a Victorian recipe from Truman’s in nearby Brick Lane, is just one example of the venue’s support for the welcome revival of London’s artisan brewing tradition. What you won’t find here, is lager lout swill. Good news! Good too, are £3 - £6 small plates (please, not ‘British tapas’): addictive salt grilled Jerusalem artichokes; ham and egg; whitebait; (Toulouse) sausage and mash and fat boy puds served by attentive charmers. ‘Accentuate the positive’ is my New Year’s resolution, so, I have. What deserves a kicking is the architects’ ‘thorough redesign’ of what was once (and still looks uncannily like) Green & Red - minus that bar’s mellow Mexican cantina vibe. A 1960s Malibu beach blanket party soundtrack is totally at odds with a frigid, deconstructed, impersonal hard-edged, concrete shell. At a banquette booth (pictured above, nearly completed), facing a swinging door that ushers in blasts of Arctic air smokers pop in and out for a snout, I muse that The Beach Boy's Californian Girls would never know such a shivery plight. To be fair, our waiter offers us another pew. As the table much too close to its neighbour, we prefer our Siberian isolation and the chance to flaunt nifty parkas indoors. Mason & Taylor, then? Great beer, and if 1960s Brutalist Bulgarian bus station’s half-built cafeteria is your bag, wrap up warm and dive in!

51 - 55 Bethnal Green Road, E1 7749 9670

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Experimental Cocktail Club, Chinatown

Behind an anonymous, distressed door, lurking deep among Chinatown’s wonky wonton dens, lies a cool new speakeasy. For cookies fortunate enough to ascend its steep stairs, 2011 will be an auspicious year. Sweet or sour, drinks impress at the Experimental Cocktail Club. With a trio of quoted Parisian liquid lounges that includes Prescription in St. Germain to their credit, ECC’s owners decided to play les rosbifs at their own game: head honcho Pierre-Charles confiding in me, in a moment of uncharacteristically Gallic modesty, that London’s cocktail culture is streets ahead of the Parisian competition. Really? What rarified quaffs ECC’s friendly froggie ‘tenders pour would be perles before cochons in the majority of this city’s drinking troughs. House ‘experiments’, such as Autumn in Normandy (Dupont VSOP Calvados, cinnamon syrup, lemon juice and dry cider) and the twisted Sazerac-esque Ragtime, are blue chip investment at £10. So too, recipes accredited to hip North American bars. Try East Village New York hot spot Mayuhel’s tequila, mezcal, sherry and chilli blast ,Stone Raft, or order Havana: a sexy, smoky, cigar-infused bourbon deep throat thrill courtesy of Vancouver’s l’Abattoir, it's the ultimate way to get elegantly slaughtered at this art-deco-inspired, six-til-late-late duplex with its ambience feutrée and unpretentious boho early-adopters. We’re talking Milk and Honey minus the membership fee. ‘Vive la France!’
13 A Gerrard St W1 7434 3559