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Friday, 28 June 2013

The Churchill Bar, Marylebone

"I'm afraid the bar is closed for a private party tonight" says flunky guarding its doors. "Good! I'm at the right place, then. Now find me a seat, please," I say, pushing past the nose he's just looked down. Maybe my whistle doesn't cut the mustard (serves me right for even thinking about Zara's sale rail) but if I could afford Savile Row tailoring, The Churchhill Hotel wouldn't be my first choice - or even tenth choice - when it comes to blowing a wad on wasabi sake-tinis (assuming its bar can run to one). Tonight, I join bona fide members of the Churchill dynasty, here to reccie its lavish refurb - chic minky taupe low-key luxe - and to greet their most famous relative, newly appeared on the bar's smoking terrace - a windswept affair, open onto Portman Square so passing sans culottes can see how the other half lives.  A dubious life-size bronze of Winston, parked up at a table, depicts the ex-PM indulging in his favourite pastimes - planning how to stick it up Herr Hitler's jackbooted jacksie, drinking like a fish, and smoking Hunters and Frankau Cuban cigars that cost more than a conscript on a Normandy beach would have earned in a week (had he not been riddled with bullets two minutes after disembarking). Yes, he died so you could  enjoy a Romeo Y Julieta Short Churchill (£18.50) with your Glenfarclas 1995 (£45) or cocktails from £12 at this 5 star Hyatt. Try Trafalgar Sour (Colonel Fox’s London dry gin, pear and greengage liqueurs with apple and lemon) or Ale Flip, a 17th Century revenant that combines cream, chestnut paste, spiced rum and goose egg to interesting effect. A rum and Calvados milky mix, meanwhile, is named after 1940s French film star Jean Gabin, the sort of stylish chap,I imagine, that would have felt more at home at Claridges - my destination after I load up here on free smoked salmon and cream cheese balls here and make sniffy door whore organise transport.

Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill, 30 Portman Square W1H 7BH 7486 1255 

100 Hoxton (and The Hoxton White Horse - Now Closed. See postscript), Hoxton

The excellent Happiness Forgets notwithstanding, I'm not much drawn to drinking around Hoxton Square these days, even less so IN Hoxton Square itself, a depressing urban patch that reminds me of Manhattan's Thompson Square before the East Village style mafia sanitised the old slum. A few hundred yards to the North of once-hot Hokky Square, lies Hoxton Market whose shabby East End streets, sprinkled with edgy looking flakes, remind me of my old haunt, Golborne Road off Portobello back before the Stella McCartney classes even knew where W10 was. The way gentrification is eating up grimier postcodes, and with recession-defying property prices spiralling, how long before anybody that isn't a hedge fund f***wit or an overpaid Town Hall pen-pusher is pushed out,  and Hull becomes London's latest hip hood? In the meantime, facing one another across the street, there's Hoxton White Horse and 100 Hoxton to enjoy. The old N1 nag that was Hoxton White Horse no longer looks destined for the knacker’s yard after some timely TLC. In fact, it's now looking every inch a winner, its gin jockeys cuter than My Little Pony. Pile in for wine at £20 and under, draught Meantime, a jukebox jam-packed with retro joy, Pieminster pies, board games and fun events such as speed listening (basically, speed dating with iPods and free cake) in the Horse’s soulful bluesy new whisky and rum bar downstairs, a sweet shoebox  that comes on like a nightclub in a Northern mining town around circa Red Rum’s first Grand National win. As I'm on the wagon, my bar bill is as low as any I've had since Disraeli's wake - 55p for a soda and lime. Imagine! 100 Hoxton, the new colt on the block, is also worth a gamble. A baby sister to  Zilouf’s on Upper Street, here’s a funky-as-you-like, no-frills, Bauhaus-inspired cocktail bar with a nice line in East-West grub. Go for mango and passionfruit caipiroska and They Came from the East (a Japanese whisky, and Chartreuse martini). Grub includes Thai cod cakes, Korean-style pan-fried duck and sago pud with fresh fruit. Japanese martinis?  Korean style pan-fried duck? If they get wind of it, expect Space NK, Carluccio's and another ruddy branch of All Saints to open before you can finish your espresso.
Hoxton White Horse 153 Hoxton Street N1 6PJ 7729 8512
100 Hoxton, 100 - 102 Hoxton Street, N1 6SG 7729 1444

Photo: Ben Sutherland

PS: NEWS JULY 2013 Hoxton White House has closed. It will become Lyan Bar in September 2103 (see new review) 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Windsor Castle, Kensington

An old lady friend of mine has undergone cosmetic surgery. Tonight, I'm visiting The Windsor Castle again now the bandages are off. A listed atmospheric charmer, in its current guise, it has been serving genteel Kensington folk since 1835 - but there's been a tavern on the site since Shakespeare was a boy. Had the new dining room been around in his day,  dinner within might have been the inspiration for the bard's work. The Merry Wives of Windsor? A Comedy Of Errors, more like, performed by waiters whose roustabout routine lapses into farce at times. "Does anyone have a torch? I've dropped a £1 coin on the floor," pleads one. Having taken it barely seconds before, another waiter is back to ask what we ordered as "the ticket got lost between here and the kitchen." "You wanted rosé. This is red wine," beams same bright spark later, before exiting stage left. Behind us, a table of angry 'regulars'  pointedly deducts the 'service' charge. Another exasperated patron reckons Basil Fawlty must be in charge and, on and on it goes, like Hamlet, a tragedy in five acts. On a balmy evening, with a warm breeze blowing in from the busy, NOISY garden, our food is no Midsummer Night's Dream either.  On an ambitiously priced menu, quality ales are suggested to match each of 8 starters and six mains - Curious Brew an apposite choice for a most curious over-sweet/ under-seasoned pea soup that's poured from its serving jug, carelessly sloshed over (courtesy of that waiter again) a pointless 'soft-boiled' egg placed at its centre. The eye-bothering result is green gloop that brings back childhood memories of my father clearing frog spawn from his garden's unappetising soupy pond. My date's ham hock terrine is bland, its piccalilli insipid, seasonal leaves savagely a-salted by a thuggish dressing. Better, as it ought to be at £19, is attractively presented individual rabbit and crayfish puff pastry pie. Decent mash and al dente green beans, too. Pedestrian chips and astringent house relish accompany a ribeye bone marrow, Celtic Promise cheese and bacon burger.  How would you like it cooked?" "Medium rare please," says date, only to be informed several minutes later that the burger can only be cooked the way chef - "he's French, I think, and very particular", offers our waiter, sunnily - likes it (i.e medium to well). So  not As You Like It, dear diner. Either way, it would be a disappointing, sloppy assembly at half its £18 cost. My date is getting tetchy... and we all know what happened to Romeo when Juliet  went off the rails. We pass on English puds (from £6 ) and coffee so as to All's Well That Ends Well, who knows? 
114 Campden Hill Road W8 7AR 7243 8797

Adapted from my review for

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Coppa, Hackney

Lardo, pizza purveyors to Hackney’s hirsute hipsters, has a got itself a summer smash in this funky 200-cover bar that's already pulling in a simpatico crowd. The only way is up for ‘a rooftop Italian beach holiday' - one that's a whole lot more fun than being pursued by the syphilitic local grease-ball out looking for his next quick roll and Rimini in Adriatic sand dunes, I imagine. Cop a load of Coppa's meaty mouthfuls: lamb and chicken skewers and spicy Calabrian ‘nduja from the BBQ. Otherwise, load up on radish celery and chickpea salad, arancini, calzone and fritte. Grab a boozy granita and, at £6, say "cin cin!" to Amaro mules and similarly tasty Milanese mouthwash. English beach huts don't do it for me. I've never seen the point of dreary days out in Dorset, with a flask full of hot chicken noodle soup for your goose bumps, while playing Five Go Mad in Mudeford, lost in some 1950s Bunty Annual make-believe. As for cu****g, cold, coastal Kent hellholes, let's not go there...literally! No, I'm more of a Mr. Ridley wannabe (minus Jude Law's final fatal scene, natch) and Coppa’s kitschy-cute cappanni (wooden huts) are a lorra fun to shack up in with up to 12 amici, your bambini, and even your Gucci poochy. You'll also find deck-chairs.... and blankets. London Fields is not Liguria, purtruppo
Hothouse Rooftop, Martello Street E8 3QW 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

NOLA, Shoreditch

Like fraught fellow dipso Blanche Du Bois, as imagined by Tennessee Williams, I too have "always depended on the kindness of strangers." A free meal here, a Press trip there, the occasional (sole) useable content of a goody bag, and a bottle of a client's dubious rocket fuel, palmed off on me by their hopeful PR. Vile booze that is finally succumbed to in desperation - faute de mieux at 4am - unleashing a one-man Country and Western cat's chorus and much hollering from those poor bastards I've just woken up, fellow slum dwellers in a ramshackle tenement that , anywhere else but in K and C, would be rented out for 10 quid a month - 'roach spray not included. Yes, I really should have stuck with that 'promising job' in the City but. oh now-long-dead sneery old careers master - you who sniffily suggested this pupil woulds be lucky to get a job flogging lucky bags at his local tuck shop - would life, however precarious, have been so much fun? And just how many duvet days can a high-paid/ bored rigid wage slave at Deloitte take without getting fired, by the way? Tonight, in a fairly faithful pastiche of a steamy seen-better-days Big Easy pile, I am relying on the kindness of a lovely Big Apple-born door whore called Elle to score me drinks at a bar besieged by greedy hooch Hoovers. Result! Not only does said stranger/ guardian angel set up me up with a nob-stiffeningly sexy sazerac, the barman recognises me from God-knows-where and decides I'm cool enough to be plied with de la Louisiane and similar New Orleans swallows. Joy!  Meanwhile, Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd - flown in for tonight's heaving launch party - whips the place into a frenzy with his roisterous line in boogie woogie and hellcat rock. The launch is a happy-fuzzy blur but I've been back since. All in all, I find myself most taken with NOLA, a bar that comes on like a crazy Shoreditch night back in the days before dick-head ad agencies moved in and - always the kiss of death, this - Italian Vogue latched on (about 3 months before the blonde breadsticks at British Vogue did, I shouldn't wonder). Take the Overground Train Named Desire to the ' Ditch. Yes, even if you're well over the ol' 'hood,  I urge you to check out this peeling sepia tone Basin Street film set,  not least for its fine range of drinks inspired by that other fact of N'Orleans life - hurricanes: in NOLA's case, stiff breezers fit to blow your toupee off.
66 Rivington Street EC2A 3AY

Friday, 14 June 2013

King of Ladies Man, Battersea

( What's the spin?)

As with first-timers at this new bar's similarly mad-monickered big sis' in the City, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, part of the fun is fathoming how to get into the damn place. At KoLM, you'll need to apply to the lady in charge of its retro American laundromat. Washeteria? Rinses? See what they did there? But, doh! Blowing the reveal, some soap bubble-head has left the joint's fold-back door back wall wide open, allowing me to walk straight into the room directly off the street outside. Fortunately this Dot Cotton-wool-brained oversight doesn't spoil my appreciation of the gaff's hilariously kitsch interior. If Are You Being Served's Mr Humphreys had been called on to dress a set for a soft porn flick starring an Elvis impersonator, it would surely have looked like this -all pink flamingo wallpaper, Swanky Modes styling (ask your Mum!), well-thumbed copies of old Playboy mags and other cheesy Guilty Pleasures-style decor. Acres of gold lurex bring another reference to mind - that other notorious (little) Ladies Man, Jimmy Savile - but  I wouldn't want to put you off your cocktail, cock. On which note, disco drinks listed in a serial shagger around town's little leather-bound black book are what to order . Revisit camp throwback, blue lagoon, and tequila sunrise - that "doesn't it look really pretty, Sue?" Abigail's Party-piece your Auntie Phyllis used to serve at her Tupperware evenings to encourage her victims to shell out on the nest of rainbow coloured injection moulded picnic containers and the crystal effect party Susan they didn't know they needed. Otherwise, you might fancy a snowball or sand in your pants, a cracking drink made with Taboo and Xante pear, lemon and prosecco. Hell, I bet the Hawaiian-shirted barman's jeans are fromTake Six, and he's doused in Denim or Hai Karate for the sake of period authenticity. Bung big Barry White's I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More, Baby on the eight track, and in Battersea, it's 1974 all over again.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Oblix, The Shard


What's the height of vulgarity? At 1016 feet, I give you The Shard. Towering over the Tower of London like a domineering Dalek, visible from Uranus, this in-ya-face macho monument to Mammon is nothing less than malevolent location-inappropriate architectural wank. I am not against tall buildings per se, just this particular example. Facilitated by flaccid  functionaries in thrall to 'visionary' cityscapers whose egos care not one jot about trashing treasured centuries-old views at every turn, The Shard is - like some child-molesting kiddie TV show host's priapic member - the vilest of vile erections. Given my antipathy to the building, will I warm to the first of its many bars, Reiner Becker's Oblix whose stand-alone lounge occupies a vast amount of expensive square footage half way up the thrusting high rise horror? Decanted from its express lift, met  by a gaggle of greeters, I'm sent off down a dark nightclubby corridor - presumably to soften you up for the 'wow' factor beyond - finally to emerge into a sleek, pared back room that is as appealing as any might-be-any-lounge-in-any-high-rise-anywhere-in-the-world-at-any-time-post-1984 can be. I'm so busy taking it all in, unusually, I let PR lady order for both of us. What mouthfuls I try - burrata, and flakey crab cakes - work well enough but, gripped by Nurofen-defying toothache, I'm past caring. Tonight's live entertainment isn't helping. Unlike the one and only Jamie Cullum CD I ever owned, chucked out of my car window when Sophie Dahl's jammy little pianist's tinkling started nipping my head when I became embroiled in the mother of all M25 jams, I can hardly do the same to a live jazz trio jamming away for Jesus on the 32nd floor. As for Oblix's cocktails, it might help if head bar honcho were to let me select my own drinks rather than land me with the likes of Acapulco gold. Good mezcal drowning in over-sweet pineapple punch? The Man from Del Monte, he say "no!" Served in a still warm (dishwasher-fresh?) glass, a sazerac, meanwhile, is not the sexiest I have ever swallowed. Better by far, is hot dollar (a brandy, apricot, chilli and lemon sour) and a fine fig Manhattan. Ah, Manhattan, enchanted playground of my youth! Its glittering skyscrapers grouped together in tight clusters, snapped onto the city's grids, are - unlike London's random interlopers - inspirational geometry to behold- the views from their upper floors bewitching (RIP Windows On The World). By contrast, from my pew in the bar at Oblix, Canary Wharf looks the business but, to the south and east.....let's just say, no matter how hot the action on Peckham streets at night, seen from on high, SE15 twinkling in the gloaming doesn't exactly rock my world. All in all, Oblix is a decent bar marooned in a location I loathe. If this skyline rapist's fate saw it dismantled, panel by wretched panel, sold off and shipped to its spiritual home, Dubai, I'd happily dance on its foundations, tearful, over-joyed, gripped by Shardenfreude. 

Level 32, The Shard, 31 St.Thomas Street  SE1 9RY