Monday, 28 November 2011

Baja Room, El Camion, Soho 17/20*

Location: 25-27 Brewer Street, Soho. Its just inside El Camion restaurant and down the stairs on the right

Visit: Various Saturday nights

To Note? Its open till 3am with no entry charge!

Ambaince 5/5
Design 4/5
Drinks 4/5
Staff 4/5
Extra LBS Star: * for playing Shake Shake Shake Senora, twice

“I only found it because you mentioned the sex shops!” declared one friend on arrival. That’s right; not only does the neon pink cactus outside look like a, well not like a cactus, but it is very cosily sandwiched between two of Soho’s largest sex shops and just a few doors down from Cocks, Cookies and Cakes – a great cupcake store with a twist. Once you find their door (there is a fair bit of scaffolding around it just now) then go in and take the steep stairs on your right down to the Baja Room.
This little nightclub runs till 3am with no entry charge and you can get food from the upstairs restaurant up to a decent hour of the night too. There is table service yet no service charge however we found it quicker, even early in the evening, to take your order to the bar.

You won’t have a long walk back to your table, this place is compact. We took a booth in the upstairs area (being up about 4 steps) which fits 8 at a squeeze and the table just outside for another 4 people. There is a similar booth beside it and two further large tables “downstairs”. How many people can the Baja Room take? 100 max, it was rather hot! The d├ęcor is simple “Mexican” but blessedly short of garish bright paint jobs or cactus, just stylish. The drinks menu covers an excellent range of Mexican beers (~£4), cocktails (classics and a lovely coconut/cachaca selection at ~£8) and a fabulous list of top notch tequilas. Simple food can be ordered to accompany the drinks too.

The staff were great, coping very well with the office overbooking their space and we were more than happy to squeeze up so that another group could take one of our tables that was further away. There were two girls taking orders from the floor but they were run ragged trying to get round all the different groups so we just made use of the bar, and the excellent bar tenders happy to make what you fancy with Margaritas available at least three ways.

The crowd was an odd mix of Clark-Kent-glasses-wearing media loves, a couple of birthday parties, some jeans and t-shirts and everyone hitting the “dancefloor” with relish! And the highlight of the evening – the music. An utterly bizaree yet truly inspirationally brilliant selection that started the evening with some chart trash, moved into 50’s rock’n’roll to get us on our feet, passed through some 80’s classics like “Shake Shake Shake” and Boy George and finished with 90’s hip hop by the time we left at 2am. I barely sat down.

What makes this place so special? Soho is a strange one with a real mix of people, nationalities, sexualities… but the Baja Room is just an unpretentious little hang out to dance your socks off and enjoy some fine drinks at very good prices. And the staff are truly outstanding.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Bourne & Hollingsworth: The Fourth Wall 17/20*

Location: Pop Up, so anywhere

Visit: Saturday evening

To Note? They will email you a map with cryptic clues such as the degree of longitude or street names labeled by their first letter and you work out where to go. It gets harder every week

Ambiance 3/5
Design 4/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS star: * For the fun of it

Bourne and Hollingsworth are on the move. You will still find them - or you can try as the entrance is rather difficult to locate – at Rathbone Place however they are running a pop up of their bar for “a while”. I thought it was just the month of November however on asking at the bar they said that they were on week 3 with a further 4 or 5 to go.

This pop-up does what it says on the tin. The Bourne and Hollingsworth bar – floral wallpaper, Victorian fireplace, brass lamps, tablecloths and all – is roaming between secret locations on a Friday and Saturday evening, 5pm to 1am. When I went The B&H team had set up camp in a furniture storage unit round the corner from Shoreditch Overground. As we sauntered along the street – I worked here for a year and was confident I at least had the street correct – we spotted a half-open roll-up iron door with candles either side and – oddly - a clothes rail of lab coats just inside. The candles gave it away however we still asked, a little hesitantly, if this was “it”. In response we were beckoned onwards:

“Why not come inside and have a look anyway”

So we ducked under and headed round the corner of the MDF exterior into…Bourne and Hollingsworth. It was still early so we caught up over the first round, a Chimps Tea was my drink of choice and partly because I have always wanted a cocktail in a teacup. It was very tasty, well made and a reasonable £7.50 (with most coming in between £7 and £8). By the time I moved onto my … the bar had started to fill up with a mixture of couples, friends, gaggles of girls and even some people on their own. Had they wandered in or were none of their friends interested?! The DJ was also warming up but the music was mainly classics from eras gone by. They do recommend booking if you plan on coming after 7.30 but this is just a matter of firing off a quick email. There was a group of 16 booked in last weekend so this is obviously an option too!

I tentatively asked about toilets but no have fears; they have that covered with the permanent onsite “facilities” for the ladies and a portaloo for the men, which could get pretty dark considering the bar is entirely candlelit. The only gripe was that it was FREEZING. Obviously this is in a warehouse type space without radiators and they tried their best with portable heaters but we could not stay for much longer without loosing at least one or two fingers. Hot cocktails would be a great idea to wrap your hands around! The barmen were friendly but the set up left little opportunity for interaction; I always prefer the option to perch at the bar where available to watch the magic happen and have a chat.

B&H’s pop up has all the joy of a good cocktail bar with excellent drinks and its unique “granny’s front room” style but with the added fun of never being sure where it will be next. I am definitely booking in again before Christmas brings this venture to a close. Bravo for effort.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Presenting…Havana Club Rum (photos to follow)

Last Tuesday I returned to the scene of the crime – Callooh Callay – for another of their fabulous Jub Jub member tasting evenings. Actually I have always been remarkably well behaved at this bar; with it being one of my favourites I would hate to lose my privileges! And it remains one of my favourites as I arrived early especially to enjoy one of their fabulous scotch eggs, this time accompanied by surprisingly tasty tomato ketchup popcorn and predictably excellent “Fine and Dandy”, or figgy pudding as described in the menu.

So onto the main event with the glamorous Meimi, a self expressed “Scuban” – a Scottish Cuban. She was keen for us to try not only the different rum expressions but to put them in cocktail context and to add to food to really think about flavour pairings. Some facts:

  • Rums are aged in a Solera System, an idea imported from Jerez, Spain
  • The barrels go through Wild Turkey Bourbon and Scotch distilleries before arriving in Cuba
  • The liquid, when it comes straight off the still, is called Aguardiente – firewater
  • If you want to test the quality of dark rum, coat a wine glass with rum and leave upside down on the table for 20 minutes, when you return it should smell of rum, rather than distinct blocks of flavour

Havana Club 3 Year Old
-          in a beetroot daiquiri
-          served with stilton and walnut
It smelt fresh and almost grassy
It tasted like root beer, slightly medicinal and developed caramel notes with time but retained fresh nose
Smooth and good length

Havana Club Especial
-          Cuba libre
-          Plantain crisps
It smelt like caramel and nutmeg
It tasted like vanilla, green apple and spice
It was smoother, heavier and longer retaining grassiness at the end

Havana Club 7 Year Old
-          rich daiquiri
-          grilled tropical fruit and parma ham with spices
It smelt like 1&2 – caramel and fresh grass
It tasted a bit like damp earth (in a good way)
We should be picking up dried fruit, bitter chocolate, coffee, sweet tobacco – I didn’t!
One to drink straight due to elegance, to quiet for cocktails?

Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros
-          straight
-          with an orange flavoured chocolate
Unblended 10 year old aguardiente with needs all 6 blenders to agree on quality and style before it can be released, rare and clearly more expensive
It smells like fresh caramel, coffee and orange
It tastes like fire and has more bite but a smooth finish

Now if you want to go all out, look for Havana Club Maximo Rum at £1500 a bottle. With only 1000 bottles a year we’d all by lucky to ever try this.

Great night had, again. Thanks!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Graphic Bar, Soho 17/20*

4 Golden Square

Visit: More often than I care to tell, mostly Monday evenings

To Note? Gin tastings by their Juniper Society on a Monday (almost weekly, check their website) are free and well worth popping in for, but be warned, you’ll get hooked!

Ambiance 3/5
Design 5/5
Drinks 4/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS star: Oh go on, * for the Juniper Society

I do not feel I can properly judge the ambiance here. My trips tend to be a Monday evening, the least popular night of the week (?) and offering the almost weekly gin tasting to us gin enthusiasts, with a fairly regular crowd who love introducing new people to this experience too.

The design is great; practical, large and with plenty of seating, and tables, as they offer a decent menu being an all day bar so covering lunches through to close. My brother had to be restrained from stealing the posters off their walls and their corrugated iron garage doors running along one wall remind me of my old school gym.

Drinks, well, if you don’t like gin it is not a problem but you will have found paradise if you do. These come by the glass or the small bucket – literally – and the bar men like to have fun. They will mix up all sorts of flavours on your command and are constantly working with the guys they stock (100’s) to develop unique recipes to bring out the best from the varying botanicals.

And the staff, Sarah and Adam I salute you. This chirpy pair run these Monday sessions flawlessly and always with a good pinch of fun. We’re not here for a lecture, we’re here to enjoy new gins and if we learn in the process…bonus!

If you are out in Soho and you just want something a little more…normal, this is the place to go. And book ahead into Polpo for a great culinary treat after.

Happiness Forgets, Hoxton 19/20**

Location: Hoxton Saquare

Visit: Several Thursday evenings

To Note? Another basement joint, go past the Hoxton Grill and the stairs are to be found below the Thai restaurant (which will also do some nibbles for the bar)

Ambiance 5/5
Design 4/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS star: For the sweet 1920’s jazz and the fact I never want to leave**

This is my favourite hang out so far. Seriously.

From the excellent drinks (and they are more than happy to mix you up anything you fancy) inspired by classics alongside interesting beers and some reasonable priced wines to the Thai nibbles that come from upstairs to absorb your excesses. From the no-standing policy so we are all comfortable to the candle lit bathrooms with a hint of incense. From the moustachioed barmen in braces who move seamlessly between host, mixologist and server to the crowd who simply enjoy a first class drink (at about £7.50) to the dulcet warbles of the jazz greats.

A mix of cushions, red light bulbs and 60’s chairs make it comfortable and cosy. The pitch of a conversational buzz mixed with smooth tunes makes it romantic. The chat of the barmen when perched on a stool makes it a friendly local.

So what’s the catch? It only serves till 11pm. Boo.