Thursday, 12 January 2012

Presenting...Duke's Bar Perfect Martini

I was recently in a very priveledged position. I went to Duke's Bar of Duke's Hotel with a regular who has a table available to him whenever he needs it. I was also honoured and delighted to meet Alessandro Palazzi, manager of Duke's Bar - owner of the title "Best Martini in the World". 

If you are lucky enough to visit this famous drinking establishment and get a table, you must order a martini, if only for the theatre of this drink.

1) Vodka or Gin
2) Brand of chosen spirit (then retrieved from the freezer as these drinks are not shaken over ice which dilutes the cocktail)
3) A few drops of Angastura Bitters
4) Vermouth (specially made in England with Chapel Down wine)
5) Gin (No 3 designed between Alessandro and Berry Bros) or Vodka (Stolichniya Elite) - or both
6) A slice of zest from an Amalfi Coast lemon squeezed over the top and rubbed on glass rim then dropped in (or orange depending on the drink combinatiom)


Ian Flemming wrote here. The back room used to be closed off for Di and Dodi. There is so much history here and these are not just barmen; these are historians, so go ahead and ask them for a story. Browse their old spirits bottles in the glass cabinets. 

Whatever you do, do not miss the opportunity to visit Duke's.

Presenting...Diageo with Colin Dunn at Mount Street Deli

Mount Street Deli, of the Caprice Holding Group, has been on my radar as running very interesting tastings throughout the year and it has taken me till the 10th January 2012 to finally get myself along one evening for a Colin Dunn special – whiskies of Diageo with food. Only a combination of high and low stools allowed about 25 people to squeeze into this little Mediterranean deli with shelves stacked with goodies to buy and blackboards announcing their daily specials.

Now I am no expert but I’ve been to my share of tastings and what a number of females there were, 11 women to 12 men in fact! The crowd was also young, late 20’s to mid 30’s and covered at least 6 nationalities – gotta love London.

We started with Glenkinchie 12 Years Old and Parmesan chunks. This whisky is one for the beginners (none in the group though!) and often drunk “misowari” style, this term from Japan meaning with ice, soda and a touch of citrus. It started light and spicy and has no peat or cask notes to influence. The cheese, lovely and fresh but I could have eaten a plate (!), brought out a creamy texture. Going back to this later, there were seriously musky notes!

To taste alongside was the Dalwhinnine 15 Years Old which was denser with much more fruit straight off. This one went with almond chocolate although it was noted that a more “almond” flavour would have worked better. Again the flavours smoothed some of the edge on the whisky but try it yourself with a honey dressed almond and pear salad.

Singleton 12 Years Old was next (sherry cask finish) and came next to Talisker 10 Years Old. The Singelton was honeyed with stewed fruit and chocolate with this dark chocolate note getting stronger throughout. It was very smooth with a buttery heavy body and finishes on a fruity note. The dark chocolate to go with it particularly highlighted these notes.

Talisker was a whole new ball game with bonfire and germoline and hot chili on the palate. This one really wraps itself round your mouth with a sweet hint and a meatiness from the smoke. Paired with olives I think this combination needs a little work but why not try marinating your olives in this best the night before your dinner party…

Finally to Caol Ila 12 Years Old and a personal favourite, Lagavulin 16 Years Old. Caol Ila was paired with lemon curd shortbread (that needed a whole lot more lemon to slice through the peat). This is a current favourite of Colin’s but with tasting notes amounting to “like the Talisker but less” I cannot say it left much of an impression. So to the Lagavulin with Roquefort. OK, I’m biased. But the beautiful honeyed notes over smoke just draw you in and catch your nose and palate but just leaves you all warm and cosy.

So next time you are trying to work out which wine to pair with chocolate, or cheese, reach for your spirits and have some fun and remember Colin’s golden rules:

1)       Warm up your nose but sniffing your first whisky about an inch from your nose, open your “filing cabinets” of senses
2)       One second in the mouth for every year of aging
3)       Drink what you enjoy, not what we tell you to!

Keep an eye on Mount Street’s website for some tasty combinations in 2012 (I’ve got my eye on the game event in September) and if you missed Colin this time he’ll be at The Whisky Exchange in February for some Borough Market combos.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Powder Keg Diplomacy, Clapham Junction 17/20

Location: St Johns Hill, 5 minutes walk from the junction up the hill, on the side where there is nothing worth seeing…

Visit: Thursday and Sunday evening

To Note: Same team as Lost Society, Lost Angel and Blind Tiger if that’s your thing

Ambience 4/5
Design 4/5
Drinks 4/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS Star: Not quite, perhaps I’m getting cynical on the “prohibition thing”

From a break away management team who cut their teeth at the Lost Society group, the influence of the 1920’s/prohibition is obvious though carried out with more subtlety that its past employers manage. Fronted by Baron and Lady Powder Keg, I first came across their libation experiments on Twitter and followed the buzz last year as they started their own bar on a stretch of St John’s Hill that also saw The Plough and Ben’s Canteen open, so we can only hope for more here in 2012.

The front section of the space is the bar, with a mixture of high banquets along one wall, bar stools and tables with doll size chairs that my companion ensured me was comfortable at the window to watch the world go by – though it’s not the most interesting street! The back area is dedicated to food with exciting looking chandeliers and a glass roof. However, it was very dark when we ate here, we struggled to read the menu and I was poked in the back by a large fern at our allocated table since we had not booked – to be worked on! Otherwise the décor is that of a New York loft bar, very “Chinaskis” of Glasgow if you’ve been…

The staff were a highlight, friendly, keen to advise but honest on what they have not tried and with ridiculous moustaches all round to match braces and flat caps. They can steer you through the drinks menu admirably, and quite a drinks menu it is. It starts with several pages of wines (Indian wine, Canada Red, anyone?) then moves onto several pages of cocktails all with interesting twists on the norm and beautifully made classics too. My vodka martini with a lemon twist was part served in a dainty gold rimmed glass, part left in a decanter in a glass of ice to keep it cool before drinking! For something seasonal, local and interesting try Grandad’s allotment. Then their beers stretch over several pages and the gooseberry I tried was delightful.

Food does not play second fiddle here either with a regularly changing seasonal menu offering around 6 starters, mains and desserts all professionally presented and tasty though at £16 a main this is definitely gastro pub price territory.

The music is definitely my scene and following the 20’s influence has a jazzy buzz to it with a fair dose of trumpet. Despite a brief lull during my last visit there was a fairly regular stream of young professionals passing through and we did not even realise that we’d reached closing time when the lights went up.

I am not sure how to sum up PKD. The food is very good. The drinks are very good. The staff are very good. I have been several times despite it not being “en route” to ether my house or my work. Perhaps that’s all I need to say.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Rookery, Clapham Common, 17/20*

Location: A road away from the Common, opposite The Windmill

Visit: Several times both afternoon and evening

To Note? If going on a Sunday book ahead, their roasts are very popular...oh and you'll not want to go anywhere else

Ambience 4/5
Design 4/5
Drinks 4/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS star: Yes, because these guys have brought a much needed touch of class to the C.South to C.Common stretch

I like The Rookery. I liked it when their family and friends launch night turned into a welcoming come-one-come-all affair. I liked it as I sat on their large decked outdoor space with a Gin & Tonic on a sunny Sunday afternoon and watched the sun go down over the common. I liked it when I went back recently for a quiet Tuesday night dinner.

We chose a table directly in front of the fire as the limited indoor space left only a table by the kitchen or a table rather too close to our neighbours for comfort. Their comfort that is with the evening being somewhat of a celebration.

Starting drinks were a clementine and clove prosecco cocktail and a ginger beer. The ginger beer was Fentiman’s so ticked the boxes although this somewhat strange cocktail was not as Christmas-y as it sounded. They have a short yet complete wine list but do look to try some of their small craft beers. Starters (at around £4 to £7) were eschewed for freshly baked bread and salted butter. At £1.50 it was generous and delicious. And thank goodness we opted to go straight for the main course! The confit duck leg came from one hell of a size bird and sat on perfectly cooked red cabbage and crispy potatoes. Manfully as I struggled I had to leave some of that crisply delicious dish on my plate by the end. The other half tackled a hanger steak and chips with supreme watercress sauce with gusto yet he too admitted defeat some time later. With both of these around the £14 we felt like we got more than value for money. A few more drinks were ordered but unfortunately we could not even contemplate dessert; I think it’s clear that the food was a resounding success though.

The (realistic) gas fire helped create a cosy atmosphere with chunky slightly rickety wooden tables and chairs lining the back half of the space and high stools around the bar and front for those just passing through. The rest of the bar is simple, with a New York loft feel and a spiral staircase leading to downstairs toilets and -----. Menus are a combination of daily changing print outs and regular cocktails and specials chalked up to tempt you as you relax. The staff are exceedingly friendly, accommodating yet far from intrusive and the jazzy background music adds a nice buzz.

Clapham is definitely in luck with this little gem – previously an average Thai pub set up called Firefly – and as much as I want to shout about it I rather think I may keep this little gem to myself a while longer. Their unobtrusive attentiveness to detail has given us great food, seriously well priced cocktails and a comfortable get away from the louder Clapham thoroughfare it sits beside. None of this is surprising considering the big names that are behind this (a few Michelin stars for the chef alone) and I am just grateful they chose to be a 10 minute walk from my house!

Many thanks to Ben Carpenter for the photos!
Square Meal

Vertigo 42, The City, 13/20

Location: 25 Old Broad Street


Visit: Friday 6pm

To Note? Set in the beautiful International Financial Centre Tower gives great views but a lot of security and do not even think about coming without a booking

Ambience 2/5
Design 5/5
Drinks 4/5
Staff 2/5
Extra LBS Star: For lovely champagne (and champagne cocktails) and awful service – I think not

“What a beautiful building, I wonder what it is”

My first words on wandering along Old Broad Street, central "city" territory, dodging the suits and coming across a beautiful pink lit lobby with escalators that seem to hang in the centre of this large glass box. And that was just the entrance.

We walked up to the formidable counter to discover the first rule: you have to book; and they will take card details to hold the reservation, so you need to be sure you are going! Secondly, the security takes longer than Heathrow. Empty your pockets, send your bag through, coat off, through the metal detector. If you pass this test then you head up the escalator to the lift that will whisk you straight to the top of Tower 42.

The lift doors slide open, you step onto a lush (sound absorbing!) carpet and your host glides over to take your coat and lead you all the way round the 360º bar with floor to ceiling windows offering breathtaking views over the City of London – always more attractive by night and surely the main reason that you’d come here. Tables are suited to four people maximum due to the limited space (about two metres) between the wall formed by the central support and the window. Seating is comprised of 60’s inspired swivel chairs that envelop you situated round low tables. This did not stop the occasional (post work) group crowding together over a single seating area. A really varied audience is made up of city workers, tourists and couples starting their evenings. The atmosphere is one of appreciation, the city laid out at your feet and a glass of champagne – it’s hard not to feel that life is good.

But. Yes, there is a but. I am afraid to say that we were led all the way round this stunning bar to a corner where the small bar is based (small because the service comes to you at your table) and then they leave you there! I thought they were getting our table ready but no - I spent two hours on my feet, which was quite enough in heels. On leaving we passed at least half a dozen free tables; I naively presumed that they would have a system of inviting customers – in order of arrival - to take a table when one became free. Instead we were herded like cattle to one end and left there, the result being coats and bags sprawled across the floor and a reticence to stay longer than a glass, no matter how good the views. I cannot even say the service was good. We were handed menus but despite standing by the service area - since we had no table – we had to track down a waiter twice to as for drinks. Not worth 12.5% service charge me thinks.

The drinks, however, were very good. Champagne cocktails were nicely made, their house champagne is very good both straight and mixed and the Gosset Excellence was lovely. This is a smooth, round champagne that I have never tried before and would gladly return to on a menu.

So, is it all worth it?

For a glass of champagne (they only do bar snacks so do not plan to eat here) in a stylish bar with some of the best views of the city on offer, book yourself in and head along so you can tell your friends that you have also experienced “42”. But if you are not one to spend £17 on a glass of bubbly, and you struggle to decide your dinner this evening let alone book weeks ahead, maybe Vertigo 42 is one to pass on.

(To note, they have since invited me backto try again, to be continued...)