Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sager + Wilde, Hackney: 19/20

Location: 193 Hackney Road E2 8JL


Visit: From 5pm or 2pm for Sunday indulgence!

To Note: It's not just wines they do well, their toasties are fab!

Ambiance 4/5
Design 5/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5 

I had been waiting for this opening for quite a while, not only after their pop up last Christmas on Old Street roundabout but also seeing their regular photos of the bar developing. And I was not disappointed; Located almost opposite the old QuiQuiRiQui mezcaleria, about a 5 minute fast walk from Shoredtich High Street, wooden venetian blinds and a simple SAGER+WILDE above the door cannot hide that the windows were already steamed up on a cold night and already half full just a few minutes after opening - the East End has been waiting for such a venue!

And yes, this is an East End establishment which means full beards, army surplus jackets and designer glasses abound but mixed in with a range of different ages, in couples, big groups or even locals having a quick glass and chat to the staff. To be honest if you have got a seat here you also have the right to look smug. It is not a cheap night but it will be a good one, especially if you nab a stool at the old street paving bar to get Mike (Sager)'s wisdom on wine choice. 

There are some sherries and vermouths but the wine is what you come for with a daily changing range of whites and reds by the glass and available to take away - often rather special - and if that is not enough the "special list" by the bottle as well. And the staff are well versed and most importantly passionate about their choices so come armed
with just a few preferences (dry/sweet, fruity/full bodied etc) and let them be your guide. 

If you get hungry, their toasties are divine or opt for a cheese and meat board - they will also help you choose by the wine you are enjoying!

This is a wonderful little addition to Hackney Road and one I hope to return to again and again. Well done Mike and Charlotte!

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Blind Pig, Soho: 20/20

Location: 58 Poland Street, London, W1F 7NR


Visit: Every time you are free!

To Note: Enjoy some nibbles if you cannot get a dinner table downstairs

Ambiance 5/5
Design 5/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5 

The Blind Pig. From the minute I walked in (through the wrong door, take the wooden door to the right of the restaurant which has both a pig's head on it and is under the optician's sign) I felt like I may have found another of those gems on the bar scene - and the proof is that I keep going back.

The decor is reminiscent of Hawksmoor with lots of leather and dark wood alongside burnished metal. (It is not a speakeasy by any standards but) the low lighting and cosy booths make this place feel wonderfully illicit, even if you are sitting on the exceedingly comfy leather bar stool watching the magic happen. 

The drinks - as group bar manager and legend Gareth Evans says - are already being copied elsewhere in the capital and we all know this is the sincerest form of flattery. In particular their thermo-nuclear daiquiri - though not a recipe that they can claim - is served with bio-hazard tape and a glow stick so look out for this serve! Cereal killer is served in a clear plastic milk carton and garnishes are divine. And the menu is well proportioned with all the bar staff working together to ensure a menu that covers the bases without overwhelming you. I have tried several drinks over my visits and the currently trending Slap and Pickle - yup, gin with pickle juice - still stays with me as both intriguing and worth another order! 

Speaking of staff, these guys are polite and friendly, and under the tutelage of Gareth Evans (Diageo's World Class star 2012) are also knowledgeable in both spirits and cocktails. 

I cannot say enough good things about The Blind Pig; and they have followed up this success just a few months later with Berner's Tavern in Editions Hotel. It is barely 5 minutes walk away and utterly decadent - Jason Atherton's empire knows no bounds and long may this continue. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Presenting... Glenmorangie and Cigars at Boisdale

I'll be honest. The title of this article is rather a gentlemanly pursuit. And yes, there was only one female. That does not mean that this was not a completely unexpected night of great times. It was fab!

So, on a slightly shivery evening 10 of us, mainly cigar aficionados rather than whisky, sat down at Boisdale Canary Wharf's cigar terrace to get educated. Although mainly men, the average age was much lower than you'd expect, early thirties for most. Apparently, the trend for cigars is going the same way as whiskies; younger consumers are coming in both better educated and looking for more knowledge. 

We started with a fascinating break down of the cigar by Dan Pink of Hunters and Frankau, THE cigar wholesalers of the UK since 1790. He told us that the definition of a Cuban Cigar (still the world's best) is that 
(a) it is made in Cuba!
(b) it is hand rolled and 
(c) it is long filled...

Let me explain. You take apart a cigarette or a cheap cigar and the tobacco inside is all chopped up into shreds. You take apart a Cuban cigar and there are ONLY 5 leaves running the length of the whole thing, amazing! So once Dan had shown us (me) how to cut and light the cigar, this was paired with Glenmorangie Whiskies from the Highlands. 

(FYI The cigar was a Cohiba Madura 5 Genios)

There was the Original, the Lasanta, Quinta Ruban and Nectar D'Or. What was really interesting was that each whisky was the Original with 2 years in an additional finish. So the Lasanta was 2 years in Sherry casks and that added the spicy, slightly lino-y notes. Quinta Ruban - my favourite - was 2 years in Port. This lent a depth of colour and a sweetness. And Nectar D'Or was 2 years in Sauternes casks which I think is too tame a wine to lend much but everyone had their favourites. 

The surprise of the night was that the cigar - a "medium to full" - was really very enjoyable. Yes, I had to re-light it 4 times due to not drawing in smoke enough but as a first timer it was great! And Boisdale are far from the stuffy "Scottish" members club you may be imagining and is a modern airy space with great food and a stupendous bar with regular jazz to boot. Don't hesitate to book a (somewhat pricey) night here if any of this sounds appealing. You will not be disappointed. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Presenting... Sette Vie Liqueurs

Kensington Place Restaurant, perhaps not the first place you would think of to host a "Cocktail Academy" but that is exactly what they are doing, once a month.

We turned up in September to see what Sette Vie liqueurs were all about. The class started with a glass of prosecco, very civilised, and then we sat down on a big table and Paul Pavli of Boutique Brands explained how they first came across this family company and their shelved recipes, now restored and relaunched. All local herbs and flavours are used from their region of Abruzzo (for the wine lovers).

Brief history done, we moved onto tasting where we started with my favourite of the evening and something I have not come across before - Ratafia. This is a cherry and almond liqueur that can simply be described as bakewell tart in a bottle. This was then made into a twist on the French 75 but we preferred it over ice.
Christmas present for friends all round!

Then came their amaretto, universally declared as better, more real shall we say, than the "biggest name on the market" and made a delicious Amaretto Sour (shake with lemon juice, gomme and egg white). This was topped with a Ratafia soaked cherry, yum.

And lastly my nemesis of sorts as there are not many things I won't drink but Limoncello is one of them. I just think it tastes too much like cleaning product but no doubt this is a psychological block from my adolescent drinking experiences! However, mixed with vodka, lemon juice and sugar - I know, I also thought that would not work! - it became the best cocktail of the evening.

This is a lovely way to spend a Monday evening and we stayed for excellent fish pie too. The next one is in November - Dalmore Whisky - and they fill up fast so pop onto the website and join Imants and his fabulous bar team as soon as you can! 

Friday, 11 October 2013

London Cocktail Week: The Candy Store

Callooh Callay + Colin Dunn = pure entertainment. 

And once again this dream team have come together to present Charlie's Chocolate Factory set in the Candy Store (that will also run in the Upstairs Bar until end of November).

The 'room through the wardrobe' offers "alcoholic candy floss"; we chose rum and gingerbread, and a vodka, almond and cherry. They tasted...sugary... but were still  a delicious treat. Tables were packed with strawberry laces, popcorn, bonbons, gumballs and boiled sweets to help yourself to. And the menu, specially developed for the installment with fabulous whisky cocktails, is innovative as well as offering flights of whiskies and chocolate pairings if you missed the classes this week. Oh and did I mention that its made of rice paper, so yes, its edible! 

We were then invited through the curtains and up the stairs to The Candy Store with its fabulous red and white striped wall paper and rows and rows of old sweet jars. The whisky line up was Johnnie Walker Black, Gold and Platinum and each was accompanied by a "bean to bar" chocolate morsel carefully considered by chocolatier Amy Woods. They were well matched, especially the last example which really added a biscuity almond element, but I have to say I would have enjoyed a good truffle more...

I like these whiskies the "wrong way round" with Gold at the top, Black then Platinum. But it was a mere whiff of Lagavulin that got the most appreciation in the room and made my plus one immediately declare himself for Islay. 

The cocktail menu here is why you should visit, immediately. If it is possible, I think this may be their best one yet! 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

London Cocktail Week: Disaronno Sour Station

LCW 2013 is back for its third year, and its second year in its Seven Dials home. I headed to the Ketel One hub early afternoon on Monday morning (although they had opened the hub the weekend before to collect your wristband if you were organised enough). No big queues like last year, though this was late afternoon, and friendly staff on hand to get your registration through an ipad. 

I grabbed the literature (a book of all the bars offering £4 cocktails, a trial Time Out card and a Seven Dials map) and fully intended to head away as I had an event on. However, any free space in the area has been packed out with treats like the Monkey Shoulder DIY kitchen, the Belvedere Martini rooms, Portobello's Gin Club and so so much more from cocktails in shops to a shave and a shot stopping by the Bacardi Brown Foreman classes en route!

And in the street even there is Funkin Cocktails, Fevertree, Averna liqueurs and a Disaronno bike, pedaling (ha, get it?!) a simple citrus serve that tastes really very good.

So you have 3 days left, make the most of it. An if you don't know where to go just pick any Seven Dials street and see what you come across! 

Friday, 2 August 2013

Presenting...Konik's Tail Vodka

I was first introduced to this vodka, unlike the majority of people, by someone other than owner/maker/marketer Pleurat. It was a friend and restaurant manager who said I had to try a martini with Konik’s Tail. It was good but we’d already had a bit of gin by then and didn't  think of it again. A few months later Pleurat rocks up to Selfridges Wine Shop, pulls out a table and starts offering tastings at the door. He certainly confused the other exhibitors who had waited months for their slot!

Then he turns up at one of my tastings. And again. And again. For one man, Pleurat is
everywhere. So almost 2 years after I first tried Konik’s Tail I was delighted to join Paul of Bespoke and Tonic to hear Pleurat tell his story officially. And what a story it was.

We were taken on a journey from his arrival in the UK in 1994, his first job at an Angus Steakhouse and apartment shared with his fellow pot washers to his move into bar tending and from there an –unexplained – dip in fortunes before he recreated himself, offered his expertise (on our sweeter Western palates) to some bigger vodka brands and was soon judging at competitions internationally all the while developing his own product ideas.

The result – 17 yers later Konik’s Tail was born. It seems that nothing was left to chance with dozens of waters tasted at every point along the water source for minerals, hard/soft levels and, like Martin Millers Gin, keeping it alive instead of stripping it of this character.

Pleurat told us that he spent 2 months living in each of the 6 grain fields in a tent – and through tasting the grains at every time of day and night in all weather – ended up choosing spelt, rye and wheat. These are distilled separately then blended.

Then it was the turn of the distilling process, tasting the consistency of all the brands he wanted to work with then negotiating to set up his production in a small part of their distillery. 250 trips to Poland later and 4 and ½ years Konik’s Tail was bottled and tested on the UK market, individual by individual until the recipe was declared perfect. Now there are 4,000 bottles made per batch.

So to the tasting – first pour some in your glass, swill and throw on the floor. We were in a basement with a low ceiling, it got messy. Then, like whisky, take a mouthful and chew, get it everywhere and then enjoy.

Next came dry martinis and then a cocktail with pepper, avocado and cucumber.

And the verdict: I started my passion for spirits with vodka on a night out in Leeds almost a decade ago. Since then, I have rather fallen out of love with the product, and enjoy the smoothness of potato products over anything else. I can certainly see the quality and interest in this vodka, with a spicy rye finish and very clean palate but with a round mouth feel too. Drink it over the rocks with a twist of lemon. Anything else and use another brand.

I cannot help but be drawn in by the passion. And there is nothing wrong with that. Pleurat has worked tirelessly to get where he is now and I think that alone deserves a toast for fighting back against the big boys. Cheers. 

Friday, 12 July 2013

Presenting... Aspall Cyder at The Grove

We have all heard of wine parings, perhaps you’ve even been to a cocktail and food event. However last night a compact group of locals gathered to enjoy a rather unique event, Aspall Cyder pairing dinner. Now cider is about the only thing I will not order but the other half is a fan and I am always looking to learn so here is how it panned out.

Arrival drink: Aspall Cuvee Chevallier (the name of the family who started Aspall’s back in 1728 and still run it today) served from a champagne style bottle in flutes. Your mind says “Champagne” but the palate says “cider”, which is weird. Nice and light.

Scallops with Aspall Lady Jennifer: named after the grandmother who added apple juice or water to her glass to “keep up with the boys”, the additional apple juice means this is a lighter 4% offering and has a nice spritz. Works very well with the seafood (which was delicious, love the edible flowers)

Duck with Aspall 2012 Imperial: bit of a beast at 8.2% and a darker colour but this comes from the addition of Demerera sugar. I liked the first few sips but then it became…cider. One to try though! The confit
duck leg that unravelled from the cabbage was a huge hit!

Apple and Rosemary Tarte Tatin (with apple jellies, sorbet and crisps) with Aspall Perronelle’s Blush (added Blackberry Juice): what can I say, this blew me away. Not the cider but the dessert, delicious  and the chef gave us the recipe! The cider was a little lacklustre against the previous, I would have enjoyed drinking more of the Imperial with this. However it was suggested that you can use this as a cassis so top up with the Cuvee.

So what did I learn? Well a lot about cider, the (actual) difference between White Lightening and “proper” cider beyond quality. A lot about a family owned business with a lot of success. I met the lovely Nathan of Aspall (thanks!) and now have a very valid alternative to Champagne which some friends – for some reason – do not enjoy.

(But as a Champagne Academy alumni I’ll stick to the real fizz for the mo!)

Youngs are running several events with Aspall throughout the summer and I urge you to go and learn and taste and then spread the word yourself. The specialties are available in some Waitrose, Sainsburys but it never hurts to ask your local to stock something you want. #quackingcyder seems to be the twitter tag to follow, @nathansloane or @youngspubs or @aspall 

And thanks to The Grove (who I wrote about just before!) for great food and hospitality

Monday, 8 July 2013

Presenting...Beer, with Melissa Cole

I was lucky enough at the Hampton Court Foodies Festival to attend the beer masterclass run by someone I have followed on Twitter for a while – Melissa Cole, Somm-ale-ier. And following my recent post on great pubs in my area I wanted to follow with a little piece on beer itself.

Did you know there are over 1000 breweries in the UK, and 43 of those are in London?

I learnt was that larger is a German word meaning “to store” or mature – and cheap larger, you know who I mean, cuts this maturing phase out of production leaving a cheaper, less tasty beer.

Then I learnt that ale uses a different yeast which works faster and at higher temperature for a fuller beer and with a little bit more sweetness.

Also, gypsum rich water, such as you find at Burton on Trent, is best to make pale ales.

But most importantly what did we drink (lost my notes, from memory!):

Korev - a Cornish lager at 4.8% - nice, refreshing

Fuller's Bengal Lancer IPA 5.3% - another nice, refreshing IPA

Brains Boilermaker (Penderyn whisky cask finished) IPA 6.5% - not such a favourite but maybe
that is also a reflection of a big brewery trying to "do craft"! 

Hogs Back RIP Snorter 5% - fruity 

Eden Brewery (Bourbon Cask Finish) - all you need to know is THIS St Andrew's brewery blew me away, it tasted just like milk chocolate. In fact it was so good I went and bought an Islay finish and a rum cask finish too but the bourbon has to be my favourite- match made in heaven. 

Pubs in Clapham: a mecca for "kicking it"!

Beer. I love it. In a job where cocktail bar visits are a must, the joy of an anonymous pint at your local cannot be underestimated. And in my area I am spoilt for choice. Also, although I know this does not extends cross all my “trade” friends, if you are interested in different tastes in spirits and wines this tends to cover beer too.

My love for beer started, as silly as this is, when I moved to London. Unfortunately despite the brewing talent in Scotland the offerings in pubs extend to Stella and Guiness only. So it is a delight to live near three fab pubs: The Nightingale, The Avalon and The Grove.

Yes, it is a Young’s Pub but they also have a whole range of Meantime, both on tap and bottled. In my time I have tried everything from IPAs to Porters and the highlight is always Tuesday pie night when artisan pies are served with yummy fresh veg and paired to beers – genius.

When I first walked past the pub I was a little afraid it was your standard “old man pub”. You know the type, when you feel like the pub might grow very quiet as you timidly push open the door. But that is not at all true as this tardis manages to encourage a friendly prop-up-the-bar area at the front where I have enjoyed friendly banter with the old timers, darts at the back, tables out front for smokers and a huge garden at the back as well as a fire for when the nights draw in. Winner all round with a brilliant land lord and dogs welcome (to my other half’s delight).

Part of the Renaissance Pub Group these guys offer a more upmarket option, especially when
it comes to dining. Another space of extraordinary size, there is a front, side and back garden; all are huge. The front half of the pub has the traditional sweeping oak bar with sport regularly shown, the back extends into an upmarket dining space, worth looking out for website deals and taste card offers as it can get pricey, gastro-pub style. They think out their wine list well and the beers cover the basics, with a specially brewed offering now to celebrate their 10 years.

Although the crowd can be a little…boating shoes and chinos at dawn kind of thing… it is friendly and a great Saturday night alternative to a big night out as it never feels empty here but there are enough couches, to go with the Victoria cornicing and high ceilings, to tuck yourself away if you want.

Fast becoming a favourite I am afraid to say, despite the outdoor space around the edge of the
building seemingly developed in a wind tunnel so perhaps more Autumn onwards! This pub offers everything from film clubs to sport on the big screens, cookery classes and very good food better priced than the above. Spirits are not the main attraction but the beers are and especially their experiments with unfiltered beers, straight from large casks at the bar (Meantime again).

The lay out is also brilliant with smaller tables at the front (and another curved oak bar) leading to areas separated by draped materials and filled with couches, perfect for larger groups and often accompanied by children, then the bright back area is mainly set aside for dining with a kind of “kitchen table” too but it makes a great viewing area too. Free popcorn during their film if it helps.

Clapham – it may not be pushing the boundaries of cocktails, but to kick back with a beer there is nowhere better. 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Presenting… World Whiskies (with Mark Thomson)

You may already have heard of Dramatic Whiskies. Or at least Drinking Classes; an initiative that has taken the UK by storm with small gin masterclasses in London now happening on a regular basis across 20 cities and expanding to cover whisky, tequila, rum and even aperitivos.

However Mark Thomson is now using his experience of the industry and making a bid for independence, running classes to his own speciality – whisky – and on a smaller scale. Why? To ensure that the person taking you through the class is a top class expert in their field. And this is what I was invited to, on World Whisky Day, so no Scotch here but all international offerings.

The event took place in the back room of Match – revamped and now led by the inimitable Andy Mil – and was a comfortable fit for about 30 people. Mark - jeans, t-shirt, brogues and stubble in case you are wondering if this is your tweed clad brand ambassador of yore, it’s not – started off with an extremely potted but enjoyable history of alcohol starting with the middle Eastern origins of the word which funnily enough I had never considered. We whizzed through the development in Scotland (and Ireland) of distilled spirits and then quickly cracked onto a smell (only!) of new make spirit, a bit of peat and a bit of cask to play with and an explanation of the process itself. The audience was mainly men – shame – and although the level of expertise was mixed Mark pitched this information in a fun easy-to-absorb manner.

So… world whisky #1

Ichiro’s “The Floor Malted” from Chichibu, Japan
3 years old and 50.5% at first it was just “different” though it was difficult to say why, development in the glass  led to pear and floral notes. Nice, not my favourite even after everything else was tasted

#2 Bain’s Cape Mountain from Wellington South Africa
5 years old and 43% this stunner asserted my love for grains. It was toffee flavoured, some cinnamon, oily and reminded me more of Irish that Scottish whisky, developed Christmas cake and brandy butter.

#3 Paul John “Brilliance” from Goa, India
3 ½ years old and 46%, this was the first UK consumer tasting and was quite European with sherry salty notes, will only be released in UK for now to develop "serious image"… interesting

#4 St Georges Chapter 11 from Norfolk, England
3 years old and 46%, this just feels wrong; South Africa – fine. England – bad form! The best I can say, despite prejudice, is  that this did not really impress. The exression was lightly peated, a little sweet, but no one asked for a second taste…

#5 Balcones Baby Blue from Wako Texas
Butter popcorn, sweet but also remains fruity. Really liked this too but been advised to look for the even better Brimstone so will report back!

#6 Limeburners Cask M98 from Albany South Australia
60% at cask and only 123 bottles IN THE WORLD. This was thick with lots of prunes and raisins but for the price against the day’s other winners (Bains, Balcones) it didn’t convince.

Thanks to Mark (and his assistant Rihana) for letting me taste such a diverse range of whiskies and opening up the world's offerings beyond Scotland. If you are interested in learning more visit

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Brixton Village #4: The Joint

You sit outside The Joint, because this tiny little BBQ joint cannot hold any more than their kitchen! Tables and chairs are "upcycled" plastic crates and there is space for about...20 people. 

Service is very efficient and very friendly with great advice through the short menu and a smile.
You basically choose whether you want a bun or a wrap, whether you want that stuffed with BBQ pulled pork or BBQ chicken and what slaw you want with that then await your mighty sized order. Starters are available in the form of wings or ribs for voracious appetites. 

Starting with spicy wings, not knowing how filling the main would be, they were deliciously flavoured but not quite crispy as I enjoy. Very nicely sized though (take note Wishbone!) and lucky there was tasty mint infused water though as the chili crept through. Then onto the main event, a tasty brioche type bun stuffed to the gunnels with  pork (why bother with chicken?!) and a fresh coleslaw with crisp lettuce.

It was all delicious, and everyone else around us seemed delighted at finding themselves at The Joint too. I would highly recommend this little place, bravo guys! 

Monday, 29 April 2013

Brixton Village #3: Wishbone and Franco Manca

Wishbone, Brixton

On finding myself in Brixton – quelle surprise! – with 45 mins to eat and get back to The Ritzy and no preference on what type of food, we decided to try Wishbone since we both agreed it was unfair to avoid a restaurant on someone else’s bad review.

We sat just outside and managed to order from the friendly staff just a minute before the kitchen 
Wet wipes (& dirty cutlery)
closed. We were going more for a “snack” so opted to share the Buffalo wings (with blue cheese sauce) and the “spicy hash brown mess”. The cocktails looked tempting – and similar in lay out to Seven just across the way – but we held off with 3 hours of viewing ahead so no comment there. (It did take 10 minutes to get cokes but with apologies).

So the food. The four wings were spicy. Really spicy. Like REALLY painfully spicy. And I like spice. I described the blue cheese sauce – to my cheese loving accomplice – as not for amateurs. He did not believe me and soon declared it “too blue”. The wings were one big leg which you had to stickily, difficultly, messily tear apart into three if you did not want wing over your face. The hash browns were…hash browns, with jalapenos, and spicy sauce. They were spicy. REALLY spicy.

Wings left, hash browns right
To be honest I ate quickly not only to get to the cinema but to get through the pain and mess. They may have wet wipes on the tables but I think, like a lot of the Meat Liquor franchise, this is a bit overdone. I will not return but am not heartbroken either as I have been told local fav “Wings and Tings” is the place to head and with more to explore I will continue my quest!

As an aside, got Franco Manca take-out pizza finally too. Under cooked dough, £1.95 for a scattering a mushrooms (and that is being generous to them) and surly staff. Not sure this is one to hit again but considering the queues may give it ago, perhaps its Northcote Road outlet.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

City of London Distillery Bar, Blackfriars: 20/20

Location: 22 - 24 Bride's Lane, London, EC4Y 8DT


Visit: Any evening of the working week

To Note: Definitely a week night place so impress your work mates 

Ambiance 5/5
Design 5/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5 

Part of me feels guilty that I have not reviewed COLD (City of London Distillery) before, but the other part is glad I waited to see how it has evolved ; and that is from a large space filled with ex-pub furniture to a home from home.

There is a lot of PR out there about how COLD developed so I will keep it short but Jamie Baxter – previously of Chase Distillery – set up small vodka and gin still in this basement bar with owner Jonathon just a couple of hundred yards from Blackfriars Bridge down a small side street and both distils and offers tours here. And from that has developed COLD bar, taken over by the inimitable London Bar Consultants and sporting 130 gins with various tonics, garnishes and classic cocktails.

But you want to know what you get here. Well dark green walls lend a warm feeling to this bar and although it is a very large space, there are intimate cubbies with couches at the back, large tables suited to groups that the City will inevitably attract and best of all, plenty of seats at the bar. On top of that every time I have walked through the door it has felt like a bar-hug. (Yes, it is becoming difficult to visit without bumping into someone I know!)

The drinks are presented in this lovely menu (see pic!) and break the gins into regional, style but frankly the staff are SO well trained here just ask them, they all have knowledge and different preferences or go for a flight. The cocktails are beautiful and The Ford is still my favourite adapted from the late 1800’s and showing the cocktail pedigree of the team behind the menu – Lewis and Nate.

But if it wasn’t for the fact that COLD bar hugs you, if it wasn’t for the brilliant drinks (and very generous platters of food) I would still come here for the service. The team has been together from the start and it shows. There is great banter, camaraderie and all underlined with total friendliness to customers. Nate often runs classes there and will show various gins against their own gin, Alfie wears a permanent smile and is a sponge for gin knowledge and Leon – just down from Manchester – is another welcome addition to a strong team with several cocktail competition wins already under his belt.

So all that is left to say is, what are you waiting for?! And for once this space is large enough that you do not need to worry about telling your friends, a nice benefit amongst London’s ever increasing tiny basement joints. Oh and if you are looking for a private party venue…look no further. Superb. 

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A Trip to Barcelona... Dry Martini and Eclipse (15.5/20)

Dry Martini

Location: Aribau 162, Barcelona 08036

Visit: Thursday evening

To Note: The restaurant may look quiet but the bar is always buzzing

Ambiance: 3/5
Design: 5/5
Drinks: 3.5/5
Staff: 4/5

On asking a friend based in Barcelona for recommendations I got a 6 page document and luckily hit upon the Dry Martini bar on a wander home one evening. We looked dubiously through the empty restaurant but on turning the corner we found the bar entrance and pitched up at one end of the long mahogany bar. The walls were lined with old spirits and bottles and there were cabinets like chemistry labs stating “the evolution of the martini”. Staff were pristine in white coats and bow ties.

They do not have a menu, however our charming bar tender simply asked what spirits and flavours we liked, long or short, and got to work. My companion had a long ginger and whisky drink and my gin fizz was fine, a little diluted perhaps. The downside of having no menu = no prices. But we were pleasantly surprised to see the drinks came in at less than €10 each.

The crowd seemed to be a mixture of locals, ex pats and a few tourists but there was a constant hum and overall a bar you could happy wile away a few hours if you are looking for a quieter evening.

Eclipse at W Hotel

Location: Placa de la Rosa del Vents, Barcelona 08039

Visit: Friday evening

To Note: Get there before 7.30 or book ahead, the evenings kick off about 11pm

Ambiance: 3/5
Design: 5/5
Drinks: 3.5/5
Staff: 4/5

Set in the windsurf sail styled building at the end of the harbour and up 26 floors, the Eclipse is
accessed by its own lift from the lobby of W Hotel. We arrived at 7pm as it opened so grabbed a window seat and watched over the next hour as the sun set and the view changed till the lights inside reflected attractively on the windows. Eventually we could no longer see the private beach and pool directly below the bar but watched as the lights of Barcelona lit up everything from the Park Guell to the lighthouse, all contained within the mountains.

The crowd had a fair few tourists, this is after all set in a hotel, but also some glamorous locals and most importantly friendly staff who were stopped every few minutes to take photos! Even if you do not get a window seat, others may prefer to take a sofa that runs down the middle to look out over the harbour from a comfier position.

Cocktails were about €12 - €15 as expected in a bar like this, and you have to pay for water too! However I was impressed by my tequila and wasabi creation even though the barman insisted that mine was the passion fruit one. We swapped after he had left. My companion’s drink – with the passion fruit – missed the mark a little tasting sweet and fruity and not much else.

An hour later we headed for dinner (up another tower down the road) but if money was no object I would happily spend an evening in W, especially as I heard the lift hostess answer that things got pretty buzzy around 11pm… 

Friday, 8 March 2013

A trip to Bristol and two gems… Hyde and Co (20/20) and The Woods (19/20)

Let’s start at Hyde and Co, the top of a steep hill for ladies in heels!

Location: 2 The Basement, Berkley Cresecent

Visit: Various mid-week evenings

To Note: It is “speakeasy” but following the address is easy and buzz to be let in

Ambiance: 5/5
Design: 5/5
Drinks: 5/5
Staff: 5/5
Extra LBS star: I’ll stick to top marks

The entrance
Now as I was writing up the scores I found I really could not fault this bar. And that is even taking into account how everyone I’d met told me how great the bar scene in Bristol is.

Once inside (a buzzer outside flashes the bar lights so you will not be disturbed once in) the space is nicely designed to feel like you can curl up in a corner for a tete-a-tete or pull up a chair at the bar and enjoy the skills of the bar staff. Lighting is subtle and comfy couches sit alongside low antique tables and large mottled mirrors; You know the style. The music is jazzy 20’s style but I would describe Bristol as “speak easy” by necessity. It is the spaces that offer themselves to this concept rather than bar owners going out to create a speakeasy. If that makes sense…
Spey Honey

The bar manager Mark is an absolute star handling drink orders with panache, never breaking off a conversation and he treated me to a tasty nip of aged Tapasita tequila, friend for life! The menu is intriguing enough to have a read rather than going off-piste and I would seriously recommend the Spey Honey made with Glenrothes whisky and plum liqueur – a favourite ingredient of mine. And whilst Mark makes the drinks the floor staff flit from table to table ensuring you have enough water, drinks and are generally content. Which everyone is.

So, one not to miss and onto…

The Woods

Location: 1 Park Street Avenue

Visit: Various mid-week evenings

To Note:  Another steep hill ladies but not so long!

Ambiance: 4/5
Design: 5/5
Drinks: 5/5
Staff: 5/5

I think if I get to revisit The Woods in summer, this will easily be a 20/20 with a courtyard to enjoy the warmer weather in. As is, this reminds me somewhat of Milk Thistle in Bristol (sister to Hyde&Co) with a grand country house style, dark green walls, the bar on the ground floor and a wooden balcony above overlooking this ground floor room and its walls lined with some interested skulls.  Similarly the seating is either leather couches or pull up a high stool at the bar. (I was also told that this venue really picks up later on with the ground floor packing out for dancing).

Their cocktail menus tend to go walk about so best just to have a chat with the very competent staff, and come armed with sweet/sour, long/short and a base spirit; let them do the rest. And if your base spirit is whisky or bourbon all the better because with over 100 you are spoilt for choice. I tried an oooold Bruichladdich as a special treat then their recommended – current – favourite bourbon, Rock Hill Farm

Staff were very happy to chat between making drinks whilst also being aware of other customers, the music etc, basically a well-run joint. So why the point off? As I mentioned I was not here at the right time, and a group of friends, half of whom were doing shots of Patron CafĂ© in the corner, seemed a little odd for a Wednesday 9pm. 

Another one to hit for a boogie once you have had your quiet chat at Hyde & Co.

Overall, Bristol has a lot to offer with Milk Thistle, Goldbrick House and Hausbar all pushing boundaries and great restaurants (try Cherry Duck) helping too

Saturday, 9 February 2013

New Bar Opening: Mizuwari, Soho

Location: 16 Old Compton Street, W1D 4TL


To Visit: Open as restaurant, every day between 5pm and close. No bookings

To Note: Walk past the charcoal grill and its delicious smells towards the back then down the stairs

Mizuwari, which translates as “mixed with water”, has officially opened its doors; or at least the stairs that lead down from the back of Japanese grill restaurant Bincho Yakitori. Situated beside LAB on Old Compton Street, you need to walk to through the restaurant to the stairs to find this “1950’s Japan” inspired whisky joint. The room can hold about 40 people and is kitted out with low wooden tables and stools to match the wooden screens on the walls, set off by large swords as decoration.

This is the work of Suntory, and shows off their three expressions Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki. And this is all they will be serving. But if you think that whisky is not “your thing” think again as their list of cocktails is very impressive from a simple twist of elder-flower and soda to a tea-ceremony type drink with wasabi paste. And if you are whisky-mad and this is your “died and gone to heaven” place, why not consider their bottle keep service? Buy your bottle now and it will be waiting for you with your name on each time you return. Just try not to over-do it with the most expensive option at over £500 a bottle! They also have decanters of water purified to an ancient recipe with high grade Japanese charcoal, the same as used upstairs, to water down some of those high abvs.

So if you are a fan of whisky, if you are a fan of cocktails or even if you are just a fan of some innovative (in London) Japanese cooking don’t forget the newest hidden drinking den. 

(Pictures courtesy of 360 Communications, the brill PR team behind Suntory UK)

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

No 3 Gin : The Making Of (For Gin Geeks!)

So these are the botanicals for No 3 Gin; the 3 fruits are juniper (ok, its a cone!) grapefruit peel and orange peel then the 3 spices are cardamom, coriander seed and angelica root

They go into the still, like this

The copper helmet gets bolted on

Fred, a one man show, hand crafts the gin, attaching the swans neck here

The condenser 
And all for this...No 3 Gin. The final word in a dry martini.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Kyoto meets Edinburgh: Burns Night Japanese Style

We all know that the Japanese do whisky. And they do it well. So I was more than delighted to be invited to join Hakkasan CEO Niall Howard along with successful Scottish business (wo)men and “celebs” (courtesy of 360 Communications and Bacchus PR) for a Burns Supper with a unique Asian twist hosted at Chrysan.

Welcomed with traditional bag pipes – the Scottish ones, I know that the Japanese have their own version too – and a glass of Champagne, I opted for a non alcoholic drink (thank you Worship Street Whistling Shop for my boozy early evening!) and received a deliciously tropical Iced Tea with an orchid on top. I have to say this was a good call as what was to come was a real education in taste.

A mere two minute welcome speech led us straight into the meal, starting with a small “dish” that has sake poured into it. Well they said it was sake, it tasted like warm lychee tea and was the perfect palate cleanser with the warm flannels too. (I opted for a hand wipe, my neighbor went for a full facial wipe down!) Next was Tori Leekie soup (chicken, leek and ginger) with Suntory Hakushu 12 yr old and soda; this is very popular in the East as an introduction to whisky and palate cleansing too. The soup was fabulous, so was the whisky with a smoky hint coming out too.

Next was Nabe Burns – “Japanese haggis”, dashi turnips and wasabi potato salad – served with Suntory Yamazaki 18 yr old. Now, the Japanese do not have Haggis. However Niall had taken the ingredients to chef Daisuke Hayashi and with some Japanese spice and magic it become a delicious plate of nummy – official term - which was wiped clean. And the whisky? Something about the hand carved ice ball had a profound effect on the whisky beyond dilution. It was incredibly approachable and disappeared worryingly quickly.

And lastly, one of my food nemesis’ – Cranachan. If you don’t know it, it’s like we took Eton Mess, swapped the meringue for oats (?!) and threw in whisky and honey – hideous. Yet this was transformed – or deconstructed I should say. Firm whipped cream was encased in oats and topped with raspberry coulis, accompanied by macha ice cream, Hibiki soaked raspberries and honeycomb pieces. Drooling yet? This was accompanied by the star drink of the night – Suntory Hibiki Old Fashioned which my brother and dining partner had finished before dessert arrived!

Coffee was short and strong, toilets were heated and complicated to the point of fear. I loved both.

The best thing about this evening is that although Burn’s celebrations are over for another year, this was a trial run for Chrysan's larger plans next year to celebrate the --- anniversary of Kyoto and Edinburgh’s city twinning, So in about 11 months’ time when you start thinking about how to celebrate, Chrysan may well be doing something a little special and a lot tasty.