Sunday, 29 March 2009

Trailer park trashiness - Trailer Happiness

The Indie girl's birthdays are always a highlight of the social calendar, so when the call went out for a night of getting trashed in Trailer Happiness on the Portobello Road, the Northerner and I didn't need much persuading.
The Indie girl is one of the most popular people I know and her crowd of media, film and fashion types certainly hit all the right buttons in this bar, despite all of us being a comfortable decade or so ahead of the rest of the crowd.
The Trailer crowd are certainly not trashy with a fair share of Notting Hill pretty young things, and on Saturday night a lot of very fashionable Australians (not an oxymoron I hasten to add). The bar markets itself as a tribute to kitsch 60's California with a spot of tiki bar going on. Whatever that means. However despite the marketing spiel, the place is pretty damned cool. I kicked off the evening with a rum version of a Moscow Mule which was pretty damned fine, and went down far too quickly. The Northerner worked her way through a couple of Caiprissima's with a hint of ginger and lychees thrown in, which seemed to work for her just nicely. The music was a glorious mix of eighties and nineties classics with highlights including some old school Bob Marley, Quincy produced Michael Jackson, and later on Whitney chiming in getting everyone 'wanting to dance with somebody'.
We had a superb night. With the Indie girl also being both a fashion girl and from the North, her and the Northerner had more then a few things to catch up on. I proceeded to bore the pants off a charming young couple by trying to draw analogies between my life in change management comms and their life of celebrities actors, film PR and the Empire awards. I bet they feel glad to have met me.
I hadn't been out in Notting Hill for a while and had never been to the Trailer. Saturday reminded me how much I like the place, and I'll definitely head back to the Trailer.

Friday, 27 March 2009

The glamour of going out - The Diner, Shoreditch

Six months ago when I was on a social whirl of cocktail bars, clubs and restaurants in all the hot (and not so hot) spots in London town and NYC, a blog seemed the perfect place in which to show off how socially mobile and cool I am. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Of course, by the time I got around to actually putting this little thing into action, not only has the credit crunch brought my industry to its knees but worse I seem to have been afflicted by 'boring pub' syndrome, as my unemployed, or soon to be, crews keep insisting on 'cheap as chips' venues.
Which brings me nicely to the Bull Inn in Bishopsgate, which is where Friday night drinks kicked off. We were there to meet the Spaniard, who incidentally is English, and was over for a weekend of indecently bad behaviour. The beers flowed freely as he regaled us with stories about his recent 'adventures'. Not to be repeated on a site like this, but certainly enough to make yours truly physically (as opposed to metaphorically) blush. The Bull itself is everything that people dislike about they city - male-dominated, suited and conservative. However it's not entirely without merit. Great service, a decent selection of wine and beers, and a very nice atmosphere despite the 'cityness'.
The Northerner and I decided it was time to move on for food and headed for Shoreditch. En route we dropped into Jamies wine bar on Bishopsgate to have a cheeky vino with the Senorita who is actually Spanish, who was surrounded by a gang of fawning men, of which only one was her boyfriend. The fact that Jamies is, and markets itself as a 'wine bar' in the city probably tells you all that you need to know about it. I don't think I'm doing it a disservice by describing it as a downmarket Corney and Barrow. Nevertheless it does all those things that city bars do so well, with great service, a stonkingly good selection of top notch wine and beers, and a post-work atmosphere of splendid denial of the financial crisis, meaning that it certainly was a festive and fun stop.
We said our farewells to the Senorita and headed up to the Diner on Curtain Road. The place has successfully transposed the food and ambience of a Manhattan diner right to the very heart of Shoreditch - great food and drinks all served by local hipsters and pretty young things, waiting for their big break into the music, fashion or film industry. The ambience is good although a little on the tourist side as Europeans and non-local Brits try and get a slice of cool East End action. I have a couple of rather pretentious friends who have stated that Shoreditch is no longer 'cool' and going out on a Friday night is like being in a Disney theme park. Two points to make here. Given that these guys live in and frequent pubs and bars around Islington probably undermines any credibility they have as to reliable judges of what's 'cool'. And also, I don't know what Disney theme parks they go to, but if it has the number of great bars, music and funky well dressed people as the Ditch, then I'm packing my Mickey Mouse ears and heading for the Eurostar.
Back to The Diner, which is a superb place to drop in for a drink and food and is the perfect spot to observe the hip and wannabe cool kids of East London. It's also the perfect antidote to the City and a great place to round off the week. Roll on Saturday night.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Hoop and Grapes, Aldgate

A colleague of mine does guided walks as an aside. So when he suggested a 'freebie' Jack the Ripper tour around many of my favourite local haunts in East London a gang of about 40 marketers, PR's, graphic designers, event managers and yours truly duly took him up on the offer.
Starting in Bishopsgate the tour took in many of the local drinking dens - from the sublimely hip Ten Bells on the Commercial Road, former drinking haunt of two of the Ripper's victims and now favourite of graphic designers, musos and young TV presenters. To the perenially naff Dirty Dicks on Bishopsgate. A dingy narrow pub serving cheap beers and watered down spirits, frequented by bankers and insurance agents. Not my idea of a great night out.
Of course the tour took in the many historic points of interested around Spitalfields and Brick Lane and some blood curdling anecdotes that left you in no doubt that the Ripper was a truly bad man. No wonder Johnny Depp went after him so hard in From Hell.
We did end up for a drink at the Hoop and Grapes pub in Aldgate which is apparently the only surviving 17th century timber framed building in the City of London. Don't you just love the British and their historical facts. Sadly the drinks tasted as though they were stored in 17th century vats, and even though they offered a Bloody Mary, I didn't have much faith in the quality so politely declined and settled for a bitter.
If you ever get the chance, I would thoroughly recommend a Jack the Ripper tour. You walk through some of the most interesting streets and past some of the funkiest shops, bars and cafes in London. If you're looking for a drinking venue however I'd try the Ten Bells or some of the bars on Brick Lane. Just a suggestion.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Florence, Herne Hill

The unseasonably good weather and a tough week at the office meant that Friday night drinks was always going to happen. After flirting with the idea of Muswell Hill, Shoreditch and Smithfields (why is sorting out a location always a chore), the Northerner and I retreated to the local, which is the Florence in Herne Hill.
Hip Herne Hill is an alliteration that I never thought I'd write, and if truth be known, it's probably an exaggeration. However sleepy Herne Hill, once the preserve of now 'retired' sixties drug-taking hippies, and people not wealthy enough to live in Dulwich, is now the home of Class A 90's throwbacks and pretty young things not wealthy enough to live in East Dulwich. And it is all the better for both of those things.
Their drinking home in the Hill is the Florence, which should anyone actually be reading this, will recall was my first blog on this site, when I waxed lyrical about their Sunday lunches.
Friday night drinks is a different but equally good beast altogether.
The crowd is a mix of pretty young things out with their friends, thirty-somethings enjoying a post work tipple and catch-up, and local retailers - i.e. our butchers drink here - sampling the splendid micro-brewed beers. Also, as its located just a block down from Herne Hills 'little Jamaica' - which comes complete with a West Indian food shop, the best 'pimp my ride' car stereo shop in South London, and the delightfully named Muffy's Cocktail bar - the Florence has a strong representation from the local Afro-Carribean community. More unusual then it should be in multi-cultural London.
The music was a mix of noughties indie, and cool 80's / 90's retro, with a bit of dance thrown in, and people were shoveling beers, wines and an array of shots and spirits down there throats in the magic way that is unique to the British.
The Northerner and I did our best to keep up before retiring for the evening, leaving the young crowd to kick on into the Friday night lights.
When I first moved to the Hill 10 years ago there wasn't anyway to go for a decent drink. We're now spoilt for choice, with the Florence comfortably out in the lead.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Sending out an SOS - Smiths of Smithfields

Over the last week or so that I've been writing this little blog I've received more criticisms then I thought I had readers - which is five. In no particular order they have complained that - you're not writing as yourself, what's a pretty young thing? , your Bloody Mary recipe choice is wrong, you're not drinking Bloody Marys, and why do you continue to include your photo.
So given my extensive academic and professional background in working with customer feedback I've decided to ignore all of them. I will instead write up my latest night out at Smiths of Smithfields, home of great steak and the legendary SOS lager.
The Musician was over from the US for a week of fun and frolics, which served as the excuse to call together one of my motley crews of bankers, PR's and consultants for a night of catching up and drinks. Well catching up, in the sense that we all pretend to listen to each other while thinking about our next self-agrandising anecdote.
Nevertheless The Musician is one of the nicest men in the world, so we all momentarily put aside our pretences and enjoyed catching up whilst enjoying the considerable ambience of the bar. Champagne was knocked back with the recklessness of people who are pretending that there is no such thing as a credit crunch. DB and me then moved on to sampling a few of the SOS lagers which were grand, although why he insists on topping them up with lemonade (sobering, apparently) is anyone's guess. The crowd at SOS is certainly not cool - you don't find many hipsters or pretty young things here. And given the way that the SOS model has been imitated - poorly might I add - by aspiring young bars all over town, the place can feel a bit....well dated.
However SOS is a grand old institution which does what it always has done very well - great drinks, amazing food, and loads of space for mingling and enjoying yourself. As the ever quotable DB would say. If it aint broke...

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Taking Liberty's around Carnaby Street - Mangosteen

Another night out, another department store. But Libertys membership shopping nights are kind of special. They come complete with pretty young things clutching credit cards and designer accessories while quaffing top notch chablis. All against the backdrop of catwalk model staff dressed head-to-toe in Libertys' amazing designer collections supported by a brass band, and as ever several quirky touches. Including the stuffed zebra in the photo. Only in London huh.
The Northerner and I followed drinks and shopping with dinner at our favourite West End Thai restaurant, Mangosteen on Ganton Street. As with most South East Asian restaurants, the menu is extensive yet still familiar to any Thai food afficionados. However the quality is superb, portions are hefty and the fact that the place is often half full with Thai tourists speaks volumes for the quality. The rest of the crowd tend to be pre-club pretty young things getting their food kick in before a night of busting moves. Or posturing more likely.
I love it. I go frequently. I will go again soon.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Selfridges Moet Bar

When the Northerner called and said we were meeting the Fashionistas and the Hairdresser for drinks in the West End, I thought rock on - great night in store. When I realised that the destination was going to be a department store, albeit a nice one like Selfridges Moet Bar I was a tad underwhelmed.
To provide some context - the Fashionistas along with the Northerner were the gang of gals that introduced me to hip Soho way back in the mid-nineties. They use to take me to cool Class A fueled parties complete with designers, fashion hangers on,and transvestites. A far cry from growing up in rural New Zealand. So drinking champagne with them all - definitely a yes. Drinking it in a department store? Not quite what I would expect.
Nevertheless its a nice little bar, friendly, though slightly slow service, and they do a decent champers (Moet of course) and cocktails. The 'crowd', if you can call it that given its relatively small size, are pretty young things from West and North London out doing their Sex and the City impersonations but accompanied by mummy lest they get asked for ID.
We knocked back a few against the backdrop of women looking at accessories, and did at least have a good gossip before we headed on to dinner. Another surprising choice, but I won't dis them twice in one blog. Let's just say we're clearly getting older. Well everyone except the Northerner and I that is.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Lord Aberconway, Liverpool St Station

So, the plan was for me to spend last night in a corporate box at the O2 Arena, dancing around to Tina Turner while River Deep and Mountain high in wine and canapes. Sadly Tina took ill with the flu, which given her tender years is probably acceptable.
How I made that leap from corporate entertainment heaven to the Lord Aberconway Pub next to Liverpool Street station is a mystery that I'm still coming to terms with. Nevertheless the pub is not without some merits which I thought I should pass on.

Given the dearth of decent drinking or eating establishments within a short distance of the station, the Lord Aberconway stacks up okay. Drinks are cheap but decent - good house wines, and ales and bitters for the beer bores. One of which is the Rock Star who sadly declared himself unavailable last night due to 'other commitments'. Whatever. The wine did flow and the crowd of mostly men, were like naughty school kids as they indulged in a pre-commute tipple, and worked on their excuses as they why they were late home and / or smelling of alcohol.

The Lord Aberconway is definitely not Tina Turner at the O2. And if it is, it's more eighties stadium rock cliche pub then sixties 'Hoxton cool' soul. But for what it is, it's a lovely little pub, and a worthwhile detour if you have time to kill before your commute.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Bean and Gone Cafe, Spitalfields Market

Coffee and hairdressing are not two things that I naturally associate together. Whether that's due to my follically challenged status or simply demonstrates a lack of vision I'm not sure, however the Bean and Gone cafe proves that it can work.
That's right, Bean and Gone is adjoined to a hair salon where should you be sat at the bar, you can check out people getting cut, coloured, extended and whatever else it is that the haired humans like to do.
Okay, it hasn't got the funkiness of nearby great the Market Coffee House, nor does it serve the top of the range coffee that its Antipodean owned neighbour Taylor St Baristas does. Another flaw is that it is often full to its very small roof with the terminally despised and unemployed people that we used to call bankers.
In spite of this, Bean and Gone is a regular for the Rock Star and me due to its charming and very attractive staff, great snacks, and of course the coffee. Not necessarily in that order of course. But back to the coffee - it's great stuff, and provides the right level of kick to get you through the day. Perfect if you've ever gota hangover, although clearly not a Bloody Mary.
Drop in and don't judge it by appearances. And of course, book in your haircut while you wait.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Brazas, Tulse Hill

After several months of trying to get it together, the Rock Star, his other half and I finally met for dinner at his favourite haunt, Brazas in Tulse Hill. Many places claim to be family run, but Brazas, with Mom and Dad in the kitchen and son out front of house, is the genuine article.
The Northerner and I have eaten there several times for lunch so are fairly well known by the team. However the Rock Star and his partner are in a different league, having eaten there for at least once a week since it opened over a year ago. Mind you, given the combination of hearty food a great selection of Portugese and South American wines and the loveliest service you're likely to find in the Dirty South I can see why. Brazas does big well seasoned mains, complemented by big flavoured wine, and delicious desserts of which the portions are massive. In fact, to use that most hackneyed of advertising expressions, the only thing that isn't big is the prices !!!
I shan't run through the menu as it something you should discover for yourself, but I'm especially fond of the spicy fishcake starters and any of the panfried salmon, Sunday roast pork, or steak main courses. While you can't go wrong with any of the dessert choices, from pavalovas, to oven baked cheesecakes.
You never have to book and you are never dining alone. The Rock Star is worried about how it will survive given it's Tulse Hil'ish location and the credit crunch. I think with the combination of food, service and price that it offers, it will be just fine.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Ketel One at the East Room, Shoreditch

When I think of the Dutch, I think Van Gogh, liberalised Amsterdam,and the beautiful football But not vodka - that's a product which I primarily associate with the the frozen triumvirate of of Russia, Poland and Sweden, despite the recent best efforts of outsiders such as NZ.
So when The East Room, the bar that is part of the Milk and Honey group which in a moment madness decided to make me a member, invited me and a guest to a tasting evening of the Ketel One Vodka I was more then a little intrigued.
Having only ever been to wine tastings before my partner in crime the Big D and I were unsure of the form for the evening. Does one sip? Quaff? Spit even? Fortunately we just drank, and drank, and drank. Several things were offered our way, the memory of which is a little hazy, but classic vodka martini, vodka sours, and a couple of wonderful grapefruit and lime based concoctions all hit the spot. We also agreed to do a 'blind' tasting comparing a 'common' brand, a premium brand, and finally Ketel, which, much to our hosts relief, we agreed was the best of the products on offer.
So what's actually good about it? Well the first vodka, which was a well known Swedish brand was like rocket fuel in 'nose' and to drink. The second, a premium French / American brand, was much smoother and palatable. But Ketel, actually had a taste, dare I say flavour which was pretty damned good.
However Big D wasn't so convinced and thought that I had succumbed to the power of suggestive marketing and ambience - the charming hosts dressed as thirties style gents, perfectly complemented the speakeasy nature of the East Room. And he may have a point, but I will say if I had to drink a straight vodka, Ketel would be first on my list.
Apparently the brand, which has been around for 300 years derives its unique flavour from the copper pots its fermented in. Exactly how that transpires into a good thing, I'm not sure. Nevertheless a nice little session, with a very nice and very big, vodka.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Aquum, Clapham High Street

It's always nice to try out new bars, and you don't get much fresher then three day old Aquum on the Clapham High Street. A beautiful West End style bar complete with faux (one assumes) crystal chandeliers, white / pink interiors, and a load of mirrors lest you forget how you look, the bar is split over three levels complete with its own VIP section. Old timers might say Aquum sits slightly at odds next to the legendary La Rueda ,and across the road from the now very famous Loft Bar. Needless to say Big D and I were not accorded VIP status and were down with the commoners, but a beautiful Whisky Sour followed by several Negra Modellos kept us in good spirits.
The clientele were a combination of Girls Aloud and Take That in style and probably age, but had that open friendliness that always surprises visitors to the Dirty South.
When we returned after a fun filled 'interlude' of pop, hen parties and cocktails in a bowl at Mahiki south, AKA the Sugar Cane in Clapham Junction the place was absolutely jumping.
The music had kicked in and the Big D started throwing shapes that you don't normally see on a conventional dance floor, or for that matter anywhere outside of a ring.
Great service, laid back but very efficient bar staff, and numerous but rather nice door staff all combined to make the place work. Very well in fact. Hopefully it will survive both the credit crunch and the competition.