Thursday, 30 April 2009

Rosé in the sun - Manicomio Kings Road

In the eighties I lived in a flat above a restaurant owned by Miroslav. With his slicked back hair, aviator glasses, tight fitting black tee shirt, acid washed jeans, three inch heel boots and distressed brown leather jacket, he was the epitome of Italian style cool. He even owned a wardrobe of pastel suits. Inspirational. Of course, as you can probably tell by his name Miroslav was a Croatian rather then Italian, and even then his wardrobe was probably a tad dated. Nevertheless the man was a legend to the fashion senseless bunch of NZ males that were my friends. Moving to the noughties and on a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon in London, the Kings Road is brimming with European men still honouring the style mantra that Miroslav did and probably still does adhere to. And all of them seem to be heading for the same place that we are - Manicomio, the deceptively casual looking café / restaurant on Duke of York Square.
Manicomio is run by a former River Café chef, and you can tell in both the quality of the food, and the matching prices. This place most certainly isn’t cheap. The afternoon started nicely when the posher-then-posh young waitress gave the Northerner and I a table in a prime sun spot. It was such a good a table that the neighbouring German couple proceeded to shoot us daggers throughout the afternoon, while an assembly line of increasingly aggravated Kings Road smug couples kept the maitre d’ busy with enquires as to how much longer we would be. It’s sometimes hard to relax while people are gesticulating and throwing longing glances in your direction, but we managed easily enough.
The food was divine, and the rosé overcame my previous long-held doubts about the Italian variations of this wine. In fact the Rosa dei Masi Corvina 06 was so good I drank three pints of the stuff. Something that was cause for regret when I was presented for the bill. Regardless, Manicomio was more then worthy of the hefty spend. The service was warm and very efficient, the ambience excitable yet relaxed as only wealthy European haunts can be. Apparently there is another Manicomio in the city, but I think this is the place you want to try. I’m no fan of the Kings Road / Chelsea thing, but you will be hard pressed to find a better people watching suntrap on this side of London then this place.
And the number of European men effortlessly coordinating the acts of chatting up the waitresses, sipping expensive wines , eying up the Kings Road Euro gals and carrying off that eighties style ‘cool’ all confirmed the fact that the style mantra and spirit of Miroslav lives on.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Watching the Apprentice

The Rock Star’s return from a two-week sabbatical down under was as good a reason as any to head out for drinks. Friday night lights saw us going back to the Golden Heart, the unassuming little boozer that is a mecca for East London hipsters. And us of course. Friday night hummed as fashionable young things influenced by but clearly not witness to the New Romantic movement of the 80’s, worked themselves into a collective frenzy as wine, lagers and vodka flowed with abandon. One of the groups of pretty young things near us even honoured that time-old tactic of producing a litre bottle of vodka from her bag to top up her gang’s OJ’s and tonics. Quality. The Rock Star and I unintentionally grabbed the attention of the local junkies, who seemed attracted by the fact that we were paying for our own drinks and therefore clearly in the money. After humouring them for five or so minutes whilst trying to work out exactly what they were on (I thought Heroin, the Rock Star thought Crack – like we’d actually be able to tell the difference) we ushered them on their way and headed inside. One of them actually pointed out that I dressed / looked like one of the Blues Brothers. Worse still I think she meant the short fat one.
The Northerner showed up and after a couple more drinks, her and I ambled on down to the Hoxton Apprentice in Hoxton Square. Set in a Grade 2 listed Victorian primary school building the Apprentice is a charitable restaurant set up to help the long term unemployed back into work. A predecessor to the Jamie Oliver gig, it is not as flashy and pretentious as Fifteen, albeit equally as well-intentioned. Given the setup the food can be mixed, and the cocktails a tad on the ‘sweet’ side. Nevertheless as ever our school dinner on the night was pretty damned fine, and a cracking bottle (or was it two?) of Pinotage more then compensated for any inconsistencies in the menu. It certainly made assembling flat-pack furniture the following morning rather difficult.
I’m not normally one to promote ‘good cause’ entertainment ventures, but one I would support is the Hoxton Apprentice. Superb location, warm service, and in the case of the Northerner’s main and my dessert, some very good dishes on the menu. And if you want to carry on drinking there are plenty more venues dotted around the Square a mere stumble away, some of which will no doubt feature in this blog at a later date.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Exchanging roof gardens for a square - Exchange Square

The plan was to head to a roof terrace for a St George's day Pimms. The Queen of Hoxton's to be precise. It was after all a gloriously sunny Thursday, the QOH ,formerly known as Industry, is both very close to where I work and a very funky and hip bar - after all Pixie(not Peaches) Geldof drinks there. Better still the QOH comes equipped with a large 'English country garden' style terrace, a feature that contrasts nicely to the urban uber-hip persona of the bar itself. Heavy D, as ever, was available so we both wobbled on down. One small problem. The terrace, albeit fully functional wasn't open. 'Private parties only senor' said the barman who I suspect wasn't local. The logic wasn't obvious to us or the bored looking hipsters draped over the furniture, so we bade our farewells and strolled 50 metres down the road for a bit of sunshine and Kirin's at Exchange Square.
You have to hand it to the English. In Europe if you get a clear bit of space behind a public amenity they'll turn it into a park with water features and the like. The English turn it into a glorified garden bar. Albeit with a water feature. Situated just behind Liverpool St station, Exchange Square is the effectively the border where the City meets Shoreditch. No pretty young things or hipsters at this place. The men are all dressed like they've stepped straight out of an Austin Reed catalogue, while the highly out-numbered women are appropriately corporate conservative. It's a bit like drinking in Canary Wharf - but without the river views. For bars you have a Davy's - a dull version of Jamies; and a Corney and Barrow - an interesting version of a Jamies. Spoilt for choice then.
However in spite of these 'features' the place actually works very well. It's a natural sun-trap that's buzzy and sets you up for the evening very nicely. The service was sharp, the beers worked a treat. It wasn't the QOH, but it was a lot of fun. I think its best to ignore me in future.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

In praise of things Australian - Taylor St Baristas

People who have got to know me over the years will realise that I'm a reluctant champion of anything Australian. Wine - too 'big' and too much tannin; music - stadium rock for surfers; cities – suburbia based around shopping malls; food - burnt shrimps or fusion; fashion – beachwear, and beachwear; bars – need I mention the Walkabout chain? The list goes on. And don't even get me started on their sports teams. If it wasn't for the fact that I find the people so damned nice I would have nothing positive to say about the place at all.
Except I do have to concede (reluctantly) that they do good coffee. Great in fact. And nowhere is this better represented in London then Taylor St Baristas.
My ‘local’ is in New Street off Bishopsgate, which despite stiff local competition (including cheekily, a Starbucks directly opposite) is proving a hit with local coffee connoisseurs. The pretty young things are strapping (with some decidedly camp) Australian men who know their coffee and keep the mostly male, European client base very happy with their superb service and beautifully produced drinks.
Drop in any time of day and the queue in an admittedly small space, will be nearly out the door, a situation that is often exacerbated as excitable Italian bankers debate the nuances of coffee making with the baristas. Food is secondary, but always top-notch. The ambience, buzzy and busy is cheered along by the enthusiastic staff, all of whom seem to remember your usual order, if not necessarily your name.
So there you go – great beaches, great sunshine, the greatest rock (Uluru) and great coffee. I think that’s enough praise for one blog.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Mahiki tiki tavi

Mahiki in Mayfair seems to have become famous on the back of a certain pair of royal brothers, which is normally enough to put off a die hard republican (note the small 'r') like me. Fortunately the bar has a lot more to offer then wealthy toffs in polo shirts and baseball caps. Anyway, I hear they now go raving 'out East' nowadays. Friday night and a motley crew of commoners that included Heavy D, the Engineer, the Northerner, Texas Embassy girl and l headed out to Mahiki to celebrate the Quiff's birthday. 
The last time I had been there was to celebrate my own coming of age a year or so back and was pleased to see that all the elements that make it a great bar were still in place. Wonderfully mixed, high quality cocktails. Check. Classic seventies and eighties pop. Check. Bar staff dressed as extras from Hawaii 5 0. Check. 
We settled into one of the many upstairs booths and started attacking the cocktail menu. The Northerner and the Quiff got intimate with something Dark and Stormy, I got off with a Honolulu Honey, and Texas and the Engineer struck a rapport with the vodka based Fa'aene's. Heavy D drank beer. Crazy dude that he is.
The Quiff and Texas Embassy were heading out to dinner, so we said our farewells and after a few more sharpeners headed downstairs to carve up the dance floor. Well the Northerner did whilst the rest of us shuffled from side to side and tried not to look like minicab drivers. 
The places was rammed with gangs of pretty young things busting moves to a great DJ set that included the Clash, Abba, David Bowie, Wham and even some seventies Elvis. Too cool for school this place.  Eton and Harrow were obviously still on Easter break judging by the Prince Harry wannabes bouncing around, but they were harmless enough. Although I'll never quite get that turned up polo shirt collar look. 
The cocktails meanwhile were having the desired effect of getting everyone singing along to the likes of Spandau Ballet and Michael Jackson while the dance floor got cosy bordering on intimate. Which suited the boys just fine.
The Northerner and I finally hit the wall - literally at one stage in my case - around 1amish leaving the boys to try with what seemed like misplaced optimism, to chat up the Kate Middelton and Paris Hilton lookalikes that were leaping all over the dance floor. No doubt the reports will come in soon enough.
Now to find some berocca and maybe think about having a Bloody Mary. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Up on the roof - The East Room

Roof terraces are a particular passion of mine, and those that come complete with a fully stocked bar and cocktail waiter, preferably with a hefty dose of sunshine, are the perfect place to spend a summer evening. Wednesday’s unseasonably warm weather meant it was tools down early so I could meet the Northerner for a tipple at the East Room on Tabernacle Street.
The East Room happens to be my favourite bar in London, in no small part due to the fact that in a moment of madness they made me a life member. However the place has a lot more going for it then that. The roof terrace is not as stylised as the one on the nearby Shoreditch House, or as slickly managed as the rather bland Coq d Argent, and is all the better for that. The East Room’s terrace is smaller, less structured and given its lack of height relative to the nearby buildings, very, very urban. You can peer over the wall and watch graphic designers throw balls around their office, flirt and generally do everything but design. Or so it seems. The terrace also has its own little allotment in which they grow herbs. Just to add that rustic touch.
The crowd is generally very media and cool, although having said that, at the table near to us a group of American women were trying out their best Sex and City impressions - quaffing champagne and or cocktails, air-kissing galore, and speaking very loudly. Unfortunately for them the illusion was rather undone when they started debating which makes the best canned food- asparagus versus mushrooms. I kid you not.
Meanwhile a couple of Italian bankers behind us were slightly confused and bemused - they clearly thought they were going to Shoreditch House and were rather taken aback by the lack of celebrities. Which in my view is what makes the East Room a great place – no celebrities and no bankers, but maybe that’s just me.
And finally, in a feeble attempt to overcome the false advertising allegations made about the blog I did try a Bloody Mary – and pretty damned good it was too. Very spicy, and very, very strong. Near perfect really. Or maybe that’s just me.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Bohemian Rhapsody - Cafe Boheme, John Snow

There are several drawbacks to writing a blog like this. First, you often are writing with a hangover which can affect the quality of your output. Second by writing with a hangover you demonstrate the poor quality of your output by resorting to naff songs as your article title. Third, in the course of producing a blog dedicated to going out , you inevitably are subject to hangovers.
Hangovers aside, one soldiers on, and on a balmy Wednesday evening the Northerner and I met in sunny Soho where the streets were paved with West End girls and boys celebrating the short working week and the upcoming long Easter weekend. We started off at the John Snow pub in Broadwick Street, which is not named after the newsreader, but instead the doctor who discovered the cure for cholera. Well that's if you believe the twenty-somethings stood next to us. Whatever its history, the John Snow is one of many pubs of choice for Soho's creative set (with nearby the Endurance and the Sun and 13 Cantons also top contenders), and a cracking little venue at that. We stood outside where a hearty supply of organic beers, loads of fashionable (and pretty) young things, and yours truly and the Northerner talking wholeheartedly about ourselves, got the night off to a great start.
The sun set and food beckoned, so we made our way down Old Compton Street and headed one off to one of our favourite old stomping grounds Cafe Boheme .
Boheme was one of the first bars / restaurants I ever went to in London and at the time I thought it the height of sophistication. Well I am from New Zealand. Needless to say, 14 years on, the place still holds up rather well, and is a great late night venue for good French brasserie style food. The crowd is a mix of slightly confused European tourists, tipsy Londoners looking for a good steak. The music is hit and miss - last night was French dance music. Okay in Paris I guess. But service is slick, the food good, and the wines superb. A Provencal Rose more then hitting the spot for this fella.
By 11.30 as we stumbled out to hail one of the now infinite supply of black taxis, and Old Compton Street was in full swing, with queues of lads outside GAY and Bar Soho eying each other suspiciously but both with the same intentions if not targets.
Gotta love Soho. Now to work on that hangover.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

East is Best

Nothing cuts through class barriers quite so effortlessly in London as the local pub. Around Spitalfields where I frequent, are a fine collection of old boozers where fashion designers and creatives, newly poor bankers and original East Enders all get merrily drunk together with that Dunkirk spirit that is unique to the British. This is not a London that fans of Richard Curtis movies would recognise and is probably all the better for that.
The Northerner was out with some of the fashion set on a pub crawl of Gay Soho, so the call went out and Heavy D (formerly Big D, lest you were wondering), the Caister boy, the Engineer and yours truly all descended upon the Golden Heart on Commercial Street. The Golden Heart effortlessly mixes together old East End locals, with the creative and financial services set that have encroached on its territory, and manages it all with aplomb. An old fashioned jukebox and a steady flow of beers saw the crew singing along heartily to Rod Stewart's greatest hits - something I feel we managed very well, although I don't think the collection of French designers sat next to us thought so. And people say the French have sophisticated tastes.
From there we stumbled up Brick Lane, with the obligatory stop at the legendary Brick Lane Beigel before finishing the night at the Shoreditch version of Beach Blanket Babylon. This place gets some bad press and I'm not quite sure why. The place is more Peaches Geldof then Alexis Chung, and there's an awful lot of Class A action going on in there which I guess isn't everyones thing. However Heavy D certainly appreciated the pretty young things bouncing around the place and a great DJ throwing some good tunes down , accompanied by a steady flow of cocktails kept the crew entertained for several hours of mayhem.
One final point. I'm not sure that the crew's 'undercover polic chic' style suited the vibe of the place. Or any place for that matter. I am very sure it won't catch on. Next week we'll try the estate agent look.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

I Predict a Riot - the Telegraph

Riots aren't what they used to be. When I arrived in this country everything that I heard about Notting Hill, Brixton and the Poll Tax made Britain seem like the last bastion of civil disorder. Not so the noughties where yesterday we all sat in the office enjoying our macchiatos watching one of the many LCD TV's on our floor and witnessed 4 protestors and 30 photographers kicking in the windows of one of our buildings. In typically British spirit, there was less concern about the physical threat that the protestors posed but a lot of disgruntlement at the fact that the increased security seemed to be denying us our right to drink in the sunshine. 'Bloody crusties' a colleague muttered 'how come they're the only ones enjoying the weather'.
Braveheart, a man who would lay no claims to being brave but is at least Scottish, was out for beers so I took advantage of the opportunity to leave early and met him and his equally posh colleagues at The Telegraph - some 50 metres away from the 'riot'.
The Telegraph is nothing special per se, but it does benefit from a wonderful location on one of those rickety, albeit now modernised, little back streets that gives the city its character. The sun was shining, the drinks were flowing and our crowd of PR's, M&A's and other meaningless acronyms acted with the reckless abandon that so enrages our anti G20 Bretheren. At one stage a small group of protestors on bikes stumbled across the pub (goodness knows they wouldn't have sought it out deliberately) and proceeded to encircle me, jingling their bells in a stand off that evoked memories of the Miners Strikes. As done by Disney. We all smiled at each other, before I sought out the company of Braveheart while they toodled off into the sunshine. Oh what a riot.