Monday, 31 August 2009

Shoreditch Styling - Callooh Callay, Rivington Street

There are some bars that take your breathe away in terms of visual impact,brilliance of thought and ambiance. And Callooh Callay (yes you heard that correctly) on Rivington Street in Shoreditch is one of those. Picking up the mantle from where the now legendary Loungelover left off, Callooh is is probably the most stylishly innovative London bar this fella has been to in a good few years. And trust me, that covers quite a few bars. 
What am I talking about? In no particular order any place that has a wall of cassettes decorating the entrance to and interiors of the toilets; twenties' gramophones re-engineered into Tiki punch drinking vessels; a retro seventies bar protecting the DJ booth (as in the sort your parents aspired to have in their house); and best of all, a 'through the looking glass' wardrobe that acts as a door to the back rooms; is already doing everything right in the looks department. 
But the innovation extends beyond how it looks, and onto the cocktails we ventured, where once again Callooh came up trumps. After perusing the menu our tasting session began in earnest. The Northerner helped herself to a Hisbiscusaurus (tequila based with apple), Nettle Fizz (Gin, blackberries and Prosecco) and Rocking all Clover the world (Gin, raspberry and rhubarb bitters), which were delicious. I knocked back an Ale of Two Cities (looks like an ale, but with feijoa vodka, bitters, lime, apple and malt syrup) Ready Steady Shake (passionfruit vodka, creme de peche and citrus bitters) and Delicious Sour (courvoisier based) and finally and Afternoon Twee (gin, blueberry, fruit bitters). They were all, without exception delicious and perfectly executed. Flavoursome without tasting overpoweringly alcoholic - despite the fact that most of them obviously were.
We chatted to Richard, one of the founders of the place who was charm personified, and explained that the place, which opened last November, and soft-launched in February was now beginning to pick up momentum - indicated by the taxi loads of beautiful people that rocked up over the course of the evening. I already plan to book my next party there and will be dropping him a line very soon. I can't say enough good about this place except to check it out for yourself. Although don't go too soon. Clearly I want it to stay a 'secret' for a little bit longer.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Back up on the Roof - The East Room Roof Garden

One of the challenges of writing a blog dedicated to your nightlife is avoiding repetition. Despite the fact that there are thousands of bars, restaurants and pubs in London town it stands to reason that you won't visit them all And of course there are some that become favourites, often merely for the reason that they are close to where you work or live, that you visit time and again. And there are places that you love, and with that busy London work thing going on, these are where you go to for that after work 'breather'. For my good self this includes close to home favourites like the Florence and Prince Regent in Herne Hill, and great funky pubs such as The Golden Heart and Ten Bells in Shoreditch. And sometimes a place is so good that you actually part with hard earned cash and become a lifetime member, and it is the East Rooms, part of Milk and Honey group.
And so with the recent weeks of glorious sunshine the Northerner, Heavy D and I have been making the most of that membership. Assuming that you like roof garden bars - and I have yet to meet anyone that doesn't - there are several things that make the East Room's stand out. It's a working functioning garden - they grow herbs, fruit and the like up there which they serve in the restaurant downstairs. On sunny evenings they crank up the best BBQ I've come across in London town, which given my Antipodean heritage is saying something. It's probably a combination of very good ingredients (burgers, sweet corn, sausages, marinated chicken etc), and a man who actually cooks, rather then burns or heats food, that makes the food so memorable. It also has a 24 hour licence in the weekends which means that it’s full to its brim with party people whom, despite being part of a members club, are surprisingly friendly. But then I guess most people are after record temperature hot days, an Ashes victory and several ice-cold beers.
There’s probably no need for me to say anything else about this place as not only is it so popular that membership is about to be or is already closed, but I also have a small army of ‘friends’ queuing up to join me for drinks there. And trust me; it isn’t because of my conversation. One word of warning – this place is so good that Heavy himself – a man who parts with money as willingly as the All Blacks do a rugby world cup - is thinking of joining. You have been warned.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Junky Styling Launch Party, - The Future Gallery and Soho House, London

Events don't get much cooler then a fashion book launch party, and so it proved when the Northerner invited me as her 'Plus One' to the designer's behind Junky Styling's bash to celebrate Wardrobe Surgery at the Future Gallery in the West End. I shan't talk to the fashion side of the evening, as the Northerner does it much better then I ever could in her wonderful blog ReDesign for Life but instead will focus on what I know - the drinks and eating part.
The Future Gallery sits in that odd corner of London near Leicester Square between Charing Cross Road and Long Acre - tourist central with dodgy kebab houses, cheap and awful 'cocktail' bars and minicabs aplenty. However the Future Gallery with its cool white interiors supplemented by a high fashion crowd, a bar serving free Courvoisier ‘mule’ cocktails and Japanese beers, topped off by towering models wearing the wonderful Junky Styling creations is the antithesis of tacky. With a pumping UK hip hop soundtrack, and beers and cocktails flowing the atmosphere was festive in the extreme and all of the guests were glamour personified. Well nearly all, as it seemed yours truly was the ONLY person not to get his picture taken by the two floating photographers. Philistines.
Later in the evening and still game for more we headed on to the legendary London haunt Soho House with our two new friends of the evening, the Canadian and her partner the Architect for drinks and late night dinner. Those of you who have never been there may not realise that there are actually 'two' Soho House's in London. The real Soho House, is the original members club on Frith Street above Cafe Boheme, complete with cool bars, roof terrace and celebrities. Lots of them. However there is another part of Soho House that sits above the Boheme Bar and Kitchen on Old Compton Street which seems to be strictly for corporate gigs and private (non-members) parties. Having been to both venues over the years I can tell you that they are a world apart, despite the denials of the Soho House ownership. Fortunately for us it was the former, original version that we went to, and on a steaming Thursday night in Soho, the place was buzzing. At one stage I went to comment to the Northerner that the celebrity count wasn't what it used to be only to note that she was talking to a Spice Girl. Maybe its just me. We took a drink in the bar before sitting down in the restaurant to do the wine and dinner thing. The details of that stage of the evening are a little hazy but the wine that the Architect chose, as recommended by the sommelier was superb ( a variation of a French Pinot Noir) while the pork that the him and I had (served 'pink') was tender and perfectly seasoned. The Northerner and the Canadian opted for the fish which was obviously great as sharing didn't seem to be an option. Oh and it was very reasonably priced too. In fact the whole place left you nothing to complain about, which no doubt explains why it is so incredibly successful. The perfect end to the perfect evening in London. I think that says it all.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Poetic Justice - The Water Poet, Shoreditch

There are three things which I tend to dislike in a pub. In no particular order they are; venues with an all male / suited clientele; Fosters (or a similarly cheap lager) on tap; and a large Sky Sports screen. Lad pubs in every sense. Each of these elements on their own is sometimes tolerable, but two or even worse all three condemns it to a place that shall not enjoy my patronage. And I’m sure you can appreciate the impact of that protest on the brewery industry.
My first impression of the Water Poet near Spitalfields market was on a visit with Heavy D and the Rock Star and it struck us that it was a beautiful old fashioned East End boozer whose owners had foolishly taken down the Lad pub route. Sky sports screen, wall to wall ‘suits’ and Stella on tap. Although Heavy seemed to like it. I went back again a few weeks later and still, unable to get past the throngs of lager swilling bankers in the front bar, left with the same impression. Why does the City insist on ruining potentially great venues?
However I am nothing if not persistent, and after a pleasant afternoon of shopping around Brick Lane with the Northerner I decided to give it one more try, albeit in a weekend. And thank goodness I did. In the weekend the place is transformed into the scruffy cool Bohemian type pub that is hidden beneath during the week.
The interior which is all maroon and leather with tatty and restored pieces of furniture has several spacious rooms consisting of the front bar, lounge bar, pool room and a private side room. While the garden bar, which is probably the most spacious within the confines of the City square mile, is all urban industrial in style yet relaxing in ambience. Plus it is a suntrap, which is what you want in any garden bar. Apparently the do a superb Sunday lunch but we were too late to try the food thing. Nevertheless a good bottle of NZ Pinot Noir and a nice bit of people watching seemed to keep any hunger pangs at bay.
So I stand corrected and concede that the Water Poet is more then worthy of a visit, and may even become something of a regular on my pub circuit. But I would wait until the City boys have moved on.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Taking a Swedish break - Fika, Brick Lane

I first went to Sweden on a business trip in the late 90’s and there were two things that made a lasting impression on me. One was the snow. It was first time in my sheltered excuse of a life that I had encountered the heavy white stuff and sub-zero temperatures – the former of which was very pretty; the latter very cold.
The second was the phenomenon known as ‘Big Wednesdays’ whereby shiploads of beautiful Scandinavians (are there any other kind) for some reason choose this particular night to get drunk. Absolutely rip-roaringly drunk in fact. And not just the slurring / uneasy on your feet kind of drunk, but the stumbling, collapsing rolling around in the snow sort of stupor that you normally associate with connoisseurs of Tenants Extra. Astonishing but kind of fun.
One thing that did not leave an impression was the cuisine. I dined at some very good restaurants and even did the reindeer steak thing which was quite nice, but overall there were no dishes or meals that have stayed in the memory bank.
Stumbling across the delightful looking Fika on Brick Lane I looked forward to it changing that perception.
With its soft earth colours of brown and green, and furniture that looks like it’s taken from a very famous Swedish furniture retailer Fika is a comfortable and relaxed little place. After reviewing the Scandinavian organic take on a menu, the Northerner and I agreed to go for their speciality, the Planka – a dish served on a plank accompanied by smoked, pressed potato, gravy and a tomato. Intrigued I ordered the salmon variety and the Northerner went for the Kyckling (chicken) which were accompanied by a hollandaise and a chilli infused lemon sauce respectively. The Northerner’s chicken was well seasoned and flavoursome, while my salmon was cooked perfectly – i.e. slightly rare and in itself delicious. However the potato was a let down, lacking in flavour and with a peculiar texture. While my sauce was overpowering but a tad bland – not a good combination. I tried one of the Swedish Mariestads beer which was flavoursome and very high in alcohol content. No doubt it would work a treat on Big Wednesday. The Northerner eschewed some of the eclectic wines on offer (Elderberry or Strawberry wine anyone?) and opted for a French rose which was crisp and dry. Fika is not expensive by West End standards, but certainly not a cheap and cheerful and could probably best be described as an aspirational cafĂ© rather then an out-and-out restaurant. The food was satisfactory rather then memorable and I would go again, but maybe as a drinks and nibbles night rather then the full dining experience.
'Fika' is according to our waitress, the Swedish expression for what we would call a coffee break, but really it’s a social interaction that Swedes take very seriously. Given my experience of Big Wednesday I can confirm that they definitely do take that form of social interaction very seriously, and perhaps that's the sort of approach I should take the next time I chance upon Fika.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Rakish charm - The Rake, Borough Market

Good things, according to a hackneyed old phrase, come in small packages. A view which might be applied to both my destination and my companion on a sunny Friday evening in London town; although I suspect the latter aka the Rock Star, might be bemused by the description. However the venue, The Rake in Borough Market has no such qualms and what a nice little find it turned out to be.
Although I can hardly claim it to be a 'find'. After all the Rake in its relatively short reinvention as beer bar extraordinaire has picked up a host of awards, including the Class Bar Awards 'Best Beer Experience' and the Time Out Best Bar Award. In fact I've been reading about it for a few years now and was more then a tad embarrassed after having made several half-hearted attempts to find it and wondering if in fact it had been closed, only to find it a mere 20 metres away from Black and Blue. A place I've frequented only about 20 times over the last year. Nevermind, find it we did and settled into sampling the wares and to find out what all the fuss is.
Well the fuss is justified. First and foremost it has something in the vicinity of over 100 beers, with a healthy selection of wine and ciders to boot. And as per the photo below, there is some seriously good beer going. The Rock Star and I hit a couple of pints of Veltin which pulled off the neat trick of getting us very drunk, very quickly while still tasting good. Remarkable. Then of course is its Borough Market location, which has become a social destination in its own right over the last two years. However unlike its fellow market bars, the Rake is a sun trap that is also relatively free of traffic and noise - gold dust in these parts. And finally the service and the ambience oozes charm and is very efficient that makes it relaxing and enjoyable. Which is what you are after in a pub. Finally to the issue of size, which seems to be a regular cause for complaint on the other blogsites I've read about this pub. It is small but they do serve you quickly. I'm sure it gets busy from time to time, but thats just pubs in London right. Small with rakish charm. I think that about captures it.