Sunday, 27 September 2009

Stop the press - Luytens, Fleet Street

A sense of deja vu is common amongst those of us who spend too much time in bars and restaurants. Sometimes places look and seem eerily familiar only for you to realise that they are part of a 'chain' albeit a subtle one (read, different names) Often a venue will simply rename and redesign itself as a supposedly hip new spot - which invariably is never the case. However Luytens on Fleet Street - the spiritual home of British journalism - triggers a different emotion altogether as it occupies the site formerly owned by Reuters. The world's largest news agency and media giant which was also my employer for some six years.
Heavy D and I were out to celebrate his move to the Barbican and he suggested we go to this relatively new addition to the Conran portfolio. And I must say, I was impressed. First upon entering the cocktail bar, you notice that they've enhanced what was actually a rather shoddy interior whilst still retaining many charming artifacts to reflect its journalistic heritage - pictures of Julius Reuters himself for example. Moving to the back of the building where a friend of mine and her data management team used to reside, is now the modern white-on-white decorated restaurant. You can tell its upmarket by the fact that there are two waiters / waitresses to every table, an old school retro British menu with a twist, and prices that make you hesitate before you order.
The Heavy one kicked off with an Assiette de charcuterie, which was a sizable and very tasty portion of the great and not always so great of the meat world. My lobster mouse was light, subtle and wonderfully flavoured. I have to admit I had been unsure as the whether the dish would succeed. More fool me. For mains I took on the suckling pig with crackling - moist, perfectly seasoned and near pink perfect, while Heavy hit the Roast Rabbit, bacon and mustard which he declared as successful.
We rocked through a gorgeous new world pinot noir (Chilean I believe?) and a sherry to round off the night, both recommended by the sommelier and both matching expectations.
The place was full of the city types that most people now despise, but who were clearly immune to the credit crunch as thy ordered drinks and food with abandon.
It's not a place I would go to celebrate a special occasion - it certainly isn't romantic - and if anything its let down by being too 'city'. However that's being picky as it does what it sets out to do very well, all of which is made easier by the wonderful and attentive staff. My old Reuters buddies are now keen to try it. I recommend they go at least once. It's a vast improvement on the old staff canteen.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Exceeding expectations - Shoreditch House, London

For an old bar hand like myself most of the hyped places I visit tend to at best fall a little short of expectations. Not so Shoreditch House which the Northerner and I finally checked out recently to see what all the fuss is about. Frankly, the fuss is warranted as the 'Ditch' is beautifully designed, sizzingly atmospheric and topped off with the best view from a bar / club that I have seen in London town. It's no exaggeration that the cityscape panorama on offer matches anything you might see in New York. And in fact, that is the thing about the place. It's very New York albeit in the heart of Shoreditch. What more can you want from a bar?
We were up there to catch up with our 'new friends', the Architect and Betty Boo who we met at a fashion bash a few weeks back. After taking care of a few bottles of champagne to celebrate the Architect winning a battle with a former employer and me losing one with HMRC, we took in some people watching around the pool - the highlight of which were a gang of guys, looking resplendent in shirt, tie and jackets with small tight fitting denim shorts to provide that bit of drama. And lest you found yourself wondering how their 'outfits' worked , it wasn't too long before they had shed them completely and were launching themselves speedo clad of course, into the pool.
We headed down to the 5th floor for some fine Australian Cabernet sauvignon and a mighty fine dinner - which despite me getting pan fried cod with pesto instead of the pork I ordered, was delicious. The Northerner who did get the roast pork said I was unlucky as it was perfectly seasoned and slightly rare - just how I like it.
At our communal table we were sat with a Naomi Campbell lookalike and her tall OTT fashionable American hairdresser friend, while on my side were two of the most obnoxious European investment bankers imaginable who apparently 'know Nick' and were reeling off complaints by the dozen. To their credit the staff managed them back with ease - after all, they weren't famous, simply rich - which made me like the place even more.
I can't actually think of anything to be negative about - a constant criticism of this blog. The atmosphere is great, views - spectacular, and the staff - very charming and efficient. Just like in New York.
I'm not a member, and don't imagine I ever will be, but if I could I would. It's not better then my beloved East Rooms, but has that extra glamour and frisson that you get when style, fashion and celebrity are under, or in fact on top of, the same roof. Nothing wrong with that.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

DKNY Fashion's Night Out, Bond Street

You've got to hand it to American retailers - they do retail marketing and PR better then anybody. After all, they invented it. But it still makes me wonder as to why is it that the Americanos - supposedly puritanical and unhealthily obsessed with the body beautiful - rather then the Brits, still know how to throw a stonking, champagne and cocktail fueled party like no one else. What I'm talking about here is American super brand DKNY, which celebrated the New York inspired Fashion Night Out with Vogue Magazine on Thursday September 10 2009 with a DJ led party in their Bond Street store on that night.
Of course this is not a fashion blog, I leave that to the Northerner and her wonderful ReDesign for Life to work the superlatives on what's on trend this season. However as my experience tells me where fashion people go, drinks and parties are quick to follow, and this globally coordinated party event in DKNY stores across the world, saw the Bond Street shop turn into a funkier then funk, bar / club for the evening. Working in partnership with the uber-hip Bungalow 8 the DKNY crew hosted an evening that was meant to be about the clothes. I believe the UK Vogue editor was on hand to offer styling advice to anyone that looked like they needed it. However, you give 150, mostly women or gay men fashionistas free champagne and gin and vodka based cocktails for the evening. Throw in some DJ spun 80's tunes and what you get is a full on party, complete with dancing, shouting and flirting. This is why I love London. 
This is a weird blog to write in one sense in that DKNY is not a bar that I can recommend that you visit - it's a store that many of you probably will have been into. However for one night only it turned into Bungalow 8 on Bond Street and became one of, if not THE, place to be last week. I believe its what young people now regard as a 'pop up bar'.  So what I would say is try and get on the mailing list, which anyone can simply by shopping there. Just so you can get invited to the next bash. After all if an unfashionable fella like me can get invited, anyone can. And if you think I'm being falsely modest here, let me leave you with this thought. I was, without fail, the only person who the photographers did not want to snap. And only one person stopped to talk to me and give me a card - for styling advice. Enough said. Register now.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Venturing out of the City - The Olive Tree, Bath

As a general rule, the Northerner and I don't venture too far from London town to socialise. And if we do, we're talking Paris, Marrakech or New York as opposed to Leeds, Ipswich or Bradford. Nevertheless with 'staycations' now very much on trend, as us being as affected by the credit crunch as any other social butterfly we decided to take a long weekend in the beautiful Georgian city of Bath. We'd been here once before and had been more then a little taken with the stunning architecture, quaint riverside scenery and greenery and of course the Roman spa, but had struggled to find much of a social thing going on. What a difference ten years makes.
Alongside your normal chain bars are gorgeously restored old pubs, funky tapas and cocktail bars, and wonderful restaurants. And we had the good fortune to be staying at the best hotel in town - The Queensberry, with what is (according to Bath 'siders', Bathers?) THE best restaurant, The Olive Tree. Now okay - there are a couple of Michelin star restaurants in Bath nowadays and The Olive Tree did receive it's vote by the locals in 2008. But when we went there on a chilly but clear skyed Saturday evening there was no mistaking that the place is popular. Bookings are required.
Having said that, it's location in the basement is not as good as it could be. The hotel has the most wonderful reception rooms that one would expect from knocking three glorious Georgian terrace houses together, and its a shame for the diners that this space hasn't been allocated to the restaurant. But that's being picky. The ambience is all low lights and soft jazz music. The clientele are well-heeled Bathonians and those lucky enough to stay at the hotel, and the service is impeccable and charming.
The food is great. I started with Pork Belly and Langoustine and the Northerner did crab risotto with tempura of soft shell crab and courgette flower. Simpler then they sound, the dishes were wonderfully presented and perfectly executed. Beef with dauphinoise potatoes and halibut with pancetta and peas and chive mash were eaten with relish as we only reluctantly offered each other a taster. Desserts of peach melba and raspberry sorbet with a twist of cheese cake, and a charlotte of blueberry, raspberry and blackberry were indulgent without being overly sweet or fussy. We wash it back with a delicious Valpolicella which they put in their mouth-watering sweet and sour section. And they were right.
The place isn't cheap, but nor is it prohibitively expensive, and we rounded off the evening with a port or two in one of the lovely reception rooms. A perfect evening ended was given a slightly bizzare twist when, an admittedly very drunk couple decided to share with us their extra-marital fling secrets. They did have the good grace to buy us another drink for our troubles. And people wonder why we don't venture far from London.