Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Czech your drinking - The Luxe, Spitalfields Market

There are big nights and then there are ridiculously big nights. On what was my second visit in as many weeks to The Luxe in Spitalfields we'd gathered together a crew of occasional and frequent imbibers to celebrate all things Friday.
John Torode's - as in Smiths of Smithfields and occasionally MasterChef - latest bar has copped more then its fair share of criticism much of which is hard to understand. For a start its a very beautiful venue with a birdcage type exterior enhanced by high windows and funky, modern furniture. The Luxe's design is very much in keeping with the original Spitalfield's market albeit successfully updated for the noughties.
Second the service, whether at your table or the bar is slick and charming - there's not too much waiting around at this place. And finally it has a buzz reminiscent of when Smiths of Smithfield's first opened. It's not by any means hip, but it successfully strikes the balance for those city workers and wannabe hipsters for whom the other pubs in Commercial Street and Brick Lane are a little too grubby.
The first time I visited the Luxe was on a Monday night on which it had enough of a crowd and ambiance to justify drinking on the earliest school night. By the second visit we were at full-on Friday mode, with birthday parties, party girls and boys, and us - the occasionally motley drinking crew that included such luminaries as the Northerner, Lady Devon, Young Elvis, the Engineer, the Caister Boy, Betty Boo and the Architect and the Senorita to name but a few - meant I was never going to get off lightly.
And that turned out to be the case as, instead of stopping at three to four of the 6% Czech beers, Young Elvis and I powered through what must have been a dozen or so, and behaved accordingly. The Northerner wasn't best pleased. After all, she'd only had five caipirinhas.
Finally I called time, probably not a moment to soon, stumbling off into the night, and leaving the pretty young things to have some fun. Nevertheless I do think the Luxe is a very good addition to the Smithfield's portfolio and a welcome alternative to the awful banker bars of Bishopsgate. Not that you want too many more bankers there. Nor, if you take into account how I felt the next day, do you want to overdo the Czech beers. Don't say you haven't been warned.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Portuguese come out to play- Bairro Alto, Lisbon

Losing luggage is not a great way to start a holiday. This is exacerbated if you happen to be in a country where the men are 1) considerably smaller then you 2) dress much better then you do and 3) most importantly tend to wear a very 'fitted' style (read muscle shirts) . Tight stuff. Fortunately Lisbon is one of the best party towns the Northerner and I have visited, with bars and food haunts to more then compensate for any wardrobe mishaps. So despite looking like a new arrival on Old Compton Street, we attacked the social scene with abandon and chose to spent most of our evenings in Bairro Alto - Lisbon's answer to Shoreditch / Hoxton and the Lower East Side.
I can't begin to name the bars we visited so I will try and describe the scene for those of you who have not visited the area. First, unlike Shoreditch or the LES in New York; the Bairro does not have a daytime thing going on with lots of boutiques and shoppers, cafes / restaurants etc. It does have them, but they re dotted around the place, hidden behind or next to what look like doorways into peoples homes. In fact, during the day, the area is litter and graffiti strewn (the latter is at least artistic), and very quiet. You are just as likely to bump into a 'care in the community' straggler as a confused looking tourist. Sometimes they are one and the same person.
The Bairro comes into its own later on, as it is a genuine night-time haunt with most shops opening from the afternoon until the late evening, and bars hitting their stride from 11pm . Ditto the restaurants. Tucked amongst the streets, there's a gay quarter, a fado area (traditional Portuguese singing - not to my taste); and endless little tucked away bars each with their own music style and funky interior. And full to the rafters of young people drinking like there's no tomorrow. Which I must admit was a surprise, even to two hardened socialites like ourselves. We tend to think of the Northern European coutries as the binge drinkers, and the Southern Europeans as being more restrained. Not so in Lisbon where shots, caipirinhas and mojitos were knocked back frequently and at great speed. In fact I made the mistake of asking for a vodka / cranberry for the Northerner. What I got was a half-pint of blackberry juice and vodka shot. Watered down with more vodka. I kid you not.
Three nights on the trot of 3am sessions certainly took their toll, but at least we got to sample everything on offer.
If you haven't been to Lisbon or the Bairro Alto I recommend you give it a try. It's fun and very festive and you can still get a seat in a restaurant at midnight. How civilised. One tip though. Keep an eye on your luggage.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Regal cool - The Princess of Shoreditch

The once much maligned gastropub concept is now a fully accepted and important piece of London's social tapestry, and many pubs are continuing to develop and push the concept to new extremes. In the most positive sense. One of the best examples of the Britain's answer to the French bistro is the Princess of Shoreditch, which the Northerner and I were lucky enough to dine at the other night.
Celebrating my recent 21st (plus one or more) we kicked off the night with a few drinks with the gang (more of that in another blog), before heading off to this recently refurbished, 18th century boozer.
Located in the hub of the Ditch, just behind the Hoxton Hotel, the Princess benefits hugely from it's prime location, and the fact that for all intents and purposes its an old boozer. With a twist.
That twist is in the form of it's food, which although not cheap, is top of the range in terms of quality and choice. After ordering a deliciously crisp Picpol de Pinet (one of Langedoc's finest) we set about the serious business of eating.
The Northerner started with the scallops while I tested the foie gras. Neither of us were disappointed - the scallops were fresh, nicely seasoned and cooked on the tender side. In other words, perfect. While the foie gras, with an accompaniment of poached plum and brioche was as heavenly as it sounds. Assuming you're not a vegetarian of course.
For mains the Northerners chose the lamb rump with pak choi and chorizo in the mix, while I went for the pork belly and black pudding. Again both were perfectly cooked to order - tender towards pink - well seasoned and delicious. Not a scrap left on those plates.
Finally we finished with an apple and plum crumble and a creme brulee, which again were exceedingly good and comforting in equal measure. Although the Northerner's crumbles are of course, a bit better.
Given it was a Monday night ,the place was still buzzing and the service was faultless. In fact the Princess left us with nothing to complain about. Very unusual for us.
So a gastropub that goes straight on to my 'must go again' list. Next time we'll take some friends lest people think I make this stuff up.
Finally, I / we have noticed that Time Out seem to run the same reviews that I do, pretty much at the same time. Admittedly their readership is oh, some 200, 000 people more then this little old blog, but for the record - it's a coincidence. Although I have noticed some student journo types casing my house. Hmmm....

Monday, 2 November 2009

Halloween on trend - Home House, Portman Square London

Probably the most American of celebrations after Thanksgiving is Halloween, an event that is now firmly established on the London social calendar. Yet its been something that I've studiously avoided, until last year in New York when I realised how much fun it is dressing very badly and dancing 'in character'. With that in mind the Northerner and I duly accepted the invitation from Betty Boo and the Architect to join them for scary frolics at the rather exclusive members club Home House in Portman Square. If you're going to go to an upmarket club, you might as well look awful. A logic that the Northerner and many of our other friends do not share.
Admittedly Halloween is not a normal night, and as the Northerner quickly pointed out - hardly representative of the club. However, fancy dress aside, you still get a pretty good impression of the place, which I think is worth sharing.
Home House is the former abode of the Countess of Home - hence the posh location - which in good London fashion was restored and turned into a drinking den. It features what I believe house nerds call drawing rooms - four of them in fact - and a mix of antique and modern designer furniture. All of which seem to be unnecessarily low, and a more uncomfortable then you'd imagine. Then again, I was wearing a PVC Michael Jackson outfit.
The clientele are West End / West London upmarket and, on party night glamour personified. In fact the party was one of the best I've been to. Superb outfits, a stonkingly good band, actors in horror character, delicious cocktails, a wonderful DJ set, in a beautifully restored Georgian townhouse complete with an English country garden. When did I get so upmarket.
Betty Boo and the Architect don't frequent the place as much as they used to, given they're also members of Shoreditch House, which, amongst other things, is closer to where they live. However they're very lucky indeed to have two wonderful social options at their disposal. I wouldn't be able to say one is better then the other - rather they're equally superb but still different. In a good way. We're very lucky to have two friends willing to take us to these places. Although I think next time I best lose the 'Thriller' look.