Tuesday, 29 June 2010

England V Germany: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Kate Williams

Hot this weekend, wasn't it? I can't remember when it has been this sunny in London. Isn't Andy Murray doing well? Straight sets to Wimbledon's second round, get him. Oh and Thom Yorke's surprise Glastonbury set must have been pretty special, huh. Sorry I missed that.

Now, let me think, what else happened this weekend? Hmm. Oh yeah, England were knocked out of the World Cup. I watched this disappointing display from the comfortable upstairs dining room of Battersea's The Northcote. Here's the blow by blow:

Minus 15 mins: I leave the rowdy pub downstairs, and am seated in the more sedate and civilised dining room. Nervous customers prepare to line their stomachs with one eye on Gary Lineker's pre-game ramblings from the wall mounted flat screen. It's an unusually handsome venue to watch footie in, but I wholeheartedly approve and begin to peruse the wine list. Classy.

10 mins: Not long after kick off but from this non-football fan's point of view not much seems to be happening. 'Are we in the red or the white?' asks my friend. I was thinking the same thing. Out the open window I spot a very rare sight in South London, an almost empty Nando's. Either, only two girls in SW11 fancy Peri-Peri today or they're not showing the match.

20 mins: Oof. German goal. The waitress mentioned earlier that the chef was supporting Germany. At least we know now he won't be spitting in our food.

33 mins: Another German goal. I console myself thinking about my order. Traditional English fish and chips followed by traditional English Knickerbocker Glory will go along well with the traditional English under-performance.

38 mins: Spoke too soon. England score! The room, growing less sedate by the minute, is on it's feet. I check but the Nando's girls haven't even flinched.

39 mins: No! Lampard's obviously-legitimate-even-to-me-and-as-you-can-tell-I-don't-know-what-I'm-talking-about goal is disallowed. This is why I don't much like football. It's only good when we win. 'Shit ref' says the vocal England supporting Aussie girl behind me. Over and over and over...

Half time. My fellow diners pick at the remains of their meals, to overwrought to eat. I'm having no such trouble with my meaty cod, chips and minty peas. Yum, England can do something right.

48 mins: And we're back. I love the waitresses here. Not only are they lovely, they're very good at their jobs, managing to resolutely transport plates of food and trays of pints through punters who are up and down like red and white Jack-in-the-boxes, limbs flailing. Very professional and poised performance. Capello's boys should take note.

56 mins: Football is still happening. So is a Knickerbocker glory, layered with cream, ice cream gooey chocolate and chunky bits. Which do you think I'm more interested in?

67 mins: Germany score. Again. Sigh.

70 mins: Another goal for Germany's Thomas Mueller, though sadly not scored from a corner, thus denying me the chance to make a crap joke about yoghurt. What's that they say about Germans not having a sense of humour? (What's that they say about the English being casually racist?)

82 mins: I notice that Nando's is looking pretty full now. Have Battersea given up on England and switched allegiance to Portugal? Who could blame them?

Full time: That's it then. Germany, 4, England, 1 (well, technically two for all the difference it would have made). The Northcote diners pile out pretty quickly, either downstairs to drown their sorrows or home to angrily curse God. We stick around though to polish off rest of the crisp Sauvignon Semillion and to see my favourite part of any World Cup: fans dressed up in 'wacky' costumes with their head in their hands, in tears. Fancy dress and sobbing, that's pathos my friends.

Geronimo Inns WERE giving a free pint to Geronimo club members in the event of an England win. This obviously won't happen now, but sign up to www.geronimo-inns.co.uk/club for future news and offers.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Lonsdale (re)Launch Party

By Cat McGovern

When someone says to me: “Do you want to go to a place where they are showcasing their new cocktail menu?” my immediate response is: “Count me in!” I am a girl who goes around London, trying her best to find the best cocktails in town, so this assignment fits me down to a tee. The venue: The Lonsdale near Portobello Road, which is renowned for its large selection of carefully crafted cocktails, so I put on my glad rags and head on down.

As I enter I am immediately handed a tall, girly pink drink with an assortment of berries floating in it. I take a sip and think that it doesn’t taste that alcoholic and inquire to its name. The answer: a Russian Spring Punch for a hefty £10, but for superior quality, you have to pay the price tag. It is very light, summery and tastes bubbly and refreshing. With next drink in hand, which happens to be a Jamaican Mule, I take a look around the venue.

I’ve been to The Lonsdale before it was refurbished and it seems they have got rid of the futuristic look, and gone for relaxed chic. Along the bar hang a few twinkling diamante chandeliers, which look utterly divine, but, on the whole, the décor has been toned down a touch. The booths are decorated in plush red leather with a crocodile skin pattern and at the back is where you can sit and have dinner. It’s definitely more intimate here, but I am always a fan of the booth.

I find out that this new refurb has been done by Dtwo, who can put their names to Callooh Callay and The Legion, both near Old Street. Fortunately, their style is unique as these three venues do not look like each other. I nod my head in approval and slurp away at my drink.

The Jamaican Mule has a hit of ginger beer followed by the smoothness of the vanilla syrup. A great drink which is unfortunately for me, easily glug-gable. I take a look at the menu as I am handed a Elderflower Martini (an indulgent and elegant drink and extremely more-ish), for a more reasonable £8 a pop. The menu is black, sleek and continuing the crocodile theme. As I read the blurb inside, it informs me that the drinks contained within are a showcase of all the best cocktails throughout the eras, which have originated in London. Suddenly I feel fiercely jingoistic yet simultaneously excited and a Perfect Lady is waved in front of me. It has a strong aroma of peach but when taking a sip, the overwhelming taste is lemon; another sneaky cocktail fooling me into thinking that there isn’t a lot of alcohol contained therein whereas, in reality, it is heavily laden.

Champagne in hand, I am introduced to the owner, Tim Gardner, who has been associated with Cocoon and The Wellington Club, and he tells me how thrilled he is with the new venue. I tell him I am impressed with the amount of cocktails. He then tells me there are probably about 80 on the list and that he wanted the best of the bunch (he’s not wrong). Even for people who have problems deciding what they want, there’s a drink for everybody.

He comes back with canapés and my face lights up. The supplier is Allens of Mayfair, so I know they’re going to be good. Firstly, I sample a deconstructed beef wellington, which is a small puff pastry with mushrooms, rare beef and chicken livers. The tender beef with the flaky pastry and the combination of the liver and mushroom is wonderful. Next the beef béarnaise is again spectacular; the beef is unbelievably tasty and juicy and it makes me want to come back and try the full menu. However, as I am a few cocktails up, the presence of a mini cheeseburger is greatly received. Filled with softly melted cheese, tomatoes, gherkins and tomato relish, it comes at the right time as I am slightly tipsy.

Being a school night and having sampled a good range of drinks and bites, I feel it’s time to depart. My lasting thought is that The Lonsdale is a place where cocktails are made with a precise art and with love. You’re never short of options and the standard is exceptional. So, if you love your cocktails, head to The Lonsdale as you’ll be impressed with its quality. Hiccough.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Uruguay V South Korea: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Cat McGovern

On a Saturday I don’t normally surface before noon, but as I am meeting the boyfriend’s mother for brunch I can make the exception. The venue is Camino, in Kings Cross’s trendy Regent’s Quarter and I’m starving. I’m doing things a bit differently today. I am going to have a relaxing, long lunch before watching the game at 3pm as I want to take my time and luxuriate in my meal wholly.

We make our way to the breakfast/brunch area and take our seats. Camino is Spanish themed so the menu follows suit. I am instantly attracted to the Desayuno Completo (£7), which is a full Spanish to you and me, so the boyfriend and I order that, whereas the mother goes for the healthier Revuelto de esparragos (£6), or scrambled egg with asparagus. The large plate is presented to me and I dig in. I pierce the yolk of the perfectly cooked fried eggs and spread it on the most wonderfully crunchy rustic bread. Next I tackle the small chorizo sausages, which are dripping with juices, and savour every bite. The pan-fried potatoes with crispy onions and tender green peppers go beautifully with the sausage and the salty bacon. The addition of the fresh side salad balances the meal well, and it feels like I’m having a semi healthy brunch. To go with a meal, I highly recommend having a bottle of the Vichy Catalan, which is sparkling water that is so enriched with minerals that it tastes slightly salty, making for a uniquely refreshing experience.

I finish my full Spanish and am still wanting some more. Looking at the menu, I am delighted to see that there are Churros (£1.75), which are Spanish style donuts, and order them. Three rings of crisp donut served with a small pot of thick hot chocolate are in front to me and before I know it, the boyfriend has nabbed one. The donut is savoury and the indulgent chocolate sauce makes it all worthwhile.

Contented, we say goodbye to the mum and check out Camino. Outside is an area where there are two 60 inch plasmas with a lot of tables, so that you can watch the game in the sunshine, which is an awesome idea. In the main bar area, near to the table football, is a screen which is where we plonk ourselves waiting for the match to start. Also around the side where the bathrooms are, is another screen. There are sofas and comfy seats here so it’s a more chilled out place to watch the game. International flags hang above the bar and I notice a sign that says ‘4 ice cold cans (of Heineken) for £10’, which is a great deal when you’re popping in and out from the TV area outside. Caminois large and can accommodate a fair few people but as it’s 3pm on a Saturday, it’s not that full.

I take my eye off the game for a few minutes and Uruguay score, Suarez to be precise. It’s only been 8 minutes so I better pay attention to the screen, in case I miss anything else. The boyfriend comments that South Korea are going to be annihilated by Uruguay and that this game is scrappy. I nod as if I know what he is talking about, and have a slug of my Gewurztraminer at £6.25 a small glass. Smelling strongly of lychee, it’s a suitable afternoon tipple.

Half time comes around swiftly and to be honest, not much occurred. I decide to have a sherry, as Camino prides itself on its sherry selection. I ask for something dry and I get the Tiopepe for £3.50 a glass. It hits the spot and I slowly sip on it waiting for the next half to commence.

When South Korea score in the 68th minute it is not a surprise; it has been one-way traffic since half time. Uruguay appear lacklustre and generally out of ideas. South Korea, by comparison, are finally showing some invention. The goal is result of several Uruguayan players losing their markers from a free kick and the Koreans are queuing up to score, with Lee Cheung Yong the man to head past the stranded ‘keeper. We soon leave as we need to get to a birthday party, but later discover that the final score was 2-1 to Uruguay. Looks like they found something after all – in fact, an excellent goal by David Suarez again.

Camino is a super place to get drunk and watch a bunch of football as you have the choice of the raucous outside screens or the chilled indoors ones. It does well to cater for the World Cup and I can only imagine the vibe for more popular games is electric.

Spain V Chile: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Rebecca Brett

Never have I seen so many Spanish people (obviously, outside of Spain) in one place as I did last night at Camino. The place was saturated with senors, senoritas, red and yellow flags, paella and sangria galore.

Sitting waiting for the rest of our four-strong group to arrive, I went to the nearby Starbucks for a quick coffee and a read of the Evening Standard. As I sat at the window I spent most of the time counting how many people with Spanish flags and faces adorned with face paints went by. If I didn’t know where I was going, all I needed to do was follow the crowds descending from Kings Cross to find the perfect spot.

Once the rest of the group was in tow we made our way to Camino. It felt like walking down La Ramblas with the sound of Samba coming from the courtyard. For all the matches shown at Camino, The London School of Samba will be there creating a carnival atmosphere with the samba beat before the match, at half time and then depending if the right team win, after the match too.

We sat outside in the Varnisher’s Yard for the game. There is a small seating area and a huge space for people to stand to watch the match. We were sat directly in front of the screen - it was like being at home with the best quality surround sound speakers - and they even had a huge speaker in front of us with the commentary on. Camino is certainly not a place for a quiet chat. There are also more screens inside, in case the weather isn’t as glorious as it was last night. Although I dread to think what the heat would be like if everyone was packed inside.

And the place was packed. People were sitting on the floor in front of the screens, queues of people trying to get in from the streets, and there was a queue for the toilets… the MEN’S toilets! I felt smug as I passed them to the queue-free ladies. One of the gentlemen dining with me described the men’s toilet as “the hottest place in the universe.” It’s not something I’d queue for.

The waiting team were rushed off their feet and it was evident in how long we were waiting for a pitcher of sangria, only to be told after half an hour that the bar staff didn’t have enough time to prepare it. We kept things simple after that with cans of Heineken in an ice bucket (4 for £10) for the lads and us ladies shared a bottle of Spanish rosé. Ole!

The match kicked off, the music stopped but the carnival atmosphere continued with Mexican waves streaming through the crowds behind us and cheers of ES-PAN-YA every other minute.

Spain needed to win the match to qualify for the group stages so when Villa kicked the ball in to a goalkeeper-less goal the whole place erupted. Who needs to be in South Africa when you are at Camino?!

Shortly after and Beausejour had a great opportunity to equalise but the shot took a deflection and went wide. Shrieks followed by cheering echoed throughout the square.

Back down the other end of the pitch and a brilliant pass for Iniesta made it 2-0. The sound of the vuvuzelas in the crowd started and the drummer from the Samba group started banging his drum to another chorus of Es-pan-ya. I almost felt Spanish as I sang along with the rest of them.

After the goal I was a bit confused that a red card was shown to Estrada, apparently he had tripped Torres over on the edge of the box. I was concentrating too much on the goal to have noticed.

At half time I would like to say we were treated to a huge paella, but it didn’t taste as good as it looked. So many other people had the same on their tables; I couldn’t help but think that the kitchen was struggling just as much as the bar, preparing so much paella for the masses.

Half time over and I’d barely focused my eyes back on the screen again before Rodrigo Millar made a come back to make the score 2-1. Either not much happened after that and the score stayed the same, or I was too involved in the atmosphere and vino to have noticed much happening on the screen in front of me.

I’d say that Camino really is THE place to be to watch Spain play, whether you are Spanish or otherwise. I wouldn’t sit at a table again, though, the ambience is where the crowds are and I can honestly say that you aren’t missing much with the paella.

Switzerland V Honduras V Spain V Chile: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Gabrielle Sander

Ahead of the game between Switzerland and Honduras, I actually managed to muster up a bit of enthusiasm for this World Cup malarkey. I’m quite a reasonable chunk Swiss you see, so even though I was born in this country and realise I should be wearing a Union Jack for the duration of the tournament, saying prayers for the England team and wiping back tears when they win or lose, I have managed to tactfully avoid every game so far. In fact, the only other one I’ve seen is that disastrous France/Uruguay match on the very first day of the Cup.

So anyway, last night as I sat with my boyfriend Adam (the Welsh, rugby-loving one who’d prefer to see Germany win tomorrow over England – I know, shock horror), at a lovely round table at Spaghetti House Haymarket, right opposite a massive flat screen; the two teams lined-up ready to play; I’d decided Switzerland were my team of choice for the night. Until, what’s that? Oh, we’re not watching the Switzerland match after all, it’s Chile vs Spain.

Diners at the other tables were busy ordering food, looking excitedly toward the screen for the first whistle, seemingly not too bothered, so I guess it was just us that had the wrong end of the Vuvuzela. Despite this minor set back, Adam and I decided to back Spain. I wanted Chile because I’d prefer to travel there than Spain (that’s how you choose who to support, right?), but he convinced me we should be backing Spain.

I decided to stick to what I know: good food. And lucky for me, despite deciding beforehand that Spaghetti House Haymarket was just going to be one of those awful chains - all big logos, no substance - I had already begun to warm to the place. The manager had greeted and seated us like one of the family; the other staff we met were really lovely and welcoming too. All that was missing was a big hug from Nonna.

I loved where we were sitting, and the olives we’d been given as appetisers, and the dimmed lights; and the way the place was set up thoughtfully for dining football enthusiasts to sit one side and a designated section up front next to another big screen, the bar, and the open façade for drinkers. I also liked that the volume on the TV was just enough to hear the whistle and a bit of the crowd, and not enough to bother us while we ate. So if we did want to turn away and chat amongst ourselves for a bit, we didn’t have that awful horn din and loud commentators interrupting.

We were tempted by the World Cup menu – any pizza and a Moretti beer for a tenner – but the a la carte, with its great selection of sharing starters, pastas, pizzas – even a Nutella one, which I vow to return for one day - and meat and fish mains swayed us otherwise. We shared the Italian cheese platter, working our way through the Gorgonzola, Dolcelatte and Fiorentina, soft crusty bread, grapes, walnuts and honey, with the crisp, chilled Soave that’d been recommended by one of the waiters. Looking up now and again to see Chile trip up another opponent – even I could see they were playing dirty – and Spain rise above the bullies by scoring their first GOOOOOAAAAALLL! at 24 minutes. The other customers – a chilled out late-twenties and above crowd - gave a collective cheer, before returning to their food.

The second goal at 36 minutes came just as I was starting to tuck in to the cod from the specials board. A delicious fillet of grilled fish, sat on a homely bed of cannellini beans, cherry toms and chorizo, with a generous portion of garlicky spinach on the side. Adam, meanwhile, was enthusiastically tackling the shell-on king prawns in his garlic and chilli linguine and agreeing with my suggestion that we should definitely come back here again.

Just as the game was wrapping up, we decided to sample more of what Italy is really good at – unlike football I hear, from their poor performance the day before – delicious, smile-inducing food. A homemade tiramisu for me, one of the best I’ve ever had, and citrus liquor ice cream for Adam; both very, very good. As the final whistle blew we were stuffed, much like Chile.

Brazil V Portugal: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Claire Williams

Most people who enjoy going out on the pub and bar circuit in London know of the Walkabout chain. They’re big, brash, proudly Australian establishments with a huge number of plasma-screen TVs showing sport of every kind. And if you’ve ever been to one, you’ve been to them all.

Walkabout tend to attract a certain crowd – the clientele consists mostly of Australians, people who’ve been to Australia (gap year travellers, look no further), university students and the people who wish they were back enjoying the beer-sodden, sweaty hangover haze of student life. It’s not particularly cheap for drinks (£8.45 for a Bulmers and a bottle of Fosters! What are these students thinking?!), the floors are sticky with spilt beer, and if you’ve escaped without an elbow to the face when venturing to the bar then you are one of only a very lucky few.

But regardless of the sticky floors, expensive drinks and the injury inducing bar visits, the Walkabout in Covent Garden proved an interesting (if not entirely comfortable) place to watch the Brazil vs Portugal football game on Friday afternoon.

For an Aussie bar, it was surprising to see an abundance of Brazilians, all dressed in yellow and green and eager to see Brazil beat Portugal by a huge goal difference. Both teams had almost certainly got through to the second round (it would have taken a 0-0 draw from Brazil and Portugal and a 10-0 win from the Ivory Coast against North Korea to change anything – crazier things have happened in the World Cup), so the promises of a good, multiple goal game were slim. And I was right in my prediction – neither side wanted to concede a defeat, so a goalless draw it was.

It wasn’t a particularly exciting game, but what made it better was the fact that downstairs you had the opportunity to watch the game in 3D. And it really did add another dimension to the match (see what I did there?!). For a mere £5 (you get £3 back at the end of the match if you remember to hand your glasses in), it feels like you are almost on the sidelines of the pitch, watching the ball hit the post (sometimes again and again). I have to say, watching the match in 3D made up for the rather miserable surroundings.

Upstairs the Brazilians were out in force, singing and dancing the early afternoon away. And they had a guaranteed place in the second round! For all the flaws of Walkabout (and there are many), this pub is geared around the football. Wherever you choose to stand you have a good view of the game on a reasonable sized if not large TV, and people from every nationality are welcome.

The Walkabout ethos is sport and drinking. And around the time of the World Cup the ethos is more specifically football and drinking. Be prepared to get sticky hair, leave with bruises on your bruises and a huge smile on your face if you venture to Walkabout for the next match. Because football is a beautiful game, and we love it wherever in the world we come from.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Denmark V Japan: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Cat McGovern

When I found out that I would be going to a Japanese restaurant in the heart of Soho for the Denmark vs Japan game, I was rather thrilled, particularly as my friends had all said that Bincho Yakitori is a great place.

I walk in and immediately I can tell that it’s going to be a hectic night. I introduce myself to the manager who promptly advises us to bag a seat downstairs as soon as possible, as they’re expecting a lot of Japanese fans. The boyfriend orders an Asahi, for £4 a pint, and I do a quick scope of the place.

The first element that hits me is the bustling kitchen. Frantic chefs create food right in front of the customers’ eyes. In true Japanese style, there are seats along the kitchen where diners sit and eat. Further back, there’s a more chilled area suitable for small groups, where the lights are dimmed. Past the bar is a section with banquettes and comfy stools. People drinking and eating a few tantalising skewers here.

Bamboo shoots and empty sake bottles signify the downstairs area and I make my way down to find the boyfriend in a small room with a plasma TV at one end and lots of dark wooden chairs. There are tables pushed to the back but the manager mentions that last time a match was on, people were using them to stand on and the room was jammed packed. Yikes, I’m glad the boyfriend has found a seat. He thinks it’s best to sit at the back, so I acquiesce and sip on my wine, which is a godsend after such a humid day. It’s crisp, refreshing and with notes of peach and grass. Downstairs is only for drinking, for those wanting food, order at the upstairs bar and sit at a table in Bincho Yakitori itself, as I plan to do at half time.

It’s only 6.30pm and it’s filling up quickly with Japanese fans wearing the football strip and flags painted on their faces. Tonight is going to be interesting because Japan only need to draw to go through to the knock out stages. We have a look around and notice that the Japanese don’t drink Asahi, they drink Asahi Black (£3.90). The boyfriend looks horrified about not fitting in and immediately orders one to feel more at ease. I, on the other hand, despise beer and have a cocktail instead; an Ichigo Plum (£5.50), a blend of strawberries and plum wine over crushed ice, a delightful concoction.

The room is now full to the rafters and the atmosphere is really quite exciting. It’s jovial, high spirited, and with the occasional “Whoop”. Everyone is ready; let the match begin. Whenever Japan get the ball, the room shouts and screams. 13 minutes in and there have been many near misses from both teams, making the room go mental. This is definitely the place to watch a Japan game. 16 minutes in and GOAL by Honda from a free kick! Everyone claps, cheers and goes insane to shouts of ‘Honda, Honda!’ Amazing is the only word to describe it. 29 minutes in and Kroldrup is carded, so it’s another free kick for Japan. Endo steps up and in it goes. Unbelievable! It looks like it’s going to be Japan’s night.

Half time and I desperately want those tantalising skewers. As time is of the essence, I order The Seven Samurai (£10), the 7 most popular sticks, to give me a taster of what Bincho Yakitori is all about. With chicken, pork belly, salmon, tiger prawn, asparagus, shiitake mushroom and chicken wing, I’m in for a feast. I eat alone as the boyfriend doesn’t want to lose the seats, which is fine as it means more food for me. First is the chicken wing, succulent and really tasty, followed by the sticky chicken with spring onion, equally as succulent. The piece de resistance is the pork belly: soft meat with crunchy coating, simply sublime. The salmon is fresh tasting and very tender. Now I know why my friends were banging on about Bincho Yakitori.

Whilst hurriedly chowing down my skewers, the manager tells me that on Mondays at Bincho Yakitori you can get £1 skewers, deals on sake, and there’s even a DJ. Interestingly, he mentions that Bincho Yakitori is the place where Japanese people take their friends and families when they’re in town. If the Japanese approve, it’s got to be good.

Back to the footie and 78 minutes in there’s a penalty to Denmark. Jon Dahl Tomasson takes it. The keeper saves but Tomasson gets lucky with the rebound: 2-1.

85 minutes gone and the plasma switches off! The Japan fans panic. Boos ring out. What’s happened to the screen?

89 minutes: service resumes to reveal a score of 3-1. The goal is replayed and the place goes bonkers. Okazaki did the honours. The Japan fans are certainly enthusiastic about their team.

Final score: 3-1. Hurrah!

There are a few things I learnt tonight: 1) Japanese fans are crazy, 2) They drink Asahi Black, and 3) Bincho Yakitori is the place to be for the football and for its sensational skewers.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

New Zealand V Paraguay: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Christian Rose-Day

We’re 42 matches into the Fluid London Ultimate World Cup Pub Crawl and things are definitely starting to get tasty. In more ways than one.

Today, we’re cheering for the consummate underdogs, the Kiwis. Personally, I have family ties with New Zealand, so I have to support them. But on a purely footballing level, I have to take my imaginary hat off to these guys. Two draws already in the bag, both against teams ranked 4 million places above them, according to FIFA.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen in St Paul’s is nestled amongst the likes of Strada, Pizza Express, and Cafe Rouge and this particular branch of the GBK tree has been renamed as the Gordon Banks’ Kitchen for the duration of the World Cup.

The big windows in the large front area give a decent view of the side of St Paul’s. But it’s towards the rear where the magic happens. A decent sized (approx. 6ft) projector screen (with surround sound) hangs at the front of a small area where 30 can be seated.

I’ve been told that GBK are running a few World Cup competitions to win holidays in Cape Town and England 1966 (replica) Shirts. I’m keen to win, so I sign up to their Join The Gang mailing list on their website.

Now, I know the Kiwis didn’t exactly invent the burger, but the GBK chain has a strong connection with New Zealand (I believe it began life over there), and their burgers are meant to be legendary.

I’m here with a genuine Kiwi too, who’s bunked off work early to watch the game. Being a patriotic Englishman, I opt for the Kiwi burger - beetroot, egg, pineapple, cheese, salad, mayo & relish - for obvious reasons. My Kiwi pal, being equally patriotic, has gone for the England burger - aged cheese, salad, mayo & relish. Both cooked medium, both with chips, garlic mayo and blue cheese. Phew!

We each swill these down with a bottle of malty 4% Mac’s Gold beer (from New Zealand). My mate also proudly mentions that GBK has the ‘World Famous in New Zealand’ L&P soft drink. Authentic or what? New Zealand has to win now.

Paraguay are currently Group F leaders. One thing the Kiwis have over the South Americans, though, is physical presence. This could be a close one. With the Aussies going out of the competition last night, New Zealand will want to go one better. If Ryan Nelsen can show the kind of class he displyed against Italy, NZ should be fine. The Kiwis are playing in All Black. Unlike England, they actually play better in All White.

There isn’t much of an atmosphere at GBK but we’re told by the manager that yesterday’s England game was a riot.

Our burgers arrive a few minutes after kick off. My Kiwiburger is enormous! My Kiwi mate stands at about 6 foot 3inches. The Kiwiburger isn’t much shorter than him. I recommend cutlery for this one. By the time I finish in the 28th minute I’m covered in egg, mayo, meat juice, and contentment. Deliciously meaty, satisfyingly messy.

My mate, ever the Kiwi, polishes his English cheeseburger off before I’ve even made a dent in mine. He looks like he could go round again. “A good, honest, tasty cheeseburger,” he says, “I could go another beer.”

25th minute - Italy are losing to Slovakia 1-0 in the other group match. I love the World Cup. So many twists and turns.

33rd minute - Still not much happening in the game but Paraguay are slightly edging it in terms of possession. Both myself and my Kiwi mate are taking comfort from the long range shots the Paraguayans are attempting: WILD!

35th minute - A decent cross by NZ, but the goalie collects.

Half time - the Kiwis have managed to choke the Paraguayan’s flair for 45 minutes. We go for another couple of beers, this time opting for the other Kiwi on the menu: the slightly stronger, crisper, European-style Steinlager. I ask about desserts. It’s just Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and milkshakes. A small selection. A product of having such humongous burgers, no doubt. As the second half kicks off, we hear the low chiming of St Paul’s bells echoing off the high rise offices around us.

72nd minute - Italy are 2-0 down now. C’mon New Zealand. One goal and you’re through to the next round.

80th minute - Italy have got one back. Still not much to cheer about in this game, though.

86th minute - Woods just centimeters away from putting NZ into the 2nd round.

Full time - a grinding 0-0 draw. Final score in the other game: Slovakia 3 - Italy 2. We were watching the wrong game, it seems.

GBK, like the Kiwis: understated and meaty.

Italy V Slovakia: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Claire Roberts

When I found out that I had got the draw for the Italy v Slovakia match at Rossopomodoro in Covent Garden, I was chuffed but also aware at the back of my mind that this might involve a heaving mass of throbbing testosterone-filled Italians shouting insults and such at the screen. A bad thing? Hey, I love Italy and I love Italian food. Football, I’m not so sure. But there’s nothing wrong with a bit of liberally applied testosterone for a girl out for the afternoon, even if I’m not a football fan.

I meet Pam, my trusty friend in matters to do with food and throbbing men, inside the restaurant upstairs on the first floor. There’s a small screen for the football on the ground floor but we bypass that and go upstairs where they have a much larger screen for the seriously minded footie fan. I’m guessing the screen is about three metres wide. It’s big. Turns out Pam is not just a devotee of food and men but also of football. She’s got £50 on a sweepstake at work – Slovakia to win.

So, one lover of all things Italian and another, gunning for the other side. We sit at our great table, right by the window with the discretion necessary for spies in the camp. It’s really good to see that this isn’t going to be a throbbing frenzy of footie fans but a civilised lunch in a comfortable airy Italian restaurant, with a screen for football fans. Or so I thought.

I was looking forward to the food – the best pizza I ever had was in Naples. That was a while ago and though I have had pizza in its infinite varieties since, nothing comes remotely close to the quality of the pizza in Naples. We order starters; A Mulignanona (fried aubergine balls in a parmesan basket with a warm cherry tomato salad) and A Tiella (traditional Neopolitan fritters, mozzarella and parmesan abound), both generously sized and generous in taste. The tomatoes taste sweet; the mozzarella is creamy and soft.

The football, meanwhile, is slow. The other diners eat and talk as you might expect during lunch on a gorgeous summer afternoon. And then Slovakia score. All hell breaks loose. Turns out you don’t need a whole lot of Italians to make a heaving frenzy. Their displeasure is apparent. Pam smiles. Discreetly.

The mains for us are Fru Fru (three seasons pizza) and Fratesse (Provola cheese, rocket and vegetable pizza). You know what? I think I might have actually found a place to get a pizza as good as the one I had in Naples.

Hell breaks out again when Slovakia score for the second time, 2-0. The game is quite exciting. Even I can say that as a non-footie fan, especially when Italy get themselves together to get their first goal. And they keep going at it until the end, even if it does mean throwing a punch in the face of the Slovak goalie. Fouls aplenty on both sides - these boys wanted to win. In the end, Italy, the world champions, are out. Even the superb goal in extra time couldn’t do it for them. The final score: 3:2. Pam and her £50 on the Slovaks: still intact.

Italians might have lost their touch with football but they definitely haven’t lost their touch with food. Genuine Napolese food - all of the ingredients flown in from Italy - genuine good service. Thought I might have to get on a plane again to get a decent pizza. Not so. I’ll be eating in Rossopomodoro again.

Germany V Ghana: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Anna Robin

My first thought as I walk in to Stein’s temporary bar is, “Will they know I am not German?”

My second thought is “I would not like to be here during a Germany v England match.”

Luckily, I’m here for the Germany v Ghana game, so I’m safe from being maliciously deafened by German vuvuzelas.

Stein’s Bavarian beer garden has, for the World Cup, rented out a boathouse at Teddington Lock. They have filled it with long tables, benches, sauerkraut and Germans. It feels like being transported to a beer hall in Munich. It’s hot, it’s noisy, it’s really, really fun.

We manage to arrive late, mistakenly going to the permanent Stein’s beer garden up the road. When we get there, the game is in full swing. We grab some Erdinger Weissbier (wheat beer) and sausages and pretzels and go squeeze ourselves on the benches.

As soon as I sit on the bench a German man leans forward and says something in German. When he gets no response from me he tries again in English, “Did you order two sausages because I only got one?” Allaying his sausage envy, I explain that I gestured for two sausages and he settles down, slightly mollified. The food is tasty, I feel very German with my meat and bread, perfect food for watching a rowdy game.

The game seems aggressive; I am pretty confused as the commentary is in German. However, I rely on the noise around me. When Ghana comes close to scoring on 50 minutes, there are literally screams of anguish. At 58 minutes a slow clap starts to push Germany on and apparently they can hear it in South Africa because 59 minutes in, Germany scores. The room erupts. People stand, cheer, clap, and shout. There’s nothing to do but join in.

It’s free to get in to most matches apart from the German games where Stein’s are charging £5 entry but it is worth it for the atmosphere. After watching the England game in a pub earlier it is a great experience for a twist on watching the World Cup. Stein’s is a riot. You just have to go and throw yourself in. My only criticism is the obscene amount of head on the beers, but that’s continentals for you!

Germany wins, for the match itself and the match watching experience.

[Editor: Those wishing to see the England v Germany game on Sunday must email info@stein-s.com with their phone number to obtain an invitation first]

Westminster Terrace Party

By Deborah James

Fluid London is not one for missing out on a celebration, so, naturally, we accepted an invitation to a terrace party at City Inn Westminster recently. What was the occasion? Well, we don’t think there really was one. The hotel just wanted to say thanks to its suppliers and clients so decided to dust down the barbeque and open some champagne. How awfully kind! More of an event for hoteliers to mingle, we left the corporate talk to those in expensive suits and took our main enjoyment in more important things: the food and booze.

Set out on the hotel’s terrace, the huge grill churned out elements of its alfresco menu; top marks went to some delicately flavoured salmon and lamb kebabs. Beautifully crisp, cold white wine and sangria were provided to help wash it all down.

It’s unusual to find anywhere in central London with a garden, even a concrete yard, and City Inn Westminster makes good use of its narrow outdoor space by turning it into a covered passage. The barbeque is a great draw to what is essentially a characterless building in not an especially convenient location. Open all summer, we could be tempted back.

USA V Algeria: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Leah Harper

“It’s weird that they’re showing the Algeria v. USA game in London when England are playing,” points out my plus one on our way to watch the match at The Langley.

“Hmm, that is weird,” I agree, knowing that this will probably be as far as my knowledge of football would stretch for the afternoon.

Turns out, we’re right. England flags, balloons, bunting, you name it; all adorning the spiralling staircase down to this hidden basement-bar in Covent Garden. They’re most definitely showing the England v. Slovenia game. I sense my plus one is secretly pleased, whilst my enjoyment of this World Cup malarkey still rests undoubtedly upon the quality of the food platters.

We’re ushered past the main room, where the low ceilings and brick walls that are designed to imitate underground New York are now crammed full of pint-wielding football fanatics, already chanting their patriotic hearts out. To my relief, we’re seated in the wonderfully air-conditioned and slightly less rowdy Geneva Bar and Restaurant, which seems to have been privately hired by small groups and kind employers. It’s a ‘members only’ atmosphere that’s undeniably different to that of a conventional pub screening, and the disco ball is a slight giveaway that this is not the Geneva Bar’s usual function. That said, the sofa-style seating and table-candles certainly don’t appear to dull the enthusiasm of the (mostly male) crowd, and the suit-wearing patrons are anything but lacking in passion.

As England score and I ponder why Coca-Cola always tastes so much better when it’s from those little glass bottles – no draught here – the platters arrive. And they don’t disappoint: between the kitchen’s Mediterranean and Rustic selections there’s everything from mini Cumberland sausages to stuffed vine leaves, as well as a tasty range of dips. Each offers an assortment of delicious and practical finger-foods, which is, so I’m told, very important for such events, when one can’t risk taking their eyes off the screen.

Maybe the full-time score swayed it a little, but by the time the final whistle blew, The Langley had certainly proved itself a commendable host for the World Cup screenings. My doubts about the suitability of the dark downstairs bunker-style decor had diminished in light of the friendly service and delicious nibbles, amenities which the majority of those that had been watching stuck around to enjoy after the match had finished. The effort that had been put in to accommodating the event didn’t go unnoticed and I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon watching the game...albeit one that I hadn’t expected to see.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

England V Slovenia: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Christian Rose-Day

A trip to the Angel of the north for the big game against Slovenia. For this occasion the Fluid London Ultimate World Cup Pub Crawl needs to find a venue with lots of space and buckets of atmosphere. The O2 Islington Academy it is then.

Thankfully, it’s free to get in, despite needing to secure tickets online first. O2 still make their money though. £3.80 for a can of Tetley! ONE can of Tetley! I’m not a lager drinker by trade, but I think I’ll opt for a £2 pint of Carlsberg on the next round.

There are a couple of 100 people in attendance, half of them women, and half of them are hot; something the young lads near the front have taken full advantage of, well before kick off, approaching two stunning girls at one of the handful of standing tables dotted around the room.

I’m surprised that most people are dressed in casual wear. There are few collars and even fewer ties. Has everyone bunked off work for the day? Hang on: backpacks, tattoos, singlets, shorts - these are all students! I can hardly blame, it’s a beautiful day outside. I bet most of them will be off to Glastonbury as soon as the match is over. Bastards!

The lights are dimmed at kick off and the game begins well for England. We look bright, confident and more free-flowing compared to the woeful effort against the Algerians. The divots on the pitch are probably to England’s advantage. We’ve played on a similar surface in Wembley for months.

23 minutes - Defoe, Heskey’s replacement for this game, connects with Lennon’s replacement for this game, Milner, to score a well worked, deserved goal. This results in much clapping, singing and “C’mon”s at O2. Looks like the plan is working Fabio.

Half time - an excellent display of world class football by England. Everyone at the O2 exists for a quick smoke. This is primarily a music lovers’ venue, after all. Smoking and loud music go hand in hand. The stage where the huge screen currently hangs has welcomed the likes of Eminem and KISS in the past. Following this game, the next scheduled gathering here is the UK Beatbox Grand Final Championships. W-ww-wiiiiiicked. I may just have to return. Obviously, this being a church to music means the sound quality in here is great. I can actually hear singing in the stands, even over the vuvuzelas. Thank St George!

Skip the second half, England’s performance dwindles slightly, magnified by Rooney’s shot against the post. Picture 50 million people willing it to go in. He’ll get that elusive goal eventually. We make it through to 90 minutes though. Now bring on the Germans!

Greece V Argentina: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Claire Williams

When I go out to watch the football in London I usually end up covered in cheap smelling beer, singing football songs (loudly and ear-shatteringly badly), and getting in a heated discussion with the bloke next to me about who should be playing in defence. And that’s before the game has even kicked off. I embrace my inner-bloke and drink pints like the rest of them (although I draw the line at lifting my t-shirt above my head and sliding along the floor when my team score).

But with so many football games this World Cup, there comes a point when I get tired of ending the night looking like a shadow of my former self and I yearn for somewhere clean and comfortable to watch the football in peace.

Juju is one such place. Located on the Kings Road in Chelsea, Juju is a sleek upmarket bar that serves cocktails galore. With its 6ft projector screen and comfy seats, a selection of Pan-Asian tapas style dishes, and a cocktail or three, Juju seemed the perfect venue to watch the Greece vs Argentina game that evening. It’s just a pity that the cocktails were more interesting than the football. On paper, the game looked exciting – both teams wanted to win (Greece more than Argentina, granted) and I was interested to see Messi play. Predictably, Greece spent the game defending and before long Argentina got the ball in the back of the net where it belonged. Not once, but twice.

Still, we had seats directly in front of the screen and a selection of refreshingly well-cooked Pan-Asian dishes to feast on which went down surprisingly well. The dishes were interesting and a welcome alternative to the recycled ‘Pub Grub’ dishes that are usually on order. The soya beans with Himalayan salt were a worthy opponent to the standard sweaty peanuts that are usually the only thing on offer in the pub. And oh, the toilets!

With a range of World Cup offers that differ week to week, Juju makes watching the football upmarket, luxury fun. Who would have thought I’d enjoy nibbling on skewered tiger prawns with peanut dressing whilst reclining with a Champagne cocktail and enjoying the game?! Not me. Just don’t tell the lads.

Nigeria v South Korea v Argentina v Greece: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Ben Brill

1990 was my year zero as far as football is concerned. Having previously declared little interest in sport, or indeed anything that didn’t involve a complementary Hasbro toy, June 8 found me cross-legged and rapt on the floor of my parents’ lounge, watching a flickery Ferguson telly as Argentina – the holders – limped to a 1-0 defeat against Cameroon. Roger Milla’s Cameroon went on to the quarter finals of Italia ’90, laying down a marker for an entire continent that has not been emulated in the 20 years since; Argentina, inspired more by the athleticism of Claudio Canniggia than the ailing Maradona, somehow made it to the final. For the next month, these men – along with Toto Schillaci, Tomas Skhuravy, David Platt and Paul Gascoigne – were my new idols. I had embarked upon a very serious relationship with football.

Italia 90, along with Channel 4’s mid ‘90s coverage of Serie A, and its endless shots of James Richardson sipping cappuccinos in Milanese cafes, helped define my entire footballing aesthetic – less Soccer Saturday, more Style Council. As far as I’m concerned, foreign football should always be watched on small screens from high stools in hot bars, with paninis on the grill and coffee on the table. In this respect, Zilli Café’s absolutely perfect.

It’s perhaps the kind of place that could only work in Soho – nowhere else in London can claim such an enduring love affair with all things Italian, and with Group B reaching its climax amid the swelter of the hottest night of the year, and the television blaring out onto the Brewer Street, we could almost be tucked away in the shaded backstreets of Naples.

We’re down to watch Nigeria take on Korea, but there’s a small contingent of Greeks settled underneath the telly, and it would feel cruel to deprive them of the chance of watching their boys take on Diego Maradona’s Argentina.

It can’t be much fun following the Greeks. Otto Rehhagel’s side can lay claim to being the most successful Greek side ever, but they also have the dubious honour of being one of the dullest sides ever to take the international field. They’ve stuck to the template that brought them success in Euro 2004, setting up with eight men behind the ball, and Papstathopoulous sticking very, very close to Messi. They’re looking to grind out a draw, gambling on the Nigerians getting a result against Korea, but they can only hold out so long, and with 12 minutes to go, Demichlis lashes in a shot from close range. The Greeks next to us bang the table, and curse the screen, but even they must know their side doesn’t have it in them to haul themselves back into the game.

With the Nigerians doing everything except putting the ball in the back of the net in the other game, the Greeks’ World Cup dreams are dying without even a whimper. Minutes later, Messi darts towards the area, his shot’s pushed away by the Greek ‘keeper and Martin Palermo puts Argentina two up. It’s the least they deserve.

It’s a fitting end to an enjoyable evening, but it hasn’t been quite perfect. The atmosphere’s good, but the service is a little distant, and the food isn’t quite up to scratch. Tom’s spinach and ricotta ravioli with sage is restaurant quality, but in his words ‘not exactly voluminous’, and my seafood linguini is a little bland, and bulked out with overcooked salmon. Zilli’s still worth a visit though - I’ve got a hunch this place’ll be buzzing when Italy play and you could do worse than join the crowd; especially with the £4 ‘pizza & a beer’ and £4 ‘bruschetta & a beer’ World Cup deals they have going.

Uruguay V Mexico: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Christian Rose-Day

It’s getting serious from here on out. It must be; the early 12.30pm games have all disappeared, and I’m wearing a collared shirt. It’s heating up. Quite literally. The area around Liverpool Street is 4000 degrees today. It’s positively sweltering. Nothing the Mexicans and the Uruguayans can’t handle though, I’m sure.

Myself and our Becs have decided to cool off in the shade of the Andaz Hotel Champagne Bar. A bit of posh with our Latin American football. Dark wooden panelling, large windows to stare out of if the game gets boring, a walk-around bar dead centre, subtle flag decoration, small marble-top tables, and most importantly, a big 60-inch TV with its own stand.

We’ve heard there’s a few interesting deals going on here, depending on your country of origin. For all Japanese passport holders there’s a complementary Asahi and sushi, as well as 12 Asahi for the price of 10. Italian passport holders get a shot of Limoncello every time Italy score (unlikely), and some complimentary cured meat. If you’re French, it’s a small glass of French wine and French cheeses. And Americans: a shot of Jack Daniels and free mini burger.

Today, we’re honourary Mexicans, so it’s a free shot of tequila when Mexico score and some complimentary nachos with guacamole. Only today, the kitchen has run out of avocado. So instead, we order chunky chips with sour cream (a bit steep at £5 a ride, and needing more salt) and garlic tiger prawns on skewers with chilli mayonnaise, which are nicely nice.

The drinks menu is impressive, including the likes of a £1000 bottle of 1966 Dom Perignon Oenotheque (a good Cup winning vintage), 20 different rosé champagnes, and oysters from both Loch Fyne and Colchester Rock. I choose the £12, exceedingly manly Cherry Blossom Champagne cocktail and Becs is having the Champagne Mojito Royale, which is, apparently, “refreshing after a long cycle ride. And going down well.”

The chap behind the bar is confident about Mexico’s chances. He’s poured our tequila shots already. There’s only one true Mexican in the room. He’s wearing a proper straw hat and a Mexican shirt. But no Lucha Libre wrestling mask though. Disappointing.

5th minute - Uruguay skim the post.

6th minute - Mexico do the same. This is end to end stuff.

21st minute - long range beauty of a shot from Dos Santos that hits the post. It’s getting exciting now. There’s a crowd growing. We’re joined by some interested Americans who are cheering Mexico as well.

26th minute - In the other game of the day, it’s all gone Pete Tong for France. Gourcuff has been sent off against South Africa.

43rd minute - Suarez for Uruguay, easy header. 1-0.

At half time I take a tactical loo break and sneak into The George, the Andaz pub next door, to see what is happening in the other game. There’s a much bigger screen in there and a lot more interest in the game. 10-men France are losing to the hosts 2-0 already. Ouch!

63rd minute - Mexico miss a shocker. A header from about 30cms out. Cue comments about “My Nan could....” Time for more cocktails. The heartburn-inducing (a good sign) Lush for me, and the Exoctic Fig’ure champagne Innocent smoothie for her.

Not much else happens in the game from there. A couple of stereotypical Aussie chaps are sat with their backs to the game drinking beers, in a champagne bar, making full use of their swearing vocabulary. The Evening Standard chap outside is beginning to get rather annoying too. I cant hear the vuvuzelas on the TV because of him.

A quick check at The George and France have lost 2-1. Mexico lose 1-0 but still manage to go through to the knockout phase. Our tequila shots are sadly left standing when we leave.

France V South Africa: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Anna Robin

Allez, allez, allez. Guess what, it’s France v South Africa.

The location is Le Garrick, a French restaurant in Covent Garden.

I am supporting France. The tension is high; both sides need to win to even stand a chance of progressing to the next round.

Le Garrick is quiet. It is the afternoon so that is to be expected. A handful of customers and the majority of the staff are intent on watching the game. Most of them are French, must be a good sign.

The games are being shown downstairs in an atmospheric ramshackle cellar, with booths for larger groups and little wooden tables for two. I make a mental note that, with all the nooks and crannies, this is the perfect venue for some candlelit seduction (possibly not at the same time as football, although that may depend on the seducer). Exposed brickwork, arches and French posters give a cosy interpretation of casual Parisian decor.

This is the gaming experience for me: a delicious glass of house white. Forget beer and chips, this is the life. The screens are not too big. To be honest, there isn’t enough wall for a huge screen, but a giant screen isn’t needed because you’re relatively close to one of them anyway.

With a somewhat guilty feeling, we order food. The menu is traditional French fare, thus wrenching the poor chef from the table next to us where he is watching the match to go cook our steaks.

Twenty minutes into the match and I find the reason for not watching every game in a restaurant.

Tucking into my steak (medium rare, as only the French can do properly) I miss the first goal! My companion is disgusted. I am a football fraud, more interested in the béarnaise then the ball.

South Africa are 1- 0 and at 25 minutes in, the match goes even worse for France as they get a red card.

South Africa score again. The restaurant staff groan, I and my companion decide that if things do not improve we will have to cheer ourselves up with dessert. Things do not improve.

It’s half time; time for some crème brulee, which is delicious and has passed the spoon test (this being that a proper crème brulee should require a tap on the top with the back of a spoon to break up the layer of toffee, rather than feebly disintegrating under the side of said spoon).

As the match begins again I have that hazy glow that only comes from good food and wine. Maybe it doesn’t matter if the French go home early. France is lovely; they have some really good steak to look forward to. Maybe that is why they are not winning, they are missing French food.

The French however seem to have a different perspective and attempt to fight back, finally scoring 70 minutes in.

However it is all too little too late. The final score is 2–1 to South Africa. A disappointing result for both as neither gained enough points to progress to the next stage of the World Cup.

I am not bothered. France lost but as the French say: “C’est la Vie.” At least the food was good. Le Garrick is delightful. The food is of high quality and the restaurant feels authentically French (even though the meat is sourced from Scotland).

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Willie Wonka of Thai cuisine

By Nathalie Bonney

The best thing about Willie Wonka's chocolate factory wasn't the glass elevator. Who care's about going to space when you've got a chocolate river to slurp from? By combining food and drink into one de-lish dining experience Wonka had the crazy kids from Roald Dahl's book eating out of the palm of his hand (to be fair, they probably thought his hands were made out of Liquorice and sherbert). Milkshakes, slimfast and whatever other ghastly diet drinks are on the market, all fall into the liquid meal category, and yet Thai restaurant
Patara is trying to do the same thing with its new Chao phraya cocktail.

Created as part of an exclusive cocktail menu for this week's Taste of London food festival in Regents Park, head bartender Chaiya has mixed together vodka, Tia Maria, chilli, lime juice, mango puree, holy basil and coriander leaves to create a drink that epitomises Patara’s fine balance of delicate yet tasty flavours.

I'm not a fan of Tia Maria, usually finding it too sickly, but I thought I'd show willing after I initially put in a poor show on the food journalism adventurous front, playing it safe with a Thai Pimms, which was pretty similar, bar ginger in the place of strawberries.

My Chao Phraya (pictured here) was part gazpacho, part bloody Mary. I haven't drunk anything like it before, and it works. A sip and the first thing that hits is the mango mixed with chilli, like a Thai salsa, then the coriander and a savoury tang takes over. There's definitely a spicy kick to it but the best thing about Chao Phraya is the freshness of it. "The overriding theme of the cocktails is that they are fresh, deriving from Thai flavours," explains one of the ever-so polite waiting staff. Chaiya's wishes to call the drink Tom Yum soup were vetted on the grounds that it would put off cocktail sippers, but, for me, that's its beauty. Still, I imagine Korma milkshake or Bisto protein juice would likewise not go down too well with prospective punters.

Main course over it was time to sample some of the other delights: the Siam Ruby with fresh pomegranate seeds, juice, vodka and ginger was a fruity treat and less sweet than the Patara Passion's passion fruit puree mix but not as sweet as the Lychee Collins. This was a little too sickly for my liking but my friend slurped hers up easily.

These cocktails aren't available in the restaurant just yet but if they prove popular at Taste they should hopefully make it on to the main menu. Potentially, the Thai restaurant could also soon open up the front area of its restaurant, where sofas and the relaxed vibe would be perfect for people who just want to come in for a drink. It's still licensed as just a restaurant at the moment but Patara’s people are working on a later licence that should see visitors enjoying all the flavours of the restaurant in a glass.

The Willie Wonka of Thai cuisine has definitely come up with some deluxe cocktails for Taste of London. I'd like to imagine myself sipping one on a Thai beach, or at least in a sunny Regent’s Park - and hopefully before too long on one of its snug sofas on Greek Street at Patara.