Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Best New Old Bar in Shoreditch

By Captain Rose-Day, of the starship Fluid London.

Shoreditch: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Fluid London. Its mission: to explore strange new bars, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man, or woman, has gone before.

Stepping from our DeLorean time machine onto Curtain Road in Shoreditch, myself and Lieutenant Williams were welcomed by a beautiful woman in a figure-hugging black satin dress, victory rolls in her hair, and pearly white teeth beaming from within a frame of thick red lipstick. She decorated us both with wristbands and then lead us gracefully down a tricky cast iron spiral staircase, despite her sizable heels.

She wasn’t the only female of the species that wore vintage clothing, though; there were various others in military outfits, flapper outfits, and some who looked like they had stepped out from the 1970s. Yet none were incongruous in the ostentatious setting of the Ninetyeight bar & lounge. This was anachronistic London, at its very best. We appeared to have landed in a forgotten era of London, where ‘vintage’ was very much par for the course.

What was formerly an esoteric members bar, has now, after 20-odd years, opened up to the public; this being launch night. The proprietor, Kath Morrell, edified us in the ways of Ninetyeight, mentioning the vintage afternoon teas on Sundays, the vintage clothing and movie nights, the art gallery upstairs, the mixology school up top, the burlesque shows, and the cocktails that focus primarily on infusions - all made on site and housed at the top of a small yet packed back bar - and playful molecular techniques. In our short visit to Ninetyeight bar & lounge we witnessed men sucking on rum-soaked sugar cane, and ladies sipping cocktails through straws as long as their arm.

Lieutenant Williams and I felt immediately at ease enough to join the natives in their libation celebrations. Lieutenant Williams was ‘Off In The Clouds’ with gin and lavender-infused vodka, whilst I was getting to grips with a ‘Good Old Fashion Sunday Roast’, a rather potent mix of gold vodka infused with rosemary and oregano. The chirpy Australian gents behind the bar, reminiscent of the band The Kooks with their curly mop-top hair, were determined to make us feel welcome.

Taking a short reconnaissance mission around the bar & lounge, we were enthralled by the variety and flamboyance of the decor, which neared on kitsch without being vulgar: obsessive about candy, with sweets - both edible and ornamental - festooned about the bar; lampshades made of black and white feathers; prints, statues and paintings of animals; a grand piano; foliage; paraphernalia by the bucketload. The proprietor had either collected or made most of the furniture herself; such as the reclaimed ornate chair that had a seat made of deflated balloons.

As we sat comfortably lounging on a soft leather sofa, discussing Ann Widdecombe’s flying performance on Strictly Come Dancing, we were approached by a woman named Faye Presto, the UK’s leading female magician. The magical evening continued as Faye beguiled us with mind-reading card tricks, floating £20 notes, a variety of off-the-cuff, close-to-the-bone jokes.

The lavender, apple and hazlenut ‘Country Cottage Sour’ and the raspberry and espresso ‘98 Red Balloons’ martini put myself and Lieutenant Williams into some kind of giddy trance, and we felt that if we did not leave soon we might never manage to leave this peculiar domain at all. And so we removed ourselves, reeling with all the interesting observations we had learned: reserving an area is FREE (yes FREE), so ideal for birthday parties in Shoreditch; the so-so members policy (basically at the discretion of the beefy chap at the front door, whose job it is to make sure Ninetyeight never gets too crowded); and that the mischievous, inimitable style of Ninetyeight will be liked especially by the fairer sex, as evidenced by the plethora of fancy dress ladies who were no doubt on there way to a Blitz Party round the corner.

Our only gripe? That the bar itself was very small, and while there are lots of people behind it, they all seem to elbow each other out of the way, which could be potentially difficult to get drinks served quickly if a birthday group has arrived. Especially with the cocktails proving to be so intricate.

That, and some vintage music might improve the authenticity too.

Read more about new bars, restaurants, pubs, and club in London, check out the Fluid London Top 10 of new venues.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Kashmir To Kerala By Way of Covent Garden

By Flick Hardingham

Moti Mahal is a gastro Indian restaurant in the hub of Theatre Land. Two minutes walk from Covent Garden and a stone’s throw from Holborn, it’s ideally located to tempt anyone from ravenous post-work City boys to tourists with a craving for spice.Recently, I was lured to Moti Mahal for a very different reason: to celebrate the launch of ‘India Cookbook’, Pushpesh Pant’s latest culinary journey through his homeland, offering over 1,000 recipes from Kashmir to Kerala.Venturing into the Moti Mahal kitchen, we donned chef hats and aprons, ready to get cooking. Head chef, Anirudh Arora, gave us a tour, pointing out his pride and joy; an ice-cream maker that he purchased for a fair few thousand, which concocts unadulterated frozen alchemy.We expectantly gathered around the oven where Ani taught us how to make ‘Paturee’, a.k.a. crab and prawn cakes. All ingredients are mulched (yes, that’s the technical term) together to form a lovely squishy ball of crab, prawn, grated potato, mustard oil, spices, herbs, chilli, lemon, cheese and fresh curry leaves before being wrapped in a banana leaf and pan-fried.Appetites thoroughly whetted, we headed for the bar!Head barman, Simon La’Moon (not his stage name...apparently) began his residency six months ago and guided us through Moti Mahal’s signature cocktail of his own invention. The Gin Shikanjvi is a devilish combination of BULLDOG Gin, gomme, lemonade, fresh ginger, mint leaves, basil, lime, cumin and pepper, to add an eclectic curry-esque edge to the tall refreshing drink.

For the mocktail fans among us, Simon mixed up a Thandaai. This is a milk-based drink inspired by the flavours of rural India and seasoned with white poppy seeds, coconut, almonds, cardamom and sugar to taste. Simon suggested adding Gin; and it would work equally well with rum, plenty of ice and a sun lounger.

Sound tempted? Well, Simon runs cocktail master classes at Moti Mahal to tantalise your taste buds and get you shaking in the kitchen. Simon will guide you through all sorts of alky-wizardry and let you run amok behind his bar. A 1½ hour sessions costs £30 and would be well worth it.

Mouths watering and raring for more, we sat down for a taste of Ani’s menu, inspired by India’s Grand Trunk Road, which is the main artery linking the East and West. Fortunately placed facing the Moti Mahal kitchen, I was able to watch chefs busy themselves in a whirl of skewered meat, pakoras and chapattis through the large glass screen.

Our Indian extravaganza kicked off with DIY salad. We were presented with a wooden board, knife, and a selection of raw vegetables including cucumber, radishes and tomato to be liberally sprinkled with freshly ground spices from a pestle and mortar.
We then swiftly devoured ‘Bhalla Papadi Chaat’, a clear favourite made with crisp fried pastry, chickpeas drenched in yoghurt, mint chutney and tamarind. We also sampled the Paturee I had mulched earlier and Titari, guinea fowl grilled in the tandoor and marinated in cumin, garlic and smoked red chillies. Each dish was fresh, flavoursome and utterly moreish.

Our table was cleared and set with four enticingly different dishes. I dived straight in to ‘Suvey aur palak ka gosht’, otherwise known as stewed lamb with spinach and dill to non-native speakers.

My plate was filled with dal makhani, a simmering pot of slow cooked black lentils and Methi murgh biriyani; chicken on a bed of fragnrant basmati rice, fenugreek, ginger and the in-house blend of garam masala. Dolloped with a cooling raita and mopped up with home-baked naan, it was a thoroughly scrumptious feast.

A bit like a first date, an Indian can come in all shapes, sizes and varying levels of disappointment. Some are a not quite spicy enough and others leave your tongue burnt. I am a huge fan of gutsy food; any dish unafraid to show its true colours and excite your senses. This is exactly what Moti Mahal achieves and ‘India Cookbook’ has inspired me to get busy with pickles, chutneys and raitas in my own kitchen.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A Wam Bam Burlesque Birthday

By David Derby.

Burlesque seems to have several meanings and interpretations within two broad [ahem] camps: (i) tasteful, stylish disrobements and (ii) satirical and/or fey entertainments. Wam Bam celebrated its 4th birthday in style on Saturday at Cafe de Paris in Piccadilly Circus, delivering everything the tin promised across the whole spectrum before the fireworks went off and the champagne was sprayed: Lady Alex compered with panache and provided some of the more biting satire, giving new meaning to the notion of strap-on during her faux-homage to Osama BL; Shirley & Shirley took their lesbian sensibilities and well-rehearsed routines to dark places; Bunny Galore’s transvestite turns and Banbury Cross’s strips provided anchoring reference points; Chris Cox did not miss an opportunity to use his name in the spirit of the genre as he worked some blandish tricks; and there was more conventional stand-up from Jack Whitehall (“straight from the telly,” Lady Alex assured us); but the two star acts of the show were the resident Cabaret Rouge, who showed both grace and humour throughout their non-ironic burlesques of the disrobing kind, and Scales of the Unexpected whose intricate close-harmony routines of, first, greatest hits and, in the second half, visual puns brought the biggest applause of the evening - justifiably so.

Give or take bouts of expletives, there’s actually something of a family atmosphere at Wam Bam. Lady Alex is a genuinely caring-sharing sort of hostess who just wants everyone to have a good time. The Cafe de Paris club has momentum and, with the continuing supply of interesting new acts, Lady Alex has plenty of choice to ensure the shows remain fresh and eclectic.

Shows continue at the wonderful Cafe de Paris every Saturday at 8pm for the foreseeable future.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Difference Between A Donkey & A Stallion

By Anna Robin

London Cocktail Week, what a bloody wonderful idea. A week of encouraging the London populous to drink cocktails - I might just continue the theme myself and start the London Red Wine Week, or possibly Hot Toddy Week in mid November when everything is getting a bit depressing.Anyway, one of the lovely cocktail-related events during the week was the Drinks Jamboree. I like drinks and I like jamborees, so the combination could only be magical, I reasoned. And it was.Advertised as a spirit tasting event, the Drinks Jamboree in Shoreditch Town Hall at first glance, looked a little miserable. There were lots of stalls with drinks, but not that many people coming in to drink them. A dejected lady at the Karlsson’s vodka stall morosely told us that it had been a little quiet. Before giving us some vodka (neat) and then with a little pepper – which turns out to be a rather fabulous combination.We then just wandered around chatting about drinks and drinking drinks and comparing drinks and nosing drinks (this is technical term for sticking your hooter into an appropriate ‘nosing’ glass and taking a good sniff) and, as the hall got a little busier, queuing for drinks.What made the whole experience even better (I mean drinking for free is always pretty good to begin with) were the people showcasing their wares. I can’t tell in hindsight whether everyone there was drunk or I was drunk but everyone was in very high spirits (geddit).My favourite person of the evening was the French man on the Pernod Absinthe stall. I was curious, I thought Pernod was the name of a French aniseed clear spirit and inquired about this. “No, no” he replied, gesticulating wildly, “that is Pernod Pastis. The difference between the two drinks is the difference between a donkey and a stallion.” We decided that in the form proffered (a cocktail of absinthe, rose lime cordial, water and cucumber) it tasted more like a Mare (I blame the absinthe for this one).

We ambled round some more. There was an elderflower spirit stall where they were making cocktails with a dollop of beetroot mouse squished on. We tried rum, cherry brandy, a coffee liqueur, a spirit that was basically whisky but was too young to be actually called a whisky from Glenglassaugh, plum gin and ginger gin.

By this point I was struggling to make notes and ask interesting question at the same time and attempted to make a bid for the door, But alas, the charming man at the Sipsmith stall caught our attention. Another gin will not tip us over the edge, we reasoned. However, it was not to be.

“Can we try some gin please,” I said, swaying gently.

“But of course, but first you must try our vodka,” he replied with a smile.

Now I am never rude and have a general rule never to turn down a free drink. Manfully, we tried both the vodka and gin – both delightful, I must say. And on that note we staggered out the Town Hall talking about the merits of single filtration vodka and botanicals and possibly giggling just a little bit more than a serious drinks journalist should.

Friday, 22 October 2010

A Secret Code To A New Secret Bar

By Anastasia Hancock.

It all started a few weeks ago.

I was walking down the steps of Battersea Park Station, ready to breathe in the cool South London evening, when I stopped short in front of a large-scale poster on the brick wall in front of me.

On it was the dark, twisted form of a female tiger, her eyes hidden. Intrigued, I took a few steps closer, the clicking of my heels echoing in the quiet of the deserted station entrance hall.

The minx’s cat figure writhed across the black background above a single, captivating line: The Blind Tiger. There was no email address listed, no location mentioned, simply a solitary telephone number written in small digits beneath the haughty paws of the big cat emblazoned above it. The design reminded me of something I’d seen elsewhere, but for the life of me I couldn’t put my finger on it…

But the night was drawing in, so I merely shrugged to myself and prowled off into the night.

The next time I saw that familiar feline face I recognised it straight away.

Again, I was on home ground after a hard day in the urban jungle and was just about to lap up my first cold glass of white wine in Battersea’s prize watering hole, The Lost Angel, when I caught a glimpse of the distractingly sightless form. I put down my glass and made my way through the pack of noisy carousers.

This time I noticed something else below the eponymous Blind Tiger tag: ‘Illicit dining and forbidden beverages’.

Suddenly the similarities of design between the poster in front of me, and the brand of The Lost Angel and its sister bar Lost Society became clear – so that was where I had recognised it from that first night.

Yet it was still frustratingly coy. Where was this den of iniquity, and more importantly, why was it being denied to me? I stalked back to my seat in exasperation.

During the next few weeks the posters appeared across the sprawling south London metropolis, each tiger taunting me further with its enigmatic stare – and all this in my own territory. It was too much. Fur will fly if I don’t find out more about this haven for libertines, I told myself.

Then, one day, it came to me.

The invitation simply dropped into my inbox from the fascinatingly named Coco. ‘Join us for illicit canapés, prohibited cocktails and live jazz band. Our address is 697 Wandsworth Road’. The script continued intriguingly; ‘Look for the dimmed lamp next to a large black door. To gain entry ring the bell and state, ‘We are here to see The Blind Tiger’. Come suited and booted’. Yes, I thought, that’s the place.

A few days later I stood before the heavy wooden door preening myself, until a large, dark-suited shape purred huskily through the peephole. ‘Yes?’ said the voice.

‘I’m here to see Blind Tiger’, I muttered, self-consciously. The latch drew back – and there I was.

A teacup of some powerful concoction was pressed into my hand, and I was ushered through the walled courtyard into a 1920s speakeasy. It was full of bright young things sipping forgotten cocktails, the lingering notes of a fabulous jazz quartet floating in the air, the walls covered in shiny art nouveau trinkets.

I sighed, and sank into a plump velvet armchair, accepting gratefully as I did an imaginative Rhubarb and Honey Bellini. As the night progressed I worked my way dutifully through a sparkling menu of Manhattans, Margaritas and Martinis, Mai Tais, Mojitos….and a Regal tea; a delicious mixture of gin, Madagascan vanilla sugar, lemon juice and peach bitters, all topped off with champagne.

And as the cocktails flowed and the band played on, the survival game being battled out over the secluded garden wall and beyond, across our own concrete savannah, suddenly seemed so very far away indeed.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Whimsical Wonderland comes to Kilburn

By Alex Hawkes.

According to folklore (or some smart Alec marketing), Betsy Smith was born in the Victorian era and delighted the good people of Kilburn with her eccentricity and penchant for a decent cocktail. In homage of this, the opening of The Betsy Smith promised an old fashioned knees-up in a pub that has leapt straight out of the pages of The Chronicles of Narnia.Our adventure into the weird and wonderful world of Betsy Smith begins on a windy Friday night on Kilburn High Street, where we are confronted by two giants (the bouncers). After attracting their attention, they hand us each a single playing card – which, they inform us, will help in our quest to drink the magical cocktails.Eagerly we continue on our way, passing upside-down flamingoes and crooked stripey walls, only to face our next challenge – a long and winding maze (the queue to the bar). Taking countless wrong turns, we were very eventually greeted by some earnest-looking chimney sweepers (costumed bartenders). Holding our cards joyously in the air, we eagerly begin ordering from the phantasmagorical (their word not mine) cocktail menu, which proudly boasted all manners of childish delights mixed with alcohol (temptations included a chocolate button themed drink and cocktails served in tea pots).Yet the evening proved to have anything but a fairytale ending. The bartender – no Dick Van Dyke – rather impatiently pointed out that tonight only four of the simpler cocktails were available from the menu. While this was an understandable move given the huge crowds the bar’s opening night had attracted, the general chaos that ensued could have been prevented if the clever marketing had been supported by any shred of managerial nous.Instead, The Betsy Smith buckled under the weight of the masses – punters were perched on staircases, the live funk band was drowned out by the roaring crowd, and getting any form of beverage was as likely as entering Narnia through the novelty wardrobe seating area. Yes, the venue has gimmicks galore – hanging bird cages, rows of kitsch paintings and ornaments – and the staff looked spectacular in their full mock Victorian outfits, but by the end of the night The Betsy Smith simply felt like one torturous never-ending Mad Hatter’s tea party. Old Betsy must have been turning in her grave.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

North London’s New Rockin’ n A-Rollin’ Bar

By Sophie Atkinson.

Sandwiched between party Camden and the picturesque and practically suburban Highgate, Tufnell Park – not exactly known as a hip and happening area of London – lacks something of an identity. But with the opening of the new Rock’n’Roll bar and pizza restaurant (!), Aces & Eights, this could be set to change…

I stumbled in to Aces & Eights on a dark and dreary evening and it’s a miracle I ever left. This bar epitomises hedonism. Lady’s undergarments hang from the ceiling and tattooed bikers line up at the bar ordering shorts and shots (Aces & Eights have a superb selection of American beers, bourbons and whiskies). Good ol’ fashioned rock music blasts out from the speakers and the bar staff neck tequila when they think you aren’t looking. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, you discover the pizza stove; perfect for soaking up all that booze.

Aces and Eights isn’t for those hoping to nurse a quiet pint in North-West London, and I emerged literally covered in beer but happy in the knowledge that I’d had a truly awesome night out. Rock on.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Pub Fun Bus Vs Stag Weekend

By Christian Rose-Day.

The definition of a ‘good idea’: get smashed the night before leaving for a stag weekend, of which you’re the chief organiser, aka the best man. Or in this case, the far-from-best man.

Seems like a bad idea to get on the boozy Geronimo Inns vintage Routemaster fun bus when you have to be at Galvin’s Cafe De Vin in Spitalfields at 11am sharp the next morning to meet the groom-to-be for a spot of posh brunch - amazingly light black pudding, btw - before jetting off to Slovenia for 4 days to eat hearty food, dance with glamourous women, ride the turquoise waters of the River Soča in a flimsy raft, and, surpise surprise, get pushed around the town square in wheelie bin (not me, but I admit I was there) after decent bout of Whose Round Is It Anyway?

Seems like a bad idea. But bad ideas shouldn’t always be left untouched.

Myself and fellow Fluid chap, Anthony, rolled up at The Phoenix pub near Victoria for the first Geronimo stop on our magical bus tour. Picking a route through a sea of suits on the ground floor, we made our way up to the compact Yalumba Room (sponsored by a certain wine brand), to receive canapés and our first (and second) glass of Pol Roger champagne. After some cold cucumber & lime tea (hmmm, refreshing) and a brief introductory speech by our host, Rupert Clevely, the Managing Director of Geronimo Inns, the vintage fun bus was loaded up with press and pointed in the direction of Battersea.

On route, as we passed Buckingham Palace, I sipped on my teacup of champagne and smiled at the Pol Roger-tickled women who sat about me, and I thought to myself “God, I love my job”; stag duties could wait until daybreak.

The reason for the tour was to showcase the private club rooms at a handful of London’s Geronimo Inns - there are 11, for formal wifi-tastic flipchart-crazed meetings, or just plain old cosy parties - and The Prince Albert in Battersea was our second pub of the night.

Off the bus, up the stairs, and down went another glass of Pol Roger. This pub’s upstairs room, the Bridge Room, is a resplendent domain, decorated with wallpaper that’s not only covered in dog silhouettes (this is Battersea) but also raised and velvety, therefore quite strokeable. As for the giant glowing cow on the roof terrace....I have no idea, but I like it.

Spotting a former Fluid London writer who left under unsavoury circumstances, myself and Anthony ventured outside for a non-smoking smoke break to avoid her. There we were introduced to various Geronimo staff who edified us about the Bridge Room, oft used as a restaurant overflow, occasionally commandeered as centre for embroidery classes; versatile indeed.

Christmas was the prevalent theme on this stop, and between the roasted pumpkin and Berkswell cheese canapés, we managed to take a glimpse at The Prince Albert’s Xmas menu: 5 starters, 5 mains, and 5 desserts to choose from, which, at £25 per person, sounds like a pretty decent investment. Personally, after the hot chestnuts on arrival, I would opt for the smoked salmon roulade starter, the poached sea bass with cockles & mussels main, followed by a traditional Christmas pudding to finish.

Fingers snapped in front of our faces and we suddenly jerked out of our Christmas dinner reveries. Orders were barked concerning getting back on the bus, and we departed with haste, momentarily stopping to admire the nice outdoor area at The Prince Albert. It’s called Battersea Park, and you could probably spit the distance, it’s that close.

Another bus ride, another teacup of Pol Roger, another Geronimo Inn, this time checking out the bijou club room at The Northcote pub in Clapham Junction. The Head Chef, knowingly prepared for a bus load of champer’d-up freeloaders, had cooked up a delicious sampling table of baked salmon wellington with buttered leeks and new potatoes, AND roast rump of Welsh lamb with mint and caper lentils, radish and watercress salad. The local Wandle beer (pint of) completed the Circle of Comfort in my eyes, because, dare I say, I’d seen enough of Pol Roger for one night.

Eschewing the sensible option to throw myself off the bus at that point and take the short journey back to my waiting bed close by, I foolishly got back on the fun bus. By this point, the group were well liquoured and getting rowdy; our conversation rising to a shout and the question of the moment proving to be ‘Is it possible to conduct a rap battle on Skype?’

The brand new and rather snazzy Elgin pub in Ladbroke Grove, just moment from Portobello Road, was already in full swing when the bus came careening through the front doors, fuelled by Pol Roger. We’d been deposited at this pub, the finale on our tour, to enjoy the soft, soothing music of the talented musician, Sarah Lucie Shaw, but instead we just seemed to intrude. To be honest, I don’t really remember. Tokens were thrust into our welcoming palms which in turn materialised as pints of golden ale. More golden ale. I remember sipping a lovely pint of winter warming beer at the bar, and the next thing I knew my alarm was shouting at me to get the hell up and pack my bag for Slovenia.

It’s true, get smashed the night before leaving for a stag weekend is definitely a good idea. And I’m not saying you should visit a Geronimo Inn just because they got me squiffy. I’m saying you should visit a Geronimo Inn because they’re great. I should know, I’ve reviewed enough of them. The menus are British bent, and the wine list is chosen by one of those Jedi wine chaps (Master of Wine), who just happens to be related to Geronimo’s MD. Handy (tip: you cant go wrong with The Wild Rock Infamous Goose Sauvignon).

And if you don’t trust me, trust the awards. Two-time winners of the Evening Standard Pub of the Year award and voted Pub Company of the Year at the 2009 Publican Awards. Also voted Food Operator of the Year in the 2010 Great British Pub Food Awards.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Body Searched at the Super Market

By Laura Collins.

I can understand being body searched and having my bag rifled through by security when leaving a supermarket (kind of), but on entry? Never! That’s the first way in which my recent ‘Super Market’ experience differed from its namesake. The next? Where do I start? It could be when I was trying to get in and I was handed a playing card without any explanation of why. It could be that I was then asked to hand said card back as soon as I stepped in the door – a seemingly pointless exercise in my, and surely anyone’s, eyes. Maybe it was the staff rather rudely demanding payment on entry to this ‘Super Market’, overlooking the fact I was meant to be on the so called ‘free guestlist’ (apparently I had been handed the wrong playing card at the door so it confused them!). Or it could be that I was forced to have a huge cross tattooed on my arm in pink fluorescent marker pen. What’s wrong with a normal, subtle entry stamp on the hand, I ask you!?

After this long battle to simply get in to the ‘Super Market’ night at Avalon bar and club in Shoreditch, I was already feeling wary, as we stepped away from the discourteous door staff and into an empty club. I knew I would need to hit the bar right away. It was 10:30pm and the night was about to get worse.

Avalon is the latest club to hit the Shoreditch scene and Super Market is its newest night – an evening described as fun, fresh and unpretentious. I beg to differ. Starting properly on 15 October, Super Market will take place every Friday night in a bid to be THE place to be seen at. The people behind it, who first introduced the night at Oxford University, are setting themselves a high task. They seem to think there is not much happening on Friday nights in London so decided to set up shop in Shoreditch in the hope that everyone would follow. I’m not sure they will. Take a look around guys. It’s Friday night and this is London. There are things going on in every corner of this city, and ones that don’t involve dodgy and forgettable music from the 80s and 90s.

As predicted, our first stop was the bar, which was an experience in itself. I’m not sure if it was the bartender’s lack of understandable English, his incompetence to make a drink, or that he poured soft drinks straight from a plastic bottle (presumably purchased from a nearby supermarket – ironically the only credible nod to the night’s name) that made it so funny. Whatever it was that kept drawing us back like tourists to a monkey cage, it wasn’t the service I was expecting from a recently opened club. Avalon should have actually paid more attention to the local supermarket in this respect – they should have installed self service tills. It would have made getting a drink much quicker and a lot less exasperating.

As the club started to fill up with people, I filled up on drinks, so it was time to hit the toilets. Why raise this? Because I am a stickler for toilet etiquette, a test that Avalon failed quite severely. While I queued outside the cubicles (an annoying experience whoever you ask) a member of staff marched to the front of the line, pushed in and then proceeded to inform us that she had a right to use the next available toilet because she was a member of staff. Come on Avalon, I know you’re new but surely there’s an employee bathroom at least somewhere in the building!

This final straw that encouraged my friend and I to vacate Super Market was aiming for the cloakroom, a task that I thought was bound to be easy. It wasn’t. I had to actually go into the cloakroom to search for my coat. The fee I paid them to store my belongings obviously didn’t cover the staff labour required to find them again afterwards.

All in all, I would prefer to spend my Friday night in a real supermarket in the darkest depths of London then endure this club night at Avalon again. This so called Super Market was a mere mini-mart. It could be likened to Waitrose for its prices and One Stop for its quality. I’ve stopped once and I won’t be stopping there again. One stop at this Super Market was one stop too many.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Smell of Southwark’s Newest Club

By Anna Robin

It’s Thursday, I am out with two friends, and I realise I am no longer young and cool; if I ever was. This happens to me frequently. I am turning into a grumpy old woman. I talk about how obnoxious I find T4 presenters. Why are they so perky all the time and why all the screams of joy? I complain about girls not wearing tights in winter (although I maintain that this is a reasonable moan; they’ll catch their deaths dressed like that!).

Anyway, like I say, it was Thursday and myself and two mates were going to the launch of Arcadia, a club in Southwark just near Borough Market, and the thought of it was hideous. This is the point I realised that the aging process had caught up with me and I might as well start purchasing the Radio Times and buy a thermal nightie. The reasons for not wanting to get drunk and sweaty on a Thursday were poor: I had a stressful week; I had a lot of work to do on Friday morning; etc, etc, etc.

However, in the name of journalistic integrity and holding on to my youth, I decided to hit the town. The Arcadia club is under railway arches off Southwark Street, not too far from London Bridge, so already it has a bit of a head start on the ‘cool ladder’ because, let’s be honest, you can’t get much more trendy then bricked arches.

The chic ceilings come at a price however. Arcadia, unfortunately, smells really, really bad. I think possibly due to under-bridge damp. Some good intentioned person had tried to cover this up by dotting incense sticks around the place but it didn’t really work. It’s a bit like a teenage boy who sprays on deodorant after hours of football and believes that is acceptable. It’s not.

Arcadia is a big place. Two rooms with bars; one big room with exciting strobe lighting; and two smaller rooms with army netting on the ceiling. It was a little empty at the launch but I can imagine that with lots of bodies grooving to house music it would be quite amazing. Also, the smell of sweat would cover the smell of the club so that would be a plus.

The smokers hangout is rather a treat, under another arch but obviously outdoors, it has some large pot plants and a couple of squishy leather sofas, for when the feet are saying no but the mind wants to keep dancing. The smoking area is big enough so everyone is not pushed together and desperately trying to avoid blinding anyone with a cigarette. We spent a lot of the time outside, feeling relaxed watching trendy people.

Arcadia’s launch wasn’t spectacular.  However, packed with people at three in the morning, I think this may be the place to be young and cool in the city. I will defiantly give it a shot the day I find myself ordering herbal tea in my local pub.

The Duracell bunny, Ulrika Jonsson, and a Whole Lot of Cinnamon

By Alex Williams

Having woken up in the bad mood that has plagued me since the age of 12; I decided to lie in bed and read the news on my mobile to ensure that I was fully up to date with the inescapable misery that is life. Having read about yet another natural disaster and the suspicious death of a political leader of an ex-Soviet state –looks like Putin may have been playing with Polonium again - my phone beeped and the words ‘new message’ appeared on the screen.

The message read ‘Why was the Duracell bunny arrested?’ ‘Because he was charged with battery.’ I laughed and laughed again, and, being someone who doesn’t exactly laugh too often, I kept laughing. Throughout the day I forwarded the joke to twenty or so people, pretty much all of whom responded with further laughter. I adore that joke and the principal reason for which, I believe, is its simplicity.

Later that day leaving Aldgate East tube with a northern friend - when I say northern, I mean Yorkshire, not Islington – it was only a short walk to Brick Lane; London’s most celebrated area for Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine. I can’t say I always like Brick Lane, I find the fact that people are trying to drag you into each restaurant a bit of a pain; if there were a little more lycra and Ulrika Jonsson commentating then passing through the Brick Lane gauntlet could be seen to be very similar to being on Gladiators.

Making it to half way up Brick Lane we chose a restaurant called Cinnamon, its busy interior looking inviting as the evening air started to become a little cooler. Once inside and seated, I didn’t find the interior all that appealing; there is nothing wrong with it, there is just little right with it. However, remembering the joke from that morning I kept in mind the fact simplicity can be a good thing. Flicking through the menu, whilst taking frequent glugs on the always pleasant pint of Cobra, I saw all those dishes that I would expect to see along with a long and absorbing specials section; one delicious description surpassed by the next.

Soon the kitchen doors flew open to the sound of flesh burning on hot metal; I thought I had seen food served on a sizzling plate before but I was wrong. Placed on the table was a mountain of animal, sizzling and spitting; the smells and sounds drew attention from the surrounding tables with those who hadn’t yet ordered, enquiring as to what it was, and from those who had ordered, kicking themselves that they hadn’t. This carnivore’s paradise was a pleasure to devour from first bite to last – in that time I successfully managed to cover the table cloth in fried onion and other detritus, but it didn’t really matter, this wasn’t a pretentious restaurant and the staff didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.

The mains again were excellent, my northern dining partner - someone who generally believes that you haven’t had a proper evening out for a curry unless you end in fits of tears thanks to the sweltering heat - insisted on going for the novelty of a duck curry rather than consuming an inferno. My Raja Chingri Karahi was to die for; juicy prawns in a thick spicy sauce.

From when we arrived to when we left the tables around us were packed with a whole host of people – from couples out for a romantic meal to a larger group celebrating a birthday. The service was spot on, appearing when your plate or glass was empty but not hovering.

Walking up Brick Lane later that evening, elbows ready to jab into the kidneys of anyone who insisted on trying to make me eat in their restaurant despite the fact that I pointed out that I had already eaten, I was once again smiling. This had now been twice in one day, which, for me, could be said to be something of a rarity. I thoroughly enjoyed Cinnamon and it had been for the same reason as the joke: simplicity. Though Michelin Starred restaurants have their place, there are few types of restaurant in which I can enjoy myself more, have a relaxed meal with friends and a little too much to drink than in a curry house. And when looking for one of these, Cinnamon is a great choice.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Cocktail Flairing 101

By Kate Williams

Oh God, I should have hated it. It was a night where the things on this Earth that I find most unpleasant were combined with enough alcohol to guarantee I made a fool of myself. And yet... And yet...

When my editor said I'd be going along to TGI Friday’s in Covent Garden, for a cocktail master class, I was slightly underwhelmed. I don't hate TGI’s but I'd never go there of my own volition. It's just a bit cheesy, isn’t it?

Still, I went along, taking my friend Sally for moral support, which I needed because of the premise of the evening.

Sally and I would be teamed up against other bloggers, and taught to not only mix an decent cocktail, but to perform TGI’s world famous flairing too. For the uninitiated, flairing is the practice whereby bartenders dazzle customers with the throwing, twirling and catching of bottles, glasses and whatever else they can lay their nimble fingers on.

Here's where the fear sets in.

To start with, neither me nor Sally are known for our dexterity. I'm pretty sure that the hateful slight “catches like a girl” originates from someone observing my year nine rounders practice, and Sally's catchphrase is genuinely “I'm due a fall.” This doesn't bode well, for either for us, or for the molecular structure of the bottles we’re due to start flinging about willy-nilly.

Then there's the fact that we'd be performing these skills once we'd learned them. For me, audience participation is a filthy phrase. I'm not so much shy, as a massive party pooper. Plainly, I don't like to join in.

See what I mean? It should have been hateful. Instead, I had such a brilliant time!

First up, I took my first ever steps behind the bar (I know, shocking) and was taught to make a mojito, which uncontroversially is my favourite ever cocktail. Limes, mint, sugar, ice, soda...It wasn't as hard to conjure something drinkable as some bars make it seem (take note Guanabara).

Next came the hard part: the flaring. Guided by the supremely talented barman, me and Sally were taught to spin tins, free pour booze from two bottles at a time, and flip half full glasses without spilling a drop of the toxic-coloured Purple Rain that we’d opted to make.

It's not that it wasn't easy... it wasn't possible. When it came to our turn to perform, we were fumbled our way through our hastily learned routine, punctuated with giggles and amazingly, and undeservedly... we won! But then the judges didn’t have to taste the end result, which I craftily pushed aside and concentrated on the mojitos.

Much fun was had, and as flairing lessons aren’t available to the public, I’d recommend befriending a TGI’s bartender and getting them to teach you a few tricks.

As for TGI’s being cheesy, well, it just is, but that’s not a reason not to go. It’s fun and friendly, and the drinks are really nice. In the meantime, check out this talent. Unfortunately, all footage of me showcasing my skills has... err, mysteriously disappeared.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Straight Girls In A Soho Gay Club

By Leo Owen.

My name is clearly printed on the guest list but unlike other entries mine has an additional capitalised bracketed word beside it: Leo Owen (FEMALE). Sure, this is the ‘Gold Party’ celebrating the renovation of Soho’s The Shadow Lounge – “Europe's number one gay members club” - but I am certainly not the only female. Accompanied by my little sis, we begin our night playing ‘spot the lady’ but soon realise it's really not as challenging a game as we first thought.

Reminiscent of the infamous Studio 54, The Shadow Lounge is tastefully decorated, successfully amalgamating flamboyant disco with Edwardian themed intimate chandeliered booths and a granite grotto bar. The flashing chequered dance floor is accompanied by the obligatory disco ball (it’s the law!) and rather beautifully reflected on the ceiling where faux bullet holes twinkle like stars.

This area is clearly aimed at exhibitionists or the inebriated as it is surrounded by a drinks surface for clientele to prop and admire the talent. Beyond the spectators, more successful customers retreat to the privacy of roomy comfortable booths. A pole sits on a podium near the entrance overlooking the dance floor, hinting at the raucous turn this evening could take.

Right now, the club is quiet enough to admire the array of inaccessible eye candy, all far too attractive to be in one room – guys in tweed jackets, others in boating attire, one resembling James Dean, another going for the classic Rat Pack look, some topless and others outrageously dressed. The clientele is as varied as the music and moves from Janet Jackson to Tina Turner, via Jackson 5 dance remixes, Spiller's famous dance tune “Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)” and the sudden appearance of a talented crooner belting out “Can't Take My Eyes Off You”.

Surrounded by so much perfection, it's inevitable the bitchiness beast is on the warpath - we're unable to stop laughing at the strange mix of bar staff: a Vin Diesel look-a-like, Moll Flanders meets Pirates of the Caribbean, and one who unintentionally seems to be challenging little sis to a ‘quiff-off’. The criticism doesn't stop there and, seeing photographic evidence, mini-me wishes she'd chosen her outfit more wisely, complaining her boobs look like “50-year-old dog ears” and wishing Gok had been available for a pre-club bra-fitting.

Still it's not all disastrous, the quiff is popular and while chatting to some of these hospitable hotties, it's difficult not to laugh when we're mistaken for an exceedingly wrong couple! Floating around in this ocean of talent are plenty of friendly and intriguing folk – an Andy Warhol wannabe, the “Got To Dance” guy, a hypnotist and rumours of Graham Norton safely harboured somewhere in a cordoned off private booth. Chatting to a regular, I'm told it's impossible not to have a good night in The Shadow Lounge. Sure, the drinks our pricey, but hey, it's central London. Pretty packed now and we've had such a good time, we've almost missed our tube.

To find more gay bars, gay clubs and gay pubs in London, follow think link