Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Proud Of Camden’s New Restaurant?

By Kate Williams.

You've been to Proud Camden, right? It's one of those places we've all ended up at one time or another. It has a gravitational pull common among NW1's other iconic venues, and has built up quite a reputation.

A reputation for attracting big name bands and DJs like Mark Ronson and Florence and the Machine, a reputation for gorgeous clientele, whose glossy mag attractiveness is only bettered by their bar staff. What I think of when I think of Proud, though, is a grown up alternative to a Camden night out. A slice of cool without the side of chaos.

This more polished night out might not be to everyone's tastes, but Camden has enough grungy pubs for them to hang out in and Proud successfully pulls off a more ordered hipness with panache.

Already known for cabaret, art, as well as nightclub shennanigans, Proud has something new up its trendy t-shirted sleeve. I was there earlier this month for the launch of their latest venture, a restaurant, Proud Kitchen.

Now, Camden isn't short of places to eat and bang smack in the middle of a market made up of tempting smells, it might seem like an unnecessary string to their bow. However, the thinking behind the new restaurant addition is simple, and typically Proud: a decent, civilised place to get a pre-gig/night out dinner.

The dining room, all candlelight and fresh flowers, is charming but then you'd have to try pretty hard to make this tastefully renovated 200-year-old Grade II Listed Horse Hospital anything but.

Long dining benches made for a lively atmosphere, and it was easy to imagine away the amiable troughing journos I shared the evening with and replace them with buoyant birthday party guests, filling up before a night of boozy dancing.

Not that the menu is just stomach lining fodder. The roast sea bream fillet and shredded fennel was fresh and tasty but outshone by the grilled Bavette steak with caramelised onion mash, which got rave reviews all round. As did the beetroot and milk chocolate fondant pudding served with clotted cream.

For £19.50 a head, you can choose from a small yet wordy three course set menu, which makes for pretty good value by anyone's reckoning. A splash of imagination provided by Michelin-trained chef Finlay Logan is what makes Proud Kitchen stand out from it's chain restaurant and pub grub heavy neighbours.

That said, Proud Kitchen isn't trying to top the to-scoff-at list of any of this city's many foodies, but if you're there for a night out - and trust me, you will be at some point - it's more than worth booking a table. A decent restaurant in a nightclub is just the latest in this venue's interesting ideas. Proud? They should be. In fact, I'd go as far as to say smug.

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

Friday, 26 November 2010

New Basement Bar Near Oxford Street

By Leah Harper.

With its basement location, it would be all too easy to let Bar 92 go unnoticed, but having attended the launch night, it looks to be one place that is certainly worth making the effort to find. Guided by tea lights and a helpful bouncer, we began the night by descending the stairs to this underground hideaway, having no idea what to expect.

Whilst you might easily mistake the red neon ‘Bar’ sign on the stairwell as an indication of leather bar stools and American rock music, you couldn’t be more wrong. Firstly, Bar 92 is dark, and it took a moment for us to register our surroundings and choose a seat. In our confusion, we opted for small table seats, which looked like they should’ve sat more than two people, but were so close together that we clashed knees repeatedly, trying to clamber in.

Bar 92 is remarkably comfortable though. It’s small enough to seem intimate and romantic, but big enough to feel lively and accommodate fairly large groups of guests. The singular bar, on the other hand, is small and despite being sat close by, we were glad of the waitress service. There were a range of complimentary drinks provided, including two delicious cocktails. The ‘Eternal’ comprised of gin with peach and kiwi juice, and was a favourite with my plus one. However, the bar’s signature – the ‘Ninety-Two’ – was equally as yummy, merging vodka and apple liqueur with white grapes and lychee juice.

There were also flutes of Prosecco on offer, which only served to add to the city-style sophistication of the bar. It might be situated just ten minutes from the shopping haven of Oxford Street, but the opening night certainly isn’t short of the number of suits and pencil skirts needed to constitute an officially classy clientele.

One thing this bar excels in is getting the balance right. Olives, feta and sundried tomatoes are available in perfect snack-sized portions, and were listed on the menu at perfectly sensible prices. The music is audible, but not loud enough to be a conversation killer. Bar 92 might not be the sort of bar you’d spend more than a couple of hours, but in an area that already excels in restaurants and cafes, this is a great secluded spot to enjoy a tipple or two after work or before a big night out.

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

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The 2nd Best New Cocktail Bar in Shoreditch

By Christian Rose-Day.

A few weeks ago I proffered my opinion on the best new old bar in Shoreditch. On Thursday of last week I was invited to the launch of another new Shoreditch bar, The Nightjar.

Shoreditch is fast becoming an area I cant seem to leave. Although I (am pretty sure I) reside in south London, I’ve been out in Shoreditch no less than 5 times in the last two weeks. It just keeps calling me back and I honestly admit, The Nightjar is the 2nd best new cocktail bar in Shoreditch.

And last Thursday was probably the 5th best Thursday I’ve ever had. I would’ve said it was the 4th best Thursday I’ve ever had, but only if I could’ve started judging after 4pm.

The good friend who was accompanying me that Thursday - who I hadn’t seen for a while - had grown a moustache. Probably the 8th best moustache I’ve ever seen. His new look was particularly fortuitous considering the retro vintage persona of The Nightjar, and, indeed, when the bar began to fill up with like-minded freeloaders like us, it appeared some of those present had donned a costume for the occasion. For my chum, this was the number 1 coincidental hairgrowth of all time. I, on the other hand, was sporting the 3rd worst hairstyle ever (the other two were also present that Thursday night, oddly enough), and stuck out like a sore thumb; the 4th most sore thumb in history.

Luckily, nobody really seemed to notice as we’d arrived too punctually (the sign on the door had only just been fitted) and the busy staff were busying themselves with the final preparatory touches. (The entrance, by the way, is the 3rd hardest entrance to find in Shoreditch, in keeping with its Prohibition speakeasy style. As a clue, though, look for the dark door between a Kafeteria with a ‘K’ and a Cafeteria with a ‘C’).

The bar itself was filled with inviting contrasts. The soothing difference between the matt finishes - soft, soft brown leather and walls - and the shiny surfaces - very professionally-made mirrors and golden ceiling - were the 2nd best example of modern Art Deco I’d seen in 2010.

Soon enough, the band - the filthy swingsters, Topshelf Jazz - began to play. Despite their ragtime, boogaloo rhythm, they were definitely one of the top 10 noisiest bands I’d ever seen, and easily the 2nd loudest band I’ve seen underground. They were also the 3rd most amusing band I’ve ever seen, jokingly interacting amongst themselves both during and between songs, plus alternating between various types of comedy hat.

My pal and I decided to work our way chronologically through the evening’s concise list of special cocktails. We started with the pre-Prohibition Morning Glory Fizz - a moreish combination of Scotch whisky, absinthe, egg white and champagne which was the best cocktail of the night - and ended with the modern Nightjar signature, the Ladybird - Rhum orange, Belgian truffle liqueur, Caribbean spices and orange bitters. Although table service was swift, delightful and courteous, the regularity of the samples was hindered by the voracious appetite of the gleeful crowd, and the lightning-quick staff could not keep up. Let’s hope this is just a teething problem, especially as a light Mediterranean grazing menu is available from now on.

Our evening got better and better when, again fortuitously, we positioned ourselves in such a way as to warrant conversation with complete strangers; a practice that was prevalent in the Prohibition period, no doubt, but a practice that has fallen to about 12th in the all-time list of ‘things to do in a cocktail bar’ these days.

To our right was a young Swedish lady (blonde, naturally) who was not only winsome but fascinating to boot. She is the CEO and Founder of a company called Mutewatch AB which manufactures incredible touch-sensitive watches; one of which she was able to demonstrate to us that night. The 2nd best watch demonstration I’ve ever seen (and easily the coolest watch I've ever seen).

When our new Swedish friend disappeared into the night we began chatting over cocktails with the two young ladies to our left - Michelle from Camden and her friend Holly - who were at The Nightjar launch for reasons similar to our own. Thus, we struck an accord with Michelle from Camden and her friend Holly, and continued to chat with them for the remainder of the evening. Towards the end, Michelle had this to say about The Nightjar: “Lively, great music, and the cocktails are delicious. Good fun for a bit of a boogie too.”

The intimate stage at The Nightjar has a tidy upcoming schedule of traditional jazz, blues, swing, tap, vintage style and cabaret song so music lovers will see this bar as their 3rd most important thing to do this month. I imagine The Nightjar will also be particularly popular with late night cocktail revellers and those who work long hours within the bar industry.

So, overall, the 5th best Thursday I’ve ever had, at the 2nd best new cocktail bar in Shoreditch; in my opinion.

To discover more of the best bars in Shoreditch, follow this link.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

London Welcomes Europe’s First Patrón Bar

By Anastasia Hancock.

It wasn’t the most glamorous start to evening. I was due to meet my friend for a drink at Marble Arch before heading over the road to the launch of Europe’s first Patrón bar, designed to showcase the range of exclusive Patrón tequilas, opening that night at the swanky Cumberland Hotel. But decent watering holes are pretty thin on the ground round there, so after a warm glass of wine in a personality-free pub, we quickly made a beeline for the ‘ultra-premium’ cocktails we’d been promised.

We wandered into the airy glass atrium at the reception of the hotel, which was already quite a change from last place we were in (a self-styled Pheonix Nights boozer where crisps trodden into the carpet and lipstick–smeared glasses were making a comeback). One of the perfectly manicured bodies at the desk pointed towards the separate bar, where sleek women wielding clipboards waited to usher us in.

I sidled into the room, and awkwardly followed a model-esque waitress sashaying down the ramp towards the Patrón bar, where I quickly realised it was the Night of the Beautiful People.

Clutching one of the colourful tequila-based cocktails being held aloft by the waiting staff who made their way serenely through the thronging masses, we spotted a free table in a corner where we could gaze admiringly at the Patrón bar traffic without having to get too close to sharp suits and cheekbones that could cut glass. We walked through the stylish glass and chrome bar and made ourselves comfortable.

Unfortunately, to get there we had to make the trip across the dance floor where men with shirts unbuttoned much further than is acceptable danced with ladies swaying to the dance music coming from the girl DJ while trying to keep hold of the fur (real, natch!) coat slung casually over their shoulders. A quick trip to the bathroom confirmed what was already expected; they were standing at least three deep in front of the mirrors.

I scuttled back to my friend who was happily digging into a small bowl of thick black bean soup. It was pleasant enough, we agreed, as we tucked our napkins into our collars, but somewhat of a bizarre choice of canapé; as was the mini spaghetti and meatball. I felt a little sorry for the people that were trying their level best to enjoy a meal in the adjoining restaurant, which was only separated from the noisy launch by a length of rope. No doubt the food was classy (the restaurant is run by proprietor and celebrity chef Gary Rhodes), but tinkling glasses and muted conversation there was not, and most of the diners had given up on trying to make themselves heard across the table.

Luckily, the dazzling array of cocktails distracted us, and we happily worked our way through a coffee martini, which tasted deliciously of ice cream, an apple mojito and, the star of the show, a tequila shot encased in a chocolate cup.

Sadly, the glamour was short lived, as no sooner were we getting used to the opulence of the Patrón bar than the night drew to a close and we found ourselves at the bus stop waiting for the 137 bus.

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

Monday, 22 November 2010

A Tour Of Italian Vineyards, In Central London

By Naheen Madarbarkus.

A tube strike is not the best way to start the seasonal tour of Italy’s vineyards in central London but it isn’t going to keep me away. A ‘special service’ Victoria line train is indication enough that the wines are calling and need to be tasted.

Green Park’s Cavendish Hotel – home of the The David Britton Restaurant - sits just behind The Ritz with the hotel’s first floor conference room playing host to samples of the Italian tipples. Barely a few minutes after 2pm, and all the swirling and spitting is in full action.

Just under twenty independent vineyard representatives make up a horse shoe display of tables, complete with their wine bottles and glossy leaflets in front of them. Another fifty or so journalists, PR members and industry experts are clutching their wine glasses firmly, visiting one ice bucket to the next to get a whiff, a taste and a hint of all the aromas.

As we all seek our perfect wines, I see that a huge range from Tuscany is on the table. My personal favourite belongs to the house of San Felice with their Pugnitello Toscana telling an intriguing tale. The unique story goes that the regional grape used has been reproduced by the powers that be at the University of Florence after it ceased to grow in the 1980s. After more than a twenty-year absence from their vineyards, this bottle now offers a smooth, fresh tasting white that commends the university team in their research efforts to reincarnate this particular grape.

The Monte Schicevo on the other hand, believe that a higher alcohol level covers the acidic taste of their offering, but unfortunately the rep is too shy to divulge any further about his comment.

A cosy gathering of vineyard experts nevertheless, with adventurous smaller manufacturers taking on the big boys. A selection of cheese and crackers would have complemented my experience further. However, for now, I’ll leave the tour there, wrestle with my own route back home via the tube strike and try some of these delicious varieties when out at my next Italian restaurant.

Looking for Italian restaurant inspiration in London? Then check out some of the follow:
Italian: London's Top 10 Best Restaurants

Italian Restaurants in London: North London's Top 10

Italian Restaurants in London: Mayfair's Top 10

Italian Restaurants in London: South London's Top 10

Italian Restaurants in London: East London's Top 10

Italian Restaurants in London: The West End's Top 10

Friday, 19 November 2010

Too Much Swallow, Not Enough Spit

By Philippa Morton.

Ahh, who wouldn’t want to indulge in a day of wine tasting? The swirl, sniff and spit regime (or swallow, in my case) was so addictive, I could have counted it as my work out necessary for the day. Although, in all honesty, I didn’t have enough wits about me by the end of it to count at all (too much swallow, not enough spit).

The whole exercise completely wasted me. Even my arms were sore the next day (as was my head) from lifting those heavy glasses of wine, one after the other. My boss at Fluid London forced me to attend the Wine Gang Christmas Wine Fair at Vinopolis. How could he do such a thing? Does a day-long headache as a result of over-working count when it comes to Occupational Health? Hmmm. Nevertheless, it was my obligation to carry forth my duties, and so onwards I went, as professional as I could be. And in this industry there is only one way to do this: taste to learn.

Vinopolis is a must for anyone who already appreciates wine. For those of us who are not as well versed in wine, a visit to Vinopolis will open your senses to a whole new world of taste. Did you know that grapes grown on the coast result in a much fruitier, full wine, and those grown further inland (maybe up a hill) result in a wine with a much more delicate, even translucent taste.

Impressed? You should be. And in fact, to know more it would definitely be worth investing in one of the regular Vinopolis wine tours. You can learn anything, such as matching cheeses and chocolates to the right types of wine. I’d rather fancy impressing my guests sometime with this kind of refined knowledge. Oh La-Di-Dah Dears!

Set in large halls with high ceilings, Vinopolis reminded me of a ballroom. The halls were framed by tables dotted around with wine agents from all over the world, showing their wares. Shiraz, Prosecco, Chablis, Port, Champagne, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and many more were there to sample, some by names that were just far too complicated for my alcohol-soaked brain to recall, never mind pronounce.

My favourites were the Rieslings. It has been a good couple of years since I have had a Riesling, and I had a sudden rush of memories when the taste graced my tongue (ahhh the good old days of cheap Riesling, when my taste buds were much less refined).

I wondered if Oz Clarke might have been honouring Vinopolis with his presence that day, but I couldn’t see him anywhere. It didn’t worry me too much though, since evidently he is a frequent visitor at Vinopolis, and holds wine tastings as well. Just a matter of checking out the Vinopolis website: www.vinopolis.co.uk

So after tasting many a wine and trying hard to educate myself that much more - and while Shiraz became Rishaz and Pinot Noir became Nipot Poir - the crowd was growing and talking to my dictaphone got a little tiresome. I was a lone and lonely wine taster. So my tip for a really great day out at Vinopolis? Take a mate and swirl, sniff and spit (or swallow) your way round together.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Harvey Nichs’ New Absolute Taste

By Flick Hardingham.

Earlier this year the foodie haven on the Fifth Floor of Harvey Nichols got even better with the addition of a restaurant by Absolute Taste, the events and catering company.

Absolute Taste at Harvey Nichols is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a tempting selection of their signature dishes created using the freshest, seasonal produce.  We were invited to a session with Andy Ritchie, master of the Fifth Floor, and Will Gould, Executive Chef at Absolute Taste.

Welcomed by a glass of champagne and tempting canapés they were off to a flying start.  We dived in to expertly cooked strips of beef and charcuterie whilst discussing a celebrity chef's latest indiscretions and where to get a good coffee in Soho (‘Brewed Boy’ on the corner of Brewer and Rupert Street, will provide pure, unadulterated caffeine alchemy). 

Will Gould then took us through the intricate art of hand rolling. It’s really not as simple as you might think.  However, this is a fantastic party trick and chance to show off on date number five or six, when you finally get her in your kitchen.  Men can, after all, also be crafty with a pan and pastry brush.

Armed with a wooden board and damp, rice pancake we began our creations.  First you must decide upon your filling of choice.  Beware of all things crisp or spiky that may drive a hole through the delicate parcel.  I placed bay leaves along the centre of the pancake followed by thick wedges of tuna sashimi smeared with wasabi.  I then added raw red peppers, cucumber and avocado before the great roll.  We then gently folded our pancakes in half and rolled until we could roll no more.  With a bit of skill and a lot of luck your dish will remain unscathed; ready to be sliced and expertly laid in front of an admiring audience. 

We were then passed in to the hands of Andy Ritchie for a swift lesson in pizza making. Andy has travelled the globe with Absolute Taste catering for Formula One’s finest (apparently they go crazy for chicken and fried rice) and private parties.  He is a treasure trove of curious tales drawn from far flung markets and demanding clients.

Andy introduced us to their very large and ridiculously hot oven where we would bake our doughy masterpieces.  I rolled out the base with plenty of flour before smothering it in pasata, mozzarella, blue cheese, chorizo, parma ham, olive, bay leaves and a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  You can pretty much put whatever you like on it as long as it’s vaguely delicious.  After a speedy 3 or 4 minutes in the beast of an over our little rounds of heaven were ready!  They were beautifully crisp with plenty of gooey cheese and a definite improvement on Pizza Express.

A very happy ending came in the form of a tremendously chocolaty brownie, crisp on top and devilishly squidgy in the centre. 

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

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Making Sushi: A Lot Like Sex

By Kate Williams

Making sushi is a lot like sex. By that I mean that, as long as you have access to the requisite equipment, anyone can have a fairly successful bash at it. Doing it well - the sushi, that is - takes a fair bit of practice and a certain degree of manual dexterity, as I learned when I attended Pan Asian restaurant Chino Latino this weekend.

I attended a sushi making masterclass at Chino Latino which started with a demonstration from the head chef, Lorenzo Bautista who has worked in some of London and Dubai’s most famous Japanese restaurants. Such nimble fingers as he rolled the nori sheets, such masterful swipes of the oh-so-sharp blade. Such exquisite results.

Then it was my turn. I made a traditional tuna roll, a salmon and avocado California roll, and a crispy prawn tempura roll. Or, at least, I tried to. Let me say in my defense that they call it sticky rice for a reason. It stuck everywhere but where I wanted it to. Then there was the wasabi, which I was a bit heavy handed with to say the least.

My efforts (above), as you can see, were a bit wonky, compared to Lorenzo’s perfect specimens (below). A fumble up an alleyway after kicking out time, to his Egyptian cotton sheets, if you will. Still, it was a really fun couple of hours so who cares about looks. With your eyes closed, it all tastes the same when you pop it in your mouth, doesn’t it? The sushi, that is.

Chino Latino’s sushi masterclasses cost £35 and are available on 20th November, 27th November, and 4th December 2010. To book, email avdwesthuizen@pphe.com or call 020 7769 2500.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Covent Garden's Indian Whisky Game

By Gabrielle Sander.

Whisky and game: the fuel of Hunter welly-wearing countrymen, seated in Chesterfields next to a roaring fire and overlooked by the trophy head of a good weekend’s kill. Not necessarily what I’d expect to be tucking into on a Thursday evening at an Indian restaurant in Covent Garden. So when I was invited along to Moti Mahal’s latest event last week (part of National Taste of Game Fortnight), I leapt at the chance to take part in the experience.

I first visited the Moti Mahal restaurant earlier in the year, so I knew how good the food and service was but I had my reservations about the theme. I wasn’t entirely certain the Asian twist on the traditional pairing would work, and I didn’t know whether I’d enjoy the whisky all that much. My dram drinking extends as far as the odd Whisky Mac gulped down when I’m full of cold. In those times of need it is my saviour. Otherwise, it sits in the corner of my living room, hidden behind the wine I’d prefer to drink instead.

As it happens, each dish was fantastic, a real pleasure to eat; the sort you would write home about, if people actually did that sort of thing nowadays. And under the expert guidance of Roger Mallindine, former Diageo Master of Whisky, I discovered that if you drink the right stuff - or five different types of the right in this case - whisky can actually be rather good; outstanding even.

As we swirled each golden liquid around the glass, giving them the attention they deserved, discussing what great legs they had, using mouth-watering words such as ‘caramel’, ‘honey’ and ‘toffee’ to describe the nose, Roger talked us through their history, the areas of Scotland where they were distilled, the different processes, and lots more information that made me appreciate what I was drinking; interspersed with anecdotes from his long career in the business.

We ate grilled partridge with warming cinnamon, garlic and a delicious apple and dark rum chutney, washed down with smooth, gingery 12-year-old malt from the Northern Highlands.

Next we were presented with the Pheasant Jungali Murgabi, a generous-sized tandoor grilled pheasant supreme with royal cumin, garlic, smoked red chillies, and a red onion and ginger salad. This time partnered with a delicate, spicy 12-year-old Craggenmore single malt.

Our third course, my unexpected highlight of the evening, was a truffle and wild mushroom biriyani, with beautifully detectable saffron and an accompanying cool raita. With the added indulgence of fresh truffle, grated over my plate by the waiter, and then topped up minutes later with yet more; what a treat! Once again, the paired whisky danced perfectly in sync with the other flavours.

The salty, strong, leathery taste of the chilled Caol Ila 12 yr single malt that came with the fourth course tasted like it was steeped in history, even though it was the same age as the others we tried. Not to everyone’s tastes I’d imagine, but softened and much more palatable when drunk with the juicy massala roast grouse and fried lotus stem.

Dessert was a beautifully presented dish of filled flatbreads, with a creamy cardamom yoghurt. Served with the finest whisky I’ve ever tasted: The Royal Legacy of 1745 – smooth, delicate and sweet like nectar, and not surprisingly, around £120 a bottle. I’d seriously consider investing in a bottle for special occasions, and I’ve never been enthusiastic about whisky before.

After three hours settled at a long table in Moti Mahal’s downstairs den, in the company of a rather lovely bunch of strangers, I was left with a warm glow of enjoyment, a new found appreciation of fine Scottish whisky, and feeling a bit silly for initially doubting the whole concept.