Friday, 18 February 2011

A Brief Peak At Soho’s Newest Cocktail Bar

By Cat McGovern

When I first heard about Zenna I was quite intrigued to see what an Indian cocktail bar would be like. I also thought I’d be a bit greedy and go there for cocktails before heading off to Shoreditch to review a gig for another publication. Oh the life of a freelancer, it sounds so fancy.

Whilst waiting for my terminally late friend to arrive, I see a guy sweeping the street outside the bar. Another guy, who looks distinctly like the manager, says ‘not with water! Just sweep!’ They obviously want to make a good impression. I’m mildly impressed.

My friend turns up, half an hour late, and we go inside. It’s already quite packed, so we make our way to the seating area, to the right of the bar, and rest our weary feet. I make her go to the bar - as she left me waiting outside, in the cold, on my own, for 30 minutes - whilst I have a snoop about.

The bar is swarming and has some panicked looking barmen, furiously making endless cocktails and rushing about to try and maintain the thirsty press. I feel a bit sorry for them as there are about 40 people down here and only four barmen. They try and keep a cool and professional exterior, but I know that they’re stressed on the inside. I like that there are many bottles of Bombay Sapphire on display behind the bar. It makes me want to pinch one so that I can make my own drink, but I resist.

Past the DJ booth are two cavernous seating areas, which are seriously cool. This is where all the early people are hanging and I am jealous, but as I soon discover, my seat is by the door through which all the canapés appear. Hurrah!

I gobble away at the Sekkh kebab, a lamb skewer of loveliness with the right amount of spice and beautifully tender. The breaded fish with a cooling mint sauce and both chicken bites, Karaa Murgh and Murgh Tikka, are exceptional. It’s fresh tasting and not at all greasy. It makes for a good distraction whilst I wait for a cocktail.

Finally my friend returns with two cocktails; The Red Fort (named after the restaurant upstairs) and the House Nectar. It took her about twenty minutes to get these colourful concoctions and I feel slightly guilty for demanding them, but not guilty enough to let her know. The pink coloured Red Fort is a bit unusual as it contains chillies, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless, whereas the House Nectar is essentially Um Bongo with alcohol; brilliant!

As the clock is ticking, we inhale our drinks and go to our next destination. Although the cocktails we had were really quite good, I think the Zenna staff might struggle when it’s at full capacity. It takes a good while for each drink to be made and people will be coming here for the cocktails. I would have loved to have tried their Lassi cocktails, but alas it was not meant to be.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The secret about The Foundation is out

By Christian Rose-Day.

Yesterday, during the middle of the afternoon, down a quiet West End street, behind closed doors where nobody could see, a handful of judges convened to give their critical opinion on seven short pieces of film. Their mission: to decide which of the seven truly represented what The Foundation was all about. The only problem was that neither the film makers nor the judges knew exactly what, or who, The Foundation really was.


Myself and my Fluid colleague, Faye Armstrong, were two of the chosen judges, yet despite the lack of concise information, collectively the judging panel chose Bristol based duo James Weir and Guy Gotto as winners of The Foundation Film Trailer Competition 2011, a competition run almost exclusively online, using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. This was their winning entry.

Following the screening, the judges were lead down into a basement in Covent Garden where The Foundation was finally revealed. And it really is something you need to see for yourself in order to believe it, especially if you ever experienced what came before it.

The Foundation officially launches on 25th February.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Single In London: What Happens After A Fleeting Meeting?

By Christian Rose-Day.

Today is Valentine’s Day so it seems rather fitting to be broaching the subject. All of us have experienced them at some point. Fleeting meetings with someone captivating - in a bar, in a club, at an event, at a party, on the tube, in the public toilets - and I had one very recently, as recently as the 1920s.

It was Saturday 12th February 2011 actually, and I was at the excellent Prohibition Party at a secret location in Bloomsbury; although not very secret, it was printed clearly on the Prohibition Party website. It was in the basement below The Bloomsbury Ballroom and was one of the frequent parties organised by the same team that brings the Blitz parties and Belle Epoque parties to London every few weeks. The idea is centered around fancy dress, to the point that the whole experience is somewhat surreal and yet unnervingly realistic. Having been to a Blitz party before, I knew that the ladies who gather at these events are hot, but not in an Infernos-short-skirt kind of way, but in a classy, sassy kind of way.

The evening had begun without expectations, just a desire to sample the true, flagrant hedonism of the 1920s. That said, I did arrive with one other person, also a single chap, who managed to procure the number of a delightful, attractive and very suitable lady, whilst I was victim of the inevitable fleeting meeting.

There, right at the end of the night, as if often the case, I met a young lady by the name of Elena, a Spanish architect originally from the Canary Islands, who wore red and had a smile like Penelope Cruz. She was dazzling and enchanting and all the exciting things you’d expect from an unexpected interaction.

Our chance meeting ended abruptly. We’d only just got to the initial flirtatious stage, before both being herded rapidly in the direction of the exit (was there about to be a raid?). At the cloakroom, Elena and her friends, being Spanish, thought nothing of joining the front of the queue. I, on the other hand, remained stoically British and without a second thought, dutifully joined the rear of the lengthy queue. And that, as they say, was that. Apparently, she redeemed her coat, hung around chatting to my companion for a number of minutes whilst she waited for me, before disappearing into the night after being pressured by her friends.

Dash and drat it! Foiled by blessed cloak queue!

Ironically, considering the manner in which Elena and I broke company, the first note I’d made into my dictaphone that evening had been “Do not bring a coat”. What foresight! I wish! My notation was in regards to the heat. It was plenty warm enough under all the waistcoats and braces and shirts and neckties and hats for a chap to swelter contentedly on the tube getting there, and at the Prohibition Party itself. Obviously, for the ladies, I would recommend a coat for future Prohibition parties as, more than likely, you’ll be wearing bare shoulders, feather boas, cigarette holders, pearls, gloves, heels, and not much else.

The lengths to which everyone, bar none, goes to in order to dress in an authentic manner is outstanding. I particularly enjoyed the two chaps who eschewed the spatz-and-Trilby look and went for a Hugh Hefner-esque smoking jacket and a full length striped swimming costume.

As this was Bloomsbury, and with UCL just around the corner, my guess is that many of the young ladies and gentleman who turned out were young because they were students. If I remember rightly, the crowd at the Blitz party had been slightly older. That is in no way a criticism, just an observation.

The Prohibition Party was quite large, having three bars to choose from and a Silent Cinema room complete with live pianist and Roulette table, plus a stage where a live brass band worked the flappers and dandies into a Charleston frenzy. There was also a burlesque dancer called Somethingorother Cheesecake, who, from a distance, I’d originally thought was a ladyboy. Geez, those bootleg cocktails in teacups must’ve been strong. Smaller cocktails in smaller receptacles does not necessarily mean being duped by higher prices.

A quick tip: use the smaller bar immediately to your left as you enter the main hall. The queues are much shorter and it’s a great location for surveying all the wonderful costumes as they walk by. And, it seems, a great place to engage in conversation with very friendly strangers. Perhaps I should make the Prohibition Party a new entry in the Fluid London guide to the Best Bars & Clubs to Find Love?

Aside from my own misfortune with the Spanish lady, the only problem with the Prohibition Party was the space in the main room. It is quite vast and, because the music emanating from the stage is of an era that did not have bass, the sound is loud but not so loud that it’s easy to dance to; meaning it’s necessary to go home with a sore throat from all the shouting needed to hold a decent conversation. A couple of large speakers at the back would possibly take care of that. Even though making more noise so save on conversation levels might seem odd.

I would, therefore, recommend a night at one of the future Prohibition parties. You never know who you’ll meet.

And if you are, or know of, a lovely Spanish architect called Elena, please email, I’d love to be able to say goodbye properly.

Top 5 Speakeasy Bars in London:

1) Barts bar In Chelsea
2) The Nightjar bar in Shoreditch
3) Purl bar in Marylebone
4) The Blind Tiger bar & restaurant in Battersea
5) 606 Club in Chelsea

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Like Raymond Blanc, The London Cocktail Club Is Small & Perfectly Formed

By Anastasia Hancock.

Some people are addicted to soaps, for others it’s Match of The Day or home improvement programmes. Britain is obsessed with reality TV and there are still the odd few who can’t resist game shows.

I, on the other hand, am fanatical about food programmes. I just can’t get enough. I’ll sit for hours in front of Come Dine With Me marathons, I am a proud subscriber to the Good Food channel and I feel like I’ve formed a close – if one-sided – bond with Nigella, Jamie and co.

And I know I’m not alone. I have at least one friend with an unhealthy fixation with Man v Food and a quick poll amongst my foodie friends reveal that Saturday Kitchen, Masterchef and Nigella’s Kitchen come in top as entertainment favourites.

It seems like food porn is the new, well, porn.

So when I was invited to the press night of a new bar owned by BBC’s The Restaurant winners, I didn’t have to give it much thought.

Chef JJ and front of house James sailed to victory in the 2009 series winning the opportunity to open a bar with the backing of the great Raymond Blanc. OK, so the public response to the pair’s success was, to put it politely, mixed. But the two stuck to what they knew, and coupled their extensive cocktail expertise with their considerable charm, and defeated the other contestants.

Sensibly, they’ve stayed loyal to the winning formula and their new bar, the imaginatively named London Cocktail Club opened this week. The concept is based on original and well-made cocktails with decently priced sharing plates.

We’re not exactly short of cocktail bars in London, although finding a good one is not always an easy job. Unless I’m getting the cream of London bar experiences, then I resent paying £12 for a drink and even more for nibbles. Shame on you, Crazy Bear. I was hoping this wasn’t going to be much of the same, but at first glance this quirky, bijou little spot was a far cry from the pretentious sort of gaff that charges an arm and a leg for a drink.

The place was heaving, and I immediately fastened my beady eyes on the crowd in the hope of catching a glimpse of the great man. I was not disappointed. Monsieur Blanc himself was doing a brilliant job of working the crowd with masses of Gallic charisma and ze outrageous French accent.

The décor in The London Cocktail Club is very Cool Britannia and a quick chat with the ever media-savvy JJ confirmed that they hired designers who styled the place with an east London vibe. Most of it worked really well – think retro swallow wallpaper and intimate booths - although the double knockers on the door to the ladies’ toilet and the single knob on the men’s was just a little too outré for my taste. Obviously Raymond Blanc agreed with me as he waltzed happily into the wrong one before someone had a quick word.

There were a few opening night niggles such as one of the giant framed pictures slamming off the wall and smashing on the floor. No member of the press was harmed. Whether or not that was the intention I guess we’ll never know.

Tensions were smoothed out, however, with some fabulous concoctions, including proper Bellinis and apple martinis as well as a highly dangerous (I say this from experience) Absinthe fountain.

The food was as good as you’d expect from the bar’s own pedigree, although having stuck my head round the door of the tiny kitchen, it’s shocking that they managed to achieve anything more complex than the opening of a few packets of crisps in a space that small. Well done team.

Somehow they did with ‘a little help from le Manoir’, and the varied offerings included delicacies such as arancini, lightly fried whitebait, black-pudding Scotch eggs and some delectable cubes of pressed pork belly. For the prices, the food was startlingly good and exactly what was needed to soak up the copious amounts of alcohol coming from the bar.

The London Cocktail Club may be small, but it’s almost perfectly formed. Much like Raymond Blanc himself.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Some Royal Inspiration For Valentine’s Day?

By Anna Robin.

Seduction is an ancient art. From the court of Cleopatra to Mrs Wallis’s America, seduction and flirtation has ruled supreme. In Greek mythology the seduction of Helen of Troy caused a decade long war and the death of uncountable innocent lives. Seduction is clearly a dangerous tool. Those who possess the ability to seduce, in my mind, should use it for the common good. As Spiderman knew too well, with great power comes great responsibility.

However, for some reason the real masters of seduction are not throwing themselves dashingly in front of tanks or cooing in the ears of tyrants but excelling in the restaurant business.

At a preview of the Valentine’s menu at Sauterelle restaurant in the terrifyingly grand Royal Exchange, I, and a friend who kindly agreed to support my journalistic inquiry by partaking in cocktails and a five course meal, had a delightful evening watching masters of the restaurant and seduction trade.

The Sauterelle evening of seduction began with a dalliance with the mixologist, Zoran Peric, who talked us through two cocktails. At this point started the flirtatious and drunken glow that enveloped the rest of the evening, as he smoothly complemented our cocktail-shaking skills.

Clutching our second cocktail (practice makes perfect), we were shown to our table by our charming waiter. The décor of Sauterelle restaurant is more airport waiting room than chic restaurant but with tables facing out into the Royal Exchange the view for people watching was stupendous. In fact, the evening’s education in seduction continued as the age-old mix of beauty (the ladies) and money (the men) vied for each others affections on the floor below.

The attention continued as each plate was brought with a smile and a matching wine from our waiter who, helpfully, was also the sommelier. The five courses began with Yukon gold potato vichyssoise, sourdough crouton, périgord truffle cream, which was delicious but perhaps more easily recognisable as a glorified mushroom soup. Plate number four was my favourite, roast venison saddle, Jerusalem artichoke, wild mushroom fricassee, celery autumn nut crumbs venison. Perfection, I may go as far as to say, considering the romantic overtones of the evening, a food caress?

The only disappointment was a bland goat’s cheese and beetroot salad in the middle of the meal. The dessert of Iced Carrot and orange Parfait was a perfect meal ending and managed to keep the overall food consumption on the right side of full. I imagine this is incredibly important in a Valentine’s menu as the night should not end with you and your date being too full to move.

So we ate and drank and generally felt loved and special. The evening wrapped us in a cocoon of good service and luxury.

Alas! Seductions do not always have happy endings. Even a person who began as the most arduous lover can look astray. We laughed and smiled at the witty comments of our waiter as he plied our table with more delicious food and then, tragedy, as we watched heartbroken to see him supply the same care and charm to the table next to us. C’est la vie.

If you’re lucky, you might still be able to book your Valentine’s Day meal at Sauterelle restaurant. It’s £50pp and the ladies walk away with a stunning red rose, luxury chocolates from Paul A. Young and a red goody box courtesy of Kiehl's. So what are you waiting for boys?

Friday, 4 February 2011

Staring Down The Camden Lobster, And Winning

By Cat McGovern

I’m day four into my detox/healthier living regime and I’m doing ok. I haven’t had a drink since Sunday, mainly because I have been avoiding all drinking holes and hiding all my booze, and I feel great. An email popped up on my iPhone reminding me of the press lunch I am attending tomorrow at Namaaste Kitchen in Camden and my heart (and will power) sank. How could I possibly get through a tasting menu without a glass of wine in hand and destroying all food that is put in front of me? This will be a challenge, but I think I can conquer it with style and grace (ahem).

Firstly, to get over the alcohol problem, the easiest solution is to drive and that’s what I’m doing. I park in a nearby car park and walk up Parkway, where I am bombarded with an overwhelmingly large choice of establishments to eat and drink at. Fortunately I have my destination sorted. Namaaste Kitchen is quite understated and I could easily stroll past it, if I didn’t know any better.

Inside I can tell that this is not your local curry house, with garish adornments. Namaaste Kitchen has class, which I don’t. Oh well. It still has the set up of a typical Indian restaurant, but concentrating more on being chic and sophisticated. Even the plates, which are blue, square and ceramic, are posh. I have a feeling I am going to like it here.

The other bloggers at lunch dive for the wine (lucky sods), whereas I look at the virgin cocktails; something I have never done. I choose one with Grenadine in; to trick me into thinking there’s booze in it. It doesn’t work, but is a delight nonetheless.

When I was initially told that it would be a tasting menu, I really didn’t realise it would be basically the whole menu. This could well be a diet fail.

When the starters arrive, they come out thick and fast. Not a whisper of an onion bhaji or samosa here, just a blend of Indian street food and specialised delicacies. The Tandoori Portobello Mushroom is a surprising favourite. The figs that spill out on to the plate with a cheesy topping are something a little different from the norm. However, most enjoy the Spicy Soft Shell Crab, but for me it just makes me nervous. I can see that he is a crab and he scares me. I eat part of his leg and feel immediately guilty for enjoying his tender appendage. I leave the rest of him to the table.

Feeling mildly full but still picking at the complex Anglo-Indian chicken liver on toast, I waddle to the back of the restaurant where all the fun stuff happens. I am greeted by a man who is making chapatis. Namaaste Kitchen specialises in grilled dishes. There’s even a couple of tables right in front the chef as he creates. Going by the starters, which were a blend of all three grills, I’m guessing the mains are going to be as spectacular.

I am correct; they are in fact better than I expected. More than ten differing dishes are on offer for all of us to try. Interestingly Namaaste Kitchen have included a beef main; Beef Behari Kebab, which is essentially beef mashed together with tantalising and addictive spices. A whole lobster is placed beside me and I instantly curl back in horror. I’ve never been partial to lobster, or any of his sea friends. It’s their beady mean faces that put me right off, (see the picture and then you’ll understand). I realise I am being rather pathetic and delve into him and it’s actually stunning. I try to ignore his face whilst chomping away somewhat cautiously. Namaaste Kitchen concentrates on the flavour of their food, rather than overpowering it with spice. The food is some of the best Indian food I have ever had the pleasure to sample and although it may have not been good on my waistline, it was totally worth it.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Quo Vadis? Not To This New Soho Bar Again, If I Can Help It

By Laura Collins.

Having not mastered the art of speaking Latin, I didn’t realise Quo Vadis meant “Where are you going?” When I found out, I couldn’t believe the irony. I would never give Quo Vadis restaurant and the newly fashioned QV Bar - the latest joint to be launched on London’s renowned Dean Street - as my answer to that very question. Quo Vadis and its new adjoining bar are not the type of place I would rush back to, if I’m honest. Oh, the power of hindsight.

Initially, when I was invited to cocktails and canapés for the launch of QV Bar, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to take a sneaky peak. Making up part of the restaurant and private members’ club, Quo Vadis, the QV Bar is the latest offering from Sam and Eddie Hart. I had high hopes for the place but I couldn’t help but feel my visit was somewhat of an anti climax.

The QV Bar is open to everyone and although there was a mixed crowd inside, it seemed much better matched to well dressed city types; suited and booted males to be exact. With a cream and green old-fashioned theme, the place seemed more like a plush men’s club than a bar to be frequented by a younger, lighter hearted clientele.

That being said, the bar’s interior was still grand, if rather uninspiring. The canapés and cocktails were much the same too, and sadly there didn’t seem to be much of a choice. Unfortunately for the QV Bar, I took a good friend along for the (non-existent) ride, and she is a vegetarian. From the canapés we were served, she could eat just one: chips with garlic mayonnaise, although this bore more of a resemblance to butter.

Also, to make things worse, I could only eat the chips as well. The sharing plates for our table were placed in front of our unknown neighbours; two males who seemed to think all the food was for them and therefore did not appear too keen to share. This is not necessarily a negative for QV Bar but perhaps an indication of the kind of custom it will expect.

The daily £5 ‘oyster hour’ deal (5.30-6.30pm daily), however, is certainly a draw and would mean absolutely no sharing necessary!

Although open to all, QV Bar is just like the rest of Quo Vadis and has private members’ club written all over it. That, obviously, isn’t a bad thing and as well as having a pleasant air and an attractive oyster hour, the place does have a certain grandeur which is bound to attract a crowd with class; a crowd that would definitely be answering “Quo Vadis” when asked “quo vadis?”