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.

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