Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Good Godfrey! It’s Theatreland’s Newest Cocktail Bar

By Rebecca Brett.

My Nan and Granddad once owned a hotel in Clacton-on-Sea, on the seafront, called the Waldorf. To me – an eight-year-old child - it was palatial and opulent. It was grand, imposing and an amazing place to play hide and seek with my sisters and cousins every summer holiday. I loved it, so when they decided to get old and sell it, I was heartbroken.

Almost 18 years later and I was invited to the Waldorf once again. This time, instead of a twee seaside resort and 20-room B&B surrounded by seagulls, it was the impressively striking Waldorf Hilton on Aldwych. Surrounded by the bright lights of the theatre district, it is also the brand new home to Good Godfrey’s cocktail bar.

I was invited to see how the original patisserie that once stood proud at the hotel had been transformed in to a bar named after the former leader of the house band, Howard Godfrey, from way back in the 1920s.

And I thought the Clacton hotel was opulent. Not so much compared to this place.
We arrived at Good Godfrey’s cocktail bar via the main door of the hotel. It was easy to find. We just followed the noise of cheer and clinking glasses. We sat down on huge comfortable chairs which had so many cushions I couldn’t decide if they were there to secure me tightly to the seat or protect my derriere from a fall after one too many cocktails.

The bar was buzzing with after-work drinkers holding countless colourful cocktails. We got straight into the menu to choose one for ourselves and, following a recommendation, I chose the Refined Madam made with premium Tanqueray No.10 gin, rose liqueur, fresh lime, cardamom syrup and lavender bitters. I love a floral cocktail so it was easy to say yes. It arrived on a tray with a spritz of perfume no less; refined madam, indeed.

For my friend, a Waldorf-tini. Being the magpie that she is (not an actual magpie, just to clarify), she was tempted by the fact that this cocktail is served with edible gold as well as a potent mix of Grey Goose vodka, ginger bitters and Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth stirred in a golden shaker.

To say that the cocktails are decadent is an understatement. Every cocktail has been carefully created by head mixologist Nelson Bernardes, taking a contemporary spin on traditional favourites including Hot Gin Punch served in a teapot and the Astor Hip Flask served in (you guessed it) a hipflask so that the punter can help themselves. Unfortunately, it’s not for keeps.
With all the alcohol going to our heads it was essential to sample some of the dishes on offer. The menu is a posh tapas affair; tiger prawns, duck spring rolls, butternut squash, red onion & feta pie, lemongrass-infused chicken skewers, Thai Surimi cod cakes, and fenugreek lamb koftas graced our table in mini portions (not for those with a huge appetite). For us, it was just enough to take the edge of the alcoholic kicks we were consuming.

So it’s not about the food at Good Godfrey’s cocktail bar but surprise surprise, the cocktails, which are the reason why this place is packed to the rafters. With a book full of cocktails to choose from, as well as a large selection of spirits (including 19 gin brands alone), there’s something for everyone when it comes to ordering a drink.
This is not the bar you come to for a quick drink after work unless your money is flowing as free as Angel Falls, but if you’re in the area for a special occasion or perhaps a delightful drink before a theatre show, then I thoroughly recommend it.

Looking for further cocktail bar inspiration? Check out the Top 10 Best Cocktail Bars in London

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Revealing The Not-So-Secret Formula On Park Lane

By Leo Owen.

I've entered the Monopoly board and the unfamiliar. I'm quite out of my comfort zone about to see how the so-called “other half” live. I'm so clueless, I actually wander past The Metropolitan Hotel looking for some small independent bar called The Met Bar on Old Park Lane. Of course, I soon realise my error and tentatively approaching the revolving hotel doors, I am instantly recognisable as a minnow out of its tank. Pointed in the right direction by helpful door staff, I'm soon off the scorching London pavements and inside The Met Bar’s relieving cool interior.

The intimate party I join comfortably sit in a small booth discussing the hotel's members' only club and how nominations provide the golden ticket. Apparently it was once extremely exclusive and now more welcoming, and talk of this elusive members’ club draws me into the world Paul Torday cleverly created in The Girl On The Landing. Discussing how the hotel has changed over the years, shifts in the bar atmosphere at certain times of day, and how The Met Bar is one of the few venues open until 3am (helpfully providing apres-dinner apres-11pm drinks options), I feel like I'm unwittingly taking part in a TV advertisement. Asking one of my companions - who works with the hotel - provides the explanation to this bizarre sensation: only three of the seven of us are outsiders, the rest clearly passionate about their product and experts at their jobs!
Champagne flutes almost drained and full introductions given, we get on with the task at hand: sampling three new cocktails launching that day as part of the spring and summer menu. Revisiting lost fortified classics, The Met’s new additions aim to revitalise rarely used alcoholic drinks to act as the basis for their new light, stripped back cocktails.

Port, sherry and vermouth aim to pay homage to post-Victorian decadence but our first sampler, The Fino Royal, unavoidably reminds me of my Nan's drinks cabinet. Muddled with raspberries, almond syrup (Orgeat), a lemon twist and champagne, the Tao Pepe Fino sherry tastes of cherry-topped bakewell tarts but without the stodgy texture; it's light and summery like a refreshing long cool Pimm’s.

Moving away from aperitifs and onto so-called “dinner drinks”, the Mayfair Stinger's sweet syrupy texture is more suited to your average April wintery evening, not the sweltering freak weather we're enjoying tonight. Looking deceptively lethal, this golden cup of Disaronno Amaretto, Ramos Pinto 20 Year Port and mint, is carefully described on the menu.

Interrupting the easy listening funk and my desecration of the lemon-flavoured olives, our cocktail maestro, Lewis Wilkinson, introduces his final creation, as more stragglers arrive. Despite his baby-face, The Met’s award-winning head bartender clearly knows his stuff and is later even heard discussing molecular drink experimentation.

The Secret Formula is a digestif with recycling in mind as chef can afterwards utilise the booze-soaked raisons to make whisky cake. Much more bitter than the previous offerings, it is concocted from Agave (sweetener syrup), Briottet crème de Figue, raison infused Johnnie Walker Black, Antica Formula (Vermouth) and a grapefruit twist garnish. The cocktail's name is somewhat redundant now that I am privy to Lewis' genius, but rather than completely expose its recipe, I'll merely say two ingredients are in 5ml measures, one 20 ml and the final 35ml.
Previously worried I'd be uselessly bumbling around Hyde Park after the tastings, I'm heartened by the continuously replenished olives and the unexpected arrival of sumptuous mini burgers, sausages and vegetarian-suited mini tortillas. I may be far more functional than I'd previously expected but a fellow cocktail sampler has kindly given me a creamy miniature for the road so there's still plenty of stumbling time yet.

Looking for further cocktail inspiration? Check out our guide to the Best Cocktail Bars in London

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The History of Cocktails, As Told By Perrier

By Anna Robin.

Now, I’ve never been one for too much introspection. I have the occasional existential angst - normally in the small hours of the morning accompanied by Leonard Cohen and a bottle of red - but I tend to have a ‘go with the flow’ attitude which generally works for me.

This was how a friend - who had kindly agreed to accompany me (no questions asked) - and I found ourselves knocking on the door of a Georgian townhouse in Fitzroy Square with no idea what was going to happen during the evening, who it was going to happen to, and why we were all there in the first place.
The invitation to the Perrier Nights event had cryptically proclaimed that we would be transported back to the 1900s to celebrate the history of cocktails. Unless the PR organising the event had excelled themselves and hired a time machine, I was slightly worried that we would be attending a lecture on mixology, with a worst case scenario that included diagrams and being picked out of the crowd for questioning.
At first we were ushered into a room that had been covered with green. This was slightly upsetting as I had done a pre internet snoop of the location and wanted to see it in its historical glory, not dressed up as a Perrier bottle. However, a very nice person steered us neatly towards a bar and handed me my first cocktail of the evening; something appley and lovely in a martini glass (with the crucial Perrier ingredient, of course). Stationing ourselves near the doorway for first dibs of the canapés that were circling, we struck up a conversation with an equally confused blogger. After starting my second cocktail, which was simply a huge measure of whisky and Perrier, we were called to begin our ‘journey’.
‘The Journey’ was vaguely like walking into an advert in which I got progressively drunker (which, by the way, all you marketers out there, is an inspired idea). We were guided through a series of rooms, set in different times. The first was set in 1900s, the second the 70s, the last possibly the future? There were actors to help guide the mood. There was also some dressing up and picture taking (be warned - these subsequently go on the night’s Facebook group. Luckily I look dashing in a moustache so it’s not a worry for me!). In each one I was also handed a Perrier-based cocktail. I would like to say I know what was in them but I have no idea; progressive cocktail drinking can have a wearing effect on even the most studious reporter.
Finally, we were guided back into the original room for more Perrier based cocktails.

“Well’, I pondered, ‘I’m not sure why this evening happened but I am glad it did”.

If you’re looking for cocktail bars in London, check out our guide to the Best Cocktail Bars in London.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Sherry Bars: London’s Latest Trend

By Cat McGovern

I have a small confession to make; I am a secret sherry lover. For me, sherry normally conjures up thoughts of grannies and Christmas, when it might be thrust upon you as your first proper alcoholic drink. But oh, how times have changed.

I discovered my love for this curious tipple one drunken night in Camino. I was there to review the venue and the PR lady encouraged me to try some, saying that it was now her favourite after work drink. Being a girl who likes her drink, I accepted. This is where the love affair began. It’s the way that it challenges all your taste buds that draws me to its nectar.

So with places like Camino, its sister venue Bar Pepito and the soon to be premiered Jose, the profile of sherry has been raised in London and it’s been made a seemingly cool beverage.

Enter Capote Y Toros (meaning cape and bulls); which is part of the already successful Cambio de Terico group, and its impressive selection of 100 sherries, all available by the glass. As soon as I entered this rather small establishment, I knew I was in for a bit of a treat. We were told that we would be going on a ‘Flight of Sherries’ consisting of five different varieties; Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso Dry and Palo Cortado. I simply could not contain my excitement and beamed at my +1 like a bit of a nutter.
Slowly sipping on my first, I got talking to the manager who explained his concept. He wanted a place that was more relaxed and had a neighbourhood bar feel to it, compared with his other ventures. This is why the interior looks like every Spanish cliché imaginable. Big bags of ham wrapped in black cloths hanging from the ceiling, bright red and orange coloured walls, bull fighting pictures all amassed into one space and fake bull heads. Although very tongue in cheek, it still looked impressive.

If you want to come here for dinner or simply a bit of tapas and a sherry accompaniment, then it has a walk in policy. They don’t take bookings, they want people to just wander in and experience the place.
As canapés of tapas delights came pouring out their kitchen, we were told that different sherries would go extremely well with all the food we were eating. They weren’t wrong. Sherry is designed to be enjoyed with food, so it felt like an intense culinary journey. From the crumbling manchego cheese, to the individual pieces of chorizo on toothpicks all went well with the sherries. Speaking with other attendees, one being Spanish, their ham and cheese croquettes were a definite highlight, tasting authentic and fresh.
Several glasses of sherry later, I decided it would be best to leave, seeing as it was only Wednesday. Capote Y Toros is a homely and very laid back place to visit and since it’s a 15 minute walk away from my flat, I will be popping in for a sherry (or 5) of a week day evening very soon.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Fire Eating Contortionists Open New Shoreditch Restaurant

By Kimberley Smith
McQueen bar-club-resaurant, a homage to the fabulous Steve, recently launched a deliciously naughty live entertainment night that Fluid fully enjoyed. But the McQueen Shoreditch takeover doesn't end there. The newest addition to the nightspot turns it from a club and bar to a fully fledged club-bar-restaurant. So, of course, Fluid was back down the front to sample some of the Hollywood cocktails, gape at the circus entertainment and chase the canapé waiters around; all the name of research, of course.
Swish Shoreditch is heading ever citywards so arriving at the fashionable bar/restaurant/club (that spans the two) shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Leather loungers, furry cushions and a bizarre black plastic sculpture of women and fake hair resembling something out of America’s Next Top Model give the place a decadent feel and I suspect the King of Cool would definitely have basked in the opulence.
 As well as boasting its new restaurant, McQueen doesn't hesitate to make the most of the captive audience to showcase acts from its Secret Rendezvous club night and the husky tones of a 60s-style singing siren greet us on arrival, floating above the buzz of city types and scenesters in an interesting mirage of East meets money.
Sinking into one of the liberally scattered Chesterfields, sipping a champagne cocktail, it’s hard not the feel like an extra in Mad Men. Apart from the occasional flash of an iPhone, the vintage touches such as the fire place, wooden floor boards and gilded mirrors complete the effect, taking you back to New York circa 1960. And looking up, there are hooks on the ceiling; for what, I wonder?
Chef Anupam Som is in the house dishing out canapés to show off his new menu for the restaurant's launch. The food is a mixed affair with beautifully succulent beef chunks that melt on the mouth showing off a traditional hearty side to Som's creations combined with lighter, Asian-inspired dishes. Vegetarian options include the unusual combination of goat's cheese and beetroot, showing the chef's innovative use of ingredients and making me long for a multi-course tasting menu. 
Tonight the restaurant is open only for a scattered handful of extra special guests. Yes that IS Lemar over there sipping on champers. Themed with the same opulence and black-leathered sumptuousness as the lounge, the restaurant stretches out with styled bare brick walls and high ceilings that will make even the humblest dinner an occasion. Slick black and silver wine cooler stands are at the ready and animal print rugs dominate the floor to complete the effect.
After dining, there's no need to venture outside as the rest of the evening's entertainment is all in house. Downstairs, between padded walls are more Chesterfields and a blue tinged stage and dance floor for bands and boogie (though I doubt boogie is the correct word for the shapes the clientele are pulling). The toilets are of note, too, as the mirrored walls can send cocktail-addled minds spiraling into a Salvador Dali painting.
Back upstairs in the lounge area, the reason for those ceiling hooks is revealed as gymnasts throw fire around, contort and twist in to unlikely positions in their skin tight rubber costumes. Overall, it feels more Alexander McQueen than Steve McQueen, with the black leather, low lighting and strange silhouettes on the wall.
 Supping on another cocktail from the modern Hollywood-style menu, I lean back to avoid the spinning legs of circus performers and marvel at the fantastic hair on show in the DJ booth. I pretend I’m on a McQueen film set – it’s easily done!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Cocktail Flairing’s 25th Birthday

By Kate Williams.

Ahh, remember turning 25? It's a funny age. (If you've not reached it yet, SPOILER ALERT. Also, I hate you for your youth)

Reaching 25 is a gatepost where, in coming years, hangovers will feel like near-death experiences, you'll start caring about home décor, and dinner parties consist of more than pre-cut carrot batons, a tub of Lidl humus and three for a fiver wine from the iffy offie downstairs.

This year the forever-youthful TGI Fridays reached this particular milestone in London and I was there to help celebrate.

Everything you'd expect from a ”Fridays” was present: platters of beige, moreish food, served by staff who are enthusiastic to the point of cartwheels, and cocktails; pages and pages of cocktails.

Sure, there are cooler places to drink cocktails in London - check out the Top 10 Best Cocktail Bars in London for evidence - there's no doubt about that. But when it comes to fancy cocktail flaring showmanship – much like what I witnessed (and won!) last year
or the recent Guinness World Flairing Record attempt by Fridays - and sheer quantity of drinks, TGI is hard to beat.
'Work your way through the menu by the end of the night,' the cheery server said as I flipped pages, struggling to choose. The trouble is, so vast is their drinks list that her invite, if accepted, could have had her up in court on manslaughter charges.

In the end, I couldn't meet the challenge and bowed out when the party was still raging with only a long island ice tea and a couple of margaritas to send me swaying on my way.

So can we expect TGI Fridays to grow up now it's reached it’s quarter century? Will the film poster-clad walls be hung with "affordable" art? Will they start serving their potato skins on a bed of samphire and on-the-vine cherry tomatoes? And the cocktails, will they be served in dinky glasses by snooty waiters who act like you ran over their puppy?

Pah. TGI Fridays, all grown up? Not bloody likely.

Looking for cocktail bar inspiration? check out the Top 10 Best Cocktail Bars in London

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Pub Quiz London: Quizaster!

By Arthur, Faye, Flick, Kate and Christian

There are pub quizzes and then there are impossible pub quizzes. This was the inaugural event for Team Fluid London as we set ourselves the task of attempting a continuous string of London pub quizzes until, somewhere, some day, we actually win the damn thing. Southwark clearly has a high genius quotient because the pub quiz we undertook at Imbibe was an impossible pub quiz. No prizes for guessing where we came. Still, just as Yazz & the Plastic Population kindly pointed out in 1988: The Only Way Is Up. I still think an extra 10 points should have been awarded us for our team name (as suggested by Kate): The Just-Imbibers. Puntastic AND it references the name of the pub. Not even my pint of London Pride, or the roaring fire, or the delightfully inventive light fittings, could deter me from being woefully bad in this pub quiz. We were so bad, at one point when asked ‘what size paper is 2.5 x 1.5 inches?’ we cleverly folded the A4 food menu on our table several times in order to work out the answer. We still got it wrong! - Christian

Fluid’s debut performance at London’s premier venue for pub quiz banter went down a storm. Well more like a tornado of foolish Fluidites desperately wracking our brains for answers to a plethora of quizzical queries. Who knew the humble pub quiz could be so taxing? Despite a warming fire, one or two bevvys and accomplished host, we were pipped to the post by almost every other team. I say ‘almost’; we came joint last with a rather forgettable team called, unoriginally, Quiz Team Aguilera. Our quest for knowledge is clearly a work in progress. - Flick

All the ingredients were there for success and I didn't even include the juicy cherry tomatoes in my risotto. We had a good spread of ages and specialisms and I was sure we'd prevail, even without a food and drink round. In the end, however, you had to hand it to the awesome regular teams at Imbibe. We were blown out of the water across sport, music, randomness and current affairs (although we did do rather well on Fairy Tales thanks to Flick). As someone who gamely gets into the competitive spirit it was a chastening experience. But when you take part in a pub quiz the true measure of happiness is actually good beer and company, not the final score. At least that's what I'm telling myself to try and erase the memory of our loss. - Arthur

Having the longest recorded run on Countdown, being the proud owner of the prestigious Mastermind cut-glass engraved bowl, and working a weekday gig as the Egghead’s knowledge tutor, I thought it best I take a step back and let my young Fluid chicks spread their wings and attempt to fly at the Imbibe pub quiz which takes place on the first Tuesday of every month.

Biting my lip, I watched them flail in each round, incorrectly guessing answers to questions that were so easy. For your benefit, I’ve put my answers in Italic:

(General Knowledge) What type of creature is a Storm-petrel? An X-Man

(Current Affairs) Exposure to what is fabled to turn trolls into stone or make them burst? Lord Sugar

(Wipeout) According to the Bible, how old was Methuselah when he fathered Lamech? Younger than God, older than the Bible

I intervened during the music round to inform the team that ‘Billionaire’ was by Travie McCoy. They seemed to think there was something wrong with my Googling the answer. However, their whining was silenced when they realised that this genius on my part awarded us the shared glory of joint last. They’ll get better in time, and with my coaching and mad quiz skillz we’ll achieve our goal of quiz champs. I’m as sure of that as I am of my above answers. - Faye

Next stop for Team Fluid London: The Old Queen's Head pub quiz in Angel.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

What To Do When Waiting For Boy George

By Philippa Morton.

The Westbury in Kilburn is one of those bars that you could describe as a mix, having aspects of a pub, a bar and a club. Initially, it appears to be a place to get a casual pint after work. But look a little closer. There are pot plants hanging from the ceilings, and lights hidden behind shades that look like strobes. Seats are a little more than the usual bar stools, with cosy booths instead. With these little touches, The Westbury has a quiet air of sophistication.

And so it was on a Friday night that I thought I’d go for my after work usual at The Westbury. But there was a twist! A very exciting twist, a special guest DJ! Here’s a clue: what are little boys made of? Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails, that’s what little boys of made of! Not this boy; he’s made of tattoos, mascara, eye shadow, lipstick and a signature hat. It could only be Boy George.

Boy George was expected at around Midnight, and in the meantime we were well entertained by a couple of up and coming DJs. The Westbury’s Friday night line up of DJs really is worth seeing. It was good to sit back and absorb the beats while drinking a cocktail. The Louisiana Jam is a must; a cocktail made with apricot jam and Southern Comfort, served in a jam jar. The price for drinks is average for Zone 2 London so no need to pull the purse strings. Althugh, that said, the strings of my patience were pulled when, with a straight face, I asked for something sober and the surly waitress responded with ‘you’re joking?’

So, it was 10pm and I hadn’t seen any cross dressers yet. Nup, not one. So what kind of crowd did Boy George attract? Let’s say a bunch of young professionals. But with my little eye I spied a couple of elderly ladies - obviously past queens of the 80s - waiting in eager anticipation of Boy George’s appearance. They had the pool table monopoly, hogging it all night. No one was too worried though, as little groups of people preferred talking in dark corners. The Westbury is really good for groups and couples as there are lots of segmented areas, good for functions and discreet courting.

And, as expected, at around midnight, the crowd compacted towards one point. There he was: George in all his glory. He acknowledged the crowd with a nod. He looked just the same as he did years ago. Boy George rocked the house, and his sounds were funkilicious, even the oldies were shaking a leg. George might be a little crazy, but I’ve gotta hand it to him, he has credentials as a muso.

The Westbury can definitely be what you need it to be. Whether it’s for an arvo pint, an evening drink at the bar, or for a night on the dance floor with some of London’s best DJs, it’s a multi-functional place!

Looking for more clubbing inspiration in London? Check out the Fluid London Top 10 Best Clubs

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Pop-Up Cinema & The Role Of Japanese Beer

By Alistair Martin

It may be a cliché now, but Shoreditch really is awash with abandoned, formerly industrial, sites ripe for rejuvenation into super-cool bars and pop-ups. Consequently, just when I think I’ve visited them all, I follow an invitation into a seemingly dead estate and find myself in another.

Most recently, the invitation was to a press launch for the Kirin ‘First Cut’ Short Film Competition in an old warehouse off Bishopsgate. Following the usual search for a seemingly non-existent address, I eventually found the right door, which led me out of the brisk London evening and into an impressively authentic-looking Japanese marketplace.

The Kirin PR people had given us some fake ¥1000 bills to spend in the market – a cute gimmick, even if the amount they gave us didn’t go far. Although calligraphy, palm-reading and other traditional Japanese pastimes were available, all my Yen went on sushi, for which I have a particular weakness. Fortunately the Kirin beers were free – as any good PR person knows, the cheapest way to a good write-up is to get your journalists pissed.

Of course, the event was not just a philanthropic campaign against the sobriety of journalists – it was also designed as a launch for the Kirin-sponsored ‘First Cut’ short film competition. As such, a makeshift cinema had been set up on site in which a selection of short films was intermittently showcased over the rustle of wasabi popcorn packets and clinking beer bottles.

Short film-making is a very different art-form to the manufacture of feature-length movies, with the truncated running time providing less scope for plot development, but greater focus on the artistry through which a few choice ideas can be delivered. As with feature films, the standard of short films can vary greatly, so it was with relief that the three films I saw that night were of a consistently impressive standard.

Coming from around the world, the subject matter varied from the logistics of checking out a hot woman in a crowded noodle bar, to the creation of a hamster-sized Bruce Willis avatar with which to play desk-top role play games. Perhaps the most engaging, and certainly the most touching film involved a couple of Portuguese parents setting up their first computer in order to Skype their son, who was away at an American university. It doesn’t sound like much, but it packed a lot of humour and emotion into its brief five minutes, and should certainly be looked out for when the winning entries are shown at the Kirin pop-up restaurant in East London in August.

Supposedly, the theme of the film competition is ‘first press’, to tie in with the ‘unique first press process’ that gives Kirin such a clean taste…or so read the press release. Regardless of such marketing talk, I welcome Kirin’s endeavour and look forward to their pop-up restaurant this summer, for two reasons.

Firstly, it’s a pretty damn good beer – one of those beers like San Miguel or Quilmes where, if you see it on tap amid the usual array of Fosters, Carling and other such piss, you make sure you get yourself a pint. I am therefore looking forward to there being another venue where you can get what is otherwise a bizarrely unavailable lager.

Secondly, at a time when (rightly or wrongly) the arts in this country are receiving huge cuts in funding from government, we need companies like Kirin do their bit to maintain the cultural diversity of London. Surely it doesn’t matter whether it is all a marketing exercise for them or not – a high-quality short film festival is a high-quality short film festival, and should be welcomed. So campai to Kirin for their cultural contribution – I for one look forward to their return to East London this summer with the four competition finalists. Here’s to more companies doing the same.

Looking for a bar to watch movies in? Then check out the Top 10 Best London Bars & Restaurants for Watching Movies.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Around The World In 80 Cuisines: Pakistani

(3) Pakistani by Ruth Emery.

Forget about the Brick Lane tourist trap: mediocre curry restaurant after curry restaurant, ‘free poppadoms’ and ‘bring your own wine, madam’ touted by waiters drumming up trade on a half a mile stretch in east London.

Forget about the estimated 9,000 Indian restaurants crammed into our small island. Instead, I want to take you on a journey, a journey that you will take you over the north-west border of India, and, in London terms, just a few minutes walk from Brick Lane across Whitechapel High Street.

We’ve arrived at Tayyabs, a restaurant tucked away behind the East London mosque in a desolate back street, showcasing the finest Pakistani cuisine.

Juicy and tender lamb chops, exquisite peshwari naans, sweet mango lassis, creamy lentil and spinach curry and fiery samosas await. Waiters weave in and out carrying sizzling trays of barbecued meat, silver bowls full of colourful curries, and stacks of rotis and naans.

Prices are cheap and the wait is long: the queue often starts at the dessert counter and you may not get your bum on a seat until an hour or so later.

So what is it about Pakistani food that has restaurants like Tayyabs pulling in the punters? True, Pakistani food is similar to Indian food. It would be hard not to share some common traits given the close geographic proximity. So curries, samosas and onion bhajis are all on the menu. But there are some key differences.

Firstly: the meat. Barbecued meat and kebabs are an important part of Pakistani cuisine. Chicken tikka, seekh kebab (beef kebab mixed with seasoning and spice), karahi chicken (cooked in ginger, garlic and tomatoes) and bhindi meat (with okra) are some of the specialities. Obviously, seeing as Pakistan is a Muslim country, pork is off the menu; as is alcohol. Go to a restaurant like Tayyabs, and you’ll be treated to succulent, medium-rare meat that has such a depth of flavour from the spices (think brown cardamom, green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace and black pepper) that you’ll be happy to just eat meat for your entire meal and forget about breads or curries.

But that would be a shame, as there are plenty more treats to come.

Pakistanis are primarily wheat eaters, not rice eaters, and there are lots of different breads to mop up curries or wrap round a piece of meat. Naans (the peshwari naan at Tayyabs – a shiny sweet masterpiece covered with sesame seeds - is easily worth the long queue), pratha (a chapatti with many layers separated by ghee), and rotis (typically baked in a clay oven) are all much more interesting than the pilau rice dished up at your average Indian restaurant.

The country also boasts some tasty veggie dishes. Alu (potatoes), gobhi (cabbage), bhindi (okra), channa (chickpeas) and matar (peas) are used in many dishes, while various dhals (lentil stews) are often served alongside the meat and bread.

Ooh, a sizzling plate of spicy lamb chops has been plonked down on the table in front of us. Time to stop telling you about the food and let you try it for yourself.

Forget your manners, forget conversation for the next 10 minutes, and grab a chop and tuck in.

My Top 3 Favourite Pakistani Restaurants in London
Tayyabs - The queue that snakes round this East London restaurant proves just how popular it is. Juicy and tender lamb chops, exquisite peshwari naans, sweet mango lassis, creamy lentil and spinach curry and fiery samosas pull the crowds in night after night. Prices are low and it’s bring your own booze, making it a fun and cheap night out.

Lahore Kebab House - If the queue for Tayyabs is too much to bear, head over to canteen-style restaurant Lahore round the corner. It’s a similar set up: fantastic meat dishes, bargain prices and bring your own alcohol. It’s a vast place, I lost count of how many floors, wings and rooms there are here. If you’re lucky enough to be seated near the open kitchen then you can watch the chefs at work. If you’re not near the kitchen, then you’ll likely get a waiter with a walkie-talkie. Waiters bark orders into them – ‘2 lamb ribs, 2 chicken biryanis, 1 karahi chicken, 2 keema nans’ – and diners shout at each other to be heard in this busy, noisy restaurant. The chicken tikka and chilli paneer are real highlights on the extensive menu. There’s also a branch in Streatham.

Zayna - If E1 is too far to venture for Tayyabs or Lahore, or you’re after a more refined experience, consider Zayna in Marble Arch. This elegant restaurant serves up North Indian and Pakistani food, overseen by owner Riz Dar, whose first job was in his father’s restaurant in Pakistan. There’s also an extensive wine list of old and new world wines (this isn’t the kind of place that indulges a BYO policy). It’s ideal for veggies, with nine tasty vegetarian dishes on the menu, priced around the £10 mark. Veggies can also mix it up by ordering two half portions of any dish for £12. After dining on lentils, chickpeas, okra and maybe a kebab or two for the carnivores among you, there’s a nod to the west with the desserts. If you’ve still got room then you can tuck into a chocolate fondant or bread and butter pudding with caramel sauce. Or if you want to stay true to Zayna’s routes, you can satisfy your sweet tooth with sticky gulab jamon or some fragrant kulfi.

Looking for further inspiration? Check out the Best Pakistani & Indian Restaurants in London.

Flag image courtesy of Flickr user

Saturday, 9 April 2011

If This Isn’t Sexy, What Is?

By Christian Rose-Day.

I like cool. I like music. I like nudity. I like tattoos. I like beer. And I like fire. I am, more or less, the simplest of chaps. Usually, the bars and clubs of Shoredtich aren’t what I would call ‘decadent’. Nor are they particularly glamourous. They can be sexy, in their own way, but mostly they’re grubby, arty, and filled with trendy, tattooed, beer-swigging, music lovers who sometimes go for the ‘semi nude’ look. But, like I say, they’re usually not very swanky.


McQueen’s bar, restaurant and nightclub on Tabernacle Street, however, has changed all that for Shoreditch. This shrine to the brio of Steve McQueen has been plying its exposed brickwork, shiny surfaces and chocolate leather for long enough to cause a stir amongst the media-heavy sect of Shoreditch. It’s now home to primped and well groomed bravados who’ve become restless with the trip south to Aquum or west to The Valmont Club.

But cocktails and posturing are never quite enough for Shoreditch. Much like me, Shoreditch needs music, nudity, and fire. And now it has it. Like clockwork, every Wednesday night. McQueen’s calls it The Secret Rendezvous and if that name sounds slightly risqué, that’s because it is.

I was fortunate enough to attend the inaugural Secret Rendezvous and, as promised, an array of exciting acts from the realms of cabaret, music and burlesque were provided free of charge. A temporary mini stage had been erected in the centre of the bar and the first act to own it was an elegant lounge singer who’d put Amy Winehouse to shame (if she needs shaming).

During a brief conversation about the difference between the Canon G10 and G11 cameras with DJ Normski (who later played in the nightclub downstairs), we were interrupted by Lucy Cork who, despite wearing little of almost of nothing, was able to hide some kind of adhesive on her personage for her pole dancing demonstration. Either that, or she had incredibly strength and balance to perform several minutes of beguiling and physics-defying athleticism without even breaking a sweat. Her pole-grasping vertical splits was especially eye-opening.

And then things got even sexier.

Jonny Grimwade, the pyrotechnic peacock, was an Adonis in safety goggles, and breached several health & safety rules with his fire spinning and metal-grinding.

Sapphire de Vine, the sexiest lollipop lady on the face of the Earth, tap-danced her bodice clean off, and then did something with two fireballs that proved she’d ignored previous advice when warned “Not to try this one at home”.

My favourite act of the evening, however, was more graceful and less showy than the others. But by God she was utterly engaging. Her name was Leah Debrincat (her at the very top of this blog) and she looked as though she should’ve auditioned for a part in Kill Bill. She was heavily tattooed and heavily armed. Wielding two sabres, she fused exotic belly dancing with acrobatic sword(wo)manship and modern dance. After a couple of pints of £4.50 Blue Moon, I’d decided that this was the woman I wanted to stare at the most that night. And mark my words, there were plenty of gorgeous ladies there to stare at.

Anyone who is looking to spice up a Wednesday evening should look no further than McQueen’s. Because if this isn’t sexy, I don’t know what is.

Looking for more burlesque action in London, check out the Top 10 Best Bars & Clubs for Burlesque.

Photos provided by Julian Dodd. Leah Debrincat photo courtesy of Nathan Atia.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Tales of Killer Cocktails

By Faye Armstrong.

I almost died twice last week. Dramatic huh? This story is the stuff of epic novels and blockbuster movies. Intrigued? Let me start from the beginning of this ill-fated tale.

On emerging from the maze of underground tunnels my eyes adjusted in the haze of the afternoon’s fading light, and across the hive of buzzing engines, I focused on the silhouette of Holly. Peripherals and hearing lost, my feet worked in unison, tracing the invisible line that would lead me to my companion and oldest friend.

In quick succession, the temporary loss of senses came flooding back as the sound of blaring horns, angry yells and screeching brakes forced my eyes to break their gaze and instead notice the Harley Davidson skimming past my now immobile feet. It came out of nowhere, honest. Today’s lesson kids: don’t cross the road until the little man turns green. Even if the traffic is at a standstill.

Raising my eyes to the sky in a silent prayer (it’s surprising how even the most unfaltering atheist suddenly finds faith when an eternity of damnation lays before them), I continued, cautiously, to Zenna Bar in Soho, below notoriously good Indian restaurant Red Fort.

Dan Thompson, Zenna Bar’s head barman and skilled mixologist, seated Holly and I at the sleek looking bar. Other revellers happy – a mix of couples enjoying the dim lighting and secluded booths and men in suits enjoying spending the money they’d spent the last 9 hours earning – Dan started explaining Zenna’s unique cocktail menu.

The cocktails - which, all but one, Dan himself concocted - are all inspired by, and use, Indian ingredients. Masala Mojito, I hear you ask? Well no, thank God - for the second time that day. The influences are subtler than that, aided by Dan’s travels through India and his exposure to the food, drink and people of the land. The menu reads like a journey too, each page has a feel, a theme, an aspect of a certain place or spice.

Keen to showcase all of this, Dan insists we try a cocktail from each page. I knew this particular journey was likely to lead to an 8am headache, a large pint of water and couple of paracetemol.

Page 1:
House Nectar – Zenna’s secret house recipe. Whatever the secret is, I want to know it.
Coriander and Lychee Daiquiri – Chairmans Reserve Rum, Lychee Juice, fresh lime and Coriander. Yes, we too were sceptical at first but the coriander is just an initial hint, to the nose more than the taste buds, it’s the Lychee that wins out and has the lasting taste.

Garden Martini – Bombay Sapphire Gin, mint, lime, apple, cucumber, Elderflower cordial and apple juice. Imagine drinking grass. Imagine drinking grass and enjoying it. That’s the Garden Martini.

Vita – Lemongrass infused Vodka, raspberry puree, Chambord, fresh lemon and Lychee juice with a dash of soda. Holly hardly spoke to me whilst drinking this. Lost to Vodka, it’s how many a sad family tale ends.

Page3: Zenna signature Spicy Cocktails:
Bee Sting – Honey Vodka, Honey Liqueur, lemon juice, Jalepeno peppers, peach liqueur, white peach puree. Probably the best ‘spicy cocktail’ to try if you the type of person who orders a Korma. The sweetness of the honey conquers the heat of the Jalapeno’s but the combination is shockingly good.

Illiana (The Golden Dragon) – Billed as the worlds spiciest cocktail, I was made to sign a waiver form before drinking this cocktail which comes served with a fire extinguisher. Yes, we have come to the part of this tale where I almost die for a second time. On taking a sip of this man-killer made from Chairmans spiced rum, orange Curacao, Orgeat syrup, lime juice, orange juice, and a drop of secret spicy sauce, my throat constricted, my hands grasped the side of the bar, my eyes watered and my face flushed. Downing the alcoholic ‘fire extinguisher’ – an additional cocktail made from Bombay Sapphire Gin, sugar and lemon – as though it was water, I concluded death by motorcycle mangling would be a less painful and more dignified way to go.

Page 4, Lassis, served alcoholic or non alcoholic:
Banana Lassi (alcoholic, obviously) – fresh yoghurt blended with banana, banana syrup, Zubrowka Vodka and Creme de Banane. Smooth, creamy and refreshing, a saving treat Captain Banana himself would recommend to save the day and my burning mouth.

What have I learned from my night at Zenna Bar? Tired of life; try crossing the road when you shouldn’t or necking a few dangerously hot cocktails. Tired of the standard, run-of-the-mill cocktail; try Zenna Bar.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Thongs, Panties, Bras & Tandoori Chicken Tikka

By Philippa Morton.

I KISSED A GIRL AND I LIKED IT! Gotcha. Just kidding. But now that I have your attention, I would be lying if I said I don’t admire beauty in a woman. And unlike the male species, admiring the splendour of my own sex doesn’t make me gay! So, I’m sure it was with great dismay (from my male counterparts) when I got to visit the Mint Leaf Lounge in Bank for a burlesque performance and lingerie show! And to add insult to injury, it wasn’t a male friend I chose to accompany me, but one of my girlfriends. So, in your face all you men who are so totally oversexed!

I have to say, Mint really is the word for this restaurant. The decor is exquisite, modern, sleek and all that, but, more to the point, so are the accented waitresses who brought me my first cocktail for the night: a Porn Star Martini. My girlfriend and I were turned on already.

Tribal drum rhythms synchronised with deep undertoned beats and drew out my primitive instincts. I felt my innards starting to gyrate to the rhythm, but naturally held myself back in accordance to societal chains. Luckily, an antidote came in the form of bar snacks. Nothing porno about these....or was there?

Interestingly - and it wouldn’t be obvious from the establishment’s name - the cuisine is Indian. So, scrumptious mouthfuls of Tandoori Paneer diluted my spiced-up hormones, and Tandoori Chicken Tikka roles and Goat Sheek Kebabs satisfied my hunger; my hunger for food, that is. Definitely a 10/10 for those! The spiciness was just right, but alas, seemed to coax out my mojo again with its sweet aromas and subtle flavours.

And between morsels of goat and paneer, suddenly...Boom Chicka Wow Wow! At that moment Esme Bianco, the evening’s burlesque performer, graced the stage singing sweetly. It just so happened that we were sitting next to her parents, probably the only +50s in the restaurant. Mostly, it was swanky young Bank blokes in suits, swaggering around. Swaggering that is, until the lingerie models came on stage.

Suddenly the boys transformed into shy little meerkats, popping their heads up gingerly every now and then with their hands in their laps and their knees clasped tightly together. It was certainly an interesting observation. They didn’t seem to have any idea where to look, as if to shy away from any course that could possibly generate accusation.

Now boys, we DON’T MIND YOUR LOOKING when we are burlesque dancers or lingerie models. It delights our egos when you admire our beauty. Do you honestly think we would have any other reason to do it? As for me, I wasn’t bothered and knew that I could admire as much as I like; these girls were minxes to the max.

So it was thongs, panties, nighties, holdups, bras; you name it, they had it. Suddenly I felt all my admiration fade, as my eyes turned suddenly green thinking that not only did the models have gorgeous bodies with bodacious curves, but they probably got to keep each item they modelled too.

Nonetheless, the night wore on, with the models displaying yet more lingerie. Sadly, there was no more performances from the lovely Esme, but we were lucky enough to have her sit next to us with her folks, and she was just as beautiful close up as she was on stage. Now, having attending this sexilicious event at Mint Leaf Lounge, being all spiced up with my primitive instinct trying to take over, I really gained some understanding of bisexual women. I can honestly say: No wonder! And thus it begs the question: who’s oversexed then?

Looking for more Burlesque inspiration? Click here for the Top 10 Best Burlesque bars and clubs in London.