Monday, 30 May 2011

Beautiful Ladies Enjoy Beautiful Things

By Faye Armstrong.

Afternoon tea is an activity undertaken by ladies. Those swan necked beauties, preened to perfection, who glide whilst twiddling umbrellas and fluttering eyelashes. Afternoon tea is for those who can be trusted handling china and somehow look more delectable than the array of cakes and pastries adorning sparkling silver tiers.

I am female, but this should not be misconstrued as being the same thing as a lady. There is a big difference. More of a difference than margarine and butter, Slipknot and Katherine Jenkins, Man Utd and Man City. There is a saying that horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies merely glow. I carry a wet floor sign around with me.

So, bearing this in mind, when visiting Hush restaurant in London’s exclusive Mayfair, I was a tad apprehensive. I brushed my hair a hundred times and squealed as the bristles locked contact with my tangled mop. I cut, filed and painted my nails, and frowned as the polish diffused from nail to skin, stinging my gnawed-at bloody quicks. I sprayed my skin with perfume and chocked when I realised I was holding a bottle of Old Spice. I slid into a tea dress and raised my arms frustratingly when I caught reflection of a very obvious panty line.

I arrived at Hush deflated and already defeated.

My mother has always told me that ‘it’ won’t be as bad as I think it will be. As I find time and time again, my mother is always wrong. The sun was shining and this only helped to illuminate the perfection of the ladies already dining under the canopies of Hush’s perfect outside space. I felt every inch as out of place as I suspected I would.

But my awkwardness was forgotten as soon as the experience that is known as the Hendrick’s High Tea began.

As with all afternoon teas, tea was served, but it was the Hendrick’s gin cocktails that received my undivided attention. The Hush Wolfsberry infuses Hendrick’s Gin with rose petals and goji berries, goji liqueur and edible flower. You wouldn’t believe the difference the edible flower makes; women are suckers for pretty things you can actually eat. I once tried to eat a hand-carved flower soap. Not so nice. Hendrick’s Spring uses the same trick, with lavender flowers floating in a sea of Hendrick’s gin, lavender and cucumber.

The cocktails are beautiful, artful things, but have a kick stronger than that temperamental donkey in Buckaroo. I needed food and luckily there materialised before me an array of sandwiches (cucumber, salmon and egg), warm scones with rose petal and elderflower jams, and to finish, a selection of pearlescent mini macaroons by Bougie, which looked almost too good to eat. Almost.

As the demolished feast was cleared away, I was left to observe the destruction in its wake; bloody jam stained the white tablecloth, scone crumbs lay lifeless atop fallen cucumber and darkened spots suggested the spilling of tea. I’m certainly not a lady but that doesn’t mean I’m unable to enjoy the things ladies are renown for doing, and I certainly enjoyed the Hendrick’s High Tea experience at Hush.

The Hendricks High Tea Menu - Full Afternoon Tea including a Hendricks cocktail and molecular cocktail samples - at Hush in Mayfair is £24.75. Follow this link to book.

Looking for further Afternoon Tea suggestions in central London? Check out the guide to the best Afternoon tea in London

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Pointlessness Of A New Al Fresco Terrace

By Alistair Martin

There are several Locale restaurants across London, and like all good (and bad) chains, they all share very similar menus, styles and atmospheres. The menus: all bog standard for an Italian chain. The styles: all bog-standard for an Italian chain. The atmospheres: well, you get the picture.

I could therefore easily understand why the proprietors of the Locale clone on Fulham’s leafy Munster Road had convened an exclusive invite-only party to celebrate the launch of something as unspectacular as a new ‘alfresco terrace’ (aka patio). If there is precious little else by which to distinguish your restaurant, you can be forgiven if a little over-excitement accompanies the opening of a five foot wide sliver of outside dining space.

Amongst the efforts the Locale team had made to celebrate this auspicious occasion, half the restaurant was cleared away to form a dance-floor area near the bar, in which a DJ had been plonked to spin house records at a volume presumably chosen to drown out all conversation about the very subject we had all gathered to see. This reconfiguration worked reasonably well. Indeed, if the event had been organised to showcase Locale Fulham’s potential for use as a half-decent (if fairly small) late evening bar venue and private party area, it would have been a comfortable success.

However, assured by the ever-friendly and attentive PR people that this was a one-off rearrangement for the patio - sorry, alfresco terrace launch party - the transformation only served as an indication of what the venue could be like, but isn’t. To that end, the variety of delicious canap├ęs distributed provided a similarly accomplished indication of the type of sumptuous food that is not actually on the usual menu, while the very Hoxton-looking crowd of young writers shipped in for the event exemplified the sort of crowd you shouldn’t expect to see chowing down a bowl of spaghetti carbonara on an average night.

In the end, only the Prosecco cocktails actually showcased Locale’s strengths; and, in all fairness, all Locale restaurants I have visited have great cocktail menus. However, when the provision of free booze ran dry, I still wasn’t drunk enough to make sense of the fact that I had come to toast the opening of a pavement with tables on. However understandable the over-excitement of the Locale staff was, it didn’t quite compensate for the surreal pointlessness of the occasion for everyone else.

If, however, you are in the market for a decent al fresco dining experience, follow this link to the Top 10 Best Al Fresco Restaurants & Pubs in London

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Bubbles & Dego: The Italian Marriage

By Leo Owen.

Despite having to factor in extra walking time to accommodate perilous heels, we're glad when we enter Great Portland Street’s Italian restaurant Dego and are presented with a glass of sparkling Saten. We’re surrounded by smartly dressed folk of all ages. Tonight is all about the perfect pairing of our grape-produced friend and authentic Italian dishes.

We begin by tasting four Villa Franciacorta winemaker products and are given a brief introduction to each sparkling wine by two of the vineyard's representatives flown over from Italy - Roberta and Francesca (pictured below) - who are both unnecessarily apologetic about their spoken English.

Having sampled Saten on the way in, we've already made our first faux pas by comparing it to Prosecco, but at least note it's less bubbly than its infamous counterpart. After we're told it's nothing like Prosecco - mild blushing - we're given some insight into the winemaking process, historical background of the Villa Franciacorta estate and their "think with the head, decide with the heart" philosophy. Translated from Italian, Saten means silk, aptly indicating the light soft texture of our first taster wine or the "tissue in the mouth" feeling that accompanies each swallow.

The Dego restaurant managers introduce themselves before a second bottle is produced and water decanters/spittoons are utilised, ready for the next taster. This is a relaxed tasting, with wine specialists, journos and PR's friends milling around as smiley Dego staff ensure everyone gets a look-in. Next up: the Brut; another bubbly little number, also from 2007 but fruitier and more intense than the Saten.

Standing next to my sister’s lipstick-stained glass, chatting to my neighbour, I discover the dangers of wearing make-up while wine tasting; as a member of Sotherby's wine marketing department authoritatively warns us that lipstick and balms can affect the taste and feel of the bubbles when sampling. So it appears last season's nude trend is the way to go in this environment. As all the wines this evening are sparkling, it's now quite likely the Brut Rose, also from 2007, and the dry Diamant 2005 that follow, are going to result in a lipstick contaminated judgment.

With the newfound knowledge that the Diamant is one of the most complex wines and most popular in its "pureness", almost an hour after sampling the first wine, we are ushered downstairs, abandoning the spittoons.

We’re about to sample a menu especially formulated to complement Villa Franciacorta's wines. Sitting at our designated table, I can't help but think what a small world this is. I've already chatted with the editor of Bar Magazine, who I've previously met, and now I'm sitting in a four-seat booth with an old film website acquaintance. The room has a relaxed diner feel with red tiled walls, matching prints, maroon pillars and interesting red spear-shaped lights.

Dego bravely introduces a three-course menu and I follow my host's bold example; despite normally avoiding fish, I sample the tuna ravioli. Exceedingly light, this cold starter is thankfully not too fishy and naturally matches the wine poured by our waitress who proudly displays her sommelier status through a large gold medallion award hanging from her neck, apparently doubling up as a traditional tasting vessel.

To follow the tuna, roasted veal is served with walnuts and mushrooms and tasty fat-cooked potato cubes. Being typical Brits, we're not entirely happy without our salt and pepper and I'm surprised by the news that neither is available. But almost as if to pacify our disappointment, an additional plate of exceedingly tasty veal arrives. As the evening passes, the lights dim, making the wine display and flat screen TV above the open bar seem to glow, reminding us of life beyond this gastronomical cocoon.

Between courses, each wine and dish is lovingly introduced by our hosts, who graciously thank us for our attendance before presenting us with the final course: an attractively presented fruit board and a selection of three sumptuous cheeses with no dolcelate in sight.

Dego means "listen" in Italian and it's certainly something we've done a lot of this evening, soaking in the jargon of the wine trade. My head is full of tannins, talk of vertical tastings, percentages, and fermentation as I leave this quiet Italian haven, equally full of good food and wine.

To book a table at Dego, follow this link.

Looking for further Italian restaurant inspiration in London? Check out the Top 10 Best Italian Restaurants in London

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

New Pop-Up Bar Links Right & Wrong

By Christian Rose-Day.

A den is synonymous with iniquity. Iniquity is the absence of morality. Morality is (usually) governed by a code. The most popular code is the phonetic alphabet. In the phonetic alphabet, the letter W is interpreted as ‘Whisky’. Ergo, a ‘Whisky Den’ is the discourse between right and wrong.

It’s right that the new Balvenie Whisky Den has been installed in Covent Garden, smack in the middle of London’s thriving West End. It’s wrong that it’s only a pop-up bar and will be packing up again all too soon. Still, at least I had the opportunity to take part in this dialogue. A couple of hours well spent. You’d be wise to enter into the parley yourself, especially as the bar is ever-evolving. Each day it takes on a different shape, being manipulated continuously for its lifespan, transformed with the traditional tools and materials used in the making of Balvenie Whisky itself. This 28-day pop-up bar is in a constant state of flux and will keep developing until Day 27.

As we entered and then chatted briefly about the £5000 bottle of Cask 151 50-year whisky on display, the smell of fresh creosote punctuated our nostrils, usurped only by the half ton of the pungent malt used to replicate the traditional malt floor at the Balvenie Distillery. We then descended, both physically and metaphysically, into a basement to unleash The Knowledge; The Knowledge that the majority of flavour in a whisky comes from its cask thanks to the former occupant (wine, sherry, port) and the wood type; The Knowledge that the politics of countries far away from Scotland influenced the flavour of Scottish whisky indefinitely (post-war American timber export legislation combining with the cask shortage in Europe); The Knowledge that Balvenie’s ‘sister’ distillery is Glenfiddich, just up the road (half way between Aberdeen and Inverness), with which there are many shared common practices.

Perched on handcrafted stools, made from old charred cask wood, we were walked from evil to good via fairly-flippin-decent and lovely by the Balvenie Brand Ambassador, Dr Andrew Forrester. The butterscotch, vanilla, dried fruit sweetness of the 12-year Signature Balvenie Whisky was wholly approachable, easily quaffable, and is the whisky that would make a non-whisky drinker question their decision-making processes.

The second dram, the spicy 15-year Balvenie Whisky, was likened, as were all the sampled stock, to a famous star. She was Kylie, because she was lively, showy and had a nice bum.

My personal favourite, the 12-year DoubleWood Balvenie Whisky, was Nigella Lawson; more voluptuous, figgy, syrupy, and fragrant with Christmas pudding.

The final act was a 21-year PortWood (clue in the name there) Balvenie Whisky, a graceful ballroom dancer of a tipple that oozed silky honey and nutty cream.

The Balvenie Whisky Den can be experienced for a brief time at 34 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 7PB. It is open daily from 1pm until, well, whenever you like really. WARNING: it will be dismantled on 3rd of June so, right or wrong, you’ll need to be quick.

For further whisky-induced inspiration, follow this link for the Best Whisky Bars in London.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Oh GloGlo, For Goodness Sake!

By Claire Williams.


For those who aren’t fluent in Japanese (and it’s definitely not one of my strong points), Kampai (pronounced Kan-pie) means literally ‘dry the glass’, or, to you and me, “cheers!”

Although, by the time I’d drunk my fifth glass of sake, I’d forgotten how to say ‘cheers’ in Japanese, English, or any other language for that matter (see my rather unimpressive photography as evidence). I’d only had one previous (and disastrous) experience with sake before I found myself sitting at Glo Glo’s last Thursday - the waiter at a back street Japanese restaurant served my friends and I a steaming teapot full of foul smelling, foul tasting sake in the middle of the table which we politely declined after the first glass – and I was hoping not to repeat the experience ever again.

So it was with some trepidation that I sat down at the Shoreditch basement bar, Glo Glo’s, for a night of sake wine paired with yakitori and Japanese street food cooked fresh from the showpiece robata grill. Glo Glo’s is a standalone bar created by Will Ricker, the mastermind behind the famous Great Eastern Dining Room (which, incidentally, is right next door) that offers original cocktails, Tokyo-style street food and all the aesthetics only a basement bar can offer (a smoky, sultry and sexy atmosphere and immensely flattering lighting).

We sat around the bar in booths that seated four, with two others that we hadn’t met before. Inevitably after six drinks we were best buddies – comparing horror stories of past press trips, handbags and, at one point, even the length of our fingernails (don’t ask). A friendly Australian guy (I forget his name – I can’t even really remember what he looked like) told us about sake – about it’s history and how to correctly drink it with Japanese manners – while we did the easy bit: testing and rating six different types of sake (sometimes needing more than one glass to get a proper taste). The sake was all expertly paired with light Japanese-inspired bar snacks, ranging from scallops with Yuzo mayonnaise to the most amazing pork belly with mustard tare and blackened salmon. Just writing those dishes made my mouth water. Whereas I wasn’t so taken by the sake (it’s an acquired taste, and I managed to acquire it somewhat by the end of the night), the bar food had me from the first bite.

After the sake tasting we milled around in the bar, soaking in the dim basement vibes and catching up on some rather sozzled conversation. In some, the sake had gone down smoothly, in others, not so much. But all were reluctant to leave the womb-like comfort of Glo Glo’s bar. But leave we did, clutching information fact sheets and with brains full of random information about Japanese culture, all in agreement that we would be back.

For pork belly, especially. Plates and plates of pork belly…

Looking for further bar, restaurant and pub inspiration for Shoreditch? Then check out the Top 10 Best Bars, Pubs and Restaurants in Shoreditch

Monday, 23 May 2011

Chelsea Flower Shown Mayfair Cocktail Tempo

By Rebecca Brett.

What is it with Chelsea Flower Show that makes London go all flower power crazy? It’s not just the surrounding bars and restaurants that get involved. Venues far and wide go bloomin’ mad to get in on the action.

Not that I mind, I may not be the stereotypical 50-something who likes to check out chrysanthemums and acacias but I certainly like to keep up-to-date with the world of cocktails. When I was invited along to Tempo - the Italian restairant and cocktail bar in Mayfair - to try their floral creations for Chelsea Flower Show, I couldn’t say no.

So, on Friday night I tootled along to Mayfair to see what all the floral fuss was about. Tempo is like entering a private townhouse, with the lovely owner Henry playing host for the evening. Downstairs is the restaurant, which at 7pm was already busy with guests dining on fine Italian food. We headed straight upstairs to the cocktail bar which was like Henry’s living room or a mini ballroom with ornate wall decorations, a magnificent light making a grand centrepiece for the room, and huge windows looking out over Mayfair.

On huge comfortable sofas sat well-to-do men and women quaffing wine and cocktails and around the edges of the room were high stalls and tables, on which we took a pew. It was good up there to oversee what was going on.

A lone bartender held the fort upstairs, not only making the creations himself but also carrying out friendly table service at the same time. So we got on with working our way through the cocktail list. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it and I count drinking cocktails as one of my fortes.

There are five cocktails available, including my favourite: the Wild Rose martini (shown above) made with Lanique rose vodka, fresh raspberries, elderflower cordial, Velvet Falernum, apple juice and honey. Definitely one for the girls. My man friend ordered the more masculine Elderflower Collins (shown below): a mix of Plymouth gin, St Germain liqueur, apple and lemon juice, with a garnish of lime instead of a flower.

The delicate flavours in each of the cocktails is incredible. I was expecting an overwhelming rose flavour reminiscent of my nan’s pot pourri collection but the flavours were subtle and perfectly complimented each other. High five to Martin and Rafal, the mixologists at Tempo who put the floral cocktails together.

I can imagine that the women who have been tending to the flowers at Chelsea Flower Show will love the decadence of Tempo, since most of the cocktails come with a flower garnish. Plus, they’d definitely make a new friend in Henry. He made such a concerted effort to make sure he spoke to all of his guests as if he was welcoming them in to his own home.

But for those of you who, like me, will be enjoying the cocktail hype rather than the flowering type, I suggest you go and see Henry at Tempo in Mayfair between 24-28th May to try them for yourself and make yourself a new friend.

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

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Johnnie Walker’s New Canary Wharf Terrace

By Cat McGovern.

Canary Wharf is an odd place. I found this out during a two week internship at The Independent on Sunday many moons ago. To enter the grounds by car, there are guards ushering the way and once inside, it feels like you are in a different city altogether. The tall buildings looming over you and busy suits scurrying along the road are daunting and unsettling. So I thought I would be better equipped this time, as I am nearing 30 and have gained confidence with age (ahem).

Whipping out the iPhone, I navigate the streets with an air of confusion. I am standing on Canada Square, but there is no sign of Plateau restaurant or its new Johnnie Walker Blue Label Terrace. Fortunately, there are prevalent maps in this strange city, which indicate that the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Terrace has been in front of me the whole time. Doh! Next mission: to get upstairs. I fail even in this task. There are two lifts in the building: one up to Plateau restaurant & Johnnie Walker Blue Label Terrace; the other stands there mocking me. So which one do I choose? Massive fail.

Eventually, I’m in and saunter over to the terrace and am drawn to the champagne cocktail. At first it feels like I’m in a greenhouse, a greenhouse that looks over Canada Square and is filled with plush blue carpets, leather chairs and a bar. The blue colour theme is the same shade as the Johnnie Walker Blue Label bottle and it is rather soothing and fetching. They’ve obviously gone to a lot of trouble to get the space to look exactly right. Even the tables have the famous Johnnie Walker insignia on it. The plants and greenery to the side make it feel more like I’m outside in a picturesque garden. It’s very swish and I am relieved that I changed into a dress at lunchtime, as jeans and a tee just wouldn’t cut it.

Intrigued by the whisky cocktail, I reach for one. It’s called Walk the Line and, no surprises, has a touch of Johnnie Walker (Black Label, though) in it. The soft yellow hue from the glass looks like a delicate sunset and what I would imagine one would taste like. For my liking it is a little light on the whisky, but for people who don’t normally like it, it’s a great compromise.

A whisky tasting was mentioned when I arrived, and indeed it’s to sample the Blue Label. I have come into contact with Blue Label before when my Dad had it. My brother had bought him one from the States and one from China and as my Dad was once in the print industry, he was convinced the Chinese version was a fake due to the different printing on the label. He was adamant that he was right, so the only way he would know was to sample both simultaneously. This resulted in a drunk father and boyfriend as they had to keep testing the theory. I had a teeny tiny sip as, at this time, whisky was not my friend and I pushed it back at them with a pouting face. Now, I love the stuff, so I was looking forward to the tasting.

Blue Label is undeniably the smoothest whisky around and if that’s what you look for in a whisky, then this is the one to have. It is hard to distinguish flavours as with each taste, the whisky takes a journey on all the senses, leaving the drinker curious and in need of another dram. However, to enjoy this tipple, it isn’t cheap as in the shops it’s pushing £150.

I politely ask for another sample and the whisky expert is keen to provide as not many people here are actually trying the whisky, which is a bit of a shame. Oh well, more for me then.

I can see that the terrace will do well during the warmer months as the views from up here are fantastic. Also Blue Label is the ultimate status drink, so expect the suits to be doing their best to impress colleagues by ordering a bottle and sipping it slowly with big grins on their faces. For those who find whisky a bit much, the fruit based cocktails will definitely go down a treat as they certainly did with me.

Looking for further whisky related inspiration? Check out the Top 10 whisky bars in London

Friday, 20 May 2011

Leicester Square Goes Wyld, Without Kate Moss

By Flick Hardingham.

The W Hotel landed in London’s Leicester Square a few months ago with a plethora of ‘ooos’ and ‘ahhhs’.  Almost spaceship-esque in its vast whiteness, the uber deluxe hotel boasted innovative design, an indulgent spa and the all-important Spice Market Asian restaurant.
So an invite to the launch of Wyld, the hip n’ happening bar tucked inside the W Hotel, could not be refused!

Wyld is a den of black and red reminding me of a bachelor pad I would rather forget. Once we made it past the door crew, we encountered a slick bar that could fit around 100 of London’s most ardent movers and shakers. I’d heard that Kate Moss and Primal Scream were in attendance late last year, but could not spot them amongst the launch congregation.
We swooped for the bar and opted for a ‘Mexican Surge’ (what girl doesn’t like the occasional Latin American influx?) crammed with Tequila, Kahlua, Ting and freshly squeezed lime. Pretty scrumptious and pretty good for £12.50. 

A generous disco ball was spinning above the bar as cool kids danced below.  Wade Crescent on the decks oozed funk with oh-so-shiny hair, a buttoned shirt and enviable playlist. The crowd certainly appreciated the bling and tables overflowed with gaggles of girls and moneyed males. 

Wyld is sure to be the hang-out of choice before a night on the tiles in the West End and is within easy trotting distance of all manner of late-late spots. You can even sneak a peek at the red carpet on Leicester Square and survey the tourists below.
This joint is going to get busy and fast. If you do fancy a night on the Wyld side I’d definitely recommend calling ahead for the guest list and bag a table if you’ve got enough dollar.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

New Pop Up Restaurant In Soho

By Cat McGovern.

Normally when I hear the word pop-up, I immediately think of children’s pop-up books and this is what I kind of expect to see when I go to a pop-up restaurant. Disappointingly, this is never the case as adult pop-ups are high profile restaurants, sometimes within other high profile restaurants. Although from the outset, it is nowhere near as thrilling as the book, it is still an opportunity for lowly, poor people (like me) to experience fine dining for a fraction of the price. This is where Atul Kochhar of Michelin starred Benares steps in. For the duration of May, he has set up shop in the serene surroundings of Meza, which is found on Soho’s hugely busy Wardour Street.

As we supped on the gluttonous passionfruit & chutney martinis and slinked back on brown leather sofas, we noticed that Kochhar, in full chefs get-up, was furiously pacing in and out of the kitchen, and looking more than a bit stressed. I was tempted to give him a small wave and ask for a picture, but he seemed a bit preoccupied to pose for photos. Instead. I took pictures of the bar and all the beautifully coloured drinks the barmen were making.

Whilst taking photos, I took one of a waiter with a tray of booze. He asked if he could see the picture and then asked for a second try. He approved and went on his way. This resulted in him coming over with the drinks tray all evening. Note to self, if you want lots of drinks, make friends with the person who supplies them.

The Benares mojito was the next cocktail I was offered and it definitely bit back at me. The snapping power of the chilli, placed at the bottom of the glass, really took me by surprise and kicked started the night, so much so I grasped another.

Feeling a bit snacky, we spied the canap├ęs and made ourselves known. The nibbles on offer were an array of Indian delights of a quality I hadn’t experienced before. The Rajathani crisp okra, which was lightly battered, gave the okra new depth and intensity and went well with the tang of the harrisa mayonnaise.

The most impressive bite was the Kadhai cottage cheese. Normally I associate cottage cheese with dieting and sad times; however this creation, which was deep-fried, made the experience more palatable.

What is impressive is that none of the dishes go over a tenner, meaning that Joe public can have a Michelin experience without straining the wallet. Kochhar is onto a winner here and if this wasn’t a launch, I would reserve a table straight away. So book soon before Kochhar’s delectable dishes are back at his (Benares) restaurant for normal price. You definitely won’t regret it.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Can You Go A Whole Week Without It?

By Christian Rose-Day.

Admit it London; you can’t go an entire week without it.

My New Year’s resolution back in January of this year - remember, when you were cold and miserable? - was to do as the moo-cow does and consume only vegetation. Well, at least reduce the amount of animal products I ingest on a weekly basis anyway. Better for my health, better for my wallet, and best of all, better for the environment.

This resolution of mine will very soon really kick in to gear, during May (better late than never), thanks to the impending National Vegetarian Week (Monday 23rd May - Sunday 29th May). A whole week of no animal whatsoever. Phew, tough. Until now, I’ve managed to trim down to just one meaty meal a day, and then only using it as a flavouring rather than as the main event (oh, how I long for steak!); but the prospect of an entire week is royally daunting. I’m going to need some serious help.


Thank goodness for ex-Locanda Locatelli head chef, Pasquale Amico, then. He and his team have shown me the way. In celebration of National Vegetarian Week, Pasquale’s Amico Bio vegetarian restaurant, hidden in the alleyways near Smithfield market in The City of London, is offering a 4-course, 100% vegan lunch offer that demonstrates how easy it is to live a healthy, guiltless life with nothing more than a few (monetary) beans.

This afternoon I sampled Amico Bio’s special vegan menu, which started with some basic homemade focaccia bread, Gaeta olives, and extra virgin olive oil, before moving onto a demonstration of precisely how a simple menu created using minimal ingredients can have a profound effect on the human fettle (carpaccio of courgettes and rocket salad). That said, the oven-baked red pepper with black olives and capers was the real star of the show. That is, until the homemade pitta bread filled with pear, raisin and cinnamon arrived.

Amazingly, this meat-free mini feast was, and will continue to be for National Vegetarian Week (Monday 23rd May - Friday 27th May), only £15. 15 quid for 4 courses? What. A. Bargain.

You may ask yourself, what from the above list of vegetarian ingredients was organic? No need to specify; the entire menu at the Amico Bio vegetarian restaurant is organic, which is probably why I feel so virtuous right now. Pious even.

Amico Bio is a real hidden gem of a restaurant, and in an area of London probably best known for lunchtime pies and pints of London Pride, it is a brave venture that is taking the idea of change (Yes, we can!) right to The Man, muscling in on (Aldo) Zilli Green’s turf (albeit away from the streets of Soho). And quite rightly too.

So London, I put to you a challenge: ditch the meat for 7 days during National Vegetarian Week. See if you can manage. Even if you don’t turn completely vegetarian, at least you’ll gain a fleeting experience of what life can be like on the other side.

Amico Bio vegetarian restaurant in Smithfields is a great place to start, but if you need further vegetarian inspiration, follow this link

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

This Is Probably One Of The Best Roof Bars In London

By The Duke

To be honest, I arrived sober with the full intention of getting as many free drinks as I could, taking a few happy snaps, saying a few grumpy words to the manager, and leaving, preferably before being asked to. Yes, the Big Chill House had it’s big relaunch, and given that I’ve been a BIG fan of the BIG Chill Festival, I was sent to posture around the joint on behalf of Fluid London.It was the beginning of the long bank holiday weekend, and there was a buzz inside the newly decorated Big Chill House premises. It seemed that many inside the venue, like me, chose this as a comfortable place to meet some friends at the beginning of the evening.The whole venue does feel as if it’s brought as much of The Big Chill Festival feel as you possibly can to an indoor space in the middle of Kings Cross. Lot’s of small square tables as you enter, blue and pastel green walls on one side, a more greyish art littered wall on the other, lamps with deliberately protruding wires, rooms labelled using the Big Chill Font ubiquitous with the festival.A nice touch to the Big Chill House opening night was the presence of a mural where anyone in attendance was able to add their own piece of artistic flair on the walls. Fools, I thought, surely someone will pretend to be Banksy and leave a suggestively confusing piece depicting an ape-like policeman dancing. Then I thought, since we don’t know what Banksy looks like, what if he was in attendance and left a deliberately un-Banksy piece on the mural, just to mess with us? We can’t rule the possibility out, simply because we still don’t know what he looks like. Clearly, by the middle of the evening, there were many with artistic tendencies in attendance, with the wall proving to be an empty space disappearing faster than a Banksy. It also provided great joy for all.All this speculation about Banksy’s supposed attendance made me thirsty and we ventured upstairs to one of London’s real finds: the Big Chill House terrace bar. It actually doesn’t feel like London at all, with it’s beach hut style bar, a few palms, and lots of casual seating. Most people could be forgiven for feeling nostalgic for “that” holiday they had on “that” coast. This is probably one of the best roof bars in London.It was warm and filled a bunch of smiling people, simply looking happy. That made me thirsty and I promptly made my way to the beach hut style bar, where the balmy evening forced me to ditch the beer and demand a Jamaican Mule jug to feed the posse. The friendly Aussie bartender impressed me with the effort he made. Upon learning that he run out of a small, yet vital, cocktail ingredient, instead of shrugging shoulders, he immediately sprinted downstairs to replenish supplies, and return promptly to finish making the cocktail.I really didn’t want to leave the terrace, but my Editor, who was present at the time, grumbled something about “we should probably check out the rest of the venue as well”. We made it downstairs, past the now heavily utilised mural and onto the dance floor. The crowd on the dance floor was definitely there more for action, less for conversation, and even though it was still fairly early as far as a London night goes, many heads were bobbing up and down on the dance floor. Personally, I was in more of a chiller mood, so while the rest of the hacks danced I placed myself in one of the many chill out areas, and happily sipped away, bobbing to the music. This, after all, is The Big Chill.

I, personally, will be back for one of the numerous terrace parties throughout the summer.

And if you’re looking for further roof terrace inspiration right here in the bowels of London town, check out this Top 10 guide to the best roof gardens in London