Friday, 30 December 2011

Recession? What Recession? Rise, You New Bars Of London

By Josh Williams

2011 hasn't exactly offered much to celebrate. With the exception of the enormous world-wide excitement at the marriage of WillzandKate (I bought a mug with their faces on it, and I hope you did too), this has been the year that lots of things, across the globe, went tits-up. Most recently, of course, the Greeks have buggered everything up in a manner that no-one entirely understands, and this has in turn paved the way for the Eurozone to collapse like an old flan in a forgotten cupboard.

 Britain's response - to begin the construction of a giant wall surrounding the nation and to mail all of our E111s back to Brussels - has divided opinion. It has even pitted our two glorious leaders, Cameron and Clegg, against one another in a style somewhat reminiscent of Stalin and Trotsky after the death of Lenin. These days, I believe that we are all relatively confident that we will spend some portion of our future-lives in a Gulag, and that we might one day find Nick Clogsky somewhere in Mexico with an ice-pick in his head.

In light of this grim prognosis, one might well expect the bars and restaurants of London, the capital of Europe's newest 'sick-man', to be preparing for their impending doom. New launches in particular must surely be readying themselves for this climate, rapidly hemorrhaging quality and price so that they can still attract a market rapidly turning to the delights of a tinny on a park bench.

Well, actually no. Instead of bowing to public pressure, there has been a new wave of launches at the end of this year displaying flagrant disregard for the nation's parlous state. These are a new generation of recession-beaters, and they have decided that high-on-price and high-on-quality joints are the way forward.

The recently opened bars The Lucky Pig and The Rose, for instance, are two examples of this David Irvine-like lust for denial. When The Lucky Pig boasts of its “tables suspended from the ceiling” and “exceptional glassware”, for example, it's enough to draw one's memory back to a time when sitting on a table with legs was considered passé, and when people actually cared about what they were drinking out of. The Rose, meanwhile, opts for an alternative trip down Memory Lane. They pair fine-drinking with exceptional snobbery and rudeness, and thus transport us back to a time when a review that declared, “if you like pretentious overrated places and rude staff, then come here,” was pretty decent press.

However, it was at Reunion, The Grosvenor Hotel's new cocktail bar, that I found denial at its most all-encompassing and, ultimately, at it's most rewarding. Here, the emphasis is on the very highest standards, and pre-recession pricing (a drink here might cost you in the region of ten tinnies, yet more if you tend to take the plunge to Special Brew). Yet it is by the benchmark of exceptional quality that Reunion has set its exacting standards, and with considerable success.

The cocktails here are frankly wonderful, combining interesting and often highly-original flavours (they even infuse their own spirits, these clever fellows); and it must be mentioned that their rum cocktails - the 'Dark & Stormy' and a superb Mojito in particular - are surely amongst the best in the city. Moreover, cocktails are paired by a good range of wines, and, for those in a truly shocking state of denial, Champagnes too.
The bar itself takes the theme of denial yet further, utterly ridding itself of its association with our bleak present. The decor, for instance, is an homage – and a good one – to the venue's former existence as the First-Class lounge for the Brighton Belle: the train that used to deliver boozy thesps from the West End to their oh-so-Boho dwellings in Brighton. A painting of former-regulars Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh adorns one wall, for instance, with the clear intent of baffling inebriated revellers into a belief that they might themselves be one-half of some 1950s power-couple. Even the fact that Vivien Leigh has been rendered half-way between Audrey Hepburn and an ape-woman (apparently depicting the missing link between our primordial past and Hollywood superstardom) cannot disrupt the elaborate facade.

An interesting final feature about Reunion, well worth a mention, is that it looks out, rather incongruously, over the concourse at Victoria Station. The effect is quite brilliant, as from here one can sip an exquisite cocktail and view reality below, musing that unlike them, you're not from the bloody-bleak twenty-first century at all, you're Larry Olivier, and you've just been treading the crap out of some West End boards.

Sadly, no deception lasts forever. Ultimately we must all return to the concourse below, and, once there, struggle vainly to even glimpse the lights of The Grosvenor above. This return to earth might lead one to question one's very sanity, wondering whether that formerly held sense of triumphal superiority was nothing but a boozy mirage, the product solely of a couple of expensive drinks and some nostalgic décor. Such fears will eventually pass, however, and I was ultimately left with a more lasting impression, and one that boiled down to the final half-thought that I boozily scrawled on the back of The Evening Standard when travelling home:

'Denial's great,' I wrote, 'especially when it comes in the form of a bloody lovely cocktail.'

To discover more of London's best new bars, best new pubs, best new restaurants and best new clubs, follow this link

Friday, 16 December 2011

Who Do I Have To $%!€ To Get A Drink Around Here?

By Imogen Rowland

A wise drinker once lamented: ‘Who do I have to €&*$ to get a drink around here?’

Now, I’m not in the habit of compromising myself in such a manner, but pop me in a hot, crowded bar, throat drier than the Arabian Desert, and I might just start to change my tune.

London bars boast some of the best cocktails in the world, but waiting for them is one of life’s little trials. The Guinness advert told us good things come to those that wait, and I can see its point – never does a cake taste sweeter than when you’ve loyally watched it bake, gazing through the oven door pitifully for 45 minutes – but there’s a limit, right?

They say that us Brits love to queue, but I think that’s a bit of a misnomer. We love a good queue, not the queuing process itself (we’re not complete nutters) but just the polite, orderly fashion in which a good queue is managed, the very wartime cordiality that says ‘we’re all in it together’.

Bar queues in London don’t tend to be like that. Apart from the odd occasion when someone concedes that you were indeed there first and the trusty barkeep should tend to your thirst before their own (I’ve done it; trust me, you feel up there with Ghandi on the ‘noble and selfless’ scale), manners are not always at their best at the bar. To add insult to injury, it’s often the best bars that prove so popular that the queues get ridiculous.

Take old faithfuls like The Defectors Weld, Shepherd’s Bush’s answer to the Queen Vic. The cocktails are great, the people cool (the Beeb’s just down the road, dharling, this is media-mania), and the décor’s decent. But hit it at happy hour when cocktails are buy one, get one for £1, and you’ll be waiting a good 15 minutes for your raspberry collins; delicious, but slow going.
I went to a bar launch a couple of weeks ago in the heart of Fitzrovia. The Lucky Pig is a new basement bar on Clipstone Street modelled on a twenties drinking den, all art nouveau fittings and antiques galore, with an upright piano just waiting for someone to break into song.
The cocktails were fabulous – in particular the Southside Royal, a heady mix of Bombay Sapphire, mint, cucumber and Champagne – but at one point my companion disappeared for a total of 26 minutes in an attempt to get a drink; not exactly conducive to conversation or celebration.
How are we to overcome such waiting woes, fellow drinkers? Find the answer to that and you’ll be rich (and permanently tipsy). The only plus side, if there is one, to these hideous delays is the odd occasion when the queue is a happy, resigned one. Then you know that, like your good self, these people are in for the long haul, and know that the wait is worth the first glug. When – and I admit it happens rarely – people are empathetic to your predicament, all clamouring for a Cosmo themselves, and therefore willing to bond over the trial.
So next time you’re stuck in the eternal queue, try to strike up a conversation with your neighbour. You may not get served any quicker, but you may just find a distraction to help you while away the hours awaiting the elusive drink, and maybe even a new drinking partner to boot.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Which London Bars Specialise In Tequila, Whisky, Bourbon, Rum, Gin or Absinthe?

By Alwynne Gwilt.

Booze, like all life's great joys, can be a wee bit addictive. Ahem. And sometimes, it seems, one type of alcohol can take over more than any other and you find yourself spending hours learning all about your favourite new tipple ad nauseum.

The absolutely delightful thing about London is that it can be easy to indulge those new desires by heading to a bar that takes a single type of tipple very seriously. Londoners have an extraordinary choice of bars and the cocktail scene seems to be heating up, month on month.

I started musing over this one night at a tequila competition put on by El Jimador recently. Not a fan of tequila, myself, I decided to push my boundaries and give it a go; I used to say the same thing about whisky, after all, and now I spend much of my life writing about it.

The competition saw some of Europe's top bartenders shake things up and show off their mixing skills in an attempt to be crowned the champion of all tequila champions.

My goal was simpler: I just wanted to start liking the stuff. And, not that this will come as a massive surprise, I did. I did like it! The cocktails I tried were fantastic and the gorgeous aged tequila, which was super smooth, a bit sweet, and just a tad like a great bourbon, really made me go “Wow”. What a breakthrough!

As such, I decided to investigate which bars Fluid London readers can go when they get a hankering to imbibe a specific drink, like I did with tequila.

Here are my findings:


Wahaca's Azulito Bar, Soho:
Located underneath Wahaca restaurant on Wardour Street, Azulito bar boasts and incredible 80 agave tequilas and a South American, laid-back atmosphere. Hanging chairs swing from the ceiling, wood panelling keeps it a bit kitschy, and DJs spin some great tunes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until midnight.

Mestizo, Camden:
Just up from Warren Street – away from the hustle and bustle of Soho and the West End – is Mestizo Restaurant and Tequila bar (pictured right), with a praise-worthy list of tequila cocktails. The tequilas include lip tingling Mestizo Spice (a chilli infused tequila, brandy, strawberry and fresh red chilli and lime concoction) and the sumptuous sounding Gold Margarita (Patron reposado with Cointreau, lime, lemon syrup de gomme and tamarind juice).


Albannach, Trafalgar Square:
At the corner of Trafalgar Square is this (sometimes-missed) whisky bar that is popular with people in the know. It's shiny and immaculate, with a large whisky selection and knowledgeable staff. The venue hosts many whisky tastings and offers “flights”, meaning: you can try a selection of whiskies and learn about them, if you're new to the drink.

Athenaeum Whisky Bar, Mayfair:
This hidden gem of the whisky world (pictured right) sits inside the Athenaeum Hotel on Piccadilly. The boutique hotel really pulls out all of the stops to impress those who like a good dram. Boasting one of the only whisky sommeliers in London – in the form of the ever intelligible and friendly Angelo Gobbi – the bar offers patrons a choice of more than 270 different bottles, from a rare 1948 Glenlivet to a more standard 15-year Dalwhinnie. This bar is a whisky lover's dream. The menu also includes specific whisky and cheese pairings, in case you get hungry and fancy really getting your taste buds going.

Boisdale, Canary Wharf:
Boisdale has multiple locations in London, all with fantastic whisky offerings. But, it is the brand's new location at Canary Wharf that has the whisky world's tongues wagging. Its glorious wall of whisky and shiny-windowed setting over the bright lights of the surrounding big buildings makes it a step away from the more “Scottish and tartan” designs of its Belgravia restaurant. Despite its size, the bar still keeps a cozy feel, and a large stage brings a whole host of fantastic jazz bands to entertain you while you sit back and drink your dram.


Blues Kitchen, Camden:
This staple on the Camden high street (pictured right) brings a little bit of southern jazzy influence to North London's bar scene. Offering up a huge selection of carefully chosen bourbons and very knowledgeable bartenders (I once said, “I like this whisky, what bourbon can you recommend?” and was then given a full rundown of two that would exactly match my needs). On Thursday nights, free music acts keep the place buzzing with big, brassy southern blues bands and 1920s style hot jazz acts. Warm, welcoming and perfect for a cold winter's night.

JW Steakhouse Bourbon Bar, Mayfair:
This posh and pricey Mayfair bar (and restaurant) with an American flair, doesn't only offer up sizzling steaks but also houses a bourbon bar to get you going before your meal. An impressive selection of small batch bourbons (to sip solo or in a cocktail) adds another one-drink bar to the West End list. To book a table at this venue, use the booking form below.


Rum & Sugar, Docklands
This newcomer to the Docklands scene makes a show of its history as a rum and sugar warehouse by celebrating all things rum on its menu. There is a long list of quality rums, from aged Santa Teresa to some very cool varieties from Martinique to Guyana. And, the food – all locally sourced and seasonal – is very good, which is handy if you get bored of drinking your mojitos while staring at the lights of the Docklands skyscrapers. To book a table at this venue, use the booking form below.

Cottons Rum Shack, Camden:
If you prefer a Caribbean vibe with your rum, then a trip to Cottons on Chalk Farm Road near Camden tube will be up your street. The restaurant boats the “rum shack” featuring more than 250 varieties of rum so you'd have to come back time and again to get through them all. Finish the night with some spicy dishes in one of the themed restaurant rooms and a few more tasty drinks.

Buena Vista Cuban Café, Clapham
This small hideaway in Clapham North is known for its buzzy vibe and fantastic live music; from jazz to salsa, Havana to lounge. But, it also has an extensive rum list from Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Venezuela so you'll have some great drinks to go with the tunes.


The Absinthe Bar at Brompton Bar & Grill, Knightsbridge:
Hailed as “London's first absinthe bar” when it opened in July 2011, this downstairs 1920s themed bar is dark and cozy; the place you could sip the night away on absinthe cocktails and nostalgia. It features some top-notch absinthe – such as La Clandestine, a version made to the original, clear Swiss recipe and made in the same town widely recognised as the “birthplace of absinthe” - and perfectly sculpted ice fountains to allow you to taste absinthe as it should be drunk!

CellarDoor, Aldwych and Purl, Marylebone
Both CellarDoor and Purl are two, top-notch London bars that feature absinthe on the menu so, while they are not one-drink bars per se, they are helping contribute to the growing demand for absinthe cocktails. The former – located at Aldwych – offers up the Fairy Martini (made with Pernod Absinthe) along with the Le Fee Suisse brand. Purl, meanwhile, tempts taste buds at its Marylebone location with La Clandestine, Butterfly Boston (an American absinthe) and an ice fountain offering.


Graphic, Soho
This Golden Square hotspot is top choice for lovers of mother's ruin. With an impressive collection of more than 60 types of gin, the bar can serve it straight up or in one of a number of cocktails. The bar also has the “Juniper Society” which has events every second Monday of the month for those who want to learn more about (or drink more) gin.

Portobello Star Bar's Ginstitute, Notting Hill:
Located in Notting Hill, this bar has installed its own tribute to the beautiful drink known as gin. With a recreated mini Victorian gin-palace bar, gin artefacts, historical bottles and advertisements, it is free to view but also open to people wanting to try a cocktail there on a Friday and Saturday evening. It offers up master classes and also the Still Room, where you can learn how to actually make the spirit with Master Distiller, Jake Burger, and create your own blend of gin to take home (at the cost of £100).

Images above courtesy of Flickr users scottfeldstein, rbrwr, KittyKaht, Markyboy81, McBLG97, spacepleb, and UggBoy♥UggGirl [ PHOTO // WORLD // TRAVEL ]

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Christmas Comes But Once A Year To The Heart Of London

By Flick Hardingham.

At the start of December, the Square Mile was transformed for one magical day of Christmas festivities.  Not one to normally wander to Cheapside, I took this as the perfect opportunity to see the finance district in a whole new light. ‘Christmas in the City’ was the brainchild of the Cheapside Initiative who strive to promote the area as a must-shop, must-see, must-do destination. Traffic ceased for the entire day as families, tourists and City regulars took to the streets for a day in retail Nirvana.
Over 150 shops in the area took part offering delights for all.  There was a Bollywood Brass Band, bell ringing, ice skating, performances at the enchanting Leadenhall Market and enough mince pies to fill Santa.  Punters even got free rides from cycle-rickshaws to make sure they didn’t miss a single sip of mulled wine.
After a swift shopping spree at One New Change, we gorged ourselves silly at Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa before dashing down Cheapside to the Royal Exchange. Here we were bewitched by the Snow Queen ballerina as she emerged from a gigantic magical jewellery box over-spilling with pearls and trinkets large enough to grace the necks of a giant.  Every hour she danced and whirled to the Nutcracker Suite.

Seeing the streets from St Paul’s to Poultry without a single suit hailing a black cab or Blackberry wielding exec on the way to a power lunch was a true eye-opener.  You can truly appreciate why Dickens was inspired by the romance of Victorian London.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Pssst, We’ve Got A West End Christmas Secret

By Claire Williams.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I love Christmas. I love everything about the festive season: the twinkly lights that adorn every shop window, the fires that crackle in cozy local pubs, the one-click ordering on Amazon that sorts everyone out their presents without me ever having to leave my dented spot on the sofa, and the beauty of Sky+, saving me ever having to miss a single corny Christmas movie whilst I party the nights away at various festive events.

One thing that signifies Christmas to me the most is our annual trip to see a show in the West End. Every year my friends and I traipse through the crowds in Leicester Square and queue up with everyone else in front of one of the variety of neon-lit theatres that decorate the streets. The only thing that lets it down? The less-than-great drudge of restaurants offering numerous variations on, let’s face it, the same congealed pizza and pasta rubbish over and over again.

So as it’s the festive season, the season of good will and giving, I’m going to let you into a little secret. There is a little place hidden away in Covent Garden that serves delicious Pan-Asian food by the plentiful and is the remedy to all your West End eating woes. And with their new £15-a-head three-course menu, there couldn’t be a better way to begin, or finish, a night chock-full of musical delights.

I visited Tamarai last Thursday to sample the £15 menu, expecting rushed greasy food and unsympathetic-to-my-tight-schedule waiters. What I got was a full, exciting menu, with waiters that understood we had somewhere to go. There was no compromising on the food, however; I had looked up the restaurant online beforehand and noticed that this wasn’t just any restaurant, this was a restaurant hailed by critics and customers alike, but there is something about set-price menus that makes me suspect the food won’t be up to scratch. However, I had nothing to fear at Tamarai.

The restaurant was relaxed and moodily lit. We ordered quickly, taking heed of the suggestions from the attentive waiters. My friend and I decided to share all the plates between us and I’m glad we did, as although the portion sizes were slight they were delicious, and it would have been criminal not to try everything that was served. Starters of tempura-style Thai vegetables and black and white sesame prawn toasts were devoured greedily, slung into homemade plum dipping sauce with wild, greedy abandon.

Without missing a beat and sensing our slight rush, the waiters slipped our plates away and presented us with our mains: crispy fish with a kaffir lime sauce and crispy basil, Duke of Berkshire pork belly, pork crackling and a hoisin onion sauce, and, because I’m a very lucky (and especially greedy) girl, we got to sample the Thai green chicken curry. The green curry in particular was a triumph. So many green curries these days are lacklustre and dull but this, however, was spicy, fresh and zingy, with great chunks of chicken and authentic Thai vegetables. Try as I might (I am a food critic) I could not fault it.

Okay, so not everyone loves Christmas like I do. I appreciate that there are two separate camps when it comes to everything festive. And I get it, there is plenty not to get excited about - the repetitive Christmas songs that pump out of every radio and shop speaker that get annoyingly, frustratingly, stuck in your head; the hordes of greedy, pushy people clamouring for the latest MP3 player, unaware that their elbows are all up in your face; the tacky Christmas specials that have been shown a million times before on every channel – but one thing I am sure of is that advocates of both camps will enjoy the food at Tamarai, regardless of whether or not you love the bright lights, the West End shows and that inescapable Christmas cheer, or whether you’re just a grumpy old Scrooge and proud of it.

To book this amazing offer, use the booking form below.

Monday, 12 December 2011

How Street Is Street Food?

By Arthur Browne
(Images courtesy of Ming Tang Evans)
London is one of the fastest cities in the world. Whether it’s lattes or broadband we’ve become accustomed to getting our hands on what we need in a flash. As a resident of our capital you become less and less accepting of waiting, drumming your fingers and tutting when someone faffs and fumbles at a cash machine.
Yet despite the advance of speed in a globalised era, perhaps the last bastion of British upper lip stiffness was our grub. Yes we saw the emergence of sandwiches grabbed on-the-go and there were manifold restaurants covering the four corners of the earth, but we held on gamely to the notion of sitting down with a knife and fork; from tucking in to a full English breakfast to silver service at an up-market Argentinean steakhouse. ‘Fast food’ came with the well-known negative connotations.
Encouraging news: these days there is no need to equate a traditional dining set-up with good food. The foodie cobwebs have been swept away and great nosh is available in a flash.
Fluid Londonistas will have noticed that there is an innovative force at work on the front line of this transformation. Its name is street food and its modus operandi is fresh, healthy ingredients at accessible prices available on (yep, you guessed it) the street, meaning lots of people get the opportunity to dig in.
Other countries have been good at it for ages: Pho (Vietnam) and Wahaca (Mexico) are just two entrepreneurial examples of bright sparks bringing this style of dining to London.
The enthusiasm for eating the ‘street’ way shows no sign of abating. Surveying the Fluid London inbox recently, it is easy to see the spirit of street food is everywhere: East Street does it for the entire East Asia front near Tottenham Court Road; Gyoza Otaku is a Japanese Gyoza pop-up at The White Horse in Hoxton; and Malaysia has also put in a strong showing thanks to modern Malaysian fusion at Jom Makan in the new Westfield Stratford Mall and the special pop-up street food menu at Suka at the Sanderson in the West End.

And while it may be so that Londoners have become more impatient in the twenty-first century, street food is about dining in informal and convivial seating arrangements (or doing the same in the office if you take away); a state of affairs which does more than enough to offset our grumpiness as we enjoy getting our fingers mucky together.
And I bring glad tidings: attending a preview at a new joint called KIN (pictured below) I can announce that the revolution has spread to Clerkenwell. This funky establishment, with a full glass frontage and plenty of attractive exposed brickwork, takes you on a foodie journey around Asia. The offerings here are going to really get your taste buds zinging. I loved the nuttiness of the peanut sauce on the juicy chicken satay and am already clearing space in my diary to go back for a fistful of the delicious hoisin duck spring rolls. I’m told they are a family recipe and that shines through in the flavour. The waiting staff were sensible enough to leave each table a pile of napkins to help us mop our way through the saucy extravaganza of flavours.

So is it time to call street food ‘street’? Unhappily, the adjective has yet to make waves in the world of dictionaries (actually, probably the real last bastion of British upper lip stiffness). Picking up a representative reference title all I could find looking up ‘street’ was “a public road in a city...typically with houses and buildings on one or both sides” – not much fashionable about that.
And then it clicked: ‘street’ is of course an abbreviation of ‘affording street credibility’ and the latter is defined as “acceptability among fashionable young urban people”. It was all coming together! Clerkenwell is crammed with fashionable young urban people and KIN has already begun to attract their attention thanks to treats including chicken katsu curry, pad thai and green curry, with vegetarian dishes such as soba noodles with vegetable tempura soon to follow.
So there you have it: street food most certainly is ‘street’ and its future in our metropolis looks very rosy. There’s an idea to spread among your KIN...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Worst Club In London To Take Your Boyfriend To?

By Sophie Marie Atkinson.

“Darling, are you sure you should be taking a video of that with your work Blackberry?”

Not exactly the words I thought I’d be uttering on a romantic night out with my other half. Only, this wasn’t the romantic night out that I had banked on when I first agreed to visit Supperclub in Notting Hill.

I imagined a ‘supperclub’ would be an intimate gathering with select individuals, good food and fine wine, not topless women galore, a gravity-defying professional hula-hooper, pole dancers who put my Body Pump-honed figure to absolute shame, and a woman covered in gaffer tape with music inexplicably playing out of her. Needless to say, my boyfriend was over the frickin’ moon.

Supperclub, the eclectic Dutch concept venue that arrived in London in 2009 via Amsterdam, LA, San Francisco and Istanbul, bills itself as a ‘feast for all the senses.’ And this it certainly is. I’m debating sending Fluid my partner’s physio bill for the whiplash he incurred turning his head every 30 seconds in an attempt to seek out the latest spectacle.

When I wasn’t chasing my boyfriend around the club like a parent with a five-year-old on a terrifyingly fast scooter, we reclined on the large sofa-beds, enjoyed the electro-house music pumping out of the speakers, and supped on complimentary cocktails and Champagne whilst admiring the Beautiful People around us.

The occasion was Supperclub’s 2nd anniversary and I got the feeling that this is truly a West London Place to be Seen™. The club, which looks like an aircraft hangar and contains, ironically, considering the debauchery that lurks inside, only the purest and whitest decor, is also famed for its fine dining experiences. While I wasn’t lucky enough to sample everything on this particular night, we did get to try a few of the delicate canapés (fish and chips in a cone are delicate, right?) handed to us by people dressed in white sheets with face paint to match; obviously.

As we left [read: as I dragged my boyfriend, kicking and screaming, out the door so we could make the last tube home] the co-owners of Supperclub were onstage dancing in orange boilersuits. Which pretty much sums up the night: totally bizarre. If only it hadn’t been a school night. Not that this seemed to be deterring the West London revellers that we left behind.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A Sumptuously Private Privé; Thanks Dita

By Alwynne Gwilt.

I showed up in pearls. Black dress, pearls and a pair of brown crocodile pumps. I wanted to be brandishing a cigarette holder and wearing a big fur coat too, but I hadn't had a chance to go hunting (for one in a vintage shop, of course).

As soon as I heard about the exclusive pop-up Cointreau Privé on Piccadilly at the Pigalle Club - launched by the incredibly fabulous Dita Von Teese recently - I couldn't wait to go.

The pop-up will last only a brief three weeks, hidden below ground, away from Christmas shopping hoards and tourists. It is entrance by wristband only (gained by going to the Cointreau Privé) and all elements of the set-up have been duly overseen by the burlesque queen herself (Von Teese will also be performing once more during the pop-up and a host of other guests will carry on the burlesque tradition other nights).

I wandered down, down, down the stairs and into the heart of it all. Red, sexy red, splashed colour everywhere: red fez lanterns, red walls, red drapes. Hot jazz played across the speakers, candles flickered their sensuous dance and big brass pots housed fake palms. It was a boudoir to beat all boudoirs and I wanted to snuggle up for hours in its splendour.

The thing is, I love the 1920s. And the 1930s. With their garish charm, free-wheeling sexuality, sumptuous dining and never ending drinking, these decades represent to me what I wish could be replicated now. No iPhones, no distracting pop-idol shows, no boob tube or monotonous conversations about "celebrities" emerging from gutters of Essex, just jazz, glorious jazz; and men with slicked back hair, wearing tuxes, because they can, and women in furs and red lipstick, daring to cut their hair short, fearing no repercussions for dancing all night.

OK, so logically this was not the same story for everyone. Most of the US was in a state of abject poverty (more than today even) and gangsters ran the cities. But, still, I can't help getting a little glassy eyed about the idea of it all.

This speakeasy brings it all back. The only problem is that it's in England. Not to sound too down but, as I sat down and felt duly dressed up for the night, I looked around the room with dismay, wishing I were in Paris. If it were Paris, I thought, it would be all sex and mystique; people would have made an effort. Here it was mostly trainers, jeans and baggy tops. There were a few elegantly presented ladies and gents, tucked away in corners, sipping on glorious cocktails and donning sexy heels (well, the ladies at least) but I wanted there to be more; I wanted to go back to the days of dancing and glory and celebrate our freedom.

But, at least the venue had it right. It was, as my plus one suggested, "the kind of place I want to come to for the whole evening, where I can smoke and drink, get merry and stumble home without having to get up too early because I have only to carry on writing my novel".

So, dreams abounded for us both. As we sipped our cocktails - mine a dry vermouth, elderflower, Cointreau (obviously) and violet concoction; his a bitter lemon and Cointreau mix - and sat back to take in the splendour, we were both lost, transported to another era. And maybe that is what is should be all about.

The Cointreau Prive pop-up is located at 215 Piccadilly at the Pigalle Club and is open only until the 17th December. To get wristbands for entrance to the venue and details on who is performing when, register at the Cointreau Privé website.

To find more burlesque bars and clubs in London, follow this link

Friday, 9 December 2011

Get Me To The Olympic Greek! Please!

By Naheen Madarbarkus.

London is buzzing. The Olympics are just around the corner so it was only right to check out why so much time, money and investment have been placed into east London.

As I get off the train, the newly built platform and bridge at Stratford station glistens in the reflection of the Christmas lights surrounding the huge red neon ‘Westfield’ sign. Some might say it’s a waste of electricity but I’ll say it’s pretty.

This monster of a shopping centre boasts over 300 shops, 70 restaurants and a surrounding complex of, well, half built stuff, for the moment. At the main entrance is the bus shelter, complete with hoardings and diversion signs. To the left of it stands the eye-catching structures of the Olympic stadium, the swimming pool, and the bridge which is dwarfed in size when standing on it.

Then there’s the shopping centre; a damn sight more exciting than the borough that stands beneath it. It’s a bustling Thursday night and Xmas shopping is in full throttle, despite being weeks away from the big day. I’m not here to drop into Monsoon or to have a go at 02 for not having an Iphone 4S. I’m in search of a restaurant. And I’m late.

The problem with this place: it’s huge and stands in its own glory of modern architecture, and its ‘newness’ smells, but it’s so just-been-finished that Google doesn’t even recognise its postcodes on its maps.

In search of the newly-launched Real Greek, I walk around the shopping centre once. The invitation clearly states that it is located OUTSIDE the shopping centre. I walk west, I walk north, I walk into the foyer of the Theatre Royal. “No restaurants here” says the helpful front of house lady, “but we do have a nice cafe”. Nice as that thought is, not tonight my dear.

I walk back again toward the station and head past the bus station, wanting to try my luck at the magistrate’s court. There’s absolutely nothing happening here and even the one pub that stands across from Stratford Centre has people filing out of it.

I’m close to getting the train back home now when the fiancé has an idea. We’ll ask at the train station. Of course! Time to test the Olympic knowledge of the security guards. In our best enquiry voice, we ask “Where is Chestnut Plaza?”

Apparently, the Mecca of Westfield restaurants had been within a sniff. The area that needs a Narnia wardrobe to get in to was close to the shopping centre after all. Said security guard gestures toward the huge M&S sign towering over the station and says “walk behind there”. Convinced that we had been there before, we make a last dash attempt to find this place.

Finding ourselves at ground level again, cabbies slow down while passing us by, eagerly waiting to help the lost. We keep walking alongside the swimming pool (we’re back here again) and we see some glittery lights. There’s a pub, there’s a restaurant and low and behold, we’ve found The Real Greek. I’ve never been so happy to see a restaurant in my life.

The Real Greek is amidst celebrations when we arrive with the dining room abuzz and the owners cracking open the Champagne. This is the 7th restaurant to open in 13 years and people are queuing to get in. The beer is in full flow and traditional dishes are brought out to sample the olives, the feta and the flat bread that the Greeks are famed for.
Although we haven’t quite reached plate-breaking momentum just yet (it’s a launch party after all), it’s still a party that I wished I hadn’t missed. With the fast moving hub of the shopping centre left inside, the surroundings of The Real Greek are the perfect place to rest those feet and have a bite, especially after getting lost in the new Olympic city of E20.
To book a table at the new Real Greek in Westfield Stratford Mall (because you will need to book, it’s that popular; especially during the Christmas shopping period) use this handy booking form. And make sure you locate the restaurant well ahead of time!