Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Easter, Mad Hatter Afternoon Tea & The Secret Service

Fluid London journalist, By Claire Roberts, takes a peak around The Royal Horseguards Hotel in Central London.

An insider tip for all tea and cake lovers in the Embankment area; be clever and avoid walking up towards The Strand. Instead veer left for five minutes along the river to the Royal Horseguards Hotel at 2 Whitehall Court. Nestled in between the safety of the Ministry of Defence on one side and Scotland Yard on the other, this delicious piece of London history, once HQ to the Secret Service during WWI, now takes the form of an award winning and recently refurbished five star hotel.

As well as providing sumptuous rooms, the hotel staff clearly see the value of a good cake to add a touch of pleasure to political proceedings and being a member of the Tea Guild, as well as a winner in their Top London Afternoon Tea awards in 2012, the value of a decent cup of tea too. The hotel introduced their increasingly popular afternoon teas three years ago and I go along to try their Easter 2013 Mad Hatters afternoon tea.

No hats are needed as they’re provided in the form of hat cakes with cappuccino flavoured white chocolate cups sitting neatly on top. The hotel’s brilliant patissieres have made some crumbly biscuit jam tarts, with hearts and white rabbit coconut cakes, and perky flaked almond ears, all waiting to be devoured. I could have tea but I have champagne instead. I like a bit of fizz and it goes brilliantly with the cakes.

We leave the cakes and the cellar bar for a nosy look around the hotel. Despite its looming Victorian presence, the hotel  has a very  detectable warmth and club-like intimacy. I swear I can hear the hushed conversations of old residents, many of which peer down at me from their portraits lining the staircases and corridors Harry Potter style.

The library is gothically enticing, the large outside terrace overlooking the Thames is perfect for afternoon tea when the weather is warm and for something more substantial, the hotel’s restaurant, One Twenty One Two, has been awarded two AA rosettes.

Back in the cellar bar, I eat the mini sandwiches but avoid the ‘Eat me’ passion fizz cake or the ‘Drink me’ fruit shot in its innocent looking glass dome. They looked delicious but being a fantasist, I decide not to indulge. Who knows? I might shrink or become a giant. Alice in Wonderland plus ex-Secret Service: I’m not risking it. One small comfort; this warren like hotel with its vast stairwells, rooms, nooks, crannies and secret tunnels provides the perfect escape route for any Alice in Wonderland misadventure. Don’t know how to get out? Ask the staff; they’re brilliantly charming and delightful, as was the Afternoon Tea.

To book the Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea, use the reservation calendar below.

Monday, 25 March 2013

The Bars That Serve London’s Strangest Cocktails

Looking for cocktails with more than just a twist? Sophie Marie Atkinson puts her taste buds (and liver) at risk by sampling some of the strangest cocktails in London.

Old Street's speakeasy bar, The Nightjar, was the subject of much cocktail controversy last year when it was raided for serving drinks made with whale skin. Eek! Their more recent offerings have caused less wrist-slapping but are still delicious and quirky in equal measures.

Bizarre ingredients include Old Tom clotted cream and umami foam in the Baltimore Eggnog cocktail; banana blossom, coconut yoghurt and plantain foam in the Sweet Dreams cocktail; and gooseberry jam, agave and Tokaji sweet wine in Hug A Wildcat cocktail.

In need of a pick-me-up? Try the Waldorf Gloom Lifter, an eclectic mix of deliciously smooth Auchentoshan 3-Wood Scotch Whisky, Vsop Armagnac, Nightjar Grenadine and, erm, Beeswax.

Most of the cocktails offered up at this bar are fairly spectacular in terms of presentation, but none so much as The Pot and Ketel, which serves up delectable Ketel One Vodka - along with hops bitters, Dutch flowers and juniper berries - in a gorgeous, hand-crafted copper kettle filled with liquid nitrogen, for added mystique.

If quirky presentation is a major factor when picking a beverage, try Barts bar in Chelsea, where booze – including cocktails named Tallulah’s Tipple and the Absinthe-Minded – is supped from teacups, Prohibition style.

Meanwhile The Shop bar in Kensal Rise houses its cocktails in jam jars and milk bottles. The Jager-Bombs are even delivered in marmite jars.

Another venue cashing in on the Prohibition craze, Evans and Peel Detective Agency, lovingly serves up some exceptional drink creations, such as maple bacon and tobacco-infused bourbon, and Tanqueray gin delicately flavoured with lavender and Earl Grey. Oh, and the ale is served through an antique radiator. Tres cool.

A lot less subtle is The London Cocktail Club, which offers up the Squid Ink Sour cocktail – tequila, lime, agave syrup, egg white and squid ink - and the must-taste-better-than-it-sounds Bacon, Egg and Fries cocktail – mostly made up of Jack Daniels infused with smoked bacon, egg white and maple syrup. The Oyster Bomb, the bar’s take on the infamous Jäger Bomb, comprises Jagermeister and Red Bull jelly served in a boiled oyster shell on a martini glass bed of crushed ice (served with Tabasco and lemon, natch).

Less in-your-face mental, and more of weird and wonderful, can be found at 69 Colebrook Road bar in Angel (home of the cocktail God, Tony Conigliaro, above). Try the Terroir – distilled clay, flint and lichen served straight from the bottle - or the Barbershop Fizz cocktail - pine infused Beefeater gin served with birch and vanilla syrup and Patchouli infused mint. Their classier-than-thou take on a Bloody Mary cocktail contains horseradish vodka and homemade pepper sauce; while the Apple and Hay Bellini cocktail comprises apple puree and a hint of hay topped with prosecco.

Want to forget your woes (and everything else that happens that night)? Head to The Absinthe Bar in the Brompton Bar and Grill where you can sample an array of modern day, absinthe-infused cocktails – from the Absinthe Caipirihna to Death in the Afternoon (champagne and absinthe) – the surefire way to end your night with a bang (crash, and wollop?).

Friday, 22 March 2013

Playboy Bunnies, Superman & The Art In London’s Food & Drink

Fluid London journalist, Jon Falcone, discovers that some of London’s bars, restaurants and clubs have a keen interest in the world of art. 

Whilst a good many people will be regulars at the recently re-imagined Playboy Club in Mayfair; many more people are not.
The opportunity to take a peek inside this bastion of glamour and bon vivre is too good to resist, add to that the fact that there’s an exhibition of Paul Mellia’s hyper real paintings on show, and you’ve all the ingredients for a party of potentially epic proportions.

So what’s the Playboy Club like? Well, there is public access to the exhibition (before 9pm, then it becomes members only) and the bar is a large, relaxed space with comfy over-sized couches and jet-black walls with large splashes of soft purple and ice blue lighting.
Traverse the bar area and there’s a secluded restaurant, roulette and black jack tables and an outside terrace. It’s stylish without being pretentious and glamorous without being garish. It’s like a Vegas casino toned down to fit into London’s less audacious environment.
Then there’s Mellia’s art, as one of the very few artists globally who is allowed to replicate and sell images of Marvel comic characters, his work is part homage to iconoclasm and part contortion of the same culture.

A huge canvass of The Joker, eyes rabid, with the term ‘Ka Pow’ painted around him dwarfs one wall, whilst a blurred motion shot of Michael Jackson adorns another, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse in oversize control another. The prices range from £1,000 for a print to £15,000 to a full print. Okay, the wife and I have some money from our recent wedding; but I’d feel guilty if I blew it on a piece without her consent.

And, of course, there’s the food, the drink and the Playboy bunnies. The bunnies maintain that famous pairing of graceful beauty and approachability, the champagne cocktails are punchy and the canapés - prawn lollipops with spicy chili mayonnaise; king-size prawns and mini Yorkshire puddings with roast beef - are knockout. All in all, the Playboy Club certainly knows how to put on a gallery viewing, especially when they adorn the walls in current day hyper pop art.
In tribute to an evening of artful indulgence, here’s a brief look at some of London’s bars and restaurants where the walls are as important as the plates and the pints.

Quaglino’s restaurant in St James

A beautiful art-deco restaurant and brasserie-bar, Quaglino’s has been around as long as London has been swinging. With a menu that’s famed for its shellfish and walls that are blessed with regular photography exhibitions such as Gered Mankowitz’s recent ‘Rock’n’Roll’ work, Quaglino’s offers sensations across the senses.

Quaglino’s also offers theatre menus, an excellent value lunch bar menu and other offers, such as a current Royal Academy tie in where a two course meal, glass of house wine and entrance to the Manet exhibition is only £32.50. Book this offer below.

Hix restaurant in Soho

Restaurateur Mark Hix opened this literal art gallery-cum-kitchen in 2009. It won the Time Out 2010 best new restaurant accolade and has been an institution ever since for it’s high-art mobiles that include a Damien Hirst, suspended from the ceiling over the bar (the same artist was commissioned to create the cow and cockerel at Hix’s east London restaurant, Tramshed).

There are theatre menu offers, as the restaurant is located close to theatreland, but having ordered them twice, I was once made to feel like I’d rather the earth swallow me for doing so, so be prepared: pretence may potentially play a part. Downstairs is a more relaxed cocktail bar that’s as comforting as it is classy.

Graphic cocktail bar in Soho

In the otherwise gentile media hub of Golden Square, Graphic cocktail bar not only offers London’s largest gin selection (180 gins) but it also overhauls it’s décor every three months, allowing up and coming urban artists the chance to literally turn the walls into art.

Whilst style is paramount at Graphic, it’s mixed with fun. Cocktails come in paint tins, with different colours meaning different concoctions - red is Beefeater gin, Briottet mixed berry liqueurs, fresh lemon juice, Angostura bitters, cranberry juice, for example - and they’re reasonably priced £7.75 a pop. The make-your-own-sliders (three for £10.50) are as tasty as they are playful too. Graphic does get absolutely rammed at the weekends, so an off-peak visit is in order if you want to be able to eat in comfort and appreciate the works of art on the walls.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Mr Mumbles’ Doodle Club: Where Drinking & Tattoo Design Collide

Our tattooed reporter, Laura Collins, discovers Doodle Club’s tattoo night.

Tattoos and alcohol don’t mix. Everybody knows that, right? We’ve all heard the horror stories about somebody getting plastered, demanding a tattoo and then waking up to find an awful, misspelt, drunken decision permanently etched into their skin. I’ve seen the result of one of these horror stories myself, and it wasn’t pretty.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love tattoos. I even have a couple myself (just don’t tell my mum). But when I think about mixing tattoos with alcohol I can’t help but flinch. So when I heard about a tattoo drawing night held in Drink, Shop, Do bar, a quirky shop-cum-bar on on Caledonian Road near King’s Cross, I was slightly alarmed. The idea of it presented terrible drunken tattoo scenes in my head that were so terrible that my inner voyeur forced me to go along to see what it was all about.

As I walked into the Drink, Shop, Do bar I was relieved, if a little disappointed, to discover there were no tattoo needles in sight. There were only pots of pens and bits of paper dotted across the tables. It seemed there were to be no drunken tattoo mistakes occurring, except the ones that happened on paper. That’s because the tattoo drawing night was an event put on by Doodle Club; a concept that combines drinks, people and, well, doodling.

Doodle Club is the brain child of a man who goes by the name of Mr Mumbles. When asked his real name he replied with ‘Dixie’. He wore a waistcoat, tie and wacky glasses, and at times he spoke in an odd voice. You get the picture. He is an eccentric character, but a loveable one. And this façade goes hand in hand with Doodle Club.

The themed event happens once a month and allows people the chance to relax, have a few drinks and take their mind off everyday life by mindlessly doodling the night away. And it works, even for someone like me who has the drawing abilities of a fish.

There’s something quite therapeutic about sipping on a cocktail while drawing something stupid, in this instance penning tattoos of cartoon people. Mr Mumbles prepares the base pictures in advance, apparently while sat at his kitchen table, and everybody else doodles on top of them. I was lucky enough to get a picture of a fat man’s backside, upon which I had to doodle some tattoos. My friend was less lucky: he got a penis! But I was still relatively impressed with our efforts. It seems tattoos and alcohol actually do mix after all!

Once the doodle is complete it is hung on the wall for all to see. And then you can take another piece of paper and start all over again. It’s like playgroup for adults and, if the smiles around the room were anything to go by, it’s a big hit. What’s more, Mr Mumbles acts as DJ throughout the night so there are tunes to doodle to.

The next Doodle Club takes place at Drink, Shop, Do bar on Thursday 18 April. Rumour has it the theme may have something to do with reality TV and soaps, so start looking to Simon Cowell and Phil Mitchell for inspiration.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A Gin For All Seasons

The London South Bank’s stylish steakhouse and bar, Gillray’s, celebrates one of Britain’s spirited institutions, by Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

Something terrible happened to me this year. After a month and a half with a raging cold I was left with a red raw, Kleenex- wiped nose and a lost appetite for my favourite alcoholic spirit of all time: gin.

I know, how could I say that?! Believe me it hurts me more to type this confession than it is for you to read it. In the words of Vizzini, from one of my favourite films of the 1980’s, The Princess Bride, but for me to lose my taste in gin was “INCONCEIVABLE!”

Try as I might, I just could not stand the thought of drinking anything alcoholic. When out with my friends in various watering holes I became the “lime and soda drinker”, AKA: the loser. My envy towards my friends with their colourful cocktails with colourful names was greener than the lime slice at the bottom of my glass.

BUT, as a true Fluidite/Fluidion (basically someone who writes for Fluid London) I was determined to buck up and prepare to fall off the gin wagon again. What better way to do so than at the Gillray’s ‘Gin of the Month’ evening with Hoxton Gin!

There are 39 English gins to choose from at Gillray’s bar, located at the London Marriott Hotel on Westminster Bridge Road. Head bartender, Carlos Dos Santos plans to include more English gins to the shelves.

The venue also offers a quintessentially English dining experience. The food and drink - from beef and cheese, to still and sparkling wines - are produced in England. The interior design is eccentric and charming – much like the English - and it’s a delightful space to sip a gin cocktail while overlooking the River Thames, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Gillray’s is hoping to host an informal but educational evening of gin cocktail tasting and mixology each month. February’s masterclass was hosted by mixologist, Jon Calabrese from Hoxton Gin (pictured above in the camel coloured suit).

Jon is your typical cheeky, charming chap from the East End of London, with Italian blood flowing through his veins. He’s handsome, has a Shoreditch sense of style and has the knowledge of the family business that would make his father, Salvatore, and brother Gerry, proud.

Hoxton Gin is distilled with exotic tones including coconut, grapefruit, juniper, iris, tarragon and ginger. This gin combines the distinctive British heritage alongside an edgy style and opens up a whole new world of drinking and cocktail possibilities, such as the below ‘Hoxton Gin cocktails for every season’.

A gin cocktail for Spring: Garden Spring Collins
50ml Hoxton Gin
20ml lemon juice
20ml elderflower
15ml rhubarb puree
10ml sugar
Top with soda
Shake. Cubed ice. Garnish with lemon wedge, mint sprig and straw. Serve in highball glass.

A gin cocktail for Summer: Hoxton Clover
50ml Hoxton Gin
3 raspberries
10ml dry vermouth
20ml lemon juice
20ml sugar
10ml egg white
Served straight up with a raspberry floating on top. Serve in a coupette glass.

A gin cocktail for Autumn: English Daiquiri
50ml Hoxton Gin
20ml lemon juice
20ml crème de cacao
Dash sugar
Shaken, fine straight. Serve straight up in a coupette glass.

A gin cocktail for Winter: Sour Shakedown
40ml Hoxton Gin
4 blueberries
piece of ginger
20ml lemon juice
20ml apple juice
15ml honey syrup
dash of egg white
Dry shake. Shake on ice. Garnish with mint sprig and a blueberries stick. Serve on the rocks.

As Big Ben struck 9pm, my head was positively gin-addled and filled with the knowledge that gin, at least Hoxton gin, is a versatile spirit that can be enjoyed all year round. Even the food was infused with the spirit: gin-cured salmon and juniper crusted Angus fillet provided by Head chef, Gareth Bowen, and his team.

I fell in love with gin again that night. A lime and soda is all very well and sensible, but a relationship can only survive if it has the spirit to keep it alive. For me, that spirit will always be gin.

Four other London gin-stitutes you need to know about:

Portobello Ginstitute Here’s your chance to blend your very own gin in this laboratory above the Portobello Star pub. Gin Bartender, Jake Burger (above) instructs the class on the methods of creating a gin blend. The man has even made his own, the slightly spicy Portobello Road No.171 London Dry.
Sipsmiths Sipsmith boys, Stamford (Sam) Galsworthy, Fairfax Hall and Jared Brown are the pioneers of microdistilling. Sipsmith established the first new copper-based distillery in London for 200 years in 2009. The copper pot, named “Prudence”, produces powerful artisan gin with a palate of citrus, juniper and coriander. Distillery tours are run on Wednesdays from 6.30pm (£12).

Sacred Ian Hart makes this gin in his very own house, located on Talbot Road. The gin has herbal hints of nutmeg and frankincense and is available to buy in Selfridges or Dukes Bar. Tours are arranged by special request only.
City of London Distillery Every day from the hours of 10am to 4pm gin lovers can witness first-hand how gin is made. The tailor-made masterclasses include tours of the distillery. Those who know the gin-making process already are more than welcome to prop themselves by the bar and start drinking.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Which is better: LDN or NYC?

A brief look at the stats and info that make London and New York both great (thanks to Expedia). But obviously London is better.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Sober in London: 10 Forms Of Distraction When Teetotal At The Bar

Beating the temptation of alcohol is all about finding the right diversion at a bar, by Christian Rose-Day.

It’s now March and my attempt to stay entirely sober until after the London Marathon in late April is becoming increasingly more cumbersome as Spring begins to douse every pub beer garden and alfresco roof terrace in glorious sunshine. My love for mocktails is already waning and I am starting to resent fruit.

Distraction is the key to staying dry; keep the mind occupied and it wont have time to ponder the importance of a gin and tonic or the power of a pint of craft ale [easy Christian, stay with us!]. No easy task to complete when the possibility of hanging with one’s mates down the local pub or in a central London cocktail bar is highly likely. Having almost completed the entire first series of Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards drama on Netflix, I am now putting the task of keeping me entertained (non-alcoholically) and distracted in the hands of London bars instead.
Sexy Ladies Take Their Clothes Off
Sex, food, and generally having a bit of a laugh are, for me, probably the top 3 forms of distraction when consumed by the idea of drinking alcohol. So slamming all three together into one nifty basement restaurant is just nipple-tassel-tastic. I’ve been to Volupte in The City before, where I witnessed the best burlesque act I’ve ever seen: a lady called Ginger Blush who was half sultry, sexy goddess with a perfect 10 body and a mane of red hair, and half slapstick comedienne who had me choking on my afternoon tea finger sandwiches with laughter.
A Bizet In My Soup
If, like me, you’re more of a Classic FM than a Radio 3 opera fan, then you’ll want the greatest hits, not the complete works of some obscure Hungarian composer you’ve never even heard of. Enjoying oneself does not require the consumption of alcoholic beverages when visiting Bel Canto restaurant near Lancaster Gate because the distraction for the evening is live opera, as sung by the professionally trained waiting staff who will, after serving the food, suddenly break into all those Donizetti and Mozart tunes you love, and even that one off of the British Airways ad. Teetotalers be warned though; when they start singing Verdi’s ‘Drinking Song’ from La Traviata (you know the one, it goes like this) glasses of Prosecco are handed round and you’re encouraged to join in. Time your trip to loo wisely therefore.
A Load Of Old Boules
The French bar, Baranis, in The City of London allegedly has the only indoor petanque court in a bar in the UK. Chalk your name on the board and let’s get playing then.
In Need Of A Wii
Jetlag sports bar in Fitzrovia is an easy stroll from Great Portland and Warren Street tube stations and primarily acts as a central London bar for live Sky Sports action whenever I’m in need of some Champions League football, 6 Nations rugby or Formula 1 action. However, the addition of Mario Kart et al on the Nintendo Wii, beamed through a huge HD cinema screen, means I can hang with my buddies and not get rat-arsed in the process. It doesn’t help my cause that Jetlag gives 6 bottles of Helles Lager and Tavern Ales away for £15 though. Gah! Click here for more info.

Sit, Or Stand, And Spin
Actually, if you want to get technical, the game of fussball usually comes with a ‘no spinning allowed’ rule, but Bar Kick’s relaxed level of table football is hardly bothered, unless you fancy your chances in one of the monthly tournaments. Again, a great bar for footie fans (drinking or not drinking) what with 3D matches being screened downstairs each week.
The Wing Of Fire
Being a professional restaurant critic, I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a demon eater. Ever since I won a sausage eating competition in North London years ago, I’ve always assumed I was unbeatable at speed eating. And then I took part in The Exhibit’s chicken wing eating competition in which (I believe the term is) I got served (my woeful attempts can be seen in the video above). Teams of two consume a basket of chicken wings whilst the clock is ticking. The quickest teams go through the next round. By the end of the four rounds, if you and your teammate are still alive, you’ll have eaten your way through 40 chicken wings, some of which may have been doused in Extra Hot Ring Of Fire sauce. If you win, you can claim a £30 voucher. Next competition: Thursday 4th April 8pm; £10 per team of two; enter using this booking form.
Catch A Classic
The Gorringe pub in Tooting has recently had the mother of all refurbishments and is a delightful hub of evening entertainment for many of south Londoners drinkers and non-drinkers. Notably for the latter, however, is the new basement cinema which screens movies for free every once in a while. Expect to see cult movie classics like Breakfast At Tiffany's and Bladerunner, alongside recent big screen award winners like James Bond’s Skyfall. To keep up to date with what’s being shown, check out their Facebook page.
Wiff Waff Ping Pong
Table tennis is making a comeback, and, taking lead from The Book Club, two bars opened last year in London with the specific intention of providing non-drinkers (and drinkers alike) with a bat, a ball and a table. See Bounce bar in The City and Ping bar in Earls Court.

Play with Clay, Pimp My Shoes and Construct Lego Robots
Knitting is not the only playtime diversion at Drink Shop Do bar in King’s Cross and there are a multitude of non-alcoholic fun things to do at the bar. Deciding which one to do first is probably the most difficult task.

Gone Swinging
Monday is such a boring, onerous task of a day; unless you look towards the light and go swinging, that is. Kicking the week off with a bang is Swing at The Light, a simultaneous dual swing dance class upstairs at the aforementioned bar in The City teaching Balboa and Lindy Hop. Beginners start at 7.30pm, brave intermediates at 8.20pm. Classes are £8 each, and from 9pm there’s a club night so you can show of your new talent on the dancefloor. Vintage-retro attire will be appreciated.

If the above distractions fail to inspire my sobriety to last until at least the end of the week, I might instead just seek solace in tranquility and meditation by staring at the exotic fish in the aquarium at The Rainforest Cafe whilst sipping on a MOCKTAIL.