1 August 2014

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Make It a Date - Seasonal Drinking in London


With so many possibilities to choose from, Keith Barker-Main suggests planning your 2010 drinking diary around a selection of London watering holes guaranteed to provide a cup of cheer whatever the season

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As Christmas trees languish unloved in gutters, bargainistas hit the sales. Most department stores offer an array of eating and drinking opportunities but, ever the innovator, Selfridges was first to offer the joys of the Enomatic dispense system at its chic Wonder Bar (www.selfridges.com). This clever ‘wine jukebox’ allows you to sample anything from vins de pays to pricey clarets using a pre-pay card. Over at Harrods in Knightsbridge, put a spring back into tired feet at The Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar (see index), where a flute of Yellow Label and modish snacks cost around £30. Sharp men’s whistles, all things crustacean and a glass of Kentish Balfour Brut Rosé at Liberty’s Champagne & Oyster Bar (see index), meanwhile, are reason to explore the
iconic store’s basement.

February :

As a pianist segues into ‘My Funny Valentine’, treat yours to a Champagne afternoon tea at the recently renovated Palm Court, The Langham hotel’s pretty, but curiously palm-free, inner sanctum (http://london.langhamhotels.co.uk). For around £45, this afternoon delight includes pukka finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones, cakes and fancies served on traditional metal stands. With more than 30 teas and 40 Champagnes to sample, you should allow a few hours for the experience! You’ll also find a range of Champagnes on the teatime menu at Brown’s Hotel, along with strawberries and cream. The chic updated Victorian salon at this once tweedy Mayfair hotel hosts the best afternoon tea in town, as voted by The Tea Guild in 2009 (www.brownshotel.com).


Mad March hares should head to Shoreditch to sample the Alice In Wonderland vibe of Callooh Callay (see index). A walk-in vintage armoire is a portal to a fantasy world wherein rolltop baths double as divans and cocktails are magical: try Mad Hatter’s tiki punchbowl served in an old gramophone. Equally fairytale-like is Loungelover (see index), a converted East End meatpacking factory transformed by the Les Trois Garçons team into a postmodern old curiosity shop. Invest in its Ketel One Citron and lychee-based rock candy then finish off your Shoreditch soirée over a nightcap at The Commercial Tavern (see index), where madcap decor, quaint staff and fascinating punters just get curiouser and curiouser the longer you linger. 


Forget the chocolate eggs and try something more egg-citing this Easter. Ace Café (www.ace-cafe-london.com), an art deco icon on the North Circular, hosts classic car and bike meets where acres of Kennedy-era chrome and swooping Cadillac fins are the things as James Dean tributes chug beer in a Grease-era diner to live rock ’n’ roll bands. Ace! An exquisite Victorian hamam, The Bathhouse (see index) off Bishopsgate now hosts regular club nights and cabaret. Sip English rose cocktails (£8.50) and thrill to exotic striptease and steamy burlesque. More outrageous still is Dalston Superstore (see index), queen of the gay/mixed alternative east London scene, whose party nights are full-on affairs. Sink £6 caipirinhas and Cosmopolitans for Dutch courage in the main bar before hitting the basement disco where outlandish characters whoop it up until late.


London’s parks are looking bloomin’ lovely and Serpentine Bar & Kitchen (see index) is the perfect place to sip cucumber mojitos and Pimm’s at £7.50 – fantastic views across the lake are free. Greenies will appreciate the Mile End Ecology Park, but be sure to have a butcher’s (hook, look – it’s cockney rhyming slang) at The Palm Tree nearby (no website; 020 8980 2918). A fascinating pre-war time warp that features a weekly singalong, you half expect Peggy Mitchell to pull your pint of Deuchars. Service can be brusque and conversation salty, which is all par for the course in any authentic East End boozer. Alternatively, promenade your pooch under Battersea Park’s May blossom then head for doggy-friendly grub-pub The Prince Albert (www.geronimo-inns.co.uk/theprincealbert). A chic courtyard is the place to eat English fare with punchy pilsners or classy Simonnet-Febvre Chablis – the first swallow of summer?

seasonal drinks4 - Cheese_close_up.jpgJune:

Light summer nights are made for strolling the Thames. At Putney Bridge, assemble fine cheese platters from the Star & Garter’s walk-in fromagerie (see index). The converted gin palace serves 40 wines by the glass and its picture windows afford peerless views of Olympic hopefuls sculling on the river. Follow the towpath and cross Hammersmith Bridge where The Dove (see index), with its raised terrace, is one of several pretty waterside pubs. Its snug, at 127cm by 238cm, is the smallest in Britain and a wall-hanging details stars from Boris Karloff to Ingrid Bergman who have supped within. Continue by way of Chiswick’s grand riverside houses to The Bull’s Head at Strand-on-the-Green (no website; 020 8994 1204). A creaking, higgledy-piggledy Cask Marque-accredited veteran with six regularly changing ales, it once counted Oliver Cromwell as a regular.


Will a Scot win Wimbledon or England the World Cup? Bar Kick (see index) in Shoreditch not only screens all the summer’s sporting action, it also offers an array of Euro beers and vintage babyfoot tables at which to replay the inevitable Germany v England penalty shoot-out. Meanwhile, down in Clapham, armchair Linekers will appreciate ex-music hall The Grand’s sports screen – at 40 sq m, Britain’s largest, apparently (www.claphamgrand.com). Entry is free, with all of England’s matches shown live from South Africa – best to drop in for a group stage fixture... just in case?

‘Dr Johnson would be amazed to find women sipping whisky Macs in the dark snug at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – they were barred in the 1700s’

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Abandon the hot streets and chill on a roof! City slicker Coq d’Argent (see index) boasts a stunning formal garden with arboretum and outdoor bar. Laze on lawns (picnic blankets provided) overlooking the iconic Gherkin and sink jugs of Pimm’s or grapefruit and lavender Cosmopolitan at £8.95. The view of Trafalgar Square from The Trafalgar Roof Gardens at Rockwell (see index) is no less dramatic. Grab a lounger and (weather permitting) enjoy ice-cold lager, wines and Champagne served with fresh berries at this smart, secret hideaway. Or go online and get on the guest-list for Ibiza-style parties at Brixton’s Dex (www.princeanddex.com) whose art deco roof terrace comes complete with a hot tub and Bedouin-style smoking tent. Bacardi mojitos (£6.50) keep the party animals minty fresh.


Stay in summer holiday mode at a back-in-fashion wine bar. Drink to the Dordogne in Smithfield’s upmarket Cellar Gascon (see index) where gutsy Cahors, foie gras-friendly Monbazillacs and similar superior quaffs from down Aquitaine way are served with tapas-sized regional cuisine. In Charing Cross, London’s oldest and most atmospheric family-owned wine vault, Gordon’s Wine Bar (see index), is high on late Victorian charm. Its romantic, candlelit, arched cellar is the place to reminisce about lazy lunches by the Med. Try tiptop Tempranillo and saucy Sicilian Nero d’Avola at under £20 a bottle with a range of comfort food served buffet style.


As the evenings grow chilly, cultivate a warm glow at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (see index), the ancient Fleet Street tavern beloved of Dr Samuel Johnson. The scholarly wordsmith would be amazed to find women – they were barred during the 1700s – sipping whisky Macs (Scotch and green ginger wine) by the fire in the dark, Sweeney Todd-style snug. As charming, if not as old (it only dates back to the 1800s), is The Windsor Castle in Kensington (see index), with its ramshackle partitioned oak saloons and fires flickering in its grates. Round off a stroll on Hampstead Heath at The Freemasons Arms (www.freemasonsarms.co.uk), a blueprint for how trad Victorian inns should be updated. There’s reasonably priced food, fine wines, well-kept ale and yes, two fires.


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Celebrate Día de los Muertos, the Mexican festival commemorating the spirits of our dear departed, with premium spirits at hip Shoreditch DJ late bar Green & Red (see index). More than 200 reposados, blancos and extra añejo (matured) Tequilas include Partida Elegante at £70... a glass! Margaritas (£6.50) are a house speciality and they also feature heavily at Crazy Homies (see index), Tom Conran’s tiny taqueria in Notting Hill. Fill up on sharing platters of Latino street-food (£37) and micheladas (as in mi chela helada – ‘my ice-cold beer’), a Sol and lime juice combo with a chilli kick that’s served in a salt-rimmed glass. Meanwhile, Mestizo (see index) is an amigo worth knowing in Euston. Thursday finds Latino expats convening in its basement bar for bargain antojitos (Mexican tapas) and Coronas served with a side of gringo music.


Bah humbug! Ditch the Santa set for a seriously grown-up bar. The Dickensian pose of Upstairs at Rules (see index) may be faux – the current lounge dates to 2008 – but the cocktails at London’s oldest restaurant are the real deal. Perfect for the season is a smokey one – Plymouth gin, an Isle of Jura malt rinse and flamed orange peel – prepared by resident shaker Brian Silva. His previous domain was The Connaught, whose revamped Coburg Bar (see index) is the ideal place to spend long winter evenings. Sample Johnnie Walker Swing and Tanqueray Rangpur – unusual calls from a bygone era of elegance when The Fumoir at Claridge’s (see index) hosted Noël Coward and the rest of London’s bright young things. Although it’s now a case of défense de fumer at The Fumoir, this matchbox-sized art deco lounge with its Lalique panels is our (filter) tip for fine French 75 Champagne cocktails.

Editorial feature from Square Meal Guide 2010

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