Monday, 5 September 2011

Roux at The Pembury, Westminster

Roux at The Pembury
Parliament Square
London SW1P 3AD

A Review in Letters

1. Sasha to Kina

You were, of course, my dear Kina, surprised by my unexpected departure for the country. I hasten to explain everything to you frankly. The month gone past, I was with Lisa at Princess M’s ball when Lady Olga, apropos of nothing, said to me that I must pay a visit to her son in his new enterprise, The Pembury, one floor up from Michel Roux Jr’s esteemed dining establishment, Parliament Square. Being dutiful servants of her lady’s recommendations of fashion we, Princess M and I that is, called in on Prince Abdulai one evening. You well know, my angel, that Abdulai and I spent many happy childhood years together but that I had not seen him since he joined the Service to wage war alongside our good patriots against Napoleon, that bane of the world. What I have never told you, or anyone, was that we made a secret engagement before he joined the hussars, when he promised to marry me upon his return. And so I was most surprised to learn of his return, as I was not aware, you understand, that he was again in London, let alone that he now planned to stake his family fortune on this newest endeavour. When Lisa and I arrived at Pembury we entered into a beautiful room most luxuriously furnished and were made welcome by Prince Liam, whose charming manners were nearly enough to make young Lisa fall rather in love with him. I left them, speaking together on the peculiarities of water filtration systems, to search for dear Abdulai.

I approached the mirrored glass with some trepidation. Would A still remember the promises he had made to his childhood friend? Finally, a man emerged from behind the glittering bottles and, though he had changed in many ways, in essentials he remained ever the same. We spoke of his mother, Lady Olga, and of his adventures in the hussars; very little was said by way of our years together growing up. In all things, he was much changed, but one thing in particular: he has become enamoured with alcoholic punches, though all the time referring to them as “cocktails”. Apparently this is the new fashion. Most peculiar. He insisted I try these cocktails, one after another, and conversed with me only on matters related to their composition, ingredients and unusual names. I did not know what to do. My head was in a whirl. Naturally, I gave way to his insistent urgings and sampled all of the drinks he put in front of me. I cannot even begin to describe the peculiar pleasure of what then followed. Lisa and Prince Liam had by this time rejoined us and Prince A had placed in front of us a number of punches to sample. A had bestowed each punch with its own unique nomenclature, often quite unusual, to provide some indication as to the composition. The Three Citrus Ricky was made with such exotic ingredients that I had to ask over and over what Ketel One Citroen (our fine Russian vodka, made in the Netherlands, wherever that is. They add lemon to it. Most unusual), fino sherry, and yuzu were. Prince A remarked that soldiers are far more worldy than young London ladies. I admit it was pleasant to drink, but not as pleasant as the next glass he pushed across towards me. He called it the Penultimate Word, which Lisa and I both agreed was very witty. It tasted like the Lapsang Souchong tea Natasha poured from the samovar just this morning. I said this to Abdulai and he only laughed at me and said that was because it was made from Don Julio Blanco, green chartreuse and coriander. I wanted to ask what green chartreuse was, but by this point my head felt rather strange and I wished our resumed acquaintance was more like the happy, earnest carefree days of our youth, not so formal and single-minded as all this talk of chartreuse and coriander.

Conscious of the necessity to say something, I mentioned quite irrelevantly that he was much changed since our last meeting and that his new-found devotion to punches that make one feel so lightheaded must leave little time for other pursuits. He seemed very cross with me and in a low voice said something about not being obliged to fulfill silly childhood promises. At once, I understood the meaning of his words and that he did indeed remember his promises to me and was little interested in fulfilling them. I was a miserable creature and made my excuses to sweet Lisa, who seemed rather taken with Prince Liam and he with she. I left Pembury immediately. I could not bear to remain in town, for I knew I would have to see Lady Olga again and I could not bear to have her ask me for news of her son’s latest enterprise.

This is the truth of it. I know you will think me ridiculous, but I really could not stand to meet with anyone who might ask me how I am and whether I have been to Prince A’s Pembury of late. I wish him well with his newest endeavour and his strange new passion, but I daresay I will never forgive him for breaking our engagement, even if that engagement was but a childhood folly.

Monday, 20 June 2011

VOC, King's Cross

2 Varnishers Yard
Regents Quarter
King's Cross
London N1 9AW

Ross Sutherland


King's Cross is an enemy generator
pumping out crackhead versions
of my old schoolfriend Ian Yarrow.

In each doorway, a mail clerk
putting in a call to a girl up North.

& a sky like the back of a spoon.

For the last week I’ve been
on a reading tour of the Cornish Riviera,
where I managed to tear open
the crotch of my jeans.

(Each night I had to assure the audience
that the hole wasn’t part of my act)1

Now, back in London,
in a borrowed pair of grey slacks, white shirt,
I make my way across Varnishers Yard,

which still looks exactly like
the artist’s impression of Varnishers Yard
I saw on a pasteboard four years ago.

Named after the world's first megacorporation,
the VOC is a modest establishment2

with a maximum capacity of thirty-two people
and a globe of the world that you are free to spin.

On my first turn I get Tanzania.
Then Gdanzk. Sadly, on my third spin
I drown off the coast of the Solomon islands.

And now, the cocktail review:

I bring a Martinez to my lips.
A jester falls through a roof
into a bale of smoldering hay.

Next, the Veiux Carre. A nervous dog
interrupts an anecdote from an art dealer
about the time he met Merle Travis.

Finally, the Bergamot Grog. A turquoise stamp
on a metal coffee table, schoolboy French coming
from the kitchen. Rain added in After Effects.

God, I’m trying tonight.

Why is it
that the move from the office to the bar
is rarely the dramatic change
it ought to be?

Like when the cursor on my computer
turns into a beachball.
If anything, this development
just makes things worse.

Next to me, a food blogger
with an arse for a face
is lecturing the proprietor on his own livelihood.
Yeah, this drink definitely has a flavour, he says.
I mean, if I wanted, I could look it up…

I go to make a note of this
as yet further evidence
of the death of opinion,

but when I look down, I notice
that I’ve somehow popped a button.

I wait
until no one is looking
then take out a stapler
and punch a new fastening
into the shirt
that I borrowed for the evening.

Much like the way
the launch of a bar
themed around a 17th century punch house
might slip itself quietly
into 67 acres
of perfect investment opportunity.

1 i.e. Chekhov says that if an audience
is shown a gun in act one, it must be fired by act three.
Which makes a gaping hole in your crotch
not only bad tailoring, but terrible dramaturgy.

2 The Dutch East India Company possessed
quasi-governmental powers, including
the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts.
Similarly, this cocktail bar possesses
an incredible cigar collection, exposed brickwork
and Nouvelle Vague’s second album on the stereo.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The London Cocktail Club, Fitzrovia

The London Cocktail Club
61 Goodge Street
London W1T 1TL

Olive R. Twist

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was dark and chill despite being a mid-May evening when Tiny Tim descended into the basement of 61 Goodge Street, away from the onerous claptrap of busy Fitzrovian Streets, into the dark, friendly warmth of wee Jamie Wopsickle's Dickensian parlour and cocktail club for the quaffing of distinguished beverages.

Tiny Tim was relieved to be free from the noise of the city and sighed contentedly as he and Pip sank into the crescent-shaped booths and took a good look at their surrounds. There were hundreds of dusty bottles filled to the top with pastel-coloured liquid, of all shapes and sizes, lining the wall behind the bar, glittering like the pocket watch hanging from Pip's waistcoat. Tiny Tim thought how warm and comfortable it felt inside, despite the dimmed lights and close quarters of the club's other occupants.

A young man with a friendly smile went over and introduced himself as Shrimpton Merryweather. He said he was at their disposal. Pip was feeling rather brave that evening and ordered a Bacon and Egg Coupet which Shrimpton said was the height of adventurous sophistication. Tiny Tim was weary still and found he could not settle his restless mind. Shrimpton Merryweather said that if Tiny Tim told him what sort of thing most often slaked his thirst, then he would concoct a treat of most wonderful composition.

After much conversation Shrimpton Merryweather felt confident he understood what it was Tiny Tim desired and returned, after a period of time had passed, with Pip's Bacon and Egg Coupet and Tiny Tim's libation, somewhat like an Aperol Spritz, but with the additional Generosity of a drop of Absinthe and a swish of Martini Rosso.

Tiny Tim and Pip sighed contentedly as they supped their drinks and reminisced together about their idyllic childhood days, wrestling baby lambs in verdant fields and making elderflower cordial from June blossoms for Mother. Though they were happy in spirit, they were weary in body and much in need of rejuvenation, and so Tiny Tim and Pip drank the rest greedily and exclaimed often in praise of the creative Genius of Shrimpton Merryweather and of wee Jamie Wopsickle, who though absent in that moment, was not forgotten.

Indeed, just at that very instant, an older Dickensian-looking gentleman - sitting in the corner with a woman of extraordinary beauty and shining eyes - stood up and exclaimed, "a toast to wee Jamie Wopsickle!", where thereupon he purchased everyone in the Establishment a drink. Tiny Tim and Pip were most pleased; they could not believe their luck. What a charming place this was.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Zetter Townhouse, Clerkenwell

The Zetter Townhouse
49-50 St John's Square
London EC1V 4JJ

Kina Lillet & Jerry Boam

Scene: A country townhouse, in the city.

Fade in: The townhouse is full of thirty-something off-duty bankers and large groups of perfectly turned out women on hen parties. A woman sits alone at a small table in the corner. It is clear she's waiting for someone. A little while later a young man enters, wearing a navy blue double breasted blazer with gold buttons. It is clear that he's looking for someone. He spots the woman, smiles, and walks over to her table. He sits down. They don't speak. A menu is already on the table. He looks at the menu, takes his time and then signals to the waitress, who hurries over to take their order.

Jerry: "A Flintlock please, and a..."

Kina: "A Master at Arms."

Jerry: "and a Master at Arms for the lady."

The waitress notes their drinks down on a faded shorthand pad and winds her way between the tables back to the bar.

Jerry: "Quite something this place, don't you think? Rather reminds me of the Boam's Wessex pile."

Kina: "What, full of men in cheap suits and women who seem to be preparing for their impending nuptials by having botox and drinking themselves into oblivion with their 'girlfriends'?"

Jerry: "Kina, darling, why must you always find the objectionable in everything?"

Kina: "Why must you insist on bringing the objectionable to me? I want to like it. I really do. I'm trying to give the place a chance."

Jerry: "Ah, now then. Here, it seems, are our drinks. Splendid."

Kina: "Why are they in such small glasses? How peculiar."

J: "Oh gosh, well this is a charming little nip. It's like neat gin, but with a delicate floral sort of note or two. And she lit the side on fire – did you see that? How delightful. Rather reminds me of the Boam's ancient duelling pistols. Did I ever tell you that story of Old Deadeye Boam and those fig-leaved natives...?”

<<The gaggle of women at the next table chatter away, "Have you seen Almedia's bridesmaids dresses? They're absolutely atrocious. I mean sea green. Really. What was she thinking.">>

K: "I'm sure that someone might like this sort of drink, but it certainly isn't me. What have they put it in, anyway? I can't even remember. Evaporated port and rum. Why didn't I just order a Bloody Mary? I like Bloody Marys. I don't like this."

Kina attracts the attention of the waitress, who comes to their table. Jerry winces.

K: "I'm so sorry, but I really am not enjoying this drink. It's made beautifully, but it just isn't to my taste. Could you take it back and bring me a Bloody Mary?"

<<"Letitia, they did such a magnificent job on your forehead. Did you go to John on Harley Street? Didn't I tell you he was the best.">>

K: "So Jerry, what's the news? How was Mogadishu? Did you manage to track down your mother in the end."

J: "You know mother. One can only find her when she wants to be found, but Mogadishu was lovely as ever. The whole place is up in arms over elections or something. I forget exactly what. But never mind that all that. I drank all the Château Lafite in sight and did what I had to do.

K: "Here's my Bloody Mary, thank the lord. Yes, that's much better. Yes. Parsley vodka and beef consommé. Peculiar. It tastes rather like a Bloody Mary but with an Oxo cube chucked in. Much better than that other ghastly thing I was drinking before, but it's no classic. Dearest Jerry, let's never come here again."

<<"Of course I'm marrying Benedict. Just because he dallied that one time with the nanny, I'd be mad to abandon the flat in Chelsea, the Range Rover, and the little place in Dorset....">>

J: "I'll admit that I'm not overly fond of the dreadful company in which we find ourselves, Kina, but I am rather fond of nearly neat gin. Have I ever mentioned my Oxford days? I have? Right you are. Shall we depart? And yes, let's never come here again."

Fade out.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Holiday posting: Raoul's, Oxford

32 Walton Street
Oxford OX2 6AA

Jerry Boam

Naturally, or otherwise, Merton College, Oxford is the Boam alma mater. For more generations than the archives recall, sundry Boams have been drawn here; here, to Merton’s singular cobbled charms, its delightfully tended gardens, and its strange, shrugging air of having just missed out on something rather important.

It’s been a mixed history. Viscount Balthazar Boam was here of course, until he was sent down for something to do with the Dean, the Warden’s sixteen year-old daughter and a half-crate of vintage port. The exact tale has never fully emerged. Great Uncle Boozy Boam was here, submerged in claret and the classics. And, more recently, half-Uncle Hogg-Boam scraped in somehow and terrorised the young servant girls long into Oxford’s winter nights.

It is with such thoughts of lineage and destiny and the aged musk of Gevrey-Chambertin that I return now to Oxford’s ponderous streets. We stroll along the Broad, past Ducker’s on Turl, down the cobbles of Magpie Lane, and oh, to Merton’s pale and happy stones. Three years of memories rush back: Sundays, lazy smoking upon my first-year window seat; hazy summer lawns, tasseled loafers, lightly crumpled linen; my first pair of co-respondent brogues; my half-blue for Rugby Fives; my thirst for the coruscating scrape of neat gin upon a half-starved stomach. And Raoul’s.

Raoul’s. Here we supped on cocktails – rich and fruity – deep into summer nights, to totter home full of sugary verve and love. Thick mango purees, spiced pears redolent of some mystical Orient, dribbles of sticky caramel, fresh limes, apricots, the buttery whiff of vanilla. And the booze! Rums and brandies, whiskies, vodkas, liqueurs in every flavour, tequila from old Mexico, bourbon from New York…

Unsurprisingly, the aura of such dreams has faded. The clientèle wear jeans now. The décor – always bad – seems to have taken rather a tumble. And of course these days I must brave the pavement to partake of a Sobranie. But the drinks! Oh the drinks! One diving slurp into a tumbler of peachy Calvados-laced wonder, and it all comes flooding back – the excitement, the joy, the adventure. The booze! For as long as there are Boams at Merton, there shall be Boams at Raoul's. 

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Saf, Shoreditch

152-154 Curtain Road
London EC2A 3AT

Kina Lillet

You may be surprised, dear readers, to learn that your esteemed Editrix is in fact a vegetarian.  Perhaps that's why I'm so very fond of horseradish vodka.  Given said vegetarianism, I'd been meaning to eat at Saf for ages.  I'm sure the food is delicious, a veritable den of veggie food porn, and though I'm not proud to admit it I've not yet made it past the bar.

Though the restaurant is light and airy, the bar looks a bit like one of those California juice delis where mothers with over-active thyroids pop in after their 6am jog for a wheat grass shot with a vitamin C boost.  Do not let this trifling detail put you off.  The cocktails are like that horrible American film about Wills and Kate: impossible to resist and utterly delectable.

I'm with Margie Rita - who's still smarting from our last outing to Lounge Bohemia - but I worry not for I know what the barmen at Saf are capable of.  Margie plumps for a Tomaso, which sounds like some sort of tomato based drink, but is in fact comprised of white rum, lemon, mint, basil, a splash of prosecco, and a slosh of Galliano Balsamico. Smoooooooth.

I try Rebecca, Rebecca - Couvoisier Exclusif, homemade candied grapefruit syrup, Kummel, Aperol, a dash of orange bitters, delightfully garnished with a lemon peel sprinkled with fennel seeds - which is also wonderfully smooth, so much so that I'm convinced it's just freshly squeezed guava juice not booze.

But by seconds we're feeling rather light headed and so Margie opts for the silliest sounding cracker on the menu, "What happens in Amsterdam...", which though ridiculously named drinks scrumptiously, all ginny honey and ginger. I ask the bartender to make me his favourite drink on the current menu, the Charlie Chaplin, which turns out to be the best drink of the evening: sloe gin, creme de apricot, and fresh lime juice.  Simple but superb.  Who needs meat, after all, when fruit and vegetables make such delicious drinks.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Vıajante, Bethnal Green

Patriot Square
Bethnal Green
London E2 9NF

Monty Pulciano

I once tried on an off the peg suit at Spencer Hart on Savile Row. The jacket had magical flattering properties. It grabbed me around the shoulders, made me stand up straight and gave me an unfounded sense of my own importance. This is what a properly made Negroni should do. The gin makes you sit up straight, the medicinal taste of the campari feels like it is doing you good whilst the sweet vermouth and orange flatter you. The Negroni at Viajante failed to do one of these things and therefore failed utterly. There was not enough gin you see; I got the medicine and sweetness without the discipline imparted by strong alcohol. The twisted orange peel wasn’t up to much either.

Kina Lillet had asked me to do a review for this blog. I’d been putting it off for months pretending that I was writing a book when truth be told, I just don’t like cocktails that much. There’s so much to go wrong and even when the drink is made correctly, you have about 4 minutes to drink it before the ice melts, dilutes the drink and it is ruined. Red wine or whisky get better the longer you leave them and I like to linger. Cocktails are all hurry. They are essentially drinks for children.

The cocktail bar in Viajante is, however, a lovely room, the almonds are excellent and the staff sweetly camp so it would have been silly not to have another drink.  I ordered a Bermuda Porter. This consists of rum mixed with lemon juice and sugar and then topped with the foam from a porter beer and grated nutmeg and served in a half-pint dimple glass. Now this is a clever drink. One drinks the tart but sweetened rum through the malty foam. The first sip is wonderful. Sadly the foam quickly collapses, the ice melts and you are left with an unsightly scum. Before long it looks like one of those drinks university rugby players down for a dare before being sick all over your shoes. 

My wife ordered better, a Buffalo Jam. This is bourbon, Borojoa jam, lemon and soda: delicious, and after five minutes still delicious. Dilution did not ruin the drink. Viajante claim that Borojoa jam has aphrodisiac properties. Perhaps it’s me, but the only things she felt like after we left were some lamb chops and a nice drop of claret.