Monday, 26 September 2011

New Evaristo Club aka Trisha's, Soho, 17/20*

Location: 57 Greek Street, Soho

Website: Just a number, 0207 437 9536

Visit: Saturday evening after dinner

To Note? Another unassuming entrance. Apparently a member's club but they seem happy to let you off if it is not busy. If you do get caught the hefty fee of £5 will sign you up for the year and allow 5 friends access.

Ambiance 5/5
Design 3/5
Drinks 4/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS star: Absolutely worthy *

The label on the buzzer is the only clue that you are at the right place. But grit your teeth, hit the dirty red carpet to the basement...and prepare to be amazed. Well, perhaps the amazement comes not from the bar itself but the surprise at finding this little gem down such a salubrious corridor. And wait till you hear the price of drinks...

Seating choices are either at the bar - the locals will give you cockney lessons if interested - or on one of three shared tables covered in wipe-down covers. And do not hold your breath for a menu, it is whatever you want, if they can do it, for £3.50 - IN SOHO!!

Once settled take in your surroundings. The walls are a mixture of peeling paint, Al Pacino film posters, MDF panelling and various flags. Frank Sinatra is not only pumping through the sound system setting you tapping your foot but also painted on the wall. In fact the guys at the bar looked like they had just come from a Rat Pack concert! Downside - avoid the toilet

The crowd was mixed - both in age and style - but perfectly friendly and we were all delighted when "a guy with a saxophone" turned up, sat on a chair and jazzed away to the tunes. This bar is not trying to be cool. Someone has just set up a bar, thrown in some dining room tables and wobbly stools, and run with it. It will not suit everyone - if you're suited and booted for cocktails this is not your place - but I feel like I may have just found my second home. For utter casual with top tunes, try Trisha's.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Venn Street Records, Clapham Common 17/20

Location: Venn Street, 10 seconds from Clapham Common


Visit: Sunday afternoon

To Note? Kitchen is due to open very shortly with the promise of excellent pizzas
Ambiance 5/5
Design 4/5
Drinks 3/5
Staff 4/5
Extra LBS star: Not this time, but maybe after 2nd Oct...

Venn Street Records opens at 5pm on a Sunday. We were allowed in at 6.05. That is a full 65 minutes of happy hour missed - I have had better starts to bars that I am going to review. Saying that, we were obviously not the only ones waiting as within half an hour most tables were packed and the atmosphere was buzzing.

We based ourselves at the bar where we talked to both the barmen (thanks Aaron!) and the locals whilst they ordered - we even had a Will Ferrell look-alike pass by. The only difficulty was hearing my friend as the music was pumping out from every corner and as good as it was - and yes, records are their hallmark - at times it seemed like I would be waking up with a sore throat. Thank goodness we left before the live music got started in that small space.

We worked our way through a Strawberry Mule, Venn Street Manhattan, Sour Record and Stairs Julep. These were all good, and were sweetened up or down on request with generous portions of alcohol too. My question is can these guys really go off the menu? I am not sure...perhaps it was too busy a night to fairly judge.

The bar was all brick walls, neon lights and stacks of vinyl. It worked, and it was refreshing following the endless vintage bars of the East End. We all love a speakeasy but sometimes we just want a bar that is a bar. So it does not make it to the "special LBS star", but it is a good venue for cocktails in an area that specialises in substance over style.

And the mysterious reference to the 2nd October - a 16-piece big band is stopping by for the evening, where are they going to put them? Hang them from the ceiling? I don't know but I am definitely going along to find out!

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Hide Bar, London Bridge 14/20

Bermondsey Street

Visit: Friday after work, mid-week evening date

To Note? With some affiliation to WSET just next door there are some interesting wines and spirits behind the bar

Ambiance 2/5
Design 3/5
Drinks 4/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS star: Just not there

The Hide Bar should be cool. It’s on Bermondsey Street, an already popular area getting better by the day with neighbours like Jose and Zucca. It has a good name, making you think of nooks and crannies to tuck yourself away with a drink for the evening. It sits downstairs from the UK drink experts – the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. It has leather sofas and an interesting cocktail menu.

But… somehow it just does not quite work.

The space, although difficult to see into from outside thanks to darkened glass, is large and airy, and gives the dreaded fish tank impression. There are plenty of seats but wooden chairs are uncomfortable for longer than a drink and too high to cross your legs under the table. They seem to be half way towards the speakeasy design, popping up over London, but ducked out from going all the way. And this all leads to a lack of atmosphere, even on a Friday night. And I’ve been to a fair few here.

Staff are great, knowledgeable and happy to help. Similarly the menu is worth taking your time over with a well-considered wine list for a bar including a range of sherries, specialty beers changing regularly (the chocolate ale was especially interesting) and a good range of cocktails, never more than £8, with my stand out being “Blood and Sand”, a whisky sour with a twist. However – here it comes - it is very difficult for the quality of the drinks to live up to the time it takes to make them. There are a lot of theatrics form the bar men and when a group of friends are after a round of pints before heading out to eat, well, don’t hold your breath for that order.

Don’t get my wrong, I am sure being local I will be back and I particularly like the booths at the back. The issue is The Hide Bar could be a really great bar, but instead it is one I would not push with classic pub Woolpack and trendy Village East just a 5 minute saunter up the road.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Presenting... Mr Colin Dunn

Tasting Tuesday in Callooh Callay this week brought Mr Colin Dunn, Diageo whisky brand manager extraordinaire, and six whiskies which were almost all new to me. I could spend hours writing down Colin's pearls of wisdom here but I will stick with his first rule when tasting: The Nose, which came with:

"I am very much into foreplay with my whisky"

And onto the palate: Hold the whisky in your mouth 1 second for every year of age. So a 12 year old gets 12 seconds in the mouth...if you can handle it.

We started with Johnny Walker Black Label (a blend of 39 single malts and 1 grain don't you know!) which was sweet vanilla all the way through. Next came a 10 year old Talisker (age doesn't always matter!) which gave us both a mouth of bonfire smoke and a beautiful cocktail from Julien Lafond, Grand Marnier brand manager, which was a twist on the whisky sour:

50ml Talisker
20ml Rhubarb Puree (try the Chase brand) 
20ml lemon juice
20ml Black Cherry syrup
Some egg white and topped with a black cherry spray

The last of this flight was a whisky I had neither tasted nor heard of - Mortlach from Speyside. This was very fresh and almost green with a white pepper finish. And if that was not enough a 19th Century appeared on the table.

30ml Talisker
A bit of Lillet Rouge
20ml Creme de Cacao White
20ml Lemon Juice

The next round compared Lagavulin 16 year old to 12 year old and the colour difference in just 4 years was huge. The 16 year old was firey lapseng tea and notes of caramel and although starting soft it powers through and finishes on a bitter note. The 12 year old is floral but in the mouth rich and almost thick with smoke tearing across the tongue and leaving smokey bacon at the end. 

A special treat ended the tasting - a whisky called Saint Magdalaine. This distillery closed in 1983 so although age is not everything this is a piece of history. From the lowlands, it is unusually triple distilled. And what a burn. An honour to try but my favourite of the night - Lagavulin 12 year old, definitely.

And to finish where we started with Colin:

"Smells like teen spirit, tastes like Nirvana"


Saturday, 10 September 2011

Bar Nightjar, Old Street 17/20

Location: City Road, just off the Old Street roundabout

Visit: Friday after work

To Note? Sandwiched between two dodgy cafes, a wooden door with an engraved brass plaque is all that gives it away

Ambiance 3/5
Design 4/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS star: 'Fraid not

Google it. That was advice given to me and I am glad I followed suite so when I headed along City Road and saw the almost hidden entrance I felt very smug as my companion walked straight past, still talking. What was more difficult was navigating the almost pitch black staircase, luckily the heels were not on yet!

Once in, the staff were an absolute highlight. They were very accommodating as although it was almost empty it seems all the tables were booked from 7pm onwards. This is why they receive a measly 3/5 for ambiance. I was very happy there, loved the music but without only 3 or 4 other tables it wasn't buzzing...yet! The decor is spot on too, real 1920's feel and very comfortable to boot; again, did feel a little empty at the time.
What a drinks menu! (I am ashamed to say that with barely an hour to stay we dismissed the food menu, will go back) I opted for "Remember The Maine" - entirely alcohol which may sound like an odd statement about a cocktail but absinthe, brandy, cherry liqueur etc all added up to a potent but utterly delicious offering with a curious BBQ-ed baby corn decoration. My companion's "Japanese" was beautiful. A ceramic cup presented on mung beans with recipe playing cards was like a mince pie in a cup - yum!

I will definitely return to work through more of the menu, get an idea of the bar in full swing. It doesn't get a LBS star yet but I may have just found a new favourite, watch this space...