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The Athenaeum

22215-whisky-socials-at-the-athenaeum

Walking down Park Lane you’re almost falling over yourself with five-star hotels to visit, be it for a cocktail, afternoon tea or maybe if you’re feeling plush or in charge of an expenses card, an over night stay.

As there are so many it can be hard to pick and as most menus require you to spend a month’s budget over one meal, it’s important to pick the right place. The competition is fierce but one which has managed to retain it identity without becoming outdated is five-star The Athenaeum.

One of the best things about the hotel is its whisky bar, serving more than 270 different varieties of the amber spirit. It’s lovely and traditional and as a whisky novice, I was a little out of place, but the staff are friendly and helpful and ready to help you pick out a good drink if you’re not a connoisseur.

After a warm-up drink in the bar, my friend Rav and I tried out the hotel’s restaurant last week. It’s an elegant room, with padded chairs covered in velvet and cushions making you feel a little like royalty. The room is also set out well for intimacy as each of the tables are cleverly placed in booths leaving you quite separate from your fellow diners.

The menu is simple but successful with classic British dishes cooked well. We had the onion soup, creamy and subtly infused but nothing too special with tuna carpaccio, which was brilliantly delicate with a slightly spicy edge from the peppercorn coating.

Onto the main meals, salmon parcels with a green salad and wild mushroom risotto. The salmon was fresh and juicy wrapped in flaky pastry with spinach squished into the mix whereas the risotto, possibly a bad menu choice on Rav’s part, was pretty bland.

By this stage, after sharing a bottle of Riesling and after our initial whiskey starters, things were beginning to feel a little unbalanced. To soak up the alcohol we ploughed on to puddings and went for a squidgy chocolate pudding and a beautifully light crème brulee with crunchy shortbread biscuits on the side.

All in all the night was pleasant but nothing out of the ordinary. It’s a classic place built on tradition and everything from the décor to the food served up is based on this idea. The average age of most of the punters is around 50, so if you’re not of this age maybe find some older friends or take your parents along.

If you’re looking to go somewhere traditional it’s a strong contender in Mayfair and you won’t be left with too much of a financial hangover.

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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Sophie’s Steakhouse

sophies-steakhouse

London has gone steak mad recently with restaurants popping up across the city promising to serve the best-cut steak in the UK or sometimes even on the planet.

However, one steakhouse which caught my fancy is Sophie’s which can be found in Covent Garden or Chelsea.

On visiting the Covent Garden branch I was pleasantly surprised to find somewhere which kept up with the oh so high standards for steak-eating in London and gave a little bit extra.

It’s a huge restaurant and generally packed on most nights with a mix of locals, suits and tourists but don’t let this put you off. There’s also a lot of good steak on offer, a lively and exciting atmosphere and the prices aren’t as ridiculous as some meaty chains will charge you.

Starting off there’s a small selection of mini plates, with nothing that out of the ordinary. I opted for the beef Carpaccio which pretty much melted off the plate and into my mouth in a delicious delicate way. My friend went for the scallops, which again were cooked to perfection and served with pea puree to smother on top.

Next up, the steak course. You can go for something else if you want but why would you.

There’s sharing dishes such as the chateaubriand, but as a greedy person I prefer to have my own cut and went for the fillet steak while my friend had the rib eye. Both were cooked pretty much exactly how we asked, if not a tiny bit over done, and were excellent cuts of meat served with thick chips to soak up all the delicious meaty juices.

Forget pudding, the list isn’t worth a look, and go for a cocktail. There’s an extensive cocktail menu and the Covent Garden branch is open until 1am so aim to try a few.

This is not a place for an intimate dinner, it’s an open setting and packed full of people so better for a large group. As Sophie (the founder) is the daughter of Jeremy Mogford, founder of Brown’s, you can slightly see the mass-produced similarities.

But although it’s a little chainy you can’t knock the steaks. It’s not a place for meat connoisseurs but somewhere to go and have some fun while enjoying a decent, honest steak and some amazing cocktails with your friends.

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The North Pole

north pole

An authentic London pub is a hard thing to find, one which also serves a range of American-themed comfort food is even harder.

Now I realise the two hardly seem comparable and I can hear you screaming this already and you are completely right, but paired together they make a strange yet ultimately charming duo.

You’ll find the pub a stone’s throw away from Essex Road among the classic Victorian town houses of Islington which to me are the antithesis of the area’s appeal and feature heavily in pretty much every Richard Curtis film ever made. On the other side of the road, there’s a long stretch of grim, concrete housing blocks creating a strange paradoxical clash where of North meets East London.

Among this divide of cultures, you can find the The North Pole pub which exudes a welcoming, homely feel making a pleasant change from the numerous gastro pubs across North London which more often than not are utterly soulless.

This pub is different as can be seen from the rustic, but not in a trying-to-hard manor and the friendly staff who will gladly talk you through the extensive drinks list.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned it twice already I’d better explain. The pub specialises in real ale and craft beers and not only has a strong selection of local brands but also bottled and on- tap varieties from around the world.

Now although a lot of pubs advertise this fact, this one really means it. So that’s 10 real ales and two ciders on tap, and these are constantly changing as they only include independent suppliers.

The London Fields Brewery is a regular along with Brew Dog in Camden and Meantime in Greenwich. There are also 12 different beer kegs and more than 20 different bottled versions.

With such a selection in front of you the main question will be what to go for first and secondly how you’re going to get home after drinking so much. While I’m not a massive beer or ale enthusiast, I tried several on offer and was pleasantly surprised by how each matched my requirements of a ‘light tasting beer without the headiness you’ll get in a dark ale’.

My friend Hugh on the other hand is a self-confessed drinks snob and he managed to quaff down several beers, both bottled and on-tap, and gave each an enthusiastic applause, the more so the further we ventured on in this drinks flight.

Now by this stage Hugh and I, after several half pints of the sweet stuff, were ready to embark on some stodgy food to soak it all up. To meet our requirements, there’s a snack menu, (one for £4, two for £7.50, three for £10,50) and these are the perfect afternoon filler between lunch and dinner – or if you’re just feeling greedy and want something extra
alongside your main meal.

In the snacks there are all the pub favourites such as a very runny scotch egg, pork scratchings with spiced apple sauce, a pint of prawns and finger licken’ chicken strips with ranch dressing. As a warning to those like me with eyes bigger than your stomachs (do people still use expressions like this?) the servings are big so if you’re planning on going past
this part stick to one or two each.

The mains are pretty standard pub food fodder apart from a few American-inspired dishes thrown in such as the mac and cheese and jerk chicken with rice, peas and coleslaw.

For the sweet-toothed fiends, the pudding menu changes all the time but when I was there featured delights such as waffles with maple syrup (carrying on the American theme), cheesecakes and fruit crumbles.

It’s nice to find a pub which hasn’t been too affected by the gastro-pub force and still retains a bit of tradition while serving well-cooked pub grub with a bit of a twist and independently-sourced ales and craft beers.

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Floripa

Floripa

Shoreditch’s answer to Brazil comes in the form of Floripa – a quirky, colourful bar serving up refreshing cocktails and traditional food.

It’s named after Florianópolis – a small party island off the coast of Brazil – and the lively, vibrant atmosphere, hits you immediately.

The bar is pretty big and the ideal place for a group event – be it drinks after work or a large Birthday party – and if it gets too hot you can spill out into the outdoor terrace.

It’s an ideal for a drinking spot with the right balance of traditional cocktails such as Margaritas and Caipirinhas with a few creative concoctions like the Fogo De Floripa – a blend of pomegranate syrup and Cachaca topped with a flaming Tempero Baiano.

There’s also group drinks like the Bloc Party Punch (£32) which serves five people a mix of vodka, cranberry, cassis and sparkling wine making it the perfect place for drinks followed by dancing (lots) when the DJ arrives.

Before you head to the dance floor, or if you’re not feeling that active, check the food menu. It’s full of a variety of sharing and larger Brazilian dishes.

The menu – which consists of freshly prepared dishes every day made with local market ingredients – has been designed by David Yorkston (resident chef at Bacchus and The Langham Hotel) and it perfectly fits the venue.

You’ve got everything from carefully put together platters such as king prawn cerviche (£8) or pao de queijo- a wonderful cheesy bread (£3.50) to steaks (£18), and black bean and pork stew (£12.50). It really depends how hungry you are but what you can expect is good quality food at a very reasonable price.

It’s not anything that special but Floripa works because it serves the right amount of dishes and they’re designed to share so again a get together with your friends is the best situation here.

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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Meter Bar & Eatery

Meter-Bar

Pizza is a long-time staple in my diet and although there are no shortages of places in London serving up the doughy stuff, as soon as I heard about one combining meter-long pizzas accompanied by creative-looking cocktails, I headed over to Old Street to sample such a delightful pairing.

The laid-back restaurant is located on City Road and as it’s lacking in any form of recognisable branding or signage from the street, it could easily missed. In fact my sister Jessica and I walked past several times before we even realised where it was and we’re generally quite knowledgeable about this area of London.

It’s fair to say Old Street has never been particularly attractive and the towering grey concrete blocks are a real eyesore. However, after a bit of perseverance you’ll be rewarded as nestled among the oppressive building structures you’ll find some tempting venues, such as NightJar or The Golden Bee, where you can experience just how much the East End has
evolved from a concrete slum to a quirky neighbourhood with a sprinkling of high-end dining establishments.

The design of Meter, the brain child of local DJ James Priestley, is very East London and fits in well with the low-key, trendy ethos of the area. As you might expect, the place has a very minimalist décor made up of effortless unfinished wooden floors and stone brick walls akin to the likes of The Book Club down the road.

However, despite the exterior, Priestley has managed to introduce a place which caters to both lovers of thick-rimmed glasses and pain-inducing skinny jeans and those which don’t live in the area but are coming in search of appealing, good-quality Italian dishes.

Starting off the cocktails are a must. I tried the Sultry Nectar, a fruity burst of rum, mango, basil and chilli, sweetened with sugar and lime. Basil in a cocktail I hear you cry? Yes, the waitress informed me it worked and I blindly followed and she wasn’t wrong.

Jessica went for the Fashioned 1976 – a new twist on the classic Old Fashioned with treacle, caramelized apple and brown sugar (£12) which Don Draper would be rolling in his grave to try. Both were simply served in jam jars (again with the East London theme) but impeccably executed setting the evening off on a high mark.

Many people in the bar were there just for the cocktails but it’s a real test not to give into the wooden boards piled high with fresh cheeses and meats which cleverly floated past our table several times before we picked our meals.

As I have no will power I immediately went for some deep-fried smoked provola balls with a hint of honey and also a board of antipasti with a healthy serving of salami and prosciutto with foccacia to mop up the olives and sweetened tomatoes. The food is fresh, colourful and a perfect mix of everything you want to wet your Italian appetite before the main course.

Next, it’s onto the pizzas and a word of warning, unless you’re really hungry don’t go for a starter as well as the pizzas are big enough for even the most enthusiastic fans of the Italian classic dish and are really suited for sharers.

Chef Valentino Fontana from Naples has managed to create some simple yet seriously delicious pizzas and we shared a creamy mix of sausage, broccoli and chilli in the Broccoli e Salsiccia and a Cotto e Patate, another creamy one topped with prosciutto and potatoes (there was a lot left over for breakfast the next day).

There are also tomato-based pizzas such as the Melanzane smothered in aubergines, ricotta, tomato and basil or classics like the Fiorentina and Napoli.

In reality you’re probably not going to be able to tackle a meter-long pizza on your own so bring some friends along. After the dough-challenge if you’ve not passed into a food coma at this stage there are a few puddings on offer such as the Affogato which is basically a steaming espresso poured over ice cream or a slice of Tiramisu, to finish off the night.

Or, like Jessica and I, you could just head back to the cocktails again.

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Rock and Rose

When you come across Rock and Rose in Richmond prepare to be hit with an explosion of glitter, hearts and retro punk glamour.

From enormous chandeliers and roses on every table (as the name would suggest), to glamorous throws and cushions, the theme runs throughout the restaurant.

However, don’t let this put you off. The theme may be a little OTT but the food menu is one of the best in Richmond and the restaurant has been successfully created into somewhere a little different from your average gastro pub.

Starting off I had the beautifully presented (and tasting) spicy tiger prawns (£8.95) with a healthy dollop of wasabi aioli. However, just when I was bathing in the glory of choosing such a delicious dish I tasted the restaurant’s signature glazed baby back ribs (£6.95). These are heavenly as the meat is cooked to perfection and is smothered in a sweet, but not sickly, sauce – a word of warning, ask for a hand bowl to wash your hands after as these are not pretty to eat and don’t choose this one on a first date.

Next up was a warming dish of lamb massaman curry, with Thai spices, peanuts and sweet potato (£16.95). It’s the perfect combination of rich meaty flavours with a light, spicy sauce to top it off. If you want something more refreshing and less sleep-inducing the seabass with chilli, ginger and spring onion (£18.95) is a winning choice.

The dishes are generous and if you get full easily you might not be able to cram in a pudding but my advice is push through this barrier and go for the pavlova with mixed summer berries (£5.95). It’s light, fruity and the right mix of chewy, sweet deliciousness topped up with enough fruit to make you feel slightly less guilty.

If you can’t break this barrier go for a espresso martini (£7.95). It’ll wake you up while giving you the satisfaction of having something sweet at the end of the meal.

Along with the food there is a wide range of cocktails on offer and a small but well-picked wine menu. Arriving on a Sunday afternoon I wasn’t expected the restaurant to be busy, especially as it’s a little way away from the main high street in Richmond. I was completely mistaken and in fact it was packed, so make sure you book early to get a table.

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack. 

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Free books At The Carnaby Exchange

Are you looking for your next great read? Look no further as the Carnaby Book Exchange offers a huge range of free books waiting to be picked up.

Around the world there are more than 130 million books and the average person gets through one book per week. That’s a lot of books and if you’re not happy shelling out for a new title on a regular basis why not take advantage of this great new scheme.

It’s a lovely space in Carnaby Street for people to relax and read with a vast array of books on offer from great fiction novels to fashion, travel, music or history titles – it’s completely up to you what you decide to lay your eyes on.

To take part all that’s required is for you to leave a book behind for another book worm to pick up. It’s that simple – leave a book, take a book.

As well as reading the books, you can also leave your thoughts and feedback and recommendations for other book lovers evolving the swapping process away from just books to memories.

The whole thing has been thought up and created by the MA Fashion Curation students at the London College of Fashion, just off Carnaby Street.

The creators say it’s “an incubator for passion shared” and if you like us can’t wait to get involved, get yourself down to the ground floor of Kingly Court. It’s open at the weekend from 8am – 6pm on Saturday and 12pm – 6pm on Sunday.

Image: Guardian Books

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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Is it time to rent your next dress?

Ever had the feeling when you delve through your wardrobe before a night out and can’t find anything that feels right or fits the occasion? Of course you have and us women (and I’m sure men feel the same) seem to be in a continual search for the perfect outfit, hairstyle or look.

Luckily for us if your bank balance isn’t set up to pay for a new dress every time you feel indecisive there is an answer on hand, and that’s to borrow. Of course if you’ve got willing housemates or friends they are a good place to start but if you’re not the same size as those around you and want something a little different and a little more designer then why not hire from an agency?

One such place is That-Dress which promises to take the stress out of shopping and end the eternal question of “What should I wear?” And from the surface it looks like an easy solution for the time short and fashion hungry. Whether it’s a wedding, drinks reception or a special Birthday – if you’re not prepared to cough up for a brand new label then it’s worth trying out.

Although it’s not been around for long, That-Dress has an impressive range of outfits to choose from. At the moment most are Italian-inspired and there are all the names you’d expect – Versace, D&G, Diane Von Furstenburg – and several new designers such as Ophelia is Lost and Narciss. Prices start from around £28 per dress and seeing as most of these dresses cost at least £300 to buy new, it’s a brilliant way to always be wearing something different without running up massive debts in the process.

So you pick a dress from the website, pay for it, and in no time at all (around 12 hours) it’ll be couriered over to your desk. The day after you can pop it back in the enclosed pre-paid packaging and return. If it arrives and it doesn’t fit you’ll be refunded the price and there’s instant help – via phone, email or instant messenger – if you need any advice about sizes and what to wear.

As well as an impressive range of dresses there’s also all the extras you know you’ll need – such as fashion tape, ballet pumps, handmade jewellery and tights – so you’re all set for the perfect outfit.

That-Dress is not the only site around for dress hire but it’s quite an easy one to navigate through and most of the dresses on offer come in sizes 8-14. It’s up to you how you use the site – either through renting a one-off dress or if you get into it, becoming a member and renting a few a month (which works out cheaper per dress).

There are also a lot of extras, such as discounts and points to collect for renting which can be redeemed off the price. Jon Hammond, the director, has also arranged events for members to meet new designers, including an evening with Alise Trautmane who recently won the Baltic Fashion Federation designer of the year for the second consecutive year.

Hammond says renting is the “ultimate recession chic” and an answer for all those people in search of something new to wear without the endless budget to do so. You can also get £15 off the first dress you hire with the code ‘welcome’ at the checkout.

“For the same price as a dress from H&M or Topshop you can have a Versace cocktail dress for the night, it’s no secret celebrities ‘borrow’ designer dresses for big events, and men hire dinner suits and morning suits, so why shouldn’t women be doing the same thing?” argues Hammond.

“This way you have access to a constantly evolving wardrobe of beautiful designer dresses to hire, at a fraction of the retail cost. It’s ‘our little secret’ and there’s one for every occasion,” he adds.

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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The Jugged Hare

The line between gastropub, plain old pub and fancy restaurant has become very blurred lately. Attaching the ‘gastropub’ label onto an ordinary looking pub usually means an excuse to rack up the prices while luring in unassuming diners who were looking for some pub grub.

Well pub grub is certainly not what you’ll find at The Jugged Hare and despite the slightly haughty atmosphere and higher-than-average prices the food is well-presented and most importantly it tastes good.

This is the 10th in a line of gastropubs owned by Tom and Ed Martin and it’s clear to see they know what they’re doing. Walk in through the main entrance and you’ll be met by crowds of local workers enjoying the impressive drinks menu. It’s got its own ‘by the glass’ machine creating seasonal wines from local producers and if you’re indecisive, go for the wine flight – you get three glasses of seasonally picked out wines for £10. If wine’s not your thing try the Jugged Hare pale ale, brewed in conjunction with Sambrook’s brewery in Battersea.

If you’re peckish, or you’ve booked a table (recommended for most evenings), walk through the crowds towards the smell of meat and you’ll reach the restaurant area where an open kitchen takes centre stage. For those of you who enjoy watching cookery programs you’ve come to the right place. Here you can stare at the chefs to your heart’s content and watch them popping out intricate looking meals, but a warning – it’s no fun for fellow diners if you spend the meal commenting on events in the kitchen which they can’t see.

For people who find it hard to say no to a starter (like me) you won’t be disappointed and I went for the honey roast kiln salmon (£8) while my friend had the diver king scallops gratin (£9.50) with a creamy sauce to melt any fish-haters heart.

The food available is all local, organically sourced (fish from Billingsgate Market) and what you might expect really and there’s a different meat available everyday from the spit roast and some hefty steaks on offer. Most of the main meals are around £17 but you do pay for what you get and the meals are fresh, delicious and perfectly matched with the sides (although you have to pay extra for these).

Greedily I also tucked into a pudding and despite being a bit of a connoisseur in this sector, the lemon junket (light mouse) with blood orange jelly is one of the best fruity treats I’ve ever eaten – and an ideal way to end a heavy meal. It’s light, airy and sweet enough to make you feel light you’ve been transported to some kind of magical land but doesn’t leave you feeling like you need a root canal.

Downstairs there are more tables and it would be a good place for a group meal such as a birthday and once you’ve gorged on the meaty feast the bar is perfectly situated to finish off your night.

This review was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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Comptoir Libanais

South Kensington is a place I often find myself, either after wondering around the V&A or one of the surrounding museums and I continually have a problem trying to find anywhere good to eat or drink.

Every place I stumble upon seems to be ridiculously over priced or just rubbish and surviving on the fact that so many tourists, and non West Londoners like myself, are hungry or thirsty and will just drop into anywhere nearby. Luckily I’ve found a few options to safeguard against this and one such is Comptoir Libanais on Exhibition Road.

This is the second in the chain of ‘fast’ food Lebanese restaurants and it’s ideal for a quick, tasty meal that won’t break the bank. You can choose from several platters piled up with deliciously comforting treats such as smoky aubergine baba ghanoush, falafel, hummus, and salads with pitta bread for dipping and fried vegetable samosas. These are to share but if you’re feeling greedy and a lover of  creamy hummus topped with pomegranate seeds, and let’s be honest who isn’t, then you might be able to go for one.

For the main meals there are lots of small dishes and I had the prune and lamb tagine which was so tender it virtually melted into one. There are also meat koftas with side salads, whole salads for those attempting to be healthy and lovingly prepared mousakas with crispy fried onions and fresh pomegranate seeds on top – it doesn’t sound like it should work but it does. A mouthful of this feels a bit like a giant duvet wrapped around you, it’s delicious, warming and will leave you feeling comfortably full.

The pudding selection is a bit of a must. There are lots of beautiful looking sweet treats, from rose water macaroons to more varieties of baklava then I ever thought possible and as they’re so tiny you can almost believe they’re calorie free.

All the dishes are around £7 which is a bargain given the location and the quality of the food. It’s a little bit like Leon but better and the bright paintwork and pictures create a cheery atmosphere which is a must at this time of year.

One thing I would avoid next time is the wine. Despite the good value and tasty food, the wine was expensive and the quality was no where near as good as the food. Instead I would go for one of the freshly made juices or some traditional green tea.

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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