Monkeying Around With the Dog

Menu Dog!

Menu Dog!

Taking a slow summer approach to writing I’ve asked a few friends to contribute pieces on their favourite summer haunts.  The first one is from the Princess Monkey.  Enjoy! – Gehan

Jose nuzzles up to the K dawg

José nuzzles up to the K dawg

The Princess Monkey dropped into Bubbledogs on Charlotte Street with her favourite London hound. What a cool concept restaurant/bar/meeting place/quick fix drop in!

Who would have thought that American style hotdogs went so well with amazingly good artisanale French champagne? Offering a basic dog with a number of interesting and tasty toppings, a few side dishes, a selection of little known champagnes and/or a cocktail or two, this hidden gem offers a classic respite in Fitzrovia. The copper bar serves as a chill down factor .. the ice-well saves the champagne from the heat and the coldness chills the bar… most welcome during this long hot summer.

Get there early or wait your turn in the queue that lengthens depending on the time of day.

Well iced copper bar

Well iced copper bar

My favourite bubbly

My favourite bubbly

When Alcohol and Sex Don’t Mix

Dirty Oyster Martini at Tsuname

Dirty Oyster Martini at Tsunami

I drank an Oyster Martini.  It’s not a drink I ever wanted to have.  It sounds slimy and suspect.  However, I was in a good mood after a day at the Oval Cricket Grounds watching Sri Lanka beat Australia and the bartender convinced me to order an Oyster Martini.  I was drinking up a storm at Tsunami, an unfortunately named Japanese restaurant with branches in the West End of London and in Clapham, South London.  The martini in question was a dirty vodka martini (a “dirty” martini has olive brine poured into the vodka). It was unexpectedly delicious.  Served super chilled, the brine of the dirty martini combines well with the saltiness of the oyster.  After drinking half the liquid one eats the oyster, which has been partially cooked by the alcohol – think of it as turbo charged ceviche!  The oyster was on the shell so I scooped up some vodka with it – but it mostly tasted of itself.  The rest of the drink was a mix of vodka and oyster flavours.  If you are a fan of both, this part is sheer bliss.

The oyster martini is a sexy drink.  It looks fabulous and of course oysters are supposed to be good for the libido.  However when marketing men attempt to create sexy beverages (and I have no doubt that they are men – women are far too sensible) the results are inevitably disastrous. Here’s the Martini Mandate list of the worst attempts to leverage sex and alcohol.  Send me your list, please!

Worst Mixer Brand: Pussy

A British energy drink in bad taste whose advertising campaign “The drink’s pure, it’s your mind that’s the problem” keeps getting it in trouble with the advertising regulator.

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Worst Wine Brand:  La Vierge (the Virgin)

I like most wines from South Africa, including its soft sauvignon blancs and its unique pinotages.  La Vierge (the virgin) is from the Hemel ed Aarde valley and produces “wine of desire” with names like jezebelle, original sin, seduction, the affair and nyphomane.  There are many nipples adorning the packaging.  If you are mentally the same age as you were when you thumbed through back issues of National Geographic looking for tribes-women exposing their boobies, you may find the labels exciting. The Nymphomane Cabernet Sauvignon I had, tasted like cheap perfume.

It's not working for me...

It’s not working for me…

Worst Vodka/Whisky/Rum Brand:  G Spirits

Another booby award goes to the two German Entrepreneurs who decided that each bottle of their spirits should be poured on the breasts of a beautiful woman before bottling.  Yes, really.  They’ve thought this through, matching the spirit to the woman.  The vodka is poured over the breasts of an Eastern European looking blonde, the rum on a dark skinned woman and the whisky on last year’s Playboy Playmate of the Year (I don’t think she’s Scottish, but at this point they probably didn’t care).  Click here for videos that capture the “manufacturing” process.  The mind boggles at the possible brand extensions.  An organic version poured over non surgically enhanced women?  How about a non-alcoholic virgin drink for the Middle Eastern market?

Catch the spills - it's expensive at ~ €120 a pop.

G Spirits: Catch the spills! It’s expensive at ~ €120 a pop.

Worst Cocktail Concept: The Semen Martini

Bay area author Simon “Fotie” Photenhauer has written “Semenology: the Semen Bartender’s handbook”.  This is a follow up to his previous book “Natural Harvest: a Collection of Semen Based Recipes”. But why?  As the author explained to the Huff Post, “people eat all kinds of weird stuff. Eggs are the menstruation of chickens. Milk is the mammary excretion from cows. Semen is…at least it’s fresh and you know who the producer is.”  Aware of the health and safety implications of his recipes he goes on record to state that he “would never eat or drink semen, cooked or otherwise, from someone I wouldn’t be willing to have sex with.”  Bottoms up!

I am sticking to the Oyster Martini.

Tsunami - Clapham on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

How I Spent My Summer – Bootleggers, Chinamen and Gangster Molls

Before they discovered they were good at running casinos, native americans used to smuggle whiskey from Canada

Before discovering their talent for running gambling casinos, Native Americans used to smuggle whiskey from Canada

Some twenty years ago in the middle of my MBA studies in New York City, I scored a summer marketing internship at the whisky division of Seagram’s, which at the time was the largest distiller of alcoholic beverages in the world. Seagram’s had a colourful history; during prohibition the Montreal based company was active in bootlegging.  Seagram’s stockpiled whisky over the border and flooded the US market days after prohibition was repealed.  This was possibly the only time since its inception that Canada served a useful purpose.

During that long whisky-tinted summer I received an invitation to lunch with Edgar Bronfman Jr., grandson of the smuggler and the head of the firm.  I was firmly advised that when Edgar offered me a drink before lunch I should eschew Diet Coke and order whisky.  It is the kind of mature advice that has served me well over the years.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and no one drinks at a business lunch anymore.   Journalists are the noble exception still ordering a “double bottler” at lunch (a bottle for each of you) if someone else is paying.  I guess you’d do the same if your profession were facing imminent extinction.

The rules are different in Asia.  Over many years of doing business in China I discovered that quaffing vast quantities of booze with your host is the traditional way to break the ice.  The quality of drink in China is dreadful without exception.  One Chinese businessman of my acquaintance did order an expensive bottle of French red wine at dinner – and proceeded to dilute it with Coke!  He liked the idea of drinking wine; he just didn’t like the taste.

A view of the dim sum bar through lattice work decorated with the "Demon Chef's" emblem

A view of the Bo London dim sum bar through lattice-work decorated with the “Demon Chef’s” emblem

Golden Boroniya, a Singaporean flower child with a sweet tooth taught me how to drink with the Chinese.  The key is to have plenty of absorbent napkins on hand and ready access to a potted plant.  Golden Boroniya visited London recently.  We met for lunch at Bo London.

Bo London is the creation of Alvin Leung, the self-taught “Demon Chef” whose combination of traditional Chinese recipes and modern molecular gastronomic cooking methods is branded “X-treme Chinese”.  Alvin has been awarded two Michelin stars for his cooking at Bo Innovation in Hong Kong.  Bo Innovation is one of my favourite restaurants in Hong Kong.  I was looking forward to the London incarnation.

Hanging out with the Demon Chef

Hanging out with the Demon Chef

Bo London is situated on an unremarkable side street in Mayfair.  The ground floor space has a large window overlooking the street, a small dim sum bar and two rooms – the farthest one from the street boasting a view of the kitchen.   It’s an inoffensive space with grey walls, light coloured wood and prominent black lampshades.

The first thing that struck me about the restaurant is the service – it is possibly the finest service experience I’ve had in a restaurant in recent memory.  I’ve visited Bo London several times now and the service has remained impeccable.  Bottles of obscure alcohols were brought down for me to sniff and taste.  Golden Boronia’s toddler was chortling with delight as the wait staff kept her entertained– allowing us to enjoy lunch.  A mention that I was familiar with Bo Innovation in Hong Kong brought the Michelin starred chef out to greet us.  Alvin Leung pulled up a chair and spoke passionately about cooking, the challenges of opening a restaurant in London – and taxes!

Bai Jiu Sour - stick your mouth at the end of the spout and try drinking without making a fool of yourself!

Bai Jiu Sour – stick your mouth at the end of the spout (on the right) and try drinking without making a fool of yourself!

The cocktails were unique and presented with flair.  The Bai Jiu sour is made with wu liang guo bin jiu, lemon and lime juices, egg white and grenadine syrup.  Wu liang guo bin jiu is a potent grain spirit at 52% alcohol by volume (ABV).  Vodka by comparison is only about 40% ABV. By itself wu liang guo bin jiu smells like a combination of pickles and rotten eggs. It is slightly earthy and sweetish in flavor.  Our waiter explained that it is normally drunk as a shot – ughh.

As a cocktail the Bai Jiu sour is stunningly presented in a white porcelain vessel that looks like a gravy boat with a spout.  The drink container sits on a custom-made silver stand decorated with the demon chef’s logo.  Drinking requires holding the whole contraption with both hands and tipping the liquid down the spout.  The layer of egg white sitting on top of the alcohol makes it even harder to drink without looking silly.  As expected the drink has strong citrus overtones with the alcohol adding earthy notes.  This cocktail looked better than it tasted.

The Hibiscus Mojito was a winner.  A reddish pink drink it combines a base of rum with lime juice and hibiscus syrup.  There is a soft, pleasantly tangy hibiscus flavor on the tongue, the sweetness of the syrup cut with lime juice.  A hibiscus flower floats on the surface of the drink.

Dim Sum at Bo London.  Steak and Kidney with Avruga Caviar (top left) was a hit

Dim Sum at Bo London. Steak and Kidney with Avruga Caviar (top right) was a hit

The lunch time set menu consisting of three dim sum dishes and a main course, is good value at £27 (US $42) for this quality of cuisine, .  The dim sum was inventive.  The smoked quails eggs, with crispy taro and caviar as well as the steak and kidney xia long bao with avruga caviar were standouts. Golden Boronia commented that while she’d had dim sum of similar quality in Hong Kong for a lot less money, each mouthful at Bo London brought an unexpected taste sensation, a twist on the traditional.

The dumplings were dense and rich in flavor.  I was glad that the main courses were heavily stylized and comparatively modest in portion size.

The beggar style quail (baked in a clay crust) with lotus leaf and yellow lentils was succulent.  The lotus leaf and yellow lentils complemented without overwhelming the delicate flavour of the quail.  I was hard pressed to resist the temptation to pick up the bones with my fingers and scrape off the remaining meat with my teeth.  The cod with glutinous rice wine, saffron, miso and braised fennel was to die for, the flesh glistening and moist with flavour.

A Princely Dish - Beggar's Quail

A Princely Dish – Beggar’s Quail

Bo London serves exceptional Chinese cuisine.  Made aware that Londoners may not wish to spend three of four hours over a meal (the dinner set menu consists of either twelve or fourteen dishes), the set course only menu is now supplemented by a la carte options.

Alvin mentioned that Londoners don’t spend as much on food and drink as their Hong Kong counterparts.  That’s probably true – apart from food and drink the only other form of entertainment available in Hong Kong is in the red light district!   On a recent weekend his Hong Kong customers spent an eye watering average of £270 (US $420) per person. That’s solidly oligarch spending territory in London.  I fully expect Alvin to collect a Michelin award for his London restaurant.  Go before the oligarchs and their gangster molls discover this place.

 

Bo London on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Popping-Up with the Pope and the Perils of Gifting Your Girlfriend a Boob Job

The old pope moves in with the new

The old pope moves in with the new pope

The old pope has moved in with the new pope.  I’m not sure they share a bathroom but I expect that Francis will need to escape for a pint from time to time.   British catholics are hopeful of a UK visit.  The last time a pope visited, somebody in the Foreign Office leaked a memo suggesting the pope bless a gay marriage, open an abortion ward and apologise for the Spanish Armada.  To save the Foreign Office needless embarrassment I thought I’d suggest a place for him to have a drink and get down with the flock.

I presume the pope drinks, otherwise he couldn’t really do the whole “body of Christ” transubstantiation thing. Drinking is not just about the alcoholic experience though but is a means to achieving objectives, whether they are religious, business, social or sexual (drink is a well known substitute for foreplay). In the Pope’s case I needed to understand his objectives. According to The Onion the main objective of the Pope’s job is to keep Catholic people Catholic (i.e. maintain renewal rates) and convince others to become Catholic (i.e. new customer acquisition). I also read that the new Pope really cares about the poor (I guess the old one didn’t?). I had to find a cocktail bar that would meet the new pope’s objectives and interests.

Cute

At the entrance to Little Nan’s

Visiting my daughter Cost Centre #1 at university, I had to drive south of the river Thames to Lewisham. The directions were simple. I followed the signs to France, exiting when the surroundings started looking foreign. Every other store I passed seemed to sell halal meat, so the neighbourhood afforded plenty of conversion candidates for the crusading Pope. Passing a bus stand I noticed that everyone seemed to be checking their lottery tickets. The poor are frequently innumerate, so it was a good sign for the pope. I reckoned there were probably enough poor people in Lewisham to make the pope feel loved. Now I just needed to find a bar.

My daughter guided me to an unremarkable door to what was obviously some kind of warehouse. Inside we walked down a corridor, past a row of large garbage bins, blinking as our movement triggered a security light. Through the next door we entered a dark room. A black and white television set flickered, the words “nan’s bar” announcing that we had found our destination.

A Teddy Bear's Picnic -

A Teddy Bear’s Picnic – The Queen Mum and Lady Wicklow cocktails

Little Nan’s Bar is a pop-up which will be around through the summer. There is tapestry on the ceiling, exposed brick walls (some hidden by curtaining) and needlepoint covered sofas. It’s purposely and ironically twee. Drinks are poured out of china tea pots into tea cups. Tristan Scutt who runs Little Nan’s also runs a burlesque club called the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell (No, I don’t where that is). The bar is hot with university age hipsters from the nearby Trinity College of Music as well as Goldsmiths’ College. Apparently true hipsters don’t go to Shoreditch anymore because it has been discovered by bankers and tattooed chaps from Essex who gift boob jobs to their girlfriends. The dress code at Little Nan’s is anything goes. The pope would probably fit in – what’s not to like about man skirts, gold ectoplasm and red Prada slippers?

The drinks at Little Nan’s are cheap by London standards – £4 (US$6) for most drinks. The drinks are names after royalty and politicians. Cost Centre #1 had The Lady Wicklow, Countess of York. Cranberry juice, lime wedges, soda and a cinnamon stick are mixed with a base of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum. Served in a Charles and Diana wedding mug the drink has a strong rum flavour on the nose and a slightly sweet aftertaste cut by the lime. I had The Queen Mum – gin, Campari and juiced lemon rind over ice. It tasted a bit like a negroni with a missing ingredient. We also tried a drink called the Paddy Ashdown – Jamieson’s Irish whisky, midori melon liqueur, lime juice and ginger beer. The drink is named after an alcoholic who was a minor politician. Like him the drink was not very distinctive, although you could get drunk on it….The bar had a wonderful aroma of hot spiced apple juice from a cauldron bubbling away in a corner. It is mixed with rum and served in a drink called Little Nan Loves You. It had a dark tea colour and was just the right thing for a chilly evening.

The decor is ironic and twee

The decor is ironic and twee – circa 1982?

Little Nan’s will no doubt be joined by other pop-ups during the summer in the edgy but cool parts of London. Needing to escape back to civilisation I crossed the Thames and made by way to the Artesian Bar at the Langham Hotel (ranked the number one bar in the world according to Drinks International, a trade magazine). I was joined by the Armenian Hit Man. He’s given up bumping people off for the more socially acceptable but marginally less profitable business of collecting antique glassware. We ordered a couple of Rum Runners, named after smugglers of yore. It’s an old Tiki classic which later became the ultimate Disco cocktail, so we are dating ourselves here.  The Rum Runner at the Artesian mixes rum, velvet falernam, tangerines and fresh lime.  An aromatic cloud is wafted over the drink for just the right amount of kitch.  I am perfectly happy to leave being edgy to young people who don’t know better. A well mixed drink. good old fashioned hospitality and a bit of luxury makes me happy.

The rum runner is served with a classic flintlock

The rum runner is served alongside a classic flintlock pistol

More Pop-Ups

For more pop-up bars in London take a look at The Nudge and London Pop Ups.  London Pop Ups  is currently pushing rooftop alfresco movies to be watched from the comfort of a hot tub.  I hope they change the water frequently…Zagat’s has a good selection of New York City pop-ups.

Martinis, Marathons and Getting Gingered Up

"The Most Beautiful Marathon in the World"

“The World’s Most Beautiful Marathon”

“To believe this story you must believe that the human race be one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible. Last Sunday, in one of the most trouble-stricken cities in the world, 11,532 men and women from 40 countries in the world, assisted by over a million black, white and yellow people, laughed, cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen”

Olympic champion Chris Brasher wrote these words after running the New York City marathon in 1979.  He went on to found the London Marathon, the biggest marathon in the world.

Endurance runners are a bunch of weirdos who volunteer to undergo serious pain for hours.  I’m one of them.  I figure it’s a sort of karmic suffering, to offset the martinis I drink every evening. Once an oddity, marathons are now a cause for city-wide celebrations wherever they are held.  The outrage caused by the attack on the Boston marathon was felt not just by Bostonians and Americans but by runners around the world.

Thoughts of outrage were far from my mind as I lined up with 10,000 other pain junkies on a chilly morning in Cape Town.  We were running the Two Ocean’s Ultra Marathon – a gorgeous 35 mile (56k) trot from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. The race covers a hilly coastal route which snakes around the Cape of Good Hope. It is arguably one of the most beautiful races in the world and has long been on my bucket list.  My support team included mum, sis, brother in law, 5 year old nephew and a group of friends including an African Queen, a party hostess with a van (great for lying down in after the race) and Voldemort, the German masseuse.

Marathoners in Africa face unique challenges.  Last year a runner was hurt by rock throwing baboons.  The South Africans are a tough lot.  While most of them run in takkies (South African slang for sneakers or trainers), I came across a bunch of barefoot runners.  They weren’t some hunter gatherer types from the bush either, but slightly overweight middle class white people…

Runners greet pain like an old friend.  We wait for him to cross the road, meeting him halfway.  He runs alongside us, sometimes in the background, but always there.  He mocks us as our legs start cramping.  Six hours later I beat him and went out for a martini.

Il Leone Mastrantonio

Il Leone Mastrantonio

Pre race I focused on carb loading. After the race, my mind was on martinis.  For carb loading I visited two stand-out Italian restaurants in Cape Town –  Societi Bistro and Il Leone Mastrantonio.  Of the two Societi is a lighter, more modern interpretation of Italian cuisine, while Il Leone is more traditional. Off Orange Street in the Gardens district the Societi Bistro has a simple yet modern Italian menu with an emphasis on fresh ingredients.  The homemade spaghetti with truffle oil was delicious as was a simple salad of roasted figs and fior di latte (fresh buffalo mozzarella).

Il Leone Mastrantonio is in the district known as De Waterkant (say it with a straight face).  Il Leone is the grande dame of Italian restaurants in Cape Town.  It is pretty straightforward Italian fare served in a traditional, smartish, yet family friendly atmosphere.  The home made ravioli and rib of beef was the perfect pre race dinner.

Gorgeous red lacquered bar at Tjing Tjing

Gorgeous red lacquered bar at Tjing Tjing

The Cape Town Jazz festival kicked off after the ultra marathon and I hung out for some cool tunes and cocktails at the rooftop bar at Tjing Tjing on Longmarket Street.  Longmarket is a street favoured by students; lined with bars, backpacker hotels and massage parlours.  Three floors above street level, Tjing Tjing is an Asian inspired rooftop oasis, with inventive cocktails made from behind a shiny red lacquered bar.

Ginger is the new sexy ingredient in cocktails.  The term “gingering up” (or sexing up) came from the old gypsy habit of inserting ginger up a horse’s arse to make it appear frisky and alert while being inspected for sale.  The Ginger Ninja at the Tjing Tjing bar had vodka, grenadine, pineapple juice, bitters, ginger and lime.  The pineapple added sweetness, but the kick came from the ginger, offset by orangey grenadine flavours. There was no horsing about here – this is a nicely made drink.

The Jelly Baby was made with vanilla vodka, Cointreau, pomegranate juice, lemon juice and yes, jelly babies.  There was a candy like sweetness to the drink, offset by the tartness of the lemon juice.  It is an improbable sounding drink, but it grows on you.  If you are a girl.

Stunning Presentation of a Ginseng and Ginger Martini at the Pot Luck Club

Stunning Presentation of a Ginger & Ginseng Martini at the Pot Luck Club

The highlight of my culinary and cocktail tour of Cape Town was the Pot Luck Club at the Old Biscuit Mill in the Woodstock district.  Built at the top of a grain silo that serviced the former biscuit mill, the Pot Luck Club is a superb Asian fusion restaurant with stunning views.  There was more ginger in the cocktails here.  I had a Sake Cocktail with ginger, lemon grass and passion fruit.  This was a very successful blending of flavours, with the lemon grass and passion fruit combining to add a hint of bitterness, while the ginger left a nice after burn in the throat.

The Ginger & Ginseng martini is a stunning looking cocktail, the liquid made cloudy with ginger, served in an antique goblet with a  garnish of preserved ginger.  The ginger overwhelmed the ginseng however, making for a spicy cocktail lacking in complexity.

Sake, Campari, Watermelon.

Sake Compressed Watermelon with Blood Orange Sorbet and Bitter Campari Jellies at the Pot Luck Club

The big hit of the night was an alcoholic dessert.  Watermelon is infused with sake and then compressed until it turns jelly-like in consistency.  It is accompanied by blood orange sorbet and bitter Campari jellies.  This is a bitter dessert that looks a bit like a living thing and tastes divine.

South Africa is home to several great road races.  Apart from the Two Ocean’s there is the Comrade’s 56 mile (90k) race between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.  This is the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon race.  I politely declined the offer to run in place of a friend in this year’s race.  Perhaps next year…

Other

A big thank you to Kensington Place, my favourite boutique hotel in Cape Town.  Austen Johnson and his team took care of all my marathon prep including a cooked breakfast delivered to my room at 3am, plus carb snacks for the race.  Meeting points for my support crew were carefully mapped out and taxis arranged.  It is a hotel I go back to often!

Margaret Thatcher and the Sewer Ditch

Cold War Warriors.  Perfect Hair.

Cold War Warriors. Perfect Hair.

While my preferred martini is made with vodka, I mixed a gin martini and raised a glass in memory of Margaret Thatcher last week.  She and her late husband Denis were fond of the stuff. Once confronted by the press about whether he had a drinking problem, Denis famously responded, “yes, I have a problem, there never seems to be enough of the stuff!”

When the time comes to meet my maker I’d like to meet him at my suite at the Ritz, as Margaret Thatcher did. The history of the Ritz Hotel, from a bankrupt shell sold for just £2.75 million (About US$ 4.2m) in 1975, to its grandeur today is in some ways a reflection of the country pre and post Thatcher. In the 1970’s Britain was the “sick man of Europe,” on life support from the IMF and reduced to three days of electricity a week. Maggie kept the lights on and they have shone ever brighter.

A conviction politician, Thatcher was divisive. Most great leaders are. Apparently people who had well paid union jobs in failing industries supported by public money have never forgiven her for putting them out of work. I don’t know where they live, but I’m told that it’s far away from London and that they are now planning to secede or something.

With Ronald Reagan, she was in the frontline of a movement that defeated communism and forever consigned socialism to the dustbin of history. The only left wing governments left in the world today are a smattering of irrelevant banana republics and France, which is on a fast boat to irrelevancy. France does have good wine and beautiful women, so we’ll go in and rescue them as we do every so often.  A few months ago my local betting shop was offering odds on which remaining left wing dictator would last longer – Chavez or Castro. Castro won, but gets no cigar.

Upstairs at the Rotary Bar & Diner.  Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what's for lunch.

Upstairs at the Rotary Bar & Diner. Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what’s for lunch.

While Britain wrestles with how to recognize Thatcher (a bunch of left wing vegan types still can’t forgive her for getting it right), people like me realise that we only moved here from the US because of the Britain she created. I was having a liquid lunch with Lois Lane, the tallest woman in aviation and another US transplant. We were in Shoreditch, the former wasteland of Soersditch (literally Sewer Ditch) a once shitty part of town now ascendant thanks to the impact of the City of London (a once fading colonial financial hub re-imagined as a global powerhouse by Thatcher) and Silicon Roundabout, a high tech magnet for entrepreneurs (who flourished once the government reduced taxes and got out of the way). Shoreditch is now hipster central, aflood with creative types and techno uber geeks who are the latter day Supermen.

Good loooking drinks. The Adonis and

Good loooking drinks. The Adonis and the Devil behind

The Rotary Bar and Diner and the member’s only Rotary Room is technically a “pop up” operating under a ten month license. Brought to you by the folks from Milk & Honey it is one of the most lavish temporary establishments I’ve seen. Upstairs is a casual bar and diner with sharing tables. Accessed through an insalubrious outside stairwell, the Rotary Room downstairs is all 1970s low lit glamour replete with a tin ceiling, formica tables, and cozy booths. Lois Lane was instantly at home commenting that the décor reminded her of a cross between a Playboy bachelor pad circa 1970 and the living room of the Brady Bunch. There’s a straightforward food menu, divided into pig, fish and beef. There’s nothing for the vegetarians though pigs, fish and cattle are usually vegetarian. The main event here though are the cocktails, which are Latin American influenced. There’s even a decent selection of single village Mezcal.

The louche lounge decor in the Rotary Room

Louche decor in the Rotary Room

As with other establishments in the Milk & Honey franchise, the cocktails are well balanced and tasty. The El Diablo is a long drink made with tequila, cassis, ginger and lime. Instead of using commercial ginger beer, the bartender sends ginger through a centrifuge. The resulting drink packs a serious ginger punch with additional ginger oils adding a sparkle.

The Adonis cocktail is made with dry sherry, red vermouth and orange bitters. Created in 1886 to celebrate the success of a Broadway show, it is surprisingly dry and aromatic. The dry, nutty flavour of the sherry, the fullness in the mouth of the Martini & Rossi red vermouth and a slightly bitter aftertaste makes it a perfect aperitif.

We had a good value Chilean un-oaked Chardonnay. I could have stayed with Lois and drunk cocktails all afternoon, but had a plane to catch and a marathon to run.

Lois you are great all on your own

Cocktails with Lois – another Iron Lady, albeit one with a soft spot for men in coloured underclothes

Many of today’s hipsters weren’t born when Thatcher was in her handbag-wielding prime. However, they are old enough to drink. I will be with some of them on Wednesday and we shall raise a glass together. Rest in Peace.

To Boston. With Love.

115th Boston Marathon

I remember when I qualified for the Boston Marathon
JJ paced me on a bicycle through the streets of Paris
I qualified for Boston. Just. We drank champagne to celebrate
In Boston I stayed with Eric & Kathy. Old friends
I remember the start of the Boston marathon
I remember the lone policeman who sang the national anthem acapella
He survived 9/11
We had our own journeys ahead of us
We held hands. We were one. We are one
We ran with each other. We ran with joy
You can’t destroy us
Leave us alone

RIP

Escaping the Winter

The temperature is barely above freezing in London and New York. In Cape Town the sky is a brilliant blue and the temperature is a balmy 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit). The Cape Town Jazz Festival is kicking off and post jazz cocktails at the rooftop Tjing Tjing bar are delectable. I had to run a marathon last weekend to justify coming here, but it’s been worth it. Come!

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Warm nights, cool jazz.

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Rooftop bartenders at work behind the red lacquer bar at Tjing Tjing.

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Ginger Ninja (vodka, grenadine, pineapple juice, ginger and lime) and an Old Fashioned cocktail at the Tjing Tjing Bar.

Death becomes Chavez

Death was a smart career move for Hugo Chavez. The problem for most dictators, even “democratically elected” ones, is not knowing when to go. So like Mugabe, Castro, Gaddafi, Assad and others, they overstay their welcome and become villains. Chavez on the other hand had the good sense to leave before the whole thing blew up in his face. Like Elvis he will be remembered fondly. Give it some time and he’ll probably grow sideburns and be sighted at a Burger King with Elvis. Viva la revolucion!
A little less conversation, a little more action.  A little more wine, a little less talk?

A little less conversation, a little more action. A little more wine, a little less talk?

I figured I should celebrate the life of Chavez at a Venezuelan restaurant in London, but couldn’t find one. There is apparently one in some place called Crystal Palace, but I don’t know where that is. It’s probably not safe to go there. So I looked for other dictator food in London. The problem I discovered, is that modern dictatorships are pretty barren places for foodies.

Most nasties rule over oil rich kingdoms whose food seems to consist of some variant of ground chick peas and kebabs. Booze is usually banned and the water is imported. It’s a cuisine best left to impecunious college students. Another hotspot for dictators is Africa. I don’t get the point of becoming an African dictator – the countries are mostly dirt poor to begin with, so where’s the fun in becoming overlord? I didn’t feel like eating UN food rations either, so decided to keep looking for better dictator cuisine.

Spain is a late comer to democracy having being a dictatorship till 1975. Generalissimo Franco was properly nasty, although he did make the trains run on time which is a very hard thing to do in Southern Europe. Spain has good food and wine and was once Venezuela’s colonial master – it was an appropriate choice of cuisine with which to commemorate Comrade Hugo.  I joined Mini Me and the Irish Cyclist at Camino Cruz del Rey (literally the path to the cross of the king) in the Regent’s Quarter, in King’s Cross.  It’s not the most promising part of town to look for food and wine, but Camino and Bar Pepito, it’s sibling sherry bar across a courtyard, are a unique find.

The bar at Camino Cruz de Rey

The bar at Camino Cruz de Rey

This is a sprawling restaurant encompassing two decent sized rooms, the tiny sherry bar across the courtyard and lots of outdoor tables connecting the two.  In the main restaurant we sat under a glass dome in a casual light filled room with rough wooden tables, leather banquettes, a zinc topped bar with low stools and plain grey flooring punctuated with splashes of colour from traditional Moorish tiles.

Bar Pepito serves fifteen different sherries from a changing menu – all available by the glass.  The sherry here is a far cry from the ghastly tipple your incontinent aunt got pissed on.  This is the good stuff ranging from  fino, which is dry, crisp and pale; manzanilla, briny with a sharpness that hits you in the back of the throat; to darker richer styles like the Oloroso “antique” Fernando de Castilla which is incredible value at £7 (US $10) for a glass of 20 year old wine.

We ordered several rounds of dry sherry which is perfect as an aperitif, cleansing the palate and awakening the taste buds.  The more compex, sweeter styles are perfect with a cigar after the meal.  Camino has a good range of Spanish wines available by the  glass, carafe and bottle.  The serving sizes are well adapted to tapas and sharing, allowing the table to match the wine to the food and to personal preference.  We had the Artesa Tinto Organica 2010, an organic rioja/tempranillo which was easy drinking with characteristic ripe plum and cherry flavours.

Tapas is the food order of the day here.  We tasted a range encompassing chorizo, black pudding, padrone peppers (mild, deep fried peppers in salt – a personal favourite),  tortilla, squid ink flavoured black rice and deep fried baby squid.  This is not haute cuisine – it is simple, rustic fare and Camino does it well.  We had wonderful service from our Argentinian waitress, including an in depth explanation of why she had the words “just take a deep breath” tatooed on her bosom.  If you must get a tattoo, pick a phrase in a language you have a decent handle on…

Over more sherry we pondered whether we knew of any teetotallers we liked.  Hugo Chavez was a teetotaller.  By definition teetotallers are humourless individuals who get upset when other people are having a good time.   We raised a glass to good times.   Joder la revolucion!

A Little More Satisfactioning

There are a surprising number of dictators out there.  Here’s a list.  Their food isn’t always bad but you do have to pick your way carefully.  Here’s a selection of London’s best dictator cuisine:

China – Visiting Chinese friends claim that Barshu has the best Sichuan cooking in London.  The spices will leave you deliriously numb.  The dim sum at Royal China regularly features amongst the best Chinese meals in London.  For authentic Cantonese barbecued duck, served by authentic rude Cantonese waiters, go to Fours Seasons on Queensway.  Take away is recommended.

Cuba – Floridita.  Florida is where all the good Cubans live.  Floridita is a celebration of the place that was Cuba.  Live music and good food slightly spoiled by the bridge and tunnel clientele.  Check out the Garden Room at the Lanesborough Hotel for a good selection of pre-Castro cigars.

Iran – Alounak (Bayswater and Olympia).  My Iranian friends rave about this inexpensive BYOB restaurant.  The ovens (which appear to burn the restaurants down at regular intervals) churn out wonderful breads and grilled meats.

Russia – Novikov.  Okay it’s actually Italian and Asian cuisine but it’s run by Russians and you have to be an oligarch to afford to eat here.

Vietnam – Vietnamese cuisine is much more than pho (beef soup) and Cay Tre Soho teases out the subtle nuances.

For more reviews of Camino Cruz del Rey check out Rate My Bistro and London Chow.  Not everyone likes Camino and the reviews at Trip Advisor document some pretty bad experiences.  I’d go back.

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