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Paradise Bar, Kensal Green

By Way of Kensal Green to give its full G K Chesterton moniker, but had we in fact stumbled into John Milton’s equally seminal prose?

I have known, drunk and supped at this Kensal institution for a long time and through various incarnations. Not as far back as the coaching house days (mores the pity) but certainly twelve or so of its trendier years. I think I speak with some authority when I say a sensational venue- that’s forgotten to brush its hair this evening.

Publocation as always has forged on regardless of hell, high water or overtly winter conditions- less a rolling road than a sliding one-to kick off the first event of the year. We were looking for a bang and got a very tame pop. This venue has always been a keeper with its stunning architecture and space and has rarely failed to impress. OK its 7.30ish on a school night, not the time to be rating what is a fantastic eatery and/or weekend hot spot (open till 2am), but like most good things in life you can tell a lot by how they perform at the worst of times rather than the best.

So to the bar. We spy a couple of stools at opposing ends and merge them in anticipation of the first cooling ale. Publocation try to mix it up when possible so tonight its two pints from the famous village of Hoegaarden, just because. Any one of said villagers after extolling its coriander and orange peel delight and musing over the secondary fermentation- would insist on a 3-5 degree chill in the famous Hexagonal glass. We received nether of the last two-not even a Belgian moniker just to make it feel more like home and have to say I deserve much better in a four quid beverage.  Grumbling ensues but we are in good spirits and try to justify this lapse, but the lukewarm bottles of Peroni that follow destroy that notion.  Heaven knows what temperatures await on a busy night. The bar staff number three at various times but seem preoccupied with other tasks rather than overt friendliness.

A long traipse to the men’s upstairs reveals a stylie but again standard-lacking convenience with broken tiles and exposed  pipework suggesting a Jason Statham style kicking had ensued earlier. Even if this instance was recent, surely a reassuring sign apologizing for the condition? Again rough around the edges- whats going on? Our customer service experience has disappointed to say the least but Paradise has so much to offer.

The drinks menu bar-wise offers a reasonable selection of bottled beers and ciders, an Italian/Chilean favouring wine list, all the classic cocktails and some decent champagne. The fonts are standard silver and nondescript which is a personal bugbear of mine. I want to see the brand of what I’m buying without squinting in the half-light only to go with the first familiar one out of frustration. Problem is that this “stylistic”, sleeker modus operandi is so dated and naff these days it looks just like the boozer it was once distancing itself from.

The bar food menu (more on that later) offers a tasty looking selection of entrée size offerings including bruschetta, devilled whitebait and Poole harbor rock oysters- plenty to whet the palate. Moving into the modern European enriched restaurant, which I have enjoyed many times before, the range is even better. Grilled swordfish, venison Wellington, and goats cheese pie to fill you up or start with a braised ox tail and macaroni, duck tartar or foie gras to name a selection. The roasts, including the mouth-watering three birds feast, are famous in these parts with good reason. The wine range through to the restaurant  builds quite spectacularly with an uncontrolled variety and vigor. The “extravagant and opulent” reds section could easily open the dustiest of wallets, but if you’re not feeling saucy there is everything in between, from every varietal and every country. I say again- spectacular. More’s the pity we couldn’t dine tonight as previous visits have seen a fantastic bustling vibe with great service and an indescribably warm feeling.

The decor outside serves the stunning exterior well, with a variegated range of wooden tables and chairs that aren’t too eclectic to change the saloon bar vibe. Candles position themselves on every table and provide an eerie backdrop to what is a dark pub in the evenings.  The false wooden bookcase is naff but the clean, rustic look serves it well and somehow warms the dark recesses of the huge high ceilings. A similar feel extends into the restaurant area. Whats even better since the 2007 refurb and launch is that the pub is really used to its potential upstairs and down. It’s like wandering through a grand old family home only its a pub which is something I’ve always longed for (since Bar Abaco in Palma blew my mind) The toilets upstairs are annoying (has to be said) but once you’ve stopped tutting there is a separate bar/stage room for functions and parties as well as the opportunity to spill out on to the roof terrace on a golden summers eve. The courtyard area below serves the same purpose in summer, and a full Paradise on such a night is indeed a treat.

I also learn Comedy Wednesdays are to return and along with Swing Thursday (no not that kind of swing), and many other variety shows, raves and eclectic music to come, the Paradise is clearly making use of its copious space.

Postscript– I came back again. Yes my tardiness over the last 12 days has forced me to abandon family life and get this review out before its relevance wanes,and hey, it just got more relevant. It’s a Monday so things could be worse, but on the contrary, service is friendly, smile filled and prompt. The only delays are due to vigorous cleaning which is always good on the standards front and certainly how a quieter night might be filled by quality staff. The two pints of Kronenburg are cold and crisp- bravo! I also get to try the bar food but my appetite allows only chicken skewers and hand cut chips- both delicious. . As I sign off the updated review in a neat little alcove on the right, I feel Paradise has once again been found and honour restored.

Just keep that brush in the handbag and I’ll bring my five stars.

Where: 19 Kilburn Lane, Kensal Green, London, W10 4 AE
When: Wednesday 6th January 2009, 7.30pm (oh and Monday 18th about 8pm)
Stars:
UnPublicised:
Get a table and comfy chair in the alcove to the right as you enter. In summer get up on the roof with a litre of Posh Punch. Either way get yourself booked into the restaurant and as soon as you’re tiddly, treat yourself to something gamey and an expensive bottle of red. If its vim and vigor you need then get there late any Friday or Saturday and get amongst it.
Tel: 020 8969 0098
Website: http://www.theparadise.co.uk
Menus: A La Carte, brunch, Sunday and week day. See website
Interest: The Regent 5 seconds away- another 4.5 star rated pub. Why leave the lane?

The Abingdon, Kensington W8

 HD2 098

 

There are many times when we go out for a drink that every bar is full. Every table taken, every stool sat on and everyone is loud and happy (except the inevitable couple outside ‘having a barney’, but that’s a given). This environment is what we think of as ‘the pub’; bustle, laughter, loud voices and queuing at the bar. It’s a generic shared memory we all have and it’s what most of us picture when some one says ‘we’re going out for a drink tonight’.

There are also times when we go out for a drink that this is not the case. There are mid-week evenings in January when it’s minus three with an angry wind and solid, lumpy, kneecap-threatening ice underfoot. These evenings are not bustling and loud, the hardy souls who muster up the wherewithall to leave the house and get amongst it (ahem) are few and far between and the pubs and bars take on an entirely different perspective.

If you’re thinking I’m that I’m suggesting the quieter nights are not up to much, nothing could be farther from the truth. Not everyone will agree I’m sure but we think occasionally having a pub to yourselves is a great thing. It’s all about the company really and for as much as we rigorously judge every minute spent in bars, it’s done retrospectively, the actual reason any of this exists is just to get us out to more bars more often. The better the company the less it matters. That said if the place is, for want of a better word, shite, without the atmosphere to carry it through, you can come away cursing a blood oath through gritted teeth never to darken it’s festering door again.

Which rather neatly brings us to The Abingdon.

The scene is as mentioned above, Kensington is the set of 28 Days Later, it’s brass monkeys and the boys, offensively sober at this point, are wobbling down an icy High Street Ken like Bambi in stilettos. The evening is an official Publocator’s birthday, much like the Queen we have two, the actual day and the corresponding Publocation night out. You might say then everyone sometimes has two if you count the parties but the official Publocation birthday night is on top of that. Like I said: more bars more often. Tonight the Abingdon is number two of five.

Attractive pub The Abingdon, it’s all white and sits at the corner of two Georgian terraces (I always say ‘Georgian’, I have no idea really), there’s usually a couple of little bistro tables outside but not tonight, not sure why. The main market is dinner and wine and in a rather Kensington way the website calls the place a ‘restaurant and bar’ but calling it something else doesn’t change what it is. It’s a pub with a makeover. But, whatever label we give it, it’s got a great bar for sitting at and, lo and behold, stools are available.

I was starving having spent a futile day trying to spend money in Westfield with nothing more than a bowl of (rather tasty) Vietnamese soup to keep me going so I went straight for the menu. It turned out to be the wine list so, as wine is their thing, I shouted up a bottle of Kim Crawford Pinot Noir and promptly forgot about my belly. The wine was great, something we can’t really give the pub all the credit for, however the glasses were sparkling and the chap doing the pouring was quick and attentive. Given the punter/staff ratio was about 2:1 I should think so too.

I’d forgotten about my belly but it certainly hadn’t forgotten about me so when it protested again we decided to make the most; Fois Gras and chicken liver parfait with not enough brioche was delicious, the duck pancakes were expensive (£14 for 2) but excellent and the skinny chips hot and crisp. There were other things which escape my memory but certainly nothing weak enough to detract from the overall experience. I had a great steak frites here before now and I’m happy to say the standards don’t seem to have dropped.

In the depths of winter, sitting on bar stools in a toasty pub with full bellies and well-made drinks in hand is a very pleasant experience indeed, the weather brings out the blitz spirit, the banter is in full swing and with the venue running smoothly it creates a very particular type of evening, memorable for all the right reasons, that just doesn’t happen all that often. The Kim Crawford soon bottomed out and the weather, clearly having stirred my Scottish ancestry, drew me toward the Whisky.  If you ever catch me out and about and you want to send a drink over (alright, no need to laugh) go for Whisky and soda, it’s my favourite mixer and more importantly there’s little chance of it being ruined by poor drinksmanship. A handful of said Whiskys in an all-too-short space of time and we were making for the door, nothing to do with the pub, we just had other places to get to.

Stepping out I had become strangely oblivious to the cold which may have had something to do with the festivities, particularly seeing as though I went down like a sack of spuds about three feet from the door (I was like that fat bird on the ‘injured at work?’ ad who belts her knee on the wet floor, it makes me wince every time I think about it. I’m now pointlessly holding my knee and typing with one hand). Unfazed and suffering in silence (ahem) I soldiered on with a steely determination, slightly saddened by the knowledge that it would probably be quite some time before that particular kind of pub visit happened again.

The Abingdon is a very well-kept place, the food is good to great, the wine well chosen and the environment well worth the visit, even if you’re the only ones in there.

Particularly if you’re the only ones in there.

 

Bobby

 

4 Stars

Where: The Abingdon, 54 Abingdon Road, London W8

When: 8.30pm Wed 6th Jan, 2010

Unpublicised: Sit at the bar or reserve a booth. Eat food. Drink wine.

Closes: Lunch 12.30pm – 2.30pm (Mon – Fri) 12.30pm – 3.00pm (Sat & Sun)
             Dinner 6.30pm – 10.30pm (Mon) 6.30pm – 11.00pm (Tues – Sat) 7.00pm – 10.00pm (Sunday)

Tel: 020 7937 3339

Website: http://www.theabingdonrestaurant.com/ 

Menus: On the website

Interest: It’s owned by two blokes and a woman. Well that’s what it looks like from the photos on the website.

Montgomery Place, Notting Hill

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I know Notting Hill fairly well.

Well enough to have a favourite seat at the Electric Cinema (D7; first row with foot rests, in the middle), well enough to have a favourite place to watch sport (the little room in the Walmer Castle; sofa, private bar hatch, your own 40” telly and a cracking Thai green curry) and as you’d expect, well enough to have a favourite bar. Unsurprisingly, it’s that last one we’re going to get amongst for the next couple of minutes or so.

For a really long time Notting Hill was The Westbourne (the more eagle-eyed amongst you will not be surprised to hear this). Many days and nights had been spent in it’s front yard long before celebrity became as tacky as it is these days, but that’s the main reason a lot of people seem to go there now (still a great bar though). The Electric Brasserie became the next default (after discovering the afore-mentioned cinema) and then Beach Blanket Babylon held the title for a bit. I also remember flirting very heavily with The Lonsdale when it opened but since then when anyone asked what my favourite bar in Notting Hill was I’d reel off a few of the old favourites without really committing to any one of them in particular.

That was until Montgomery Place.

Ok, hands in the air, this visit wasn’t the point at which this epiphany occurred, truth be told it was about 3 years ago, but what I discovered then still holds true to this day, perhaps even more so.

We were actually heading to a different bar, The Lonsdale, for no other reason than it was closer to The Churchill Arms, where we’d been back in the Forties for a few hours thanks to their annual celebration of the big man’s birthday, but The Lonsdale was closed down for a re-fit (watch this space) so we kept walking.

Make no mistake, if you appreciate the business of drinking, even in the bigger picture, ‘Monty’ is a serious place. Alcohol here is treated with a reverence that you will only find in a handful of bars across the city and be hard pushed to find outside of a few dozen on the planet. Not only is the business of making fine drinks exercised perfectly but the history, culture and provenance of of alcohol is celebrated in equal measure.

The venue is small and slinky, lots of black leather and glass, with little corners and intimate tables. The bar is as well stocked as you’d imagine and the drinks list reads like an abridged almanac of all the greatest cocktails made since anyone started writing them down. Alex, the un-photogenic but talented resident cocktail Czar, was at Paparazzi in Bratislava before this and has been mixing here for years so after settling into stools in front of the zinc we got straight into it.

A classic Martini with a twist is a great place to start for any occasion, plus if they cock that up you’ll know to stick to beer but clearly that wasn’t going to be the case here. I knew I wanted to end with an Old Fashioned (same old, same old) but I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there so I left it up to Alex. After the Martini, I was handed a Martinez, the original Martini, basically with the vermouth/gin ratio reversed;  then I had two more drinks that for the life of me I can’t remember, purely because I’m rubbish and nothing at all to do with the quality of the cocktails, but I’ll find out what they were and update this very soon. Next a Manhattan, served perfect, with Blanton’s Gold, and finally the Old Fashioned, slightly sweet, and again made with Blanton’s. Every single drink a definition of what it should be and each sip a glowing, darkening amber step towards my personal Bourbon nirvana.

While I’d been busy gliding backwards and forwards over the Atlantic, J had been matching me drink-for-drink through South America and the Caribbean on a rum and cachaça adventure, screwing up his face and nodding enthusiastically in equal measure. I particularly remember a very broad smile produced off the back of an excellent Mojito and a belly-laugh moment when he went all involuntary, like a kid biting into a grapefruit, after gulping an admittedly very sharp Caipirinha.

Needless to say with this and the previous festivities, come closing time the boys were at a bit of a kilter, putting far too much effort into staying on their stools than any Monday night should reasonably require, but when we finally decided to dismount it was fully of our own accord and off we trod, wrapped up and merry, into the brisk, familiar London streets.

We’d completely forgotten to eat so a hasty stroll up to the Gate and two Zinger Tower Burgers with Crispy Strips later (sometimes there’s one one thing you want), the evening was complete. I’d had a big day so the fairies came for me in the back of the taxi and, not for the first time, the driver had to poke me with his newspaper to get the fare.

A great place to go drinking, Notting Hill and one I know fairly well, so from now on when someone asks me what my favourite bar is, I’m going to be a lot more specific.

 

Bobby

 

5 Stars

Where: Montgomery Place, 31 Kensington Park Road, London W11 2EU

When: 9.30pm Mon 30th Nov, 2009

Unpublicised: Sit at the bar, give them a rough idea of what kind of drink you’re in the mood for and take whatever they give you.

Closes: Mon-Thurs 5pm – Midnight, Sat 2pm – 1am, Sun 5pm – 11.30pm

Tel: 020 7792 3921

Website: http://www.montgomeryplace.co.uk/ 

Menus: On the tables

Interest: Opened solely to indulge the owners passion for world-class drinks, so no pressure to cut corners for the sake of increased margins. If only all bars were operated this way…

The Churchill Arms, Kensington

A festive eve

If The Regent is an old friend then surely The Churchill Arms is at the very least an older brother.

This traditional old boozer sat atop Kensington Church Street should be like any other London pub but for two crucial ingredients- the passion and energy of one Gerry O’Brien and the fantastic Thai food served out back. Ingredients are an understatement as in reality they are the heart and the vast majority of the cardiovascular system to this establishment.

Bobby and I have chosen one of the first nights we can reasonably describe as wintry to don warm coats, a festive spirit (its early but gotta love Xmas) and head for this shrine to the MP for Epping and Woodford. There are three entrances to this pub, all on the same side which can be used to your advantage. The one furthest left is probably your best bet when it’s really busy. I wouldn’t normally obsess too much over doors but The Churchill’s biggest downfall, in my hugely partisan opinion, is getting to the bar when the place livens up . Firstly, because there are regulars who have been clinging to the bar stools since Churchill declared war (fair play its a great pub) and also the narrow bar front and clusters of small tables that can make even getting around the bar a testing experience.

Anyway, I feel almost dirty mentioning it but we at Publocation are anything if not honest and it’s clearly annoyed me enough to mention it. I must add however that the service once you get your turn is very good indeed, and we are here on the busiest night of the year. Lets get to the good stuff.  Decor is traditional but its vintage is tricky to call as its covered in everything from bed pans to baskets to beer paraphernalia, all with a historical bent. You’ll find pictures of all the UK PM’s and presidents lined up though it’s not entirely up to date. I guess recent PMs don’t make the cut, and glad to see Obama can fool the Nobel team but not our Gerry. The decor in the restaurant is of starker design but still with plenty of tat and clutter. Botanical twisters and triffids threaten your food from above.

Here we are then on the evening of Winnie’s 135th birthday and we are transported back to the spirit of the Blitz when men were men and woman longed for silk hosiery. As the London Pride flows we contemplate how fortuitous we are today to have what we have and how most of the things we take for granted were so precious back then. I digress whimsically, but at The Churchill it’s the done thing. Our thoughts move to food and our 8pm booking in the Thai restaurant. Booking by the way is a clever idea if you want to beat the queues and sit away from the crowded bar area, but its not essential. If you don’t mind taking your time or can grab a table in the bar, just put you head through, get your name on the list and food generally turns up a lot quicker than anticipated.

If you want satisfaction guaranteed go for the Pad Thai (No. 1), Chicken with cashew(15) or the green/red curry (12 & 20 I think). If you want some heat then go for a 5, 9 or 11 but unless you like  thick noodled, gravy pasted chicken with thick cut veg, then avoid 2 & 3. Most of the dishes are best with chicken but you can also get prawns or mixed. Chilli oil can be provided on request but avoid asking for variations on the dishes. They come as they are with much pride and tradition so entrust yourself to those that know best.

As Vera Lynn wafts siren like through the bar, I make another run for London Pride. Its a tradition on the big C’s birthday but I can also recommend the ice-cold Grolsch. Other drinks on offer are standard Fullers fare and don’t expect too much to excite the fermented fruit lovers.The service is quick despite the throng but be prepared to be patient and say excuse me a lot. You could barge on through but why ruin a perfectly good evening. Standards in general remain high, particularly with Gerry at the helm. He is one of those rarely found old school publicans who believes taking a minute for each and every punter as he scurries around the place wiping and preening, is far more alluring than a floral feature wall fronted by eye bruisingly attractive waifs. A rare thing indeed, particularly in Notting Hill, and in the fact it can work outside a working mans club.

Special mention should be afforded to Gerry’s work on the exterior of the pub and interior of the Thai restaurant. Many hours spent watering and maintaining hundreds of plants and flowers to maximise a stunning inflorescence, has made this pub award-winning within the pub industry, and as a living tapestry London wide. On this particular eve its a Xmas theme so flowers are replaced with fir trees and decorations plastered with golden lights cascading on to red and green hues. These types of themes are always carried on into the pub be it a festival or a sporting match and it makes for a unique atmosphere.

I’ve rated this pub a 4.5 despite my 12 year allegiance because I know it warts and all and I understand what transports it to another level. And as with a life time lover the rose-tinted shades have been upgraded to Boots reading spectacles- not perfect but they do a job. Many who enter The Churchill Arms will simply say English pub-a proven recipe. Surely to the hundred of tourists who wind up there, this is exactly what they expected. On a summer’s day, with no special event or decoration, no Gerry around, and no regulars spinning yarns at the bar, you’ll still get a well served cold pint and a beautiful Thai dish, perhaps even wiling away some time away on the historic and barmy regalia.

But time it right and its a 5 star evening that the Notting Hill bar scene can only dream of.

Where:119 Church Street Kensington, London W8 7LN
When: Monday 30th November 2009, 7pm
Stars:
UnPublicised:
Get a table between the bar and the restaurant (by the fire-place in winter- not too close), a pint of London Pride, and a Spicy Chicken Pad Thai (No. 1) all preferably on Churchill’s birthday. Food served by Annie or Jennie is a must.
Tel: 020 7727 4242
Website: http://www.fullers.co.uk
Menus: 1-20 Thai dishes plus Sunday roast
Interest: Windsor Castle and its garden 2 minutes away

Hawksmoor, EC1

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We seem to be in East London a lot lately. And no bad thing.

 

In the interests of transparency, we were staggering before we even got to Hawksmoor and we were actually meant to be drinking at the Commercial Tavern across the road (we were too late, blame Secret Cinema), but that is not at all to say we settled for second best. Not by a long chalk. I say this because this review is not going to do the place justice. I didn’t take a photo of the outside (although J got a good one of the drinking for Twitter), we didn’t eat (gutted. They are, by some accounts, the best steaks in London) and I can’t remember anyone’s name. This could all have been achieved before we left but the blame for the fact that it wasn’t I place squarely in their own, cocktail-wizarding hands.

The night had been a blinder already, Secret Cinema put on Bugsy Malone and we’d been transported to a 1930’s speakeasy to be entertained by tap dancers, alto sax and a genuine multiplayer custard pie fight in a fully decked-out art deco theatre somewhere near Limehouse. A taxi took us at pace to The Commercial but it only had an 11 o’clock licence (Sat night, really?), we knew Hawksmoor was just across the road so we wobbled across Commercial Street and took seats at the bar.

Now, if you haven’t ever sat at a cocktail bar and engaged in drinks-related discussion with knowledgeable mixologists (they probably hate that term, I know I would) while sipping perfectly made high-end drinks then you really should, and there are few better places to do it than Hawksmoor. There were two people crafting the drinks this evening and one of them was a girl. There aren’t enough female mixers around, serious ones I mean, and she certainly had the skills (I’m mortified I can’t remember her name, I may not even have asked, but as I said it’s her own fault).

As a rule I don’t usually start out on Old Fashioneds, it’s a guaranteed way of ensuring you spend at least a third of the evening on your arse when you’re not meant to be, but it was already late and I knew I’d get it done properly.

The bourbon range, as with most other things was excellent and after a fairly lengthy discussion on the matter I seem to remember I chose a 20 yr old (I have no idea if that’s actually true but it’s close). Sugar, bitters, ice and bourbon a dash at a time, a hell of a lot of stirring and a twist later I got an excellent drink that needed only minute adjustment for sweetness (good mixers always make it dry, it’s a lot harder to take the sugar out). To say the drinks here are good is a genuine understatement. My fellow Publocator went for a fruity affair, to his eternal frustration he’s not huge on spirits but he’s improving by the bar, and he reported it to be delicious. No mean feat in itself.

The thing about Old Fashioneds is once you have one there’s nowhere else to go really, my mixer suggested a Manhattan but I think cocktails should get bigger as your evening progresses, not smaller. I went for another Old Fashioned.

The male of the pair suggested I have it with Blanton’s this time, his favourite bourbon by all accounts. I thought seeing as though it was his pick, then he should make it and he even let me open the new bottle (a moment captured by our Twitter pic). Another glorious golden success.

Conversation briefly moved to tech, the bar bloke declared he was suffering from a bad case of phone envy after having a quick look at the new HD2 I’ve been getting to grips with and my drink was going down so easily I started to wonder how long it would be before I found myself sitting looking up at something I’d had every intention of being level with.

By the time I’d finished it I had one eye closed and J was mumbling something about Belgians so we decided to make a move.

A worthy detour and a fine addition to our humble (and small, but growing, bear with us) collection of venues. Great people, amazing drinks and apparently they can cook too.

We’ll be back.

 

This is not the end of the Publocation review of Hawksmoor, we will return shortly to eat (and see what the place actually looks like) and I’ll update this then.

Stay classy, London.

 

Bobby

UPDATE: Turns out the girl was Missy and the bloke was Pete. Now I know I didn’t ask. Sorry.

5 Stars

Where: Hawksmoor, 157 Commercial Street, London E1 6BJ

When: Sat 28th Nov 2009, 11pm

Unpublicised: Sit at the bar. It doesn’t matter what you order, it will be fantastic.

Closes: Mon-Sat 12pm, closed Sun

Tel: 020 7247 7392

Website: www.thehawksmoor.co.uk

Menus: see website

Interest: Part of the Underdog group, run by a collection of leading industry consultants, as is Green & Red

Cat & Mutton, Hackney

cat and mutton

For an objective web-based column, making a judgement call based on geography is subjective at best, more accurately, naive and pointless. Still, there has to be some of me in my posts and so for the purposes of this review I’m going look at the map from from where I am on it. Just so you know.

There are still places in London that, being a hard and fast West London dweller (think anywhere in a line from Fulham to Notting Hill, Chiswick if I’m feeling rural), that when I go there it genuinely feels different. I don’t mean swapping Georgian terraces in Kensington for mansion blocks in Earls Court different, I mean ‘I’m not convinced this is still London’ different (the pull to mention something about Kansas in this paragraph is surprisingly strong but I won’t weaken).

We at Publocation actively seek out these places and although the locations will be different for most of the people reading this I think the feeling is a common one, it’s a lot of fun to go drinking in very different places than you’re used to. One such place for me (there are a number) is Hackney.

Hackney is not all, of course, the Hackney of this review. There is another, edgier side, as with almost every other London suburb, but this one makes even my 6’1” frame move a mite more briskly between Hackney Central tube and the dubious safety of the nearest minicab office. The point is that you will need a taxi (or a bus) to get to this place from the tube, it’s definitely NSFW (Not Safe For Walking). We would, of course, without hesitation, venture into far more disconcerting environs for the sake of our craft than even the most sinister corners of E8 can bestow should the need arise, but today’s pub isn’t located in one of them so I’ll leave the survival techniques for another review.

The pub of this review is in a part of Hackney that has carved out one of those painfully cool niches for itself over the years and is almost entirely populated by young, arty types; older, arty types and random suited geeks dotted around in between. The majority of people either have far more than their fair share of hair or barely any at all and there seems to be a lot of people trying very hard to look as though they don’t care what they look like. This isn’t a criticism (although the pub has received a lot of it because of this), it’s just an observation, as I said, I like different.

At the end of Broadway Market, the Cat & Mutton is the epicentre of all this not-so-effortless fashion-homage and serves the purpose well. The pub itself is stunning (in a pub sort of way, not in a La Sagrada Familia sort of way, keep it together), high ceilings, big window frames with big pieces of glass and a glut of original features. The bar/kitchen pass/pulpit stands at about 5’9” and adds to the sense of worship. The grill is behind half the bar and nearly all the tables and chairs are vintage stock giving it that familiar (for familiar read ‘done to death’) gastro-bar feel. There’s art on the walls and a pool table upstairs that was annoyingly being sat on by a bunch of skinny-jeaned kids I reckon we could’ve taken down (taken down to Chinatown).

The drink prices took me back West for a minute, more K&C than Hackney, but there’s effort made. A decent draught range: Adnams and Spitfire, seven draught lagers, mostly premium and the compulsory organic draught ciders. Plenty of bottles and a classy wine selection (bottles from £13.50 to £45) means you could meet a big work-related group and even the fussy ones (why are there ALWAYS fussy buggers in a work group?) would find something they’d settle for as long as they weren’t paying.

The menu changes regularly, mains are all between £8 and £14 and the food sounded, looked and tasted good. ‘Calves liver, mash, crispy pancetta, Swiss chard, sage jus’ was my pick and I’m glad of it (all foodies HAVE to eat offal if it’s on the menu). Service seemed prompt enough but to be honest I wasn’t really paying attention, if I don’t have time to think ‘where’s my $%*#@$?! food?’ then that’s good enough  for me.

The beauty of drinking somewhere different is you get to go home with nothing but a memory of the best bits, it’s like giving kids back, and the memory of the Cat & Mutton is a pleasant one.

It’s vibrant, arty and ever-so-slightly wanky but my local definitely isn’t, so I thought it was great.

Bobby

4 Stars

Where: Cat & Mutton, 76 Broadway Market, London E8

When: Wed 4th Nov 2009, 9pm

Unpublicised: Seats are much-of-a-muchness but get in early if there’s a few of you. Menu is ever-changing and drinks are across the board so whatever you fancy really. Pool table upstairs if you’re in time to kick the oiks off before they multiply.

Closes: Sun–Thur 11pm, Fri/Sat

Tel: 020 7254 5599

Website: http://catandmutton.co.uk/

Menus: see website

Interest: Sister pub just around the corner

I have to admit to a slight bias regarding the name Coach and Horses based on well, bias(and a pub I once visited in Leamington Spa which is probably all it is really). For me the name has always conjured images of suburban chain pubs trying to pass themselves off as 17th century coaching inns, when they are about as original as a photocopied menu pizza. I approached this particular Coach and Horses down a slope( I now know once formed the ancient and now hidden underground River Fleet), and its initial appearance left me with similar misgivings. Entering I was again slightly under awed but I think it may have been due to my predisposition and the fact I didn’t quite know what to make of it. In what can only be described as Jack and the Beanstalk proportions, this place did however grow on me.

Its got a kind of odd feel to it, part old man boozer, part gastro pub. The decor itself is along similar lines with Victorian wood panel dancing on 70’s laminate and Ikea style furniture that all seems to work-don’t know why. The bar itself is competent with an array of pouring and premium lagers to satisfy most tastes and a few ales to boot. The whiskey selection is extensive and worth a lunch time session. The temptation to dive into the wine list was even harder to resist as there was a fabulous array of Euro-centric offerings (so it should be), some English offerings to match the British modern cuisine, and a dab of New World enthusiasm to ensure all tastes were met. The motto “Non vendimus quod non bibimus “- “We do not sell what we do not drink”- is the very spirit of Publocation.

Sadly the first liquid interaction resulted in a pint of Stella in a Carlsberg glass, why oh why? Its really not that hard and speaks volumes on the finer details of first impressions. That aside the beer was cold and the atmosphere convivial. The layout allowed room for tables and punters but left plenty of room to move around and claustrophobia was not permitted entry. So to the menu which we eagerly scanned for the unusual and meaty and sensed immediately a gastro pub pushing the realms of fine restaurant…perhaps too far but who am I to scoff at fine food? I popped my head into the adjoining dining room which was cozy and buzzing with 100% occupancy, but it felt rather claustrophobic given the acres of space in the open and airy bar surrounds. I gasped at the grubby salmon pink regurgitation passing as carpet on the threshold between the two areas and scratched my head raw looking for a reason for its existence. Maybe to wipe your feet on the way upstairs or simply a place to vomit salmon?

The menu itself provided many delights including venison, partridge, a fabulous looking fish and chips, and a chef recommended pigs cheek and parsley pie. My esteemed Publocator went for another chef’s recommendation, a tasty assortment consisting of lop pork chop,kidney, bacon, garlic mushroom and chips. All mains ranged between 11 and 14 quid, higher end for a gastro pub but this is Clerkenwell and the produce was far from mundane. The staff were efficient but not razor sharp (service wise) and each one wobbled precariously on the fence between Geektown and Coolville. Kind of cool as a result.
There was quite a wait for the food but not enough to dampen the mood- the portions on my plate did that job anyway with tsunami like effect. I don’t expect a partridge to be large, I am not expecting something from the emu family but when the meat on its already mass challenged body is barely enough to constitute a Sainsburys food tasting, I feel aggrieved. The mash that was squeezed into a glass ramekin the size of a 50p coin actually made me laugh audibly. Bobby took pity on me and sent a pork lop my way as the puppy dog eyes and tutting broke his spirit but I was hungry, and I mean can still poke in a cheeseburger hungry. This site used to be right next door to a bear baiting arena back in the day, I know how the bear felt. Even filling up on bread didn’t help, especially as the butter supplied was economised in the manner of the finest beluga.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll try anything and I’ve been to plenty of fine restaurants that take artistic license to the very brink of purgatory, flair and portion sizing can be a canvas, I GET IT, but this took the proverbial.  My colleague was stuffed on the other hand and his meat feast was succulent, varied and tasty. I’ll measure my scoring appropriately but you remember that beanstalk I mentioned earlier?I was on the way back down.

I know this is a good pub and it shall be rated as such, but on this occasion I wanted and deserved more. It needs another visit and I, like Jack, once the giant of disappointment is officially confirmed dead, (and not in any way breathing, I mean severe kicking and shot to the head dead to be sure) shall once again be buying magic beans at The Coach and Horses. Just make sure its a decent portion.

Where:26 – 28 Ray Street Clerkenwell London EC1R 3DJ
When: Wednesday 4th November 2009, 9pm
Stars:
UnPublicised:
Get a table by the window, a glass of pinot, and avoid the dining room(and the partridge)
Tel: 020 7278 8990
Website: http://www.thecoachandhorses.com
Menus: Daily. See website.
Interest: The whiskey and the history