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Archive for November, 2009

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

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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

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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

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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

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The Regent, Kensal Green

regent

Your local pub is a bit like a pair of house pants. Close at hand, easy to get to and will just about do if you absolutely have to leave the house. They should also be comfortable which may not necessarily mean they fit but as long as they are functional they serve a purpose. If you are lucky enough to have the Regent on the final trip hazard through your door, then damn it, not only are you wearing your house pants out and about with pride, they are also fitted, cool and funky.

So I find myself here on a fresh and wet Sunday afternoon (still in my pants) with the aim of taking a snapshot of this very familiar and comfy pub that is anything but pants. All looks quiet on approach, a lot to do with the fact its tucked down a narrow one way lane called Regent Street( No not that one but if you want to mess with The Knowledge….) Its a little obscured which may alienate the walk in crowd but once you’re in you’re very happy for them to keep walking. On entry there is an instant buzz for I have hit Sunday lunch. I knew that but still clearly the place to spend an afternoon with friends or family.  And lets face it Sundays are precious.

So to service, well its instant which is always a plus. I am honing in on one of the Swedish sisters mind so perhaps my enthusiasm is slightly biased. The staff are industrious and busy as bees and they multiply according to volume of punters, a basic formula that so many pubs get wrong. On a busy Friday or Saturday you will see up to six staff snaking around inside the square bar like..well..a game of Snake. Today I go Guinness- its good, its cold, the 2 stage pour is fine, glassware needs renovating but so far so good.

Looking around I see dull green/meets gun grey painted interior, blackboards (with random messages rather than quotes for a small point of difference),eclectic furniture, wooden dinner tables, lovely old fire places, crazy chandeliers, fat iron radiators and wooden floors. All standard gastro pub fittings but it seems to work well here..maybe its because its a bit gritty.My fellow Publocator would suggest a good deep clean so it may lose a couple of points but it works well for me, its not clinical like most of the newer gastro pubs and there is no apathy or neglect here. There is a semi enclosed garden that I used to find too busy with table and chairs and rather cramped. I am pleased to see they have fully decked the area now and fitted new leather covered benches along the walls so they will fit more punters in. It still amounts to a minimal view of the sky..nice for smokers. You can sit at the bar or sit out the front. At the bar is pretty annoying in any pub unless you’re the one there. Nice clientele generally funky, professional, young family folk, the kind who dress like this every day of the week.

The story; well it has one. Site of the original green-as in Kensal Green-not far from what used to be the Plough Inn right back in the days when the Royals would use the Harrow Road as a horse and carriage drag strip; and some have now come to rest in the nearby grand old Kensal Green cemetery.

I find my perfect spot as a sea of feasting punters open up before me Moses like…two big old red leather arm chairs. Comfy, functional and room for a bite. By the door so a slight draft and if the odd punter in and out the door will drive you to distraction then move further in for the half square of comfy sofa delight in front of the fuel effect fire place..perfect for papers. There are no pool tables or TVs so forget the big match, but then that wouldn’t work here. Funky music always on the go but come in on a Friday and Sat night if you want to see it belting.

Grabbing a menu, most of which I’ve done before, and the waitress is here within three minutes enquiring if I am OK. Good stuff. Sunday is roast day with beef sirloin , chicken or a vegetarian gratin to choose from and all with the usual veggie trimmings, Yorkshire pud and loads of gravy. Dessert is more classic fare- apple crumble, brownie, Eton mess and a cheese board. Any other day of the week go for a burger be it beef or chicken with any topping you want.

A base covering if not extensive range of reds and whites from 14.50 to 28 quid a bottle with a definite new world bent..so if that’s your bag. Beers on tap include Guinness, San Miguel, Red Stripe Becks, Amstel and one standard ale. There is also mix of eclectic bottles from around the world all left over from the last tasting if you feel like being a bit weird. Don’t count on it lasting. There is also a big wooden bowl of popcorn continuously perched on the bar. if you’ve read the stories about the human by products and general E.coli fear that go with, it may make you sick…but wait for a fresh batch or dig low and its irresistible after a few pints.

I am asked another three times by the friendly staff if I need anything; so I finish my second pint with a warm glow that my old friend has not let me down.

Where: The Regent, 5 Regent Street, Kensal Green, London, NW10 5LG
When: Sunday 1st November 2009, 3pm
Stars:
UnPublicised:
Grab a red leather armchair, a friend,a cold lager and make mine a burger for Tuesday’s best friend night(half price food)
Tel: 020 8969 2184
Website: http://www.theregentkensalgreen.com
Menus: See website. Week days burgers, Sunday roasts
Interest: Paradise Bar opposite

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