Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Monty's Restaurant & Wine Bar




Italian sophistication in London's West End...

A spot of shopping on Oxford Street followed by a catch up with friends, a good cold glass of white wine and a selection of cheeses mid-afternoon; or a whole day’s hardcore shop til you drop preceded by a specially selected glass of red and a big steaming bowl of fresh tagliatelle beef ragu and parmesan…


 


Either sounds delightful doesn’t it?!!  Luckily I have just the perfect place.  Monty’s Wine Bar & Restaurant is just about to launch in the West End.  Just a short walk from the hustle and bustle of London’s premiere shopping street, you can escape to this calming, relaxed and atmospheric bar/restaurant to soak up some Italian sophistication.



We were invited along to preview the menu last night and with chicceti, charcuterie, specialities, cheese selections and deserts, there’s something to satisfy your every craving.



Perfect for a business lunch, an after work vino or an intimate dinner with friends, the owner Guzaliya Bektemissova, along with the manager Antonio (a former pro wine sommelier who is full of character and enthusiasm), will ensure you’re eating and drinking nothing but the best, with wines which aren’t available elsewhere, along with the freshest ingredients and the finest produce, sourced from small artisan producers.



With many years in the industry, Antonio suggested we tried a Soave which went down a treat with fresh foccacia and flat breads, followed by calamari, fresh bruschetta topped with rich cherry tomatoes and arancine ragu balls -  just the right consistency along with a homemade tomato sauce.



A tagliatelle beef ragu followed; long, flat ribbons cooked just right, making it easy to swirl them expertly around our forks.  This was topped with a rich ragu sauce, not too tomatoey and just enough of it to compliment the pasta.



And desert…  Well we shouldn’t really have indulged, having eaten far too much already, but after much deliberation, we tried chocolate ice cream, tangy strawberry sorbet and a light lemon tart.



We didn’t try the cheeses, but the selection is plentiful with a range of cow’s, goat’s and sheep milk varieties from Sardinia and Lombardy.  Along with the pasta, there’s also tuna and t-bone steaks on the menu.



A lovely meal  and a chic, sophisticated setting along with some nice but not overbearing background music and a very welcoming atmosphere, make Monty’s the new must visit wine bar on the block.


www.montyswinebar.com
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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dine Mile High - Destination Sicily



Transporting you around the world without ever having to leave London!



I read about Dine Mile High when it launched and thought it was the coolest concept ever!  You check in at a secret location and grab your boarding pass and passport, make your way through to the departure lounge for a few cocktails, before you’re called for boarding (by name!) and entry to the restaurant with a particular destination theme.  How much fun does that sound?!  





Thankfully the experience also lived up to the expectation – what a fun evening…



I met my cousin at Piccadilly with an address we weren’t familiar with.  Google maps was unhelpful (why have they changed it?!!)  15 minutes of wandering around Haymarket and the Strand, we then realised that the venue was a 2 minute walk from where we’d been standing… Doh.



Check-in however, was a pleasant experience!  No miserable assistants, no stupid questions asking who packed your Mulberry.  No need to squeeze your coat, bottle of water, other bag all inside one case, (damn you Ryanair) because they have a cloakroom!  Bonus!  Instead, we were greeted at the desk by the pilot and his gorgeous team of air stewards, and almost immediately, we found it impossible to resist getting straight into flight mode, as we were given boarding passes and passports and ushered through into the departure lounge. 



And what a fabulous lounge it was.  Dark and decadent, sofas and bar stools, extremely good looking bar men and the cocktails weren’t bad either!  This definitely didn’t feel like Heathrow Terminal 1…  Faye opted for the Aperol which she proclaimed was quite delicious.  I went for the Mile High Martini - again, very pleasant!  As we sipped on our drinks, more passengers filled the bar, and the beautiful air hostesses made small talk with us.  General holiday chit chat.  Faye and I got right into character!  Had we been to Sicily before?  How were our drinks?  Where was my dress from?  The pilot also came and introduced himself while sipping on an Aperol…or 3!  It was quite possible we’d be in for a bumpy flight, but he assured us it would be fine… He had a good co-pilot (just aswell!).



After having our passports stamped for more cocktails, and also indulging in some lovely arancini balls, the pilot introduced us all to his team and invited us by name to board the plane (meaning restaurant).



Our dining area had been transformed (from nothing, I suspect…), to a beautiful Sicilian courtyard complete with huge, long tables; boxes of fresh fruit and veg strewn around; washing hanging out to dry; exposed brick walls and pretty flowers.  We were all asked to sit opposite each other, making for a very sociable experience as we ended up chatting to the people who were sitting either side. 



We were also invited to share the table wine around and our second course was a huge and very delicious bowl of aubergine and tomato Pasta alla Norma – again in a huge sharing bowl, encouraging you to get to know your neighbours.  (I’ve skipped over the starter, because it really wasn’t to my taste… Marinated swordfish in orange and cinnamon with fennel and pine nuts, although it’s worth pointing out that everyone else seemed to be enjoying theirs…)



The main course was pretty darn tasty though - Slow roasted pork belly with braised hispi cabbage, white beans and sicilian lemon.  Hispi cabbage I hear you ask?!  Yes exactly, but it was really nice, promise.



While we waited for desert, (there was quite a wait between courses - but then of course, a flight from London to Sicily is around 3 hours…), there was more entertainment from the cabin crew who had been cast perfectly!  All full of fun, personality and really rather funny, as they got into character.  We were also invited to take part in a game (I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what you might win!)



Desert was Burnt peach gelato, pistachio praline and amaretti biscotti.  But by this point I was way too full from the previous 3 courses and couldn’t quite finish it!  So, all in all, 4 courses, 2 cocktails and wine with dinner, all for the very reasonable price of £65 per person!  Not bad at all!  Another great thing about the Dine Mile High concept is that there’s a different destination every time they ‘pop up’, meaning you can be transported round the world without ever having to leave London.



Grab together your girls, guys or groups and celebrate your next special occasion in style.  Book well in advance though, there only seemed to be around 80ish seats and they were all full.  Or, you can pay just £20 and visit the departure lounge without the restaurant experience.



Dine Mile High is definitely dinner with a difference.  Here’s to a very pleasant flight!



http://www.dinemilehigh.com/




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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Many Faces of David Bowie Exhibition



‘This is your exclusive invitation to the private viewing of the incredible contemporary exhibition at Opera Gallery London, New Bond Street’ said the email which landed in my inbox last week.  After 11 nights out on the trot, I was considering a ‘rare’ night in last Wednesday.  But this invite was way too Sex and the City to turn down…





Swinging our Prada Saffiano’s, we tottered down New Bond Street taking in the latest collections being paraded in the windows of Dolce & Gabana and Armani. 



The most stunning collection however, was about to be unveiled at 134 New Bond Street.  Running parallel to the exhibition ‘David Bowie is’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, ‘The Many Faces’ collection at the Opera Gallery pays homage to the legendary rock star through each artists’ individual interpretation – creating a contemporary vision of Bowie Mania through a selection of one off masterpieces.



As we supped on Champagne and did some celeb spotting, we made our way around the gallery with a constant look of surprise on our faces every time we were greeted with another impressive portrait of the iconic star.



Our favourites included Joe Black’s 3D artwork made out of 9000 painted test tubes, the stunning signature spray paint work of Mr Brainwash capturing Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust; and Marco Lodola’s mixed media and lightbox sculpture titled ‘Aladdin’, paying tribute to the cover of Bowie’s 6th album – ‘Aladdin Sane.’



Even if you’re not a David Bowie fan, this exhibition is well worth a visit and you can catch it at the Opera Gallery on New Bond Street until 31st August.














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Red Pocket, Battersea - Fine Chinese dining a stunning sunset!



According to Chinese custom, the ‘Red Pocket’ is an envelope containing money which is given at weddings or on holidays and symbolises good luck.  Luck was most definitely on our side last Tuesday as my friend and I headed to the Red Pocket Chinese restaurant within the boutique Hotel Verta at Battersea.  It had been a warm and sunny day and would prove to be the most perfect setting to watch a stunning sunset against the backdrop of the Thames.





With a great riverside location, although slightly tricky to get to, Red Pocket is right next door to the London Heliport – great if you’re travelling by helicopter or

quite impressive to see them taking off and landing…  Equally as impressive is the restaurant itself – warm, inviting, contemporary and calming, huge yet intimate, stylish and modern.



I’d love to say we were shown to the table with the best view… but the truth is, with its’ huge glass windows, pretty much all of the tables have a truly fabulous view of the river and the London skyline.  There’s also outside seating for alfresco summer dining.



The restaurant offers lunch, dim sum high tea and dinner, with a set menu in the evenings between 5pm and 7pm.  We decided we’d go for the 3 courses for £30 set menu with a generous choice of 3 starters, 6 mains and 4 deserts. 



As the wine arrived, a gorgeous bottle of Viognier (my favourite - although there is a great selection of wines and cocktails on offer), we were also treated to a plate of appetisers which included sweet coated peanuts, cucumber and pickled veg - just the right amount to build up our appetite before the starters arrived.



For our first course, we opted for sweet sticky ribs and the chef’s signature Xiao Long Bao – 7 steamed mixed dumplings, each a different colour and filled individually with succulent crab and chicken along with a chilli oil and a tangerine vinegar.  The sauces perfectly complimented our dim sum, which were absolutely delicious.



For our mains, I ordered the beef fillet which came beautifully presented with a decorative crispy noodle basket – beautifully tender beef with rich intense flavours and a subtle hint of pepper.  We surmised that this was most definitely the best Chinese dish we had ever tasted… well that was until Sylwi’s roast chicken arrived!  Wow!  This dish blew us away…  Perfectly cooked chicken with a crisp, golden skin and a fragrant, sweet, flavourful sauce that we simply couldn’t get enough of!  Accompanied by some traditional pak choi (which was refreshingly light and acted almost as a palate cleanser) and bowlfuls of steaming rice, this on reflection has got to be in my top ten of best meals ever…



We leisurely picked at these dishes not wanting them to end, while taking in the most stunning sunset I’ve ever seen in London and tweeting photos of the food and views.



Having eaten so much of our mouth watering mains, there was little room for desert, but for the sake of review, we thought it best to try out a couple and we’re most definitely pleased we did!  We decided to go for the kiwi cheesecake first.  While it was delicate, light and refreshing, I would’ve preferred a biscuit base rather than sponge, and it maybe could have done with slightly more flavour, but the chocolate mousse was just something else!  Light and airy, perfect tasting chocolate, sweet but not overpowering and sooooo moreish!  Having previously been too full to even eat desert, we now found ourselves savouring every last mouthful and scraping the plate!



The man we have to thank for our amazing meal?!!  Chef Weng Kong Wong, who has also headed up the kitchen at the acclaimed Hakkasan in Mayfair.  His aim is to blend the best European ingredients with Eastern aromatic herbs, sauces and spices and I’d definitely say he’s achieved that.  My friend Sylwi also has an obsession with ‘open kitchens’ – she sees it as a sure indication that the food is going to be good and you can see exactly where your meal is coming from, so no surprises.  She was therefore delighted to find out that Red Pocket had huge glass windows so she could see Weng Kong Wong at work, while dinner was prepared in front of our very own eyes. 



So if you’re after top notch Chinese views, a gorgeous view, beautifully presented food and an ambient atmosphere, you’re most definitely ‘in luck’ at the Red Pocket.  I’d even go as far as to say it’s one of the most delicious Chinese meals I’ve ever had the good fortune to devour.
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Saturday, June 15, 2013

A real taste of Morocco (On Edgware Road)



I’ve been to Morocco.  I ate tagine from the grubbiest back street café you ever saw and didn’t get food poisoning.  I bought a fake Gucci messenger bag and got a reduced price because the guy who sold it to me wanted to buy me in exchange for 50 camels (Bit stingy I thought?!)  Glad my boyfriend at the time thought so too.  Said tagine was probably one of the tastiest I’d ever eaten though…  Shame it was so tricky to get hold of alcohol, as it kinda put me off the place…



Last night however, turned out to be an unexpected Moroccan / Lebanese treat!  I met my cousin and her fiancé on Edgware Road after a few Espresso Martini’s with Sylwi, in the local - The Botanist at Sloane Square.  (Well it’s actually 7 tube stops away from home, but if feels like our local ha ha).



‘It’s called Maroush’ said the text from Chris (that’s Faye’s fiancé and soon to be my cousin’).  Alrighty then.  He failed to mention there are actually 8 Maroush’s on Edgeware Road.  We should know, we went in all of them.  And the Maroush they were actually in, turned out to be called Sidi Marouf!  Go figure.





That little episode was all but forgotten though, when a huge plate of cooked to perfection halloumi arrived along with a load of dips, great big black olives, tsatsiki and pitta breads.  The wine was average, but according to Faye, ‘got better the more you drank of it…’  Lucky that she was right.



For mains, we ordered lamb shank with prunes and almonds which was totally delicious – the kind of meat that falls of the bone – mmm.  And then as we sat back, satisfied, chatting and drinking, the entertainment started up!



A cute little old man began playing the keyboard (I think he was playing along to the demo, but couldn’t be sure…)  Sylwi offered her singing services.  Little old man declined.  (Obviously he’s heard her on the karaoke at Bunga Bunga).  Out of nowhere appeared a beautiful belly dancer wearing orange.  (Great figure and she looked a bit like Nicole Sherzinger.)  The place went wild!  People were up out of their seats throwing the craziest moves.  Nobody cared!  I took the opportunity to go the toilets and when I came back, discovered Sylwi and my cousin had been up pulling shapes with the belly dancer too!  Can’t believe I missed out…



After all the excitement had died down, out came a gigantic fruit bowl.  It really reminded me of Ted Dansen in ‘3 Men and a Little Lady’ when he’s wearing that crazy headdress on the set of his movie – remember?!  Naturally, we had to have a go.  Who knew you could have so much fun with a bunch of grapes and some watermelon?!  Or pretending a pineapple was an 80's mobile phone?!  We sure did though...



If you’re looking for ‘dinner with a difference’, great food, entertainment thrown in and free fruit bowl, the Sidi Marouf is your place.



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Lollipop Events Launch



I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of Mark Ward’s brand new events company - Lollipop Events, last week at London’s Hippodrome in Leicester Square.

Sylwi was my plus one, mainly because the night included a range of taster sessions.  One of them happened to be ‘Cigar Tasting’, which Sylwi and I had taken quite a fancy to (while sampling the delights of the Cigar Lounge at The Address Hotel in Dubai).

We were greeted with wine and cocktails while the new co-owner and chairman Simon Thomas of the Hippodrome talked us through its’ fascinating history.  Apparently when it was a real circus back in the 1900’s, all the animals (lions, tigers, elephants, you name it) were actually kept in the Hippodrome!  Unbelievable really then, that some 80 years later, Peter Stringfellow would turn it into the infamous London club with an even more famous sticky floor…. And now, a super casino with bars, restaurants and a cabaret theatre!



Unfortunately, ‘cigar tasting’ was cancelled…. Apparently there had only been two people who wanted to take part (…Ahem).  But we were more than happy with the substitute sesh which was ‘cocktail making’!  Our expert mixologist barman talked us through how to make Black and White Russians and Espresso Martinis’…  And then we got to drink them all!  After which, we were treated to lessons in playing Blackjack and Roulette.  (Obviously Sylwi and I now think we are total experts…)  Probably best we were playing with ‘free chips’ though hey…

A great night was had by all, and the champagne and lemon meringue canapés rounded things off nicely, as did the goodie bag.  Although we did then decide to hit the super friendly ‘Friendly Inn’ for duck pancakes in China Town.  What a great evening.  And good luck to Mark Ward with his fab new events company.

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Berlin - A whistestop tour...



Ahh Berlin… with many a famous sight to be seen: the Berlin Wall, the Olympiastadion, Grunewald, Museum Island… Sadly the only walls we saw really were the walls of a club and of our apartment.  What an awesome party city!  Do Germans never sleep?!!  Having spent just 3 days there, I can safely say, ermm no, no they don’t.  But they do eat a hell of a lot of sausages…





Friday night was a quick check in to our apartment, get ready, go out kinda of a night.  The venue of choice?  Felix Club, www.felix-clubrestaurant.de/en billed as the ‘hottest premium club in Berlin’.  Maybe we’re a little spoiled for choice with London’s superclubs, but it all felt a bit touristy to me (us being the tourists…), and even their spectacular light show, random snow storms and based-up-to-the-max sound system weren’t really enough to impress us (me!).



To be fair, there were a few hunky bearded Berlin boys to look at, and there was also plenty shots and champagne to go around (which helped soften the blow), but the real highlight of my night was at closing time when Julian accused the cloakroom attendant of stealing her iphone from her bag, only to discover after 20 minutes of arguing, that Schoschanna actually had it in her pocket.  Cue quick exit (and left over pizza for breakfast).



On Saturday we headed into town to see some true Berlin sights – we got stuck in H&M though.  Sylwi and Schoshanna both wanted us to try some ‘authentic’ sausages, but when they arrived, the girls were less than impressed, so I was pretty happy I’d gone for a taste of Spain with meatballs and bacon wrapped dates. 



Hair of the dog had us divided over lunch… Schoschi and Stacey needed to lie down.  Julian, Sylwi and I decided a bit of daytime dancing would sort us out…  And so we headed wearily to ‘Open Air’ at Picnick.  We shouldn’t have worried, 2 vodka red bulls in and we were dancing on the tables with the rest of the crazy party people who were crammed into what can only be described as a big garden with a bar.  And it was only 4pm…



We made it home for 7pm, got changed and headed to a private party we’d been invited to at a suite in the Ritz Carlton.  A Balthazar of champers awaited, while a strange Hugh Heffner lookalike lay in a closed off bedroom smoking a cigar.  It was all a bit surreal really.  To our disbelief (and only about an hour later), we were escorted off the premises (that’s a story for another time…)  But because we’d decided to play the night by ear and by this point didn’t really mind where we went, it was decided we’d head back to Picnick and continue the party.



Unfortunately I was beaten by my super uncomfortable heels… (note to self, in NO circumstances ever, should you be tempted to wear a pair of Louboutin’s to rave in….what was I thinking???)  I made it home first and managed to clean up the best of the sushi that had been left earlier.  Bonus.



Sunday morning was lazy.  Sunday afternoon we ate.  Sunday early evening, we decided we’d go partying again.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get into the first club (another all day indoor and outdoor techno fest) but another, down by the river had us dancing in the rain and supping on really bad white wine before we could say ‘bratwurst.’ I’d love to tell you what this place was called, but none of us can remember.  We ended the evening in ‘Thai Square’ (as you do in Germany) and were all home in bed by 11, ready for our early morning flight back to London.



What a wonderful whirlwind weekend.  Time to get on Martin Money Saving Experts flightchecker thingy and get another one booked…
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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Tuesday Aperitivo - Bunga Bunga



It’s all about the ‘Bunga Bunga’ – an Aperitivo experience like no other!

Tuesday’s are normally quite boring… There’s nothing on TV and it’s still 3 days ‘til the weekend.  Well not anymore…  

Bunga Bunga - Italian pizzeria, karaoke and club on Battersea Bridge Road has been one of my fave haunts in London for the past 2 years.  So I was more than happy to take my friends along to sample their lively ‘Aperitivo’ Tuesday menu.  And lively is the word!



Before we get to the food, let me just give you the low down.  Named after Silvio Berlusconi’s ‘special’ (ahem) parties, Bunga Bunga is most definitely NOT the place you’d go for a quiet, romantic date, or with your best friend to talk about a serious break up… Nope, this is a place to eat, party, dance and ogle at the rather cute waiters!  With mopeds, helmets and push bikes hanging from the ceiling and cheeky caricatures dotted around the walls, the staff whirl wind around the restaurant wearing naked aprons.  There’s a round of karaoke every Thursday-Sunday after 10pm, where it’s not uncommon to be boo-ed off if you sound like a dying cat.  And at midnight every night, Christmas is standard.  As in, streamers, fireworks, Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ and glittery confetti you’ll find in your bag and stuck to the bottom of your heels 6 weeks later.  Noooo, this is not your average restaurant.

Which is why I was expecting big and crazy things from their Aperitivo nights…. And I’m pleased to say, they didn’t disappoint!

We arrived just after 8 after a busy, hectic day, so the welcome cocktail – an Aperol Spritz (Aperol, Soda Water and Prosecco) made lovingly by cocktail extraordinaire Renato, was extremely welcome.  Schoschanna decided on the ‘Strawberry Kiss’ which packed a punch with Amaretto, and we’re not sure how she wangled it, but Sylwi actually got to try out a brand new concoction which we named the ‘Tequila Sylwi’ – feel free to ask for it even though it’s not yet on the menu; a smooth blend of tequila, orange and cinnamon along with some secret ingredients…  (She’s now referring to herself as the cocktail ‘muse’ – bless her.)

After sinking our drinks, we made our way to the buffet.  Italian stylee, the idea is to keep going back and filling up your plate to stretch your snacking throughout the evening.  On offer, was a selection of hams, chorizos and salami, bowls of pesto pasta, huge chunks of delicious tangy parmesan, juicy green oversized olives, oversized meat filled doorstep sized sandwiches and a selection of bruschetta style bites - mackerel pate, tomato, and mozzarella and ham.

While we stuffed our small plates with antipasti, the entertainment started up and Amaraterra took to the stage.  If you’ve never seen or heard them before, they’re the first pizzica ensemble in London, bringing with them, traditional folk music and dance from Salento – the ‘heel’ of Italy.  Loud, animated and energetic, it was hard not to get caught up in the rowdy Italian spirit of it all. 
 
Diego the restaurant manager selected a beautiful bottle of wine on our behalf – A Sereole Soave and after polishing this off, we bizarrely found that we were able to sing along to the songs with great ease (having never heard them before, nor deterred by the fact they were being sung in an entirely different language!)  We were also pleased to discover the vibe was quite catching and by 10pm, the band had a floor full of dancers trying out some traditional pizzica moves, while mixed groups of couples, friends and co-workers downed shots at the bar and donned the famous Bunga Bunga caps.  (I later found my friend Leonie had managed to wangle one of these caps too… possibly from the guy at the bar downing shots….)

And so Aperitivo Tuesday… A quiet dining experience it is not, but if you’re looking for a unique, fun filled experience and some decent antipasti grub washed down with some splendid sparkling cocktails, then Bunga bunga is bound to be your bag.

The Aperitivo Buffet is available every Tuesday 7.30pm-9.30pm, £7 after buying your first cocktail.
www.bungabunga-london.com
https://www.facebook.com/Amaraterra

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Saturday, June 01, 2013

McQueen Shoreditch - Planning a 'Great Escape' East?


I remember reading somewhere that McQueen in Shoreditch was a tribute to Alexander McQueen…  Ermm Wrong McQueen.  The true inspiration for this bar, restaurant and club ‘all under one roof’, was the amazing ‘King of Cool’ – Mr Steve McQueen.

So in search of a good girlie gossip and a bit of a dance on a Friday night, the girls and I made our way to the winner of ‘Best Restaurant 2012’ awarded last year by the ‘London Club and Bar Awards’.



Although I’d never visited the restaurant before, I had actually been to their basement club for a dance night called ‘The Hat Club’ in which unsurprisingly everyone wears a hat (www.hat-club.com) – it attracted a ‘cool’ crowd back then, so I was expecting great things…

The restaurant itself has a separate door around the side, so you don’t have to fight your way through the busy bar to get there.  And when you arrive, a stylish space awaits...  Slick modern décor, dark wood and chesterfield sofas.  Exposed brick walls are lined with pictures of the Hollywood icon so you can have a good old swoon while you’re browsing the wine list.  And with a wide selection of red, white and rose wines, along with an extensive selection of champagnes, we were suitably impressed by the amount of choice, while there’s also a good range of beers, wines, spirits and cocktails on offer.

Just like the movie star, a blend of masculinity and sensitivity which made every man want to be him and every woman want to be with him, the McQueen restaurant has a rugged, classic appeal with a feminine touch.  Leather sofas, but with fur throws; big pictures, but beautiful thick gold frames.  Kind of like an opulent, slightly girly Gentleman’s Club.  We summised that a guy would love to bring you here on a date.  And if the date happened to be going badly, there’s always the flat screen TV on the main wall, so you can immerse yourself in a good McQueen classic.  It’s also a great conversation starter if you’re struggling for conversation…

The main menu boasts some good grill classics with big American style Black Angus steaks and burgers, while there’s lamb, pork, halibut and seabass on offer too.  We tried the Spring Menu which is served between 5-7.30pm Tuesday to Friday and for such opulent surroundings, is a steal at £12.50 for 2 courses and £15.50 for 3.

Although the portions are small, we decided that the Spring Menu is a good choice if a) you’ve shoehorned yourself into a gorgeous tight new dress which doesn’t allow much leeway for a huge 3 course dinner, and b) if you’re dancing in the club downstairs afterwards and don’t want to feel like you’d rather be at home wondering why you ate so much..

And because there were 3 of us, we actually got to try every singledish on this special (if slightly limited) menu.  Our pick of the best, was definitely the Butternut Squash, red lentil and coconut soup for starter - a rich, spicy, slightly curried blend which was delicious with a bit of pepper.  For main, (and again, after sampling all 3 dishes,) we decided that the gnocci with sautéed courgettes and toasted pine nuts in a white wine sauce was the best choice, while desert was a toss up between 3 flavour ice cream (the cinnamon was definitely a winner) while the Mixed Berry Cake with delightfully light vanilla sponge with cream had us all wanting another helping.

We followed this off with a drink in the lounge bar (also suitably McQueen inspired) and a dance downstairs where the club classics had us burning off all those calories we’d just consumed.

So if you’re looking for a ‘Great Escape’ from Central London, McQueens might just hit the spot.




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The Hutch Club at Quaglino's - Jay Gatsby would love it...

Pop in to Quaglino’s Twenties inspired pop-up at The Hutch Club.
Pop ups are awesome, mainly because you can keep going back to the same bar in the city and have an entirely different experience every time you visit!
Take Quaglino’s for example which has been around since the twenties, first opening it’s doors to a glam, decadent crowd in 1929.  The restaurant is as magnificent in its splendour as ever, while the bar has been transformed into ‘The Hutch Club’ - a Gatsby-esque art-deco speak easy, complete with charming paintings of the jazz greats on the walls and a gorgeous grand piano as the centre piece to a fabulous live band. 
The lounge is named after the legendary cabaret entertainer Leslie Hutchinson, a society darling and BBC on-air regular, who frequented Mayfair’s coolest bars and wowed the Quaglino’s crowd with his performances.
Until 31st August, be transported back to the golden age of Jazz with The Dixie Ticklers, Verity & Violet and the Basin Street Brawlers who’ll be livening things up on Friday and Saturday nights.
And with a martini bar and plenty of era inspired drinks on the menu, you can also snack on gourmet alcoholic popcorn (try the No. 3 Gin & Tonic flavour – it’s amazing…), or try their selection of alcohol-infused small plates (there’s a theme here…) including Salmon Tartar with Vodka Jelly and Herring Roe of Duck Breast with Cognace, while you take in the sleek and sophisticated surroundings of this slick mezzanine bar.
So, lounge on the chesterfields, sip on a Courvoisier Exclusif VSOP cognac or two  and celebrate the fact that prohibition no longer exists…  Although you might still wanna keep this pop up quiet, because it’s the perfect secret drinking den.  (Oh, and if Daisy Buchanan has inspired you to go all ‘flapper’, you most definitely won’t feel out of place…)
By reservation only, The Hutch Club is open now until 31st August.
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Copa de Cava

Forget Champers, the cava craze is catching on…

Cancel your flight to Spain!  Why would you waste two and a half hours on a plane when you have cava and sunshine right here in the heart of the city?!  (I’m being optimistic on the sunshine bit…)

Copa de Cava is the new kid on the block at Blackfriars with over 28 beautiful bubble-filled Cava’s on the menu and authentic tasting tapas which you wouldn’t find out of place in one of those hidden back alley eateries off La Ramblas.



Entry is through a side door next to Camino San Pablo where the staircase leads down through some rather impressive castle gates and into the discreet basement bar.  I went along with my good friend Sylwi – now nothing against her, but I was slightly disappointed that I wasn’t on a romantic date!  The lighting is brilliant.  Dark, inviting and intimate (no need to touch up your make-up, this place will make you look awesome regardless!), you can sit at the bar beside big barrel tables, or at one of the smaller seating areas by the open kitchen – always nice to see what’s cooking…  (There was also big tables to accommodate larger groups).

Charmingly rustic and with gorgeous arched ceilings and exposed brick wall,, it’s reminiscent of the caves in Catalunya where Cava used to be fermented.  The piece de resistance though, (and impressive it is too) is the glass floor where you can see the thousands of stored cava bottles in the cellar.  (We’d love to find out how you get down there…)

Choose from a selection of Brut, Reserva and Gran Reserva (our lovely waitress Rocio was really knowledgeable when it came to selecting some fizz), and while you soak up the atmosphere and sup from your expertly chilled champagne glass, you can choose from a fabulously Spanish tasting range of tapas.
 
We ate, and ate, and ate…  But a few of the following dishes stood out; we’d recommend the big fat juicy green olives and the tangy tomato and garlic bread, the selection of cheeses and breads; the scallop, broadbean and black pudding mousse served in an oyster shell and the special of the day which when we visited, was seabass, red mullet and sole.  Not for the faint hearted, the lamb ‘sweetbreads’ were tender and tasty (and enjoyable until we realized exactly what we were eating…) while the highlight was definitely the fillet steak carpaccio with lilliput capers and manchego shavings.

If you’re skeptical about enjoying cava as much as you do champagne, think again, by the 2nd glass, you’ll be converted.  By the 5th, you'll think it's the best drink ever!  The Conde de Haro Brut and the Gramona Gran Reserve 2008 vintage were both delightful, and there’s also 4 fabulous cava based cocktails on the menu – try the Intenso y Profundo with Tanqueray gin, oloroso seco, OJ and Gramona Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava if you’re unsure which one to sample.  And while you do that, why not treat yourself to a Crema Catulana desert – a combo of cinnamon custard, crispy caramel and raspberry, soooooo gooooood.

With a live DJ on from 6pm until midnight on the weekends, London’s first underground dedicated cava bar is definitely the new craze…  And if you’re a ‘Champagne’ fan, we don’t wanna burst your bubble, but the Spanish sparkler is most definitely catching on…
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