Thursday, 20 November 2014

My Favourite London Bars

London is awash with bars, obviously. However, it's always a good idea to have a plan (and probably a back-up plan) with you, as for all the awesome ones there are some less-so ones as well. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the great ones, but here are some of my faves that I have made many return visits to.

I have mentioned Bedford and Strand on my blog before, but it will continually be mentioned by me as it is probably the bar I would choose as my favourite. I have taken friends here, dates here, my parents here and had a birthday here, and each time it has been a worthwhile venue choice. I love the selection of wines, I love the cocktails, I love the deli counter, and I love sitting at the bar. I love that it is hidden down some stairs and that you have no mobile reception. I love the old-school 'french wine bar' feel to it, and I love that it is super close to both my favourite restaurant and my station home. A winner in every sense of the word.

Centre Point is one of those weird buildings that looks unbelievably ordinary from the outside - a boring building slap-bang outside the permanent building site that is Tottenham Court Road station - yet the Paramount Bar on the 32nd floor seems like a world away. From this height you get a great view of London and, probably because of my earlier statement, it never seems so busy that you can't get a seat by the window for at least a portion of the night. Although the cocktails aren't cheap, the wines and bar snacks are actually not too outrageously-priced, so this would be a great option to take an out-of-towner before dinner.
UPDATE: As of January 2015, Paramount Bar is now closed. Sads!

I love love love the Red Bar on the top floor of Bam-Bou. I have listed Bam-Bou as one of my favourite London restaurants, and a visit is never complete without a visit to the bar at the end of the night. Last time I was there they made me an off-menu cocktail that I love, but even if they hadn't I would still have been able to find at least enough other cocktails on the menu to choose before it was definitely time for me to go home to bed. This feels like a nice and cosy bar choice, that is a bit decadent without being over the top. Another choice that makes you look like you know all of London's hidden gems! 

There are a few Searcy's bars dotted around now, but the one I have visited the most is the Champagne Bar at One New Change in St Paul's. It feels pretty fancy to sit at the round bar in the middle of the room sipping champagne (or usually for me a champagne cocktail) - you feel as though you are in the heart of the city without having to deal with the people that come with it. There are some good deals to be had if you look online, and you can also hire the whole place out for parties and events.

I mean, what is there to say? I don't think anyone who has visited here would be unhappy to visit again, especially in the summer when you can stand outside by the massive tree (I think this might literally be called the Tree Bar??) and take in the views. Obviously this isn't the cheapest option on the list, but is a great place for some special occasion drinks - my friend had her engagement drinks here and it was such a lovely venue for the occasion. It can get busy though - if you're visiting in the evening I would advise to ring ahead.

Special Mentions:
Bar Américain at Brasserie Zedel; The Experimental Cocktail Club (Soho); Kensington Wine Rooms; Topolski (Waterloo); Oxo Tower Bar

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Brunch Club - November: Karpo and The House of Illustration

So we sort of combined brunch club for October and November. I really wanted to visit the Quentin Blake exhibition at the House of Illustration, but we didn't have much free time in October and it was closing in early November, so we booked it in for the first Saturday of the month and decided to skip October. Having decided on the museum venue all that was left was for me to pull up my handy brunch-spot spreadsheet and find an appropriately-placed one to visit. Karpo, in King's Cross, it was...

There was a bit of a kerfuffle when we first got to Karpo as they couldn't find our reservation details (the usual story), but that was soon rectified and we took our seats. We were sat right by the open-kitchen window, which varied between being frustrating as we saw all the delicious-looking food come out and fascinating as we eyeballed the chefs doing their thing. Feeling piggy and already in holiday mode we both decided to order the £10 cooked breakfast (scrambled egg with sausage, bacon, portobello mushroom, beans and sourdough toast). Upon arrival it looked just as hearty as I was hoping, although being a MASSIVE piggy I could probably have done with an extra sausage. Everything was cooked perfectly and it tasted like the ingredients were all well-sourced; very flavourful indeed.

After all that it was definitely a good thing we had an afternoon of walking around planned. We headed to the House of Illustration for the Quentin Blake exhibition (which has now finished its run), walking through the newly-developed areas of Kings Cross. Can I just say how in love with the whole area I am - the day we visited was that freakishly warm Saturday at the start of the month, and so all the outside spaces were being well used and it was lovely to see families and students hanging out in the area. There are loads of cool restaurants in the area now as well, so I will definitely be returning.

The House of Illustration is small, but the QB exhibition was so well thought-out and detailed that this didn't really matter. It was amazing to see how much influence QB himself had had on what went into the exhibition, and fascinating to see what he had chosen as the work that most characterised his career. There were explanations as to why each piece had been chosen, and the friendly tone of this really worked well in the intimate setting of the gallery. It was great to be reminded of some Roald Dahl favourites such as The Twits, and definitely got us talking about our favourites when we were small (mine was Matilda, obv, as she reads all the books). There was also a lot of time dedicated to Michael Rosen's Sad Book, which I wasn't aware of but really pulled you in - from the initial email Michael Rosen sent to his publisher to the first sketches by QB to the finished product - this was a really simple, sweet, heartfelt and heartbreaking book.

I really loved my first visit to the House of Illustration, and even though this exhibition is now finished I would definitely return in the future for a different one. I imagine it would be a good place to visit with kids as well - there are things they can associate with, and the fact it isn't too big will help! 

I booked Karpo on OpenTable, during a time that meant it counted as a 1000-point booking
Both Karpo and The House of Illustration are in walking distance of King's Cross station