It is a bittersweet moment when you go to a new restaurant and discover that it has replaced an old favourite. However in the case of The Secret Garden, located just opposite Clapham North tube, London, where the highly-rated Four O Nine restaurant used to be, the new arrival is more than capable of providing memorable nights all of its own.
Behind a tiny door and up a flight of steps round the back of The Clapham North pub, The Secret Garden certainly looks a world away from its dark and atmospheric predecessor. Instead the main dining room has been transformed into a bright and airy space reflecting the garden theme: there’s artificial grass on the floor (and on the walls of the private dining room upstairs), the kitchen is designed to look like a caravan and there is even a tree spreading its branches across the ceiling.
In spite of being in one of London’s grandest postcodes and near to high-end establishments such as Nobu and its most recent addition the Playboy club, El Pirata feels more like a cosy neighbourhood restaurant.
Celebrating its 21st birthday this year – a lifetime in the London food scene – El Pirata has the rustic charm of a restaurant more than twice its age, with hundreds of bottles propped up behind its lengthy bar, pictures all over its walls and the subdued lighting and low ceiling giving it an olde worlde feel. Continue reading El Pirata: the friendliest tapas in London’s Mayfair→
It is located in the no-man’s land of offices and parkland between Exmouth Market and Clerkenwell Green, but Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings is well worth the detour.
Opened just a few months ago by the team which also owns the subterranean Goodge Street drinking den Rev JW Simpson and Fitzrovia bar Bourne & Hollingsworth, the all-day restaurant and bar occupies a vast corner of a building which has housed various short-lived venues over the years including a sports bar, an Argentinian restaurant and an Indian curry house.
However the charm, style and excellent food offered by Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings should hopefully be enough to lure people off the beaten track.
The interior is designed around shabby-chic, members club meets country house-type lines with a grand piano, stripped white floorboards, a roaring fire, squashy sofas and a central bar.
We propped ourselves up at the bar and got stuck into the inventive cocktail list, going for a West Indies Gimlet (£9.50) with Navy strength gin (which gives it a kick at 57 per cent ABV), Caribbean syrup falernum, lime and bitters and the signature cocktail Hollingsworth Fizz with thyme-infused peach liqueur, gin and soda topped with lemon (£8.50).
In some meals there is one element that is so odd – or quirky, or novel, depending on your viewpoint – that afterwards the meal is known as ‘the one with….’
My lunch at Caxton Grill, St James’s, home of Masterchef: The Professionals finalist Adam Handling, became known afterwards as ‘the one with the burnt vegetables’ (although to be fair it could also have been ‘the one with the chicken butter’, or ‘the one with the ashed beef’ – being on Masterchef evidently makes for eclectic menu choices).
Either way it is slightly unfair to have the entire experience reduced to just one ingredient, but it was such an usual feature that it was hard to forget.
It was halfway through dinner at my first two-Michelin-starred restaurant experience at the Fischers Fritz in Berlin when I realised I was far more a ‘drinkie’ than a ‘foodie’ (assuming ‘drinkie is even a word.)
I was dining at the Fischers Fritz restaurant in the Regent Berlin, and had already been thoroughly over-excited at the arrival of my pre-dinner drink in the hotel bar. This was a Prince of Wales cocktail, a €23 Champagne cocktail which contained liberal servings of cognac and Grand Marnier, topped off with Angostura bitters and brown sugar and served rather incongruously in a silver goblet which grew almost freezing to the touch as the ice inside melted.
I was happily piling into that when I was invited into the dining room with the most wonderful phrase in the English language: ‘And you must really try our martini trolley.’