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.
A hint that it was going to be an unusual experience was found straightaway in the hotel reception. I had arrived from the pouring rain, only to discover it was raining indoors too – water cascades endlessly down one wall of exposed brick inside the entrance hall.
(‘Imagine having to work listening to that all day long!’ sighed the receptionist. I sympathised – I could barely take five minutes.)
Thankfully such modern touches haven’t come at the expense of the historical nature of the building which dates back to 1750, when Whitbread started brewing beer on the site. The Whitbread clock is still ticking away in the courtyard, and next to the check-in desk was a plaque showing that HM The Queen and the Queen Mother had visited the brewery in 1962.
The man registering next to me had his tiny baby in a sling: ‘His great-grandfather used to work here,’ he said proudly.
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.’