Showers, Scooters, Sliders & Suede Shoes

As the rain falls this Sunday afternoon it seems an apt time to finish this post about a day when it really came down…

April to August 2012 was the third wettest on record in the South East with the largest daily rainfall hitting us on Saturday 25th August. Bank holiday weekend. Oblivious of the impending aqueous onslaught, three intrepid explorers set off for a day out and about.

It started innocuously enough with a rain-free trip over to Lower Marsh. Here we popped into the Scooter Caffè, a place adorned with all manner of different items and decorations not least a wall covered in old Decca Records posters for releases and concerts dating back to the 1920s as well as the vintage scooters and associated memorabilia that lend the place its name. Despite a decent selection of spirits and liqueurs I resisted the temptation for an early sharpener and settled for an espresso as we planned our day.

Scooter Caffè, Lower Marsh

It was at this point that the heavens opened for the first time. We were sat a few feet inside the door of the cafe, which also has a canopy outside and were still starting to get soaked by rain deflecting up off of the road! After shutting the door we ordered more drinks. We were there for the long haul it seemed.

The pictures really don’t do it justice – It were fair chookin’ it down!

As our second drinks disappeared however, so did the rain. Onwards and upwards! By the time we got to Soho it would nearly be lunchtime!

Graphic Bar

Graphic Bar would be our lunchtime destination. Cool, clean and modern with street artist Ben Eine’s signature lettering adorning the many shutters along one side, Graphic also has regular installations from guest artists. Incredibly, almost as we crossed the threshold the rain returned. Torrential, unrelenting rain…

Even the guy in the hood had absolutely no intention of going out there…

The timing was ridiculous (the next few people through the door were not quite as lucky as us!), we were in the favour of the rain gods it seemed!

Since our visit a new installation of 3D art by Jim Sharp has come to Graphic along with a new drinks menu which can be viewed here, whilst you can read more about the new 4D build-your-own Punch here. The trademark Paint Tin Punches are still available of course with the Gold one still being accompanied by the corresponding Spandau Ballet hit on the ghetto blaster (or performed by Tony Hadley himself for the princely sum of £15k!).

The drinks menu we met that day however can be found below – it should of course be mentioned that Graphic is also one of the premier spots for gin with over 130 different brands available (and counting).


Paint Tin Punch Menu [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

To accompany my slider I chose a Mitch-ell Martini, a play on Giovanni Burdi’s Mitch Martini from the Match Bar that replaces the Żubrówka with Woodford Reserve, the peach liqueur with lemon juice, and adds a fresh mint garnish (originally lemon). Presumably this was a creation of, or at least named after, former bar manager Sarah Mitchell (now with The London Cocktail Club).

Mitch-ell Martini with a Portobello, strong Gouda & rocket Slider

Mitch-ell Martini

Woodford Reserve bourbon, fresh mint, fresh lemon juice, pressed apple juice & passion fruit syrup.

Needless to say, it works wonderfully with the bourbon more than happy to play well with apple juice just as Żubrówka does.

By this point we must have expected the rain to stop just as we wanted to leave, and it dutifully did leaving us to jump over the puddles and standing water as we continued, still dry, about our business. So successfully had we avoided the rain, as well as any tube stations forced to close due to flooding, that  I later chose this day of all days to buy a pair of decidedly un-rainproof suede shoes! Blue suede shoes at that, just don’t step on them yeah?

The first single from Elvis Presley’s eponymous debut studio album, 1956
(The original was by Carl Perkins whilst the b-side Tutti-Frutti was a cover of Little Richard’s hugely influential rock and roll stormer)

So a day that begun admiring old Decca Records posters ended with some rock and roll footwear. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – I definitely didn’t accidentally buy the same shoes Prince Harry had made infamous in Jamaica. Nope, not me!

Not Prince Harry wearing my shoes…

Ah well, if your going to accidentally buy the same piece of clothing as a royal (not something I would usually go out of my way to do) then doing it the same week that they were in the news for “a naked romp with several beauties” in Las Vegas is probably the very best time to do it!

Viva Las Vegas!


South by Southeast

After ‘B’ for BenRiach comes ‘C’ for… Cary Grant of course!

The BFI Southbank has been something of a revelation for me recently. Here you can enjoy films from yesteryears that you never imagined you would be able to see on the big screen all in a civilised, comfortable and popcorn-free environment. You can even bring a drink in from the bar! (Although squidgy cups are involved… may have to smuggle a Glencairn glass in next time…)

It is currently The Genius of Hitchcock season and I simply could not turn down the opportunity to go and see one of my all-time favourite films: North by Northwest.

“I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders depended [sic] upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself ‘slightly’ killed.”

– Roger ‘O’ Thornhill (Cary Grant)

This film is simply brilliant. A gripping espionage thriller with terrific dialogue, humour and even some sauciness that undoubtedly influenced the Bond movies (Hitchcock was even asked to direct an original version of Thunderball shortly after North by Northwest was released in 1959) revolving around the ultimate case of mistaken identity.

It is, amongst other things, also a film about booze. Thornhill’s fondness for a drink or two (like his attitude towards the truth, being an advertising man) is spectacularly turned against him within the first quarter of an hour of the film but at the start we find him on his way to have a few Martinis in the Oak Bar at the Plaza, New York.

“We’ve gotten a head start here”
“That won’t last long.”
“I was saying that you may be slow in starting, but there’s nobody faster coming down the homestretch!”

What follows must be the most anybody has been forced to drink in a film ever (let alone one that was made in the 1950s and is rated ‘PG’) made all the more serious by the fact that it is intended to set poor old Thornhill up for an overly elaborate  (although escapable) death. (Wow, this film really did influence Bond!)

– “Scotch? Rye? Bourbon? Vodka?…”
“Nothing. I’ll take a quick ride back to town.”

“That has been arranged but first, a libation… Bourbon!”

If anybody can tell me which bourbon this is I would greatly appreciate it!
(Click to enlarge)

…answers on a Postcard please!

“Assault with a gun and a bourbon and a sports car!”

– Roger Thornhill (or is that George Kaplan?)

Following another overly elaborate attempt on Thornhill’s life later in the film it is not immediately apparent which scotch Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) pours for them – possibly Haig Gold Label with the old diamond-shaped back label? Product placement, refreshingly, was not such a major consideration in the 1950s!

– “I could use a drink.”
– “I have some scotch.”
– “With water. No ice.”
(Eve has ice in hers)

The best thing about these dramatic attempts to kill him, which is made more difficult to appreciate having grown up with twenty odd Bond films and countless other more recent movies, is that they were far from clichéd when North by Northwest was being made. This, along with Thornhill’s status as a regular guy (albeit a well-tailored one) who has been thrown into this extraordinary situation, make lines like “I could use a drink” all the more believable.

– “Go ahead, it can’t be for me.”

Cary Grant’s (or is that Archibald Leach’s?) greatest drinking moment in North by Northwest however, comes when he manages to order a pre-dinner Gibson in the dining carriage of a train with few places to hide despite the fact that he has been identified in every newspaper as a murderous fugitive whilst simultaneously breaking the ice with his new and rather attractive female acquaintance.

– “The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her.”

Similar to a Martini but garnished with an onion as opposed to an olive, the Gibson is an underrated variation that has been somewhat eclipsed by “the meteoric rise in classic Martini’s” and “the trends for olives and lemon zests” (69 Colebrooke Row blog).

More recently the Gibson has, perhaps unsurprisingly, been seen in Mad Men – after all, Roger O. Thornhill is the original Don Draper. Other nods to North by Northwest in the series include the stylised skyscraper opening (along with it’s Vertigo-style Hitchcockian falling man), Don Draper’s use of an alias and the fact that his father’s name is Archibald (Cary Grant’s real name). In Mad Men it is Roger Sterling who is the Gibson drinker however.

Mad Man

As the credits roll in a cinema where you could hear a pin drop during the more tense moments of the film and where everybody laughed together during the many humorous and witty moments, applause spontaneously broke out for a thoroughly appreciated motion picture.

If however we had all raised a glass instead then that would have surely been equally if not more appropriate.

Whistling in the Dark

“Book a table for nine people for some drinks on Friday…” was the request that came from my girlfriend.

“…Somewhere good” being the only given requirement.

After some consideration I decided to book a table in a dimly-lit basement on a side street in Shoreditch that combines “the charm of Victorian squalor with the elegance of grand Gin Palaces”. Yep, we were off to the Worship Street Whistling Shop


Opening back in April 2011 the Whistling Shop was the second venture by the chaps behind the prohibition-style Purl in Marylebone as well as the more recent 17th Century-inspired Punch House VOC in King’s Cross and the NYC-influenced Dach & Sons in Hampstead.

Negotiating the stairs that lead from street-level down into the Whistling Shop is a bit like going into the fitting room at Mr. Benn’s local fancy dress shop; you leave the world behind you and enter an entirely new one. There is however nothing ‘fancy dress’ about this place as everything is designed with an attention to detail that grants it authenticity.

“the charm of Victorian squalor with the elegance of grand Gin Palaces”

Despite the impressive surroundings though, it is the drinks that are rightly the stars of the show here.

“Our drinks are inspired by the trends and drinking cultures of days gone by. Using these themes as starting points, we then develop our cocktail list within our in-house lab. Here, we use rotary evaporators, sous vide, vacuum technology and a large array of enzymes, acids, proteins and hydrocolloids to create drinks that are truly unique.”

– the Whistling Shop chaps

As there were nine of us each ordering something different we were able to order the large majority of the excellent cocktail menu (which changes regularly) right off the bat! (They’re about £9 each plus a service charge.)


I kicked off with a refreshing Gattering Cup, which is made with Hennessy Fin de Cognac, Camden Ink Stout, Buck-wheat Honey, Ginger Beer and Cardamom Bitters served over ice in a copper cup garnished with a sprig of mint leaves and a glass stirrer that reminded us of an old thermometer.

a Gattering Cup and I

Some review-site types seem to have had problems with service here but I can’t understand that personally – there are few things that annoy me more than having somebody constantly hovering over me, especially when I am enjoying something as special as these cocktails and we had no problem ordering more when we were ready. Having said that one of our drinks was dropped onto the table sending broken glass, Lillet and Martini in all directions!!! I have my suspicions that this may not have happened had one of our party not tried to eagerly grab theirs as soon as it was within arm’s reach however. I mean, would you let this girl anywhere near a full tray of cocktails?

Million Dollar #Cat

Having all (eventually) had the opportunity to see (and sample) each other’s first cocktails, most steered towards a favourite for their second. In my case this was the Million Dollar #2…

Million Dollar #2

Million Dollar #2: Woodford Reserve, Pineapple Juice, WS2 Grenadine, Martini Rosso, Chip Pan Bitters – $100 Note

Nose: So smokey! Lapsang souchong and smoked cheese fill your nostrils without even placing them too near the drink! The Chip Pan Bitters made in-house dominate proceedings.

Palate: Usually the palate confirms what the nose has told you even if slightly different elements are detected. Not here. Is this the same drink? Any trepidation about putting chip pan liquid in your mouth is made a mockery of instantly as tropical fruits catch your senses totally off guard. Herbal notes from the red vermouth are present as well as creaminess from the Woodford Reserve whilst Grenadine tartness keeps the fruit in check.

Finish: Smoooth. Pineapple and just a little smoke briefly linger. That wasn’t a drink that was a journey. Or was it? I’m not even sure what has just happened.

Overall: If cocktails are about the senses then that was the best one that I have ever had.

“If you could just step this way…”

Then, as if by Magic, the shopkeeper appeared… Or at least our reservation (you get a two hour slot as standard) was beginning to run down and our wallets and purses were all getting a little light.

In true Mr. Benn fashion, as I returned home later I realised that I had a miniature $100 bill in my pocket. “I thought I’d thrown that away! Now I can keep it to help me remember”.

Southbank Saturday

Sometimes a day just works out brilliantly. When your day begins with six whole hours having been wasted waiting for Mark ‘The Manx Express’ Cavendish to get nowhere near the front of the Olympic road race however, you are well within your rights to suspect that that particular day is a write-off.

Despite this it’s usually a good idea to shake off such suspicions and venture outside, putting aside your concerns that you won’t be able to move for the millions of people that are apparently descending on London or that a cursory glance at the sky tells you that it isn’t exactly ‘a nice day’.

In the immortal words of Derek Edward Trotter “He who dares, wins” and so out we went for an optimistic stroll along Southbank. What quickly became apparent was that not only had the city not been overrun overnight but it was actually less busy than normal with many people evidently having been scared off. More surprising still, the sun was even threatening to come out!

“Where’s Bane?”

Enthusiasm well and truly rekindled, we headed to the roof garden café and bar on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall to stretch out on the grass, take in the view and grab a refreshing beverage.

Views of London with grass between your toes…

As the clouds slowly parted even an ill-timed bout of Olympics-induced Britishness that caused me to order a glass of ludicrously diluted Pimm’s for the princely sum of £6.95 would not be enough to ruin things. The afternoon was all about great weather, great views and great company (although a Meantime pale ale would be a smarter choice at the bar).

The roof garden was designed by the Eden Project

With evening approaching thoughts soon turned to food and after some fruitless deliberation it dawned on us that there was a painfully obvious solution. During our stroll we had passed a pop-up Wahaca restaurant offering their usual winning combination of Mexican market eating plus a Tequila bar just outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The only way this could have been better is if there was a zip-line

Constructed from shipping containers and decorated with Mexican inspired street-art, we were all suitably impressed by Wahaca’s “Southbank Experiment”. Once inside we inadvertently ‘made friends’ with some nacho-sharing chaps who had been to see the Beach Volleyball before finally escaping to enjoy some Chilli Quesadillas (a Southbank Experiment special),  Taquitos and Frijoles. Fast food win.

Even better than Pop-up Pirate

…not forgetting the Margaritas of course!!!

Wahaca Classic Margarita with freshly squeezed lime and a hint of agave (£5.95)