Sunday, April 5, 2009

High and low marks of London restaurants and bars

I’ve recently been trying different restaurants, bars and clubs across London, including the areas of Richmond, Chiswick, Earls Court, Kensington High Street, SoHo and Camden Town. There have definitely been both high marks and low marks and I’ll share a few of my experiences.

High marks

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in SoHo – this club is celebrating 50 this year and is a fantastic hang-out for a Friday night. My boyfriend and I went there on a whim, ended up chatting with a German man named Peter in the queue and sat together with him in the club. It has some tables for regular dinner closest to the stage and then there are a number of benches and long tables stretching like shelves along the sides of the room where you can order cocktails, wine, beer or snack food, but most importantly, remain focused on the performance on stage.

On Friday when we were there they had two different bands playing and a jazz drummer who had his birthday sat in for a song. The first band had wonderful musicians but in the second set we were in for an even better treat: Sarah Jane Morris. If you haven’t seen / heard her, I can warmly recommend an evening of her music, which is not pure jazz, but rather a mix of rock / funk / jazz. She managed to totally mesmerize me within the first 30 seconds on stage with her amazing stage presence, charisma, warm and rich voice and by performing one great song after another. Check out for more info on Sarah and her music. I bought a CD – “Where it hurts” – and had Sarah sign it for me.

I was very impressed also with the impeccable sound at Ronnie Scott’s – compliments to the sound engineer. This club is a really nice and cosy place. Try it! Even the bouncers were polite and helpful.

Bingham Hotel in Richmond – this peaceful haven by the Thames, 5 min walk from Richmond Bridge, away from the busyness of central Richmond, hosts a terrace facing the river with stone tables and chairs on pebbles, making it look like a serene Japanese garden. They often have functions on the first floor and in the garden – wedding receptions, birthday celebrations and similar – but there is a very nice bar on the second floor with stylish sofas and a view over the river, well-trained bar staff and excellent service. Here you can enjoy a glass of champagne, a cocktail or afternoon tea and really relax.

Spring blossom in Richmond

The Pembroke on Old Brompton Road in Earls Court – this used to be a gay bar, but the place recently underwent a make-over and seems to have changed owners and clientele completely. Although I quite liked the slightly kitsch design with big chandeliers before, it is now a stylish bar with cosy lamps, a room further in with quite trendy wallpaper and a fireplace. It’s now a place where you can come in and enjoy a glass of wine, a beer or an Irish coffee while reading the Sunday paper or a good book and chill. They also serve food with a slightly more advanced menu than regular British pubs.


Tarantella Ristorante Pizzeria on Elliott Road in Chiswick – this is a very small and narrow place where you can look into the kitchen or have the chef watching you and taking notice of your needs before the waitress does. They don’t have a very extensive menu, the food is fairly simple in a typical Italian style, but surprisingly good for the very reasonable price you pay. Despite being an Italian restaurant with Italian speaking staff and menu, they had some sort of a Gypsy theme art on the walls and played salsa music through the loud speakers…

The Bollo House on Bollo Lane in Chiswick – a quite nice, welcoming and large bar in the middle of a residential area, with a nice circular ceiling with windows letting in light. They serve quite decent steak, burgers, fish and chips etc. Don’t go there on a Wednesday night though – it’s their big quiz night and it’s impossible to keep a conversation because it’s annoyingly loud and busy.

Floridita on Wardour Street in SoHo – this little Bohemian, café-style bar serves only fairly basic wine, beer and drinks, but the staff is friendly and you don’t have to dress up to meet friends.

Côte on Wardour Street in SoHo – a large French restaurant in two floors. This seems to be very popular, you’ll need to make a reservation; when we came there with friends on a Saturday evening, they were full. It was a quite nice place with linen table cloths and decent food, albeit perhaps a little touristy.

Low marks

L Restaurant & Bar on Abingdon Road, a side street to Kensington High Street – the so-called cocktails as well as the fish I ordered for main course were absolutely horrible. It's a pity because I thought the place had potential at the first impression: the staff was very friendly and welcoming, they played salsa music through the loud speakers (always makes a salsa dancer happy) and the restaurant area had very funky design, with a rather narrow inner room with dinner tables basically under a small loft which also had seating. The Mint Fizz I ordered was granted a wild card, but it reminded me of wind-screen washing liquid and I don't think it's supposed to. I don’t know what they had done to the poor fish and sadly it was accompanied by too hard potatoes and watery green beans. The main course was simply revolting. Eating and drinking well is too important to me, so this place will sadly not get a second chance.

The Canal Side Bar at Lock 17 in Camden Town – located next to the locks in the canal in Camden Town as the name indicates, this bar has a steady stream of tourists as well as local hippie Londoners. If the weather is nice and the windows open towards the canal in summer-time this can be quite a nice spot for a cool beer, but the length of time it takes to order at the bar on a typical Saturday here – the bar staff is quite slow and disorganized – and the poor food disappoints you. I made the mistake of ordering potato wedges with cheese and this was just the most pathetic bowl of shrivelled and dried potato “puffs” I’ve ever been served. It took them two minutes to bring the bowl out to the table, so I guess they had just heated the old wedges in the microwave – the cheese on top had not even melted properly.

Boat in the canal at Camden locks

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