London is undoubtedly awash with some serious heavy hitters in the dining world, but sometimes you just need some comfort food. I love a fancy-pants restaurants as much as the next girl, but you can’t beat a night out with friends enjoying pub grub, non-wallet-busting beverages and a buzzing vibe. You can generally rely on a Drake & Morgan pub for all the above and with several dotted around town, they aren’t difficult to find.
Located smack bang in the middle of Monument, The Folly ticks all those boxes. This popular bar/ restaurant has an upstairs dining room and a downstairs lounge bar with a dance floor. I’ve been a few times on various weekday evenings and it’s always packed. Its current wintry guise is home to fairy lights, blankets and reindeer hides strewn across the back of chairs, giving it a surprisingly cosy alpine vibe.
The menu is what you’d expect - British pub-grub classics done well with a few different hits. The extensive menu has more than 50 items, from bangers and mash to burgers to a butternut squash risotto and cauliflower and pesto fettuccine, ensuring there’s something for everyone. Be warned though - the portions are generous, so be careful if your eyes are bigger than your stomach!
If you’re an olive fan, the olives are great; get a dish alongside your starters. For our starters we had the hot and crispy Szechuan pepper squid with lemon mayo and a rather delicious dish of heritage beetroot with whipped goat’s cheese and walnuts - always a winning combination and perfectly light, which was ideal given we opted for an indulgent main.
Their steak is decent value and arrived perfectly cooked, a simple yet juicy rib eye packed with flavor and accompanied by exceptionally tasty Parmesan, truffle and rosemary Roman fries; the holy trinity of seasoning, in my opinion.
Burger lovers will be in their element as there are a plethora of burger options on the menu and while we did get a spot of food envy from seeing the Wagyu burger with blue cheese and tomato chutney arrive at the table next to us, I can confirm that the buttermilk chicken was the bomb. Seriously crispy and with a decent kick from the chipotle mayonnaise, it went down a treat.
Given the hefty portions, we didn’t really have space for dessert, but we ordered one anyway. The mixed berry crumble was big enough to share and it had a gorgeously crunchy topping.
With all day breakfasts and Sunday roasts also available, The Folly isn’t short of dining options. If you favour a quiet evening out it’s probably not the place for you, but if you’re looking the perfect post work pit stop in The City with no-fuss food and drinks, then you’ll love it here.
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Introducing a new pop-up cocktail bar in Peckham Rye
If you’re out and about in Peckham, ensure you head to BATCH Bar, a new pop-up bar by Twist London located in the heart of Peckham. The low-key frontage (akin to a take-away restaurant) makes it easy to miss, but once inside, visitors will be impressed by the unique and reasonably priced cocktails on offer.
Tim Robinson from Twist London, the brains behind the concept, wants punters to experience high quality cocktails in a friendly and non-pretentious environment. The TWISTED CHRISTMAS theme has been inspired by Nordic monsters, providing an interesting alternative for those who are looking for somewhere a bit quirky to imbibe during the festive season.
We recommend you slake your thirst with our favourite cocktail from the monster menu - a Straggles Sour – featuring FEW Bourbon from Maverick Drinks - a craft spirits specialist and drinks partner – and homemade blueberry, ginger and lime cordial, lemon juice and egg whites.
Spice lovers will adore the Krampus Gimlet – a fiery number made with Bitter Bastards Naga Chilli Bitters. Just ensure you can take the heat! If cocktails aren't your bag, not to worry as BATCH Bar also offers an extensive wine list and beer from local brewery Peckham’s Brick Brewery.
56 Peckham Rye
Founded by Giovanni Quaglino in 1929, Quaglino’s has long been a symbol of decadence. Loved by royals, celebrities and the public alike, dining here has always had an air of exclusivity.
In the 1950s the restaurant was said to have had a table permanently reserved for the regular visits by Princess Margaret, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Princess Alexandra. Other notable royals who have graced the establishment include Queen Elizabeth, King Edward VIII, and most recently, Prince Harry. And what’s a hip place without a celeb following? Celebs who have visited include Judy Garland, Barbara Cartland, Elton John, Mick Jagger, Benedict Cumberatch, Alexa Chung and Lindsay Lohan, to name a few.
In the 90s Quaglino’s was revered as the hottest restaurant in town to see and be seen, thanks to it being a favourite spot of Ab Fab characters Patsy and Eddie and its reputation as a place to let your hair down in style. The signature ‘Q’ ashtrays that were scattered throughout the bar, were often nicked by guests as they were seen as a status symbol. Rumour has it that over the years more than 25,000 ‘Q’ ashtrays 'mysteriously' disappeared.
Today, Quaglino’s retains its style and charm thanks to a £3 million facelift by owners D&D London in 2014. There is a sense of 1920s grandeur throughout the restaurant, thanks to intimate lighting and a moody colour palette of charcoals, burgundy and gold, which creates a sexy atmosphere. As guests sip cocktails in the upstairs bar, they can relax on black quilted leather banquettes, which encourage you to stay a bit longer than you probably should.
Even the bathrooms are seriously stylish with striking monochrome zigzag decor, which has given us serious bathroom design envy.
At the heart of the restaurant is a grand staircase with illuminated stairs with a gold tortoise shell design, that simply begs for guests to make a fabulous entrance as they shimmy down the stairs to the dining room below. The expansive dining room is an impressive space with a circular gold bar and a stage flanked by red velvet curtains, which serve as key focal points. Each night guests can enjoy performances by either live bands or a DJ, which adds to the sense of occasion.
Saturday brunch at Quaglino's
We visited on a Saturday afternoon for the Q Brunch (available Saturdays and Sundays from 11.30am-2.30pm). If you’re feeling festive, there is the option to add unlimited prosecco for £18 per person, when eating two courses or more for the duration of your meal.
The Saturday brunch offering features standard options such as Eggs Benedict, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (a safe bet), sandwiches (croque monsieur or demoiselle), a variety of fish dishes (sea bream, cod, stone bass), a sirloin steak and egg or venison tartare and oysters as well as a selection of sides and desserts.
The salad with mozzarella, tomatoes, nectarines and endive was fresh and light and the croque monsieur in all its cheesy, carby glory is the perfect cure if you’ve indulged a bit too much the night before.
Service is top-notch, as you’d expect, and is refreshingly friendly rather than stuffy, which makes it all the more welcoming.
We’ll definitely be making a repeat appearance, but next time we’ll be indulging in dinner and sipping classic cocktails. Get your glad rags on and give it a go – it’s the cat’s whiskers.
We were first introduced to the Italian concept of aperitivo during a weekend jaunt to Milan. We loved enjoying the tasty small plates while sipping on sophisticated cocktails and lamented that we couldn’t replicate our experience in London.
So, we were pleased to hear about the opening of Ritorno, a sophisticated lounge with an Italian kitchen in the heart of Chelsea specialising in Italian small plates. This 80-cover lounge is a gorgeous place to unwind with decadent cocktails and moreish nibbles in a stylish setting, while still being able to enjoy a conversation with your companions.
The décor reminded me of Roberto Cavalli's style - all sexy dark colours and opulent styling with its striking butterfly wallpaper from luxury Venetian brand Rubelli, olive green velvet chairs, and dark forest green booths, sleek black glass tables and illuminated faux marble pillars, which create a sumptuous environment. We later learned that the décor is the work of Milanese interior designer Ingrid Nardilli who used butterflies in the interior as they ‘represent lightness, beauty and elegance, which is what they'd like guests to associate with Ritorno’.
Guests can choose from 40 small plates prepared by chef Filippo Salzano, all of which use high quality ingredients and the freshest produce possible. Even the mozzarella is made using the authentic Italian method, but prepared in the UK to ensure it’s as fresh as possible.
During our visit we had the homemade artisan bread served with Lorenzo extra virgin olive oil (our new favourite olive oil); potato croquettes, fried mozzarella, arancina and fried artichoke; pan-fried Milanese saffron risotto, homemade taglioni with mini meatballs and the crispy pork belly with basil oil. All of the dishes were fresh, delicious, beautifully presented and not too heavy, which is exactly what you want when you’re enjoying cocktails as well. Being dessert lovers, we finished with the chocolate fondant, which was fab. The small plates range in price from £5.50-£10.50 and it’s recommended that two people sharing start with five small plates to share, which we found was more than adequate.
Ritorno has a wide range of innovative cocktails, so it’s worth trying a few different cocktails during your visit. The cocktails range in price from £12.50-£13.50, on par with what you’d expect to pay in finer establishments. If you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for, the helpful mixologists can provide recommendations to suit your tastes. With head barman Paolo Viola behind the helm (formerly of Rivoli Bar at The Ritz), you really can’t go wrong.
The Ritorno Milan Mule was a unique twist on a classic, featuring homemade clementine and cinnamon syrup, Campari bitter and ginger beer. If you’re looking for a show-stopping cocktail, however, then the Snow Kings is the only drink of choice. This winter cocktail has a white Americano base, soft hazelnut liquor foam, Mancino Bianco, Bitter Berto, Frangelico Liqueur and egg white and comes served with smoke from a burnt cinnamon stick, which is trapped in a glass dome and then wafted at the diner when presented at the table.
If you’re not into alcohol, there’s no need to feel left out as their mocktails are also sensational.
The staff here are exceptionally knowledgeable about the provenance of every item, which makes each drink and dish all the more special when you have the full back story to accompany it. Everyone at Ritorno really goes out of their way to make guests feel special, which is one of the reasons we can’t wait to go back.
For larger groups, there is a private dining room downstairs, which seats 10 guests, making it the perfect place for an intimate gathering.
This is a great place to unwind with a sexy post work tipple and nibbles.
Enjoy quirky cocktails and a lesson in red decor in this small and seductive bar...
When I stepped into The Arts Theatre Club, the lyrics from the Police's 80s hit 'Roxanne' - 'you don't have to put on the red light' - played in my head as I took in the very red surroundings. Upon first glance, the bar looks a bit like an opium den come massage parlour (it is Soho after all), but there's nothing seedy about this basement drinking den.
The Victorian Variety cocktail menu here is small but packs a powerful punch with a selection of unique cocktails to appease all tastes. As it was our first visit, the manager kindly guided us through the menu to provide us with a bit of steer on which cocktails we might best like based on our spirit and taste preferences.
Given my love for tequila, I started with the Deadwood Dick, a spicy concoction comprised of jalepeno-infused Patron Silver tequila, agave, Grand Marnier, and fresh limes (a bit like a margarita with a fiery kick). Not for the fainthearted, the heat really comes through, making it great for those who like it hot!
Balans Soho Society is a Soho mecca where fun reigns supreme. Its clientele come for the lively atmosphere, stiff cocktails and massive portions of tasty food served with a smile.
This is not a place where they do things by half measure. This café, restaurant, bar, and member’s establishment has a distinctly naughty atmosphere about it, which is good if you’re in the mood to party and listen to a bit of house music with your dinner but probably not so good if it’s a Monday night and the cocktail sirens are calling!
The décor is a mish mash of vintage and de-constructed glam, think cosy charcoal hued banquet sofas, industrial chic wood and iron tables, designer wallpaper, velvet curtains, naughty paintings and a few random pieces of brick-a-brac thrown in for good measure.
Balans Soho Society’s menu is overseen by Executive Chef Crispin Chetwynd, a renowned chef who has toured the globe with Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Pink Floyd. The seasonally-changing menu highlights the best local produce from Ginger Pig and H. Forman & Son (the oldest smokehouse in London).
Menu options at Balans Soho Society - Enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner in the heart of Soho
Balans serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, so there are plenty of opportunities to visit. Breakfast options include everything from the Soho Full English (£9.00), Kedgeree (£9.00), pancakes (£7.50), French toast (£7.50) and house-baked granola with berries, yoghurt and Kent honey (£6.00). Brunch options include The High Society eggs Benedict (fresh lobster, avocado and bacon) (£12.00) and eggs in hell (two poached eggs in a tomato and chilli sauce with potatoes and Parmesan) (£7.00).
Light bites include burnt aubergine baba ghanoush peppered with pomegranate seeds and sumac; thrice-fried chicken with shichimi mayonnaise (£6.00); and charred squid and chorizo with fried potatoes and piquillo peppers (£7.50). The hearty mains include everything from the infamous Balans burger (£12.50) to grilled halloumi on olive mash with cherry tomatoes and lemon honey dressing (£11.00) and skillet-roasted chicken with farro, fig and pine nuts (£15.00).
Our visit to Balans ...
We've been to Balans on several occasions as we love its cheeky atmosphere. On this particular occasion, we decided to try something different. For our starters we had the seared 'melt in your mouth' yellow fin tuna in a chilli, garlic, ginger, soy and pickled cucumber marinade (£8.00), which was simple yet delicious. Next up was the proveleta (£7.00), which is simply baked Provolone cheese and cherry tomatoes on sourdough toast, which was a bit like a posh version of a margarita pizza.
For our mains I had the 12oz sirloin steak with double-dipped chips and bourbon BBQ sauce (£25.00). The steak was juicy and perfectly cooked with a smoky, chargrilled flavour. My husband opted for the cod special of the day - a generous portion of cod that was fresh and flaky - just how great fish should be.
Cocktails so many cocktails…
Cocktails take front and centre here. Here you’ll find everything from the porn star (Absolut Blue, vanilla syrup, passion fruit puree and a Champagne shot) and the elderflower Collins (Broker’s gin, St. Germaine, apple); to cheekily named cocktails such as the slap on the rum (Redleg spiced rum, pineapple, mint and ginger beer) and the Society teddy bear (Buffalo Trace, cinnamon, cranberry) served in a honey bear bottle.
During our visit we tried the non-alcoholic mocktail coco Rita (a non-alcoholic drink comprised of coconut water, lime purée, agave nectar)(£4.30) and the passion fruit and pineapple swizzle (Ron Abueli rum, pineapple, lemon and prosecco) (£9.50), which is basically a holiday in a glass.
Although we were absolutely stuffed after dinner, our friendly waitress insisted that we make room for a dessert. Indulgent dessert options include the High Society mess (for two) (£10.00), sticky toffee pudding (£6.00), a chocolate tart with Jack Daniel’s ice-cream (£6.00) or banoffee pie. We opted for the banoffee pie, a serious slab of banana, cream and toffee pie covered in thick whipped cream and drizzled with caramel. Although tasty, this belt-busting dessert was pretty heavy going even for two people sharing.
One thing that really struck us about Balans Soho Society was how friendly and helpful the staff were. As you can see, everyone is up for a laugh and they have no problem posing for an impromptu photo! Before we departed our waitress gave us two tiny vials of absinthe, which we feel sums up our cheeky experience perfectly.
As a quote on their menu reads 'let us devour, imbibe and frolic’ – we can’t think of anywhere else where this is more apt. Keep up the fun.
Food and drink: ★★★
Staff attentiveness/friendliness: ★★★★★
Balans Soho Society
60-62 Old Compton Street
Pennethorne's unveils new cocktail menu for Summer Screenings with Film4
Pennethorne's Cafe Bar at the renowned Somerset House, is celebrating the opening of its annual Summer Screenings with Film 4 with a fabulous selection of cocktails to match the al fresco films.
Situated in the New Wing of Somerset House, Pennethorne’s Cafe Bar offers an, elegant, yet relaxed atmosphere, which is perfect for enjoying cocktails and nibbles with a friend.
Film4 Summer Screen – Pennethorne’s Cafe Bar Cocktail List
A French Affair - Gemma Bovery | 9.5
Cognac, sherry, agave syrup, mint, bitters
60’s Fizz - The Man From U.N.C.L.E | 6
Sloe gin, gin, sugar, grapefruit, bitters, soda
Tropical Tonic -The Second Mother | 7
Cachaça, coconut milk, passion fruit, lemon, agave syrup
Hibiki Sour - Princess Mononoke |12
Hibiki, lemon, sugar
A Nice Chianti - Silence of the Lambs | 7
Chianti, bourbon, port, cranberry, lemon
The Sound of Silence – The Graduate 7
Gin, grapefruit juice, lemon, elderflower
Colonial Cider – Last of the Mohicans 9
Apple cider, spiced rum
Serendipity – Me & Earl & The Dying Girl 5.5
Gin, apple juice, green tea, ginger
The Dirt Nap – True Romance 8.5
Cider Pomona, whisky, lemon, bitters, champagne
During our visit, I enjoyed the 'A Nice Chianti, which was amazing - rich flavours of Chianti, bourbon, port and lemon, made this a bit like sangria, but with a kick. My friend, who prefers her cocktails a bit on the frutier side, opted for the Tropical Tonic, a sweet concoction comprised of Cachaça, coconut milk, passion fruit, lemon, agave syrup.
To keep peckishness at bay, we ordered a selection of sharing plates and nibbles, all of which were fantastic. Our selection included the manchego cheese (classic, Spanish cheese with a mild flavour) on toast triangles and drizzled with olive oil; the meat sharing platter (Oxford air dried ham, Cornish coppa, smoked duck and venison salami); the fig and apricot bread (fruity, without being too sweet); mushrooms on toast (earthy sauteed mushrooms on a half toasted bun).
The meat platter was by the most impressive of the sharing plates, with a hearty portion of meats that is pure Heaven for any carnivore. The venison was lovely and not too 'gamey' and the thick slices of duck had an amazing smokiness.
The beautiful manchego cheese traingles and the mushrooms on toast...
The stylish decor at Pennethorne's Cafe Bar...
A great place to unwind ....
So, the next time you find yourself looking for a stylish cocktail on The Strand, ensure you pop by Pennethorne's Cafe Bar - you won't be disappointed.
Our experience overall
Food and drink: ★★★
Staff attentiveness/friendliness: ★★★
Pennethorne's Cafe Bar
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If you're looking for somewhere stylish to meet your friends for post work drinks or a pre-theatre nibble, than Pennethorne's Cafe Bar at Somerset House is just the place. Here, chic black walls, large Palladium windows, tasteful gold light fixtures and modern, hanging light bulbs, all blend together harmoniously to create a warm and refined atmosphere.
The night I visited, the bar was frequented by young, fashionable types in their late 20s-early 30s, however, this could have had something to do with London Fashion Week events that were still lingering.
With a new pre-theatre dining menu, and an enviable location in the heart of the theatre district, Pennethorne's Cafe Bar is perfectly situated for pre-theatre dining.
For £25.50, two diners can enjoy a mouth-watering assortment of tasty bites with the sumptuous sharing board which includes: Mushrooms on Toast, Beefeater Salmon on Toast, Parma Ham, Soft Boiled Egg and Watercress on Toast, and a glass of Prosecco.
The Mushrooms on Toast with Parmesan shavings was probably one of the best I've had, with a very rich, almost meaty flavour with a slight hint of sweetness.
The Parma Ham, Soft Boiled Egg and Watercress on Toast, was also a winner, but to be honest, it's a safe combination that's hard to beat. The soft boiled egg was perfectly cooked, which is key for achieving the perfect balance.
The Beefeater Salmon on a bed of raw cabbage was bursting with flavour, but may be a bit too intense for those who aren't keen on strong, fishy flavours.
Dessert is kept simple with a huge bowl of rich fudge to share. Tasty, but you'd be hard pushed to eat more than two pieces, unless you have a ridiculously sweet tooth!
Overall, the sharing platter provides a good variety of options and is quick and easy for those rushing off to enjoy a show. The service was efficient and the servers were friendly and more than happy to provide wine recommendations and answer any questions you may have about the menu.
For larger groups or special events, you can also hire out the private dining room, which is perfect for more intimate events in a simple, yet gorgeous room.
For low-key nights when I'm looking for somewhere to enjoy a glass of vino and nibbles, while enjoying catching up with friends, I know where I'll be going.
For more information, visit http://www.pennethornescafe.co.uk.
Monday to Friday, 8am to 10pm
Saturday, 10am to 10pm
Restaurants, Bars and food/drink pop ups and reviews
There's nothing more delicious in life than indulging in a sensational meal.