Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Clubhouse Shoreditch @ The East Room

As of March 2010 The East Room is closed for the foreseeable future due to a devastating fire. Fortunately no-one was hurt but my thoughts go out to the wonderful team there. I hope that their talents find a good home, and quickly - any hospitality venue would be lucky to have an 'East Roomer' on their staff.

As a general rule I don't think it's productive to review the food offerings at members' clubs; existing club members and anyone interested in joining aren't going to be (much) interested in one reviewer's opinion on what the grub's like, and anyone else is not likely to care enough to read about food of which they are unlikely to be able to partake. I have to make an exception however for the outstanding 'pop-up' space at Shoreditch's The East Room, because it's aimed squarely at, and is perfect for, an up-market Christmas party crowd and you, dear reader, might just have the task of organising such a do.

For those unfamiliar with it - and many will be, given its deliberately much lower profile than its flashy, brash competitor Shoreditch House - The East Room is a very elegant, unstuffy, innnovative members' club on Tabernacle Street, on the doorstep of, but not within, the media, creative and fashion hub of Shoreditch. It's part of a small but growing group of members' bars and clubs including Milk & Honey in London and New York, Soho's ace cocktail lounge The Player, and boutique hotel, restaurant and members' bar The Clubhouse in Chamonix. It's upon this latter that The Clubhouse Shoreditch is based, and it's a pretty amazing sight. What is usually a pleasant, well-shaded roof terrace (pictured) - quite the place to not be seen, unlike a certain other, better-known roof terrace up the road - has been magically transformed into a faithful recreation of an Alpine lodge, with wood-burning stoves, an open fire, comfy sofas, a (fairground) helicopter and tongue-and-groove walls. On entry, you're encouraged, though by no means obliged, to shed your shoes and swap them for cosy ski socks, and to take your pick from a selection of apres-ski clothing including scarves and gilets. While the heat of the fires makes the room rather too warm for the winter woolies to be kept on for long, it's a charming and fun touch.

The food on offer has been mainly devised to appeal to groups, as it's envisaged that the space will predominantly be used for parties during the three months of its scheduled existence. In typical East Room style however there's not a satay stick or mini-burger in sight, nor are you going to find traditional turkey 'n' trimmings. Instead, in perfect keeping with the chalet theme, groups can order vast vats of tartiflette (the ambrosial if coronary-inducing marriage of potatoes, cream, cheese, bacon and onions), cheese fondue (for 2-12 people), coq au vin for twenty, daube of beef for 12...the menu reads mouthwateringly and prices, if not valley low are certainly not Alpine high, coming in at about £15 a head for food only. Extras available include salads, starters and sharers, and for occasions when the space is being used as an overflow for the floors below or just by smaller groups, there are dishes suited to 1 or 2 people. From these, we sampled the fabulous three cheese fondue (£30), brought to the bubble in a capacious cauldron at your table and served with copious amounts of bread chunks, radishes, endives and Chantenay carrots; and the charcuterie board (£18), a generous assemblage of ham hock terrine, chicken rillettes, chicken liver parfait, saucisson, Parma ham (particularly good), pickles and bread.

Imagination has clearly gone into the drinks offering too. Grey Goose and Eristoff vodkas are the building blocks for a clever, seasonal cocktail list and also feature in exhibitionist party pleasers including a rehoboam of Grey Goose set in a block of ice at £600 and a vodka luge (price on application!) 88- and 54-pint beer kegs with self-service hand pumps are also available and sure to make any party (and many a party-goer, no doubt) swing. We thoroughly enjoyed, and I can recommend, the vin chaud, otherwise known as mulled wine but hey, this is Chamonix! Served, of course, in half pint tin mugs, the aroma alone bellows 'Christmas'.

The overall experience is, at risk of sounding wanky, really quite magical and a very great deal of thought has obviously gone into designing it. The dressing up, the smells, the decor, the food and the hospitality (provided by The East Room's terrific staff who have mastered the art of being as cool as, but not cooler than, thou, a rare thing indeed in this part of town) all combine to truly transport you to another place; stepping out onto the City Road afterwards gave me new empathy with the Pevensie children. If you're organising a party over the next couple of months - The Clubhouse will disappear, as quickly as it popped up, in February - and want to take your cohort somewhere genuinely fresh, fun and unique, then The Clubhouse Shoreditch surely has to top your list. If not, but you fancy giving it a try, then do try to bag an invitation from a member (thank you, sister, for mine!), or failing that, consider joining yourself; for (final unfavourable comparison with a certain other club, I promise) membership here is open to anyone willing to pay their dues, follow the house rules and 'not act like a wanker'. And that, as a general rule, is the kind of place which deserves to be this favourably reviewed.

The Clubhouse Shoreditch @ The East Room, 2a Tabernacle Street, London EC2A 4LU Tel: 07000 847876
East Room on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 19 November 2009


Today, in a flagrant contravention of popular advice, I met one of my idols. Though not, to most, a household name, Virginia Bates - owner of a legendary, eponymous vintage clothing boutique on Portland Road, high priestess of British fashion, fairy godmother to generations of designers (John Galliano is a bosom pal), actress and charity fundraiser - is someone who has always held a certain magic for me; her semi-regular blog postings on are a delicious insight into the magical world she inhabits of seemingly endless parties, fundraisers, art happenings and opening nights.

Virginia has been a fixture of the fashionable London scene throughout the last five decades, through the Swinging Sixties and Cool Britannia via the Greed Is Good Eighties to the Credit Crunch Noughties. Virginia is a true one-of-a-kind; inimitable, improbable, unique, the very embodiment of the kind of person that were she not to exist - heaven forfend - we would have to invent her. As will no doubt be clear, I absolutely adore Virginia Bates, and today - thanks to it having transpired that we have a wonderful mutual friend, who set it up - Virginia Bates and I had brunch.

There could only be one venue for this auspicious occasion. Directly opposite Virginia's shop on Portland Road stands Julie's, the famous neighbourhood restaurant beloved of well-heeled locals and visiting A-Listers alike and which has been feeding both all day and night for 40 years. Yes, you read right - four-zero, making it arguably as much of a London institution as Virginia herself; something of a restaurant idol if you like.

It's an incredible place, sprawling out over several floors and multiple rooms, each entirely different from the others, one Moorish in feel, another Balearic, one casual and cafe-ish, another formal and haute; you could breakfast, brunch, lunch, dine and sup here every day for a week and never feel that you were in the same place twice. It wasn't always thus; the original lounge-y basement space which Virginia vividly described for me evoked images of the Kit-Kat Club, presided over as it was by 'a very gay former ballet dancer' and having the feel 'of having accidentally stumbled into someone's living room'. There's still a very homely feel about Julie's today, at least in the part in which we were seated, which I'm sure must contribute in no small part to its local appeal.

One criticism that's been leveled at Julie's by some reviewers is that the pricing of the food bears little relation to the quality and indeed quantity of it, and I must admit that when I looked over the menu online during my preliminary research (yes, I do do my homework believe it or not) the prices struck me as being rather steep. For two very good reasons however I'm not able to contribute to this particular discussion: for one, we ordered from the brunch menu all of which appeared to be fairly priced (for W11 at least) and for another, the bill - whatever it came to I couldn't tell you - was unexpectedly and very generously taken care of by Virginia's (and now, I like to think, my) pal Rod. Pure class.

Everything that came to the table was excellent; my smoked salmon and scrambled eggs was almost as good as I make it at home (in my not-so-humble opinion), the full English being enjoyed by Rod and our gorgeous friend Chris appeared to be all present and correct and very attractively plated, and Virginia thoroughly liked her eggs and bacon. Toast was hot and crispy, butter soft and plentiful, the preserves superb (Bonne Maman no less) and the coffee strong, aromatic and very freshly roasted. Service was quick, courteous and unobtrusive - whether this was because of Virginia's status as local royalty or the norm I'd not know, but I'd err towards the latter.

Most delicious of all however was the conversation; there was so much that I wanted to talk about with Virginia that we were only ever going to make the merest scratch on the surface, but I still enjoyed a good couple of hours of the most wonderful anecdotes, reminiscences and gossip. Madame Bates (as her invitation to the Dior Haute Couture show is invariably engraved) however was not the only fascinating figure at the table; Rod regaled us with accounts of a very high-profile wedding he had attended recently as well as the opening night at Galvin La Chapelle, while Chris had heart-warming tales of his return to good health after a prolonged period otherwise and of a fledgling new romance far sweeter than anything on the pudding menu.

All was rounded off with a trip across the road to the shop, where Virginia relived for us the marvellous story of when she met one of her idols, a certain Miss Barbra Streisand. That meeting, too, ended happily; far from disappointing her, Barbra was everything Virginia had ever wanted her to be and more. I left feeling exactly the same about Virginia.

Dear Reader, I'm sorry; this is a pitiful excuse for a restaurant review. I've told you barely anything about Julie's and far more than you could ever possibly be interested in hearing about what was a very special moment for me but in which you I expect could not fail to be interested less. Of whether Julie's is good or bad, over- or fairly-priced, worth a visit or not, I am probably not qualified to judge. All I can say is this: my experience of Julie's was entirely and only positive, and that it has stayed in business - not to mention in the same hands - for four decades must surely be an indicator that its fans far, far outweigh its vocal online detractors.

Try it for yourself and let me know what you think, and if you happen to pop into the heavenly vintage clothes emporium across the way, tell its gorgeous, vital, effervescent owner that her #1 Fan sends his love.

Julie's Restaurant & Bar, 135 Portland Road, London W11 4LW Tel: 020 7229 8331

Julie's on Urbanspoon
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...