Degò: Wine by trade, Italian by nature

Published on The Prodigal Guide on 6th February 2012:

Charcuterie and Franciacorta wine glass at Dego, London

An exploration of wine led me to Degò; an Italian restaurant and wine bar that’s so far removed from its Oxford Circus surroundings it leaves you disorientated.

How do you explain its concept? “Devil’s in the detail” perhaps, which is what might be invoked when your eyes set upon its red and black theme. So potent and masculine is the colour, and all hard wood and sleek granite. Yet, there’s also a hint of femininity – the curvature of the bar upstairs, and elsewhere, all moulded around the glass of Franciacorta. Incidentally this is the sparkling wine, produced via the same method as Champagne, you really ought to indulge in. Degò has chose to stock only Franciacorta by Villa and it stocks it exclusively.

The music in the wine bar, played on a bespoke sound system, always falls in the background facilitating ample conversation. The wine selection, mostly Italian, some French and a generous few exclusive to Degò, paired with the cheese and charcuterie is equally adept. In a rather unusual fashion, the board of cold cuts is served with a sauce of sweet chilli which works surprisingly well with the La Tur.

Stairs, black marble inlaid with red, leads down to the restaurant itself where the theme continues in a more prominent fashion. Breathtaking is probably not the right word for it. Over a thousand panels of red hued leather adorn the walls, creating a womb of shimmery rouge. The low and boothy seats encourage the Casanova position – that is, a sideways seductive recline against the supple leather, one hand supporting the head and the other nursing the wine.

Steak tartare ingredients at Dego, London

And wine is as big an aspect downstairs in the restaurant as it is upstairs in the bar. A fact which was obvious from the wine coolers built into all the tables; a considered design. The food, leaning towards Venetian, is no less important and Degò has been furnished with two AA Rossettes and a place in the Good Food Guide.

The bread platter is plenty and full of choice, but don’t fill up on these. Start with the steak tartare for something a little different. Made to order at the table rather than in the kitchen, the meat is coarsely ground (it’s an Italian thing I’m told) with a perfectly balanced proportion of ingredients. And while good, it doesn’t take your breath away in quite the same manner as the scallops with hazelnut cream and Amarone apples, which looks like a sandy rockpool artfully spilled across the plate. Drink Soave La Broia D.O.C. 2009 Roccolo Grassi for its crisp, balanced lightness.

Scallops with hazelnut cream and Amarone apple at Dego, London

The veal chop serving as a main, though inspired by its Milanese counterpart, is much more generous in its portioning but no less tender. A side of frangipane potatoes, a dusting of lightly spiced crust, is a surprising addition but pairs beautifully with medium rare duck breasts and French beans. Opt this time for a dark and smokey I.G.T. Jeudi 15 2009 Vino di Anna, made by Anna Martens, the wife of Caves de Pyrène’s founder Eric Narioo.

If you can, make room for the Bigoli with duck ragu too. A buckwheat pasta with a rich, gamey sauce will surely leave you feeling wholesome and satisfied. Or indulge in their selection of desserts instead, it will give you the same pleasure.

The chocolate caramel meringue has the ginger sauce to give it a kick, though you might kick yourself for not ordering the rose parfait when romancing – it comes with a single red rose. Therein lies the detail of the whole operation. Call it cheesy if you like but really, it’s just flamboyant Italian.

The Cuckoo Club – Members Club Review

Published on Design My Night on 30th December 2011:

Swallow Street, London W1B 4EZ

The Cuckoo Club has been recently redesigned by the 60s fashion designer and BIBA founder Barbara Hulanicki. But what goes on in its purple boudoir?

Décor and Ambience

The purple theme of The Cuckoo Club spells out debauchery and decadence everywhere but that’s precisely how they wanted it designed – with rock n’ roll in mind.

In the restaurant-come-club upstairs, the mirrored bar back with its towering shelf of liquors imparts a sense of something naughty. While the mixologist expertly concocts your cocktail, you can enjoy dinner on its plush banquettes or, with a reservation, in its VIP area. After the dining hour, that same room is transformed into a club with neon, strobes and cracking DJs.

Stairs, lit with a giant glittering disco ball, will lead you down to the basement club where you can also enjoy cocktails on their booths while you wait for that transformation. Or equally stay because it’s ready with music, drinks, a dance floor and comfy seating.

Atmosphere and Clientèle

The first thing you’ll be told when asking about The Cuckoo Club is that it never gets busy before 11pm.

Well, the club part that is. Members and non-members alike can book tables in The Cuckoo Club’s restaurant and it does get quite busy there. The perk for non-members is that they’ll also gain access to the club after dinner.

Because it’s a members’ club, The Cuckoo Club’s guests are rather well dressed, though that is not to say that they are in any way snobby. Indeed after a drink or two, everyone’s more than happy to mingle on the dance floor while the staff takes care of all your refreshment needs. It’s probably one of the few places in London where well-heeled students and successful young professionals blend in equal measures.

Food and Drink

The food at The Cuckoo Club doesn’t conform to cuisine. Instead you will find quite a selection of luxurious fish and meat dishes such as grilled langoustine and wagyu beef burgers.

Economical/drinkonomical is not a word considered here. With starters upwards of £10 and mains upwards of £15, you may have to curb your enthusiasm over their small selection of £8 desserts. Still, you will be rewarded well if you order the Valrhona ganache with sea salt crumble.

Drinks wise, cocktails are the thing to go for. Blends of champagne and absinthe will definitely get the party started but you can equally go for a tame G&T. Either way, the bar men know their way around an ice cube.

Music

Given its aspirations, The Cuckoo Club probably inclines more towards the rock n’ roll side but really you’re just as likely to hear dance and RnB classics. With different nights running throughout the week and on each of their dance floors, there’s certainly room for choice.

In Summary

The Cuckoo Club is not a night out for the faint-hearted or small budgeted but prepare for the large bill and you are guaranteed fun in copious supply.

Budget: Splash The Cash

Pre-designs: Fun-Time Party Night, Impress a date, A-List hang-out

Service: 4/5

Réunion Bar at The Grosvenor Hotel – Review

Published on Design My Night on 28th December 2011:

101 Buckingham Palace Road, Victoria, SW1W 0SJ

Réunion bar at The Grosvenor Hotel, not the French island in the Indian Ocean as you might think but a champagne and cocktail bar in The Grosvenor Hotel. So just where does it get its French name from?

Décor and Ambience

Enclosed in The Grosvenor Hotel, the site of Réunion was at one time a VIP Lounge for First Class passengers travelling from Victoria station. As it happens, Victoria was also the connection to Continental Europe via the luxurious Orient Express. So it seems that a Réunion was born to celebrate the amalgamated history of the two.

Very much staying true to its history, Réunion is decorated with the splendours of steam trains of years gone by but with a modern twist. Paintings of Brighton Belle, the other famous luxury train which departed from Victoria, hangs on either end of the bar. Pockets of seating are artfully cordoned off by curtains, creating intimate social spaces for meeting friends. A mirror reflects over the granite bar, centrally placed and illuminated by glass-ware lighting from above.

When you make your entrance, you will certainly feel like you’ve arrived.

Atmosphere and Clientèle

Despite not being overtly sign posted from the station, the bar is almost packed by 6.30pm. There’s plenty of space to stand but if you want to grab a seat, get there early. Luckily, the bar is well staffed so you won’t have to wait long to quench your thirst.

While Réunion is not a space for a quiet drink, it’s definitely not a rowdy venue either. The well-heeled guests appear to be mostly professionals enjoying a couple of drinks after work. In the corner booths you’re likely to find groups of suited men, clearly still engaged in an overrun business meeting. Sitting at the bar are the occasional lone traveller, soaking in the exotic martinis.

Food and Drink

Though Réunion offers up bar snacks in the shape of charcuterie, sushi and miniature bites, it’s really the drinks that matter. After all, it is a champagne and cocktail bar.

Most people in the bar seem to indulge in the cocktails. But with few champagnes by the glass and vintages costing up to some £650, you can sort of understand why the golden liquid isn’t flowing during the week. The cocktails on the other hand, start from just £7.50 and there are some carefully crafted ones like the Victorian martini. Of course you could always blend the two and go for a champagne cocktail. The toffee champagne is particularly good.

Réunion also creates limited edition themed cocktails alongside its usual offering, with a collectible menu. What a novel idea.

In Summary

If you find yourself with time to kill at Victoria station, consider popping into Réunion. Considering the jostle of the station, Réunion makes a much more relaxed waiting environment. And even if you don’t bump into an old friend, you’ll still be treated to some very good cocktails.

Budget: Happily Affordable

Pre-designs: After-work drinks, Impress a date, Waiting for a train, Catch up with mates

Service: 4/5