The Junction

The Junction Birmingham foodSet in a commanding Victorian building at the top of Harborne High Street, open fireplaces, chequerboard tiles and sink-in-to-me-and-never-leave booth seating places The Junction squarely into must-have weekend territory.

With six regularly changing real ales and a stellar reputation for world beers – and that’s before world beers were a thing – The Junction just gets us. And if the bubbly brown stuff isn’t your thing, the rich yet revitalising Bloody Mary alongside Saturday brunch or The Junction’s epic Sunday lunch is our drink of choice.

Get your hands on a paper, some pals and settle in for the long haul – The Junction has everything you could possibly need. It even does boardgames.

Best Bars tip: Sunny day? The secluded beer garden, which isn’t visible from the front of the pub, is sometimes overlooked.

– Katy Drohan, ICHOOSEBirmingham.com

The Junction Birmingham interior

Bond No 9

Bond No 9 EdinburghBond No 9 in name refers to its location on Leith’s Commercial Street, in a large building once a whisky bond, shared by a Michelin-starred restaurant, offices and a furniture store among the residents. A lot of the original stone has been revealed in the main area with a good sized bright conservatory out to the rear which can be booked out for events. During the summer months it’s also a great place to park up and enjoy the weather in their outside area.

We made our way there for some decent sustenance after a cycle around Edinburgh’s coastal paths and arrived just in time to grab one of the last tables in the conservatory area. Brunch is served every weekend and the offer of their “bigger breakfast” was too good to skip: pork and herb sausages, smoked bacon, and Stornoway black pudding were the main stars of an ample dish backed up with the usual brunch features. Although the cocktail list is ample and well executed it was a strong cuppa and a virgin Bloody Mary with their house blend of spices for us, this time.

Leith is an area which due to a lot of redevelopment in recent years attracts a diverse crowd and Bond No 9 is no exception. Weekdays the main draw is relaxed food and great coffee, weekends a more restaurant feel is there with patrons enjoying top notch grub served by candlelight. Check their social media too as they’ll often have local DJ talent playing later in the evenings at the weekends.

Best Bars tip: The gantry holding all the spirits at Bond is one of the biggest and most diverse in Edinburgh. This means that they can rustle up not just the drinks from the award winning menu but pretty much anything your heart desires – Pisco Sour anyone?

— Martin Duffy, @DuffyDrinks

Bond No 9 Edinburgh brunch

Black Swan

Black Swan Leeds interiorThe masterminds behind Sandinista and Smokestack take on Call Lane with the elegant new opening, Black Swan. Moving away from the themed stylings of its infamous Latino and Prohibition-inspired sister bars, Black Swan is Yorkshire-bred through and through. It’s the perfect spot for laid-back drinking and despite being a 450-capacity, spacious two-floor venue — the bar maintains the intimate feel of a local pub with excellent service and incredible attention to detail.

The drinks menu not only boasts over 52 craft beers, six rotating draught ales, an on-site microbrewery and accessible two-page wine list, its cocktails also showcase the unquestionable talents of owner Si Ord’s bar team. Based on twists of classic serves, each cocktail recipe is credited to individual bartenders working for the group — from the sweet and moreish Mai Tai by Loren Holmes (Sandinista) to Niall McGloin’s (Smokestack) bitter kick Amaretto Sour. You’ll even find Mr Ord putting his own specs forward for an Espresso Martini pick-me-up. Catering for afternoon to late night boozing, you’ll find an upstairs restaurant serving up delicious, best of British cuisine — including kids menus and sharing platters — while the downstairs pizza kitchen cooks up light bites.

The bar’s exposed brick walls are decorated with varying designs — from Si’s antique suitcases and metal liquor ad signs to intricate hand-painted artwork by local artists. There are unique features wherever you look — such as the upstairs restored wood bar, array of vintage-style tables and chairs, projector beaming out old classic films and a roaring fireplace found in the Black Swan’s intimate side room. True to the venue’s heart, chilled out indie tunes play out in the day and turn into pumped up indie anthems, both old and new, as the night goes on.

Best Bars Tip: As tempting as it is to stay at the bar working your way through the drinks menu, the Pizza Kitchen cannot be missed. Its copper furnace serves up sourdough deliciousness until 10pm every night and the Yorkshire chorizo is one of our favourite Leeds’ bar bites to date.

— Mieke-Kyra Smith, @mieke_chu

Black Swan Leeds fireplace

The 7 Best Alternative Christmas Events in London 2014

Grotto Outre Christmas pop up

1. Grotto Outré

This is a wholly different kind of Christmas pop-up. Enter through an icy kingdom where the stairway to Outré awaits. All week long Grotto Outré is giving you something special: kicking off with Festive Film Nights on Mondays, Bingo Bonanza on Tuesdays, Quizmas Wednesdays and on Throwback Thursdays the reigns are handed over to you to control the playlist, find the magical track and banish Scrooges ghost’s forever to win an Outré prize. On Fridays and Saturdays expect outrageous club nights with UK DJs including Grotto resident Mrs Claws, and when the jingle bells chime, be ready to Swap-a-HoHo – stay close to that festive washing line as an item of clothing must be exchanged. On Sundays, recharge with Smokin’ Bloody Marys and live acoustic tunes. If you’re good, then you get Christmassy cocktails like Mince Pie Martinis — made with mince mix, toffee vodka, plum, apricot, lemon and a touch of sugar. Or get a bit vegetal with The Fairy’s Kiss — a mix of gin, petit pois, lemon, sugar, cranberry sauce, cranberry and apple.  And if you want to go “Off Your Sled”, you can throw back a shot of tequila, cinnamon and a slice of orange.
Tickets range from £10 to £35.
28 November-21 December. Red Gallery, 1-3 Rivington Street, EC2A 3DT.

Hot Tub Cinema crowd2. Ho-Ho-Hot Tub Christmas

Hot tubs. Cinema. Music. Dancing. This is Christmas on another level. Grab a few mates and book a whole tubs (or risk it for a biscuit and make some new friends). If you like a bit more adventure and debauchery for your movie night out, then this is it. From screenings of Elf to Gremlins to Die Hard to Love Actually, there’s a taste of something for everyone. And if you love some karaoke, then book in for 14 December and sing your heart out with lucky voice. There’s plenty to drink and nibbles to eat, plus the end of the night usually results in an impromptu hot tub dance party. Never been to one? Well now’s your chance.
Individual tickets are £35.
2-18 December. Former Shoreditch Underground station, E1 5ER.

the little match girl passion and karolaoke3. the little match girl passion + Karolaoke

This ain’t your average Christmas concert, Opera Erratica and The Coveryard are putting on an all-interactive music theatre EXTRAVAGANZA. Staging an all-night transition from winter cold and isolation to warmth and festive cheer. Expect plenty of sing-a-long pop and classical crossover covers as well as carol arrangements.
Tickets are £15 (£18 on the door).
11-12 December, 7.30pm. Shapes, 117 Wallis Road, E9 5LN.

Nordic Yulefest pop up4. Nordic Yulefest

Things have gone a bit Scandi in London this Christmas season, and this one in particular is going all out. Expect a birch tree-filled fairyland with sheepskin-laden nooks, marzipan pigs and the charismatic Tomte (or Santa Claus as some may call him) leading the festivities. Your ticket will include a Christmas cocktail, four courses of Nordic feasting, games, dancing and plenty of unbridled tomfoolery. And if you just want the frolicking, then book yourself a “Late Night Frolic” ticket for £20 — lets you in after the eating and lets you stay for all the partying.
Brunch is £55 a head. Dinner is £75 a head. 
6-21 December. Every Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. 1 Kingsland Road, E2 8AA.

Palace of the Snow Queen Christmas Cabaret5. Palace of the Snow Queen

It’s a Cabaret-cum-circus in a secret Shoreditch location. From wintery themed décor to gourmet winter fare to theatrical circus and cabaret performances, this is a one-stop shop.
Standard ticket is £79. Show and after-party only is £25.
4-19 December. 6pm-2am. Secret location.

Pop Up Screens6. Pop-Up Screens

An inside-out cinema, where the wardrobe is outside (aka the entryway) and the snow is IN. Screening films like National Lampoons: Chrismas Vacation to the Muppets Christmas Carol to Trading Places — you can go family-friendly or a bit edgy. There will be typical cinema treats like popcorn and bags of sweets. And also, there will be snow. Inside. Snow inside.
Tickets are £20.
12-23 December. 1pm and 8:30pm screenings. 20th Century Theatre, 291 Westbourne Grove, W11 2QA.

Somerset House Skate7. Skate At Somerset House

Now this might seem more classical than alternative, but with club nights, an après-skate lounge and Glad Tidings Tuesdays — you’ll do a bit more than just glide around in circles. Oh, and did we mention this is probably the most beautiful ice rink in London? Well now we did.
Tickets from £7.50.
11 November-11 January. Somerset House, The Strand, WC2R 1LA.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Thanksgiving in London 2014: The 5 Best Places to Celebrate

Thanksgiving in London 2014While Thanksgiving is really for the Yanks to give thanks, London has welcomed the holiday with open arms. And why wouldn’t it? Turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and more food than you could ever imagine — resulting in some of the best leftovers outside of Christmas. And if you’re not planning on cooking up a feast yourself, then book in to one of these spots to revel in the food-filled fun.

balthazar london covent garden1. Balthazar

Since it’s sister restaurant is in NYC, it is only fair that it offers Londoners some Thanksgiving treats. For £55 you can indulge yourself – American-style – with dishes like spiced roasted butternut squash soup, roast turkey, baked cod and pumpkin souffle for dessert.

big easy covent garden2. Big Easy Covent Garden

Feast yourself silly for just £30. A three-course meal with a pit-smoked turkey, stuffing, cornbread, candied sweet potatoes and creamed spinach. Plus some pumpkin and squash soup and freshly baked pumpkin pie. Now THAT’S something to give thanks for.

Chiltern Firehouse Marylebone exterior

3. Chiltern Firehouse

Now we doubt you’ll be able to nab a table, but if you’re a celeb (or are mates with someone “in the know”) then treat yourself to Nuno Mendes’ special Thanksgiving dishes that will be served all day long. The first is a slow-roasted turkey with truffled stuffing and liver parfait – plus sides of French beans and maple bourbon sweet potatoes, all for £32. Then for the sweet stuff, it’s a spiced pumpkin and brown butter pie with raisin caramel and bourbon cream for £9.

Honky Tonk Clapham

4. Honky Tonk

Since it’s all about the ol’ US of A here, Thanksgiving is going to be big. For £19.95 you can get three courses that will include buffalo wings, potato skins or pumpkin soup as starters; turkey burger, ribs or “not fried” chicken for mains; and pecan pie, sticky toffee pudding or Mississippi mud pie for dessert.

The Lockhart fried chicken5. The Lockhart

Here you’ll find some of London’s best southern USA classics. Dinner costs £60 a head, with tasty treats like fried turkey legs, country ham and smoked brisket. Not to mention the cornbread which is cooked to order and, we reckon, the best in town. For more of a bang for your buck meal, nip in for the lunch version at £40.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

The Engineer

The Engineer Primrose Hill exteriorThe Engineer is arguably one of London’s best-kept secrets. Tucked away in a secluded Primrose Hill spot, this laid-back pub offers up an extensive beer, cider and drinks menu, gastro grub, canal views and an incredible outdoor space that’s designed for all-year alfresco drinking.

If you’re not too busy celeb spotting (yes, this a prime hub for those Primrose Hill darlings), the drinks menu should grab your attention.  Whether on draught or bottled up, The Engineer specialises in “The Best of British” beer and cider, hosting local brews such as Camden Hells, Meantime’s London Stout and Sharps’ Orchard. The pub also prides itself on a rotating selection of real ales, a global range of craft beers, old and new world wines, plus a decent list of classic cocktails.

It’s not just about relaxed drinking here but informal, chilled-out dining, with fresh seasonal dishes and notoriously delectable bar bites – we challenge you to find anywhere that serves a better homemade Scotch egg. Décor is traditional with a modern twist and the upstairs not only looks out over the Regent’s Canal but also switches from a restaurant by day to a party area or private hire space by night.

Best Bars tip: It’s a little known fact that The Engineer is home to one of the City’s best pub gardens. The spacious outdoors area is made for both summer and winter drinking. When the sun’s away heated undercover seating keeping you toasty even on the chilliest evenings.

— Mieke-Kyra Smith, @mieke_chu

The Engineer Primrose Hill interior

Dishoom King’s Cross

Dishoom King's CrossThe third and largest outpost of Dishoom is another beautifully designed Bombay café, setting up shop in the foodie destination of Granary Square. The warehouse-like space manages to ooze charm with antique knick-knacks and brass touches throughout.

The food menu has slight variations to the sister restaurants, however a few of our favourites made it on to this list. The crispy prawn koliwada are flavourful, moreish morsels served with tamarind and date chutney. The chicken ruby is a rich and not-too-spicy curry with utterly tender meat. And if it’s just a little nibble you want, then the can’t-stop-won’t-stop okra fries are a tad hot and a lot delicious. A few Dishoom Pale Ales would wash all that down quite nicely, but if you want something harder then try the smoky yet sweet Chaijito. It’ll feel like summer all year round.

The Permit Room bar downstairs fits 90 people and opens at 5pm every day, so swing by for spicy twists on ginny numbers or even some zesty and fruity mocktails. They also have a whole selection of pre-batched cocktails for your pleasure.

Best Bars tip: The chai is on another level. So whether you go for the classic version or the “naughty” one (aka boozy) – this is the ultimate warming treat.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Dishoom King's Cross