Successful artists tend to be those we associate with a unique style or trend. Rich artists are those who distill their style to a few key elements and exploit it ruthlessly. An ongoing exhibition of Damien Hirst at the Gagosian’s eleven galleries around the world underscores my point. Entitled “25 Years of Spot Paintings” it celebrates the fact that Hirst has made millions selling paintings of coloured circles on white backgrounds. The emperor’s new clothes came to mind as I wandered through the Gagosian in Mayfair and tried to understand why anyone would spend tens of thousands to buy a painting of a spot. There are even paintings of half a spot. To be fair to Hirst he has a second trick. He is really good at sawing animals in half and dipping them in formaldehyde. I imagine a factory somewhere in Shenzhen full of skilled 8 year olds churning out spot paintings and slicing animals in half…
Around the corner from the Gagosian in Mayfair is another factory with a couple of smart tricks up its sleeve. The Burger & Lobster restaurant and cocktail bar does what its name implies. It serves burgers and lobster together with a fine selection of cocktails. There is no printed food menu. For your £20 (US $30) you have a choice of a burger or a lobster (flown in from Nova Scotia). Both dishes come with double cooked french fries and salad. The food is good, but £20 is a lot for a burger. By comparison Daniel Boulud’s brasserie at the Mandarin Oriental which serves the best burgers in London according to my American friends, charges “only” £13. Unlike in America however, whole lobster is considered a rare luxury in London and £20 is a fair price for a large crustacean with fries. The punters love the Burger and Lobster; it has been packed since it opened a few months ago.
I lunched there recently with friends including the Springbok Sloane. She belongs to a species who believe that leaving the bubble around Sloane Square is physically dangerous. They occasionally drive to Mayfair in a Range Rover to eat at the Wolseley. They are only tempted to leave the bubble by a hot new restaurant or a gallery opening. The B&L buzz had reached Sloane Square and the Springbok Sloane was bang on trend.
The Burger and Lobster is also on trend with the annoying habit of not taking reservations. I don’t get the point of queuing for your food, but this is England where people like queues. You must either get there early and shiver in the cold outside or jostle at the bar while covetously eyeing a table of diners lingering over their coffee.
The atmosphere at the Burger & Lobster is casual and fun. The decor is straightforward – stripped wood and exposed brick walls, stools and banquettes covered in red leather, the occasional marginally risquÃ© piece of art. The wait staff is uniformly cheerful. Giles Looker of the Soul Shakers bar consultancy (Whisky Mist, Trailer Happiness, Virgin Airlines) has devised a cocktail list divided into B cocktails and L cocktails to go with your food. There is a sensibly priced wine list but why drink grape when you can have cocktails matched to your food? All cocktails are priced at £9 (around US $12). The B cocktails feature a whisky or bourbon base to go with your beef. The Bull and Bear for example had a base of Woodford Reserve bourbon with blackberries, raspberries and mure (a blackberry liquor) topped with Zinfandel. The L cocktails are lighter with primarily a gin or vodka base. I had a B&L gin fizz which on a base of Beefeater gin had Cointreau, lemon, egg cream (for body), rhubarb bitters and soda. It was the perfect accompaniment to lobster – creamy but not sweet with a nice hint of bitters coming through on the palate. On paper, a lot of modern cocktails appear to have too many fussy ingredients. Skillfully blended, as they are at the B&L they are light, complex and tasty. I would have happily stayed to work my way through more of the cocktail list, but the throng at the bar eyeing up your table discourages tarrying. They turn their tables quickly here. At heart the Burger & Lobster is a premium fast food restaurant.
In need of a post prandial tipple we turned the corner into the casual elegance and warmth of the Connaught Hotel. The hotel has two bars. I usually go to the Connaught Bar, covered in a previous blog under the Finest Hotel Bars in London. However it doesn’t open till 4pm, so we went to the Coburg Bar instead. This is a traditional hotel bar, which stays open all day and serves light meals and drinks. At the Connaught they do this kind of bar with style and elegance. The cocktail menu at the Coburg Bar has a chronological bent to it with eight pages of drinks ordered by their date of origin. The list starts with a pre-1800 drink; the sour family of cocktails. You choose a spirit and they’ll add sugar, lemon juice and egg white to make your sour. Take a look at their bacchonology menu if you have a moment to spare – it’s a fun read!
I learned that the Pimm’s Cup No 1 was the first British Cocktail, invented by James Pimm for his London oyster bar, circa 1840. Flips, cobblers, fizz’s and daiquiris originated from the 19th century. Margaritas, martinis, piÃ±a coladas and Bloody Mary’s hailed from the 20th century. I chose a Manhattan figuring the rye whisky and bitters (with a dash of vermouth) would cut through the richness of my meal. The Manhattan was invented in the 1870s at the Manhattan Club in New York for a banquet thrown by Jennie Churchill (mother of Winston). I enjoyed the history lesson and I enjoyed the Coburg. It is not a destination bar but is a warm and convivial place to relax with friends. It is not cheap, but having apparently “saved” money eating cheap lobster, we minded less…