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Tuesday 25 February 2014

Le Quecumbar - Scratch Bar - Sambrook's Brewery

Sunday February 9th - I often find it difficult to get rid of the Monday morning feeling on Sundays, don't you? Film and a takeaway is normally the order of the day for delaying the inevitable.  A boozy gin & tonic tasting did the trick a few weeks ago.  But my most successful distraction came courtesy of Le Quecumbar, a stunning 1930s Parisian Gypsy Jazz bar & brasserie tucked away in Battersea that might just be the best looking bar on the planet.

Flatmate Maggie and I went along to help them celebrate their 11th birthday for which they lined up an incredible group of musicians led by Dutch virtuoso swing guitar master Lollo Meier.  We got there early to sample the food, and can now highly recommend the comforting cauliflower cheese & tartiflette options.  The menu is amusingly carried around on a giant black board which gets plonked next to your table until you give in.

On the drinks front, we stuck to Leffe & wine for most of the evening, but they also do a range of "strong cocktails" & have a well stocked back bar including an interesting bottle of Saffron Gin.  The obvious gin to order is Hendricks because of the cucumber / Quecumbar link, and they have in fact recently created a partnership which is kicking off with their Prohibition Party on March 6th where Hendricks cocktails will be served in a range of prohibition style cups & saucers.  Book ahead as it should be a very popular evening.

Lollo Meier was joined on stage by Ferg Ireland on bass (that bloke standing in the tree at the back), Ducato on rhythm (who sticks out beautifully in photos below with a bright shirt) & the phenomenal Giacomo Smith on clarinet who constantly threatened to steal the show.  Despite having never performed together before, they delivered a faultless evening of hot club gypsy swing, sticking mostly to tunes written by Django Reinhardt & Lollo himself - impressively, it was hard to work out which were which despite the gap in composition of 70 years or so.  The sound quality at Quecumbar is fantastic & the sight lines are excellent from most seats - do get there early if you want ringside seats though.

Left to right - Lollo, Ferg, Ducato & Giacomo
After two long sets, the party didn't stop.  Friends were invited on stage to join in, Lollo performed on his own, and jamming went on long into the night (which apparently it always does).  Maggie and I intended to head home at 11pm but two Laphroaig's later and it was closer to 1am.  In between songs, the musicians sat down and chatted to the audience, and by the time we left we felt like we were part of a new family.  Incredibly, they did it all again the next night.

Lollo isn't in the UK that often but Giacomo (clarinet) performs all over London, mainly with the Kansas Smitty's who you can catch at Vaults Waterloo (Tue & Wed 9.30 onwards, free entry) and Ronnie Scott's Late Late Show occasionally amongst other places.  I highly recommend tracking him down.

Shining light Ducato holding it all together on rhythm guitar
What's over there?

I could have stayed all night but Monday morning beckoned - 6 hours was longer than we expected to stay.  It was a night of pure escapism for which we mainly have owner Sylvia to thank, who lives upstairs and is always the life and soul of the party.  Steve & Andy also looked after us well - I'm sure you'll know them by the time you leave.  

The décor needs to be seen first hand - every time I looked around, I spotted something tucked away, and the overall feel plants you right in the middle of 1930s Paris.  11 years is impressive for a small niche venue but that doesn't mean it will last forever, so get down there and support this incredible jazz bar, especially if you are a Battersea local.  There are gigs most nights, some of which are ticketed so check the website or go on a Tuesday to see the free jam session to get yourself started.  They have their own record label with many recordings of live Quecumbar gigs available to buy online or in the bar.

Friday February 7th - Sticking to the Battersea theme, I stumbled across the lovely Scratch Bar (@BACscratch) attached to the Battersea Arts Centre after the Battersea Beer Festival a couple of weeks ago.  BAC is one of London's most influential theatres and has sensibly put in a fresh café/bar to match the quality productions.  

It is open 6 days a week (Mon-Sat) in the quirky Grade II listed building, and the food menu changes regularly playing on themes found in BAC shows.  They have Nude coffee to go with their extensive cake selection, free wifi, music & entertainment on Fridays, and local beers - what's not to love?  We were delighted to find the excellent range of bottled Brixton beers which were sadly absent from the CAMRA beer festival (that seemed to be stubbornly refusing to move with the times).

BAC membership (only £20 a year) will get you 10% off food & drink, and their £10 burger & beer is well worth a look. I imagine I will be making use of Scratch a fair amount this year with its inviting laidback vibe and tasty treats.

Last but not least, I thought I'd mention my local brewery, Sambrook's, which now seems like an old hand on the London brewing scene despite only being 6 years old.  They turned up a few years early to the show, and have firmly established themselves with their award-winning core range of Junction, Wandle and Powerhouse Porter that you may have seen around.  I myself am a big fan of Pumphouse Pale Ale, and was delighted to be able to lug home a fresh 18 pint box of the stuff for a New Year's party.

They don't have a taproom bar that opens regularly, but their superb shop is open 6 days a week, selling their beer fresh in various sizes, alongside an interesting selection of bottled beers from some of their favourite breweries.  You can order a 9 gallon cask for £120-150 if you so wish!  Staff are friendly and fresh tasters are always available if you can't make your mind up.  There are also monthly tours on the third Wednesday of every month for £15/person.

They recently announced that they plan to hold quarterly parties, starting with Spring Zing this Saturday (1st March) at the brewery.  They will be launching their new Archer Mild Ale named after John Archer who became Mayor of Battersea & the first ever black Mayor in London 100 years ago. There will also be live music & food including Ginger Pig sausage rolls.  Check their blog for more important dates to save throughout the year.

Le Quecumbar on Urbanspoon

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