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Bloomsbury and El Vino

Posted on 2009/02/27 08:50:43 (February 2009).

[Thursday 26th February]
I didn't really feel like going home at the end of the working day, so instead set out from the office and went for a meandering stroll through London. Past Buckingham Palace, along the Mall, over Trafalgar Square, up St. Martin's Lane, past Covent Garden, through Holborn and to Bloomsbury.

In the book I have on Historic London Pubs I'd recently been leafing through looking for pubs I haven't been to yet, and noticed I have pretty much neglected the area around Bloomsbury, despite having thoroughly mined Holborn and other nearby areas.

So tonight I took a look at The Queen's Larder, (the Queen in question being Charlotte, wife of King George III) and the Lamb on Lamb's Conduit Street. Both were similar in a sense - genuinely old, 18th century ish pubs, but neither was treated like a museum and were popular and bustling like any other central London pub. I guess that's a good thing really - that's what these places need to keep going.

I thought a spot of dinner was in order, so I wandered in the direction of Holborn and found one of those vegetarian Chinese buffet places, which was very satisfying as always. At the table next to me were a group of French people - I presume they'd wandered in without realising it was an entirely vegetarian place. France of course is not a country synonymous with vegetarianism, and they are in fact incapable of enjoying any food unless an innocent animal has been molested and tortured in order to produce it. They probably keep an emergency goose in their hotel room which they would later go back and strangle a bit just to even things up.

To round the evening off, I suddenly came across the idea of going to El Vino on Fleet Street which I had been to once before, four or five years ago. Whilst primarily a wine bar, I remembered that they had a few of their own bottlings of whisky there too. So I thought I'd give that a go. They obviously don't sell their whisky very often - it was an odd choice of glass for a start (a tall straight glass, and not a copita in sight), and the people behind the bar didn't seem to know anything about it - but undeterred I tried their Islay (a Bunnahabhain) and their Orkney (a Highland Park).

The Islay was a bit of a disappointment - it was extremely heavily sherried, which for a subtle and lightly peated Islay like Bunnahabhain just killed it for me. There was perhaps a tiny hint of something leathery there, which I've picked up previously in sherried Port Ellens - so I presume that to derive from a reaction between peat and sherry, but that aside I'd never have known it was an Islay malt at all.

The Highland Park fared somewhat better though - notes of breakfast cereals and grilled mochi (Japanese rice cakes) with all the usual balance and richness you come to expect from the unfailingly great Orkadian giant. El Vino also sell their whiskies by the bottle and I was pleasantly surprised to see how cheap this was - less than 30 quid, which isn't bad for an 18 year old Highland Park (the regular distillery bottling at that age is usually in the region of 45). So I couldn't resist taking a bottle home.

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