The Guinea Grill, Mayfair

I’ve been drinking in the Guinea on and off, for over 15 years, depending on where I or clients are based. It’s a small, gloriously old fashioned Youngs boozer that has (I think) the classic picture of the Queen Mum and / or Charles pouring a pint, all the Youngs beers you’d expect and a very mixed clientele.

I’ve drunk in there with working class sth London boys made good and not so good; aristocratic ex guards officers, oil and mining types, journalists, bankers, mercenaries and spooks. Basically it’s a local boozer that services a diverse community, and does so very well, providing a discreet boot hole for a swift pint or an all day session.

The light and bitter is very good, even if I’m the only person that drinks it. Well kept Ordinary that is always perfectly clear and if I’m lucky and get one of the new staff, I can persuade them to serve me an old fashioned measure. Sorry Osh. The Guinness is probably the best in a mile or so and at lunch they have truly exceptional old fashioned pies (steak & kidney/ mushroom) and an outstanding oxtail sandwich that has shaved horseradish that is a cure for the common cold.

It’s recently been taken over by a new guvnor, an Irishman who London is fortunate enough to have received some time ago. He used to have the Ship at Wandsworth which was always a grand place in the rugby season and has enhanced the Guinea with an eye for detail and a bit of spit, polish and staff training. Most professional reviewers say he’s good at his s job, I’m not arguing.

So far, this is a review of a seemingly discreet boozer (it’s in a sort of alley of Berkeley Square) that lots of people know about. It can be heavingly busy of a Thursday evening, Friday lunch or anytime around Christmas. The difference is what’s behind the pub.

If you are a few years younger than me, you probably can’t imagine London without Hawksmoor. You could be forgiven for thinking that they introduced the idea of a top quality British steakhouse to London. Their PR has done a good job in creating this perception, especially as previous and slightly less grand competitors such as Chez Gerrard bit the dust and Gaucho pushes the Argentine brand hard. I’m not complaining, I’m a big fan and I remain very grateful to them for many good meals and drinks. Particularly drinks, they do great cocktails.

However before Hawksmoor there was The Guinea Grill. It’s a singularly old school British / Irish take on how to serve grilled and roast meat, something they do as well as anywhere in London – with the benefit of the onsite pub as well.

Due in part to the location, there’s muted wooden panels, velvet cushioned chairs, silver service, buttered & creamed veg and a wine list hefty enough to facilitate GBH on either a fellow diner or your wallet. The list itself is what you’d expect; a top quality traditional selection. I tend to continue drinking beer as I’ll be going back to work, but there’s some good stuff on it, including a longtime personal favourite, Musar, which is a slightly racy but imaginative addition, not seen as much as it should be.

One’s fellow punters are almost all chaps; very old Mayfair, to the point my chippy sarf London half Irish persona gets turned up to 10. Every time I walk in, I feel like a bit of an outsider, then I realise I’ve worked in energy and capital markets for a long time and this is a community of which I’m part.

And then the food and drink starts and all my chippyness falls away because it’s so bloody good. The happy contended hum of a small dining room sharing a very good lunch is a great thing. Even the bread and butter is an exampler of what bread and butter is meant to be. Chewey and yeasty balanced by rich cream. Yum.

I’m yet to have a starter or desert, because I can’t afford to nap after lunch; but you come here for the meat. The steak is as good as it gets. The thing with this sort of food is there’s nowhere to hide. Source great meat. Cook it on a hot grill with necessary seasoning. Trad sides such as spinach and chips or even fried eggs must not trample over the main event, but must be simple and therefore they are either perfect or not good enough. The Guinea does it right time after time. I particularly like the bearnaise, which has a nice tang to balance the richness.

There’s pretty much all cuts available, and a wider menu that has more trad grill classics such as chops, a pretty hefty looking mixed grill, beef wellington and the same pies you get in the pub.

There’s also the best private room in London which would be great for big birthday party, or as I did a few years ago, a massive blowout following completion of a testing work project.

So, in conclusion, it’s a great little boozer with a very good old school grill room behind it, run by a talented manager and team who make sure you feel welcomed.

As an online sparring partner suggested recently with (I hope) more humour than snark, “why don’t you work remotely from there paddy?”


Trumpageddon may be some way off; a few thoughts on CI and financial crime investigations

A lot of people on my social media streams are getting rather excited about #Trumpageddon and whether we are closing in on an endgame. Are we reaching the point where evidence can build to a point where the political commentary gives way to legal process?

Social and 24/7 media emphasises everything that might be wrong with the Trump Administration (I really want to call it a regime). Global media orgs are busting a gut to proclaim the next exclusive and get as many eyeballs on their variety of portals. It’s becoming something of an arms race; which media org has the hottest of takes?

The story is self nourishing due to the remarkable series of events and the way Trump and his team have attempted to manage the situation. It must be great fun for the journalists covering it, but the way media organisations are jumping on the issue, you’d think that something is going to happen NOW and we have to keep our eyes on their portal to get the news. It’s becoming a commercial driver for them – clicks = $. In my experience $ can effect objectivity.

It’s the same on social media. If you’re of a generally liberal bent, your social media echo chamber is probably full of “this is another nail in the coffin” post. Trump must go. Putin is pulling the strings. etc etc.

However, something that grabs me as a onetime student of intelligence and then spending a career advising post soviet related corporate and financial affairs, is that whilst the dénouement to situations appears to suddenly happen, there’s often a very long gestation period.

This situation could almost be designed as a perfect storm for investigators and prosecutors.

Both CI investigations and international financial corruption are infamous for the time necessary to compile a case that has a good chance meeting the requirements of due process to even get into court, let alone win the case.

It’s worth remembering that we’re not dealing with an average criminal audience. In some of the classic cases (Kim Philby, Aldrich Aymes, BCCI, Enron) the authorities were dealing with an exceptionally sophisticated opposition who were aware of both the minutiae of the relevant law, and how to find loopholes necessary to do what they wanted. They had planned a strategic operation. They considered not only how to make the operation secret and successful, but how to protect themselves in case of hostile penetration (stop sniggering at the back), incompetence or betrayal.

On the financial side, even when investigators / regulators etc are sure that something morally or even legally compromising has happened, it can be very hard to prove in court. International and domestic corporate law allows for multiple layers of entirely legal corporate vehicles and beneficial ownership structures, which consequently make it exceptionally complicated to demonstrate the flow of assets from Mr X to Mr Y. I’ve seen this numerous times in the post soviet space with acquisition of energy or resource assets. Everyone knows that Mr Y is acquiring an asset, but you’d never know from reading the prospectus.

Then there’s the issue of protecting intelligence sources. The WW2 Allies made a conscious decision not to attack certain targets (eg Concentration Camps) to protect the integrity of the crown jewel of Allied Intelligence, “Ultra”; the ability to read German signals traffic in real time. Many CI investigations will get to a point where a decision has to be made about the cost / benefit of going ahead with a case that may risk an intel asset or capability.

So my point is this. Yes, there’s a hell of a lot of circumstantial evidence flying around that makes the Trump Administration look at least incompetent, or a willing fool, or even knowing tool of a hostile foreign actor.

None of this however necessarily means that we are particularly close to a legal / regulatory / political endgame. In a novel or film, corners are cut. People are disappeared in dramatic twists. However, in what appears to be a situation without precedent, the importance of due process cannot be ignored. Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.

I don’t know whether we’re at the end of the beginning or the start of the middle. Unless things are far more advanced that would appear (and if so, Chapeau to FBI and wider US IC) we are nowhere near the end yet.