Raising a glass to London’s fabulous bars, whether you’re after a classic cocktail or something truly bonkers, Tom Parker Bowles salutes those people and places doing it with class
London Cocktail Week. No, not an excuse to bunk off work and hole up in some over lit chain bar, pouring filthy Pina Coladas down one’s throat. Rather a celebration of the craft of the cocktail at the start of October, an art every bit as creative and thrilling as cooking itself. London has some of the most exciting bars in the world. Not just the imbibable equivalents of The Fat Duck, where drinkable boundaries are constantly being infused with rare breed bitters, before forced through rotary evaporators and sous vide machines. But also the great old-fashioned places, where classic cocktails are treated with the greatest of respect.
Because we live in a city afloat on good booze. Not just in the armies of pubs that keep watch over every street corner, but bars – proper bars – that serve cocktails to delight, rather than destroy. Sure, if you want to throw down garishly coloured concoctions so sweet that they strip the enamel from your teeth, then fine. It’s your hangover, not mine.
If, though, you’re after more civilised libations, places that celebrate the art and the craft of the cocktail, then a whole new world of sipping pleasure awaits. Let’s start at the beginning with the Martini, the alpha and omega of the cocktail world. So many ersatz imposters, served in huge glasses (a classic Martini should slip down in no more than four sips, so it doesn’t have the chance to get warm), with all sorts of strange and inappropriate additions. No, what I want is good gin (I like Sipsmith), the merest whisper of vermouth, and the sort of viscous consistency that only comes from frozen spirits and frozen glass. And remember, they should be stirred, not shaken. Bond got that one very wrong. At Duke’s Hotel, the Martini cart is a work of quaffable art.
If you’re after proper cocktails, made with fresh ingredients, by folk who call themselves ‘barmen’ rather than mixologists, then you can never go wrong with the upstairs bar at Quo Vadis. And, not so far away, the ever-brilliant Milk and Honey. Mark’s Bar at Hix Soho makes up the third of my perfect Soho triumvirate of cocktail classic, and the latter even has hot winter punches, perfect for driving away the pre-Christmas chill.
For a more modern take on this fine art, then go north to Tony Conigliaro’s excellent 69 Colebrooke Row, a place that manages to be achingly on trend (The Terroir lists ‘distilled clay, fling and lichen’ among its ingredients) without ever being naff or pretentious.
Tramping east, you can’t miss Callooh Callay, a Shoreditch classic. Drinks are lovingly mixed and, upstairs, there’s a serious winter cocktail list too. A mere wobble away is The Worship Street Whistling Shop, which is equally brilliant, and often quite bonkersly inspired. Peanut butter and jam is one of the more out-there ingredients. And don’t miss the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, a supposedly secret speakeasy beneath Breakfast Club in Spitalfields. Standards at all three are exceptional high.
The South is well stocked with decent bars too, with the long established Lost Society in Clapham, and its siblings, Citizen Smith in Putney and The Lost Angel in Battersea. At the weekends, they can get riotous, but the cocktails are very respectable. As they are at Powder Keg Diplomacy in Battersea. Great name, great drinks too.
The Portobello Star in Notting Hill mixes some classy cocktails, and The Rum Kitchen sure knows its, yup, rum. Cheers, bottoms up and chin chin.
1 A magnificent lunch at Mission in Bethnal Green. It’s small, but perfectly formed, and one of those rare places where food, service and wine list all come together in one joyous whole. Don’t miss the ‘nduja arancini, and the deep-fried pig’s head. Plus a serious selection of Californian wines, and the best coffee and tea in town. Near perfect.
2 Another lunch, this time to launch the Electrolux Grand Cuisine Kitchen, a rather astonishing concept kitchen that takes the very finest professional kit, And puts it in a home environment. The food, including grouse broth and king crab legs, was cooked by Magnus Nilsson from Faviken in Sweden. The man’s a master.
3 Spent much of last weekend at the Country Life Fair at Fulham Palace. I did a couple of cooking demos, alongside the likes of Mike Robinson and Rachel Green. Huge fun, and beautifully organised. Excellent food from Blue Strawberry and Table Talk. Fine booze from The Brown Cow pub and Mr Foggs. And good to see the likes of Godminster Cheddar, Chase Distillery, Neal’s Yard Diary, Farrington’s Mellow Yellow rapeseed oil and the Great Taste Market.