Monday, 17 October 2011

London Cocktail Week Day 6 Covent Garden to Embankment

Saturday 15th October

We started the weekend's drinking at the Hendrick's Unusual Umbrella Emporium. This pop up on Monmouth Street was...unusual. We wondered in past the Victorians mulling around outside into the ground floor with glass cases of curiosities and a bath tub full of rose petals as well as tempting libations on the walls. About to place an order, we were promised a free drink if we submitted a - cocktail - umbrella design. A limited number of tables meant we were leaning on our knees with just a red, black and green pencil to use. We held our breath as they barely past muster. So we enjoyed a classic
Hendricks and Tonic

This was everything you'd expect from Hendrick's, refreshing, clean and very drinkable.

We headed back out into the sun and on finding Covent Garden Cocktail Club closed for another 30 minutes, we moved onto St Martins Lane - part of my favourite hotel chain the Morgans Group. Again, the bar had just opened but we picked a seat overlooked from above by leering children's faces with a display of ancient glass goblets. No water was offered but menus were presented. Signature cocktail
Light Bar Punch 

remained undefined by staff who could not quite remember what it was; there were pomegranate seeds floating in it and it tasted fine. Onto The Savoy to browse the Cocktail Museum - not too impressive - and serve £10 taster cocktails! I think not! Why even bother if you are not going to give customers the chance to sample what you do at a special price. They claimed that they were not consulted.

So we left to return to the South, and onto the ever popular bar, The Loft around 6.30pm. Their signature cocktail was called a
Spiced Lemongrass Collins

All the tables were booked - 300 people expected in apparently - but we chose comfortable leather recliners on a table reserved at 8.30. As our drinks arrived, a bar man came over, removed the reservation sheet and changed it. Apparently the table now reserved at...6.30. What a joke. We sipped our drinks - my friend thought of lemon drop sweets, i thought of cleaning products - and left as soon as we could since we were apparently imposing on someone else's time. Will i go back? Debatable.

London Cocktail Week: Day 5 and Day 7 Bits and Bobs

Friday 14th October

This was possibly the most disappointing day of the week, which is not altogether negative considering the very high quality of Thursday (Callooh Callay, Happiness Forgets etc) I popped into Village East, Bermondsey, straight after work, something I had been meaning to do for some time. Despite there being at least two bar men, two hosts and several waitresses, we got fed up of sitting at the bar ignored and after 5 minutes asked for a menu. I went for the signature

Sake to Me

Which was a short drink of sake, apple juice, lemon and a cape berry decoration. On leaving my friend asked how me what my cocktail was like and one the verge of saying it was good I thought, actually, it wasn’t. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad. It was boring.

Later that night we headed to my most local cocktail bar – Venn St Records – in Clapham. The menu said the drink was Lynchburg Lemonade but for some reason they served us something else. I am not sure what it was, there were large chunks of lemon and lime, and it was a bit bland. It was however midnight on a very busy Saturday night in a heaving bar. So it was fun none the less.

Sunday 16th October

Day 7 only left time for one more visit before my weekend drinking companion headed home, and this was courtesy of The Blind Tiger/Lost Society, Clapham. This is another venue I had lost since planned to visit, and it sis not disappoint. Once we found out how to get in (buzzer beside the garden gate to the left of the establishment) we were led by 1920’s dressed staff to the brighter front area – as opposed to the dark 1920’s cubby holes towards the back or upstairs restaurant – for a

Gentleman’s Mojito

Mojito for me is always a good test of a bar, and this far exceeded expectations. There was gin, homemade elderflower, apple juice, mint, lime and more and was not only refreshing but well balanced for a 2pm drink. I would have stayed for more but there was a train to catch. I will be back.

Friday, 14 October 2011

London Cocktail Week: Day 4 The Doctor and more

Thursday 13th October

Well, on day 4 I certainly worked my wristband hard. I started a restaurant highly recommended by my (vegan) friend – Saf, 152 Curtain Road. At just past 6 o’clock I was the lone drinker at the bar but all the more time for me to really find out what these guys are up to. To start with their signature cocktail was
Milk and Gin

It was their final hoorah to summer with their autumn menu coming in next week. This was reflected in the freshly picked rosemary, bringing out the herbaceousness of the Scottish Caorum gin, mixed with white tea infused almond milk, sugar syrup and lemon juice. By the name and the ingredients I expected, well, a sweet tea. What I got was a clean, fresh uplifting drink that was delicious. I will go back to drink in this lovely airy space, but I am not yet sold on raw mange tout noodles!

Next Callooh Callay offered
The Doctor Will See You

With the inimitable Colin Dunn. A diagnosis of Diphtheria got me a prescription of Lagavulin 16 yr old mixed with lemon and…various other yummy things to enhance the overriding yet delicious bonfire notes. Scarlet Fever was cured by The Dogs Nose which was gin, porter, egg white and a sprinkling of nutmeg. This surprisingly creamy drink was also fabulous and I loved the old style half pint it was served in; also available at £4 as the Jub Jub signature cocktail. We also tried their signature
Cuban Heat

Although I did not have time to discuss ingredients before drinking, it was very Daiquiri like, and strong! This was countered with scotch eggs, honey sausages and piri piri chicken, and once again the food here never disappoints; flavoursome, well-priced and inventive.

Onto Happiness Forgets, perhaps my new favourite bar. We were welcomed as we wondered into this basement bar (I was looking for a sign on the wall, my companion was following the “look for the windmill” advice; don’t worry there is an A-board outside) and confirmed we were more than happy to take our seats at the bar. They operate a no standing policy, which I baulked at on first hearing this but it makes sense. The bar tenders need time to make their creations and you do not want to push through a crowd to the toilet or have people hovering behind you. The music is chilled jazz, and the drinks are amazingly well priced at £7. We went for the signature


Which combined Kettel 1 citron vodka with yellow Chartreuse (everywhere nowadays), pink grapefruit, soda and the usual lemon juice, sugar etc. This was very nice. I cannot say more. Water infused with cucumber was replenished regularly, a must-have detail for me in cocktail bars.

Lastly, we begrudgingly left this little den for NinetyEight, 98 Curtain Road. A descending metal spiral staircase would be tricky when wet, or if drunk. On arriving the door was open to us but then where do we go? Can we sit down? What was going on with all the fruit over there? We were confused. The representative of Bloom Gin gave up her table (soon to do a smell course on cocktails) so we went to the bar to order as no one seemed particularly switched on. The bar really lives up to its reputation, Louis Quatorce style furniture, elaborate wall designs, white textures mixed with multicoloured mosaic. I liked it. Their cocktail for the week

Over the Clouds

Was, unlike most places, chosen from their menu. You cannot deny the theatrically of this one. A martini glass is filled with candy floss and a beaker of blue alcohol (lavender infused gin?) in poured over the top, dissolving the sugar and revealing a slice of lemon peel. I was convinced there was Cointreau in it but the menu did not confirm, not did the waitress. Other friends that night said they got a whole story on the bar and the drink; we got a shrug of the shoulders. On giving up to leave we met the delightful owner who was so keen we shared our experiences I thought that this relative new-comer could still easily bed into the high caliber of bars the East end offers. She also let us try the Café Patron (coffee tequila) I have heard so much about. I will definitely be back when the craziness of Cocktail Week is over, there is much more to explore here.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

London Cocktail Week: Day 3 Rum

Wednesday 12th October

A rapid dash from the office to Barrio Central wasn’t, after all, necessary. Their 6 to 8pm time slot included a welcome drink and platters of food before the master class proper started. So a rather flustered Bar Hopper arrived at Barrio, followed the signs downstairs to the “private event” and promptly collapsed on a sofa with a Claro Daiquiri (2 yr old rum) paired with a Sea Salted Caramel – for this was not any rum tasting. This was a rum and chocolate tasting.

Now I cannot honestly say that this was a perfect pairing, though I see where they were going with the salt and citrus combination classic to the margharita. What did go well were the enormous platters of food that were soon parked in front of me (my friend looked hungry apparently) with ribs, steak, patatas bravas, calamari, nachos and more. We made our way through as much as we could before moving to proper tables, all official set up, and opened our minds to this Venezuelan rum experience.

The first drink was
Lady Rosetta

Made with 2 to 5 year old rum, which for me was more attractive on the nose with a sprinkling of nutmeg, unfortunately not following through on the palate. There was a lot of peach on this, too much of the Archers about it. A white chocolate infused with rosemary and lavender was paired with this drink. It looked like an eyeball but really brought out the herbaceousness of the drink, very pleasant.

The next drink was
Fallen Leaf

And combined coffee, ginger and bitters with a hint of tobacco and strongly reminded me of an updated Black Russian. This was perfectly paired to a milk chocolate with notes of ginger and spice with set off the flavours wonderfully.

Finally the straight rum
Ron Santa Teresa 1976

Which smelt of caramel but clearly expressed the bourbon and cognac casks it had been aged in. This could happily sit with the best digestifs. Paired with 60% dark chocolate with a rare peppercorn, the two flirted deliciously with each other.

The only drink I did not try, never enough time, was the Ron Alejandro – the week’s signature cocktail – which sounds naughty: a heady mixture of chocolate, rum and cream. One to return for another day I feel.

London Cocktail Week: Day 2 Kammerlings

Tuesday 11th October

I was very disappointed to be hosting a work event just as London Cocktail Week kicked off…but delighted that by 11pm as it drew to a close, I found myself next door to long time favourite The Zetter Townhouse. I was not going to pass up the opportunity of being so close so nipped in for their £4 offering of the week

The Townhouse Tonic

This gorgeous little medicine bottle contained Kammerlings, Tanqueray, lemon juice, homemade lemon sherbet and a dash of tonic and bitters. And for all that when I poured it into the glass it had a curious orange colour. And it tasted of memories!

My companion smelt something coniferous – perhaps from the juniper in Tanqueray – and I was sent back to some sweet from my childhood that I could not quite place. Despite this sweetness this delight was perfectly balanced, so I ordered another one for the road.

As we tried to pull ourselves out of the reverie that deep leather armchairs and old French classic music will create, the rest of the Zetter team arrived with the news of winning Best Hotel Bar at the CLASS awards. Well done guys, thoroughly well deserved.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Presenting...Edgerton Pink Gin

To be continued

Presenting...Bombay Saphire (and London Cocktail Week Day 1)

I was chuffed and privileged to make it to the Juniper Society’s much demanded Bombay Sapphire tasting (250 years of their recipe!) on Monday 10th October. I also liked to think of this as kicking off my London Cocktail Week with a really good education on what would be in several of the week’s drinks.

On arriving, there was a mysterious black curtain stopping us peeking into the space. If this is to be done for all the events it would certainly help considering the noise levels in the main bar can get…rowdy. I was handed an Aviator – Bombay Dry, lemon juice, maraschino syrup and crème de violette. It was very sharp and although I like my cocktails bitter, needed some more syrup. We were welcomed into (very chilly) the room where 8 glasses and the revered Bombay Tasting Kit awaited us. Were they trying to ensure we stayed awake?

After a brief history and drawings of rectifying columns for vapour infusion (whew!) we started with our kits, and the various manifestations of Juniper. There was pine tree on one, more citrus on another, then resin on another. We tried some others such as orange and coriander. And soon we felt prepared to venture our noses into the glasses

Glass 1 – Single note spirit, front heavy = vapour infused juniper
Glass 2 – More weight at the back = juniper steeped for 24hrs
Glass 3 – Juniper, angelica, coriander and liquorice vapourised
Glass 4 – Juniper, angelica, coriander and liquorice macerated

Glasses 3 and 4 were, for me, much harder to tell apart

Glass 5 – Very pine driven nose but lots more orange on the palate
Glass 6 – Raw pepper on the palate from quiet nose, spicy wood notes, almond finish, smooth
Glass 7 – Some pepper, some flower, bit indistinct
Glass 8 – Lots of lemon on nose and develops more over time, cucumber palate

So the conclusion, 1 to 4 were all varietal aspects of Bombay

Glass 5 was Beefeater, glass 6 was Bombay Sapphire Dry (watch this space), glass 7 was Bombay Sapphire and glass 8 was Hendricks – the modern option less juniper driven. We then let them set up for round two and had a final glass of Bombay Punch, a little forgettable after the screw-up-your-face Aviator and the amazing education we were just privilege to.

I have always been a Bombay fan, and I freely admit this is partly down to excellent branding. However reading back over these I cannot wait to see the Dry come to the fore on the UK market.