Head Here If… Gin’s your thing (blow the budget)
Q: If you’re refurbing your hotel bar on Park Lane, what do you do to differentiate yourself from the other five or so competitors on your patch? A: Go all cream, black and lush in the fixtures and fittings department then seek out the finest gins and make them the focus of your menu…
First Things First
It’s hard to get a lobby bar to feel like it’s anywhere other than a lobby. You could say the same for the recently opened Arch Bar at the Intercontinental Hotel. The good thing is once you’re over the threshold admiring the drinks list, you’re instantly detached from anything else going on around you – particularly if you make a beeline for the bar proper rather than the break away areas occupying the whole of the ground floor. Take a pew at the front – the nearer you are to the bar in our opinion, the better. From this vantage point you can look out on to Hyde Park and get to view the iconic Wellington Arch from which this recently madeover glamourpuss takes its name.
Gin is the star here. To prove the point each day between 5.30pm and 6.30pm, it’s Gin Hour where you can sample the special of the day which might be anything from dinky-sized serves of a Mother’s Ruin made with Six o’clock gin or a Tuppence Duty with Fifty Pound gin (the name not the price but more on that later). Once that’s whetted your palate it’s time to sip and savour a martini made with one of 11 key gins, each garnished with a botanical that defines its unique spirit. For G&T fans there’s a choice from 25 varieties.
If gin isn’t your thing take your pick from the Creative Concoctions including a coconut and chilli mojito, the hazlenut-tastic Toasted Cabbie and Churchill Downs, a version of the julep.
Named after the award-winning copper still at the Sipsmith distillery over in Hammersmith, Prudence (Sipsmith gin, fresh basil, citrus vermouth) is inspired by the classic gimlet. The crisp, refreshing basil is just enough to suggest its presence without overpowering the taste of this superior gin. It’s beautifully refreshing and deliciously light, looking perfectly at home in its tall, elegant LSA cocktail glass.
With a choice of 11 gins in the Gin Martini Selection, and each providing a unique variation on this cocktail, Mr G feels as though he has arrived in some sort of martini Utopia. The recommendation from Head Barman Stefano Filistad is Beefeater 24 because “the botanicals lend themselves to a grapefruit twist which just makes the martini a little bit different”. The presentation is absolutely beautiful – a slender glass, with an incredibly tall stem, which is nicely frosted and sports a largish piece of peel. There’s a nice dry grapefruit aroma, the drink is very full and rounded in the mouth – with a texture which is rich, almost toffee-like, the depth of the botanicals is really pronounced and the finish is long and very smooth. An extremely well made martini.
Continuing the basil theme Ms S goes for the Old Time Tipple (Berkeley Square gin, cranberry, freshly muddled cherry tomatoes and basil). It’s a light, modern take on the Bloody Mary and she’s particularly drawn to it following The Cocktail Lovers recent review of this particular gin, she’s intrigued to see what the professionals do with it. Not surprisingly the soft, sweet, aromatic cherry tomatoes are the dominate flavour – if you forget the fact there’s gin in the glass, this tastes like a very healthy drink.
When Mr G discovers that the Poor Man’s Punch (Hendrick’s Gin, lemonade and fresh fruit) is served from a teapot into a cup and saucer it seems too eccentric to resist. Described as their “rendition of a Pimm’s cup” it’s actually a much more interesting drink. It’s also about much more than the novelty of the manner in which it’s served (although the cup does carry a very large ice cube within which is a forzen rose petal). It’s light, refreshing, not too sweet and very much a proper drink with bags of flavour and a nice hit of alcohol at the finish. The whole thing looks absolutely mad and tastes absolutely marvellous.
And To Eat?
Being a lobby bar the food menu runs from bacon and eggs with spinach, cherry tomatoes and a muffin for brekkie (£10), to chargrilled Caesar salad (£16), Casterbridge cheeseburger, tomato salsa and a basket of fries (£16) during the day. Sharing options include Scottish lobster cakes with ceviche of scallop, pickled cucumber and chilli mayo (£24).
Look Out For
The bespoke apothecary on the bar, filled with a fascinating selection of botanicals used in gin; make sure to cast your eye over pages 7 and 8 of the menu and gen up on the history of gin – you could enter Mastermind after studying it, then flick on to page 13 and 14 to find out more about your martini and G&T. Also, ask about Tipple Tuesdays, where a particular brand will be invited in to give talks and samples of their products.
What’s The Damage?
Now here’s we took a sharp intake of breath, most of the cocktails are around £16-£18, with one, an Oxley gin martini priced at a stonking £35! (Its G&T counterpart comes in at £20!) Could this be the most expensive martini and G&T in London? Probably. Skip over that and try one of the other drinks, they’re pretty much what you’d expect to pay for a cocktail round these parts.
Ms S says
If your date suggests a night here, hang on to him (or her, we’re very modern) they certainly don’t mind digging deep into their pockets to impress. On the flip side, you won’t get a second date if you’re the one who makes the suggestion. But who needs company? If you’re out and you fancy popping in for a celebratory or commiserative cocktail on your own, The Arch is an easy place for a woman on her own to feel comfortable in.
Mr G says
Settle yourself alongside someone special on one of the extremely high and exceptionally comfortable stools at the bar, gaze out over lovely view of Park Lane and Wellington Arch for a minute or two, then turn your attention to that Martini Selection. And set the credit card to max.
The Intercontinental Hotel, 1 Hamilton Place, W1J 7QJ. T: 020 7409 3131 ichotelsgroup.com/intercontinental/en/gb/locations/london-parklane