Head Here If… You’re after cocktails with a kick
Once upon a time there was Akbar, a bustling cocktail bar in the basement of the fabulous Indian restaurant The Red Fort. Then it got a lick of paint, added some fancy water vessels and twinkly candles, changed its name to Zenna – going from A to Z as simply as that…
First Things First
The difference now is the powers that be have cleverly marketed it as London’s first Indian cocktail bar, brought in a confident young manager who’s upped the ante and created a stunning drinks list that everyone should try. It might be a small bar but Dan Thompson has big plans for Zenna. Like alcoholic lassis at lunchtime, three cocktails of the month – one short, one martini, one long and a drink that’s so spicy, it comes with its own fire extinguisher and a waiver form you have to sign before drinking. It’s touches like these that will see discerning drinkers descending down the stairs and settling in one of the blue velvet stools or intimate clubby alcoves to sample the adventurous list.
There’s the House Nectar, a secret recipe which has been formulated to please 99% of palates (well, there’s always going to be that difficult 1%…) As this has been concocted for people who don’t know what to order on the menu, Ms S gives it a miss and opts for the Coriander & Lychee Martini (Chairman’s Reserve rum, lychee juice, fresh lime and coriander) instead. The first thing that hits is the green, crisp freshness of the coriander but then it dissipates, making room for some lychee sweetness, before reappearing again at the end to remind you just how good it is in a glass. It’s one of those drinks that actually tastes clever: everyone knows how overpowering coriander can be but here it plays nicely, allowing the other ingredients to get a chance to shine. The presentation is equally delightful with its cloudy green colour, frothy white head and simple coriander leaf garnish.
It’s not too surprising, given the Indian connection, that the recommendation from Dan for Mr G’s martini is Saffron Gin. Served in a very elegant glass, it has a fantastic colour (saffron obviously) and a large orange twist completes an elegant look. It has an appealing orange aroma and feels rounded in the mouth. There’s a refreshing tonic-like dryness up front, which then gives way to hints of sweetness and a suggestion of liquorice, before slipping into a gentle finish. An ideal pre-dinner martini for Indian dining.
Although Ms S decides it would be rude not to try something from the spicy part of the menu, she doesn’t want to go too crazy on the chilli-action. So she opts for the Bee Sting (honey vodka, honey liqueur, lemon juice, jalepeno peppers, peach liqueur and white peach puree), which just stops short of the being mildest ‘spicy’ drink of the list. That said, there’s still a kick from the jalepeno but the honey vodka tempers the heat nicely.
There is something about its name, Gentleman’s Tipple (Martell XO Cognac, The King’s Ginger Liqueur and dash of orange bitters) that Mr G finds hard to resist. But it turns out to be much more than just a cheeky handle. It’s a rocks drink served in a handsome retro glass with big cubes of ice and a large orange twist. It not only looks good, it tastes absolutely beautiful. Preceded with a subtle enough aroma the drink is packed with flavour and has an amazing depth – the more it’s sipped the more it delivers. A truly delicious cocktail and one that has something about it that feels like a real grown up drink.
And To Eat?
As you’d expect, the bar menu features a tempting selection of Indian light bites, including pocha hera jingha (marinated prawns, £6), karara murgh (spicy chicken with curry leaf, £8) and murgh tikka (spicy corn-fed chicken from the tandoor, £8). If there are a few of you, go for the Zenna Platter at £20 with a selection of all the featured dishes.
What’s The Damage?
£6-£10. The super-hot Illiana with its fire extinguisher is priced at £15.
Look Out For
The alcoholic lassis at lunchtime, also for tea totallers out there, all drinks on the menu can be made in non-alcoholic versions.
Ms S says:
The dim lighting and candle action makes Zenna a good spot for dates, post-work drinks or pre-clubbing drinks. Book one of the alcoves if you’re in a crowd.
Mr G says:
There’s plenty about the menu (including an element of seasonality) which certainly invites going back. And if you’re feeling brave try the Illiana (The Golden Dragon). Billed as the “World’s Spiciest Cocktail” it’s not just about heat it is actually quite tasty. But it is very, very hot.
77 Dean Street, W1D 3SH. T: 020 7437 2525. zenna-bar.co.uk