Head Here If… You’re a music loving design buff with a taste for top quality cocktails
Ladies and gentlemen, allow us to introduce you to Bassoon, a musically-inspired bar that hits all the right notes…
First Things First
Mention David Collins Studio and interior buffs go all dewy eyed and reverential – this is the first-class outfit the five-star guys call in when they’re looking to create a room with the wow factor. Artesian Bar at The Langham, The Connaught Bar, The Wolseley, Nobu on Berkeley Street, Claridges – they’ve all been ‘Collinsed’ and boy does it show – the unifying factor is the look and feel of luxury and elegance
Bassoon is another hit in the DCS design portfolio. Like an expertly coiffed, flossed and glossed supermodel this recent addition to London’s hotel bar scene really does turn heads. It’s a musically-inspired bar which we must admit made us shudder when we heard. How is it possible to go down that route without coming across as too contrived or, dare we say it, ever-so slightly naff?
We needn’t have worried. Even the seven metre bespoke piano that serves as the bar is as-sleek-as-you-like, without a hint of cheesiness. You can’t sit at it though – which is a shame but totally understandable – would you want grubby finger marks all over such a specimen? Luckily the patched leather Art Deco cub chairs are perfectly positioned for you to really appreciate all of the delightful touches around the room.
Such as the luxurious shagreen panels lining the walls (1,200 of them in total), each separated by delicate Deco glass panels. Then there are the original Jazz Age paintings by Willam Johnson, a New Orleans artist and the gilt edged oval and oblong tables where your nibbles lie in wait even before you’ve sat down.
If you appreciate quality, you’ll love Bassoon – that goes for the room as well as the expertly constructed drinks.
Ms S thinks The Whitehall Lady (Sipsmith gin, Campari syrup, fresh lemon, sweet vermouth, champagne) is possibly the reason why the acronym OMG was invented. Everything from the etched Victorian flute it’s served in to the dinky glass of vermouth on the side is absolute perfection. Even the orange peel garnish is exceptional, crafted to look like a fancy bird about to take flight. And as for the specially created Campari ‘dust’ rimming one side of the glass, well that’s just a stroke of genius.
It’s based on the classic Negroni and the delicious blend of bubbles and dryness of the Campari work like a dream. The Campari dust adds a wonderful piquancy and artistic flourish which makes Ms S sit back in her seat and truly appreciate this wonderful drink.
It’s nice to have an informed chat about the choice of gin for the Dry Martini. Our man recommends Geranium Gin because there are “lots of botanicals, especially the geranium”, but what’s surprisingly welcome is the discussion about the vermouth. Usually it’s Mr G who asks which one is being used but to find someone saying “we could go with Noilly Prat, but we also have Vya and make our own” is kind of, well, nice. This leads on to some discussion about how Mr G likes his Martini and then it’s back to Vya fitting the bill.
What arrives is something that looks beautiful – a medium-sized Victorian coupe, with an elegantly cut piece of Art Deco style lemon peel perching elegantly on its rim. Alongside is a tiny glass showcasing a neat sample of the vermouth (because they discard it after using it to wash the ice they thought we might like to sample some). But it’s not all style over content – while this may not be the best Dry Martini in town it should certainly be on the shortlist. Perfect temperature, full of flavour, clean, strong, smooth, with a lingering finish. And Mr G wants another.
After being blown away by The Whitehall Lady, Ms S can’t wait to try The Tea Punch (gin, white vermouth infused with lavender, mint, elderflower cordial and jasmine tea). It arrives looking very pleased with itself, as would you if you were a drink presented in a majestic long-stemmed glass tea cup adorned with enough fresh fruit, apple crisps and herbs to sink a ship.
It’s quite a feat getting to the liquid and when she does Ms S is sad that it doesn’t do it for her in quite the same way as her first drink. Even for someone who has a sour palate, this punch is missing a little sweetness to round it off. Which is a shame but after opting for one of the homemade sodas instead (vanilla and orange with rum, carbonated to order), her spirits are lifted again.
It’s a fabulous menu so Mr G just asks for a recommendation. The suggestion is an off-menu Manhattan, in which every ingredient is homemade, from the infused whisky through to the vermouth and bitters. It’s very tasty indeed with lots of herbaceous depth and feels big but not overpowering. Absolutely lovely stuff.
And To Eat?
They don’t do bog-standard bar snacks here, Michelin-starred chef Garry Hollihead has created an elegant selection of ‘Food Cocktails’. (That’s teeny weeny portions served in miniature Victorian cocktail glasses just in case you’re wondering.) The menu includes sea scallops, yuzu fruit lemon dressing, (£8), dressed Devon crab with mayonnaise and lemon (£8), Bloody Mary hand-picked Swale oyster (£7) and foie gras on toast, served with a taste of Chateau Filhot (£16). There are sweets too: rhubarb panna cotta with orange and cardamon yoghurt (£5) and pralines bavarois, chocolate brownie and malt meringue crisp (£5).
And if you’re a chocolate lover be sure to order Damian Allsop’s exquisite confections, 6 pieces (£8), 12 pieces (£14), including muscovado and sea salt caramel, confit orange sticks and roasted peanut – they’re absolutely delish.
Look Out For
The piano bar obviously but cast your eye around the room for the discreet music details, like the keys of a bassoon adding a decorative flourish to the edge of the sofas and the strings gracing the back bar. Eagle-eyed drinks geeks will also spy the block of ice, barrel-aged cocktails and endless bottles of freshly made sodas, vermouths and bitters – ask nicely and they’ll let you try some.
What’s the damage?
From £12 for the homemade sodas (yes, they are alcoholic), through to £17, average price £15.
Ms S says
This is a grown-ups bar – but that’s more about attitude than age. It’s great for dates, perfect for celebrations or just for the hell of it. Sip and savour the wondrous drinks, order a couple of food cocktails (very sexy and romantic) and ladies – don’t leave without ordering some of the chocolates, they really are the business.
Mr G says
It’s as though they’ve taken a bit of everything from the cocktail pick ‘n’ mix: classics, barrel-infusions, molecular mixology, homemade this, homemade that and intricate Asian preparations, then put them all behind the bar. Now, this could be a mistake, trying to do too much, but it works. They’ve cleverly assembled experts in each area and encouraged them to share their skills and knowledge. Meanwhile the environment is extremely elegant (the Jazz age printings suggesting that Bertie Wooster might stroll in at any moment to order a strong one). Fabulous drinks in a fabulous setting – all you need to add is that very special someone you really want to impress.
Whitehall Place, SW1A 2BD. T: 020 7930 8181 corinthia.com
Open Sun-Thurs 4pm-12am; Fri & Sat 4pm-1am.