Category Archives: London Cocktail Bars Reviews

The Cocktail Lovers’ Best Cocktail Bars in London

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Watch the latest in the Bacardí Untameable film series before its official launch at Tales

Didn’t make it it Tales of the Cocktail this year? Nope, neither did we.  Mind you, we’re seeking solace in the fact that we’ve had a preview of the fab new Bacardí Untameable film series ahead of our industry friends currently having fun, I mean, working in New Orleans.

They’ll have to wait until later this evening before the
unveiling of the powerful short featuring bartender
extraordinaire Steve Schneider. Probably one of the most
dedicated, passionate and hard-working bartenders we’ve come across, Schneider shares his inspiring story about how he came to bar tending following a near-death experience after graduating
top of his class in military school.

In keeping with the Bacardí Untameable theme, it’s a powerful tale, beautifully filmed, expressed from the heart and shows how triumph can come out of adversity. Watch it here before it’s unveiled to the people at Tales later today.

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Strictly dub-wise

Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, John Holt, Toots, U-Roy – we’ve been around long enough to remember spending most of our pocket money on records with a Trojan label. So the news that a new beach party style shack with a ‘strickly’ dub-wise Trojan soundtrack will be opening just around the corner from us has got us practising our skanking moves.

The soon-to-be opened Dub Jam is not all about the music though. The promise of barbecued jerked goodies like ‘skatalites’ (chicken), ‘peppa pig’ (pork) and ‘veggie bangarang’ (spiced halloumi) all served with sunny slaw and a mint, coconut and chilli dressing, or lime and tomato salsa is making us pretty excited too.

As for drinks, well they’re keeping it inna authentic Jamaican stylee with cans of Red Stripe, Carib beer, sasparilla and coconut water all served in hand-painted tin cans. Fancy something a little harder? Try the Wray & Nephew Reggae Infused Rum Punch made with overproof rum. Squint tightly and you could convince yourself you’re in Kingston…

Dub Jam opens 28th February.

20 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HP. dubjam.co.uk

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Bar review: Megaro Bar, NW1

In case you hadn’t heard: King’s Cross does good bars. Fact. There’s the Gilbert Scott and GNR if you want a bit of posh; VOC for old-fashioned punches with an upbeat, funky edge; Bar Pepito for sherry-heads; the Champagne Bar at St. Pancras for a nice selection of fizz; the Grain Store for Greco-Roman takes on drinks, plus Be at One, Simmons and Drink Shop Do if you just want good old-fashioned fun.

Recently opened Megaro Bar brings yet another element to the mix. Film Noir chic. There’s a touch of the frisky King’s Cross of old there too, nothing sleazy – it’s more of a cosy, sexy vibe that will come into its own even more now that autumn has fully kicked in.

The entrance to Megaro Bar

The ‘Dark Room In Use’ sign sets the movie moments mood from the minute you step down from the street. Pull back the red velvet curtains and the theme continues – you half expect an usherette to serve your cocktails from a tray attached to her neck. Instead the short menu of drinks come from a small bar serving the two distinct sections of the room: the aptly named Dark Room for cosying up with lovers and/or friends and the Picture Room for checking out the images – still and moving, including the Film Noir series starting 6th November.

Megaro Darkroom…
…and Picture Room, the place for still and moving images

Bar manager Ben Clark confides that once he and the team came up with the concept, the interior took a grand total of nine days to put into place. That explains the simplicity. And we don’t mean that in a patronising way. Like the ten garnish-free cocktails on the list, Megaro doesn’t mess around with unnecessary frippery, instead the focus is on swift service, well constructed drinks and an environment that works just as well for the after work crowd as it does for guests who have booked in to the swanky St. Pancras Renaissance London hotel over the road.

As for the drinks, like we said, they’re seemingly simple but trust us, it’s flavour a-go-go on the taste front. Clark pares things back to as few ingredients as possible, hence choices like the Dolma Sour (grapevine infused cachaca, lime, sugar, Pernod absinthe); Lavender Hill Mob Fizz (Beefeater gin, lemon, lavender gimme, Zedda Piras, soda); Prescribed By Whisky Row (Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon, Amaro Averna, chamomile syrup), and what looks like the overall crowd-pleaser, the Tansy 75 (Beefeater gin, lemon, tansy gomme, Perrier Jouet champagne).

Lavender Hill Mob

Food from the restaurant upstairs us is on offer and we suggest you partake in a dish or two. Like the cocktail list, the choices are limited, but rest assured, they’re just what your tastebuds are calling for. Try the ‘Off Cut’ (crispy veal cheek with tartare sauce); the zingingly fresh ‘Raw’ (salsify fritters and Cervelle de canut); ‘Charred’ (rump carpaccio, black sesame and soy), and ‘Sweet’, (dark chocolate cremes, sea salt and chocolate soil) – just the ticket to round off your evening.

Ms S says

This is the perfect halfway house between the über fancy and super trendy places emerging around these parts. And as it’s situated pretty much right on top of King’s Cross station, it’s also an ideal place to meet. Practicalities aside, with all that lush red and handsome brown leather  it’s quite the winter hotspot. I loved The Lost Steps (Ocho Blanco tequila, cardamom sweet tea and chartreuse liqueur), three ingredients, one helluva great taste.

Mr G says

There’s something very clever about the vibe here. It feels like you’re going on a date to the cinema; the signage, the lighting and seating (finding yourself on one of those old cinema seats it’s hard not slip your arm around your partner’s shoulders). But unlike your average cinema this also has blockbuster cocktails. My favourite was the deceptively simple Chinese Waiting Room (Beefeater and chrysanthemum  cordial), David Lynch in a glass.

What’s the damage?

Megaro Bar, 23-27 Euston Road, London NW1 2SD. T: 020 3432 5150.
megarobar.co.uk

Open Mon-Sat 5pm-12am.

 

 

 

Aqua Shard

Bar review: Aqua Shard, SE1

View of London by night from Aqua Shard
View of London by night from Aqua Shard

Wherever you find yourself in London there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see The Shard. You can’t escape the fella, it’s been creeping up on the London horizon for ages. At first, we found it a little too overpowering, like a gigantic Big Brother watching over the entire capital. But in the end we had to concede: hell, it’s got a bar with fantastic views.

Approaching it feels like an event in itself. It’s not every day we Londoners come face-to-face with a 310 metre-high building (that’s 1,016 feet in old money) – you can’t help but be the teensiest bit in awe. Thankfully, the lift doesn’t offer any IQ challenges: there’s just one floor selection, No 32 and you’re up there before you can even consider whether or not your ears have popped (which of course they do by the way).

As you head through reception take a moment to clock the scale of the place. The bars and restaurants are generously spread over three consecutive floors and thanks to some nifty design work they open out into one huge combined space looking over what seems like the whole of London.

With such an amazing vista and streamlined interior it would be easy for the drinks to be an afterthought, majoring in fine wines and blingy champagnes. Not a bit of it. Bars Manager Manuel Soro took two months to devise his clever list, divided into three sections; Classic Inspirations, Gin Inspirations and Tea Inspirations, all with a British influence but not in quite the way you might expect.

For instance, the seven drinks that make  up the Classic Inspirations are all based on originals from The Savoy Cocktail Book of  the 1930s, chosen to celebrate the British origins of its author and one time Head Bartender of The Savoy Mr Harry Craddock. There are another seven drinks making up the Gin section but only one is actually made with gin. Yup, you read right. Only one cocktail in the gin section contains gin. Again nodding towards Britishness with his choice of spirit our man Manuel acknowledges it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so instead focuses on recipes containing various botanicals found in gin. Sounds a little crazy but it works. And that talk of tea brings us to the last seven selections in Tea Inspirations. (Soro clearly has a thing for seven). Here the cocktails take tea as their lead, featuring infusions, bitters and cordials made from various teas as well as a Battenberg Martini to go with.

Aqua Shard The Bar
Another seat another great view

We tried one from each section (it would have been rude not to), including the Harry’s Cocktail from Classic Inspirations (Monkey 47 gin, Antica Formula, absinthe, fresh mint, olive); Old Times Revival (Tanqueray No. Ten gin, olive grappa, Nocino, Benedictine, Kümmel, Tio Pepe, artichokes) and The Camomile Lawn from Tea Inspirations (Sauternes and camomile tea reduction, Xante, quince liqueur, lemon thyme, Champagne, blue cheese-stuffed grapes), and enjoyed the lot. We advise tearing your eyes away from the stunning views for a bit and giving the drinks menu the attention it deserves.

Ms S Says

A little part of me dies when confronted with a menu bearing cocktails with more than four, five at a push, ingredients. Not only because by the time it takes me to get to the end of summary of the drink, I’ve forgotten what I’ve previously read, but also because I wonder if it’s creator just doesn’t trust him/herself with just a few ingredients. Still, I was already more than a little smitten with the views and Soro was rather charming, so I went along with it. And I’m glad I did, my drinks proved that every one of the ingredients more than earned its place in my glass. My favourite was the Stinging Tommy’s from the Gin Inspiration section (Don Julio Blanco Tequila, lemon verbena infused St. Germain, stinging nettle agave nectar, Citronge, lime juice and coriander seed nectar), really, anyone who can get that little lot working gets my respect.

Mr G Says

Aquashard is one of those places I want to go back to again and again so I can  work my way through every offering on the menu. For now though my stand out drink was the Old Times Revival. It looks good in an extremely tall Martini glass which echoes the elegance of The Shard, it’s beautifully dark, has a nicely unusual artichoke garnish and is packed with rich, deep herbaceous flavour. Whatever time of year you visit try to get there early enough to watch the sun going down. The interior lighting is cleverly in sync with the ambient lighting and dims down subtlety as night comes on. It all feels very glamorous indeed.

What’s the damage?

£11.50 – £15.

Devonshire Cream Tea
Devonshire Cream Tea

 

Level 31 The Shard, 31 St. Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY. Tel: 020 7478 0540.

aquashard.co.uk

Photography Paul Winch-Furness

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Hot new additions at The Beaufort Bar

Sexy new addition to an existing bar menu alert: The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy hotel have added four new drinks to its offering. Actually calling them drinks doesn’t do them justice – these are historical lessons in liquid form. Inspired by four famous guests who stayed at the hotel – Frank Sinatra, Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin and Ernest Hemingway, each creation is prepared at the bar then finished with a theatrical flourish from a bespoke trolley at your table.

The Never Ending Story (front), Coco (rear) with smoked cinnamon stick

Before we get to the cocktails, a word on those two trollies – they’re every bit as sumptuous as the black and gold room itself. Standing proud like two short pillars, one to the left of the entrance, the other to the right, they took a year to get the specifications to the team’s exacting standards. “You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to curve wood,” says Chris Moore, head bartender and whose idea it was to devise the trollies. “I was always impressed by the theatre that went into finishing off the dishes at Michelin-starred restaurants and wanted to find a way to recreate that at the bar. It’s taken a couple of years since I originally thought of the idea but we’re really pleased with the results.” As they should be. When one of the four drinks is ordered from the menu, it glides across the floor aided by one of the personable bartenders.

So now on to the star of the show: the drinks or to give them their proper name, the Character Cocktails. Choose from Ol’ Blue Eyes inspired by Frank Sinatra; Coco, an homage to Coco Chanel; The Never Ending Story dedicated to Ernest Hemingway and the playful Gold Rush in honour of Charlie Chaplin. Like their namesakes each drink is different in personality and style, served  in era-specific glassware and a unique, carefully considered garnish. It’s theatre of the most agreeable kind and the drinks are showstoppers too. Each costs £25 and yes, it’s more expensive than the rest of the menu but these really are something else. Dress up and make an occasion of it.

Choose from:

The Never Ending Story, Ernest Hemingway
(Bacardi 1909, dark crème de cacao, lime juice, caster sugar and two dashes of absinthe. Served in a 1930’s coupette and presented with a hand wrapped cinnamon cigar)
Inspired by Hemingway’s time in Cuba and his love of Daiquiri’s.
Our verdict: 
If you think you don’t like absinthe, try it in this little beaut, perfectly balanced and dangerously moreish. Presented in a puff of cinnamon smoke in a sturdy glass that the great man would definitely have approved of.

Coco, Coco Chanel 
(Grey Goose vodka infused with rose and jasmine, Lillet Blanc, red wine and blackberry reduction, Moët & Chandon 2004. Served in an 1890’s wine glass and garnished with jasmine and rose tea spray and black sugar pearls presented in a small caviar tin)
Inspired by Chanel’s belief that red wine and caviar would keep her young. Champagne was also a favourite tipple.
Our verdict: Oh my, this is absolutely delicious – just the right level of sweetness and delicacy for such a fashion-focused female. The vintage glass is a delight – like something out of a grown up dolls house, dainty and oh-so stylish.

The Gold Rush, Charlie Chaplin 
(Popcorn-infused Woodford Reserve, Amaretto Disaronno, vintage Van der Hum, lemon juice, pineapple juice, smoked maple syrup, egg white. Served in a 1920’s Hamilton Pall Mall coupette and garnished with a touch of the cinematic) Created by Aaron Jones and Inspired by the characters Chaplin played on the big screen and his contribution to cinema.
Our verdict: It arrives with a bowler hat bellowing popcorn infused smoke and a bowler hat silhouette atop the drink, so of course it made us smile. And the drink itself  is as perfectly considered and realised as any of Mr Chaplin’s cinematic masterpieces.

Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra 
(Jack Daniel’s Savoy Silver Select, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, vintage Benedictine, Cocchi Americano. Served in a 1950’s whisky tumbler, garnished with a flamed orange and presented on a rare Frank Sinatra 7” vinyl)
Inspired by Sinatra’s declaration that ‘orange is the happiest colour’ and his love of Jack Daniels, so much so that he was buried with a bottle of it.
Our verdict: Yes, this Jack Daniel’s is unique to The Savoy, yes we get to take away a chip from the barrel that carried the JD, yes the whole creation is incredibly clever. Leave all of that to one side and we were left to drink a sublime cocktail.