Head here if… you want to soak up that cool W11 cocktail vibe.
There are newer bars on the block around these parts but The Lonsdale is still one of the best. Great for couples and crowds.
First Things First
In our experience some bars simply serve cocktails. If you’re lucky, they occasionally serve them well. But there are other establishments where cocktail making is taken to a whole new level. Such a bar Mr G and Ms S are very happy to report is Lonsdale. It’s pretty unassuming from the outside, taking on a large yet intimate and clubby feel as you step within. Creatures of the night will warm to the low lighting, red leather upholstery and cosy booths which all combine to create this welcoming feeling. Looks aside, the menu offers more of an insight into the orginality and specialist knowledge lurking behind the bar. The introduction is modest enough, straightforwardly describing itself as ‘A London Cocktail Bar.’ Acknowledging the popular view that ‘London is now seen as the centre of the cocktail world’, we were then lead through a wondrous selection of choices.
London Contemporary Classics featured recipes from some of today’s top mixers such as Henry Besant and Nick Strangeway. While Dick’s Page was wholly devoted to the ingenious concoctions of the great Dick Bradsell. We also liked the pride of London Drinks featuring the R.A.C. and the Mayfair Cocktail. And so they go delightfully on until From Bartenders to Bartenders ‘created for those of you with a more adventurous palate’ – Jerry’s Medicine anyone? (Mount Gay XO, sherry, crème de banana, bitters and flamed orange twist.) Consequently the biggest problem facing us was where to start.
You get a different answer depending on who you ask about the Lonsdale signature. An Elderflower Martini, Raspberry Mule, Rosepetal Martini, Tommy’s Margarita or Drake’s Mojito are all suggested – making one’s choice from such a delicious selection is enough to drive a girl to drink. Which Ms S set about doing with gusto. After much deliberation she decided on the Rosepetal Martini (Bombay Sapphire stirred with Lanique rose liqueur, lychee juice and Peychaud Bitters). Why? Pure and simple curiosity. Besides, it was on Dick’s Page and who can resist that kind of temptation?
Sometimes Ms S surprises even herself by coming over all girly. The elegant retro glasses worked a treat in the ladylike department, particularly when offset with the subtle pink drink and its bright yellow flower garnish. The concoction itself is as sweet as it sounds, with a rosy, almost perfumed taste balanced with the strength of the Bombay Sapphire and tang of the lychee juice. Lovely to look at, intriguing to taste.
In a tasty joint like this Mr G hoped his Classic Martini would be a big deal. It was. But here was modesty in the extreme – a whole martini section nestled right at the very end of all the cocktails on the menu under the deceptively workmanlike description ‘Martinis at Lonsdale’. Here were 112 words expertly and delightfully laid down to guide one through a very reverential approach: 7-1 spirit to vermouth ratio, temperatures down to -5/6C degrees, preparation techniques, along with vodka, gin and vermouth recommendations. This was martini foreplay. But the drink that was served to Mr G was the real deal. A classic, elegant glass, within which sat a big, roughly hewn slice of lemon peel. Temperature-wise this was amongst the best of martinis. Cold enough to be refreshing and actually dangerously thirst-quenching even, but not so cold as to interfere with the flavours coming through. The Beefeater Crown Jewel and the Dolin Dry Vermouth were gently mixed (they could alternatively have been shaken, thrown or even assembled in a thermos). The upfront lemon aroma slid easily into a big alcohol punch, which was full and rounded, but with an almost sweet-but-not-really flavour. Was it the gin? Was it the vermouth? Would Mr G have ever worked it out? The main thing was that it was sublime.
After pouring over the menu for some time Mr G was drawn back to London Drinks and in particular the R.A.C. Cocktail. Invented in 1914 at the club of the same name on Pall Mall, it was interesting to taste what the smart set were imbibing nearly a century ago. Tanqueray Gin, Noilly Prat Dry and Rouge vermouths, grenadine and orange bitters were mixed into a drink rather reminiscent of a Martinez. As is often the case with red vermouth it has a habit of shoving its dry cousin out of the way. But stay with this drink a little longer and all sorts of herbs and botanicals come in to shove right back. As befits its date of origin this feels unapologetically big on alcohol, along with being quite rich in taste. Whilst the former can often be quite welcome in some cocktails, the latter may prove just a little too much for the modern palate.
Ms S decided to go to the high rent end of the Monopoly board, opting for the Mayfair Cocktail (Beefeater gin shaken with fresh orange and apricot brandy infused with soft spice). The tasting notes say that this cocktail was invented at the Embassy Club in 1921, conjuring up visions of glamour and cocktail decadence. Does it translate to modern tastes? Hell yes. While Ms S commented that the OJ tasted quite thin – she also noted that it was decidedly fresh and zingy. Like the area it represents, the Mayfair is refined, discreet yet powerful with an air of added mystery thanks to the addition of the spice kick.
And to eat?
The people at The Lonsdale are a clever lot – they want their guests to stay with them for an entire evening. Who are we to be party poopers? With the well thought out menu proffering such a tempting selection of small plates – think foie gras and chicken liver parfait, onion marmalade, brioche and pickles; soy roast duck, pineapple, chilli and toasted coconut; seared king scallops, peas and mint – it would have been churlish not to oblige. The prices are good too, coming in at £5.95 and £6.75 respectively.
Look out for…
For a little bit of extra elegance, not to say theatre, some of the drinks on offer can be made personally for you at your table from the cocktail trolley. Also take time to enjoy the knowledgably written and beautifully designed menu (ask nicely, and they’ll give you a copy to take home).
Ms S says:
Early evening is fine if your want to take a seat, chow down on some food and have a chat with the bar staff; if however you want a more bustling affair, turn up on Saturday night (just make sure you don’t do it too late…)
Mr G says:
One of the many things I like here is that you get a full-on lively bar that actually serves original, tasty and brilliantly prepared drinks.
What’s the damage?
Most of the drinks come in at about £6 to £8, with the martinis being £9. For the quality on offer we think this represents pretty good value.
48 Lonsdale Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 2DE. T: 020 7727 4080 Find it here